Corked

The other evening, my husband opened a bottle of red wine. He decanted it and then poured himself a glass.

Then he promptly announced that he was going to pour it down the drain.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It smells bad. Like rotten.”

So down it went. Glug. Glug.

Winefolly.com says about 2-3% of wine has cork taint (that's about one bottle in every 2 cases) and that a typical wine enthusiast can expect to encounter about 100 bottles of corked wine in their lifetime. Yikes! I'm not a heavy wine drinker, but I've been lucky. I have been ordering wine for about 4 decades now, and it’s only been a few times that I have sent one back in a restaurant or poured one down the drain at home.

If your first wine encounter is with a corked bottle, it can turn you off of wine forever. The good news is the chances of that happening are low. Below I'm going to tell you how to spot a corked wine, even if you are a wine “rookie.” I actually find this stuff quite interesting and hope you find some benefit from it, too.

What is corked wine? 

Well, let's start with what it isn't:

  • It’s not the pieces of cork floating around your wine.
  • It's not a wine cork covered in little white crystals. These crystals (tartrate) are a natural by-product of some types of wine and are totally harmless, btw.
  • You can’t tell if a wine is corked from smelling the cork itself.

Corked wine is wine that is tainted with a compound called TCA (a molecule known as 2,4,6-trichloroanisole). It's formed when natural fungi (which reside in cork) come in contact with certain compounds found in bleaches and other winery sanitation products. If a winery uses infected corks, the wine becomes tainted.

How do I know if my wine is corked?

Jeremy Allen, a top sommelier in Hollywood, give some pointers:

"Does it smell like a wet dog? Or does it smell like a wet forest? A wet sponge? Does it smell like rotten poop, or precious world’s best poop? Does it smell like the Village Voice underneath that bus stop bench? Does it taste like a rusty old penny? Does it smell like a CORK? If it doesn’t offend you, no problem, drink it up. But if you have to question it, go ahead and question it. If you think it’s corked, it’s usually corked. The more bottles you pop, the more likely it is that you’re gonna get a bad one. By the way: If the cork breaks upon opening, or falls into the wine, it has no effect on whether or not the wine is “corked.” A dry cork that crumbles could be a clue that an older wine may have been exposed to air, and may possibly be less than prime, but that is a different matter.

"One reason “corked” is such a touchy area, is that people encounter things they don’t love in wines all the time, but have been intimidated into fearing that the flaws in a wine aren't really flaws at all. And in delicate social situations, questioning a wine or sending it back could make you feel pushy, picky, or twerpy.

"Say, the boss ordered it, and appears to love it—would you speak up and question her WINE EXPERTISE? Tough situation. There is no secret hand signal to the server for “My boss is drinking bad wine and I can’t take it, but I don’t want to not drink it—fix this please.” There is a lot of pressure on choosing, tasting, and sharing wine. Maybe it’s business, maybe it’s meeting the parents, maybe it’s just impressing a date with your sense of adventure (natural wine instinct), or comfort (fruit-forward guzzle). You don’t yet know who’s paying the bill, or what Emily’s mom and dad drink, or whether they have a cellar stocked with Harlan Estate or a fridge full of Barefoot Bubbly. But if it’s you that ordered it, and you that’s paying for it, PLEASE don’t hesitate to send it back, or at least ask one of us service staff to confirm. You are paying to enjoy yourself, and we are paid to make that easy for you, no matter what."

Is corked wine dangerous to your health?

Don't worry, drinking corked wine is not harmful to your health. Unfortunately, it does ruin the experience...and some wines are very expensive. Most important, if you think a wine is corked, don't try to suffer through and drink it. Drinking wine should be an enjoyable experience, so if it is not enjoyable, take a pass on that glass -- corked or not.

TIP: It’s harder to sniff out a corked red wine than a corked white wine.

If you want to avoid the possibility of running into a corked wine, you can stick to wines with screw tops. If your wine bottle used a screw cap or synthetic cork to form the seal, it can’t be corked. More and more fabulous wines are coming out with easy-to-open tops.

Corked wine is rare, but it happens. Now that you know about it, you'll be more aware if you happen to come across a corked bottle. Makes good cocktail party conversation, too. Or wine tasting conversation!

When in doubt, ask your wine sommelier for help. They're there to make sure you have a good experience. As I’ve gotten older, I’m much less intimidated by a sommelier. Now, I quite happily tell them what kind of wines I have come to like and I tell them the price range I want them to stick to. It’s amazing how creative they can be. Sometimes they even suggest something that doesn’t appear on their wine list, and I have been introduced to new wines this way. It expands my wine horizons.

Enjoy! May your next bottle of wine be the best bottle you've ever had!

Cheers,

Chicken Piccata

Simple. Elegant. Delicious.


Beef Stew in a Dutch Oven

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z3.5 (ZReboot 3.5) recipe.

I’m Irish, so beef stew was a staple in our family. Trouble is there are so many carbs in most beef stew recipes. Beyond the meat, all the other additions in most recipes are high carbohydrate. So with this recipe I have adjusted it to keep the carbs lower and introduce some other veggies that are lower carb to the mix. I did include carrots but I cut way back on the amount; leaving in just enough for color. I cut back the amount of potato and changed the type of potato. A small, C-size potato is lower carb than a fully grown russet. So follow these proportions and you can be happy eating beef stew and still maintain your weight at a stable level.

Servings: Serves 4, can be doubled easily.

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 pounds of stew meat
  • 2 Tbl of peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup of celery chunks
  • 1/2 cup of carrot cut into coin shapes
  • 1-1/2 cups of organic beef broth
  • 1-1/2 Tbl of tomato paste
  • 2 Tbl of peanut oil
  • 1/2 Tbl of dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp of garlic powder
  • 1 tsp of grated sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 tsp of dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5-7 C-sized potatoes (about 1" in diameter). Red or white will work fine. Cut in half.
  • 1 cup of frozen pearl onions
  • 1 cup of button mushrooms, if they are large ones cut in half or quarter them
  • 2 Tbl of gravy flour mixed with 3 Tbl of water

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In batches, brown the stew meat in the peanut oil in your Dutch oven. I just brown two sides of the meat and take it out. Then add the second batch. This won’t take long on medium high. When you have all of the beef browned, add the carrots and all of the beef back into the pot.

