Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Well, it's almost the end of 2008 as we know it. Time for a new year and a fresh start. My resolutions in 2009? To exercise more, spend less money and to read at least one good book a month. I think these can all be accomplished!
Of course, I - like most people - will be spending this final night of the year sipping champagne and partying with friends. Since such New Year's Eve festivities often lead to a New Year's Day hangover, I enjoyed coming across this myth-busting article that discusses how to avoid that pounding, morning-after headache and cotton mouth. I don't know about the rest of you, but I plan to be fully alert and tuned into tomorrow's Blackhawks-Red Wings hockey match at Wrigley Field.

So here are some tips and clarifications on avoiding (or surviving) that holiday hangover!

* Drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages will sober you up and keep a hangover headache away.
False.
Caffeine only acts as a stimulant and interferes with your sleep. It may also make you urinate more and add to dehydration. Only time and a healthy liver to metabolize the alcohol will sober you up.
* Taking pain relievers the next morning can help.
True.
Although taking pain relievers won't prevent your hangover, taking them in the morning with a full breakfast to avoid stomach irritation will treat your hangover headache. Since pain relievers only last four to six hours, it's silly to take them before going to bed because they will be out of your system by morning when your headache occurs.
* Eating a big meal before going to sleep lessens the effects of a hangover.
False.
A big meal, especially a fat-filled one, such as eggs and bacon, will stay in your stomach and interfere with sleep and possibly cause reflux. So, you'll wake up feeling even worse.
* Eating a big meal before drinking can help prevent a hangover.
True.
Eat that hearty fat-filled meal before drinking. It will fill you up and decrease your alcohol absorption.
* Beer is the best beverage to avoid a hangover.
True.
Drinking beer fills you up, so in many cases you'll drink less alcohol. New Year's Eve is the time for breaking open a bottle of bubbly, but while champagne and wine may look innocent, they're full of other additives and chemicals more likely to cause headaches and hangovers.
* Taking pain relievers like aspirin after drinking will prevent a hangover.
False.
Not only doesn't this work, it can be dangerous. Even a dose or two of aspirin can erode the stomach, causing gastritis, which would only be compounded by the stomach irritant effects of alcohol. Mixing acetominophen and alcohol can lead to acute liver inflammation.
* Drinking fluids, like juice, will help you feel better.
True.
Drink lots of juices with potassium and vitamins. It's been shown antioxidants and sugar help minimize symptoms of a hangover. You're dehydrated and your blood sugar is down, so you need sugar and fluids.

And in extra important news...don't drink and drive!!! Plan on tapping a designated driver or utilize public transportation or a taxi.

I hope everyone has a fabulous and safe New Year's Eve! Here are a few sugar-free cocktail recipes, courtesy of Hungry Girl. And for an extra treat, the fabulous NYE scene from "When Harry Met Sally." Talk to you in 2009!

Razzle-Dazzle Tiny-Tini
Ingredients:
4 oz. 7-Up Plus Soda
1 oz. Sugar Free Raspberry Torani Syrup
1 oz. vodka
Directions:
Shake with ice. Pour into cute martini glass. Drink up!

Winter Wonderland Peppermintini
Ingredients:
1 1/2 oz. (3 tbsp.) 80-proof vodka
2 tsp. Coffee-mate Sugar Free French Vanilla powdered creamer
1 no-calorie sweetener packet (like Splenda)
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
Optional Garnish: 1 small candy cane
Directions:
Place powdered creamer and sweetener in a glass. Add 1/4 cup warm water and stir to dissolve. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice cubes. Add creamer mixture, vodka, and peppermint extract. Cover and shake well, until mixture is cold. Strain into a martini glass. If you like, garnish with a candy cane leaning jauntily on the rim.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fact or Fiction?

Well hello there! Hope everyone had a fabulous holiday week. And some of you lucky ducks might be on vacation all of this week too, all the better to ring in the New Year. As for me, I'm finally back in Atlanta and back at work, after spending two wonderful weeks in Chicago. Although it was great to be home and to visit with my family and best friends again, the weather was absolutely brutal. Even more unfortunate, I've been hacking and sneezing up a storm the past few days. I'm sure that can be blamed on a number of things including: too much running around, a lack of real exercise, not enough sleep, the drastic change in weather (from Atlanta to Chicago) and eating too many sweets and high-fat foods. Either way, I'll be loading up on the herbal teas and cold medicine for the remainder of the week.
Along those lines, I found a fascinating ABCNews article that dissects some of the popular myths about germs and bacteria. Here are a few of the highlights:

Fact or Myth? You can get infections or illnesses from sitting directly on a public toilet seat.
Answer: Myth

"Just sort of sitting on the seat and having that contact with the skin on your butt isn't going to be a way of transmitting an infection," said Elizabeth Scott, co-director and founder of the Simmons Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community Settings at Simmons College in Boston. "I think that one's associated with the fact that we all find public toilets very disgusting," she said, adding that you were more likely to get sick from touching the toilet seat or the flush handle with your hand.
Fact or Myth? Antibacterial soap keeps your hands cleaner than regular soap.
Answer: Myth

This myth may stem from a misconception about what we do when we wash our hands. By rinsing in soap and water for at least 20 seconds, we aren't supposed to be killing bacteria, but simply getting germs and viruses off our hands.
Fact or Myth? Sponges typically don't help keep your kitchen cleaner, they just spread germs around.
Answer: Fact

Sponges pick up various contaminants when used to clean used to clean dishes or surfaces that food has touched, and those contaminants can be easily spread.
Fact or Myth? The makeup at a cosmetics counter is unsafe to use -- it harbors a multitude of germs.
Answer: Probably a Fact

The safety of using sample cosmetics from the counter may depend on how they're used, but the prospect of what could be in that makeup is enough to keep Scott away from them.
"I don't like that idea at all," she said. "There is the possibility that someone handled the cosmetic who had pathogens on their hands or a skin infection or an eye infection. That all might be transmitted by that cosmetic."
Fact or Myth? A dog's mouth is cleaner than a person's mouth.
Answer: Myth

If you heard this myth, it probably came from a dog lover as they justified why they let their pet lick their face. Hendley and Scott noted that dogs tend to lick themselves, particularly after scraping themselves, and their mouths tend to come in contact with animal feces. Scott also noted that germs can be picked up by stroking the animals, and you should wash your hands anytime you touch them.
Fact or Myth? Airplanes are a major source of contamination because of the recirculated air.
Answer: Unclear

Airplanes put many different people in a confined space for several hours with the same air. Small wonder that some see planes as flying germ houses. But while germs may once have recirculated freely, new technology may have removed some of the flight concerns.

Interesting, huh?

I'll be back later this week with lots of recipes and follow-up on my trip. Until then, here is a sugar-free, healthy tea recipe I'll be whipping up tonight.

Chamomile-Pomegranate Tea

Friday, December 12, 2008

Eat, drink and be merry!

Okay, gang. Unlike yesterday, I'm feeling pretty dang jolly today! First off, this is my last day in the office for almost two weeks, since I'm headed home to Chicago to spend the holidays with friends and family. Second, I saw a wonderful, live performance of A Christmas Carol last night, which put me in the appropriately festive spirit. And finally, I'm attending about three different holiday parties tonight, after heading to my company's holiday luncheon this afternoon. So it's going to be a fun-filled Friday for this girl.

Anyhoo, if you're like me, you'll have a full schedule of holiday fiestas on the horizon the next few weeks. So how does one avoid piling on the pounds when so much egg nog and fudge is around? Here are a few tips to surviving the holiday season with little weight gain.

* Don't show up hungry. Take time to eat a light, healthy snack before hitting the big holiday party food spread.
* When fixing your plate, make sure the bulk of it is fruits and veggies. That way you can fill up your belly faster with healthier items.
* Eating smaller portions is key. Yes, you can indulge in some gingerbread. Just don't eat the entire loaf.
* If you're eating dinner at a friend or relative's house, bring some low-calorie snack options such as a fruit salad or raw veggies and hummus.
* If you're doing the cooking, avoid adding lots of butter, salt and fatty dressings. You may be able to use low-fat or skim milk products instead of whole milk products in some dishes. In some baked goods, you can swap applesauce for oil. Switching ingredients can create tasty results without the high calories that often come with rich foods.
* Try not to get seconds until a few hours after you've eaten the first plate.
* Always eat dessert last.
* Drink lots of water. It will help fill you up.
* Drink alcohol in moderation.
* Take a walk after supper or get in a morning or afternoon workout before arriving to the party.

