Posts Tagged 'principle'

Fennel a la Grecque

I have always been fascinated by fennel (the green plant, not the tasty little seeds)  – its delicate fronds and licorice perfume – but I never could figure out what to do with it except for slicing a bit of the bulb into a salad, and running around tickling people with the fronds.  Then a couple of year ago I saw this recipe in Cooking Light.  It had all the characteristics I like in a buffet dish: low fat, make ahead, serve at room temperature, and a bit unusual (have to keep your guests on their toes).   These are my basic principles for choosing buffet dishes for a crowd.

It is a la grecque, French for in the manner of the Greeks, which basically means that the vegetables are braised in a mixture of herbs, spices, and lemon.  It seems fussy, because you need to make it in two batches, but it’s actually a very straightforward recipe.  You also make a bag for your herbs and spices, so they are easy to remove from the fennel, a useful technique.

Fennel a la grecque

¼  cup whole coriander seeds
1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
4 large sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
4 large sprigs fresh parsley
3 bay leaves
2 cups non-fat reduced sodium chicken stock
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup tomato paste
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
6 large bulbs fennel, trimmed and cut into wedges
2 Tablespoons chopped fennel fronds to garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Tie coriander seeds, peppercorns, thyme, parsley and bay leaves tightly in a piece of cheesecloth.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together chicken stock, wine, lemon, juice, tomato paste and 1 cup of water.  Heat ½ tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick pan over medium heat.  Add half of the onions and half of the fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to change color, about 10 minutes.  Pour in ½ of the chicken stock mixture, tuck the spice bag into the vegetables,  and bring to a boil.  Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is tender and the sauce has thickened.  Season with salt and pepper, and transfer the mixture to a large bowl, reserving the spice bag.

Wipe out the skillet, pour in the remaining half tablespoon of oil, and repeat the above steps with the remaining ingredients.  Allow to cool, discarding the spice bag.  Serve at room temperature garnished with the chopped fennel fronds.  This dish can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature before serving.  Makes 12 servings at 1 gram of fat/serving.



Bean Soup

Well, if it’s going to snow, it must be time for soup – bean soup to be precise.  It’s hearty, filling, tasty, and has very little fat.  It doesn’t make the snow stop but it makes it slightly more bearable.  I use the recipe from HamBeens 15 Bean Soup, but there are bean mixes sold in bulk at the grocery, or just mix your own bean blend, with 20 ounces of dried pinto, lima, garbanzo, split pea, red, etc., beans to your liking.

Bean Soup

20 ounces of dried beans
1 pound of very lean ham, cut into 1 inch dice
1 cup of onion, coarsely chopped
1 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes, undrained
1 Tablespoon of chili powder
Juice of one lemon
2 cloves of garlic, minced
seasoning packet from soup mix or ½ teaspoon of smoke seasoning (or to taste)

Put the beans in a large pot or bowl, cover with 2 quarts of water, and allow to soak  at least 8 hours or overnight.  Drain beans. Add 2 quarts of water and ham (you can also use low fat turkey smoked sausage, but it is about 1 gram more of fat/serving).  I recommend a high quality ham slice, such as Kirkland, which has very little fat.


Bring beans and ham to a boil and simmer uncovered for 2 ½  hours, stirring occasionally.  I find I sometimes have to add a half cup of water periodically to keep the soup from getting too thick.  After simmering, add onion, tomatoes, chili powder, lemon and garlic. Simmer for another 30 minutes.  Add contents of seasoning packer or smoke seasoning and cook for 2 more minutes.  This makes 10 servings at about 2 grams of fat/serving.  I find that the soup gets really thick, and I have to add a little water when I reheat it.


PRINCIPLE: One of the reasons I made soup is to stock my freezer.  One of the basic principles I have followed to lose weight is that it is very important to have low fat food available on a moment’s notice, especially when I am ready to grab at whatever is convenient.  For example, when I get home from work and am tired, I would be perfectly happy to make dinner of cheese and crackers.  Now even if they are low fat crackers and reduced fat cheese, this is not very healthy – especially not frequently.  So my freezer looks like this:


The soup got labeled with the name of the contents, date it was made (so it doesn’t linger in the freezer forever), and the fat grams/serving.


Then the soup was packaged for freezing – after I ate a nice hot bowl.


