Cooking Light's Lighten Up, America Interview

Now that our bellies are full from Thanksgiving, I thought this would be a good time to post some lighter cooking tips.

Cooking Light's contributing editor, Allison Fishman Task, recently went on a round trip crisscrossing the country in search of the country's favorite regional foods and lightening them for healthier eating in her new cookbook: Lighten Up, America!

Allison shows the reader how to take classic regional recipes and make them lighter and healthier with a few simple substitutions and smart cooking techniques. Cooking Light Editor Scott Mowbray sums it up best in his intro to the book by saying these recipes are "classic flavors served up for a healthier generation." 

I was able to chat with Allison via e-mail about her cookbook and healthy eating tips.’s the idea behind Cooking Light Lighten Up, America?
Allison: I love American history and our American food traditions. There's always a great story to go along with an American-conceived dish or ingredient (you'll find many of these in the book). But sadly, I find that so many folks are rejecting American classics in favor of more contemporary "healthier" foods. I wanted to remake our classic dishes (crabcakes, deviled eggs, jalapeno poppers, meatloaf) to make them better for you, so that people would embrace them, and feel good about eating them once again.  

Where did your travels take you?
Allison: Clear across the country, from Maine to Hawaii. As the host of Yahoo's Blue Ribbon Hunter, I've been traveling for 2 years, to over 60 cities and small towns. From the Roadkill Festival in a one-stoplight town of Marlinton, West Virginia to the Tamale Festival in Indio, California, and the Eelpout Festival (a festival on a frozen lake!) in Walker, Minnesota.

What’s your favorite regional classic dish that you lightened up?
Allison: You're asking me to pick favorites! Yowza. For flavor alone, I love the revisions to Texas Sheet Cake (video). I'd take this cake over the heavier version any day. I'm really happy with how the Philly Cheesesteak came out -- still filling and delicious, without the food hangover you'd get from the traditional one. My favorite classic American dish is Jalapeno Poppers. I'll take the new grilled version over the deep-fried breaded version any day of the week.

How can we lighten up all-American favorites? Any simple substitutions?

Allison: As you'd expect, many of these recipes had tons of cheese, breading and butter. Those are easy changes to make; I swapped out stronger flavored cheeses (Parmesan, sharp cheddar) for the milder cheeses. It's easy to cut butter's saturated fat with cooking method and ingredient choices (use Yukon Golds for mashed potatoes, they're naturally sweeter and creamier). And in baking, I use a lot of buttermilk. As for the breading, I'd try to find a cooking method that would give that crispy crunch with out all the bread calories, like roasting or grilling. But probably the biggest substitution I made was extending the dish. I would try to bulk out a dish, like say -- potato gratin, or Funeral Potatoes as I call it in the book with vegetables. I was always adding cups of broccoli or handfuls of spinach to dishes to add flavor, visual appeal, and volume. So you get the guilty pleasure with a serving size that satisfies.
My thoughts: The book itself is a substantial hardcover that includes breakfast, lunch, main dishes, side dishes, snacks & apps and desserts. It would make a great housewarming or holiday gift. I wasn't aware of some of the original southern recipes included in the book, but had fun trying them out for the first time. PS: Allison is also a mom of twin boys!

Here are some featured recipes from the book:
New Orleans Gumbo

New Orleans Gumbo

 Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo 

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