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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Svelte Gourmet Cookbook is 25% Off!

Struggling with last minute gift ideas? Need an extra stocking stuffer? Looking for something that's easy to mail? Or maybe you're simply trying to avoid your own dreaded holiday weight gain....

Whatever your dilemma, have I got a deal for you!

Now through December 31st, you, too can be the proud owner (or giver!) of The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook for a fraction of the regular price (3/4, to be exact). That's right, The Svelte Gourmet Cookbook is 25% OFF!

You really can't live without this book. I can't, anyway. So get it now, while the price is a low $14.99.


Enjoy....and Happy Holidays from The Svelte Gourmet!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Apple Cinnamon Muffins -- New Recipe!

Did you know there’s such a thing as “too apple-y?” According to the kids, that was the problem with version one of this recipe. The truth is, this recipe took three versions to get it to the level of “blog-worthy.” It’s ok, though, because I get so excited about researching, experimenting and perfecting the recipes to be the perfect balance of healthy and tasty that I often can’t think about anything else. Is that weird?


Taylor: “Jenny, what are we doing tomorrow?”
Me: “Baking apple muffins! Yay!”
Taylor: (sigh) “Again? How many do we really need?” (There were at least 36 already cooling on the counter.)
Me: “OK, then let’s eat these.”
Taylor: “They’re too apple-y.”

I rest my case. The Apple Cinnamon muffin recipe simply had to be refined. It wasn’t blog-worthy…yet. The first batch was too apple-y and the second batch was too dense. Not what I was after.

Evidently, there are several schools of thought when it comes to making muffins. My research was pretty much split 50/50 between people who preferred the “muffin method” and those who favored the “cake method.” The difference is this – for the muffin method, you combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ones in another. Combine them, stir to just mix, and bake immediately. For the cake method, you cream the fat and sugar, add the eggs, and then add the liquid and flour alternately. Since I use applesauce instead of shortening, “creaming” doesn’t work as well. So this time, I went for the muffin method….which is so much easier anyway!

These muffins are quick and easy, and they are perfect for apple season. They remind me a little bit of apple pie, but they are so much lighter! This recipe makes 12-18 muffins, depending on how full you fill the muffin cups. I prefer larger ones, so I’m not tempted to eat two. The recipe makes 18 muffins at 90 calories each or 12 muffins at 135 calories each. Either way, they’re a perfect, light breakfast. They just taste like autumn. Yum!

Apple Cinnamon Muffins
(makes 12-18)

1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg, beaten
1 cup skim milk
2 medium sweet-crisp apples (like Gala, Fuji, Jonagold, etc.), diced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients (through baking powder) in a large mixing bowl. Mix to distribute. Mix applesauce, egg and milk in a separate bowl. Peel, core and dice apples. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Fold in diced apples. Immediately fill muffin cups. I fill them 2/3 full for smaller muffins or almost to the top for larger ones. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few crumbs. Enjoy!

Me (to my boss): “So, how was your weekend?”
Steve: “It was great – I biked 30 miles, went to the Darius Rucker concert, and then caught some live tennis on Sunday. How was yours? Did you and Keith do anything fun?”
Me: “Yes! We painted the bookshelves, helped Courtney with her book report and made six batches of muffins! ”
Steve (with an eye roll): “You guys really need to get out more.”

Perhaps he has a point.



The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. It's a perfect holiday gift!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Eat to live? Or live to eat?

As I’m sure you can guess if you’ve been following me long enough, I’m the latter. I definitely live to eat. I don’t know if it’s my affinity for cooking, my love for experimenting with new foods, or that I’m just bored (not likely!), but I’m always thinking about my next meal. And in case you’re wondering, it’s not because I’m actually hungry. I’ve stopped using that excuse a long time ago!

I’ve run across a few people in my life who will say things like, “Wow, I forgot to eat lunch today.” Not me, buddy. It doesn’t matter what I’ve packed for lunch, I look forward to it from the moment I finish my oatmeal. Case in point – I decided that I’m not grocery shopping again until we eat the food we have in the house. So for lunch, I had cereal (to finish the milk) and left over green beans. Odd combination, I know. But I looked forward to it nonetheless.

I’ve also run across people in my life who have said – and believed – that if you exercise, you can eat whatever, and as much as, you want. This may work for those “I never gain weight!” people, but it doesn’t work for me. I suppose if I were a professional athlete, I’d have a daily calorie burn that would surpass the calories in anything and everything I could put in my mouth. But know this – if you’re trying to lose weight with diet and exercise, you have to do both. Typical daily exercise for most of us does not give us a license to eat whatever we want. It’s backfired on me before. For example, running burns about 100 calories per mile. I’m up to seven miles (woo hoo!), but I can promise you that it’s easier to skip the fried calamari than to run seven miles. Trust me.

Luckily, I’ve found that my “live to eat” mindset works even when my new lifestyle mandates a 1,200 calorie a day max. And like I wrote a couple posts ago, this is just about all I can eat (coupled with five workouts a week) if I want to drop a pound a week. Counting calories becomes a game. I learn what I can eat for a few calories. I figure out which foods keep me feeling full. I make exchanges….I eat whatever I want (office chocolate jar!), but I’ll trade the calories for something else later. It’s pretty much no holds barred if you watch your portion sizes and be honest and diligent with your food log. It can be fun if you think positively.

One thing it does take is a plan. Unless you’re ok with eating the same thing every day (we “live to eat” types aren’t), you have to be creative. What I’ve found is that if I keep breakfast to 250-300 calories, lunch to 350 calories, dinner to 400 calories and a 100 calorie snack or two, I’m there.

So what does this look like? I know several people who have recently started diets, and the common complaint is, “I just don’t know what to eat.” So they end up eating the same thing every day or drinking shakes, only to get bored and quit. Or worse, they eat restaurant salads every day and end up sabotaging themselves with thousands of calories of salad dressing and cheese.

I have a better plan. Luckily, each main course in my cookbook has between 300 and 400 calories for both the entrée and The Svelte Gourmet Signature Salad on the side (94 calories). If you measure/weigh your food and stay true to what a portion size should be – for dinner and your other meals – this isn’t that hard. And you won’t be bored!

EXAMPLE DAY ONE (Calories in parentheses)
Breakfast – Instant oatmeal (160) with 1 tbsp raisins (43), coffee with Splenda and 2 tbsp non-dairy creamer (60) (Tip: buy the Weight Control oatmeal. It has the same calorie count, but it’s packed with extra protein and fiber to keep you full!)
Lunch – 2 cups of TSG Creamy Broccoli Soup (150) and 4 oz. grilled chicken (140)
Snack – Snack-sized Greek yogurt (90)
Dinner – 4 oz. grilled London Broil (220), TSG Signature Salad (94), two cups steamed broccoli (60)
Snack – 1 cup frozen grapes (100) (you have to try these, they’re so good!)
TOTAL: 1,117 calories (yay, some to spare!)

