Thursday, November 12, 2009

Loving Lentils

Here's another cold-weather favorite of mine. It's a great basic, hearty soup that just begs for creative variations! As with many of my recipes, I started out with something I found on

Lemon Lentil Soup

(Some might even call it "Lebanese-Style")

6 cups chicken stock (I use reduced sodium, fat free or 99% ff)

1 pound red lentils (any color will do, but red is preferred)

1 – 2 teaspoons olive oil (just the barest amount necessary to start your garlic)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 large onion, chopped

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Bring chicken stock and lentils to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in garlic. When the aroma of the garlic has been released, add the onion and about ¼ cup or so of the chicken stock (you can dip it out of your soup pot). Cook until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 3 minutes.

Stir the garlic and onions into the lentils and season with cumin and cayenne. Continue simmering until the lentils are tender, about 10 minutes.

Carefully puree about half the soup in a blender or with a stick blender until smooth. I used the Magic Bullet and it was very easy. Return the pureed mixture to the pot and heat back to serving temperature. Stir in the fresh cilantro and lemon juice before serving.

The basic soup above is very low in fat (less than 5 grams per cup). It has about 250 calories per cup, but does pack a carb wallop of about 40 grams per cup. They are healthy carbs, though.

I served my hearty soup over brown rice, although it tastes great just the way it comes out of the pot! Couscous makes a great base, as well, and is probably the fastest starch to prepare (next to sliced bread, of course).

Here's a variation that I like with lentil soup: Just before serving, consider stirring in a quick-cooking, wilting vegetable like spinach. Chard or other greens will work well with the lentil flavor, too, but will have to be cooked separately and then added in when tender.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Other White Meat

Wowie zowie! What a dinner we made tonight. Quick as a whip to prepare and oh, so rich and tasty! Got this from my old stand-by,

By using a trimmed pork tenderloin cut into medallions and substituting fat free half and half for the light cream the original recipe called for, this entry clocks in at well under 200 calories and less than 8 grams of fat per 4 oz. serving. Here's how you make it:

Pork Loin with Creamy Herb Sauce

1 tablespoon canola/vegetable oil

1/2 cup minced carrots

1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin medallions

2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon beef bouillon granules (or finely chop up a cube in your mini food processor)

2/3 cup fat free half and half

1/4 cup dry white wine

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat; cook carrots in oil for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add pork, and cook until lightly browned. Remove only pork, and keep warm.

In the skillet, stir together flour, basil, parsley, pepper, and beef granules. Whisk in light cream, stirring until thick. Stir in wine. Return pork to pan, reduce heat to low, and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

We paired this with some baked butternut squash and new potatoes with fresh parsley (used some of the fat I saved for a bit of butter – a dot or two goes a long way). It made a very pretty plate; a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. A green vegetable or salad would be a fine accompaniment as well.

I can think of all sorts of variations to try with this recipe. I'm sure you can, too. Be sure to tell me what worked for you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

They’re Back!

Well, it's been a month and people are starting to wonder . . . yes, I will be blogging. I'd even like stick with my original plan of twice a week. Here's what's been going on with me.

I mentioned in my sidebar that I have psoriatic arthritis. It's like RA in that it's a degenerative auto-immune type of arthritis. Over the past 6 to 8 weeks, the disease process has been very active and my hands and wrists have been most affected. Simply put, I haven't been blogging because it hurts to type! I've started on a new drug and it seems to be helping some, so I'll be putting some short entries out here and trying to get back in the swing.

To help me get started, a friend and tender reader sent me the following guaranteed-tasty recipe. She found it on the Weight Watchers website.

Three Bean and Pork Slow Cooker Chili

(Serves 10)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 c. chopped carrot

1 T. chili powder, medium hot

1 t. dried oregano, crushed

1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (don't handle the seeds with your bare hands!) OR 1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped

½ t. table salt

½ t. freshly ground black pepper

2 lbs. lean pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and cut into 1" chunks

15 oz. canned black beans, drained and rinsed

15 oz. canned kidney beans, drained and rinsed

15 oz. canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 c. canned tomato puree

29 oz. canned diced tomatoes, with green pepper, celery and onion, undrained

6 oz. tomato paste

Combine ingredients up through the pepper in (at least) a 5-quart slow cooker and stir. Add the remaining ingredients and stir again. Cover and cook on HIGH setting for 6 to 8 hours. Yields about 1 cup per serving.

