“Eat all the junk food you want
as long as you cook it yourself”
I just love this time of year. The mad dash to get everything ready for Christmas. The promise of lazy Summer holidays looming.
And of course the many opportunities to celebrate with my favourite things: good food, good company, good vino and good music.
But as you know, such celebrations can take a toll on one’s waistline. And with our wedding (!) just around the corner, I’m planning on finding the right balance between indulgence and moderation.
So today I thought I’d share my best tips for enjoying all the season has to offer without the usual regrets.
And I have a real treat of a recipe! It’s not exactly Christmassy but it’s the perfect example of what a difference tip number 1. can make.
5 Clever Ways to Indulge Guilt-Free
1. Make it yourself.
I love Michael Pollan’s quote about junk food. It’s pretty much how I get my indulgences. The beauty of making it yourself is that it limits the amount you can make (and eat).
But more importantly, by cooking at home you aren’t restricted by arbitrary profit margins, like junk food factories. This means you can usually afford to use the best quality ingredients, which are often the healthiest option. Or if you choose not to, at least you know exactly what went into your ‘junk food’ treat.
2. Minimise kitchen ‘picking’.
Don’t you hate when you spend hours in the kitchen, picking at things here and there only to sit down to your meal and not feel like eating anything because you’re so stuffed? This happens to me all the time so I’ve been experimenting with ways to avoid this cook’s treats curse.
My sister Nao gave me a brilliant idea. She always has fresh veg chopped in the fridge ready for emergency snacking. So when she walks into the kitchen to prepare dinner and is tired and super hungry, she chomps on carrots, celery or snow peas instead of filling up on tasting whatever she’s cooking.
I’ve tried it and it makes a huge difference for me when I’m tired in the evenings. So I’m planning to have some veg ready for my Christmas cooking.
My other approach this year will be to make sure I have a proper breakfast before I start cooking so I hopefully avoid having an empty stomach eroding my willpower.
3. Watch your plate sizes.
You know the old ‘dieters’ trick to use smaller plates because the same amount of food will look like a more generous serving than the same amount served on a larger plate. Well, I’ve been testing it out and this simple optical illusion does make a difference. So keep your plates small.
4. Be careful of serving ‘family style’.
When there is loads of delicious food in the middle of the table, it’s so easy to keep going back for more and completely over do it. There are two ways to avoid this old chestnut.
First is to only serve healthy things in the middle like big salads and veggies. And plate up the indulgent items individually. Leave leftovers in the kitchen so it’s more of an effort to go back for seconds.
But if you’re like me and you prefer to let everyone serve themselves, the other approach is to serve yourself everything you want to eat first. Lay it out on your place before you start eating. And then only refill your plate once that food is all gone and you’re sure you won’t be overdoing things by having more. Not as easy to master as the first strategy, but at least this way you can keep track of how much you’re actually eating.
5. Be mindful of your mouthful.
My favourite trick for eating mindfully isn’t counting how many times you chew, although that can work.
I prefer to just check in with myself as I’m eating. Each time I go to load up my fork I ask myself am I already chewing? If yes, I put the fork down and concentrate on fully enjoying my mouthful before I pick up my fork to go in for the next one.
Same goes with speaking when there’s food in my mouth (my mum was on to something!)
Comforting (Yet Sophisticated) Mac & Cheese
When I was pregnant I really got into exploring the world of hard cheeses. There are so many amazing melting cheeses that really elevate the humble mac & cheese to something comforting yet tasty enough to please the most sophisticated palates.
My favourite is a combo of emmental, gruyere and raclette. But pretty much any cheese is good here. I often add a little parmesan for flavour. It’s a great way to use up any small scraps of cheese floating around your fridge. A touch of blue can be lovely but be careful it doesn’t over power.
Best served with a simple green salad to freshen things up.
enough for 2
1/2 cup white wine
200g (7oz) cheese, grated
200g (7oz) short pasta
2 tablespoon double cream
1. Preheat oven to 180C and get a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
2. Meanwhile cook onion in a little oil over a medium low heat until soft but not browned. Add the wine and allow to simmer and reduce for a few minutes.
3. Cook pasta until almost tender (al dente). Drain well and return to the pot.
4. Quickly stir in onion mixture, 2/3s of the cheese and the cream. Divide between two oven proof dishes. Top with remaining cheese.
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and bubbling.
dairy-free – you’re kidding right? Get your fix for a creamy pasta by making a traditional cabonara with just egg yolks and bacon instead.
grain-free – replace pasta with cauliflower chopped into florettes – about 1/2 head cauli for 2 people. Simmer or steam until almost tender then drain well.
gluten-free - just use a good commercial GF pasta or try the grain-free option above. There are some pretty good ones out there these days. Or replace with a drained can of chickpeas.
alcohol-free / tiny person-friendly – replace the wine with verjuice (unfermented unripe grape juice) or use a small squeeze of lemon juice for freshness instead. The other option is to skip the wine and replace the cream with sour cream.
no cream? – replace with a little butter or olive oil.
onion-free – replace with finely chopped celery or carrot or both. Or just skip it along with the wine.
Video version of the recipe.
I really hope you have a lovely Christmas and wish you and your family all the best for the New Year.
Thanks so much for reading and being a big part of the Stonesoup community in 2013. I really appreciate your support!
Look forward to seeing you when Stonesoup returns on the 7th Jan.