Food for Soul

Thanksgiving dinner

Preparing cranberries in a pot

Cherry Bourbon Cranberry Sauce

The secret to this sauce is a richly flavored bourbon. The first time I made this, I used the last of a favorite bourbon, not available on the West Coast. The second time, I used a standard inexpensive bourbon. Its lack of flavor transferred to the sauce.

24 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries (2 bags), picked over
10 ounces frozen dark sweet cherries (about 2 cups)
1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar, packed (about 8 ¾ ounces)
½ cup unfiltered apple cider
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup bourbon (richly flavored recommended)

In a medium saucepan, bring cranberries, cherries, brown sugar, cider and pepper to a boil. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in bourbon. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring often to break fruit apart, until thick and syrupy, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely before refrigerating. Make up to 5 days ahead and bring to room temperature before serving.

Adapted from

Butter, brown sugar, pecans, mandarin oranges and rum add layers of surprises to this relatively simple sweet potato recipe.

Marita’s Sweet Potato Casserole

This Thanksgiving staple originated with the renowned and well-beloved French cooking instructor in the Washington, D.C., area, Marie-Thérèse “Marita” Colonna, who demystified French cuisine for Washingtonians in the 1960s and ‘70s and authored “Mushrooms in the Bath and Avocados in Bed.”

4 to 6 large sweet potatoes, baked or microwaved, peeled
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons brown sugar, firmly packed
6 tablespoons chopped pecans
3 tablespoons dark rum (Myers’s recommended for flavor)
½ teaspoon salt
⅓ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 small cans mandarin oranges, drained

Additional half pecans for decoration

Mash potatoes with 2 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons sugar, 3 tablespoons pecans, rum, salt and pepper. Pick through mandarins and reserve prettiest halves for decoration. Add equivalent of 1 can mandarins to potatoes; mix well. Adjust seasoning and add more rum if preferred. Arrange in 1½- to 2-quart casserole. Mix remaining butter, sugar and pecans; adjust seasoning. Spread atop potatoes. Arrange remaining mandarins and pecan halves on top. Bake uncovered 375 degrees about 25 minutes, or make ahead and reheat.

holiday celebration meal at Thanksgiving with someone carving a turkey

Nicole’s Stuffing for Turkey or Chicken

Stuffing — or dressing — is an art, not a science. My ingredients and proportions vary every time. Be creative and experiment. Be sure to taste and correct for flavor. I’ve experimented successfully with a brown Basmati rice-based stuffing with vegetables, including uncooked zucchini, mushrooms, onions, carrots and garlic, plus copious amounts of nuts, usually walnuts but whatever I have on hand. Another year, I added maraschino cherries to my basic recipe — different and delicious.

1 loaf (1½ pounds) good quality white bread, stale or dried for 1 to 2 days, or a combination of breads, including oat, potato, whole wheat or cornbread
1 large onion, finely chopped
About ½ pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 to 2 cups walnut pieces
2 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ to 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
¼ pound butter, melted
Chicken stock (can preferred)
Thyme, rosemary (fresh preferred), optional
Salt and pepper to taste

Make stuffing the day before use. Tear bread into small pieces and place in large bowl. Add onions, garlic, mushrooms, walnuts, parsley and fresh herbs. Add butter and/or chicken stock to moisten stuffing. Add salt and pepper to taste, going light on the salt if stuffing inside dry-brined bird. Refrigerate until use. Stuff turkey just before baking or bake in a pan, moistened with turkey juices, for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Close-up shot of a freshly cut slice of pumpkin pie being lifted out of a pie tin with a pie server.

Pumpkin Pie

The quality and age of spices you use for pumpkin pie make a huge difference. Use the best quality and freshest spices you can find; the quality of my pies improved radically after I discovered Penzeys Spices, available locally or by mail order. Be sure to refresh your ground spices annually, your whole spices every few years. I refresh mine just before pie-baking season. While the use of rum and cognac is optional, they greatly enhance the pie’s flavor.

For one 10-inch or two 8- or 9-inch pies

1 15-ounce can pumpkin or 2 cups well-drained, fresh-cooked pumpkin pulp
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ to 1 teaspoon ground or fresh grated ginger
½ to 1 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
¼ to ½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ to ½ teaspoon ground mace
4 to 6 eggs (use 6 eggs for two smaller pies)
1 ½ cups evaporated milk or light cream
2 to 3 tablespoons dark rum (Myers’s recommended), optional
2 to 3 tablespoons cognac, optional

Single crust for one 10-inch or two 8- or 9-inch pies (or use premade pie shells or commercially prepared pie dough)

Combine pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and evaporated milk or cream with rum and cognac and add to pumpkin mixture. Blend well and adjust spices and liquors to taste. Pour mixture into unbaked pie shells. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on diameter of pie(s). Pie is done when custard is set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Recipes from Nicole Sours Larson unless otherwise noted.
Sours Larson is a San Diego freelance writer.

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