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Janet Zappala In the Kitchen- A New Spin On Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes


In the US- we traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year. A day reserved for noshing on turkey and stuffing, playing and watching football, taking a nap, and being grateful for time spent with family and friends.

Thanksgiving Day began in 1621, with Governor William Bradford declaring a day of Thanks with the Pilgrims in the New World, with a new settlement, plentiful harvest and at peace with their new friends, the Native American Indians. These days, the idea is prettyJanet Zappala My Italian Kitchen much the same, the food might be a smidge different, but the basic theme of food and family fun is still prevalent; as is gorging on the pumpkin and pecan pie.

Not so here, with Janet Zappala in the kitchen! Cooking for the holidays can be enjoyable and lighter by tweaking older recipes.

Janet Zappala just can’t stay still. A six-time Emmy Award winner, commended journalist, an Associated Press First Place Award winner and a Golden Mike recipient, she has taken her talents to Denver, Los Angeles and Philadelphia as a news journalist and host.

After becoming the ‘Go-To Girl’ for all things food, Zappala decided to become a certified nutritional consultant in 2008. Armed with her mother’s recipes and inspiration of healthier living, Zappala created a cookbook full of old-time favorites with a new twist. Her first cookbook, My Italian Kitchen, Home-Style Recipes Made Lighter & Healthier, released in April, 2010, and has made Zappala an expert on all things healthy in the kitchen, especially around the holidays.

"Our bodies need phytonutrients, Micronutrients and Macronutrients to live well," Zappala explains. “Phytonutrients come from plants, which is why eating fruits and vegetables everyday is so important. They help fend off disease and protect the body from carcinogens, which are cancer causing substances. Great sources of phytonutrients are broccoli, soy, garlic, citrus fruits and melons. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals including zinc, manganese, and copper, for example. Macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrates.”

Zappala is well-versed all matters of nutrition and analyzing lifestyles, because everyone is a little bit different with regards to nutritional needs.

“I’ve always been into healthier eating and living better and taking care of my family and friends. I passionately want to share this because my mom passed away with cancer, and so I want to send a healthful message. I want make people become more aware when it comes to food and cooking the right things and working out. We’re all living a little bit longer, so we want a healthy life with an enhanced quality of life. Mom was a phenomenal cook but she wasn’t really into healthful stuff as far as whole wheat and alternative sweeteners. I decided to write the book, clean up some of her recipes and add some of mine. It is lighter and healthier, and people can still do things they love and find healthier ways to eat the foods they love."

 Zappala suggests slowly adapting new items into your diet and make it a routine, then a way of life. Little changes at a time, then it becomes a part of who you are.

“Typical recipes don’t have to be bad- I love to eat! It’s one of the greatest pleasures we can enjoy in life, we eat the foods we love. I don’t want to give up too many things, but eat foods without worry,” Zappala claims. “Some foods are delicious, such as a decadent cheesecake, but then you have to worry about spiking your blood sugar, gaining weight, etc- who wants to eat with all that worry!? You can’t fully enjoy what you are eating!”

With the holidays here in the blink of an eye, Zappala shares some of the tricks for lighter eating, without sacrificing flavor and zeal. A good side dish for the holidays is a fresh salad. (When Zappala told me this, I mentioned I am so not a salad girl!) The trick is to dress it up, your way. (And sounds much tastier this way!)

Toss some Romaine red-tipped lettuce with roasted sunflowers seeds (great source of dietary fiber and protein) with some dried fruit, chopped up raw broccoli or zucchini, and edamame. ‘These are things that are good for you and have a crunch, with variety and taste! Add a light salad dressing you really like, and you have not a mere salad, a terrific salad that gives nutrients and vitamins and minerals.”

Another is Zappala’s Pumpkin Cheesecake with natural sweeteners and low-fat cream cheese, and a brown rice sausage side dish with plenty of flavor and much lower in fat. I like substituting brown rice or quinoa for white rice, and using Sucanat and Agave nectar as sweeteners rather than white sugar worse, chemically-enhanced sweeteners.

Try these recipes and let me know what you think- just in time for your Thanksgiving Table! Stay tuned for a Christmas Holidays rundown on yummy and healthy eating, with some more of Janet Zappala’s recipes!

This pumpkin cheesecake will knock your socks off! Good for you and tastes decadent.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Prep time: 15-20 minutespumpkin cheesecake

Cook time: 1 hour, 5 minutes Serves 8


1 10-ounce bag gingersnap cookies, crushed (about 2 cups)

½ cup chopped pecans

¼ cup natural buttery spread (such as Earth Balance or Smart Balance), melted

1 tablespoon Sucanat*

*Sucanat is an unrefined, unprocessed sugar that is a more healthful alternative to refined brown sugar.


3 8-ounce packages reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1 cup Sucanat

1 cup canned pumpkin

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice

Whole or chopped pecans for garnish

To Make Crust:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan.

Wrap the outside of the pan with foil. In a food processor, pulse together the cookies and pecans until they’re finely ground.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the cookie mixture with the melted butter alternative and the Sucanat; mix thoroughly. Press the crust mixture onto the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of the pan.

Bake for 5minutes. Remove the crust from the oven; set it aside. Keep the oven on.

To Make Filling:

In a large mixing bowl, blend the cream cheese and Sucanat until smooth. Add the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice; beat until smooth.

To Assemble and Cook:

Pour the filling into the baked crust. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to get all the filling.

Bake the cheesecake until the center is set and the edges begin to crack, about hour, 5 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven; cool for 20 minutes.

Chill uncovered for 6 hours. Garnish with whole or chopped pecans.

Mom’s Rice and Sausage Special

Mom’s Rice and Sausage Special is one of Mom’s favorites with a healthy twist.


1 cup brown rice, uncooked

2-2½ cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon natural buttery spread (such as Earth Balance or Smart Balance)

1 large yellow onion, finely diced

1 cup carrots, finely diced

1 cup celery, finely diced

1 pound mild Italian-style all-natural turkey sausage, casings removed

1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed

¼ cup fresh chopped parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes)

Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Cook the rice according to package directions, substituting chicken broth for water. While the rice is cooking, heat the olive oil and butter alternative in a large skillet over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion, carrots, and celery; sauté for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When rice is done, pour it into a large serving dish; cover it to keep it warm.

Add the cooked onion mixture to the cooked rice in the serving dish; cover.

In the same skillet, add the sausage; cook for about 10 minutes until browned, stirring to break up any large pieces. Add the Italian seasoning, parsley, salt, and pepper to the sausage; stir well.

Combine the cooked sausage with the rice-and-vegetable mixture.

Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Contact Janet Zappala at www.janetzappala.com and follow her on FaceBook and Twitter under Janet Zappala. Janet will also be doing a book signing at Border’s in Wynnewood, PA, on Dec. 4th. Free re-useable totes and custom bookmarks with your copy. It makes a great gift!

Pictures courtesy of Janet Zappala.

Christine Tarlecki can be contacted at engchik@comcast.net and http://engchik.blogspot.com/ and can be found on FaceBook and Twitter under engchik.