Guess who's coming to Thanksgiving dinner?
Guests with diabetes, lactose intolerance, celiac disease, high blood pressure, acid reflux, and peanut allergies. Vegans will be at the table too, and so will vegetarians, so you'd better know the difference.
Suddenly it seems, the people you've known for years, the very friends and family who eagerly devoured your sumptuous gravy-smothered, carb-laden menu in the past, say they cannot eat, digest, or even share a table with wheat, soy, or seafood.
So no oysters, nuts, or Craisins in the stuffing if you please. While you're at it, better hold the bread crumbs.
To be sure, some food restrictions are medical mandates and straying from the path can be deadly. And dinner guests exercising their dietary ethics deserve to have their choices respected. If you had just been diagnosed with cancer, you might want to stick with organically grown, hormone-free foods, too.
But all this makes for an untimely gastronomic quandary: Just as some of us are becoming more adventuresome home cooks, others are restricting their diets. These days, menu planning can be a minefield, even on Thanksgiving, the holiday with the most predictable menu.
"It has gotten worse. Absolutely," says Kim Barnouin, who, with coauthor Rory Freedman writes under the nom de plume the Skinny Bitch.
A vegan wedded to a carnivore, Barnouin says she'll serve "a traditional Tofurky Roast," this year.
"I don't eat a lot of fake meat, but this one happens to taste good," Barnouin says. Her husband is a French-born-and-trained chef and her son is a toddler, but the Skinny Bitch is sure they'll enjoy the Tofurky too.
The things we do for love.
Barnouin's first solo book, Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook (Running Press, 2010), features a slew of recipes that make the most of seasonal favorites while subtly bringing vegans and carnivores to the same table.
Her Pomegranate and Brussels Sprout Salad, Roasted Curried Cauliflower, or Wild Mushroom Asparagus Risotto (see recipes) are recipes that don't shout their differences.
Cookbook author Ivy Manning has it the other way around. She's a carnivore married to a vegetarian.
Manning's The Adaptable Feast: Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarians, Vegans, and Omnivores at Your Table (Sasquatch Books) just came out in 2009.
"And one year later," she says, "the issues are more complicated than ever."
The book features a good basic recipe for roasted vegetable stock (see recipe).
But vegetarians don't really enjoy eating just the sides on Thanksgiving, she says. Like the rest of us, vegetarians prefer a plate that's anchored with a main dish, such as her Delicata Squash With Apple Cornbread Dressing (see recipe).
For celiacs, Manning suggests using gluten-free bread crumbs in the stuffing, wheat-free cornbread stuffing, or a wild rice stuffing.
All well and good.
But even if you manage to master a menu that pleases most of the people most of the day, the dinner-table conversation could bite back.
Instead of the typical Thanksgiving table conversation, gossip about who did not come to dinner this year and what foolhardy, irresponsible scheme he or she is up to, we discuss How Digestion Rules Our Lives.
If you think Jamie Lee Curtis gets too graphic in those Activia commercials, wait until Aunt Sylvia lets loose about her irritable bowel syndrome.
"I really don't want to know that much about your digestive tract," says Kim Severson, New York Times food writer and author of the food memoir Spoon Fed (Riverhead books, 2010).
"We're more knowledgeable, more invested in our food than ever before," Severson says. "And that's good."
But beware experts at the trough.
As soon as one guest says the magic words "I can't eat that because . . .," another is sure to jump in with a lecture on why that person's food choices are wrong.
The host, Severson says, is obliged to intervene before the conversation deteriorates.
"The minute the words glycemic index are uttered at the dinner table, a good host should find a way to change the conversation," Severson says. "Even if it means accidentally spilling wine in the speaker's lap."
As the evening progresses, picked-over platters are cleared and the table is swept free of crumbs to make way for dessert - a spread of another four or five digestive minefields.
But then, what have we here? Guests who were fluent moments ago on the perils of white flour, refined sugar, and whole milk seem to rethink their allegiances.
"I'll just have a taste," they say, holding their dessert plates high. And like the servants of royals, willing to risk death themselves rather than let their king ingest poison, they agree to eat "just a sliver."
Makes 4 servings
3 cups brussels sprouts
1 cup thinly sliced radicchio
2 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup mandarin oranges or tangerine wedges
1 cup firm tofu, drained and cubed
1/4 cup roasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons mirin
1/4 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
Pepper, to taste
1. Steam brussels sprouts 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Place in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Cut them into quarters.
2. In a large bowl, toss together the brussels sprouts, radicchio, romaine, pomegranate seeds, oranges, tofu, and hazelnuts.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, oil, garlic, and rosemary for the dressing. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat and pour in the dressing, cooking until the mixture starts to bubble.
