If you want to make holiday food healthier, add liquor and slap a European name on it...
The country is getting ready to enter prime food time: Christmas! Full of cakes, pies, meats, sauces, heartburn, heart disease, and obesity. Yea... I love it. My mom always used to say that if you're going to have it, meaning sweets and heavy foods, have it in its entirety with no substitutes. She said this as she instructed me at 9 years old in making our family's secret pound cake recipe, which has its origins in the obvious pound of butter used to make it.
Well, this year for thanksgiving I just couldn't do it. We eat pretty healthily anyway, but on holidays, that kinda goes out the window. I have acid reflux and as a singer, I just can't encourage it with lots of meat, cheese and heavy sauces and gravies. I have also found that me and bread just don't get along to well anymore. So I took charge this year.
I believe in elegance in cooking. I grew up not drinking liquor, just putting it in my food. I even tried to put white wine in oatmeal when I was a young teenager (a fact a girlfriend never let's me forget). Needless to say, wine doesn't work in all foods. But elegance doesn't come from liquor, it comes from presentation and frankly, a cool European sounding name.
I just decided that this year, I was going to make foods that wouldn't make me cough my brains out (the laryngeal version of GERDS that doesn't require you to be laying down to get heartburn and just screws up all your upper respiratory functions that are necessary for singing; marvelous!). So I made mostly vegetarian choices versions of dishes that centered in on deliciousness and not too much fat. Here's my part of the menu with websites where some of the recipes can be found: (some recipes, were a no go and I had to just change on the spot because they just didn't work...).
- Sweet potato gnocchi with a maple sage butter sauce http://www.macheesmo.com/2009/12/sweet-potato-gnocchi/ and http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/sweet-potato-gnocchi-with-maple-cinnamon-sage-brown-butter-recipe/index.html
- Root vegetable napoleons with mushroom gravy and sautéed enoki mushrooms and beet greenshttp://www.choosingraw.com/genas-mostly-raw-all-vegan-thanksgiving-menu/
- Butternut squash gratin http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/baked-squash-gratin-recipe/index.html
- Rice medley stuffing with chicken livers, cranberries, chestnuts, and cashews
- mashed garlic cauliflower http://nomnompaleo.com/post/1657598867/best-make-ahead-side-garlic-cauliflower-mashed
Now we also had the standard cranberry sauce, some turkey (which was actually a Capon dressed as a turkey) and a duck. We had collard greens, a salad, but no soup this year. For dessert there was apple cobbler, multiple sweet potato pies with pecan praline bottom (a yearly staple) and a friend brought Caribbean fruitcake (yea, doused with rum…uh huh…yeah…). This was a relatively small Thanksgiving.
We were full and happy, without much meat, and foods were not too heavy and I had no heartburn! Hallelujah! I found most of these recipes online, modified some, and just created one out of my head because Whole Foods wouldn't cough up the recipe no matter how much I researched, tweeted, emailed and cried out for it. (Mine tasted better anyway).
In making holiday meals that don't make you grow several dress sizes and encourage healthy eating among your relatives and children, I try to think mouth feel. What is mouth feel, you say? Mouth feel is that feeling you get when you eat your favorite foods like cheese, creamy sauces, meat, etc… Each dish that I prepared gives the feeling of fat and creamy without excessive fat and creamy, if you get my drift. The gnocchi was made by me and my kids. Just mash up some sweet potatoes, add salt, cinnamon and flour….boom…gnocchi. The sage maple butter sauce just made it taste like breakfast. And of course, sweet potatoes are a whole lot better for you than white potatoes.
The mashed cauliflower in place of mashed potatoes is a wonderful way to feel all warm and full without the excess starch. Just put the cauliflower in a pot and boil it; drain, put in mixer, press button, voila. With a limited amount of fat (I used rice milk as opposed to milk or cream, but did add some butter, because butter is just the right thing to do) and of course garlic, you had a creamy, mashy thing that was oh so tasty. It was tasty each day afterward as well.
