And now come the regrets.
Did I really have to have that second piece of pecan pie? Couldn’t the mashed potatoes have had maybe a little less butter? Did I truly have to eat all of those mint chocolates that our friend brought from Chicago?
Yes. Yes I did. Those things are great.
But now I’m feeling it: every Christmas cookie, every potato pancake, every Frango mint. My belt is annoyed at me. My scale groans when it sees me approach.
So in the spirit of resolutions made for the new year, I decided to make a bunch of dishes that will make my belt and scale happier, and me, too. I went low-cal.
Naturally, I did not want to give up on flavor and enjoyment. I determined to make dishes that both tasted good and were relatively good for me — or at least good for my waistline.
I began with a riff on an old favorite, carbonnades a la flamande, the famous Belgian dish of beef-and-onion stew cooked in beer.
The difference in the version I made is that the beer used is stout, a dark beer such as Guinness that is rich in coffee and caramel flavors. Despite its full-bodied flavor, the beer has only a few more calories than Bud Light. And its taste is so mellow, it needs less brown sugar than traditional carbonnades to smooth out the stew.
The recipe uses less beef than the regular carbonnades, which cuts back on the calories. But you don’t mind the loss, because it makes up for it in chunky mushrooms, which blend in perfectly with the other flavors.
It’s a hearty, warming stew with a robust taste. You don’t even notice the flavor of the beer, which melts away into the sauce for an utterly satisfying meal.
My next dish was equally intriguing: Lemon Chicken With Bulgur. Bulgur is one of those grains that I rarely think to use when I’m cooking, and I’m always happy whenever I use it. It has a nutty taste similar to brown rice, but a creamier and more luscious texture.
It also happens to go brilliantly with chicken — and especially, as I discovered, with lemon chicken.
The recipe includes a couple of curveballs that are unexpected but delicious. Mixed into the other ingredients (onion, garlic, lemon) are a half-teaspoon each of cardamom, coriander and cumin.
The Indian spices are subtle, but you know they are there. They act as a quiet sounding board to amplify the bright citrus notes of the lemon. They make what is already a great dish even better. It is sure to join your repertoire, as will the Beef Braised in Stout Beer.
And so, for that matter, will Turkey Wienerschnitzel.
The flavor of turkey is similar enough to veal that it makes a reasonable substitute; I even know a chef who used to cook turkey at his restaurant and jokingly call it “redneck veal.”
Veal is hard to find these days, and it is expensive when you do see it, so Turkey Wienerschnitzel would be a great idea even if it weren’t so delicious. Based on the classic Austrian dish, it is a turkey cutlet, breaded and lightly fried, served with capers and slices of lemon. A fried egg on top tastes great, too.
This version, which was created by Steven Raichlen in his pre-barbecue days, saves some calories by dipping the turkey in egg whites instead of whole eggs, and it theoretically requires only two tablespoons of oil to fry four cutlets.
To be perfectly honest, it took me three tablespoons of oil to fry the four cutlets. But that isn’t too bad, and the Wienerschnitzel was exceptional.
My last low-cal, high-flavor dish takes potatoes to a new level. Bombay-Style Potatoes are a type of spiced potatoes that, despite the name, appears to have originated in England.
Curry and potatoes have long been a popular combination, and the Bombay style usually adds tomatoes to the mix. But the version I made uses Granny Smith apples instead to add just the right amount of sweet tartness to the spicy curry.
I cheated when I made mine. Instead of putting together a homemade blend of spices for the curry, I just used curry powder out of a jar. It was awfully good the way it was, and I can only imagine how much better it would have been if I had only taken the extra few minutes to make my own.
Whether you mix together your own curry or use the store-bought variety, be sure to use Yukon Gold potatoes with this dish. Their texture is almost butter, their taste almost creamy, which absolutely brings the recipe to life.
BEEF BRAISED IN STOUT BEER
1 ½ pounds boneless lean beef, such as round, trimmed of all visible fat and cut into 2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, trimmed and halved if large
2 cups Guinness stout beer (do not use extra-stout)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or ¼ teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
¼ teaspoon salt (omit if using salted canned stock)
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1. Wash the meat and pat dry with paper towels. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the beef cubes on all sides and remove them with a slotted spoon; this will have to be done in a few batches.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, garlic and mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often. Return the meat to the pan and add the remaining ingredients except cornstarch and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1½ to 2 hour or until the meat is tender.
3. Remove the meat and vegetables from the pan, discarding the bay leaf, and reduce the gravy by one-third, stirring frequently. Stir in the cornstarch mixture, simmering for 2 minutes until thickened. Return the meat and vegetables to the pan and stir in the vinegar. Reheat the stew, if necessary. Serve over rice, if desired.
Per serving: 293 calories; 11 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 84 mg cholesterol; 28 g protein; 17 g carbohydrate; 9 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 324 mg sodium; 51 mg calcium
— Recipe from “The Gourmet Gazelle Cookbook” by Ellen Brown
LEMON CHICKEN WITH BULGUR
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 chicken, about 3 ½ pounds, skinned and cut into serving pieces
3 medium onions, chopped (1 ½ to 2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, minced (2 teaspoons)
1 ½ cups bulgur, see note
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground coriander
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 cups boiling chicken broth
Note: Bulgur is harder to find than it used to be. I bought mine at Whole Foods.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large skillet, heat the butter and the oil, add the chicken and brown the pieces on all sides. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and remove it to a large casserole or pot.
3. Add the onions and garlic to the skillet, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Add the bulgur, stirring to coat it and brown it lightly.
5. Add the cardamom, coriander, cumin, lemon zest and lemon juice to the bulgur mixture, mixing the ingredients well. Spoon the bulgur on top of the reserved chicken.
6. Pour the boiling broth over the chicken and bulgur. Cover the casserole or pot and cook in the oven for 1 hour or until the chicken is tender. If preparing in advance and you plan to reheat in the oven, instead of a microwave, reduce the baking time to 45 minutes so it does not get overheated and dry when reheated.
Per serving: 500 calories; 11 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 200 mg cholesterol; 66 g protein; 34 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 1,037 mg sodium; 50 mg calcium
— Adapted from “Jane Brody’s Good Food Book” by Jane Brody
1 ½ pounds turkey cutlets or chicken breasts
½ cup (approximately) all-purpose flour
½ cup (approximately) breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons capers, for garnish
Lemon wedges, for garnish
1. Place each cutlet between two pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper and pound with a meat pounder, the side of a cleaver or a cast-iron pan to ¼-inch thick. Season the cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper.
2. Place the flour, egg whites and breadcrumbs in three shallow bowls. Dip each cutlet first in the flour, shaking off any excess, then in the egg whites and then in the breadcrumbs.
3. In batches, heat the oil in a nonstick frying pan over high heat. Pan-fry one schnitzel for 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and repeat with other schnitzels. Sprinkle with capers and serve with lemon wedges on the side.
Per serving: 374 calories; 10 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 98 mg cholesterol; 46 g protein; 22 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 1,011 mg sodium; 49 mg calcium
— Adapted from “High-Flavor, Low-Fat Cooking,” by Steven Raichlen
2 ½ cups quartered Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2/3 cup diced Granny Smith apple, peeled and cored
1 tablespoon curry powder, see note
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
Note: If you want to make your own curry spice blend, heat 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 2 teaspoons cardamom pods, a 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick and ½ teaspoon of black peppercorns in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Toast for 1 to 2 minutes, swirling the pan; pour onto a cold plate to stop them from over heating. Combine the toasted spices with 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, 1 teaspoon dry mustard and 1/3 teaspoon cayenne in a spice grinder, or use a mortar and pestle to grind to a powder. Can be stored in a covered container for up to 3 weeks.
1. Place the potatoes in a pot with cold water to cover by 2 inches. Salt the water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and continue to simmer until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
2. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and apples and cook, stirring frequently, over low heat until the onions are translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Add curry powder and flour, and sauté until lightly toasted. Add the water and salt and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Combine the curry mixture and the potatoes. Serve hot.
Per serving: 84 calories; 2 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2 g protein; 16 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 208 mg sodium; 21 mg calcium
— Recipe from “Healthy Cooking” by At Home and the Culinary Institute of America