Healthier holiday cooking and baking

Every family has traditions surrounding their holiday feast. For most, the hallmark of the holiday meal is turkey, cranberries, stuffing, pies, cookies, candies and all the other trappings that make the meal unique and special. For the health-conscious cook it can be a difficult task to bring together a feast that will satisfy yet not be laden with chemicals and food additives that can cause headache, fatigue, indigestion or other digestive disturbances.

It does take courage to be outwardly different. And let's face it, when you risk cooking healthy for the holidays your differences are going to be right out there in the open, at least partly. Some family cooks find themselves faced with these changes for the first time when a family member's continued good health relies on diet changes; suddenly, healthy eating becomes a priority. Other families are simply making a conscious choice to eat more healthily and wisely.

Whatever the reason, if this is your first holiday healthy cooking adventure, congratulations! You've made a great choice and I think you're in for a nice surprise. You really can serve a satisfying feast that is healthier.

Let's start right at the top of the list. Tom Turkey is okay as long as it's free range. This means the animal has had its life; allowed to freely roam eating grains and other plants a turkey would naturally eat. When you choose free range meat you have also supported the acres of land devoted to raising it and the farm family that devoted their lives to the care of the birds.

Switch to organically grown vegetables: potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts. These vegetables may be smaller in size and more perishable but the taste is hard to beat. They will need less salt, butter or other dressings because they are more flavorful.

Egg dishes, custard and pumpkin pies have a richer flavor without toppings when you choose organic eggs. Organic eggs are available in most stores.

When baking, choose organic flours. For those recipes calling for baking powder be sure to use aluminum free baking powder purchased in the health food store. Use raw sugars, molasses, succanant and stevia for sweetening.

Get rid of the margarine! I'll say it again, get rid of the margarine. All those hydrogenated rancid oils used to make margarine are the worst thing you can do to any dish. Organic butters and oils are always the best choice and one of the most important choices you can make in healthier cooking. If you want to get rid of the butterfat, simply heat the butter. When the thick creamier layer rises to the top, simply skim it off using just the oil (known as gee.)

Flavoring natural foods with simple herbs, spices and roasted nuts will do more to wake up taste buds than drowning things in heavy sauces or butter. Here are some of my favorites. Use rosemary on the turkey, it imparts a wonderful taste to the gravy. Try roasted or candied walnuts in the sweet potatoes, toast almonds for the green beans, parsley on the potatoes, cauliflower or carrots and fresh chopped mint in the fruit salad.

A healthier feast will take some planning and a little more shopping. Like anything else you eventually get the hang of it and it becomes old hat, but , oh, so worth while.

Till next time, Rebecca

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online November 27, 2001

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