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Boozy, Nutty Cranberry Sauce

Far be it for me to suggest any last-minute alterations to anyone’s Thanksgiving menus. I know that, for most of us anyway, this holiday’s recipe lineup is about a lot more than which dishes taste delicious and complement each other. It’s all about tradition. And in my family, any suggestion that we might diverge from our traditional Thanksgiving meal — such as my husband’s annual pleas for fewer salads or my sister’s mild interest in “shaking things up” — is usually met with something between eye-rolling, indignation, and utter scorn.

So, aside from giving props to my mom’s crunchy and perfect Waldorf Salad (which is great any time, not just the holidays) and hoping you are all feeling thankful for many, many things, I’m just going to push one recipe on you today.

First though, full disclosure: I have always loved and still do love Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce. I know it’s full of high fructose corn syrup and is probably made from genetically modified cranberries, but there’s something about a slice of that tangy, can-shaped gel that reminds me of being about nine and having an aha moment about it actually being okay for foods to touch, especially when they’re delicious together. Still, that’s no reason to foist the stuff on my family now that I’m a food evangelist and all. Especially since I discovered how unbelievably easy it is to make fresh cranberry sauce that’s — gasp — even better than Ocean Spray.

Another small caveat: This cranberry sauce is luscious, but it can in no way replace my mom’s famous Cranberry-Orange relish (are you catching on to a theme here?), for which I don’t seem to have a recipe. I guess I’ve never needed to make it… This version is more of a sauce, although it’s very thick and chunky. I think this recipe was originally from Paula Deen, but I’ve had it written down on a scrap of paper for years. I doubled the booze and nuts, and reduced the sugar from Paula’s version, which I think also included raisins. You can substitute a little extra orange juice for the liquor if that’s not your thing (but it does burn off during cooking).

Homemade Cranberry Sauce
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
2 pints cranberries (about 16 oz.)
1 apple, diced
1 1/2-2 cups chopped walnuts
1/4 cup Cointreau
1/4 cup Brandy or Cognac
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tbs. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

You can make this ahead of time (i.e. now).

In a large saucepan, combine water and sugar and bring to a boil. Add cranberries and simmer while you’re chopping the apple. Add chopped apple, nuts, Cointreau, Brandy (Grand Marnier also works), juice, and spices. Cook at a low boil for about 25 minutes. If enough of the cranberries don’t pop during this time, you can take a wide wooden spoon and gently squeeze them against the side of the pan. This is a bit of a mess but pretty fun. Or you can leave the berries whole of course. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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