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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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