Tasty Query - recipes search engine

Monday, November 30, 2009

Eat, drink and be merry?

I'm a label reader. Shocker, right? I'm sure you hadn't guessed. So as I sit here pondering this entry and enjoying a glass of Cabernet, I find myself wondering why the nutrition information isn't required on the bottle. Is it so bad for us that they don't dare say? So of course, I start to investigate...

OK, let's see. So USDA says my red wine has about 25 calories per ounce. So in a standard 5 ounce pour (and looking at mine, I'd say I was a bit more generous...), that's 125 calories per glass. White wine is about the same. That means there's 650 calories in the bottle (750 ml). What does this tell us? Well it quite obviously explains the way I looked in my early 20s. Oh my. By the way, this photo shows 5 ounces. Yes, that's all.

As I dig deeper and deeper, it gets worse and worse. Your average light beer is about 100 calories, with "regular" beer around 150. It continues to skyrocket, with some ales upwards of 250 calories per 12 ounce bottle. PER BOTTLE. Don't even get me started on the carbs.

And wait, what's this? My heart is breaking. USDA says the average 16 ounce margarita has about 500 calories. Google and I immediately tried to disprove this, but the numbers topped 1100 and I stopped looking. And here I thought it was the chips and queso that were the problem.

I like to have a glass of wine with dinner, share a bottle with friends at our dinner parties or enjoy myself on our occasional nights out. With these numbers, though, I'm thanking my lucky stars that I'm a bit of a homebody! But with the holidays upon us, and after some gentle nudging by some Svelte Gourmet fans, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about some of our favorite beverages.

Vodka, whiskey and your other varieties only have about 60-70 calories per ounce. The problem? Mix 2 ounces of alcohol with 8 ounces of fruit juice and you're back up to around 250 calories per drink (or more!). Same with soda. Wow, this is frustrating.

Even more frustrating are our everyday drinks. I maintain that the FASTEST way to sabotage your diet is to drink your calories. Why the fastest? Because you don't even have to chew. Down it goes in the name of thirst-quenching. I just looked in the fridge and Keith's grape juice has 120 calories in 8 ounces. That would be fine if one drank just 8 ounces. But with the size of beverage cups going the way of dinner plates, even full of ice you're probably drinking at least 4 times that. Sure, there are benefits to fruit juice, but if you're going to drink it, read the label -- most are loaded with sugar. And regular soda? That 44 ounce fountain soda has about 560 calories. Yikes! As a label reader, I know that while the average sports drink touts 50 calories per serving, there are 2.5 servings in that bottle. Diet drinks are loaded with artificial sweeteners, and I allow myself one per day (though I disobey myself more often than not). I should really try to break that habit. Maybe as my New Year's resolution?

Anyway, this is all very depressing. So I'll try to make it up to you with a couple tips.

I'm sure sommeliers all over the world will gasp at this notion (because of course there are sommeliers all over the world reading my blog...), but I like to mix seltzer with my wine. It cuts the calories in half (ounce for ounce, of course), allows me to keep my wits about me, and makes a nice little spritzer. Yum!

Keith mixes his grape juice with water. My mom does this, too, and I could never understand it. I always thought it was so weird. Then I married a man who does the same thing. Go figure! I stick to water during the day, but I understand that for some, plain water is an acquired taste. Try it with a squirt of lemon or pour some water in a pitcher over cucumber slices, limes, oranges or fresh mint. It adds a little flavor, without the calories. I happen to love sparkling water, and there are even flavored ones with no artificial sweeteners! Try these if you have trouble downing the requisite 64 ounces of water per day.

I know this is probably not what you wanted to hear today, right after a long Thanksgiving holiday and with more just like it coming up...but really, it's for the best. Armed with this knowledge, you can make conscious decisions about what you're eating AND drinking. There's no harm in enjoying yourself, it may just mean a little extra time on the treadmill. Pick up the pace during your holiday shopping and maybe you'll work off that extra glass of wine. That's how I think about it, anyway.

Hey, at least I didn't mention your venti latte from Fourbucks. But maybe you should look into it...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'm puffy. The "popcorn hangover" and other morale saboteurs.

