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Saturday, December 26, 2009

'Twas the Night Before New Year's

'Twas the night before New Year's and all through the fridge,
nothing in there was healthy, not even a smidge.

The holidays are over, the gorging's all done.
It's time for my New Year's resolution!

The pantry gets emptied, the cupboards cleaned out,
No more junk food for us! Keith is starting to pout.

I in my "onion goggles" -- no more tears, no more sorrow!
We're starting "A Month of Main Courses" tomorrow!

Skinny Lasagna, Prosciutto Pork, Fancy Breakfast for Dinner,
And what? It's all healthy? This book must be a winner!

A whole month of main courses that are tasty and good,
No more boredom, fad diets or food that's like wood.

My mission, you see, is to help you get svelte!
Healthy food can taste great, and the pounds will just melt!

Off love handles, off double chin, off growing derriere!
Off laziness, off lethargy, just GET OFF THE CHAIR!

These recipes are ready to answer the call,
Sweets away, fat away, bad carbs away ALL!

It's "A Month of Main Courses," healthy cooking done right,
It's available now at The Svelte Gourmet website!

http://www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm not Superwoman! (and other shocking discoveries)

Boy, am I tired! No one warned me that running a household was so stressful! A lot has changed for me in the past few months -- I got married, built a house, inherited two beautiful children, got a dog, got a cat, started a new business and published a cookbook. Whew! Just typing that makes me tired.

I've figured out this month that I'm not Superwoman (I've suspected this for quite some time, but now I know for sure). I take on too much, like I'm sure most of you do. The extra stress and running around does burn off some calories, but that's all counteracted by the "grab-and-go" mentality when it comes to eating.

I know when I grab a handful of junk food on my way out the door that I'm doing myself an injustice. So I'm careful later. What sneaks up on me, though, is the junk food that's disguised as health food. I've seen this happen so often that I have to mention it -- just because it says "lowfat" or "light" doesn't mean it won't contribute to weight gain.

Case in point: In college, fat free frozen yogurt was a staple of my diet. I have a big appetite, so my portions were a little off -- but since it was fat free, I wasn't doing any harm, right? WRONG. I've since figured out that the yogurt I was eating still had 600 calories. OUCH! A serving size is 1/2 cup, but I was eating 4 times that, probably more, several times a week. No wonder!

Now that I'm cooking healthy food and sharing it with others through this blog and my business, I've seen this type of self-sabotage happening more and more. "This is healthy!" followed by overeating. When we see something that's obviously fattening, we know to watch our portion sizes (or at least be more careful later). But when we're faced with healthy choices, all bets are off. Sure there's more breathing room with the healthy food, but if you are trying to lose weight, portion size still matters. After all, it's a numbers game -- calories in, calories out.

For me, it's not the endless holiday party buffets that get me. I know what to do with those (the veggie tray is my best friend, but watch the dressing!). The problem is eating on the run, being too tired to cook dinner and snacking during all the great holiday movies! So here are a couple tips. If you have more, please share them!

Read labels. In my opinion, the most important information on a nutrition label isn't the calories or fat, it's the serving size. Read the label and measure a serving size -- even if you eat more, you'll be conscious of what a serving size should be and you'll learn to cut back on other things to balance it out. This will be discouraging at first -- you'll be shocked at how little a serving size actually is for most things. But the lesson is worth it!

When it seems too good to be true, investigate! Spray butter that tastes really good and has 0 calories? Yahoo! I was so ecstatic, I used it on everything. But then I dug a little deeper and learned that the nutrition label can say 0 calories if one serving has less than 5 calories and 0 fat if one serving has less than 1/2 a gram. So guess what? That bottle has over 900 calories. OUCH! I've heard similar reports about diet soda (which has no nutritional value, anyway), so stick to water!

Don't snack with an open bag. When you want a snack, measure out how much you should be eating, put it in a bowl and put the bag away. Trust me, you'll think twice about going back for more. But if you sit in front of the television with an open bag of anything, you'll eat WAY more than you intended. Even a bag of rice cakes (ew!) has a ton of calories if you eat the whole thing! I'm speaking from experience. This is also why I love fruit -- it's perfectly portioned!

Chew gum. Want to fend off cravings or between-meal snacking? Chew a piece of gum. My friend shared this tip with me, and it's worked for her. She's lost 9 pounds so far! Awesome! And during the holidays, too. While gum keeps your mouth busy longer, I also find that popping a mint or brushing your teeth works, too. That minty flavor makes just about anything that follows taste bland or bitter. Perfect!

Take time to eat regular meals. When I don't eat regularly, my hands shake, I get irritable and I can't function. Thus, I get desperate and grab whatever is closest. Bad idea! The best lesson I learned when I wrote my cookbook is that cooking dinner doesn't take that long. I cooked 30 dinners in 4 days and I can tell you for a fact that this is true. A chicken breast will cook in 15 minutes. Lean steak is even less! That is faster than the drive-thru! But if you're out and you need to grab something on the go, opt for Subway over virtually any burger joint. Skip the cheese, the mayo and the oil on your 6-inch sub (load up on veggies, mustard and vinegar!) and you'll come in around 300 calories. Can't beat that!

I know we can make it through this season without weight gain. I have faith! Please feel free to share the tips that work for you. Here's to a healthy, happy, and fit holiday season!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Favorite Svelte Kitchen Gadgets: Vol. II

It's my experience that no matter how big I make my space, I'll fill it up. In this case, I'm talking about the kitchen. "What in the world am I going to put in all these cabinets?" has very quickly become "Keith, I don't know where to put this. We need a bigger kitchen." I think I may need therapy.

Not everyone enjoys spending all of their time in the kitchen -- not even me! As I worked to complete my cookbook, however, I ended up cooking 12 hours a day for 4 days straight. I'm REALLY tired. During this time, however, I discovered even more kitchen tools that I find invaluable for a convenient, svelte lifestyle and I wanted to share them with you.

Veggie Steamer
Every night, I serve dinner with The Svelte Gourmet Signature Salad and a steamed vegetable of some sort. Sure, I have recipes and variations to keep my side dishes interesting, but one thing is constant -- the vegetable steamer. These come in many varieties from fancy to simple, but my go-to is the inexpensive, collapsible steamer (the one on the right). It fits in almost any pot and can accommodate A LOT of veggies. Just put an inch or so of water in the bottom of the pan, place this on top (it has little legs that allow it to stand up off the bottom) and add the veggies. Put the lid on the pan and steam away. Crisp tender or cooked to death, veggies have never been so easy! Here in the Low Country, I'm hard-pressed to find vegetables on a menu that don't have some sort of pork product added to them to give them "flavor." Trust me, though, that isn't necessary. A light misting of olive oil, some garlic, a squirt of lemon -- fantastic and light!

Food Thermometer
I rely on my food thermometer so often that I bought an oven with a built in food probe. I know I'll get a lot of arguments about poking holes in my food ("It lets out all the juice!"), but I've found that none of that goodness escapes if you put the thermometer in raw or browned meat and leave it alone for the duration of the cooking process (including resting time). For this reason, I do not recommend the "fork" varieties that come with some grilling kits. These three, though, are great. On the right is the remote, talking variety -- perfect for my techie husband! But I'm just as happy with the $5 one on the left. Now don't tell him I said that or he'll question why I "needed" to have the fancy oven with the probe! That's the one in front. Anyway, a chicken breast cooked to 165 degrees (USDA's minimum safe cooking temp for poultry) is REALLY juicy. My father-in-law will still miss the dark meat, but you won't!

Roomba
To say I love my Roomba is an understatement. This thing has saved my sanity more often than I can count. Hardwood floors that show everything plus a messy cook could equal nervous breakdown. Am I embarrassed because I rely on a robotic vacuum cleaner? Nope. It cleans up crumbs the minute they fall and keeps my kitchen floor manageable (looking good and not at all crunchy!). Before Roomba came into my life, I kept a Dustbuster in the pantry. This works just fine in a pinch, too! A quick run-around after cooking and you're good to go.

