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Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's for Munch?

A couple days ago, Keith asked me to invent "Munch." We share our home office, and as I surveyed the empty snack bags and peanut butter jar from the night before, I knew what he meant -- Midnight Lunch. Aptly named Munch. He's a night owl, you see, and while he sticks with the svelte plan during the day, he tends to snack at night.

Admittedly, I've been somewhat of an enabler lately. You see, I have an alter-ego who is somewhat of a diet saboteur. I'll call her Dough Girl (a bad enough name to hopefully deter her appearances, as I certainly don't want to be "doughy!"). While I love the challenge of making healthy recipes that taste great, I also love to bake. Mostly pies and breads -- I love the whole delicate process and the delectable result! So anyway, Dough Girl has frequented my kitchen lately, and I'll wake up to find that there is significantly less pie or cookie dough than there was the evening before. And I know I'm not sleep-eating!

I know Keith is going to stay up late, and I know he's going to snack. I also know that I love to have a snack in the evenings, as well. My favorite hobby is watching cooking shows and reading cooking magazines, which is maybe why my appetite just won't quit. So whether you do your snacking for Munch, Brunch or Linner, here are some healthy choices to keep you svelte!

We go through a LOT of plain yogurt in this house. I use it for everything from dinner sauces to dessert. For snacking, try mixing plain yogurt with your favorite herbs and spices -- this makes a great dip for raw veggies or homemade whole grain tortilla chips (see next tip) and it's significantly lower in calories than mayo or sour cream. In fact, you can eat a whole cup of plain yogurt for about 150 calories -- fewer calories than 2 tablespoons of mayo! And let me tell you, a cup is a LOT of dip. You won't eat that much. I mix mine with tarragon, basil, dill, garlic, caramelized onions, fresh mint, etc. -- not all at once, I experiment with my favorite flavor combos! If you're in the mood for sweet, add a teaspoon or two of honey and some berries. YUM.

Instead of reaching for that bag of fried tortilla chips, try making your own! They are fantastic with salsa or your favorite yogurt dip creation. Take your favorite brand of whole grain tortillas, slice them into wedges with a pizza cutter, spread them out on a cookie sheet, mist them with olive oil and sprinkle them with your favorite spices -- salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne, whatever! Bake them at 350 degrees for 7 minutes. Don't worry if they're still a bit soft when you take them out, as they'll crisp up as they cool. And they keep well in a plastic bag for several days, so you can keep them on hand.

Keith always turns his nose up when I offer him an apple, but he'll pick off my plate when I'm having one. You may not think an apple will satisfy you, but once you dig in, you'll be happy you did! Drizzle it with honey or dip it in yogurt if you like. Yum! Fresh fruit is always a winner, but so is frozen! I've talked about frozen grapes, which are our favorite -- simply pull them off the stems and freeze them in freezer bags. They make a surprisingly good snack! Frozen blueberries also work quite well, as do frozen banana slices. Try making a smoothie with fresh or frozen fruit, ice and bit of skim milk. SO good, and very filling!

I love edamame (boiled baby soybeans in the shell). It's loaded with fiber and great soy protein, and sprinkled with a bit of salt, it takes the place of salty snacks like pretzels. If you haven't tried it, you should. It's really good! I buy it frozen in just about any decent grocery store.

Popcorn is a whole grain and can be a great snack if you watch the oil. I love using my air popper. I mist it with spray butter and sprinkle it with salt and it's a perfect healthy snack.

And of course The Svelte Gourmet Main Courses leftovers make a great Munch! A couple strips of leftover chicken wrapped in a piece of lettuce with a drizzle of your favorite yogurt dip is great! Heat up some leftover soup or chili for a tasty serving or two of veggies and lean protein. A slice of The Svelte Gourmet pizza would be healthy, too, if there was ever any left over -- hasn't happened yet!

So hopefully, that's what's for Munch. Or Linner. Whatever! I just hope that Dough Girl stays away for a while -- the temptation is killing me!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. A portion of all sales through the end of February will be donated to the relief efforts in Haiti.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wok this way!

