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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Stretch that dough! Eating healthy on a budget.

I try to approach grocery shopping with the best intentions – planning ahead for the week, making a list, etc.  But as you know, it doesn’t always work out that way.  The week derails before it’s even left the station, and I’m left with “what are we having for dinner” and an empty fridge on Monday at 6 pm.

Does this sound familiar?  It’s so easy to fall into the “let’s just go out,” trap or throw a frozen dinner in the microwave.  But in order to live a healthy lifestyle, we have to make smarter food decisions.  Couple our perpetual time crunch with the increasing cost of food, gas, everything, and we’re left wanting to choose the path of least resistance.

When I talk to people about moving toward a healthier lifestyle, I rarely hear them say that the food doesn’t taste good.  Rather, the two most common complaints are “I don’t cook” and “healthy food is too expensive.”

Merely a stumbling block, I say in reference to the first complaint.  My recipes are easy and come together in minutes.  I don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen, either.  Who has time for that?  Once I show them (in person, or through the blog or cookbook), they usually rise to the challenge.

To the second complaint, I say this.  False.  Wrong.  Though I understand where they’re coming from.  Here’s how I see it.  Best case, you make a grocery list.  And it keeps getting longer and longer as you think about all the things you “need.”  Then when you get to the store, the cart fills up even more.  By the time you check out, you’ve spent $50, $100, even $200.  Your heart races and you think to yourself, “Healthy food is too expensive.  We can’t live like this.”  And just like that, it’s back to old habits.

I get it.  I have sticker shock in the checkout line, too, even with the best plans.  I’m not a coupon clipper.  Maybe I should be (I know I should be!), but I haven’t found the motivation or dedication to make it work for us.  But I know now that it’s all in how you approach the groceries once you leave the store.  How often do you get home, put everything away, cook one meal, and then lose track of your weekly meal plan and end up throwing away an entire head of lettuce seven days later?  It happens to the best of us.  But I want to walk you through a few tips and a recipe sample that will help put this into perspective – eating healthfully is not more expensive than a diet of junk food and takeout.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store for the sole purpose of research.  No store sale flyer, no coupons.  Just me in the store pricing what my desired ingredients cost.  I wanted to test this theory and make eggplant Parmesan for dinner, serve it with a green salad, and pick up a few other things for the rest of the week (I had no weekly plan….again.  Oops.).  For the sake of argument, let’s assume that I have “pantry staples” necessary for a healthy diet – cooking spray, minced garlic, spices, salt/pepper, olive oil and vinegar.  If you’re just starting a healthy plan, you’ll have to buy these things – but trust me, you won’t need to replenish often.

Here’s what I got:

- Head of lettuce - $1.24
- 3 cucumbers - $2.25 ($0.75 each)
- 4 tomatoes - $3.78
- 3-pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts - $9.00 (yikes!)
- Pork tenderloin (did you know there are two in there?!) - $11.54 (sheesh!)
- 1 eggplant - $1.50
- 4 cans of low sodium diced tomatoes - $3.96 ($0.99 each)
- Shredded Parmesan cheese - $3.50
- Part-skim mozzarella cheese - $2.39
- Can of panko breadcrumbs - $2.50
- A dozen eggs - $1.69
- 2 bags of frozen vegetables (16 oz each) - $3.00 (gotta love the store brands!)
- Loaf of whole wheat bread - $2.69
- 1 pound low sodium deli turkey breast - $6.50
- Fresh basil - $1.69
- London broil ($4.49/pound) - $11.00 (if only I’d picked a sale week!)
- 6 bananas ($0.59/lb) - $1.18 (one banana weighs about 1/3 pound)

OK, drum roll please.  My quick stop at the store to make eggplant Parmesan has turned into a somewhat manic “I need to fill the fridge!” escapade.  Grand total?  $69.41.  Ack!  For ONE meal and a “couple” things!  I could have taken us out for dinner!  Ordered a pizza (several pizzas)!  (Initiate heart palpitations and panic attack.)

But it clearly isn’t just one meal’s worth of food, even though that’s what the shopping trip was for.  The next step is making the commitment to use what you purchased so you don’t have to throw away rotten tomatoes and brown bananas at the end of the week.    

