Turkey Day Prep

Roast Turkey

Roast Turkey

Original Image. Oddly, while not my picture, we have the same cutting board and a similar tile background (though yellow)… and I don’t depend on the pop up things, they always pop up just after the turkey is overdone and dry. Put a butter / herb mix under the skin and cook it ‘by the pound’ instead. Just wonderful…

OK, it’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’m The Chef… so I’ve started the cooking. Yes, cooking for Thanksgiving starts at least one day in advance.

What makes this even more fun is that I’ve got a collection of family and friends who show up for this event that includes a variety of “special foods needs”. For me, it’s an interesting challenge. For them, it’s “safe food” they like…

What’s “in the mix”?

A friend is gluten intolerant. Not horridly (it’s more like a wheat allergy, so things like oats work fine along with some of the other minor grains that have a tiny bit of non-wheat gluten like proteins.)

A relative is soy intolerant. All kinds of ‘odd issues’ that seem to be triggered by soy. It’s not clear what component (since “having become better” from dropping ALL soy anything, she is reluctant to do the ‘challenge’ to find out if it’s in or out of the soybean oil, for example.

I can’t eat corn. Well, I can… I just can’t hold onto it for long ;-)

OK, I started with the Gluten Intolerance adjustments. Corn bread made with rice flower instead of the wheat. Gravy thickened with non-wheat flower. Etc.

Then we discovered the Soy issue. Not too hard, swap to non-soy products. Leave out just about everything pre-packaged as they all seem to have “soy” something somewhere on the label.

And I was already used to keeping the corn dishes flagged so I knew what to avoid.

But Wait, There’s More

Since then, we’ve added a couple of things. A son who, like me, avoids all hydrogenated oils (though I was willing to accept trace amounts in things like pre-packaged stuffing mix, and he isn’t). So a lot of the premix packages are now replaced by “DIY” from scratch.

And, for me, The Biggie: I’ve now got 5 of the 8 who are vegetarian (ovo lacto) leaving just three of us as omnivores.

Ever try to make a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner without wheat, corn, and soy?…

Yeah, it’s a ‘challenge’…

The Meal Plan

The basic idea is to just accept that not every person can eat every dish. So we make ‘variations’ where a common ground can not be reached. But there are edge cases some times that can be challenging. Will the vegetarians eat stuffing from inside a bird? Probably not…

Each year, I always over plan the choices, then as we ‘implement’ if something drops out of the mix, it’s still a well ‘over the top’ dinner. So don’t expect every single one of these dishes to ‘hit the table’. It will depend on how the choreography of the event unfolds as we go. Usually it’s one of the minor side dishes that ends up forgotten or ‘without a pot’ or sometimes ‘without oven space’ (though the addition of a ‘portable oven’ has reduced that risk). But here’s what’s in the fare so far:

Roast Turkey ( 9 pound “Diestel” brand. Figure 3 pounds per meat eater is about right ;-) with wheat stuffing in it. Non-hydrogenated oil in the croutons, and no soy, but the no-soy is also a vegetarian so may or may not accept ‘turkey touched’ stuffing… .

Side dish stuffing: One corn bread stuffing made with non-wheat corn bread. One vegetarian non-soy made from scratch with vegetable broth instead of animal. The corn bread base is made by me, from scratch, today (or will be ;-). I use blue corn meal so the things with corn meal in them are color tagged so I know what to avoid… Simply swap “rice flower” for the wheat flower in the corn bread recipe of your choice. I double the egg to make up for the low gluten too.

Vegetarian rice noodle lasagna. (Everyone can eat this, and makes a nice ‘main dish’ for the vegetarians). Prego brand spaghetti sauce is soy free, so it’s a simple quick assemble. Rice noodles, with layers of a (spinach, ricotta, parmesan, mozzerella mix), sauce, some pre-cooked mushrooms and / or olives and / or the occasional boiled egg slices) and then more noodles. Repeat to the top. Top with Olives and parmesan. I put about a teaspoon of “Italian Seasoning mix” in the bottom and top layers and usually add some garlic bits ;-)

A Fruit plate: Quick and easy. Platter of bananas, tangerines , grapes, pomegranates.

Salad bowl: Another quick and easy. Salad in the bowl, bottled dressings set out. (home made oil/vinegar/spices for me).

Peas: Simple dish of “just peas”.

Baked Beans: Bush’s Baked beans, vegetarian, re-baked. I’ve tried to improve on them, but can’t yet make anything enough better to be worth it.

Hard Boiled Eggs: The extras from any other dish (i.e. lasagna) set out. If I get time, I turn them into a deviled egg platter. Takes about 10 minutes.

Baked Squash: Acorn Squash, cut in half and baked ‘skin up’. Served with butter, brown sugar, and ‘season to taste’ of salt and pepper. Yeah, you could season them up much more interestingly… but the ‘crowd’ is also a lot of ‘supertasters’ and like to add seasonings in very small amounts. So cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, et. al. are set out for use as desired.

Candied yams: Another simple dish. Yams, in a pot, with a load of brown sugar, sometimes some maple syrup, and a lot of butter. Just slowly simmer it for about an hour. Moisture from the yams will make the sauce. Add ‘white fluff’ as desired. (Whipped cream or marshmallows… but the non-soy makes it a bit of an issue to find commercial marshmallows that are soy oil free…)

Tortellini Alfredo: I use a commercial pre-made tortellini that is good for everyone but the ‘gluten intolerant’ (who must content himself with massive amounts of lasagna instead ;-) topped with Classico Alfredo sauce. Fairly quick and easy to make, meets all the ‘hot buttons’ but one (wheat in the tortellini). Served with parmesan shakers, grated cheese mix, and side olives as ‘toppers’.

Breads: Often a challenge. I have some of the Rice & Corn bread, and often a “Regular Corn bread”. I’ve got a source for non-soy sweet French, and we usually do some prepackages warm and serve dinner rolls (mostly because the spouses Mom always did that and it’s got nostalgia value…). Real Butter on the side.

Cranberry sauce in little serving dishes on each end of the table.

Mashed Potatoes and Gravy. Very straight forward, though usually the ‘limiting dish’ on serving time as the ‘from peeling to table’ always takes longer than I expect. Gravy is a ‘challenge’. Can’t do the ‘pan drippings’ that I really like (so I save them for the day after ;-) at home). Can’t do the “mushroom soup’ gravy their Mom always did (as it has wheat and soy in it). Last year found a non-soy non-wheat mushroom soup at Whole Foods. Have to check on that again… If we end up there, it will be Cream of Mushroom gravy and the ‘other folks’ can just do butter… or I can make a bit of pan drippings gravy for the non-wheat meat-o-vores in the group.

And my personal favorite: Buttered Parsnips. Simple. Peel and slice parsnips. Boil in an open pot (to let the ‘piney” flavor resins evaporate) butter with real butter, and put in a serving dish.

I’m tempted to toss in a side dish of rice (dump rice in rice cooker…) of either brown rice or ‘saffron’ rice. But that might be a bit much ;-)

Then, finally, from my family traditions. Something we’ve always called “Scalloped corn” but I suspect is some kind of ‘poverty food’ adjustment from some prior dish. I ate this every holiday for the first 30+ years of my life and it’s just not Thanksgiving without it. Even if I can’t eat it, the smell is essential… Take 2 cans of corn. One creamed corn, one sweet. Drain the water from the sweet corn can (reserve it in case you need to add some added water). Dump the corn into a casserole dish. Add 2 eggs, beaten. Add about 1/2 stick ( 1/8 cup or 4 TBS) of butter. Take “one stack” of saltine crackers (one of the packets that come in a large box of crackers. 4 ounces.) and crush it. Add. Now mix it all together. You can put more butter on top if you are so inclined ;-) Lightly pepper the top (salt is in the crackers) and bake it. About 40 minutes in a medium oven, but depends on the shape bowl you use to some extent.