By the way, here's a low-calorie, sucralose-sweetened recipe for anyone looking to bring a sweet treat to an upcoming holiday party.

Gingerbread Cake

Finally, did anyone watch The Office last night? Apparently, Michael gave Meredith (the office alkie, by the way) a cocktail that was "equal parts scotch, absinthe, rum, gin, vermouth, triple sec and two packets of Splenda." He called it the "one of everything" drink. Hee.

For your Friday chuckle, here's a clip from last night's episode - one that features another classic Jim prank.



FYI: I'll try to check in over the next two weeks with more sugar-free recipe tips, but in case it doesn't happen, happy holidays y'all!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Turn that frown upside down

Maybe it's the fact that it's been overcast and rainy and miserable all week. Or maybe it's because I've been fighting off a cold the past few days and appear close to losing the battle. For whatever reason, my mood has been downright gloomy all week. And I tend to be a pretty upbeat gal.

So in times like this, only two things can help put a smile on my face. Video clips of adorable - or hilarious - animals! And low-calorie sweet treats!

Check these out...







Awwwww! My Grinch heart just grew three sizes!

And now for the icing on the happy cake, (or in this case, brownies) read below. And then thank Hungry Girl for developing yet another delicious, sugar-free recipe that won't have you feeling guilty for dessert overindulgence.

HG's Swirls Gone Wild Cheesecake Brownies
Ingredients:
One box Pillsbury Moist Supreme Reduced Sugar Cake Mix, Devil's Food
One 15-oz. can pure pumpkin
6 oz. fat-free cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (granulated)
1 tsp. Coffee-mate Fat Free or Sugar Free French Vanilla powdered creamer, dissolved in 2 tbsp. warm water
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine cake mix and pumpkin. Stir until completely blended (the mixture will remain very thick). Spread batter into a large baking pan (about 9" X 13") sprayed with nonstick spray, and set aside. Combine softened cream cheese with Splenda, Coffee-mate mixture, and vanilla extract. Using a whisk, mix vigorously until completely blended, smooth and lump-free. Spoon cheesecake mixture over the brownie batter, and use a knife to swirl it in. (Don't worry if your swirl isn't perfect -- your brownies will taste delicious no matter what!) Place pan in the oven, and bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Allow to cool, and then cut into 16 pieces.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chic calisthenics

So it's almost 2009...which means it's time to start figuring out what my New Year's resolutions will be once that ball (or in the case of Atlanta - that peach) drops. As usual, I'd like to include a health element in there. My goal? To find new ways to keep in shape in the coming year. Sure, I can do some laps in the pool on a regular basis. Or keep taking those kickbox classes at the local fitness center. But what are some of my other exercise options in 2009 - particularly in light of the tough economic times?
Here are the anticipated trends in fitness, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Boot Camp-Style Workouts: Boot camp workouts remain extremely popular because they provide a total-body workout that's varied, fun and challenging. Up to 600 calories can be burned during a boot camp session, which is obviously going to facilitate weight loss. But in addition to a great cardiovascular workout, muscles are strengthened through high- and low-intensity exercises such as pushups, squats and lunges. You don't typically experience significant muscle fitness benefits in other aerobic exercises.
Budget-Friendly Workouts: With today's economy showing no signs of strengthening, more people will cut costs to stay in shape. Of the ACE-certified professionals surveyed, 48 percent said that gym memberships will decrease in 2009 and 52 percent said less people will hire personal trainers. Look for more people to use the resources around them as their gym and equipment.
Specialty Classes: While yoga and Pilates will remain strong, dance-based classes are all the rage this year! Zumba, a fitness program inspired by Latin dance, combines South American rhythms with cardiovascular exercise. Bollywood, ballroom, Afro-Cuban and other exotic dance styles are growing in popularity.
Getting Back to Basics: Despite the fact that many exercises and equipment are becoming more advanced and trendy, trainers will continue to focus on basic movements and techniques with their clients again.
Circuit Training: Studies have shown that interval training combining strength training and cardiovascular activity at different intensities provides a more time-efficient workout than participating in traditional aerobic and weight training sessions. With an increase in popularity of circuit training, many gyms are even setting up their own circuits to allow their members an easy path to fitness.
Kettlebells: The reason for the surge in kettlebell training is that it gets back to basic training that requires functional, whole body fitness. Kettlebells require an individual to focus on whole-body conditioning because lifting and controlling a kettlebell forces the entire body, particularly the core, to contract as a group, simultaneously developing strength and stability. Kettlebell workouts engage multiple muscle groups, making it a great way to get a whole body workout in a relatively short period of time.
Boomer Fitness: Individuals age 50+ have the means, motivation and desire to enhance their quality of life through physical activity--and they are only growing. The 50+ audience continues to redefine our expectations about age, vitality and life, and has highlighted the importance of physical activity as we age. Since September 2007, AARP's fitness initiative for boomers--aimed at providing a wide range of affordable fitness services to its 39 million members--has been going strong.
Technology-Based Fitness: From iPods to Cardio Cinema to exergaming (i.e., Wii Fit, Expresso Bikes) the latest in technology will continue to infuse itself in all aspects of fitness. Look for 2009 to provide more interactive video games that provide fitness benefits, as well as new inventions to make exercising a more engaging experience.
Event or Sport-Specific Exercises: Despite the emergence of new and trendy workouts, sports or recreational activities will remain a popular way to stay in shape. Participating in a friendly game of basketball or volleyball, training for a marathon, or taking a day-long bike ride are just a few ways that people are staying in shape and having fun doing so!
Mixing It Up: Traditional programming is changing from what we called linear progression to undulating as research shows similar if not better results. For example, mixing low-intensity cardio with intervals on some days, and mixing high-volume, low-intensity weight training with low-volume, high-intensity training on alternate days.

I don't know about you, but I've long considered participating in one of those boot camp courses. I have a few friends who lost quite a bit of weight doing these sessions, which typically involve meeting with a drill sergeant-type instructor five times a week for a month or more. I'm also intrigued by both the "kettlebell workout" and the dance-based classes such as Zumba and belly dancing. Maybe I'll look into Bollywood dancing next year. How much fun would it be to bust out a few of those moves at a party?!

So what about the rest of you? Any interesting ideas on how to keep in shape in 2009? Share your thoughts, por favor!

And for fun, here's a clip to a Bollywood movie highlighting some of their fabulous dance moves.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Smile! It's Friday!


U.S. job losses are the worst in 35 years! Foreclosures are at a record! The economic downturn continues to deepen! Terrorists attack Mumbai! The bad news just keeps coming! Even a news junky like me dreads picking up the morning paper these days. It's all so depressing.

But there are some rays of sunshine. For example, whenever I'm feeling blue these days, I click on this link. If the sight of a bunch of adorable Shina Inu puppies doesn't put a smile on your face, then I don't know what will. Be forewarned, though. Watching this could make your brain explode from CUTENESS!

And if that alone doesn't give you the warm-fuzzies, how about this? My friend has lost 48.6 pounds in six months through a combination of strenuous exercise and maintaining a low-calorie diet. She also joined an online support group and keeps a food journal. She looks fabulous and feels fabulous and I couldn't be happier for her! It's a nice reminder that all of us can accomplish big things if we really put forth the effort. Congrats Lysa and keep up the good work!

Need one last reason to smile? It's Friday!!

By the way, I'm including a recipe ideal for all you snackers. It's low-cal and takes only minutes to make. Have a great weekend!

Sweet and Spicy Snack Mix

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Got nog?

Clark: Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?
Eddie: Naw, I'm doing just fine, Clark.
Christmas Vacation

One of my gal pals was just mentioning some delicious eggnog ice cream she picked up yesterday...which reminded me that it's December...and I haven't had a single glass of eggnog yet! Don't worry. I'll be indulging in the delicious beverage soon enough.
It truly is one of my favorite tasty treats during the holidays. Top it off with a little rum and some vanilla ice cream and it's heaven in a glass!

Eggnog is a dairy-based beverage made with milk, cream and eggs and flavoured with ground cinnamon and nutmeg. While you can drink it plain, there are also alcoholic versions featuring brandy, rum, whiskey and more.

I, like many others, associate eggnog with winter. It's just such a fabulous holiday treat, don't you think? Clark Griswold appears to agree.



Anyhoo, I'll be whipping up this sucralose-sweetened eggnog recipe tonight while listening to Christmas music. Check it out.

