Well, I did it. I am ALL grows up. This year, I am hosting Thanksgiving at my place. Please, please, hold your applause.
Yes, it may be that “hosting Thanksgiving” means me, my boyfriend and my Dad at our humble apartment. But it’s still hosting nonetheless. And I must admit, I am excited – proud, even – to do it.
I grew up in a household of home-cooked, healthy meals. My mom felt it important to feed me and my dad real food (Thanks, Mom!). However, I don’t believe the act of cooking was ever an enjoyable experience for her. More like a necessary evil.
She never once pushed me to learn to cook. But somehow, somewhere along the way, I found a real passion for it all on my own. If memory serves me correctly, the desire to cook came on hard and strong as soon as I decided to become a vegan. Why? Because I was forced to make my own food.
How can I make this creamy without adding milk? How can I make this savory without using meat? How can I make this cheesy without, well, cheese? It was fun. And I got INTO it. I remember my first vegan Thanksgiving. I offered to cook a few dishes for our family’s meal. I spent days searching for the perfect recipes. I wanted to make dishes with layers of flavor and lots of texture. So good, they would never suspect the “vegan” in them. I was really excited to expose non-vegans to my food and show them how great it could taste.
I am no longer a vegan. But I do have pretty high standards for what I eat. My diet includes LOTS of vegetables, a good amount of animal protein, little dairy, very little gluten, and as much whole, unprocessed food as my lifestyle will allow. This means I still have to get pretty creative in the kitchen. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Maybe this is just me being a naive newbie to Thanksgiving hosting. But I’m super pumped to chop, sauté, mix and roast some really good food for people I love. I mean, I get to expose other people to my way of eating, impress the pants off of them, and make them fall madly in love with whole food the way I have, or at least be happily satisfied. Could this holiday be more perfect? (read in Chandler Bing voice). (Actually, Chandler Bing would never say that because he hates Thanksgiving, but you get the idea).
A healthy, whole-food, gluten-free, good fat, unprocessed Thanksgiving
The Guest Lineup:
One hungry, open-minded boyfriend who pretty much eats whatever I cook, and enjoys it (for the most part). I am one very lucky woman because he really does like eating whole, healthy meals, and is always up to at least try my latest nutritious concoction. He’s still human though. And there are a few Thanksgiving staples that I think he’d appreciate having at the table, even if he doesn’t ask for it.
One simple, straightforward, no-frills Dad whose motto – for food and everything else – is “I’m flexible.” He’ll pretty much eat what you put in front of him. But when you can get him to compliment you on a dish, you know you did well.
One extremely hard-to-please foodie with the highest expectations for what goes into her body, not only for its taste, but for its health benefits. Yes, I am counting myself on my dinner guests list. I’m a big believer in cooking great dishes for myself as much as I believe in doing it for others. Why? Because, I’m worth it. (Shameless Loreal plug)
The Game Plan:
Make a really delicious meal using only whole, unprocessed food, lots of veggies and no gluten or grains. What? You don’t think it’s possible? Just watch me.
Healthy Stacey Thanksgiving Menu:
BRINED, HERB-ROASTED TURKEY
My number one rule for any meat is knowing where it came from and how it was treated. I know it sounds very Portlandia, but seriously, eating an organic, free-range turkey is the difference between ingesting a bird with harmful antibiotics and eating a free-roaming, well-fed, healthy protein. I always think about it like this: I am eating what my food is eating. I don’t eat corn-based grain laced with antibiotics; neither should my food. For a no-brainer, I highly recommend getting your turkey at Whole Foods. They have some ridiculously high standards for their birds so you don’t have to worry about a thing.
6 to 8 servings | Prep 40 minutes | Cook 3 hours, 20 minutes
- 1 10 Ib. antibiotic-free, hormone-free, free-range, organic turkey
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 oranges, quartered
- 2 lemons, quartered
- 6 sprigs thyme
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 1 large orange, cut into 1/8ths
- 4 tablespoons unsalted, grass-fed butter at room temperature
- Salt and pepper
- 1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/8ths
- 1 stalk celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 large carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1/2 bunch sage
- 3 or 4 sprigs parsley
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups organic grass-fed chicken stock, for basting
- To make the brining solution, dissolve the salt and sugar in 2 gallons of cold water in a nonreactive container (such as a clean bucket or large stockpot, or a clean, heavy-duty, food grade plastic storage bag). Add the oranges, lemons, thyme, and rosemary. Note: if you have a big turkey and need more brine than this, use 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup brown sugar for every gallon of water.
