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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's Greens

This New Year's, why not follow the ancient (and healthy) tradition of eating leafy greens for prosperity! It's a southern tradition to eat collard greens in the hopes that their green color will signify an abundance of more green things in the New Year ($cha-ching$). And who couldn't use a little more luck this year in that department?

Every country has it's traditions when it comes to what to eat when the clock strikes 12. In Spain they eat 12 grapes, one for each clang from the clock at midnight. My tradition? Champagne. Or Prosecco. Anything that's bubbly! Check out this link to read more about traditions around the world.

But, like many people in this country, I will once again resolve to eat more healthfully. Now, I am pretty conscious when it comes to what goes into my mouth, but that seems to go out the window when the holidays (spanning the entire length of November, December and January) roll around. Therefore, the New Year is my cue that it is time to get back on track. One thing I will resolve to do will be to eat more leafy greens. And I don't just mean spinach. I mean those dense, leafy, bitter greens that kids hate. But, if treated properly, cooked until tender, and with proper seasoning, these greens can be not only good for you, but incredibly delicious.

Here is my New Year's recipe for Braised Kale with Cherry Tomatoes:


1 bunch kale, chopped and washed (only use the stem closest to the leaves-the ends get pretty tough and can be tossed)
1 clove garlic, minced
Handful cherry tomatoes
3/4 c. chicken stock (Kitchen Basics, if you can find it)
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat a large pan on high heat for about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add 2 Tbsp. olive oil to the hot pan. Add garlic and kale to pan and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, salt & pepper, and balsamic vinegar and cover the pan. Let steam for about 4 minutes until the greens have wilted. Remove the cover and stir the kale. Add the cherry tomatoes and pepper flakes and cook until the tomatoes burst. The liquid should be mostly reduced. If not, increase the heat and continue cooking until very little liquid remains in the bottom of the pan. Serve as a side dish with chicken, fish, as an alternative to creamed name it!

Enjoy! And a healthy and prosperous New Year to all!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Cookies!

The Holiday Season is most certainly in full swing. And to prove it, my inbox shows that I have received 50 e-mails from various sources with Christmas Cookies in their subject line. During the holidays there are temptations all around. And I am not going to stand up here on my high blogging pedestal and tell you that I avoid every one of them. I give into them and consider the consequences later.

However, there are ways to make the yuletide festive and still enjoy those family traditions. I'm talking about making choices. Instead of eating a sample of every cookie at the party, survey the landscape and make the most healthful choice. For example, this weekend I made some Christmas cookies using one of the many recipes in my inbox. It is one of my favorite cookies and it certainly screams "Holiday." You can find the recipe here.

But I made a few smart choices. Here is the recipe along with my adaptions.

Gingerbread Men:


  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the work surface (Gingerbread is a heartier cookie, so it can stand up to some wholewheat flour without compromising the finished product. I added 1 1/2 c. wholewheat flour and the rest A.P.)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I upped this to 1 1/2 tsp.)
  • (I also grated in about 1/4 tsp. of fresh nutmeg- look for whole nutmeg in the spice aisle)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar


  1. Heat oven to 350° F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour(s), ginger, (nutmeg) cinnamon, baking soda, cloves, and salt.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar until smooth. Add the molasses and egg and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes.(I also added some vanilla bean that I have bought in mass quantities, but now would be the time to add some vanilla extract, if you like)
  3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.
  4. On a floured surface, roll the dough to ¼ inch thick. Using cookie cutters, cut into shapes; place on parchment-lined baking sheets.
  5. Bake until firm, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. (I like to underbake mine just slightly, so they aren't so crisp)
  6. Place confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl; gradually whisk in 1 tablespoon water until a thick icing forms. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag and snip a small hole in one corner. Decorate cookies as desired and let set. (I made royal icing instead. See recipe below)
  7. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Royal Icing is great because it has no fat and it hardens shiny and beautiful. It is also very easy to make an work with.

2 egg whites
2 tsp. lemon juice (this reduces the risk of using raw egg)
3 c. powdered sugar (depending on desired consistency)

With an electric mixer (otherwise it will take a long time to get the lumps out) combine whites and lemon juice. Then slowly add the sugar until smooth. Apply immediately or store covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator. Decorate to your little heart's content.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Mediterranean- A Diet to Emmulate

*Tip of the Day- live like the Italians do!*

Call it my insatiable desire to live and be all things Italy. What is it about Italian food (and I'm talking real Italian food- not spaghetti and meatballs) that conjures up these images of dining al fresco, distressed wood tables filled with good things to eat (olives, artichokes- fresh bread dipped in local olive oil, wine grown in your neighbor's vineyard), every time I think about it I want to book a plane immediately. And then a wee-little voice whispers that there is a single dollar in my wallet. *shucks*

But I try to live as Mediterranean a life-style as I can in Upstate New York. To me, that means eating as much as possible fresh, using olive oil to cook everything, enjoying bitter greens, cooked simply, working seafood into my diet, eating as little processed food as I can, and ignoring the fact that it is snowing right now.

Today is my father's birthday. My father is 100% Italian and has spend some time there when he was a young adult. Perhaps it's his time there stories that send me into revelry every time I eat antipasti. My father is my biggest fan (as a cook). I don't think I have ever made that he didn't say was delicious (not that I would agree with that critique). And so, in honor of his birthday, I am posting his all-time favorite, can't live without, condiment.



1 bunch fresh basil leaves (about 2 c.)
1/4 c. pine nuts
1/4 c. white wine vinegar (helps to retain color and provides acidity)
3-4 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper (freshly ground)
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2-3/4 c. olive oil
1/2 c. grated romano cheese (or parmesean-just not in the green can. Go to the cheese section)

You will need a blender or food processor (unless you want to do it by hand with a mortar & pestle). Put in the garlic cloves (whole is fine) and pulse until chopped. Then, pour in the vinegar to get the other ingredients started. Put in the basil leaves (no stems), pines nuts, and seasonings (not the cheese yet). Pulse until basil is chopped finely. Then, turn the machine of choice to the on setting and open the hole at the top. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly until very smooth in consistency and thickened. This has to be done with your eye. No real measuring! When you are happy with the consistency, stop the machine and stir in the romano cheese. Take out all the pesto and put into an airtight container. Before putting on the lid, drizzle the top with olive oil until there is a thin layer covering the entire top (this will prevent the pesto from browning).

And...voila! You have pesto! An extremely versatile condiment.
Try it on fish, veggies, bread, pizza, chicken, steak, sandwiches, or, my dad's favorite- poached eggs!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Not-So-Texas Chili

*Tip of the Day- Sneak veggies in where you may not normally find them.

I absolutely love chili on a bitter winter 'eve. And, according to an informal survey, 2 out of every 2 people asked love the toppings just as much as the chili itself! (OK, was me and my fiance). Sour cream, mounds of cheese, what's not to love? But how do you get away with eating this beloved food and not feel guilty? Simple. When you make chili yourself, you control the amount of fat and flavor that goes into it. For a truly memorable and unique chili, try my recipe for this veggie filled chili.

Not-So-Texas Chili

1/2 lb. ground buffalo or grass-fed beef (buffalo is lower in saturated fat and calories)
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
1/2 summer squash or zucchini

1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (fire-roasted are the best for chili, if you can find them)
2 dried chipotle peppers (if you can't find dried, substitute with 1/2 can of chipotle in adobo)
1 jalepeno
1 bell pepper (I like the red or orange)
1/2 bunch kale, spinach, or other dark green
1 c. frozen organic corn
1 14 oz. can pinto beans
1 14 oz. can red kidney beans
1-2 c. chicken stock (Kitchen Basics is the best brand I have found- look for no MSG)
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1Tbsp. Unsweetened cocoa powder (I know. This sounds weird, but trust me. Think Mexican Mole)
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. hot sauce

In stock pot, brown the ground beef or buffalo. Strain off excess fat. Add onions, garlic, and peppers/chilis. Add salt & pepper. Saute until translucent. Add ground spices and cocoa. Add the squash and saute for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add canned tomatoes, stock, and hot sauce. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes on low. After reduced slightly, add beans, dark greens, and frozen corn. Stir slowly until greens are fully wilted. Let cook for about 5 minutes before serving.

Spectacular toppings:

*A low-fat alternative to sour cream: take 1/2 c. of low-fat, plain yogurt and put in a strainer lined with paper towel for about 5 minutes. This will remove the liquid and leave you with a thickened yogurt. Mix in lime zest, cumin, or chopped cilantro. You will never miss the sour cream.

*Black olives, sliced


*Cilantro leaves

*Pepper jack cheese

*Organic tortilla chips
(try the blue or red variety for added color)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Great Use for Leftovers

*Tip of the day: Turn your leftovers into something great.

Who doesn't like chicken salad? I know I do. But often times, when I order it out, I wind up disappointed. Not much flavor, a ton of fat. All in all, a pretty boring sandwich. But it doesn't have to be. Whenever I make a roast chicken, or when I have some leftover rotisserie chicken from the store, the following day, I make chicken salad. I am a firm believer that leftovers can not only be delicious, but can be better than the original dish! Don't believe me? Give this low fat, high antioxident recipe a try.

Fruity Chicken Salad
2 cups leftover roast chicken, shredded or diced (breast, legs. Whatever you have left. *tip: the dark meat has more nutrients than the white meat*)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. plain, low-fat yogurt
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard (in glass)
1 apple, diced (skin on for fiber!)
1/4 cup dried cherries (or other dried fruit.
1/4 walnuts, almonds, or pecans
1/4 red onion, diced
1 Tbsp. fresh herb (try parsley, tarragon, or dill)

First, make the "dressing" for the salad. I know it sounds strange, but replacing mayo with yogurt drastically cuts the fat, but adds a nice tanginess. Whisk together yogurt, lemon juice, oil, mustard, herbs and salt & pepper. Toss in chicken and stir until moistened. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Place on whole-wheat bread topped with baby field greens for a delicious sandwich.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some Foods You Should NOT Be Eating

While reading this article (brought to my attention by my brother, Dan) this morning, I must say that I was surprised by some of the foods the experts choose to stay away from. For one- canned tomatoes! But it makes total sense when you read the article. The problem is the lined tin cans, which leach chemicals as a result of tomatoes high acidity. The good news? You can find tomatoes in glass cans, which do not need to be lined. *Tip of the day:* Anything that is acidic, should be bought in glass (i.e. ketchup, mayonnaise, vinegar, hot sauce- pretty much all you're condiments).

Another tip, only buy organic potatoes! Because they grow under the ground, they absorb all pesticides, fungicides, etc. sprayed above ground. And washing doesn't help. Yes, they are more expensive, but think about it. You are paying to NOT eat chemical. I'd say it's worth it.

What to do with organic potatoes:

Cheesy (but low-fat) Homefries


4 medium sized organic potatoes, washed, unpeeled and diced in cubes)- tip! Leave the skins on! They contain many of the nutrients as well as added fiber!
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. rosemary (dried or fresh)
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 c. grated cheese- I like montery jack

The quick way to make homefries is to parbake (or bake ahead of time) the potatoes in the microwave first. Wash the potatoes and poke holes in them with a fork. Put in microwave on high for 7 minutes. In the meantime, dice onion, garlic and rosemary and heat in a large frying pan on low heat in olive oil (a cast iron skillet works great for getting the potatoes crispy). When the potatoes are finished, let them cool on a cutting board for a bit until you can handle them. Then dice into cubes and throw them in the pan (increase heat to medium). You may need to add more oil to the pan at this point if you feel it is too dry. Add generous amounts of salt & pepper. Toss around pan and let sit for 2 minutes before stirring. Continue cooking potatoes all the way through and until they begin to get brown around the edges. Just before ready to serve, top with cheese. Try them with hot sauce (Frank's Red Hot is good) or ketchup (in glass, of course!). Serves 4-5.

You can also make a mean scramble with these potatoes if you toss in some spicy sausage (you can find chicken sausage with chorizo or andouille spices- just make sure they do not have MSG), roasted red peppers, and beaten eggs. Delicious!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's in Season?

Tip of the day: Buy local and buy seasonal!

If you're like me and you don't live in the great state of California where everything is ripe all of the time, then you should be thinking about seasonal ingredients. Why you ask? Well first of all, they taste better. Think of the ubiquitous tomato. When you see tomatoes at your local PriceChopper (or Wegmans if you're lucky) in the winter, they look much like the ones you find in summer. But, they may have been shipped thousands of miles to get there. That means that in order for that tomato to arrive plump and red, it had to have been picked when it was green, thrown in a dark truck, treated with gas to induce ripening, and then, only then, it can be stocked in grocery bins around the world. Compared to a summer, farm-stand tomato...I know which one I would rather have. (Tip of the day: you can still eat tomatoes in winter! Don't forget to utilize canned and sun-dried tomatoes which are picked at the top of their games).

Second of all, the less time a veggie spends from farm to table, the more nutrients it holds on to. Therefore, the healthier it is for you. You're getting more bang for your buck! And plus, what heartless person does not want to support a local farmer?!? To see what's in season in winter, check out this site from NY farmers:

One winter vegetable you will find on this list is the extremely versatile butternut squash. Although I use them often, my all-time favorite recipe for it is:

Roasted Butternut Squash with Gorgonzola and Baby Spinach:

1 whole butternut squash, peeled and diced (if you can find it pre-cut, go for it. They are a pain to peel)
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin, always)
A generous amount (like my measurements?) of kosher salt & fresh ground pepper (you should be able to see it)
1 red onion, peeled, cut in half, and cut into thin wedges
1 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (a blue-veined cheese from Italy. You can substitute any blue cheese)
1/2 bag fresh baby spinach

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep butternut squash by peeling, gutting, and cutting into 1 in. chunks. Combine squash chunks, cut onion, olive oil, salt and pepper in large baking dish (I like the Pyrex 9x13). Toss together with hands until oil is covering veggies and spices are distributed evenly. Roast for at least 40 minutes, but check it and stir it often. When finished squash should be a bit browned in spots and be fork-tender. Pull squash out of oven and toss in baby spinach. Stir until spinach is wilted. Just before you are ready to serve, top with gorgonzola cheese crumbles. Serve warm.

What to do on a Snow Day- Homemade granola!

Tip of the day: Use the time you have to prepare for days when you don't have time.

Well here I am sitting on the couch, watching the snow fall, thinking about the delicious (and healthy) breakfast I just ate. It's a snow day around here (which, for a substitute means that I don't get paid...:-( BUT! There is a silver lining. I get to cook! On days when I have free time I like to make up batches of things for those days when I am feeling lazy or rushed. I'll make things like sauce, big batches of soup, bread, pizza dough, and one of my favorites....granola!

OK, so granola has gotten a bit of a bad rap. Hippy food, right? Well, have you ever had granola, along with low fat yogurt, topped with dried fruits, a drizzle of honey, and some nuts, for crunch? It's more like a breakfast sundae than health food and it is just about my favorite breakfast. (p.s. get low fat plain yogurt and look for a kind with active cultures. I LOVE Stoneyfield Farms).

Want a killer recipe for granola? It is much fresher, much more delicious, super flexible and MUCH cheaper to make your own. Look no further than my own version for crunchy granola:

Crunchy Granola:

6 cups rolled oats (not instant oats, check the box)

2 cups mixed nuts & seeds (whatever you like. Try: slivered almonds, pecans, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, and flax seeds for a boost of Omega-3')
1/2 to 1 cup of liquid sweetner, to taste (that can be honey, maple syrup, molasses, agave nectar-I like 3/4 c. honey)
1/4 smooth, natural peanut butter (*check the label* only peanuts and salt! no oils)
pinch of salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon (also try adding nutmeg, ground ginger, vanilla bean, etc.)
1 cup dried fruits (I like cherries and blueberries)

Preheat oven to 300. In a large, microwave safe bowl, combine sweetner, peanut butter, and spices. (*not fruit*) Heat on high for 15 second intervals, stirring in between until the mixture is pourable. Alternately, you can do this on the stove top on low heat stirring frequently. When mixture is combined, throw oats and nuts/seeds into liquid and combine thoroughly. Pour and spread out onto baking pan that is covered in parchment, foil (greased), or silicone baking mat (Silpat). Remember, fruit should not be in yet. Bake in oven for at least 30 minutes, but stir occasionally to check for doneness. The longer it's in, the crunchier it gets. But don't let it go too far or you will have burnt instead of crunchy! Let cool completely. Now stir in the dried fruit. Store in airtight container or ziplock baggies.

Enjoy as is, with yogurt, or as cereal for an energizing and filling breakfast!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What to Look for at the Grocery Store

Tip of the day: Read your food labels!

Here's my philosophy, in a nut-shell. If I have made the food that I am buying at the grocery store, I know what goes in it. Therefore, anything that I did not put in, does not need to be there.

Take tomato sauce, for example. (And I make a damn good one. More on that later.) When I make tomato sauce I need some onions, some garlic, some canned tomatoes, a couple of herbs, a couple of spices and...voila! I have a delicious sauce that I use to cover just about anything with no guilt (think chicken parm, whole-wheat fusilli and cheese for baked ziti, good crusty Italian bread...). And then there are the grocery store you remember me mentioning sugar in my sauce? Neither do it. Then why do we need things like sugar and (heaven forbid) high fructose corn syrup in our sauce? Tomatoes are in fact sweet! If you like a sweeter sauce, add that yourself but so goodness sake, don't buy a sauce with sweetners. When you get in the habit of reading labels (most importantly the ingredients) you will be shocked by how many brands include unnecessary ingredients. When you see it, put it down! Other ingredients to look out for: anything with corn in the name, maltodextrin, any kind of oil besides olive oil, natural flavors (this is code word for: there are more ingredients in here, but I don't want you to know what they are).

OK, you've waited long enough. Here is my kick-(*ahem*) butt tomato sauce recipe:

1- 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (plain ol' tomatoes with no sugar, please)
1- 28 oz. can tomato puree (same goes for these)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste (the tubes of paste are super convenient)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, diced (if you like your sauce a bit sweeter, use a Vidalia onion)
1 bunch fresh basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup red wine (dry) -if you don't cook with wine, try using a splash of balsamic vinegar for some depth

IN a LARGE saucepan, heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil over med-low heat. When oil is hot, throw onions in first and top with garlic (this will help the garlic to not burn). Add about 1/2 tsp. of salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper (seasoning to be adjusted later). Stir frequently until the onions are translucent (about 4 minutes). Then, throw in the tomato paste. Let this cook with the onions & garlic for about 1 minute. Continue to stir. Then, pour in the red wine. Let the red wine evaporate until you almost can't distinguish it from the paste. This concentrates the flavor of the wine and will allow it to permeate the entire sauce. When wine has reduced, add both cans of tomatoes as well as the oregano. Stir well and reduce the heat to low. This is when you need patience. The sauce needs time to meld together and reduce for a thicker, tastier sauce. Let the sauce simmer for at least an hour. If sauce gets too thick, add some water. Before you are ready to use the sauce, taste it for seasoning and adjust accordingly (I find it always needs more salt). Then stir in the basil leaves at the last minute. I like to leave them whole, but this is preference.

You CAN Trust a Skinny Chef

Hi! Welcome to my blog.

I firmly believe that most people (most, not everyone) want to be healthier. They want to be able to feed their families healthy food, and they want to learn how to make it. But most people also don't know what makes food healthy, and if they do, they don't know how to cook it. That's where I come in. I love food, I love to cook, and I'm not obese. I do believe that loving food and being obese do not have to be connected. Here I will share strategies, recipes, and techniques (as well as some educational tidbits) about food and cooking.

With all the talk about obesity (especially in children), diabetes, and the health care debate that does not even attempt to touch these issues, I have decided that I have sat idle for too long. There have been many times when I have thought to myself, "I wish there was something (or more) I could do." Well, I have come to the realization that I cannot change the world...alone. But as an internet user I guess I can do something. And this is my attempt.

Rant: when was the last time you were in an elementary school lunch room? As a substitute teacher, for me, that was yesterday. Here was the menu: Hot dog in a white bun, gigantic smiley face french fries, canned peaches in heavy syrup. Who's idea was it to call this lunch nutritious? And it gets worse from there. Think french toast sticks and syrup...for lunch. "Taco Salad" (which means ground beef, tortilla chips, and cheese- a.k.a. Nachos). Chicken wing pizza (this one is self explanatory). Notice how not one of these main entrees (which is what most kids have solely on their plate) do not have one vegetable. Kids are picky eaters. However, when we don't even give them the tools to choose healthy options, what hope do they have?