Chef's Hat
OK, maybe this is a bit of a stretch as a "kitchen gadget." However, if you want your kids to help cook, eat their dinner and learn some healthy habits, dress them up! We had the pleasure of hosting Courtney's 10th birthday party (a sleep-over!) this past weekend, and she whipped out the hat and showed her friends how to make pizza sauce right from my cookbook proof. They even ate the whole wheat crust without one complaint. Success!

The Svelte Gourmet Cookbook:
A Month of Main Courses

Perhaps my favorite kitchen gadget of all! An entire month of healthy, tasty main courses. The book will officially launch in early January, but a limited first run will be available December 21. Pre-order now at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html!

Stay tuned for more of my favorite gadgets in some upcoming posts. Trust me, I'm only getting started. If you have any you'd like to share, feel free to comment -- even though my cabinets are about to explode, I'm always looking for handy new toys! Happy cooking!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Eat, drink and be merry?

I'm a label reader. Shocker, right? I'm sure you hadn't guessed. So as I sit here pondering this entry and enjoying a glass of Cabernet, I find myself wondering why the nutrition information isn't required on the bottle. Is it so bad for us that they don't dare say? So of course, I start to investigate...

OK, let's see. So USDA says my red wine has about 25 calories per ounce. So in a standard 5 ounce pour (and looking at mine, I'd say I was a bit more generous...), that's 125 calories per glass. White wine is about the same. That means there's 650 calories in the bottle (750 ml). What does this tell us? Well it quite obviously explains the way I looked in my early 20s. Oh my. By the way, this photo shows 5 ounces. Yes, that's all.

As I dig deeper and deeper, it gets worse and worse. Your average light beer is about 100 calories, with "regular" beer around 150. It continues to skyrocket, with some ales upwards of 250 calories per 12 ounce bottle. PER BOTTLE. Don't even get me started on the carbs.

And wait, what's this? My heart is breaking. USDA says the average 16 ounce margarita has about 500 calories. Google and I immediately tried to disprove this, but the numbers topped 1100 and I stopped looking. And here I thought it was the chips and queso that were the problem.

I like to have a glass of wine with dinner, share a bottle with friends at our dinner parties or enjoy myself on our occasional nights out. With these numbers, though, I'm thanking my lucky stars that I'm a bit of a homebody! But with the holidays upon us, and after some gentle nudging by some Svelte Gourmet fans, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about some of our favorite beverages.

Vodka, whiskey and your other varieties only have about 60-70 calories per ounce. The problem? Mix 2 ounces of alcohol with 8 ounces of fruit juice and you're back up to around 250 calories per drink (or more!). Same with soda. Wow, this is frustrating.

Even more frustrating are our everyday drinks. I maintain that the FASTEST way to sabotage your diet is to drink your calories. Why the fastest? Because you don't even have to chew. Down it goes in the name of thirst-quenching. I just looked in the fridge and Keith's grape juice has 120 calories in 8 ounces. That would be fine if one drank just 8 ounces. But with the size of beverage cups going the way of dinner plates, even full of ice you're probably drinking at least 4 times that. Sure, there are benefits to fruit juice, but if you're going to drink it, read the label -- most are loaded with sugar. And regular soda? That 44 ounce fountain soda has about 560 calories. Yikes! As a label reader, I know that while the average sports drink touts 50 calories per serving, there are 2.5 servings in that bottle. Diet drinks are loaded with artificial sweeteners, and I allow myself one per day (though I disobey myself more often than not). I should really try to break that habit. Maybe as my New Year's resolution?

Anyway, this is all very depressing. So I'll try to make it up to you with a couple tips.

I'm sure sommeliers all over the world will gasp at this notion (because of course there are sommeliers all over the world reading my blog...), but I like to mix seltzer with my wine. It cuts the calories in half (ounce for ounce, of course), allows me to keep my wits about me, and makes a nice little spritzer. Yum!

Keith mixes his grape juice with water. My mom does this, too, and I could never understand it. I always thought it was so weird. Then I married a man who does the same thing. Go figure! I stick to water during the day, but I understand that for some, plain water is an acquired taste. Try it with a squirt of lemon or pour some water in a pitcher over cucumber slices, limes, oranges or fresh mint. It adds a little flavor, without the calories. I happen to love sparkling water, and there are even flavored ones with no artificial sweeteners! Try these if you have trouble downing the requisite 64 ounces of water per day.

I know this is probably not what you wanted to hear today, right after a long Thanksgiving holiday and with more just like it coming up...but really, it's for the best. Armed with this knowledge, you can make conscious decisions about what you're eating AND drinking. There's no harm in enjoying yourself, it may just mean a little extra time on the treadmill. Pick up the pace during your holiday shopping and maybe you'll work off that extra glass of wine. That's how I think about it, anyway.

Hey, at least I didn't mention your venti latte from Fourbucks. But maybe you should look into it...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'm puffy. The "popcorn hangover" and other morale saboteurs.

I woke up today looking like I partied all night. I went to bed early and slept just fine, but I have a headache and I'm quite puffy. I look like I gained 5 pounds in my face, my eyes are almost swollen shut, and I can't get my rings off. And I had to go to the DMV today for a new drivers license (I'm officially a Fox!), so I'm stuck with this puffy face for several years now. Ah, the "popcorn hangover."

Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? Done right, it's a filling and healthy snack. Done wrong (say, at the movies), you're better off eating fast food. Anyway, I usually make my popcorn with an air popper, a bit of spray butter and salt. It takes a little getting used to, but after a while, you don't miss the grease-laden kind from the normal popper or the microwave bag. But even the healthy way, I have my rules -- no popcorn after 8 p.m. I know it sounds silly, but it never fails. Popcorn after 8:00 makes me puffy.

Even the scale reflects the increase. Yikes! I know it's just water retention from the salt, but talk about a morale killer! All day, people look at me strangely and say things like, "What happened to you? Late night?" "No, just the popcorn again...I know...I'm trying to quit."

Oh, and just a side note -- be careful with that spray butter! Companies can boast zero calories if the serving (in this case, 1-5 sprays) has less than 5 calories....but really, who uses only 5 sprays? Not me! That entire bottle has around 900 calories and 90 grams of fat. You do the math. Spray judiciously!

This puffiness problem happens to me at restaurants, too. I can order the lightest thing on the menu -- even ask them to cook the chicken or fish with no grease -- and I still wake up the next day looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. It is SO disheartening. Have you had this experience, too? Vacations and business travel kill me...even when I try hard to eat right, the obnoxious amount of salt in prepared food sabotages me. And I know they're sneaking grease into my grilled chicken somehow. It's a conspiracy!

I've found that this is a common problem with so-called "light" or "diet" foods. I try to stay away from them and cook myself -- hence, The Svelte Gourmet! -- and that way, I know exactly what's in the food I'm making. But sometimes, eating out is unavoidable. While the "light" or "diet" food may be low in calories, fat or carbs (or whatever the diet trend du jour), oft times they are loaded with salt. Why? Because salt makes food taste better! It actually amplifies the taste of food by awakening or opening up the taste buds. If you take away the butter and oil, you have to add something to make the food edible, right?

As we all should know by now, excess salt can lead to a variety of serious health problems. I'm not a doctor, of course, so I'm not going to get into all that. Suffice it to say that too much salt is bad for us. Plus, it makes us puffy!

I consider puffy the opposite of svelte, so I try hard to avoid it. I drink a lot of water and I use a lot of robust flavors in my recipes. While not all of them may seem entirely svelte, I use them sparingly to add punch to every dish. Strong cheeses like blue cheese and Parmesan, different varieties of vinegars, lemon juice, fresh herbs like basil and rosemary, capers, and olives are among my favorites. You'll get acquainted with many of these in my cookbook, which I'm finished writing and is now the taste-testing stage! Anyway, the point is that if you use herbs and spices to your advantage, you won't need to reach for the salt shaker!

