Cranberry Salsa? Why not?

Instead of cranberry relish, why not cranberry salsa? Every Thanksgiving, my grandmother made cranberry/orange relish. You know, the recipe from the back of the bag of cranberries? It looked beautiful in her tall, cut-glass compote and added the perfect amount of tartness to enhance the savory turkey and cornbread dressing.

My family doesn’t like gravy, so cranberry relish is what we continue to use to add that little somethin-somethin to our Thanksgiving plates. I serve it in a compote similar to my grandmother’s. But this year, I’m making a change.

cranberry salsa

I found a recipe for cranberry salsa when I was filing last week. I don’t remember printing it out, but there it was on my desk. When my sister and I started planning the Thanksgiving menu, I picked it up and read it. It’s served with tortilla chips so why not use it as an appetizer?

I like to have something for everyone to snack on in case I run long getting food on the table. Cranberry salsa seems like a perfect choice because the leftovers can be served with our meal in place of cranberry/orange relish.

Can the family weather a change in tradition without being grumpy? I’m pretty sure they can as long as the salsa tastes good. With that in mind, I made some this weekend to see.

Here’s what I combined:

2 jalapeño peppers

1 twelve-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, washed

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup minced green onions

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice              

1 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice

Remove stem and seeds from jalapeño peppers and finely chop. Set aside. Place cranberries in a food processor or food chopper and pulse until finely chopped. You want small pieces, not a smooth purée.

Place chopped cranberries in a medium bowl. Add sugar and stir together. Add jalapeno peppers, green onion, cilantro, orange juice and lime juice. Stir until well mixed. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Serve with tortilla chips.*

I served the salsa with scoop-shaped tortilla chips. Half of the guests are gluten-free so having an appetizer that paired well with corn chips worked great. We had plenty for dipping and serving with a meal, plus a little left for later. As far as doing double-duty as an appetizer and meal accoutrement, we will have plenty.

The taste profile of this salsa relies primarily on the sour, bitter flavor of the cranberries tempered by sugar. In this sense, it’s not that different from my grandmother’s relish. It also contains some similar orange notes although those are less prominent. The addition of green onion, jalapeno, and cilantro will not detract from my turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, or black-eyed peas. From the taste profile perspective, I can’t see a problem substituting salsa for relish.

I love it when a dish can do double-duty! And I really don’t see any downside of using this salsa in place of cranberry/orange relish.

So, the decision is made! This year, our cranberries will be presented in the form of salsa! I mean, really, why not?

Happy Thanksgiving!

*The recipe I found online for this was written by Kat Jeter & Melinda Caldwell.

Our Thanksgiving Recipes Are Safe From AI for Now!

Looks like our Thanksgiving recipes are safe from AI for now! There’s a running joke in my family about not angering the bots because they will come for you…or your job. Artificial intelligence has now entered the recipe creation game. So maybe it’s not really a joke?

It’s certainly tempting to include AI to generate inventive ideas, ingredient lists and measurements, cooking instructions, and photos! That would save us a ton of time. At Cooking2Thrive, we test, test, and retest our original recipes. We taste them hot. We taste them cold. We tweak and sometimes start over from scratch. No matter how efficient we make the process, it is time consuming!

From years of experience, we know that 1/8 tsp of this or that can make a difference. And we measure until we get consistently delicious results. But we also know that cooking is both art and science. Sometimes your senses let you know that today you need less moisture in a batter because it doesn’t look or feel right even though you carefully measured. How can this be?

My previous job involved press checks of four-color process printing. For years, the control boards on sheetfed presses have had the ability to record readings so that you can use them on a reprint to get consistent color. But ask any good pressman whether he relies on a recording to match a previous run and he’ll tell you, no.

Why? As one pressman told me – you go make the temperature, humidity, paper surface, and mechanics of the press exactly the same and I’ll use a recording for consistent color. Otherwise, those levels are meaningless. I have to adjust for conditions that exist today. His job is part art and part science as well.

And the same principles apply to cooking. Cooks and chefs must adjust to the conditions that exist in the moment. If we don’t, the result won’t be as good. Some people may find that frustrating. They may be more tempted to include AI in their cooking in the future.

