Recently, I had an annual doctor’s visit. Everything seemed to be going smoothly as Dr. Linda Peel listened, poked, and prodded. She asked me a few questions and I thought we were finished until she handed me a prescription for… Weight Watchers!
“You need to take off a few pounds,” she explained. “Once you get 10% over a healthy weight, problems start to arise. Maybe it’s just your knees or your joints but things can get out of hand.”
As horrified as I was with this news, I had to agree: 10 pounds (or so) ago, I was more energetic and not feeling the aches and pains. The doctor’s advice came right on the heels of reading Michael Pollan’s book: In Defense of Food with the subtitle: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. This latest book carries continues the message of his earlier books but is more focused on what we Americans tend to eat and how it’s affecting us.
One question Dr. Peel asked me was this: “How would you describe your diet?” Without hesitation, I answered, “Superb.” As an enthusiastic home cook who eschews fast and processed foods, I felt more than confident. Gently, she suggested that as wonderful as my meals might be, I might be better off eating a bit less. Which is just what Michael Pollan says and what most of my French neighbors practice on a daily basis.
From all the disturbing news of obesity in the United States, it is easy to place blame at the doorstep of the processed food industry and the fast food vendors. But those of us who eat ‘well’ can eat too much and cutting back on portions of meat, fat, sweets, and starches is a sensible start. There is also the French way: three meals a day, no seconds, and no snacking. This might sound tough but the French don’t seem deprived to me.
I signed up for Weight Watchers online and so far, it’s okay. I can’t pretend I’m thrilled but I am becoming more aware of what I buy and what I cook. I’m buying more produce and fruit and less meat, fish, and dairy but all of good quality and I’m saving some money. The downfalls come with entertaining: I don’t want to put everyone on a diet! And yet, using fresh ingredients and taking the time to cook a meal is a good and generous thing. A well-balanced menu ought to be both delicious and digestible and guests can decide for themselves how much to eat.
I’ve always hated measuring and weighing (except for baking) and again, it’s a ‘confidence’ thing. I gaily toss in the salt, go glug, glug, glug with the olive oil and cream and care mostly about how the dish turns out. To restrain myself, I’ve installed one of those pourers on my olive oil bottle, which causes the oil to flow more as a thread than a gush. I keep my butter in the freezer (this is always a good idea if you want to keep it fresh) and have stopped putting cream on my weekly list.
All of us know our own particular weaknesses and mine tend to cluster around salt, fats, and wine. So far, the awareness is helping. That and some friends I can moan to who are going through the same thing!
Here are some daily recipes that seem to fit my own regime change, so to speak. Spring vegetables are still a few weeks away so I’m still buying greens, leeks, cabbages, and root vegetables. Wish me luck and write with your favorites!
Fast! The Tofu and Heart of Palm Lunch
Okay, this is not for everyone: the uni-color meal. But if I like something, I’ll eat it. Knowing that, I’m looking for things for lunch that are hard-core low calorie. Ta Dah! The above ‘meal’. I add soy sauce or hot sauce to the tofu (which I cut in chunks), eat the heart of palm with my fingers, and have cherry tomatoes on the side (dash of color!). And half a banana.
If you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, they sell hearts of palm at a reasonable price and they’re organic so you can feel a little better about the Brazilian jungles. For the slim yet robust members of your family (i.e. children), this is a great snack and really much, much better than string cheese. Same goes for tofu – maybe your 4 year old will rebel but toddlers love it!
The Green Lunch
My friend Katy makes a green mélange on Sunday afternoons and eats it for lunch for a few days running.
“I can’t eat just greens. I have to add other things.”
First, she takes a bunch of greens such as chard, collards, or kale and steams them whole. When they are just cooked, she chops them finely. Then, she chops up an onion and 2 or 3 cloves garlic and sautés them in a little olive oil. To this, she adds a sliced or chopped Portobello mushroom and cooks that a few minutes before adding the greens, salt, and pepper. Depending on her mood, she might also add tamari, hot sauce, or herbs. She cools down this mixture and then has it for lunch with an egg or rolled up in a whole wheat tortilla or as is with a splash of vinegar.
Dinner rolls around… my favorite meal so I’m looking for something tasty. And comforting. I recommend the following:
Turkey Tenderloin Two Ways
Crispy Mustard Potatoes
Endive and Spinach Salad
Sliced Pineapple and a meringue cookie
Spicy Turkey Tenderloin
Turkey tenderloins are easy to roast. They generally come two to a package, weighing a bit over a pound. Just cover with salt, pepper, chile powder, cumin, dried herbs, or a commercial mixture that you like. Be sure to cover the meat completely. This will help to seal it up. Now roast it in a 350 oven, covered with foil, for about 30 minutes or until the center is no longer pink. Remove from the oven and let sit about 10 minutes before slicing. Can be made in advance and served room temperature or warmed up (briefly).
2 tenderloins yields 4 to 5 servings.
French Turkey à la Cocotte
Cooking in a ‘cocotte’, which is a covered dish, is a typical French method of cooking – especially in the home. The dish itself can be anything from a heavy enameled pot to a glass baking dish. The ingredients are place in the pot, covered, and baked. It is a perfect method for cooking lighter, smaller meals. French butchers sell very small roasts (4 ounces is one serving) and the cocotte method insures a moist result.
2 turkey tenderloins or a boneless turkey breast
2 or 3 sprigs of thyme
3 or 4 shallots
1 chicken bouillon cube (or 1 cup of homemade stock)
Put the turkey in a baking dish. Peel the shallots, cut into pieces, and scatter them around the turkey. Add the sprigs of thyme. Cover the pan with foil or use a baking pan that has a lid.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Add the bouillon cube diluted in a cup of hot water and sprinkle the turkey with salt. Continue to cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. For a two-pound turkey breast, adjust the timing: it will take about an hour to cook.
More Cocotte Thoughts
Layering your baking dish with a bed of chopped vegetables (spinach, zucchini, leeks, and red cabbage are a few possibilities) and topping it off with chicken breast or a piece of fish is another easy to cook “à la cocotte”. Season well and drizzle with a little olive oil and lemon juice, if you wish, and cover. Cook at moderate heat (350 to 375) and check after 20 minutes. Enjoy a savory little meal!
Crispy Mustard Potatoes
Here is a no-fat potato recipe that is scrumptious. This is from a recipe by Waldy Malouf in the New York Times. I’ve cut down the quantities a bit. Use Dijon mustard that is truly just mustard. Many prepared mustards have lots of other ingredients and tend to be sweet.
Makes 4 servings
2 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons olive oil
Pinch or two of dried thyme
Salt (coarse or sea salt) and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 and bake the potatoes about 40 minutes. They should be almost but not quite cooked. You want to be able to slice them later without falling apart.
Combine the mustard, oil, and seasonings. Turn up the oven to 500.
Cut each potato into 4 lengthwise wedges and coat each piece in the mustard mixture.
Place the potato wedges cut side down on a baking sheet.
Bake 10 minutes and carefully, turn the pieces to the other cut side and continue to bake for 10 minutes more. Because the baking sheet is ungreased, the potatoes will tend to stick so be sure to slide your spatula under the crust carefully. The pan will be a little crusty but the clean up is not bad at all.
Crispy Roots: A Variation
Katy weighs in with this one! Substitute parsnips and rutabagas for the potato and proceed with the above recipe. The initial baking time might vary depending on the size of the root vegetable but otherwise the recipe is the same.
Endive and Spinach Salad
The vinaigrette for this salad contains some juice, which cuts down on the olive oil.
2 – 3 cups fresh spinach, washed
3 tablespoons orange juice (about 1/2 orange)
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
Makes 4 servings
Cut the endives crosswise into chunks. Toss in a large bowl with the spinach. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a jar or small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Remove the garlic. Add this vinaigrette to the endive and spinach and toss.