Friday, February 29, 2008

Feeling a little lost


Most of my friends know that I'm usually accessible should they need to reach me. However, there is one hour each week where folks are strictly "forboden" to call - and if they do, I will NOT pick up the phone. That, dear readers, is during "LOST." As loyal viewers of that show know, you turn your attention away for just one minute, and you may have missed a major plot point or Easter egg. And last night, by the way, I think my brain officially short circuited...just like poor Eloise and Minkowski. It was that good, and that much of a mind-tease, that I still don't know what exactly went down despite significant post-show analysis with friends. Yet, I still want more!
For those unfamiliar with Lost, I say get thee to the closest video store and watch the previous seasons so you can catch up. It is, by far, the smartest show on television. Not to mention there is some serious eye candy for both men and women. Anyhoo, I wish I could explain it to you but...it's virtually impossible. On paper, it's simple. Commercial passenger jet crashes onto a mysterious tropical island and scrappy survivors must learn how to fend for themselves while awaiting rescue. But honey, this ain't no "Gilligan's Island" or even "Lord of the Flies." It's so much more complex, delving into science and faith conflicts and allusions, apocalyptic references and providing all sorts of philosophical, mythological and literary subtext for fans to chew up and disect. I mean, even the numbers mentioned in each episode have some sort of deeper meaning...unless the producers are just messing with our heads, which is entirely possible.
Either way, though, I've somehow been talked into hosting a Lost-themed party in honor of the series finale in a few weeks. Yikes! See, I love to attend parties, not plan them...so this will require some brainstorming! Because of the show's island setting, I might do more of a tropical-theme with sugar-free cocktails along with beer and appetizers. Or I could use meals that symbolize something in the show. Too bad those Dharma Initiative snack labels aren't still available. That would be super cool! Yes, I know...I'm a nerd who is WAY too excited about this show. But at least I'm not getting all geeked out about something lame like "American Idol" or "The Hills." Yeah, them's fighting words - Bring it!

So here are a few more recipe ideas I might include. Any thoughts, comments or concerns from the peanut gallery?

Watermelon Fruit Salad Bowl

Colorful Seafood Pasta Salad

Polynesian Pork Chops

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Sugar-Free Pina Coladas

For those of you still not moved enough by my poetic words to tune into Lost, check out a promo summing up the action taking place this season. It's all sorts of awesome.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Citrus lovin...



Well, I'm back. Spent my entire vacation sniffling and croaking like a frog, while wading through slushy streets following a nasty snowstorm. It was awesome, I'm sure. The best part was how many people felt it necessary to cup their hand over their ear when talking to me and say, "I'm sorry, you'll have to speak up. I can't hear you," before "hilariously" breaking out into guffaws. Har har.
Moving on, though, good thing I love me some citrus because I've sure had my share of Vitamin C the past couple weeks trying to get rid of this pesky flu. While I was looking up grapefruit-related recipes a few days ago, I realized that February is actually "National Grapefruit Month." Saweet! For all you budding chefs out there, here's your chance to win a free trip to Florida.
Turns out the Florida Department of Citrus is hosting a "How Sweet is Your Love" for Florida grapefruit contest. Whether it relates to breakfast, dinner, dessert or a non-alcoholic beverage, you must submit a grapefruit-inspired recipe by Feb. 29 (Friday) to participate. The recipe should contain one-half of a Florida grapefruit or at least 8-ounces of 100 percent grapefruit juice. Submissions will be judged by Jennifer Iserloh, aka the Skinny Chef, next month. The winner will receive $1,000 and a trip to Florida spent whipping up recipes with Iserloh at the Florida Culinary Institute. Second and third-place winners will receive smaller cash prizes.
If a free trip to sunny FL isn't incentive enough, how about the health benefits of consuming more grapefruit? In addition to its antioxidant powers, one grapefruit provides about 25 percent of your daily fiber needs. Pink and red varieties also contain lycopene, which is associated with reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.
Still not sold? Here's more.
Grapefruits offer potassium and folate, which are important nutrients for pregnant women and may help ward off depression and memory loss. The vitamin C found in both fresh grapefruit and grapefruit jucie is essential for collagen production, which can support healthy, smooth-looking skin.
To help get you started, I'm including a few low-cal, sucralose-sweetened grapefruit recipes. Good luck to anyone participating!

