Cranberry Sauce with Jalapeno and Orange

After much hemming and hawing, the verdict is in at our house—we are going big for Thanksgiving. No, I do not mean big in the gathering sense, because that is out of the question during a pandemic. It will only be the two of us, so our “big” means bold, less-than-traditional flavors. This departure from the usual has been my fantasy for several years, but other people get pretty attached to classic, traditional flavors and it almost feels cruel to spring big changes on friends and loved ones who have been building anticipation for the flavors they’ve come to expect at Thanksgiving.

As much as my husband, Les, and I also enjoy our own traditions (including taking turns with the preparation of the turkey—a pact we made when we got engaged), we are changing things up significantly this year, partly because we can do so without disappointing anyone, but also because it feels adventurous and fun in a year that has been pretty hum-drum. It’s Les’s year for the turkey, but rather than his usual brined, stuffed and basted 20-plus pounder, he has decided to do a dry spice rub and prepare our smaller turkey in his new charcoal smoker. And with these bold flavors on the bird, we are planning to keep pace with our sides and accoutrements, including the cranberry sauce.

Most years, we make everyone at the table happy with two different styles of homemade cranberry sauce. Les makes one that is sweetened with both brown and white sugars, simmered in apple cider, and accented with sections of mandarin orange. It’s slightly tangy, but mostly sweet, and more on the “saucy” side. I usually ask him to make extra so we have plenty left over to use as topping on vanilla ice cream. Yum. My version of cranberry sauce leans to the chunky, tart side, usually with spices such as cinnamon, clove and cardamom, and simmered in dry red wine. It is a decidedly “grownup” cranberry sauce, and stands in contrast to so much of the richness happening on the traditional table.

This year, however, we will have only this one cranberry sauce—bearing the bright and bold flavors of orange and jalapeno. Now, you may cringe at the suggestion of jalapeno, worried that it will be too intense, but let me assure you it’s a fantastic twist, a pleasant undertone that stands up to the bright citrus and tart cranberry, but does not overwhelm.

All three flavors are evident in this lively, festive sauce.

If you’ve never made your own cranberry sauce before, please let me show you how simple it is. All you need for this recipe is a large saucepan, a bag of cranberries, a large orange, a large fresh jalapeno and a cup of sugar. You can move this to the “done” column in less than half an hour, and it’ll keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks (that is, if you are disciplined to not eat it straight from the fridge with a spoon). Let’s do this!

Made from scratch doesn’t seem so difficult, right?

Ingredients

12 oz. bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted for “losers”* (see notes)

1 cup real cane sugar (or slightly less if you prefer more tang)

1 large fresh organic orange*, washed

1 large fresh jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and minced*

A stingy pinch of kosher salt

A few twists of freshly ground coarse black pepper                                                                                                                                       


*Notes

Rinse the cranberries in a wide colander that allows you to inspect the quality of the berries. Discard any that are dried up, soft or otherwise questionable. Even with a brand-new bag of cranberries, I usually find about a dozen losers that don’t make the cut.

Organic orange is best here because we will be eating the peel, and pesticides are neither tasty nor safe to ingest. Whether you use organic or conventional, be sure you wash the orange well before stripping the peel.

If you are nervous about handling the raw jalapeno, feel free to slip on some rubber kitchen gloves for this part of the recipe, then carefully peel them off and into the trash once done. I can’t work well with gloves, so here’s my advice: the sooner you clear the irritating jalapeno oils from your skin, the less likely you are to accidentally touch your eyes, nose or lips and get a painful reminder of the intensity of the capsaicin oils. But if you wash with water right away, you risk spreading the oils around rather than breaking them down. Here’s a simple way to stop the burn before it begins—Dawn dish liquid. Yep, the same blue stuff they use in the TV ads to save the baby birds from oil spills. Any good dish liquid would probably do it, but Dawn is what I use. Gently rub the dish soap, full-strength, straight onto your dry hands, covering every part that may have touched the raw pepper, and give it a few seconds to begin dissolving the pepper oils. Be sure to rub the dish liquid under your nails and between your fingers. Then, wash and rinse your hands and the knife you used to cut the pepper.

It may seem odd to add any amount of salt and pepper, but remember that salt is an enhancer that punches up whatever flavors are in your dish. As for the pepper, it’s an easy way to add an extra little “bite” to underscore the surprising flavor of jalapeno. You will not taste black pepper. Trust me, it works.

Berries, sugar, orange, jalapeno and just a few twists of fresh black pepper. This is such an easy thing to make.

