Holiday feasts should be harvest celebrations grounded in the bounty of late-fall and early-winter produce. But too often they revolve around fats, sugars and processed starches.
"You're maxed out on carbs," says Sandy Dowling, chef and owner of The Willows in Central Point. "A lot of people just don't eat enough fiber."
8 large russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for cooking water and to taste
1 cup light sour cream (or low-fat buttermilk for a healthier alternative)
1 tablespoon butter flavoring (like Molly McButter or butter-flavored popcorn oil)
Cover the potatoes and cauliflower with cold, salted water in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the garlic cloves, bring water to a boil and cook until vegetables are fork-tender throughout.
Drain into a colander and reserve 1 cup cooking liquid. Return drained mixture to hot pot and, with a potato masher, ricer or hand-held mixer, mash mixture until there are very few lumps. Add the salt, sour cream and butter flavoring; mix again to desired consistency. If mixture is still too dry, add some reserved cooking water. Test for seasoning and salt to taste.
Keep warm and serve within 30 minutes. Makes 8 servings.
VARIATION: For an even healthier alternative, use unpeeled, diced, red potatoes or a combination of mostly diced red potatoes and 1 peeled and diced sweet potato. Skins add more fiber and flavor to your potatoes.
— Recipe courtesy of Sandy Dowling, chef and owner of
The Willows Cooking School in Central Point.
3/4 cups unsalted butter, divided
1 1/3 cups cane sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups cranberries, washed and picked over
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup fine cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, melt 1/4 cup of the butter. Add 2/3 cup of the sugar and the cinnamon. Cook until sugar melts. Add the cranberries in an even layer and set aside.
Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream together remaining 1/2 cup butter and 2/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time scraping down sides of bowl after each addition, then stir in the vanilla.
Stir in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 additions. Gently spread batter over fruit in skillet.
Bake about 40 minutes or until cake springs back lightly when touched. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes before inverting onto a plate.
Makes 8 servings.
— Recipe courtesy of Mary Shaw, culinary educator for Ashland Food Co-op.
Italian Turkey Sausage Stuffing
8 cups 1/2-inch-cubed sourdough bread (about 12 ounces)
1 pound Italian turkey sausages
Nonstick cooking spray, as needed
5 cups chopped onion (from about 2 pounds)
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
1 (8-ounce) package sliced mushrooms
2 cups peeled and 1/2-inch-cubed Bartlett pear (about 2 medium fruits)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Arrange the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 9 minutes or until golden. Leave oven on. Place bread cubes in a large bowl.
Remove casings from the sausages.
Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with some of the cooking spray. Add sausage and cook for 8 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add cooked sausage to bread cubes, tossing to combine. Set aside.
Return pan to medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot; saute 10 minutes or until onion begins to brown. Stir in the mushrooms; cook 4 minutes. Stir in the pear, basil, tarragon and salt; cook 4 minutes or until pear begins to soften, stirring occasionally. Add pear mixture to bread mixture, tossing gently to combine. Stir in the broth and pepper.
Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place bread mixture in dish and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake stuffing an additional 15 minutes or until top is crisp.
Makes about 12 (3/4-cup) servings.
Nutrition: 199 calories (24 percent from fat), 5 grams fat (1.6 grams sat. fat), 29 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 694 mg sodium, 22 mg cholesterol, 3 grams fiber.
— Recipe from Mirepoix cooking school in Royal Oak, Mich., courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.
They may be hearty, but many dishes at the holiday table are low in nutrients for their calorie content, says Medford nutrition counselor Kellie Hill.
"Some of the foods that are traditional are not our healthiest options — mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy," says Hill, owner of The Right Plan, which frequently hosts cooking classes.
Yet just about every aspect of the holiday meal can be made more healthful, say Hill and Dowling. And the trick isn't using low-fat, low-carb, low-sugar, processed ingredients, they say. Introducing more nutritionally sound whole foods to the spread, as well as incorporating them in favorite dishes, is the place to start. And choosing in-season fruits and vegetables always helps to ensure eaters' health, they say.
"Now is the perfect time to experience collard greens," says Hill.
"I've been putting more nuts and mushrooms into things I do," says Dowling.
Dowling and Hill come at cooking from different perspectives, but their tastes align on a few fronts. First, no one knows that the cook added steamed and pureed cauliflower to the mashed potatoes. Second, they both favor coconut — albeit a high-fat ingredient — in the kitchen.
Dowling roasts unsweetened, flaked coconut in a 350-degree oven, finely grinds it in the food processor and substitutes it for some of the flour in her pie crust. The technique also allows her to reduce the quantities of other fats and sweeteners in the recipe.
Hill uses coconut oil to roast sweet potatoes with rosemary, cinnamon and nutmeg, instead of topping them with brown sugar and butter for Thanksgiving.
"There were no sweet foods," says Hill. "Everything on our table was savory ... until pie."
When it comes to pie, says the nutrition counselor, have a slice, particularly from one that maximizes the healthful ingredient pumpkin. Pie is still rich and moist, says Dowling, with more pumpkin, low-fat milk instead of cream and egg whites instead of whole eggs.
"You're putting in the good things and keeping out more of the bad things."
Pies and other desserts, says Mary Shaw, can be a wholesome part of the holiday meal when they emphasize fruit: namely pears, apples and cranberries. The culinary educator for Ashland Food Co-op urges customers to prepare upside-down cake with cranberries and cornmeal, apple-pear crisp with fresh cranberries or buttermilk pie with pear-brandy sauce.
"We're moving away from the really rich desserts," says Shaw, explaining that buttermilk is naturally low-fat.
The Co-op's "elegant comfort food" menu, featured in its November/December newsletter, also promotes seasonal produce — or fruits and vegetables that were preserved over the summer and, months later, can be transformed into holiday appetizers with little or no effort.
"So many of us have a family tradition, and it may not have anything to do with what's seasonal," says Shaw, explaining that eating green beans — harvested in summer — at Thanksgiving has always struck her as strange, not to mention the custom of combining them with canned soup.
When Shaw makes the vegetable side dish for a holiday spread, she hopes to introduce diners to a healthful food they've never tried — or to reverse negative opinions about unpopular produce. Beet and kale salad with feta cheese is a favorite, as well as potato-cabbage gratin, rich and flavorful with just half a cup of Parmesan cheese.
"Use the cheese as a garnish instead of a main ingredient," says Shaw. "You can get a lot of mileage out of little flavor bursts like that."
Dowling replaces the richness of butter in mashed potatoes with stock simmered from the turkey neck and entrails. She loves Italian-seasoned pork sausage in her stuffing but in recent years has cut the quantity in half. She uses extra-spicy sausage to maximize the pork flavor and makes up for the total quantity of meat with wild chanterelle mushrooms.
Sometimes cutting fat is simpler than swapping ingredients. Hill recommends lining cake pans with baking paper instead of greasing them. And if baking is a favorite family activity for her clients, Hill doesn't dissuade them but preaches moderation.
"One cookie — not a plate — or give 'em away."
And, of course, if one cookie turns into two or three — or a dozen — it's not the catalyst for putting healthful habits on hold until the new year.
"It's only a couple days each month," says Hill. "It's not a license to give up the whole holiday season."