The Best Recipes (for a delectable dish and a healthy, happy weight)
Three top-shelf professional chefs give us the dish on staying slim in the kitchen--and their recipes for success that family cooks can follow at home.
Slim pickings can make for a slim figure--that’s pretty straightforward. Maintaining a healthy weight amid abundance is much trickier. Unless, of course, you have a recipe for success at staying slim. Which is exactly what we asked Cat Cora, Liza Connolly, and Ellie Krieger--three highly successful and slender professional chefs--to share.
Cat Cora: The Iron Chef
Raised in a tight-knit Greek community in Jackson, Mississippi, a young Cat Cora watched her family infuse classic Mediterranean delicacies with Southern spicing, and the seeds of her specialty as a chef--classic Mediterranean and French cooking with a healthful twist--were sown. “For me, food is a source of great comfort and inspiration,” says the now 45-year-old. “It’s the reason families gather around the table; it bonds everyone together. It’s just incredibly important for nourishing both the body and relationships, and as the cook in my family and a chef in my professional life, I find that inspiring. I use that knowledge to inspire innovation.”
Cat’s ability to innovate in the kitchen earned her a highly coveted honor in 2005, when she became the first female Iron Chef on Iron Chef America, a Food Network television program packaged as a competition between two experienced chefs called on to create courses around an oddball ingredient, such as Iberica, or Spanish ham. It’s a setting that requires quick thinking and endless innovation--but also copious tasting, because food can’t only be interesting; it has to be delicious.
“You really have to taste your food--it’s crucial to creating a successful dish or running a successful restaurant,” says Cat. “But a taste is really just a taste--1 tablespoon or teaspoon. I know it’s hard to believe, but it doesn’t have to be diet sabotage, and it doesn’t have to lead to overindulgence. People say, ‘Oh my God, if I worked in a restaurant, I would have cravings all day long,’ and really, it’s just the opposite. You know how they say that if you eat slowly for 20 minutes, your body will understand that you’re full? Imagine doing that all day long. You’re really not hungry.”
Aside from keeping her tastings to a teaspoon or two, here are Cat’s ingredients for stay-slim success.
Regular exercise. The owner of six restaurants, including three Cat Cora’s Kitchens, majored in kinesiology (her minor was nutrition) and worked in physical training and wellness prior to hitting her stride as a chef. Staying fit is still a priority. “I’m not someone who can eat anything she wants and not gain weight,” says Cat. “My strategy, and a big part of my life, is exercise. I make sure I do something every day--I walk, run or bike or do the elliptical or some light weight training. I really emphasize physical wellness in my cooking and in my everyday life.”
Citrus. “You can make dishes healthier by grilling instead of frying and basting, using low-calorie and no-calorie acids like lemon and lime juice instead of butter,” says Cat, who lives in citrus-drenched Santa Barbara with her partner and their four sons. “It just takes a little practice.” Start with Cat Cora’s Salmon and Scallop Skewers with Romesco Sauce.
Appetizers. “If you’re hungry when you start cooking, you’re going to do more than taste your food--you’re going to devour it,” says Cat. “So take a pause before you start--everything good comes from taking a pause!--and make yourself a little appetizer. You’ll satisfy something, be it stress or hunger or both. I’ve found that if I make myself a light cheese and low-fat cracker appetizer, it will totally curb my appetite.”
Cat Cora’s Salmon and Scallop Skewers with Romesco Sauce (Serves 4)
8 (8-inch) wooden skewers, soaked in cool water for at least 1 hour
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 sea scallops
8 ounces salmon fillet (either 1 large piece or several smaller pieces) cut into 8 equal chunks
1 red onion, cut into 1¼-inch chunks
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1¼-inch chunks
1 poblano chile pepper, cut into 1¼-inch chunks
1 roasted red pepper, seeded, peeled, and roughly chopped
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup roasted cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon roughly chopped almonds (8 or 9 whole almonds)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the grill or preheat the oven to 400°F. (You can throw the skewers on the grill or use your oven, whichever you prefer.) In a 9-inch Pyrex dish, combine the lime juice, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the scallops and salmon. Cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce.
In a blender, combine the roasted pepper, oil, tomatoes, almonds, garlic, and vinegar and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Remove the salmon and scallops from the marinade and discard the liquid. Pat dry each scallop and chunk of fish using a paper towel. (If you don’t dry each piece, they’ll steam while cooking and have a soft exterior rather than a crisp one.)
Thread each skewer with onion chunks, 1 salmon chunk, bell and poblano pepper chunks, and a scallop. Set the skewers either on the grill or on a baking sheet placed on the top rack of your oven or under the broiler. Cook 4 minutes, and then rotate the baking sheet in the oven and give each skewer a half turn. Cook another 4 minutes, or until the salmon is firm to the touch and the scallops have begun to brown on the edges.
