As the holiday season drew near, I knew my caloric intake would soon skyrocket. Visions of gingerbread and pumpkin pies and full-bodied red wines danced in my head, so I knew I had to prepare.
Unable — okay, unwilling — to increase my gym routine, I thought, Hey, why don’t I just healthify the things I already like to eat. Then, when the inevitable comes, I don’t have to feel guilty for eating half a bag of peppermint pretzels?
I still feel guilty. But I did slim down a few recipes.
Vegetarian quinoa chili was a hit. It was my first foray into cooking quinoa and I found it simple, appetizing and filling. It could have been a vegan recipe, but I nipped that in the all-natural bud by pre-boiling the quinoa in chicken broth to reduce the nutty, earthy flavor attributed to the gluten-free grain. Once cooked, it takes on a texture not too dissimilar from ground meat and packs almost as much protein. With some black beans, corn and farmers-market jalapenos, it was the perfect winter dish.
Lemon Greek yogurt cheesecake was — dare I say it? — better than normal cheesecake. I may never go back. Instead of feeling like you need to nap after one piece of the high-calorie cream cheese treat, this was light, airy, but still satisfied a sweet fix. With extra lemon whipped in, it was refreshing and delicious and contained half the calories.
Gluten-free zucchini brownies were less appealing. Whichever Pinterest pal claimed these knock-offs taste just like normal brownies does not have functioning taste buds. The only thing these have in common with normal brownies is they are brown. There is no chocolatey delight. No rich, gooey texture. Instead, without flour binding the ingredients together, the dessert was pretty mushy. With strong hints of peanut butter and cinnamon, they weren’t bad — they just weren’t brownies. If we rename the recipe gluten-free zucchini damp spice cake, then it was right on.
I also tried spaghetti squash mac and cheese. I thought, I like spaghetti squash. I like mac and cheese. This will be a home run. Instead, I wanted to run from home where I created the culinary catastrophe. My normal mac and cheese is already slightly modified — whole wheat noodles, 2 percent milk in place of heavy cream, reduced butter — but by trying to get rid of the carbs, I made this a discomfort food. Spaghetti squash with your typical marinara or pesto sauce is great and only has 40 calories and eight grams of carbs per cup. Don’t fool yourself: It doesn’t taste like pasta, but if you can get past the consistency of it, it’s an acceptable substitution. But mixed with creamy cheeses, it was all wrong. The mild cheeses seemed to accentuate the squashy flavor and the smooth sauce combined with the firm strands was a textural nightmare. It promptly got fed to my trash can.
Despite the recent calamity, I’m still working on dropping the holiday pounds by making these little substitutions. Perhaps next is skinny stew. Or chocolate cake that has yogurt in place of oil and eggs. Or maybe I could just go to the gym another day this week.
Tara Hunt is an associate editor of this magazine.