I still remember the first time I cooked Thanksgiving Day dinner. It was four years after my husband and I had married. Up until that year, my mother-in-law always made Thanksgiving Day dinner. It was her specialty and that was fine with me. I was never really a fan of turkey and all the trimmings and, since I spent Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I got to spend Christmas with my family. This arrangement was fine with my husband because my mother always made lasagna on Christmas.
How I came to make Thanksgiving Day dinner was not for a joyous reason. My father-in-law passed away at a young age about a month earlier and the family was devastated. I offered to make dinner in place of my mother-in-law, who wasn’t up to the job and didn’t even want to celebrate the holiday. We didn’t want her to be alone and convinced her to have dinner with us. The rest of my husband’s family was also invited.
This was a big deal for me because I had never cooked a turkey before, but I welcomed the creative challenge. It was fun planning the menu and I came up with recipes that reflected my Italian heritage. Unfortunately my creative endeavors were not met with rave reviews (other than my husband’s) because I did not make the traditional side dishes that my in-laws were used to having with their turkey dinner.
Nevertheless, I continued to try my hand at different side dishes through the next few years and as my children grew, their likes and dislikes played a great part in how these side dishes evolved. My mother-in-law continued to have dinner with us on Thanksgiving and actually looked forward to my new approach to developing our own traditional meal.
The following are the favorites my family have come to enjoy on Thanksgiving. I don’t make all these dishes at one time (with the exception of the cranberry sauce) but tend to rotate them each year to keep things interesting. All you need is a turkey or a turkey breast, a stuffing of your choice (see post for recipes: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/11/09/choose-your-stuffing-or-is-it-dressing/) and 3 or 4 of the side dishes below and your feast menu is ready to go.
Fresh and frozen cranberries work equally well. If you are using frozen, add one to two minutes to the cooking time.
Makes about 2 cups
- 3/4 cups orange juice
- 1/2 cup Truvia for Baking or Domino Light sugar or 1 cup regular sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, picked through
- 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
Bring orange juice, sugar, and salt to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add cranberries and simmer until slightly thickened and two-thirds of berries have burst, about 5 minutes. Stir in orange zest Transfer to serving bowl and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Serve. (Sauce can be refrigerated for 1 week.)
Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- 2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
- 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.
Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.
Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Just before serving, reheat at 350°F until hot, about 15 minutes.
Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes
Sometimes I cook chopped kale with the potatoes and mix it all together.
- 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 rosemary sprig
- 1 thyme sprig
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with cold water by 2 inches and add 1 tablespoon coarse salt. Bring to a boil; cook until potatoes are very tender and easily pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain; transfer to a large bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup potato cooking water.
Meanwhile, heat together the milk, garlic, rosemary, and thyme then remove from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse flavors.
Strain the flavored milk through a fine sieve, add the olive oil and gently reheat. Using a potato masher or fork, mash potatoes with olive oil and milk until smooth. Add some of the reserved cooking water as needed to moisten. Season with salt and pepper.
- 1 whole bunch celery
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons Wondra all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- 2 tablespoons Italian bread crumbs
Separate celery stalks and leaves. Reserve leaves and cut stalks into 1/2 inch pieces. Put celery in a medium saucepan and fill halfway with water. Add salt, bay leaves and place celery leaves on top.Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook 5 minutes uncovered. Discard celery and bay leaves. Drain and set aside; reserving a 1/2 cup of the celery cooking water.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In the same saucepan add evaporated milk and flour; whisk. Add butter and turn heat to medium and cook sauce, whisking constantly, until it starts to bubble. Remove from heat and whisk in celery cooking water.
Spray a medium baking dish with cooking spray and add half the celery, half the sauce and sprinkle with the almonds. Next, add remaining celery and sauce. Sprinkle top with breadcrumbs.
Bake casserole 30 minutes.
Italian Baked Macaroni with Fontina
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 pound small shell macaroni
- 1 cup half and half (fat free works just as well)
- 2 cups Italian Fontina cheese
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray set aside.
Dice the butter and place in a large bowl. Warm the half & half in the microwave, about 1 minute. Cover to keep warm. Shred the Fontina cheese and add to the bowl with the butter. Set aside.
When the water comes to a boil, add salt and the shells and cook until they are 1 to 2 minutes shy of al dente. Drain.
Add the warm half & half to the Fontina and butter. Stir until the cheese starts to melt. Season with salt to taste and the nutmeg.
Stir the shells into the bowl with the cheese. Toss to coat well. Pour the mixture into the baking dish.
Combine the bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; sprinkle over the pasta.
Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
Number of servings-6
Balsamic-Glazed Cipollini Onions
Cipollini originated in Italy and the word means little onion in Italian.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 16 cipollini onions, trimmed and peeled
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Heat olive oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stem side down, and cook, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and continue browning on opposite side, about 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.
