Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday. There’s an entire industry dedicated to Christmas excess, but Thanksgiving evokes no such feelings. There are no gifts to worry about giving. There’s no annual slog of parties to get through—and no subtle competition for who can throw the best of them. Thanksgiving lacks the kiss-at-midnight ritual that leave the unkissed feeling unloved. There’s little pressure to drink more or carouse later or otherwise engage in forced jollity. No one spends time worrying about costumes. It’s all about food, family, friends and sharing together around the same table. It’s the best.
Last week I was reminiscing about my first attempt at a grown up Thanksgiving. My best friend Kara and I were 23, maybe 24 at the time. We decided we were going to make a Thanksgiving dinner for my mom and her husband. At the time, we were both into food and cooking, but being young, we didn’t have a lot of kitchen equipment or Thanksgiving know-how.
Kara was working at a now out of business specialty chain store called Hold Everything. The store’s parent company was Williams-Sonoma, which meant Kara enjoyed a nice employee discount at the kitchen retailer. To help get us prepared for our grown up Thanksgiving, we used Kara’s discount and bought a cookbook that I still have, called Chuck Williams’ Thanksgiving. We also bought the biggest turkey platter in existence, which I still use once a year, on Thanksgiving.
We compiled our menu using the Chuck Williams’ Thanksgiving cookbook. One thing we didn’t rely on the cookbook for, was a recipe for cranberry relish. Kara’s mom had a special cranberry relish recipe that she had been using for a long time. I recently learned from Kara’s mom, Margie that she used to sell the cranberry relish by the jar at the restaurant she owned in Anchorage, Alaska. This relish is restaurant-worthy good.
The relish complements turkey, duck and chicken quite well. It’s also fantastic with vanilla ice cream. Kara and her mom use the leftover relish in bread pudding, which I have also started to do. I will provide the recipe for the cranberry bread pudding as well.
Kara and I have spent numerous Thanksgivings together since our first one when we were just figuring out how to be adults. She has been known to bring a jar of the relish with her when she comes to California from Portland for Thanksgiving. When we can’t be together on Thanksgiving, making the relish is a nice way to feel like a piece of my best friend is with me.
As for the food we made for our first Thanksgiving, let’s just say we learned a lot, and we’ve honed our skills since.
My kitchen notes:
This recipe makes a large amount of relish. Consider cutting it in half unless you would like to give jars of it as gifts.
Margie’s Cranberry Relish – adapted from the now-defunct Gourmet magazine.
2 bags fresh cranberries
3 apples, peeled, cored and diced into 1 inch cubes
2 pears, peeled, cored and diced into 1 inch cubes
2 cups golden raisins
2 cups sugar
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup orange liqueur (Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
1. Place cranberries, diced apples, diced pears, golden raisins, sugar, orange juice, orange zest, cinnamon and nutmeg in a stock pot.
2. Heat, stirring occasionally, to a boil.
3. Once mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes. Mixture will start to thicken.
4. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup orange liqueur of your choice.
Will keep in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks.
Cranberry Bread Pudding
If you have extra cranberry relish, which inevitably you will, this is a great way to use the leftovers.
1 teaspoon butter
4 large eggs
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cranberry relish
1 cup toasted, roughly chopped pecans
2 cups half and half
About 4 cups bread cubes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf or cake pan with butter.
2. In a large bowl whisk together eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and cranberry relish until smooth. Stir in half and half and pecans. Add cubed bread and let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for about 55 minutes or until the pudding is set in the middle. Let cool before serving.