EXAMPLE DAY TWO
Breakfast – high fiber cereal (160); ½ cup skim milk (45); coffee as usual (60)
Lunch – 6-inch Subway sandwich (turkey, ham or roast beef, no cheese, no dressing – meat, veggies and vinegar only!) (300)
Snack – Apple (100)
DinnerTSG Eggplant Parmesan (330); TSG Signature Salad (94)
Snack – 4 cups air-popped popcorn misted with butter cooking spray and sprinkled with salt (120)
TOTAL: 1,209 calories

EXAMPLE DAY THREE
Breakfast – 2 eggs (140); sliced medium tomato (25); coffee (60)
Lunch – 1 cup TSG Chili with light sour cream (240); 1 cup cucumber slices (20)
Snack – banana (110); trip to the office candy jar (2 Hershey’s miniatures) (80)
DinnerTSG Make Your Own Pizza (395)
Snack – Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich (yum!!!) (140)
TOTAL: 1,210 calories

See that?! A full day’s worth of food, plus snacks, and you’re still sticking to a decent caloric intake. I promise you, this is feasible, even if you live to eat. It fits my live to eat lifestyle perfectly, it’s not boring, I can still experiment in the kitchen, and I have plenty of energy to fuel my workouts. Bon appétit!

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From too thick to toothpick.

I hate to admit it, but I love celebrity magazines. The fashion, the scandal – the pictures! As these people don’t affect my life one iota, I only let myself buy them in airports. That way, I’m entertained on the flight, but the crazy “celeb-reality” doesn’t creep into my real life.

“Scary Skinny!” The headline screamed at me from the news stand as I headed to my gate. Just days after my doctor told me I could expect to lose only 1 pound a week on my new exercise and eating program, I admittedly had to see what the fuss was all about. These celebs truly are scary skinny. If the camera really does add 10 pounds, that means they're even more skeletal in real life (I’ve often looked at pictures of myself and wondered exactly how many cameras were on me….yikes!).

From eating only baby food to virtually no food at all, these lovely ladies are doing serious damage to themselves in the name of fame. The old yo-yo dieter in me might have been tempted by the quick fixes, but the older (ugh), wiser (matter of opinion) Svelte Gourmet isn’t fooled. No sir.

Lest you think that “only losing water weight” is the biggest risk of a crash diet, cleanse or fast, read on.

As crash diets usually consist of severely restricted caloric intake or elimination of entire food groups, nutrient deprivation is, in my opinion, the most threatening health risk. Not only do these diets weaken your immune system (increasing your risk of illness), they also deprive you of vital nutrients and can lead to bone loss (from a lack of calcium in your diet), organ damage, and even cardiac stress. Add exercise to the mix and you’re putting some serious strain on your body!

This alone should be enough to deter you from taking the crash diet plunge. But try this on for size – starving now to fit in that high school reunion dress can have serious implications for your ability to lose weight and keep it off later. You may lose 10 pounds now, but you’ll gain it back quickly….and probably put on more than you lost. I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times. But why does this happen?

Crash dieting (restricting calories or entire food groups) sends your body into starvation mode. It’s a vicious cycle. On crash diets, you appear to lose weight because your body in starvation mode is shedding water and muscle mass – NOT burning fat. Muscle burns calories faster than fat, so losing this precious muscle will slow down your metabolism (how quickly your body burns calories) and make it even more difficult to lose weight later. Then, since your body thinks it’s starving, it automatically stores new calories as fat – so when you start to eat again, you’ll pack those pounds back on faster than you lost them!

There’s a lot more to this and I’m not a doctor, so take this for what it’s worth – my very basic understanding of a growing problem (no pun intended!). My two rounds with the lemonade diet several years ago have made it noticeably harder for me to lose weight. My metabolism just isn’t what it used to be. When my doctor and I discussed my new plan (which, really, just ensures that I actually practice what I already preach), I was tempted to “jump start” my weight loss with a weekend liquid diet. But armed with this explanation and my own crash diet experiences, I know that would do more harm than good.

So what is the right way to lose weight and keep it off? It’s easier said than done – take it from me! But the best and only way is proper nutrition, enough calories and a lot of exercise. I know this now, and I do this now – it’s how the Svelte Gourmet came to be. But recently I’ve stepped it up in order to size it down. A lot more exercise (I’m up to running 5 miles! Yay!); sticking with lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and veggies; and especially watching my portion sizes has me back on track….to the tune of one healthy pound a week. This lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint – it's tough if you're impatient like me, but slow and steady wins the race.

And ladies of Hollywood, please eat something. Maybe a burger or five. Just go for the whole grain bun and you’ll be fine. Or better yet, choose any meal from my cookbook – all are delicious, full of nutrient-rich foods, and light enough for any diet. Oh, and feel free to carry the book around in front of the paparazzi -- let's get The Svelte Gourmet on the map!

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A mile (or three!) in my shoes.

When last we met, I was dishing on healthy summer sides – simple, healthy choices to make in order to beat the summer weight I inevitably always put on in the warmer months. I was determined to beat it this year, and not let my “special occasions” get the best of me. Enjoying party and boat food (and drinks!) once in a while is fine. But if you’re like me, summer becomes one giant special occasion.

If you read between the lines of that sentence, you’ll gather that I didn’t exactly practice what I preach. “Me…becomes….giant.” That’s how I read that sentence. OK, so it wasn’t that bad. I gained about eight pounds (rather quickly, I’ll admit). My bikinis looked good in June and not really that good in August (they must be shrinking). And my shorts and skirts are tight. Urg. I always get a physical in August, so there’s no avoiding the reality of the scale.

My Very Fit, Tiny Doctor: “How did this happen? We need to check your thyroid. I’m ordering a full work up.”

Me: “No need to check my thyroid…again. I ate ice cream every day since our vacation in June. No real mystery here.”

Tiny Doctor: “But we lose weight in the summer! All those great outdoor activities!”

Me: “You mean like eating?” (she didn’t laugh)

Tiny Doctor: “You need to lose 20 pounds.”

TWENTY?! I only gained eight. If I lose 20 pounds, all the clothes in my closet that I can’t button now will be too big. TWENTY?!

Me: “Ha ha, no seriously.”

Tiny Doctor: “I think you should weigh X pounds.”

Me: “I haven’t weighed X pounds since 8th grade.”

Tiny Doctor: “By next August, you will. Tell me about your diet and exercise.”

Me: “Well, I go to the gym 3-4 times a week. Classes, elliptical, Body Pump for weight training. And I write a healthy cooking blog. Whole grains, lean proteins, lots of veggies. I know what to do.”

Tiny Doctor gave me a look that all but said “knowing is clearly not doing.” Gulp. How embarrassing!

Tiny Doctor: “You need to run.”

Me: “I don’t run. What about the elliptical? Or step class?”

Tiny Doctor: “No, running is the answer. Three to six miles a day.”

OK. Hold the phone. Three to six miles? Running? I can't run. I mean, I can do hours of advanced step class like it’s nobody’s business. But running is a fight-or-flight-only activity. I last about three minutes on the treadmill.

Tiny Doctor: “At your current weight and BMI, your body needs about 1,400 calories to maintain. I want you to eat 1,100 calories a day of protein and whole grains until you lose the weight and then 1,200 as a lifestyle. Run 3-6 miles 3 days per week and weight train 2 days per week. You should lose about 1 pound per week and lower your body fat by 2%.”

Hold the other phone! Take all the numbers out of this sentence and it reads like one of my blog entries. Eat right and exercise. Lean proteins, veggies, whole grains. Keep track of your calories. Eat less than you burn and you’ll lose weight. Lose weight slowly to keep it off. It's a lifestyle! I know how to do this! But really, I thought my base numbers would be higher.

What this really speaks to is the misconception that our bodies need 2,000 calories a day, as nutrition labels would suggest. Clearly if I ate 2,000 calories a day, I’d gain weight! (Which is evidently exactly what happened this summer.) One size does not fit all! I was shocked at my 1,400 number. That’s a strict diet for most people! I encourage you to have your doctor calculate your BMI and show you the number of calories that your body burns in 24 hours "just being" -- in other words, going through your daily routine without deliberate exercise. The burn number is probably a lot lower than you think. No wonder it’s so hard to lose weight! It's depressing, but once you have the math (your math), it's hard to argue. Calories in, calories out.

This is an outrage. Twenty pounds. Ha! I got to the office and shared my story, looking for a little sympathy. (“Can you believe it?! Twenty pounds!” “Where will you lose it from?” “I don’t know!”). Then I called my mom. She’ll be on my side, surely. Nobody tells her little girl she needs to change!

Me: “Mom, my doctor wants me to lose TWENTY POUNDS! Isn’t that ridiculous?”

Mom: “Good for her! You hold onto that doctor! She knows how important weight is at your age!”

Gee, thanks Mom! Now I’m fat and old. (wink…I love you Mom!) But I know she’s right. Eight pounds this summer is ten next summer, and 12 the year after that. And I’m almost 36, after all. It’s a recipe for disaster, and I have to get a handle on it now. Doctor's orders.

Oh well. I’ve always wanted to be a runner. There’s no time like the present! I went home from work and put my sneakers on. Our road is exactly half a mile. I’ll run down and back. That should be good for a start. And really, I wasn’t even sure I would make it a whole mile.

I ran and ran, willing my legs to keep moving. It was a brain game. And I did the mile. It was a moment of victory and it felt so good! The next day, I did a mile and a quarter. A couple days later, I went for two and I thought I was going to pass out. But I did it. I stayed there for a week, and then moved up to two-and-a-half miles. I can’t believe I’m doing this!

It’s been a month since my doctor visit and now I’m up to 3-mile stretches. I’m trying not to think about the fact that this is the minimum distance she wants me to do. Instead, I’m focusing on the feelings I have about this accomplishment. For me, this is huge. And to be honest, I’m starting to enjoy it. Keith bought me new running shoes to protect my joints. I got a heart rate monitor to track my burn. I’ve lost 6 of the 8 pounds I gained over the summer. Now it’s a mission for me – and not really as bad as I thought it would be. I picture myself totally fit at X pounds, and it motivates me. The calorie part is easy. The running part is monumental. This truly could change my life, and I look forward to sharing my journey with you. Stay tuned!

So what does one eat as part of this plan? Try the recipes in my cookbook -- all work perfectly as part of a 1,200 calorie per day lifestyle! The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Righteous summer sides...party on!

Burgers. Beer. BBQ. Bathing suits. Wait….

Why can’t we eat like this in the winter, when we can layer on our forgiving sweaters? Instead, we’re expected to cram ourselves full of fattening deliciousness then prance around half naked. In front of people. Awesome.

“I’ll have the grilled chicken,” I say, rather self-righteously. There. I did it. I ate healthy at a summer party. But then, as I look down at my plate, the realization hits me. I’ve crowded out my modest chicken breast with potato salad, baked beans, dessert and frozen beverages. All of a sudden, I don’t feel so righteous.

There are things you can eat at a party without falling off the diet wagon. But how do you do it without offending anyone? You can’t exactly pack your own meal. Here are some tips just in time for the July 4th celebration.

Scenario One – You’re Invited to the Party


  • Opt for chicken breast if you can. If that isn’t an option, load your burger (sans bun!) with tomatoes, mustard, pickles and onions instead of mayo and cheese. Same for hot dogs – no chili cheese dogs for me!

  • Were you asked to bring something? I always volunteer to bring the veggie tray and a healthy dip or salsa. That way, I know there will be one available. Munch away!

  • Go for corn on the cob instead of baked beans or potato salad. Yes, I know that corn is starchy and I don’t usually recommend it. But it’s so hard to resist in the summer…and it’s a lot better than sugar and bacon filled baked beans or mayo-laden ‘tater salad. Easy on the butter.

  • Watermelon? Yes, please! Opt for fruit instead of dessert.

  • If beer is your only option, go for light beer and alternate with bottles of water. If you have a choice, go for a spritzer – white wine mixed with a diet lemon-lime soda is great!

Scenario Two – You’re the Host. The possibilities are endless ….here are a few that will have your guests raving!



  • These Unfried Green Tomatoes are my go-to party pleaser. And they’re healthy! Perfect for a party “out yonder.” Sometimes you can find green tomatoes at the grocery store (at least here in Charleston!), but your best bet is to pull them off the vine in your garden. That’s all they are – regular ole’ unripe ‘maters!

  • Want a fancy-pants side that’s super easy? Wrap a few stalks of baby asparagus with some prosciutto, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and throw the little bundles on the grill. YUM. The salty prosciutto gets crispy and the asparagus gets a lovely grilled flavor.

  • Having a pot luck? Fool your guests with makeover Mac ‘n Cheese. They’ll never guess the secret ingredient and the kids will be too busy noshing to notice.

  • You can’t go wrong with a green salad. You can go wrong with too much creamy dressing. Who wants that in the hot sun, anyway? My trick? Mix a bit of salad vinegar with a few tablespoons of the liquid/brine from the banana pepper or pepperoncini jar, add a drizzle of olive oil and a little water to cut the vinegar bite, and stir. Drizzle over salad and toss about 5 minutes before your guests dig in. It is surprisingly good! Try it like this!

  • Kabobs. Nothing says summer like food on a stick! Just remember to skewer your kabobs according to cooking time. Alternating chicken cubes with tomatoes and mushrooms may look nice, but you’ll end up with a bunch of mush once your chicken finally cooks. Stick to one food type per stick, stagger grilling times, and you’ll be fine – instant side dishes!

  • Put out a whole grain pasta salad that will knock their socks off. Cooked whole wheat pasta (I like corkscrews) mixed with blanched snow pea pods tastes amazing with a bit of Greek yogurt to bind it all together. Finish it with a generous amount of tarragon and a sprinkle of sea salt. You’ll find yourself hoping for leftovers to take to work! Sub out the pasta for leftover grilled chicken and you’ll have the tarragon chicken salad from The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook. Delish!

  • Room for dessert? Pre-slice somewhat firm peaches or nectarines, then throw them directly onto the grill. After a few minutes, they’ll have lovely grill marks and the caramelized flavor will be perfect alone or over vanilla frozen yogurt. If you put a drip pan below them, you’ll have instant syrup, too!

  • Fauxjitos. ‘Nuff said.

Find more delicious ideas in The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Operation Grocery Store: Securing the Perimeter

The Svelte Gourmet was invited to guest blog about shopping for healthy items to cook. Check out my post and other great eco-friendly items at EcoBold.com!

