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Valerie Phillips: Achieving balance on Thanksgiving

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 6:22 a.m. MDT

"What is with all the 'diet' recipes for Thanksgiving? Really?" one of my foodie friends commented on the flurry of articles and tips for "healthifying" your holiday meal.

"For one day, enjoy life and the bounty of good food, made the traditional way — butter and all. It's once a year, so no, I do not want a low-calorie pumpkin pie." (For the record, this person is slim and trim; I don't think regular pumpkin pie has done her much harm over the years.)

It does seem like this year there's been an even bigger push than usual to "healthify" Thanksgiving. My email inbox has been filled with low-fat, low-calorie or low-sodium recipes, such as whipped cauliflower masquerading as mashed potatoes, pie without the crust, and sweet potatoes spiked with spices and orange juice instead of butter and melted marshmallows.

Can we find a happy medium here? Phil Lempert of SupermarketGuru.com noted that the average American eats about 3,000 calories to 3,500 calories during the Thanksgiving meal. With a calorie count like that, I have a feeling it's not so much the one slice of pumpkin pie, or scoop of mashed potatoes, but the second and third helpings.

If you want motivation to rein in your holiday dining, consider watching NBC's "The Biggest Loser: Where Are They Now" special airing Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 7 p.m. MST. While you're mixing up stuffing or rolling out pie dough for Thursday's feast, you can catch up with contestants from past seasons of the weight-loss reality series. Many of the contestants lost more than 100 pounds while on the show; have they been able to keep it off now they're back in the real world?

Fan favorites such as Abby Rike (Season 8), Tara Costa (Season 7), O'Neal Hampton (Season 9) and Season 5 winner Ali Vincent will reveal what they are up to now, along with Season 8 champ Danny Cahill and Season 11 winner Olivia Ward. Others on the special include Hannah Curlee (Season 11) Jesse Atkins (Season 10) and Sione Fa and Jerry and Estella Hayes, all from Season 7.

There will also be an update on Sam Poueu of Season 9. On Sept. 3, he sustained head and internal injuries when he fell from a four-story San Francisco apartment building. According to news reports, he was at a friend's apartment, got locked out while on the building's rooftop, and attempted to climb down a fire escape.

After some time in the intensive care unit, Poueu is now undergoing rehabilitation with physical, occupational and speech therapy. Fans of the series may remember that Poueu romanced fellow contestant Stephanie Anderson, and the two are engaged.

I'm disappointed that none of the past Utah contestants will be among the group. Last spring, Deni Hill of Bountiful won the $100,000 prize that went to the contestant who lost the highest percentage of weight after being sent home. Her daughter Sara Nitta, who now lives in Las Vegas, now works as a social media specialist for the Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge in Ivins. Burgandy Keel, Heather Hansen, Justin Pope and Rulon Gardner are other Utahns who appeared on the show over the years.

During the show, cooking expert Aida Mollenkamp will prepare a healthful Thanksgiving feast. Here's one of her healthful makeovers for the standby Green Bean Casserole. In this case, I don't think people would mind a fresh update on this dish, usually laden with cream of mushroom soup and deep fried onions. But this version takes a bit more effort and time, so plan accordingly.

CRISPY ONIONGREEN BEANMUSHROOM CASSEROLE

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 55 minutes

Topping:

2 medium yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced

1/4 cup white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Olive oil, for baking sheet

Filling:

2 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided (optional)

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1 pound fresh mushrooms, stemmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons dry sherry (optional)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

2 cups fat-free low-sodium vegetable broth

1/4 cup white whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups plain lowfat Greek yogurt

2 tablespoon Dijon mustard

For the topping: Heat oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Combine the onions, flour and kosher salt in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with a thin layer of olive oil and evenly spread the onions on the pan.

Bake, stirring a few times, until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use. (Can be made up to two days ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.)

For the filling: Heat oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

While the topping is roasting, prepare the beans. Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and the beans and cook until bright green, about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, stir in the onion and cook until just softened. Stir in the mushrooms, thyme, remaining kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the sherry, if using, and cook until alcohol smell is gone. Add nutmeg, sprinkle the flour over the mixture, stir to combine, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broth and simmer until just starting to thicken. Remove from heat, stir in the green beans, yogurt and mustard.

Turn mixture into a 2-to 3-quart baking dish, and sprinkle the top with the roasted onions. Bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve warm. Makes 10 servings.

Nutritional information (per serving): 120 calories, 35 fat calories, 3.5 fat grams, 0 mg cholesterol, 18 carbs, 4 grams fiber, 7 grams sugar, 7 grams protein.

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com. Email: vphillips@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company