For now, though, let’s start by making dinner.  The recipe is listed below with a cost of exactly the amount we use for this recipe from the groceries above (and some I’ve labeled staple since they’re already in our pantry). 

The Svelte Gourmet Baked Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 6

For the eggplant:
1 medium eggplant, sliced crosswise into 1/8 inch slices (I used a mandolin slicer) ($1.50)
Salt (staple)
1 egg, beaten ($0.14)
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs ($0.47)
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese ($1.32)
1/4 tsp garlic powder (staple)
1/4 tsp dried oregano (staple)
Cooking spray for misting (staple)

Line a large colander with the eggplant slices and sprinkle with salt. Let them sit for about an hour. The salt will help to drain excess water from the slices. Pat them dry.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mist 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Mix the Parmesan, panko, garlic powder and oregano in a shallow dish. Dip each slice into the beaten egg, then dip into the cheese mixture, pressing to coat. Place the slices in a single layer on the baking sheets. Mist the tops with cooking spray and bake for about 40 minutes or until golden brown. Rotate the sheets halfway through baking if one is browning more quickly than the other.

For the sauce:
1/2 tsp olive oil (staple)
1 tsp minced garlic (staple)
2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes (undrained) ($1.98)
1/2 tsp dried oregano (staple)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (staple)
1/4 tsp salt (staple)
6 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn ($0.66)

In a medium saucepan, heat oil. Reduce heat to medium and sauté garlic for two minutes or until it starts to be fragrant. Add diced tomatoes with juice, oregano, crushed red pepper and salt. Simmer, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Just before assembly, stir in chopped basil leaves.

For the casserole:
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan ($0.43)
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella (part-skim) ($0.89)
Sauce
Baked eggplant slices

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Mix the Parmesan with the mozzarella. Add a spoonful of sauce to the bottom of a casserole dish, spreading to coat. Layer with some of the eggplant, followed by a sprinkle of cheese, then more spoonfuls of sauce. Resist the urge to completely cover with sauce, as we want the eggplant to stay crispy. Repeat until the eggplant slices are gone, finishing with sauce and cheese on top. For reference, I got 2 layers of eggplant out of mine in a medium-sized oblong casserole dish. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove lid and bake for another 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.

Yum!  This eggplant Parmesan makes 6 servings at only 220 calories per serving (now THAT’S eating light!).  Couple it with a serving of green salad made with 1 cup of lettuce ($0.25), ¼ of a cucumber ($.019), half of a tomato ($0.47) and a splash of balsamic vinegar (staple) and you have yourself a NICE dinner.  This is so nice, in fact that it’s dinner party worthy.  And guess what – the eggplant Parmesan only costs $1.23 per serving.  $1.23!  That’s cheaper than fast food or a can of soup!  The salad set me back $0.91.  That’s $2.14 a person for a NICE meal.  Serve this to six people at a dinner party for $12.85.  That’s cheaper than a pizza, which won’t even feed six! 

Not convinced yet?  Remember, this only works if you continue to eat from the fridge.  For the sake of argument (and easy math!), let’s calculate the remainder of the discussion as 1-person servings.  So out of my meal above, I have 5 servings of eggplant parm left.  Instead of leaving this in the fridge to go bad or eating the same meal for days in a row, I package each serving separately and freeze – makes a perfect lunch to grab on the way to work or dinner for a night when I don’t want to cook.  What else?  At 3 meals a day for 7 days, eggplant parm alone isn’t going to cut it.  So here’s how the rest of the week might look.

Breakfast ideas:

- 1 packet oatmeal ($0.62) and a banana ($0.20)
- 2 eggs ($0.28) and half a sliced tomato ($0.47)
- 1 slice of whole wheat toast ($0.12), 1 egg ($0.14) and a slice of tomato ($0.15)

Lunch ideas:

- 2 slices wheat bread ($0.24), 2 oz turkey breast ($0.81), tomato slice ($0.15), mustard (staple)
- 1 can diced tomatoes (.99), a bit of minced garlic/salt/pepper, a leaf of basil ($0.11) and a bit of water blended with immersion blender then heated.  Cheaper than canned soup and MUCH less sodium.  Tastier, too!
- 2-egg omelet ($0.28) with ¼ cup mozzarella ($0.29), ½ a cucumber ($0.37) sliced on the side.
I know it’s hard to argue with ramen noodles at $0.25 a brick, but this healthy food is worth the tiny bit of extra cash!  And it is only a tiny bit.

