Yule sides

We're having a holiday party," says your good friend.

"Great," you say. "What can I bring?"

"Just yourself," she says.

"No, really," you insist.

"OK, how about a side dish or a dessert?" she concedes.

"No problem," you say. No problem? A side dish? A dessert? Which? How long will it take to make? You panic, thinking: I have a zillion things to do this time of year and cooking (or more cooking) isn't one of them!

You can stay calm. We've solved your holiday crisis: Here we offer you two easy-to-make side dishes, plus two fabulous (as well as fast and easy) desserts that are perfect for any party you're going to -- or giving. All of these savory sides and desserts cook on top of the stove. That means you can make any of them while your turkey or brisket browns in the oven. And, since all are low in calories and fat, bringing (or serving) one of these dishes ensures that at least some fare at your holiday buffet table will be healthy. Quick, tasty, low fat, festive and comforting -- all the ingredients you need for a fine holiday course, or season.

Ask the chef

What can I bring to a holiday party in a real pinch -- something that takes less than five minutes to make?

You have to work late or friends drop by unexpectedly or the kids get sick or the dog ate the real dish you were supposed to bring. Whatever the case, it's party time and you have no side dish or dessert. When that happens, here are five solutions:

3 Superfast sides

* Saute 2 pints of cherry tomatoes in a nonstick skillet with a tad (about 4 teaspoons) of olive oil and a clove of minced garlic. Toss with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with chopped parsley (dried, from the jar is just fine). Serve warm. Serves 4. Per serving: 49 calories, 31% fat (1.7 g; 0.2 g saturated), 56% carbs (9 g), 13% protein (2 g), 2 g fiber.

* Cook a 10-ounce package each of frozen broccoli florets and cauliflower according to package directions, and toss with store-bought pesto. Serves 4. Per serving (with 2 tablespoons pesto): 72 calories, 50% fat (4 g; 0.7 g saturated), 38% carbs (7 g), 12% protein (4 g), 4 g fiber.

* Stop off at a fast-food outlet and buy a pint of hot mashed potatoes. Blend in several drops of extra-virgin olive oil, some coarse salt, a pinch of nutmeg and freshly ground black pepper before serving. Sshhhhh! Serves 4. Per serving (with 1/2 teaspoon oil): 117 calories, 39% fat (5 g; 1.2 g saturated), 54% carbs (18 g), 7% protein (2 g), 2 g fiber.

2 Last-resort desserts

* Cut store-bought angel food cake into thin slices. Top with 2 tablespoons each nonfat vanilla yogurt and thawed frozen raspberries in syrup. Serves 12. Per serving: 132 calories, 1% fat (0.1 g; .01 g saturated), 89% carbs (28 g), 10% protein (3 g), 1 g fiber.

* Toss 3 cups fresh or canned pineapple chunks in a bowl with a splash of dark rum. Chill and serve topped with toasted sweetened coconut. Serves 6. Per serving: 58 calories, 16% fat (1 g; 0.6 g saturated), 81% carbs (11 g), 3% protein (0.4 g), 1 g fiber.

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