Let me just cut to the chase -- no matter how good it tastes and no matter how we try to justify it, most take-out is just horrible for us. It's fried, greasy, and loaded with sugar, salt and often MSG. These will sabotage your diet in a heartbeat -- and may actually sabotage your heartbeat if you eat too much!

One of my goals is to de-grease some of our favorites so they fit into our svelte lifestyles. You may have already tried the homemade pizza (several of you have commented that it's better than delivery!) and the Asian-inspired fare from A Month of Main Courses. This is a major step in the right direction, and though it takes a bit more time than the drive-through, your body will thank you! And never fear, I'm working on more! Shrimp Pad Thai, General Tso's Chicken, Filipino Chicken Adobo, Mongolian Beef and many others are coming your way. I'm going for authenticity, and that takes a bit of time -- especially when it means cutting the fat and sugar! So for now, let's talk about one of my favorite cooking methods -- stir-frying in a wok.

In order to achieve authenticity (because I haven't been to many of these countries!), I spend a lot of time researching ingredients, recipes and cooking methods. One thing I've noticed across the board is the unabashed use of oil and sugar. Sure, the "authentic" way would be to deep fry, but I'm talking about authentic flavors, not necessarily authentic artery clogging. Each type of cuisine has unique spices and flavor profiles from its country of origin. Mix and match according to your tastes and you'll have a unique and exciting meal that tantalizes your taste buds -- without all the fat!

When I'm pressed for time, I simply take whatever lean protein and veggie I have on hand and choose from my vast selection of spices and flavors to use in the wok. This photo shows a few of my favorites. Clockwise from bottom left, we have crushed red pepper, five spice powder, sesame oil (a couple drops go a LONG way!), rice vinegar, low sodium soy sauce, Sriracha hot chili sauce, chili garlic sauce, wasabi powder and black sesame seeds. There's a reason most of these bottles are half empty -- I use them a lot! I also use a lot of grated fresh ginger, minced garlic and light coconut milk, but they didn't show up for their photo opp.

In order to keep things svelte, I use just a tablespoon of oil in the bottom of the wok, and only at the beginning of cooking. If you don't have a wok, a skillet with high sides will do just fine! If the wok gets dry or ingredients start to stick as you add them, simply hit it with your oil mister!

Sometimes I make a marinade or sauce with these ingredients and sometimes I add them as I go. Whatever you choose, simply add ingredients to the wok once the oil starts to smoke and in the order of cooking time (longest first -- chicken, for example). Stir like crazy until the protein is cooked through and veggies are crisp-tender. If you're using a whole grain, like rice or the noodles shown in this Shrimp Pad Thai, pre-boil them until they're al dente and drain them before stir-frying. Since stir-frying must be done very quickly to avoid burning, very small pieces that can handle short cooking time are best. You wouldn't be able to effectively stir-fry a whole chicken breast, but cut into small pieces, it will cook rather quickly! My favorite protein to stir-fry is shrimp, because it cooks in 3 minutes. Also, it is imperative that you have everything pre-cut, pre-mixed and ready to go beside your wok. Chefs call this preparation "mise en place," and I do it before I cook anything. But in this instance, because you're working so quickly, you won't have time to do anything but "wok" once your first item goes in!

Here's an example of how I do it. Heat oil on high until it just starts to pop. I add the noodles or rice (if using) with a couple tablespoons of sauce first. Stir quickly until sauce is incorporated. Push it to the side of the wok. Add shrimp. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until it's just about done. Add veggies, herbs and a bit more sauce, mixing everything together and stirring like crazy for about a minute. Plate and garnish with sesame seeds or chopped herbs. Voila, you have dinner!

I encourage you to use your imagination with your flavors -- anything goes! Just watch the oil and avoid the sugar (instead, try fruit like oranges and pineapple. They work beautifully in the wok and give your food that amazing sweet flavor!). Or simply try my recipes and have dinner on the table in minutes! Enjoy!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. A portion of cookbook sales through the end of February will be donated to the relief efforts in Haiti.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Island Grilled Chicken with Pineapple Salsa (New Recipe!)

