This article appeared in the February/March 2014 issue of TOPS News magazine and although all members of TOPS receive the magazine, well uhm, let’s face it – we don’t always read all the articles. I thought the information was good to share so I used it as the topic of our weekly meeting.
Jeanette Hurt writes the article.
Healthy doesn’t have to equal “tastes like sawdust”. You can trim fat without sacrificing flavor. Just use the following tips and you, too, can prepare delicious meals that are also good for you.
Up the veggies …
A simple, yet tasteful, technique to shed fat and calories is to increase the amount of vegetables a recipe calls for. Instead of adding one cup of broccoli florets to your stir-fry, add two cups. Add a half-cup more mushrooms to your pasta. Every little bit increases good things – vitamins, minerals and fiber – while decreasing the overall fat and calories per serving.
You may need to slightly increase the cooking time or add a little bit more liquid to cook those extra vegetables – and a shake or two from your saltshaker – but you won’t have to add copious amounts of extra seasoning or oil when you just add more vegetables.
You can also add vegetables to recipes that don’t call for them. Grate a half-cup of zucchini into your meatloaf; add mushrooms, cauliflower and broccoli to your mac and cheese; or toss in tomatoes with your tuna salad. The secret to adding vegetables to things like meatloaf, meatballs and burgers is to grate and chop the vegetable very finely. Sometimes, I first use the grating blade on my food processor, and then I puree the grated vegetables with its standard S-blade. That way, no one can tell I’ve added veggies to my meatloaf.
Wipe don’t pour …
One of the problems when I’m cooking fast is I sometimes pour more oil into my pan than I want to. Instead of pouring the oil directly into the pan, I pour a little bit onto a paper towel, and then wipe that across the pan. Voila. No more oil overload.
Heat the pan first …
I also heat my pan for one minute before I wipe the oil (carefully!), and then allow the oil to warm for 30 seconds to one minute. That way, when I add my vegetable, meat or fish, the pan is hot and the oil is hot – so the food will cook more quickly and absorb less oil. I also don’t end up adding more oil as the food cooks.
Use only new dried spices and herbs …
When you open a spice jar, you should get a big, big whiff of the spice – oregano, for example, should smell strongly like oregano. If you only get a tiny sniff of spice, toss the jar. You have to smell it – if it doesn’t smell wonderful then it’s no good. Jeff King, a Chicago chef specializing in sausage making, says that adding old spices really is like adding sawdust to your foods – they don’t do anything good to your recipes at all.
Most dried herbs and spices only last for one year in your cupboards, and if you’re like me, you probably don’t use all of them up before they are past their prime. I’ve learned to buy spices in smaller quantities – I either get the smaller jars, or I approach the bulk counter and measure out only a couple of spoonfuls. By using dried spices and herbs that are fragrant, their flavors will really wake up foods.
Use fresh herbs when you can …
There’s nothing more aromatic than fresh herbs. Even dried herbs don’t have that zing. Because I use small amounts at any one time, I try to grow my herbs. Some I grow in my garden, and I use them all summer and fall. Others I grow in a pot, so I can have them ready to snip when I need them.
And if you can’t get them fresh, get them frozen. Many gourmet food stores sell frozen cubes of cilantro, basil and garlic. But you can also make frozen cubes. Simply take what fresh herbs you are not using, chop them in a food processor with a little water, and then pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Place the frozen cubes in freezer-proof sandwich bags – and pop out a cube when you need a burst of flavor for your dishes.
Buy the best quality food you can afford …
When you use fresh foods, your recipes will taste better. But buying fresh and good quality doesn’t have to equal expensive. I’ve found good meats and vegetables at ethnic grocery stores, discount food stores and farmers markets. In fact, I’ve shopped around to find the cheapest farmers market in my city (it’s not, unfortunately, the one in my neighbourhood!), and that’s where I buy my produce in bulk.
One of the challenges with buying fresh is making sure you use it before you lose it – or rather, before it goes bad in you icebox. What helps my cut down on waste is that I try to prep my vegetables as soon as I get them home. That way, on busy nights, I can grab things and make dinner in a hurry.
Roast your veggies …
To make your carrots taste like candy, to make your tomatoes sparkle like rubies, and to make your garlic soft and so, so garlicky – roast them. Root vegetables especially taste great when roasted. Simply preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prep your veggies, and line them in a roasting pan. Drizzle a little – and I mean only a little – extra virgin alive oil on the vegetables (one and a half teaspoons for five pounds of tomatoes, for example) and sprinkle salt and pepper on top. Roast for one hour.