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No matter how much you like to cook, how many recipe books you own or how many hours of Food T.V. you watch, sometimes it’s hard to find new kitchen inspiration.  And as the recent holidays approached, such was my sorry state…I was bored to tears with all of my books, most of my favorite chefs and every holiday food.

So when my husband told me he was going on a promotional tour for his new movie, “Jack Reacher,” in mid-December and spouses were (!) invited, I did what any dedicated food blogger (and mom avoiding Christmas shopping) would do: I charged my camera, packed a bag and tagged along.

For 2 weeks, we did some serious “souvenir eating” in London, Stockholm, Madrid and New York. When it was over, I had my inspiration back…and a bucket list (and photos) of amazing dishes I couldn’t wait to take home and “skinny-fy!”

IMG_1207 First up, a Super Skinny Cauliflower Gratin inspired by our first stop in London….where “cauliflower cheese” seemed to be on every menu.

At the trendy Hix in Soho we chose it as one of 4 sides we shared as we split an entree of fabulous grilled Torbay Dover Sole.

IMG_1212The very next day, I had it for lunch at the The Northall restaurant in The Corinthea Hotel with a hazelnut salad, roasted Brussels sprout leaves and beets. Delicious.

IMG_1154Once home, I couldn’t wait to re-create it.  After all, cauliflower is one of the world’s healthiest foods; loaded phyto-nutrients that cleanse your body of toxins, it’s especially rich in vitamin C and gives you fiber, folate and potassium.

But before I actually made the dish, I did something even more loathsome than unpacking: I did the math. The Barefoot Contessa’s Cauliflower Gratin recipe–which is most like the dishes we had in England– has more than 300 calories per serving! Which is not bad if that’s all you’re eating, but a hefty calorie count for just a side dish.

IMG_2124And as good as cauliflower is for you, drowning it in a fatty cheese sauce isn’t going to do any body any good… (unless you happen to be a heart surgeon looking for extra work..)

But after making just a few skinny substitutions, this new version has the satisfying richness of the original but with a fraction of the fat and calories.

IMG_1670The changes couldn’t be simpler: Instead of 4 tablespoons of butter (480 calories), 3 tablespoons of Smart Balance Light (150 calories) work just as well. The 2 cups of cow’s milk (300 calories) are easily replaced by the same amount of almond milk (60 calories.) By trading in Gruyere for a lesser amount of vegetarian cheese you save another couple hundred calories.  And, most importantly, by making those simple changes you all but eliminate the heart clogging saturated fats.

The final tally? Fewer than 80 calories a serving rather than 300!  Even Jamie Oliver might agree that kind of fat and calorie savings is worthy of a crown…or at least a place on your dinner table!


2 medium heads cauliflower, cut into florets

1-2 large shallots, sliced thin

3 T Smart Balance Light  (A few years ago, my father’s heart surgeon insisted this replace butter in our house if we wanted my dad to live beyond a few years. I didn’t argue..and now use it for most recipes that call for real butter. )

4 T brown rice flour  (We don’t keep white processed flour in the house anymore, but whole wheat flour is a bit too textural if you’re trying to make a cream sauce. Brown rice flour is much finer, lighter in color and works better.)

2 c warm plain and unsweetened Almond Milk  (Silk brand has 30 calories a cup and Almond Breeze brand has 40. Both work. Just make sure you are NOT using the vanilla almond milk you use in coffee or  cereal.)

1/2 c plus 2 T Daiya Brand shredded non-dairy mozzarella (Of all the veggie cheeses we’ve tried, this one wins hands down down for taste and its ability to melt.)

1/2 to 1 t sea salt or kosher salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, drop in cauliflower and cook 7 minutes. Toss in the sliced shallots and cook 1 minute more. Drain in a colander in the sink and set aside.

IMG_1673IMG_1674Place 3 T of Smart Balance Light in a large non-stick frying pan and turn heat on to medium. It will gradually melt and, as soon as it does, sprinkle in the brown rice flour and stir constantly until the flour begins to take on some color without going brown.  (I love my Calphalon brand non stick whisk for this.  If you don’t have one, use a wooden spoon..a regular whisk will ruin your non stick pan.)

IMG_1681Begin adding the almond milk a bit at a time, stirring constantly, until you’ve incorporated it all and the roux is smooth. (If you still have lumps after you’ve added all the almond milk, just pour in a few tablespoons of hot water and stir until the lumps are gone.)

Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt, stir and taste. You want the sauce to be a bit on the salty side…it needs to be well seasoned to flavor 2 heads of cauliflower. Add pepper to taste.  Turn off the heat, add a 1/2 cup of the veggie cheese and stir until smooth.

IMG_2105IMG_1685Put the cauliflower and shallots into the pan with the cheese sauce and gently toss to combine. Load it all into a baking dish that’s been sprayed with cooking spray, sprinkle the remaining 2 T of cheese on top and bake on an upper rack in a 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.


IMG_1686Because this dish has become a new favorite with my children, I’ve made it 5 times in 3 weeks. But a few days ago, when I had just one cup of almond milk in the house, I substituted a cup of good chicken broth for the second cup of milk… it was slightly more savory but still creamy and just as delicious.

