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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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