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

Archive for April, 2012

Spice up your life!

Dieters: Think of spice as your secret weapon! When you eat something spicy, you feel more full and it stays with you longer. Oh, you don’t like hot food, you say? Of course, if you can make it hot enough to taste spicy that’s the best, but even if you just add enough so it doesn’t taste hot but has just a little bite, it will help.It will linger on the back of your tongue and give your food a more fulfilling taste.

You can accomplish this in many different ways… by using ground spices like cayenne and hot curry, by using hot pepper flakes, by adding bits of chopped hot peppers, or by using hot pepper pastes like Ahi Amarillo or chili paste, or simply by adding a shot of hot pepper sauces like Tabasco. Each ethnic group has its own offering in this spice department!

Here’s why it’s so satisfying to add some spice from chilies to your diet. Chilies contain capsaicin, which stimulates the nerves in your mouth, which in turn stimulate the brain, which in turn releases endorphins. And we all know about endorphins. They make us feel really good. The spicier the food then, the more endorphins get released. So here’s where you have to figure out how much makes sense for you.

Chilies will also speed up your metabolism, so it has been suggested that will help in weight loss, but it has not been proven. Sounds good, though! Some of you won’t be able to take this advice due to stomach issues, but actually studies have shown that there is no higher incidence of ulcers in Mexico and other countries where chilies are a predominant food than any place else. You just have to know your own body and what it can tolerate. Peppers are really good for you in other ways. They are really high in beta carotene and vitamin C, two things that fight cancer and heart disease.

Added into a dish with a little salt and some citric acid (like lemon or lime juice or wine), they can be invaluable in increasing flavor. So how do you figure out how much of these flavors to add? First, always, always, always taste what you are serving to your guests before you give it to them. Soup is a good one to start with because you can take out a ladle full and experiment on it without ruining the whole batch. Add small amounts at a time of each individual spice – first salt, then lemon, then Tabasco sauce. Experience the difference in the taste after each addition. Get each one right and then move on to the next. If you overdo one, start over. This little exercise will tremendously increase the flavor in your cooking and help you to understand the power of spices and how they work together. Give it a try and report back!

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Purées with Punch!

There are two commonly available things that really spike the flavor of food –  that give them a bright and inviting taste. Those two things are salt and acid. Any kind of salt will do and acids are products like vinegar, wine and the citric acid found in fruits like oranges, limes and lemons. You can add them to almost any recipe. Let’s take tomato soup for example. You have it all finished but it tastes bland. The flavor is not exciting or interesting. It’s just not coming out. This is where you can really see the impact of flavor enhancement. Add small amounts of salt  and keep tasting each time you add. Then add just a little lemon juice and keep tasting as you add more. You won’t believe your taste buds! These two things will make huge difference in the finished product.

Many people strive to avoid salt, so let’s concentrate on what citric acid can do. It can flavor your food without adding a lot of calories. It can give you a healthier option because you don’t have to add cream to enjoy your dish. The picture is an example of a really healthy, low calorie meal that is full of fresh taste and has elements that work well together. The peas are fresh and cooked just enough so they still have a little bite. By the way, peas are one vegetable where freshness makes a huge difference. There is no comparison between a fresh pea and even a frozen one. They are not always available, but when you can find them, buy them!

Here’s where the citric acid comes in. The squash is cooked in not quite enough orange juice to cover it and a sprinkle of white pepper. It should be cooked until very tender and easily mashed with a fork. Then it was pureéd. (If you don’t have a blender or food processor, just mash it.) During the cooking process, the orange juice reduced and added amazing flavor. Turning it into a purée makes it more interesting and helps you not miss the potatoes. Did you even notice there was no starch on this plate?

Vegetable purée is a wonderful substitute for sauce in dishes like tacos and also lasagna. Paired with fish, any kind of meat or even roasted vegetables, they can be an interesting and tasty alternative. If you want your purée thinner, just add a little more of the juice it was cooked in and of course, fresh herbs can enhance it even more, but are not necessary.

The juicy chicken is an example of fat used wisely. It was dipped in egg, then 2 Tablespoons of coarsely grated Parmesan cheese, then baked at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, until just tender and cooked through. The garnish is a piece of leftover grilled pepper. When I say the fat was used wisely, I mean that its taste is forward because it’s on the outside. The taste of the Parmesan is strong, pleasing and filling. You taste it with every bite of the chicken. The Parmesan also has an almost salty taste, which enhances your dish even more. This is a great diet meal. The plate has freshness, color, healthy vegetables, protein and only 550 calories!

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