(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
Holidays, like Thanksgiving, are often stuffed with our favorite foods of all time. However, when you rely on old standbys just because they are familiar, it lessens the potential pizzazz. The ideas that follow - they take just 10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare - prove that virtually any Thanksgiving staple (like sweet potatoes, stuffing or pumpkin) can be twisted and turned into a new holiday masterpiece on demand. Better yet, rather than starting from scratch, they can improve the meal for just pennies per serving.
Food preparation - even for holiday guests - can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun and fast, as the following split-second sensations prove. The dishes are delicious evidence that everyone - including you and your kidlet helpers - has time for tasty home cooking and, more importantly, the healthy family time in the kitchen that goes along with it! Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, even when preparing holiday specialties, since there are no right or wrong amounts. These are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations, so whatever you choose to use can't help but draw "wows" at the table.
Glad for New Glaze
Give your glaze a fresh outlook and create an innovative meal theme at the same time. A bird with Hawaiian flair, for instance, might get glazed with a syrup you've created as it reduces while you are stirring on the stovetop from coconut milk, pineapple juice, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne pepper. Turn it into a theme by adding chopped macadamia nuts and fresh pineapple chunks to your stuffing and a drizzle of bottled guava, papaya or mango nectar to your pumpkin pie before baking and then topping it with sprinkles of sweetened coconut flakes just before serving.
Gravitate Toward These Gravies
As good as it is, gravy is often bland. Why not perk it up a bit as it heats. Consider adding just a dash of strategic flavor, like cayenne and chopped jalapenos (experts recommend wearing latex gloves and not touching your eyes during or after handling peppers); finely diced garlic and pumpkin pie spice; or peach jam or all-fruit, no-sugar spread (also available in the jam aisles of most supermarkets) and curry powder.
The Shape of Things to Come
Stuffing doesn't always need to be stuffed into something. It can make quite a statement on its own. Fill either regular-sized or mini-muffin trays with cooked stuffing and bake or form it into loaves. Or stuff the stuffing, by placing a surprise, like a prune or a green olive, in the middle of a stuffing muffin.
More than a Side Dish
Stuffing can function as a surprising course, rather than its usual side dish status. Substitute seasoned, dry stuffing mix for the bread, or along with it, in your favorite bread pudding recipe for a kick.
Instead of a casserole, consider baking sweet potatoes to serve to guests individually, along with a buffet of toppings, such as honey, pure maple syrup, mini marshmallows, composed butters (like those to which you've added freshly chopped herbs or spices) or a mixture of diced dried fruit, such as cranberries, golden raisins, apricots and figs.
Even Sweeter Sweet Potatoes
Mix in or substitute sweet potatoes for pumpkin in a pie for dessert or in muffins. Sweeten a sweet potato puree (made from the flesh of peeled sweet potatoes) with honey or brown sugar, warm it and use as a dessert topping for vanilla ice cream that you then top with browned, melting mini marshmallows and toasted walnuts.
One Cozy Cocktail
Consider a toast with mini pumpkin smoothies during appetizer time or to start off the meal. In a blender, to vanilla soymilk, add a dash of canned pumpkin pie filling (or canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice and a natural no-calorie sweetener, such as stevia), banana, pumpkin seeds, candied pecans and ice and blend until smooth.
"Pumpkin Pie" Where You'd Least Expect It
Add minced chopped unpeeled pumpkin to your stuffing or green bean casserole before cooking as well as a sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice and crushed graham cracker crumbs. The same additions can be made to a mixed green or spinach salad if you cube and roast the pumpkin first. You can serve it on top of the salad warm for a wilted effect or let it cool first. Drizzle with pepitas (lightly salted roasted pumpkin seeds) and poppy seed-based salad dressing or raspberry vinaigrette.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: Preparing ethnic food is often seen as a complicated departure from everyday cooking. Not only are ethnic cuisines that are based on fresh, seasonal ingredients often simple to prepare, sometimes it's as uncomplicated as keeping a minimally stocked pantry of staples ready to go. For Chinese cuisine, for example, Taiwanese-born food product company owner and Cooking Channel host Ching-He Huang in her first U.S.-published cookbook, "Ching's Everyday Easy Chinese: More than 100 Quick & Healthy Chinese Recipes," recommends her top-ten choices. They are economic options - many of which are available in the ethnic aisle of major supermarkets, or, if not, at Asian markets: light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, shaohsing rice wine, toasted sesame oil, five-spice powder, Sichuan peppercorns, chinkiang black rice vinegar, clear rice vinegar, chili bean sauce and chili sauce.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.