Dinner ideas:

- Pork loin ($0.73) with steamed frozen broccoli ($0.37) and green salad ($.91) (by the way, that pork loin I bought was nearly 4 pounds….that will feed me roughly 16 times using 4 ounce serving sizes! Break it up into smaller portions before you freeze it.)
- Grilled chicken (that 3-pack of chicken breasts contained  nearly 24 ounces of meat – that feeds me 6 times at $1.50/serving) with steamed frozen green beans ($0.37) and a green salad
- Leftover eggplant parm and salad (you get the idea)
- London broil (at roughly 2.5 pounds, this will feed me 9 times at $1.22/serving!  Again, split into easier portion sizes before freezing!), broiled ½ tomato sprinkled with parmesan, basil and garlic ($0.65) and salad ($0.91).
- Need some filler?  I bought a 20-pound bag of basmati rice at the big box store.  Did you know that basmati rice is AS LOW as whole grain brown rice on the glycemic index?  It won’t spike your blood sugar, it keeps you feeling full, and it cooks in only 20 minutes!  Rejoice!  Anyway, this bag of rice contains 200 servings.  And it was $15.00.  So that’s about $0.07 per serving.  (So add it to every meal if you’re feeding a crowd!)

Even after all these meals, you still have a ton of food left over – some cheese, a lot of meat split up and frozen, veggies, leftover eggplant parm, the remaining eggs and bread.  For just under $70 I fed myself for one week AND stocked up the fridge and freezer to avoid future “Ugh, let’s just go out” nights.  Feeding a family works the same way, you just have to commit to eating at home and not wasting the fresh foods.  If you can, buy meat on sale.  Stock the freezer!  This will save you a ton!  (Sometimes I vow not to shop until we eat everything in the freezer – good thing I can make chicken 37 different ways!)  Always package leftovers in easy to grab and reheat portions.  And look for recipes that have simple, everyday ingredients – that filet mignon and lobster may be pretty lean, but it won’t feel that way on your wallet. 

Best of luck – let me know how it goes!  If you find yourself left with a couple random ingredients that don’t seem to go together, send me an email and I’ll try to come up with something creative.  I love a challenge!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is full of creative, healthy recipes!  Order yours today at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Grab-worthy" granola bars! New recipe!

I don’t know who invented the term “lazy days of summer,” but it certainly doesn’t apply in our house!  Having the kids around more is great, but we’re all just so busy.  I can’t remember being this busy growing up, but I guess I was once I hit the teenage years.  Work and friends and running around – there aren’t enough hours in these long, hot days!

The other thing there isn’t enough of, apparently, is food in the house.  I feel like all I do is grocery shop.  And I’m going broke with the ever-growing price of groceries.  I had just returned from the store and was putting away the groceries when….

Courtney: “I’m hungry.”
Me: “The pantry and fridge are full!  Make yourself a snack.”
Courtney: “But what is there?  I don’t know what to have.”
Taylor (walking in the door from work): “We need ‘grab food.’”

Grab food.  Hmmmm.  I guess my suggestions to “cook a chicken breast, boil an egg or make a salad” weren’t quite what they were expecting.  So I perused the overflowing pantry in search of “grab food.”   Turns out they’re right….sort of.  I’m always in favor of self-sufficiency, so I don’t take well to blank stares or “I don’t know how,” when I suggest making a sandwich or cutting up an apple.  However, I do appreciate that sometimes you just want something you can grab and eat on the run, throw in your purse, etc.

Granola bars!  They’re supposed to be healthy, right?  I can just keep a bunch of granola bars on hand and they can pair it with fruit for a healthy snack.  That will be our “grab food” for these types of emergency appetite flare-ups.  Back to the store I went.

I could not believe it.  $5.49 for a box of 6 tiny granola bars.  SIX.  Six will last a day in our house.  The grocery budget I try to live by isn’t going to support this “grab food” habit, I can tell already.  Well at least they’re healthy, right?  I try to ignore for a second that they’re covered in chocolate as I turn the box around…fiber, a little bit of protein, not too high calories….some brands pretty high in sugar….an ingredient list a mile long, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated stuff.  Urg.  And they’re $5.49 for SIX!  And the “healthier” they get, the more expensive they get.  Guess this will be my next challenge!

I set out to create a granola bar that’s tasty, filling and wholesome.  I wanted to make it from whole grains and include some sources of protein and fiber.  Here we go.

Me: “I made homemade granola bars!  Try them!”
Keith: “They’re missing something.”
Me: “I know.  Taste.”
Keith: “Well, they’re perfect for dieters.  No one will be tempted to eat two!”

OK then.  I’m now on experiment recipe number four, and I’m happy to say that we have a winner!  These granola bars taste just like banana bread – seriously!  Here are the stats: 125 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 3.5 grams of protein and only 8.5 grams of sugar (and nearly 1/3 of that is from fruit and rolled oats).  AND, they’re only $0.25 each -- roughly $2.00 for the whole batch of EIGHT!

I’ll be experimenting with these!  I can’t wait to try pumpkin instead of banana, add some natural peanut butter or throw in some mini-chocolate chips or chopped nuts.  The possibilities are endless, so I’ll let you know what I come up with.  In the meantime, try these.  So easy, so healthy, so affordable – so “grab-worthy!”

TSG Banana Bread Granola bars...grab this!
“Banana Bread” Granola Bars
Makes 8 bars

1 ripe banana, mashed
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tbsp honey
1 egg white
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp + 1 tsp Splenda brown sugar blend (divided)
2 cups rolled oats
2 tbsp milled flax seed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all ingredients through brown sugar, saving 1 tsp of brown sugar for the top.  Mix oats and flax seed in a separate bowl, then add to liquids.  Stir well to combine, then press into small baking pan with sides (misted with cooking spray) or simply form into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle on a cookie sheet (also misted with cooking spray) -- it will hold its shape.  Sprinkle with remaining brown sugar and bake for 30 minutes.  Invert onto a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing. 

Give ‘em a whirl and let me know what you think!  Also, if you have more ideas for healthy “grab food,” I’m all ears!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.  I challenge you to eat with me for a month – you’ll love the results!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TSG on HealthDecide -- "Healthy tips for making it through the summer without packing on the pounds!"

I was honored to be asked to author a post for Health Decide, part of Orca Health and provide some healthy tips for how to avoid extra pounds this summer.  Enjoy!




Ah, summer. Rocking on the porch swing, lazing by the pool, sipping lemonade….sound familiar? It doesn’t? Not to me, either!
Nope, my summer is spent frantically running between work and play, desperately trying to keep everyone cool, fed and entertained. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint. My summer is jam packed with mini adventures, boating, and the sea breeze to keep us cool. Unfortunately, it also ends up packed with junk food. Consequently, my shorts end up packed with me. Ugh.
Why is it that the hottest months of the year – the ones in which we are wearing the least – are the ones we end up eating the most? For the picnics, parties and vacations we need ice cream, fried chicken (I live in the South!) and beer. I don’t eat like this the rest of the year, why now? Because everything is a special occasion. That’s my justification and I’m sticking to it. Or rather, it’s sticking to me.
I’m definitely in once-in-a-while denial. In the summer, my special occasions happen all too often. Fried chicken on the boat isn’t a big deal if it’s really once-in-a-while. But we use the boat every weekend. That means fried chicken every weekend. And all the “grab food” that goes with it – potato chips, carby corn on the cob, high calorie drinks, boiled peanuts (again, I live in the South!). You get the idea. Your “special occasion” food might be a bit different than mine, but I bet it follows the same lines. With summer comes socializing and with socializing comes eating. It’s the American way!
In our house, I’m the CFO – Chief Food Officer. Therefore, it’s my job to plan ahead and make sure that everyone is fed. Coming up with easy and healthy take-along “grab food” is tough, especially when we’re always in a hurry. I’ve devised a couple tips that I may not always follow, but I try to make the norm. This way, the special occasions really are special and my pants still fit.
  • The next time you grill chicken (boneless, skinless breasts, of course!), make extra. The next day, slice it up and take it with you. No need to reheat – cold grilled chicken is delicious, easy to eat, full of healthy protein and NOT FRIED.
  • Stick to the veggie tray like white on rice (basmati rice, of course – as low as brown rice on the glycemic index!). Heading to a party? Not sure if there will be a veggie tray? Bring one. Summer party hosts often request that their guests bring a dish, so I always volunteer for the veggie tray. That way, I don’t have to worry about what I’ll fill up on.
  • There’s no scarcity of fresh produce around this time of year, so use that to your advantage. Instead of filling your beach bag with chips and cheese puffs, opt for cut up fruits. Trust me, the kids will devour those cherries, grapes and hunks of watermelon and you won’t have to feel the least bit of guilt.
  • Pot luck? Sunday dinner at your house? Try this recipe. It’s comfort food at its best, but with a secret ingredient that makes this version guilt-free. With only 195 calories in ¾-cup (that’s a big helping!), this version has a fraction of the fat and calories you’ll find in most traditional recipes. Enjoy!
The Svelte Gourmet Macaroni & Cheese 
Serves 8

