- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

It’s January, probably the month more than any other in which people resolve to diet. So here is the annual how-to story.

First, though, I must admit to a strong opinion. I’m no scientist, but even though it’s been a while since I studied nutrition in college, I’m still a fan of science over fads, of a balanced diet and exercise over high-low concoctions not backed by a lot of persnickety research.

I have never tried a fad diet, although I certainly have dieted with both success and disappointment.

I do what the academic nutritional community tells me to: To lose weight, I eat a balanced diet (but less of it) and increase caloric output. It works.

A year ago on Weight Watchers, I lost 20 pounds in five months. I calculated and recorded everything I ate and gave myself bonuses for exercise.

I showed up for my weekly weigh-in always in the same lightweight clothing because it curbed my appetite better than any pill.

What I didn’t like was the time it took and paying for something I could have done alone. Or could I?

The plan made sense, although I wasn’t fond of using the packaged diet foods and artificial substitutes recommended by some group leaders and other members. if you want to cook with fresh ingredients, Weight Watchers provides recipes for that, too.

These regimens work for me, but only if I follow them. I even can misbehave now and then (an occasional scoop of candy-laced coffee ice cream is good for my mental health), and I still lose over time if I get right back on track.

When I have failed, it has been my own fault. An afternoon of writer’s block shows up, and I’m off to Krispy Kreme to eat some inspiration. (On deadline now, I have rummaged up some chocolate pudding.)

If you want to lose 10 pounds in one week by eating cheese omelets with a side of sausage, or if you find inspiration in a daily doughnut, no point in reading further.

What you will find here is a report on two new books that can help you and me both and that fit in perfectly with my “science rocks” prejudice.

The American Dietetic Association, the largest body of food and nutrition professionals in the world, has just released a good book, “Cooking Healthy Across America” (Wiley). This serious undertaking is based on the premise that variety is the key to a sound diet. It serves up authentic regional recipes along with their histories, but with less fat and fewer empty calories.

The book promotes real food over nutritional supplements. One important point in this volume is portion control over denial: “Desserts [and other high-calorie foods], when balanced with other nutrient-dense foods and an active lifestyle, can add interest and enjoyment to your daily life without compromising good health.” They don’t say if that includes sanity, but for me, there’s a lot of mental health in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s … spread over time.

The other book is for all of us. Patsy Jamieson, test-kitchen director for Eating Well magazine, selected and updated 350 of the magazine’s health-conscious recipes from more than 1,000 tested recipes to produce “The Essential Eating Well Cookbook: Good Carbs, Good Fats, Great Flavors” (Countryman Press).

“The majority fit perfectly with a wide range of popular weight- and health-maintenance plans, from Atkins to the South Beach Diet to the Zone, with uniquely useful recipes for enthusiastic cooks who want heart-healthy, low-saturated fat, lower-carbohydrate and vegetarian dishes,” Miss Jamieson writes.

“Thanks in part to the phenomenon of many tens of millions of people adopting low-carbohydrate weight-loss … diets, the academic and scientific nutrition communities have begun to react.” But, she adds, “if more than a century of dieting history tells us anything, it is that extreme diets of any kind will prove to be a passing fad.

“Still, we suspect that some of the best aspects of these diets are here to stay.” With that in mind, there are icons on recipes in this book so readers can easily identify if they are “lower carbs,” “healthy weight” or “high fiber.”

Even though this book makes room for diets I don’t like, I have to agree with the comments of Miriam Nelson of Tufts University’s School of Nutrition Science and Policy: “Good nutrition does not come in a pill. It comes in real foods, whole foods and in wonderful … recipes like these.” And she’s a real scientist.

Here are a few of Eating Well’s good recipes:

Mediterranean burgers

To make ahead, prepare patties but do not cook. Wrap individually and refrigerate for up to two days or freeze for up to three months. Thaw in the refrigerator before cooking. These high-fiber veggie burgers get added body and a pleasant, mild flavor from millet, a nutrition powerhouse. They get their spectacular punch from olive ketchup and feta cheese.

4 sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)

1½ cups vegetable broth or water (see note)

½ cup millet, rinsed (see note)

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1 large onion, chopped

3 cups lightly packed baby spinach, stems trimmed

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup olive ketchup (recipe follows), optional

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

2/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

7 whole-wheat English muffins or whole-wheat buns

Arugula and sliced tomatoes for garnish

Place sun-dried tomatoes in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let soak until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain and finely chop; set aside.

Meanwhile, bring broth or water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in millet and salt; return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the millet is tender and liquid is absorbed, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork; transfer to a plate to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

While the millet cooks, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and light brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Gradually stir in spinach; cover and cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted, 30 to 60 seconds. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Transfer to a plate; let cool for about 10 minutes.

Prepare olive ketchup, if using.

