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A Thousand Words are Worth a Picture?

empty frameDear Reader, we ate it.

I made a colorful, delicious, transcendentally healthy dinner last night and fully intended to take a picture for this post. I tried to turn on my camera, but discovered that the batteries had been harvested by Sam to prolong the life of some ebbing controller thingamajig used to do horrifically violent things that no good parent would allow. I watched the steam rising from my plate, anxiously calculating it’s declining volume. Rob took his first bite and groaned with pleasure. (I’m not making that up). I tried the camera on my phone, but the batteries in my phone were dead. I surrendered to the lure of the fork.

So

Imagine this: a juicy, marinated chicken breast fresh from the grill with crispy bits, sliced against the grain and lying on a modest bed of quinoa, topped with lightly sauteed cherry tomatoes and spicy green olives, with a generous sprinkling of crumbled feta cheese. Very few carbs, for those of us who are counting, a great mix of flavors and textures, and a vision of red, orange and yellow tomatoes and green olives tumbling decadently over the chicken. (I hope that worked for you, I really do).

It’s perfect if you are watching fat, calories and/or carbs, but it’s really salty and probably not great if you are working on controlling hypertension. It would be great with the addition of a little diced hot pepper if one is so inclined, and would be good supported by rice, cous cous, pasta or polenta. You can happily play with different kinds of olives (I used a variety of brined, green kalamatas in oil with crushed peppers) and you could even use a mild blue cheese in place of the feta. It’s also very quick to prepare, and I’m sure that the chicken can be broiled or sauteed once it is no longer grilling weather in many parts of the world.

When I make this again, and I undoubtedly will, I’ll be sure there are batteries in the camera before I start cooking. Until then, you’ll have to trust me, and make this for yourself while the cherry tomatoes are fresh and local.

Chicken Breasts with Tomatoes and Olives

(Adapted from The September 2009 issues of “Cooking Light”)

Makes 4 servings

3.3 Grams of Carbohyrdate per serving

Ingredients

4  boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup multicolored cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

Oil and vinegar dressing

20 olives, halved

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat grill to medium-high. Sprinkle chicken evenly on both side with salt and pepper. Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray and grill for 6 minutes per side, or until done, brushing about 1 Tablespoon of dressing on each side once during grilling. Keep warm
  2. Combine tomatoes, 1 1/2 tablespoon dressing, and olives in a medium skillet over medium heat and cook for 2 minutes, or until tomatoes soften slightly, stirring occasionally.
  3. Cut each breast half into 3/4-inch slices. Top each half with 1/4 cup tomato mixture, and divide cheese evenly over servings. Add torn basil leaves, for even more flavor and color.

Cavatippi

Cavatippi

While I was cooking this dish, I was trying to think of a song to celebrate my love of Cavatippi pasta. When you have played in pit orchestras and have a lot of gay friends, the mind turns naturally to the musical. I tried “Cav’tippi, I just cracked a box of cav’tippi…” sung to the tune of “Maria” from Westside Story. It didn’t scan well, so I bastardized a little Rogers & Hammerstein: “Caaaavatippi where the cheese sticks neatly in the twists….”

Whilst I was singing, I was making this really good, fresh thing. I found the recipe in this month’s “Cooking Light,” and was pleased to see that it included pasta, but had enough vegetables in it that the carb content was fine for us. We are trying to work some carbs back into our diet, but even in “healthy cooking” cookbooks and recipes it isn’t uncommon to find recipes with a carb count above (gulp) 70. In order for us to eat something that high in carbs it would have to involve enough fiber content to make a small woven mat, and we’d have to walk to a neighboring state after dinner.

The recipe also calls for what is freshest and best right this minute, and all of the produce I used was from my last trip to the Farmer’s Market. The original recipe, which is designed for “quick cooking” calls for purchased chopped onion and bottled garlic, but I was cooking for delicious and not the land speed record.It would have been okay, but it would be sad to use beautiful fresh zucchini, corn and tomatoes, and…bottled garlic.

Mid-dinner, Rob said “I need to tell you something about this dinner.” I braced myself. “It’s awesome” he said. What more can I say? Everything’s up to date in Cavatippi?

Cavatippi with Bacon and Summer Vegetables

(adapted from the August, 2009 “Cooking Light” Magazine)

Makes 4 2-cup servings

Per serving: 32.6 grams of carbohydrate; 4 grams fiber; 28.6 Net Carbs

  1. 8 ounces uncooked cavatipppi (the recipe calls for regular pasta, but it would be healthier with a higher fiber variety)
  2. 4 slices center-cooked bacon, chopped
  3. 2 teaspoons olive oil
  4. 1 cup chopped onion
  5. 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  6. 1 medium zucchini cut in quarters and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  7. 1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
  8. 1 pint grape tomatoes
  9. 1/2 cup shaved (or grated) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  10. 1/4 cup small, fresh basil leaves (I used larger leaves, but cut them into chiffonade)
  11. salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions

2. While pasta is cooking, cook bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove bacon from pan with slotted spoon, leaving drippings in pan; add oil to pan. Add onion and garlic to pan and sautee 2 minutes. Add zucchini, cook 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in corn and tomatoes, cook 5 more minutes, or until tomatoes burst, stirring occasionally. Add pasta to vegetable mixture, stir, and cook 1 minute. Remove from heat and add bacon, cheese and basil; stir to combine. Serve with extra cheese as an option.

The Goods

When I planned the menu for last Wednesday’s catering job, I knew that I needed something “lunchy,” something that could be prepped ahead and assembled at the last minute, something cool for summer, and something spice-less for an older crowd. I went retro, a little, making what I think of as “ladies luncheon” sandwiches of tuna, chicken and egg salad on white sandwich bread lined with butter to keep them from getting soggy.

Having made that decision, I needed recipes. I make chicken salad that I love (she said, modestly), but it contains avocados, which not everyone loves as much as we do, so I decided to find something better. Ditto on the tuna salad; my dirty little secret is that I like tuna salad made with Miracle Whip and onions, but that was not up to the standards of elegance I had in mind.  I had recently found an egg salad recipe to die for (in one of those mysteries-with-recipes that I read when I am not reading the complete works of Thomas Hardy) so I was okay on that front. To find chicken salad and tuna salad recipes in a reasonable amount of time) since I was billing by the hour) I turned to one of the most amazing resources available to me: allrecipes.com. I looked for recipes that had the highest user ratings based on many reviews, sorted through that group to weed out anything that didn’t fit my needs, and then used their quantity calculator to multiply the recipe so that I could make 30-some servings of each salad to add up to a total of 100 sandwiches. It worked like a charm.

I will admit that, in the case of the chicken and tuna salad recipes, I did not make a test batch. I usually do test recipes, particularly if they are intriguing, but I can’t get a good read on how the finished product will taste. (Or if they are complicated and multi-step and involve techniques I haven’t tried before). In this case, my excuse is that I have enough experience in the kitchen that I could easily imagine the finished product, there were no “controversial” techniques or ingredients, and each recipe had been tried and raved about by literally hundreds before me. Had I been preparing, say, an Eel and Michigan Cherry stir-fry, I would absolutely have tried it out first.

I will tell you that all three of these recipes are superlative. To die for. They are not particularly healthy, although they are really fine from the low-carb or diabetic point of view – have a sandwich on whole grain or Ezekiel Bread, or rolled up in lettuce leaves, and you’re fine. They are also a little fussy for daily cooking; I might make the chicken salad and omit the whipped cream, or skip the softened cream cheese in the egg salad. On the other hand, sometimes it is a really great thing to have something luscious and elegant in the refrigerator that is going to make you go into orbit at lunch.(In place of that sad little container of leftovers, or a carton of yogurt).

Please to enjoy:

Norman’s Egg Salad

(from The Cream Puff Murder by Joanne Fluke)

Makes 12 Sandwiches

4 cups peeled and chopped hard-boiled eggs (that’s about a dozen)
1/2 c. cooked, crumbled bacon or  purchased pre-cooked and crumbled bacon
1 Tablespoon fresh, chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated carrot
4 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or minced, fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon onion powder or 1 teaspoon freshly minced onion
salt and pepper to taste

    1. Peel and chop the eggs (not too fine; you want some texture), add the bacon, parsley and carrot and mix well.

    2. Put the cream cheese in a small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds on “high” to soften it. When it’s easily stirred, add sour cream and mayonnaise, and mix well.

    3. Stir garlic and onion into cream micture.

    Add cream mixture to eggs, stir, and add salt and pepper to taste.; Chill until ready to serve.

    Barbie’s Tuna Salad

    (From allrecipes.com)

    Makes 4 Sandwiches

    1 (7 ounce) can white tuna, drained and

    flaked

    6 tablespoons mayonnaise or salad dressing

    1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese

    3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

    1/8 teaspoon dried minced onion flakes

    1/4 teaspoon curry powder

    1 tablespoon dried parsley

    1 teaspoon dried dill weed

    1 pinch garlic powder

    Directions:

    1. In a medium bowl, stir together the tuna, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, and onion flakes. Season with curry powder, parsley, dill and garlic powder. Mix well and serve with crackers or on a sandwich.

    Creamy Chicken Salad

    (adapted from allrecipes.com)

    Makes 12 Sandwiches

    1/2 cup whipping cream
    1/2 cup smoked almonds
    4 poached* boneless chicken breast
    halves
    1/2 cup mayonnaise
    1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
    salt and pepper to taste
    1. Whip cream to soft peaks. Chop almonds in food processor. If desired, shred chicken or chop finely.
    2. In a large bowl combine the cream, almonds, chicken, mayonnaise, tarragon, salt and pepper. Mix well and serve.

    *I poach chicken by placing it in a crock pot over a bed of carrots, celery and a halved onion, over “low” heat until tender and opaque, about 6 hours. You can also do this in a large pan on the stove top.

    Not Pretty, But It Eats Good….

    veggies and tempeh

    In the midst of my low carb related Festival of Whining, it occurred to me that I had an ace in the hole. A few years ago, my neighbor (and friend) Melissa casually passed on a recipe for a Thai-esque peanut sauce. She recommended it as a dip for veggies, but I had also used it as a sauce for stir-fries and to dress up plain pieces of meat.  now realize that what she gave me was the key to my low-carb dreams.

    Today for lunch, I cut up an assortment of vegetables from the Farmers Market, a chunk of tempeh, and stir fried it all. I added a glorious glop of Melissa’s Peanut Sauce, and it was wonderful. The sauce, with a substitution of sweetener for sugar, is extremely diabetic-friendly, and this mixture was so delicious that I didn’t even miss the rice. It’s not particularly photogenic, but then neither is ratatouille, another hideously delicious dish.

    I stir-fried a handful of trimmed green beans, a baby eggplant, half a zucchini, a sliced onion and two cloves of garlic. If you have different vegetables on hand, or hate any of those mentioned, use different vegetables; if you hate tempeh, use tofu or chicken…or go vegetarian. Stir fry whatever you choose in about a tablespoon of olive oil and top with enough Peanut Sauce to coat. This is a great way to get most, if not all of your vegetable servings (along with a healthy serving of protein) in in a most un-plain, un-punitive manner.

    Melissa’s Peanut Sauce

    (I always double the recipe and make it in a food processor so I don’t have to cut up the ginger or the garlic).

    1. 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (smooth works too; its just a thinner sauce)

    2. 2 tablespoons soy sauce

    3. 1 teaspoon white sugar (I use a packet of Equal)

    4. 2 drops hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco or Frank’s)

    5. 1 clove garlic, minced

    6. 1 inch (app.) fresh ginger, peeled and minced

    7. 1/2 cup water

    Lest You Should Imagine…

    DSCF3050…that I am enjoying all of this healthy, low-carb eating we’ve been doing, I have to confess: sometimes I feel that I am powerless in the presence of a bagel. A number of kind, well-intentioned people have mentioned that they “could never give up rice and pasta,” or that they “tried a low carb diet but couldn’t stick to it.” The thing is, either we stick to our regimen of very low carb consumption and daily exercise, or we get accustomed to giving and receiving injections of insulin. We may have to embrace the needle when we are too decrepit to exercise and burn off sufficient glucose, but for now the diet and exercise method is vastly more appealing.

