Our culinary stars make traditional dishes healthier -- plus share ideas on bringing new foods to the holiday table.
For a fresh take on festive foods, we asked Iron Chef Cat Cora, Mom-a-licious chef Domenica Catelli, and our own nutrition expert Carolyn O'Neil, MS, RD, for the family holiday recipes they return to most often. The result? Dishes that transform familiar tastes from "same old" to "something special." From Cora's Caribbean-themed curried lentils with butternut squash to O'Neil's can't-skip-this salad and Catelli's guiltless mashed potatoes, each recipe rethink provides inspiration on how a little redo leads to redux: newfangled favorites you'll want to prepare again and again. Plus, stress-busting tips for home cooks to take the worry out of holiday prep.
Cat Cora: Changing Things Up
"I love changing things up for the holidays," says Cora, which is no surprise, coming from America's first female Iron Chef, anointed by the Food Network's reality cooking show. "For the celebration table, you want things to be comforting, but not boring. So I always keep a few old-standby dishes on the table but pick at least a few others that I mix it up with, making them a little more exotic, more unique -- still ensuring that the recipes are very approachable and easy to do." The key here? "Stay in the same flavor family when you substitute something different for something traditional." For example, do coconut-sprinkled curried squash and lentils rather than marshmallowed sweet potatoes, or pomegranate-glazed Cornish game hens instead of one big turkey.
Cora's Holiday Tip
Don't change your entire holiday menu over to exotica. Keep a few familiar dishes on the table that family members might mutiny without. Pin down your shopping list at least a week ahead, practicing any dishes you're unsure of ahead of time and pre-prepping a day or two in advance whatever will hold. And delegate some of the dishes to trusted family members (the old standbys, for example).
Pomegranate-Glazed Cornish Game Hens With Wild Rice and Chestnut Stuffing
4 Cornish game hens
1 cup uncooked wild rice
²/³ cup coarsely chopped chestnuts (either fresh or from a jar or can)
½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp finely chopped fresh sage
3 tbsp chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock