Make Your Own Cranberry Sauce

I love cranberry sauce any time of year, but it's a must-have around Thanksgiving. As I gear up for the holiday, I’m all about finding creative new recipes. Forgo the canned stuff -- it's usually packed with HFCS -- and discover the taste of real, homemade cranberry sauce. Be sure to make lots so you’ll have leftovers for those post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches.

I love cranberry sauce any time of year, but it's a must-have for Thanksgiving. When fall hits, I’m all about finding creative new recipes to try. Ditch the canned stuff -- it's usually packed with high-fructose corn syrup -- and discover the taste of real, homemade cranberry sauce.

Canned vs. Fresh

The main difference between homemade and those jiggly canned varieties is the type of sweeteners used. Cranberries need something sweet to balance out their naturally tart flavor, but the ingredients quality plays a major role in how the final dish tastes. The canned stuff typically contains cranberries, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and water. That's not a lot of ingredients, but there's very little that's wholesome there. Homemade versions, meanwhile, stick to fresh ingredients: cranberries (fresh or frozen), sugar and flavor enhancers such as citrus and more.

Fresh cranberries are very low in calories (a cup has only 46), and whether you opt for canned or fresh, a 1/4 cup serving of the sauce contains 80 to 110 calories. Besides adding a sweet touch to your Thanksgiving main, these berries contain antioxidants and other plant compounds that are linked to protecting your body from heart disease and cancer. For more info on their benefits, check out The Cranberry Institute.

Quick Cooking, Big Flavor

Sure, the canned stuff is convenient, but homemade cranberry sauce comes together so quickly that there's no reason not to try it. Most recipes only require 10 to 15 minutes of cooking, plus some time to chill in the fridge. You can even make your batch up to one week before to get a head start on your big meal.

Once you've mastered the basic cranberries-and-sugar sauce, try adding dried fruit such as raisins, cherries or apricots for an extra flavor dimension. I also like to experiment with fresh apples, ginger, citrus zest (lemon or orange) and spices such as cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Just toss all your ingredients into a saucepan, cook, cool and serve.

Make Your Own Jellied Sauce

If you’re a die hard fan of the jellied variety (instead of the chunky), add a little extra water to your recipe while it's cooking. Then run your sauce through a fine sieve while it’s still hot. Combine the strained sauce with a tablespoon of powdered gelatin that has been dissolved in water and place the mixture in a glass jar to cool in the fridge. Once set, you’ve got a much healthier version of the jiggly stuff (no tell-tale ridges though).

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