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Joni Woolf: Delicious, healthy, small: a different twist on Thanksgiving

We write about Thanksgiving as one of our most important gatherings of the year. And it is. Some of us gather dozens (even more) around our holiday table, gathering in friends and relatives from near and far. Some of us, however, celebrate with a smaller crowd — perhaps the immediate family, or two or three friends who live alone but share this holiday with those they love. When we write for the crowd, we offer multitudes of recipes, trying to find such a broad variety that no one has an empty plate. When preparing for a small number, it’s less complicated. A menu can focus on healthy servings of tasty, perhaps leaner servings, and offer fewer choices.  So today we’re focusing on a Thanksgiving meal for a small group — a table where a succulent roasted chicken will have just as much eye appeal as a 15-pound turkey surrounded by dressing.  In fact, when the crowd has left, I may fix this meal for myself.

Roast Lemon Chicken
3 lemons
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 4-pound whole chicken
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
6 large garlic cloves, crushed
Heat oven to 500 degrees F. Zest and juice 1 lemon. Heat the lemon juice and the butter together in a small saucepan and set aside. Sprinkle the chicken cavity with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon of the crushed peppercorns. Gently slide two fingers under the skin of the breast and rub half of the zest and 1/8 teaspoon pepper onto the breast meat. Cut 1 lemon into quarters and place it and the garlic in the cavity. Tie the legs together with butcher’s twine (or the equivalent) and season the outside of the bird with the remaining salt and pepper. Place on a rack in a small roasting pan, and roast for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 375 degrees F. Quarter the remaining lemon and place it in the bottom of the pan. Continue to roast, basting with a brush every 15 minutes with the prepared lemon butter until the meat between the thigh and body (avoid touching the bone) reaches 167 degrees F., about 1 hour, 15 minutes. Let the chicken rest at least 15 minutes to allow the juice to settle before carving.

Green Beans with Smoked Bacon and Onions
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
2 ¼ teaspoons salt
4 slices thick cut smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch wide strips
1 medium onion, cut into 1-inch pieces.
Blanch the beans: Prepare an ice bath. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the beans and 2 teaspoons salt, and cook just until the beans turn bright green — about 7 minutes. Drain the beans and plunge them into the ice bath until they are cool. Remove beans from the bath, and drain on a towel. Cook the bacon: Add the bacon to a large skillet over medium high heat and cook until golden brown and lightly crisp. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Finish the beans: Add the blanched beans, onion pieces and remaining salt to the bacon drippings and toss to completely coat with the fat. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until the beans are warmed through and the onions have softened — 4 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately. A vegetarian variation of this would be: after blanching and cooling the beans, combine them with one package cooked artichoke hearts, one sliced purple onion, and a light tossing of olive oil and red wine vinegar, plus fresh herbs of your choice. Just as good, and heart-healthy.

Now add some additional color to this meal, and only a few more calories, with Carey Wooten’s squash casserole. It is delicious, filling, and the color pairs well with chicken and the green beans.

Southwestern Squash Casserole
1 ½ pounds squash, sliced
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
1 can green chilies
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups Monterey Jack cheese
1 egg
1 cup cottage cheese
2 tablespoons parsley
½ cup Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix egg, cottage cheese, parsley, Parmesan cheese, in a bowl and set aside. Saute squash and onion in butter. Add flour, salt, pepper and green chilies. When squash is tender, place mixture in casserole dish. Top with cheese mixture. Cover with Monterey Jack cheese. Cook, uncovered, 30 to 40 minutes, till firm.

Most of us love the rich, traditional food that our families prepare for Thanksgiving and other special days. Eaten in moderation, they probably won’t hurt most of us. But moderation is sometimes hard to come by! So, think in advance of the big occasion, and prepare some foods for those who, for health reasons, may be watching their calories, and their fat content. It will help them, and it will be good for all of us. Now plan your meal. Carefully.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net.