The crackers can be doubled for a more ‘bread pudding’ like texture (and less corn flavor). If you use non-saltine crackers, salt will be needed. I’ve used up to 1 stick of butter per stack of crackers, but that can be a bit rich ;-) Eggs can be cut in half (to one egg) for a looser texture – less stuck together – or left out entirely for a very loose corn dish. For folks who just love corn, using Fritos instead of saltines can make an over the top corn flavor… And if you like more ‘crunch’ and less ‘bread pudding’, leave out any water and sprinkle the cracker mix on top instead of mixing it in. Some folks like added flavor from onions or cheese, but we’ve always left ours more ‘traditional’.

I make a ‘rice cracker’ variation for the non-wheat folks.

Another family member provides the deserts and someone else brings the beverages.

In Conclusion

So that’s what I’m up to for the next 24 hours… Wish me luck…

I’m still trying to think of a better main course for the non-soy vegetarians that has some kind of ‘special’ character like a roast turkey. Ideas welcome. The “gluten guy” is bringing a “Lentil ‘meat’ loaf” and we’ll see how that goes…

About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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14 Responses to Turkey Day Prep

  1. Jerry says:


    I can eat most anything but I do use Maseca in place of flour in cornbread just because I like the flavor. Half cornmeal, half Maseca, salt to taste, I use mayo in place of oil usually, eggs if you want them – works for me. Also use it in other things too like a bit in chili to thicken. lol, you are a much more tolerant cook than I am – somebody got a medical problem with a food, then of course I will gladly do whatever I can to get around that. Otherwise you better be an omnivore around here or bring your doggie bag with you.


  2. E.M.Smith says:

    Ah, yes, “instant ‘masa’ corn flower”… I’d do it if I could still eat corn. As a kid I spent about 1/2 my time in a Mexican home (very good friend was a Mexican kid and we each spent as much time in the others home as in our own…) and ate more corn than most folks can imagine. (Dad being from Iowa and a corn farm, we had corn on the cob whenever we were not having corn off the cob ;-)

    Mayo is mostly some slightly seasoned oil with a bit of egg and vinegar in it. Great for things like baking where it smooths out the texture (the acid) while increasing the ‘moisture’ (the oil).

    I grew up in a family restaurant. You make what the customer wants the way they want it. And I do find the ‘challenge’ interesting. Frankly, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is pretty easy and not very interesting to make any more. If it were not for the ‘odd challenges’ I’d likely be looking for wacky things to add to the meal plan just to keep my interest level up…

    Per vegetarians: I don’t really care if someone wants to be a vegetarian (more meat for me ;-) but it’s the endless variations on it that drive me a bit up the wall. Someone says they want a vegetarian meal? No Problem….

    But then we get into the “20 questions” and it starts to grind down…

    Ovo lacto?




    the list goes on and on and on…

    Perhaps a “MaCartney” vegetarian (“Never eat anything with a face”…) or ????

    So it’s not so much the vegetarian cooking that’s the problem, it’s the figuring out what each individual thinks their flavor of vegetarian means…

    Me? I eat anything alive that moves and a lot of stuff that doesn’t ;-)

    As long as it doesn’t make me sick…

    I suspect that a fair number of folks who go to the vegetarian diet are either simply bothered by the idea that something had to die for them to live; or they have a issue with some particular food but have not gotten it down to the specific. So, for example, beef gives me arthritis. But it took a fair amount of work to figure out that level of detail. I could easily see someone finding out “vegetarian” made them “better” and not going back to narrow it down to the species…

  3. Tom Bakewell says:

    Not that you’d need it for your feast, but squashes make some dandy and very delicatly flavored soups. And I suspect they’d be a hit with most of your diverse crowd. Bon Appetit, good sir!