Add the beef broth and the tomato paste. Stir it around to break up the tomato paste and get it distributed. Then add the seasonings and the bay leaf. Stir. Cover the pot and put it in your oven to roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the Dutch oven from the oven. (Use oven gloves). Open the top. Take out the bay leaf and toss it. Add the rest of the vegetables and the flour/water mixture. Stir to combine. Put the top back on and roast another 30 minutes until all of the veggies are done. Check to make sure the potatoes are cooked by poking one with a sharp knife. The potatoes will be tender and your gravy will be slightly thickened.

I serve beef stew in bowls.

Enjoy!

Cheers,


Collagen Fruit Smoothie

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z3 (ZReboot) recipe.

One of my favorite breakfasts these days. So easy and quick. Refreshing and filling. Collagen protein powder is not cheap but the health benefits are HUGE.

Ingredients:

    • 1/3-1/2 cup of unsweetened pea milk. Ripple is a new one I buy. (Pea milk is the greatest! I love the flavor and texture in a smoothie. Really smooth. If I don’t have pea milk, I use unsweetened coconut milk or unsweetened almond milk. Those both work too).
    • 1 scoop (2 Tbl) of the collagen protein powder. There will be a scoop in the jar. They say 2 scoops. I go with one)
    • 1/3 cup of berries. I use frozen strawberries, or raspberries and blackberries work too. You can really use any berries, or they make chunks of frozen mango now too for a tropical version. Assorted berry options work too. And if you want your smoothie a little thicker and fruitier, just add more fruit.
    • ½ cup of cold water
    • Truvia to taste

Instructions:

Put this all in your blender and whiz until it’s smooth. I use my Bullet blender for this job. No need to take out the bigger model.

Pour in a glass and sip or load it into your travel mug for a meal on-the-go.

My husband even opts for a smoothie for lunch sometimes.

Enjoy!


Pass Me an Orange

A full two-thirds of Americans start off their day with a glass of orange juice. They think that’s healthy behavior.

I rarely ate breakfast, so I used to get my orange juice a different way. If I was in a restaurant, I’d order a drink that was half orange juice and half soda water. I was counting my calories so I thought this way I got my healthy orange juice and kept down the calorie count.

Interestingly I was only half right. I had the other half wrong. I thought the orange juice was healthy. Turns out I would have been better off having a full glass of soda water.

It’s not the orange that’s unhealthy. Eating an orange is good for you, but drinking large amounts of juice will cause you trouble. The average glass of orange juice contains the juice of several oranges. That’s a lot of fructose and your body can’t handle all that sugar without turning it straight into fat.

I won’t bore you with the scientific details, but 60 Minutes had a segment where it was explained in detail that when you take out the fructose from orange juice that it will convert very efficiently to fat. (You can Google that if you’re interested in the detail.)

What I am offering up here is an explanation of why you want to eat an orange rather than drink a glass of orange juice.

Now that you’ve watched that informal, little movie, I am going to progress to the even more sinister part of the subject of orange juice. Now we get to the stuff in the carton in the refrigerated section of our grocery store.

When "big food" runs commercials for orange juice they make it look really enticing. They bombard us with beautiful packaging. They give us images of an orange with a straw sticking out so we think what we are drinking is coming right off the tree and into the carton. Oh contraire. That’s not how it’s done. Watch this to get a mouthful on how processed our the orange juice in the grocery store really is.

So do I want to drink a large glass of something that my body will process efficiently into fat? Do I want to drink something from a carton that’s had the life sucked out of it and then put back in a new chemical format? Or do I just want to eat an orange?

I think I’ll quit my old complaining about how long it takes to peel an orange, and the fact that I like to take even more time to peel off all the pith. Please, pass me an orange.

You should also check out today's recipe for Cinnamon Tangerines.

These are a juicy, fun dessert. I highly recommend serving these after a Mexican-themed meal. The cinnamon goes great after hot food. But you can eat them anytime! I bet these would be great slightly frozen on a hot day too!

Cheers,


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!

Brought to you by singing frogs.  They wear green every day!

Cheers,


The Munchies

Someone asked me the other day how I feel about late night snacking.

When I think about late night snacking that raises the question, “When is the best time to eat?”

Everyone wants to know if they should eat early.  My first experience with that was back in the early 80’s when I used to jump around in front of my TV following the Jane Fonda exercise tapes.  What a waste of time that was. I did that routine just about every day but it never helped me lose weight.  Maybe it toned me a bit but I never peeled off the pounds. And Jane Fonda is the one that said never to eat after 6PM, or maybe it was 7PM.  I forget.  I never followed that advice anyway. By the time I got home from work, got done jumping around in front of the TV and got some time to make something for dinner it was way past 7PM anyway.

Her contention (and that of other so-called experts at the time) was that if you ate later you’d get fatter.

Other experts will tell you that eating breakfast is the most important because then you have more hours to burn off those calories.  I always hated eating breakfast. Even as a kid, I’d rather run out the door and catch the bus to go to school without eating. My mother had to nail me to the chair and force Rice Krispies in me before I left.  I wasn’t hungry in the morning so I never got any satisfaction out of that. As soon as I was old enough to make my own decisions I went back to not eating breakfast.

About a decade ago I started to force myself to eat something in the morning. I wanted to be thin so if they were right about eating in the morning, maybe I better buy into it. I had no trouble with it during the weekend.  It was during the week when I hated eating in the morning.  I just wanted to get to work.  I’d eat a banana and a glass of skim milk.  So there. That was breakfast.  Didn’t seem to help and now I know that the banana was too high carb and the skim milk wasn’t doing me any favors either.  And the Rice Krispies were a huge mistake.

