Monday, December 27, 2010

Sick of snowflakes? Try some pancakes.

Today I’m working from my home office (and by home office I mean an Ikea desk in my bedroom). Nonetheless, as you can see, Long Island is a mess of blizzard-like winds, 3-foot snowdrifts and emergency salt vehicles. What a lovely end to the Christmas holiday!

Since I’m stranded here in Suffolk County, why not make a kick-ass breakfast and relax on the couch for a few hours? Allow me to introduce, CRANBERRY ORANGE PANCAKES. This breakfast was inspired by “what the heck can I come up with to eat from what’s hanging out in my fridge?”

One of the latest Food Network Mags has a little pullout booklet with 50 different pancake recipes to try. Of course, I must 1-up the Food Network by coming up with a recipe they don’t include in the booklet (take that!).

I did however use their whole-wheat pancake recipe as a starting point. I had some frozen cranberries leftover from this summer’s CRANBERRY ZUCCHINI MUFFINS and one lone orange I bought a few days ago for God-knows-what.

This was a great breakfast. The pancake is super fluffy. Since the batter is made with half whole-wheat flour, they’re slightly more dense than a garden variety pancake, but that just makes them a little more stick-to-your-ribs filling.

I love the combination of cranberry and orange. The orange zest adds a slight hint of citrus freshness. I use whole cranberries so when you cut into the pancake, you get a burst of tart fruit to counteract the sweetness of whatever syrup you pour on top.

I’m not sure if I ever mentioned this, but I found out that I was Hypoglycemic by eating maple syrup. Every Sunday morning my husband would whip up a batch of pancakes or waffles and I’d slather them in full-sugar maple syrup.

About an hour later, we’d be out running errands and I would turn into a complete psycho. My off-the-charts crazy behavior very strongly resembled that of Jekyll and Hyde. It got to be a standing joke. We’d call them “syrup attacks.” “Watch out for Trish, she just ate a pancake!” You get the idea.

Finally my doc pinpointed the problem and I’ve now sworn off maple syrup. I stick to the sugar-free stuff. It isn’t all natural (boo) and it isn’t quite the same consistency, but sugar free syrup has come along way in the last few years. It certainly isn’t worth the after effects of eating the real stuff.

So, make yourself a few turkey sausage links, warm some syrup (I won’t judge if you grab good old Aunt Jemima), and watch the snow fall…and fall…and fall.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Pancakes on Foodista

Monday, December 13, 2010

Et Tu Tofu?

Poor tofu. It has such a bad rep for being a bland and boring animal protein alternative only eaten by the same tree-hugging hipster types that drive hybrid cars. I told someone I made a delicious Caesar salad from tofu and their reaction was “well, that sounds interesting.” That someone was my Mom. Thanks Mom, but “interesting” in this case can easily be translated to “what the hell were you thinking?”

I’m here to support poor neglected tofu on its mission to become a widely accepted source of healthy vegetable protein. What I like best about tofu is its chameleon-esque ability to transform into whatever you want it to be. It takes on the flavors of whatever sauce, spice or marinade you’re using in your dish.

I came across this recipe for a TOFU CAESAR SALAD in Food & Wine mag. I thought it was such a clever use of the ingredient. Silken tofu is used as the base for a creamy Caesar salad dressing instead of mayonnaise. Firm tofu is pan fried in vegetable oil to stand in for traditional bread croutons.

It may sound a little odd. But this dressing is genius. I love creamy dressings, but I almost always shy away from them because of the exorbitant fat content. Not only does this recipe eliminate a ton of the saturated fat, but it also adds a boost of protein that helps to keep you full longer. The addition of tofu turns a side salad into a main dish.

A few quick tips about frying tofu:

1 - Make sure the tofu is as dry as possible. Before I cut the block into cubes, I wrapped the tofu in paper towels and pressed it between two plates to drain out most of the moisture.

2 - Use a very shallow layer of vegetable oil in the frying pan and made sure to drain the “croutons” really well on paper towels after cooking. Salt them right after they come out of the oil so the salt sticks.

3 - This may seem like a great leftover-friendly meal, but it’s really best in a make-and-eat setting.

Give tofu a chance to play with the grown ups. It’s a great alternative to the tried and true chicken breast.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Tofu on Foodista

Monday, December 6, 2010

BNS Soup: Big on Taste, Low in Cals

The holiday season has come crashing down on us. Not only are wallets getting emptier and emptier, but pants are getting tighter and tighter. I have three different food magazines sitting on my desk right now. Cakes and cookies and wine, oh my! A huge glossy photo of a chocolate torte is staring at me while I’m trying to brainstorm what to say about vegetables. I had to turn the magazine over. Problem solved.

Holiday eating is the best. It’s the only time of year I say to myself, it’s Christmas! One cookie won’t kill you! The reality is that one cookie is never one cookie. I’m lucky if I can stop at three. And those 2 pounds that creep on over Thanksgiving quickly turn into 6 by the New Year.

