A Healthy (and Happy) Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving is upon us – the only holiday of the year in which the primary focus is on food and overindulgence among friends and family. (Okay, maybe the primary focus of Thanksgiving is being thankful, but that quickly becomes an afterthought as soon as we dig into our heaping plates of turkey and its fixings.)  It’s no wonder Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays!

Growing up in my family, Thanksgiving usually involved a typical feast of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and of course, being a Korean household, a side of kimchee (believe me, turkey tastes infinitely better with kimchee). After my mom slaved away in the kitchen all day while we kids watched the Star Wars marathon on tv, we proceeded to sit at the dinner table for all of 15 minutes, quickly devouring what it took my mom all day to cook.  After several Thanksgivings like this and my dad finally declaring that turkey is “the worst meat ever”, my mom changed up the menu to ignore tradition and serve our family favorites of filet mignon and lobster.  However, after a couple of Thanksgivings, my brother and I wanted to go back to the American tradition of turkey and casseroles, so from that point, we volunteered to make Thanksgiving dinner.  (My mom was happy to oblige.)  We did our part to make Thanksgiving decadent by having a massive bird, several side dishes (all of which contained heavy cream and butter) and two options for dessert, one of which was always a French silk pie ordered from Bakers Square Restaurant.

It has been three years since I last cooked Thanksgiving dinner, but this year is going to be different from the past dinners I’ve cooked in that it’ll be….healthy.  Why, you ask?  After all, I love butter as much as Paula Deen (okay, not THAT much).  The main reason is that my father-in-law suffered two heart attacks this year, in which he had stents put into his arteries.  Since then he has completely revamped his diet.  In addition, my husband has high cholesterol and switched to a mainly plant-based diet this year to improve his health. As for me, I want to look good in my bathing suit for a family trip to Mexico over Christmas (not quite as important :)).  I know that Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that overindulgence is allowed, but the health of the men in my life is more important than food that tastes really, really good (butter, butter, and more butter).

So how am I going to do this?  Well, I’m going to focus on vegetables, forgo the side dishes that require two sticks of butter like stuffing (which my husband and I don’t like much anyway), and make healthy alternatives to some of the dishes (I got half of the recipes from Eating Well magazine).  Here’s our menu for Thanksgiving:

Herb-Roasted Turkey
Smoked Turkey Breast (My husband wants to try out the new smoker/grill)
Layered mashed potato/mushroom casserole
Roasted Harvest Vegetables
Steamed Broccoli (my father-in-law’s favorite vegetable)
Cranberry with Orange Sauce
Dinner Rolls
Pumpkin Chocolate Torte

I look forward to cooking and eating this meal, and I hope my family members enjoy it as well.  I really don’t think we will be missing out on anything when we have our feast on Thanksgiving Day.

Oh, and I can’t forget the side of kimchee.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Simple Go-to Fried Rice Recipe

I realize that I’ve been talking a lot about myself since I started this blog.  That’s precisely the point of a blog though, right?  However, since a lot of my readers are fellow moms, I thought that perhaps I could be a bit more helpful in some of my entries.   With that said, I want to share my go-to recipe; “go-to” meaning that I make this when 1) the fridge is looking rather bare, 2) I have no idea what to cook, and 3) I want to feed the family fast.  I learned this recipe in Thailand when I took a 1-day cooking course in Chiang Mai and have been using it ever since.  It’s easy, fast, and delicious enough to please everyone in the family (even my picky 3-year old).

But first, a story (sorry, old habits die hard):
It was Christmas Eve 2007 in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.  A handful of us expats had the misfortune of staying in our organization’s compound over the holidays.  In order to attain some celebratory spirit of Christmas (and make light of the fact that we were stuck in Juba), we decided to have a gift exchange and a decadent meal (very rare in South Sudan).  Marie, the Food Security Program Manager from France, volunteered to make coq au vin for dinner, in addition to having a cheese and meat plate, fresh bread, chocolate truffles, and free-flowing wine.  She made a list of food and supplies we needed, had one of our colleagues purchase them in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya (she had just left South Sudan so she felt sorry for us), and had another colleague who flew into Juba the day before deliver the goods to us (there was no way we could pull this dinner off with what was available in Juba).

