Thanksgiving leftovers don’t have to suck. I mean they can, and after 3 days of the same exact thing, they usually do. But they can be reimagined in non-sucking ways. Take cranberry sauce, for instance.
Leftover cranberry sauce is something that I firmly believe can never be a bad thing. Cranberries themselves are good with chocolate, turkey, tequila, and even cheese. And cranberry sauce can be slathered on and in anything. Like hamburgers.
We’re “blessed” with the kind of weather that allows us to grill nearly year-round in southeast Texas. There are still plenty of times that I’d like to trade 10-day forecasts with a further-up-north friend – it really is a little depressing to need the AC on Thanksgiving. But being able to grill fajitas and enjoy a pitcher of Pomegranate Margaritas under a gorgeous, fiery Texas sunset is a trade-off that’s gets easier and easier to accept, the farther away we get from the oppressive heat of August. And September…
And let’s be real here. All but 3 days of October, too.
But the weather has changed enough to allow a person to believe that the holidays are fast approaching and I can now get my annual overdose of cranberries and grapefruit and Christmas Vacation.
Fancy Burger Night last week was the perfect way to help use up some of the leftover cranberry-apricot chutney. And the little bit of brie that I somehow managed not to eat all by myself.
The tangy, barely sweet cranberry sauce is the perfect balance to the rich, buttery brie. We used ground beef for the burgers but ground turkey would be just as good, if not better!
It was simple and boozy. And beautiful. And boozy.
In trying to brain storm a way to use those leftovers, I decided it wasn’t quite right for The Cranwich and I definitely didn’t want to be tied down to a big cake or full batch of cupcakes so close to “Pie-palooza.” And that’s when I spotted the box of Ghirardelli brownies I keep on hand in case of emergencies.
(And now you know how we define “emergency” in this house.)
I simply prepared the brownies as directed on the box and then I dropped the leftover boozy cranberry sauce over top by the tablespoon, swirling it together.
I don’t know why it took so long to come up with the idea of cranberry brownies. Cranberries and chocolate are a delicious and under-appreciated pair. Around the holidays, Costco used to (and maybe still does?) sell dark chocolate-covered cranberries. Those things were like crack, if crack made you gain 3lbs in 3 days. The dark fudgey brownie was the perfect compliment to the cranberry sauce.
Use your favorite brownie mix (I used Ghirardelli Triple Fudge, it’s insanely chocolatey… and has chocolate chips!) and leftover whole berry sauce (homemade is easy and takes almost no hands-on time).
Rich, fudgey brownies swirled with leftover cranberry sauce. Dessert couldn't be easier.
1 box brownie mix (or your favorite recipe) prepared in an 8x8 pan, according to package directions
~1/2 cup leftover whole berry cranberry sauce
Preheat oven according to the directions in your brownie recipe.
Prepare the recipe according to directions and transfer to a greased 8x8 pan.
Drop small spoonfuls of leftover cranberry sauce over the top of the batter (I used about 1/2 cup).
Using a knife held vertically, swirl the cranberry sauce and the brownie batter together.
Bake as directed in your recipe, (take note that my recipe needed an extra 8 minutes).
Let cool and then cut into 4x3 or 4x4 servings.
Leftovers should be covered and stored at room temp.
I grew up in a very small town where, by today’s standards, the “exotic” food choices weren’t exotic at all. There were many common foods that I never tried until into my mid-20s. Yet somehow in my early 20s I gained the “Martha Stewart” nickname among my girlfriends, despite being very much a connoisseur of Lean Cuisine and Duncan Hines.
What that really meant was I had a subscription to Martha Stewart Living, I kept my apartment clean, and I could make a mean chocolate chunk cookie and wrap a fancy sheet of puff pastry around a wheel of fancy cheese topped with a mound of caramelized onions. An appetizer that’s still one of my very, very favorite things to eat to this day.
At Thanksgiving and Christmas, those caramelized onions are replaced with a cranberry concoction. The appetizer comes together pretty quickly – place a few generous scoops of cranberry-apricot chutney over top, wrap in puff pastry, pinch the sides to seal, and bake. The end result is a melty, creamy cheese topped with a sweet & tangy sauce, all wrapped in a buttery, flakey crust. I haven’t done the math but I’m pretty sure it’s close to 2500 calories a bite.