I woke up today looking like I partied all night. I went to bed early and slept just fine, but I have a headache and I'm quite puffy. I look like I gained 5 pounds in my face, my eyes are almost swollen shut, and I can't get my rings off. And I had to go to the DMV today for a new drivers license (I'm officially a Fox!), so I'm stuck with this puffy face for several years now. Ah, the "popcorn hangover."

Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? Done right, it's a filling and healthy snack. Done wrong (say, at the movies), you're better off eating fast food. Anyway, I usually make my popcorn with an air popper, a bit of spray butter and salt. It takes a little getting used to, but after a while, you don't miss the grease-laden kind from the normal popper or the microwave bag. But even the healthy way, I have my rules -- no popcorn after 8 p.m. I know it sounds silly, but it never fails. Popcorn after 8:00 makes me puffy.

Even the scale reflects the increase. Yikes! I know it's just water retention from the salt, but talk about a morale killer! All day, people look at me strangely and say things like, "What happened to you? Late night?" "No, just the popcorn again...I know...I'm trying to quit."

Oh, and just a side note -- be careful with that spray butter! Companies can boast zero calories if the serving (in this case, 1-5 sprays) has less than 5 calories....but really, who uses only 5 sprays? Not me! That entire bottle has around 900 calories and 90 grams of fat. You do the math. Spray judiciously!

This puffiness problem happens to me at restaurants, too. I can order the lightest thing on the menu -- even ask them to cook the chicken or fish with no grease -- and I still wake up the next day looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. It is SO disheartening. Have you had this experience, too? Vacations and business travel kill me...even when I try hard to eat right, the obnoxious amount of salt in prepared food sabotages me. And I know they're sneaking grease into my grilled chicken somehow. It's a conspiracy!

I've found that this is a common problem with so-called "light" or "diet" foods. I try to stay away from them and cook myself -- hence, The Svelte Gourmet! -- and that way, I know exactly what's in the food I'm making. But sometimes, eating out is unavoidable. While the "light" or "diet" food may be low in calories, fat or carbs (or whatever the diet trend du jour), oft times they are loaded with salt. Why? Because salt makes food taste better! It actually amplifies the taste of food by awakening or opening up the taste buds. If you take away the butter and oil, you have to add something to make the food edible, right?

As we all should know by now, excess salt can lead to a variety of serious health problems. I'm not a doctor, of course, so I'm not going to get into all that. Suffice it to say that too much salt is bad for us. Plus, it makes us puffy!

I consider puffy the opposite of svelte, so I try hard to avoid it. I drink a lot of water and I use a lot of robust flavors in my recipes. While not all of them may seem entirely svelte, I use them sparingly to add punch to every dish. Strong cheeses like blue cheese and Parmesan, different varieties of vinegars, lemon juice, fresh herbs like basil and rosemary, capers, and olives are among my favorites. You'll get acquainted with many of these in my cookbook, which I'm finished writing and is now the taste-testing stage! Anyway, the point is that if you use herbs and spices to your advantage, you won't need to reach for the salt shaker!

Popcorn isn't the only thing that makes me puffy. I know Thanksgiving dinner will. Don't worry, I'm not even going to try to suggest a svelte Thanksgiving -- it's my favorite meal of the year and I wouldn't trade my family's incredible stuffing for anything! Let it be known that I will be tired, puffy and happy on Thanksgiving. Tired because I ate too much. That tale about the tryptophan in turkey making you tired is just a myth -- it has about the same levels as other meats. We're tired on Thanksgiving because we work too hard and eat (and drink!) too much. But that's ok, it's a holiday. We can just work on getting back to living and eating svelte on Friday. This is what making a lifestyle change is all about. Being good most of the time, but still enjoying life. Besides, shopping on Black Friday is exercise, right?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The bull in the china cabinet

So I was emptying the dishwasher this morning, and as I was putting them away into their five respective cabinets, it got me thinking. Is it normal to have nine sets of dishes? I admit, it's my one real weakness. I cannot pass up the opportunity for new dishes. In fact, right now I'm working my case with Keith for why I need a new set, since mine "don't photograph well." Hee hee...this might work. It's business!

But anyway, back to the dishwasher. I just broke a coffee mug, but it really doesn't matter, because with nine sets of dishes, we have plenty. I'm pretty clumsy, and Keith says I'm like "a bull in a china cabinet." This is funny for two reasons: 1) because I do actually break things in or near the china cabinet, and 2) because he really thinks this is the expression, rather than "bull in a china shop." Ha! One of the many reasons I love my man.

But again, I digress. The real point is that I'm noticing some crazy things as I put away the dishes. The first is that if our everyday set of dinner plates were just slightly larger, the cabinet door wouldn't close. Last year, in fact, I got rid of a lovely set of stoneware because they didn't fit in the cabinet. Now I can't imagine that cabinet makers have started making cabinets smaller, so it can only be that our plates are getting larger. Others must be thinking the same thing, because my fabulous friend Cyndi sent me a book recommendation recently, and the authors of "The Nine Inch 'Diet' - Exposing the Big Conspiracy in America" have evidently noticed this, too. They say that the average dinner plate has gone from 8.5 inches in diameter to 12, and The American Institute for Cancer Research has found that restaurant dinner plates have grown from 10 inches to 12 inches just in the last couple decades. I compared the antique dishes in my china cabinet to my everyday plates, and it's true! So is it any wonder that we're growing, too?

I think, overall, we've lost the concept of a "serving size." I know that when I make whole grain rice for four of us, I cook six or eight servings (according to the package measurements). Why? Because I need to fill the plate, even though a serving size is only 1/2 cup. As someone who believes that the aesthetics of the plate are an important part of a good meal, it looks really silly when you have a few little piles on a giant plate. Now that I'm more cognizant of what I'm feeding us, I increase the amount of veggies, not the carbs. Of course, the technique in nice restaurants for "plating" on big plates is to stack everything into a mini tower of food, then put few drops of sauce around the plate. It looks gorgeous! But my husband likes to eat his food one thing at a time and have nothing touching, so I can't plate our dinners this way. Another one of the many reasons I love him! Idiosyncrasies are what make life interesting, I think.

So in most restaurants (and homes, I would venture to guess), you're really getting much, much more than a serving size. I've heard a few different tricks -- protein no larger than the palm of your hand, carbs the size of your fist, veggies the size of your open hand. Another is something like protein the size of a deck of cards, carbs the size of a tennis ball. So is that giant bowl -- by most standards, a serving bowl or platter -- of pasta the server just put in front of you fitting into these parameters? I would guess not.

I have a big appetite, as I've discussed in other posts. It makes it difficult for me, especially on a fun night out, not to just dig in without restraint. So I've employed some techniques that seem to work for us. The first is to be cognizant of what you're putting in your mouth, slow down, and stop eating when you're no longer hungry -- not when you're about to pop the button on your pants. This is much easier said than done, I admit...but I keep my favorite Ellen DeGeneres quote echoing in my head to keep me strong: "We don't need to eat all we can eat." The second technique is eating on smaller plates. I still make Keith's dinner on a dinner plate, since I give him more food, but I eat mine on a lunch plate (which, interestingly, is the same size as the antique dinner plate in the picture above). I know it's just an illusion, but I really feel like I'm eating more when the plate is full. And guess what? I'm full, without going back for more.

So I encourage you to take a look in your cabinets and think about how you're filling your plate. Trust me, these are some really easy changes that make a big difference. And if you're looking to get rid of some dishes, think of me! I'm always in the market for a new set!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Recipe! "You won't be puffin' when you eat this muffin."

Act One, Scene One -- Saturday morning breakfast showdown:

Courtney (9): "What's for breakfast?"
Me (29ish): "I don't know, what do you want?"
Courtney: "Coffee."
Me: "Ha! OK, and with your coffee? How about something good for you?"
Courtney: (sigh, followed by eye roll) "Can I have a ham sandwich?"
Me: "For breakfast? OK, I guess, but only if you eat it on whole-grain bread."
Courtney: "Ew, Jenny, please no." (another eye roll)
Keith: "You know, Court, the sugars in white bread are just like eating a piece of cake. Your body can't tell the difference." (I LOVE it when he quotes me...hee hee...this is starting to catch on!)
Courtney: "Ahhh, Daddy! OK, fine."

OK, here we go. It's make it or break it time. I mean, I know this bread tastes good. But it has actual, visible "thingies" (a.k.a. grains) in it. Even Keith is tough when it comes to the whole grain bread. She is looking very skeptical now.

