November 21, 2003

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DeCarbing Thanksgiving Dinner

Last issue we talked about having an Indulgence Day on Thanksgiving, and eating the traditional high carb foods of the holiday, without completely blowing our low carb way of life. However, many of us have reached a point where we don't care to eat a lot of concentrated carbs, even for a holiday. So this issue, let's talk about how to have a fabulous Thanksgiving feast, while keeping the carbs to a minimum.

Notice the phrase, "keeping the carbs to a minimum." I'm not going to pretend that even a decarbed Thanksgiving feast is going to be a strictly low carb meal. Nor should it be, to my way of thinking - it is, after all, a celebratory feast. But we can keep the carbs as low as is consistent with a satisfyingly traditional Thanksgiving dinner - and this is a fine thing to do.

Here, then, in no particular order, are some ideas for decarbing your Thanksgiving feast.

* All but the newest of low carb dieters are aware, I am sure, of the trick of using pureed cauliflower in place of mashed potatoes. This is very simple to do: You simply steam or microwave cauliflower until it's tender, drain it well, and then put it through a blender or food processor. Add butter, salt, pepper, and - if you want to make it really top-drawer - a little cream cheese - and you'll have what we call "fauxtatoes."

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have had dinner guests try fauxtatoes with gravy, and not realize until the third or fourth mouthful that they were not eating potatoes. If, for the holiday dinner, you'd like to make your fauxtatoes even more convincing, you might try cooking and pureeing just one potato along with your cauliflower, to add that potato flavor.

* Stuffing, also known as dressing, is a major part of the Thanksgiving experience, and I, for one, adore the stuff. How can we decarb our stuffing?

First of all, you can use reduced carb bread. This is more and more available; my local grocery stores in Bloomington, Indiana have now started carrying Atkins bread, and a reduced carb bread from Brownberry. "Lite" breads are also worth looking at - if I recall correctly, Pepperidge Farm light bread has no more than 6 grams of usable carb per slice. If you really want to show that your heart is in it, you could make your own low carb bread, either from one of the recipes in 500 Low Carb Recipes, or in Diana Lee's Baking Low Carb.

Once you've got low carb bread, the next thing to do is to look at the bread-to-vegetable ratio of your stuffing. Will you be happy with more celery and onions, and a bit less bread? How about adding some sauteed mushrooms - a very low carb vegetable - to your stuffing? I've done this, and the results were excellent.

For that matter, my mother has always put cooked and crumbled pork sausage in her turkey stuffing. Accordingly, my sister, Kim - who is also a low carber - has sometimes made stuffing with quite a lot of celery, onions, and sausage, and just a little bread. Not only did Kim find this meaty, reduced-carb stuffing acceptable, but so did our father, who is not only not a low carber, but a picky eater of the first water.

Of course, Southerners eat corn bread stuffing, instead of stuffing made from loaf bread. I know it sounds nuts, but there's a recipe at the Katiedid's Pork Rinds website for a stuffing made from crushed pork rinds that is remarkably like cornbread stuffing. Do take a look!

If you're interested in a recipe that has no grain whatsoever, but is still very tasty (not to mention quick to make,) there's a recipe for Apple-Walnut Dressing in my new book, 15 Minute Low-Carb Recipes. I think it's quite good (of course!,) but I can also tell you that the nice people at Fox and Friends also pronounce my grain-less dressing delicious.

* Sweet potatoes are another traditional Thanksgiving carb food. It's nice to know that sweet potatoes, while high carb, have a lower blood sugar impact than "regular" potatoes, and contain far more vitamins. Still, we are talking roughly 30 grams of carbohydrate per sweet potato - and that's without the brown sugar, corn syrup, and/or marshmallows people tend to heap on them! What can we do?

Here's a neat trick: Combine one sweet potato, cooked and mashed, with canned, pureed pumpkin. Now, add Splenda to taste, with maybe 1/2 teaspoon of blackstrap molasses for a brown sugar flavor (you could use Brown Sugar Twin instead; I don't like the stuff,) and a little cinnamon and nutmeg. Put it in a casserole, dot it with butter, and bake it till it's hot clear through. Using one average sweet potato and a pound of pumpkin puree, and assuming you serve 6 people, each serving will have about 10 grams of carbohydrate, with 1 gram of fiber, or 9 grams of usable carb - just a third of eating a plain sweet potato.

* Cranberry sauce is the easiest thing to decarb! Buy a bag of fresh cranberries. On the bag you will find a recipe for Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce. (Or at least, I've never found a bag of cranberries that didn't have this recipe on it...) This is exceedingly simple to make - you combine cranberries, water, and sugar in a saucepan, and boil them together for about 5 minutes, or until the cranberry skins pop. Do this exactly the way it says on the bag, only use Splenda in place of the sugar! If you've only ever had canned cranberry jelly, I think you'll be excited at how wonderful fresh, homemade whole-berry cranberry sauce is.

If you're fond of cranberry sauce all year long, here's a useful tip: Cranberries are one of the few foods that are still strictly seasonal. They're only available for a few months in the autumn. However, cranberries freeze beautifully! So if you want cranberry sauce all year long, pick up a few extra bags of cranberries and stash them in the freezer. They'll live there happily, and be ready to gladden your heart with tart-sweet cranberry goodness till next autumn rolls around.

* Thanksgiving wouldn't be Thanksgiving without turkey gravy, and gravy is, of course, usually thickened with flour or cornstarch. If you'd like to really go all the way with de-carbing your feast, consider thickening your gravy with guar or xanthan gum, instead. You can put the de-fatted drippings and some broth through your blender with a little guar or xanthan, then pour it back into the pan to heat it through and season it. Alternately, you can combine the de-fatted drippings and the broth in the turkey roasting pan (the turkey will, we trust, be on a platter by this point!,) and, using an odd salt shaker, sprinkle guar or xanthan over the surface while stirring frantically with a whisk. Either way, stop adding guar or xanthan when the gravy is a little less thick than you'd like - both of these thickeners tend to thicken a bit more on standing. Again, once your gravy is thickened you can add salt, pepper, some poultry seasoning, and whatever other seasonings you like, to taste.

* Then we come to dessert. I'm pleased to say that low carb pumpkin pie is no more difficult, and is perhaps even tastier, than the traditional kind - after all, we make the crust with ground pecans! This recipe appears in 500 Low-Carb Recipes, but I've repeated it below. If you prefer, you'll also find Vicki Cash's wonderful Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe in 500 Low-Carb Recipes - the decision is up to you.

I'm afraid I have not yet managed to de-carb apple pie, for a very simple reason: Apples are a relatively high-carb fruit. I have a few ideas to try yet; if I come up with a winning recipe, I'll let you know!

* The rest of the advice for a de-carbed Thanksgiving appeared last issue: Have plenty of great low carbohydrate vegetables, and of course lots of turkey. Add a dry white wine - perhaps a Chardonnay - and you've got a traditional Thanksgiving feast that - while not being strictly low carb - will have far, far fewer carbs than is usual.

Have a very happy Thankgiving! (And to all my readers outside the US, I hope at least some of these ideas are applicable to your lives. I promise to go back to being less US-centric next issue!)

Posted by HoldTheToast at November 21, 2003 05:39 PM