So, if you happen to be looking for a special occasion, veggie-based appetizer for your holiday meal, check out this BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP. I love squash soups for the simple fact that they give the illusion of a creamy, rich and indulgent meal starter. In reality, they’re basically just pureed vegetables.

I’m picky about my butternut squash soup. Some are too sweet. Some are too baby food-like. This one is thin enough to satisfy a “soupy” consistency and it isn’t terribly sweet. I like the addition of an Italian sausage link to give the final product a little more depth. If you’re serving a vegetarian, obviously just scratch the pork.

I think this soup would look fancy on a holiday table. It’s hearty and warming, but light in calories. I like to serve mine with a dollop of light sour cream. Please refer back to any post where I’ve mentioned my Hungarian roots and how sour cream should basically go on everything.

Eat, drink and be merry!

Butternut Squash on Foodista

Monday, November 29, 2010

Guest Blog Spot: Stock your Holiday Cookie Jar

I'm proud to introduce a guest blogger this week. No, I'm not getting lazy. My friend Cynthia is such a star Diet It Up supporter that she surprised me by making a batch of blog worthy cookies. They were superb and just over 100 calories each. I thought it would be fun to let her tell you all about them. A little shameless pat on the back never hurt anyone! Enjoy.

Fabulous. That is my favorite word to describe my friend Trish. From our holiday ‘dad’ texts to our mid-work phone calls, Trish and I go back…way back. The great thing about old friends is the way we’ve watched each other grow up into the adults we have become. And while we usually deny our adulthood (who doesn’t relish in the moment the bouncer with the giant biceps asks for your ID?), at times it surprises us more than we’d like.

So yes, now that adulthood has come, one of the things I’ve noticed is my body’s inability to bounce back. And I am not just talking about the hangovers that occur after those rare nights we still stay out ‘til 2am. I am talking about the ins and outs of daily life…the cookies in the office for my colleague’s birthday…the nights catching up with friends over succulent Mexican/Thai/Italian dishes…the Sunday afternoons spent watching football over a plateful of wings and blue cheese dressing. I feel like every day brings new occasions for wonderful foodilicious opportunities. (heyyyy, Microsoft Word says foodilicious isn’t a real word, but who are they kidding? I am sure you all know what I am talking about!) Anyway, back to what I was saying…these foodilicious delicacies are not just a memory when I wake up the next morning. No way, no how. They stick around in more ways than one: on the hips, on the scale, and unfortunately, in the doctor’s office. The question is, what’s a girl like me to do?

This question is what brings me back to Ms. Fabulous. Yup, Trish is just that. She has introduced me to a new way to look at staying healthy. Not just counting points, obsessing over the scale, or running ‘til I want to throw my Sauconys into a bonfire. Not only does this fab chick know how to make some healthy food, but it tastes awesome too. How she finds time to do the cooking (do they let you bring an oven on the LIRR?) I will never know, but everything she makes turns out amazing.

So yes, here is one of my recent Trish-inspired recipes. Last weekend, we had our Annual Pre-Thanksgiving get together at Di and Marc’s. We always look forward to this night, and I really wanted to surprise Trish with her B-Day coming up and all. (That’s right, say Happy Birthday to the foodie!) I found this recipe online for BLUEBERRY & WHITE CHOCOLATE CHUNK GINGER COOKIES. They were the perfect surprise ending to a wonderful night to kick off the holiday season. Try them out and they are sure to be a hit! And remember the old adage…Make new friends, but keep the old…One is silver, and the other gold.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

“Squash” those holiday calories with Pumpkin Pudding!

I love all things pumpkin. Too bad 99% of those things are dessert. Man, I’m a sucker for dessert! Over the weekend, I tried my best to create a Diet It Up worthy Light Pumpkin Pie. Unfortunately, my efforts failed miserably. Light pie crust is an oxymoron. Butter and flour join forces to make pie crust a tender, flaky experience. Whole wheat flour and margarine do not. So, where does that leave me? I want some pumpkin pie!

My second thought was to make a pumpkin mousse. But what makes up the base of a delicious mousse? Heavy Cream. Foiled again! I decided to experiment with a PUMPKIN PUDDING. Don’t let the name fool you. This is much fancier than those pre-portioned diet pudding cups at the supermarket. I made the mistake of trying Jello’s Mousse Temptations once. Never again.

So, the dessert starts with fat-free, sugar-free vanilla pudding. I make it slightly less fat-free by preparing the pudding with 1% milk to give the finished product a little body. I stir in a can of pure pumpkin, spice it up with your classic pumpkin pie spice, a little honey for some sweetness, fold in Lite Cool Whip and bingo, bango, a delicious pumpkin dessert.

Let’s chat about pumpkin pie spice for one second. Don’t buy it. It’s silly. I’m taking a tip from Alton Brown here and not spending my hard earned bucks on something that is NOT a valuable multi-tasker. Mix together 1 tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp ginger and 1/8 tsp cloves. Keep the mixture on hand and measure it out according to the recipe you’re using. This way you don’t end up with a jar of spice that will make 30 pumpkin pies and you can use the individual spices for other culinary masterpieces.

