November 2011 Archives

Let's be honest...the Thanksgiving feast doesn't just last one day -- it marks the beginning of a free-for-all eating season that lasts through New Year's. A time when we celebrate less, not more, structure in our food lives. However, the holiday food fest doesn't have to derail any work you've done feeding your family healthier meals.

As The Sneaky Chef, I’m known for hiding healthy foods in everyone’s favorite meals – and one of my key “methods of disguise” is simply adding pureed vegetables to traditional comfort foods. Research now validates this method as a way to cut calories and increase vegetable intake for kids and adults alike. In a recent study, researchers at Penn State found that by “adding puréed vegetables to favorite foods, children consumed nearly twice as many vegetables and 11 percent fewer calories over the course of a day.”

Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest cutting out pumpkin pie or not serving creamy mashed potatoes. But I am going to suggest making small alterations to your already loved and anticipated Thanksgiving recipes. Even the most traditional dishes offer lots of great hiding places for us Sneaky Chefs to slip in the good stuff, cut calories, and enhance nutrition and flavor.
So who says we can't have our pumpkin pie and eat it too? Just follow some of my simple tips and sneaky swaps below!

Sneaky Roasted Squash and Apple Soup:
Everyone loves a hearty autumn soup as a first course, so don't leave out this family favorite! But do leave out the heavy cream as the added fat calories just get in the way of your delicious delight. Use evaporated skim milk instead, and add some carrot or white bean puree to thicken this creamy soup.

Sneaky Gravy:
No Thanksgiving meal is complete without gravy, but it can load on the fat calories. In my sneaky gravy, I use pureed lentils and less pan drippings to cut the fat in traditional gravy by a whopping 72%, while adding a depth of hearty flavor as well as a great dose of fiber and nutrition. To further thicken gravy, substitute whole grain pastry flour for white flour – the whole grain pastry flour retains the fiber and nutrients of regular whole grain flour, but has a much lighter texture so works magically in soups, stews, or your baked goods. You can find whole grain pastry flour at Whole Foods Market or Amazon.

Sneaky Mashed Potatoes:
One of my favorite tricks for reducing fat in almost any dish is to add a “flavor decoy” – this is a burst of bold flavor that you know people love – make roasted garlic, parmesan cheese, chives, or even real bacon bits the hero of your mashed potatoes, so you can use less butter and heavy cream.

I also substitute low-fat plain Greek yogurt for the heavy cream and use extra virgin olive oil in place of some of the butter - it's delicious and so much better for you! For an added boost of nutrients, I include pureed cauliflower, which also provides a beautiful taste and texture.

A special treat for the kids: Sneaky Temples

As we’re often blessed to be surrounded by children at our table, let's try to make them happy without causing a sugar rush that can interfere with the tranquility of this holiday! If your kids are anything like mine, they will love and appreciate anything special you make for them. But instead of providing a common Shirley Temple filed with color dyes and sugars, why not make them a Sneaky Temple? Merely swap ginger ale (which is high in sugars) for plain seltzer and swap out the grenadine (made with food dye) for real pomegranate juice! For extra pizzazz, place a real cherry or strawberry in each glass, and let them enjoy this fun mocktail.

Finally, Yummy Sneaky Pumpkin Pie:
If you’re not starting with fresh pumpkin (and not many of us are), one big trick here is to always use 100% pure canned pumpkin, as opposed to canned Pumpkin Pie Mix, which is filled with unnecessary sugars. You can, however, save time and money by using a pumpkin pie spice blend (which combines cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg) to add the traditional flavor to your pumpkin can. Another trick is to substitute vanilla low-fat yogurt for sweetened condensed milk (which has tons of sugars and even corn syrup) and/or blend in some tofu or carrot/sweet potato puree with the pumpkin for a great texture and boost of nutrients. Follow you own recipe and eat to your heart's content with no guilt!

Here’s to a healthy, happy Thanksgiving, and remember to “Treat your family like friends and your friends like family.” – Anonymous

Chicken Soup with Veggie Patch Broccoli Cheese Croutons

The leaves are falling and the weather is getting colder and colder and colder! That can only mean one thing...fall is here to stay! I actually adore the fall because two of my favorite things occur doing this time: the chance to light up the fireplace, and the opportunity to eat delicious comfort foods!

On the downside it seems that the fall brings on sniffles, chills and runny noses. Luckily though, it seems that one of the remedies for the cold or flu is yummy, comforting chicken soup! The steam of the soup works to open the air passages and thus making it easier to breathe. Plus, it seems the one thing that actually tastes enticing when your nose hurts, your eyes are watery and your bones ache.

