Thanksgiving Essentials: Ginger Apple Cranberry Sauce


Spiced Cranberry Sauce | Cook it Pretty
I’m pretty big on cranberry sauce. I love it in all forms, including shiny and jiggly out of a can. Last year I made cooked cranberry sauce for the first time, a departure from my Mom’s usual fresh cranberry relish – a family favorite close to my heart. Maybe it was because I was more focused on other things, like hosting my first Thanksgiving in Dubai, but it was a surprise hit.

Dubai Spices | Cook it Pretty
The reward could have been enhanced by my efforts to grind my own cloves. Cloves are plentiful in this land of spices, but seem to be most common in their whole, hard-as-nails form. Chopping wasn’t happening. My knives were no match. I tried mortar and pestling, slow and tiring. I even took a hammer to these suckers. I now understand why whole cloves are most often used as sharp objects plunged into defenseless foods like oranges.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce | Cook it Pretty
Success could also have been made sweeter by the hunt for key holiday ingredients, like the cranberries. In a land where I often call foods by names not widely understood by others, seeking cranberries in multiple markets was…interesting. Cranberries? They’re red and smooth? Possibly frozen? Very tart? *Points to image on a bottle of cranberry cocktail and smiles hopefully*

Spiced Cranberry Sauce | Cook it Pretty
Whatever other factors involved, the stuff tasted good. It smelled amazing. It was spiced and sweet. It tasted like it should taste. It tasted like home. The double batch lasted through many rounds of delicious leftover turkey sandwiches. I made it ahead of time and it made my life easier. And for all these reasons, I’m making it again this year. In Dubai again, this time with the in-laws. Please wish me luck on my holiday food shopping adventures.

Ginger Apple Cranberry Sauce
Double Batch, Serves 16

24 oz fresh or frozen cranberries (680 grams, for those of us shopping in the metric system)
1-2 tart apples, chopped
1 1/2 c water
1 c honey
1/2 c brown sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
4 Tbs candied ginger, chopped
2 Tbs Cointreau or Grand Marnier
Zest from 2 oranges

In a large saucepan, bring cranberries, apples, honey, brown sugar, spices, and water to a simmer. Cover and simmer for around 10 minutes (until you notice it thickening) over medium-low heat. Add zest, candied ginger, and orange liqueur, continue simmering uncovered for a few more minutes. You’ll know when it starts to look like sauce. Remove from heat and taste, adding more sugar or spices if needed. Let cool in your serving dish of choice. Keep covered in the fridge until Turkey Day – you can make this a couple days ahead and save yourself the stove top room day-of. Bring to room temp before serving time.

© Cook it Pretty 2015


#TBT: Remember When Thanksgiving Happened?

It’s 2015! While most people have already received that memo, I need to do a throwback to reflect on Thanksgiving 2014. It was a unique holiday – our first time celebrating in our new Dubai home, our first time hosting as a couple, and our first International Friendsgiving. It was so memorable to share an American holiday with friends from all over the world. For me it was the perfect mix of old traditions and new twists.

International Friendsgiving | Cook it PrettyI focused on the mains like turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pie and we went potluck style for the rest, menu as follows:

Roast Turkey with Herb Butter rub
Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Classic Herb Stuffing
Gravy 2 ways
Mama’s Pumpkin Pie
Spiced Fig Sangria
Aussie Green Bean Casserole with Bacon
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
Southern Mac n Cheese
Belgian Truffle Mashed Potatoes
Belgian Potatoes au Gratin
New Zealand Glazed Fruit Cake

Highlights: (1) Our turkey was beautiful. Juicy and delicious! Watch this 5 minute video next time you roast a turkey. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. (1a) One of the best things I learned while hosting this year is that my soon-to-be-husband is a turkey breakdown master. (Look at those butchering skills in the first photo!)

Roast it Pretty(2) This cranberry sauce from The Kitchn is a winner. I was worried about straying from my Mom’s classic cranberry relish, but I opted for a cooked version because I don’t have a food processor here. I doubled the recipe and added a granny smith apple. Bomb. Also, great to make a day or two ahead.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce(3) I officially love stuffing, and while I will still call it stuffing, Paula Deen tells me it’s actually dressing since I don’t cook it inside the bird. My European friend called it a savory bread pudding, which I may also start using because it sounds so much fancier. I combined tips from two recipes which were both of the traditional onion/celery/sage variety. Made it mostly ahead and did a final bake the day-of.