I spooned the pudding into some martini glasses for a little added fanciness. I topped the glasses with Reddi Wip. I happen to think Cool Whip tastes pretty funky. I only use it for texture and prefer real whipped cream if I’m going to really taste it. A little garnish of toasted pecans gave the dessert a much needed crunch.

I hate to toot my own horn (who am I kidding, of course I do!), but I kind of loved this. It’s really light. It tastes like pumpkin pie, but you don’t have to skip a meal to have enough calories in your day to enjoy it. Plus, it looks festive enough to put on the Thanksgiving table. Pumpkin pie, you’ve been dethroned!

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Pumpkin on Foodista

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Recipe Slimdown #2: Pumpkin Bread

One of my fabulous readers sent me a challenge to diet-up her family’s legendary pumpkin bread recipe. Family recipes are like the holy grail of cooking. I’ve tried my best to do Peggy’s family proud!

Q: “I've been making Pumpkin Bread every Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past 32 years. My whole family LOVES it. Every year someone asks for the recipe to pass along to a friend. When I typed it up this year I stopped to think about the ingredients and thought, wow, a lot of sugar and fat, oh well, only 2x a year. If you could find a way for me to make it with less sugar and fat I would be forever grateful. Thanks, Peggy.”

A: Well Peggy, bravo to you for noticing the extra fat and calories! Just paying attention to what goes into your favorite recipes is such a huge feat. Sometimes, I go on auto pilot and start dumping ingredients into the bowl without even noticing it. I’m a traditionalist at heart and I say, if you’re only making this once or twice a year for a special occasion, go for the gusto and give your family what they’re really craving. Just send the leftovers home with your guests so you don’t overindulge.

But, I happen to LOVE pumpkin bread. Two times a year just isn’t enough for me! I would like to be able to swap out my tired scrambled eggs in the morning for a fall-flavored breakfast. You inspired me to dig through my recipe books and come up with my own alternative.

My first complaint about pumpkin bread recipes is that they always make more than one loaf. What the heck am I going to do with three loaves of bread? My husband and I would be eating it until the 4th of July! I knew I wanted a recipe that only makes one loaf at a time. This way, I can enjoy it for a week and then move on to something else. By changing up my breakfasts and snacks, I stay interested in the healthy choices and can resist the urge to bust open a bag of candy corn.

I guarantee that Peggy’s original recipe is delicious. How can bread made with rich shortening, tons of white sugar and white flour be anything but amazing? All things “white” generally spell trouble for the blood sugar conscious. I remembered making Ellie Krieger’s pumpkin muffins last year and loving them. I made a few alterations and transformed the muffins into delicious pumpkin bread, minus the “white.”

THIS RECIPE uses half white flour and half whole wheat flour. The whole wheat adds a little fiber to the bread without making it heavy or weighed down. White sugar is completely absent from the recipe. Instead, brown sugar and molasses are used as sweeteners. Both are thought to have a more minimal affect on blood sugar spikes than regular white table sugar.

I couldn’t believe how moist this came out and there really isn’t much fat at all. There’s only 1/4 cup of canola oil in the entire recipe. The rest of the moisture comes from low fat buttermilk. Move over shortening, we don’t need you here!

I use a few different spices that aren’t quite typical in pumpkin bread. On top of the cinnamon and nutmeg, I also added clove and ginger. I really love the result. It was still pumpkin bread, but the taste was teetering on the edge of spice cake. If you prefer a more typical spice mixture, by all means, stick with you favorite.

I was thrilled with how this turned out; a solid alternative to the original fan favorite. I would even be brave enough to serve this right alongside the gobble.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Pumpkin on Foodista

Friday, October 1, 2010

“Last Hoorah” Greek Cookout

Fall is quickly closing in on us in New York, but this past weekend we were graced with enough lingering warmth to squeeze in one final cookout. Sadly, I've been knocked out of the FoodBuzz competetion. Boo! But, I happen to think the challenges are pretty cool and I'm going to write about some of them anyway. Take that! The next round was to host a luxury dinner party that introduces guests to new and exciting culinary phenomenon.

My numero uno, most important entertaining tip is to host a party that fits the occasion. You certainly wouldn’t invite people over for a luxurious four course, wine-paired meal for your German Shepherd’s third birthday. My husband and I are big-time football fans (go Jets!) and our friends were joining us for the game. Why not officially close out summer with one last BBQ? It might be hard to attach the word “luxurious” to a laid back Sunday cookout, but tossing some meat on the grill seemed like the perfect game plan.

In order to understand this post, you need to understand my friends. Diana and Marc are absolute sweethearts and I love them both dearly, but this adventurous eating craze is brand new to them. Their top two favorite foods are still holding steady at ketchup and Cadbury Cream Eggs. You get the picture. I tried to come up with a menu that was adventurous enough for my company, but wouldn’t completely freak them out.

By the time September rolls around, I don’t want to see one more hamburger, hot dog or dish of potato salad, so I went with the following Greek-inspired menu:

The MARINATED LAMB KEBABS are killer. I use non-fat plain Greek yogurt for the base and mix in a whole bunch of lemon and thyme. The yogurt helps to tenderize the meat and gives the lamb a tangy zip. Definitely grill the kebabs to medium rare. That will help the little cubes of meat stay nice and juicy.

The yogurt that didn’t make it into the marinade went towards a quick tzatziki sauce. Some Greek yogurt sauces use mint, but I happen to love dill. Up until a few weeks ago, it never occurred to me that dill pickles get their taste from the dill herb. Super, major DUH moment on my part. I love pickles. Now I love dill too! The cucumber in the sauce adds the perfect little crunch on top of the tender meat.

Also joining the kebab party are mixed veggie skewers. Maybe I’m just a sucker for grilled things, but some simple olive oil, salt and pepper was all they needed. To finish it off, I went with one of my favorite go-to salad recipes, TABBOULEH. The dressing on the tabbouleh ties together the lemon in the marinade with the cucumber in the sauce. It was the perfect co-star.

In comparison to the hamburger and hotdog counterpart to this grill-fest, my Greek themed menu is extremely healthy. The marinade/grill combo is one of my favorite ways to add huge bursts of flavor without needing to cover something in a heavy traditional barbeque sauce or globs of ketchup (sorry Diana!).

After sitting through a quick photo shoot, I finally let my friends dig in. Even my lamb skeptics were impressed. I made some chicken skewers as a back-up plan, and to my surprise and excitement, didn’t need to resort to Plan B! Sweet! We ended the meal with Diana’s amazingly decadent Caramel Chunk Brownies. I’ll just tell you how good they were because photo evidence would be too damn tempting!

Hosts put a lot of stress into throwing the perfect dinner party. But really, what’s a party anyway? Spending time with some of my closest friends, enjoying delicious food and sipping a favorite wine? Sign me up. As the cook, a successful party means knowing that I served my pals an awesome plate of food with a side order of my awesome personality (sarcasm often included)!

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Empanadas: a pocket full of Cuban flavor

I’ve been lucky enough to make it through round one of the Project Food Blog competition. Needless to say, I’m pumped! This week we’ve been asked to embrace another culture and take on the challenge of recreating a classic ethnic dish. I’m a half Italian (hooray for Lasagna) and half Hungarian (bring on the sour cream) girl, so Cuban food isn’t exactly something I have any life long experience with.

My husband is half Cuban. On Christmas Eve instead of celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes that every Italian kid was part of, his family makes pernil (slow roast pork) black beans and rice and platanos maduros (fried sweet bananas). I was a total skeptic, bratty even. How’s it going to feel like Christmas Eve without everything I’m used to?

After the first bite, I immediately dropped my reservations. There’s something about a hearty bowl of black beans and rice that can make an outsider instantly feel like family. Cuban food is just plain comforting. You can feel the love in it. I thought this contest would be a cool opportunity to take a stab at recreating some of the flavors from my husband’s childhood. Operation “learn to be a respectable honorary Cuban” is on!

It was pretty tricky to find a classic Cuban meal that fits into the Diet It Up philosophy. Fried bananas and white rice are not exactly staples in my diet. I remember hearing about Grandma’s Ropa Vieja. Ropa Vieja is a tomato based Cuban beef stew and it literally means, “old clothes.” Who came up with a silly name like that? So, I did a little research. Since the stew is made of shredded beef and thin slices of peppers and onions, the resulting dish looks like a mess of shredded old rags. Ah ha! Very clever!

“Authentic” is a tricky word to master in ethnic cooking. Food is inherently regional. In the US, some people put mustard on their hamburger. But here in NY, if you send a burger out of the kitchen with mustard, we’re sending it right back. Some variations on Ropa Vieja use flank steak. Grandma used chuck roast so, I’m going with chuck.

The roast is browned and then slowly braised in a Dutch oven. If you want to hop on the American crock-pot bandwagon, you can certainly make the roast in the crock-pot. I normally shy away from fatty cuts like chuck, but you need the moisture. It helps the meat to shred nicely. I don’t trim any of the fat before cooking. I let the meat cool in the braising liquid and skim off any grease that collects on top. I also remove any remaining fatty bits from the meat while shredding.

The stew is finished with a rich, tomato based sauce laced with sautéed green peppers and onions. A true Cuban would serve a scoop of stew with yellow rice. I would of course go with brown rice. But no matter what your rice preference, Ropa Vieja is an amazingly flavorful Cuban dinner. The slow-cooked element really secures that classic Cuban feel.

But isn’t this supposed to be a recipe for empanadas, you ask? I took the leftover stew and transformed it into ROPA VIEJA EMPANADAS. Who’s the clever one now?! If you aren’t familiar with them, empanadas are stuffed, crescent-shaped pastries. Cuban empanadas are typically filled with meat and then deep-fried. They can be eaten for lunch or as a mid-day snack.

I took a short cut from the American supermarket and bought the dough pre-made. Goya makes “discos” in the frozen food aisle that work just as well as making dough from scratch. But if you have a favorite pastry dough recipe, by all means, put it to good use here. Once the dough is filled with stew, I crimp the pockets closed to form the classic crescent shape. I’m breaking from tradition slightly to bake instead of fry. Sorry Grandma, it had to be done.

