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Meltdown mealtime

I am not a nutritionist, dietician or any sort of expert, but I am definitely a “meltdown case.” I’ve lost 20 pounds in the past year and am about eight pounds away from my ideal weight. (I calculate my ideal weight as being able to wear the “skinny jeans” that have been in my closet for 10 years.) I can attribute my weight loss to a few key lifestyle adjustments:

I gave up sugar (but I do make a daily cookie/dessert exception).

I gave up wine and all alcoholic beverages.



I try not to snack (or eat the food that is left over on my kids’ plates).

I have become addicted to spinning classes and really enjoy long sessions on the elliptical trainer, fueled by loud ’80s music banging through the headphones.




I also love to cook, so I find preparing tasty, satisfying low-fat meals and experimenting with recipes and ingredients to make food more enjoyable.

Despite all the diet books, the low-carb programs and exercise trends, most of us know (or should know) what kinds of food we need to maintain a healthy weight and a healthy body. But let’s face the facts, busy lifestyles and savvy mass-media marketing make it so easy to eat the WRONG foods – foods that are prepared for us that are loaded with fat, sodium, hydrogenated oils and additives that may taste good but contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle.

But on the flip side – preparing a low-fat meal full of nutritious ingredients can be an extremely rewarding experience. Cooking is a nurturing, satisfying process and does not have to involve complicated recipes and exotic ingredients. And when you cook with basics, such as lean meats, beans, vegetables and whole foods, you will naturally end up with a better product for your body.

Good recipes are absolutely essential; by a good recipe, I mean one that can be made in a reasonable amount of time and can also be flexible enough to allow for variations. The following recipes have been successfully prepared in my kitchen many times, and I am pleased to share!

Tortilla Chicken Soup

I adapted this recipe from cable television’s chef Emeril Lagasse. By using prepared salsa, you save preparation time but do not compromise flavor. Almost all the fat in the recipe comes from the small amount of oil.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast pieces (you can use more), cut into bite-sized pieces

2 teaspoon canola oil

1 large can chicken stock,

2 cups salsa – Pace Picante Sauce works well

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 cup chopped cilantro (plus extra for garnish)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, diced (only if you like it hot)

4 corn tortillas (plus extras for garnish)

Toss the chicken with the oil to coat, and saute in a large soup pot over medium heat until chicken loses its pink color. Add stock to pot, followed by salsa, spices, garlic, cilantro and peppers. Bring pot to simmer, tear up the tortillas into little bits and add to the soup. Cook on low heat for about 30 minutes. Serve soup garnished with diced green onions, nonfat sour cream, chopped cilantro and tortilla crispies.

Tortilla Crispies

Cut 4 tortillas into thin strips. Toss tortilla strips with 1 teaspoon canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon each cumin, chili powder and salt.

Toast strips on a cookie sheet in 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes, stirring once, until crispy and lightly browned.

Low-fat Green Chile Quesadillas

Low-carb or whole wheat tortillas

1 8-ounce package low-fat or fat-free cream cheese

1 small can diced green chiles

1 ounce finely grated, sharp cheddar cheese (about 1/2 cup)

Mash cream cheese, chiles and grated cheese together. Spread tortillas with mixture and top with another tortilla.

Cook each quesadillas in a hot, nonstick frying pan, coated with Pam or brushed with olive oil, until tortillas are toasted and cheese is melted. Cool slightly and cut each quesadilla into 8 wedges, serve with salsa and nonfat sour cream.

Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans)

Delicately seasoned and delicious -whole wheat pasta could also be used.

6 ounces bow-tie pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 cloves fresh minced garlic

1-14.5 ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed

1Ú2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (1Ú4 teaspoon dried)

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground pepper

Grated parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta al dente; drain. In a large saucepan (or the one in which you cooked the pasta), saute garlic in olive oil for a few minutes – do not let garlic brown. Add drained pasta, beans, wine, broth, spices and tomato paste. Stir gently to combine and heat through; sauce should thicken a bit. Add more wine or broth if necessary and check seasonings. Serve pasta with grated parmesan cheese.

Lemon-Garlic Spinach

This flavorful spinach can be served over pasta or brown rice as a main course; it’s also a great side dish for fish or chicken. The olive oil increases the fat calories, but the dish is full of heart-healthy nutrients and antioxidants.

1 tablespoon good extra-virgin olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, smashed and chopped

2 bunches spinach

Salt, pinch of red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest and 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Rinse spinach well; remove stems and dry in a salad spinner. Heat oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat, shaking garlic around in pan until fragrant and sizzling, about two minutes. Add spinach by handfuls, using tongs to stir. As one batch of spinach wilts, add more and keep adding. Once all spinach is in the pan, sprinkle with salt, pepper flakes and lemon zest. Stir spinach until it is well seasoned, wilted and glossy green. Sprinkle spinach with lemon juice and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.

‘Everything in a Bowl’ Black Beans with Chicken

This recipe was the very tasty result of not knowing what to fix for dinner. I am sure that you could use canned black beans, but you would want to saute the onion first, then just add the other ingredients and simmer until the chicken is done.

1 big can chicken broth (49 ounces or about 6 cups)

6 cups water

1 pound dried black beans

1 medium yellow onion, diced

6 cloves of minced garlic

2 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon taco seasoning or chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

1-14.5 ounce can of corn kernels, drained

1 link of “soy chorizo” available in health food departments*

2 or more boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 small can diced green chiles

Combine first nine ingredients in a soup kettle and simmer for 2-3 hours over low heat, covered, until beans are tender and flavorful. (You can also cook the beans overnight or all day in a crockpot.) About 30 minutes before serving, saute the soy chorizo until lightly browned (don’t worry if it falls apart) and add to soup, along with corn, green chiles and chicken breast pieces. Simmer soup gently for another 20-30 minutes, add more seasoning if necessary. Serve garnished with non-fat sour cream.

Makes about 6 big servings, freeze leftovers, if desired.

Easy Meatless Chili

For people who do not cook with tofu, here is an easy introductory recipe.

1 14-ounce block of extra-firm tofu, not the “silken kind”

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 package of Carl Shelby’s Chili Mix (Comes in a little brown bag)

1 big yellow onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 14.5-ounce can of chili beans (substitute pinto, black or kidney)

In a large soup pot, heat the oil until just medium hot. Saute onion and green pepper until onion is translucent, then crumble in the tofu.

Add chili seasonings (cayenne packet optional). Stir to coat, then add tomatoes, one can of water and beans (no need to drain beans). Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes; you may need to add some more water.

For thick chili, you can add the masa flour that comes in the chili packet. Taste chili and adjust seasonings. Serve with tortilla crispies (recipe above) if desired.

Kimberly Carrow lives in Grass Valley and works at Odyssey Books.


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