Instructions

The essence of orange is front and center, giving this cranberry sauce a bright and festive freshness, and the jalapeno is evident but not at all “hot.” It’s going to be a nice complement to the smoky flavors Les will be infusing into our turkey, but I’ll probably sneak into the fridge with my spoon for a few more taste tests (just to be sure) between now and Thanksgiving. And don’t be surprised if I find a way to use the leftovers in a post-holiday appetizer or something. As you all know, I cannot leave well enough alone. 😊


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Maple Bacon Bourbon Onion Marmalade

There have never been two flavors more perfectly designed for each other than bourbon and bacon. My friend Linda would give an amen, and we’d be correct. Or maybe it’s chocolate and cherry. I’d ask my husband, but it would probably prompt further discussion of all the recipes we should concoct to incorporate all four—bourbon and bacon and chocolate and cherry. Maybe brownies? Or ice cream? That sounds like a rewarding challenge for later—I’ll work on it and let you know (wink).

For now, I’m cooking up a storm in advance of Memorial Day weekend. I know, none of us are likely spending the weekend quite as we’d planned. That’s a given on just about everything this year. My husband, Les, and I have already missed a dreamy beach weekend with Linda and her husband, and my heart positively aches for everyone who has sacrificed once-in-a-lifetime plans for weddings, graduations and funerals. Just thinking about that makes me feel guilty and selfish lamenting a weekend getaway. For sure, the pandemic is revealing all that we’ve taken for granted, and given us new appreciation for the simplest things in life—like a backyard cookout. So this weekend, Les and I are following tradition and firing up the grill to usher in the summer season, even if it ends up being just the two of us. Chances are, you’ll be doing the same.

Everyone has their own favorite thing to put on the grill, and our burgers are no better than yours. But if you’re looking for something new to dress up whatever you’re putting on the grill—well, cue the bourbon and bacon!

My inspiration for this recipe is a book that literally jumped into my cart a few years ago while I was casually browsing at a discount store.

What could possibly go wrong?

It includes plenty of discussion about bourbon etiquette and whiskey history, what type of glass is correct for different types of bourbon cocktails, and what it means for a bourbon to be “bottled in bond” (if you’re wondering, it’s the result of one season, one distillation, and one distillery, and it’s bottled at a minimum of 100 proof; that’s on page 28). But there are also dozens of mouthwatering recipes—for bourbon, for bacon and for a few crossovers that include both. The latter are, without question, my favorites. Here’s my adaptation of one of them, and I’ve elevated everyone’s happy with yet another complementary flavor, maple. Oh yes, I did. The end result is a delicious smoky, savory, sweet and slightly spicy topper for your burgers, steaks, chicken and perhaps even slipped inside a grilled cheese sandwich. (You’re welcome, Linda!)

The recipe will make just about 1 cup and it’ll keep in a jar in the fridge for several weeks. But you’ll be lucky if you have any left after the three-day weekend, especially if you find yourself eating it straight from the jar at 3 am while everyone else is asleep—not that I’ve done that.

Ingredients

2 slices smoked, uncured bacon* (see notes), chopped into pieces

1 small sweet onion, cut into thin, crescent-shaped strips (not rings)

1 small red onion, roughly chopped into pieces

1/4 cup maple sugar*

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp. bourbon

Pinch of crushed red pepper (or as much as you like)

About 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

Pinch kosher salt (maybe)*

*Notes

I only purchase “uncured” bacon, which is free of the unnecessary preservative sodium nitrite. If you can find the maple kind of bacon, that’s a win-win. If you aren’t sure what “the maple kind” is, maybe you need to watch this. I literally cannot think or write about bacon without hearing this dog’s “voice.”

So, the maple bacon will be a nice extra touch, but the real flavor comes from the sugar.

Maple sugar is literally a dehydrated, granulated form of real maple syrup. I buy it online, directly from a sugar shack in upstate New York, my old stomping ground. Click here to get some from Big Tree Maple. If you can’t wait for it, substitute 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar and 2 Tbsp. real maple syrup.

You may not want additional salt in the recipe, depending on the sodium content of your bacon. Ours is house-cured by a local butcher and puts a perfectly salty kiss on this. Wait until your marmalade is finished, and add salt only if desired.

Instructions

Cook bacon in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until crisp; remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Drain and discard all but about 1 Tbsp. of the bacon grease. Add sweet and red onions to the same skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until onions are soft and caramelized.

Add maple sugar, stir until dissolved. Stir in vinegar, bourbon, red pepper and thyme leaves. Cook a few minutes until liquid is the consistency of syrup.

Crumble the bacon into smaller pieces, if desired, and add to the onion mixture. Continue to cook several minutes, until mixture is thickened to a jam-like consistency. Adjust salt to taste.

Transfer to a covered jar and store in the fridge up to a month. Slather it on your favorite grilled meat. Or just eat it with a spoon—there’s no judgment here.

The finished marmalade will keep nicely in a sealed jar, or any dish with a tight lid. Keep it in the fridge, but bring to room temperature when you’re ready to use it.

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