Thursday, September 6, 2012

Soup Time! Part 4: Gazpacho

Summer in a bowl...add shrimp, sour cream, and cilantro to make it a meal.

We continue to be stuck in a pattern of hot, sticky weather, and we are still cooking very little and choosing lighter options for dinner. Jack recently spoke of the gazpacho recipe he enjoyed so much the last time I made it for him (he didn't rub it in that the last time I made it for him was over a year ago!). Gazpacho is not difficult to make, is eaten cold (perfect for this heat wave), can be made ahead (in fact, the flavors improve if you wait a day or two before serving), and is chock full of healthy vitamins and fiber. It makes a large amount of soup, and holds for at least a week in the fridge. If you add some grilled shrimp, a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of cilantro, and a side of crusty bread, you have a very satisfying summer meal.

I started with a highy-rated recipe from Ina Garten on the Food Network website (original recipe here). Ina Garten's recipes are typically solid performers; however, I usually need to modify them somewhat to reduce the fat content. I also made some other modifications: more cucumber and tomatoes, less red pepper and red onion. 

Modified from a recipe by Ina Garten 
Link to original recipe here

Servings: 8-10 generous portions
Fat Grams: Approximately 3 grams/serving

2 medium cucumbers, peeled, halved, and seeded
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded
6 large ripe tomatoes, seeded
1/2 red onion
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 C. tomato juice
1/4 C. white wine vinegar
2 T. olive oil
1/2 T. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
cilantro garnish (optional)
fat-free sour cream (optional)
grilled shrimp (optional)

1. Rough chop the cucumbers, red bell pepper, and red onion and place into a food processor. Pulse in very short bursts until uniformly minced. Watch carefully as the food processor can quickly turn this into a puree and you will lose the desired texture. Place this mixture into a very large bowl or other container.

2. Add the tomatoes to the food processor and use very short pulses to get an even minced texture. Again, watch carefully to prevent turning the tomatoes into a puree. Add the processed tomatoes to the other mixture and stir in the minced garlic.

3.  Add the tomato juice, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper to the mixture. Mix well and chill at least several hours before serving. Overnight is better, and even another day develops the flavor even more. 


4. Serve chilled soup in bowls with a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro, a dollop of sour cream, and shrimp.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jack's Faves - Part 3: (COOL options for hot summer days)

Whoooo-wee! It's hot!
Photo Credit: Muffet @
Like most of the country, we've been gripped by a heat wave here in Raleigh. It's been in the high 90's upwards to 100 degrees most days. And with the heat index, it can feel much hotter. I just have not been in the mood to cook, outdoors or indoors. I've been relying on salads, sandwiches, and when necessary, using the microwave or toaster oven to reduce the load on the central air conditioning unit.

So....I'm going to post some more of Jack's Faves here. These are products that we usually keep on hand that fit the Jack Sprat ultra-low fat requirements, are flavorful, convenient, and are a hit with guests. Today I have an appetizer idea, a breakfast option, and a dessert base.

1. Appetizer:  Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons (from Trader Joe's)
Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons with Sweet Chili Sauce
4 pieces with dip = .5g/fat

Wonton Filling
These are truly amazing, and only .5g of fat per 4-piece serving. You can cook them in a nonstick pan with fat-free pan spray, or you can drop them into some vegetable or chicken broth for a soup. With the current high temperatures and my lack of desire to cook, we've been microwaving them.

Awesome Sauce!
We serve them with Trader Joe's Sweet Chili Sauce, which adds 0g of fat.

Jack's artistic presentation of ONE wonton and
some sweet chili sauce swirls.
Come on now, Jack. REALLY? One?

2. Breakfast Option: Special K Multigrain Oats & Honey Cereal
Special K has other flavors that are very low in fat as well.
.5g/fat per 2/3-cup serving with skim milk.
With bacon and eggs pretty much out of the running as a breakfast option for a Jack Sprat lifestyle, Jack usually relies on cereal and fruit for breakfast most days. He found several flavors of Kellogg's Special K that are very low in fat and are pretty tasty, too. Cereal is easy, doesn't create any heat in the kitchen, and there's no wait time - it's ready when you are. 