Act One, Scene Two -- After a couple very timid bites...

Me: "See, it's sweet, right?"
Courtney: "It sort of tastes like honey...but I still don't like it."
Me: "Why? You like honey!"
Courtney: "Um...well...Jenny, I'm only eating it because I'm really hungry."
Me: "Yeah right! You MUST like it. You've eaten the whole sandwich without an argument."
Courtney: "Well I admit it tasted good. Just not VERY good."

I don't care what anybody says, I'm considering this a Svelte Gourmet victory. Especially since she asked for the same sandwich again for lunch on Sunday! Yippee! But if you can believe it, Saturday got even better.

Taylor (15): "Jenny, is there a way to make muffins healthy? Can we bake some?"

Um....are you kidding?! Is the Pope Catholic? Of course we can bake healthy muffins! OK, not only is Courtney eating whole grain bread without a fight, but Taylor is asking to make healthy muffins. Could life get any better? Not for me. But again, it's go time. Act fast, before she loses interest!

Me: (on the phone) "Mom, quick! I need the recipe for Grandma's bran muffins. The yummy ones she used to make all the time. Can you email it to me? ....yes, Taylor....I KNOW....yes, Court ate whole grain bread.....I KNOW!" (Yes, my mother gets just as excited as I do over this stuff -- she's my inspiration! Keith and my dad just roll their eyes. There seems to be a lot of eye rolling going on around here lately...)

So as you can probably tell, Keith and the kids helped me out with the title of today's blog post -- they're really embracing the Svelte Gourmet philosophy! Taylor and I had a great time baking these muffins, and as usual, I had a great time playing around with the ingredients to make them even healthier.

These muffins are mostly my grandmother, partly my mother, partly me, and partly Taylor. The combined result is a rich, subtly sweet, tasty and nutritious muffin that can be breakfast, a snack, or dessert. We ate these all weekend and I don't feel the least bit guilty. This recipe replaces white flour with whole wheat flour, oil with applesauce, and white sugar with honey, which is sweeter, more nutritious and lower on the glycemic index! I plugged the entire recipe into my Calorie Counter and divided by the servings (it makes approximately 32 muffins!) and even I was astounded. Virtually no fat (just whatever is in the milk and eggs you use), about 100 calories each, and around 3.5 grams of fiber in each one! Yay fiber! These muffins are NOT your average "cupcake" disguised as breakfast. These are actually good for you -- and they really do taste great!

Raisin Honey Bran Muffins

3 cups bran cereal (such as All Bran Original), divided
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
3 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup honey
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice mixed with milk to equal 2 cups -- I use 2%)
2 eggs
1 cup seedless raisins

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine 1 cup of the cereal with boiling water and applesauce. Mix well and set aside.
Combine flour, salt, baking soda and remaining 2 cups of cereal. Add honey, milk and eggs. Mix well. Stir in cereal/water/applesauce mixture and raisins.
Spoon batter into greased muffin tins, filling each cup 2/3 full (3/4 for larger muffins).
Bake for 15 minutes (17 minutes for larger muffins), one pan at a time. Cool in pan 10 minutes before placing muffins on cooling racks.

Smaller muffins (32 per recipe) have about 100 calories and 3.5 grams of fiber in each. Larger muffins (20 per recipe) have about 160 calories and 5 1/2 grams of fiber in each!

Overall, I think I've had another successfully svelte weekend. Courtney's eating whole grains, albeit hesitantly, and Taylor wants to learn to cook and eat healthier. I now have a batch of muffins that, with every bite, reminds me of my childhood -- my wonderful grandparents baking together in the kitchen, my beautiful mother teaching me to cook and planting the seed for a healthy lifestyle. Taylor suggested we add chopped pecans next time, and I love that she's interested in experimenting. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do! And remember, "you won't be puffin' when you eat this muffin!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Skinny "jeans" without skinny "genes!"

You know, I used to think skinny people were just skinny by nature, and I was...well...not. Whatever the gene was, I was missing it. I tried many times to trick my body into believing there was a smaller person inside that double-digit frame -- but the weight crept back on after each fad diet attempt. I wasn't satisfied with the size I was, but I was just going to have to live with it.