As the weather gets nippy, I gravitate towards hearty one-pot meals, so this sounds heavenly to me. Not having to brown and drain the meat before putting it in the crockpot is another big plus! And let's not even mention being able to use my Magic Bullet to chop the onion, garlic and carrot! Finally, it just sounds like it tastes good! I can't wait until the next televised Mizzou Tigers game (be it football OR basketball) to try it out. Thanks!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I Know I Can! I Know I Can!

Well, the Cardinals blew it late in the game today and so did the Mizzou Tigers. I always have high hopes that they'll pull it together and win the next time. I should take this as a lesson when I've had a bad food day.

If you've ever dieted (which I'm trying to avoid – trying to make a lifestyle change, here), you've probably had a day, or maybe many days, when you went "off" your diet and, all of a sudden, it was imperative that you eat all the forbidden foods you'd been craving before the clock strikes midnight and you turn back into a deprived, guilt-ridden dieter. So how does that brownie you ate compare to a full day of gluttony? Which action do you think is the lesser evil?

It's very hard for me to just have one something, because I'm compulsive about eating and I feel deprived most of the time I'm not engaged in the act of eating. For me, eating the trigger food (which is really most foods, when you add starchy foods to fatty and sugary foods, as well as counting service size as a food category of its own) is a lot like I imagine taking that first toot of cocaine or eating just one Lays potato chip. I just can't do it.

Most of the time, I feel powerless over food and I find myself engaging in negative self-talk about food. You know, like "Exercise, eat healthy, die anyway" or "What's the point of trying to eat healthy food? I'll just blow it in a few days anyway." So what if I do? The next day or meal or snack is another chance to make a good food choice. I need to believe that and to start affirming my ability to make a good choice now and the next time.

I am making good choices as I type this blog. And the Cardinals will beat the Dodgers on Saturday.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chicken, too!

Okay, I promised I'd post my recipe for guilt-free, unfried chicken, so here it is:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

½ c. Italian-style bread crumbs

¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese

Garlic salt to taste

Pepper to taste

¼ c. skim milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. For a baking surface, I use a foil-covered cookie sheet. That makes clean up easy. You can also use a baking dish. To prep the chicken, you'll need two shallow bowls. Put the skim milk in one bowl. In the other, mix the bread crumbs, cheese, garlic salt and pepper. Dredge a chicken breast first in the milk and then in the dry mixture. Make sure the breast is thoroughly coated with the crumb mixture and then transfer it to the cookie sheet/baking dish. Repeat for each remaining breast. Bake for about 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through, but not dried out.

You can serve this with a little rice or potato (baked or mashed). Rather than using butter, I make gravy from reduced sodium chicken broth, most brands of which are also 99% fat free. Just heat the broth in a sauce pan until it bubbles. Stir in 1-2 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in water. Stir constantly until broth thickens and turns glossy, which will happen pretty quickly. I like this gravy because the broth has next to no calories or fat. The cornstarch has some carbs, but it's still pretty cheap in dietary cost.

Add a fresh green vegetable and you've got a nifty Sunday dinner. Fortunately for your heart, this is not your mother's fried chicken!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who’s Chicken?

Are you a culinary risk-taker or are you chicken? How about putting a little spice in your life?

When I'm looking to spice things up, I often look to the East. Tandoori chicken breasts, "dirtied" rice and broiled vegetables do it for me. Here's what you'll need to travel along:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

Salt to taste

Juice from 1 lemon

1 - 1 ½ cups of plain nonfat yogurt

½ cup finely chopped onion

2 -3 minced garlic cloves

1 tsp. grated fresh ginger root

1 tbsp. tandoori or garam masala

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tsp. vegetable/canola oil

2 c. cooked rice

2 tsp. tandoori/garam masala

½ tsp. fennel seed

Tomatoes, sweet peppers and onions cut into wedges/strips

Salt and pepper

Fresh cilantro, chopped

Lemon wedges

With a sharp knife, make several deep cuts in the chicken breasts or you can cut the breasts into skewer-sized chunks, if you prefer. Place the chicken in a bowl with the salt (to taste) and the lemon juice. Toss the chicken with the lemon juice and salt to coat the pieces. Set aside.

