Sock it to 'em with sauce 

Kitchen More than any other time of year, Thanksgiving evokes a strange justification for tradition, particularly when it comes to the dinner menu. It doesn't matter that young Sheila has just graduated from culinary school and wants to experiment with a few new recipes; Uncle Phil has been in charge of the stuffing for the past 20 years and won't be relinquishing his coveted assignment. Cousin Mabel has been bringing the same creamed onion thing since the '70s, despite the harsh reality that it goes untouched, year after year.

Your mother won't budge on the use of Kitchen Bouquet in the gravy. And of course, there's always some punk who insists that Thanksgiving won't be Thanksgiving without the can o' jellied cranberries.

Where can even the most modest of culinary adventurers stake a claim on the same ol', same ol' Thanksgiving menu?

The secret is in the sauce.

Shake up this year's festivities and make your own cranberry sauce. Applesauce, too. Place the real stuff right next to the jelly, and watch the drama unfold. More importantly, the real thing is a quick study. It takes little time to prepare (less than 30 minutes), can be made in advance and actually tastes like cranberries. Although I'm partial to the addition of oranges, I've had fun zipping up the sauce with chopped fresh ginger, blood oranges and a garnish of chopped walnuts or pecans.

Applesauce, which was considered a vegetable in my house, is infinitely better made by hand than by manufacturing elves. It, too, is an under-30 minute job and can be made a few days in advance.

The traditionalists may not want to admit it, but they'll love your contributions. And you, with your homemade sauces, will have reduced the evening's processed sugar quotient by a few percentage points.

Cranberry Sauce

1 16-ounce bag fresh cranberries

2 oranges

Water and/or cranberry or orange juice

1 tsp. freshly grated ginger (optional)

Approximately 8 ounces maple syrup, or to taste

Chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Rinse cranberries and place in a medium saucepan. Before slicing oranges into halves, zest or grate some orange peel and dice. Squeeze juice from orange halves into mixture. Add liquid -- just enough to cover the cranberries. Add maple syrup. Bring to a boil, then lower temperature, and let simmer. Cranberries will pop, reduce and thicken. Stir occasionally. Cook until desired consistency and taste for sweet/tart ratio. Takes approximately 15-20 minutes. Serve either warm or chilled.

Applesauce

Estimate one apple per person. A mixture of apples (Granny Smith, Fuji, Jonathon and Mutsu to name a few) is a great idea for both flavor and texture.

For four medium apples (peeled, cored and sliced into eighths or fourths), you'll need the following:

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Approximately 8 ounces of water

Pinch ground cinnamon

Sugar to taste

Place apples into a medium saucepan. Add water; amount is approximate because you want it to barely cover the apples. Add the rest of ingredients and stir to combine, over medium/high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Let apples soften, reduce and thicken into a sauce. This will take about 12-15 minutes. Taste for sugar. Sauce is done when apples are completely soft and broken down. For a more pureed consistency, use a potato masher or wooden spoon.

Serve warm (delicious) or let cool and store in fridge. Will keep for a few days in an airtight container.Questions about your T-Day feast? E-mail kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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