It really doesn’t matter when you eat.  Today’s science clearly shows that.  Your body will burn calories even while you are sleeping. What matters is WHAT you eat, how large you are, how much activity you produce, your natural metabolic rate, and how much muscle mass you have.

The more muscle mass you have the more calories you will burn.  But if you are larger you’ll burn more calories than a skinny person too. It just takes more energy for the larger person to even move around.  If your activity level is low or your metabolism is slow you’ll burn fewer calories.  If you eat more carbohydrates than your body needs your body will turn the excess into fat.  So what you eat is important.  Protein and vegetables are your best bets for what to eat.

It’s true that larger people who suffer from things like acid reflux are better off eating earlier so their digestion has a chance to empty the stomach before the person tries to lie down. And older people often find that if they eat earlier they sleep better.

Calories will burn while you are asleep. No doubt about that. And the more sleep the better.  If you sleep less than six hours a night your body will be running at an energy deficit and that has been proven to affect how your body burns calories. So get a good night’s rest.

So to get back to the question about snacking at night.  It really doesn’t matter when you eat.  It’s what you eat and how much you eat during the entire day that matters.  Instead of eating late at night you’re probably better off going to bed and getting a good night of rest; that is unless you are in a position to sleep later.  In that case if you get the right amount of sleep it doesn’t matter if you eat late at night.  So how’s that for giving you the run around?  Does any of this make any sense?

Here’s the bottom line: Eat the right stuff and in the right quantity and quit worrying about what time you eat it.

When you're eating the right foods, your body know what to do with them, regardless of the time.

Cheers,

Cocoa-Fruit Superfood Smoothie

Almost a chocolate peanut butter cup, but exceedingly good for you.


Who Invented St. Patrick’s Day?

I always knew I was of Irish descent, but I never really knew HOW Irish I was until I got my 23 n Me results back.

Right there in the early results it tells me I’m 92.6% Irish.

That’s a lot of Irish if you ask me. I’ve always been proud of being Irish. That report made me extra-proud.

One of the interesting things I learned beyond being 92.6% Irish is that I’m about 3% Scandinavian. That got me thinking. In old Irish history there are many reports of Vikings raiding Ireland starting in the 700’s. At first, they raided the coastal monasteries but as time went on, they moved inland. I figure there must have been a “union” or two that came about as part of the Viking influence that now pops up in that 3% of my heritage. I certainly didn’t inherit blonde hair or blue eyes. Both of mine are Irish brown.

Ever since I was a kid my mother used to buy me a new green outfit for St. Patrick’s Day. I’d proudly wear my colors on the big day. If it was a school day my uniform was also a green plaid, so I had it covered either way, but I’d dress up my uniform with green ribbons in my hair and wear my Kelly green socks. To this day, I still try to find something Kelly green to wear on St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m always in search of a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. A parade is my first choice, but I’ll settle for a little Irish dancing movie on TV if I have to.

To keep track of what’s going on in Ireland I subscribe to an electronic newsletter called Irish Central. This was recommended to me by my favorite Irish waitress (Marie) from O’Shaughnessey’s in Chicago.

This issue features the history of St. Patrick’s Day and how it’s really an American invention. I hope you’ll find it interesting.

Enjoy!

Cheers and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Just in case you’re having a little celebration for St. Patrick’s Day I thought I’d offer up a green vegetable appetizer.

Baked Spinach and Artichoke Dip


Chow Down On Chili

Chile is the pepper. Chili is the concoction.

And now that we’ve got that straight, let’s talk chili. It’s chilly outside these days so now’s a perfect time.

The history of chili is long and varied. Even the International Chili Society debates the origins of chili. (Yes, there IS an International Chili Society). Chili has been around in one form or another since cooking began.

The origins of Texas chili seem to have come from a range cook who was working along the cattle trail, feeding the hungry men at the end of a long day of rustling steer. Here’s his original recipe:

CHILI CON CARNE

Cut up as much meat as you think you will need (any kind will do, but beef is probably best) in pieces about the size of a pecan. Put it in a pot, along with some suet (enough so as the meat won’t stick to the sides of the pot), and cook it with about the same amount of wild onions, garlic, oregano, and chiles as you have got meat. Put in some salt. Stir it from time to time and cook it until the meat is as tender as you think it’s going to get.

I love that last part about cooking it as long as it takes to get it tender. My theory is chili was developed as a full-flavored dish to mask the flavor of what was probably pretty bad meat.

I have another Texas chili story:

Years ago, we invited a couple over to our house for a Sunday meal. The gentleman decided he’d like to make his favorite chili. He was from Texas and said Texans make the best chili. He would bring the ingredients and make it in our kitchen. Oh, and by the way, he needed to start by 11 AM or the chili would not be done in time for dinner.

Yep. They just sort of invited themselves over for the entire day!

We had just met this couple a couple of months prior so we didn’t know them very well. We weren’t sure what we were going to do with them for an entire day. Turns out we didn’t really need to think too hard. They had plans.

In addition to all the ingredients they needed to make the chili, they brought fixings for Bloody Mary’s and for martinis. Their plan was to play board games and drink all day.

They put the meat on the stove and started to tenderize it. Their methodology involved continuing to add things to the meat as the day progressed and continually cook it over low heat so it would become melt-in-your-mouth tender.

My husband and I are not adept at drinking all afternoon, but they were. Many a martini went down easy. We did enjoy playing the board games. Trivial Pursuit was in vogue then. We laughed and played a few rounds of that. In-between we watched football. The chili-man kept at his chili and around 7 PM we actually ate dinner. The chili was excellent but I never asked for the recipe. I’m not good at 8-hour recipes. I don’t have many of them in my recipe file.

No beans. No macaroni. No discernable vegetables. Nothing but meat. We made cornbread to round out the meal.

