Love to cook? Read on for professional tips on building flavor without all the calories!

Archive for February, 2012

You eat with your eyes first!

The D-word (DIET) has been in our house for about a week now. We’re accustomed to the types and amounts of things we need to eat and we know that at lunchtime, the best thing we can eat is a salad. Enter the B-word now – BORING! How to fix this? Get out a sharp knife and get back to the basics – because you eat with your eyes first. What do I mean by that? Follow along!

When you sit down in front of a large plate of food, your first impulse is that you cannot possibly eat it all. You are already tricking your brain into believing you are going to be full when you are finished, no matter how many calories are actually there. You are, however, delighted that you are “allowed” to eat that much, so right off the bat you are sure you are going to be happy and that it will fill you up. So first, you want to make the dish look as large as possible.  To do that, you need to chuck the salad bowl and get out a plate. The plate pictured is actually even a charger plate – an extra large one – so the salad can be spread out to look as large as possible.

Next, make it look pretty so you will enjoy eating it, and that’s all about the colors you choose and the chopping. For my salad, I went through the vegetable drawer and made sure I had several varieties of green (leaf lettuce, celery, snow peas, and cucumber) as well as some contrasting red (radishes and tomato) and a little white (also in the radishes). Then I thought about how I could chop each one to be at its most attractive self. I chose leaf lettuce (2 cups) because it has curly edges and makes a beautiful chiffonade. (Roll the leaves together and then slice across them.) By the way, cutting the lettuce this way also allows it to mound beautifully so it looks like more than it is.

I cut 1/2 stalk of celery and 1/2 cup of snow peas into thin slices on an angle, then sliced 5 cherry tomatoes in half and cut two radishes into matchsticks. I mixed all but the tomatoes together and mounded it on the plate, arranging the tomatoes on the side like a garnish. Then I got out my secret weapon – the spiral machine shown earlier in the post about the yellow beets, and cut 1/2 of a cucumber into long thin strips that look like spaghetti. Of course, to show that off, I could see that it should be on top. Then I sprinkled a little mixed pepper over it all and served Waldon Farms no calorie salad dressing on the side.

The result, as you can see, is a salad fit for a queen that contained … drum roll… 127 calories! That beautiful cucumber topping was only 10 of those! I felt totally stuffed when I finished it for another reason too. It took me quite awhile to eat it. It takes your stomach 20 minutes to register that you are full, so if you can take 20 minutes to eat something, you’re usually home free. There are a lot of individual bites in a salad that size and it’s not going to disappear very quickly. Because of the time spent, I also really felt like I had had a big meal. If you like to add some protein to your salads, try 6 slices of low fat deli meat, chopped up into small pieces and mixed through for a whopping 45 additional calories. I think a total of 172 calories for a complete meal is pretty acceptable on any diet! On second thought, maybe the D-word can stay around awhile. I think I like it.

Share the love!

Valentine’s Day is on the horizon and all thoughts turn to chocolate, but how about a healthy snack instead that also shows love in a big way?  I’m talking about a low calorie pizza, shaped like a heart and full of healthy ingredients. It’s the perfect solution. It sounds and looks indulgent, is quick and easy to make, tastes delicious and is full of good nutrition. Besides, shaping it like a heart makes it fun! There’s no dough in this pizza. It’s made with a wrap – yes a sandwich wrap – and if you find the right one it can even be gluten free. The wrap crisps in ten minutes and tastes like a thin crust or cracker pizza. Absolutely delicious. Your kids will think you’ve gone wacko encouraging them to eat pizza and only you and I will know the truth.

First, fold a piece of parchment or waxed paper (larger than your wrap) in half and cut out a heart. Then kept cutting it down until it’s just the right size to fit inside the wrap. Using kitchen scissors, hold this template on the wrap and cut it into a heart shape. Set it on a cookie sheet (no oil). (I used a Mex America tomato-basil wrap.) Then instead of tomato sauce, I spread some barbecue sauce all over the wrap. After that, it’s just a matter of choosing the toppings (and PS keep them healthy! No bacon or pepperoni). I used 1 cup of leftover cooked chicken cut into bite-sized pieces. Then I added pieces of artichoke, corn cut from 1 leftover cooked cob and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. On top of that, I tossed 1/4 cup of low fat, grated cheddar cheese and 1/4 cup of low fat, grated mozzarella cheese.

Granted, your kids might not like this particular combination, but there are plenty of healthy choices you can use for toppings: Low fat deli meat (chopped), cooked vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, fish like salmon, tilapia or tuna or cooked pork filet. See what you have in your frig and make up a fun combination of favorite things. Covering it with cheese makes it all taste good. And by the way, 1/2 cup of cheese is enough to add the cheesy taste. You don’t need to load it up.

Then bake your concoction in a pre-heated oven at 425 F for only 10 minutes. The baking time is even less using the wrap! This is a dish to please everyone – even the cook. I encourage you to give it a try!

Pasta! Pasta!