Internal monologue: “I just need milk and salad veggies. This shouldn’t take long….Oh, but look at that beautiful wheel of Brie! And I didn’t know they made those crackers with whole grains now. Wow, this discovery could change my life forever!”

Grocery stores are dangerous for me. The barrage of beautiful food and interesting or unknown ingredients sends me into an uncontrollable frenzy. It’s like shoe shopping. You go for a basic pair of black flats. But really, you can’t pass up those red polka-dotted peep toe pumps. Who could blame you? (Guys, if you’re like my husband, your equivalent to this is going in for a new hammer and coming out with a double-bevel sliding compound miter saw. True story.)

It used to get me every time. I would pick up the “peep toe pump” equivalent of an exciting culinary find – a new brand of goat cheese, lamb chops on sale, or the new super-food that’s going to cure life’s every ailment. But I only went for salad veggies, and now I needed all the accoutrements to go with the special item. I mean, after all, you simply must have the perfect little black dress to make those peep-toes pop.

By the time I get through the checkout, I’m both exasperated and exhilarated. And spent – literally (can you believe the price of groceries today?!). If only I inherited my mom’s couponing gene.

But besides buying more than I came in for, I end up with a cart full of diet saboteurs. With the cleverly worded nutrition stats and in-your-face marketing – gorgeous photography right there at eye-level – it’s easy to forget that the ingredient list is full of things we can’t even pronounce.
I have a strategy for Operation Grocery Store. You have to secure the perimeter.

I’m guessing many of you have never given much thought to the layout of a grocery store. But think about it now. You enter the store, and walking counter-clockwise, you go through the fresh produce section, the deli, the meat and seafood department, the dairy case, frozen foods, and health and beauty (no need for our hygiene to suffer!). Each of these sections contains the ingredients for wholesome, tasty meals. Focusing on fresh, whole ingredients versus processed meals and “convenience foods” is crucial to a successful mission. With few exceptions (we’ll get to those in a moment), everything you need to cook delicious, healthful meals is around the perimeter.

So what about the rest of the store? Let’s go through it. But be warned! To venture into this enemy territory, you need two things: strong resolve and a shopping list.

To get to the olives and vinegars, you must walk past the prepared salad dressings. Be strong! You can do this! Enter the cereal aisle for steel-cut oats, but avoid the cocoa loops. They may tempt you with their “made with whole grains” claim, but it’s not the same as 100% whole grain! Canned tomatoes may in fact be better for you than raw – the cooking process breaks down the cell walls, releasing the lycopene. However, don’t touch the other sodium-laden canned veggies or soups right next to those tomatoes!

The brown rice and basmati is right there next to the white rice. Same with the whole wheat flour (and did you know that “white whole wheat” flour is made from albino wheat? It really is whole grain! Rejoice!). The occasional pasta meal is nice, especially with the addition of whole wheat varieties. But I’ve discovered something else – spaghetti squash. Have you had it? You simply bake or microwave the squash, then scrape the inside with a fork and it comes out in strands like angel hair pasta. Just like that, straight from the produce section! It’s delicious, low in carbs and calories, and perfect with any sauce you would have with pasta – without a doubt, the single best discovery I’ve made this year.

Moving on. I still wonder why the dried herbs and spices are always in the baking aisle. It’s the ultimate torture! Grab the spices, then quickly fall back! Head for the snack aisle for the unsalted nuts and popcorn to air-pop, but avoid anything that’s day-glow orange. “Cheeze” and “cheese” are not the same thing! Then, as you venture through the aisle of plastic wrap and dog food, take a minute to catch your breath. The worst of the battle is yet to come! For while frozen veggies are often more healthful than fresh (they’re frozen the day of picking, versus trucked to your stores if not local), the freezer section is also loaded with traps ready to derail your mission -- TV dinners, frozen pies, and virtually every kind of prepared meal just waiting for you to “thaw, heat and serve.” If you can get through this, you can get through anything!

Give “perimeter” shopping a try. You’ll realize that buying wholesome ingredients will make for better meals than the processed foods. Once you have a decent stock of pantry staples, you can avoid those center aisles, making the temptations even less. Give Operation Grocery Store a try and reap the benefits of healthful eating from the perimeter. And by the way, I really do think spaghetti squash has changed my life forever. That, and the red polka-dotted peep toe pumps.

A month’s-worth of tasty dinners made from the perimeter are available in The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook (www.thesveltegourmet.com/products). Enjoy!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Are you in "once in a while" denial?

But I eat right! I live a healthy lifestyle! It doesn’t make any sense that my clothes are feeling tighter. I only eat junk food once in a while. The dryer must be shrinking my jeans.

If this sounds familiar, then first let me congratulate you on your move to a healthy lifestyle! You’ve successfully transitioned to choosing lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and veggies instead of their fatty/sugary/starchy counterparts as your now normal “diet.” So what’s the problem? Well, in my opinion, the only way to really, truly maintain a healthy lifestyle is to let yourself indulge once in a while. After all, you can’t live your life never having a nice three course dinner out, ice cream on vacation, or a piece of cake on your birthday. Right? At least this is how I like to live my life. Where I get into trouble is when the “once in a whiles” start happening way more frequently than they should. I think I’m eating right, but the treats are slyly creeping back into my normal routine. Are you in “once in a while” denial?

You can also think of this as “special occasion inflation.” That sort of rhymes, right? And if this starts happening, you really need to reassess how special the occasion really is. Here are some examples from my life recently:

1. The weather is starting to feel like summer, so Keith and I took the boat out a few weekends ago (in February! I love Charleston!). We packed fried chicken for the cooler and some other yummy snacks. “But I only eat like this when we’re on the boat!” Right. But we’re on the boat every weekend.

2. One day this week Lori brought doughnuts into the office. What a special treat! Then one of the guys surprised us all with sausage biscuits a few days later. How nice! But really, there always seems to be some sort of treat around here.

3. Which brings me to my next point – the office candy jar(s). Really, this is total sabotage. I can get by unscathed most of the day (that is, if I’ve managed to avoid the doughnuts and sausage biscuits). But come 3:00, it takes every ounce of my being to avoid that jar of chocolate. “But they’re mini!” Read here if you’re buying that logic!

4. We were out running errands this weekend and ended up grabbing dinner out BOTH nights. Not only is this a giant drain on our bank account, but I can cook this same food at home MUCH healthier. We ran ourselves ragged, didn’t feel like cooking, and made poor choices when we were overly hungry.

5. I traveled to Chicago last week for work. And for some reason, using my “once in a while” logic, I managed to justify eating catered breakfast, mid-morning snack, catered lunch, afternoon snack, all day coffee and soda, and an appetizer/salad/entrée dinner with wine. “But I’m traveling! It’s so hard to eat right!” Seriously? Lest you wonder, I can promise you that sitting in a seminar for 8 hours does NOT require the energy from this many calories.