At chili contests, you’ll see all manner of chili recipes now. White chili made with chicken and white beans. Chili made with hamburger or chili made with stewing meat. Veggie chili too. Chili is all over the place now.

I recommend chili as a tailgate item. Instead of firing up the grill behind your vehicle, I suggest you bring along a crock pot full of chili. It’s easy to eat; conveniently held in one hand. The chili will even keep your hand warm as you eat it. The chilies in the chili will keep your tummy warm during the game too. You can serve it in those cardboard bowls and clean up in a jiffy.

Chili is a traveler for sure. I’ve heard of truckers who brown up their meat at home, toss everything else for the chili along with the browned meat in a crockpot, plug it into the lighter socket and head off down the road. Chili’s done a few hours later, the cab of the truck smells fantastic and a crock pot full of chili makes several meals.

Chili travels to the office too and makes a fine and dandy meal heated in the microwave. A bowl of chili can even make a quick after-school snack.

I opened my cupboard the other day and found a jar of roasted red pepper strips. That inspired me to make a new chili. Plan Z Diet has a bunch of great chili recipes. Everything from simple Chili Con Carne to fiery Caribbean Chicken Chili. Comfort food that’s diet food. That’s a BIG YUM.

Cheers,

 

Chili Con Carne

This is a meaty chili with some veggies tossed in for crunch factor. Makes a satisfying lunch. You can take chili to the office and heat in the microwave for a perfect Zola To GO! meal. You can also freeze individual portions for later retrieval and then heat them.


Hero Mommy

It was late afternoon. I was at the grocery store picking up a few items to make dinner.

I passed two women greeting each other. One of them had a young daughter in tow. The girl was maybe 7 years old. The moms were maybe in their late 30’s.

We were all in the dairy section; the area with the big refrigerators full of milk and cream. The ladies were separating when the little girl blurted out to her mom, “Can I have one of these bologna, cheese and cracker combos? PLEASE!” She was jumping up and down for emphasis. Her mom told her “no” and kept walking. Then she stopped suddenly, right near me, and said out loud to herself, “Wait a minute. This is one of those life experience moments.” She turned to her daughter and said, “Come back over here,” and she walked to the refrigerated case that held the bologna, cheese and cracker combo packs.

“I’ll let you get one of these, but here’s the deal. We will read the ingredients list on the back and if there’s anything on the list we can’t pronounce, you’ll promise me you’ll put it back.” The young lady nodded in agreement. She took the package from her mom and started reading the list out loud. As I was getting my cream from the refrigerated case I heard her say, “bologna, cheese…”

As I was walking away I heard her continue the list and then I noticed silence. I could not help myself. I stopped and looked back.

The young lady had her arm outstretched and she was letting go of the bologna, cheese and cracker package. She was letting it drop into the refrigerated case. Then she skipped away. Her mom retrieved her cart and off they went.

Off I went too, toward the check-out, but as I walked, I mentally pumped my fist and I smiled.

I thought to myself, That mom is my hero today, and that young girl has a healthy life in her future.

Cheers,

 

Sweet and Spicy Acorn Squash

I love my acorn squash roasted with just butter in the center and a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper, but I know tons of people want brown sugar in the middle and more. So this version can satisfy the sweet tooth and add an optional spice/heat factor.


Fat Tuesday in the Old French Quarter

Fat Tuesday is here folks. The end of Mardi Gras, and for many, the beginning of periodic fasting or giving up something special for Lent. The party’s over for those who follow these traditions; at least until Easter.

People go all out on Fat Tuesday. New Orleans is the city most famous for their celebration.

I’ve been to New Orleans a few times; just not for the parade and the party atmosphere that dazzles the crowds on Fat Tuesday. Remember, this is the feast of necklaces with beads, traded for favors. This is the parade riddled with huge crowds of scantily clad women and men who hide their identities behind elaborate costumes. The French Quarter goes through days of cleaning after Fat Tuesday is over. It’s one heck of a party. I guess I’ve matured and I’m too old for those kinds of shenanigans. I used to think I wanted to go to New Orleans for Fat Tuesday; at least once. Now, I think I’m over it.

Last time I was in New Orleans, I decided I liked the city better at night; especially the area around Bourbon Street. During the day you see the aftermath of the party atmosphere the night before. The party is every day on Bourbon Street; not just Fat Tuesday. There’s a smell of stale beer and spilled liquor that hangs in the air. If you’re there in July, (like I was the last time), the humidity can be stifling. I much prefer the evenings when it cools down (at least a little), the music is playing and people are out for a good time. It sort of covers up the nasty parts.

What I thought I’d do today is give you a little food tour of my favorite places in New Orleans. It’s Fat Tuesday. Seems totally appropriate.

I’m going to include links so you can check these places out further.

First stop - NOLA.

I used to be a huge fan of Chef Emeril Lagasse when he first got famous in the early 80’s. NOLA is one of his restaurants in New Orleans. He now has four. I started out my eating adventures in New Orleans at his first restaurant called Emeril’s. I like NOLA’s modernity and casual atmosphere. Many of the top restaurants in New Orleans are more upscale. NOLA’s is more boisterous and serves food with twists and turns you don’t expect from Cajun or Creole food.

Emeril was not born in New Orleans, but he certainly is partial to that city. At one point, he was the Head Chef at Commander’s Palace –after the famous New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhomme left. (When blackened catfish was popular in the 80’s, I always used Paul Prudhomme’s recipe. BIG YUM.) Commander’s Palace is probably the most famous New Orleans restaurant.

I preferred the venerable Arnaud’s.

Stepping into Arnaud’s, you know you’re in the deep south, bathed in tradition. The décor has a southern charm with a French flair. The waiters are all dressed in formal attire and live jazz is playing.

I can only remember one thing I ate at Arnaud’s. Don’t get me wrong. It was all fantastic, but it was the crème brulee that stole my heart.