It's been cloudy, rainy, windy and cold for far too long now, and even though I know Charleston spring is right around the corner, I'm getting a little impatient. I needed a taste of summer tonight, and it didn't hurt that I got to use up some things in the fridge. I know I've created a recipe worth sharing when everyone at the table -- including Courtney! -- cleans their plates. She skipped the salsa, but she ate her broccoli, so I'm happy! This time, when she asked for a Star Crunch, the answer was yes! Hooray for Island Grilled Chicken with Pineapple Salsa!

This was another one of those recipes devised to use up ingredients in the fridge. I had some leftover pineapple and onion from pizza night and a jalapeno from my "almost there" svelte rendition of General Tso's Chicken (I love the challenge of lightening up something so horrendous for you, but so irresistibly delicious!). The jalapeno was not the answer, but it's getting there! Anyway...

I'm convinced there's a gene that makes you like or dislike cilantro. Given my passion for cooking (and eating!), I'm disappointed that I despise fresh cilantro. It is the only food/ingredient that I cannot stand. Anyway, if you are a cilantro person, I have a feeling that it may be a perfect extra ingredient in this dish, either mixed into the salsa or sprinkled on top. However, you won't see it in my recipe or photo -- no cilantro in this house! I know this recipe uses ground coriander, which is the seed of the same plant (cilantro is the leaf), but they taste entirely different! Anyway, cilantro or not, here's the recipe!

Island Grilled Chicken with Pineapple Salsa
Serves 4

For chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup rice vinegar

For salsa:
1 cup crushed pineapple
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup tequila
2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 small or Roma tomato, finely diced
Pinch of salt

For grilling:
1 tsp butter, melted

Mix coriander, red pepper flakes and salt with rice vinegar. Place chicken in a resealable plastic bag, add marinade and shake, ensuring all chicken is coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

In the meantime, heat pineapple, onion, jalapeno, tequila, honey, garlic powder and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan. Simmer, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Place a strainer onto a bowl and pour pineapple mixture into strainer, pressing lightly to drain the juice into the bowl. Add the juice to the melted butter and reserve for basting the chicken. Allow the mixture to cool, then mix the chopped tomato into the pineapple mixture and sprinkle with salt.

Grill the chicken on medium-high, basting with the juice/butter, until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the largest breast registers 165 degrees. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Top with pineapple salsa. Yum!

Enjoy! For more great recipes, check out The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. A portion of all cookbook sales through February will be donated to the relief efforts in Haiti.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Move it and lose it!

It hurts to type. OK, not really to type, but with my arms hovering above the keyboard like this, I can tell I've worked hard this week! Lucky for me, I happen to like muscle pain. It makes me proud that I've done something good for myself and makes me aware of my muscles...some I didn't even know I had! Ouch!

As you've probably surmised, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. And at this computer. And while I'm proof positive that it is possible to lose weight just by eating right, exercise is the other half of the equation. Sitting, cooking and eating (though svelte!) just don't cut it. Unfortunately, once you've taken some time off from the gym -- say, to get married, start a new business and write a cookbook -- it's SO hard to get back into it. A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to jump back in with both feet. The holidays are over, the cookbook is published, and Charleston bathing suit season is right around the corner (gasp!). My friend invited me to a boot camp trial session my gym was offering, so I thought, "what the heck?" Smart, right? Get right down to business!

I huffed and puffed my way through the hour. It really wasn't too bad -- after all, not too long ago I was in pretty good shape! But it's amazing how much muscle tone you lose after just a few months of not working out. I managed to get through the session, drive home, take a shower and make lunch. Then I sat down at the computer to write. A couple hours later, it was time to start dinner, only I couldn't move. My legs were like Jell-o. I wasn't sore, per se, just weak. But eventually I made it out of my chair and headed for the stairs, groaning with every step. And as I took the first step down, my other leg gave out and I ended up bouncing down the stairs on my backside. Now I know why they call it a "landing!" And thank God we have one!