6. The kids are really embracing the baking that we do on the weekends. So now what used to be once in a while weekend waffles has become “Jenny, can we make waffles again?” every weekend. Courtney and Taylor have also taken to making these quick “PopTart/Toaster Strudel” things we came up with a few weekends ago (simply frozen puff pastry sheets spread with Nutella, sealed and baked in the oven). Wow, they are SO good. And they want to make them every time they’re with us! There are few things I love more than cooking with the girls, so I oblige. So once again, “once in a while” has become “once a week.” They are always sized a bit differently, but I’ve calculated them to be somewhere around 350-400 calories each. Not good for impending bathing suit season! (But they look divine, don’t they?) I think this weekend I’ll hang my bikini in the kitchen as a reminder NOT to eat these. Because I know they’ll want to make them!

(Meanwhile, check out our cooking adventures on the girls’ blogs, http://www.taystreats.blogspot.com/ and http://www.courtneycreatesblog.blogspot.com/. I’m so proud of them!)

When the pounds start to creep on, it’s time to take a closer look at the “once in a whiles.” It’s frightening, if you add it up. Looking at my examples, I’m in grave danger! These things are happening nearly every week! Just a quick calculation from these gives me about 2500 calories in JUST THE TREATS. That is NOT counting the two dinners out or my entire day in Chicago. Add those in and I’m sure I’ve tripled that number. And if 3500 calories make up one pound, then you don’t have to guess where those spare 5 pounds came from. Urg. There is no reason I can’t pack healthy food for the boat and avoid the doughnuts at work. As a compromise, I’ll indulge when there’s an office birthday and we’ll go out to a nice dinner once a month. If I can stick with those as my “special occasions” and follow The Svelte Gourmet tips the rest of the time, I should be fine.

It’s time to get my “once in a whiles” in check. How about you?

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month Of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Perfect for every day, not just "once in a while!"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For ladies who lunch....and me.

Oh my gosh. I just had the best dinner. It would be the perfect "ladies who lunch" meal. Fancy. Sophisticated. Gourmet. It's a sidewalk cafe, glass of pinot grigio kind of meal. Let's just pretend, for a moment, that I'm dressed in the hottest designer's spring line and oversized sunglasses...not sitting here in my jammies...the ones with the cute little sheep on them.

The spinach and goat cheese frittata I made tonight has become a staple weeknight meal for me. Quick and light, but still "close my eyes" good. But tonight, the salad takes center stage. Tonight, my friends, I had a grilled romaine salad with a homemade Caesar dressing.

I know I don't have to remind you (again) that your standard restaurant Caesar salad is not diet food. But I'm going to. It is not diet food! As I said recently, most restaurant salads might as well be called bowls of cheese and bacon, because that's what they are. Even the Caesar, with it's meager, yet wonderful, Parmesan and croutons can boast upwards over 500 calories -- and that's without any chicken! Yikes! You might as well order the lasagna. OK, I said it, and I feel better. And of course my Caesar dressing won't throw your diet off the wagon. Mine is a delicious, creamy Caesar with only 35 calories per 2-tbsp serving. "But dah-ling, you can't be serious," you purr in your lady who lunches voice. Oh, but I am.

And when I say grilled, I'm not talking about grilled chicken Caesar. No sir. I'm talking about grilled lettuce. Insanity. I literally had a salad consisting of half a head of romaine and some dressing...and it was one of the best salads I've ever had. For only 55 calories. So if you've never grilled romaine lettuce, you must. Tonight. Well, maybe tomorrow, since you should really make the dressing first. Look at those grill marks!

To grill romaine lettuce, split a whole head lengthwise, keeping the leaves attached. Mist both sides lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and a pepper. Put them cut side down on a hot grill (gas or charcoal, doesn't matter) and grill for 3 minutes. Remove and serve immediately. WOW. The flavor is like nothing you've ever tasted.

And now for the crowning glory. Because even as good as it is, you don't really want to eat plain lettuce, do you?

The Svelte Gourmet Creamy Caesar Dressing
Serves 6

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (2% fat)
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp anchovy paste (most grocery stores have this)
1 tsp salt (This may seem like a lot, but the serving size is small once you toss it with the salad and it really brings out the flavors. Adjust to taste if you like.)
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

Whisk all ingredients together. If you like a creamier dressing, you can blend it with an immersion blender, but I like mine thicker. Also, this dressing gets better after the flavors have had a chance to meld, so you can make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge.

Paired with the goat cheese frittata and a glass of wine, this would be the perfect spa meal. In fact, if I opened a spa, this would be my signature dish. And my spa would only have pedicures, back scratching and hair brushing....because really, what else do you need?

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. (Most of these recipes are not available on the blog.) Enjoy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hello Sunday Dinner, Goodbye Vampires...Chicken with 63 Cloves of Garlic.

Yes, I'm serious. And if you’re an avid recipe reader like I am, you’ll know that this classic French recipe is really supposed to be “Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic.” Still, sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? Of course I had to try it. Various traditional and modern versions of this recipe made it sound delicious and comforting – perfect for our after-church Sunday dinner. But really, I just wanted to see what would happen when I cooked one meal with 40 cloves of garlic! What fun!

I read several recipes, and most of them called for all the cloves from 3 bulbs (or heads) of garlic. So that’s what I used. And I ended up with 63 cloves – some normal-sized, some merely slivers, but 63 nonetheless. And they all went into the pan. What the heck? At best, the vampires will stay away; at worst, everyone will. However, I just got back from sweating my tail off at the gym, and I didn't notice people moving away from me. I think I'm ok.

This recipe was delicious. Of course I cut the calories down from the traditional recipes, which were either for a whole roasted chicken or all the pieces of one. I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts in my version. “There are other parts to a chicken, you know,” says my father-in-law, to which I always reply, “Not in this house!” I also cut down on the butter, gravy thickeners and eliminated the heavy cream called for in some recipes. What we ended up with was a delicious and easy meal that came together very quickly but tasted like it roasted for hours. Even Courtney liked it, though she’s now a self-proclaimed food critic and had to give it some critique. “It’s too juicy.” Fine by me, considering that between the stove top and the oven it cooked for about an hour. It was fall-off-the-bone tender (yes, I know it didn’t have a bone…but if it did, it would have fallen off) and full of flavor (it did, after all, contain 63 cloves of garlic). The best part was that a 4-ounce serving of chicken plus gravy only had about 180 calories! I served it with basmati rice and Italian green beans, and it was a lovely meal.

I know 63 cloves of garlic sounds like overkill, but when you roast garlic this way, it becomes mellow and almost nutty. Try this if you don’t believe me -- cut the pointy end off an entire bulb of garlic, exposing the tops of the cloves (don’t peel it or pull the cloves apart), drizzle the top with olive oil, salt and pepper, wrap the bulb in foil and roast it for an hour or so. The cloves pop right out of the skin and you can spread them. Makes a very impressive appetizer with crusty bread and brie. Nothing like eating garlic by the clove! Delicious!

Chicken with 63 Cloves of Garlic
Serves 6

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
3 bulbs of garlic, cloves separated and peeled (doesn't really matter how many you end up with!)
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup white wine
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp dried sage
2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil in a large skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to skillet, browning for about 2 minutes per side. Remove chicken and add butter to pan. When butter is melted, add the whole garlic cloves. Sauté the garlic until it begins to brown and become fragrant (at this point, your family will start getting hungry!). Add chicken broth, wine, thyme, sage and bay leaves to the pan and bring to a boil. Deglaze the pan by scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Add chicken pieces back to the pan on top of the garlic and liquid, cover, and roast in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove chicken from pan, discard the bay leaves, and blend the garlic and liquid with an immersion blender until smooth. Return chicken to pan, turning to coat with the gravy.

Hello Sunday dinner, goodbye vampires!

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

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I have broccoli in my hair!

My dear friend Angie Kurtz emailed me last week about my goat cheese post, and told me that she'd recently discovered kale chips...and could I "please experiment with more veggie snacks?"

Besides Keith, the kids, and my parents, Angie is one of the few people who knows what a question like this can do to me. Can I?! I can think of nothing more fun! Woo hoo! Veggie snacks, here I come.
Taylor and I volunteered at the church food bank yesterday, and as we were driving there, I told her my plan. "Taylor, guess what!" "What?" "I'm going to dehydrate everything in the house today! Doesn't that sound awesome?!" "Oooh, fun!" (Eye roll, followed by giggle.)

I've roasted spinach before for spinach "chips." They are incredible! I tried kale once, too, but I burned it. So I figured this would be a great opportunity to try again. So on my lab table (kitchen counter) yesterday was kale, spinach, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, rutabagas, beets, onions, apples....and half of the London broil that I took out for dinner (yay, jerky!). I thought I'd try roasting again, and I also pulled out my trusty food dehydrator. These dehydrators aren't expensive, and they're great fun. Beef jerky is one of our favorites (Keith's recipe is amazing). I had such a blast yesterday that I may just leave it out and see what else I can dry out. (Am I the only one who thinks this is fun? I sure hope not.)

Well, Angie, I have good news! With a little bit of trial and error (burning), I have a couple new veggie snacks for you to try! And I don't know if you've priced these things at the store, but the cost of kale chips and these other "all natural" vegetable chips is ridiculous. Check out this giant bag of fresh kale (pictured with my mixer for size reference) I got for $3. I roasted some, dehydrated some, and burned some and I still have half a bag left in the fridge! You'll make up the cost of the dehydrator in a couple days by making your own snacks. Plus, it goes along with the adage "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime." This is so easy, so make your own!
Here's what I found to work best:

Kale and Spinach - mist with truffle oil or olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, roast in oven at 200 degrees for 15 minutes. Dehydrator works well, too, but the flavor isn't as pronounced.

Tomatoes - slice and place in single layer on dehydrator for 3-4 hours. Yummy! This works even for those winter grocery store tomatoes -- I can't wait to try this in the summer. Amazing, concentrated flavor, much like sun dried.

Bell peppers - mist with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and place in single layer in dehydrator for 4-5 hours. These will be great on salads!

Onions - whoa Nelly! Dehydrated for 3-4 hours, these are so strong and concentrated, they'll clear your sinuses. Right into the garbage! I'll try some other methods and get back to you.

Rutabagas - 4-5 hours in the dehydrator worked well. Blanch for 3 minutes first. The thicker the slices, the more leathery they'll be (versus crispy). I did some with a vegetable peeler and liked the curly end result.

Beets - first of all, put on an apron! My kitchen looked like a crime scene, but the result was worth it. I sliced these with a veggie peeler to get them as thin as possible. They came out nicely in both the oven and the dehydrator, but I preferred them blanched for 3 minutes then roasted at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Watch them closely so they don't burn! These taste a lot like potato chips, a little sweet, a little salty. So good....and pretty!

Broccoli - Blanch for 3 minutes, mist with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and dehydrate for about 4 hours (will depend on the size of your florets). SO YUMMY. I was shocked at how good and crunchy these were. Right up there with the tomatoes and beets as my favorites.

Apples - Medium slices in the dehydrator for 4-5 hours yields delicious, concentrated, apple-pie-like flavor with a chewy texture.

Jerky - choose a lean cut of beef (anything with loin or round in the name is usually lean - London broil is a top round cut). Slice thinly and marinate in the seasonings of your choice (watch the salt!), then place in dehydrator for 6-8 hours or overnight. Delicious and full of lean protein!

Phew! My hands are stained with beet juice, there are veggie shavings all over the floor, and I have broccoli in my hair. All in all, a great day! But I'd be remiss not to share my words of caution about this little experiment. What I did yesterday was simply take the water out of most of this food, therefore concentrating not only the flavor, but also the calories. This isn't really that big of a deal for leafy greens like kale (that entire 1-pound bag in the photo above only has 200 calories, so roast away!). However, see what happened to the rutabagas? Even though they have about 1/3 the calories and carbs of a potato, you probably don't want to eat all you can eat. Same goes for apples. Think about it this way -- which will satisfy you more, 20 grapes or 20 raisins? My answer will always be the higher volume of food with the lowest caloric impact, but yours might be the more intense flavors in smaller portions. Your choice, just be warned!

Pull out your dehydrators or set your ovens on low and let me know what you come up with! And Angie, I really miss you! Come visit me and we'll dehydrate a bunch of stuff. Yippee!

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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Goat cheese on my salad makes me happy!

This title only works if you sing it to the tune of the John Denver song. If you don't know which song I mean, here's a link.

Now everyone!

Goat cheese....on my salad....makes me happy!

I've been singing this for about a week now. Out loud. I can't get it out of my head. Keith just stares at me. Maybe it's because he doesn't care for goat cheese. Or maybe it's because he thinks I'm nuts.

Lest you also think I'm losing it (lost it), let me explain. For me, a little sprinkling of crumbled goat cheese (chèvre) can take an ordinary dish (salad, chicken, veggies) to the level of close-my-eyes-on-first-bite delicious. I love it that much. If I see it in a dish at a restaurant, I order it...often without even caring what the goat cheese is on top of.

Here's what I love about it (besides the yumminess, of course). Goat cheese is strong-flavored, so a little goes a long way. Don't get me wrong, cheese is by no means a low-calorie diet food. However, it follows the theory in my "umami" post about how strong flavors in small amounts can transform food with little caloric impact -- you can take a bland chicken breast, for instance, add a tablespoon or two of chopped umami-rich calamata olives, and you'll have a flavor explosion. Don't even get me started on calamata olives coupled with goat cheese. Bliss. Anyway, my point is that 1/2 an ounce of goat cheese (about 2 tablespoons, if you're using crumbles) only has 38 calories. This is all you need to sprinkle a single portion of salad, chicken, whatever. If you're like Keith and goat cheese isn't your thing, you can choose 1/2 ounce of any strong-flavored cheese for the same calorie range (1/2 oz of blue cheese crumbles clocks in at 50 calories, feta at 38, and Parmigiano Reggiano at about 40).

By the way, I highly recommend you pick up an inexpensive food scale (mine is plastic and was $5 at the grocery store), as many nutrition labels list portion size in ounces. Then you never have to guess! Once you get a food scale, you'll see what an actual portion should look like. You'll be shocked at first, but you'll get used to it and you'll still have plenty to eat. I promise. But that's a post for another day.

Goat cheese...on my salad...makes me happy!
Goat cheese...in my eyes...can make me cry!

...wait...that doesn't make sense. Catchy, though, isn't it?