3. Dessert Base: Angel Food Cake (store bought)
This is a wonderful base for so many low fat dessert options. We top slices of angel food cake with grilled peaches (see how to grill peaches in another posting on this blog) and a dollop of fat free/low fat whipped cream or ice cream. The grilling caramelizes the fruit and produces a taste sensation that is out of this world...and I'm not a big fruit lover. We've even grilled the angel food cake (not lately, though!) And, if it's too hot where you are, don't grill the peaches, just slice some fresh, ripe peaches. But, you won't catch me heating up the grill in this heat wave. Uh-uh!

Another COOL idea: try tossing some fresh strawberries and blueberries on the angel food cake slices and top them with a drizzle of fat-free chocolate syrup.

0g/fat - great on fat-free ice cream, drizzled on angel food cake,
or stirred into some skim milk

And here's an idea I pinned on my Low Fat Pinterest board, which are recipes/food ideas I'd like to try out at some point (or have already made): Strawberry and Angel Food Cake Kabobs drizzled with chocolate syrup. Looks like a fun idea!

Beat the heat any way you can, but at our house, it means this cook is off of stove, oven and grill duty for awhile!

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Year in Review - Top 5 Posts for Year One

It's been about a year now since I began this blog. My aim was to have a collection of recipes that would not only meet Jack's ultra-low fat gram requirements, but would also be considered flavorful by Jack, myself, and by anyone to whom it may be served. I find myself referring to this blog often for tried-and-true favorites, so I think I've succeeded in providing myself with a fairly good resource.

I also began this blog in hopes that it could be a resource for others who may need to limit their fat intake for one reason or another. It was my daughter who inspired me to undertake the work of keeping up a blog. I had been trying out different low fat recipes to fit Jack's new lifestyle requirements (post pancreatic surgery). She "enlightened" my understanding, you might say, that Jack was far from the only person in the world who may need to follow a medically prescribed ultra-low fat lifestyle, or who may simply wish to cut their overall fat intake. She was pretty sure there might be one or two other people out there that would appreciate a resource like this. I guess she was correct in that assumption, as this blog has been visited far more than I ever thought it would be!   

We are currently experiencing a major heat wave, as is much of the country, and it's just been too hot to cook (inside or out). I'm taking the opportunity that this cooking lull provides to review some stats, see what has been popular, and decide future postings. 

In going over the statistics, there were five postings that were visited far more than all the rest. They are listed below for your reference, with links to the postings. 

1. Grilled Pineapple With Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce (this posting was #1 overall, and is another great summer dessert) 

2. Tuscan Pork Roast (a great way to use one of those 4-packs of pork sirloin roasts from Costco)

3. A Kale Tale: Kale Chip Recipe Produces Yet Another Kale Convert (Kale is a superfood!)

4. Fat Free Sweet Potato "Fries" (Sweet potatoes are another superfood!)

5. Jack's Faves (Part 1)

Jack and I have our personal favorites from the past year, too! We found it difficult to pick just five, but here they are, in no particular order:

1. A Low Country Boil - Now This is Good Eating!

2. Cumin-Spiced Fish Tacos With Avocado-Mango Salsa

3. Grilled Corn-on-the-Cob With Lime and Smoked Paprika

4. Shrimp Pad Thai

5. Gingersnap Sweet Potatoes

I think I just noticed a pattern...three out of the five we've chosen involve seafood! We do enjoy shrimp, and some of the milder fishes like cod and tilapia. We also enjoy the "fresh" flavors that these dishes provide, whether derived from fresh herbs, piquant spices, or from the use of in-season (at their prime) fruits and vegetables. 

I was fortunate enough to attend a half-day cooking class in Florence, Italy, several years back, and the one thing I took away from it was this...use high quality ingredients, and prepare them simply. That's it. I love Italian food because of that cooking philosophy and the delicious food it produces, but it often involves a good deal of olive oil and cheese, two things that don't fit a Jack Sprat lifestyle. Needless to say, I'm not cooking a great deal of Italian food anymore; however, I think the philosophy can still be applied to some degree in any kitchen, cooking any cuisine. You will always taste the difference that the fresher, higher-quality ingredients impart to your recipes. I try to follow that philosophy as much as possible, to the point where I began a small kitchen garden for growing herbs, some lettuce and some heirloom tomatoes. I'm still on a learning curve in that area, but I'm not giving up, because the flavor of just-picked herbs and tomatoes can't be beat.