Our waiter saw me taking my time reading the dessert menu. He seemed to lose his patience with me. He took the dessert menu out of my hands and told me he’d take care of selecting my dessert. He strolled off.

I was pretty miffed. I fancied myself a foodie and didn’t like the idea of some guy deciding my dessert for the evening.

What he brought back was foreign to me. I was young. I didn’t have the culinary experience I do now. He set in front of me what I thought looked like a yellow puddle of pudding with some crust on it. I had to break into it to eat it. I have to admit, my eyes rolled back in my head when I took my first bite. I moaned.

The crust on the top was hot and sugary. It broke like glass when I tapped on it with my spoon. The custard was cold and tasted dreamy; like nothing I had ever had.

When the waiter returned to our table, I made some comment about if they had a mixing bowl of the stuff back in the kitchen I’d like to lick it clean.

He smiled. He was quite proud of himself.

I was quite happy with my dessert.

Even though I prefer New Orleans in the evening, I will bring up one other New Orleans specialty that I’d recommend is worth the carbs.

The beignets.

Café DuMonde is the most famous coffee place in New Orleans and of course, they serve beignets as a breakfast treat.

They also serve chicory coffee. A Cajun tradition. Be careful with that stuff. Chicory coffee has a kick.
The last time I ate a beignet it was “baby-sized” and I tapped off all of the powdered sugar, but just one little one as a treat is something you’ll remember forever. Besides, Fat Tuesday is right around the corner.

Cheers,

White Chocolate Creme Brulee (Custard) with Strawberry Coulis (Sauce)

Only 10 grams of carbohydrates per serving!


A Babe is Born

Flint Roman Chaney arrived a little early on 1/18/2020. He was scheduled to arrive on 1/20/2020. That would have been a cool birth date to have.  Such a clever set of numbers but, alas, he had other things in mind. He wanted to start partying early.

Speaking of parties, we had one in honor of his parents Jen (our Operations Manager), and her husband Flint (the handsome professional photographer). It was a baby shower with a gift emphasis of diapers. Now, there’s a theme. Can’t get enough.

It was an afternoon couple’s shower on a Sunday. Brunch. We held it in the complex party room.

I thought I’d share the menu and mention why I made each item.

First up:

Italian Sausage, Mushroom and Cheese Brunch Casserole

This is low carb all the way. It’s easy to make. I mean EASY. It serves about 12 on a brunch buffet. I made two of these because I was serving 35 for brunch. I am including the recipe for this dish with the column.

Cheesy Hash Browns

Now, I would not normally serve potatoes. The good news about these is they are made with tons of sour cream and butter and covered in cheese. Not really low carb but the cheese, sour cream and butter all work to keep the glycemic uptake down. That way your blood sugar doesn’t surge because of the potatoes.

Alaskan Smoked Salmon with Horseradish Sauce and Mini Bagels

My husband recently gave a speech in Alaska. As a speaker thank you gift, they gave him a whole smoked salmon. We’d been saving it for a special occasion. I thought this was a perfect way to serve such a special brunch item. I served it with teeny bagels to keep the tradition of bagels and salmon but keep down the carbs. Worked perfectly. I had lost of bagels left over.

Fireside Shrimp Dip

This is always a big hit. Easy to make. Low carb and it even tastes better after it sits for a few hours or overnight (store in refrigerator). I am including this recipe too (link). Serve with celery sticks for the ultimate low carb experience or splurge and have a few crackers.

Cream Cheese and Chutney Dip

This is not exactly low carb, but it’s super easy to make and it gives a bit of exotic flair to a regular buffet. We don’t even have to have a link to this recipe. All you need is a block of cream cheese on a serving platter. Cover it with a blob of mango chutney (From the jar. Find it in the Indian section) and then top it with cocktail peanuts. I serve it with small Wheat Thins because the cracker can actually act as the dipper. My secret to this is to make it an hour or two ahead so the cream cheese loosens up and gets closer to room temperature.

Sweet and Spicy Mustard Meatballs

This recipe came to me from my husband’s nephew. He’s making fancy mustards in his kitchen and selling them on-line! Price’s Macho Mustard it’s called. We were given two big jars of mustard for a Christmas gift. I thought… How can I use this? And voila… he provided a recipe. I made them in a cast iron Dutch oven. They stayed hot on the buffet and looked cool because of the pan they were in.

Nuts and Caramel Corn

Everyone loves caramel corn, but that stuff is designed (inadvertently) to make you ill. Too much sugar. My secret is to take twice as many mixed nuts than caramel corn and put them in a trifle bowl on the brunch buffet. They look beautiful in the bowl but with each handful you take, you get lots of nuts and very little caramel corn. Satisfy the sweet tooth and keep your waistline intact.

Lemon Bars

This was a new recipe. I found a Keto Lemon Bar recipe on -ine and played with it a bit to make a yummy lemon dessert. Display secret is I made them in a parchment lined tart pan instead of a 9 X 13” baking pan. That way I could slice them into little wedges, and they look prettier than squares.

Big YUM and only 4 grams of carbs per bar.

The party took some work but what Jen did took a lot more work! I am forever telling her what a great job she did at work. Flint Roman might be her biggest achievement yet. Way to Go Jen and Flint!

Cheers,

Enjoy

 

 

ITALIAN SAUSAGE, MUSHROOM AND CHEESE BRUNCH CASSEROLE

As far as brunch casseroles go, this one is very easy to make and pleases the crowd. It can be made ahead and heated the day of the party.

 

 


How to Zolafy a Dessert Recipe

I’m one of those lucky people who can read a recipe and taste it in my head. I hope you are one too, but if you’re not, with a few guiding steps you can learn how to do it.

When you look on the internet (the world’s largest cookbook) these days, you’ll figure out there are duplications of recipes everywhere. Some of them are exact duplications and some have little tweaks to vary them to the taste or creativity of the cook.

