Tips for a healthful and heartwarming holiday

A tastier and more memorable Thanksgiving holiday might take place around the table, but it all begins with preparation. These tips from Indy Gourmet Club (Instagram @jasonmichaelthomas )founder Jason Michael Thomas, Edible Indy Managing Editor Colleen Leonardi and Edible Northeast Florida Publisher Amy Robb make planning and cooking a healthful Thanksgiving that much easier.

Let’s Talk Turkey

For those who have never prepared a fresh turkey, consider the possibility of a fresh, never-frozen turkey gracing the Thanksgiving table this year—and not just fresh, but local. Jason’s top piece of advice is to splurge on an amazing locally raised turkey.

“Sure, they cost more, but they taste better, and we’re talking about Thanksgiving, folks. Is there a more important feast?” Jason asks. “And, a local turkey is better for the local economy and the planet.”

Jason supports Becker Farms, which accepts order through November 15. Located in northeast Henry County, Becker Farms sells its produce at summer and winter farm markets throughout Central Indianapolis.

“You can’t get a more local or sustainable turkey in Indianapolis unless you raise it yourself. Fresh, never frozen, grass-pasture raised with extra sunshine, non-GMO feed, processed in a certified organic facility,” Jason affirms.

Vegetable Forward

With the right combination of seasonal produce and a spell of seasonings, vegetables star right alongside the turkey.

“Among my favorites are Brussels sprouts with black walnuts, bacon and a touch of maple syrup. I also love oven-roasted potatoes with onions, sage and thyme, and use some of the rendered turkey fat to crisp them up. And, of course, I can’t forget fresh cabbage slaws made with garlic, ginger, apple cider vinegar, local honey and a touch of soy sauce,” Jason recommends. “And, what about a big, fresh, green salad? Add some pecans, apples and dried cranberries for a seasonal kick.”

After preparing a variety of vegetables, it’s worth the effort to arrange them beautifully on the plate.

“Most of us love the traditional fixings served at a holiday meal, but over the years, I’ve rebelled against what I call the monotony of mounds,” Amy says. “Mashed potatoes, stuffing, squash, casseroles. They all start to look lumpy and somewhat lifeless on the plate.”

“Instead, why not consider experimenting with recipes that add some visual architecture to our plates? Think oval hasselback potatoes instead of mashed, triangle wedges of stuffing instead of scoops and roasted acorn squash sliced instead of cubed. All these dishes can be prepared for a beautiful family-style plated effect, without sacrificing the flavors we love,” Amy says.

Even the simplest of veggie trays can add color and crunch to the meal.

“Add an additional pop of color to your vegetable tray by simply blanching your crudité! Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, submerge hardy veggies (such as carrots, broccoli, green beans and asparagus) for one minute and then quickly remove and place them into a cold-water pot (to shock and stop the cooking process). The result? Vibrant veggies that are not only brighter on the plate, but also a bit easier to digest,” Amy says.

Jewel-tone purple Brussels sprouts dazzle when paired with black walnuts, bacon and a touch of maple syrup: Jewel-tone purple Brussels sprouts dazzle when paired with black walnuts, bacon and a touch of maple syrup. photography: Jason Michael Thomas

The Fruits of Labor

Vibrant fruits such as pomegranate, cranberry and orange complement the savory flavors of the season. Amy suggests starting the Thanksgiving festivities with bubbly made better by pomegranate seeds.

“Bubbly—champagne, cava, prosecco—is delicious and a staple in our household holiday traditions. I generally prefer to drink mine neat, or without any additions that change or alter its natural flavor, but the one exception I always make at Thanksgiving is the addition of fresh pomegranate seeds, or arils. One quick scoop of arils (no juice) in each flute adds a beautiful pop of color to the glass and creates a delightfully entertaining fizz. Guests can choose to eat them as they sip along, or leave them bubbling at the bottom,” Amy advises.

Another essential and colorful side comes recommended by Edible Indy Managing EditorColleen Leonardi.

“The recipe for Fresh Cranberry Orange Relishfrom Ocean Spray is the best cranberry sauce. My Mom makes it every year and it’s delicious,” she compliments.

With only three ingredients, this cranberry orange relish stores well when prepared ahead of time.

Dried and fresh fruits can also decorate the table for colorful DIY décor.

“As an inexpensive alternative for adorning your table, consider adding edible elements. Dehydrate a handful of orange slices in the oven at 200° the week before the festivities begin. Place dried oranges together with any leftover cranberries not boiled into sauce on your table with foraged foliage, an extra uncut acorn squash and branches from the yard for a simple tablescape that reminds guests of the value of the season. And while you’re at it, tie a spring of leftover fresh rosemary around each napkin with twine for a festive, fragrant addition to your DIY decor,” Amy says.

Freshly and locally made yeast buns grace many Thanksgiving tables.: Freshly and locally made yeast buns grace many Thanksgiving tables. photography: Jason Michael Thomas

Short and Sweet

For a sweet ending that balances the meal instead of dominates it, consider more healthful versions of favorite desserts. Jason suggests serving desserts that avoid processed sugars and flours, since those ingredients often lead to an overstuffed feeling.

“Our pastry chef at Urban AG Indy makes ‘supernatural’ pies every year made with our pumpkins and squash and sweetened with only local honey. These types of desserts don’t weigh as heavily on me due to a lower glycemic load,” he says.

In addition to honey, other white sugar alternatives include 100% pure maple syrup and vegan-friendly agave nectar.

Healthful, mindful desserts still provide a perfectly sweet ending to a sweet holiday.

Enjoy sweet potatoes through December during their peak seasonal harvest . photography: Jason Michael Thomas

Give Thanks

Remind loved ones of thethanksin Thanksgiving with a gratitude activity everyone can appreciate.

“With the mayhem of holiday cooking and entertaining, it’s easy to forget the true spirit of the season. To bring a little gratitude back to the occasion, keep a ball jar with notecards and pens on the entryway table and as guests arrive. As they enter, ask them to write down one to three things they’re grateful for this year and tuck it into the jar,” Amy says. “Later, put the jar on the table before your meal is served. Shortly after you’ve enjoyed your meal, but before dessert commences, pick one person to read the cards, and take a brief moment to remember all the reasons we have to give thanks.”

Younger guests might even enjoy the same activity with hand turkeys, with something grateful written on every finger.

These locally grown squash and pumpkins impress as ingredients in vegetable sides and even in desserts. photography: Jason Michael Thomas

Subscribe today!