- Remove the neck, giblets, and liver from the cavity of the turkey and reserve for the gravy. Rinse the turkey inside and out under cold running water.
- Soak the turkey in the brine, covered and refrigerated, for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels both inside and out. Place turkey, breast side up, in a large, heavy roasting pan. Rub breast side with orange segments and rub on all sides with the butter, stuffing some underneath the skin. Season lightly inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff the turkey with the onion, remaining orange, celery, carrot, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley. Loosely tie the drumsticks together with kitchen string. Roast the turkey, uncovered, breast side down for 1 hour.
- Remove from the oven, turn, and baste with 1/2 cup stock. Continue roasting with the breast side up until an instant-read meat thermometer registers 165 degrees F when inserted into the largest section of thigh (avoiding the bone), about 2 3/4 to 3 hours total cooking time. Baste the turkey once every hour with 1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken or turkey stock.
- Remove from the oven and place on a platter. Tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.
KICKIN’ CRANBERRY SAUCE
I refuse to have canned cranberry sauce at my Thanksgiving. I still have memories of seeing the cylinder-shaped cranberry mold that plops right out of the can. Eck. This recipe couldn’t be further from the canned crap. I love the idea of using dates as a natural sweetener. Adding jalepeno will give the turkey’s main sidekick a spicy/sweet kick.
Makes about 2 cups | Prep 20 minutes | Cook 15 minutes
- 4 dried dates
- 1 large orange
- 12 ounces fresh cranberries
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 whole cloves
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 1 small jalapeño, stemmed and thinly sliced
- Preheat oven to 450F. Cover a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil; set aside.
- Remove the pits from the dates and place in small bowl. Cover with boiling water and allow them to soak until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain off the water and place the dates in a food processor; purée until smooth.
- Using a peeler, remove the peel from the orange, taking off as little of the white pith as possible. Cut the peel into very thin strips about 1 1/2 inches long. Squeeze the juice from the orange and set aside.
- In a bowl, combine the peel, date purée, cranberries, coconut oil, salt, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and jalapeño. Toss well and transfer to the baking sheet. Roast until the cranberries begin to burst and release their juices, about 10-15 minutes.
- Transfer the cranberries to a bowl and stir in 2-3 tablespoons of the reserved orange juice. Let the flavors meld for at least an hour, but you can store in the refrigerator for a week or so. Remove and toss out the cinnamon sticks before serving.
SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE
Sweet potatoes are the one thing on the traditional Thanksgiving menu that I am ALL FOR. They are on my to-do list for a “healthy food of the week” post because they are so incredibly good for you. Their bright sunset-orange color tells you that they are high in antioxidants. Studies have shown (and I have found) that they are also beneficial to people with digestive issues. All health benefits aside, they taste like sweet yet savory gooey goodness. I could have chosen a million ways to prepare them, but I thought this casserole was a crowd-pleasing guarantee. I can’t wait to see what coconut milk and toasted cinnamon pecans will do for this dish.
Makes about 12 servings | Prep 20 minutes | Cook 25 minutes
- 4 large sweet potatoes
- 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
- 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 1-2 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- juice of half an orange
- 3/4 cup chopped raw pecans
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp melted coconut oil
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. While water comes to a boil, peel and dice sweet potatoes into large chunks.
- Add sweet potato chunks to water. Boil until fork tender–about 10 minutes.
- Drain potatoes, then dump them back in the large pot with all the other ingredients. Using a hand mixer, blend until potatoes reach desired consistency and flavor. (You may like to add a little more coconut milk, spices, or syrup based on your taste.)
- In a small bowl, combine all topping ingredients until pecans are well coated.
- Dump sweet potatoes into an oven safe dish and top with pecans.
- Bake in preheated oven until topping is browned–about 15 minutes. Serve warm.