After just a few minutes in the oven, the pastry dough puffs up and turns a beautiful golden brown. Even without frying, the dough is still flaky and the stew stays nice and juicy on the inside. For a health conscious eater, empanadas are pre-portioned. I’ll eat one for lunch and won’t be tempted to go back and scoop a second portion. This really is the perfect Cuban meal to-go. We gobbled them up in a few minutes flat.

I may not be a little Cuban grandma, but I know I did my husband’s family proud with this meal. It was authentic and delicious. I might have even earned the highly regarded “honorary Cuban” status after all!

* Voting opens on Monday, September 27th on FoodBuzz. Remember to vote for your favorite healthy home cook, me!

Empanada on Foodista

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thanks to all!

Thanks to all my FABULOUS supporters who voted for my blog to advance in the FoodBuzz contest. I've been chosen to move on to the next round! Stay tuned for the contest's next post.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Let the apple season begin!

Fall is almost here and along with the temperature drop comes some of my favorite fall-themed activities; football Sundays, pumpkin carving (check out my awesome creation from last year) and apple picking.

The day my husband and I decided to hit the orchard was 80-degree weather, but it was a fall activity nonetheless! I was so overzealous about picking apples from the tree that I bagged a whopping 18 1/2 pounds of them. That’s a lot of pie!

I did make one apple pie. The recipe called for 5 apples…only 30 to go. Yeesh.

I found this recipe for APPLE WALNUT MUFFINS in my old South Beach Diet cookbook and modified it slightly. I will warn you, these are dense muffins. I can eat one for breakfast and be perfectly full for a few hours. Don’t expect a Dunkin Donuts-style muffin with those crunchy sugar crystals on top. You’re gonna want to pop these guys in the toaster and top them with a little light butter.

I did learn something when making these. The recipe calls for ¾ cup of buttermilk. I hate buying buttermilk from the supermarket. I always use a few splashes in a recipe and end up dumping the rest after it sits forgotten in the back of my fridge for a few weeks. Did you know that you can make buttermilk at home from skim milk and some vinegar? Who knew? God bless Google.

With that said, I like a hearty muffin. The chunks of apple running through give them just enough moisture and sweetness. They go great with a cup of coffee. I actually had one before my workout on Saturday morning and thought it was the perfect little carb boost to get through an exercise class. Without any white flour, white sugar or excessive amounts of oil you won’t feel guilty taking a break from egg beaters and eating something that feels a little more indulgent.

So, embrace the season. Find an apple orchard. Pick to your hearts content. Come home and whip up some breakfast for the next morning.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Muffin on Foodista

Monday, September 20, 2010

Vote For Me (because I like winning things)!

Just a reminder to click over to FoodBuzz and vote for yours truly to be the Next Food Blog Star. VOTE NOW!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Story of Me, Featuring Tomato Soup!

I’ve been hosting this blog for almost a year now and I don’t think I’ve ever really shared why I started it in the first place. I came across the Project Food Blog competition hosted by Foodbuzz and thought I would enter. What the heck. If anything, it gives me a chance to share the story about who I am and why I’m so passionate about healthy cooking.

First of all, this isn’t a sob story. I’m not going to sit here and write about how I used to be a chubby, picked-on ugly ducking who transformed into a swan. Truth be told, I wasn’t picked on. I always had plenty of friends and family who didn’t really care if I was a little fluffier than your average kid. They wanted to be around me anyway. But the chubby part, that happens to be true. You’ll never catch me using the “F” word. As “fat” as I might feel on my worst day, I don’t support using adjectives that are designed to make the recipient feel bad about themselves, even If that recipient is yours truly. That’s not how I roll.

I don’t think my extra bit of “meat” really started bothering me until high school. Even then, it didn’t stop me from much. I had an adoring boyfriend (who I later married) and I excelled in school. But, I did start to feel the pressure of looking like your typical Barbie Doll high school kid and gradually became more and more unhappy and withdrawn. A vicious cycle of bruised self esteem and indulgent overeating had begun. *See extreme grumpy face below.

It wasn’t until college that I decided to change my life; new school, fresh start. I signed up for Weight Watchers with Mom as my sidekick and we were down right religious about following the program. We must have driven the rest of the family bonkers with our compulsive food measuring and journal writing. It took an entire year, but I managed to lose almost 75 pounds; all on my own with sheer willpower to thank. I could finally go shopping with my friends at the mall. I could finally fit in regular clothes. I cut my hair and changed my attitude. I walked a little taller and smiled a little brighter. People definitely took notice. *Please note a much happier face follows.
I attribute my entire personality to who I became that year. I was finally uninhibited by self hate and could be who I wanted to be. I will argue with ANYONE who thinks that people can’t change. Every day is a new opportunity to reinvent yourself. I’ve managed to keep the weight off for almost ten years, but not without a struggle. I recently found out that I suffer from a blood sugar condition that requires taking medication twice a day. It felt like another huge life setback.

