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

Posts tagged ‘low calorie recipe’

Sous Vide: What’s it all about?

Sous Vide Cooking…Now so easy to do at home!

Sous Vide Tuna with Carrots

Sous Vide Tuna                                                       With Carrots and Cauliflower Puree

What is Sous Vide?  Sous Vide is French for without air. It’s is worth knowing about because it’s a way to cook meats and fish with absolutely no fat – reducing in calorie reduction. But most important, it’s a way to get your food the perfect temperature with no fear of over cooking. It can supply a big window of time within which you can serve your food, all the while keeping it warm and perfectly cooked. The sous vide method was popularized by high end restaurants for just these reasons – and now, even the home cook has an opportunity to take advantage of this unique method of cooking without a huge expenditure.

To use this method, you place a circulator/heater in a tank with enough water to cover the food. You heat the water to the desired temperature and then you drop sealed bags containing your food into the water for a specified period of time. (Charts come with the equipment.) You can slow cook thick fish for several hours and meats for many more. Once you reach your minimum cooking time, you can leave it in there to keep it warm for quite a while, taking it out when everything else is ready – a cook’s dream!

Sous Vide Tank with Circulator

Sous Vide Tank with Circulator

Does food taste the same? Your food will be moist and the texture will be extremely tender. However, it might look a little different. You won’t see any caramelization, so you might want to use a blow torch, broiler or blow torch with a diffuser on it to brown up your meat. I don’t think this is so important for fish and with fish – because it’s more tender and thinner – you risk over cooking when you have just gone to the trouble of preparing it perfectly. You can compensate for the lack of caramelization with tasty and colorful spices. In general, you will want to use more spices anyway to compensate for losing the taste of the fat you would normally use in cooking.

Blow Torch With Diffuser

Blow Torch With Diffuser

There are some important precautions! Watch out for safe temperature ranges. Bacteria proliferate exponentially between the temperatures of 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Some bacteria grow without the presence of air, so vacuum packing it in this sense doesn’t make any difference. When your food is in this range for four hours, you should throw it out. This includes cooking, cooling and eating time – and it’s cumulative. So if you save leftovers, even though your refrigerate them, when you bring them back into that temperature zone, you have to count the time it was out before. (You can extend this by two hours by re-heating to specified temperatures.)

All this means is that if you plan to cook a roast, for example, that has six hours of cooking time, make sure your water temperature is above the zone. A product like fish, for example, that might, also for example, take an hour or two to cook, would be fine cooked at a lower temperature – even within the zone.

What equipment is required and where do I get it? All you need is a large, plastic tank and a heater/circulator, as well as a way to vacuum pack your food. It’s important to circulate the water in the tank so that all the liquid is a constant temperature. Basically, you are poaching without your food touching the water, which would leech out the flavor.

Take a look at the Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circular for $199 and the ARY tank, for $39 (found online at the time of this printing). A vacuum pack machine can be found at places like Bed, Bath & Beyond. Although there are more expensive ones available, I got a Food Saver brand machine there for $69 and it has worked fine for years. A nice aside to these machines is that you can freeze food without air in the packages, eliminating or highly reducing freezer frost. For sous vide, you can even use Ziploc bags, as long as you press out the air and make sure they are sealed tightly.

This method of cooking is easy and fun. Especially for those of you who are afraid to cook fish, just can’t get it right or don’t like the smell of fish in your kitchen, here’s your answer!

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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!

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!

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.

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