A Thanksgiving Table

Skinny Sides & Easy Décor for Thanksgiving

Looking for a new twist on America’s favorite holiday? This year, “Less is More” for table décor and savory side dishes, according to several expert florists and chefs, who suggest it’s time to “Go Green” and get back to basics, with simple table arrangements consisting of edible wildflowers and native plants, along with simple recipes using plentiful fresh vegetables.

First impressions do register, and there are several key tips to maximize the “wow” factor of your holiday table. According to longtime florist Augie Manna, manager of Anne’s Flowers and designer to many top hotels including the Fairmont Hotel, the top three things to remember when planning your 2015 holiday décor are:

1) Use “homemade” center pieces and placecards whenever possible, to give a welcoming, “homey” feel;

2) Stay within a color scheme

3) Add at least one “exotic” or expensive item to flowers and food.

Many local florists offer edible flowers all year long, even in cold climates. With a bud vase, a few flowers and some holiday ribbon, anyone can easily create impressive place settings that add a festive touch without breaking your budget. The third tip to creating a homemade arrangement which still looks elegant is to add one “exotic” touch, such as the Bird of Paradise flower, which tops our easy arrangement.

The traditional Thanksgiving colors of brown, orange and gold are an easy “safe” option. But, according to Manna, the purple in the Bird of Paradise is a hot accent color this year for Thanksgiving, adding burst of contrast and elegance. Include mini-pumpkins down the center of the table or along the buffet line, and accent with simple backyard greens, such as ivy or pine boughs. Pine cones serve as innovative placecard holders.

To create our impressive holiday centerpieces, simply start with a clear glass vase. Next, place an assortment of wildflowers (stems removed), green leaves and even a small gourd in the base of the vase. Gently fill with water halfway up the neck. Tie decorative ribbon around the neck of vase. Place more flowers and leaves into neck of vase; fill to top with water. Finally, top the vase with a Bird of Paradise (or two, for more fullness).

We also love the idea of repurposing used liquor bottles and wine bottles as unique decanters for ice water on the table. Simply soak old bottles in warm water to remove the labels, then tie a decorative bow around the bottle neck to coordinate with your centerpiece ribbon.

Getting “back to basics” is also a current trend popular in restaurants and easy to integrate into your Thanksgiving table. More and more chefs are promoting the “farm-to-table” movement which focuses on utilizing the freshest local ingredients. A star in the farm-to-table movement, Chef Bill Blackburn, owner of  Blackburn’s Farm-to-Table Restaurant in Corona, California, explains: “It’s not only the flavor that improves when using fresh local ingredients, you are actually creating food which is better for your body, free of pesticides and chemicals.”

Your guests will devour our unique update on classic stuffing, featuring tasty artichokes. This “Artichoke Olive Stuffing,” a savory blend packed with parmesan, is not only delicious, but easy to make. Don’t like artichokes? Simply replace them with asparagus tips or hearts of palm. Kalamata olives make a great substitute for green olives, if you prefer, and try a bit of feta cheese with the parmesan, for a truly Mediterranean twist on this stuffing.  Notably, even though Chef Blackburn is devoted to using fresh ingredients, he suggests using dried herbs when making stuffing and other baked goods, as the flavors blend more evenly and intensely.

While Thanksgiving can be a diet disaster with all the heavy gravy, the high-carb rolls, and the fatty potato casseroles, you can keep dessert calories under control with this unique “Skinny Pumpkin Cream Pie.” Best of all, your guests will never guess it has half the calories and a third of the fat grams of traditional pumpkin pie.

How do we do it? We simply replaced some of the heavy cream with fat-free sweetened condensed milk and start with a simple, homemade reduced-calorie pastry shell. But, if you’re pressed for time, the pie is equally delicious and nearly as skinny in a pre-made shell. We top it with a light cream cheese frosting for added flavor.

Then, we take a tip from Chef Blackburn, who is known to utilize unique, local ingredients in his menus at his restaurant, creating dishes which are visually appealing as well as delicious. “Adding a garnish of an edible flower is an easy, impressive way to make an ordinary dish become extraordinary,” says Chef Blackburn. Here, we add a unique touch which will keep your friends talking long after the holiday, topping the pumpkin cream pie with bright red prickly pear cactus flowers.

Skinny Pumpkin Cream Pie

1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin

1 can (14 ounces) fat-free sweetened condensed milk

½ cup egg substitute

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

1 unbaked pastry shell (9 inches) Or, our homemade pie crust

Light Pie Crust:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

¼ cup cold water

8 tablespoons ice water

¾ cup vegetable shortening

Crust Instructions: In a large bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Place the ¼ cup of cold water in a glass measuring cup, then add the vegetable shortening until mixture equals 1 cup of water and shortening combined. Lightly press down shortening to eliminate air bubbles. Then, using a large spoon, gently scoop out shortening from measuring cup and add to flour mixture (discard remaining water in measuring cup). Cut shortening into the flour mixture, using a pastry cutter, until small dough balls form. Add the 8 tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, and continue mixing. If dough appears too hard, add additional water.  Chill dough in refrigerator if it’s too soft. Form dough into a ball. Roll out dough, and place in a 9-inch pie pan.

Light Cream Cheese Frosting:

8 ounces reduced-fat (Neufchatel) cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:  Place all ingredients in large bowl; beat until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Pie Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine pumpkin, condensed milk, egg substitute and spices in a large bowl. Beat until just smooth; pour into pastry shell. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° (do NOT remove pie from oven); bake an additional 25-30 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack. Store in refrigerator. Top with Light Cream Cheese Frosting when ready to serve, and garnish with edible flowers. Yield: 8 servings. Per serving: Calories: 252; Fat 6.0g (2g saturated fat); Carbs: 42g; Protein: 8g; Cost Per Serving: $1.03.

Artichoke Olive Stuffing

1 loaf (1 pound) sourdough bread, cubed into ½ inch pieces

2 jars (6 ounces each) marinated artichoke hearts, drained and diced

1¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pound mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed & sliced

1 tablespoon butter

1 large onion (1/2 pound), chopped

¾ cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons minced garlic

½ cup green olives or Kalamata olives, sliced (some whole for top)

2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

2¼ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 large egg


Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, gently stir together bread, artichoke hearts, parmesan and  rosemary; set aside. In a large skillet over high heat, melt butter and cook mushrooms, onion, celery and garlic, stirring frequently, until vegetables are lightly brown (about 15-18 minutes). Pour vegetables into a large bowl. Pour ¼ cup of broth into skillet, stir to scrape up browned bits. Add broth mixture to veggies. Pour remaining 2 cups broth over bread mixture; add poultry seasoning. Stir well to combine. Add salt and pepper. Make an indentation in stuffing; add egg. Beat egg with fork until blended; stir egg into stuffing. Gently fold in sliced olives (reserve some whole olives to place decoratively on top of stuffing, if baking in casserole). Spoon stuffing into 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. For moister stuffing, cover with foil; for crustier stuffing, do not cover. Bake about 45-55 minutes, until hot in center or lightly browned. Note: Stuffing can be made one day ahead; simply make stuffing, place in casserole, cover with foil and store in refrigerator. Increase baking time by about 15 minutes for chilled stuffing. Yield: 8 servings. Per serving: Calories: 195; Fat 6.4g; Carbs: 28g; Protein: 9g; Fiber: 2.7g; Cholesterol: 27mg. Cost Per Serving: $.86.

Suzette Zara is a food journalist, nutritionist, creator of “Devil’s Salsa,” and frequent speaker on low-fat healthy cooking. For more great skinny spicy recipes, visit her website: DevilsSalsa.com.