Currently, artificial intelligence can gather data from millions of sources, add personal preference, and create something innovative, but it cannot simulate the perception that lets a cook or chef know that something’s not quite right. That’s the art of the job. It’s intuitive and incorporates all the senses.

Artificial intelligence may learn to incorporate something that mimics the art of cooking at some point because it’s always learning. And I can see using some AI functions as tools at some point. But I’m not sure how AI will ever inject the love that we know makes food taste better. Is artificially generated love the same as real love?

Whoa, let’s pull that question back or we’ll be into many more areas than cooking. With Thanksgiving upon us, many are pulling out family recipes. Others are looking for a new idea to impress the in-laws. All of us are recognizing the time we must carve out to create the meal.

While it may be tempting to rely on AI to save us time, don’t expect equivalent results this year. Traditional recipes are the safe bet for now so stick with those. And don’t forget to add the love!

Dairy-Free Thanksgiving

I’m preparing for my first dairy-free Thanksgiving. That means no panna cotta with sweet potato topping, no milk-based gravies or sauces, and nothing enhanced with cheese unless I use a non-dairy milk alternative.

I’m accustomed to substitutions. Creating gluten-free recipes has been great preparation. But this fall has not yielded much time for experimenting. Keeping the substitution requirements to a minimum for this first holiday will keep stress to a minimum. I can expand the dairy-free options at Christmas and throughout next year as I have time to refine recipes.

While there is a wide variety of plant-based milk and cheese, the characteristics vary widely. That sometimes necessitates adding an ingredient to compliment or mask the flavor of the milk. It sometimes means a dish will require less fat or more sweetener. And it often means adjusting the amount of liquid in the recipe.

Learn on the fly.

If you don’t have much time up front but can afford the luxury of multiple purchases, choose a selection of cow’s milk alternatives to have on hand when you begin cooking. You can sample the taste, richness, and viscosity of several choices side-by-side to determine which will work best. Or divide up the mashed potatoes and try two or three at the same time. Let your guests help you decide the best option to make your go-to.

It doesn’t have to be only milk or cheese.

I use a mixture of firm tofu, unsweetened coconut milk (brand matters), and vegan cheese (brand matters) for lasagna. The tofu adds extra protein and a texture similar to ricotta cheese. I season the tofu to add flavor. I sometimes use plant-based yogurt for mashed potatoes or for baking.

While I will substitute milk and cheese for my dishes, I will use regular butter. I don’t suffer any ill effects from it. Others may. It’s good to check before assuming.

It doesn’t have to be plant-based.

Some people who cannot tolerate cow’s milk are fine with goat or sheep milk. Goat’s milk can often be found in pints or quarts in health food stores. Cheese made with goat or sheep milk is often available. Be sure to read labels before assuming feta is made with sheep milk.

If the protein in cow’s milk causes you a problem, A2 milk may be the best solution. It’s cow’s milk with all the familiar taste and texture, but a different protein that prevents stomach discomfort in some people. If you have an anaphylactic allergy to milk, do not use this as a substitute.

Substitute differently.

If only one or two in a crowd of 10 or 12 are dairy intolerant, you may want to make sweet potato or pumpkin pie using your regular recipe and offer the intolerant two an alternative dessert. I can purchase tofu pumpkin donuts nearby. Katz® offers a pumpkin pie spice glazed donut. And there are tons of recipes for dairy-free (and DF/GF) pumpkin bread. Pumpkin cookies would be easy as well.

And dessert doesn’t have to be pumpkin. Most pecan pies are dairy-free. Cherry or apple pie are good options. If you choose packaged crusts, read the labels to make sure there are no unexpected ingredients.

Don’t forget the stuffing.

While it may be easy to remember not to add milk, it’s sometimes harder to remember that some ingredients could already contain milk. Bread or cornbread that form the base of stuffing must be dairy-free too. The chocolate you choose should be dairy-free. Be sure to review all packaged items prior to including them in your dish.

Enjoy what you can.

If you don’t do the cooking, enjoy the items that are safe and skip the rest. Keep your avoidance as low key as possible and be sure to compliment the cook on the food you are enjoying. It is not necessary to jeopardize your health in order to please someone else. People who truly care about you will not want you to be unhealthy.