Everywhere around me, knowledgeable health professionals were talking about healthy eating and exercise, but I wasn't listening. Temptations, excuses and quick fixes (think Acai Berry -- the "miracle fruit!") were always right around the corner. I walked by the gym, looking in at all the "naturally" skinny people. They must be there for the fun of it, right? They certainly don't look like they need to be there, so they must just like this torture. I was missing that gene, too. Urg.

Now, I like to think I'm a pretty intelligent person. In fact, I know I'm an intelligent person. So what was going on? Was this my way of justifying my lack of exercise? Was it how I justified my "healthy appetite" for not-so-healthy foods (and drinks!). I was an "average" size. Not overweight by medical definition, but not small either. If I was just this size by nature, then what difference did it make, right?

One day, I just decided to prove these health people wrong. All the other diets failed, so this miracle plan of "healthy eating and exercise" was bound to fail, too. They'll see! This is just my size!

So I got started at the gym with all those "naturally skinny" people in their designer gym outfits. I couldn't afford a trainer, so I watched what they did. I took group classes, and realized that they were as much fun as cheerleading in high school. I'm clumsy most of the time and I fall down a lot, but for some reason, I can fly over that step! I made a couple friends at the gym, and they would call me if I didn't show up for a class. It always helps to have people expecting you -- makes you get off the couch!

I also stopped with the fad diets. No more eliminating entire food groups! No more starvation! I was going to follow the simple rules of lean proteins, whole grains, and veggies. I cut out carbs at dinner and stopped snacking in the evenings. What I found was that, with the right flavors and spices, this healthy food was actually good. I liked what I was eating, but I was eating a LOT more than I ever got to eat on those crazy diets. This will never work! I'll show them! This is just my size!

And then it wasn't...I was getting smaller, almost immediately. I was eating. I was full! Me, the eater, full! I liked the gym. It was hard to get in the car, but once I was there, I enjoyed it. It feels SO good to work out. And my bank account was getting a workout, too -- boy is it fun to buy smaller clothes!!

I was never so happy in my life to be wrong. And if you know me, you know how much I LOVE to be right. But this time, I'm admitting it. I WAS WRONG. As hard as it may be to swallow at first, you have to eat right and get your body moving to lose weight and keep it off. It will work. I'm living proof. Now in my 30s, I'm smaller than I was in high school. Don't even get me started on the college years...I was looking at old pictures recently and my face was the size of a bowling ball! If there was a gym at my school, I certainly didn't know where it was. I was too busy having beer and pizza in the middle of the night to think about working out. Whoa!

After several years of this lifestyle change, the weight has stayed off. I'm a good 25-30 pounds lighter than when I started. I enjoy my nights out, but at home, we stick to the "svelte" plan that you've been reading about in my posts. Healthy food can taste great! I don't have a gym membership at the moment, but I ride my bike, walk, run and I do some other simple tricks. I take the stairs instead of the elevator and park far away from the store (even though it is SO hard to resist "rock star parking"). I also carry the groceries from the store instead of using the cart, pumping them like weights. People look at me funny, but that's ok!

Most importantly, I'm not kidding myself anymore. I realize that those fit people at the gym are fit because they are at the gym. I realize that my body needs fuel in the form of nutritious food. And I realize that now I'm actually in my skinny jeans without any skinny genes. It's the best feeling in the world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Svelte Gourmet gets down to business!

Dear fans, followers, family and friends (I love a good alliteration, don't you?),

Today, The Svelte Gourmet is officially getting down to business. I am honored to announce our online launch at TheSvelteGourmet.com!

I've been cooking svelte for just about a decade now, doing my part to keep my family, friends and myself healthy and fit. For the most part, it's been a success. Sure, we all fall off the wagon every now and then. But this is really one lifestyle change that's achievable. Over the years, making healthy food taste great has become a real passion for me. It's been a personal challenge through which I've learned how food works in the body, what flavors make the most impact without sabotaging weight loss, and how to prove this to others through cooking and teaching.

Then about a month ago, I started this blog. I didn't give it much thought at first, I just started writing what I know. Then you came along. Following me, sharing with me, asking questions, and making this blog a community that has the power to do some good. Who knew you'd like my goofy stories?!

