Wednesday, November 21, 2007
T minus 24 hours: it's cranberry sauce time!
Jane jetted off to Tokyo; Andrea's got a date with a sailboat off the coast of Guadalupe. Yes sir, my roommates are living the high life this Thanksgiving. But oh! the poor dears. Las pobrecitas! This year they won't get their starch-and-fat happy meal, their late afternoon turkey coma, their fridge full of leftovers. And so we hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at our house last weekend. It was cozy and wonderful: imagine the sweet autumnal scent of mulled wine and spiced nuts; long-lost friends, some with new loves and some without; a table laden with delicious offerings from as far afield as Williamsburg and the Upper West Side; and everyone happily camping on the floor when the chairs ran out.
I was charged with the bird. I brined it overnight in a humongous Glad-lock bag, inspired by the Pioneer Woman (although I ended up following something close to Alton Brown's recipe). It turned out gorgeous, sexily succulent, the Angelina of roasted poultry.
And for the sake of this project, I laid claim to cranberry sauce duty. Not that anyone was fighting me for the chance to make it. It's not a glamorama dish, like an all-star pecan pie or even some insanely buttery, tasty stuffing. No man will fall in love with the girl who makes a mean cranberry sauce. But it was on my list: American Food Writing includes a 1901 recipe for Sauce aux Airelles from The Picayune's Creole Cook Book (that's cranberry sauce to us yanks).
The ingredients couldn't be simpler: fresh cranberries, water, and sugar, but the recipe runs on for two whole pages because there are a lot of things that can go wrong even when things might at first glance appear so easy.
First, a warning. Creole cranberry sauce is emphatically NOT like Jello-O or any of its forefathers. The cookbook warns against those who would discard the precious fruit, leaving only a humorless gel: "Never strain the sauce. Many do, but the Creoles have found out that cranberry jelly is a very poor and insipid sauce, compared to that of the whole fruit. ... Liquid cranberry is a very poor apology for the dainty crimson mold of the native fruit."
And there are more such no-nos, but time does not permit me to go into them (T-day fast approaches, after all, and I need to get this post out NOW). Suffice to print this one, which we all may know from our grans: "Never cook cranberries in a metal saucepan; nor even in one of agate or the brightest tin. The berries absorb the taste, as they are an acid fruit, and your best efforts will fail in making a fine sauce. Use always a porcelain-lined saucepan."
Since you must (or really should) let the sauce stand overnight, and therefore if you plan on making it for the Big Day you've got just 24 hrs to spare, I must cut this off and hop to the recipes. In addition to the cranberry sauce, I've tossed in a fantastic idea for them leftovers, inspired by a simple, hearty one-pot dish that got me through the last couple crazy days before I left NYC for 2 weeks of food research in the Midwest, including interviews with the women of the Butterball Turkey Talk Line near Chicago and the people who are keeping alive the concept of truly wild rice. More on that later (but in the meantime, forgive me if I slow down on the blogging).
Old-fashioned Ultra-Thick n' Tasty Cranberry Sauce
1 quart cranberries (4 cups)
1 pint water (2 cups)
2 cups sugar
1. Put cranberries and water in a non-metal saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring often with a wooden (or other non-metal) spoon to break up the berries and prevent burning. Cook 20 mins, stirring occasionally.
2. After 20 mins, take pot off heat and stir in sugar. Return to heat, now at medium-low, and cook for another 10 mins, until thick.
3. Transfer to a pretty earthenware mold or simple glass dish, whatever's handy. Let stand until set (preferably overnight) and either remove by dipping mold in warm water or simply serve in dish.
Thanksgiving Leftovers & Wild Rice Delight
2 cups wild rice or wild rice mix (NOTE: directions below for cooking the rice are a general guide, but it's better to follow the direction
4 cups stock or water or cooking liquid from steamed vegs
2 tbsp. butter
1 bay leaf
2-3 tbsp. cranberry sauce (or more, to taste)
3-4 cups of extras: any combination of cooked mushrooms, onions, pumpkin, squash, turkey, chicken, sweet (or neutral) sausage
Plus 1/2 cup of toasted pecans, almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts.
Salt and pepper
1. Melt butter in large pot over medium heat, add wild rice, stir to coat, add water and bay leaf and bring to boil.
2. Give it a stir, reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid, and let cook undisturbed for 45 mins.
3. Add all the extras, replace lid, and allow to simmer five more minutes, then let stand 5-10 mins, lid on, so the flavors can blend.