Thursday, October 23, 2008

Core Cooking Tips

Have you gone on the Core Plan, only to feel that you'll never see some of your favorite foods
again? Fret not! First of all, you can always use your Weekly POINTS Allowance for treats that aren't on the Core Food list. But if you'd rather not dip into that bank, try our clever cooking tips. They'll help you welcome your old favorites back into your repertoire.

Fried chicken, au revoir?
Hardly. You can oven-fry to your heart's content on the Core Plan. Boneless skinless chicken breasts and catfish filets are our favorites. Dip them in nonfat milk, then in cornmeal seasoned with celery seed, garlic powder, salt, and pepper (or a pinch of cayenne). Place on a nonstick baking sheet coated with cooking spray, lightly spray the breasts or fillets with some cooking spray, and bake in a preheated 400°F until cooked through, brown, and crunchy, about 15 minutes.

Do I have to give up Chinese food?
Most stir-fries are thickened with cornstarch, which is a Core Plan no-no. But you can use arrowroot in its place. This powdered root, available in the spice aisle, makes clear, thick sauces. The only trick is not to overcook it — the minute the sauce thickens, pull the pan off the heat. Substitute arrowroot in equal quantities for cornstarch.

Will I ever have gravy again?
Although most gravies are thickened with flour or cornstarch, you can thicken them with arrowroot — just as you do for those Chinese stir-fries. Simply use half the amount of arrowroot to replace flour. The minute the gravy thickens, usually right before it comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat. Or, puree a potato and add it to the gravy until desired
thickness.

No more pasta?
You're allowed one portion of whole-wheat pasta a day. But you can avoid even this limitation by
serving your favorite pasta sauce over polenta, a coarsely ground cornmeal mush. Cook polenta in its standard ratio of 4 parts water to 1 part cornmeal. Slowly stir the cornmeal into the boiling water, then reduce the heat and continue cooking and stirring until creamy, about 20 minutes. Pour in a thin layer onto a baking sheet covered with nonstick aluminum foil; cool 30 minutes or until hardened, then peel off the foil and cut into thin "noodles" which are now ready to be a base for the sauce (no more cooking needed).

What about lasagna?
As you probably know, you can make your lasagna with whole-wheat noodles and enjoy it for one meal per day on the Core Plan. But if you can't bear to limit yourself, try our alternative: zucchini noodles. Cut long, thin strips of zucchini with a paring knife, parboil 20 seconds, dry on paper towels, and use as "noodles" in lasagna — or any casserole.

Do I have to give up cream soups?
Not at all. Reduce 1 cup nonfat milk to 1/3 cup in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Use this rich, reduced milk as a cream substitute in any soup.

What about creamy pasta sauces?
Blend 12 ounces silken tofu with 1/4 cup nonfat milk in a large blender or food processor until creamy. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week; use in any cream-sauce recipe. For example, stir 1/2 cup into 2 cups sugar-free, nonfat jarred marinara sauce for a rich pasta topping.

No more ice cream?
It's not as bad as all that. Of course you can always use your Weekly POINTS Allowance for treats like ice cream. Or try this Core Plan-friendly alternative: Combine nonfat ricotta or plain nonfat yogurt with a little vanilla extract and Splenda; serve over any fresh fruit or berries. For a super treat, bake peeled bananas, peeled and cored pineapple, pitted peaches or apricots in foil
packets in a 400°F oven for 15 minutes; then serve the hot fruit with the cold, creamy sauce.

By Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

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Come on in for a nice cup of coffee and a chat about my weight loss journey as well as all the healthy recipes I have found, including WW points and/or nutritional information if available. I am eating a vegetarian diet and concentrating on getting healthy and hopefully weight loss will follow. Thank to all my readers for their ongoing support.