7 oz elbow or shell pasta (NOT whole wheat)
4 cups cauliflower florets, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups lowfat (2%) shredded sharp cheddar or cheese blend
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan

2/3 cup 2% milk (skim would make the fat and calories even lower!)
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp butter, melted 
2 tbsp panko bread crumbs
butter spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain well. Steam cauliflower florets until very soft, drain well. Let pasta and cauliflower cool a bit while you prepare the other ingredients. Shred the cheese if it’s not pre-shredded. Beat the milk, egg and salt together in a small bowl. Mix the melted butter with the panko in another bowl.
Mash the cauliflower with a potato masher, a whisk, or whatever you have handy. Mix it with the pasta until well combined, being careful not to break up the noodles. Take a pinch of each of the cheeses and toss them with the panko/butter. Set aside. Combine the rest of the cheese with the pasta and cauliflower. Spray the bottom and sides of your casserole dish lightly with spray butter, then spread the mixture evenly in your casserole dish. Pour the milk/egg/salt mixture over the top. With your mixing spoon, carefully stir and fold until the milk mixture is combined with the pasta/cauliflower. Sprinkle with the panko/butter/cheese mixture and bake, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes or until the top just starts to brown. Voila!
Thanks for reading and enjoy your summer! For more healthy tips and tricks or to purchase The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook, visit www.thesveltegourmet.blogspot.com.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Look Ma, no weeds!

Ladies and gentlemen, I am in complete disbelief.  I may go as far as to say that my brown thumb, for the first time EVER, may be turning green.

As I wrote in my last post, I am trying out a "lasagna garden" this year -- that is, using nothing but layers of cardboard, paper, grass clippings, kitchen scraps and a layer or two of manure as the planting medium.  I wasn't at all confident in this approach, but with the promise of no weeds, I had to give it a try.  If you recall, I simply started with the weed-bed I had left over from last year and put my first cardboard layer right on top!  No weeding, tilling, nothing.

So what happened?  WELL, I am happy to report that my garden is growing.  I have literally found and pulled THREE weeds (no doubt airborne invaders, as their roots were only in the top layer).  THREE.  In over a month.  I am a believer, and for the first time, I may be able to share some recipes with you in a little while using tomatoes and cucumbers from MY garden (that is, after all, what this blog is really about -- healthy cooking).  I am giddy with excitement!  Check it out!

The photos on the top were taken on May 8th.  The photos on the bottom were taken June 2nd.  Yippee!



I promise you more recipes and cooking tips shortly.  In the meantime, The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Do I have a lasagna thumb?

OK, for the third year in a row, I’m going to try vegetable gardening. For the past two years, I’ve made it to the planting stage, and that’s as far as it went. I can blame the bad soil or the weather or my job or whatever, but the fact remains that I never once attempted to keep that garden weeded. In both instances, the weeds outgrew the crops at such an alarming rate that I just couldn’t (didn’t even try to) keep up.