Popcorn isn't the only thing that makes me puffy. I know Thanksgiving dinner will. Don't worry, I'm not even going to try to suggest a svelte Thanksgiving -- it's my favorite meal of the year and I wouldn't trade my family's incredible stuffing for anything! Let it be known that I will be tired, puffy and happy on Thanksgiving. Tired because I ate too much. That tale about the tryptophan in turkey making you tired is just a myth -- it has about the same levels as other meats. We're tired on Thanksgiving because we work too hard and eat (and drink!) too much. But that's ok, it's a holiday. We can just work on getting back to living and eating svelte on Friday. This is what making a lifestyle change is all about. Being good most of the time, but still enjoying life. Besides, shopping on Black Friday is exercise, right?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The bull in the china cabinet

So I was emptying the dishwasher this morning, and as I was putting them away into their five respective cabinets, it got me thinking. Is it normal to have nine sets of dishes? I admit, it's my one real weakness. I cannot pass up the opportunity for new dishes. In fact, right now I'm working my case with Keith for why I need a new set, since mine "don't photograph well." Hee hee...this might work. It's business!

But anyway, back to the dishwasher. I just broke a coffee mug, but it really doesn't matter, because with nine sets of dishes, we have plenty. I'm pretty clumsy, and Keith says I'm like "a bull in a china cabinet." This is funny for two reasons: 1) because I do actually break things in or near the china cabinet, and 2) because he really thinks this is the expression, rather than "bull in a china shop." Ha! One of the many reasons I love my man.

But again, I digress. The real point is that I'm noticing some crazy things as I put away the dishes. The first is that if our everyday set of dinner plates were just slightly larger, the cabinet door wouldn't close. Last year, in fact, I got rid of a lovely set of stoneware because they didn't fit in the cabinet. Now I can't imagine that cabinet makers have started making cabinets smaller, so it can only be that our plates are getting larger. Others must be thinking the same thing, because my fabulous friend Cyndi sent me a book recommendation recently, and the authors of "The Nine Inch 'Diet' - Exposing the Big Conspiracy in America" have evidently noticed this, too. They say that the average dinner plate has gone from 8.5 inches in diameter to 12, and The American Institute for Cancer Research has found that restaurant dinner plates have grown from 10 inches to 12 inches just in the last couple decades. I compared the antique dishes in my china cabinet to my everyday plates, and it's true! So is it any wonder that we're growing, too?

I think, overall, we've lost the concept of a "serving size." I know that when I make whole grain rice for four of us, I cook six or eight servings (according to the package measurements). Why? Because I need to fill the plate, even though a serving size is only 1/2 cup. As someone who believes that the aesthetics of the plate are an important part of a good meal, it looks really silly when you have a few little piles on a giant plate. Now that I'm more cognizant of what I'm feeding us, I increase the amount of veggies, not the carbs. Of course, the technique in nice restaurants for "plating" on big plates is to stack everything into a mini tower of food, then put few drops of sauce around the plate. It looks gorgeous! But my husband likes to eat his food one thing at a time and have nothing touching, so I can't plate our dinners this way. Another one of the many reasons I love him! Idiosyncrasies are what make life interesting, I think.

So in most restaurants (and homes, I would venture to guess), you're really getting much, much more than a serving size. I've heard a few different tricks -- protein no larger than the palm of your hand, carbs the size of your fist, veggies the size of your open hand. Another is something like protein the size of a deck of cards, carbs the size of a tennis ball. So is that giant bowl -- by most standards, a serving bowl or platter -- of pasta the server just put in front of you fitting into these parameters? I would guess not.

I have a big appetite, as I've discussed in other posts. It makes it difficult for me, especially on a fun night out, not to just dig in without restraint. So I've employed some techniques that seem to work for us. The first is to be cognizant of what you're putting in your mouth, slow down, and stop eating when you're no longer hungry -- not when you're about to pop the button on your pants. This is much easier said than done, I admit...but I keep my favorite Ellen DeGeneres quote echoing in my head to keep me strong: "We don't need to eat all we can eat." The second technique is eating on smaller plates. I still make Keith's dinner on a dinner plate, since I give him more food, but I eat mine on a lunch plate (which, interestingly, is the same size as the antique dinner plate in the picture above). I know it's just an illusion, but I really feel like I'm eating more when the plate is full. And guess what? I'm full, without going back for more.

So I encourage you to take a look in your cabinets and think about how you're filling your plate. Trust me, these are some really easy changes that make a big difference. And if you're looking to get rid of some dishes, think of me! I'm always in the market for a new set!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Recipe! "You won't be puffin' when you eat this muffin."

Act One, Scene One -- Saturday morning breakfast showdown:

Courtney (9): "What's for breakfast?"
Me (29ish): "I don't know, what do you want?"
Courtney: "Coffee."
Me: "Ha! OK, and with your coffee? How about something good for you?"
Courtney: (sigh, followed by eye roll) "Can I have a ham sandwich?"
Me: "For breakfast? OK, I guess, but only if you eat it on whole-grain bread."
Courtney: "Ew, Jenny, please no." (another eye roll)
Keith: "You know, Court, the sugars in white bread are just like eating a piece of cake. Your body can't tell the difference." (I LOVE it when he quotes me...hee hee...this is starting to catch on!)
Courtney: "Ahhh, Daddy! OK, fine."

OK, here we go. It's make it or break it time. I mean, I know this bread tastes good. But it has actual, visible "thingies" (a.k.a. grains) in it. Even Keith is tough when it comes to the whole grain bread. She is looking very skeptical now.

Act One, Scene Two -- After a couple very timid bites...

Me: "See, it's sweet, right?"
Courtney: "It sort of tastes like honey...but I still don't like it."
Me: "Why? You like honey!"
Courtney: "Um...well...Jenny, I'm only eating it because I'm really hungry."
Me: "Yeah right! You MUST like it. You've eaten the whole sandwich without an argument."
Courtney: "Well I admit it tasted good. Just not VERY good."

I don't care what anybody says, I'm considering this a Svelte Gourmet victory. Especially since she asked for the same sandwich again for lunch on Sunday! Yippee! But if you can believe it, Saturday got even better.

Taylor (15): "Jenny, is there a way to make muffins healthy? Can we bake some?"

Um....are you kidding?! Is the Pope Catholic? Of course we can bake healthy muffins! OK, not only is Courtney eating whole grain bread without a fight, but Taylor is asking to make healthy muffins. Could life get any better? Not for me. But again, it's go time. Act fast, before she loses interest!

Me: (on the phone) "Mom, quick! I need the recipe for Grandma's bran muffins. The yummy ones she used to make all the time. Can you email it to me? ....yes, Taylor....I KNOW....yes, Court ate whole grain bread.....I KNOW!" (Yes, my mother gets just as excited as I do over this stuff -- she's my inspiration! Keith and my dad just roll their eyes. There seems to be a lot of eye rolling going on around here lately...)

So as you can probably tell, Keith and the kids helped me out with the title of today's blog post -- they're really embracing the Svelte Gourmet philosophy! Taylor and I had a great time baking these muffins, and as usual, I had a great time playing around with the ingredients to make them even healthier.

These muffins are mostly my grandmother, partly my mother, partly me, and partly Taylor. The combined result is a rich, subtly sweet, tasty and nutritious muffin that can be breakfast, a snack, or dessert. We ate these all weekend and I don't feel the least bit guilty. This recipe replaces white flour with whole wheat flour, oil with applesauce, and white sugar with honey, which is sweeter, more nutritious and lower on the glycemic index! I plugged the entire recipe into my Calorie Counter and divided by the servings (it makes approximately 32 muffins!) and even I was astounded. Virtually no fat (just whatever is in the milk and eggs you use), about 100 calories each, and around 3.5 grams of fiber in each one! Yay fiber! These muffins are NOT your average "cupcake" disguised as breakfast. These are actually good for you -- and they really do taste great!