So buy some goat cheese crumbles. Or blue cheese. Or feta. Or whatever strong-flavored crumbled or shredded cheese you like. Try it on your chicken, in your salads, in an egg white omelet, or over grilled sirloin -- just watch the amount you're using (like I said, a little goes a long way). You'll turn boring same-old entrees into fancy, flavorful fare. Let me know what you think and what flavor combination you come up with! And I apologize in advance if this goat cheese song is stuck in your head all week.

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

Sunday, January 23, 2011

There's a Veggiesaurus on the loose!

Taylor is a Veggiesaurus (that's Keith-speak for vegetarian). She stopped eating meat this past summer, saying it was only temporary, but it looks like she's going to try to stick to it.

The rest of us are definitely omnivores. We eat a ton of veggies, but they're almost always balanced out with a healthy dose of lean meat. As you know, we don't eat a lot of starches. Dinner at our house is often sans bread, potatoes, pasta or rice. We have whole grain rice or pasta once in a while with our dinner, but for the most part, it's protein and veggies for us.

Taylor seems to be having no trouble at all finding things to eat, but for dinner here, she'll often just skip the meat and eat the salad and sides. This is fine once in a while, but I want to make sure she's getting enough protein, iron and other vital nutrients in her diet. It wasn't so hard in the summer. If we were grilling, Taylor and I would whip up a couple black bean burgers to throw on the grill with our chicken.

But I need to get more creative now. I mean, really, how many black beans can one person eat? This is tough for me, as I've never had to think meatless before. My Italian recipes like spaghetti and pizza are still great without the meat and my made-over Eggplant Parmesan is vegetarian and wonderful. Taylor loves the broccoli soup, but she seems to have taken after her father with the "recent leftovers" aversion -- I guess only I can eat the same thing at each meal for 3 days straight and be ok with it.

Beyond these few recipes, I'm stuck. About a week ago, though, the light bulb came on. What better way to think outside of the box than to actually live outside of the box. I'm going to be a Veggiesaurus, too!

Last Saturday, I decided I was going to start living a vegetarian lifestyle. I had visions of whipping up delightful and impressive dinner-party-worthy meatless masterpieces. Taylor was going to come back next weekend to an array of the most amazing -- and svelte! -- Veggiesaurus fare. This can't be too difficult.

Day 1 dinner: Cereal
Day 2 lunch: Vegetable soup....from a can (gasp!)
Day 2 dinner: Eggs

OK, this is harder than I thought. I didn't plan ahead at all. And I realized that I have a major fear of all the starchy foods that I assume are going to make me fat. But in order for this to work and provide the health punch I'm looking for, I'm going to have to embrace more whole grains. I just have to.

Here goes. This is more like it. Braised baby artichokes with garlic and lemon over basmati rice (which is similar to brown rice on the glycemic index). Yum! But really, yuck. The artichokes were so bitter, and I still haven't figured out why. I had to throw them away. I do other veggies like this and they turn out fine. For now, I'm blaming the produce. At any rate, Day 3 dinner: Basmati rice....with yogurt salad dressing.

OK, I'm starting to panic. Get it together! This cannot be that difficult.

So I took stock of the flavors that I love. Calamata olives. Strong cheeses. Mushrooms. Tomatoes. All of these umami-rich foods that are meatless. I realized that in my favorite recipes, it's not the chicken or beef that I love...it's the flavors that complement them.

Day 4 lunch: Amazing spinach salad with feta, pumpkin seeds, raisins and raspberry vinaigrette
Day 4 dinner: Spinach and goat cheese frittata

A frittata is basically an open-faced omelet. A couple eggs are beaten with a little milk and folded with some spinach and goat cheese, cooked on the stove until the bottom is set and then finished for a minute or two under the broiler. YUM. This one skyrocketed right to the top of my favorites list, and I even ordered something similar when Keith and I were out to lunch this weekend. So delicious, full of flavor, and meatless! (I know it's not vegan with the eggs, cheese and milk, but I'm just not ready for that yet. Life without cheese would break my heart, I think. I'll cross that bridge when another loved one goes vegan!)

But still, it's eggs for dinner. Geesh, no wonder Taylor is always eating cereal, waffles and French toast -- breakfast for dinner is so easy and good! But this is never going to fly with Keith, who happened to be traveling last week. The Svelte Gourmet's husband simply cannot eat cereal for dinner!

So what has enough substance to hold its own as a main course? The point of this experiment isn't to go down the path (or grocery aisle) of soy-derived meat substitutes (though I'm sure they're quite good). The idea is to find foods that my family will eat while still providing our Veggiesaurus with the nutrition she needs.

One of Taylor's favorite foods is beef stroganoff. And though she was partial to the kind in the box (ack!), we made it from scratch once and she loved it. It wasn't the beef that took center stage, it was the rich and wonderful flavors in the sauce that made this dish special.

This week, I made a version of mushroom stroganoff that meets all my objectives. It's meatless. It's svelte. It's a filling main course. It's delicious.

Stroganoff has a flavor profile that makes it the perfect comfort food. This isn't one of those meals that will hit you like a ton of bricks with a bold flavor explosion. Instead, it tastes like cozy. It's a curl-up-in-your-college-sweatshirt-and-fuzzy-socks kind of meal.

Even better than tasty comfort food is healthy comfort food! This recipe makes about 10 cups, so you can eat 1 2/3 cups for about 300 calories or 1 1/4 cups for 230 calories. Pair this with some broccoli or green beans and a side salad, and you have a perfectly healthy dinner under 500 calories.

Enjoy!

"Tastes Like Cozy" Mushroom Stroganoff
Serves 6-8

1 tbsp butter
1 large onion, diced
32 ounces mushrooms of your choice
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional, as Worcestershire is most often made with anchovies. Wizard's Organic Sauces makes a vegan version)
2 tsp flour
1 cup light sour cream
12 oz whole wheat wide egg noodles
1/2 tsp dill weed

Heat salted water to a boil and cook noodles until al dente. In the meantime, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Cook onions until slightly soft, then add mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release some of their water. Add flour, stirring well to combine, then add white wine (I use whatever I have on hand, usually Chardonnay), salt, pepper, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire. Cook on medium until liquid reduces and begins to thicken and mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream and dill. Add hot, cooked noodles and stir gently so sauce coats noodles.

This dish is quick and easy, and even tastes great reheated for lunch! I don't plan on being a Veggiesaurus for long, but I have learned a few things this week. My body is functioning fine, if not better, than before. I have a ton of energy. I haven't craved meat. I got over my fear of eating more starches and grains -- partly because I realized that subtracting the calories from the meat means you can eat more of the other things! I'm eating more fiber. I know I can cook for Taylor and not have to make a different dinner for the rest of us. Victory!

Stay tuned for more meatless recipes, but in the meantime...

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

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Svelte, party of two! Your dinner is reheated.

I know you all probably think I'm some sort of super woman, breezing around the kitchen in my apron and pearls, whipping up delicious -- and svelte! -- creations for all the guests at my fabulous dinner parties. OK...maybe that's just a figment of my imagination. Truth be told, by the time I get home from work and the gym, I'm exhausted.