    That being said, sometimes, it’s just a super-colossal drag. I made a beautiful risotto tonight for my parents – creamy rice, shrimp, freshly shelled peas – and I felt guilty about tasting a grain or two of the rice to make sure it was properly cooked. Rob came into the kitchen, looked at it, and said (pathetically) “that’s not for us, is it?”

    There is s sameness to our meals; a lean protein, a half a plate of vegetable matter, and a hint of carbs in the form of a fruit or a whole grain. I can arrange these items as meat in a bun with veggies, a meat and vegetable kabob with some brown rice, or even a chicken salad with a piece of melon. Vast numbers of items from my repertoire are gone: casseroles, curries, lasagnas, macaroni and cheese, scalloped potatoes, home baked breads. I have been whining about this in posts for days now, and I’m sure you all wish I would move on, but

    I’m

    not

    done.

    I have no trouble with personal discipline, and I will be able to do this for the rest of my life. So will Rob, I’m pretty sure. I have not once, in two months, gotten up in the night and eaten all of the Ritz crackers we have in the house for Sam, or eaten at a restaurant and ordered the fruit salad with a large muffin. If one of us was lactose intolerant, or had celiac disease, or even an ulcer we would have to change our diet, and millions of people do. I just have an unrealistic and somewhat egocentric notion that none of those people loved cooking like I do, and therefore none of them feel the despondency I sometimes feel at 5:00 in the afternoon when I am preparing yet another hunk of marinated meat, a salad, a second vegetable, and a teeny, tiny pile of nourishing whole grains.

    My prayer to the universe is this: let me keep finding wonderful things to do with the fresh vegetables of summer, let me find recipes for things Italian, Indian, Chinese and Thai that we can eat, let me survive the Michigan winter when there is nothing fresh and local, and let me stop whining about this and move forward.

    But if I find out I have six weeks to live, I’m eating French bread, gelato, pasta and Mike & Ikes all day, every day until I am placed in my chocolate-lined coffin.

    Side Benefits

    Quick CapreseWhen carb counting is an issue because one is keeping blood sugar in a healthy range, a lot of cuisine options become fraught with peril. A whole, magnificent world of pasta becomes a thing of the past, as do Asian noodle dishes, and dishes customarily served with rice, like curries and stir-fries. A modest portion of rice or noodles is an option, but the psychological reality is that when you are already a bit bedeviled by having restrictions on your diet, it’s often necessary to have the feeling that you are “allowed” to eat hearty portions of something. The half-cup portion of rice or pasta that fits our diet just doesn’t fit the “abundance” profile. Once every couple of weeks we splurge on some Thai or Indian, but most of the time it’s a hunk o’ protein, a modest portion of carbs, and the star of our show: the side dish.

    Tonight we had Italian sausages in whole grain buns, with my “Easy Caprese” salad on the side. The buns have only 21 grams of carbohydrate, and the cup of cherry tomatoes in a serving of the salad add only 5 carbs, so we can eat what feels like a very filling meal for fewer than our 30 carb limit. The “Easy Caprese” really is the easiest thing in the world: slice a cup of cherry tomatoes per person in half, and mix with a purchased 12 ounce package of marinated mozarella balls. Use the marinade in the package as a dressing. I serve it with a slotted spoon so that most of the oil drains out; you could also drain most of it from the package before mixing. It’s fresh, it’s delicious, it uses the tomatoes that are just coming into season, and it takes all of 5 minutes if you’re a skilled slicer of tomatoes. Do not underestimate the seductive charms of silky little balls of cheese balanced against the firm sweetness of ripe tomatoes and the tang of oregano and basil.

    Cheesy Zucchini BakeAnother side that tastes decadent but fits our “rules” is a Cheesy Squash Bake. It’s the closest I get, these days, to my beloved macaroni and cheese, and it’s a good and healthy way to use some of the gross ton of zucchini that seems to appear around this time every year. I have doubled the cheese because it is low-liability for us and makes the dish really luxurious; if you are concerned about calories as well as carbs, you are welcome to use only half a cup.