OK, so I'm also really clumsy, which may account for part (all) of this. I fall down A LOT. But whatever the reason, doing that boot camp was the best thing I've done in months. My muscles hurt for days, but I felt strong! It was just the motivation I needed to get me back in the gym 4-5 times a week. Once I was back in, I remembered how good working out feels. The endorphin rush, the strength, the stress relief! It still takes a lot to get me out the door, but once I'm there, it's great.

As I said, it is definitely possible to lose weight without working out. After all, it's really just mathematical -- calories in, calories out. Experts say that 3500 calories make a pound -- either gained or lost. Burn 500 more calories than you eat each day and you'll lose a pound every 7 days. Simple as that! The tough part is figuring out how many calories your body burns in a day and then working to raise that number through metabolism and exercise.

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is how many calories your body burns in a day just "being." And obviously, calories are burned when you move -- a few for lifting your arm to work the remote control, many more for taking a spin class. But still, every little bit counts toward your total daily "burn." Experts agree that many factors can effect your daily burn -- for example, muscle burns more calories than other body tissues, even when you're not moving. So building muscle will help speed up your metabolism. Moving more, eating smaller meals more often, and even eating spicy foods are all suggested theories for speeding up metabolism. But again, the point remains the same -- burn more calories than you put in, and you will lose weight. So say my BMR is 1700 (based on an age/weight calculation, but only a fitness pro can tell me for sure!), I burned 300 calories running at the gym and doing housework, and I ate 1500 calories today. If I did this everyday (taking in 500 calories less than I burn), I would lose 1 pound a week.

I designed The Svelte Gourmet dinner recipes to fit within this sort of model. I estimate that a main course entree with the Signature Salad and a green veggie total between 500-550 calories, depending on your ingredients (read your labels and pay attention to serving sizes!). And it's all lean protein, whole grains, heart-healthy fats and veggies with the herbs and spices to make them taste great! In the grand scheme of things, really good for those on restricted calorie diets and even better for those who have been eating poorly! This allows us to eat a decent breakfast, a light lunch and some healthy snacks throughout the day, and we're not hungry at all. Top it off with the work I've been doing at the gym, and it speeds up weight loss that much more!

If you've been trying to lose weight and you're eating better, then congratulations! The next step is to get moving! Every little bit counts, and you'll see your efforts reflected on the scale in no time. Move it, and you'll lose it! Start with walking and you'll be amazed at how quickly you see results -- I got a pedometer that I wear everywhere and I aim for 10,000 steps a day. No easy feat, but even my thousand trips around the kitchen count! Take the stairs instead of the elevator and park far from the door. Those steps add up quickly!

Just be careful on the stairs -- hold on, and don't fall! Or maybe that advice is only necessary for me?

A portion of all cookbook sales through the end of February will be donated to the relief efforts in Haiti. The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

And now you know...the rest of the meal!

A couple years ago, Keith and I were in my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania at a local grocery store. A true "southern boy," he suggested we have okra with dinner. I looked around for a bit, then walked up to the produce manager and asked where I could find the okra. He looked at me quizzically and said, "Well, is it a fruit or a vegetable?" I thought Keith was going to pass out! My southern friends are equally as incredulous when they hear this story, but my northern friends just don't understand what the fuss is all about.

Since publishing my main courses, customers and fans continue to ask me what they should have "for the rest of the meal." My advice stays the same -- The Svelte Gourmet Signature Salad and a vegetable (and no, potatoes don't count!). About once a week, I'll make something that includes a whole grain like brown rice or whole wheat pasta. This is what works for us, and I rarely deviate. But in these cold winter months, finding a new and exciting vegetable to cook each night can be difficult (which is why I'm already working on the next cookbook, featuring sides, soups and salads!). In the meantime, here are my thoughts...