A side note: Don’t shoot me… but if you have a lull before the holidays, set aside some time to make homemade puff pastry if you can swing it. We’re talking 20 minutes of hands-on + an hour rest. It’s pretty much just butter and flour but it’s ridiculously amazing. And a side-by-side taste-test with the box from the freezer section proves that it’s totally worth the effort. I made a batch last week, which yields the equivalent of 2 store-bought boxes (4 sheets total) and have 3 sheets left to get me through the holidays.
Baked Brie with Cranberry-Apricot Chutney
Tangy cranberry-apricot chutney tops a creamy wheel of brie wrapped with flakey, buttery puff pastry.
Lightly spray a small baking dish with baking spray or cooking oil. I have a small 6-inch mini-casserole dish that works perfectly - otherwise, just select something that has a slight lip or sides in case your brie tries to make a run for it.
Unfold the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it a couple of times each direction.
Place the wheel of brie in the center of the dough and top the wheel with cranberry chutney.
Fold the sides around the brie, pinching to seal (it may or may not cover the top) and trimming if necessary.
Place the wrapped brie in the baking dish.
Whisk egg with 1 Tbsp water and brush the dough.
Bake for ~25 minutes, until golden brown.
Let cool ~10 minutes and transfer to a dish.
Serve warm or room temp with crunchy dippers like pita chips and toasted bread.
Because I regularly volunteer for sweet potato duty, that traditional dish has evolved to be the revolving the door at Thanksgiving every year. My mom always makes a small dish of Candied Sweet Potatoes – you know the kind, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, a stick of butter, all buried under a bag of jumbo marshmallows.
And then I make something else for the marshmallow haters.
Maybe it’s twice-baked sweet potatoes sprinkled with a cinnamon-brown sugar streusel, or mashed sweet potatoes served alongside cinnamon honey butter, or the recipe that still remains my family’s favorite to this day – sweet potato wedges with bacon vinaigrette.
This year, I took the flavors (maple syrup, butter, bacon) from that family favorite and worked them into a lower maintenance recipe. Because the last thing I want to do on a busy holiday is fuss with flipping two baking sheets-worth of sweet potato wedges. And standing over a sizzling pan hanging out of a hot oven is the last thing I should be doing on a day when the first bottle of wine is opened before 11am.
We started with a plain Hasselback Sweet Potato, the prettiest way to serve a sweet potato by the way, and slathered it with a simple maple-cinnamon butter and then crumbled crispy bacon over top. The preparation is simple (recruit an inlaw to help with hasselbacking duty), the butter can be made days ahead of time, and… there’s bacon!
Some tips for hasselback-ing your potatoes:
– Look for potatoes that are similar in size and shape to ensure even cooking.
– Find each potato’s “flat side” and use that as the bottom – nothing will roll around on the baking sheet while you’re cutting or transferring to/from the oven.
– Use a sharp knife.
– Be prepared to need a couple of potatoes to hit that hasselback-ing groove.
– Don’t panic if you cut too far, a toothpick can easily rejoin an accidentally unjoined hasselback potato.
And just a note: the green garnish (a random green leaf from a bag of lettuce) in the photo was simply added to help my camera out and I pulled them off later My camera is remarkably unkind to photos of orange food with brown skin, topped with brownish-orange food and yellowish-orange butter. If I had had any green onions, I would have used those – and them left them there.
Hasselback Sweet Potatoes with Maple-Cinnamon Butter
Hasselback sweet potatoes served with a sweetened maple-cinnamon butter and crispy bacon are an impressive twist to traditional holiday sweet potato dishes,
For the maple-cinnamon butter:
1 stick butter, very soft
1/4 tsp cinnamon (more to taste)
2 Tbsp maple syrup
Pinch of salt
For the potatoes:
8 medium sweet potatoes
4 slices of bacon, cooked to a crisp.
To make the maple cinnamon butter, mash together very soft butter, cinnamon, maple syrup and a pinch of salt until uniform.
Taste for cinnamonness and sweetness and add more to taste if desired.
Lay a ~12-inch piece of plastic wrap on your work surface.
Spoon the butter into a line about the length of a stick of butter, and wrap into cylinder.
Pick up the butter and twist to seal the butter in the plastic wrap.
Chill until firm (this can be done several days ahead).
Using a sharp knife, cut 1/4-inch slits about 2/3 of the way through the potato.
Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Bake for ~45 minutes, until tender all the way through (stick a fork near the bottom side, where there are no cuts to check for doneness).
Serve warm, with slices of maple-cinnamon butter, and topped with crumbled bacon. Because there's so much food at the holidays, cutting them in half will probably still be a plenty big enough serving.