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Healthy holiday cooking can still satisfy cravings
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Southerners often cook as though they believe that holiday food must be rich and calorie-filled to be delicious, but it turns out that light foods can be tasty.
Melissa Mixon, human nutrition specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said cooks can reduce the fat in traditional desserts by as much as 75 percent by using substitutions.
"You can't eliminate all fat since some is needed for flavor and texture, but high numbers of calories can be cut by reducing fat grams," Mixon said.
Using low-fat versions of yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk and evaporated milk cuts calories, as does cooking with fruits instead of candies.
Eggs have 5 grams of fat each, all found in the yolk. To reduce fat in baking, use two egg whites instead of one whole egg. However, for flavor and texture, replace two eggs with one whole egg and two egg whites.
"Egg substitutes work well in breads, muffins, cakes and cookies, but fail when used in cream puffs or popovers," Mixon said. "For recipes that call for egg yolks, use three tablespoons of egg substitute per yolk."
Instead of buttery pie crusts, bake pies with a crust made of cookie crumbs held together with water and a bit of Canola oil. Quick-cooking oats and crunchy cereals make tasty dessert toppings instead of the high-fat nuts often used.
In recipes that call for heavy cream, substitute low-fat evaporated milk or low-fat condensed milk and retain the creamy, rich consistency. To replace regular cream cheese, use low-fat varieties, silken tofu or prepare a substitute by draining non-fat or low-fat cottage cheese, pressing it dry in a strainer and whipping it smooth in a food processor or blender.
"Cheese is a popular item in all kinds of cooking, but it's also a source of fat," Mixon said. "Reduced-fat cheese has about half the calories as regular cheese and some brands have excellent flavor and texture. Fat-free cheese has a changed flavor and texture. Reduced-fat cheese can be melted with care, but fat-free cheese cannot."
Nuts are high fat and high calorie, so use them carefully. Almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and walnuts are lower fat nuts, while Brazil nuts, cashews and macadamia nuts are quite high in fat content and should be avoided. Replace some of the oil in a recipe with nut oil to give foods the illusion of nuts, or use just a portion of the nuts called for in the recipe.
Applesauce is a popular replacement for oil in baking, but Mixon said other pureed fruits such as prunes or bananas can be used as well. Fat from oil contributes tenderness in a baked good, so when using fruit purees, bake with cake flour instead of unbleached, all-purpose flour to retain tenderness. Cut back on the liquids used as cake flour absorbs less moisture than all-purpose flour. Use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of cake flour for each cup of all-purpose flour required. Experiment with liquids to find the right mix.
Applesauce, pumpkin puree or chicken broth can replace butter in stuffings if the water is also reduced slightly. Add horseradish or garlic to mashed potatoes instead of butter, and use chicken broth instead of milk. Fresh herbs give a gourmet touch to this modified holiday classic.
Chicken broth is a delicious substitute for butter with vegetables, especially when used with herbs such as dill, basil, oregano, thyme, chives, lemon grass or rosemary. Seasoned chicken broth makes an excellent poultry baste instead of butter, saving up to 8 grams of fat per 3 oz. serving.
"A few simple changes in cooking styles can add up to significant calorie and fat intake savings from just one holiday meal," Mixon said. "Cooking with substitutions is one good way to enjoy the holidays in a healthy way and start the year off lighter."