Good Food—Healthy Holiday Parties

By Maureen Callahan, RD

Stringing up multicolored lights and decorating the house for the holidays just puts me in a good mood. I guess that’s because I like throwing parties and having the chance to cook for friends and family. We all have a lot to be thankful for, and there’s nothing better than good food and good conversation to underscore that theme.

As much as I love to concoct all kinds of delicacies in my kitchen though, it’s getting trickier and trickier to plan these party menus. Lately, everyone seems to be on a different food wavelength. I have a brother-in-law who is a strict vegetarian. One of my good friends is allergic to wheat. And I’ve come to expect that at least a few of my guests will be dieting or embracing some new food fad of the moment. Instead of agonizing about these culinary quirks and differences, I’ve learned to make appetizers, entrées, and desserts that suit many tastes and preferences. A vegetarian dish that is made with tofu and tempeh might not appeal to the masses, but a vegetarian-style roasted stuffed mushroom or vegetable loaf might. The key is to keep the flavors rich and varied so that no one thinks about what is missing but instead revels in the flavors that are already there.

My goal this year is to try to make all my party foods fit a holiday theme without screaming “special diet.” So for an appetizer I’m serving stuffed portobellos full of cashews, rice and nutty- flavored fontina cheese. Luckily, they’ll double as a perfect entrée for my friends who avoid wheat and gluten. For the main course I’m making a roasted vegetable loaf. It’s shaped with brown rice, nuts, cheese, breadcrumbs, herbs and roasted vegetables, so it’s packed with a lot of flavors that should suit both my vegetarian and meat-eating guests. I’ll probably dish up sides like garlic mashed potatoes and lemony green beans to go with the loaf. Dessert for everyone includes the traditional holiday pumpkin, but it comes as part of a vegan, dairy-free cheesecake. It’s sure to be a crowd pleaser with its rich, creamy blend of pumpkin and tofu dusted with a crunchy streusel topping. Happy Holidays!

RECIPES

Roasted Vegetable Loaf

This vegetarian entrée will be a hit with meat-eating partygoers since it’s stuffed with lots of flavorful ingredients including walnuts, two kinds of cheese and roasted vegetables. Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet on the stovetop to bring out their nutty flavor. Add leftovers of the loaf to chili, or use slices to make “mock meatloaf” sandwiches.

1 cup brown and wild rice blend (such as Lundberg)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 slices whole-grain bread
1 1/2 cups chopped red and yellow bell pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped eggplant
1 cup chopped yellow or white onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup 1-percent reduced-fat cottage cheese
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat white cheddar cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
1. Combine rice, 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 45 to 50 minutes or until rice is tender. Set aside to cool slightly.
2. Tear bread and place into a mini food chopper or blender. Pulse until it forms small breadcrumbs.
3. Add peppers and eggplant to a large bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt; place on nonstick baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender and lightly browned. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 375 degrees. 
4. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for four to five minutes or until tender. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and garlic; cook one minute. Remove from heat and add to rice. Stir in breadcrumbs, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, eggplant, nuts, cheeses, parsley and pepper. 
5. Reserve 1/2 cup of vegetable mixture. Stir remaining vegetables into rice mixture and carefully fold in eggs; pat mixture into an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan coated with a small amount of olive oil. Arrange reserved 1/2 cup of vegetables across the top of loaf and press down gently with fingers to make them stick. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until loaf is firm. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 10 to15 minutes before slicing. Cut into 12 slices and serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 12 servings (1 slice)
Nutrition information per serving: Calories 208; Protein 8 g; Carbohydrate 19 g; Total fat 11.8 g; Saturated fat 2.2 g; Cholesterol 57 mg; Sodium 417 mg; Fiber 2.5 g

Cashew Portobellos

Since they’re gluten free, these appetizers can double as an entrée for friends who are allergic to wheat. Single mushrooms make a nice appetizer, or serve two as a main course.

1 cup cooked brown rice 
4 portobello mushrooms, about 12 ounces
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 cup chopped yellow or white onion
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/3 cup chopped roasted, salted cashews
1/3 cup dried currants
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 ounces (1/2 cup) fontina cheese, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
1. Remove stems from mushrooms; chop stems and set aside. Carefully scoop out brown gills on the underside of each mushroom with a spoon or knife. Brush tops of mushrooms with oil and place topside down on a baking sheet lined with foil. 
2. Heat remaining oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook four to five minutes, or until they begin to soften. Stir in chopped mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook two to three minutes. Add rice and cook four minutes. Stir in cashews, currants, parsley, sage, chives and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook for two to three minutes or until warmed throughout. 
3. Remove from heat and fold in fontina cheese. Spoon rice-cheese mixture into mushrooms, pressing down with the back of the spoon to pack tightly. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.

Yield: 4 servings (1 mushroom)
Nutrition information per serving: Calories 282; Protein 10 g; Carbohydrate 31 g; Total fat 14 g; Saturated fat 4.4 g; Cholesterol 18 mg; Sodium 471 mg; Fiber 4 g

Streusel Pumpkin Cheesecake

This simple-to-make vegan holiday dessert will satisfy family and friends who love cheesecake with a dense texture and rich pumpkin flavor. Since milk and eggs aren’t used in the recipe, it’s also a natural for those allergic to or intolerant of these two foods.

Crust:
5 vegan whole-wheat graham crackers
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon organic brown sugar

Cheesecake:
2 (12.3-ounce) boxes of silken soft tofu (such as Mori Nu)
1 (8-ounce) container of vegan imitation cream cheese (such as Tofutti)
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
2/3 cup organic brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
1. To make crust, place graham crackers in a food processor or blender and pulse to form fine crumbs. Combine crumbs, pecans, oil and sugar. Reserve 3 tablespoons of crumb mixture; set aside. Pat remaining crumb mixture into the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan lightly coated with canola oil. 
2. To make cheesecake, place a sieve or colander in a bowl. Line sieve with two layers of unbleached paper towel or an unbleached coffee filter. Spoon silken tofu into sieve and cover with a small plate. Add a weight or heavy can to top of plate. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let stand 30 minutes; drain off liquid.
3. Place drained tofu into a food processor or blender. Add cream cheese and remaining ingredients and puree until smooth. Spoon tofu mixture into crust-lined springform pan and bake at 325 degrees for 70 minutes. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture evenly over top of cheesecake and turn off oven. Cool cheesecake in closed oven for 75 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven and run a knife between the pan and the cake before removing the top part of the pan. Cool to room temperature. Cover and chill for eight hours or overnight. Cut into 12 wedges and serve. a

Yield: 12 servings (1 slice)
Nutrition information PER serving: Calories 206; Protein 5 g; Carbohydrate 23 g; Total fat 11.3 g; Saturated fat 1.9 g; Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 119 mg; Fiber 1.9 g