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Here’s your guide to turkey day with dietary restrictions

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From page A6 | November 20, 2013 | Leave Comment

Thanksgiving is the biggest cooking challenge of the year for most home cooks. It’s a tricky meal, with lots of dishes we don’t usually make, timing issues and space problems.

It’s a rare year in most houses when something doesn’t go wrong: the cat gets to the turkey, the oven breaks, Auntie Em’s plane is delayed. Add to that the (quite probably unrealistic) expectations of the entire family, and Thanksgiving turns into a stress-fest.

It’s no wonder, then, that the addition of a guest with allergies or dietary restrictions will cause most cooks to wilt a bit. Never fear! Here’s your quick guide to Thanksgiving Dinner for Everyone.

The first rule of Thanksgiving cooking is “Don’t Kill Anyone,” and that goes double for a guest with allergies. If you’re cooking for someone with a food allergy, find out all the details and be extra careful with ingredients. Allergies run the gamut from “I’m fine as long as I don’t actually eat it” to “I go into anaphylactic shock when the allergen is in the air.”

Ask your guest about the severity of the allergy and what precautions are necessary. For serious allergies, you made need to buy fresh packages of staples to be sure you avoid trace contamination. When I cook for friends with celiac disease, where even a trace of flour can cause a reaction to gluten, I get new containers of everything I use. (The corollary to that rule is “Tell the Whole Story,” whether it’s admitting to a mild allergy that really does bother you, or not calling your aversion to green beans an allergy.)

Dietary restrictions fall under the second rule of Thanksgiving cooking, “Feed Everyone Well.” That does not, you’ll note, say “Feed Everyone Everything” — it’s fine to have foods that some of your guests don’t eat, provided you mark them clearly. It’s not fine to feed vegetarian guests solely on salad and dinner rolls, particularly at Thanksgiving.

Again, find out all the details of what your guest can and can’t eat, preferably directly from your guest. Some people who identify as vegetarians include fish in the their diet, for example, while others, also identified as vegetarian, are horrified by the thought of eating eggs.

(And the corollary to that rule is “Be Kind” about what people eat. Food, particularly at the holidays, is an emotional hot button for a lot of folks. Thanksgiving should not include judging the cook for roasting a turkey, or being angry because a vegan won’t eat Grandma’s pumpkin custard.)

The most difficult allergy for Thanksgiving is gluten, since the traditional menu is a big old carbohydrate-fest. Gluten-free stuffing is easy peasy, because good homemade gluten-free cornbread is a snap, and a rice stuffing also would work well. Rolls and pie crust are more challenging, and there’s no shame in buying ready-made. Remember that you’ll need to thicken your gravy with cornstarch or a gluten-free flour, and check labels on everything else for hidden sources of gluten. (WebMD has a helpful article on that topic at www.webmd.com/diet/features/hidden-sources-of-gluten.)

The other big allergen for Thanksgiving is dairy. Whether it’s a dairy allergy or a special diet, removing dairy from some parts of the meal can be tricky. Pies are simple, since an apple pie in a crust made with (non-hydrogenated, please!) shortening fits the bill, but mashed potatoes without dairy can disappoint diners who are expecting a rich dish. It’s relatively easy to make two bowls of mashers, beating one with a vegan butter replacer like Earth Balance and a non-dairy milk.

Double-check the rolls and stuffing mix for dairy ingredients, and offer more Earth Balance for buttering foods that like butter. Consider the side dish selection, and make sure that several of them are dairy-free or dairy-optional. Sometimes all you need to do is to serve the blue cheese on the side!

The most frequent dietary restriction question we get at the Davis Food Co-op is what to feed a vegetarian guest. As a general rule, the answer is not a frozen imitation turkey — it’s neither hospitable nor delicious. We like a winter squash with rice stuffing or the same stuffing you’d put in a bird (sans sausage, giblets or chicken broth, of course!) because it looks impressive, just what you want in a holiday main dish. Add a big dish of baked beans as a protein, and a nice vegetarian gravy.

Be sure that you tell your vegetarian guest which other dishes contain meat (including chicken broth). It’s been our experience that you should always make enough of the vegetarian dish to serve all your guests. Consider that a compliment to your fine cooking!

Vegans don’t eat any animal products at all, which can be a bit of a problem if your Thanksgiving shopping list starts with two pounds of butter. The stuffed squash, baked beans and gravy we make for vegetarians are all easily made vegan, and the same mashed potatoes that serve the dairy-free crew will work for vegans. Vegans usually don’t eat eggs (although some vegans make an exception for eggs from backyard chickens) and some don’t eat honey.

— Julie Cross is marketing and education director at the Davis Food Co-op.
————
Improved Corn Bread
The ingredients:
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup masa flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Putting it together:
Grease an 8 x 8 pan. Heat oven to 425°.

In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a cup, mix together sour cream, milk, eggs and oil. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir until just combined. Bake 20 minutes.

— Based on a recipe from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

Julie’s Giant Stuffed Winter Squash
The ingredients:
1 large winter squash, approximately 10 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 sweet red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
12 mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup pecans
4 cups cooked brown rice*
salt and pepper to taste
(1/2 cup dried pineapple)
(1/2 cup golden raisins)

Putting it together:
Preheat oven to 350°
Wash squash and carefully cut in half. Scoop out seeds and strings. Oil cut side and place on cookie sheet, cut-side down. Bake until squash begins to soften, but is not entirely done, about 45 minutes. Let squash cool enough to handle. Scoop out squash flesh, leaving a shell at least 1/2” thick. Dice squash that you scooped out.

Heat a large skillet and add oil. Sauté onions and celery until they are fragrant. Add pepper and cook 1 minute more. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook 1 minute. Add reserved squash and ginger, and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are soft but not mushy. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Return to squash shell. (Squash can be prepared up to this point and then refrigerated, covered, up to 48 hours. Add 20 minutes to baking time.) Return stuffed squash to oven and bake 30 minutes. Serves 6.
*Rice is best cooked in vegetable or mushroom broth.

Delicious Baked Beans
The ingredients:
3 cups cooked beans
1 cup liquid from beans
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 onion, minced

Putting it together:
Mix together everything except bacon and pour into a baking dish. Place bacon on top. Bake at 350º until sauce is thick and bubbly, about an hour. Makes ~4 cups.

Vegetarian Gravy
The ingredients:
2 tablespoons minced carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
2 tablespoons minced onion
4 white mushrooms, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cups broth
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons cornstarch
salt and pepper to taste

Putting it together:
Sauté minced vegetables in oil until soft; add thyme. Mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup cold broth. Add remaining broth to vegetables and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, and cook until thick, about 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Can be made up to 1 hour ahead of time and kept warm until needed. Stir in more broth if it thickens up too much. Makes 4 cups.

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