Elegant Eggnog

Ingredients:
1 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
7 egg yolks
4 cups 2% milk
2 cups fat-free half and half
2 tablespoons vanilla extract*
Directions:
1. Mix together first 3 ingredients in a large heavy
saucepan. Set aside.
2. Whisk egg yolks. Add to SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener mixture whisking until blended. Gradually whisk in milk.
3. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly until the temperature reaches 175 degrees approximately (5 to 8 minutes). Remove from heat and whisk in half and half; cool.
4. Cover and chill 3 hours or up to 3 days. Stir in vanilla extract just before serving.

* If desired, 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract can be replaced with 1 cup dark rum.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

An apple a day....




I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving! Fortunately, I didn't stuff myself quite as much as last year, so there's no need to invest in pants with elastic waistbands. However, I did indulge in a number of yummy treats, including some fabulous homemade ginger snap cookies.

Also, two nights ago, I went over to a friend's house to help decorate the Christmas tree and wound up enjoying some delicious hot apple cider topped off with brandy. It truly was the perfect treat on a chilly night! For all you calorie counters out there, I have some sucralose-sweetened recipes for you. Check it out.

Cinna-Ginger Spice Cookies

Mulled Cranberry Cider

Caramel Apple Cider

And since we're already on the topic of items containing apples, I thought I'd remind you all that it is National Apple Pie Day tomorrow. So if you'd like to dig into that most American of desserts, check out this low-cal, sugar-free recipe.

Apple Pie

Ingredients:
7 cups baking apples, thin-sliced, cored, peeled
1 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place one crust into a 9-inch pie pan.
2. Place sliced apples into a large mixing bowl and set aside. Combine SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle mixture over apples and toss. Spoon apple mixture into piecrust. Place the second crust over the filling. Seal edges, trim and flute. Make small openings in the top crust.
3. Bake in preheated 425 degrees F oven 40-50 minutes or until the top crust is golden. Serve warm or chilled.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Turkey Talk

Aww yeah, people. The big day is almost here! Before you know it, you'll be crowded around the table, chowing down on turkey and mashed 'taters while watching football. I, for one, can't wait.

As most of you know, it's pretty much impossible to get through Thanksgiving without suffering from that fabulous bloated feeling by the end of the day. In addition to going the sugar-free route, here are a few tips to help you healthily navigate Thanksgiving Day while still enjoying time with friends and family:

* Don't show up hungry. Take time to eat a light, healthy snack before hitting the spread.
* When fixing your plate, make sure the bulk of it is fruits and veggies, such as salad, green beans, potatoes, carrots, squash or cranberries. That way you can fill up your belly faster with healthier items.
* Eating smaller portions is key. Yes, you can indulge in some cheesy mashed potatoes. But don't pile a mountain of it on your plate, along with moats of gravy.
* If you're eating dinner at a friend or relative's house, bring some low-calorie snack options such as a fruit salad or raw veggies and hummus.
* Avoid adding lots of butter, salt, gravy and fatty dressings.
* Try not to get seconds until a few hours after you've eaten the first plate.
* Always eat dessert last.
* Eat lots of cranberries. They're loaded with antioxidants.
* For a less-fattening stuffing, use a low-salt broth base along with whole wheat bread. Also go easy on the butter and oil while adding more celery, onion, nuts and fruit.
* For healthier mashed potatoes, use skim milk and fat-free sour cream.
* Drink lots of water. It will help fill you up.
* Drink alcohol in moderation.
* Take a walk after supper or round up a game of touch football in the afternoon.

Most of all, have fun and be thankful for all the fabulous things in your life.

Here are a few more low-cal, sucralose-sweetened recipes to add to the Thanksgiving menu. I'll be back later this week with more recipes.

Pumpkin Cake

Candied Sweet Potato Casserole

Pecan Pie

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thanks for nothing, ABC!

Wait...what? NOOOOOOO!!!
Long-time readers are aware of my love for Pushing Daisies, the fabulously quirky TV show on ABC. But I JUST got word that the network has canceled this gem. NOOOOOOOO!!! Seriously, how could you? Pushing Daisies is one of the few shows on my "Must-See TV" list, accompanied by The Office, Lost and 30 Rock. How can this be taken off the air while crap-tastic shows like The Hills and The Real Housewives of Atlanta remain on? Seriously!! Not only does it have one of the best casts on the small screen, it is also one of the most clever and visually stunning shows I've ever seen. Plus, Fred Willard and Steven Root were featured guest stars in this week's episode. I ask you...does it get any better than that, people??

UGH.

Now, I'm going to have to make some sugar-free pie to cry into tonight. Thanks a heap, ABC.

Chocolate Cream Pie

Coconut Cream Pie

Cranberry Walnut Apple Pie

As tribute, here are is a sweet clip from one of the bestest shows ever. Thanks for the good times, Pushing Daisies. I'll miss you!

Applesauce and pudding and Jell-O, oh my....

There's nothing more fun than running around town, looking - and feeling - like you got punched in the face.
Sorry I haven't posted more the past few days. I actually had dental surgery earlier this week and I underestimated how much pain I'd be feeling. Plus, I pretty much avoided food for the first 48 hours, meaning I haven't had much to blog about. But now, I'm finally getting back to normal - and am even getting the hang of this soft food thing. I had some mashed potatoes for dinner last night, followed by a giant bowl of ice cream(!) Today, I had half a bowl of chicken noodle soup, then dug into a container of both sucralose-sweetened pudding and applesauce.
And while you can take the easy way out and buy sugar-free pudding, applesauce and gelatin at the supermarket, you can also whip up some of your own if you so prefer.

Here goes...

Homemade Applesauce

Banana Pudding

I'll be back Monday with some healthy Turkey Day recipes. Until then, have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuscan Trifle, for my calorie counting buddies!

Sorry I never got a chance to post another entry last week. I had the best intentions, but I just wound up too busy between all the eating, drinking and visiting with family and friends! Okay, so long story short, I went back home for a few days and proceeded to eat my way through Chicago. From deep dish pizza to South American cuisine and Indian to Italian food, I ate enough to feed a small army. Yes, I even indulged in a little gelado on a 20-degree day. But cut me some slack! It was the first time I'd been home since last Christmas. Sadly, I did not get my Polish food fix...but since I'm headed back there next month for the holidays, I figure I'll have plenty of time to fill up on the rest of my faves.
Anyhoo, one of the highlights was all the delicious dessert. For starters, we had these amazing churros dipped in chocolate and dulce de leche sauce at Carnivale, one of my fave Latin restaurants in the city. But even better, I think, was the dee-lish tirimasu I shared with some friends at Bourgeois Pig Café.

For those unfamiliar with tiramisu, it's a popular Italian dessert made with lady fingers, coffee and mascarpone cream. The name, in Italian, apparently means "pull me up" - and is considered a "pick-me-up" reference to the effects of the sugar and espresso. Whatever the literal translation, tiramisu has long been one of my favorite sweet treats. While I chowed down on the high-cal version, I've since dug up some sugar-free recipes (thanks to Hungry Girl and Splenda.com!) for all my calorie counting buddies. I will be testing these variations out in the near future. Hope you enjoy!

Tiramisu Parfait

Ingredients:
1 (10.5 ounce) package sugar free angel food cake, purchased from bakery
3 1/2 teaspoons instant decaffeinated coffee powder
1 1/2 cups hot water
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 (8 ounce) package fat-free cream cheese
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
Directions:
1. Cut angel food cake into 1 cubes. Set aside.
2. Dissolve instant coffee in hot water. Chill in refrigerator.
3. Combine mascarpone and cream cheese in mixing bowl. Beat until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons coffee, dark brown sugar, SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener and vanilla. Mix well. Set aside.
4. Pour cold coffee into a 9X13 inch pan.
5. Assemble Tiramisu: Quickly dip half of angel food cake pieces into the coffee. Remove immediately and place in medium glass serving bowl. Spread half of cheese mixture on top. Sprinkle with 1 tsp cocoa powder. Repeat with remaining angel food cake, cheese mixture, and cocoa.
6. Cover and chill for three hours or overnight before serving.

Tirami-DO!

