We all want to eat, drink, and be merry during the holidays. The question is: how to avoid the high fat, high carb overload that greets us at every turn and flows so naturally from hand to mouth. Sure, it’s OK to break out the fat pants for a night, but that doesn’t mean we want to be part of the lemmings running to the gym after New Years! Even Santa has to watch his waistline – they don’t make chimneys like they used to 😉
Who better to give us advice on healthy holiday eating than Chef Michael Stebner of True Food Kitchen? Chef Stebner, through True Food Kitchen’s ever-popular, seasonally focused menu, conveys the value of nutrition and expresses the principals of Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet and food pyramid. Always curious to know what chefs cook for their families, whether it’s a weeknight at home or ringing in the new year, we chatted recently about his strategies for making your celebrations memorable, but not regrettable 🙂
What are your favorite holiday spices? Cinnamon in everything – try adding it to whipped cream! I love allspice in sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. More warming spices that I favor are ground cardamon, ground cloves and black pepper – experiment with these flavors in pecan or apple pies.
What about appetizers that whet your appetite, not kill it? Appetizers are often the ultimate in high fat and carb overload with cheese plates, cured meats, dips and chips. I do a more vegetable and fruit based appetizer selection. A spicy, zesty antipasto of blanched vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, and green beans along with tomatoes and celery and marinated mushrooms. Add olives and gherkins and a tomato-based vinaigrette spiked with anchovies and horseradish. Also, crostini with smoked salmon or goat cheese with herbs and chives or, my favorite (mine too), bruschetta topped with manchego, pears and walnuts.
What meat will likely grace your table at Christmas? I’m thinking pork roast on the smoker or grill. If you do a turkey, try brining the turkey overnight- remove the wings and neck, and use them to make a good hearty stock the day before. You can use that stock to make your stuffing and gravy.
Besides pies, what desserts do you prefer as a grand finale? I like roasted apples and pears served with an Italian sabayon or Greek yogurt. Also, a pear and vanilla bean compote over homemade ice cream or sorbet. We have a special at True Food Kitchen of vegan pistachio milk “ice cream” that is incredible. (Note to self.)
Creme brulee is one of my weaknesses, what is a satisfying substitute? I think our Gluten-free chocolate pudding or chocolate cake would hit the spot. Also, the No-Bake Chocolate Tart that I prepare in my demos (I recreated the No-Bake Chocolate Tart for my anniversary and guarantee that this dessert will fulfill your sweet craving.)
What’s new on the winter menu at True Food Kitchen? For the winter months, sturdy greens such as collards are in season and we’re adding more gluten free menu items in 2012.
In October, I made baked apples for a lovely Harvest dinner hosted by Kim of Rustic Garden Bistro to celebrate the completion of their dream kitchen. This simple, rustic dish seemed to unlock childhood memories and effusive compliments followed as my fellow food bloggers savored their sweet, tart, crunchy goodness. When Chef Stebner mentioned baked apples in his interview, my taste memory was sparked and I’m thinking they will be a fresh departure from chocolate, Christmas cookies, Yule logs, eggnog, etc. and a suitable accompaniment to the crown roast of pork I’m planning. Don grew up eating applesauce with pork and to this day feels no pork dish is complete without an apple pairing. Problem solved! And, I’ve “killed” two proverbial birds with one apple – I love when that happens!
Sweet and Savory Baked Apples
Baked apples give all the comfort of apple pie, without the pastry. A simple filling of dried apricots and cherries, in lieu of raisins, and pecans with a bit of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon will fill your home with that wonderful “apple pie” aroma.Instead of ice cream or whipped cream as an accompaniment, I’ve used non-fat, Greek-style yogurt that has been sweetened with a bit of honey and cinnamon. This easy dessert would be a welcome ending to many fall and winter meals.
9 small baking apples*
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 tablespoons melted butter
*I used Gravenstein, but Granny Smith are more commonly found
Preheat oven to 375 F. (180C)
1. Cut the apples in half lengthwise and using a teaspoon remove the core leaving a large enough cavity to place the filling. (about 1 tbsp.) Cut a very small sliver from the bottom of the apple so they sit flat in the baking dish. In a small bowl, mix together the nuts, cherries, apricots, sugar and cinnamon along with 2 tbsp. (25 ml) of the melted butter.
2. Brush each cut side of apple with some of the melted butter. Spoon the nut/fruit mixture into the cavity of each apple half. (It will be very full). Place in a baking dish. Drizzle any remaining butter over the fruit.
3. Tent with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake a further 10 to 15 minutes or until the apples are tender.
4. While the apples are baking, combine the yogurt, cinnamon and honey in a bowl and combine. Set aside.
When the apples are baked, place an apple half on each plate. Serve sweet apples with Greek yogurt and drizzled with honey, garnish with mint (optional).
Photo of Chef Stebner from GreenLivingAZ.com