In Charleston, 'tis the season for greens! Though we eat spinach daily, other greens -- like collard greens, turnip greens and kale -- have been daunting to me. Collards, in particular, round out cozy, home cooked meals across the Low Country. Until recently, I've never been much of a fan. As you can probably imagine, I stick to steaming or roasting my vegetables -- it keeps their vitamins intact and requires little or no added fat. Perfect for svelte living! However, I very rarely see vegetables around here that are not cooked with some sort of pork product. I understand that this is to give the vegetables flavor, but my mission is to prove to you that vegetables are already loaded with flavor! Salt, pepper, maybe a little garlic or squirt of lemon juice and we're good to go. Anyway, back to my previous aversion to collards....

Collards, I will admit, do benefit from flavor enhancement. However, many recipes use a cut of pork that makes me shake my head every time. "Fat back." Just saying it makes me laugh. Talk about defeating the purpose! Often, collards are boiled for hours, stripping them of their precious nutrients. Then to top it off, they're flavored with "fat back." I'm not superstitious, but I steer clear of things and places named after obesity. For example, you will not find me eating at Blimpie, Fatz Cafe or Potbelly Deli. "Fat back" is avoided for the same reason! If I eat it, I'll get it.

So at the brilliant suggestion of my father-in-law, who dropped off some fresh collards here the other day, I opted to cook them with smoked turkey instead of "fat back" and I only boiled them for a short time. And I must say, thanks to his tutelage, these were the best collards I've ever had. And svelte!

Now for all of you non-southerners who are asking "what are collards?," I'll get back to the point. You, too, can eat local seasonal vegetables, even in winter! Check out this tool from the Natural Resources Defense Council to see what's in season in your area. Even in January, most states have some seasonal options. But if you're in one of those states that doesn't, rest assured. We'll send you some! Here's a tip, though -- many experts say that frozen vegetables are better for you than fresh vegetables from other states or countries. Fresh veggies are often picked before they reach their nutritional peak, then shipped thousands of miles before they reach your grocer. Frozen veggies, on the other hand, are picked and frozen quickly, often within a day of harvest. And as a general rule, try to stay away from canned vegetables, which lose most of their vitamins during the canning process (tomatoes being an interesting exception!).

To steam your vegetables, simply put about an inch of water into the bottom of a pot, insert the steamer basket of your choice, cover, heat to a boil and steam the veggies until crisp-tender (about 5-8 minutes, depending on what you're cooking).

To roast your vegetables, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, mist vegetables with olive oil, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper and other seasonings of your choice, and roast for 30 minutes, stirring or flipping every 10 minutes for even browning. (The picture shows The Svelte Gourmet Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Browned Butter & Pecans -- healthy with just a little glaze! Coming in the next cookbook!)

Each month, this blog has readers not only from across the United States, but also from countries around the world -- the UK, Australia, Italy, The Netherlands, Ireland, Brazil, Turkey, Philippines, Germany and Switzerland, to name a few! I am honored to have reached so many fans, and though I don't know who you are, I'd like to hear from you! Please leave a comment and let your fellow readers know what's in season where you live and how you cook it. I'm always looking for new ideas to keep meals healthy and interesting!

I will be donating a portion of all cookbook sales through February to the relief effort in Haiti. The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ahhh...Umami!

When I first started to see the new Kikkoman television ads claiming "Umami" as the 5th taste, I thought it was just a gimmick. But for some odd reason, the word stuck in my head. I think it's because it reminds me of that Friends episode where Ross is trying to teach Rachel and Phoebe "Unagi," a "total awareness" exercise in karate. In my world (and theirs!), unagi is freshwater eel (my favorite sushi). Makes me laugh every time! "Ahhh...unagi!"

Anyway, back to umami. I did a little digging and figured out that umami really is classified as the 5th taste, and means "flavor" or "taste" in Japan. It is characterized by the presence of naturally occuring glutamates in foods. Brothy, meaty and savory have been proposed as additional translations.

So now we have salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. So what does this mean for us? What I figured out during my umami research is that The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is largely based on this flavor profile. Why? Because focusing on the flavors found in umami-rich foods, along with some salty, some sour and some sweet, creates big taste in small amounts! You get a ton of flavor, without adding a lot of fat and calories.

