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

Posts tagged ‘easy recipes’

Saucy Secrets

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about “diet food” lately and how to make it as fun and appealing as “regular” food. I’ve noticed that when my friends go on a diet, the first thing they throw out the window is sauces. Sauces have gotten a bad rap because traditional sauces that taste great are full of thickeners, cream, carbohydrates, butter and of course, calories.

Sauces, however, play an important role in a dish.  They finish off its look and can dramatize it with contrasting color. They can spice it up. They add flavor and nutrition. They can soothe a piece of meat that might be a little overcooked.  Their eye appeal is important and satisfying. Half the battle of dieting is not feeling like you are and having sauce on your plate helps you accomplish that. Knowing a few tricks can help you include them with very few added calories.

The first trick is reduction. Reducing the liquid in a product intensifies its taste. It also thickens it. As I mentioned earlier, if you boil a gallon of cider down to 1 cup (over about 2 hours) and then cool it, you end up with a delicious tasting jam that can be used on toast, as an ingredient in cabbage dishes, as a glaze on a pork roast, or even re-heated as a sauce. You can do the same thing with broth. Simply boil it down until it’s thick enough to be used as a sauce. If it doesn’t get thick enough, you can add a small piece of meat or a few vegetables like carrot, onion and celery and simply purée it. Make sure to add any spices or especially salt at the very end – after it’s totally reduced, because they will also intensify and you could unwittingly overdo it. The result will be a delicious and nutritious sauce with no butter, cream or thickeners. You only need a few Tablespoons of a flavorful sauce for it to work its magic.

The second trick is to look for canned and bottled items that you keep on hand in your refrigerator that can double as sauces. Specialty mustards can be thinned with a very small amount of chicken broth and quickly heated. Chutney is also a great one. Just purée it, heat it (which will thin it out slightly) and use it as a sauce for poultry or fish. Jams and jellies can work the same way. Colorful leftover vegetables can be heated, pureéd and if necessary thinned with chicken or vegetable broth. Add the broth sparingly – just literally a Tablespoon at a time because you truly do not need much.

The third trick is to take advantage of fat free mayonnaise. Thin with a tiny bit of fat free milk and add taste with herbs, spices or horseradish sauce. You can even thin it with other fat free salad dressings or use those dressings by themselves. Lately, I’ve seen some bottled in chef’s squeeze bottles, so all you have to do is take the cap off and zig zag it across your food or plate for a pretty and tasty garnish. Thicker pastes and sauces can be positioned under your meat or vegetables for a different look. The point is to use contrasting colors and tastes that complement – and you can turn even a diet dish into a work of art.

And don’t forget your herbs. Pestos (like the one made with basil at the left) are highly flavorful sauces that are simply chopped herbs and spices with a very small amount of oil. The more taste you can get into a dish, the more it will fill you up. So also use hot sauces liberally.

To check to see if your sauce is the right consistency, put a little on a plate and tip it slightly. If it runs all over, it’s too thin. It should generally stay where you put it.

Before you serve any sauce, or any dish for that matter, TASTE IT. This is a crucial step for anyone who wants to be a good cook. Don’t ever skip it. Salt and citric acid (like lemon, lime, wine or vinegar) can brighten up flavors in a nano second and make all the difference in your dish. Add a little at a time, taste and adjust until it’s just right. You will be so glad you did!

 

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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.

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.

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