Stress Free Sides: Thanksgiving sides to WOW the Family

Wellness, Health, Dietitian, Thanksgiving, Sides, Food, Nutritionist, Personal Chef, Cook, Home, FoodThe holidays in my family are centered around family and amazing food. As first generation Italian-Americans we typically don’t do a turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and 20+ sides, but, the food is always exceptional and we have a great time!

I’m going to share some of the side dishes that have made it into my family’s holiday side dish hall of fame! The key to easy sides is to minimize prep time; the best way to do that is to keep the veggies whole so that no time is wasted cutting.

 Sautéed Ravioli: Start with fresh or frozen ravioli. In a shallow sauce or sauté pan boil water the water will boil fairly quickly. Salt the water and place the ravioli in the water do so gently, the boiling water may splash. Allow the ravioli to cook through they will float to the top of the pan when they are done, ~3-4 minutes. Remove the done ravioli with a slotted spoon or hand-held strainer instead of draining them like you would normal pasta the ravioli are delicate and should be taken out gently. When they are all cooked, hold the ravioli off the heat and empty the pan of water.

Place the pan back on the heat and add olive oil. Allow the oil to heat through and then add the ravioli back to the pan. Gently toss them in the oil, so they are well coated. Sauté the ravioli over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes on either side until golden brown. Remove from the heat and serve with pesto or marinara sauce. If you find a butternut squash ravioli it will pair nicely with an peppery arugula pesto. 

Roasted Baby Potatoes with Cippolini Onions & Rosemary: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Take about a pound or two (about a half pound per guest) of multicolored baby potatoes the smaller the better, shoot for about one inch in diameter. Use about half the amount of cippolini onions to potatoes. Peel the onions, while keeping their shape intact. Toss the potatoes and onions, with a drizzle of olive oil, enough to coat, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. Place on a parchment lined sheet pan and place in the preheated oven. Roast ~35-50 minutes, toss occasionally, for an extra crunch broil for 5 minutes. Serve this side immediately;  add lemon zest when the potatoes come out of the oven for an extra layer of flavor. 

Asparagus with Parmigiano: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Choose thin asparagus; they thicker they are the more fibrous. Holding each end of one asparagus, snap it with your hand. Wherever it breaks, cut the reminder of the asparagus to the same length. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper and place the asparagus on the parchment. Toss the asparagus with olive oil, salt, pepper, and freshly grated parmigiano cheese. Roast for 15 minutes. Serve this side immediately; add shaved parmigiano to serve,  use a vegetable peeler to shave the block of cheese into long strands.

Garlic Green Beans: Add cleaned/trimmed green beans to a shallow sauce pan (with a lid), add about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water to the pan. Place the lid on the pan and allow the liquid to come to a boil. Steam the green beans 3-4 minutes until they are bright green in color. Drain the remaining water, and place the pan back over medium-high heat. Drizzle with olive oil, and toss in sliced garlic, salt and pepper. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until garlic is cooked. Finish with lemon juice and lemon zest. Serve this side immediately; adding the lemon juice and zest at the end will help to the green beans retain their bright green color.  

Honey Roasted Baby Carrots: Preheat the oven to 450°F. If available use a bunch of small carrots,  these will cook more evenly and quickly than very large carrots. Place the carrots onto a parchment lined sheet pan or a glass baking dish. Toss the carrots with equal parts olive oil and honey, finish with salt and pepper. Place them in a single layer and roast for 20-30minutes until tender and golden. Serve this side immediately; add orange zest and cardamom when the carrots come out of the oven for extra layers of flavor. 

Frozen Veggies 101: Make Frozen Veggies Suck Less

Wellness Cucina, Dietitian, Personal Chef, Nutritionist

Frozen veggies have such a bad wrap, unnecessarily. They are picked at optimum freshness transported to the factory (typically very close to the farm) where they are washed, cut, blanched, and flash frozen; if anything frozen veggies actually retain more nutrients than their fresh counter parts, because of the process above.

When veggies are frozen, they do have a tendency to lose their crunch. Thankfully, using the proper cooking methods can bring any frozen vegetable back to life!

1. Roasting: (Suitable Veggies: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots). Start by quickly defrosting the veggies in the microwave for about 30 seconds until soft, but still cold to the touch. Coat the veggies in olive oil add dry herbs and spices of your choice. Toss to coat. Place on a sheet tray in a single layer and place in at 425°F oven for 20-25 minutes, until throughly cooked (and beginning to have color). If desired, place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes for additional color and crunch. Serve as a side along a whole grain and lean protein.

2. Sauté: (Suitable Veggies: All Frozen Veggies). Sauté comes from the French word sautér meaning to jump. Essentially, when sautéing you want the food to jump around in the pan; the key to this action is high heat and a little bit of fat (oil, or butter). To sauté frozen veggies I recommend using a cast iron pan (they hold heat the best, and wont lose heat when you add the frozen food). Heat the pan on high (get it screaming hot) and once it is hot, add the frozen veggies  to the pan. Stir often, until the veggies appear defrosted. Add a small amount of olive oil to the veggies (we are adding the oil after the veggies so that any liquid on the veggies has had time to evaporate, and the hot oil will not splatter); allow them to continue to sauté over high heat, until cooked through but still crunchy (4-5 minutes). Serve the sautéd veggies as a side or use them in a stir-fry.

3. Steam: (Suitable Veggies: All Frozen Veggies — Steam Time will Vary on Size of Veggie). Steamed veggies are typically deemed healthy; this may be true, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be tasty! There are a variety of ways to steam veggies: steamer basket, microwave, and in a covered pan.

Place frozen veggies in a steamer basket in a pot of boiling water, steam until defrosted.

Alternatively, you can use a microwave and a solid glass bowl with a lid. Place the veggies in the glass bowl with a tight lid and microwave for 3-4 minutes, until defrosted and cooked through. If you are cooking a dense veggie, like brussels, add a little water  to the container and microwave 3-4 minutes.

For the last steaming method, heat a pan over medium heat; add frozen veggies to the pan and cover with a lid. Allow the veggies to cook for 3-4 minutes, until heated through (if they are still cold, or are gaining color…add a 1-2 teaspoons of water, and recover, to help continue the steaming process.

Add flavor to steamed veggies during the steaming process by flavoring the steaming water with nectars, tea bags, herbs, spices, and citrus zest. Add flavor after they are cooked by tossing with citrus juice or vinegar, herbs and spices.

4. Soups: (Suitable Veggies: Corn, Peas, Spinach, Kale, Zucchini, Green Beans — are all great options to bulk up a broth or tomato based soup). Start building the soup with sautéed onions, carrots, and celery. Continue to build flavor with herbs and spices (optional: add tomato paste and diced canned tomatoes for a tomato based soup). Add stock (veggie, chicken, beef, or fish) to create the liquid component of the soup (add this even if you choose to add tomatoes). Next, choose a protein such as chicken, turkey, pork, beef, tofu, or beans (animal proteins should be partially cooked ahead of time to ensure that they are throughly cooked when the soup is done). When the soup has throughly simmered about 5-10 minutes depending on the ingredients add the frozen vegetables and cook for an additional 5 minutes until all items have been cooked through. Finish with fresh herbs and even citrus zest to flavor. You can also make a puréed soup from cooked frozen veggies (see section 5, purées).

5. Purées: (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Squash, Carrots, Peas, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes). Purées can be used as sauces, bases for soups, or as a side of their own. Use the roasting, steaming, or sautéing method to make a more complex veggie purée. Place the cooked vegetables in a blender or food processor with water or veggie stock, (add less liquid than you think you need, you can always add more) blend until smooth. The purée can become a soup topped with toasted nuts or seeds, or can be used as a sauce for a protein dish such as carrot purée with roasted chicken.