Traditional Thanksgiving, With a Few Easy Substitutions
The week of my favorite holiday of the year is upon us. I am giddy like a little girl- even all the prep is fun! Just as the last leaves have dropped from our now barren trees, a few flurries begin blowing in the wind- the timing is almost poetic. I am sure I am not alone in having spent the last few weeks planning sleeping arrangements for grandparents, cousins, siblings that come to together to warm and fill the house that wonderful kind of crazy that only family can bring. There really is nothing better.
The turkey has been ordered (hopefully you did that a couple of weeks ago, if not get on it now), the menu has been created, and my first round of shopping is done (all the non-perishables) is done. Now if your family is anything like mine, there are a number special food needs, allergies to be weary of, and of course the vegetarian (otherwise know as the Veg) or two to cook for- yes I am one of those :) The best thing about Thanksgiving though, is that although the turkey is the show-stopper, the meal is really all about the sides. So if you are a modern family like we are, you can make everyone around the table happy (without killing yourself in the kitchen), which probably includes the traditionalist, the veg or vegan, someone who has a gluten intolerance and possible someone with a dairy intolerance. The good news is, that these are not obstacles, they are just opportunities for everyone to try some new great dishes by making some minor adjustments.
We obviously always have farm fresh turkey, and honestly the satisfaction of my family fighting over the legs, or the breast meat of the succulent juicy bird, makes me smile- I don't need to eat it. I am not a briner. My fool-proof (and no longer secret) method is butter mixed- with a ton of fresh herbs- rubbed under the skin and then the whole turkey covered in uncured, hickory smoked bacon. It comes our perfectly juicy every single time. It is true, I do use bacon- a processed meat- which I usually suggest avoiding. But for Thanksgiving, I make the exception. I do however, ensure that the bacon is uncured and contains no nitrates- as natural as bacon can possibly be. Gravy is made fresh from the drippings and a little red wine to deglaze. Our traditionalists are happy. For the non-meat eaters we will have a vegan roasted garlic and parsnip gravy that I make a day in advance and simply reheat.
The sides however, are the true favs. Our meal starts with a squash bisque, probably my favorite dish of the meal. This is great to make in advance, and is completely gluten free, and dairy free if need be (recipe found under recipe tab). Additionally we have a wild rice, wild mushroom risotto, which has become a family tradition, and is a great gluten free substitute for stuffing. Also, this dish provides great nutrients and protein for all of the Veges. Additionally, we will have green beans with hazelnuts, brussel sprouts with pomegranate seeds and a spiced cranberry sauce (which is also great to make ahead).
Save yourself the stress, and give yourself the ability to sit down and actually enjoy the meal this year. Prep and make as much a day in advance as you can (have the kids pitch in prepping the herbs, peeling potatoes, trimming beans, etc) and skip all the things that you know you don't need and never get eaten anyway (like rolls and garden salads). If you use fresh ingredients, make a variety of sides (they don't need to be complicated), and make small substitutions when necessary, you can make everyone happy without killing yourself. Easy substitutions to make are vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, coconut milk instead of heavy cream, cornstarch or amaranth instead of flour, and filling root vegetables and mushrooms instead of meats. Your family will be smiling and enjoying your company at the table.... until dessert. More yummy details on that tomorrow.