Chocolate Cherry Chewies

I am the original cookie monster.  Tell me there’s a holiday party and I’m there with a plate of cookies.


I can’t say I never met a cookie I didn’t like.  I’ve had a couple of cookie experiments that were barely good enough for dog biscuits (like the cookies in the lower left side of the photo above, a failed attempt at a low fat peanut butter cookie).  But I love cookies for much the same reason I love muffins – they re nice measured units.  You can eat them and know just how many fat grams you are eating. Eat a 3 gram cookie and have 3 grams of fat; take 2 and have 6 grams.  You can easily fit them in as a snack.  I try to keep my cookies between 2 and 4 grams of fat/cookie.  One of my Principles is that snacks should be 4 grams and under, so that you can eat lots of them.  You can also freeze most cookies, so you can create a freezer full of carefully-packed snacks to take out when the midnight munchies hit.  And of course, most of the time cookies are delicious.

Chocolate Cherry Chewies are the cookie that everyone says “these can’t be low fat” about.  They are VERY chocolaty, the outside is kind of crisp and the inside is chewy and melty.  They keep and freeze well.  The original recipe came from Cooking Light.

Chocolate Cherry Chewies

1  cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2/3 cup dried tart cherries
3 Tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips (I used really good chocolate to give it that extra flavor)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degree.s  Coat baking sheets lightly with cooking spray.

Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup and level.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Place butter and sugar into large bowl of a mixer and beat at high speed until well-blended.  Add vanilla and egg and beat well.  Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add flour mixture.  Be sure to scrape bowl and beaters.  Fold in cherries and chocolate chips.  This makes a very stiff dough that you can almost shape with your hands.

Drop by tablespoonful 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes or just until set (tops will begin to crack). Remove from oven and cool on pan for 5 minutes to allow cookies to firm up. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.  Makes 30 cookies with 2.7 grams of fat/cookie.


Variation: I often make this with dried sweetened cranberries rather than cherries, because the cherries are sometimes hard to find.  They’re just as good.

Therapeutic Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

You know you’ve had those days. Your stomach feels gorpy. You spent an hour on the phone arguing fruitlessly with a customer “service” representative about your account. You’re one step shy of a migraine – or maybe you already have one. You accidentally hit your finger with a hammer and broke it. You need muffin therapy. Just the word muffin is cozy and comforting. Muffin – muffin – muffin. Doesn’t that sound like a warm down quilt, wooly socks, and hot tea? And bananas, that comfort food from childhood. And of course chocolate – aaah chocolate. It needs no introduction. Now don’t go telling me that we need to learn to not seek comfort in food. That just not realistic. Everyone knows that misery loves calories. The trick is to have something gooey and satisfying on hand that also is not really high fat.

Therapeutic Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

3 ripe bananas

1/2 cup egg substitute
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 ounces mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F and place rack in center of oven. Spray a 12 cup muffin pan with cooking spray. Whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Put the bananas into the large bowl of an electric mixer and beat them until they are well mashed. Beat in the egg substitute. Beat in the sugar. Add the flour mixture about 1/4 cup at a time, until it is incorporated into the banana mixture. Beat in chips. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups until they are about 3/4 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Remove muffins from the pan and cool on a rack. These are delicious warm, and can be gently reheated in the microwave. They also freeze well, although I rarely have them left to freeze. These muffins are about 2.6 grams of fat/muffin. Eat two – you’ll feel better.

Variation: You can use regular size chocolate chips, which will make nice big gooey areas of chocolate in your muffins. I like my chocolate spread around more.

Come close. Note the gooey melty chocolate in the muffin.

I must go now. The muffins are warm and require my undivided attention.

Fruit Pizza

Fruit pizza was one of my standard potluck bring along dishes. It tastes good, is relatively easy to make, and it has a real Wow factor – rings of ripe fruit arranged on a creamy filling, glistening under a sweet glaze. It’s one of those items that when you walk in carrying your offering, there are murmurs and exclamations of food lust as guests follow you to the serving area. But oh my, was it ever high fat – 2 tubes of those refrigerated sugar cookies, a pound of cream cheese – at least 25 grams of fat/slice. This flew in the face of two of my basic principles: never bring anything to a potluck that you can’t eat, and never bring anything that if there are leftovers, you can’t eat them at home. But it had such a Wow factor!