Grapefruit Raspberry Sparkler

Grapefruit and Chicken Salad

Fresh Grapefruit Pie

Warm Grapefruit Tea

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fever and congestion and laryngitis, oh my!


Hey gang. Sorry I've been MIA this week. I've actually got the flu. And although I've been dragging myself to work each day, I feel like I've been hit by a mack truck. It started over the weekend (of course!) with the fever and chills and has since transformed into wicked congestion and laryngitis. Yes, indeed - I've literally been using hand signals to communicate with co-workers today. And even better? I'm hopping on a plane tomorrow for a long weekend out-o-town...I apologize to my seatmates on the plane in advance.
Ugh. What a way to spend a vacation - speechless and sniffly - even if said vacation involves time spent with family in a cold weather environment, rather than chillaxing on a sunny beach with a Mai Tai in hand. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....oops, sorry about that. I started to daydream about my perfect getaway.
Anyhoodle, to try to nip this bug in the bud so to speak, I've been downing quarts of OJ and bowls of chicken or veggie soup all week, along with a ridiculous amount of tea, water, vitamins, cold meds and emergen-C. Good times. Tonight, when I get home, I'm whipping up some hot tea with cayenne pepper, honey, lemon juice, garlic and ginger. Sounds horrendous - but I'm told it's actually an effective remedy. Whatever works!
Since the flu seems to be knocking people out left and right these days (my office is filled with sneezing, hacking people) I figured I'd pass along a few preventative measures designed to keep the flu bug at bay, along with some feel-good recipes.

1. Eat a well-balanced and healthy diet - complete with several portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day - to keep your immune system strong.
2. Regularly take a multivitamin or antioxidant supplement such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, etc.
3. Drink plenty of fluids, including eight to 10 glasses of water each day. Herbal teas can also help.
4. Reduce the amount of sugar you eat.
5. Exercise regularly, whether it's a brisk walk around the block at lunch or an hour of cardio kickbox at the gym. Movement does your body good.
6. Sanitize your office/work area, kitchen and bathroom. Bacteria tends to blossom in these environments, helping generate the viruses that cause the common cold and flu. If you clean a lot of dishes by hand, stick the sponge in the microwave for a bit or toss it in the dishwasher to help cut down on germs.
7. Use a humidifier. It can help thin the mucus in the nasal membranes that causes stuffiness or postnasal drip.
8. All those handshakes, hugs and kisses that you regularly dole out may be friendly gestures, but you could also be spreading - or receiving - bacteria. Also try to avoid grasping too many doorknobs, escalator handles, subway rails and elevator buttons - all of which are teeming with germs.
9. Get plenty of sleep.
10. Wash your hands frequently!

While none of these are a silver bullet when it comes to prevention, they can certainly help reduce the chances of catching or spreading the flu.

Now, for those in the same miserable sick boat as me, here are a few meals designed to ease a sore, tickling throat or stuffy head.

Pho Bo soup (aka Vietnamese beef and noodle soup)


Tuscan tomato soup


Plum tomato cabbage soup


Chicken soup (aka, Jewish penicillin)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentines and Velvet, simply a Splenda recipe!

Happy Valentines Day, y'all. So there is one thing that I love about this particular holiday - and it has nothing to do with roses, chocolates or sappy Hallmark cards. So what, you ask, is the focus of my V-day related adoration? Three words....RED VELVET CAKE!!

Yup, my mom used to make red velvet cake every year for Valentines Day - so it has now become tradition. Other people dig into a box of chocolates or "sweet tarts" candy...I simply must have at least one slice of red velvet cake every Feb. 14.

For those of you unfamiliar with the delicious treat, red velvet cake is an aptly-named rich and sweet red-colored layered cake typically topped with a creamy white icing. Common ingredients include buttermilk, butter, flour, cocoa powder and often red food coloring. In a long list of worthy contenders, red velvet is quite possibly my favorite cake.

A warning to anyone planning to whip this up for the fist time...to make a quality red velvet cake, prepare to spend some time in the kitchen. And only make it for people worthy of that time and attention. True story...back in college (I believe it was my senior year) a couple gal pals came over and we decided to make some red velvet cake for the men in our lives. Later that evening, the boys came over and we all had a nice dinner and a few bottles of wine. When it came time to divvy up the cake, our fabulous boyfriends decided to turn it into a cake shoveling contest to see who could inhale the largest slice in the least amount of time. Niiiicccceeee. Well, my belief is, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em - and it soon turned into a big cake fight...after all that hard work. Needless to say, none of the couples present that evening lasted the school year. But I digress....

Anyhoo, this particular V-Day is so much sweeter now that I've realized the wonderful crew at Hungry Girl has done it again - they found a yummy-looking red velvet cupcake recipe that I will be trying out tonight. Using a reduced-sugar cake mix, Splenda, fat-free cream cheese, fat-free Egg Beaters and more, this version offers up less calories and fat grams than the typical version. I likey!

Anyway, I thought I would end this entry with a few nods to one of the best movies ever made - one that features an, ahem, interesting red velvet cake. According to this New York Times article, the movie even helped renew to national interest in the cake.

Here's a hint...
"The groom's cake! It's awful...it's in the shape of a giant armadillo. Worse, the cake part is red velvet. People are going to be hacking into this poor animal that looks like it's bleedin' to death!"
Got it yet? No? It's a quote from 'Steel Magnolias,' one of the few movies out there that can make me bawl like a baby...(Shelby was right, my hair does look like a brown football helmet!) I'm sniffling just typing that last line. Sheesh.
The flick also gave birth to some awesome quotes. Unfortunately, I couldn't find too many clips out there of the movie. But I will treat you to a few of my favorite Steel Magnolia lines.

Here you go...

* I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free. And I don't see movies 'cause they're trash, and they got nothin' but naked people in 'em! And I don't read books, 'cause if they're any good, they're gonna make 'em into a miniseries.

* Looks like two pigs fightin' under a blanket.

* I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.

* Well, you know what they say: if you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me!

* You are too twisted for color TV!

* I'm not crazy, I've just been a very bad mood for the last 40 years!

* You sound almost chipper. What happened today - you run over a small child or something?

* He's a real gentleman! I bet he takes the dishes out of the sink before he pees in it!

* My colors are "blush" and "bashful." ... Her colors are "pink" and pink."

* I realize as a woman how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Eat some pancakes, save some children...watch a dog show?

Back in high school, when I was captain of my swim team, we used to follow-up every Saturday afternoon practice with a trip to Walker Bros. - a fabulous breakfast joint in the neighborhood. After spending hours upon hours training in a pool, downing a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and digging into a piping hot apple pancake coated in cinnamon and sugar was not a problem - we'd just burn the calories right off again at the next practice. These days, unfortunately, that's no longer the case. I even look at chocolate chip pancakes and my butt immediately grows in size. Sigh...to be a teen again. Long story short, though, I love me some pancakes.

Anyway, I've decided I just might have to stop by an IHOP today to indulge in a short stack of buttermilk pancakes. And I'd be doing it for two very good reasons. One, the food is free - which is always the best kind of food, don't you agree? And two, any donations you make would then go to a national children's charity. Hoorah!

According to IHOP, National Pancake Day dates back several centuries to when the English prepped for fasting during Lent. Strict rules prohibited the eating of all dairy products during Lent, so pancakes were made to use up the supply of eggs, milk, butter and other dairy products...hence the name Pancake Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday. Since beginning the National Pancake Day celebration two years ago, IHOP has already raised nearly one million dollars to support children's charities.