Ingredients:
8 Trader Joe’s Soft Lady Fingers OR 6 Specialty Bakers Ladyfingers
1/2 cup cooled, strong-brewed, flavored coffee (or espresso); sweetened w/ Splenda or other no-cal sweetener
1/4 cup light ricotta cheese (not part-skim, light)
2 tbsp. Cool Whip Free
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. Splenda
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
Directions:
Begin by lining up half of the ladyfingers next to each other on a serving dish. Drizzle cooled coffee over ladyfingers until desired saturation is reached. In a bowl, combine cheese, Splenda, Cool Whip and vanilla, and mix well. Spread half of this mixture on top of ladyfingers and top with half of the cocoa. Next, layer remaining ladyfingers on top of dish. Again, cover with coffee. Spread remaining cheese mixture on top. Lastly, sprinkle cocoa over dish. Best when eaten immediately. Serves one or two, depending on how hungry you are.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sundae Dreamin'

This entry is going to be short and sweet, folks. First of all, I'm heading out in less than two hours and hopping a plane to Chicago (home sweet home!) for the rest of the week. However, I'm hoping to make you all jealous by posting at least one more blog item while on va-cay, recapping all my culinary adventures in my favorite city. Deep dish pizza? Yes please. Indian food from one of the authentic restaurants on Devon Street? Don't mind if I do! Pierogies from the delicious mom-and-pop Polish joint? YOU BETCHA! I'll fill you in on some of those food details later this week.

For now, I'm sure you'll be glad to know that today is National Sundae Day...just in case you were looking for an excuse to dig into some ice cream topped off with hot fudge, caramel and other goodies.

If you're tired of the standard sundae recipe, here are a few fabulous, low-cal, variations courtesy of Hungry Girl.

Gimme S'more Sundae
Ingredients:
1/2 cup Breyers Double Churn Free French Chocolate fat-free ice cream
2 tbsp. Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme (only 1 tbsp. will actually end up on your sundae), room temperature
2 low-fat honey graham crackers (half a sheet), lightly crushed
1 tsp. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 tbsp. Fat Free Reddi-wip

Directions:
Place ice cream in a dessert bowl. Set aside. Carefully place marshmallow creme into one of the bottom corners of a Ziploc baggie. Use scissors to snip a tiny hole from the outside end of that corner, and squeeze 1 tbsp. of the creme (the rest will stick to the bag!) over your ice cream in a drizzle. Then top with the graham cracker pieces and chocolate chips. Finish it all off with a generous squirt of the Reddi-wip.

Pumpkin Pie Sundae
Ingredients:
1/2 cup Breyers Double Churn Free Creamy Vanilla fat-free ice cream
1 tbsp. canned pure pumpkin
1/8 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 low-fat honey graham crackers (half a sheet), lightly crushed
4 tbsp. Fat Free Reddi-wip

Directions:
Place ice cream in a small dessert bowl, and allow it to thaw just slightly (a few minutes). Then stir in the pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice until thoroughly mixed. Place bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes to allow the ice cream to firm up. Then top with the Redd-wip, followed by the crushed graham crackers.


HG Style Hot Fudge'n Brownie Sundae
Ingredients:
1/2 cup Breyers Double Churn Free French Chocolate fat-free ice cream
2 tbsp. Fat Free Reddi-wip
1 tbsp. traditional fudge brownie mix
2 tsp. Hershey's Lite chocolate syrup
1 tsp. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. fat-free liquid egg substitute (like Original Egg Beaters)

Directions:
Place brownie mix in a small microwave-safe dish (like a ramekin). Add egg substitute and 1/2 tsp. water, and mix well. Microwave for 45 seconds, and then let sit for 5 minutes. Then, use a fork to break it up and crumble into brownie bits (use your fingers, too -- just make sure your hands are clean!). Place ice cream in a dessert dish, and top with brownie bits. Set aside.
Place chocolate chips in a small microwave-safe dish, and cover with syrup. Microwave for 45 seconds, and then mix well. Pour sauce over the brownie bits and ice cream.

Enjoy! I'll be in touch.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Cheering for Chili



I'm so excited!! Tomorrow is the big chili cookoff festival in Atlanta, the one that I enjoyed so much last year. To date, it remains the best outdoor event I've attended in this particular city. I mean, how do you top an afternoon of delicious homemade chili, beer and bluegrass bands - especially if the temperature is in the upper-60s/low-70s, like the forecasters are predicting. Last year, we got to taste-test a variety of recipes provided by area residents and restaurant chefs. While I enjoyed every spoonful, I think my favorite was a green chili stew with tenderloin beef tips, potato, cilantro, onion and corn. Delicious! Wonder what the stand-out will be this time around?

By the way, if you needed another reason to grab a spoon and dig in, chili is pretty dang good for you. Tomatoes, for example, contain lycopene, vitamins C, A and K, fiber and potassium. These nutrients aid in the development of healthy teeth, bones, skin and hair, help lower blood pressure and possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Chili peppers contain a substance called capsaicin, which is now being studied as an effective treatment for sensory nerve fiber disorders. Some peppers have also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Anyhoo, while I won't be whipping up any chili recipes for the big event, I do have a few sucralose-sweetened tricks up my sleeve. Check out these dee-lish recipes courtesy of Splenda.com.

Chili Vegetarian Style

Chili

Finally, since tomorrow is National Cappuccino Day, here is a low-cal recipe for all you coffee lovers out there. Have a great weekend!

Cappuccino Mix in a Jar

Ingredients:
2/3 cup instant coffee granules
1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer
1 cup powdered chocolate drink mix
1/2 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Directions:
Have ready 2 (12 ounce) canning jars. Put the instant coffee into a food processor, and process to a fine powder. If you don't have a food processor, put it into a large plastic bag, and crush with a rolling pin.
In a large bowl, combine creamer, chocolate mix, instant coffee, SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir together until well mixed. Spoon into 2 - 12 ounce jars.
Attach a note to each jar that reads: Cappuccino: Mix 3 tablespoons of powder with 6 fluid ounces hot water.

More Splenda recipes here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Democracy never tasted so sweet...

Unless you've been living in a cave the past year, you probably know that today is Election Day. I don't care what your politics are...please, please hit the voting booth and exercise that right that so many people have fought for, marched for and died for in years past. Election Day allows us to play a role in determining how our government is run and what policies our legislators enact. And if my little soapbox lecture on civic pride won't sway you into casting a ballot, how about food-related freebies? In Atlanta alone, there are a ton of restaurants, bars and coffee shops offering up free drinks, appetizers or entrees to those wearing a voter sticker.

Here are some more options:

* Ben & Jerry's is giving away free scoops of ice cream from 5 to 8 p.m.

* Krispy Kreme Doughnuts will be handing out star-shaped doughnuts to voters, although some stores may decline to participate.

* Starbucks is offering a free tall cup of coffee today.

Finally, a friend whipped up an uber-yummy sucralose-sweetened cake over the weekend in honor of a friend's birthday/Halloween party. It was the perfect treat for a cool, fall day. Check it out...

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:
1 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup egg substitute
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Frosting
1 (8 ounce) package reduced fat cream cheese
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 drop imitation maple flavor
1/2 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil or spray a 13X9 inch pan with baking spray. Set aside.
To make the cake: Place SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener, brown sugar, oil, egg substitute and pumpkin puree in a large mixing bowl. Mix until well blended. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Pour cake batter into prepared pan.
Bake in preheated 350 degrees F oven 25-30 minutes or until when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake.
To make the frosting: Place frosting ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until well blended. Ice cake when cake is completely cool.
Optional garnishes: Sprinkle finely chopped walnuts or crushed ginger snaps over the top of the cake.

Friday, October 31, 2008

BOO!



Well, I'm off in a few to take my munchkins trick-or-treating. For all my loyal readers, I'm referring to the kids I've been mentoring for the past year. Is it sad that I'm probably more excited about it than they are? Just goes to show, no matter how old you get, you can always stay young at heart! Anyhoo, I've heard a lot of people grumbling about what they're going to do with all their leftover Halloween candy. I've got a few ideas.

1.Trick-or-Treat for Unicef. Every Halloween, children across the globe help collect money door-to-door to support UNICEF projects. The money is often collected at the same time as the children collect Halloween candy - and then sent to a UNICEF office. The money raised goes to provide medicine, water, food, education, and other services for children around the world. For more information, visit the UNICEF site.

2. Participate in Sight Night. Halloween is "Sight Night" for the Gift of Sight Foundation. Each year, trick-or-treaters collect used eyewear - which is then cleaned, repaired and hand-delivered to underprivileged people in developing countries who couldn't otherwise afford them. Since the program began in 1999, more than 1 million pairs of eyewear have been collected. For more information, visit the Sight Night site.