This weekend, the fabulous photographer who did my picture for this blog was having his annual party at his garden on the roof of his downtown office building. It’s a great setting, with luxuriant plants (I have pepper envy just looking at his pepper plants), live music, interesting people, and good potluck food. Definitely time for a Wow offering, especially with summer fruit still coming on strong. So I lightened up the old stalwart, and it came out just fantastic.

By the way, I didn’t have to be concerned about leftovers. The whole thing was gone in 15 minutes.

Fruit Pizza

The pizza is made in three steps: the crust that can be baked a day ahead if necessary, the cream cheese layer, and the fruit.

Crust ingredients
3 Tablespoons of butter
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 i/2 Tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 ounces light (reduced fat) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Cooking spray

Cream cheese layer ingredients
2 eight ounce packages of non fat cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons of non-fat sour cream
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Fruit (see fruit note below)
1 cup of apricot jam

To make the crust: This is a sugar cookie recipe from Have Your Cake and Eat it Too that I used to take the place of the refrigerated cookie dough. This crust was actually much better than the refrigerated dough – it was thinner and crisper and tasted less chemical and more home-baked. This sounds recipe complicated, but it is relatively easy to do, and the dough can be made ahead and frozen.

Melt the butter over medium heat and cook until the butter turns golden brown and fragrant. Be careful not to burn the butter (Browning the butter enhances the flavor, so that you can use less of it.) While the butter is melting, measure the sifted flour into a medium bowl.

Pour the browned butter into a small bowl and whisk in 2 tablespoons of the flour. Place the mixture in the freezer until it is solid, about 10-15 minutes. Add the baking powder, salt, and confectioners’ sugar to the remaining flour and whisk together. Using the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the granulated sugar and the cream cheese on medium speed. Add the egg, oil, vanilla, and almond extract to the cream cheese and beat well.

Scrape the frozen butter mixture into the flour mixture. With your fingertips, pinch the butter into the flour, creating coarse flakes. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat with the electric mixer until well-incorporated, scraping the bowl once or twice. If the dough is too sticky, gradually add 1-2 tablespoons of flour. Gather the dough into three balls, then roll each of them out into a log about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the dough logs tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for several hours. (You can freeze this dough for up to two months).

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a large pizza pan with cooking spray (my pizza pan is 15 inches in diameter. A somewhat smaller pan would work, but not one of those frozen pizza size pans. My pan is also old and a bit battered so I cover it with aluminum foil before I bake on it.) Taking one frozen dough log out of the freezer at a time, and using a very sharp knife, slice the logs into 1/8 inch thick slices. Starting at the outside of the pan, arrange the dough slices on the pan to cover the surface. Don’t overlap them. Don’t be concerned if there are holes in your crust, or if they don’t quite fill the entire pan. Once all the dough has been used, the dough on the pan will have defrosted and become pliable. Use your fingers to gently spread the dough toward the center of the pan and to fill in any gaps. The dough should be somewhat even throughout the pan. Don’t worry about it looking good, it will be completely covered when you assemble the fruit pizza.. Bake the crust in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, or until it turns golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack in the pan until it is completely cool. At this point, you can wrap the crust and keep it overnight if necessary.

To make the cream cheese layer: Beat all of the ingredients together with an electric mixer on medium speed. Scrape the bowl several times. Make sure that all the lumps are gone.

Fruit Note: It is hard to give an absolute measure for the fruit, because it depends on the size and type of fruit you use. I usually prepare quite a bit, and use what is necessary.

You can use any kind of soft, ripe fruit – I don’t think apples or pears would work unless they are cooked before hand. I have made this with alternating circles of red and green grapes, used peeled kiwi sliced and pitted halved cherries, and used canned pineapple pieces and mandarin oranges in the winter when fresh fruit and berries are scarce. The selection is up to you. Cut larger fruit, like nectarines or peaches thin, halve grapes and strawberries. This will make the pizza easier to slice.

Assembly: The fruit pizza can be assembled a couple of hours before you serve it, but it doesn’t hold for a long time, because the crust will get soggy.

