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Archive for January, 2012

Think like a chef.

You’re sitting in a restaurant and your dinner entrée has just been delivered. Your plate is simple but beautiful. Why? Because back in the kitchen, the chef has bins of many different items to choose from for your plate. A little bit of this and a little bit of that are what provide color and taste and make that plate special – not to mention economical and the fact that if you eat several different little things, it’s more interesting than if you eat a lot of one thing (even if it’s good). With more variety, your plate looks full, but if you think about it, in restaurants, often there is not that much on it. It just looks like it. So never forget that you eat with your eyes first. Especially when you are in diet mode, you want to present a plate that looks loaded so you feel like you are eating a lot and filling up. Making a plate that looks inviting and has interest is also really simple at home. Just learn to use your leftovers wisely. 

Here’s a perfect example. Yesterday, I picked up a fresh trout filet for dinner. At the moment, my husband doesn’t want any starch, so I headed for the vegetable bin. I found one ripe tomato, one baby cucumber, four baked cipollini onions, one scallion, and one cooked corn on the cob. These are all things I could easily have thrown out, but didn’t. And that’s what you see in the photo – all sliced thinly and set on two plates in a matter of ten minutes. The fish? Split in two, dipped in a whisked egg, sprinkled with a couple of Tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and baked at 425º F just until it flaked – about 10 minutes in this case. Verdict? Easy. Colorful. Delicious. Filling. What more could anyone ask for? Ahhhh… One more thing. Something like 1/3 the price of the same meal in a restaurant and without any butter. Now that’s a winner.

Healthy Comfort Food

As rain drizzles on a cold day in Detroit, a girl’s fancy turns to comfort food. Mac and cheese is out of the question and the cupboard is devoid of chips. But that’s not really what I want. I want something healthy, warm and filling that will stick to my ribs and not send me reeling back looking for something else in an hour. To me, the answer is homemade soup. Added pluses are that it’s quick to make, you can easily make any amount and you can use any vegetable – even leftover already cooked ones! That’s exactly what I just whipped up for lunch. Butternut squash soup from leftover cooked squash. Here’s a recipe adapted from the Flavor Secrets cookbook, but if you have less vegetable than it indicates, just use a pan where the amount covers the bottom and barely cover the vegetables with broth. If you do that, you will get the great consistency of a thick, hot and hearty soup that is lovely to enjoy. This is just a general guideline! (Serves 6 or more. Keeps up to 7 days in the refrigerator and can be successfully frozen for up to 3 months.)

2 large onions, diced
1 jalapeño pepper
4 Tablespoons olive oil
4 stalks celery, peeled and diced
2 carrots, diced
2 pounds squash or other vegetable
1-1/2 quarts chicken stock (Approx.)
2 cups orange juice
Salt and white pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric (Optional)

In a large sauce pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion with the pepper until it’s soft. Add the celery, carrots and vegetable and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add the stock and orange juice and cook until all vegetables are soft. Purée the mixture. Taste and season with the salt, pepper and turmeric. Crawl under an afghan in your favorite chair and savor it until it’s gone!

Sugar Baby, Sugar!

Like most people I know, I’m trying to diet. The minute I hear the dreaded D-word though, all I want is sugar. It pursues me through my dreams and tortures me until I submit.I realized I had to call a halt last night when I looked in the mirror and saw myself eating a dish of chocolate chips smothered in some Sanders caramel sauce I found hiding in a back corner of the refrigerater. (It was all I could find after the diet cupboard cleanout.) So what’s a girl to do? GET BACK TO THE BASICS.

One of the very best ways to increase flavor is to reduce a liquid. It strengthens and concentrates what is left and  lets us take total advantage of nature’s goodness. So try this. I took a gallon of cider and boiled it down to a cup. Add nothing. Just refrigerate it until you want to use it. Apples have a lot of pectin, so this process turns it into a delicious jam that is incredibly sweet, flavorful and filling – not to mention handy! Put it on your toast instead of sugary jam, brush it on pork chops, pork roasts, chicken or duck after cooking, stir it into your cinnamon tea, etc. etc. Have fun with it. I know you will really enjoy it.

NOTE: It can take as long as two hours over high heat to boil the cider down to a cup, so you want to do it when you will be around. Keep a close eye on it especially at the end because it will reduce faster and faster. It will froth at the end and then it’s done.

Spiral to Beet Heaven!