Crisscross 2 skewers on each plate and spoon the Romesco sauce over them, or pile the skewers on a serving platter and serve the sauce in a bowl, allowing everyone to take as much as they’d like.
Serves 4. Per serving: 383 calories, 29 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 12 g carbohydrates, 20 g protein
Curves Complete: Enjoy for lunch or dinner on Phase 1 or 2.
In 2004, Cat Cora founded Chefs for Humanity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing hunger worldwide by supporting humanitarian relief and promoting nutrition education.
Liza Connolly: The Nurturer
Liza Connolly understands female food voodoo. The longtime chef and cofounder of Kids Cooking Green--an educational outreach program of the Lexington Farmers’ Market in Massachusetts, which emphasizes teaching kids the importance of eating locally grown food--has been under its spell. “Women are just so tied in to food in so many ways,” she says. “I mean, historically, we are the cooks in our families; it’s our job and our honor, really, to nourish the people we love. But in our culture, that sacred relationship between women and girls and food has become warped. It’s just incredibly sad, and it’s what I’m hoping to remedy with Kids Cooking Green.”
Liza, now 50, grew up in the Garden State--New Jersey--and recalls eating a traditional and bountiful family dinner every night. “We had a large vegetable garden, where we grew lettuce and tomatoes and string beans and broccoli,” she says. “Behind our house, our neighbors’ cows roamed the fields. Once a year, my mother would buy half a cow, so our freezer was stocked with white paper packages of all cuts of beef. A typical dinner was fried green tomatoes on toast or meat loaf with baked potatoes and salad. There was something so reassuring about this tradition of coming to the table as a family at the end of the day, to eat together, to share our stories, and to be nurtured by a warm meal that we helped produce.”
All that changed with the sudden death of Liza’s father when she was 10. The family no longer gathered at the table, and Liza’s relationship with food shifted violently. She began to turn to food as a way to fill her emptiness. “I tried to nurture myself by feeding myself,” she says simply. She became bulimic and remained so for years.
Ironically, it was food that ultimately healed Liza. “As our original medicine, that’s what it’s supposed to do, after all,” she says. “I had graduated from college with a degree in psychology and was thinking about grad school, but I had a gut need to work with my hands as opposed to strictly my head. I’d always loved being in the kitchen but was really nervous about being around food all day long. I had stopped throwing up by that time, but that didn’t mean I had everything figured out. I mean, food was still so loaded for me.”
Boston-based restaurateur and superchef Todd English was opening a restaurant at the time. Liza stopped in, and English offered her a job on the spot. “All I could see were these massive chocolate chip cookies,” she says. “But I was at a turning point in my life; I just dove in and confronted my fears.” The immersion experience worked. “There was food everywhere, but I was also on a team, so there was camaraderie; there was emotion,” says Liza. “For me, it was very nurturing. My social needs were met there; my family needs were met there. I was working hard, so my workout needs were met there. Everything was met. And I was able to heal.”
Surrounded by abundance, Liza also grew to trust her body to tell her what it needs, using some of the very ingredients included in her recipe for stay-slim success.
Nourishment. “I have found traditional diets to be self-sabotaging, so I don’t do food rules,” she says. “Sometimes we need to feed our emotions; sometimes we don’t. And I’m all about nourishing yourself and feeding hunger, emotional as well as physical hunger. You don’t have to feed your soul with food all the time, but when you do--and I think it’s best fed, emotionally and physically, with real food [not packaged] to which we have an earthy connection--I don’t think you need to punish yourself. Just delete the word should from your vocabulary.”
People. “Eat with your family, eat with your friends, eat with gusto--that’s my best advice,” says Liza. “Don’t make it drudgery. Don’t eat by yourself in front of the television. Make eating a celebratory experience. It will nourish you in so many ways if you do.”
Satiety. “In the car a long time ago, I heard in an NPR report that babies stop eating when they’re sated, and I remember wondering, Sated—what does that mean?” says Liza, laughing. “It made me realize how disconnected I had become from my body and my food, and I started paying attention. I started eating only what I needed, and over the years, I’ve come to believe that one thing women, especially, need is an earthy connection to their food. It’s just incredibly emotionally satisfying to eat fresh food that you’ve grown, and that’s physically sating, too.”
Liza Connolly’s Broccoli Pesto with Organic Brown Rice Pasta and Pecorino
1 head organic or locally grown broccoli
1 large bunch basil, washed and dry (if damp, pesto will taste like wet grass)
10 mint leaves, washed and dry
4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional if nut allergy)
2 cloves garlic
Pinch of sea salt
½ to 1 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fusilli (typically, pesto is served with spaghetti or linguine, but for this dish, I prefer fusilli, as the spirals trap the sauce)
¼ cup Pecorino, for serving
Gluten-free suggestions: I like Tinkyada-Pasta Joy organic brown rice pasta or a box of Jovialorganic brown rice pasta. Both taste good and don’t get mushy when cooked.
Cut the stem off the broccoli and peel the outer layer of skin, revealing the tender inner stalk. Cut the inner stalk into a few pieces and reserve. Break the head into florets, and then wash the broccoli and place in a steamer, steaming until bright green and tender. Remove and set aside to cool.
Place the basil and mint in a food processor. Add the pine nuts (if using), garlic, salt, and half the oil and blend into a smooth paste. Add the cooled broccoli and puree again. Taste for salt and add more oil, as needed, to make a saucy consistency.
Cook the pasta al dente, according to the package directions, and drain. Stir in the pesto sauce. Serve topped with Pecorino.
8 servings. Per serving: 476 calories, 26 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 467 mg sodium, 47 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 15 g protein
Curves Complete: Enjoy on Phase 3 with 1 protein exchange.
Ellie Krieger: The Forgiving Nutritionist
Ellie Krieger’s mother often says that her daughter becoming a nutritionist is like a pyromaniac becoming a firefighter. “I kid you not,” laughs Ellie, 47, a New York City–based nutritionist and host of the Food Network’s hit Healthy Appetite. “I’ve always loved food, and as a child, I was overweight--not too terribly, but I had a terrible body image. I ate a ton and didn’t move much, and I really struggled emotionally because of my weight. For me to choose a career that required I be surrounded by food was surprising for my mother, but she was the one who helped me find a balance with food.”
That balance, which involved eliminating snacks and eating lots of veggies, was threatened in college when Ellie, who was premed at the time, came close to being too thin. “I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, but when I look back and read my journals, I had disordered-eating thinking and patterns,” she says. “I majored in nutrition because I loved food and it hit all my premed requirements, but as I grew to understand the depth and breadth of the field and to view my own history with food through that lens, I was hooked.” And her story has since hooked others.
Ellie’s message is succinctly captured in the title of her first cookbook, Small Changes, Big Results. It’s possible for anyone, given the tools and knowledge, to live life to the maximum by keeping a healthy balance and nurturing a richly satisfying and sumptuous, attainable lifestyle--attainable here meaning forgiving, imperfect. “Nutritionists always talk about staying on track,” she says. “I don’t think you actually have to be on track all the time; you just have to be near the track, in the vicinity. Just knowing the track exists is half the battle.” Spoken like a woman who knows. Here, her key stay-slim ingredients:
A.M. exercise: “I have to be active; it’s nonnegotiable,” says Ellie. “I work out in the morning. I might do yoga, lift weights, bicycle, or run, even though old ladies speed walk past me when I run! The activity focuses my whole day. I don’t eat a lot before I go, and then I’ll have a smoothie afterward. It starts things off correctly.”
Selectivity. “Because of my job and all the delectable food I’m introduced to daily, I’ve become more selective,” she says. “I’m not going to eat a pastry that just sort of looks okay or bother with waxy chocolate that’s been out on a conference room table. I also don’t pick while I’m cooking. All those little picks aren’t really all that gratifying, and they do add up.”
Plating. “Always eat off a plate,” says Ellie. “You don’t really register or savor calories you eat on the go. By putting everything you eat on a plate, you train yourself to be mindful of all that you’re eating, to enjoy it more, and ultimately hunger for less.”
Ellie Krieger’s Honey-Crisp Oven-Fried Chicken
4 skinless bone-in chicken thighs (about 1½ pounds)
2/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
4 cups cornflakes
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Olive oil cooking spray
Place the chicken in a bowl with the buttermilk and toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.
Place the cornflakes in a food processor and process until crumbs form (you should have about 1 cup of crumbs). Transfer to a shallow dish and mix in the paprika, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Coat a baking sheet with the cooking spray. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, shaking off excess buttermilk. Discard the remaining buttermilk. Brush each piece of chicken with honey, then dip in the cornflake crumbs, pressing hard so the crumbs adhere to the chicken. Place the coated chicken on the baking sheet. Lightly mist the top of each piece with cooking spray. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until the chicken is crisped and cooked through.
Serves 4. Per serving: 330 calories, 10 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 600 mg sodium, 35 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 27 g protein
Curves Complete: Enjoy for lunch or dinner on Phase 1 or 2 with a free vegetable salad and 1 fat exchange (50 calories’ worth of dressing).
Pay The Day