The truth is, I actually love chicken soup any time of the year, for any occasion. That is why I have spent a lot of time perfecting my chicken soup recipes and trying to make them even healthier and more nutritious (note the sneaky inclusion of my White Bean Puree). Now that we are in the pre-Thanksgiving madness season, chicken soup is the ultimate comfort food to enjoy! I tend to want to eat lighter and healthier the days leading up to the Thanksgiving feast (and leftovers) so that I can overindulge without guilt or restrictions! And this recipe does the trick! It provides the steamy tastefulness of the soup with the added crunch of delicious and nutritious Veggie Patch Broccoli Bites with Cheese!

So enjoy in good health or in sniffles!

Chicken Noodle Soup with Veggie Patch Broccoli Cheese Croutons

Makes about 4 servings
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium
1/4 cup White Bean Puree (See Make Ahead Recipe below)
1/4 cup dry egg noodles or macaroni
1 cup diced, cooked chicken meat
1/4 cup evaporated low-fat milk
1 cup total diced celery, carrots and/or parsnips
1 box Veggie Patch Broccoli Bites with Cheese
Salt to taste

Cook Broccoli Bites with Cheese according to package directions. Set aside. Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and stir constantly for a minute with a wooden spoon. Pour in the broth and mix in the White Bean Puree, dry pasta, and diced vegetables of choice. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the pasta and vegetables are soft. Stir in the cooked chicken and the evaporated milk, mixing for a minute. Cut Broccoli Bites with Cheese in half. Ladle soup into serving bowls, top with Broccoli Bites with Cheese, and serve. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Sneaky Chef Make-Ahead Recipe: White Bean Puree

1 (15-ounce) can white beans*(Great Northern, navy, butter, or cannellini)
1 to 2 tablespoons water

*If you prefer to use dried beans, soak overnight and cook as directed

Makes about 1 cup

Rinse and drain the beans and place them in the bowl of your food processor. Add 1 tablespoon of the water, then pulse on high until you have a smooth puree. If necessary, use a little more water, a tiny bit at a time, until the mixture smoothes out and no pieces or full beans are visible.
White Bean Puree will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or you can freeze 1⁄4-cup portions in sealed plastic bags or small plastic containers, and store for 3 months.


Would You Act Differently if Your Kids Were Secretly Videotaping You?

The recent youtube post by Hillary Adams, the daughter of Texas Judge William Adams, showing her father beating the then 16-yr old girl with his belt, is disturbing beyond words. According to a description of the video, the judge “took a belt to his own teenage daughter as punishment for using the internet to acquire music and games that were unavailable for legal purchase at the time. She has had ataxic cerebral palsy from birth that led her to a passion for technology.”

As a mom, I’ll tell you right up front that I don’t believe in hitting/spanking/smacking or any other form of physical punishment for children, and what this guy did to his daughter was way over the line, no matter what parenting camp you live in. Not to mention the fact that she has Cerebral Palsy, or the fact that this monster is a prominent judge in a position to affect other children’s well-being. In my opinion, this video of his home life has definite bearing on his character to stand as a public official, but that is not my role or business to address. Hopefully the proper authorities will take into consideration society’s (and my) outrage on such matters and place the appropriate consequences on this "parent.”

That said, it made me think about whether I would do things differently in my everyday life as a mother if I knew a video camera were rolling onto the internet for all to see and judge. Vanity aside (I’d probably put on a bit of concealer and lip gloss before serving breakfast), I don’t think I’d make major changes to how I parent my daughters. I’m no saint as a mom, wife, sister, or any other role in my life. I’m not always proud of every reaction or lack of patience or retort that I blurt out without the benefit of the “filter” between my brain and my mouth that I should be using more often. There are lots of times that make me cringe as I think back on how I mishandled situations, screamed like a raving lunatic, or used the dreaded “you are” phrase before some pretty harsh character-assassinating adjectives. I would like to redo those ugly parenting moments.

Thinking back, I wouldn't look my proudest on camera when the kids were younger and I had to plop them in front of the television (aka substitute babysitter) while I hurried a deadline or scrambled to get work done from home. Maybe yelling at the kids not to yell was not my best self and wouldn't go over too well on the small screen, nor would screaming at them to eat their veggies, in direct contrast to my philosophy as The Sneaky Chef. But overall, I am proud to be a person of integrity, and I live by my word.

It’s a good question to ask ourselves as parents – it’s a good exercise to imagine yourself being videotaped, and to ask yourself whether you’d make any real changes to your style.

It seems that parents are getting caught on camera left and right doing horrific acts towards their children (e.g., hot sauce mom and Botox mom). And since, in many cases, this seems to be only way to expose the acts and the people who seem to think this behavior is okay, I say let the cameras roll! Although the majority of us care for our children immensely and would go to great lengths to make sure they are safe and well and happy, we are only human. The little imperfection in our patenting skills can only be excused if we take a chance to periodically examine what and how we do things. So it seems like a great opportunity to take a look our exposed life and make sure we are happily on track.

Because, in the end, “it’s what we do when nobody’s looking that makes us champions.” And, thank goodness, most of us would pass with flying colors!

Quick Links



The Sneaky Chef is available at fine booksellers everywhere: