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Holiday Desserts Worth the Calories

The NWC Principle Explained
Mincemeat Muffins

By Sidney Carlisle

The holidays are the perfect time of year for those of us who like to bake and for people who love sweets. It's the season to ignore cholesterol counts and bathroom scales, and to happily enjoy treats that appear once a year. It's also an opportunity to use special recipes, perhaps handed down from friends or family who are no longer with us. Food is an integral part of the season and important to any celebration.

Sadly, there's a trend in the culinary world to serve lean, mean and low-fat all year, including the holidays. Well-meant articles appear in the fall with instructions on how to cut fat and calories, essentially changing the taste of our favorite foods. While I understand that some people are medically unable to eat everything they want, most of us can fudge a little (bad choice of words) for a holiday dinner.

For most of the year, I'm a proponent of trying to eat what's reasonably healthy and not eating what I shouldn't. About twenty years ago, someone passed along to me a theory called NWC -- Not Worth the Calories -- and it has been a great help to me. It means that if you're served a piece of cherry pie and it isn't very good, don't eat it. It's not worth the calories. Wait until you get the world's best piece of cherry pie, and then eat every bite of it. Don't eat things that leave you wishing you hadn't. Everyone does it. We eat an entire serving of something that's not wonderful, or worse, we eat it because it's right in front of us. Remember NWC and quit eating. Even though your mama told you to clean up your plate, it really is okay to leave something on it.

On that basis, I am not serving low-fat, powdered-milk, no-butter sweet potato pie for the holidays. Sorry, that makes it NWC in my book, and not only am I not serving it, I'm not eating it either. I'd rather have one piece of real sweet potato pie than half of a low-fat pie. Of course, it's easy to rationalize. We can all console ourselves by remembering that carefully carved slices of roasted turkey are lean, and that a three-ounce serving is an approved portion. Great, just put it on the plate next to the cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy.

One more thing. If you're going to knock yourself out cooking wonderful old family recipes, do yourself a couple of culinary favors. First, use butter -- not margarine -- unless a recipe specifies margarine. Butter adds flavor and margarine doesn't. They're both fat, so you might as well use a fat that tastes good. The second favor is to serve real whipped cream to garnish holiday desserts, and avoid using non-dairy whipped topping. It's the same principle. Sweetened whipped cream has a marvelous flavor and can mean the difference between good pie and great pie. Non-dairy whipped topping is fluffy white poof with absolutely no flavor. It's fine when used as an ingredient in a recipe, but as a topping, it's NWC.

If the NWC approach is applied most of the year, chances are we'll be able to indulge ourselves in November and December. And even though I may be shunned by all the culinary experts in Texas for this article, I suspect that some feel as I do about low-fat holiday foods.

As I share recipes collected over the years, I wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year and hope you enjoy cooking, serving and eating your favorite holiday foods.

Coconut Date Balls

These may be served like cookies and are nice to pack in tins to give as gifts.
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped dates (one 8-oz. package)
  • 2 cups Rice Krispies
  • 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
Combine the butter, sugar, milk, salt and egg in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute, continuing to stir. Remove from the heat. Add the vanilla, dates and Rice Krispies. Mix well. Cool 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Shape into balls about 1-inch in diameter and roll in the coconut. Store between layers of waxed paper in tins or in plastic storage bags. Yields about 40 one-inch balls.

Mincemeat Muffins

Great muffins for a holiday breakfast, or to serve with hot tea. The original recipe appeared several years ago in Bon Appetit, but has had a couple of changes.
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 2/3 cup prepared mincemeat (jarred mincemeat)
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Place paper liners in a twelve-cup muffin pan. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs, melted butter and orange peel, mixing well. Stir in the mincemeat. Add the flour, stirring just until blended. Do not over-mix. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.

Bake about 25 minutes, until the muffins are golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cherry Pie Filling Salad

This is the one must-have item at any holiday gathering at my house. Leftover salad, if any, will keep two or three days in the refrigerator.
  • 1 can premium quality cherry pie filling
  • 1 15-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 15-ounce can pineapple tidbits, well drained
  • 1/2 of an 8-ounce carton non-dairy whipped topping, thawed
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup white miniature marshmallows
If available, use a clear glass 3-quart salad bowl. Combine the pie filling and the condensed milk, stirring gently but thoroughly. Fold in the drained pineapple. Add the whipped topping. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least two hours. Just before serving, fold in the pecans and marshmallows.

Sidney Carlisle lives on a ranch in Meridian, Texas.

If you have questions about this article or the recipes, contact us at moc.gnikoocsaxet@nibrof_solkim.

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