21 November 2012

Japanese Thanksgiving 2012: The Year of the Toaster Oven

It wasn't until my 20s that I got on the Thanksgiving train. When I was younger, I didn't quite understand the fuss. I was a pesco-vegetarian from the age of 10 (thanks to a traumatic viewing of the movie Babe, with that adorable singing pig). The whole Thanksgiving holiday seemed a bit overrated, with the waiting, and the cooking, and the dishes -- oh the dishes. It certainly couldn't compare to Christmas (evergreen, lights, Santa Claus) and it didn't hold a candle to Easter (fancy dresses, jelly beans, Cadbury Eggs).

But in my early 20s, living in a house just off my university's campus, I began to host "Friend Thanksgiving." My roommates and I would scrounge up enough chairs, buy a turkey, make a couple frantic calls to moms back in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, and cook a smörgåsbord of all our favorite childhood dishes, served up with entirely too much wine. We'd sit at a kitchen table pushed up against a card table, covered with a bed sheet posing as a tablecloth, and we'd go around, each person saying what they were thankful for. It was ragtag in the best sense of the word, a community meal before we went back to our real homes to eat much fancier and probably more sober meals with our families, who already knew the secrets of Thanksgiving like you should defrost the turkey the night before.

This year, when a sweet British friend asked if we could host "a real American Thanksgiving," I wasn't opposed to the idea. It took a bit of convincing from Amos that we could pull it off; this is the holiday, after all, where the primary challenge seems to be how-much-can-you-fit-in-an-oven... of which we don't have. We do have a toaster, measuring 10 inches by 12 and I did happen to find cranberries, squash, and a WHOLE chicken, weighing in at a whopping 3 pounds. We considered it fate. Thanksgiving in Japanland was a go.

With that irrational confidence, four Brits, an Aussie, and a South African walked into an American's house for Thanksgiving. We had roast chicken instead of turkey, Japanese sweet potatoes instead of yams, and pumpkin pie made from kabocha squash. We made a Ginger Cranberry Lime soda for those whose throats were parched from a 2AM karaoke session the night before, and we had wine from Washington state and Adelaide, Australia, representing the fine geographical spread of our guests. We had nowhere near enough chairs and instead sat on the floor, Japanese style, and ate at our coffee tables, which, somehow, didn't seem weird at all.

There were a couple clear winners, a couple clear losers, and the poor toaster oven did its best but couldn't quite get everything done on time (sorry, still-slightly-hard sweet potatoes and American style biscuits that were finished just in time for dessert).

But the star, you guys? The cranberry chutney. Like Thanksgiving, it's something that I've grown to love. My mom's version is raw minced cranberries with orange peel and pecans, and, while I understand the tart appeal, I've found myself unable to embrace it fully. In my childhood, it certainly couldn't compete with the cloyingly sweet Sweet Potato casserole that appeared at our Midwestern get-togethers. My adult tastebuds, grown up a bit, discovered relish, and fell in love. The tangy cranberries, the simmered citrus, the kick of ginger... oh boy. This is the real deal, and just the way I like it: Cranberries simmered down until they are right on the edge of chutney, almost tipping into relish, where the berries are recognizably round, but soft and content to stick to the spoon.

Orangette's (Bastardized) Cranberry Chutney

Through trial and error and the inability to return wrongly purchased items to the grocery store, I had to make several adjustments to this recipe, and, praise be, it still worked. The flavor profile is fantastic. It's my favorite meal from The Japanese Thanksgiving of 2012, the Year of the Toaster Oven and Stove. It's a make ahead meal. Pop in the fridge, and bring to room temperature to serve. I recommend it slathered on turkey, biscuits, or eaten straight out of the jar with a spoon. It's that good you guys.

I meant to have apricot preserves instead of orange, but while looking at the apricot jars, I accidentally picked up orange. I did the same thing with the dried cranberries. Rushing and seeing the クラ, I picked it up, not realizing it was the クラ  of cranberries and not cherries. That's what I get for rushing and not reading. Damn! However, with those two substitutions, plus fresh ginger for crystalized, and apple cider vinegar for raspberry, it seems to come together perfectly. I can't say that I would change a thing.

24 ounces (300 grams) good orange preserves
3/4 cup (6 ounces) apple cider vinegar
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup (2 ounces) Grand Mariner
2 bags cranberries
1/4 cup (2 ounces) peeled and finely diced fresh ginger
1 1/4 cup (10 ounces) dried cranberries

In a large saucepan, combine the orange preserves, apple cider vinegar, salt, cloves, and Grand Mariner. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon, as it will "bubble ferociously," to quote Orangette, and she is telling no lies. Once it thickens, about 10-15 minutes, stir in cranberries (thawed if frozen). Reduce heat to medium, and stir until they are beginning to pop and soften. Basically, you want them to still be cranberry shaped, but warm and soft. Toss in the ginger a minute or two before the cranberries are done, so it has time to mellow in the mixture. When cranberries are soft, pull the pan off the heat and stir in the dried cranberries. Cool for a couple minutes, then pour in a serving dish, cover, and chill. It thickens up considerably.

This recipe makes a surprisingly generous amount, but it's delicious, freezes well, and would make a cute hostess gift in a little jar, so please don't worry.

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