What a presentation! As promised, last night I put two yellow beets through my spiral machine. The pile that emerged was huge – enough for four people to feel well satisfied. Each one got something like 125 grams or 80 calories of vegetable.  This time, I also sliced and cooked the greens in a little vegetable broth, then drained them and sprinkled them lightly with balsamic vinegar. One cup of greens gives you 39 more calories as well as some protein, Phosphorus, zinc, some fiber and vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6. Shall I go on? Add Thiamin, Riboflavin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. If you’re watching your sodium, you may not want to include them, but for the rest of us they make a lot of sense. The best part is that after you finish eating this huge portion you are full. Oh, that would be plus whatever calories were in the vegetable broth they retained, but that can’t be much. If I can fill up on 119+ calories, I’m going for it!

Just because it’s diet food doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun. So here’s what the spiral machine looks like. I bought this one in Germany ages ago, but now you can find them online.  Whatever you put through there comes out looking like colored spaghetti. Another favorite way I use it is for cucumber. A little pile of cucumber “noodles” dressed with a light vinaigrette – or nothing at all – makes for a lot of interest. Many people won’t even be able to figure out what it is. If we have to diet, let’s at least make it fun.

The Royal Beet

I know many of you think you don’t like beets, but have you tried the yellow ones?

They’re milder, don’t stain your fingers when you peel them and they add a brilliant yellow color to your plate presentation. To me, they are absolutely delicious with nothing on them – not even salt and pepper and especially not butter. They’re wonderful as a warm side or cold as a salad ingredient or topping. Best of all, they’re chock full of vitamins and minerals – especially touted as being excellent for your heart – but 100 grams contains only 45 calories, no cholesterol and almost 3 grams of fiber – the perfect diet food!

I used to hate cooking beets. When we only had the red ones, I found the preparation messy, the cooking time long and they would always add insult to injury by leaking their natural red dye all over the other food on the plate. All of those issues are solved now. The yellow ones are no worse to peel than a potato. Unpeeled, they keep for a long time in the refrigerator. Cooked, you can keep them and enjoy them for up to 7 days.

And cooking them is what I really came here to talk about today. One of the reasons I like to go to restaurants is to soak up cooking and presentation ideas from other chefs. For me, it’s the best way to shake off a rut because as usual, two heads are better than one! Recently, I saw a beet presentation that I loved. As pictured above, they were cut into julienne strips and then steamed. The resulting mound was prettier than layering sliced beets on a plate and get this – when I tried it at home, the steaming time (from the time the water started to boil) was only ten minutes! Eureka! This will be my new beet method until I find another one… which might be putting them through a spiral machine, which would decrease the cooking time even more. Stay tuned on that one. I’ll try it tonight.

By the way, the other side prepared in the Flavor Secrets kitchen last night was the leftover cauliflower from my last post. I mixed the purée with some chopped red onion sautéed with a minimum amount of oil. It spiced it up enough to make it different. We ate that with a baked chicken breast (dipped in egg, sprinkled with 1 Tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and baked for about 30 minutes at 375F.

Total calories: About 400. AWESOME.

Powerhouse cauliflower!

Here’s a vegetable you shouldn’t take for granted. What a powerhouse of nutrition! One cup gives you 90% of your daily Vitamin C requirement. Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin K and glucosinolates offer anti-inflamatory properties, help build strong bones and help your blood to clot – not to mention all the antioxidants which are important for warding off cancer. Besides, it tastes great! At first glance, we think of cauliflower eaten raw with dips and in salads – but it doesn’t have to be so boring. You can steam it, roast it, brush it with olive oil and grill it and you can even pickle it. My absolute favorite way to serve it, though, is to steam and then purée it. Add just a little butter when you purée it and honestly, your guests will think they are eating potatoes! So many times, I’ve had people ask me what was in the delicious potatoes, only to discover that they were eating cauliflower. It’s a great low carb and lower calorie alternative. Here’s the recipe from the Flavor Secrets Cookbook. Give it a try!

1 head Cauliflower
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 Tablespoons whole butter
2 Tablespoons half and half
Salt and white pepper

Cook the cauliflower in the broth. Drain it and then purée it with the butter, half and half, salt and pepper. Taste it! Adjust the spices if necessary. Enjoy!

Hello world!

After much nudging, here we go with the FLAVOR SECRETS food blog. I always say that I eat anything that isn’t nailed down and it’s catching up with me. I hope you will join me in my quest to take the flavor secrets I know and love one step further and ratchet up the taste of really healthy food. Tasting great and being great for you are often mutually exclusive. Let’s change that by analyzing the old ways and bringing in the new. What better time to start than January!

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