Place millet in a food processor and pulse to mix lightly. Add the spinach mixture and pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in the feta, basil, bread crumbs, pepper and reserved sun-dried tomatoes; mix well.

With dampened hands, form mixture into seven 1/2-inch-thick patties, using about 1/2 cup for each.

Using 2 teaspoons oil per batch, cook 3 to 4 patties at a time in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until browned and heated through, about 4 minutes per side. Toast English muffins (or buns). Garnish burgers with arugula, tomatoes and olive ketchup, if desired. Makes 7 servings.

Per serving: 309 calories; 9 g fat (3 g saturated, 4 g mono); 10 mg cholesterol; 49 g carbohydrate; 11 g protein; 7 g fiber; 735 mg sodium.

Note: Commercial vegetable broth is readily available in natural-foods stores and many supermarkets. We especially like the Imagine and Pacific brands, sold in convenient aseptic packages that allow you to use small amounts and keep the rest refrigerated. Millet is a little, round yellow grain native to Africa and Asia. It is grown in the United States mostly for birdseed and animal feed but is nutritionally similar to wheat. Look for millet in natural-foods stores.

OLIVE KETCHUP:

This can be made in advance. Covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. It makes a great finish for baked or broiled fish, or serve it with Mediterranean burgers.

½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 scallions, coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed and peeled

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons tomato paste

Combine olives, parsley, scallions, garlic, oil and vinegar in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl and mix in tomato paste. Makes about ½ cup.

Per tablespoon: 46 calories; 4 g fat (1 g saturated, 3 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 2 g carbohydrate; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber; 155 mg sodium.

Ginger-orange-glazed cornish hens

When you crave roasted chicken but don’t have time to roast a whole bird, consider Cornish hens. The split hens cook up juicy and succulent in less than 45 minutes. Here, orange marmalade spiked with ginger root makes an easy and delicious glaze. Serve with wild rice, winter squash and sauteed greens.

Nonstick cooking spray

1 large onion, cut in ½-inch rounds

1 large orange, cut in ½-inch rounds

2 Cornish game hens, about 1½ pounds each, cut in half, backbones removed (see note)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup orange marmalade

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Coat a roasting pan or baking sheet with sides with cooking spray. Place onion and orange rounds in the pan. Place hens, skin side up, on top. Rub with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake hens in preheated 450-degree oven until juices run clear and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the breast registers 170 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine marmalade, ginger root, tarragon and cayenne. Remove hens from oven. Set oven to broil, and place a rack 6 inches from the heat source. Brush hens with marmalade mixture. Broil until glaze is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove hens to a serving platter or plates. Remove all but one orange slice from the pan and place over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons water and bring to a simmer, using the orange slice as a spatula to scrape up any browned bits. Pour pan sauce over the hens. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 522 calories; 32 g fat (8 g saturated, 15 g mono); 204 mg cholesterol; 22 g carbohydrate; 36 g protein; 2 g fiber; 258 mg sodium.

Note: The bones of a Cornish hen are soft enough to cut easily with poultry shears or a sharp knife. Cut each hen in half through the breastbone. Cut along both sides of the backbone to separate the halves. Discard backbone.

Chocolate-orange silk mousse

This mousse will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Intense, heavenly chocolate is all you’ll think about when you taste this dessert, though it’s packed with all the good things found in tofu. Make sure the tofu is gossamer smooth before adding the chocolate mixture.

1 12.3-ounce package reduced-fat silken tofu (1½ cups)

3 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

2/3 cup (3 ounces) chocolate wafer crumbs (see note)

Puree tofu in a food processor, scraping down the sides as needed, until completely smooth.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. (You will need 1/4 cup.) Combine chocolate and cocoa in a medium bowl.

Add 1/4 cup boiling water; stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.

Stir in vanilla and orange zest. Mix in confectioners’ sugar, a little at a time, until smooth. Add chocolate mixture to the processor; puree until smooth and well-blended, scraping down the sides as needed.

Spoon about 2 teaspoons chocolate crumbs into each of 5 parfait glasses or dessert dishes. Add about 1/4 cup mousse, then layer with another 2 teaspoons crumbs. Top with another 1/4 cup mousse and finish with a sprinkling of crumbs. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Makes 5 servings. about ½ cup each.

Per serving: 266 calories; 9 g fat (4 g saturated, 0 g mono); 1 mg cholesterol; 42 g carbohydrate; 8 g protein; 4 g fiber; 125 mg sodium.

Note: To make wafer crumbs, place wafers in a resealable plastic bag, then seal and crush with a rolling pin. Alternatively, pulse wafers in a food processor.

Many commercial cookies and wafers contain partially hydrogenated oil, a source of trans-fatty acids. Fortunately, brands made without these oils, such as Newman’s Own Organics and Mi-Del, are every bit as tasty. Look for them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets.

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