In another bowl, mix the yogurt, onion, garlic, ginger, masala, and cayenne pepper. Pour the mixture into a container with a tight-fitting lid or a plastic bag. Add the chicken and close the container. Turn to coat the chicken evenly. Transfer container to the refrigerator and marinate chicken for at least 4 hours. I like to do my marinade overnight.

When it's time to cook the chicken, you can grill it or bake it. I prefer using an indoor grill; I put the chicken pieces on the grill, marinade and all. A lot of liquid will come off the chicken as it cooks, so be prepared to catch that as it runs off.

While the chicken grills/bakes, put the vegetables on a baking sheet. Add salt and pepper to taste and pop the tray in the broiler. Cook until the vegetables start to char.

As the vegetables broil, heat a little vegetable oil in a pan (about 1 tsp. for each cup of rice) and add the rice with some masala (about 1 tsp. per cup of rice, more if you like more heat) and fennel seed (about ¼ tsp. per c. of rice). Toss it all together until well-mixed and heated through.

To plate, I like to use a wide, shallow bowl. Put a serving of rice on the bottom and top with the chicken and a good mixture of the veggies. Garnish with some fresh chopped cilantro and lemon wedges for squeezing.

This recipe is based on a recipe I found on, one of my favorite sites to troll for ideas.

Next time, my recipe for unfried chicken!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where’s the Beef?

Time for a couple of practical suggestions for living on the plus side of the nutrition continuum. Conventional wisdom would have us eschew bovine products, but some of us need the occasional bite of cow. Here are a couple of ideas for beef that will satisfy the craving without hardening the arteries.

At home, I make a little treat my mother used to make: open-faced cheeseburgers. Now, my mom used to make these because she could feed the whole family with a pound or less of hamburger. Later, she adapted the recipe for dieting by using so-called "diet" bread. (Remember the 40-calorie-a-slice bread that was so thin it turned into a large piece of melba toast after a cycle in the toaster?) Here's what you'll need to make them:

Ground beef (the lower the fat content the better)

Sliced bread (the low carb variety tastes just fine and saves on carbs and calories)

Cheese slices (your choice, but I think the 2% stuff is tasty enough in this recipe)

Garlic salt and pepper to taste

Toast the bread slices. Spread a generous amount of ground beef on each slice of toast (about 2 ounces). Season to taste with garlic salt (or plain salt) and pepper. You can cook the open-faced sandwiches in the broiler or on a table top grill (my favorite) that cooks from the top and the bottom simultaneously. It will only take 2 – 5 minutes to cook the beef, depending on your taste. Top with the cheese and drop the heating element close enough to melt the cheese, but not touch it, for about 30 seconds. Viola! Your open-faced cheeseburgers are ready to eat! At about 200 – 250 calories each, you can eat a couple and be very, very satisfied.

I encourage you to try variations on this idea and tell me what worked for you. I know I'm going to try ground lamb on some thin-sliced, grilled French bread with onions, roasted red peppers and feta or goat's milk cheese. I can also tell you we've done this with ground turkey and we didn't like it much – pretty bland.

Here's an idea for eating out: Vietnamese Noodle Soup (Pho) – Pho (pronounced "fuh") is my idea of a perfect meal. Pho Tai is a beef noodle soup featuring an aromatic broth flavored with a hint of some spice like cinnamon. In addition to the noodles, the bowl has green and white onions floating attractively in the broth. Very rare flank steak is cut in thin slices and added to the hot broth, where it finishes cooking. The pho is served with a side platter of fresh cilantro, basil, bean sprouts (the fat white kind), lime and raw jalapeno pepper slices. Asian hot sauce and garlic chili paste are on the table. Add in whatever and as much as makes you happy. The finished product is hearty and filling. If you don't want beef, there's a chicken version, too (pho ga).

Finally, I've found a packaged product that I'm sure I'll be keeping in the house as the weather gets colder. Imagine (the brand name) makes an organic broccoli soup that has only 60 calories and 11 grams of carbs per cup. My local grocery store (Schnucks) carries this soup, which comes in a 4-cup resealable box.

Thanks again for following. I have been advised that I'm supposed to respond to comments, so I'll be doing a better job with that going forward. More later . . .