Some of the recipes from these two lists have been cooked numerous times in our house. Pick one to try out for yourself some time soon. In the meantime, we'll be trying to stay cool, and thinking about new recipes for this blog.
Photo Credit: sarah.lauderdale
Flickr Link

Friday, June 29, 2012

DIY Ultra-Low Fat Tortilla Chips

This is a repost with some changes (originally posted in August of 2011). I've made so many of these chips that I've simplified the procedure a bit and changed the directions. I've also got a seasoning mix recipe nailed down now, which I'm also sharing.
Cumin/Cayenne Pepper Spiced Tortilla Chips & Tomato Salsa
1.4 g fat per serving (16 chips)
I found Jack in the kitchen using a pizza cutter to divide up some flour tortillas we had left over from taco night.  He was dividing them into eighths and then cooking them in the toaster oven for a few minutes until slightly browned.  Hmm...  After they came out of the oven I had to taste one. Why, these were actually pretty good!  There is a running joke in this household about the dangers of Chef Jack creating in the kitchen. As a kid he would create mayonnaise and peanut butter sandwiches.  As an adult, Jack is still creative in the kitchen.  He'll put hot sauces or chipotle powder on just about anything he's cooking, sometimes with disastrous results.  He's pretty adventurous and will try anything at least once. We've all advised him not to open a restaurant. :-}  

We don't purchase tortilla chips because of their high fat grams. But at .7 grams of fat per tortilla, this was doable:  only 1.4 total fat grams for 16 chips when served with regular tomato salsa, which generally has 0 grams of fat (be sure to read nutrition labels on salsa jars to be sure). Jack seemed to be onto something here.  This was a tasty, much healthier version of store-bought tortilla chips, which are generally fried.  It's a great way to use up leftover tortillas, and it's less expensive than store-bought chips. I decided to try it out for myself.  The basic procedure for making them is given below.  My cooking notes and other observations follow.
.7 grams of fat per tortilla - read nutrition labels carefully
as some tortillas can have anywhere from 3-5 grams each

  • flour or corn tortillas, small fajita size (2 tortillas will make 16 chips - use as many you need)
  • nonstick cooking spray
  • prepared seasoning mix (see recipe below - other suggestions for seasonings in cooking notes)

Recipe for Seasoning Mix:
6 T. fine salt 
4 tsp. chili powder
4 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper 

NOTE: This makes quite a bit of seasoning mix. You could easily divide the ingredients in half to make a smaller amount, and then tweak the season-ings to your taste the next time you make more seasoning mix. I usually store the seasoning mix in a shaker container that has smaller holes so that not too much comes out at a time. I like to make a larger amount so it lasts awhile, and then I'm not constantly having to make more spice mix.

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. (You make smaller batches in a toaster oven. Heats up the kitchen less in summer and keeps you from eating more than you should.)

2. Spread out 4 tortillas (enough for two people) and spray the tops with nonstick cooking spray.  This will create a bond for the seasonings. ***Update 6/29/2012: I now use 8 tortillas, and just place one tortilla on top of the other, spraying and seasoning the top of each one as I go, creating a stack of seasoned tortillas, and ready for Step #4. I make these at least once each week, and they keep well. (See My Cooking Notes for how I store them, and tips for freshening them up if they need it.)

3. Sprinkle the seasonings over the tortillas.  I would advise sprinkling sparingly the first time around and then adjust the next time you make them.  

4. Stack the tortillas and use a pizza wheel or knife to cut them into 8 wedges.

The pizza wheel cutter makes it quick and easy.

5. Spread the wedges out on a large baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, watching them closely the last few minutes.  (If using a toaster oven, they should finish in about half that time.) NOTE: These can go from browned to burnt in very little time, especially in a toaster oven! The chips are done when the edges begin to brown up a bit. Watch them closely, or you'll end with a batch of burnt chips...very frustrating, I know from experience! 

6. Remove them from the pan and place on a cooling rack.They will crisp up some more as they cool.
One serving = 16 chips (2 small fajita-sized flour tortillas)
Fat Grams = 1.4 (.7 grams per tortilla)

My Cooking Notes

You can make the chips with a variety of tortillas and seasonings.  Try whole wheat tortillas for even more nutritional value.  You could also try pita bread, but check the fat grams. Try seasoning salt, paprika, chipotle powder, garlic powder, sprinkle with a spritz of lime juice and salt or cumin, or sweeten them up with some cinnamon and sugar. I actually prefer them just plain, no salt, and that makes them lower in sodium. I don't even use the nonstick spray on them, and I like them that way. Store the chips in an airtight container.  You can freshen up the leftover chips, if needed, by placing them in the toaster oven for a minute or two.

We used an empty cereal box liner and a bag clip.  

As I finish up this posting, Jack is telling me about his next tortilla chip creation. He bought some hot sauce during a recent visit to the Cleveland, Ohio West Side Market. The sauce is called, "This Sauce Tastes Like Sh_ _! (fill in the blanks - clue: the last letter is t).  He says he's going to spread it over the tops of the tortillas when he makes another batch of chips.  Do we have any investors out there interested in helping Jack open up a new restaurant? :-)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Dessert #2: Mocha Gelato - Delicioso!

Do you have an ice cream maker? 

Cuisinart 2 Quart Ice Cream-Frozen Yogurt & Sorbet Maker
No rock salt, no ice, and no hand churning necessary!

Tell the truth now...has it been sitting around in the pantry or hiding out somewhere in your cupboard not getting used? Or did you sell it on Craigslist or give it away? I bought one a couple of years ago, hoping to create great-tasting low fat ice cream, and trying to avoid the fillers and additives found in so many store bought ice creams. Mine hasn't been out of the pantry for awhile because I just couldn't find a recipe that was low fat, yet flavorful. I decided to try again, and I found a great recipe that combines two of our favorite flavors: chocolate and coffee - Mocha Gelato.

Mocha Gelato - delicioso!
This is two, 1/4-cup scoops in a small dish, melting quickly.
Gelato is softer than traditional ice cream, which means it melts faster, too! 

Jack and I had our first taste of gelato in Italy. One bite and we were in love! Gelato is an Italian frozen dessert which is denser, and has more intense flavor, than traditional ice cream. It's typically softer in texture, much like soft-serve ice cream. Many gelato recipes use egg yolks as a thickening agent; however, this recipe uses cornstarch, which reduces fat grams. Take out the coffee and chocolate and you have a wonderful a base recipe for a multitude of flavor options...peach, strawberry, etc.

I've made this recipe multiple times and in different ways, and we've enjoyed them all. To make it possible to enjoy the gelato more than once before having to make another batch, I worked out the recipe to make about eight 1/2-cup servings. One-half cup doesn't seem like much by most American's standards, but this gelato is so rich in flavor, you won't need any more than that. I tried using Dutch-process cocoa powder, but ended up preferring regular Hershey's cocoa powder (less expensive, too). "Fine quality" bittersweet chocolate was recommended. I had Ghiardelli on hand, and that's what I used. You could spend more on other upscale brands, but we were pleased with the results we obtained with the Ghiardelli.

Our favorite version of this recipe was made using a combination of 2% milk and low fat half-and-half. You could use 1% or skim in place of the 2% and/or the low fat half-and-half (and reduce the fat gram count a bit), or you could use almond milk for a vegan version. We liked the richer flavor the low fat half-and-half offered, but since it was higher in fat, limited the amount used.

So...find your ice cream maker (or borrow one) to try out this recipe. Then the second time around ( will be making it again!) tweak it to your liking...more coffee, more cinnamon, etc. Jack was talking about coming up with his own version... something about adding sriracha sauce?!!!! Uh...not too sure about that one, Jack!

Mocha Gelato
Adapted from Mocha Chip Gelato (Gourmet Magazine) 

Serves: approximately 8 (1/2 cup servings)
Fat Grams: approximately 6 grams per 1/2 cup serving (without almonds - add another gram or 2 for a light sprinkling of toasted almonds)

*2 c. 2% milk, divided
*1-1/4 c. low fat half & half
*2-1/2 T. cornstarch
*1/2 c. sugar
4 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
*pinch of salt
1 T. instant espresso (or 2 T. instant coffee granules)
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
*2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 oz. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 
2 T. sliced almonds, toasted and cooled (optional)

*Ingredients for a vanilla gelato, which can form the base for a multitude of flavor variations.

NOTE: Make sure you read the important tips in my Cooking Notes following the recipe. These tips are the results of my trial and error process, and will help you achieve optimum results.