What I do with recipes in my work with Plan Z is make them healthier by reducing the sugar and other carbs, while at the same time, maintaining the flavor boost. That means you CAN have dessert and still maintain your weight and keep your blood sugar in line.

Today I’m going to outline the process of how I Zolafy a dessert recipe in the hopes that I inspire you. For Plan Z there are almost 1000 recipes now! People tell us all the time that Plan Z doesn’t taste like a diet. They love that.

So let’s get started.

The first thing I do is review a selection of what I call “inspiration recipes.” That means I get an idea of what I have a hankering for and then I go look at recipes from various sources. I find it’s really a good idea to review at least six recipes before I begin designing my own. It’s important to see what other cooks/bakers are doing. There are enough differences in the recipes and cooking methods that I get enthusiastic about designing a recipe that becomes my own. I don’t just want to copy someone else’s work.

I got a hankering for lemon bars and set about thinking about how I can make them low carb, eliminate the sugar and still keep that zippy flavor that a classic lemon bar has.

Lemon bars start off with a crust on the bottom. So the first thing you have to replace is the flour. Flour = fat body. I need to remove the “white stuff.” Good news is there is a new almond meal/flour out that works so much like regular flour you’ll hardly notice regular flour is missing. I love Bob’s Mill Super Fine Ground Almond Meal. The other almond meal they offer is decent but the Super Fine one is superior, for sure, for baking.

Next step is to tackle the sugar content. Lemon bars are a sugar bonanza! In my mind, even if I adjust from sugar to a sugar substitute of some kind, the final result is probably going to be too sweet for me. Those of us who cut sugar out of our diet to any great degree have morphed our taste buds. After years of little to no sugar, our tastes are calibrated differently. It’s a natural occurrence in cutting down the amount of sugar we eat. If I have anything from a bakery that’s made from a “regular” recipe it makes my face cringe and I get woozy after I eat it. Waaaaay too sweet. So I cut back the sweet in my recipes. I do, however, keep in mind that I’m not the only one likely to eat the result. I’d never eat a whole plate of lemon bars, so I have to account for others’ sweet tastes too. That means I cut at least 1/3 or more (usually more) of the sweetness factor. When I taste that recipe in my head I can usually tell how much I can get away with cutting.

As sugar substitutes go I have my go-to favorites. They are Swerve and ZSweet. Those two brands are starting to hit stores, but if they are not in your area you can order them online. Swerve even makes a powdered sugar. It makes a delicious frosting. And in this case, a perfect little dusting on the top of the lemon bars. Truth be told, I’d even skip the dusting on the top just to save the money and the extra sweet factor.

Speaking of money, almond flour and sugar substitutes are not cheap. Almond flour is made from almonds…and nuts are expensive. Sugar substitutes that are natural are more expensive to make than the fake stuff so they run a bit more, too. My attitude these days is a dessert like this is something special and not intended to be an everyday treat. Our society just went nuts in the last few decades deciding dessert was a “right” instead of a treat to be treasured. We all got out of control. So maybe the money factor can play in to keep us all a little bit healthier.

Lemon is my husband’s favorite dessert flavor. He absolutely loves this.
I hope you do, too.

Cheers!

 

 

Creamy Dreamy Lemon Bars

My husband’s favorite dessert flavor is lemon. These hit his tart meter for sure! They taste divine and have no sugar and no gluten.


Happy Valentine's Day!

https://youtu.be/CT2_RzX6A5M

If you haven’t seen these Top 10 Valentine’s Day commercials, today’s your day.  Enjoy! My favorite is #10!

Too bad Valentine’s Day is such a sugar holiday.  There are other things you can give for Valentine’s Day.

Take my gift for an example.

I gave my husband a new toilet seat for Valentine’s Day this year.

(I never thought I’d tell anyone that… but I did)

Give me some credit:

  • I put a bow on it.
  • He asked me to buy a new toilet seat a couple of weeks ago… and I thought
  • Perfect timing!  What a surprise this will be!
  • I had it installed so he didn’t have to do any work.  Bonus.

There are tons of things you can give for Valentine’s Day besides chocolate. But if you do give chocolate, make it DARK chocolate. That’s actually healthy!

Enjoy your holiday your way,

Cheers and love to you all.


Chocolate Dipped Pears

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z3 (ZReboot) recipe

Servings: Serves 6.

I can see serving this at a dinner party, or as a special treat for a special someone.

You need a little forward planning with this, so your pears can be ripe on the day you want to make this. Usually two or three days ahead will yield you a juicy dessert. Good news is in about 10 minutes you have dessert completed.

Ingredients:

6 ripe pears, medium size. I used Bartlett green/yellow but you could use red or most other pears. The only one I would not recommend is Bosc but just because I would not think it would be very pretty when finished.

 

 

8 oz. dark chocolate (70-78% cacao), melted. You’ll have chocolate left over when this is complete, but you need to have a deep enough pool of chocolate to cover the pears. Just make a chocolate sauce/ganache out of the rest and you can serve that over almond pound cake. (insert links to pound cake and ganache)

 

4-5 oz. salted nuts, chopped. I recommend peanuts, almonds, macadamia nuts or pecans. Chop them pretty finely or the pears won’t pick them up and they will topple. (I know, it happened to me)

 

 

Instructions:

To melt chocolate, I use a double boiler. I still think that works best without scorching the chocolate. Some people are aces at melting it in a microwave.

Place melted chocolate in one bowl and the chopped nuts in a second bowl.

These bowls should be fairly small and on the deep side.

Dip room temperature pears in chocolate then in nuts. Place dipped pears on a cooling rack to set or you can place them on a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper.

I’d store them at room temperature until you serve them on day 1. The chocolate will firm back up and form a coating on the pears.

Pears and chocolate go great together. Who needs a candy apple! I served with a steak knife for cutting top to bottom, and a fork.

Enjoy!

Cheers,


Good For You Chocolate

Can chocolate possibly be good for you?
YES. A resounding yes.

