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Traditional Holiday Treats Get a Modern Makeover with Mackenzie Piccarreto

Self-taught foodie Mackenzie Piccarreto has spent years building her food blog, creating new recipes, and preparing meals for dinner parties. Her modern twist on fresh, seasonal dishes that taste great – and happen to be healthy – is shaking up how we think about and prepare food. We sat down with Piccarreto to talk about her food journey and to get her advice on spicing up traditional holiday dishes with modern takes that are far from “bah humbug!”

Rochester Food Experience

When Rochester native Mackenzie Piccarreto first moved back to Rochester, she was “craving grass and space.” She quickly immersed herself back into the community with great appreciation for all that Upstate New York has to offer. “There has been such an explosion of incredible food, and I’m always blown away by the new restaurants and experiences that open here!” Piccarreto noted. She would be no exception.

A Knack for the Kitchen

Piccarreto always had an intuitive knack in the kitchen herself. Her mom, a naturopathic doctor, taught her early on about high-quality ingredients and how they nurture our bodies. Paired with her experience working in and around restaurants, this ultimately led her to pursue her passion for creating and serving unique combinations of flavorful ingredients.

After becoming a certified health coach through the Institute for Integrated Nutrition, Piccarreto launched a food focused blog on which she posted her experiments with different ingredients and custom recipes. She also used her platform to share thoughts and theories about food. As she recalls, “It just snowballed from there.”

Her network quickly grew to over 6,400 Instagram followers. Shortly afterward, she expanded to host unique, interactive food experiences. What started as an experimental dinner in early 2019 turned into much sought-after (and often sold out!) monthly pop-up events featuring a five-course, health-centered meal with a surprise menu held in an intimate setting. Each event incorporates seasonal ingredients with a twist, focusing on foods that make you feel good when you leave.

Her innovative concepts have expanded again with the recent opening of Crosby Lane, a bakery + market nestled in the heart of the city. Piccarreto believes healthy food doesn’t haven’t to be boring or bland, and she looks for opportunities to incorporate fun, seasonal twists into everyday dishes. During the holidays, she often turns to warm and comforting spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, while also looking for ways to add savory elements with sage, rosemary, and thyme – all of which wonderfully complement fall and winter produce.

Each of her recipes highlight local, seasonal ingredients, many of which she sources from local farms and markets in the community. Although fresh produce is harder to find when preparing holiday meals, she incorporates as many seasonal elements into her menu as possible, including apples, potatoes, pumpkin, cabbage, and various kinds of squash in the fall. She loves to make unexpected swaps with either the ingredients or the preparation – such as pears for apples or leeks for onions. “Sometimes a small change can make a big difference,” Piccarreto states.

A Creative Twist on the Holidays

While Piccarreto does not generally consider herself to be very traditional, she admits to a certain nostalgia about the holidays. She recognizes it as the opportune time to gather with people you love around great food. And that is something that she will take at any time of the year.

Growing up, Piccarreto’s family holidays were filled with many of the traditional dishes and gatherings to which most are accustomed. Piccarreto constantly looks for ways to make small changes in these classic recipes that incorporate more flavor and fun into the holiday dishes she serves. For example, consider adding pomegranate seeds to your brussels sprouts or pickling a seasonal vegetable like bell peppers, radish, or beets. As Mackenzie Piccarreto explains, “It is really about celebrating the seasonality of the food and bringing people together to enjoy it!”

Mackenzie’s Small Tips for BIG Flavor

Think about potential swaps, in either ingredients or preparation.

“Consider the purpose of something in a recipe. Things don’t have to be exact; they just need to emulate something similar to get the desired end result.”

Lean into healthy ingredients.

“This is where my brain tends to go immediately: how can I make this a bit healthier without sacrificing flavor and the overall experience? I like to use sweeteners such as coconut sugar, dates, or maple syrup. It doesn’t impact our blood sugar as much, and it also adds a nutrition boost!”

Add something unexpected.

“Like pomegranate seeds with brussel sprouts, not only does it visually brighten things up, but it adds a nice texture (who doesn’t love a crunch?) and a little acid, something almost every savory dish needs. An unexpected ingredient makes a dish unique and special.”

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