Say no if you need to say no.

When family systems are too dysfunctional to allow you to comfortably take care of yourself, it may be best to spend time with friends or football on TV. There are worse things than being alone on a holiday.

No matter what your dietary restriction, with some planning and playing there’s delicious food to be had. Wishing you a peaceful holiday in which to enjoy it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Gratitude Workout

It’s Thanksgiving week, let’s breathe our way through a gratitude workout. A study of the effects of the pandemic showed that 90% of us have been emotionally affected by it. That’s really not surprising. But for 25% of us, this has resulted in depression. While a temporary state of depression is a natural response to change, it’s possible some will experience long-term or clinical depression as time goes on.

Many Americans are facing trauma and hardship they’ve never seen before – job loss, hunger, severe illness, loss of family, lack of physical contact, unsafe working conditions, and more. This takes a toll even on the strongest and healthiest of us. Yet some will rise to the occasion, feel the effects, find a way to cope, and thrive in the future. Others will become stuck. Genetics, personality, support, and choices all play a role in how we fare.

Even when outside support is lacking, we can become our own support system by building the emotional resilience that will facilitate processing through difficulty and coming out the other side better than before. This can be accomplished through deliberate practices. One tool to build an emotional toolkit is a gratitude practice. I’ve written about this before because it’s always a wonderfully useful tool, but it seems especially important right now.

So much of our cultural conversation is focused on what we don’t have, can’t do, can’t buy, can’t see, can’t experience that we’re at risk of losing sight of the good that surrounds us. A gratitude workout may be just the shift in focus that revitalizes us when we’re dining alone this week.

I’ve used many techniques for practicing gratitude. I started with a series of journals. In those books, I made a list every day of 10 things for which I was grateful. On days when most everything had gone wrong, I had to sit for a very long time to think of that first item. But I’m sure you’ll find as I did that once you think of one thing, you’ll think of more because your focus has finally shifted.

One year, I used a series of neon colored post-its that I collected in a brightly colored plastic box with a pull-out drawer. At the end of each month, I’d go back and read all of the notes. It was a great way to gain perspective on the events of the month. If I gleaned an insight that seemed particularly significant, I’d record it somewhere to ponder later.

The specifics of how you record your lists are not as important as the discipline of doing it. In fact, it’s the discipline that will pave the way for the greatest insight. Those moments when you really don’t feel grateful for anything will get you to dig deeper. But you won’t dig deeper unless disciplined commitment to the process requires that you record something. It’s a lot easier to eat ice cream and pout.

This week of Thanksgiving, you may not be with family. That brings the temptation to only see what’s missing. That’s why I’m planning to combine two practices and breathe my way through a gratitude workout.

How? Before I prepare my Cornish hen, I’m spending some time on my yoga mat. I’m going to sit in easy pose (Sukhasana) or stand in mountain pose (Tadasana) and slow my breath bringing my focus to my sit bones or the four corners of my feet, my thighs, my shoulders, my neck, my face. Once I’ve found the balance between effort and ease, I’ll begin to breathe my gratitude. A long breath in through the nose and a slow breath out for each item on my list. I may add a twist in between and a series of warrior poses before I rest in corpse pose (Savasana).

I’ll express gratitude for grocery delivery, Zoom & FaceTime, the warm weather that made fresh tomatoes and spinach from the garden possible for Thanksgiving, the flavor of those tomatoes, my grandchildren’s laughter, the internet, the heart of healthcare workers, brilliant maple leaves, and strong oak trees with rough bark.

None of those are equal to sitting around the table with my family, but grocery delivery means I have groceries without virus exposure. Zoom and the internet mean I’ll can see my family in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago. Fresh vegetables from my garden mean both healthy and tasty food. And cooking for one rather than a large group means I have time to sit still. Things don’t have to be perfect to enrich my life or make things better than they would be otherwise. I can be grateful for things that are just okay.

In fact, I am grateful for things that are just okay as well as things that are magnificent. But it’s easy to miss the magnificent if I only focus on what is wrong. In this year when it feels like so much has gone awry, a gratitude workout is just what the doctor ordered.