1. Whisk together 1/2 cup of the 2% milk and cornstarch in a small bowl to make a slurry for thickening the mixture later. Make sure there are no lumps. 

2. Fill a large bowl with ice and add water until the ice begins to float. Set it in your sink. This will be used to cool the cooked mixture before placing it in the ice cream maker for churning.

3. In a small heavy saucepan over moderate heat, combine sugar, cocoa powder, salt, remaining 1-1/2 cups 2% milk, and all of the low fat half & half with a whisk. Heat until the milk begins to steam, stirring frequently. Whisk in coffee granules and the cinnamon (if using).

4. Stir the cornstarch mixture again and whisk it into the heated sugar/milk mixture in the pan. Cook the mixture while stirring constantly, until it starts to thicken and barely comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and stir until thick (about 3-5 minutes, or until when you coat the back of a spoon and drag your finger along from top to bottom, the mixture remains clear of this path).

5. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Add the chopped chocolate to the saucepan, stirring to melt.

6. Set the saucepan in the prepared ice water bowl to cool, whisking frequently to prevent a skin from forming on top, until mixture cools (about 15-20 minutes).

7. Place cooled mixture in your ice cream maker's freezer bowl, then put the bowl into the machine and run for about 15-20 minutes (or follow your ice cream maker's directions). Serve gelato with toasted sliced almonds (optional). 

Note: Honestly, this gelato is best eaten the same day it's made, but you can freeze any remaining gelato in an airtight container with a layer of plastic wrap on the surface to prevent ice crystals from forming. Before serving, allow the gelato to sit at room temperature a little while (10-20 minutes) to soften it up a bit, and stir before serving to obtain a soft serve consistency.

My Cooking Notes

Important tips for best results: 
1. Freeze the bowl of your ice cream maker at least 24 hours beforehand. Any less and you won't get good results - your gelato will end up a great deal soupier in consistency than is desirable.
2. Don't pull the freezer bowl out of the freezer until you're ready to pour the mixture in and begin the churning process. The freezer bowl begins to thaw quickly.
3. Be careful not to scorch the mixture once the cornstarch slurry is added in Step #4. Make sure you stir constantly and reduce the heat once it starts to thicken; otherwise, you'll end up with a burnt taste in your gelato.
4. The mixture must be chilled in the ice bath (see Step #6) before placing it in the ice cream maker. Do not add warm mixture to the machine or you'll be very disappointed in the results.
5. I think this gelato is best when it is served the same day, and right out of the ice cream maker! Because the mixture is thickened already by the cornstarch, you may find that it reaches the desirable semi-frozen state much sooner than what the ice cream maker manufacturer states. Watch closely after about 15 minutes and stop the machine when it reaches a soft-serve consistency.

The base recipe is adaptable to whatever suits your fancy. I even added a small amount (1 tsp.) of ancho chile powder and some ground chipotle powder (1/4 tsp.) to the mixture, and then served it with fat-free chocolate sauce laced with cinnamon...very different, and I mean that in a good way! Now that peaches are in season, I'd like to try making the vanilla version of this gelato, add some grilled, chopped peaches and maybe top each serving with a cinnamon syrup...mmmmmm!

Some people purchase an extra freezer bowl for their machines so that they can make more ice cream without having to wait 24 hours for the gel inside the walls of the bowl to refreeze. You could do a batch of chocolate gelato and a batch of peach ice cream both on the same day!

Make Ahead Tip: After removing from the heat and cooling in the ice bath, place the mixture in a covered container (with a layer of plastic wrap on the surface of the mixture to prevent a skin from forming). Chill in the refrigerator. About 20 minutes before serving time, place the mixture into the freezer bowl (pulled straight from the freezer) and begin churning. You can clean up the dinner dishes or visit with family and friends while the ice cream is being made. 

Children seem to love this activity, and are amazed to see the transition from a liquid to a semi-solid (science lesson!). You could have them make their own batch of vanilla or chocolate (without the coffee or cinnamon), and during the last 5 minutes of churning, have them drop in some yummy additives in the opening at the top of the machine (crumbled cookies, M & M's, mini-marshmallows, etc.). Just make sure the pieces added are no bigger than the size of a chocolate chip for best results. Larger items may sink to the bottom and not get distributed evenly throughout the batch.