Thanksgiving in my house is so not traditional, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We did the whole family gathering thing for years. Each Thanksgiving, school and work ended on Tuesday and Mom, Dad, and I rushed to get ready to head out of town the next day where life would instantly become a whirlwind of grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, table setting, and getting ready. We were all so busy, I’m not sure anyone took a breath. Once all of that work was done, it was time for twenty to thirty other people, family and sometimes their friends. Yes, they’re my family and it was nice seeing them, but I’ve always been very, very nervous around crowds. When I was younger this fear was even worse, particularly when I couldn’t put eyes on Mom who was off doing one thing or another. I was just a scared little girl who, by the way, has only eaten a traditional Thanksgiving dinner once and pretty much hated it. Turkey, stuffing, stuff from a can . . . I just can’t.
It’s been just about ten years since we made that trip, and since then we have built wonderful Thanksgiving traditions of our own. They might not be your cup of tea, but Thanksgiving is a holiday I have learned to love. My day begins with America’s Thanksgiving Parade, taking place just half an hour from my house, but so much more fun to watch on TV, avoiding traffic and crowds. Dad puts up the Christmas tree and village, while watching the Lions
win lose. The house instantly feels warm even if the temperatures outside aren’t. We forego turkey for a delicious bone-in prime rib (the recipe will be coming in time for Christmas) along with some roasted vegetables. And you know Mom and I spend the day in the kitchen baking some decadent dessert.
This may not be the Thanksgiving you all spend the year dreaming about, and I do sometimes miss seeing my extended family, but more than that traditional dinner, Thanksgiving is about being thankful for all the amazing things in your life and spending it with the people you love. I can’t imagine there will ever be two people I love more than Mom and Dad. I treasure these Thanksgivings, because even though in so many ways it is just another day, the three of us hanging out together, cooking, baking, eating, decorating, it feels special, and I know that one day Thanksgiving will be very different whether I want it to be or not. So I am very thankful for my untraditional Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is nothing without cranberries of some kind. And canned cranberry sauce isn’t going to happen in my house. Fresh cranberry sauce is easy to make and would make a great side dish, but I’m still not a huge fan. These cranberry bars are irresistible. They have that tart tang from fresh cranberries, but it is mellowed greatly from a sweet and crunchy shortbread crust and topping. There are a few steps to these, all simple ones, but they can definitely be made a few days ahead of time and served room temperature or even warmed in the oven. Your guests would be pleasantly surprised to find that their boring Thanksgiving cranberry sauce has been remixed into Cranberry Shortbread Bars for dessert. It will be one of your new Thanksgiving traditions.
- 2 sticks, plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large egg yolks
- 3 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 12 ounce bag fresh cranberries, rinsed, dried, and picked over
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup water
- Make the crust. Line a 9 by 13 inch pan with parchment going up the sides of the pan.
- In a medium bowl, stir together butter, ¾ cup sugar, and salt until combined. Stir in the egg yolks. Stir in the flour until a dough is formed with no crumbs of flour left. Place 2 cups of the dough in the prepared pan and press into the pan, forming an even layer. Prick the dough with a fork several times. Refrigerate pan for 30 mintues. Place the remaining dough in the refrigerator as well.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Bake the chilled dough for about 20 minutes, until it is mostly set, though not brown.
- While the crust is baking, make the filling and streusel. For the filling, place the cranberries, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to boil the mixture until it has thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. The mixture will thicken more.
- For the streusel, remove the remainder of the dough from the refrigerator and add the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Mix it in with your fingers until the dough is just crumbly but not sandy.
- Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees F once you have removed the crust from the oven. Pour the cranberries over the hot crust after it comes out of the oven. It is okay if it has cooled for a few minutes. Spread them evenly over the crust. Sprinkle the streusel over the cranberries. It should cover the cranberries almost entirely. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the streusel is light brown. I like the streusel to remain quite light and soft, but if you prefer it to be browner and crunchier bake it a couple extra minutes.
- Cool completely in pan before cutting into bars. May be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days, or frozen, wrapped in parchment and foil, and placed in a zipper bag for up to 4 months. Thaw at room temperature for a couple hours or in a 350 degree F oven for about 15 minutes.