Also, if you’d like to use real cheese instead of the vegetarian type, use Parmesan, Gruyere or a combination. The calorie count for those cheeses isn’t much more than the veggie versions but do know there is more saturated fat and much more cholesterol in animal cheese.  If you’re cooking for health, the veggie cheese might be a smarter choice.

You can also play with the oven cooking time and temperature.  If baking fish for your entree at a lower heat (like 350), slip the cauliflower in the oven ahead and cook it for an hour. If roasting a chicken at 425, put the cauliflower in 30 minutes before you think the chicken will be done. By the way, 425 is a magic number for roasting veggies; if you pay attention to timing, you can slide in a tray of Brussels sprouts, winter squash, green beans or even garlicky kale and cook the entire meal in the same oven at the same time. As our British friends would say, “Brilliant.”

About Lisa McRee

After 25 years as a local and network anchor, Lisa was just another American mother struggling, and failing, to lose weight. Finally, she cracked the code, and lost 30 pounds, quickly and for good, by doing what she loves: reporting, cooking and eating! The Skinny is the inside story on how she did it, and how you can, too!
This entry was posted in Fit For Kids, Low Meat Mains, One Oven/One Time, Skinny Sides and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Melanie Mendoza says:

    Hi Lisa, I absolutely love this recipe. I’ve been following your skinny method doing some of your recipes and some of my own, counting the calories of course.
    The first 4 weeks were great, I lost 5 kg and my husband 7kg, but for the last two weeks I’ve been “stuck” in the same weight… could you tell me which of your recipes you used when you were actively losing weight, as opposed to recipes you used when trying to maintain your weight.
    Thank you so much, you are awesome! 🙂

    • Lisa McRee says:

      Hi Melanie, I’m happy to e-mail you a list of recipes, but want to tell you first that it REALLY helps to “front-load” your calories..especially any animal proteins you’re eating. (On the weekends, my husband is always shocked at how much I eat during the day now!)
      It’s the old adage, “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper,” and a recent study just proved that timing does matter: 2 groups of subjects consumed the same # of calories, but those who ate most before evening lost more weight than those who ate more calories later in the day.
      It makes sense, really…by giving your body good protein (along with lots of veg!) early in the day, your metabolism gears up to burn it off, you’ll have tons of energy and will WANT a light dinner (which your body won’t have struggle to process while you sleep.) Average women (who aren’t pregnant or breast feeding) need about 46 grams of protein a day. (That’s just a couple of 4 ounce servings or fish or chicken.)
      After a holiday or after lots of traveling, I make a point to eat most of my protein before 5pm and eat a hearty but meat-less dinner..(like black bean tostadas, a chunky veg soup, eggplant lasagne with a vegetarian meat-less sauce, or an Asian veg and “magic rice” stir fry with tofu and/or edamame, for example.)
      I still have a full plate and a full tummy and the veg protein from beans/tofu/etc are easier for my body to process than an animal meat.
      If you still feel like nibbling after dinner and are staying up late (like I sometimes do to watch a Downton Abbey marathon!) nibble on air popped popcorn sprayed with butter flavored Pam and sprinkled with fine sea salt, throw in a few dried cranberries and a few pieces of M&Ms to satisfy that crunchy/salty/sweet craving.
      If you want something cold, pour a 40 calorie cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk over 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries and stir…top with 1 tablespoon of granola and it’s a sweet/crunchy frozen parfait…
      All of those ingredients come from plants, not animals, and will satisfy without weighing you down.
      Once you’ve switched to eating most of your food earlier in the day, your sleep will be better and you’ll wake up hungry for a veggie egg white omelet, or crisp kale and a poached egg, or oatmeal with crunchy apple and train your body to WANT to eat more early and less later..
      I don’t know what your work schedule is so not exactly sure which recipes to highlight for you but, in the meantime, “front-load” your food….especially meat and dairy…after 2 weeks, let me know how it’s going!

      • Melanie Mendoza says:

        Hi Lisa, thank you so much for your reply. It worked! I lost 4 kg since I started “front-loading” my food, no meat or dairy after 5pm. I love your recipes, I made your taco meat-ish and serve it to guests, they loved it and didn’t even know it was full of veg.
        My husband’s favorite is the lasagne.. I will be honest, when I was cooking those recipes I though it was TOO much veg and I was worried about the taste, I was sooo wrong they are delish! Thanks for everything! x

        • Lisa McRee says:

          That is SO exciting, Melanie! I am so happy for you…and especially happy the people you love didn’t know you were “filling them up while faking them out!”
          I just have to get the computer geniuses to help me figure out how people can share their photos…I would love to see your before and after and how you’ve made The Skinny your own. Seriously..I’m not doing this for money. I take no ads and make no money from this site.. I do it because I really, really, really, want to help people lose weight and live longer. Thanks for making me feel like it’s all worth it. Cheers, Mel!!

  2. I am SO making this asap! Your recipes are genius, Lisa – THANK YOU for all the love and hours you put into them.

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