Preserved Home: Warming pecans, frosty cranberries ideal for the season

Whiskey-kissed pecans. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey-Macklem)

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem

Whiskey-kissed pecans. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey-Macklem)

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem

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My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, and not just because I’m a foodie. Thanksgiving has tradition, warmth, and gathers family much like Christmas, but without all the gift pressure. And unlike fighting crowds for buying toys and other gifts, I love Thanksgiving shopping, filling my grocery basket with elements to make the perfect meal.

Because of all the effort involved in a traditional turkey meal, and I don’t want everyone getting stuffed by eating lunch. It may seem a little inhospitable, not to provide lunch to overnight guests, especially with the tempting turkey aromas wafting through the house, but we usually eat around 3 p.m. As an alternative, I make an appetizer buffet of pretty, delicious nibbles perfect for staving off hunger.

My offerings include a variety of flavors and textures, including a homemade cheese ball and crackers, spiced whiskey-kissed pecans, sugar frosted cranberries, summer sausage, clementines, and a small plate of fudge. I put out small plates to discourage too much eating, as well.

I’m still in search of the perfect cheese ball recipe, and fiddle with it each year. I do have a recipe for summer sausage, but haven’t tried it yet, so Hickory Farms comes to my aid. I have not accomplished a worthy batch of fudge – maybe this year. However, the sugar frosted cranberries and pecans are exquisite each time.

My children help me sugar the cranberries each year, and I appreciate the help since each piece must be rolled in sugar. This turns the tedious into tradition. Make sure your cranberries are room temperature before putting in hot sugar solution, otherwise they might burst. You can either use superfine sugar, or put common white sugar into a food processor and pulse until you achieve a finer texture. The sugar-crusted cranberries resemble frosted holly berries, glistening in the light. The crunch of the hard, sweet coating balances the tartness of the slightly cooked cranberries.

The pecans I make are addictive. Sweet and spicy, these meaty nuts are perfect with the creamy cheese ball, tart cranberries and savory summer sausage. Not only are these a special appetizer, but they also make a great gift. Make sure to use a silicone baking mat, or tin foil coated with cooking spray when baking the glazed pecans for easy clean-up.

Most of us make the same Thanksgiving dinner each year out of sentiment. Bring new traditions to your holiday with an array of fun appetizers, and put your mark on Thanksgiving for generations to come.

Sugar Frosted Cranberries

3 cups of fresh cranberries, room temperature
2 cups of water
3 cups of sugar or superfine sugar (if using regular sugar, pulse in food processor), divided

Dissolve water and 2 cups of sugar in a pan over low heat, stirring often. After the water mixture has reached a simmer and all the sugar has been dissolved, immediately pull off heat and let sit for two minutes. Pour into a bowl, and add cranberries. Carefully stir to coat cranberries. Place bowl in refrigerator at least five hours.

After the time has passed, drain cranberries. Roll cranberries in sugar and place on a cookie sheet. Let harden at room temperature. Do not store in the refrigerator because condensation will compromise the sugar coating. I store mine uncovered in a cabinet. (Don’t worry, they won’t last long enough to worry about long-term storage.)

Sweet and Spicy Whiskey Pecans

½ cup sugar
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
¼ cup whiskey
4 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Prepare baking sheet with tin foil, coated with cooking spray. Alternatively, line baking sheet with a silicone baking mat. Combine sugar through whiskey in a saucepan and place on medium heat. Stir frequently. Simmer for a few minutes until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in pecans.

Pour pecans on baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes, then toss. Cook for another 15 minutes or until the glaze on the pecans starts to harden. When finished cooking, place pecans on a plate and let cool.

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem is a former North County resident who produces the Preserved Home blog. Visit www.preservedhome.com. Send questions and comments to columnists@northcoastcurrent.com.

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