Okay... so I know doggies have nothing to do with pancakes, but I watched some of the Westminster last night on TV and, well, I can't wait to see who wins it all tonight! I'm definitely rooting for my boy, Uno, who won me over with his fabulous tail-wagging personality. The 15-inch beagle was the first of his breed to win the hound group at the Westminster Kennel Club show in almost 70 years. And a beagle has never won "best in show." He'll be up against a standard poodle, a Sealyham terrier and Australian shepherd among others. My vote, though, is for the Snoopy dog! I think Uno is #1 in all languages - hee!

Back to food...here are two sugar-free pancake recipes to try out some day.

Oat Bran Pancakes

German Apple Pancakes

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sugar-free Girl Scout Cookies!!!

Wow. And today isn't even my birthday!
Sweet news for all you calorie counters out there. It appears the rumor I heard was true. A sugar-free Girl Scout cookie has indeed been added to the mix this year.
That means I don't have to feel so bad for breaking my New Year's "healthy eating" resolutions. I have to support the (Girl Scout) troops, don't I?!
Everybody's favorite group of cookie sellers is expected to start making the rounds again, tempting us with boxes of Samoas (my personal fave), Tagalongs and Thin Mints.
I'll now have to add Sugar-Free Chocolate Chips to my cookie lineup. According to the Girl Scout Web site, the sucralose-sweetened cookies do feature real chocolate.
Another new offering I might have to try out? Lemon Chalet Cremes, a citrus-flavored sandwich cookie with a hint of ginger and cinnamon. Can't wait!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Keep cooly cool, boys

"You come to MY HOUSE? You spit on me in MY HOUSE?" Conan O'Brien

I don't typically condone violence. But when the punches are thrown Three Stooges-style by the likes of Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, well, let the beat-down commence.
The trio appeared on each other's TV shows Monday night in a mock battle over who was responsible for Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's campaign success. In an effort to settle the disagreement, the three used weapons ranging from recycling bins and ice skates to blowtorches, bottles and bricks.
The fight hilariously faded out to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor.
Just as a sidenote, Huckabee eventually appeared by satellite to have the last word.
"Let's be clear: None of these guys made me. This great nation made me," declared Huckabee. "So vote for me. God bless America and forget these three idiots."
Oh come on. It's hilarious and you know it...regardless of political stripe.
Anyhoo, those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile probably already know that I have a bit of a crush on Jon Stewart...Okay, fine. I seriously HEART the guy. So when he and Colbert busted out the "Jets" moves from the West Side Story while declaring war on Conan, I howled with laughter.
Needless to say, I've decided to share a video depicting the fight with all of you lucky folks. I'll be back tomorrow with recipes and sugar-free dieting tips. Until then, just remember...laughter does a body good!

Monday, February 04, 2008

And a merry Mardi Gras to you too!




Happy almost Fat Tuesday, y'all!

I imagine at least a few of you are brushing off your Super Bowl-related hangovers and preparing to rip it up again in honor of Mardi Gras. I understand...Mind over matter. I used to be able to do that too when I was in my early to mid 20s. Not so much anymore. Moving on...With the bulk of my extended family hailing from Louisiana - New Orleans and Lake Charles to be precise - I've always been a sucker for a good Mardi Gras party. And while I'm sad I can't be in NOLA this week, celebrating in style, I plan to entertain a few friends post-elections tomorrow evening with a "King Cake" and some seasonal cocktails. Hand grenade anyone?

Seriously, though, I've found the sugar-free variations of a few Carnival-related treats and I'm eager to try them out. Take the "King Cake," for example, a popular Mardi Gras dessert that features colorful icing and a plastic baby. Seriously. The traditional version is a braided coffee cake decorated in purple, green and gold sugar. Each one contains a hidden plastic baby - with custom dictating that whoever finds the toy must buy the next cake or throw the next party. Hundreds upon hundreds of "King Cake" parties are thrown every year. Growing up in the Midwest, however, my reference to King Cake often generated raised eyebrows, blank stares or questions. It's not a huge tradition up North, ya hey.

I know it's hard to believe that a sugar-free, lower-calorie version can exist, but here ya go!
MARDI GRAS KING CAKE
Cake Ingredients:
2 (8 oz.) pkg. Fat Free Cream Cheese
2/3 cup granular Splenda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1 cup no sugar added apple pie filling
2 pkg. Crescent Rolls
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Combine cream cheese, 2/3 cup Splenda, egg yolk and vanilla. Mix until smooth.
3. Unroll crescent rolls and place on cookie sheet with points towards the center, overlapping as needed. Try to make a circle.
4. Spread cream cheese mixture over the dough leaving 1/2-inch from edges.
5. Mix the apple filling with 1 tsp. of Splenda and mash until slightly lumpy. Spread the filling on top of the cream cheese and then fold the outside edges over the filling to prevent leaking.
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Cool and glaze.

Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup granular Splenda
1 to 2 tsp. fat-free milk
Food coloring
Directions:
1. Mix Splenda with milk.
2. When desired thickness, add food coloring to create three different toppings.
3. Spread with ease and let sit for a few minutes.

Adding to the festivities, if you can't make it to Pat O's in the French Quarter this week for their world-famous hurricane cocktail, here's a version you can make from home!

HURRICANE
Ingredients:
2 oz light rum
2 oz dark rum
* 2 oz passion fruit juice
1 oz orange juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
* 1 tbsp simple syrup
1 tbsp grenadine

* For a healthier recipe, use some V8 Splash Guava Passion and make sugar-free simple syrup combining 1 cup of sucralose with 1 cup of boiling water. Once it has cooled, strain the sucralose and water through a coffee filter.

Shake all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, pour into a hurricane glass and garnish with an orange slice and cherry.

Finally, if you've been jonesing for a Cafe Du Monde beignet (and some coffee and chicory...yum!) check out this tasty treat.

BEIGNETS
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons granulated Splenda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1 cup water
1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar
Directions:
1. In a saucepan, combine Splenda, salt, butter, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil.
2. Add flour and cook over medium heat, beating with spoon until dough forms a ball and leaves side of pan. Remove from heat.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating with electric mixer at medium speed after each addition. Continue beating until the mixture is smooth.
4. Mix in vanilla.
5. Roll dough on a floured surface and cut into 2-inch squares.
6. In skillet, heat 1 to 2-inches of oil. Then fry dough (three or four pieces at a time) until puffy and golden brown on both sides.
8. Remove beignets and drain on paper towels. While hot, sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.

Don't forget. Tomorrow is Election Day in many states so, if at all possible, please get out and vote.

Friday, February 01, 2008

It's game time!

Ah, the Super Bowl. One of my favorite nights of the year. And even though my beloved Bears are not in it this Sunday - and despite the fact that I could truly care less about either the Patriots or the Giants - I still plan on celebrating the event in style. It's just such an amazing event to watch, particularly when the score is close. Plus, there are usually a few entertaining commercials as filler.

I know, I know...Super Bowl is tough on calorie counters. It's not easy to stay healthy when surrounded by trays of chili cheese dip, chips, buffalo wings and burgers. However, there are a few ways you can cut down on the fat while rooting for your favorite team.

For starters, if you're either A) hosting a party or B) attending a party, whip up some healthy recipe alternatives. And I'm not just talking about busting out the veggies with low-fat ranch dip.

Here are a few sucralose-sweetened options that help cut down on the calories.

Five Pepper Salsa
Sweet and Spicy Snack Mix
Lemon Chicken Tenders
Raspberry Cocktail Sauce with Chilled Shrimp

In addition, don't show up hungry. Try to eat a healthy, well-balanced meal - or even a light snack - before going to curb the appetite.

And, as much as liquor and football seem to go hand-in-hand, don't shoot for a liquid-only diet Sunday. Enjoy your frosty beverages - in moderation - and eat accordingly. If you're truly worried about the carbs or calories in your cocktail, drink light beer or vodka with diet soda.

By the way, I was polling a couple colleagues earlier this afternoon about their favorite Super Bowl commercial and it seems most of us agree -- Terry Tate, Office Linebacker is one of the best Super Bowl ads in recent memory. "You want to play games, Gene? Well when it's game time, it's pain time baby. Woooo!"
So here ya go! Have fun this weekend and stay safe!