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The S.O. and I spent Thanksgiving back in Michigan with his family.  It was a wonderful trip — how we miss the Mitten State!  But I knew Thanksgiving day food prep was going to be a challenge.  Since the S.O. and I were in a hotel, there wasn’t much we could do to help with food prep ahead of time.  The in-laws’ oven was the only oven we had, and it was working overtime to bake bread, several casseroles, and the turkey.  So I knew that a pie would just complicate matters — plus, my father-in-law and I are the only pie-eaters of the bunch.

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My solution was this super-simple panna cotta.  I could prep in a day ahead — in my hotel room’s little kitchenette too!  And it was a lighter, more refreshing way to end the meal.  The addition of ginger ale is inspired by the Detroit original Vernor’s ginger ale.  It adds a creamy roundness to the cranberry jelly, bridging the tart cranberries with the milky panna cotta.

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This cranberry & ginger ale panna cotta was so delightful at Thanksgiving, that I’m making it again at Christmas.  It is a wonderful change of pace from the tired pumpkin pie.  And since you can prep it up to two days ahead — just cover tightly with plastic wrap in the fridge — you needn’t worry about dessert, and can instead focus on that Christmas roast!

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These photos were taken on my in-laws’ back porch, on the house the S.O. and I spent 5 years in while I was working on my Ph.D.  We walked across this porch countless times, and I never thought back then what a beautiful background it would make.  The vintage linens and custard cups belong to my mother-in-law.  Thank you for the loan of these gorgeous items for my photos!

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Cranberry & Ginger Ale Panna Cotta

Makes 8 servings | Start at least 4 hours ahead | Adapted from David Lebovitz


  • 3 C fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 C + 1/2 C sugar, separated
  • 1 + 1/2 C ginger ale
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger (optional)
  • 4 C half & half
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 2 packets unflavored gelatin (about 4 1/2 tsp)
  • 6 Tbsp cold water
  • chopped pistachios (optional)


  1. Place cranberries, 1/2 C sugar, ginger ale, and ginger (if using) in a medium saucepan over high heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-high and continue to slow boil for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If bottom begins to scorch, stir more frequently and reduce heat to medium.  Cook down until mixture thickens to a gel-like consistency.
  2. Meanwhile, place half & half and remaining 1/2 C sugar into a separate large saucepan.  Slice vanilla bean, scrape seeds.  Add vanilla pod and seeds to saucepan.  Mix well.  Place saucepan over medium heat until mixture is thickened and just begins to boil.  Remove from heat upon reaching a boil.
  3. While half & half is cooking, sprinkle gelatin over cold water in a small bowl, and stir gently to moisten and soften gelatin.
  4. Once the half & half mixture has been removed from heat, remove the vanilla pod.  Add gelatin to half & half mixture, and whisk to a smooth consistency.
  5. Pour half & half mixture evenly into 8 custard cups or molds.  Be sure to leave at least 1″ of space between the mixture and the rim of the cups — this volume will eventually be for the cranberry jelly.  Place custard cups in refrigerator and chill for 30-45 minutes, or until panna cotta is on the verge of setting.
  6. Let cranberry jelly cool while panna cotta is in the refrigerator.
  7. After about 45 minutes, the panna cotta should be on the verge of setting, and the cranberry jelly should be nearly cool.  Gently pour the cranberry jelly onto one side of the panna cotta dishes — try to get the panna cotta and cranberry to each occupy half the space in the cup.
  8. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 more hours.
  9. To serve, let come to room temperature for about 10 minutes, then top with chopped pistachios.
  10. Can store up to 2 days in refrigerator, covered tightly with plastic wrap.

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