  4. Chuckles says:

    Best wishes to you and yours for Thanksgiving E.M., from all of us on the ‘Old Country’ side of the pond. And of course to all your readers in the Colonies as well!

    Not sure I approve of all this removing of stuff from the menu, but hey, if folk want to nibble on an arugula leaf, who am I to say otherwise. Enjoy, and may I suggest this epic and epicurean masterpiece for future reference – Morton Thompson’s Turkey –




  5. Pascvaks says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours!

  6. dearieme says:

    It sounds like a Music Hall joke.

    “I say, I say, I say, have you tried gravy thickened with non-wheat flower.”


    “No, it’s delicious.”

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, it’s now about 6 PM and we’ve finally finished. (Food hit the table at noon…)

    We had roughly 12 linear feet of food…

    Everything but the tortellini alfredo made it. Also one of the guests brought a “lentil un-meatloaf” that was quite good.

    Then there were the three pies, coffees, teas, and the “fizzy juices” (Apple, apple – pomegranate, apple – cranberry) and condiments (cranberry sauce, honey butter for the rolls, etc.)

    A great time was had by all and it “worked” for everyone.

    @Chuckles: It’s not that folks are just running out and deciding to dump something. It’s that some health issues shows up that gets traced to a food ( or group of foods) for one person or another. To the extent I can find things (like dinner rolls) made without soybean oil, then it’s OK for all and does not need to be flagged as “not for you” for the person with an “issue”.

    The only real exception is that 2 of the group decided to shift to ovo-lacto vegetarian (and felt better) so 3 more joined them this year (possibly just to see how it goes… who knows…) But that’s OK, more Turkey for the rest of us.

    So I keep meat on the menu, but need to ADD a vegetarian alternative. It’s not so much that things are removed, as that alternatives are added. So we had “scalloped corn” and we had “gluten free scalloped corn” (that was also soy free – the saltines had both wheat and soy oil…) made with rice crackers instead. Stuffing was made with croutons that were soy oil free, then some was put in the bird and some cooked in a pan outside the bird for those who were vegetarian. It had some added ingredients that make it more interesting for the vegetarians (like sesame seeds and malted barley in the croutons) that also make it a nice bird stuffing.

    Yes, you start to get a bit of a geometric expansion if you need to make 2 or 4 variations on each dish, thus my searching out ingredients that are ‘good for all’ but give the same result.

    I know it’s a strange mind set, but I actually like the ‘puzzle’ of finding a way to “make it work”. I also get to discover some things like, oh, that Hawaiian Sweet Rolls are made with some corn in them? Why? “Why, don’t ask why, down that path lies insanity and ruin…. -E.M.Smith” and it’s now almost impossible to find bulk processed foods that are soy free. So I get to learn more about making some things from scratch… and I get to wonder why so many things you would not expect to have corn and soy in them do have one or both…

    At any rate, I’m now stuffed and sleepy, so I’ll leave off at that…

  8. Jason Calley says:

    My wife and I are lacto-ovo vegetarians but she still turns out a faux-chicken and dumplings that will make an old Southern boy weep with joy. Use the vegetarian “chicken base” from http://www.superiortouch.com/retail/products/better-than-bouillon and add in some Morning Star Chicken Strips. And some dumplings, of course…

    Seriously, the Better-Than-Bullion vegetarian bases are a very tasty product. At one point, when our local store stopped carying them, my wife had us order a case from the company. All hail the wisdom of the Wifey Thing! :)

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jason Calley: Thanks for the pointer!

    I love chicken and dumplings… haven’t made it in a long time, though… Hmmm…. I’ve been using more vegetarian bullion / stocks and they are quite nice.

  10. Verity Jones says:

    Well belated Happy Thanksgiving! I must make your scalloped corn recipe again (now that I’ve sorted out what Saltines look like and that Cream Crackers will substitute as long as we adjust the seasoning :-)

    Hmm, just trying to think what I’ve magic’d up for vegetarian meals in the past. In a flash of inspiration one time I made a carrot and walnut bolognese that became a favourite for a while. Must try that again.

