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Lightened-up Thanksgiving Dinner

Reducing the Fat--Not the Flavor

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IS IT FAIR? All the effort you put into your Thanksgiving meal and it leaves you feeling uncomfortably full, bloated, guilty and loaded with leftovers that are too fattening to consume after you overindulged the day before.

Not this year!

Here is a meal full of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes that have all the flavor, but have been scaled down, fat-wise, into lighter versions of your favorites.

The average percentage of calories from fat of the recipe links and suggested dishes is under 27 percent. This is within the recommended range for daily healthful eating--quite unusual for such a bountiful feast.

Don't be concerned that the dishes will be lacking in flavor or texture. All the richness is still there, as the operative term in developing these recipes was lower in fat, not devoid of fat. They all contain butter, milk, or whatever other fat ingredient imparts the usual flavor and texture. 

It is either by using a lighter version of the fat ingredient, or by using less of the fat ingredient, that these lower-fat dishes are able to retain their texture, flavor and richness. For example, a bit of milk instead of cream; a broth-butter mixture rather than just butter; part-skim ricotta instead of whole milk ricotta; and defatted turkey drippings.

The turkey, rather than being roasted whole, is cut into breast, leg and thighs, and wings. This eliminates struggling with roasting and carving the whole bird, the back sections of which are often not served or consumed. Additionally, the back sections and neck may be turned into an easily made broth if desired, which can take the place of canned broth.

Purchase a whole turkey and ask the butcher to cut it as described below in the Cajun Roast Turkey instructions, rather than buying the parts packaged separately. This way, you can be certain you are getting a fresh bird (the "parts" may have been around for a while) and you will have the back section and neck for homemade broth if you choose, which may be substituted for chicken broth in any of the recipes.

The recipes were also designed to be prepared ahead of the big day, as much as possible. Each recipe includes instructions as to what point it may be made ahead and held for assembling or cooking. The recipes serve 12 people, and allow for probable leftovers.

Your guests will praise your efforts, especially when they realize they don't feel overly satiated from the large meal. You need not tell them that they just enjoyed Thanksgiving with a lighter touch. Warning: They probably won't belive you anyway.

The items within the suggested menu below are "no-brainer" dishes for which you don't need a recipe (although instructions are given). I have included links to recipes for the more fattening items in a Thanksgiving dinner.

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The * items have instructions below.

Instructions for the turkey, stuffing, rolls, green beans, and cranberry sauce follow:

Cajun Roast Turkey: Have the butcher cut a 15-pound turkey into the whole breast with back removed, 2 leg-thigh pieces; 2 wings (use the back and neck for stock if desired). Sprinkle the turkey pieces with Cajun Seasoning and baste with a homemade or purchased top-quality vinaigrette dressing. (May be seasoned the day before and refrigerated.)

Place breast on a rack in a roasting pan, in the lower third of a preheated 325ºF oven and bake for 1 hour, basting after 30 minutes. Add the leg-thighs to the pan and baste; baste breast again and cover all pieces lightly with a sheet of foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Add wings and again baste all turkey pieces. Bake for 1 hour longer, removing foil from the breast and basting again. Check breast and thighs for temperature--remove if done (see below*). Bake for 30 minutes more and remove from oven, allowing to set for 30-45 minutes before carving. (*When done, the suggested "safe" temperature of breast should read 170º, and the thigh should read 180º. However, I take the breast out at 160º and the thighs out at 170º as they continue to cook even after being removed from the oven.)

Stuffing: Prepare your favorite packaged stuffing mix, embellishing as desired with chopped onions, celery, parsley and, to make it more Cajun, add oysters or shrimp and chopped pecans near the end of the cooking time. (May be made the day before, covered and refrigerated and cooked before dinner. If adding seafood and/or pecans, do so in the last few minutes before stuffing is done.)

Rolls: Purchase rolls and split open. Brush insides of rolls with a mixture of 2/3 butter and 1/3 broth, and lightly sprinkle with Cajun or Creole seasoning. (May be made the day before up to this point, covered and refrigerated to baked before dinner.) Bake in the 325º oven for about 10 minutes with cut sides up, so the cut sides get golden and toasty.

Green Beans: Mix 3 pounds frozen, defrosted green beans with 3 tablespoons butter and 6 tablespoons broth, adding salt and pepper to taste. (May be made the day before, covered and refrigerated, and heated before dinner.)

Cranberry Sauce: Mix 3 15-ounce cans whole berry cranberry sauce with 1 15-ounce can crushed pineapple, and 1/2 cup sliced almonds. (May be made up to 2 days ahead.)

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