Here’s what you have to remember, though:

  • You need to eat GOOD Chocolate. That means DARK chocolate that is 72% cacao or higher. Good news is the number is front and center now on many packaged chocolate bars.
  • You need to eat it in moderation. You don’t buy one of those big bars and chow it down. You must limit yourself to 3 oz or less per day. That might be as little as 3 of those little squares. So eat it slowly and enjoy it.

Here are a host of medically-backed reasons to enjoy chocolate:

  1. It’s good for your heart and your circulation. The latest research suggests that eating chocolate helps keep your arteries flexible. That helps you keep from clogging your arteries.
  2. Eating chocolate helps your brain function. Eating chocolate in moderation is shown to help you keep your brain functioning at a higher level all the way into old age.
  3. Cocoa can help you reduce your cholesterol. It helps reduce “BAD” cholesterol (LDL) and can help raise levels of “GOOD” cholesterol (HDL).
  4. Did you know chocolate can help protect your skin against sun damage? Yep. That doesn’t mean skip the sunscreen and just eat chocolate. You’ll still need the sunscreen but every little bit helps when you want to keep the wrinkles at bay.
  5. Neuroscientist Will Clower says if you melt a small square of chocolate on your tongue 20 minutes before you eat, it triggers your “I’m full” hormone and you’re less likely then to overeat. If you’re on a diet I would not count on that but it’s a nice theory.
  6. A study from Finland suggests that expectant mothers experience less stress if they eat a little chocolate and that their babies smiled more. How cute.
  7. Chocolate contains phenylethlamine (PEA) which is the same chemical that your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. See, chocolate really can be an aphrodisiac!

Buy only the best chocolate. Eat it in moderation and enjoy the benefits.

Cheers,

Chocolate Dipped Pears

Who needs candy apples?


Dinner for Your Honey

Let’s just assume for the moment that you’re not the greatest cook. In fact, let’s assume you don’t make any of the meals in your house, but just this once, you want to surprise your honey by making dinner for Valentine’s Day.

Here are my 7 top tips to make that dinner a success.

1. Buy fresh food. Nothing from a box. You’re going to make a real meal with food you didn’t order in and didn’t pick up in the freezer section.

2. Pick something easy. I’m going to help you with that. If your honey is on the foodie side I’d go French. The Chicken with a French Pan Sauce is easy to make and will make you feel like you’re in the French countryside. If your honey leans toward basic comfort food, I’d make meatloaf. This one will surprise you. It tastes just like a Burger King Whopper, only this is healthy.

3. Make it colorful. This is where I tell you to eat your veggies. Pick one or two that you think will go well with your dish. I’m giving you a straightforward pepper recipe because bell peppers can be found in yellow, red, orange, green and purple.

4. Use a sharp knife. There’s nothing more dangerous in the kitchen than a dull knife. My father taught me that, and when I worked in restaurants our knives were sharpened weekly. A sharp knife makes meal prep faster, easier and even prettier because you’re slicing cleanly through your food and not hacking away at it. One nasty slip and dinner is ruined by a trip to the emergency room.

5. Match a beverage. You might be a club soda or filtered water person. You can fancy it up with a slice of cucumber, a slice of ginger, lemon, lime or even an orange slice. Make it pretty. All it takes is one slice. If you indulge in wine, a chardonnay or white burgundy will go well with the chicken and a pinot noir or malbec will do well for your meatloaf. Beer drinker? My friends tell me a Stella Artois makes a great beer to go with chicken and choose a British bitter, a brown ale or even a porter for your meatloaf.

6. Wash up. Even if your honey doesn’t volunteer to clean up with you, do it by yourself. The recipes I’m giving you don’t require a lot of pots and pans, so even if you don’t have a dishwasher, this will go fast. Any honey will appreciate the effort and reward you kindly.

7. Have a simple dessert. I’m going to make this one super easy for you. Choose fruit and chocolate. I’d pick a package of raspberries or blackberries. Then choose a chocolate bar that is 72% cacao or higher. You can’t miss the numbers. They are shown really large on the packages now. Choose a good brand. Scharfenberger, Ghirardelli, Green and Black and more. You can Google “top 10 chocolate bars” and you’ll find all kinds of exotic brands. To keep it healthy, choose one with the high cacao point (even 85% is perfect) and suck on bits of it together as you finish up your beverage. The lower the number the more sugar. That’s not good. Don’t go to 100% though; that one will taste like pavement.

Plan on about an hour of prep time (not including your time in the grocery store). For an experienced cook it won’t take that long but I'd recommend you leave yourself enough time to pore over the recipes.

Remember, if your veggies are done before the meatloaf (for example), you can just turn them off and let them sit. You can reheat them when the entrée is done.

I want you to enjoy the gesture you’re expressing by making dinner. And have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Make your honey a romantic Valentine's day dinner with this luxurious yet healthy--Tarragon Mustard Shrimp.

 

Tarragon Mustard Shirmp

This is a delicious recipe that anyone can make well. Try it as an appetizer or an entrée; it can be served, hot, room temp or cold.


Chicken Breasts with Zola’s French Pan Sauce

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z2 (ZReduction) recipe. This is my favorite new creation. I think I have made this three times in the last two weeks and that’s pretty much a record for me. This dish is easy and it tastes fancy!

Servings: Serves 2. Can be doubled easily.

Ingredients:

  • 2 skinless chicken breast halves
  • ¼ tsp of grated sea salt (or to taste)
  • ¼ tsp of grated black pepper (or to taste)
  • ½ cup of organic chicken broth or stock
  • 4 tsp of Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp of dry tarragon (you can add more tarragon for a stronger flavor but tarragon is  pretty strong in small quantities so factor that in)
  • ¼ cup of heavy cream

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray your chicken breasts lightly with olive oil spray and then grate on salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan and put them in top down. Saute on medium for 3 minutes or until you get a light brown crust forming.

