Making it Through High Fat Holidays

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Holiday cooking is difficult. Trying to eat lo-co all the time with a house full of guests while juggling a job and dinners for those guests (not to mention being behind on Christmas shopping) is, well, just not possible.

So this holiday season my gift to myself was to set the bar low. I decided my goal for the last 2 weeks of December was to simply eat low-cholesterol SOME of the time.

That I would feed the masses guests what they want, but find a little something healthy for me when possible.

And it actually worked.

At the extended family holiday dinner party I hosted (53 people…I am still tired!) I whipped up a chicken dish so I’d have a low-fat option. While my relatives dined on the holiday favorites they make: Beef Burgundy, Penne a la Vodka, Baked Ziti and Honey Baked Spiral Ham, I enjoyed an absolutely delicious lo-co variation of The Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella.

If you’ve never made Chicken Marbella, try it – it’s a fantastic dinner party recipe. The original recipe calls for bone-in, whole chicken, but I made it this year with skinless, boneless chicken breasts. The key is to cut them into pretty big chunks so they don’t dry out, and maybe cook 5 minutes less than the original recipe. As I was feeding a lot of people, I made one tray of breasts and one tray of thighs…and everyone was happy with the white or dark meat option!

I was a tad less successful with Christmas dinner. Because, I served, well, beef. I know, I know…beef is a lo-co horror show. But I was tired, people! And Melissa Clark’s recipe for Garlicky Beef Tenderloin with Orange Horseradish Sauce looked so tasty…and special enough for Christmas…and EASY.  So I went for it, and it was SO worth it. The only thing wrong with this dish was the ridiculously long line for beef filet at Stew Leonard’s… and its $75 price tag.

A few things I learned while cooking this fabulous beef tenderloin:

  • Get the butcher to trim and tie it for you. Or, if they won’t tie it, at least trim it. You do NOT want to be trimming it yourself.  Especially while drinking wine.
  • If your butcher hasn’t tied it, you need twine. I accidentally bought ‘baking twine’ because it was all red, white and pretty. Quite festive but NOT to be used to tie meat (Turns out, it’s for tying cake boxes; why they sell this at Crate & Barrel is beyond me). Luckily we had some white cotton twine tucked in a shelf in our garage.
  • I have never tied a roast before. Usually, I ignore directions like this. But do – tying it really does make the meat cook more evenly, and it’s easy. I guessed at how you are supposed to tie it – wish I had noticed Melissa Clark’s fab video on Tying a Roast.
  • I normally don’t sear meat because who wants to make a mess of another pan? But I was not taking risks on Christmas, not with a $75 piece of meat that I waited in a stupidly long line for! So sear it I did – in a brazier pan that went right from stovetop to oven (I forgot I had this pan as it was tucked away in the ‘magic closet’ along with my 4 crock pots – that’s another story.) I am now a searing believer: the meat turned out beautifully browned and yet incredibly tender and rare. As he carved it, my husband christened it “restaurant quality,” his highest accolade.
  • As no one in my family besides me likes any kind of citrus rind in their food, I left out the orange zest and just made horseradish sauce. Delicious nonetheless.

The lo-co part of the dinner wasn’t the beef, obviously. My lo-co success in the face of serving a beef tenderloin was that:

  • I ate just ONE piece of the tender, fabulous filet of beef (and savored it).
  • I also served Butternut Squash Soup with Toasted Walnuts – which worked for me AND my vegetarian niece (just use vegetable stock). This Cooking Light recipe is easy to make ahead of time, so it didn’t add to Christmas dinner prep stress!
  • On my Christmas Dinner plate – in addition to the non-lo-co beef and a bit of my mom’s delicious mashed potatoes, I added string beans and roasted asparagus.

So what was my final grade? I give myself a solid B+ for meeting for my goal of mostly-kind-of-sometimes eating low-fat this holiday season. True, there was a Wendy’s run (ok, 2) in there…and a few more bites of ziti and Beef Burgundy than there should have been. And I’ve not even mentioned my homemade eggnog yet. Which I would not have made if my friend Craig – who joined us for Christmas Eve – hadn’t looked so darn disappointed that we weren’t having a CT Christmas fire. At which point, I either had to make some Christmas eggnog (and drink it, of course) or rally everyone around the piano for Christmas carols.  Since no one plays…

Yes, OK. Maybe my grade was in fact more of a B – or even a C.

But redemption was mine on Boxing Day.  Check out this sumptuous salad I made for dinner last night, featuring asparagus and just 1 piece of warmed up beef tenderloin leftovers…with a drizzle of the horseradish sauce. And I ate it – enjoyed it, even – while my husband and son plowed through plates piled high with beef, mashed potatoes and pigs in a blanket (don’t ask) with nary a veggie in sight.

Though I might have nabbed one of those weenies while they weren’t looking.


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