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Does anyone else see something wrong with this? (foodstock.com)

As someone who welcomes any opportunity to explore my cookbook collection and create fabulous dishes in large quantities, the preparation of Thanksgiving leaves me with mixed feelings. Domestically speaking, nothing is better than the aroma of the turkey, homemade breads and pies baking while enjoying a fresh mug of coffee and blueberry muffin while watching the Macy’s Parade in pajamas. And later, putting the finishing touches on the tablescape with linens, china, and silver promises it is worth the wait.

Yet there is this part of me that wants to break out of the mold. A longing in the recesses of my soul to serve gumbo. Or a pig roast. Who doesn’t like gumbo? Over the years we have locked ourselves in, but who am I to argue with a meal so near perfection. However, the Thanksgiving dinner does not leave much leeway when it comes to menu preparation, with the exception of a few points still debated across our great nation:

First is the great cranberry debate – fresh vs. canned. This depends greatly on family tradition, most do not deviation from their norm. I have had the privilege of dining with those who refuse to eat cranberries unless they are “sliced”, insisting the shape of a tin can is the manner they were meant to be served.

Then there is the matter of potatoes. Sweet or Mashed? If sweet, with or without the mini marshmallows? We usually do all of the above. We are all about the left-overs!

And finally, the side dish I am certain sends chills up the spine of chef’s like Julia and Emeril. To those of us raised in a generation of Jell-O eaters, it was a cool, fun addition at many meals. I have fond memories of my Aunt (“Crazy Aunt Vicky”) attempting to make a red, white and blue layered mold for a July 4th picnic. She did not take into consideration the terms “July” or “Picnic” and it melted into a deep purple/almost black gelatinous soup. Jell-O has long since been weaned out of our menus, for several reasons. I have come across two recipes that addresses both the cranberry and Jell-O dilemma for those of you who find yourselves thusly obligated by family tradition.

Not a single Jell-O mold.... (cartoonstock.com)

Cranberry Orange Mold:

1 Quart cranberry juice

3 envelopes unflavored gelatin

1/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup chopped apple

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Bring two cups cranberry juice to a boil in saucepan.

In a bowl, combine sugar and gelatin. Add hot juice and stir until completely dissolved. Stir in remaining juice, chill for about an hour, until just starts to set. Fold in apple and walnuts. Put into mold or dish and chill til completely set. (I make the day before).

Or try this one:

i envelope unflavored gelatin

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 cup port wine (now we’re talking!)

1 medium apple, chopped

8 oz. can cranberries

8 oz can crushed pineapple

1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

zest from a small orange

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

In medium saucepan, combine sugar, gelatin and port wine, and juice from pineapple.Heat until gelatin dissolves. Chill until starts to set, about an hour. Stir in pineapple, cranberries, apple, nuts, zest and cardamom. Pour into mold and let set completely. (again, make ahead).

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