    IIRC – saute very finely chopped onion in butter and olive oil until translucent. Add crushed garlic, grated carrot, very finely chopped walnuts (make sure they are very fresh, not stale), tomato paste and vegetable stock, Simmer until liquid reduced and it has a bolognese texture. Add finely chopped parsely and serve with pasta. Very healthy too. Proportions? I’d go with equal volumes of onion, grated carrot and walnut, one garlic clove and about a tablespoon of parsely per person as a guide. I suppose three heaped tablespoons of onion/carrot/nut ingredients – one of each – would make a portion so add that per person.

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    Thanks! Sounds like a neat dish! But I get a break between now and next Thanksgiving ….

    Though, now that I think about it, I’m going to need a substitute for the Christmas Ham…

    FWIW, one of my favorite “day after” meals is the turkey and stuffing sandwich. Two slices of whole wheat bread, buttered. Put a layer of turkey bits on one side, salt and pepper, then add a layer of stuffing. All told about an inch thick (not counting the bread ;-) The stuffing squashes down a bit when you pick it up…

    Just had one. Like it more than the first day meal, truth be told.

  12. Larry Geiger says:

    Pot Luck. 40 southerners bringing whatever suits their fancy. I can assure you that there was corn, hydrogenated oils, meat and gluten aplenty. Your crowd probably would have fainted upon entering the door! I can also assure you that probably none of them have ever even heard of “lacto-ovo vegetarians”

    Man, I don’t know what was in the apple dumplings but they were sure good! Not much to bring home, though. About the only thing left over was fruit salad :-)

    Glad you had a happy time.

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    @Larry Geiger:

    Sounds like a good time on your end too!

    Though I do have to point out that the folks here are NOT your stereotypical rabid vegetarian types. Each person just has some ‘issue’ they are dealing with (often against their will). So, for example, the gluten intolerant guy is quite happy to eat plate loads of ribs and birds. (And we both love heavy duty Mexican, but I have to avoid the corn tortillas and he has to avoid the wheat ones, so we order both…)

    It’s not like anyone here is adverse to someone ELSE eating what they can not (in fact, we often wish we could eat it too…) so we are more ‘additive’ than ‘exclusionary’.

    So we would not have fainted upon entering the door, but would have hollered at each other “Hey, corn over here, wheat is over there!! I get the dumplings… you can have the tamales!!”

    Since I made enough for every person to have a full meal out of only one or two dishes, even if everyone “hit that dish”, we had a LOAD of leftovers… even though nobody could wiggle at the end of the meal… We believe in “pack’n rights” so everyone gets a few days food to take home…. ( I think I’ve mentioned before my wife’s family are from Texas and Oklahoma… if you don’t have way too much food, you ain’t being hospitable ;-)

    For example, the Lasagna was about 6 pounds. That’s about 3/4 pound per person. There was a pound of turkey per person. The “fruit plate” was about 4 pounds. The Scalloped Corn casseroles came to about 4 pounds (so 1/2 pound of a single side dish per person…) while mashed potatoes were about 12 pounds ( I *like* mashed potatoes ;-) so by the end of it all, it’s about 4 to 6 pounds of food per person… maybe a bit more if you count the pies… 3 slices of pie per person… Oh, wait, and the breads were about another 3 or 4 pounds…

    At the end of it all, we usually eat for 3 or 4 days off of the leftovers… and I consider it a failure if I run out of ANY dish. Everyone ought to be able to go back as much as they want for their favorite and STILL end up with more than they can eat. Even if everyone liked the same dish… (Don’t ever put me in charge of the punch bowl ;-)

    At any rate, I think it’s time for my 5th meal today… So I’m going to go see if there are still mashed potatoes and turkey left ;-)

  14. Jeff Alberts says:

    My wife and I had re-heated Chinese food.

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