This year will be different! (I know I say that every year.) But this one really will be! I may not have a green thumb, but I’m hoping this year I have a lasagna thumb.

Huh? I learned about “lasagna gardening” from a friend and thought I’d give it a shot. While you can certainly plant tomatoes, oregano, basil, onions, etc. (perfect for any Italian dinner!) in your garden, the term “lasagna gardening” refers to the method of layering materials – your “greens” and “browns” – in order to create a nutrient-rich foundation in which to plant.

I don’t profess to be an expert about this. I Googled it. These are the articles I used (overview and specific), but I’m sure there are hundreds of others that would be helpful!

I probably should have started this months ago to allow ample time for the layers to break down, but I’m hoping this will still work for planting a month or so from now. Courtney helped me with my first couple layers (cardboard/newspaper, then grass/weeds, then leaves and shredded paper). I put it directly over all the weeds and didn’t even have to work the soil! I then had to think quickly to keep the paper shreds from drying and blowing all over the yard (Keith would have LOVED that), so I covered the whole garden with a screen (some sites say to used plastic for the first few weeks). I’m saving veggie peels and coffee grounds now for the next layer.

I really hope this is as easy and foolproof as the articles make it seem. I’ll keep you posted!

Has anyone tried this? I’d love some tips and anecdotes!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Plenty of uses for your homegrown bounty!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I dress my salad in skinny jeans.

I deep-fried last weekend (does deep-fried have a hyphen? That's how little I know about it!). It was the first time I've ever done it, and I'm still reeling. We had my parents and their friends in town and Keith wanted to treat them to a traditional Southern meal of fried chicken and mashed "taters." Then his flight was delayed and I had to fry. Me! My saving grace was that this month's cover recipe on Bon Appetit magazine was fried chicken. It was meant to be! It turned out good, but was it worth the effort and fat? Not to me!

So anyway, this brings me to three points. One, I need to eat some salads now to make up for that meal. Two, I have leftover buttermilk in the fridge. And three, spring is coming -- which rounds out this plan nicely.

Spring makes me think of sitting at a sidewalk cafĂ© with a crisp green salad and a big glass of white wine. I love a good chicken Caesar or anything with goat cheese (as I’m sure you know by now). It also makes me think of the skimpier clothes I’ll have to put on in just another month or so. Yikes!

I got out the buttermilk and the camera (I know I’m weird) and got to mixing. I raided the fridge and the spice cabinet until I had a really nice, tangy, light dressing. With only 30 calories in 2 tablespoons, feel free to drizzle (dump!) it on. This is the skinny jeans of salad dressings. In fact, you could eat half a cup (8 tbsp!) for fewer calories than, say, a SINGLE serving (2 tbsp) of ranch or blue cheese.

Which brings me to another point. Restaurant salads. Just bowls of meat, cheese and way too much fatty dressing! I know I don’t need to say it again, do I? Just read here. Or here. Then make my salad dressing and save your calories for the wine!

Tangy Tarragon Buttermilk Dressing
Makes about 6 servings

1 cup light buttermilk (1.5% milkfat)
2 tbsp light sour cream
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dill weed
1 tbsp dried tarragon

I like to put this in a tall glass or mason jar and hit it a few times with the immersion blender to really get that garlic blended nicely. Enjoy!

Oh, and I won't be frying chicken again anytime soon. I tend to overdo it, so it took me an hour and a half to fry up roughly 30 pieces of chicken (for 8 of us...too much!). Frying needs tending. And turning. And the grease splatters. Way too high maintenance! Plus, we don't need to be eating that anyway. Not when we have delicious and healthy fare that won't have you missing the fat. Bon appetit!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available on my website. (And by the way, most of the cookbook recipes are NOT available on the blog.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Vegetable hide-and-seek...and other life lessons.

I tend to get really hung up on the little things. I let them bring me down. Maybe it’s winter blues (if you can call average Charleston temps in the 60s “winter”) or maybe it’s these five pounds of stubborn Christmas weight that just won’t fall off. Whatever it is, I need to snap out of it.

It’s true, the world will not end if I retain this five pounds. It does make me feel a bit hypocritical that I don’t always practice what I preach – but maybe that’s part of the reason you can all relate to me. Maybe this 5 pounds is part of my charm (in the form of a second chin), but I’m determined to lose it! But again, here I go getting hung up on the little things.

