Photo by Chuck Glen
A house swelling under the weight of visiting family and friends, a living room filling with the excited cheers of a football game in the background and a kitchen emanating the enticing aromas of cooking food – all on a Thursday afternoon – can only signal one thing: Thanksgiving. And while it’s a holiday steeped in both history and tradition, that doesn’t mean you need to follow all the old rules.
With its culinary backdrop, Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to spice up your holiday. Perhaps you’re thinking of a healthier dinner? Perhaps you’d like to present your guests with a different take on the holiday meal?
We sat down with some of Bucks County’s best culinary minds to find out how you can add a twist to this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.
For some, copious amounts of butter, gravy and stuffing are the hallmark of their Thanksgiving meal. And while it surely adds flavor to the feast on the table, it also marks the beginning of the waistline-stretching holiday season. Luckily, there are healthier alternatives to preparing your dinner without sacrificing your favorite foods.
“I’m a believer in, besides healthier cooking, that it’s wonderful to feast and get up from the table feeling good instead of too stuffed to move,” says Linda Jacobs, owner of Soup to Nuts Catering in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. “It’s all those carbohydrate-filled sides that bog people down.”
For example, in her mashed potatoes, Jacobs strains the cooking liquid and mixes it back in rather than using milk. The simple alternative adds flavor, replenishes the nutrients that are cooked out and makes for a lighter but just as tasty dish.
She employs a similar method with her gravy. “I make a roux with the fat from the turkey, a stock from the wings, neck and giblets and make the gravy that way,” explains Jacobs. “Again, no milk or cream.”
Jacobs also recommends simple, hearty vegetables as sides instead of heavy casseroles or other dishes infused with creams and cheeses. She also recommends a seasonal kale salad with pears and toasted walnuts in a concord grape vinaigrette, an element often forgotten at the Thanksgiving table.
Shop Beyond the Supermarket
It’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving dinner without a browned, roasted turkey being carried to the center of a set table. Still, most never look beyond the supermarket and take advantage of the local farms, many may be just right outside of town. While you might pay a little extra when compared to the processed and frozen variety, don’t forget Thanksgiving is only but once a year.
“The flavor profile on free-range turkeys is just amazing,” says Caleb Lentchner, general manager and executive chef at Marsha Brown’s Restaurant in New Hope, Pennsylvania. “Their tenderness and juiciness is just amazing. I don’t know all the science behind it, but they’re bred and raised to deliver just that.”
And while free-range turkeys offer a more flavorful meal, they’re also a responsible choice. “Think of the carbon footprint left by transporting frozen turkey from the big producers,” continues Lentchner. “Not only that, they’re hardly raised in good conditions for the animal. I try and buy local as much as I can. It supports local farmers and the community as well.”
For most, simply prepping their Thanksgiving dinner leaves little time for anything else. But Mike Conti, general manager of Bobby Simone’s Bar and Restaurant in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, suggests people think differently.
“We don’t often consider wine with Thanksgiving,” he says, “but there are a few varieties that offer a perfect pairing.” According to Conti, two white wines, a German or American riesling and a gewürztraminer, will add an extra dimension to your holiday meal.
“Both wines are perfect,” he continues. “Each offers a distinct sweetness to compliment the savory nature of the Thanksgiving meal.”
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