Raisin Honey Bran Muffins

3 cups bran cereal (such as All Bran Original), divided
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
3 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup honey
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice mixed with milk to equal 2 cups -- I use 2%)
2 eggs
1 cup seedless raisins

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine 1 cup of the cereal with boiling water and applesauce. Mix well and set aside.
Combine flour, salt, baking soda and remaining 2 cups of cereal. Add honey, milk and eggs. Mix well. Stir in cereal/water/applesauce mixture and raisins.
Spoon batter into greased muffin tins, filling each cup 2/3 full (3/4 for larger muffins).
Bake for 15 minutes (17 minutes for larger muffins), one pan at a time. Cool in pan 10 minutes before placing muffins on cooling racks.

Smaller muffins (32 per recipe) have about 100 calories and 3.5 grams of fiber in each. Larger muffins (20 per recipe) have about 160 calories and 5 1/2 grams of fiber in each!

Overall, I think I've had another successfully svelte weekend. Courtney's eating whole grains, albeit hesitantly, and Taylor wants to learn to cook and eat healthier. I now have a batch of muffins that, with every bite, reminds me of my childhood -- my wonderful grandparents baking together in the kitchen, my beautiful mother teaching me to cook and planting the seed for a healthy lifestyle. Taylor suggested we add chopped pecans next time, and I love that she's interested in experimenting. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do! And remember, "you won't be puffin' when you eat this muffin!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Skinny "jeans" without skinny "genes!"

You know, I used to think skinny people were just skinny by nature, and I was...well...not. Whatever the gene was, I was missing it. I tried many times to trick my body into believing there was a smaller person inside that double-digit frame -- but the weight crept back on after each fad diet attempt. I wasn't satisfied with the size I was, but I was just going to have to live with it.

Everywhere around me, knowledgeable health professionals were talking about healthy eating and exercise, but I wasn't listening. Temptations, excuses and quick fixes (think Acai Berry -- the "miracle fruit!") were always right around the corner. I walked by the gym, looking in at all the "naturally" skinny people. They must be there for the fun of it, right? They certainly don't look like they need to be there, so they must just like this torture. I was missing that gene, too. Urg.

Now, I like to think I'm a pretty intelligent person. In fact, I know I'm an intelligent person. So what was going on? Was this my way of justifying my lack of exercise? Was it how I justified my "healthy appetite" for not-so-healthy foods (and drinks!). I was an "average" size. Not overweight by medical definition, but not small either. If I was just this size by nature, then what difference did it make, right?

One day, I just decided to prove these health people wrong. All the other diets failed, so this miracle plan of "healthy eating and exercise" was bound to fail, too. They'll see! This is just my size!

So I got started at the gym with all those "naturally skinny" people in their designer gym outfits. I couldn't afford a trainer, so I watched what they did. I took group classes, and realized that they were as much fun as cheerleading in high school. I'm clumsy most of the time and I fall down a lot, but for some reason, I can fly over that step! I made a couple friends at the gym, and they would call me if I didn't show up for a class. It always helps to have people expecting you -- makes you get off the couch!

I also stopped with the fad diets. No more eliminating entire food groups! No more starvation! I was going to follow the simple rules of lean proteins, whole grains, and veggies. I cut out carbs at dinner and stopped snacking in the evenings. What I found was that, with the right flavors and spices, this healthy food was actually good. I liked what I was eating, but I was eating a LOT more than I ever got to eat on those crazy diets. This will never work! I'll show them! This is just my size!

And then it wasn't...I was getting smaller, almost immediately. I was eating. I was full! Me, the eater, full! I liked the gym. It was hard to get in the car, but once I was there, I enjoyed it. It feels SO good to work out. And my bank account was getting a workout, too -- boy is it fun to buy smaller clothes!!

I was never so happy in my life to be wrong. And if you know me, you know how much I LOVE to be right. But this time, I'm admitting it. I WAS WRONG. As hard as it may be to swallow at first, you have to eat right and get your body moving to lose weight and keep it off. It will work. I'm living proof. Now in my 30s, I'm smaller than I was in high school. Don't even get me started on the college years...I was looking at old pictures recently and my face was the size of a bowling ball! If there was a gym at my school, I certainly didn't know where it was. I was too busy having beer and pizza in the middle of the night to think about working out. Whoa!

After several years of this lifestyle change, the weight has stayed off. I'm a good 25-30 pounds lighter than when I started. I enjoy my nights out, but at home, we stick to the "svelte" plan that you've been reading about in my posts. Healthy food can taste great! I don't have a gym membership at the moment, but I ride my bike, walk, run and I do some other simple tricks. I take the stairs instead of the elevator and park far away from the store (even though it is SO hard to resist "rock star parking"). I also carry the groceries from the store instead of using the cart, pumping them like weights. People look at me funny, but that's ok!

Most importantly, I'm not kidding myself anymore. I realize that those fit people at the gym are fit because they are at the gym. I realize that my body needs fuel in the form of nutritious food. And I realize that now I'm actually in my skinny jeans without any skinny genes. It's the best feeling in the world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Svelte Gourmet gets down to business!

Dear fans, followers, family and friends (I love a good alliteration, don't you?),

Today, The Svelte Gourmet is officially getting down to business. I am honored to announce our online launch at TheSvelteGourmet.com!

I've been cooking svelte for just about a decade now, doing my part to keep my family, friends and myself healthy and fit. For the most part, it's been a success. Sure, we all fall off the wagon every now and then. But this is really one lifestyle change that's achievable. Over the years, making healthy food taste great has become a real passion for me. It's been a personal challenge through which I've learned how food works in the body, what flavors make the most impact without sabotaging weight loss, and how to prove this to others through cooking and teaching.

Then about a month ago, I started this blog. I didn't give it much thought at first, I just started writing what I know. Then you came along. Following me, sharing with me, asking questions, and making this blog a community that has the power to do some good. Who knew you'd like my goofy stories?!

You've inspired me to take it to the next level, for I know now that there is a need. I've learned that what has become second nature to me doesn't come naturally to everyone. Because of you, I've already helped several people learn a few new tricks about making healthy food taste great through lessons and dinners. I'm partnering with health and fitness organizations to develop programs that will help others practice what I preach. I'm even writing The Svelte Gourmet cookbook!

What I really want to say is thank you for joining me. Thanks for your ideas. Thank you for sharing your struggles and letting me in. The response to this blog has been overwhelming and I want to give you what you've been asking for. Please check out the services and products available through TheSvelteGourmet.com. If you have different needs or want to see something that's not there, please ask! You can even buy The Svelte Gourmet apron -- bound to be the hottest holiday gift of the year!

I must say, though, that blogging has been the most fun of all and I'm not going anywhere. A little too much web developing has me a bit bleary-eyed, but I'll be over it in no time and back to telling you about my culinary adventures! Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Miniature food -- pure evil disguised as "fun size!"

I have a rule in my house -- no miniature food. "Fun size." "Bite size." "Minis." I don't care what they call them, they have the potential to sabotage any diet.

Maybe I'm alone here, but I would never even consider grabbing a full-sized candy bar in the grocery checkout aisle. I could, but I don't. It's one of those things that is so obviously horrible for me. "Snickers satisfies?" What? Are we really believing that? Obviously, there are so many snacks you can eat that will give you energy and keep you full and healthy at the same time. Candy bars aren't the way. I think we all know that, right?

So why is it, then, that when they're disguised as "fun size," I have no qualms about helping myself. And I don't stop at one, either. They're "fun," right, so they can't be harmful. So I'll eat one or two, then cruise back by the bowl a little while later for another. Then maybe one after dinner. It's "fun." And small, so it can't hurt me. Except when I look at the pile of wrappers and realize that I've eaten the equivalent of probably THREE full-size candy bars in one day under the guise of "fun." Ooof. That's over a thousand calories, easy. That will be "FUN" on the treadmill!