4. Add the dressing to the salad and toss. Season with pepper, to taste.
Per serving: 348 calories, 14 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams sugar, 24 grams fat, no cholesterol, 133 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.EndText
Makes 4 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1. Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, garlic, curry powder, chili powder, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Add the cauliflower and toss until well coated.
2. Pour into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and bake until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Garnish with parsley.
Per serving: 145 calories, 2 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 14 grams fat, no cholesterol, 140 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.EndText
Makes 6 servings
6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup dried wild mushrooms
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil, divided
1/4 cup Earth Balance spread
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mushrooms, such as porcini, chanterelles, crimini, portobello
11/2 cups asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup arborio rice, uncooked
1/3 cup white wine
1/2 cup vegan Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon white truffle oil (optional)
1 teaspoon chopped chives, for garnish
1. Place the vegetable broth in a large saucepan, cover, and keep warm over low heat. Place hot water in a medium-size bowl and add the dried mushrooms. Allow to sit for about 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft. Then add the mushrooms and the hot water to the vegetable broth.
2. In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil and 1 tablespoon Earth Balance spread. Add the fresh mushrooms and asparagus, and saute until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat, and transfer to a medium-size bowl.
3. Using the same large saucepan, heat the remaining grapeseed oil over medium heat and add the onions and shallots, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and remaining Earth Balance and saute for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir until well combined. Add the wine and stir until the wine is absorbed. Add 1 cup of the warm broth and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding more. Continue adding the broth until the rice is tender and creamy, about 30 to 40 minutes.
4. Stir in the sauteed mushrooms, asparagus, and Parmesan cheese to the rice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each serving with a sprinkle of chives, and the white truffle oil (if using).
Per serving: 253 calories, 8 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, no cholesterol, 1,113 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.EndText
Makes 4 entree servings plus 4 additional side dishes
For the cornbread:
1/3 cup butter
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour or whole-wheat pastry flour (or use 1 more cup corn meal for gluten-free)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
For the dressing:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 cups minced onion
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
3 cups roasted vegetable stock (see recipe) or packaged vegetable stock, divided
2 vegetarian sausages (4 ounces), finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
8 ounces Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium delicata squash
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup warm water or stock
1. Make the cornbread several hours or up to 3 days before making the dressing. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Melt the butter and set aside to cool. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter. With a wooden spoon, stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Reduce the temperature to 250 degrees.
2. Cut the cornbread into 1/2-inch squares and spread them evenly on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Bake until the cubes are golden brown and dry, about 1 hour, stirring once while baking.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For the dressing, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add the onion and celery, and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and poultry seasoning and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 2 cups of the stock and bring to a simmer, scraping up browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Place the mixture in a large bowl.
4. Return the pan to medium heat. Place the remaining one tablespoon of butter and the vegetarian sausage in the pan and saute until golden brown, about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the vegetarian sausage, parsley, cornbread cubes, and apples to the onion-celery mixture in the bowl and toss gently to combine. Season with the salt and pepper to taste and let stand for 10 minutes. Add additional stock to moisten the dressing if necessary.
5. Halve the squash lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and stringy bits with a spoon. Brush the cut sides with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place them cut side up in a medium baking dish. Mound about 1 cup of dressing into each squash boat. Add the 1 cup warm water to the bottom of the dish and cover tightly with foil. Spray a medium baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, place the remaining dressing in the dish, and cover tightly with foil (squash and dressing can be made up to this point and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before baking).
6. Bake the stuffed squash and extra dressing until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 35 minutes. Uncover the stuffing and bake until crisped, about 10 minutes.
Per serving: 692 calories, 20 grams protein, 120 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams sugar, 19 grams fat, 135 milligrams cholesterol, 1,513 milligrams sodium, 10 grams dietary fiber.EndText
Makes 1 quart
1 leek, white and light green parts only
1 large onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 large carrots, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch-thick slices
3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons chopped parsley stems
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
10 cups cold water
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the leek lengthwise and rinse it well between the layers under cold running water to remove any grit. Cut it into 2-inch pieces and place them on a rimmed baking sheet. Add the onions, carrots, parsnip, and celery, drizzle with the oil, and put the baking sheet on the center rack of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, stir vegetables with a spatula, and continue to roast until the vegetables are beginning to brown, about 20 minutes more.
2. Transfer the vegetables to a large pot; add the tomato paste, parsley stems, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Cool completely (the stock keeps well refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen in resealable freezer bags for up to 3 months).
Per one-cup serving: 105 calories, 2 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 4 grams fat, no cholesterol, 81 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.EndText