Doni’s Best Thanksgiving Recipes: Cranberry Relish, Cut-Out Cookies, Yeast Rolls & Your Favorites

One of Doni Chamberlain’s favorite Thanksgiving tablescapes from another year in another house.

Am I the only one who’s been caught off guard by Thanksgiving this year? For Pete’s sake, I still have Halloween pumpkins on my front porch!

I turned their faces around so they’re just plain pumpkins, which still work for our autumnal Thanksgiving week.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and because of that it has the power to be the best of holidays and the worst of holidays. When I’m experiencing a wonderful Thanksgiving, then my heart hurts for those who aren’t, and I feel sad about loved ones who are far away.

I marvel at creative people who can think outside of the Thanksgiving box and do something non-traditional, like my friends whose adult kids prefer macaroni and cheese over turkey. And I’m so impressed with a friend, a recent widow, who weighed her holiday options and decided she’d rather join friends for literally fun and games and food prepared by others, rather than accept a gracious relative’s invitation, drive a long distance alone and face her first traditional Thanksgiving dinner without her husband.

There are so many people whose jobs don’t allow them to take Thanksgiving off; including law enforcement, EMTs, hospital workers, and our service men and women, to name a few. I am grateful for them all.

Before I get to the recipes, I’d love to hear how you’re navigating not just Thanksgiving, but the holidays in general to make this time not just tolerable, but something that brings you comfort, joy and peace of mind.

I also welcome your recipes and traditions.

This year I’m feeling extra blessed and lucky to be included in a blended family Thanksgiving. Two of the items I’ll bring that are quintessentially Thanksgiving for me are Spiced Orange Cranberry Relish (done, and in the refrigerator), and my friend Judy Smith’s refrigerator rolls, affectionately referred to by some adults as the BFRs. This year, when discussing the menu with the matriarch, I mentioned that perhaps someone might want to buy rolls. I was told to not even think about showing up without the yeast rolls. Roger that.

Twin Shelly will bring her beautiful turkey-shaped highly decorated cookies. Everyone always says the cookies are too pretty to eat, but people always manage to get beyond the cookies’ artistry and gobble them up, usually starting by biting the head off the turkey.

This year, Shelly says she bought a 3-D turkey cookie-cutter set, which she explained included a turkey body, turkey feathers and a turkey head. I cannot even imagine it. I mean, literally, I cannot picture it.

She’s an artist, so she fixates on crazy stuff like that. I’m a journalist whose therapy is baking. Even so, just managing one-dimensional cookies is enough of a challenge for me.

Doni prefers a more simple cut-out cookie that can either be dipped in royal icing,  drizzled with chocolate or dusted with powdered sugar. Nothing with faces, feet or feathers.

If I can, I’ll add a photo of one of her cookies later so you can see what I’m talking about.

Doni’s twin Shelly Shively takes turkey cookies to another dimension.

No matter how they’re decorated, they taste delicious. They’re thin and buttery, but not too sweet. (The frosting takes care of that.)

I received this cookie recipe from a teacher named Mrs. Rathbun, who worked at Monte Vista School, which is where I had an after-school work-experience job as a teacher’s aide. So I’ve been making these since I was 16. Let’s not do the math, please.

Instead, let’s talk about the Spiced Orange Cranberry Relish. I’ve been making this recipe for many, many years. It’s a classic, and I can’t imagine a holiday dinner without it. If you have any left over, it’s great on turkey sandwiches. Or, you can even make a cranberry tart by putting the mixture in a shallow tart crust and baking it until the crust is golden brown. Top with vanilla ice cream. You’re welcome.

Spiced Orange Cranberry Relish

1 (12-ounce) bag of fresh cranberries (about 3 cups), rinsed
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange liqueur (or more orange juice)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup chopped pecans, walnuts or almonds (optional)

Combine cranberries, sugar, orange juice, orange liqueur and spices (including cinnamon stick) in a medium, non-reactive saucepan.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the cranberries pop and the mixture begins to thickened. (This takes about 10 minutes.)

Remove the cranberries from the stove and let cool slightly. Stir in the orange rind (and nuts, if desired). Spoon the mixture into bowl, mold or container with a tight-fitting lid.

Cover and refrigerate until serving time, up to several days. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes about 2 cups.

Judy Smith’s Refrigerator Yeast Rolls

6 c. flour
½ c. sugar
1 ½ t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
1 ½ t. salt
½ c. butter
½ c. warm water
1 t. sugar
1 pkg yeast (or 1 tablespoon)
1 ¾ c. buttermilk

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.

Cut the butter into the flour mixture (by hand or in food processor).

In a small bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the 1 tsp. of sugar. Let rest and rise about 10 minutes.

Mix all ingredients together, including the buttermilk, the only ingredient left, until smooth and elastic.

Store in large covered container in fridge. (If you want to make the whole recipe immediately, let rise, form and let rise again as below.)

To use, take out of fridge as much as you want. (1/2 recipe makes 9 large rolls or 12 medium.) Place in covered container and let rise in warm spot until double in bulk. Form, put in greased pan with the rolls barely touching, let rise until double in bulk again.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or so—until hollow sound when tapped. I usually brush the tops with butter as they come out of the oven.

Makes approximately 2 dozen medium rolls.

Mrs. Rathbun’s Rich Roll Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Cream the butter with the sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Mix in the flour and salt and form dough into a disc (it will chill more evenly and more quickly that way).

Chill the dough for at least 4 hours. Knead the dough to soften. Roll out dough on a floured board, and use cookie cutters to make shapes. Place cookies on ungreased cookie sheets and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 8 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.

Let cool. Meanwhile, make the royal frosting.

Royal frosting

3 egg whites
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

Beat until frothy

Add 1 lb. powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

Divide the frosting into sandwich sized zip top bags, then squirt in a few drops of food coloring and gently knead the bag to mix the color. Snip a tiny hole in the bag and decorate the cookies as desired.

If you appreciate journalist Doni Chamberlain’s reporting and food stories, and would like to demonstrate your gratitude this Thanksgiving holiday season, please consider a contribution to A News Cafe. Thank you!

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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