A "gratin" is just a fancy way of saying put some cheese in it. Giada on the food network is my TV friend and I find that her recipes are easy to de-dairify. I just removed the cheese part and added rice parmesan, and made my own pesto. And before you say, "Who's gonna make their own pesto?!" pesto is as easy to make as baby food. Put basil leaves in blender, add pine nuts, add garlic, add salt, add olive oil; press button. Presto changeo, you have pesto. It takes 5 minutes and that's being generous. The fats came from the olive oil and I put some breadcrumbs on the top and baked it so there was little crunch. Rather than steam or boil it, I roasted the squash for extra flavor and mixed it in my trusty Cuisinart to a creamy luscious texture. No milk, no eggs, no cream. People licked the butternut squash from their plates. Creamy sweet squash with pesto…can you say happy?
The piece de resistance was the "stuffing". I have difficulty with bread now dang it. My mother's stuffing was legendary. It always took her 2-3 days to make. It had a lot of moving parts, but when put together, O.M.G. You ain't never tasted anything like it. We waited all year long for this. My mom said this year, she couldn't do it. Too much work. So I made a version of it using various rices instead of the savory cornbread that she would make. I didn't use all the meats, but added chicken livers rather than the beef liver, gizzards, and pork bacon and sometimes sausage, she would use. I also added…wait for it…brandy! Oh yeah…liquor makes it good and feels so elegant even though all you did was pour some fermented liquid into the food. The wild and brown rice mixture from Trader Joes was perfect. As I said, I got this idea from Whole foods, but they wouldn't part with the recipe. So I just made it up.
Saute onions, garlic and mushrooms in, you guessed it: butter and olive oil, while you have your rice cooking. Add thyme and sage and parsley (dried is fine). Brown chicken livers in the same skillet. Add dried cranberries, chestnuts and raw cashews. Put in cooked rice, and add some chicken stock and…sighing with smile…brandy to taste. Twas delicious.
My napoleons came from a "raw" ravioli recipe. Well it wasn't raw, but lightly steamed. And I didn't lightly steam anything, I cooked it. I love raw foods but just didn't want to do it. I thought the picture on the website looked wack so I conceived of the idea based of a dessert my mom used to let my brother and I get at a bakery when we were young: napoleons. This connotes in my mind something creamy and decadent. So I used the same thinly sliced beets, and made a turnip and rutabaga mash in the food processor. I used some of the leftover butternut squash puree and threw a sweet potato in there. Press button. Turnips can be bitter so I added some agave nectar to sweeten it up. The recipe called for mustard, which I deem to be disgusting. So I disregarded the whole recipe and just added what made sense. It needed a creamy feel to fit into the napoleon vision I had. So I made a mushroom gravy using soy milk by just sautéing onion, mushroom, garlic thyme and parsley. I added a little soy sauce or tamari, and that kicked it up a notch.
Then I just I layered them puppies up. I had cooked the beet greens in the liquid I cooked the beets in, which was chicken stock. I do eat meat, so I like the flavor. Don't judge me. When I thought about it, I made a quirky sauce of enoki mushrooms with soy and mirin and ladled that over top. This was lovely because the beets were sweet, the mushrooms were savory and meaty. I was happy.
This was my thanksgiving. What I want people to see is though it's not macaroni and cheese and pork laced collard greens, it's still good. We all had turkey and duck, but it was not the main dish. We didn't have 50 different versions of meat, but we did have a lot of vegetables so no one was hungry. There was also variety, so no one felt left out. All of these dishes were healthy and quite filling. The kids didn't eat everything, but they weren't left out and as I've always said, if you put good food in front of them, they will eat it -- eventually. All these dishes had a luxurious mouth feel that made one think of fat and calories, sans excessive fat and calories. Butter and meat are not evil if used in appropriate amounts. So as you look to Christmas, and any other holiday, be joyful! You can eat wonderful foods. Make a simple dish, add liquor or an appropriate European designation, and you too can have healthier meals. Be adventurous and look to the vegetables to be the centerpiece of your dining experience so that Pepcid AC or Lipitor do not have to be your intimate friends…
Onward and Upward!