Go light with a winter salad

In holiday seasons past, I've spent the last few weeks of the year on a baking and party-going binge. My yoga mat gathered dust in the corner as I nibbled on too much cookie dough and ate far too much foie gras (a French holiday tradition -- even the fast food burger chain Quick offered slabs of foie gras on its burgers for a limited time in December), washed down with Champagne.

I kept thinking that I could just say no, but I couldn't. Wouldn't.

Pass up Hugo & Victor's gooey salty caramel-filled chocolates? Deny myself a second helping of gratin dauphinois? Not a chance.

Just as it makes no sense to begin a diet or a new exercise routine in the middle of the week, I reasoned that trying to eat healthier in the midst of the festive Frenchified feasting was an equally silly notion. I'd just wait until the next month, I told myself, to push back from the table.

Now, here we are. Hello, January.

Like many people, I wrote, "eat healthier" as one of my New Year's resolutions, but that sounds about as interesting as "good for you," doesn't it?

Enter -- ta-da! -- winter salads. Not those wimpy, wispy things that no matter what you heap on top of them, they always disappoint, leaving you wanting more. I'm talking about seasonal, fresh salads that work as impressive sides or paired with a soup for a light dinner.

The key is to let what's available determine what your salad will be and not try to re-create your favorite light salad in the middle of winter, when most of the ingredients aren't available.

To me, a salad isn't narrowly defined by a combination of lettuce and other ingredients. It can simply be veggies and fruits, or some combination thereof, with or without its leafy counterpart. That way, eating a salad with a soup can actually be -- dare I say it? -- satisfying and even fun.

Oh, yes, and I almost forgot -- good for you, too.

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef. Read her blog and watch her cooking videos on You can also follow her on Twitter:

Roasted butternut squash, spinach and bacon salad

I love butternut squash. Its cheery color brightens up gray winter days and its sweet flavor pairs nicely with so many things -- including spinach and bacon. I used goat cheese, but you may swap out feta or blue, too.

4 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

2 slices bacon, crumbled

5 ounces baby spinach

Apple cider vinaigrette, recipe follows

2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat oven to broil. Roast the butternut squash on a foil-lined cookie sheet (I do this for easy cleanup), lay out the squash, and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss with your hands and make sure all the pieces are evenly coated, then sprinkle a bit of sea salt and pepper over it all. Slide into the oven for about 15 minutes, checking and turning the pan if necessary. Remove when the edges start to brown.

2. Assemble the salad. Put the spinach in a large bowl, add the warm squash pieces (see note) and bacon, and drizzle some of the vinaigrette on top and toss. (You may not need all of the vinaigrette.) Add the goat cheese and serve.

Note: Butternut squash pieces can also be room temperature or cool.

Nutritional analysis per appetizer portion, without vinaigrette: 183 calories, 10 grams fat, 18 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 18 milligrams cholesterol, 133 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 47 percent of calories from fat.

Apple cider vinaigrette

1 shallot, minced

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1/2 cup grapeseed oil

Sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

1. In a small bowl or jam jar, add the shallot, apple cider vinegar and grainy mustard. Mix together and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Add grapeseed oil and a pinch of sea salt and pepper, and taste for seasonings.

Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 166 calories, 18 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 34 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 97 percent of calories from fat.

Brussels sprouts salad with red onion and pecorino

I found this recipe on the website after I'd seen another Brussels sprouts salad recipe elsewhere and had earmarked it to try. Both recipes had a salty cheese, but I loved the idea of using pecorino Romano. This salad will likely convert the Brussels sprouts haters in your life.

1/2 small red onion

Juice of 1 lemon, about 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard

Sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil

6 cups Brussels sprouts (about 20-25 sprouts)

1 cup grated pecorino Romano

1. Slice the red onion on a mandoline, if you have one -- you want these as thin as you can make them -- and put the slices in a bowl of cold water for 15-20 minutes, while you make the rest of the salad.

2. In a small bowl or in a jam jar, mix together the lemon juice, honey, mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper. Let rest for 10 minutes, then mix in the olive oil. Set aside.

3. Trim the ends off of the Brussels sprouts, and again using your mandoline and on the thinnest option possible, slice the sprouts one at a time. You should have a very fine, delicate slaw.

4. Put the shredded sprouts in a large bowl, add the cheese and onions, and toss with the dressing. Serve immediately -- you don't want the sprouts to wilt.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 6: 211 calories, 15 grams fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, 19 milligrams cholesterol, 314 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 59 percent of calories from fat.

Pear, avocado and endive salad with lime-cilantro vinaigrette

This is a wonderfully light salad for cold days. It's lovely alongside anything, really -- with a hearty beef stew, a pot roast, or roasted chicken.

1 large pear, cored, peeled and sliced into 1-inch cubes

1 large avocado, cubed

2 medium endives, sliced

Lime-cilantro vinaigrette, recipe follows

Cilantro, for garnish (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, gently toss the pear, avocado and endive with the lime-cilantro vinaigrette. Add cilantro for garnish, if you'd like. Serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per serving, without vinaigrette: 254 calories, 16 grams fat, 29 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, no cholesterol, 66 milligrams sodium, 12 grams dietary fiber, 52 percent of calories from fat.

Lime-cilantro vinaigrette

1 tablespoons shallots, minced

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Juice of 1 lime and zest

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

2/3 cup grapeseed oil

1. Put shallots, rice wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, lime juice and zest, soy sauce and cilantro in a jam jar or other sealed container, give it a shake, and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Add the grapeseed oil and shake again. Give it a taste. You may want to add a bit more lime juice or soy sauce.

Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 165 calories, 18 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 51 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 97 percent of calories from fat.