3. Someone recently told me about sending leftover Halloween candy to the U.S. troops overseas - which they apparently then give out to children in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's the information, according to my source; "You can go to your local post office and ask for a free "Priority Mail/Flat Rate Box." Since they go to APO boxes, they are not classed as international, and you can mail them for no more than $8, regardless of the weight. I go to "Anysoldier.com" and you can pick the branch of service you want to send the candy to. They have names and address of either individuals or company officers who know which soldiers in their units NEVER get any mail from home (which makes me sad) and give them out accordingly. Or some units make the candy available to all."

3. Donate your candy to a local food pantry.

4. Buy candy that supports a specific social cause - such as the pink bags of chocolate that help raise funds to fight breast cancer.

You get the idea! Use your powers for good this Halloween - not evil!

Now, I'm going to leave you today without a specific recipe, only because I know you'll be gnawing on that leftover candy for most of the weekend. But if you really want to watch calories, buy sugar-free chocolate.

And here is some Halloween trivia for all you ghosts and ghouls out there. Have a fabulous weekend!

* Orange and black are Halloween colors because orange is associated with the Fall harvest and black is associated with darkness and death.
* Jack o’ Lanterns originated in Ireland where people placed candles in hollowed-out turnips to keep away spirits and ghosts on the Samhain holiday.
* Halloween was brought to North America by immigrants from Europe who would celebrate the harvest around a bonfire, share ghost stories, sing, dance and tell fortunes.
* Tootsie Rolls were the first wrapped penny candy in America.
* The ancient Celts thought that spirits and ghosts roamed the countryside on Halloween night. They began wearing masks and costumes to avoid being recognized as human.
* Halloween candy sales average about 2 billion dollars annually in the United States.
* Chocolate candy bars top the list as the most popular candy for trick-or-treaters with Snickers #1.
* Halloween is the 2nd most commercially successful holiday, with Christmas being the first.
* Bobbing for apples is thought to have originated from the roman harvest festival that honors Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees.
* Black cats were once believed to be witch's familiars who protected their powers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You say choco-holic like it's a bad thing!



And today isn't even my birthday! According to my handy-dandy food calendar, today is National Chocolate Day! All I have to say is…about time! I've been needing an excuse to dive into my sugar-free chocolate stash. And since it's almost Halloween, I just may whip up one or two chocolate-infused desserts for my friends.

First, the good news. Scientists claim that chocolate, eaten in moderation, can lower blood pressure. In addition, dark chocolate has a number of antioxidants that help balance certain hormones in the body, reduce the formation of free radicals and lower cholesterol. On the other hand, eating large quantities of any energy-rich food such as chocolate increases the risk of obesity.

So, as per usual, moderation is key folks!

Now to help you out, here are a few sucralose-sweetened chocolate recipes, courtesy of Hungry Girl and Splenda.com.

Death by Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients:
2 cups moist-style chocolate cake mix (half of an 18.25-oz. box)
Two 25-calorie packets diet hot cocoa mix
1/2 cup fat-free liquid egg substitute (like Egg Beaters Original)
2 tbsp. semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
1 tsp. Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (granulated)
1/8 tsp. salt
Directions:
Place chocolate chips and the contents of both cocoa packets in a tall glass. Add 12 ounces of boiling water, and stir until chips and cocoa mix have dissolved. Place glass in the freezer to chill for 25 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once cocoa has chilled, give it a stir, and mix with all other ingredients in a mixing bowl. Whip batter with a whisk or fork for 2 minutes. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray, or line it with baking cups. Evenly spoon batter (which will be thin, but don't worry, your cupcakes will puff up!) into the pan. Place pan in the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Cupcakes will look shiny when done. MAKES 12 SERVINGS

Died and Went to Heaven Chocolate Cake
Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1/2 cup SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup hot strong black coffee
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cake pan or bundt with non-stick cooking spray, set aside.
Blend flour, SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener, SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt in large mixing bowl.
Combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, vanilla extract, and coffee in a small bowl.
Add flour to mixture, using an electric mixer on medium speed, mix until Smooth (about 2 minutes).
Pour batter into cake pan or bundt pan.
Bake for 35 minutes, until an inserted toothpick in center of cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes.

Chocolate Velvet Mousse
Ingredients:
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup low fat milk
1/4 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Curacao, Triple Sec, or brandy)*
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 cups sliced strawberries
Directions:
Place chocolate and milk in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until chocolate melts. Set aside.
Stir together egg substitute, SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener, cornstarch and Grand Marnier in a small mixing bowl. Add to chocolate mixture. Stir constantly. Cook over medium heat while stirring constantly, until mixture begins to thicken (approx. 3-4 minutes). Remove from heat and pour into the bowl of a blender or food processor. Blend or process briefly (10-20 seconds) to make a more creamy texture. Pour into medium bowl and cover.
Refrigerate chocolate mixture approx. 2-3 hours or until cool. Whip cream until stiff and fold into chocolate. Refrigerate overnight to set. Will keep refrigerated for 3 days.
To serve, layer strawberries and mousse in 6 all- purpose wine glasses.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Democracy at Work


Guess what I did today? I voted! I got up at the crack of dawn and headed over to the government building before work, waiting in a surprisingly long line to cast my ballot in the presidential, state and local races. My thought process was to get it out of the way early, so I could avoid the long lines expected on Nov. 4. But if the early voter turnout stays as strong as it was today - seriously, y'all...the line snaked around the building - then Election Day voters might be able to breeze in and out of the polling places.
Either way, YAY! My part is done...and I'm definitely ready for this election to be over.
Anyhoo, as a little treat to myself for participating in democracy and surviving a taxing work week, I'm going to enjoy some sweets tonight. The question is, what should I whip up? Well, for starters, October is National Apple Month. And since I did vote today, it seems fitting to bake an apple pie. After all, what's more American than apple pie, right? Here are a few sucralose-based, apple-licious dessert recipes for all my fellow "sweet tooths" out there.

P.S. If you want a more traditional apple pie recipe, refer to my blog entry about Pushing Daisies last week.

Apple Bread Pudding Pie

Granny's Apple Crisp

Caramel Apple Cider

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Halloween Help!

Okay, so I've been a bit of a slacker the past few Halloweens when it comes to costumes. I used to always come up with the most creative costume ideas...but lately? Meh. It just hasn't been high on the priority list. Last year, for example, I actually told people I was a "nudist on strike," when they complained about my normal attire. But this season, I've been invited to a massive costume party and was told that I HAVE to come dressed up. BOO!

So here's where you come in, dear readers. I need help! All creativity has left the building - I'm plumb tapped out. So what do you think I should be for Halloween? Obviously, there are the usual suspects: doctor/nurse, angel/devil, naughty school girl, witch, rock star, princess themes. But you know what I say to that? BORING! I could also try to do something more clever or "punny" like transforming into the "devil in the blue dress," or grabbing wings and a liquor bottle and calling myself a "barfly." A week or so ago, a guy friend and I discussed dressing up as Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston - but then we figured that would be a verrrry popular costume choice this year.

Other thoughts? I've considered going as the titular character from "Run Lola Run," primarily so I could don a crazy red wig. Plus, the outfit is super easy to pull together - black boots, cargo pants, grey tank top. Right now, however, I'm leaning toward dressing up as Joanna (Jennifer Aniston's character) from Office Space - one of my fave movies! It should be fairly easy. All I need is a green and white striped polo shirt, waitress apron, suspenders and flair - and voila! I have my own Chotchkie's uniform. Thoughts? Insight? What will you be dressing as this Halloween? Send me your stories! Also, I've mentioned this before, but I mentor for a refugee family and I'm taking the kids trick-or-treating next week. But before that, I have to help them design costumes. Any advice on hand-crafting kid costumes?

For giggles, I'm including two clips from Office Space, as well as some of the movie's more entertaining quotes.





* The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.

* No, not again. I... why does it say paper jam when there is no paper jam?

* Good evening Sir, my name is Steve. I come from a rough area. I used to be addicted to crack but now I am off it and trying to stay clean. That is why I am selling magazine subscriptions.

* Excuse me? Excuse me, senor? May I speak to you please? I asked for a mai tai, and they brought me a pina colada, and I said no salt, NO salt for the margarita, but it had salt on it, big grains of salt, floating in the glass...

* Oh, and remember: next Friday... is Hawaiian shirt day. So, you know, if you want to, go ahead and wear a Hawaiian shirt and jeans.

* I can't believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We're looking up "money laundering" in a dictionary.

* It was a "Jump to Conclusions" mat. You see, it would be this mat that you would put on the floor, and it would have different conclusions written on it that you could jump to.

