Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Has Room For A Little Adventure



While the traditional family Thanksgiving meal may not be the place to be adventurous, it might be worth it to try a few different ways of preparing the usual side dishes.

Usually, the time of the big dinner is either early in the afternoon, mid-afternoon, or early in the evening. If it is planned after 2 p.m., there is usually a need to put out a few snacks ahead of the big meal.

This part of the holiday food fest could be a place to experiment. How about Mushroom Paté?

First, a little about mushrooms. Mushrooms are rich in selenium, a mineral that may help lower the risk of prostate cancer, and they have no fat and few calories. However, fresh mushrooms are fairly perishable, but with a little "treatment" they will keep for days in the refrigerator and longer in the freezer.

Roast or sauté them. To sauté takes three steps:

  • In a regular skillet, over high heat, with little or no fat, sweat the mushrooms until they make a squeaking sound.
  • As they start squeaking they release their liquid -- they let out lots of moisture, so the pan must be large enough to let the liquid evaporate quickly, otherwise they will stew and get mushy.
  • Finally, as the moisture boils off, the mushrooms will brown, turn firm and meaty.

As for fresh mushrooms, they should be stored in the refrigerator either loose or in a brown paper bag. If they wrinkle and dry out slightly, they are still usable as this process concentrates the flavor.

To clean, just wipe with a damp cloth and dry well just before using.

Mushroom Paté

3/4 pound white and cremini mushrooms, stems removed

3 large garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 cup reduced-fat cream cheese

1/4 cup warm water

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Cut large mushrooms in half, slicing all as thinly as possible. Cut garlic cloves lengthwise into thick slices.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until pale gold, turning so it colors evenly. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add mushrooms to pan and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until mushrooms release their liquid and are steaming. Add thyme and garlic. Cover pan tightly and cook until mushrooms are soft, about 10 minutes. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons water if pan starts getting dry.

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese and water, add salt and pepper.

When mushrooms are soft, transfer to blender and add cheese mixture. Blend to a rough puree, letting some small chunks remain.

Return mixture to pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until it thickens and clings together, about 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Test the taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Put in a container to cool to room temperature.

Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to two days. It can be served either chilled or at room temperature, spread on crackers or as a dip for raw vegetables.

Makes 1 cup. A serving is 2 tablespoons and contains 43 calories.

It can't be Thanksgiving without stuffing -- or dressing as it is called by some. Trying a different version of this particular holiday accompaniment could be risky, but if there are adventurous souls in charge of this part of the meal, here are some variations to consider:

Wild Rice Stuffing

1 cup dried cranberries

2 medium all-purpose potatoes

1 celery rib, cut in 1/2-inch slices

1 large leek, white part only, coarsely chopped

1 large shallot, coarsely chopped

1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 cups cooked wild rice (1 cup uncooked)

1 teaspoon prepared dried poultry seasoning

1 cup reduced-fat chicken broth

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, cover cranberries with warm water to plump, let stand 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with water, cover and cook until tender when pierced with knife, about 45 to 60 minutes. Drain. When cool enough to handle, peel potatoes and chop coarsely.

As potatoes are cooking, hand chop or use a food processor to dice celery, leek, shallot and onion to medium-fine consistency.

In a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat butter until bubbly. Immediately add chopped vegetables (not potatoes) and sauté until lightly colored, about 6 minutes. Add rice, cranberries, seasoning and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until rice softens, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Mash potatoes into mixture until texture is similar to traditional dressing, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool.

This can be refrigerated up to two days. To reheat, spread in 8-inch baking dish, cover with foil and bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Makes 12 half-cup servings. This vegetarian dish has 142 calories in each half-cup serving.

Whole-Grain Stuffing with Cranberries and Walnuts

1 (24-ounce) loaf of sliced 100 percent whole wheat bread, a day old

2 cups dried cranberries, or a mix of dried cranberries, cherries and golden raisins

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 bunch scallions (green onions), trimmed and finely chopped

2 teaspoons dried thyme, or to taste

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 1/2 cups canned, nonfat, reduced sodium chicken broth, heated until hot

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Arrange bread slices on oven rack and leave in oven until very dry, but not browned, about 30 minutes. Shut off oven and allow bread to cool until easily handled. Transfer bread to large bowl.

Turn oven to 325 degrees and preheat.

Place dried fruit in a large, heat-proof bowl and cover with very hot water. Let stand until water is lukewarm, then drain water and set fruit aside.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat until very hot. Place oil in pan and heat until very hot. Add onion and sauté, stirring constantly, until onion is translucent and golden. Stir in scallions and thyme. With slotted spoon, transfer onion mixture to bowl holding drained fruit.

In another large bowl, break bread into coarse crumbs and mix in fruit and onions, add walnuts, parsley and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss gently to evenly distribute liquid as hot broth is added. Make mixture moist, but no wet. Adjust seasoning as needed, adding more salt, pepper or thyme.

To bake stuffing, lightly coat shallow baking pan, a 9x13-inch pan works well, with canola oil spray and transfer mixture to pan. Coat dull side of foil with canola oil and cover pan, sealing with shining side of foil out. Bake about an hour. To create a less moist stuffing, with crispy top, remove foil about half-way through baking time.

Serve immediately or store, tightly covered, in refrigerator for up to two days. Reheat before serving.

Makes 18 half-cup servings with 175 calories in each.

Apples and squash are staples in many traditional Thanksgiving dinners. Maintain the tradition, but add a little adventure, by trying this recipe:

Squash and Apple Puree

3 pounds winter squash (acorn, butternut or Hubbard)

3 large baking apples (Rome Beauty, York Imperial or Granny Smith)

2 teaspoons fresh parsley, minced

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup toasted wheat germ

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds and stringy fibers. Place squash in a large baking pan, cut side down, and bake until soft, about 45 to 60 minutes depending on size.

About 30 minutes before squash should be done, wash apples and poke a few holes through skin, then add to baking pan. When squash and apples are tender, but not mushy, remove from oven.

Cut apples in half to speed cooling.

Scoop squash out of shell or pull off peel. Remove peels, seeds and cores of apples. Place squash and apples in blender, add parsley and pepper. Puree.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread puree in a baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with cooking oil, then sprinkle wheat germ evenly over top. Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbling softly.

Makes 8 servings of 155 calories each.

Recipes and nutrition information from the American Institute

for Cancer Research.

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