So Halloween and Easter, for me, are the biggest problem times for "fun size." But there are other times that will sneak up on you. How about that office jar of M&Ms? One pass by can't be that bad. It's only a few, I tell myself. NO, it's an entire handful, more than comes in the bag! It is amazing how many M&Ms you can fit in one hand. Amazing.

I mentioned in my last post that I have a spreadsheet that I use as a food log. So one day after some trouble with the "minis," I plugged in the numbers. It is utterly amazing how much I was sabotaging my normal diet (I mean diet as what I consume regularly, not in the calorie reduction type of diet, which I'm not on -- remember, lifestyle change!) So I decided to check out some of the sweet snacks I could be having instead of the ones that sneak up on you without warning. I was going to count! It's a numbers game, after all! Calories in, calories out.

First step, "100 Calorie Snacks." OK, here's a plan I can follow. I know exactly what I'm eating and I can plug it right into my nerdy spreadsheet. AND, they make carrot cake! My favorite! And you get to eat THREE! For 100 calories. I don't know what miracle ingredient they're putting in these, but I'm really excited now. I tear open the box, and my heart sinks. I got "fun sized" again! Except it's not fun at all. Each carrot cake cupcake is about the size of a quarter. Literally. I feel betrayed. And stupid. I'm a smart girl, how did I really think I could have three carrot cake cupcakes for 100 calories. And I know some of you can have one pack or bag of these little treats and be satisfied -- but not me. And don't kid yourselves -- it isn't 100 calories when you eat 5!

Unfortunately, the same rules tend to apply to those "lean" frozen dinners, too. They are so small! One of my number one rules for cooking and eating to stay svelte is to find food that fills you up and doesn't pack on the calories. But I would have to feed my husband three or four lean dinners to fill him up. Then we're right back up to the calorie-loaded real thing -- and not nearly as tasty as homemade!

So the bottom line is, miniature food is dangerous and I try to keep it out of my house. Holidays are a little tough, but my trick is to take whatever's around, bag it, and throw it in the freezer. It is really hard to eat 9 "fun size" snickers when they're frozen solid. In fact, this was the whole idea behind the frozen grapes in the "I'm an Eater" post. ANYTHING, even fruits and veggies, can sneak up on you if you aren't a little bit careful. I could eat a bag of grapes in 5 minutes, but freezing them slows down the bingeing process! Even that bag of baby carrots is a little bit sneaky. Sure, eating a whole bag of mini carrots isn't going to hurt you that badly. But I bet if you slowed down, you'd realize that you were full and satisfied after 1/4 of the bag. Just don't freeze them. We try a lot of crazy things in The Svelte Gourmet test kitchen, and that one went right in the garbage!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Favorite Svelte Kitchen Gadgets: Vol. I

Eating healthfully isn't easy. It takes the right lean, green or whole grain ingredients, creativity and lots of flavorful spices to make healthy food that tastes good. Sure, you can buy frozen, microwavable "lean" dinners, but they're loaded with salt and preservatives -- and really don't taste that good either. And they're so tiny! I can eat three of them, but that sort of defeats the purpose. But I'll save my rant on the evils of miniature food for another post and get back to the point at hand. Eating healthfully with a little help from my friends...

I'm doing this in volumes because I have SO MANY kitchen gadgets and I couldn't decide on just a few. I'll feature more in future posts, but for now, here are my first four:

The Misto: I use my Misto every single day and I absolutely love it! Basically, it takes a liquid or oil and allows you to atomize it by pumping the cap to add air pressure. Your olive oil is now in aerosol form! Not only is it a cool gadget that causes dinner party guests to say "hey, what's that thing?!," it also allows you to dramatically cut calories and fat and still get the great flavors of your favorite oils. Mine stays filled with extra virgin olive oil and basically takes the place of regular cooking spray in my skillets, etc. It's great sprayed on the grill rack to help keep food from sticking! I even spray it on vegetables, salads and meat to add that great olive oil flavor and shine without the calories. Imagine the rich flavors you could healthfully impart by filling this with sesame oil or truffle oil. YUM! Any recipe that says "brush" or "coat" with oil gets a blast from The Misto, saving us hundreds of calories.


Makin' Bacon: OK, first of all, I'm not making the claim that bacon is good for you or has any health benefits besides a bit of protein. But it tastes SO good! I'm a big fan of adding flavor instead of fat, but if you can get a lot of the fat out of bacon, then one slice at about 45 calories added to a whole recipe isn't going to kill you. And apparently, there's a nine-year-old girl who knows this -- the inventor of Makin' Bacon. I was skeptical at first, but the concept makes sense -- hang your bacon on the Makin' Bacon racks, microwave it for a minute or two, and the bacon cooks to your desired crispness while the fat drips in to the tray on the bottom! We don't eat a lot of bacon here at the Svelte Gourmet, but one slice of crispy lean-cut bacon, crumbled and sprinkled over a few baked chicken breasts (I have a lot of chicken recipes) makes it extra tasty and doesn't add a lot of fat and calories! Everything in moderation, right? If you're going to make a lifestyle change to healthy eating, you can't deprive yourself of flavor. There are ways to do it right!

KitchenAide Food Chopper: A lot of companies make a product like this, but the concept is the same -- a zig-zagged metal blade plunges and retracts, making a quarter turn each time. You operate it by putting your food in the chamber, placing it on a solid surface and pounding the top plunger several times until you reach the desired size of dice. Then, the entire thing comes apart and goes right into the dishwasher. I love this thing. I use it for onions, garlic, nuts, peppers, apples -- anything crispy works. Not only does this device allow you to release any residual anger from your day (is your spouse aggravating you?!), but it is also completely self-contained and kid-friendly. Our girls use this to help me cook. Not only is it fun to use, but I feel better knowing that they're not going to slice off a finger or accidentally spin around and stab one of us. It's great!

Crème Brûlée Torch:
OK, again, I know that this dessert isn't "healthy." However, I make it
at home using small ramekins. My second favorite thing to do besides blog about healthy food is to calculate the calories in all my recipes -- I even have a spreadsheet for it. Doesn't that sound like fun?! Anyway, I calculated my crème brûlée recipe (which still uses heavy cream, eggs and sugar -- though a lot less than you would think), divided by eight servings served into 4 ounce ramekins, and the calorie count?! 130 per serving!!! Are you shocked? Quite a bit better than that 500 calorie (at least!) piece of cheesecake, huh? Toss a few blueberries on there and you have a very impressive dinner party dessert. But I transgress. Back to the gadget. Not only does it allow me to make this impressive dessert and torch it in front of my guests ("ooh, ahhh!"), even the kids will eat food they get to torch. Now please, stand VERY close to them and don't look away. But with the right supervision and a pledge to teach your kids kitchen safety, this is as harmless as the stove or chef's knife. It also has other uses as well. I have a svelte French onion soup recipe that I love, and I wanted to serve it in bowls that went with my "tablescape," but they weren't oven-safe. So I torched the very thin slice of cheese with the torch and it came out beautifully! I love my torch.

I could go on and on and on, but I'll save some gadgets for future volumes. Enjoy and feel free to share some of your favorites!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Prime time for eating locally!

I grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and loved going to the local farmers markets. I even worked at one for four years, selling chips, pretzels and hot roasted peanuts! Not very svelte, huh?! Now I live in Charleston, South Carolina, and I am again surrounded by people living and eating locally. And let me tell you, I am in my glory. I have tried so many new things and I wish I could make a career out of living off the land (and blogging about it?...)

I love adventures. I spent 11 years in Washington, DC, but I was always trying to get out to the country. It was there that I met my husband, who brought me to this glorious place. He's shown me some amazing adventures. And it's true, "if you teach a man to fish..." and all that. Keith says if the economy gets any worse, we can just live off the land and the water. And he's right! Though I might have to start weeding my herb garden, because it's out of control.

