Kitchen Shrink: Sage advice for seamless Thanksgiving preparation

As the holiday season approaches, folks are gearing up for stress- and faux pas-free Thanksgiving feasts. Thanks for sharing your dilemmas and allowing me to help you solve them.

I am having some guests for Thanksgiving dinner who are on a gluten-free diet. Help!

Gluten is the protein found in certain grains and their hybrids including wheat, rye and barley. Like its namesake, gluten is the “glue-like” substance that gives bread and pasta its wonderful chewy texture, and provides a load of nutrients. But for those suffering from either Celiac Disease or “non-Celiac gluten sensitivity” gluten is the enemy. So for your special guests avoid ingredients containing wheat or gluten, which can be tricky as these can be disguised under other names like durum, semolina, spelt and triticale (a wheat hybrid).

Gluten also hides in sauces like soy and Worcestershire, baked goods, processed meats and other foods and drinks, including beer. While corn and rice contain a gluten derivative, it is not toxic to Celiacs who can also safely eat potatoes, buckwheat and quinoa. So while bread stuffing is taboo, swap it out for roasted quinoa, wild rice, mashed potato or oyster stuffings.

When whipping up the green bean casserole, avoid the breaded onion strings, along with breadcrumb toppings for casseroles and sides. For salads, no croutons or malt vinegar dressings. Also, avoid Worcestershire sauce for basting your bird, and for dessert, bake crustless pies or flourless crusts made from almond meal or rice flour. Standing advice: Read labels carefully.

I’m tired of traditional heavy Thanksgiving meals with massive family-style platters and dishes. Are there any culinary concepts that would be fun, light and tasty?

Serving assorted appetizers from bruschetta and flat breads to hummus and raw veggies will take the edge off of the appetite monster, and transform the food orgy into a more balanced and sociable meal. Prepare individual dishes like edible sugar-pie pumpkin ramekins filled with soups, Cornish hens stuffed with quinoa, pomegranate seeds and toasted almonds, and for dessert, something light and festive like personal pie bars or pumpkin crème brulee parfaits.

Do I need to be leery of sneaky ingredients when preparing side dishes for my vegan and vegetarian guests?

A likely offender would be marshmallows that are traditionally used as a topping for sweet potato casseroles. As the gooey confection is typically made from gelatin, a byproduct of bovine hooves and ligaments, best to either replace it with candied pecans, or use a vegan version made from a sea treasure called “agar agar.”

Is there anything I can serve to counter the coma effect of the Thanksgiving feast?

Although turkey contains a notorious amino acid called tryptophan and has been blamed for Thanksgiving naps, it is not the lone culprit. An overdose of carbohydrates, including potatoes, stuffing, yams and pies wallops the endocrine system which leaves a high concentration of the amino acid in the bloodstream, that converts to serotonin and induces sleepiness. Plus the gorging itself puts a strain on the digestive system, causing fatigue. So eat moderately — don’t stuff yourself like the Thanksgiving bird!

Popeye’s Power Greens

This salad is not only gluten-free, vegetarian-friendly and energy-boosting, but it is also a quirky break from tradition.

Ingredients

8 cups of fresh baby spinach, trimmed, stems removed

1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds

1/3 cup of toasted pumpkin seeds or walnuts

1 Bosc pear, thinly sliced

Vinaigrette

1/4 cup avocado or olive oil

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon minced shallots

1 teaspoon freshly chopped tarragon leaves

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Add ingredients in a mixing bowl, whisk to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, add the salad ingredients and toss well with the dressing. Serve promptly. (Vinaigrette recipe adapted from the kitchen of Chef Bernard Guillas of La Jolla’s Marine Room.

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