* Uh-oh. Sounds like somebody's got a case of the Mondays.

By the way, I know they showed the typical vanilla-frosting sheet cake in the Office Space scene embedded above, but doesn't this sound like the perfect fall sweet treat? Consider this sugar-free recipe if any of your office comrades have an upcoming birthday!

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

More low calorie recipes here

Friday, October 17, 2008

Peddling Pies for Pushing Daisies

There are very few television shows that fall under my "Must-See TV" list. The Office, Lost, Brothers and Sisters and past seasons of Project Runway make the short list. But you know what other show I adore? Pushing Daisies. Hot dang, I missed this show.
If you haven't seen it yet, tune in next Wednesday night. You can also watch the previously-aired episodes on-line.
For those new to the Pushing Daisies world, it is a "forensic fairy tale" featuring Ned, an introvert piemaker with the ability to revive the dead. Ned - joined by his once-dead childhood sweetheart, Charlotte "Chuck" Charles and snarky private investigator pal, Emerson Cod - capitalizes on this gift and resuscitates murder victims long enough to solve the mystery of their death and collect any outstanding rewards.
So not only is this show a visual masterpiece, but I don't know that there is a more phenomenal cast on TV right now. I just love me some Chi McBride, who is outstanding as the cranky, vest-knitting Emerson. And Kristen Chenoweth is a hoot playing the lovelorn Olive Snook. In addition to the musical Ms. Chenoweth, there are several other Broadway veterans gracing the small screen. Tony Award winner Raul Esparza is a traveling homeopathic antidepressant salesman who frequents Ned's shop, while Swoozie Kurtz and Ellen Greene (Audrey!) play Chuck's eccentric aunts, former synchronized swimmers who hate leaving the house.
I'm concerned, though. I've heard that ratings haven't been particularly good following last season's strike-gutted run. So pretty please, people. Step away from The Hills and Rock of Love and all those crappy reality shows and give Pushing Daisies a shot. I mean, in the first episode of this second season, Olive escapes to a nunnery - paving the way for all sorts of Sound Of Music references. Recent mysteries have involved a revenge murder via a swarm of bees, a bunch of clowns dead at the hands of a surly anti-union French acrobat and an amorous pig running down a nun for rare Italian white truffles that were being secretly cultivated in a bell tower. HOW DO YOU TOP THAT??
Anyhoo, the only downside to the show is I've been craving a whole lot of sweet treats lately - which I blame entirely on the array of delectable desserts on display at The Pie Hole, Ned's humorously-named restaurant. A friend recently suggested we all start getting together each Wednesday night for Pushing Daisies viewing parties, with each person taking turns to bake a pie. It reminds me of the old days when I used to attend Sopranos parties, complete with wine and pasta. Yum!
Anyhoo, here are a few low-calorie, sugar-free pie recipes to get you through the long weekend or to prepare you for the next episode of Pushing Daisies.

Berry Cherry Pie
Nostalgic Apple Pie
Banana Cream Tart

And for fun, I'm attaching some clips of this awesome show. In the first, Chenoweth serenades the Sound of Music.
The second clip highlights some funny clips featuring everyone's favorite grouch, Emerson.
And the last features Chenoweth and Greene harmonizing on the They Might Be Giants hit, "Birdhouse in Your Soul." It just doesn't get any better than that.






Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A wedding feast to blog about...

I'll never forget the first time I hit up an Indian dinner buffet. I was probably about 21 or 22 - and while I was already a fan of Indian cuisine, I hadn't yet experienced the joys of piling one item after another onto my plate, until it was a heaping mound consisting of all the various dishes. What I also learned that night? That too much Indian food makes my tummy hurt. Within a few hours of that meal, I remember lying down in my apartment, reeling from a bloated belly and a wicked headache.
Fortunately, I've since learned moderation. And now I can easily tackle an Indian buffet without feeling like I need to chug a bottle of Pepto Bismol afterward.
At least that was true until Sunday...when I gorged myself on both an Indian lunch and dinner buffet, topped off with cake, cocktails and appetizers.
As I mentioned in my last post, I went to a Hindu wedding ceremony this weekend. And it was fabulous. Seriously, the bride could not have been more gorgeous and the look of love and happiness in the groom's eyes when his wife arrived made even my Grinch heart grow three sizes. The ceremony itself was also beautiful, between the exchange of garlands, the holy steps around the sacred fire and the blessings from family and friends.
And the food - oh my goodness gracious, the food. There was a full lunch buffet following the ceremony which included naan, palak paneer, tandoori chicken, vegetable biryani, samosas, kheer and all sorts of other tasty treats. A few hours later, they put out some appetizers, which included masala dosa, poori, pakoras and more. And then there was the full dinner buffet...do you see where I'm going with this? Needless to say, I was feeling pretty wretched Monday morning, as well as about 10 pounds heavier. And yet it was so, so worth it. The food was a-MAY-zing.

Lately, I've been noticing (and with great pleasure, I might add) that there are a growing number of sugar-free Indian food recipes on the Internet. Apparently, several of the top chefs have begun regularly using sucralose in their dishes. YAY! Here are a few examples, courtesy of Sanjeeve Kapoor - a Master chef, author and TV host - for any other Indian food fans out there.

CHENNAR PAYESH
Ingredients:
1 cup grated skimmed milk cottage cheese
5 cups skimmed milk
A few strands of saffron
½ teaspoon green cardamom powder
2 teaspoons sucralose
10-12 pistachios, halved
Directions:
Heat milk in a pan and cook till it reduces to half the original quantity. Add saffron and green cardamom powder to the reduced milk and mix. Add the grated cottage cheese and cook on low heat for another two minutes. Take the pan off the heat and set aside to cool. Add sucralose and mix gently. Refrigerate and serve chilled, garnished with pistachios.

SHEER KURMA
Ingredients:
7½ cups skimmed milk
100 grams roasted whole wheat vermicelli
1 tablespoon ghee
A few strands of saffron
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds (chironji)
½ teaspoon green cardamom powder
A pinch nutmeg powder
6 teaspoons sucrolose
3-4 almonds, blanched and slivered
3-4 pistachios, blanched and slivered
Directions:
Boil milk till reduced to three fourths its volume. Heat ghee in a kadai. Add the vermicelli and stir gently. Add reduced milk and mix. Add saffron, sunflower seeds, green cardamom powder, nutmeg powder and cook for about five minutes. Add sugar substitute, almonds and pistachios and mix. Taste for sweetness and serve hot.

By the way, while people didn't spontaneously break out into song and dance at the reception this weekend, there was some great music and a lot of women in beautiful and colorful sari garments. So for a little taste of what a Hindu marriage reception is like, watch this clip from "Bride and Prejudice," an Indian/British/American romantic musical that closely follows the plot of...you guessed it! Pride and Prejudice. Enjoy!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Danke Schoen, Darling...

So, this weekend is kind of a dream come true - at least in the food lover's sense. Tomorrow, for example, I'm heading up to Helen, Georgia for an Oktoberfest celebration...which means all the Bavarian beer, wiener schnitzel and bratwurst I can digest. On Sunday, I'm attending an Indian wedding reception and you just KNOW I will be all up on those plates of palak paneer, biryani and naan. Yes, indeed...I'm definitely looking forward to the weekend.

So here's a little more information about all things Helen, GA. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Chattahoochee River, the former logging town is a recreation of an alpine village complete with cobblestone alleys and old-world towers. Or as my cousin's wife says with disdain, "It's like a Disney World depiction of Germany...for people who've never been there." She's a German native, by the way. Still, I kind of really want to see the place. I mean, I like Disney World - even if it is total cheese! Plus, once I heard that my friends had rented a "booze bus" to take everyone there and back, I was sold. So I'll be following up Monday, hopefully with some fun and delicious stories from the weekend.

In the meantime, here are a few low-calorie, sucralose-sweetened German recipes. Next week, I'll sweeten the pot with some low-cal, sugar-free Indian food recipes.

German Chocolate Cake

German Apple Pancakes

German Potato Salad

Black Forest Cake

Now, here is an amusing German-related movie clip from an '80s hit comedy. If you thought it was the "Danke Schoen" scene from Ferris Bueller, you'd be wrong! Two clues: Clark and Griswold. Happy weekend.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Why mess with something so Absolutely Fabulous?!

Eddie: Well, I don't have to go to a plastic surgeon to keep my body together, do I. No, no, no. Because I want to tell ya, I've got my fantastic bone structure. I am thin and gorgeous!
Penny: Thin? Ha!


