All posts by Emily Lee

Save Room for Dessert with These Slimmed-Down Holiday Sides

A holiday meal is a true marathon, with one mouthwatering dish after the next — and you won’t want to miss a single one. This year, avoid the mistake of overexerting yourself in the earlier rounds so that you’re out of the running by the time that luscious fruit pie or chocolate cake hits the table. Pacing yourself and watching your portions are solid tactics for avoiding the notorious “food baby.” Another foolproof way to avoid going overboard at dinner is to rein in the sides. Classic dishes like full-fat creamed spinach and potatoes gratin are nice for the first few forkfuls, but they will leave you feeling too full — or worse, too ill — to enjoy the final round. Here are some lighter options that won’t spoil your appetite for dessert, but are by no means lacking in flavor.

Ham and Vegetable Gratin (pictured above)
Skip oily, monochromatic potato gratin this year and surprise your guests with Food Network Kitchen’s hearty alternative, loaded with carrots, peas, potatoes and juicy ham. If you’re planning on serving ham as the main course, even better. Simply reserve a few slices to chop and mix into this side dish.

Lemon Pepper Mushrooms
Fresh lemon zest, snipped chives and cracked black pepper are all you need to enhance tender button mushrooms for your holiday meal — and for merely 58 calories per serving. When shopping for the mushrooms, stick to pre-sliced. You’ll save yourself a ton of time when you eliminate tedious knife work from your to-do list.

Kale and Cauliflower Casserole
Showcase in-season produce with a colorful medley of slow-cooked kale, tender cauliflower and mashed red potatoes. No need to overshadow the vegetables with a heavy cream sauce or breadcrumbs: Just a touch of Parmesan and sour cream will lend the casserole a celebratory feel.

Vegan Saffron Risotto
Food Network Kitchen’s creamy, saffron-hued risotto is a special-occasion dish for vegans, vegetarians and even meat eaters. Ingredients high in umami, like tomato paste, soy sauce and canned tomatoes, add depth; nutritional yeast adds a bit of a cheesy taste.

Roasted Celery Root and Carrots
This seasonal mix of hearty root vegetables will fit seamlessly into any holiday menu, whether you’re serving rack of lamb, prime rib or juicy spiral-cut ham. Use just a touch of paprika to add heat and complexity.

Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Vinaigrette
Once again, lemon proves you don’t need a heavy cream sauce or handfuls of grated cheese to flavor vegetables. Melissa d’Arabian tops juicy roasted asparagus with a few spoonfuls of her bright and tangy lemon vinaigrette. The end result? A versatile side dish that’s just 112 calories per serving.

Healthy Creamed Swiss Chard with Pine Nuts
But of course there are ways to do cream sauce without pushing your meal into obscenely decadent territory. Food Network Kitchen’s reduced-fat cream sauce, pleasantly spiced with nutmeg, does wonders for earthy Swiss chard and red onion. Top the dish with a few toasted pine nuts for a satisfying crunch.

Whole Grain Biscuits
If you go the creamed vegetable route, you’ll need something to mop up the delectable sauce. Food Network Kitchen’s healthy whole-grain option is a great alternative to the refined flour biscuits that all too commonly fill our breadbaskets. Salt and pepper bring out the hearty richness of whole wheat in these biscuits, which have just 1 gram of sugar per serving.

For more celebratory sides, check out these holiday recipes from our friends:

Devour: 6 Types of Bread to Complement Your Holiday Dinner
The Lemon Bowl: Roasted Acorn Squash with Tahini Sauce
The Fed Up Foodie: Creamy Dreamy Scallop Potatoes
The Mom 100: Spoonbread Corn Pudding
A Mind “Full” Mom: Roasted Radicchio Wedge Salad with Green Goddess Dressing
Taste with the Eyes: Holiday Entertaining: Asparagus, Hollandaise, Caviar
Dishin and Dishes: Roasted Cinnamon Vanilla Almonds
FN Dish: The Quickest, Easiest Sides for Your Holiday Table

7 Light and Easy Holiday Cookies for Your Upcoming Swap

These festive sweets are ideal for a holiday cookie swap, and they make great hostess gifts too. If you’re having trouble deciding on just one recipe, go ahead and make them all — it’s totally doable, since each recipe requires just 20 minutes of prep or less. Keep a few for yourself, then bundle the rest in gift bags for your friends and family to enjoy. Holiday “shopping” doesn’t get much easier than that. The fact that they’re all on the lighter side? Consider it a bonus.

No-Bake Chewy Truffle Cookies
Embrace the opportunity to give your oven a rest. These chewy, no-bake truffles are loaded with sweet dried dates bound together by cocoa powder, reduced-fat peanut butter, and a little bit of butter and honey (instead of the traditional combination of milk and sugar).