Right now in Charleston, it's prime time for eating locally. Shrimping season is in full force, and it's so much fun to catch them yourself! If we're lucky, we'll fill our freezer this year. And let me tell you, there is NOTHING like wild, local shrimp. The taste is so unlike those farmed shrimp you can get at the grocery store. If you have the opportunity to try them, don't let it pass you by!

It's also oyster season -- here, you can harvest and eat them in any month that has an "R" -- in other words, when the water is cold enough! Before moving here, I'd only had oysters once, in California. I hated them. I don't know why, and maybe I didn't give them a chance, but the oysters here are just different. Singles or clusters, it doesn't matter. They are amazing. In Charleston, oyster roasts are the social event of the winter. Weekend parties where people gather, have a few beers, and plow through bushels and bushels of freshly steamed oysters. There's usually a bonfire, even though it's 50 degrees at night in December. It's funny, though, how even though I'm from the north, I'm always cold. Maybe that's because I'm still wearing flip-flops in November... But anyway, I feel lucky to live in a place where I can walk down to the creek and break loose a few clusters of oysters with a brick. What?!

The pecans are also dropping. My in-laws' yard will shortly become a blanket of nuts, ready to be picked up and stored for winter! They even make special tools for picking them up and cracking them. My in-laws just bought some lawn mower-like contraption that picks them up, and I can't wait to try it. It's called Bag-O-Nut and now I can't stop giggling. Anyway, they'll last for years in their shell, or shelled in the freezer. If you buy and eat nuts, you know how expensive they are. So it's like gold dropping from the trees! Just be sure to pronounce them "PEE-cans." Otherwise, these Southerners will make fun of you. Trust me. I'm a Damn Yankee (the term for a Yankee that moves here and stays...)

And that's not all...we can pull crab traps from the dock and have crab feasts whenever we want. All-you-can-eat blue crabs and stone crabs -- I'm so spoiled now. We also fish a lot and catch dolphin fish (mahi mahi) and many other varieties. Keith has the most AMAZING recipes. We gig flounder. YUM. We have wild turkeys running around in our backyard, but I'm not a hunter, so they're still safe. We now have a freezer full of venison, thanks to my father-in-law. PLEASE share your recipes for venison if you have some, because I've only cooked it a couple times -- tenderloin and chili, so far. But it is quite lean (1/3 the fat of beef!) and I look forward to experimenting. I'll keep you posted...

I feel like I might have the advantage this time, with easy access to all of Charleston's bounty. But I know I'm wrong -- places like this exist all over the world. Please post comments and let us know where you live and what you eat. It may inspire us all to steer clear of Costco and stock our freezers for winter locally!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Svelte Tip: Use an onion as a sweetener!

What? Is that a typo? Nope. Pungent and sometimes acrid when raw, the onion actually does amazing things when you cook it! Ready for the chemistry lesson?

The strong smell and taste of a raw onion comes from the sulphuric compounds trapped within its cell walls. This compound is released when you cut into it, and is the reason chopping onions makes you cry! Anyway, when you heat an onion, the sulphuric compounds are released -- the longer you cook them, the sweeter they get! And I'm not just talking about the so-called "sweet" onions like Vidalia or Walla Walla. Eaten raw, these are sweeter. But even those yellow onions in the big bag will get increasingly sweeter as you cook them.

So here's my Svelte Tip: If you've over-spiced a dish -- or simply to add amazing flavor, regardless -- heat chopped onion in a bit of olive oil until it begins to "sweat." In other words, don't brown the onions on high heat, cook them until they're soft and translucent on medium/low heat. The smaller you chop them and the longer you cook them, the sweeter they will become, melting into your dishes and adding a complexity and sweetness you can't beat!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm an eater.

OK, this one is going to be a little bit embarrassing. But I'm willing to put myself out there, because I bet there are others just like me! Truth is, I love to cook -- but I also love to eat.

Trust me, I'm not one of those people who makes dinner, boasts about it being healthy, and then picks at it and pushes it around the plate. If I let myself, I could out-eat my husband. It's been known to happen during a gluttonous weekend or vacation. Stop eating when you're full. What?! And waste this lovely food? I think not. I think by now we all know the difference between actual hunger and just wanting to eat, but I still maintain that I'm always hungry.

I also don't work out as consistently as I'd like (the Wii Fit told me yesterday that it's been 109 days since my last session -- whoa! Has that much time really gone by?! I did ride my bike for several miles last week, and painting an entire house has to count for something, but still...) While I'm not teeny-tiny, I do manage to stay in pretty good shape and within 5 pounds of my average at all times. How? I have some tricks that might help my fellow "eaters" out there. If you have tips that you use, PLEASE share them via the comment section below! I need all the help I can get. Seriously.

1. Control portion sizes. I grew up family-style, where dinner was put out on the table with serving spoons and we all went at it. My mom is a really healthy cook, too, but if you're an eater like me, then going back for thirds still isn't a great idea. So now, I make the food and make our plates, instead of putting the food on the table. All leftovers immediately go into containers and into the freezer once they cool (my husband doesn't like "recent" leftovers, so I save them for future lunches or dinners in the freezer). If he wants more, he has more. But I stay away. Any bowl on the table gets revisited by me, so this trick has worked like a charm!

2. Eliminate the unhealthy carbs from big meals. I'm not a fan of eliminating a whole food group from your diet, but I do follow a few simple rules that really work. Basically, we rarely have a starch with dinner and if we do, it's a whole grain like brown rice or whole-grain pasta which fills you up faster and keeps you full longer. And remember, a serving of this as a side is 1/2 cup! Not the foundation for your whole plate. Anyway, our dinners consist of lean protein (4-6 oz), veggies and Svelte Gourmet Signature Salad. Trust me, this is enough food. And for the most part, you won't miss the baked potato. And please get rid of the bread basket! It's sabotaging you! You don't need it, I promise. You will be full.

3. Avoid buffets. So I have the unfortunate trifecta of dieter sabotage. I love to cook. I love to eat. And I am not picky. URG. Buffets are a nightmare for me. There is no possible way to try everything on a buffet and still be within a normal person's serving of food. As Ellen DeGeneres put it in one of her HBO specials, "We don't need to eat ALL we can eat." It's MUCH funnier the way she says it, but she's right. So steer clear of the buffet unless you have the willpower that I don't!

4. Find healthy snacks and sides. You will not get fat eating vegetables. I promise. And I happen to LOVE raw peas and green beans. So if you like that sort of stuff, pile it on! Fill up on that! Use my dip trick below! But for non-meal times, I've found some tried and true snacks that will allow you to eat and eat and eat and not pack on the pounds. Besides the obvious, here are two of them you may not have thought of:

-- Plain yogurt. This stuff is great and I use it for everything! I have a posting planned with some great yogurt recipes, but for now, suffice it to say that you can replace the sour cream or mayo with plain yogurt in almost any recipe. I use it a lot for dips and appetizers. Any dip recipe -- even those powder packets of ranch or onion dip -- come out wonderfully with yogurt as the base. And get this -- for 120 calories, you can eat veggies dipped in 2 tablespoons of the regular recipe or a WHOLE CUP of the one made with yogurt. Now for an eater like me, this is an obvious choice. Just beware of the Greek yogurt and read the labels -- it's much thicker (and so much yummier!), but stick with the 2%. It still tastes amazing!

-- Frozen grapes. What? Yes, frozen grapes. Even the kids will love these. Just remove the grapes from the stems, put them in freezer bags and pop them in the freezer. They last for weeks and they taste great! A cup of grapes has about 62 calories and I can usually fit 2 cups per bag. And let me tell you something -- you CANNOT plow through two cups of frozen grapes quickly. If you do, you'll have the worst ice cream headache you've ever had. Trust me. This snack will last most of the night and it will satisfy your sweet tooth. Even my husband loves them!

So there you go. I'm an eater. I'm not thrilled about it, but I'm not willing to give up eating to stay small. I've tried it and it's just not going to happen. So I do it this way. Please share your tricks and snacks! And as I discover more, I'll add them here.

