Fall holiday fare keeps tradition, health in mind

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"I really like helping people ‘discover’ new ingredients, and helping them learn how to eat better," says culinary instructor Jo Cessna.

6-7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 25
Valley West Medical Office Building
1310 N. Main Street
Sandwich, Ill. 60548
$10 / Person. Registration required by Oct. 20.
Register online at http://bit.ly/Ml3hlo
Or call 815.786.3962.
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It's not too early to think about your Thanksgiving menu. And it's not too early to think about using some of the fall harvest in new ways.

To help home cooks get their creative juices flowing, Valley West Community Hospital will be offering "Delicious Possibilities with Fall Cooking," in a demonstration/tasting event Oct. 25.

"I like to take everyday vegetables and kick them up a notch by pairing them with something unexpected," explained Jo Cessna, who will be leading the cooking presentation. She is a healthy culinary instructor with a background in catering who works with the hospital to offer programs that help cooks tweak their skills.

"I do keep things simple, because I know if there are just too many steps, people will get intimidated," she said. "I want people to go home and really make these dishes."

One of her recipes pairs a Thanksgiving favorite-pumpkin-with polenta. While polenta has been gaining traction in restaurant fare, the cornmeal dish hasn't been used by a lot of home cooks yet.

"This is a way to get some new foods on the holiday table while keeping some of the tradition intact,'' she said. Polenta dishes can be made ahead and warmed before serving, which is a bonus for cooks serving a holiday meal.

"You can serve this instead of mashed potatoes, and then serve leftovers with maple syrup the next morning," Cessna pointed out.

She also will be demonstrating how to prepare steeped carrots with glazed apples, which she predicts will change hearts set against cooked carrots.

"Carrots are naturally sweet, but we aren't used to thinking of them that way," she said. Her cooking and seasoning methods bring out that sweetness, and the carrots retain more of their natural texture than with traditional steaming that can yield a limp carrot.

Her emphasis on healthier holiday table choices plays a role in all of her cooking demonstrations. "Somewhere along the line, the role of salt has gotten out of hand. My recipes focus on using less salt, less oil and a larger variety of spices."

One example of her penchant for lower-fat treats is her blueberry/zucchini bread. "The zucchini keeps the bread moist, but its flavor kind of hangs out in the background. That way you can use less oil and still get a moist, very sweet-tasting bread." She said it may have a different texture than a dessert bread your grandmother made, but the taste will still have a lot of appeal.

"I really like helping people 'discover' new ingredients, and helping them learn how to eat better,'' she said. "But people won't try a new food or technique if it's too complicated. People will only eat what's convenient, so I make it convenient."

And Cessna said she is gratified that people are trying to make healthier eating a priority. "It's exciting that people want to figure this out."

The class size is limited to ensure that everyone can participate in the demonstration and tasting, as well as ask questions. Participants will receive recipes for all of the dishes Cessna demonstrates.

Registration for Delicious Possibilities with Fall Cooking will close on Oct. 20. Sign up online at http://bit.ly/Ml3hlo.