Triple-Chocolate Cookies
Why settle for one type of chocolate when you can load up your cookies with three? Ellie Krieger uses a combination of dark chocolate, milk chocolate and unsweetened cocoa powder to create the richest cookie possible — without pushing the sugar content into excessively caloric territory. While you’re at it, go ahead and add some crunchy pecans, which are high in heart-healthy unsaturated fat.

Lemon-Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze
With a 5-star rating and nearly 1,000 fan reviews, you can expect Giada De Laurentiis’ light and lemony cookies to be nothing short of outstanding. Using ricotta in the batter results in a cookie that’s exceptionally tender, though the sweet-tart glaze may be the best part.

Chocolate Macaroons
At just 54 calories each, Nigella Lawson’s chewy, chocolatey macaroons are a sweet treat you don’t have to feel guilty about.

Almond Snowballs
Rachael Ray’s almond-flavored cookies contain just 64 calories apiece and are reminiscent of snowy mountain peaks, thanks to the shredded coconut. Once they’re baked, top each cookie with a few slivered almonds and half a candied cherry, for an extra-merry touch.

Chewy Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies
There’s no need for butter when whipping up Food Network Kitchen’s comforting oatmeal-raisin recipe. Instead, a little bit of apple butter adds moisture, flavor and sweetness to these cakey cookies.

Honey-Pistachio Biscotti
A cup of piping-hot coffee or cocoa is no match for the firm and ultra-crunchy powers of Ellie’s holiday biscotti packed with salty pistachios. Using whole-wheat pastry flour in addition to all-purpose flour yields a pleasantly nutty-tasting cookie with sweet honey notes.

Looking for more festive cookies to pile onto your dessert tray this year? Check out these holiday cookie recipes from our friends:

Devour: Unique Savory Cookies to Throw a Curveball in Your Holiday Cookie Swap
A Mind “Full” Mom: Oatmeal Cookies: One Dough Four Ways
The Fed Up Foodie: Cinnamon Kissed Cocoa Cup Cookies
Creative Culinary: Peanut Butter and Butterscotch Haystacks
Taste with the Eyes: Foie Gras with Sweet and Salty Palmier Cookies, Passionfruit, Pistachios
The Wimpy Vegetarian: Pennsylvania Dutch Spice & Currant Christmas Cookies
The Mom 100: Simple Sugar Cookies
FN Dish: No-Bake Chocolate Cookies to Ease Up the Holiday Cookie Swap

7 Lighter Ways to Kick Off Your Holiday Meal

It’s that time of year when our opportunities to O.D. on cheese and crackers are more abundant than we would like. We love a baked Brie just as much as the next person, but if you’re hosting a holiday get-together, the cocktail hour should consist of light, refreshing bites that anticipate the meal ahead without completely spoiling it. If there’s a creamy, bubbling-hot dip on the table, it should come as no surprise when your meticulously arranged crudite platter goes untouched and, worst of all, your guests are too stuffed to enjoy the main event. Small bites that are not only light but also quick and easy to make are best for everyone in attendance — especially the host — so choose recipes that require no more than 20 minutes of prep work (the less time, the better). Here are five finger foods you can count on to hit the mark at your upcoming soiree.

Vegetarian Spinach-Walnut Pate (pictured at top)
Save your Even though “pate” and “caviar” don’t necessarily go together, but this creamy, flavor-packed appetizer spreads like pate, and the tart bursts of pomegranate seeds are a little like caviar.

Baked Coconut Shrimp
Plump shrimp with a crisp breading — what could be better when mingling over hors d’oeuvres? These homemade coconut shrimp tossed in panko breadcrumbs are baked — not fried — for a crunchy bite with just 167 calories per serving.

Polenta Squares with Mushroom Ragu
If your guests will need a relatively empty belly in order to tackle the main dish, keep the appetizers bite-sized. Giada De Laurentiis tops tiny polenta squares with a savory mushroom sauce for an easy, elegant appetizer.

Mushroom-Pesto Crostini
Pungent porcini mushrooms plus garlic and Parmesan give great kick to Giada’s pesto that’s balanced with crunchy crostini slices. They’re a great crowd-pleaser for a party or just to eat as a snack.

Eggplant Ricotta Bites
Think of these lightly breaded eggplant bites as a slimmed-down, miniaturized version of eggplant Parmesan. Sauteing the eggplant gives it a desirable crunch, without the excess oil you get with deep-frying. Channel the classic presentation by topping each round with a dollop of ricotta, diced tomatoes and shredded basil.

Spinach and Goat Cheese Tarlets
Food Network Magazine knows that store-bought phyllo dough is the secret to any time- and sanity-saving appetizer. Here, a flaky phyllo crust cradles a light spinach and goat cheese filling for an elegant cocktail party canapé.

Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip
Racing desperately against the clock? Ellie Krieger’s red pepper and walnut dip is quick and easy to make (it’s done in 15 minutes!); set it out alongside a vegetable platter for an elegant appetizer spread.

For more festive appetizers, check out these recipes from our friends:

Devour: Spread Holiday Cheer with These Cheesy Appetizers
The Lemon Bowl: Baba Ganoush Recipe
The Wimpy Vegetarian: Miso Mashed Potato Stuffed Mushrooms
The Mom 100: Crispy Baked Sweet Potato Fries
A Mind “Full” Mom: Christmas Tree Deviled Eggs
The Fed Up Foodie: Italian Cheesy Bites
Taste with the Eyes: Holiday Entertaining: Oysters with Caviar
Swing Eats: Turkey Bacon Wrapped Dates with Cheese, Marcona Almonds, and Herbs
Creative Culinary: Pecan, Pineapple and Gorgonzola Cheese Ball with Dried Cranberries
FN Dish: Easy, Cheesy Appetizers Your Holiday Guests Will Hover Around

7 Lighter Takes on Essential Thanksgiving Sides

Is there anything more necessary than a generous scoop of mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving? A slice of hot buttered cornbread is nice, too. Some would even say it’s the green bean casserole that really makes the meal special. Personal preferences aside, we can all agree that the sides are the best part of Thanksgiving — next to the smorgasbord of pie, of course. And since we only get to enjoy this celebratory feast one day each year, why not dig in to the indulgent dishes that are so representative of the holiday?

Then again, if you plan on having a lot of leftovers, you could be enjoying these dishes for a few days (or an entire week) after Thanksgiving has passed. That’s incentive to throw some healthier options into the mix. Here are the classic, comforting sides we all long for, with a few minor alterations to make each one less of a splurge. As it turns out, your healthiest Thanksgiving could be your most-traditional yet. Who knew?

Mashed Potatoes (pictured above)
Food Network Kitchen prepares these Mock Mashed Potatoes using cauliflower in place of traditional Yukon Golds, which results in a creamy mash that will have everyone at the table fooled. Garlic and thyme add flavor depth while nonfat Greek yogurt and a little Parmesan bring in some dairy richness and tang.

Studded with tart Granny Smiths and toasted almonds, Ina Garten’s Herb and Apple Stuffing will satisfy the need for something comforting and breadlike on the table. When choosing a loaf at the supermarket, go for whole-wheat bread instead of white.

Mac and Cheese
When you’re expecting mac and cheese, you don’t want a modest bowl of noodles thinly coated in low-fat cheese. You want to see a bubbling vat of the cheesiest macaroni imaginable. Ellie Krieger’s Macaroni and Four Cheeses goes well beyond expectations with the combination of Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Parmesan and ricotta. She brings it back into health-conscious territory by incorporating pureed squash (for fiber) and low-fat milk in place of heavy cream.

Green Bean Casserole
Although it’s a beloved Thanksgiving staple, nutritionists can’t exactly endorse it — until now. For her modified Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Shallots, Ellie skips the condensed cream of mushroom soup and makes a creamy sauce using low-fat milk instead. The result is a seemingly decadent side dish with just 186 calories per serving.

Sweet Potato Casserole
This Sweet Potato-Pecan Casserole is everything you want from a Thanksgiving side: It’s traditional and satisfying, but it won’t leave you stuffed. By whipping the sweet potatoes with an egg, you’ll make them creamy without the need for butter. Sprinkle the casserole with pecans just before baking for a hearty yet healthy crunch.

Butter and vegetable oil do not a good cornbread make. Damaris Phillips proves this with her Cast-Iron Skillet Cornbread by using heart-healthy coconut oil and applesauce instead. The finished result has that familiar golden crust, but without the excessive grease.

Cranberry Sauce
It’s tough putting a healthy spin on a dish that consists of fruit and white sugar, but this Homemade Cranberry Sauce might be the closest you’ll get (while still maintaining the taste and appearance of the classic dish). One batch serves six, yet there’s just 2/3 cup of sugar in total, resulting in a pleasantly sweet-tart sauce for your turkey and mashed potatoes. A splash of sugar-free orange juice — or better yet, freshly-squeezed — does wonders for the flavor.