Add vinegar and sugar; cook, until slightly syrupy, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, thyme, and garlic; bring to a boil. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until onions are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes.
- 2 pkgs. frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons 1/3 less fat cream cheese
- 2 tablespoons skim milk
- salt and pepper
Heat oil in small saucepan and add garlic; cook 1 minute
Add spinach and heat.
Make a well in center of spinach and add milk and cheese.
Heat and stir until cheese is dissolved throughout spinach. Season with salt & pepper.
- 6 medium tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato. Scoop out pulp, leaving a 1/2-in. thick shell. Invert tomatoes onto paper towels to drain.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Add spinach; cook and stir 7 minutes. In a bowl, combine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning. Set aside 1/4 cup for topping. Add spinach and cheese to remaining crumb mixture. Sprinkle tomato shells with garlic salt and pepper; stuff with spinach mixture. Place in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Toss remaining oil with reserved crumbs. Sprinkle over tomatoes. Bake, uncovered, at 375° F for 20-25 minutes or until crumbs are lightly browned. Yield: 6 servings.
Cherry-Stuffed Acorn Squash
- 3 medium acorn squash
- 2/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons butter
Cut squash in half; discard seeds. Place squash cut side up in two 13-in. x 9-in. baking dishes coated with cooking spray.
Combine the cherries, brown sugar, lemon peel, nutmeg and salt; spoon into squash halves. Sprinkle with lemon juice; dot with butter.
Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 45-55 minutes or until squash is tender. Yield: 6 servings.
- Macaroni and Cheese? For Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving Dinner in 1883 (forgottennewengland.com)
- Sauces, salads and side dishes complete the Thanksgiving meal (triblive.com)
- A Savory Spin on Sweet Potatoes (thecocinamonologues.com)
- Cranberry Sauce (pinkbriefcase.wordpress.com)
- Make Ahead Thanksgiving – Sides and desserts will save time, oven space and sanity (savings.com)
- The Thanksgiving Table (redenvelope.com)
You can enjoy foods at a picnic and still walk away with your shorts buttoned. It just means making the right choices—and no, you don’t have to limit yourself to corn on the cob and watermelon. Just skip (most of) the worst choices; the best ones are often just as satisfying.
Choose: Veggies with hummus. Fill up on vegetables first. You can have a full cup of sugar snap peas for 60 calories (0 grams of fat). Add 2 tablespoons of hummus (50 calories, 3 grams of fat) and you have a fiber-rich snack for just a little more than 100 calories.
Choose: A hot dog is a lower calorie meat choice. Enjoy one on a roll with your favorite toppings (with lower-cal toppings like mustard, relish or just a little ketchup) and you’ll come out around 300 calories, 17 g fat.
Choose: Coleslaw can satisfy a craving for something creamy for far fewer calories (83, with 3 grams of fat per cup). Low-cal cabbage is also a rich source of isothiocyanates, compounds that amp up the body’s natural detoxifying enzymes.
Choose: A frozen fruit bar (100 calories, 0 grams of fat) or even a scoop of vanilla ice cream: 140 calories, about 5 grams of fat.
Choose: Light beer. A 12-ounce bottle generally has a little less than 100 calories. Or go for the best choice of all: zero-calorie flavored seltzer or water.
How To Plan a Healthy Picnic:
Take Advantage of Seasonal Fruits & Vegetables
The more colorful produce you add to your menu, the healthier the meal. Choose brightly colored summer fruit such as peaches, berries, cherries and watermelon. Bring some simply grilled vegetables (use a low-fat salad dressing for a marinade) such as corn, zucchini, Portobello mushrooms and red peppers.
Crunchy Appetizers & Low Fat Dips
Pack your cooler with a variety of crisp, raw veggies like cucumbers, carrots, celery, asparagus tips, cherry tomatoes and radishes. Take along a nutritious dip such as hummus, salsa, fat-free bean dip, or low-fat yogurt with herbs and spices.
Take a Second Look at Salads
Potato salad, pasta salad, tuna or egg salad… although they carry the word salad in their name, it does not mean they are calorie controlled, or heart healthy choices! Instead of mayonnaise, use dressings made with less oil and more vinegar to save lots of calories. Using salad dressings that contain acidic ingredients such as vinegar or citrus instead of mayonnaise not only cuts fat but helps keep foods safer at room temperature. When making salads use whole grain pasta; try a brown rice salad or whole-wheat couscous salad. Combine cherry tomatoes with green beans and whole-grain pasta and add a little pesto for a nutritious salad that travels well. Your best bet – use lots of salad greens, cooked beans and raw veggies to make a true salad that will fill you up with fiber without the extra calories.
Add Some Whole-Grains to Add Some Fiber
Breads, rolls, and starchy salads can pile on lots of calories. So always check the food labels to make sure you are making reduced calorie choices when selecting your starches. In addition, make them whole grain for added nutritional value, as whole grains have additional nutrients and fiber.