You've inspired me to take it to the next level, for I know now that there is a need. I've learned that what has become second nature to me doesn't come naturally to everyone. Because of you, I've already helped several people learn a few new tricks about making healthy food taste great through lessons and dinners. I'm partnering with health and fitness organizations to develop programs that will help others practice what I preach. I'm even writing The Svelte Gourmet cookbook!

What I really want to say is thank you for joining me. Thanks for your ideas. Thank you for sharing your struggles and letting me in. The response to this blog has been overwhelming and I want to give you what you've been asking for. Please check out the services and products available through TheSvelteGourmet.com. If you have different needs or want to see something that's not there, please ask! You can even buy The Svelte Gourmet apron -- bound to be the hottest holiday gift of the year!

I must say, though, that blogging has been the most fun of all and I'm not going anywhere. A little too much web developing has me a bit bleary-eyed, but I'll be over it in no time and back to telling you about my culinary adventures! Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Miniature food -- pure evil disguised as "fun size!"

I have a rule in my house -- no miniature food. "Fun size." "Bite size." "Minis." I don't care what they call them, they have the potential to sabotage any diet.

Maybe I'm alone here, but I would never even consider grabbing a full-sized candy bar in the grocery checkout aisle. I could, but I don't. It's one of those things that is so obviously horrible for me. "Snickers satisfies?" What? Are we really believing that? Obviously, there are so many snacks you can eat that will give you energy and keep you full and healthy at the same time. Candy bars aren't the way. I think we all know that, right?

So why is it, then, that when they're disguised as "fun size," I have no qualms about helping myself. And I don't stop at one, either. They're "fun," right, so they can't be harmful. So I'll eat one or two, then cruise back by the bowl a little while later for another. Then maybe one after dinner. It's "fun." And small, so it can't hurt me. Except when I look at the pile of wrappers and realize that I've eaten the equivalent of probably THREE full-size candy bars in one day under the guise of "fun." Ooof. That's over a thousand calories, easy. That will be "FUN" on the treadmill!

So Halloween and Easter, for me, are the biggest problem times for "fun size." But there are other times that will sneak up on you. How about that office jar of M&Ms? One pass by can't be that bad. It's only a few, I tell myself. NO, it's an entire handful, more than comes in the bag! It is amazing how many M&Ms you can fit in one hand. Amazing.

I mentioned in my last post that I have a spreadsheet that I use as a food log. So one day after some trouble with the "minis," I plugged in the numbers. It is utterly amazing how much I was sabotaging my normal diet (I mean diet as what I consume regularly, not in the calorie reduction type of diet, which I'm not on -- remember, lifestyle change!) So I decided to check out some of the sweet snacks I could be having instead of the ones that sneak up on you without warning. I was going to count! It's a numbers game, after all! Calories in, calories out.

First step, "100 Calorie Snacks." OK, here's a plan I can follow. I know exactly what I'm eating and I can plug it right into my nerdy spreadsheet. AND, they make carrot cake! My favorite! And you get to eat THREE! For 100 calories. I don't know what miracle ingredient they're putting in these, but I'm really excited now. I tear open the box, and my heart sinks. I got "fun sized" again! Except it's not fun at all. Each carrot cake cupcake is about the size of a quarter. Literally. I feel betrayed. And stupid. I'm a smart girl, how did I really think I could have three carrot cake cupcakes for 100 calories. And I know some of you can have one pack or bag of these little treats and be satisfied -- but not me. And don't kid yourselves -- it isn't 100 calories when you eat 5!

Unfortunately, the same rules tend to apply to those "lean" frozen dinners, too. They are so small! One of my number one rules for cooking and eating to stay svelte is to find food that fills you up and doesn't pack on the calories. But I would have to feed my husband three or four lean dinners to fill him up. Then we're right back up to the calorie-loaded real thing -- and not nearly as tasty as homemade!