For more festive dishes to complement your turkey, check out these recipes from our friends:

Devour: Thanksgiving Side Dishes That’ll Hold Up to Reheating
The Lemon Bowl: Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Foodtastic Mom: French Style Sweet Potato Soufflé
Feed Me Phoebe: Gluten-Free Stuffing with Vegan “Creamed Spinach” and Leeks
The Hungry Traveler: Loaded Smashed Potatoes
Dishin & Dishes: Bacon Wrapped Butternut Squash Wedges
The Mediterranean Dish: Jeweled Couscous with Pomegranate and Lentils
The Fed Up Foodie: Festive Orange Spinach Salad
A Mind “Full” Mom: Parmesan Garlic Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes
Creative Culinary: Golden Onion Casserole with Thyme and Toasted Bread Rounds
Swing Eats: Creamed Spinach
Taste with the Eyes: It’s Back – The Stuffing Everyone Loves!
In Jennie’s Kitchen: Pan Seared Cauliflower
FN Dish: Stovetop vs. Oven-Baked: Battle of the Thanksgiving Side Dishes

7 Healthy Ways to Turn Carrots Into Cake

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, which means our opportunities for sampling fresh baked goods are about to quadruple. If you’re choosing between a mammoth slice of cake festooned with buttery frosting and a modest piece of carrot cake, the carrot cake is clearly the better choice. Carrots are in peak season right now, and when used in baking, this vivid orange vegetable offers wonderful texture and natural sweetness. Still, the usual embellishments — chopped nuts, dried fruit, cream cheese frosting — all present opportunities for refined sugar and added fat to sneak in. So whether you prefer your carrots in cake, cupcake or muffin form, follow these six tips for turning your favorite carrot desserts into health-minded fall treats.

Use Whole-Wheat Flour
Whole-wheat pastry flour and pumpkin pie spice add great nutty flavor to Food Network Kitchen’s rustic Carrot Cake, while buttermilk and grated carrots keep the batter extra moist. Confectioners’ sugar and reduced-fat cream cheese yield a still-sweet, still-tangy frosting for very few extra calories.

Miniaturize Your Cupcakes
Giada De Laurentiis’ Mini Carrot-Apple Cupcakes are scaled down in size for portion control — but in every other way, they’re classic carrot cupcakes topped with just a touch of cream cheese frosting. Giada uses dark brown sugar, which has a lot of molasses flavor and adds depth to the sweet apples and carrots.

Refined Sugar? Hard Pass
Refined white sugar’s heyday is over. Besides, coconut sugar makes for the most-glorious, creamy meringue frosting. You’ll see for yourself when you try these Coconut Sugar Carrot-Banana Cupcakes with Coconut Sugar Meringue. It gives the topping a hint of salted caramel flavor, without requiring you to actually make any caramel.

Go Bare
Eliminate the frosting from the top of your carrot cupcake and you’re left with a tasty, fiber-packed muffin that would be perfect for a fall brunch. Food Network Kitchen’s Healthy Carrot Muffins are made with a mix of whole-wheat and all-purpose flours. You won’t need much added sugar; the grated carrots and crushed pineapple add naturally sweet flavor.

Go Gluten-Free
Nut meals, like the almond and ground coconut in these Gluten-Free Carrot Coconut Muffins, are always a safe bet for getting a moist texture and plenty of body without the batter becoming heavy. Here, soaked chia seeds and bananas also help produce a moist, cakelike muffin with a lovely, nutty flavor that’s perfect for breakfast.

Use Greek Yogurt for Texture & Tang
Whole wheat flour and Greek yogurt keep these Mini Carrot Cakes with Cream Cheese Glaze flavorful and moist while adding fiber and protein. Each cake gets one teaspoon of sweet cream cheese glaze — with far fewer calories than the multiple tablespoons of frosting piled onto your typical cupcake.

Swap Butter for Applesauce
Ellie Krieger’s Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting are incredibly moist, thanks to the applesauce hidden in the batter. The applesauce also eliminates the need for a lot of oil. Here, there’s only a quarter-cup.

For more ways to enjoy carrots this season, check out these recipes from our friends:

The Lemon Bowl: Roasted Root Vegetable Soup
Creative Culinary: Carrot and Zucchini Quick Bread with Toasted Walnuts and a Cinnamon Nutmeg Glaze
Devour: 5 Gorgeous Carrot Recipes That Will Make You Eat With Your Eyes
Hey Grill Hey: Bacon Wrapped Maple Glazed Carrots
The Mediterranean Dish: Turmeric Roasted Carrots
The Fed Up Foodie: Carrot Cucumber Asian Slaw
Elephants and the Coconut Trees: Carrot Peas Pilaf
A Mind “Full” Mom: Vegan Carrot Soup with Spiced Peanuts
Pinch My Salt: Carrot Tomato Chipotle Soup
The Mom 100: Carrot, Cabbage and Kohlrabi Slaw with Miso Dressing
Taste with the Eyes: Baby Rainbow Carrots with Hazelnuts, Truffle, and Hollandaise
FN Dish: 6 Carrot Treats That Deserve a Spot in Your Thanksgiving Dessert Spread