Jenna, Erica and Lester cut calories on classic dishes in cooking class

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Jenna, Erica and Lester learn to cut calories on classic dishes

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Slash the calories of classic comfort food dishes with some easy substitutions that are still full of flavor.

In Jenna Wolfe’s “30 Days to a Better You” challenge, making important food choices plays an important role. Dishes like pasta and mashed potatoes often pack a hearty punch, but with a few clever substitutions those favorite dishes can be made into healthier options.

“It’s gonna taste amazing,” promised Sur La Table’s resident chef Joel Gamoran, who invited the TODAY team into his kitchen with the promise of simple, healthy dishes.

Gamoran first showed Wolfe, Lester Holt and Erica Hill how to make a pappardelle pasta out of celery root, which is healthy and packed with vitamins. It’s also carb-free.

The chef used a lean cut of meat to go with the dish, and very little olive oil. Compared to a normal bowl of pappardelle pasta with a beef ragu, which comes in at about 850 to 875 calories, this dish had only 300.

In a classic mashed potatoes dish, Gomaran used cauliflower as the main ingredient. He also said there would be a competition on who could make the most delicious version.

Holt and Hill teamed up against Wolfe and one of Gomaran's kitchen assistants.

The teams were given three minutes to combine garlic, nonfat cream cheese, nutmeg and parmesan cheese with the cauliflower.

The winner with the tastiest combination? “I can’t believe I’m saying it, but it’s Jenna!” said Gomaran. It was surprising only because it takes a lot to get Wolfe in the kitchen. “It’s not that I don’t have the desire, it’s that I don’t have the skill,” she said.

Making a mashed potatoes dish with cauliflower and nonfat cream cheese puts the dish at about 210 calories per cup. A more traditional recipe runs about 315 calories a cup.

The kitchen crew also whipped up a fried rice dish made with quinoa instead of rice, and without the egg yolks, adding in only the egg whites. That way, the fried rice ends up being healthy with low cholesterol, and choosing quinoa over rice means there’s more protein and vitamins.

The anchors sat down to feast on their dishes, but not without first toasting to their missing co-host Dylan Dreyer, who couldn’t attend because she had gone to report on a winter storm.

“Here’s to low calorie, high taste...and to Dylan," said Wolfe.

Sesame Shrimp Quinoa



    • 2 cups quinoa, rinsed
    • 4 cups water
    • Pinch of kosher salt
    • 3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
    • 4 egg whites
    • 3 tbsp minced garlic
    • 3 tbsp minced ginger
    • 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp cut into bite-size pieces
    • 4 cups cooked and oven dried quinoa
    • 2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp honey
    • 1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar (or balsamic)
    • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
    • 2 tbsp sesame oil
    • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
    • Toasted sesame seeds for garnish


Baking Directions:

Bring the quinoa, salt and water to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.Remove quinoa from pan and place on a parchment-lined half-sheet pan. Place pan in the oven to dry out quinoa for 15 minutes. Alternatively, use cooked and cooled quinoa. Heat a wok over medium-high heat until hot. Coat the wok with one tablespoon vegetable oil and just as it begins to smoke add the egg whites to the wok and scramble until cooked through (about 1 minute). Remove the egg whites from the wok and set aside. Return the wok to the heat and add one tablespoon oil.  Add the ginger, garlic and shrimp and stir for about 2 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink and is cooked through. Remove and set aside. Coat the wok with the remaining tablespoon oil, add the cooked quinoa and toss until it is toasted and brown. Return the cooked egg and shrimp mixture to the wok and toss to combine with the quinoa. In a small bowl whisk together the soy sauce, honey and vinegar, drizzle over the quinoa and stir to combine. 

Celery Root Pappardelle with Turkey Ragu



    • 2 pounds turkey breast cut into 1-inch cubes
    • 4 tbsp olive oil
    • 4 carrots, grated
    • 2 onions, finely chopped
    • 6 garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 cups red wine
    • 2 cups low sodium chicken stock
    • 8 ounces canned San Marzano crushed tomatoes
    • 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 large celery root, trimmed and peeled
    • 1 bunch, fresh basil leaves
    • 2 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, optional


Baking Directions:

For the Sauce: Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot add the oil and the turkey. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the turkey until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the cooked turkey to a plate, set aside. Add the carrots, onion and garlic to the Dutch oven and cook for about 5 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add the red wine and stir, using a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until most of the wine has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato, thyme and bay leaf and return to a boil. While the ingredients are cooking, shred the cooled turkey into pieces and add back to the sauce. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the mixture for 15 minutes.For the Celery Root Pasta:Using a long grater or a mandolin, shave the celery root into long, thin slices. Cut the celery root slices into thick ribbons and place in a bowl of cold water.To Finish:Add the celery root to the turkey sauce and season with salt and pepper. Cook on medium high heat for 10 minutes or until the celery root is soft. Transfer the Ragu from the Dutch oven to a large serving bowl and top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and torn basil leaves.

Mashed Cauliflower



    • 1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
    • 2 tbsp light cream cheese
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • Pinch, ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
    • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
    • Olive oil to taste
    • Fresh ground black pepper


Baking Directions:

In a large pot of boiling salted water add the cauliflower and cook for about 5 minutes, until tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cauliflower and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add the light cream cheese, garlic, nutmeg, salt and cheese to the cauliflower. Blend all the ingredients until smooth and fluffy. Using a spatula, place the cauliflower in a bowl and top with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and pepper and serve.