Using a spatula, spread the cream cheese mixture on the cooled crust, spreading it to the edges. Carefully arrange the fruit in concentric circles starting with the outside ring which should come right to the edge of the pizza. Fruit should touch the adjacent piece of fruit, so there is not much of the cream cheese layer showing. When the fruit is arranged, melt the apricot jam (or preserves) until it becomes liquid. Some people like to strain the jam to remove the larger pieces, but I usually don’t. Gently brush the jam over the entire pizza, forming a glaze on the fruit and filling in any gaps between the fruit. Refrigerate the pizza, uncovered, for 20 minutes to allow the glaze to set. This is especially important if you are going to wrap it to take somewhere. Slice with a pizza cutter or a sharp knife. 12 servings with 6 grams of fat/serving, or 16 servings at 4.4 grams of fat/serving.

Brownies and Blondies

Yet another potluck. And at short notice. They are providing the barbecued burgers and chicken. Usually I like to make something interesting and exotic that will wow people with my cooking prowess and shock them when I tell them it is low fat. But there are several factors that interfered with my usual strategy.

  • With short notice, I don’t have time to go to the grocery, whatever I make has to be from ingredients I have in the house – a bad time to discover you’re almost out of brown sugar.
  • It is on a week night, so it has to be something I can make after work.
  • The gathering is way out in the middle of nowhere. So it has to be something sturdy that can withstand bouncing around on the seat of my truck as I get lost navigating dirt roads in the deep woods trying to find this place.

So the decision is: Bittersweet Brownies and Cranberry Pecan Blondies. It was a good decision, too, because I did indeed get lost out in the woods looking for the tiny hidden driveway onto their land, and almost everyone else brought a salad.

Here they are in their glory, ready for transport to the feast:

About these Bittersweet Brownies. The recipe comes from Cooking Light, a magazine you should seriously consider subscribing to. These are some of the best brownies I have ever eaten. The brownies are moist, and if you love chocolate, they are positively orgasmic.

Bittersweet Brownies

Cooking spray
1/4 cup boiling water
1 Tablespoon instant espresso granules or 2 Tablespoons instant coffee granules
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (not your regular chocolate chips, but the really dark kind like Ghirardelli 60% Cacao)
6 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Combine 1/4 cup water and coffee granules in a medium bowl. Stir in chocolate chips, stirring until they melt. Stir in butter, vanilla, egg, and egg white until they are well combined. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cups, level with a knife. Add sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt to the flour and whisk together. Add chocolate-coffee mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until just moist. (This was very stiff to stir, even with a wooden spoon. I ultimately used my hands to make sure all of the dry ingredients were mixed in). Place batter into prepared baking pan, and smooth out so it is mostly even. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if you are using it. Cut into servings.

The original recipe said this made 18 brownies, at 5.8 grams of fat/brownie. This made mighty big brownies, especially to take to a potluck. I cut it into 24 brownies, at 3.9 grams of fat/brownie. They were nice sized brownies, and since one of my Principles is that a snack should be 4 grams of fat or less, it brought them into snack range.

Hint: it is difficult to substitute applesauce for butter in cookies. The trick is to have recipes that use less butter.

Hint: For years, I just scooped the flour into a measuring cup and leveled it, the way my mother did. I recently learned it is better to lightly spoon the flour into the cup until it is overflowing and level it off. You don’t compress the flour, so the measure is more accurate, and your baked goodies are lighter in texture. Who knew?

Yet another hint: When making brownies, cookies, and many other baked goods, you need to make sure the dry ingredients are thoroughly combined with the wet ingredients so there aren’t nasty lumps of unmixed flour in your goody, but not to beat them too much or your baked goodies will be tough.

Cranberry Pecan Blondies

This recipe was an improvisation when I discovered that I did not have the ingredients for the oatmeal butterscotch bars I was going to make. They are a bit cakier in texture than brownies.

Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup softened butter
1/2 cup egg substitute
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cups, level with a knife. Add oats, baking powder, and salt to the flour and whisk together. Put sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat with a mixer at medium speed until they are well blended. Add egg substitute, egg, and vanilla to the sugar mixture and beat until well blended. Add flour mixture and beat until the dry ingredients are just combined. Sir in nuts and fruit. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. This makes 24 bars at 3.8 grams of fat/bar.

Hint: Toasting nuts brings out their flavor, so you can use fewer of them. Toast nuts by putting them in a small frying pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. It takes about 5 minutes. They’re done when you can smell them – be sure not to burn them.

Variations: These would be good with other dried fruit, such as raisins, chopped apricots, or chopped cherries.

