Decadent holiday treats and health-conscious counterparts
Real talk: no one is starting a diet during the holidays. November kicks off the season of culinary decadence, and hey, we are fully on board with that. But for those who want to indulge a little more strategically, there are nice (or “nicer”) alternatives when you’ve overdone it on the naughty treats. Here we present both sides of the coin and leave the decision up to you — no judgments.
What’s merrier than a glass of bubbly? Champagne signifies celebration and is enough to put anyone in the holiday spirit, especially when it’s paired with truffle-parmesan popcorn and cheese. At Uncorked Bistro in Neenah, you can order a festive glass of Moet Imperial Brut Champagne with exotic fruit aromas (think peach, pineapple and honey) and fresh crispness. To balance its seductively smooth flavor, Uncorked Manager Kris Lavery says the Moet Imperial Brut Champagne pairs nicely with hard cheeses, nuts and smoked fish. We’ll cheers to that.
Nice: Champagne Salad
The champagne salad at Draft Gastropub is one part saint, one part sinner. “Our chef wanted you to hear the name of the salad and immediately feel like you’re indulging in something upscale and a little sinful,” says Shirley Vazquez, co-owner of Draft Gastropub which opened its new north Appleton location on September 5. On the saintly side, the salad includes ingredients like fresh field greens, sliced grapes and mini heirloom tomatoes. On the other, there’s candied oranges and pecans, zinfandel-poached pears and goat cheese. It is all tossed in a homemade champagne vinaigrette for a little festive flair, no designated driver required.
Naughty: Fried Egg Rolls
Sometimes after a marathon day of holiday shopping, baking and gift wrapping, takeout is the only answer for growling tummies. Mai’s Deli in Appleton is a go-to for Asian carry-out, offering curries, noodles, stir frys and some of the best deep fried egg rolls around – crispy on the outside, bursting with flavor on the inside. Mai makes them fresh, by hand, each morning, frying them until they are a delicious golden brown. The filling consists of bean thread noodles, carrot, cabbage, and onion and your choice of chicken, pork or vegetarian. The essential sweet and sour sauce comes on the side.
Deep-fried foods are delicious, but they come with high calorie counts. At Eggrolls Inc in Appleton you can satisfy your egg roll craving with a gluten-free egg roll bowl which offers all the flavor of a traditional egg roll at a fraction of the caloric value. “For the egg roll bowls, we take the insides of an egg roll and flash fry them for a couple minutes in a hot wok,” owner Blong Yang says. “We use extra veggies like cabbage, carrots, cilantro and green onion served on top of romaine lettuce.” At fewer than 200 calories a pop, these egg roll bowls are something to feel good about.
For one of the finest fruitcakes, look no further than Vande Walle’s Candies in Appleton. Steve Vande Walle says their recipe dates back to 1916 and is the only one used since his father bought the business in 1974. The traditional German fruitcake is loaded with glazed fruits such as red and green cherries, golden pineapple and raisins, as well as pecans and walnuts. A small amount of butter-rich batter holds all that decadence together. “When you slice this fruitcake and hold it up to the light, it will shine through the fruit and it looks like a stained glass window,” Vande Walle says. “This is the highest quality fruitcake you can make.” Don’t be swayed by fruitcake’s bad rap, says Vande Walle who argues, “If you’ve never had it, you don’t know how good it can be.” Find Vande Walle’s fruitcake mid-November through the New Year in store and online.
If you find yourself reaching for another piece of fruitcake after January 2, try the Bountii Bites from Freshii in Appleton instead. These bite-size morsels satisfy a sweet tooth, but are packed with nutrient-dense superfoods like peanut butter, honey, coconut, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds. “The main ingredient, peanut butter, provides the powerful antioxidant vitamin E, bone building magnesium and immunity-boosting vitamin B6,” owner Desiree Nerenhausen says. “Pumpkin seeds are not only perfect for fall, but they also contain heart healthy magnesium, zinc which aids in immune support and plant-based omega-3 fats.”
Naughty: Hot Turkey Sandwich
The hot turkey sandwich at Third Street Diner in Menasha is comfort food at its finest. Here, oven-roasted turkey breast is served open-faced on two slices of white bread and covered with poultry gravy. The knife-and-fork sandwich is served with real mashed potatoes and the vegetable of the day (and, let’s face it, veggies always taste better covered in gravy too). The plate is like a Thanksgiving dinner whenever you need it. Owner Michelle Meyer guarantees the mashed potatoes are the real deal – never instant – and so worth the indulgence.
Nice: Turkey Cranberry Wrap
Spats Food & Spirits in Appleton serves up a taste of traditional turkey and cranberry in a better-for-you wrap. The wrap is made with diet-friendly grilled turkey, cranberry port relish, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion on a garlic herb tortilla. “It’s a great wrap because we use port relish which gives it a kick and a little different flavor than just typical cranberry,” says Bill Nubert, owner of Spats. It comes with a choice of side, but select the fiber-rich sweet potato fries if you can’t bring yourself to order the side salad. If a cold wrap won’t hit the spot on a winter’s day, it can also be ordered hot and comes in a warm tortilla with melted cheese.
Naughty: Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Whoopie pies may be the world’s most irresistible dessert. Who can say no to buttercream frosting sandwiched between two pillowy pumpkin spice cookies? Festive and fun, these two-bite pumpkin whoopie pies from All Seasons Coffeehouse in Appleton are filled with buttercream frosting made with homemade vanilla bean extract. Head Baker Veda Stuck says customers love the light and airy consistency of the cookies that resemble a pumpkin spice cake. If you feel like playing Santa, order a dozen in advance and surprise your coworkers at the office party.
The pumpkin spice smoothie bowl from Bona Fide Juicery, opening on Appleton’s College Avenue in November, is a health-conscious, vegan alternative to pumpkin pie. The smoothie base, which is a lean 170 calories, is made with organic banana, nutmeg, nutrient-rich pumpkin, cinnamon and vanilla almond milk. The bowl is topped with chia seeds, crumbled vegan graham crackers, walnuts, soy whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon to make it taste way more decadent than it actually is. Chris Strauss and Nicole Lindquist opened Bona Fide Juicery’s De Pere location in May 2017. The Appleton location will be the pair’s second store.
Naughty: Honey Boys
Sometimes tradition can dictate decadence. Hill Top Bakery in Kaukauna has been famous for their “honey boys,” a spin on traditional gingerbread men, since the 1960s. The beloved honey boys are made with lebkuchen, a traditional Christmas sweet from Nuremburg, Germany that is thicker and softer than gingerbread, lightly spiced and loaded with honey. The boys are decorated with buttercream frosting and an assortment of holiday candies. Hill Top owner Lynn Engel says the lebkuchen dough starts soft, but “Once it dries, it’s a good dunker in your coffee.” Honey boys can only be purchased in the store, but Hill Top also offers do-it-yourself honey house kits made with the same lebkuchen dough that can be shipped worldwide.
Nice: Gingerbread Muffin
Healthy gingerbread? It’s a thing at Happy Bellies Bake Shop in Appleton. Their gluten- and dairy-free gingerbread muffins are made with organic spices and cage-free eggs, topped with walnuts and chocolate chunks. Happy Bellies also uses lower glycemic sweeteners in their treats like agave nectar and coconut palm sugar. Foods that are low on the glycemic index are processed into glucose more slowly by the body and cause less dramatic fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels. When gingerbread is this nutritious, it’s easy to justify the indulgence.
Eggnog is basically Christmas in a glass and luckily for our waistlines, its consumption is pretty strictly refined to the holiday season. The drink is high in calories, sugar and fat, but the holidays are not the time to be reading nutrition labels. For a fun take of the ubiquitous holiday beverage (and a little caffeine pick-me-up), try the eggnog latte at Seth’s Coffee with locations in Little Chute and Appleton. The latte is made with a double shot of espresso and topped with steamed Lamer’s Dairy famous eggnog and a sprinkle of nutmeg. According to owner Seth Lenz, the drink is “creamy, smooth, and outrageously delicious.”
Nice: Eggnog Rooibos
This naturally caffeine-free eggnog rooibos from Fava Tea in Appleton has the rich, creamy taste of eggnog without the calories. The aroma is sweet and smooth, reminiscent of a gooey cinnamon roll drizzled with icing or cinnamon sticks simmering in heavy cream. You might even get whiffs of pine trees, buttery popcorn and fresh-from-the-oven snickerdoodle cookies. The tea has a fresh cinnamon flavor and creamy mouthfeel, just like eggnog. With flavors of pound cake and nutmeg, it’s perfect for the holiday season – whether you’re sipping a mug at the office or while opening presents on Christmas morning.