Ah, November. I've always loved autumn, and here in Charleston, it's just starting to feel like it. For me, November always sparks the beginning of the holiday season -- at least the planning part. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite meals. It's the one meal of the year that I let myself splurge. (OK, seriously, I splurge regularly -- but this is the one meal I'll admit to!)
These past few months, I've been working really hard in the gym and staying within my limits in the kitchen. It's paying off! I feel fabulous and while I love Thanksgiving, I want to find a way to do it without the elastic pants. I know it can be done -- after all, the base of the meal is turkey. Diet food!
That's about where the diet part stops, unfortunately. And I know this post may make me unpopular at first, but don't shoot the messenger! It's time to break it down. I'll gain my popularity back with the recipe later in the post...trust me!
So what are we really eating at Thanksgiving -- or any holiday meal or dinner party, for that matter? It's difficult to calculate, since the traditional family recipes can vary so much. However, research and averages can get us pretty close, at least as far as the staples go. My numbers are based on relatively small serving sizes, since Thanksgiving dinner often has so many choices, you can't even fit them on one plate. And herein lies the problem, at least for me -- I can't leave anything to chance, I have to try it all!
I make it a rule not to eat potatoes for regular meals, but Thanksgiving has two kinds. Mashed potatoes, often with butter and sour cream, and sweet potatoes, often sweetened even more with brown sugar, nuts, even marshmallows. Unfortunately, both pack on the calories -- 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes with butter and sour cream can have over 200 calories. And that's without the gravy! Steer clear of that sweet potato casserole or the candied yams. They boast a staggering 200-300 calories in just a half cup. Shockingly, the side serving of this popular dish from Boston Market has 460 calories. Ahhhhhhh! For me, a sweet potato doesn't need any extra sweetness. Try eating one plain and see what you think!
By this time, you should know to stick to white meat turkey instead of dark meat. Fewer calories and half the fat! Gravy is made of, at a minimum, turkey drippings (stock and fat) thickened with flour. If you have to have the gravy just this once, don't drown that turkey! Have only a tablespoon or two. I like to have a side of tomato slices and/or pickles with my meals, so I dip whatever meat I'm having in the juice from those (yes, I know I'm weird).
OK, so those are the obvious ones...right? Stuffing is made of bread and fat, and though family recipes vary greatly, it's already off to a bad start. And speaking of bread, that little 2-inch dinner roll has 80-90 calories -- without the butter! A pat (about a teaspoon) of butter adds another 30-40 calories. So you should stick to fruits and veggies, right? Not this time! That quintessential green bean casserole has 167 calories in just 1/2 a cup. The cranberry sauce packs 209 calories in 1/2 cup. I know half a cup of tart cranberry sauce is a lot, but my brother can eat that much -- watch it, Evan!
Well now I've depressed myself. And I knew what I was going to say before I said it. A quick calculation, if you try everything (which I do), brings us to 1010 calories. That's 4 oz of white meat roasted turkey for 120 calories, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, 1/4 cup of cranberry sauce and one measly dinner roll with butter. I didn't even calculate stuffing or gravy...or myriad other sides....or dessert! So it's shaping up to be a meal that has more calories than I might eat in a day, maybe two.
So I've been quite long-winded, but I feel it all needed to be said. No wonder we unbutton our pants and fall asleep after dinner. Don't blame the tryptophan -- we just eat too much!
So what do you do? Make this! This Spinach Artichoke Au Gratin recipe is the answer and I can't wait to make it for my family this year. It has gourmet ingredients that make it special, it looks and tastes fancy enough for a dinner party, and it's bursting with the flavors of artichokes, Parmigiano-Reggiano and prosciutto. Delicious! And you don't even have to tell anyone that it only has 80 calories in 1/2 a cup. I promise they won't suspect!
Spinach Artichoke Au Gratin
Serves 12 (1/2 cup servings)
16 oz. package frozen chopped spinach (thawed and squeezed dry)
18-20 oz. quartered artichokes (frozen or canned and drained -- not the marinated kind!)
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup skim milk
2 oz light cream cheese
2 tbsp light sour cream
3/4 cup shredded, grated or ground Parmigiano-Reggiano (divided)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 oz prosciutto, roughly chopped
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roughly chop artichoke hearts and combine with spinach and garlic in a casserole dish. In a separate bowl, combine milk, egg, cream cheese, sour cream, 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt and pepper. Beat with an electric mixer until cream cheese and egg are mixed in well. Pour mixture evenly over casserole, sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano mixed with the panko, and top with prosciutto. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until top just starts to brown and the prosciutto crisps. Avoid digging in before your guests arrive!
So what about dessert? For fear of adding insult to injury, I'll skip that discussion until next week. Don't worry, the svelte Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing will be your saving grace! Stay tuned...
The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!