So the bottom line is, miniature food is dangerous and I try to keep it out of my house. Holidays are a little tough, but my trick is to take whatever's around, bag it, and throw it in the freezer. It is really hard to eat 9 "fun size" snickers when they're frozen solid. In fact, this was the whole idea behind the frozen grapes in the "I'm an Eater" post. ANYTHING, even fruits and veggies, can sneak up on you if you aren't a little bit careful. I could eat a bag of grapes in 5 minutes, but freezing them slows down the bingeing process! Even that bag of baby carrots is a little bit sneaky. Sure, eating a whole bag of mini carrots isn't going to hurt you that badly. But I bet if you slowed down, you'd realize that you were full and satisfied after 1/4 of the bag. Just don't freeze them. We try a lot of crazy things in The Svelte Gourmet test kitchen, and that one went right in the garbage!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Favorite Svelte Kitchen Gadgets: Vol. I

Eating healthfully isn't easy. It takes the right lean, green or whole grain ingredients, creativity and lots of flavorful spices to make healthy food that tastes good. Sure, you can buy frozen, microwavable "lean" dinners, but they're loaded with salt and preservatives -- and really don't taste that good either. And they're so tiny! I can eat three of them, but that sort of defeats the purpose. But I'll save my rant on the evils of miniature food for another post and get back to the point at hand. Eating healthfully with a little help from my friends...

I'm doing this in volumes because I have SO MANY kitchen gadgets and I couldn't decide on just a few. I'll feature more in future posts, but for now, here are my first four:

The Misto: I use my Misto every single day and I absolutely love it! Basically, it takes a liquid or oil and allows you to atomize it by pumping the cap to add air pressure. Your olive oil is now in aerosol form! Not only is it a cool gadget that causes dinner party guests to say "hey, what's that thing?!," it also allows you to dramatically cut calories and fat and still get the great flavors of your favorite oils. Mine stays filled with extra virgin olive oil and basically takes the place of regular cooking spray in my skillets, etc. It's great sprayed on the grill rack to help keep food from sticking! I even spray it on vegetables, salads and meat to add that great olive oil flavor and shine without the calories. Imagine the rich flavors you could healthfully impart by filling this with sesame oil or truffle oil. YUM! Any recipe that says "brush" or "coat" with oil gets a blast from The Misto, saving us hundreds of calories.

Makin' Bacon: OK, first of all, I'm not making the claim that bacon is good for you or has any health benefits besides a bit of protein. But it tastes SO good! I'm a big fan of adding flavor instead of fat, but if you can get a lot of the fat out of bacon, then one slice at about 45 calories added to a whole recipe isn't going to kill you. And apparently, there's a nine-year-old girl who knows this -- the inventor of Makin' Bacon. I was skeptical at first, but the concept makes sense -- hang your bacon on the Makin' Bacon racks, microwave it for a minute or two, and the bacon cooks to your desired crispness while the fat drips in to the tray on the bottom! We don't eat a lot of bacon here at the Svelte Gourmet, but one slice of crispy lean-cut bacon, crumbled and sprinkled over a few baked chicken breasts (I have a lot of chicken recipes) makes it extra tasty and doesn't add a lot of fat and calories! Everything in moderation, right? If you're going to make a lifestyle change to healthy eating, you can't deprive yourself of flavor. There are ways to do it right!

KitchenAide Food Chopper: A lot of companies make a product like this, but the concept is the same -- a zig-zagged metal blade plunges and retracts, making a quarter turn each time. You operate it by putting your food in the chamber, placing it on a solid surface and pounding the top plunger several times until you reach the desired size of dice. Then, the entire thing comes apart and goes right into the dishwasher. I love this thing. I use it for onions, garlic, nuts, peppers, apples -- anything crispy works. Not only does this device allow you to release any residual anger from your day (is your spouse aggravating you?!), but it is also completely self-contained and kid-friendly. Our girls use this to help me cook. Not only is it fun to use, but I feel better knowing that they're not going to slice off a finger or accidentally spin around and stab one of us. It's great!

