I was watching The Today Show this morning, as I do pretty much every morning while I hit the treadmill. Matt Lauer was hosting a segment with Dr. Joy Bauer, Today's petite 'n perky resident nutritionist and fitness expert. The purpose of this segment was to educate viewers so that they could make smart, healthy food choices during the upcoming holiday season.
On the set, there was the obligatory long table featuring perfectly styled samples of 3 food options for each of the various eating scenarios (cocktail party snacks, desserts, etc.) Dr. Bauer led Matt down the table, asking him to select the dish from each group that he thought contained the fewest calories and grams of fat. Poor guy was wrong every time. Who would've thought that, according to Dr. Bauer, 4 pigs in blankets are a healthier option than a handful of nuts? That really didn't seem right to me, as I'd take the Omega 3s in nuts vs. the saturated fat in mini franks any day, but then again, I wasn't consulted for my opinion.
When the pair reached the dessert section, Matt was presented with 3 pie options: pumpkin, pecan, or apple. Pumpkin was the correct option, especially (Dr. Bauer said) if you only eat the filling. This was where I drew the line. What's the point of allowing yourself to indulge in a piece of pie if you can't partake in any of the buttery, flaky crust? If I just wanted the filling, I'd ask for flan. Wouldn't eating a smaller sliver be a better suggestion?
Apparently, the average American gains about 8 pounds during the time period between Thanksgiving and New Years, which amounts to about 650 extra calories per day. Since so much of the holidays revolve around food, it's almost impossible to go cold turkey (get it?) on the sweets, snacks, and fun festive cocktails. A combination of consciously and selectively indulging in moderation and lightening up a few traditionally rich recipes will help to get you through the next few months without needing to ask Santa for a larger pair of jeans.
As I've mentioned numerous times in previous posts, I have never been a fan of cream cheese, sour cream, or mayonnaise, with my dislike of mayonnaise bordering on a phobia. Because of the absence of these ingredients in my kitchen, I have needed to reinvent a few recipes in which they play a major role. Baked artichoke dip (often spinach-artichoke dip) is an appetizer menu staple and party food favorite. Unfortunately, it is also full of fat and calories when made the traditional way with cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, and even cream. That combination makes fettuccine alfredo look like an egg-white omelet. The version below cuts out a large percentage of the "bad stuff" while still retaining enough of the "good stuff" to yield a creamy and flavorful dip. Low-fat milk mixed with a little bit of butter and flour still makes a nice thick bechamel-like sauce to which the two tangy cheeses are added. This is a recipe that you can feel good about serving, eating, and even taking seconds! Here a few extra tips for preparing a lighter version of this popular party dip:
- Instead of using Parmesan and/or Pecorino-Romano, feel free to substitute different cheeses. Gruyere, sharp white cheddar, aged Gouda, or soft goat cheese would all be excellent choices.
- Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs, which are lighter and crisper than traditional breadcrumbs. Their shape is more of a flake, and they absorb seasoning well. You can usually find panko in the Asian foods section of your grocery store.
- Be sure to taste the dip for seasoning prior to pouring it into the baking dish. The 1/8 teaspoon cayenne may not be sufficient, depending on the amount of heat that you like in your food. I always end up adding a little bit more!
- In the event that you do not have any shallots on hand, substitute one large onion.
- The dip can also be divided into several smaller ramekins, topped with the breadcrumbs, and baked for individual sized portions.
- The dip can be prepared, but not topped with breadcrumbs or baked, up to 1 day in advance. Store it in the refrigerator, tightly covered, and add a few minutes to the baking time to counteract the chilling.
Baked Artichoke-Parmesan Dip
Makes about 6 cups (14-16 servings)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Scant 1/4 cup flour
2 cups low-fat (2 %) milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 large shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Drain and thinly slice the artichokes; pat dry and set aside. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the salt, pepper, and cayenne, and simmer until thickened, 2-3 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in both of the cheeses.
Melt the remaining tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the thyme, garlic, and sliced artichokes, and cook for 3 minutes more. Add the cheese mixture. Transfer the mixture to an 8-cup baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.
Bake until the mixture is golden brown and bubbling, 20-25 minutes. Let cook slightly and serve with crudites or toasted baguette slices.