November 23, 2008 - Thanksgiving is only four days away and I will be in charge of all of the cooking this year. (Mom is on the DL) So, it’s high time that I planned the menu!
We’re having a low-key Thanksgiving this year; just my mom and dad, John, David and myself. I want to keep the dishes simple and easy, but still have all of the traditional Thanksgiving foods. Since I’ll be doing most of the cooking and the gluten free eaters are in the majority, all of the recipes will be gluten free. This is unusual circumstance for us at Thanksgiving so I’ll also tell you about how we usually deal with the large family potluck and give some tips for hosting a gluten free guest.
2008 Thanksgiving Menu:
Roasted Turkey Breast or Chickpea Cutlets with Cranberry Sauce
The key to this Thanksgiving meal will be to spread the cooking over several days so that I don’t get too tired. However, I have to balance that with my work schedule and the other meals that we will need in the meantime. With that in mind Monday night’s supper will be a stew (cooked quickly in the pressure cooker), and Tuesday’s will be Nana’s spaghetti (requires very little attention).
Monday Morning: If you’re in charge of the turkey, it may be time to start thawing it. My dad will take care of this part of the meal, and he’ll probably just cook a turkey breast. But, if you’re cooking a large bird, put it in the refrigerator now. It can take 3 – 4 days to thaw!
Monday Night: John doesn’t like stew without bread of some sort on the side, so this will be the perfect night to make a large batch of the Spoonbread Muffins. This recipe is still in the trial stages, but I’m hoping that the next batch will be perfect so that I can post the recipe before Thanksgiving. I’ll bake some of the muffins for our dinner, and only parbake the remainder. Parbaking is a cooking method in which you cook a bread for 80% of the cooking time, and then rapidly freeze it. I’ll take the frozen muffins to my parent’s house and finish cooking them right before the meal.
Tuesday Night: The main ingredient in Cornbread Dressing is (of course) corn bread. The stuffing works better if the bread is slightly stale, so I’ll make two batches of my Southern Cornbread tonight and store it in zippered storage bags in the refrigerator until Thursday.
Wednesday Night: If we make it to my parent’s house Wednesday night, then I will go ahead and make the Layered Salad. This salad is somewhat unusual in that it tastes better the second day, so it’s a perfect candidate for making ahead. I think my mom has a recipe, but the salad layers goes something like this: lettuce, red and yellow bell peppers, eggs, green peas, red onions, celery, Ranch dressing, cheddar cheese. You layer everything in a large glass bowl, and the Ranch dressing works its way though all the layers to make the best salad ever!
Thursday Morning: For those of you cooking turkey, get that bird in the oven soon. They take hours to cook. Here’s a great turkey tutorial from Simply Recipes, if you have no clue what you’re doing.
I’ll start the day by doing all of my chopping. Celery and onion for the stuffing, mushrooms for the cream of mushroom soup (Green Bean Casserole) and gravy, and sweet potatoes. Once that’s done, I’ll move to the stove to saute the celery and onions, start the cream of mushroom soup, and cook some rice for the chickpea cutlets. (I’ll make the gravy closer to lunch time).
The Green Bean Casserole and Corn Bread Stuffing will both need to bake for a while, so I’ll assemble them first. I can always cover them and let them sit in the refrigerator for a while if I get them ready too early. IF we eat at 11:30, then the Stuffing will need to go in the oven around 10:00, and the Green Bean Casserole around 10:45.
The sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce can cook away on the stove top while I do other things, so I’ll start them now. The cubed sweet potatoes will be gently tossed with butter, brown sugar, and Madras curry for a super simple side dish. The cranberry sauce will be made with fresh cranbarries (though I imagine the canned version will be on the table too) and I will probably stick with the recipe that’s on the bag of cranberries.
While that’s going, I will blend the rice and chickpeas together with lots of herbs, Veggie Chicken Better Than Bouillon, xanthan gum, and a little bit of cornstarch if needed. This mixture can be shaped into cutlets and pan-fried for a vegetarian alternative that won’t be quite as scary to your guests as tofu. While the cutlets are cooking, I’ll whip up a batch of gravy. It will be happy to simmer away on the stove until lunch is ready. And, if I don’t forget (probably will) this is the time to put the muffins into the oven to finish baking.
For dessert, I’m taking the easy way out. I stopped by Whole Foods today and snagged a few frozen gluten free pie crusts. I’ll make an apple pie and a pumpkin pie, but I’m cheating and using canned pie filling and the recipes on the back of the can. I’m sure I could make something better if I tried, but I’m taking it easy this year. And if I’m tired at this point, my dad can always help me with the pies since there’s no dough rolling involved =) The pies will go into the oven as we sit down to eat so that they are piping hot at dessert time.
If You Are a Gluten Free Guest: Over the years John and I have been guests at many non Gluten Free Thanksgiving celebrations. Most of these meals are potluck and my strategy for dealing with the meal depends on whether the hostess assigns the dishes ahead of time or not.
If the hostess does assign dishes, then I take first dibs on the Dressing and Gravy and also volunteer for a vegetable side dish. In a worst case scenario, John and I can make a meal of stuffing, gravy, and my veggie dish. If we’ve known the other guests for a while then they are usually aware of our food issues and will check their ingredients with me. I don’t usually ask them to change the ingredients unless its an easy substitution, but I at least know whether it’s safe for us to eat. (Never take their word though. Always study the food carefully before putting it on your plate. At least 50% of the time you’ll realize that they’ve used an ingredient they didn’t realize contained gluten).
If the hostess doesn’t assign dishes, then I bring at least one large dish to share with everyone, but I also bring a mini-Thanksgiving meal for John and I. I set our food up away from everyone else’s and we try to fix our plates first so that there aren’t cross-contact issues with the serving utensils. If my parents are coming, then they will bring a couple of gluten free dishes as well so that I don’t have to do quite as much.
If You’re Hosting a Gluten Free Guest: Hosting a gluten free guest is probably as stressfull as being a gluten free guest. Here are a few tips to smooth the way:
1. Run your recipes by the gluten free guest before you start cooking. They may be able to suggest easy substitutions to make a recipe gluten free. Or they may be willing to send you some key gluten free ingredients ahead of time.
2. Ask your other guests that are cooking to bring a copy of their recipe with them. You can even turn this into a fun recipe swap by having blank recipe cards on hand so that everyone can copy down their favorite recipes. No one has to know that you also want the recipes so that your gluten free guest can check the ingredients.
3. Let you gluten free guest bring some of the food. I know some hosts and hostesses want to do it all themselves. But let’s fact it. It can take months to learn to identify gluten in packaged food. If you let your guest bring something, they will have at least one dish that they know is 100% safe.
4. Make sure you have plenty of metal serving utensils and threaten your guests with their lives if they move the spoons from dish to dish. Some individuals are so sensitive to gluten that even a speck of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom will make them violently ill. And your wooden serving utensils can harbor gluten forever. Stick to metal utensils and make sure the gluten free foods are easily identifiable. You can also put your gluten free guest at the front of the line.
5. Don’t stress too much. If your guest has been on a gluten free diet for any length of time, they will greatly appreciate your efforts to feed them, even if they can’t eat everything on the table.
Would your Thanksgiving be less overwhelming if you knew the gluten free recipes that you’re planning would turn out wonderfully? Would it help to have a shopping list and cooking timeline to follow? Would you like to have someone to go to when you have questions? If so, then my Gluten Free Thanksgiving Made Easy Kit may be just what you need.