Don't throw away those pumpkin seeds!

Here's a quick and seasonal tip that will help you make the most of those Halloween jack-o-lanterns! My mom taught me how to roast pumpkin seeds when I was little, and I looked forward to it every year. They are SO yummy. Of course I thought everyone roasted their pumpkin seeds, but I've recently come to realize that's not the case. So here you go! Try it!

As you're preparing your pumpkin for carving, scoop the pulp and seeds into a colander instead of the garbage. Under running water, you can separate the seeds from the pulp rather easily. Discard the pulp and rinse the seeds thoroughly. Shake out the excess water or run a kitchen towel around the colander to dry them off a bit. If you have a salad spinner, that would work beautifully! Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, spread the seeds in a single layer, sprinkle with salt and bake at 400 degrees until the seeds turn a golden brown. Length of time will depend on the size of the seeds and how wet they are, but it'll probably take 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on them!

Once they're done, just store them in an airtight container and they'll last for weeks. You can shell them if you have patience, but I prefer them with the shell on! They are so good. This is a healthy and delicious snack, but treat them like any nut or seed -- they are a great source of protein and will fill you up, but 1/4 cup has approximately 180 calories. So don't go "nuts!" (I know, that was bad...)

Enjoy! If you have other recipes for pumpkin seeds or the pumpkin itself, I encourage you to share by posting a comment!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Recipe! Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Green & Black Olive Tapenade

Ah, chicken breast. How many ways can we cook it before we're utterly sick of it?! Well, I was trying to use some leftovers in the fridge tonight (specifically, the black olives and Parmesan cheese from pizza night!) and I made up this recipe. My husband can tell you that when I "go rogue" like this, it can often be disastrous -- but this one was so good that I had to post it. Enjoy and feel free to improvise with what you have on hand!

Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Green & Black Olive Tapenade

(Note: If you don't like -- or have -- olives, a great substitution would be chopped sun dried tomatoes. However, this chicken is so flavorful and juicy that it doesn't really need a topping! Also, resist the urge to add salt while cooking, as both the olives and Parmesan cheese are very salty. Salt to taste later if you need it!)

Serves 4
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Whites of 2 eggs
1 cup of Parmesan cheese (shredded or grated)
1 tsp minced garlic
Couple shakes each of dried oregano, basil and black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put egg whites in one shallow dish and combine cheese, garlic and spices in another shallow dish. Heat olive oil on medium/high in a large, oven-safe skillet. Reduce heat to medium. Dip each chicken breast in the egg whites, then dip in cheese mixture to coat. Brown in skillet, 2 minutes per side. Insert meat thermometer probe into thickest part of one breast, cover skillet with lid or foil, and bake in oven until thermometer reads 170 degrees.

To make the olive tapenade, roughly chop green olives (with or without pimentos) and black olives. Toss with 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic and some freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Top each chicken breast with a spoonful or two of the tapenade. Serve with a vegetable -- sorry, but taters don't count as veggies in Svelte Gourmet land! -- and the Svelte Gourmet Signature Salad. You'll have a meal so full of rich flavors, you won't miss the fat. I promise!

Please let me know how you've improvised or share your favorite chicken breast recipes -- I could use some inspiration!
To order The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook, please visit www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.
Enjoy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

She ate whole grain spaghetti three days in a row!

Last month, I not only married my wonderful husband, I also inherited two beautiful stepdaughters. Over the past couple of years getting to know each other, we've only encountered one real issue -- overcoming our nine-year-old's favorite diet of Gatorade, Cheetos, mozzarella sticks and various Little Debbie creations.

Me: "No, you can't have another Star Crunch."
Her: "Why not?"
Me: "Because you've had five."
Her: "Oh. Daddy! Can I have a Star Crunch?"

Grrr...it's not that I don't want this beautiful child to have everything her little heart desires. It's just that I don't want her little heart to shut down. I mean really, I was struggling. And let me tell you, a nine-year-old gives it to you straight.

Me: "Why aren't you eating?"
Her: "Because I don't like it. No offense."
Me: "Oh." (Ouch!)
Her: "Can I have a Star Crunch?"

I understand that sometimes svelte cooking isn't all that kid friendly. Not much grease, little butter. But it's not THAT bad. Or maybe it was, to her. Couple that with the gourmet and/or unfamiliar ingredients I like to use and we have a bigger problem.

Her: "What is that?!"
Me: "Goat cheese."
Her: "Ew. Can I have a Star Crunch?"

I didn't know what to do. I am not a chef, I have no actual training, and my recipes can be hit or miss. But I LOVE this. It is my passion. I have a hundred cookbooks and subscriptions to three cooking magazines. So what do I do? I tried cutting out all unfamiliar flavors and spices. The food got worse and worse and the reactions were still the same.

Then one day I passed a restaurant supply store and my heart skipped a beat. FUN! I went in, and I went a little crazy. I was going to conquer this problem if it killed me! I was no longer going to cook for the family -- we were going to start a restaurant right there in the kitchen. "Chez Fox!" Or whatever. Everyone was going to cook.

The first night, we made spaghetti. Now what kid doesn't like spaghetti? Well, svelte spaghetti is made with lots of onions and mushrooms, ground chicken instead of beef and sausage, and whole grain pasta. The old me would have tried to hide those facts and pass it off as normal spaghetti. But no more! Luckily, I have some kid-friendly, safe kitchen gadgets. So she chopped onions, added the mushrooms, and picked fresh basil and oregano from the garden. She HATES those things. She simmered and stirred and beamed with pride as her daddy had a taste of her spaghetti sauce. She ate her dinner that night, as I sat there with tears in my eyes. I don't know if it was having her as my special guest chef or the funky chef's hats and aprons I got for all of us, but whatever it was, it worked. And she ate that spaghetti for three days.

Since then, we've done make-your-own pizza night (watching the dough rise is part of the fun!), recreated the Japanese hibachi menu (complete with homemade white sauce for the shrimp and chopsticks!) and had a fondue feast (our 15-year-old and I made five different dipping sauces!) I am in my glory. The kids are getting nutritious meals. We're having a blast and bonding at the same time. And the hats are really cute. I wear mine even when they're not here...shhhh.

I realized, throughout this process, that I needed to make some compromises, too. I still maintain that Cheeze Whiz with a little bit of broccoli is NOT a vegetable, but as long as it's coupled with something healthful, that's what counts. And yes, you can have a Star Crunch now.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Your food is ready!

"Your food is ready!" I just heard another woman in my kitchen, and she is VERY excited that our food is ready. VERY. And she keeps repeating, quite emphatically, that our food is ready...so I think we better listen.

I love kitchen gadgets. I have slicers and dicers, tools that do it all, and tools that do only one thing. And I love them all. This gadget, though, is for my husband, "the mystical grill master" of the Fox household. I think we've found the mother of all meat thermometers. And she is VERY excited that our food is ready.

My husband is an excellent griller. He has the most amazing recipes for seafood, steaks, pork and chicken. His dishes always came out juicy and flavorful. That is, until he met the likes of me. Svelte food has some challenges, you see. It isn't marbled with fat, sealed with skin, or basted with butter. My ribeye-loving grill master now faces the daily challenges of sirloin steaks and boneless, skinless chicken breasts. My father-in-law jokes that he's going to take me to the store and show me that a chicken has other parts, but I'm not buying it. And I'm pretty sure he's not joking at all.

So what is a grill master to do? We've tried different timing, different basting, different flipping and different heat levels. Nothing seemed to work. It was hit or miss, but the meat came out dry and overcooked more often than not. Then, on a whim, I bought one of those wireless meat thermometers for my gadget-loving guy. It's the kind you can take all over the house and it will beep when the food reaches the correct temperature. This thing will never work, I thought, but it'll be fun to play with. But it did work. It worked like a charm. Our steaks are juicy and we no longer have chicken jerky! We're now firm believers that cooking food based on temperature -- whether on the grill, stove or oven -- is the best way for us to enjoy our lean meats without sacrificing flavor or overcooking.