Last week I got an email from a reader, and it made me take a step back and remember why I started down this path in the first place. To help people. To teach people about the basics and provide them with ideas for transforming nutritious foods into tasty meals on which to build a healthy lifestyle. The letter said this:

Hello,

My name is Adrianne, and I am a huge fan of your cookbook and blog! I have made quite a few of your recipes, and I really love how easy and flavorful they are. That being said, I am currently starting a new project, and I would love to use one of your recipes for it.

My husband, Michael Liu, is currently a pediatric resident at the Children's Hospital of Oakland in California. This hospital and its doctors are actively involved in the fight against childhood obesity, and one of the ways they have approached this problem is by bringing the farmer's market to the hospital (http://www.phatbeetsproduce.org/farmers-markets/north-oakland-children%E2%80%99s-hospital/). Parents of patients at the Healthy Hearts Clinic (a clinic that prevents and treats childhood obesity and related illnesses) can receive vouchers that they then use to buy fresh produce at the farmer's market.

My husband and I have been inspired to take this a step further. The farmer's market and the vouchers do a great job of enabling access to healthy, fresh produce, but what about after the families buy these foods? Part of the problem is that people often aren't familiar with certain types of vegetables and don't know how they can incorporate them into their meals in a tasty way. So, our idea is to print recipe cards that can be given away for free at relevant stands at the farmer's market or at the Healthy Hearts Clinic.

We would love to use your recipe for Svelte Macaroni & Cheese. We have personally made this recipe several times, and we think it is a great example of how we can get kids to eat their veggies using a dish that they are already familiar with. We would of course give you and your blog credit on the recipe card, and I want to stress again that we are simply making these available for FREE.

Please let me know if this is okay with you, and if so, whether you have any requirements about how we should give you credit.

Thanks so much for reading this email, and I hope to hear from you soon!
Adrianne Rosales

I’m inspired again. I realize that what might be obvious to me isn’t always obvious to others. If you don’t know what to do with a head of wholesome cauliflower, I’ll teach you! Hide it in macaroni and cheese! Experimenting with recipes and spending the day in the kitchen is a joy for me. And if you think I’m crazy, that’s fine. If this isn’t your idea of fun, I’ll do the legwork and you can enjoy the cheesy reward!

Teaching the kids about healthy eating is ingrained in me. I can’t help but explain the food as they’re putting it in their mouths (Mom, I’m so you!). Taylor seems genuinely interested (most of the time) and Courtney’s disdain shows on her face. But hey, we juiced everything in the fridge last weekend and she drank banana-flavored spinach. I win.

Staying healthy and fit can seem like rocket science. Restrictive diets where all carbs are off limits, you only eat one type of food, or you ingest everything in the form of a liquid. You count calories (in and out!), take supplements, or eat certain foods at certain times of the day. This isn’t real life and you can’t sustain it.

Let’s bring it back to basics. The foundation is this – eat less, exercise more. Get moving. Eat whole foods and eliminate preservatives by cooking at home. Watch the salt, fat and sugar. Watch your portions – stop when you’re no longer hungry, not when you have to put on your elastic pants. (This, I've figured out, is my problem. I eat every meal as if it's my last. We get three a day, for crying out loud! Put down the fork!)

Do I need a system reset when I over-indulge? A few days or weeks of restrictive eating to get back on track? Yes, I do. That’s life. Don’t beat yourself up. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And I promise, you can go the distance!

So what’s my point? I guess it’s that if we build a foundation of healthy eating, the rest will fall into place. If we teach our kids how to eat right, they’ll take that lesson with them as they grow up and leave the nest. Their battle won’t be so hard. I am inspired by Adrianne and Michael’s mission. I can’t wait to hear how it goes…and I’ll be sure to share it with you!

Let’s help them – and each other! If you feel so inclined, please post your kid-friendly, wholesome recipes in the comments below. We could all use a little more inspiration!

Thank you for reading. I’m truly honored by your responses to what I have to say. And if you need an extra nudge to get rid of your holiday pounds, consider The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses. Hide all that health food in something yummy!
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