So, I’ve abandoned the confines of a “diet” and adapted my entire lifestyle. I love food! I’m not about to eat those wretched frozen diet meals or munch on carrot sticks 24/7! That’s just not living! Above all, I love to cook. I found myself saying “I can diet this up!” ALL the time. That’s where the Diet It Up concept began. By subbing out a few ingredients or changing a cooking method you can really slim down a meal. “Dieters” can still cook and eat delicious food. It may sound simple, but it works.

This past weekend I made a huge pot of TOMATO SOUP WITH ASIAGO CHEESE CROUTONS. The air was breezy and cool and I wanted a little comfort food to warm up to. Tomato soup is a classic. But old fashioned Campbell’s canned tomato contains high fructose corn syrup (my blood sugar enemy) along with a hefty serving of salt. By making the soup at home, you can swap out a bit of brown sugar for the corn syrup. I add just enough to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes. You can also control how much salt to add.

I use canned tomatoes for this recipe. I finally broke down and bought the San Marzano crushed tomatoes from Whole Foods for almost $4 per can. I was skeptical, but they were well worth it. They actually tasted richer and more “tomato-y” than supermarket brands. By adding a handful of fresh basil and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper (I like it spicy), you gain back the freshness factor that may have been lost in the can. There’s no butter or cream in this recipe, just simmered down vegetables pureed to a silky smooth texture.

The most logical pairing for tomato soup is grilled cheese. Oozy, melted cheese nestled between two slices of white bread. I was certainly tempted. But, I opted for croutons instead. I baked-up some day-old whole wheat ciabatta and gave the croutons a light dusting of grated asiago cheese. The crunchiness of the croutons and subtle saltiness of the cheese was just what I was looking for without the overwhelming calorie investment.

I think I deserve a shot at this Project Food Blog Contest. To me, cooking is an art. It’s much easier for an artist to work with a full fat palette. It’s a cinch to create a delicious dish using the richest, most flavorful ingredients. Healthy cooking is like painting with only half the color wheel. It’s infinitely more challenging to take fewer, simpler ingredients and still make them shine. My food shines. I’m proud of my work. People enjoy what I create and I can only hope they like hearing what I have to say too. I want to inspire people to change how they feel about “diet food.” Cooking a great meal or two along the way is simply icing on the cake (or at least the cupcake).

* Check out FoodBuzz to vote for me (because I like winning things)! Voting starts Sept. 20th.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Flex Your Beer Mussels

My apologies for being off the blogging radar lately. It’s been one busy end of summer! A few weeks ago I went to the Craft Beer Festival on the East End of Long Island (which was a beautiful day chock full of delicious craft brews) and I was inspired to come up with a dish using one of the new beers I learned about. My bro would be quite proud of me considering he runs a fabulous beer and food blog. I actually snatched this idea from him. Very sneaky.

The beer I chose to feature in this dish is the Heavy Seas Loose Canon American Hop3 Ale. I usually shy away from hoppy IPA-style beers, but this one is extremely smooth. It doesn’t have that bitter bite at the end. Plus, the flavor is strong enough to punch up the taste of the dish even after the alcohol has cooked away. Since mussels are Belgium’s specialty, a Belgian beer would be the obvious choice. But hey, we’re American after all so why not let the U. S. of A. take a stab at this one.

I’m serving these BEER MUSSELS as a main dish with a crunchy whole wheat crostini on the side (for dunking in the broth). For the crostini, I lightly brushed slices of whole wheat ciabatta bread with olive oil, sprinkled with parm cheese and a little kosher salt and baked on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. Classic mussel pots are often served with frites and mayonnaise on the side. Instead, I’m beefing-up the seafood portion and leaving the fries and mayo out of it. You don’t need the extra fried and fat calories tagging along.

I learned another important tip while creating this dinner. I added a mixture of crème fraiche and dijon mustard to the steaming pot to give the broth a little more richness and body. My initial instinct was to sub light sour cream for the crème fraiche. News flash: you can’t boil sour cream. You can warm it, but once it boils it starts to separate. It won’t hurt you, but it doesn’t look pretty. Go for the crème fraiche. You can boil it right along with the mussels without fear of clumping.

I flavor the steaming liquid with fresh tarragon. Tarragon pairs really nicely with seafood and especially well with the hint of Dijon. The beer adds some depth to the broth. These flavors, along with the liquid that’s released from the mussels, are pretty bold. Certainly not your average wimpy steamed mussels. They have character. Beer character.

As a Diet It Up meal, I cut out all of the butter and replaced it with olive oil. Instead of sprinkling the whole pot of mussels with croutons, I opted for one or two slices of whole wheat crostini per person. The crème fraiche and beer are certainly splurge ingredients, but the portions are limited. The recipe makes so much broth that you aren’t eating nearly as much of these rich ingredients as you put in. To top it off, mussels are a fairly inexpensive foray into seafood. The whole 2.5 lb bag only ran me about 7 bucks.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Mussel on Foodista

Monday, August 16, 2010

Delicious Iced Coffee, No Green Apron Required

I don’t actually like regular Starbucks coffee. For my standard morning cup of joe, it’s a little too dark and bitter for my taste. I prefer Dunkin Donuts. I have a wacky recipe for preparing my coffee that includes just the right splash of milk with ¾ of a packet of splenda and sometimes a sprinkle of cinnamon. Imagine asking the poor guy behind the counter at Dunkin D to replicate this? “Excuse me maam, but you’re clearly crazy.” So, I save a few bucks a week and perk mine at home.

Once the morning has come and gone, I’m a sucker for fancy dessert coffee. Starbucks seems to do it best. Flavored lattes in the winter or cold Frappuccinos in the summer are the perfect on-the-go after dinner treats. Dessert through a straw can’t possibly be that bad for you. It’s not like eating a brownie or a slice of pie.

On the contrary! After further investigation, a Grande Mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks will pack-on almost 400 calories, 15 grams of fat and 54 grams of sugar if you stick with old fashioned whole milk and whipped cream. You can lighten-it-up a bit by subbing nonfat milk and saying “no thanks” to the whip. Either way, I was inspired to come up with my own fabulous version at home.

First off, I think the Starbucks portions are a little out of hand. Even if you opt for a tall drink, it’s still a pretty decent sized portion. For my MOCHA JAVA CHILLER, I cut back on the portion size and used ingredients that I happened to have in the house. By using light versions of the soy milk and chocolate syrup you can cut back on some of the fat and sugar. Soy milk is a little thicker than cow’s milk so it’s a great option if you’re trying to achieve a shake-like consistency.

I found the drink to be completely satisfying. It’s a sweet, refreshing summer dessert. It feels rich and creamy without really being very rich at all. There’s nothing worse than getting an ice-blended drink and all the syrup settles to the bottom and you’re left with coffee flavored ice chips. For the most part, this stayed nicely mixed. The best part is, you can whip this up in about 5 minutes at home. For us suburbanites without a Starbucks on every corner, it’s much quicker than getting in the car and driving to the store.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Coffee on Foodista

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

No Woman, No Fry

I know I’ve been writing a lot lately about the concept of baking instead of frying. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I have one more point to make on the subject. Let’s discuss the ultimate classic Italian comfort food, parmigiana. In this case, eggplant parmigiana.

I never quite understood why the eggplant in eggplant parm needs to be fried at all. The purpose of frying anything is to develop a nice crispy crust so the food crunches when you bite into it. You take the time to bread all of these little rounds of eggplant, fry them in hot oil, only to turn around and kill the crisp coating with soggy tomato sauce and globs of melted mozzarella cheese? What gives?

There’s certainly a time and a place for frying. This isn’t it. It just isn’t necessary. I’ve tried those diet cookbook attempts to make a parmigiana without the breading at all. That’s taking it a bit too far. Just cut one large eggplant into rounds. Coat them lightly in egg, then seasoned breadcrumbs and bake the slices at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes on a cookie sheet. Flip them half way through cooking so both sides brown.

I’m sure everyone’s Italian grandma has their own take on this dish. Here’s my spin. For the sauce, I mix an 8 oz. can of plain tomato sauce with 2 cups of my favorite pasta sauce. My favorite pasta sauce happens to be my own. Humble, I know. It’s the typical “Sunday gravy” type of red sauce cooked for hours with meatballs, sausage…the works. The little can of plain tomato helps thin it out a bit and disperse some of the meaty flavors.

I layer the eggplant slices with the sauce mixture in a 1-1/2 quart CorningWare baking dish and top with 1 cup of reduced fat mozzarella and 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees until the cheese is bubbling.

You’ll end up with a delicious Italian feast with plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. Serve the meal with a side salad instead of greasy garlic bread and you’ll have a stick-to-your-ribs dinner people will want you to make again and again.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Eggplant on Foodista

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Recipe Slimdown #1: Chicken Croquettes

The offer always stands to send me your favorite gut-busting recipe and I’ll take a stab at slimming it down. Here are the results of my first official recipe recreation project:

Q: “So, I'm sitting at lunch today and I had an idea for a Diet It Up version of something I ate a lot of as a kid; chicken croquettes. It was a puree of chicken with very distinctive spices, inside a crunchy shell. They used to make them at the German deli and they called them chicken balls. You could also buy them frozen (Banquet, Swanson, or Tyson used to make them)."

A: I’ll be 100% honest. Until this email, I literally had never heard of a chicken croquette. Potato croquettes? Yes. But, chicken? No way. I did some research on the subject and apparently, this was a big time 1950’s diner meal. Basically, ground chicken is mixed with a rich béchamel sauce, formed into balls, breaded and deep fried. These were often served atop a bed of mashed potatoes with thick, creamy white gravy.

Weaver used to sell chicken croquettes in the freezer case at the supermarket. The product has since been taken off the market. My guess is that most people aren’t going to invest 20 grams of fat in one little chicken ball and Weaver decided to pull them. Just my speculation.

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull off a tasty 2010 version of this classic with significantly less calories. I started with the ground chicken and spices. I used some low-fat cream of chicken soup as the base instead of the heavy butter and flour béchamel. Some seasoned breadcrumbs and an egg white helped to bind the croquette together.

I would recommend chilling the mixture for at least an hour before trying to form it into balls. When it was very cold, you could pack the meat together like a meatball. As it warmed up, it was a little harder to get them to hold together. I coated the croquettes in panko and tossed them in the oven, crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t end up with a mess of broken-up chicken slop.

Surprisingly, these CHICKEN CROQUETTES turned out great! The inside is light and fluffy and the breaded crust is crispy without the added oil from frying. I ditched the gravy and served mine with some homemade BBQ SAUCE. The BBQ was the perfect tangy, spicy complement to the chicken. I may not be lucky enough to have tried the original, but my spin on this dish was pretty darn tasty.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Holla for Jalapeños!

Are you ever in one of those moods where you just need to have the ooey, gooey, cheesy richness that can only mean Mexican food? I was having some fabulous friends of mine over for dinner a few weeks ago and I was in one of those moods. They were being fed Mexican food whether they liked it or not!

I was looking to put out a little picky snack while the steak for steak fajitas was grilling outside, so I found this recipe for Emeril’s BAKED JALAPEÑO POPPERS. I thought stuffed jalapeños would be a cool change of pace from the expected chips and salsa. Plus, I kind of wanted to test this recipe out because I thought it would be equally as great for an app during football season (which I’m super psyched is coming up quickly).

I’m pretty impressed by celeb chefs that opt to bake instead of fry. Let’s face it, a jalapeno pepper that’s filled with creamy cheese, crusted with breadcrumb and fried to a deep golden brown is basically irresistible. The fact that my buddy Emeril decided to bake these instead made me happy. It’s an easy little substitution that can save a whole lot of calories.

Emeril even opts for panko breadcrumb that he spikes with his own seasoning blend instead of the typical Italian stuff that comes pre-seasoned. Panko is definitely lighter and after making these, much crispier. I was even able to dig up the appropriate spices from the depths of my spice cabinet to make the blend. I basically followed the original recipe to a tee except for using reduced fat cream cheese instead of the full-fat version.

This was a great little Mexican themed snack. The peppers were a little spicy and I didn’t cook them to complete mush. I like when peppers have a little bite to them. The filling was rich and cheesy without the “I need to put on sweat pants and vegetate in front of the TV” effect that Mexican often has. The baked crust was nice and crispy but didn’t leave a yucky oily residue on your cocktail plate. I’m definitely going to be making these again when the Jets hit the field in the fall!

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Jalapeño Pepper on Foodista

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bye Bye Beef, Hello Portobello

For those of us who proudly call ourselves meat-eaters, we can indulge in the occasional juicy beef burger. The ground beef used in a typical burger patty is 80/20 chuck; 80% lean to 20% fat. This is one of the fattier cuts of beef out there. It absolutely produces a flavorful, tender burger patty, but you certainly don’t need me to tell you that it’s not a wise choice for a diet staple.

A popular alternative to beef is the veggie burger. A lot of the supermarket variety veggie patties in the freezer case are trying too desperately hard to taste like meat. The veggies are pureed within an inch of their life and combined with a variety of grains and fillers to mimic the taste and texture of beef. I don’t get it. I like veggie burgers. But I like them to taste like veggies. Broccoli should be proud to be broccoli and not have to wear a disguise to be accepted!

The easiest way for a veggie burger to taste like a veggie is to use the vegetable in its truest form. Hence, the Portobello mushroom. It’s burger shaped and easily absorbs whatever flavor you choose to add to it. Perfect!

I got the idea for this CHEESY PORTOBELLO BURGER WITH LEMON MAYO from watching an episode of Emeril Green on the Planet Green channel. That’s such a great show. Viewers write in with a cooking dilemma and Chef Emeril saves the day by inviting them to cook with him right in the middle of a Whole Foods market using fresh, local produce. Right up my alley.

The Portobello caps soak in a balsamic-based marinade. I would strongly recommend patting the mushrooms dry when you pull them out of their marinating bath. A soggy mushroom leads to a soggy bun and a soggy bun is NOT good eats.

The “burgers” are topped with creamy blue cheese. I know you probably want to get on my case for using full-fat blue cheese in a healthy recipe. I consider the mushroom to be a blank canvas. They’re free. You can eat as many mushrooms as you want on any diet, so the addition of blue cheese isn’t adding an obscene amount of calories to the overall dish. I will admit, I’m false advertising in the photo a bit. I tried the recipe with feta cheese for the close-up since I had it in the fridge. Go for the blue cheese, it’s totally worth it.

Emeril whips up his own fancy lemon aioli to go along with this burger. The first time I made this recipe, I tried the aioli and failed miserably. Rather than risking the loss of a ton of olive oil on round two, I doctored up some plain old mayo to make it simpler. The tangy lemon mayo sauce balances the richness of the blue cheese. Grilled red onion adds just enough sweetness and crunch.

This Portobello really gives the almighty beef burger a run for its money. Meat eater or vegetarian, give it a go.

* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.

Portobello Mushrooms on Foodista