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Posts tagged ‘diet food’

First to “SPRING” up: Asparagus!

white-green-purple asparagusWhen I think of Spring and especially May, my eyes light up and I’m transported back to all the times I spent in Germany during this special month. It’s special because the first asparagus tips have pushed through the soil and the first “Spargel” starts showing up on menus. You will find these tender (primarily white) tips served in an unbelievable variety of ways… with radicchio and Parma ham (one of my favorites), with strawberry sauce, in delicious, creamy soups, with potatoes and spices, with egg omelets, with fresh river trout, with homemade linguine  bacon and tomatoes, in crepes, in lasagna, in quiche, with a variety of meat dishes and simply topped with lovely, creamy, homemade Hollandaise sauce. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is with all of these memories!

When you look for asparagus in the markets, you will find it in three distinctly different colors. So what is really the difference?

WHITE ASPARAGUS is white because it can’t get any light. This process is called etoliation. Dirt is mounded around the emerging stalks and the fields are also covered with light proof netting. No chlorophyll (which would make the plant green) develops to help the plant absorb light, because there isn’t any light, so the stalks remain white. Many plants that are grown using etoliation are small and weak, but in the case of asparagus, the white stalks are usually large and robust. They also develop a stiff outer coating that MUST be peeled in order to eat them. Try not peeling it once and you will see what I mean. The asparagus will be absolutely inedible. On second thought, trust me on this one and don’t waste this beautiful vegetable. The taste is a bit milder than green asparagus and the color can be very interesting when added to other dishes. You cook it just like green asparagus and it can be interchangeable in recipes.

GREEN ASPARAGUS, on the other hand, does not need to be peeled, with one exception. When the stalks are very large, I do peel it very thinly, using a peeler, just to remove the large “thorns”. The thorns will not prick your fingers, but when they get very large, they don’t taste that great and the texture can be unpleasant. With green asparagus, I prefer the tender, young stalks that only take a couple of minutes to steam and enjoy. The larger stems can have a very “woody” taste and are simply not as good.

PURPLE ASPARAGUS was cultivated from green asparagus. It is just as healthy, a little tenderer and has a slightly different taste than green asparagus. It needs to be steamed quickly or baked because its color fades when exposed to water. But again, it’s an interesting color addition to recipes.

All asparagus is also a GREAT diet food! It contains high levels folate and potassium as well as antioxidants that fight against heart disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. To cook it, just steam it for a few minutes or until you can just get a fork through it. It’s easy to make and a good idea to get it into your diet!

Spring Asparagus Roll

Here’s a fun asparagus recipe that I did for MexAmerica Foods: Get the recipe at: http://mexamericarecipes.com/main-ingredient/eggs-sausage-bacon/spring-asparagus-roll-1827/

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Go Fish!!

When I’m cooking for one or want a really quick, low calorie but delicious and filling meal, one of my “go to” recipes is BEER FISH. You have to try this because I know you will love it and it will be at the top of your list for diet food! Plus, it’s easy. What more can you ask for in a recipe?

Beer Fish!

Beer Fish!

This recipe is called Pijiu Yu in Chinese and it comes from the southern region where rivers are abundant and fish are plentiful. I often make it with salmon because it’s inexpensive and easy to obtain where I live, but to be more true to its origin, you should make it with a firm and fairly thick white fish.

This is also a one pot dish – so there’s not much clean up. That pot is a Chinese WOK (with a cover), but you can also make it with a chef’s pan that has a cover. Stir frying in general is a quick and healthy way to cook, so if you don’t have a wok and want to get one, here’s a good, inexpensive source: The Wok Shop in San Francisco. I recommend that you get one made of carbon steel. Your choice if you want a single or double handle. With the double handle, you have to have oven mits handy because they get hot, but that’s the only real difference.  http://www.wokshop.com/store/search.php?list=subcat&subcat=1 You can get a great wok at this link for $20. Make sure you also get a wok spatula. They are wide and flat and great for stir frying. So now to the recipe!

When using a wok, the cooking process is very quick, so it’s important to first assemble your ingredients. You will need:

Delicious and healthy ingredients

Delicious and healthy ingredients

4 to 6 ounces of fish (skin can be on or not)
2 Tablespoons corn or peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon each, salt, pepper and ground ginger (or 2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, sliced thinly)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tomato, chopped
1/2 green pepper, sliced thinly
1/2 red pepper, sliced thinly
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup beer
1 Tablespoon spring onion, sliced thinly, on a diagonal, for diagonal

METHOD:
1. Mix together the salt, pepper (and ground ginger if you are using it). Sprinkle part of this mixture on the fish. If you are using fresh ginger, just sprinkle the fish with some of the salt and pepper.

2. Heat your wok on high heat. Then add the oil. Sear the fish on the meat side (if your fish has a skin). When it’s lightly browned and cooked half way through, flip it over. (Watch the side to see the color change as it cooks, so you can see when it’s cooked half way through.) By the way, this wok is not dirty! Woks develop a patina from the oil and you want it do so because the coating is “non-stick”.

Salmon

Sear the Salmon

3. Place the tomato, peppers, fresh ginger slices (if you are using fresh) and garlic on top of the fish, plus any leftover salt and pepper. (If you are using ground ginger, so the same but sprinkle in the rest of your mixture you made in step one.) Add the soy sauce and beer.

Add all other ingredients!

Add all other ingredients!

4. Put the cover on the wok and set a timer for five minutes. (You are still cooking on high heat.)

5. Remove the lid and transfer the fish and vegetables to a large bowl. In most cases, there should be a thick gravy underneath. If it’s a little thin, just cook it by itself for a minute or two to thicken it. Watch it because it will thicken very quickly! Spoon this “gravy” over the top of the fish and garnish with the sliced garden onions. Serve immediately.

If you want to watch a video about how to make this dish for more than one person, come see me at this YouTube link on the MexAmerica Foods channel:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT33TYUY4nI

ENJOY!

Love Garden Fresh Garlic Scape!

Right now, you can find an extra-ordinary herb in markets that contains a little protein, is high in interest and is rich in calcium and  fiber.  It’s called the garlic scape. You may have seen these long, curly stems at your local market and not known what they were.

Garlic scape can be chopped and added to all kinds of dishes for a delicious garlicky taste that is actually brighter than using the clove of garlic itself. My favorite thing to do with it, though, is to turn it into a pesto. I’ve shown you the basil-garlic pesto in a previous post, but if you make it with the scapes and leave out the basil, you don’t have the issue of the pesto turning brown as it is exposed to the air. In my mind, that is HUGE. Besides, the color is a lovely lime green, which I think your guests will find delightful and interesting. Pesto is a great way to add good nutrition and good fat to a dish instead as an alternative to a greasy sauce. So use the pesto to top a cooked chicken breast or other meat or simply put it out as a flavorful dip with crackers or a fresh, sliced baguette. It’s great with cheese, as a pasta sauce or as a spread on a sandwich or wrap.

Here’s a super pesto recipe from my friend, Joan Donnay of Essence on Main in Clarkston, Michigan:

1 cup garlic scapes, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup walnuts
3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blen until semi-smooth. That’s it! LOVE this recipe!

The fresh stems of the garlic scape can also be chopped into tiny pieces and mixed into your egg salad. Use those bits also as a bright green garnish for any dish. It especially looks great on tomatoes because of the color contrast. And yes, use the whole stem, just like you would with a garden onion. Pick your own scapes or buy them at market while they are still curling and they won’t be tough. The primary garlic – the one you are used to buying at the store – grows at the base of the stalks. As the scapes shoot out, they form more little garlic heads that you can split and plant again for the next year. As they straighten up, they become tougher and not as delightful to eat. If they get too tough, they are gorgeous in a flower arrangement! Pair it with other herbs and make your arrangement completely edible. So much to do with these pretty, little shoots. The next time you see them at your market, grab a bunch and have some fun!

Fat’s Bad Rap: Getting a grip

We all want to eat healthy but have our food taste great. We all want to have soft skin and beautiful hair. We all want to feel full. We all want to digest and benefit from our vitamins. We all want to be thin but to have energy and not cravings. So how can we accomplish it? By using one element of food properly and that element is fat – an absolutely essential component of every diet. When used wisely, fat provides us with all of the above.

Current guidelines say that 25 to 35% of your diet should come from fat, with less than 7% from saturated fat (from meat and dairy). The rest should be from mono and polyunsaturated fats like olive oil. So how can we keep the amount of saturated fat down in our diets but still benefit from its wonderful flavor and other benefits? There are some tricks to using fat wisely.

1. You need to stop listening to the marketing (like bake it, don’t fry it) and pay attention to how much fat is really in your food. Did you ever notice that you never see the word FRY in recipes anymore? That’s because when fat started getting a bad rap, we thought we could just stop frying and not have to worry about it. Now we say sauté, but honestly, that’s just semantics. If you fry/sauté in 1 Tablespoon of fat or brush on 1 T of fat and bake it, you get the same nutrition results – exactly the same amount of fat in the food you prepare. OK, you baked it instead of frying it, but did you really make healthier food? Frying is actually a great way to prepare food quickly and it can be done with very little fat. Just pay attention to the amount you use. Heat it up, swirls it around and slide your fish or meat into the pan. This coats the bottom and helps to prevent sticking. If it does stick, don’t add more fat. Just loosen it by pouring in a little liquid – something that will complement the dish – like stock or juice and tip the pan so the liquid works it’s way underneath.

2. Instead of topping hot dishes (like steak or chicken or baked goods) with a pat of butter, use a pastry brush to brush on olive oil or melted butter. Because it’s applied last, the fat will coat your tongue and give you the mouth watering feeling that you are eating something very rich, yet you can use a minuscule amount. Your food will also have the added benefit of looking moist and delicious!

3. Mounting butter: This is exactly the same idea as brushing oil on solid food but it applies to soups and gravies. Stir a small amount of fat into the hot mixture last so it will sit on the top and make it glisten. Once again, the fat will be forward and give you the feeling that you are eating something very rich even though you are not.

4. One last example of the power of adding just a small amount of last minute fat is risotto. When it’s completely cooked, just stir a little through and serve immediately. You will immediately see what I mean!

Obviously, use olive oil as much as you can, but with these simple tricks you can use a little butter too. They will help you include the much needed fat in your diet in amounts that are satisfying but reasonable. You can enjoy a little indulgence and actually feel good about it!

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!

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.

Spring into Spring!

VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLLS

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!

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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.

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.

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