When Rob and I were dating, I didn't know much about cooking which was definitely to his benefit. I recall being quite impressed that he knew how to make cranberry sauce and even added orange juice to the dish. He could read a package and boil water but I thought it was a legitimately creative move. Flash-forward a handful of years and it turns out that was the extent of his culinary mastery.

As everyone but my 20-something self knows, cranberry sauce is easy. The key is to find the right balance of sweet and tart to suit your palate. The challenge I've had over the years is that sweetening cranberry sauce exclusively with sugar leaves a flavor gap - the sauce is either distinctly tart or too sweet without anything in the middle to round things out. After several experiments, I've come up with a recipe that compliments the turkey without clubbing you over the head with a sugar cube. I consider this "base level" sweetness that can be adjusted up to suit your needs.


The sauce and popping berries can occasionally "spit". I like to use a splatter guard so that there aren't cranberry surprises around the kitchen for weeks after making a batch.

Citrus at Polito Farms - Santa Monica Farmers Market


  • 2 bags of fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over (about 20 to 22 ounces after prep)
  • 1 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup Honey Roasted Applesauce
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons honey


If you want this sauce to be sweeter, I recommend that you first increase the applesauce to a 1/2 cup followed by using part or all of the second tablespoon of honey. If it's still not working for you, increase the sugar sparingly. The great thing about cranberry sauce is you can easily adjust the flavor while it's simmering. In terms of increasing the orange juice, this will certainly make it sweeter but the citrus can become overly pronounced.


  • Combine cranberries, water, sugar, and simmer/boil until the cranberries pop (5-8 minutes).
  • Once the cranberries are mostly popped, press the berries with the back of a spatula or potato masher to ensure that they've all opened.
  • Add orange juice, applesauce, zest, and 1 tablespoon honey. Stir to combine.
  • Adjust sweetness as needed (see Tips).


Refrigerate for 2-3 days or freeze.


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Thanksgiving Dinner Timeline (as it stands currently)

2 Weeks Ahead - Freeze the Following

1 Week Ahead

  • Freeze cranberry sauce or make on Tuesday.
  • Freeze freshly baked bread for stuffing.


  • Refrigerate uncooked pumpkin pie dough.
  • Roast the Chestnuts.
  • Transfer all frozen ingredients to the refrigerator.
  • Cover turkey in dry brine.


  • Refrigerate uncooked stuffing.
  • Bake and refrigerate pumpkin cheesecake.
  • Bake pumpkin pie.
  • Set the table.

Thanksgiving Day

  • Peel potatoes and cover with water.
  • Remove turkey 40 minutes ahead and rinse. Bake at 350.
  • Make giblet stock - 2 hours.
  • At about 120 degrees, make the Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Withhold 1/2 cup of half and half to add when reheating. Transfer mashed potatoes to a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic, clean pot.
  • 40 minutes before turkey is done, remove stuffing, cranberry sauce, and veggies from refrigerator and prep gravy ingredients.
  • When turkey comes out of the oven, chill and/or decant wine.
  • While the turkey rests, bake stuffing at 400 and make the gravy.
  • 15 minutes before the stuffing is done, increase the oven temperature from 400 to 425 and put the brussels sprouts in.
  • Right before plating, reheat Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes in the microwave.
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