"Your food is ready!!" Little did I know, this gadget talks. And she is quite friendly and excited. Not like the woman on the GPS, who is quite matter-of-fact. No, this meat probe lady is VERY excited that our food is ready!

Monday, October 12, 2009

How the Panini saved my marriage...and other perks of the grilled sandwich

I love my panini press. It saved my marriage. Granted, I've only been married for two weeks. But I can tell you that I would not have made it to this point without the glorious panini press.

My husband doesn't like sandwiches. He says he's "just not a fan of all that bread" (gasp!). The mere thought of it sends visions of artisanal loaves, luscious sourdoughs and homemade baguettes dancing through my mind. Ah, bread.

Bread can be a dieter's worst nightmare, but again, I don't believe in giving up an entire food group. Moderation is key, as I've said before. But back to the story at hand -- the panini.

So he doesn't like sandwiches. And I LOVE sandwiches. I can make a different, interesting breakfast every day of the week and creating dinner is a daily culinary adventure for me. Lunch, however, plagued me. How on earth do you keep someone interested in lunch if he doesn't like sandwiches....or leftovers (but that's a topic for another day!).

So one day I pulled out my panini press and decided to give it a go. For the next four days, I paninied (not sure that's a verb, but work with me here...) everything. He LOVED it. All of a sudden, the world of sandwiches was open to me. All it took was a grill (the panini press) and some glue (a bit of cheese). Voila!

And now, to keep it svelte: use thin or lower calorie bread -- it just gets flattened anyway! You only need a slice or two of meat, unlike the piles and piles needed for a decent ungrilled sandwich. Tomatoes should be sliced wafer thin, so as not to wet the bread. Just a little bit of cheese goes along way. A bit of cooking spray, spray butter, or my favorite -- olive oil from The Misto! -- and you're ready to go. The rest is up to you!

Here are three of my favorites. The first one might surprise you!

PB&J Panini
(I would say this was for the kids, but my husband requests this regularly!)
Simply make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, spray the outsides of the bread with spray butter or cooking spray, and grill. You will be AMAZED at what the panini press does for the ho-hum PB&J. It's a crispy, gooey, gourmet masterpiece!

Turkey Caprese Panini
2 slices bread (your choice)
1 slice turkey breast
2 slices tomato (sliced thin)
3 leaves of basil
1/8 cup shredded mozzarella
Pinch salt, pepper and garlic powder
Assemble sandwich, brush or mist with olive oil, grill until cheese melts and bread is a golden brown. Bellissimo!

Svelte Gourmet Signature Panini
Crusty Italian or French bread, thinly sliced
Italian Salami, thinly sliced
Arugula
Fontina cheese
Assemble sandwiches, brush or mist with olive oil, grill.

Using flavorful ingredients sparingly, I've yet to make a panini that has more than 300 calories. Not bad for an amazing lunch that even a non-sandwich eater will love!

I encourage you to take the panini challenge and share your recipes here!

Fad diets -- I've tried them all!

I know, I know -- you've heard it a million times. Fad diets do not work. But when I hear "lose 10 pounds in 10 days," I still get a little bit excited, don't you? My head is telling me not to believe it, but isn't it worth a try?!

In short, NO. I've tried some of the most popular fad diets, and what the experts say is true -- I gained back more weight than I lost and slowed my metabolism little by little after each attempt.

First, the Master Cleanse, a.k.a, the Lemonade Diet. This one promises that you'll shed weight quickly as a "byproduct" of this 10-day "cleanse." Who can resist that, right? The recipe calls for about a gallon of water, juice of 12 lemons, 12 ounces of Grade B maple syrup and cayenne pepper. You make this concoction daily for 10 days, and this is ALL you ingest. No food, no other drinks, just lemonade. It also includes a daily salt flush and laxative tea every night. A horrible experience and I'll spare you the details. Surprisingly, the lemonade part isn't bad -- it tastes ok, I had plenty of energy, and I really didn't need food. I did lose 10 pounds in 10 days. My husband lost close to 20. To come off the cleanse, you have a day of nothing but orange juice followed by a couple days of vegetable soup. Then guess what? The day I started back on solid foods, the weight came back with it. And since I didn't "eat" for 10 days, my metabolism was slower than before. This one may sound like a quick fix, but don't do it!

Slimfast is not much more than a shake full of nutrients and sugar that simply cuts your daily caloric intake drastically. Of course you'll lose weight, same as if you starved yourself. But the drawbacks to your metabolism are something to consider.

Perhaps the healthiest one I've tried is the South Beach diet. The first two weeks of this plan cut all carbs, relying on lean protein and vegetables. Then you slowly add back only whole grain carbs. The South Beach diet calls for a lifestyle change to lean protein and only whole grains. It has worked for millions of people who have the willpower to regularly pass on white bread, cookies, potatoes and pasta. I, however, do not.

In short, losing weight and staying healthy is mathematical -- if your calories in are more than your calories out, you will gain weight. If the calories you ingest are less than the calories you burn, you will lose weight. If you add 3500 calories, you will gain one pound. If you reduce your diet by 3500 calories, you will lose one pound. Simple as that. What I've found is that you can eat anything in moderation, as long as you keep track of it and don't go overboard. One bad day means being careful the next. I keep a food log and it helps me to track what I'm eating -- it also makes me rethink that 180 calorie cookie!

The Skinny on Restaurant Salads

Beware! Ordering a salad in a restaurant is NOT the healthy way to go!

Many dieters see the word salad on the menu and assume they're making the healthy food choice. However, restaurant salads are loaded with fatty cheese, nuts, meats and heavy dressings that sabotage any attempt you're making at weight loss. I used to order a salad at a popular lunch chain -- it boasted "only 6 net carbs." Thinking this lunch-sized salad must be "healthy," I ate it regularly. Then I came across the nutrition information for this salad and realized that, while it was "low in carbs," it had over 1,200 calories! That's almost an entire day's worth of calories for the average dieter.

The problem is, I happen to LOVE salads. Dieting aside, I like the fresh produce that reminds me of summer and plethora of unique ingredients you can add to make any salad gourmet. We have a side salad every evening with dinner -- it's packed with flavorful ingredients, yet under 100 calories. AND, it's requested time and time again at my dinner parties.

The Svelte Gourmet Signature Salad (for 1 serving):
1 handful spinach or baby spinach
1/2 cucumber, sliced
1/2 tomato, sliced
1 tbsp green olives, sliced
1/8 cup blue cheese or Gorgonzola crumbles
1 tsp pine nuts
Several shakes of Heinz Salad Vinegar

Combine all ingredients, toss, let rest for 5 minutes.

Enjoy! You can make this salad your own by adding other fresh produce with very little caloric impact. Please feel free to share your favorite salad recipes, too!

Welcome!

Welcome to The Svelte Gourmet! Here, we share recipes, tips and anecdotes that will help you find your "inner gourmet" and stay healthy at the same time!

If you're like me, you love to eat, you love to cook and your heart jumps when the newest edition of "Bon Appetit" comes in the mail. I've found ways to cut fat and calories from those gourmet recipes without sacrificing flavor. Sure, some recipes just shouldn't be messed with -- but by reducing portion size and adding tasty, low calorie sides, toppings or sauces, you can have the best of both worlds.

The Svelte Gourmet is about more than just staying small. When I met my husband, he was heavier, had stomach problems and high blood pressure. After eating my way, he's not only lost 25 pounds, his heartburn has disappeared and his blood pressure has normalized. The Svelte Gourmet is about eating healthfully.

The recipes and tips on this blog are simply the things that have worked to keep my family and me healthy and fit. I am not a dietitian and these recipes have not been evaluated by the FDA. I do not profess to be an expert, I simply want to share what has worked for us.

I hope you enjoy The Svelte Gourmet -- post your recipes and tips, share your stories, and tell your friends about us!

Jenny Fox
The Svelte Gourmet
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