The "T" in my Thanksgiving stands for turkey. Thanksgiving just wouldn't be the same without a golden, roasted bird on the table. No Tofurkey (turkey roll made from soybeans) on my dinner table.
More often than not that turkey, whether a whole bird or just the breast, has been brined. I still believe brining -- submerging it overnight in a solution of water or beer or wine, salt, sugar and seasonings -- results in the tastiest, most tender and moistest turkey you'll ever eat. After-Thanksgiving emails testify to this every year.
Since the breast boasts the leanest meat around, turkey's not the fat and calorie culprit at the Thanksgiving table. The trimmings hold that honor (dishonor?) of putting the not-so-good finishing touches on this holiday meal.
Heed these tips and the high fat and calories won't gobble-up all your good intentions. Let's start at the beginning.
Standard pre-dinner dips can put any holiday meal down in the wrong path before you even gather around the dinner table. Push aside homemade dips that start with sour cream (23 calories and 2.4 fat grams per tablespoon) or mayonnaise (99 calories and 11 fat grams per tablespoon), or a combination as a base. Reach instead for reduced-fat (17/1.3) or fat-free sour cream (9/0) and reduced-fat (49/5) or fat-free mayonnaise (13/0.4) can bring calorie and fat numbers into a reasonable range. Use low-fat baked chips or fresh veggies as dip scoops and you've jumped the first T-day hurdle.
Many stuffing recipes that start with bagged, toasted bread cubes call for a stick of butter (814 calories and 92 fat grams). My workaround: my trusted Butter Buds. I blend a .5-ounce packet with a half cup of hot chicken broth and mix that in with the bread cubes, other stuffing ingredients and whatever added liquid (I use chicken broth) the package specifies and bake my stuffing.
Gravy usually starts with equal amounts of fat (turkey fat or butter) and flour. Here's a different path. I simmer the giblets (except for the liver) with some chopped carrot, onion and celery in 1 quart chicken broth for an hour or two. When my turkey exits the oven for its rest, I start my gravy. I use the juices from the roasting pan (skimmed of all fat, of course), the strained liquid from the simmered giblets, and the meat from the turkey neck, then thicken my gravy with a flour or cornstarch slurry (a blend of either with room temperature water or broth).
At one time I made whipped potatoes for the big feast with sour cream, whipping cream, butter and a couple of egg yolks (they cooked safely in the hot potatoes). My whipped potatoes tasted sensational, but they also delivered astronomical calorie and fat counts.
Fat-free or reduced-fat sour cream, warmed 1-percent milk and fat-free margarine (seems like on oxymoron) made noble stand-ins for leaner mashed potatoes and nobody has ever missed those ultrarich egg yolks.
Finally, making a pumpkin pie? Substitute fat free evaporated milk for evaporated whole milk and trim almost 200 calories and 24 fat grams without losing any pumpkin flavor.
If you use my tips for your turkey dinner, you'll clear several calorie and fat hurdles. When you reach your meal's finish line, you'll be all smiles.
Try this recipe: Cranberry sauce from a can is just that, canned cranberry sauce. Ever taste anything from a can that tasted as good as homemade? I haven't.
My sauce can be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated. All you have to do on Thanksgiving Day is let it come to room temperature and serve.
• Don Mauer welcomes comments, questions and recipe makeover requests. Write him at email@example.com.