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I'm Dreaming of a Lighter Christmas

Healthy holiday recipes you can feel good about indulging in

Studies show that during the two-month holiday season that starts with Halloween candy and ends with Christmas pudding, most of us will gain about a pound. "No big deal," you say. "That's easy to take off." In theory, yes, but in reality, most of us never bother to shed it. A decade later you suddenly realize you've bumped up a size. I don't want that to happen. That's why this year I'm dreaming of a light Christmas!

Our family tradition is roast beef. In Christmases past, I would have served up a well-marbled prime rib with creamy horseradish sauce, followed by a big bowl of chocolate mousse for dessert.

Not this year. Instead, I'm roasting up beef tenderloin, an unusual cut because it's both lean and tender. For those assets you pay a price, but if you're ever going to enjoy a tenderloin, 'tis the season. Plus, whole beef tenderloin serves a large crowd, and leftovers are superb.

You can buy beef tenderloin two ways. For those who shop at warehouse-style grocery stores such as Costco or Sam's Club, beef tenderloin comes untrimmed and packaged in Cryovac. And untrimmed tenderloin contains many large pockets of fat, so you'll need to trim it a lot. There's also the silver skin, or connective tissue, to deal with … or not. You can leave it alone — it really doesn't affect the meat's texture — but it will cause the roast to bow during cooking. If you don't want the curling, simply snip the silver skin crosswise in a couple of places or remove it completely with a sharp knife.

Unless you like to butcher, you'll want to buy trimmed or peeled beef tenderloin. It's more expensive, but when you figure the weight of the excess fat and your labor, it's probably worth the extra cost.

Either way, you'll need some butcher's twine. Because the roast has a tapered shape, you should tuck the thin end under so the roast looks uniform and cooks evenly. Once it's been prepared to this point, the rest is simple. This classy roast does not need to be gussied up. Just oil, salt and pepper it and shove it in the oven. In 40 to 45 minutes it will emerge gorgeous and perfect, ready for Parsley-Red Pepper Sauce -— a festive, healthier alternative to traditional sour cream-horseradish sauce.

Dessert is light and festive, too. Instead of cream-laden chocolate mousse, this pudding is enriched with evaporated milk, which has half the calories of heavy cream. Top the pudding with Warm Prune-Walnut Sauce, which you can double, if you like: It's a wonderful topping for yogurt and granola the next morning.

I ate only one piece of Halloween candy, and my Thanksgiving dessert was fruit and cheese with a glass of port. With this year's lighter roast beef and Christmas pudding, I hope that when I hop on the scale on New Year's Day, I'll have no surprises.

Roast Beef Tenderloin With Parsley-Red Pepper Sauce, Lighter Holiday Recipes

Add this parsley-red pepper sauce for a colorful and healthy item to your holiday dinner menu.

Simple Roast Beef Tenderloin With Parsley-Red Pepper Sauce

Serves 12 to 16

  • 1 large roasted red bell pepper, cut into small dice
  • 1 cup parsley leaves, chopped coarse
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 6 cornichons, sliced thin, plus 2 teaspoons cornichon juice
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 beef tenderloin, peeled, trimmed of excess fat and tied crosswise, at 1-inch intervals (about 7 pounds if buying an unpeeled tenderloin, 4 to 5 pounds if the tenderloin has already been peeled)

Mix the bell pepper, parsley, cornichons and juice, capers, scallions, 1/2 cup olive oil and kosher salt and black pepper to taste in a small bowl; set aside. (Can be covered and refrigerated for a couple of days; return to room temperature.)

Adjust the oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Set the meat on a sheet of plastic wrap and rub the tenderloin all over with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 2 tablespoons black pepper onto the meat, lifting the sides of the plastic wrap up and around the meat to press on excess.

Roast the tenderloin on a wire rack set on a shallow roasting pan until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast registers about 125 degrees for a roast with a range of medium-rare to medium, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the roast from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes. (Can be cooled to room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated.)

Cut the roast into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange on a serving platter and serve with Parsley-Red Pepper Sauce.

Caramel Pudding With Warm Prune-Walnut Sauce, Lighter Holiday Recipes

Follow up any holiday meal with a warm, comforting dessert like this caramel pudding option.

Caramel Pudding With Warm Prune-Walnut Sauce

Serves 6

  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 cans (12 ounces each) evaporated milk, 2 percent or regular
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup prunes
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 strips orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Cointreau

Whisk the brown sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch and the salt in a medium saucepan. Just before adding the milk, whisk in the egg yolks, then turn the heat to medium and vigorously whisk in the milk. Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens to pudding consistency. Remove from the heat; stir in the vanilla. Pour into custard cups or goblets; place a sheet of plastic directly over the surface of each cup to keep a skin from forming. (The puddings can be refrigerated for a couple of days.)

Bring the prunes, cinnamon stick, orange zest and 1 1/2 cups water to simmer in a small saucepan. Continue to simmer until the prunes are soft but still intact, 5 to 7 minutes. Mix the remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch into the orange liqueur; stir this into the prune mixture. Continue to simmer until the prunes have thickened to a light sauce consistency. Remove from the heat and let stand. When ready to serve, warm the prune sauce, stir in the walnuts and spoon the sauce over the puddings.

AARP food expert Pam Anderson is a best-selling cookbook author and blogger at

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