Those who know me well know that (more than occasionally and especially in the kitchen) I can start a small project and passion will quickly turn it into a large one. Yesterday, its name was pasta! My cooking philosophy is that if you can buy a great product inexpensively, then buy it. It’s only worth spending your precious time making something from scratch if it’s distinctly yours, something special or different or saves you a lot of money. This way, you can include purchased products with yours and have the best of everything. In the case of simple pasta, Barilla and others have been there done that, but sometimes it’s fun to get creative and make your own flavor combinations – not to mention using up leftovers in the process and getting some spices into your diet. What you see here started out with, “Let’s make some spaghetti noodles for dinner!” and ended up being (counterclockwise from the front) Spinach Spirelli, Turmeric Penne, Beet Amori, Basil Pesto Spaghetti, Tomato Macaroni, and Turmeric Fettuccini with bits of fresh red bell pepper running through it. As you can see, pasta provides unlimited opportunities for creation! I can just imagine how much fun I’m going to have inventing colorful sauces to go along with these! And to me, that’s what’s fun about cooking… Imagining, creating and presenting something fun that looks beautiful on your plate.

Homemade pasta is great because it can accomodate any dietary needs – even gluten free. To make it, you have lots of choices. You just need flour and liquid. Your flour can be any type – semolina, whole wheat, or rice – just to name a few – or any combination thereof. Your liquid can be eggs or water or also a mix. The ratio is 500 grams of flour to about 6 eggs for extruded pasta like I made (using a machine) or if you are making it by hand, I like to use a mix – 12 ounces semolina and 4 ounces unbleached white flour with about 1 cup of eggs. (You can add a Tablespoon of oil to make the hand rolled dough a little softer if you like.) Add the liquid in gradually until your dough feels right. That’s all that’s in it. Think about how inexpensive that is. Each one of those piles in my picture uses about one pound of flour. Next time you want to support a local restaurant, order their pasta dish!

Coloring your pasta is easy. You can either add a few Tablespoons of vegetable powder or a small amount of cooked vegetables puréed in your food processor or blender. (If they are juicy, include them in your liquid amount.) Spices can be chopped very tiny if fresh or they can be dried. Realize, though, that vegetable powders don’t change the taste much. They are added primarily for color. Things that do change the taste are the things that change the taste of anything the most – garlic, hot peppers and ground pepper to name a few. The Basil pesto spaghetti I made was great because it used up some leftover fresh pesto and made the pasta a flavor creation by itself. Usually with a pasta dish, it’s all about the sauce, but this time the spaghetti stood on its own. I could heat a can of diced tomatoes with jalapeños for a sauce and it would be a beautiful dish. It would be enough.

The best way to eat pasta is fresh. It just needs to rest a half an hour and then you can cook it up. The taste is really tender and lovely – quite different than dried. However, another great thing about it is that it can keep a long, long time, so you can make a lot and use it as you need it. You can freeze it or in the case of plain pastas or those colored with vegetable powder, simply dry it and store it in the pantry – just like the pasta you buy at the store. If you dry it, just make sure you dry it quickly. (My pasta is piled up for the picture, but afterward, I moved some of it to other screened trays and spread it out so it dried out in a matter of hours.) So… there are a few reasons to give homemade pasta a try. Have fun and PS… It’s low fat!

Spring into Spring!


A good friend reminded me yesterday about a wonderful, fresh appetizer that I used to make a lot. I dug out the recipe for you because it’s very versatile and an absolute diet WINNER. You can fill up on these for a delicious vegetarian meal, use them as an appetizer or as a side with a protein like chicken. I have even successfully made them a day ahead. You just have to be sure not to pile them up or let them touch each other because the skins are sticky and can pull apart when you try to separate them.

The spring roll skins are the wonderful part because you can see your lovely ingredients through them, but they are also the tricky part. Find them in the Asian section dry food section of almost any grocery store these days, but for sure in Asian supermarkets. They look white and are round – and you will see SPRING ROLL SKINS in English on them. When you are ready to use them, the trick is not to let them sit too long in the water. So moisten one and moisten the next as you are rolling the first. Don’t plop a bunch in the water and expect them not to glom together and destroy themselves! One at a time is magical. Also, make your own fillings Use your favorite salad or seafood recipes and fold them into a lovely delicacy!


1 leek, washed, trimmed and cut into thin rings
1 large carrot, washed, peeled and cut into thin julienne
1 cup Savoy cabbage, cut into fine strips
4 ounces Shiitake or Straw mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons peanut (or vegetable) oil
2 ounces soy bean sprouts
2 tablespoons chopped peanuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 Tablespoon curry
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
4 pieces of rice paper
4 salad leaves
Approximately 1/4 cup Olive oil
Soy sauce or Sweet chili sauce for dipping


1. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a wok and stir fry the leek, carrot, cabbage and mushrooms (in that order) until cooked but still firm.

2. Stir in the sprouts, peanuts, salt, pepper, soy sauce and curry. Taste and adjust seasonings.

3. Soften the rice paper for a minute or two in water. Lay on a thin, dry kitchen towel and carefully dry off with a second towel. Fill and roll, wrapping the ends in as you go.

4. Serve with soy sauce (for dipping) and/or sweet chili sauce. ENJOY! I love these! Add seafood, especially shrimp, if you like.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: