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Healthier Holiday Tips


Recipe: Gingerbread Men

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Want to cut back on fat—even during the holiday season? Here's a few cooking tips to make your festive fare compatible with today's healthier lifestyles, without compromising on flavor.

  • Punch Up The Flavor, Punch Out The Fat
    Use intense flavors from herbs, spices, chiles, garlic and other seasonings to replace the richness of fats. Whole vanilla beans give a richer flavor than extract and grated citrus zest zips up the tastes of many foods, from appetizers to sweets.
  • For Crunchy Goodness, Bake—Don't Fry!
    Deep frying isn't the only way to get crispy, crunchy finger foods. Tortilla and pita chips and wonton wrappers taste great baked until crispy. If desired, coat them lightly with an olive oil spray and sprinkle with herbs and seasonings.
  • Use Low-Fat Yogurt as a Dairy Base
    Use low-fat yogurt wherever you would normally use sour cream. For a tangy spreadable cheese that's naturally low in fat, place yogurt in cheesecloth and let it drain overnight. Use the creamy yogurt cheese in place of cream cheese, roll it in chopped fresh herbs or serve it as is with baked pita chips.
  • Don't Go Nuts!
    Nuts are wonderful for taste and texture but they are loaded with fats. Use them sparingly, and when you do, toast them to maximize flavor.
  • Use Egg Whites Instead of Egg Yolks
    Many recipes calling for whole eggs can be made with just the whites, or mostly whites (the yolks pack the calories). They can be used in many fillings, cheesecakes and custards, or use a product like Egg-Beaters, which consists mostly of egg whites.
  • Chill the Chicken Soup
    Using canned chicken broth or other broth? Chill the cans so the fat congeals and rises to the top. It will be a cinch to remove it then.
  • Give Cheese the Breeze
    Cheeses are notorious for fat content, which is why we love them so much. But no-fat and faux low-fat creations taste yucky. So use cheeses that are naturally low in fat or high in flavor, so you can use less. Examples: goat cheeses, feta cheese, Parmesan, Asiago, Romano; even Swiss cheese is a better alternative to cheddar.
  • Eat Your Vegetables!
    Vegetables and legumes are good for you—and you can make wonderful dishes with them that are naturally low in fat and high in nutrients. Use chickpeas as the base for a tangy eggplant-yogurt dip... serve sautéed, seasoned wild mushrooms as a flavorful bread spread... mix steamed, sautéed carrots or broccoli with horseradish for a tangy accompaniment to roasts.
  • Use Fruits Instead of Sugar
    Want to use natural sweeteners instead of processed sugars? Try concentrated fruit juices (found at natural food stores) that have no added sugars, or make your own by reducing the juice to the desired sweetness and consistency. Frozen juice concentrates are another option.
  • Fruit Purées Beat Out the Butter
    You can replace all or some of the butter in baking by using fruit purées, such as dates, bananas or prunes. Look for prune purées especially made for baking in the flour and oil aisle of your market and follow their directions for use.
  • Buttermilk Is Better
    It may sound fattening, but it's not: buttermilk is actually a low-fat milk and was originally what was left over after the butter was churned. It has a pleasant tangy flavor and can be used to replace milk, cream or even sour cream in some recipes.
  • Go Loco for Cocoa
    Unsweetened cocoa powder may be substituted for most of the chocolate in some baked goods. Cut back on the fat, too, using the techniques above.
  • Sprinkle on the "Frosting."
    Instead of dense, spreadable frostings, lighten up your cakes with a dusting of cocoa powder and confectioner's sugar. Use a doily to create a pretty pattern. Sprinkle on orange, lemon or lime zest for more color.

Holiday Recipe Headquarters


Sara Perry shares her favorite holiday recipe from her new book, Great Gingerbread (Chronicle Books)—a perfect stocking stuffer for your own Santa's helper!


Gingerbread Men

(or Ginger Bread Man)

This recipe for gingerbread cookies is my favorite, and it's one you can adapt to your own taste. By using light or dark molasses and brown sugar, you can alter the color of the cookies. You can also adjust the spiciness by altering the amount of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. While these cookies are made to be eaten, they're also perfect for hanging on a Christmas tree or using as name tags on presents or as place cards at a birthday party or holiday get-together. You can also make simple puzzles. First, cut a large square of rolled-out dough-or use a heart-shaped cookie cutter-and, with a sharp paring knife, divide it into several pieces before baking. Never has a broken heart been so delicious.

  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light or dark molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Drinking straw or large skewer for making holes (optional)
  • Raisins and nonmelting candies for decorating
  • Decorative Icing (see below)

In a large bowl, beat the shortening and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and egg until well blended. Gradually sift the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg into the molasses mixture, and beat until blended. The dough will be sticky. Divide the dough into 4 balls, cover each ball with waxed paper or plastic wrap, and chill for at least 3 hours. (When tightly sealed, the dough will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. If the dough is wrapped in freezer weight plastic bags or aluminum foil, it can be frozen for up to 6 months. To thaw, transfer the wrapped dough to the refrigerator for 2 hours before baking or let the wrapped dough stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.)

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or leave ungreased, and set aside.

On a lightly floured board, roll one of the chilled balls of dough 1/4 inch thick. Lightly dip a cookie cutter in flour (this makes it easier to release the cookie) and press it straight down into the dough. Press the edges of the cutter to make sure it has cut through the dough evenly. Cut cookies close together to avoid rerolling. The excess dough can be saved and rerolled once, but the cookies will be tougher.

With a spatula, gently transfer each cookie to the baking sheets. If a cookie is to be hung, use a drinking straw or large skewer to press a hole through the top. If not frosting the cookies, you may decorate them with raisins or nonmelting candies before baking by gently pressing them into the dough.

Bake until the cookies are set, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Decorate the cooled cookies with Decorative Icing using a decorating bag. To add raisins and decorative candies after baking, dot the candies with icing and gently press them onto the cookie. Let the cookies dry on a wire rack until the icing is set, 20 to 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container, separating successive layers with sheets of waxed paper.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

Decorative Icing:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream, or as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Liquid food coloring (optional)

In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Blend in the cream and vanilla until the icing is smooth and creamy. To thin, stir in additional whipping cream, 1 teaspoon at a time. If not using the icing immediately, cover and refrigerate for up to three days.

To tint the icing, divide into 2 or 3 small bowls. Stir 1 or 2 drops of liquid food coloring into each bowl and blend until the desired color is reached.

Makes about 2 cups.

Great Gingerbread
by Sara Perry
Photographs by Frankie Frankeny
1997, Chronicle Books
96 pages, $14.95
Reprinted by permission.

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This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

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Modified August 2007

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