Buffalo Pot Roast

The primary reason I rush out to buy buffalo is to make buffalo pot roast. There is something about buffalo roast – a sweetness or a richness, that makes a really fine pot roast. Now I confess that I don’t make an elaborate pot roast with browning and simmered vegetables and the like the way my daughter does. She makes the true, old-fashioned pot roast. I’m sure that you could make buffalo with that recipe, too. And it would taste very good, indeed.

I, however, make the working woman’s quick, easy, and delicious pot roast – you know, the one with onion soup. And everyone raves about it thinking that I have worked my little fingers to the bone preparing this rich and lovely dish. I made it last year to feed the assembled multitudes at Passover, which led to a heated discussion of whether buffalo was kosher (although none of us actually keep kosher). I referred them to the Kosher Buffalo site, and verily the rules of kashrut (that’s the rules of what makes something acceptably kosher) state that if the beast has cloven hooves and chews the cud, it is acceptable. Buffalo hooves are cloveneth and the big beasts cheweth, so they’re ok.

Anyway, I made 9 pounds of buffalo pot roast this time. This recipe makes less, but you can double it or even more if you’ve got a big enough pot. Plan to make this ahead of when you want to eat this.

Buffalo Pot Roast

about 4 lbs buffalo roast, visible fat removed (preferably some kind of round or rump roast)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 package beefy onion or other onion soup mix
about 1/2 pound of button mushrooms, sliced (optional, but why would you want to leave them out)
*Kitchen Bouquet

Place the chopped onion in the bottom of a large pot, such as a Dutch oven. Place the buffalo roast(s) in the pot on top of the onions. Sprinkle the onion soup mix over and around the roasts. Put the mushrooms on top of the whole thing. Add water half way up the sides of the buffalo roast. Add Kitchen Bouquet to the liquid until it is the color that you want it to be.

  • *If you’ve never used Kitchen Bouquet, it is a browning and seasoning sauce containing caramel, and a vegetable base of carrots, onions, celery, parsnips, turnips, salt, parsley, and spices, and is commonly available in supermarkets. It is a true friend of the sometimes lazy cook.

Bring the pot roast to a boil over high heat, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 4 hours, turning the roast occasionally, and making sure that the mushrooms are immersed in the liquid. You read correctly – you haven’t browned the meat or sautéed the onions first. You don’t need to. When the pot roast is done, remove it from the liquid and wrap separately. Remove the onion and mushroom solids, which have cooked down to a glorious soft mass, and store them in a separate container. Pour the liquid into a separate container. Refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight – or even for two days as I did because I was busy. Remove the fat – there won’t be much – from the surface of the liquid before reheating.

To serve, slice the meat thickly and reheat in the liquid with the reserved vegetables for about 20 minutes. A serving of 6 ounces of meat and gravy has about 4 grams of fat.

Variations: You can cook carrots with this, although they cook down so they’re not really distinct. I often add vegetables, such as green beans, when I’m reheating the pot roast. You can thicken the gravy when reheating it by adding 2 teaspoons of cornstarch mixed into a tablespoon of cold water and stirred into the gravy. Cook until the gravy thickens and is clear.

Usually, I serve the pot roast over noodles or rice or even couscous, but I was too lazy to do that, so I made and open face pot roast sandwich on some nice whole wheat bread.

But one of the real reasons that I make buffalo pot roast is that it freezes and reheats so well. It is one of my favorite “I’m too tired to think after work” dishes. Put it in the microwave, add a couple of frozen vegetables if you’d like, and it’s dinner. And here is yet another principle. Have low fat, satisfying things to eat for dinner when you’re tired so that you don’t make dinner out of crackers and cheese (me? Never would I do such a thing.)

Pot roast ready for the freezer in 6 ounce servings, with gravy and solids added.


I have lost 200 pounds. I did not do it through surgery – I don’t like knives and needles – or by joining a club, vigorous exercise, or rigorous dieting. I did it by gourmet cooking. To be precise, by cooking low fat, really delicious food. I love to cook as much as I love to eat. Food magazines are some of my favorite reading. I would feel deprived if I couldn’t have the sensuous experience of good food crossing my lips. This blog is about my perpetual feast, my passionate love of food, with recipes, photos, and occasional advice and principles that I have learned along the way.

More about me.

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