ROOT VEGETABLE ROAST
Root vegetables are like the slightly odd, under-the-radar kid at school that actually ends up being really cool when you talk to him. Don’t overlook them at the grocery store just because their kind of odd looking and you don’t know what to do with them. You can pretty much pick any of these underground veggies – Yams, beets, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, yuca – toss them in coconut oil, and roast them in the oven for a slightly-sweet, full-flavored snack bite. Part of me wanted to make an unnecessary amount of veggie dishes for 3 people. But I thought better of it and just decided to go with one dish that combined them all together.
Makes about 6 servings | Prep 20 minutes | Cook 1 hour
- 4 beets (I used a mix of red and yellow), cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
- 1 small turnip, cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
- 3 large carrots, cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
- 2 parsnips, cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar (be sure it’s a nice, thick one)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 Tbsp grass-fed butter
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon, divided
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Whisk cider, vinegar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper in a 9×13 baking dish. Add root vegetables and toss to coat. Cover the baking dish with foil.
- Bake for 20 minutes, uncover, and stir the vegetables. Continue cooking, uncovered, stirring about every 20 minutes, until the vegetables are glazed and tender, about 1 more hour.
- While vegetables cook, place walnuts in a small skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted, about 2-6 minutes. Remove from heat. Add butter, 1/8 tsp cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Stir until the butter melts and nuts are coated. Transfer to a plate and let cool in a single layer.
- To serve, place vegetables in a serving dish and sprinkle with the cinnamon walnuts.
MUSTARD-GARLIC BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Okay, I know I said just one veggie dish, but I can’t have Thanksgiving without brussels sprouts. These babies got a bad wrap when we were younger. But I honestly think that if you cook them the right way, you could get a picky, I-only-eat-macaroni-and-cheese-whining 7-year-old to eat them, and love them. I only wish I had that audience to prove it. I usually resort to bacon and brussels sprouts for special occasions. But sometimes I feel like that’s cheating because bacon makes everything good. This time, I am going to be a bit more adventurous with dijon mustard and coconut aminos. Fingers crossed…
Makes about 4 servings | Prep 15 minutes | Cook 35-40 minutes
- 1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts
- 1 head garlic, peeled and separated into cloves
- 1 tablespoon ghee, melted
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 tablespoon coconut aminos
- 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Cut the Brussels sprouts in half lengthwise, keeping the leaves that fall off. (They’ll turn into crispy chips in the oven!)
- In a large bowl, mix the Brussels sprouts and the whole garlic cloves with the ghee, minced garlic, coconut aminos, mustard, and a robust sprinkle of black pepper.
- Spread the sprouts in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast 35-40 minutes. Take a bite, then add more pepper (and a pinch of salt), if necessary.
This one is purely experimental and a huge crap shoot. As I said before, my boyfriend is very open to my healthy cooking and (sometimes restrictive) diet. He’s not one to ask for dishes that he knows I wouldn’t eat. But one thing he’s always said he loves is cornbread. The chances of him saying it’s as good as the real stuff is slim-to-none. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll like it enough to request it again.
Makes 10 servings | Prep 35 minutes | Cook 40 minutes
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup water
- 2 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup of coconut flour
- ½ teaspoon of garlic powder
- ¼ cup and 1 teaspoon of coconut oil melted
- ¼ teaspoon of Rough ground Celtic Sea Salt
- 1 teaspoon of Caraway Seeds, ground
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- Take out your 4 eggs and bring to room temperature. I crack mine in the blender and let them sit for 20 minutes or so.
- Add the apple cider vinegar, water and ¼ cup of melted coconut oil(not hot so you don’t cook the eggs) blend on low for 30 seconds.
- Then add in the coconut flour, garlic power, salt, ground caraway seeds and baking soda and blender for one minute.
- Grease your baking tin with the 1 tsp coconut oil. I used two small mini loaves for this recipe.
- Pour the batter in your pans and bake at 350 degrees for 40 – 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Optional – if you want to get that nice golden look – 1 minute before you take the bread out of the oven, rub a small tsp of coconut oil on the top and broil on low until you get the color you want.