Planning and Stuffing | Cook it Pretty(4) Pie. Our Moms are amazing. This being in charge and cooking all week thing isn’t easy (you can do it, but it’s work). The man learned a few things about making a smooth gravy, number one being it wasn’t as easy as his Mom makes it look. Same goes for me with the pie crust. I’ve made pie alongside my Mom countless times, but the magic of her ease with it just isn’t there when I do it on my own! There were nearly tears, and many texts and emails were exchanged with Mom along the way, but two pumpkin pies happened. The crusts didn’t look perfectly manicured by a longshot, but they were GOOD. Some of our guests said they’ve always heard so much about pumpkin pie but had never actually tasted it. How fun that their idea of pumpkin pie will be shaped by my Mom’s family recipe.

Mama's Pumpkin Pie | Cook it Pretty

I loved tasting what everyone else made and sharing some American traditions with them. I was thankful for the day, for our friends, and for the leftovers for many days to follow. Shame we only have one day a year dedicated to gratitude, I’m ready for another feast with loved ones already!

Secret Lovers: Dates & Bacon

Bacon Poem


When I think about what inspired me to put a little more time and effort into my kitchen skills, the things that come to mind are my surprise successes – things that turned out more impressive than I expected, and were memorable and yummy – or things that went poorly that pushed me to try again to fix my mistakes. Three dishes specifically come to mind: bacon wrapped dates, Irish car bomb cupcakes, and (pretty messed up) lemon bars.

The bacon wrapped dates are as good a place to start as any. The first time I made them was during my inaugural Dubai adventure in the summer of 2010. We were new here. Bacon was doing its thang back in the States, invading menus everywhere and finding its way into everything from mac ‘n cheese to ice cream sandwiches. I had only recently discovered the crispy, gooey, salty, sweet nuggets of deliciousness known as bacon wrapped dates. I missed them.

I realized I was sitting on a gold mine of delicious and inexpensive local dates in the Arabian Peninsula – the Sheik’s dates, I was told! – and they came in almost every form you could imagine. Date syrup. Date jam. Date oil. Dates stuffed with pecans and candied orange peel. While all these things taste pretty darn good, the dates were really missing their secret lover: bacon.

Bateel Dates

Don’t they look lonely?

The Middle East has a bit of a bacon problem. It’s not halal (Muslim version of kosher), yadda yadda yadda, they don’t eat it. Or serve it. It’s a bit of a conundrum, then, how many things around here are called bacon that AREN’T BACON. If you don’t want to eat bacon, don’t eat bacon. But don’t parade beef bacon and turkey ham around on menus and pretend it’s ok.

Are you feeling concerned for me yet regarding my lack of bacon access?

There is a way. There’s a secret section of the grocery store for people like me. Sinners. Outlaws. Hoodlums. It’s rather un-secret, actually. But it is way in the back. In large letters it reads “Non-Muslims Only”, much like that part of the old video store you weren’t supposed to see unless you were over 18. And that section is just chock full of pork products. Stuff I don’t even understand.

There’s something about hiding things away like that that makes you want it more, don’t you think? The lack of real bacon everywhere else made me a bit indignant. I will eat real bacon, dammit! I will proudly walk into the meat locker of shame to get it if I have to! America!

Old Oscar Mayer himself, apparently “America’s Favorite Bacon”, is right there in the mix. I have a terrible picture to prove it. (Didn’t I give the disclaimer about it not always being pretty?)

Oscar Mayer


What could be better than combining the Sheik’s dates with Oscar Mayer? So rebellious. So forbidden. And yet, imagine the lack of confidence in my own cooking skills at the time…I only made FOUR! What a shortsighted fool!

I was absolutely shocked at how well they turned out. Obviously I ate them all before the man got home from work. But because sometimes the best part of cooking is sharing your successful creation with others, I quickly made another batch to prove to him how delicious this combination truly is. He was skeptical, but he agreed. Which is probably why we are getting married.

You can be certain that the next time I made these little bites of heaven, I made a batch about ten times the size and confidently served them to a happy group of friends. I went out on a limb and tried something, it turned out amazing, and thereby I was inspired to do more of it: more trying, more experimenting, more cooking. And of course, more sinning of the bacon variety.


Four! How adorable.

I’m willing to bet your popularity stock goes up when you show up at your next party with a platter of bacon wrapped goodness. A solid basic recipe to start with is this one from Popsugar Food.

Cook it Pretty notes: The most labor intensive part of this is pitting the dates. You’ll get a rhythm down after you do a few, but having a friend and a glass of wine helps. The bacon handling can be a little icky. Use kitchen shears to cut the bacon to an appropriate size, get a little greasy, then get over it. Your reward is coming.