    Cheesy Squash Bake

    (adapted from Diabetic Living’s “Our Best Diabetic Recipes”)

    6 1/2 cup servings

    7 net carbs per serving

    1. 1 pound yellow summer squash and/or zucchini, sliced
    2. 1/2 cup chopped onion
    3. 1 tablespoon reduced-fat margarine (I use real butter)
    4. 1 tablespoon flour
    5. 1 cup reduced-fat cheddar cheese
    6. 1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. in a large saucepan, cook squash and onion in a small amount of boiling water 8-10 minutes or until tender; drain.

    2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt margarine r butter over medium heat. Stir in flour. Add milk all at once; cook and stir until mixture is thickened and bubbbly. Remove from heat. Add shredded cheese, and a pinch each of salt and pepper; stir until cheese is melted. Add the drained squash mixture; toss gently to coat the vegetable mixture.

    3. Coat a 1 to 1 1/2 quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon the squash mixture into the prepared dish, Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake 15 minutes or until top is golden.

    One Potato, Two Potatoes, THAT’S ENOUGH POTATOES!!!!

    Low Carb Potato Salad 2So I’ve got the hang of this carb-counting stuff; we don’t eat more than 30 grams of carbs at a meal, and often we eat less than that. The carbs we eat have to be (in my opinion as a poseur dietitian) “good” carbs, a category which includes whole grain bread, brown rice, qinoa, fruit, sweet potatoes etc.. We eschew white bread, white rice, pasta, and all cookie, chip-py, cake-y, kind of stuff. Oh, and fried things.

    There is a problem with potatoes, though. I miss them terribly. I have had good results with making ersatz mashed potatoes from cauliflower, we can eat a very small baked potato, and french fries are just…gone from our consciousness, but potato salad is tough to foresake. I believe it to be an essential part of summer, along with fireflies, (sugar free) lemonade and days by the pool, but it is made out of, well, potatoes. They aren’t evil, mind you, just really high in carbohydrates.

    When I found a diabetic-friendly recipe for potato salad, I was skeptical. Was it really made from potato-like chunks of extra-firm tofu, or cleverly disguised bits of Daikon radish, or was it some miserable slop involving two potatoes stretched to make twelve servings with a gallon of “lite” mayo and 6 diced red peppers? That’s the real question in considering any “dietetic ” recipe: is it just really good food that you’d eat anyway, or is it bizarre and punitive?

    The answer, with this recipe anyway, is that it’s delicious. It is good enough that you could take it as a “dish to pass” at a picnic, have some yourself, and never have to say one tedious word about how low-carb it is. (No one ever suspects potatoes of fitting into that category). A half cup serving is 178 calories, with 17 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fiber for a total of 14 net carbs. That’s a tidy “one carb” serving that seems to make your plate glow with the approbation of the kitchen gods. It’s a great addition to a piece of lean, grilled meat and steamed or grilled vegetables. We have also discovered that this keeps really well in the refrigerator for a few days, so if 12 servings seems mind-boggling for your household, consider the fact that this could reappear a couple of days later with a different supporting cast.

    What is summer like without potato salad? We will never need to know.

    Creamy Potato Salad

    (adapted from Diabetic Living’s “Best Diabetic Recipes”)

    Makes 12 1/2 cup servings.

    Ingredients

    1. 2 1/2 pounds red potatoes (leave the skins on; there’s fiber in there!)
    2. 1 cup low-fat mayonnaise
    3. 8 ounces light sour cream
    4. 2 tablespoons fat free milk
    5. 1 teaspoon seasoned pepper
    6. 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
    7. 3/4 cup sliced green onions
    8. 1/2 cup cubed, reduced-fat cheddar cheese
    9. 4 slices bacon or turkey bacon crisp-cooked and crumbled
    10. 1 medium avocado

    1. Cut potatoes into bite sized pieces, cook in boiling water for 15-20 minutes or just until tender. Drain and cool. [Note: the original recipe has you boil them whole and then cut them up, but I find it quicker to cut them before cooking, and they cook faster that way].

    2. In a very large bowl, stir together mayonnaise, sour cream, milk seasoned pepper and a pinch of salt. Gently stir in potatoes, eggs, green onions, and cheese. Cover and chill 2-24 hours. (If salad seems dry after chilling, add 1-2 tablespoons additional milk).

    3. To serve, seed, peel and chop avocado, and stir into salad. Sprinkle crumbled bacon over the top.

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