On Christmas Eve, the morning of the big feast, Marie went to the market to purchase two chickens for the coq au vin. The chickens were freshly killed, with heads and feathers intact, which meant that Marie had the unpleasant task of removing them.  She spent hours plucking the feathers off the two chickens as I helped cut up onions and peel potatoes (the easy job).  Since we let the compound’s cook off for the day, we were responsible for making our own lunch as well.  Marie had planned on making a rice salad, but as 1pm rolled around, she still had her hands full plucking, beheading, and draining the blood from the chickens (unfortunately I witnessed all of it). There was a compound full of hungry expats, and since I was the only other one in the kitchen, I volunteered to make lunch.

As soon as I saw the leftover rice in the fridge, I immediately thought of making fried rice.  At that point in my cooking career, it was the only thing I could make spontaneously (i.e. without looking at a recipe).  Fortunately, there was soy sauce, onions, garlic, sugar in the pantry, as well as some leftover meat and vegetables from last night’s dinner. By 1:30pm, I put out a big pot of fried rice on the table.  My coworkers devoured it, and they appreciated the fact that I made something so quick, not to mention different from the other foods they were used to eating (meat or stews).  Okay, it was a small thing feeding a bunch of people, but I felt like a hero.

So all you really need for this recipe is some leftover rice (has to be chilled so that the dish won’t end up being a big mushy mess).  In our household, the rice cooker is permanently affixed to our countertop, and I always make extra rice so I can stash a few cups of cooked rice in the fridge or freezer.  The other ingredients you need are probably already in your kitchen – onions, garlic, soy sauce and sugar.  Just throw in some protein, whether it’s beef, pork, chicken, tofu, shrimp, or eggs, as well as some vegetables (I always have a bag of mixed vegetables in my freezer), and voila, you have a simple and filling meal.  If your kids balk at the sight of vegetables (like mine do), you can always grate in some carrots or chop up tiny pieces of broccoli florets and throw that in.  The point is, this recipe is super-flexible, and once you get the hang of making it, you will be able to  throw in whatever suits your family. I usually serve it as a stand-alone meal a couple times per month, or sometimes I’ll make soup or an appetizer to go with it.  That’s all.  Now you can be a hero at your house too!

Simple Go-To Fried Rice (adapted from Gap’s cookbook)
Serves 4 (2 adults & 2 small children)

3 c. leftover, chilled cooked rice
2 T. high-heat cooking oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 c. cooked meat (beef, chicken, pork, shrimp), cut into small pieces OR fried tofu, cubed
1 c. frozen peas and carrots or mixed vegetables, defrosted
2 eggs, beaten (optional)
2 T. soy sauce
1 t. sugar

1.  Set a wok or large, deep pan (be careful when using a frying pan.  The rice may fly all over the place!) over medium-high heat.  When the wok is very hot, swirl the cooking oil around the edge so the oil spreads down and coats the wok.  Add the onions, saute for two minutes, and then add the garlic and saute for one minute.
2.  Add the rice, making sure the rice grains are separated (if using previously frozen rice, do not add the big block of rice-ice to the pan!  Defrost it first and separate the rice grains).  Use a spatula to scoop up the oil and onion/garlic over the rice, so that the rice touches the bottom of the pan.
3.  Add soy sauce and sugar, mix up rice, and then spread out rice over surface of wok and let cook for 1 minute (this gives the rice a chance to crisp up and cook.  Don’t toss around the rice constantly or the texture of the rice will get mushy).
4.  Add the meat or tofu and vegetables, mix it up with the rice, spread out the rice in the wok and cook for another minute.
5.  Push the rice to one side, add some oil to the other side and spread the egg out over the oil.  Let cook for a minute or so, then mix with the rice (if you don’t have a wok, you can cook the egg in a separate frying pan).
6. Taste the rice, and add more soy sauce or sugar as needed.  Enjoy!