Crème Brûlée Torch:
OK, again, I know that this dessert isn't "healthy." However, I make it
at home using small ramekins. My second favorite thing to do besides blog about healthy food is to calculate the calories in all my recipes -- I even have a spreadsheet for it. Doesn't that sound like fun?! Anyway, I calculated my crème brûlée recipe (which still uses heavy cream, eggs and sugar -- though a lot less than you would think), divided by eight servings served into 4 ounce ramekins, and the calorie count?! 130 per serving!!! Are you shocked? Quite a bit better than that 500 calorie (at least!) piece of cheesecake, huh? Toss a few blueberries on there and you have a very impressive dinner party dessert. But I transgress. Back to the gadget. Not only does it allow me to make this impressive dessert and torch it in front of my guests ("ooh, ahhh!"), even the kids will eat food they get to torch. Now please, stand VERY close to them and don't look away. But with the right supervision and a pledge to teach your kids kitchen safety, this is as harmless as the stove or chef's knife. It also has other uses as well. I have a svelte French onion soup recipe that I love, and I wanted to serve it in bowls that went with my "tablescape," but they weren't oven-safe. So I torched the very thin slice of cheese with the torch and it came out beautifully! I love my torch.

I could go on and on and on, but I'll save some gadgets for future volumes. Enjoy and feel free to share some of your favorites!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Prime time for eating locally!

I grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and loved going to the local farmers markets. I even worked at one for four years, selling chips, pretzels and hot roasted peanuts! Not very svelte, huh?! Now I live in Charleston, South Carolina, and I am again surrounded by people living and eating locally. And let me tell you, I am in my glory. I have tried so many new things and I wish I could make a career out of living off the land (and blogging about it?...)

I love adventures. I spent 11 years in Washington, DC, but I was always trying to get out to the country. It was there that I met my husband, who brought me to this glorious place. He's shown me some amazing adventures. And it's true, "if you teach a man to fish..." and all that. Keith says if the economy gets any worse, we can just live off the land and the water. And he's right! Though I might have to start weeding my herb garden, because it's out of control.

Right now in Charleston, it's prime time for eating locally. Shrimping season is in full force, and it's so much fun to catch them yourself! If we're lucky, we'll fill our freezer this year. And let me tell you, there is NOTHING like wild, local shrimp. The taste is so unlike those farmed shrimp you can get at the grocery store. If you have the opportunity to try them, don't let it pass you by!

It's also oyster season -- here, you can harvest and eat them in any month that has an "R" -- in other words, when the water is cold enough! Before moving here, I'd only had oysters once, in California. I hated them. I don't know why, and maybe I didn't give them a chance, but the oysters here are just different. Singles or clusters, it doesn't matter. They are amazing. In Charleston, oyster roasts are the social event of the winter. Weekend parties where people gather, have a few beers, and plow through bushels and bushels of freshly steamed oysters. There's usually a bonfire, even though it's 50 degrees at night in December. It's funny, though, how even though I'm from the north, I'm always cold. Maybe that's because I'm still wearing flip-flops in November... But anyway, I feel lucky to live in a place where I can walk down to the creek and break loose a few clusters of oysters with a brick. What?!

The pecans are also dropping. My in-laws' yard will shortly become a blanket of nuts, ready to be picked up and stored for winter! They even make special tools for picking them up and cracking them. My in-laws just bought some lawn mower-like contraption that picks them up, and I can't wait to try it. It's called Bag-O-Nut and now I can't stop giggling. Anyway, they'll last for years in their shell, or shelled in the freezer. If you buy and eat nuts, you know how expensive they are. So it's like gold dropping from the trees! Just be sure to pronounce them "PEE-cans." Otherwise, these Southerners will make fun of you. Trust me. I'm a Damn Yankee (the term for a Yankee that moves here and stays...)

And that's not all...we can pull crab traps from the dock and have crab feasts whenever we want. All-you-can-eat blue crabs and stone crabs -- I'm so spoiled now. We also fish a lot and catch dolphin fish (mahi mahi) and many other varieties. Keith has the most AMAZING recipes. We gig flounder. YUM. We have wild turkeys running around in our backyard, but I'm not a hunter, so they're still safe. We now have a freezer full of venison, thanks to my father-in-law. PLEASE share your recipes for venison if you have some, because I've only cooked it a couple times -- tenderloin and chili, so far. But it is quite lean (1/3 the fat of beef!) and I look forward to experimenting. I'll keep you posted...

I feel like I might have the advantage this time, with easy access to all of Charleston's bounty. But I know I'm wrong -- places like this exist all over the world. Please post comments and let us know where you live and what you eat. It may inspire us all to steer clear of Costco and stock our freezers for winter locally!