by TRENT ROWE, food editor
Here’s to Uncle Harry. He’s your mom’s roly-poly brother who always plays Santa because he doesn’t need a pillow for padding.
When it comes to dinner his favorite phrase isn’t, “ho ho ho”, but “Please pass the gravy.”
It’s too bad too, because Uncle Harry is a really nice guy.
(Does that get me out of the dog house for tarring all Harrys with the same pudgy brush?)
The point of this is that uncles, aunts, cousins, and just good friends don’t have to pack on the pounds over the holidays.
It does take a little planning and preparation on the part of the cook.
Bad words usually have four letters but “butter” and “oil” have six and three.
Fat is not your friend. Flavor Is.
It doesn’t take long to have lip-smacking gravy with few calories. And you will have stock left over for soup.
A week before Christmas, buy turkey necks, and thighs or wings. Chicken backs are inexpensive. Chicken quarters at 49 cents a pound are hard to beat. Try independent butchers for these.
Put a whole bunch of them in a slow cooker with a quartered onion then add water to cover. Let this simmer for as long as you can stand the tantalizing smell. Do this on the back porch if dogs and cats can’t get to it.
No slow cooker? A low, all-day simmer on top of the stove.
Strain the stock. You will have simmered all the flavor from the poultry, so it goes into the trash. DON’T give cooked bones to the dogs no matter how much they drool on the floor while you are working on the stock.
Chill overnight and remove the fat. The fat goes the way of the worn-out bones.
Taste the stock … by now jelly … and if it’s not strong enough to make your lips stick together simmer it down a bit to concentrate the flavor.
Use this as the base of your gravy with some sage and festive herbs for flavor. Bring the quantity you need to a simmer. Shake water and flour in a jar – two tablespoons of each per cup of gravy – and slowly add to the simmering stock, stirring with a whisk. Stop when it just starts to thicken. (You might not need all the flour-water slurry.) Have a cup of warm stock to stir in if the gravy gets too thick.
Uncle Harry will never know the difference.
Make a smaller dish of rich, buttery sweet potatoes with a smaller layer of marshmallows. Serve it with a smaller spoon. Add another simple vegetable dish.
Here’s a present for Uncle Harry. Tell him the green bean casserole that usually stalls in front of him has gone to the elves at the North Pole this year. Instead, there is a dish of lightly crisp green beans tossed with a teaspoon of sesame seed oil and a garnish of toasted sesame seeds instead of French fried onions.
This is the simple vegetable dish.
Gingered Carrots with Maple Raisins.
½ cup seedless raisins
½ cup maple syrup
1 1/2 pounds carrots
1 inch fresh ginger
Soak raisins in syrup overnight. Peel and cut the carrots into crinkled coins. If you don’t have a crinkle cutter, now might be the time to buy one. Mine came south with us thirty years ago. Or cut the carrots any way you like. Take the raisins out of the fridge to warm. Peel the ginger with the side of a paring knife or spoon then slice thinly. Put carrots in a pot and cover with water. Add the ginger. Boil until the carrots are just getting tender. A little texture is nice. Drain. Toss with raisins and serve. No butter. No oil. Just festive flavor. We can go only so far being good at the holidays so whip up the family’s favorite dressing or stuffing, whichever you call it. It wouldn’t be Christmas dinner without rolls. You can’t cut the calories in the rolls but you can serve whipped butter instead of full fat. Check the dairy case.
Dessert is a snap. Serve pre-cut fruit from the supermarket fancied up with red and green maraschino cherries. (Huh? What’s he been smoking? This will never fly with the family).
Dear reader: Ignore the previous paragraph.
Your traditional pie or cake will taste just as good when it is cut into slightly smaller pieces. Ten percent smaller is ten percent fewer calories. No one will know the whipped cream hiding the sweet potato pie is low-fat or no-fat.
As for Uncle Harry’s dessert. Put the whole family fruit cake on his plate to see his reaction.
Hopefully it will be around to see another year, and with your subtle changes in dinner, so will Uncle Harry.
Happy, healthy holidays.
by TRENT ROWE, food editor