Apparently, Fox is working on a U.S. remake of "Absolutely Fabulous," a '90s-era British comedy that remains one of my favorite all-time shows. And part of me wants to be excited about this, especially since it seems that Jennifer Saunders will actually be involved with the project. On the other hand, how can you even attempt to replace the irreplaceable original cast?!

According to news sources, the new Ab Fab would be set in L.A. but retain the basic template of the original, revolving around the friendship of two boozy, over-40 best friends who are desperate to stay hip and youthful. A show brilliant in its uncensored bad behavior and satirical humor, the series featured the amazing Saunders and Joanne Lumley as Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone, two hard-drinking, substance-abusing, selfish and immature Londoners. Their cruel humor served as a relection of the hypocrisy of current society, and often came at the chagrin of Edina's more moral and conservative daughter, Saffron.

There was also a running gag about weight. Edina, for example, would often embark on various diets of water and meat in an effort to shed a few pounds. Patsy, on the other hand, was seldom seen consuming anything other than a cigarette or cocktail. Irreverant and hilarious - that was Ab Fab.

So to honor our favorite misbehavin' Brits, I've included a few sugar-free cocktail recipes (courtesy of Hungry Girl) to get you through the week. If those don't interest you, simply raise a flute of Patsy and Eddy's favorite drinks, Bolly Stolly (Bollinger champagne and Stoli vodka) or Dom & Bom (Dom Perignon champagne and Bombay Sapphire gin) in the hopes that Fox gets this one right.

Kickin' Key Lime Pie Martini
Ingredients:
1.5 oz. lime-flavored vodka (like Finlandia Lime or Smirnoff Twist of Lime)
1 oz. Torani Sugar Free Vanilla Syrup
2 tbsp. pineapple juice
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. Cool Whip Free

Directions:
Place all ingredients in a martini shaker with 1 cup ice (crushed ice works best). Cover the top of the shaker, and shake thoroughly. Strain into a martini glass and enjoy!

Black Cherry Mamba Mojito
Ingredients:
3/4 cup diet lemon-lime soda
1 shot (1 1/2 oz.) light rum
1/8 tsp. Kool-Aid Black Cherry Unsweetened Soft Drink Mix
12 mint leaves
4 dark sweet cherries (fresh and pitted or thawed from frozen)
1/4 lime, cut into slices
1 no-calorie sweetener packet (we like Splenda!)
5 - 8 ice cubes

Directions:
Remove seeds from lime slices. Then muddle (aka pulverize) the mint, lime and cherries in a glass. Add the soda, rum, Kool-Aid, and sweetener. Stir well. Add ice and enjoy!

Finally, here's a hilarious clip showing one of the few times Patsy is ever seen consuming actual food. Enjoy!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Why I will not eat too much spanakopita this weekend

In case you needed another reason to put down the jumbo-sized bag of tortilla chips, here goes...apparently binge eating can make your brain go haywire. According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (shout out to my alma mater!!), overeating could literally kick-start the type of damage that causes diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. The new findings - which have been reported in the journal Cell - show that overeating appears to activate a usually dormant immune system pathway in the brain, sending out immune cells to attack and destroy invaders that are not there. Scientists say this could help explain why obesity causes so many different diseases. It might also offer a way to prevent obesity itself.

Okay. So while it sounds like these guys hope to eventually find a drug or gene therapy that prevents all this from happening, I'm thinking it's just another excuse to practice healthy eating habits and not indulge in every delicious item put in front of me. Putting it into yet another perspective...the economy is pretty lousy these days. And I certainly don't have the money to buy a whole new wardrobe once my pants get too tight!!

However, I may have to allow myself just a wee bit of wiggle room on Sunday, when I stop by Atlanta's Greek Festival. I love me some souvlaki, pastitsio, tiropita, rice pilaf and spanakopita! I know, I know...I'll be good. But you KNOW I will be enjoying at least one plate of food.

By the way, looky what I found! A sucralose sweetened, low calorie baklava recipe. OPA!

Baklava

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Garden of good and evil, indeed!

When it comes to food, let's just say Savannah has got the "good and evil" combination covered. It's all so tasty and yet so high in cholesterol!
As mentioned in my previous post, I spent the past weekend in Savannah. LOVED IT! We seriously ate and drank our way around the city. Some of the weekend's highlights? Coffee and beignets at Huey's, a "ghost tour/pub crawl," listening to Nina Simone's daughter sing at the jazz festival in Forsyth Park, my friend getting booed off the stage at a karaoke bar, people-watching in City Market, an afternoon trip to Tybee Island so we could dip our toes in the water, an interesting conversation with an angry Czech man at a bar on the river, strolling through the beautiful squares and touring some of the historic homes and a fabulous lunch at Soho South Café (try their tomato basil bisque and brie sandwich). Also high on the list of, well, highlights was our dinner at Paula Deen's restaurant, The Lady and Sons. While the process of making reservations was a royal pain in the tuchus, the meal was so, so worth the wait. We ordered the "Southern Buffet," which included fried chicken that literally melted in the mouth, uber-cheesy mac and cheese, some of the best mashed potatoes I've ever had the pleasure of eating, green beans, collard greens, yams, black-eye peas, a salad bar and more. I'm salivating just thinking about it. The meal also included dessert (I tried the dee-lish banana puddin,' while another friend ordered the peach cobbler.) All I have to say is, it's a good thing we decided to then walk from one end of the city to another, because without that post-meal activity, I don't know we would have ever been able to move again. The food was that rich...and that yummy. Oh and P.S., I also saw some people eating a spectacular chicken pot pie that I just might have to order next time I visit the restaurant.

Anyhoo, I'm bummed we had to leave, but in the interest of maintaining my waistline, it's probably a good thing.

So while I can't recreate the perfection that was our Paula Deen meal, I can try to pass on some sucralose-sweetened, low-cal recipe variations. Here you go!

Delicious Banana Pudding

Black-Eye Pea Salad

Double Crust Peach Cobbler

Also, in the hope of selling you all on visiting the wonderful City of Savannah, here's a video I found on YouTube. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

See you soon, Savannah!


Ever since I read "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" way back in the day, I've been jonesing to check out Savannah. I've always loved that Southern Gothic, Spanish moss, mint juleps on the veranda, antebellum architecture vibe...New Orleans, Charleston and Key West are probably three of my favorite cities in this nation, after all. And over the years, I've heard similar comparisons to the decadent Savannah.
So guess who is FINALLY making her way to Savannah for a long weekend? THAT WOULD BE ME!!! I couldn't be more excited. According to some friends, I've already dorked out considerably, looking up information online to see what are the best sites, restaurants and attractions to check out. You better believe it, baby. I love to go prepared.
As far as food, I've got a whole list of places put together, but I'm probably most eager to check out Paula Deen's restaurant, The Lady and Sons.

So to kick off my departure, I thought I'd share with you, my dear readers, a sugar-free Paula Deen recipe. I know, can you believe it? I didn't know she made anything without sugar!!

Paula Deen's Magical Peanut Butter Cookies

Recipe Summary
Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Yield: 18 cookies

1 cup peanut butter, creamy or crunchy
1 1/3 cups baking sugar replacement (recommended: Splenda)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large baking sheet.
In a mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter, 1 cup sugar replacement, the egg, and vanilla, and stir well with a spoon. Roll the dough into balls the size of walnuts. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet. With a fork, dipped in sugar replacement to prevent sticking, press a crisscross design on each cookie. Bake for 12 minutes, remove from the oven, and sprinkle the cookies with some of the remaining sugar replacement. Cool slightly before removing from pan.

I'll be back Monday, with lots of stories (and recipes) to share. 'Til then!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Say what now?

Ruh roh, Shaggy! There are some newly-published reports now making the rounds that list some of the worst foods and drinks out there, in terms of calories, fat grams and sugar content. I think it's safe to say the findings are pretty disturbing.
Take a look for yourself.

Worst Breakfast in America
Bob Evans Stacked and Stuffed Caramel Banana Pecan Hotcakes
1,543 calories
77 g fat (26 g saturated; 9 g trans)
2,259 mg sodium
198 g carbs
109 g sugars
Saturated fat equivalent: 26 strips of bacon
Sugar equivalent: 12 chocolate chip cookies
Sodium equivalent: 12 small bags of potato chips
* It’s not a good sign when it takes you nearly five seconds to spit out the name of your breakfast. This bad boy packs in more than 75 percent of your calories for the day, along with more sugar and fat than nine glazed Dunkin’ Donuts, and nearly as much sodium as five Bloody Marys.