Yes, I "cook" most nights. And by definition, this means taking raw food and heating it to safe, edible temperatures. And that's about it. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder (SP&G) to grilled INSERT LEAN PROTEIN HERE, steam some INSERT VEGGIE here, and you have the basics of weeknight dinner in The Svelte Gourmet household. I do make the effort to throw together The Svelte Gourmet Signature Salad every night, but only because it's so easy and it remains our favorite part of virtually every meal. I also try to shake things up by adding a new flavor to the meat or fish with SP&G...sesame oil and Sriracha for Asian, salsa and jalapenos for Mexican, or buffalo sauce and a sprinkling of blue cheese if I'm in the mood for wings. The point is, it's not take-out and it helps us stay in shape. But after a few nights of this, Keith isn't fooled. "Are you ever going to cook again?" "This IS cooking!" Ok, ok, I get it.

"Look, sweetie, lasagna! On a Wednesday!" "On this very special Thursday evening after yoga, your dinner will start off with a soup course, followed by salad, then entree." "Tuesday's lunch will be grilled chicken over mixed greens with a light sesame ginger dressing."

WOW. How does she do it?! I'll let you in on a little secret.

Keith isn't high maintenance, but he has some...er...idiosyncracies. One that pertains in this case is that he doesn't like "recent" leftovers. The problem is, most of the time I'm cooking for just Keith and me. Sometimes, if he's traveling, just me. And most of my recipes serve at least 4, and some up to 10 or 12. And that's how I prepare them. So I've solved the "recent leftover" problem by maintaining a full supply of "entree sized" containers that go easily from freezer to microwave. So when I make lasagna on the weekend, I immediately portion the leftovers into the individual containers and freeze them. If we want a little variety on a Wednesday night, I take two out of the freezer, pop them onto a plate, defrost and reheat! And it really does taste good -- nothing like those processed frozen dinners. I'll add a salad and we're good to go!

OR, try portioning a casserole recipe into individual foil mini-loaf tins (baking aisle of your grocery store, usually) BEFORE you bake it. This works like a charm, and the mini-casseroles usually cook a bit quicker than an entire pan. Then, if we need something to pack for lunch or want something special on a weeknight, we can go to the freezer and choose our entree -- a bowl of creamy broccoli soup, chili, spinach artichoke au gratin, lasagna, spaghetti, even pork loin or shrimp over basmati rice. It all freezes so well! TSG pizza is surprisingly good if reheated in the oven! And freezing it in individual portions means that you don't have to thaw out "dinner for 6," only to have it go in the garbage after you only eat one serving.

Fact is, many of my recipes are better the second day. My chili and broccoli soup are absolutely best after the flavors have had a chance to meld and the liquid thickens a bit. I almost always cook an extra chicken breast or two so we can eat it cold for lunch, alone or sliced over salad greens. (I will not eat reheated chicken. I think it tastes terrible!) Sirloin or London broil is great left over, cold or reheated just to take the chill off. Try tossing bite-sized pieces with a bowl of summer tomatoes (or Campari tomatoes in the winter....a very close second!). Yummy! I pack my lunch virtually every day -- to save money and calories -- so the extra protein from the previous night's dinner goes into the lunch box with whatever raw veggie I feel like that day. And an apple. And that's all I need! Keith can select something "not so recent" from the freezer.

So what, exactly, is my point? That you don't have to resort to take-out or drive-thru if you're tired after work. And you can have a delicious variety of meals throughout the week without producing a sink full of dirty dishes. I should note that most of the recipes in my cookbook can be on the table in 30 minutes or less -- but sometimes we don't feel like making a mess or stopping at the store for ingredients. I know I don't. I just want to come home from work and the gym, take a shower, have a nice dinner and relax (or vacuum, wash the dog, finish homework with the kids, do laundry, blog, watch INSERT FAVORITE GUILTY PLEASURE REALITY SHOW HERE, or whatever else it is that we busy people need to do every night!)

My point is that it isn't impossible to find the time to have a healthy lifestyle. We're all too busy, but sacrificing your health and well-being with unhealthy meals for the sake of convenience isn't worth it. Embrace those leftovers! They might save your life!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Perfect for healthy leftovers!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Resolution Revolution: Seize TODAY!

DON’T eat that cupcake…

I would have eaten it last week (and evidently, everything else in sight). Why not this week? Because the holidays are over, and with each new year comes new motivation. At least for a day or two. Isn’t that usually how it goes?

The problem with resolutions is that they’re daunting. If you didn’t do it before, why now? Because it’s a new year? Because you feel empowered to tackle that giant, seemingly unattainable goal? New Year's resolutions have a well-deserved reputation for failure…and usually before the end of the first week of January.

Here’s the first trap – “I’ll start as soon as….” You fill in the blank. I’ll start as soon as the holidays are over. I’ll start Monday. I’ll start next month. Then the second trap – the time frame. I’ll go to the gym every day this month. I’ll eat right so I look good for our vacation. I’ll monitor my salt intake until my blood pressure reaches X. Then what? Revert to bad habits? Have one bad day and feel defeated? Whenever I have a time frame, I fail. If I go running and just run, I can go a lot further than when I go running for a certain distance. Even though I could keep going, I stop (I hate running!). I reached my goal. Right? And the thought of cutting out something FOREVER just makes me want to run right to it. I can’t stop thinking about it. No more junk food EVER. Yeah, right! I can’t stop thinking about that cupcake!

This year, I don’t have a resolution. I had a fun, free-for-all month with turkey dinners, cookies, vacation food and drinks. But it’s over now. I’m back to eating right and going to the gym. Not because it’s a new year, but because it’s my lifestyle...now.

It reminds me of the year I made the resolution to simply “have a healthy lifestyle.” That failed, too. That daunting change was just too much all at once. Does this sound familiar? What should you do?

Don’t get discouraged! You can still have these goals, just understand that they ARE attainable. Make a plan without having that completely fall-off-the-wagon end point. Resolve to eat right TODAY. Resolve to go for a walk TODAY. Resolve to quit smoking TODAY. Resolve to clean your closet TODAY. When tomorrow becomes today, resolve again. Sooner or later, the new behavior will become the rule, not the exception. And don’t worry if you’ve already fallen off the resolution wagon. Get back on. We’re strong, and we don’t need a date on the calendar telling us when we should improve ourselves. Who cares if it's the 3rd day of the year, the 30th or the 300th. If you have a goal, start TODAY. You can do this! And if you need a little motivation, try one of my recipes. “Having a healthy lifestyle” never tasted so good!

It was just over a year ago that I began writing this blog, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response I’ve received. 2010 was quite a year! My cookbook launched just before Christmas last year, and the social and local media blitz began. Three months later, I made 180 quarts of creamy broccoli soup to serve to thousands at the Charleston Wine & Food Festival. Surprisingly, I still love the soup! As the year went on, I got braver with my recipes. I was featured in another health writer’s book. I entered FoodBuzz.com’s Next Food Blog Star (better luck next year, I guess!). Most recently, The Svelte Gourmet was awarded a position in FoxNews’ Best Health Blogs of 2010. I am so honored. Thank you for reading!

And yes, I might eat that cupcake…just not TODAY.

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