So based on the Kikkoman campaign, we can surmise that many Asian flavors are umami-rich. I've read that this includes the use of MSG (monosodium glutamate) as a flavor enhancer, but I'm talking about the naturally occuring glutamates in foods. No worries! So what other foods have umami flavors? Here's a quick list of the ones I love:

- beef, pork, chicken, fish, shellfish -- OK, so anything protein-rich!
- tomatoes
- mushrooms
- truffles
- soybeans
- carrots
- aged cheeses -- Parmesan, cheddar, Gruyere, emmental, blue cheese, romano
- yogurt and sour cream

So what does this say to me? It says -- and umami experts agree -- that pizza with tomato sauce, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese is an umami triple threat! That's even without the meat. Lucky for you, there's a healthy pizza recipe in the cookbook that even the kids will gobble up! Not only is this recipe full of umami-rich ingredients, the entire 8-inch Svelte Gourmet pizza has less than 400 calories! That's less than one slice of take-out! But I digress...

Mix these umami flavors with some of the other strong but healthful players, like salty olives, sweet honey, and sour citrus and you have entrees packed with flavor. These foods may not seem "svelte" to you, but used sparingly, these flavors pack a big punch in just a small amount. Perfect when you're trying to make healthy food taste great!

I've been walking around the kitchen saying "ahhh...umami" for about a month now. Keith and the kids think I'm a bit odd, but that's ok. I was formulating this blog entry in my head, wondering how I could best get the point across. Then this past weekend, I was preparing a client dinner -- starting with a lovely whole wheat crostini topped with roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, garlic and basil chiffonade. Taylor walked into the kitchen, smelled it and said, "Yum, what are you making? It smells beefy." Well there you go. Ahhh....Umami!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I like to keep green soup around the house to mess with the kids. (New recipe!)

Brrrr...even by northern standards, Charleston is cold. There was ice on my front stairs this morning! The pond even has a layer of ice on it! Since moving down here, my skin has gotten thinner...or something. I feel like a popsicle!

Nothing says cozy like a homemade pot of soup. Vegetable, chicken noodle, tomato (the Far East Tomato Soup in my cookbook is to die for!). I also love making soup because it's easy to freeze and pull out on those nights when I don't want to cook.

One of my all-time favorites is split pea soup. Though I leave the potatoes out to keep it svelte, it is still really good. It has nice chunks of ham and the onion, celery and bay leaves give the split peas an amazing flavor. YUM. At least I think so. Judging by Keith and Taylor downing a bowl or two each, I think they agree. Courtney, on the other hand, was not amused. I decided to stay out of it this time...

Her: "Daddy, it's green."
Him: "Then close your eyes."
Her: "Can't I have something else?"
Him: "You've already had half a loaf of bread. Two teaspoons is all I ask. It's good!"
Her: "Nope."
Him: "Then no more snacks or bread. Two teaspoons."
Her: "Not gonna happen. I don't care, I don't need snacks. I'm not hungry."

Little Courtney ended up eating her two teaspoons of soup for breakfast before Keith made her pancakes. And she admitted it wasn't too bad. Just not something she would want to eat again. What a hoot! I'm sure I said the same thing when I was 10, but now I love this soup. Thanks Mom!

This weekend, I set out to create more soup -- for us to freeze and to use up some of the ingredients in the fridge. I'm also working on the next cookbook, which will feature soups, salads, sides, etc., so I'm always experimenting. Well wouldn't you know it, green soup once again made an appearance. I wonder how Miss Courtney is going to like this one? Maybe I should spare her, but it's REALLY good, and she likes broccoli. If she can just get past the color, I'm sure she would like it!

This Creamy Broccoli Soup is a recreation of two old favorites -- cream of broccoli and broccoli cheese soups. However, this one focuses more on the broccoli and less on the fat. It's different and interesting, with delicate flavors that mellow the broccoli's bite. And unlike the old favorites, it is VERY light. With the ingredients I used, I calculated mine to have 75 calories per serving, with 8 servings in the pot. Of course Keith and I each ate more than a serving at a time, but with it being so low in calories, who cares?! It was a cozy, comforting meal for us during this unusual cold spell in Charleston, and he loved it. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Creamy Broccoli Soup
2 lbs (10 cups) broccoli, frozen or fresh
1 quart chicken broth (preferably low fat and low salt).
2 oz light cream cheese (regular or reduced fat)
1/2 cup plain yogurt (fat free or full fat)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
Salt to taste (amount needed will depend on your broth)
Extra broth or water to thin, if necessary

Boil broccoli in broth for 10 minutes, or until it's soft enough to mash with a fork (don't drain it). Mash roughly and add the rest of the ingredients, stirring until the cream cheese melts. Blend with an immersion blender or transfer to a regular blender, blending until smooth and adding extra broth to achieve your desired consistency. Top with a dollop of yogurt and some freshly ground black pepper if desired.

Enjoy!

The Svelte Gourmet Cookbook: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Partying like it's 1999!

I started this blog just under 3 months ago. Can you believe that? I can't. The response has been so overwhelming and in just 3 months, I've turned The Svelte Gourmet into a company, wrote a cookbook, and earned recognition from the media for this "unique idea." It seems that "personal training in the kitchen" is something that was missing, not only in this area, but everywhere. Trainers will tell you how to eat right, but not how to make it taste great. Cooking shows will tell you how to make food taste good, but it's rarely good for you. My goal is to merge the two.

Anyway, I digress. With a decade of marketing experience, I know a bit about how to get the word out. But what astounds me most is how the social networking phenomenon has thrown The Svelte Gourmet into overdrive. It was the response from fans -- many of whom I've known for years and new ones that I'm gaining each day from these sites -- that was the impetus to turn this blog into a business.

So thank you. Not only for your encouragement, but for showing back up in my life. High school and college friends I haven't talked to in a decade -- and sadly, may never have reconnected with if it weren't for Facebook and The Svelte Gourmet -- have become new fixtures in my life. I love that, as we muddle our way through adulthood, our common bond of school, sororities and parties has turned to careers, kids and cooking.

Sure, I'm getting a lot of encouragement and I'm gaining new fans everyday who don't know me, but who are interested in what I'm doing. What I find the most interesting, though, are the people who knew me "when," who are saying that I look great and I never needed to lose weight. I think maybe our memories are starting to fade as we get older. But boy, nothing brings back memories like a photograph.

This one came out of nowhere. My lovely friend Leah, who was once my daily confidant, is now at the other end of the country. I miss her. Every time I lost a little bit of weight, she would tell me I was looking "svelte." That, of course, was much needed encouragement, and has always stuck with me. So on New Year's Eve, just a couple of days ago, I was shocked and happy to hear from her. And equally as shocked looking at the picture she sent. I guess my memories have faded a bit, too! This picture is of Leah and me (I'm the one on the right!) on New Year's Eve 10 years ago. Partying like it was 1999. Ringing in the new millennium, I was 30 pounds heavier than I am now.

This was definitely a reality check for me. I went back and forth for a few days on whether or not I should share it with you. Then I decided that nothing tells my story of yo-yo dieting better than this picture. It was about a year after this photo was taken that I decided to get serious about losing weight. I was 24 and still in the mindset of "this was just my size." My roommate moved to Manhattan and I was completely on my own for the first time in DC. With no one to monitor me and no one to hide from, it was just me, the fridge and the scale. It was hard at first. I didn't know what to eat and I just started cooking and seeing how I could make the bland diet food taste better. I joined the gym, which started as a battle, but I learned to like the endorphin rush. Mostly, for me, it was the eating healthfully that enabled me to lose weight. The scale would go down 1/2 a pound or a pound every couple days. It was exhilarating! Every now and then it would go up, reminding me that I needed to be more careful. I went from a 12 to an 8 to a 6, 4, then 2...30 pounds gone.

The best part is that I've been able to keep it off for the better part of a decade. I changed my mindset. That was NOT my size. If only I'd figured it out sooner. Because you know what? It wasn't that hard. Anyone can do this. And that's why I started blogging.

Thank you for your encouragement and thank you to those who have reappeared in my life. I missed you!

The Svelte Gourmet Cookbook: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.
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