The Worst Drink in America
Baskin-Robbins Large Heath Bar Shake
2,310 calories
108 g fat (64 g saturated)
266 g
* Let's look at America's Worst Drink in numbers...
73: The number of ingredients that go into this milkshake.
66: The number of teaspoons of sugar this drink contains.
11: The number of Heath Bars you would have to eat to equal the number of calories found in one Baskin Robbins Large Heath Bar Shake.
12: The average number of minutes it takes to consume this drink.
240: The number of minutes you'd need to spend on a treadmill, running at a moderate pace, to burn it off.

Worst Summer Cocktail
Pina Colada
625 calories
75 g sugars
* Made from a blend of sickly-sweet pineapple juice and fat-riddled coconut milk, pina coladas may be this summer's biggest beach-body saboteurs. In fact, the only redeeming part of this drink is the garnish - that lonely chunk of pineapple hanging from the rim.

I'm not sure how you're feeling, but I believe my waistline expanded just reading about these things. That's a lot of calories in one sitting. So is there a solution? For starters, don't eat or drink any of the above-mentioned items. And keep an eye on menu calorie counts.

Instead of that pina colada? Try a mojito and save up to 400 calories!

Mojito
Pour 3/4 of an ounce (about half a shot) fresh lime juice into a glass. Add one packet of Splenda and four or five mint leaves. Stir until the sweetener dissolves. Add a shot of light rum and several ice cubes. Top with 2 ounces club soda and a sprig of mint.

For whatever it's worth, here are two more sucralose-sweetened, low-calorie options.

Oat Bran Pancakes (2 g fat, 21 carbs, 130 calories)

Malted Mocha Frappe (4 g fat, 33 carbs, 180 calories)

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Proof of the Pudding...

Whenever someone mentions butterscotch, my first association is to remember an elderly neighbor from back when I was a wee one. He would stuff the pockets of his cardigan with butterscotch candies and hand them out to all the children on the block. What a sweetie!
My second association is with butterscotch pudding - which makes me hungry. YUMMMMMMY. As most of my friends know, I'm a big fan of pudding and gelatin products. I have boxes of the instant stuff cluttering my cabinet space. But why wouldn't I? It's tasty and quick to make - plus Jell-O has gone and made many of my favorite flavors sugar-free or fat-free. Woo hoo!

So guess who will be raising a cup of sugar-free butterscotch pudding later today in honor of National Butterscotch Pudding Day?! You betcha, ey. That would be me! On a sidenote, I will also be raising a pint of beer on behalf of my baby brother, who turned 25 today. Where does time fly?!

For all you other butterscotch pudding fans, today's a good day to indulge in the sweet treat. And if you want to dress it up a bit, I'm including two sugar-free recipes that build on the idea of butterscotch pudding.

Butter Pecan Layer Pie

Bread and Butter Pudding With Butterscotch Sauce

Now, because I'm feeling a bit nostalgic, here's a classic '80s pudding commercial featuring everybody's favorite TV dad, Mr. Bill Cosby.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Could someone please feed these girls?





So I finally caught the tail end of the much-hyped new 90210 last night. Huh. Here are my thoughts, for what it's worth. For starters, the show itself is pretty lame and the acting is fairly blah, except when it comes to the fabulous Ms. Jessica Walters (Shout out, Lucille Bluth!!!) Keep in mind, this commentary is not coming from some old-fogey completely out-of-touch with the reality of teen drama (even if I am in my 30s now) but rather from someone who loved the original 90210. Although, I admit I did quit watching once Brenda moved to London...I was a member of Team Dylan-Brenda Forever.
But on top of the steaming pile of mediocre that seems to be the new version, you know what I found really disturbing? The unhealthy physique of so many of the female stars. No joking, y'all...those are some emaciated-looking girls. And apparently, I'm not the only one to notice. Check out this sentence from an Entertainment Weekly article.
"Almost without exception, the young actresses on The CW's spin-off are alarmingly thin, with arms that seem thickest at the wrists, and legs that look, well, like arms." The article also notes that 90210 insiders "quietly admit" they know there's a problem. Well, halle-freakin-lujah. I suppose I should be thrilled that people are even NOTICING there's a problem. But here's my real beef with the weight issue. If you'll recall about a year ago, when Britney Spears took the stage at the Video Music Awards weighing a tad bit more than she did as a svelte teenager, magazines and bloggers across the globe pointed fingers and essentially called her fat. Classy!
So what kind of mixed messages are we sending to women and youth today? Because it seems to me that we're basically saying that, while we don't want them to be too skinny, gee whiz, they also better not weigh more than a size four!
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average woman is 5foot 4 inches tall and 164 pounds - in other words, a size 14. When's the last time you saw an actress on a hit show that was anywhere close to that size? Now try comparing the current cast of 90210 to the original crew (as posted in my photos at the top of this entry). Kelly, Brenda, Donna and Andrea look positively plump next to today's gaunt group. The same goes for supermodels today, most of whom are probably half the size of Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell - gorgeous women who graced the cover of every magazine back in the '90s.
Sadly, I doubt it will get any better anytime soon. According to reports, the new 90210 beat every other network on Tuesday night in capturing the female 12 to 34 age bracket. You think there aren't tween girls sitting in front of their mirrors right now, measuring the size of their waist and calves? The National Eating Disorders Association cites data from the 1990s in which 42 percent of girls in grades 1-3 reported a desire to be thinner. Says the association's CEO Lynn S. Grefe, "There's no doubt it's gotten worse."
Sadly, there are Web sites devoted to tracking the weight of celebrities, gleefully noting every gained pound or appearance of cellulite. In a time when actresses and models are dropping down to frighteningly skeletal proportions, I think we're sending a dangerous message by trashing any women with full, healthy figures.
We have a problem, folks, one that seems to be getting worse each year.

Sigh. Rant over. I'm about to head off to a high-impact step class at the gym. After that? I'm going home and whipping up a healthy, low-cal dinner. It's one thing to eat smart. It's another to starve yourself.

Check out tonight's dinner recipe, courtesy of Splenda.com.

Chicken Ferocious

Friday, September 12, 2008

That's just nuts!


So I just had some friends in Houston call up, asking advice on how to weather (tee hee) the upcoming hurricane. You see, I was one of the unfortunate souls living in Florida during the insane 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. And because I was a reporter at the time, I couldn't just pack up my car and flee to a less dangerous region, like all of the sane people. Noooooo, I had to stick around and actually, you know, report on it. Thankfully, though, I was in newspapers and not broadcast. I'd hate to have been one of those TV types who had to basically chain themselves to a tree to get the "real" effect. Back to the point...I told my friends to board up their home, fuel up the car and stock up on water, booze and dry foods. Which means LOTS of junky snack items and PB&J sandwiches. The funny thing is, I LOVE peanut butter...and the junky snack food items. But after the first wave of storms in 2004, I actually got to the point where I couldn't even look at a peanut butter and jelly sandiwch, bag of cheetos or sleeve of cookies (I KNOW!!) because I got so tired of eating them. But, what else can you do? We essentially had no power for a month. Plus, even when the stores and restaurants reopened, the fresh food items were quickly bought out - meaning lots of bare shelves in the dairy and produce sections. Sigh.
But luckily, my love for peanut butter has since been restored. You just know I've been celebrating National Peanut Day today!!! I've already had a PB&J sandwich and just might have to get a spicy Asian peanut dish tonight.
What?? It's not like it's not good for you. Peanuts and peanut butter contain more than 30 essential nutrients and phytonutrients ― like protein, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese ― and have zero cholesterol and no transfats.

Want more? Here are some nutty fun facts for ya.

* Peanuts are not actually nuts at all! They are legumes, like beans, peas and lentils.
* Americans eat 3 pounds of peanut butter per person every year. That's about 700 million pounds, or enough to coat the floor of the Grand Canyon!
* Peanuts may be a favorite food, but we've found many uses for their shells too! You might find peanut shells in kitty litter, wallboard, fireplace logs, paper, animal feed and sometimes as fuel for power plants!
* Two peanut farmers have been elected President of the United States: Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter.
* One acre of peanuts will make 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches.

Finally, because I'm such a nice person, here are a few low-calorie, sucralose-sweetened peanut-based recipes to try out. Hope you love them. And good luck to anyone out in the Texas area. BE SAFE AND STAY DRY!!

Sticky Sweet Peanut Brittle

Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bites