Main Dishes can be Healthy & Light (and not necessarily fried)
Skip the fried chicken, and make a variety of wrap sandwiches. They’re easy, portable, and fun for the whole family. Start with whole grain wraps and fill them with healthy stuffings such as grilled vegetables, lean cold cuts (turkey, ham, roast beef or chicken with low-fat cheese), grilled chicken, hummus and cucumbers. Be sure to add lettuce, tomato and other veggies to your wraps for added fiber. And use mustard, low-fat mayo, or other light condiments to save calories.
Lighten Up the Grill
Buy 93% lean ground beef for burgers (ground turkey breast and veggie burgers are great options too). Choose from a variety of reduced fat, nitrate-free or turkey hot dogs. Top off your selections with low-fat cheese. You can also grill skinless chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, or any type of fish for a light and nutritious meal. You will save lots of calories with these heart healthier choices.
Beat the heat with plenty of ice water, sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea, and an assortment of low-calorie beverages. Save your calories for the food, and rely on calorie free drinks to hydrate you and quench that summer thirst. You can mix seltzer with a splash of cranberry juice or any fruit juice for just a touch of flavor without too many calories.
A colorful fruit platter or fruit salad is sure to satisfy even the most discerning sweet tooth. Don’t forget watermelon. If you must have cake. cookies, brownies, or cupcakes, keep the portions small.
Here are some ideas for your next picnic menu.
Lemon-Garlic Marinated Shrimp
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/4 pounds cooked shrimp
Place garlic and oil in a small skillet and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Toss with shrimp in a large bowl. Chill until ready to serve. Transport in a container with an ice pack.
Lighter and Leaner Pimento Cheese
- 1 cup finely grated Cheddar
- 1/2 cup finely grated low-fat mozzarella
- 2/3 cup plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
- 1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
- 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 6 celery ribs, cut into 4-inch pieces
- Garnish: paprika
In a medium bowl, add the Cheddar, mozzarella, yogurt, chives, salt and pepper, green and red peppers and jalapeno. Stir well to combine. Spread 1 tablespoon cheese mixture into each celery rib. Garnish with paprika.
Note: Store remaining pimiento cheese mixture in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.
Garden Fresh Tortellini Salad
- 1 pound fresh or frozen spinach tortellini
- 1 pound fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
- 1 head broccoli (1 pound), broken into florets and tender stems sliced
- 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into ¼-inch slices
- 3 leeks (white part and 2 inches green), well rinsed, dried, and cut into thin julienne
- 1 large sweet red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into julienne
- 1 large sweet yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into julienne
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Finely grated zest of 1 orange
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
1. Cook the tortellini in boiling salted water according to package instructions. Remove from boiling water with a large strainer. Drain thoroughly and place in a large mixing bowl.
2. Keep water boiling and add the broccoli florets, stems, and carrots. Cook just until tender. Remove vegetables with a large strainer. Drain and combine with the tortellini.
3. Blanch the julienned leeks 1 minute in the boiling water; drain. Add the leeks, red and yellow peppers, and fresh basil to the bowl with the pasta and vegetables; toss to combine.
4.Combine the dressing ingredients and add the thyme, orange zest, and salt and pepper.
5. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat thoroughly. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve slightly chilled.
Sweet Potato Muffins
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
- 1 1/2 cups King Arthur whole-wheat pastry flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
2. Add the sweet potato chunks to a pot of boiling water and boil for about 15 minutes. Drain and puree in a blender or food processor or mash well with a fork.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, applesauce, sugar, canola oil, and vanilla. Add in the mashed sweet potato and mix again. Add to the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
5. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Bake for about 15 to 17 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean.
6. Remove the muffins from the oven. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack.
Watermelon Squares in Campari
Campari is a bitter, red, aperitif from Italy. It compliments the sweet taste of the watermelon.
One 5- to 6-pound watermelon, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup Campari (or any Aperitifs of choice)
- Using a very sharp knife, slice the rind from the bottom of each watermelon half. The halves will now lay flat on a cutting board.
- Working from top to bottom, trim the rind from the watermelon flesh in 4 cuts, creating 2 large squares. Cut each square in half to make 4 smaller squares. Cut the squares vertically into thirds. Rotate counterclockwise and repeat the cut. Rotate once more counterclockwise and cut into thirds again.
- Serve in large paper cups with 2 tablespoons of Campari drizzled over the top
- Picnic Perfect Recipes (fitnessandfeta.com)
- Healthy Salads: Creamy Buttermilk-Herb Potato Salad (thismamacooks.com)
- Your Best and Worst Food Choices At A Barbecue (wdok.radio.com)
- 17 Nutritionist-Rated Salads in Washington (washingtonian.com)
- Save Over 700 Calories at Your Cookout with These Easy Swaps (self.com)