Now you are going to put them in the oven to roast. Make SURE YOU HAVE THEM IN A HEAT PROOF PAN. I use cast iron so I can go right from the stove top to the oven. If you don’t have the old-fashioned cast iron make sure you transfer them from your stove top pan to Pyrex or some other heatproof pan. By finishing the cooking in the oven you end up with a much juicier piece of chicken. This is the way fine restaurants do it.  Roast for approximately 20 minutes or until no pink remains in the chicken. Cut it open to check if you are not sure.

While the chicken is cooking, you can get out that sauté pan. Add the chicken stock and begin to boil it. Turn down to medium so it just continues to bubble and reduce. Add the Dijon and the tarragon. Cook for 3 minutes for the flavors to blend.  If the stock starts to run down too low just add a bit more. About 10 minutes before the chicken is done, add the cream. Continue to bubble the sauce. Don’t over-boil it but if you keep it bubbling the cream will thicken the sauce naturally. This won’t be a gloppy cream sauce because you’re on Plan Z and are limited in your cream amount but it will thicken enough that you’ll swear you’re eating in France. If the sauce looks done early just turn it off and wait for the chicken.

When the chicken is done, plate it and pour cream sauce over the top. This will eat up ½ of your cream allotment per day so keep that in mind.

Serve with roasted asparagus. You can put the asparagus in the oven with the chicken and roast them. Top with grated sea salt and you’ll be amazed at how special this can taste. You can do the same thing with green beans instead if you prefer.

Enjoy!

Cheers,


Why Resolutions Fail

The football game is over. The score is in the record books. The bets are paid off.

Interesting fact: over $6 billion is bet on the Super Bowl worldwide. Most of that is illegal betting; the kind that happens in the office pool, the corner bar, or even a house party.

I can make a bet too, and have pretty good odds.
I bet whatever resolution you set on January 1 is in the books, too. You’ve quit.

Over 50% of Americans make some kind of resolution and for many, the promise made is to lose weight, and for most, it’s a failed attempt before Super Bowl Sunday hits in early February.

Here are three of the biggest reasons people quit a diet:

Hunger: Most people, when starting a diet, will go for the gusto. They think the more they cut calories the faster they will lose. If it’s all about calories in/calories out that might be true, but it’s not. It’s about what you put in your mouth and how your body decides to process it. In the old days, I used to cut calories big time. I’d go down to about 700 calories a day. The bad thing is my body just adapted to the new low. I had no energy but I could live on next to nothing. I’d have half a banana for breakfast. Maybe SlimFast for lunch and then a frozen, diet macaroni meal for dinner. Do you know how unhealthy that is? Here’s a list of the ingredients in SlimFast.

INGREDIENTS: Fat-Free Milk, Sugar, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Canola Oil, Fructose, Calcium Caseinate, Gum Arabic, Cellulose Gel, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Mono and Diglycerides, Potassium Phosphate, Soybean Lecithin, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan, Isolated Soy Protein, Artificial Flavor, Maltodextrin, Sucralose and…

You tell me. Who’s kidding who? Sugar is the second ingredient, fructose is another sugar, and even Sucralose is added. That’s an artificial sweetener. No wonder I was hungry 15 minutes after I drank that stuff.

Now I know the two things to eat to curb hunger are protein and fat. Those things stick with you. So if you’re dieting cut the fat, but don’t cut the protein. Eat plenty of veggies along with your protein and you’ll stay full longer.

Cravings: Cravings are hard-wired into our brains. You quit sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavorings and start eating real, unprocessed foods and your body will eventually be happier and your energy will soar. But not right away. First, you have to get through the cravings.

What do cravings look like? Well, it’s not just “look at a food and want it.” Folks go through all kinds of detoxing. Most get some level of a headache, some get achy, others get increased anxiety or the jitters. Pretty much everyone gets crabby. The physical ramifications can be debilitating. Some get brain fog and can’t think straight. It’s a nightmare.

So if you can’t lock yourself in a padded room until the symptoms pass, you’re going to need help. Thankfully, Plan Z comes with the ZR50 Crave Control spray I invented. These folks are lucky because all of those symptoms are tamped down and all but eliminated, so they can diet comfortably.

Without that, there really isn’t a lot you can do. For those not on Plan Z, here’s what I recommend. These are some of the things I used to do before I started Plan Z.

First of all, I’d start a diet on a weekend. That way I could go curl up in bed and nap my way through some of the side effects. I didn’t have to eat on a schedule so I could come out of my room have a few bites and go back to bed.

You can also try reading, going to movies (without the popcorn), volunteer in your community (it always makes you feel better to help others), and just plain keep your hands busy. Go ice skating if you enjoy that. Make a list of things you like to do besides eat junk food, and keep that list handy. I know these aren’t all the greatest ideas, but I don’t know any psychologist or MD who has better ideas.

Detoxing should be all but relieved by somewhere between day 7 and 10. The physical part should be over. Now comes the mental part.

Pressure from Friends and Family: No getting around it. Sometimes they are well-meaning, sometimes they are just mean. They tell you they are tired of you being crabby while you’re on that diet so why not just quit. They say you can have a “little piece” of whatever and you’ll be fine.

No, you won’t. You’ll start the sugar hangover all over again.

So cut the social calendar back for a while if you can. You can’t get rid of the relatives who live with you, but you can avoid tempting situations to an extent; at least until you get yourself under control. If your diet is working you’ll be continually motivated by seeing the number go down on the scale. If it’s a slow slog, it’s going to be harder.

For party situations, I suggest you arrive early and leave early, or arrive late and stay a short time. Whichever you choose, grab a beverage fast. Take a big rocks glass and fill it with ice and sparkling water or club soda. Put a lime in it and fool everyone into thinking you’re having a cocktail when you’re not. If you want to be more public about it, volunteer to be the designated driver. Your friends and family will think you’re the hero for that and won’t bug you because you’re not drinking alcohol.

If this list seems a bit on the futile side, you’ll see why most people quit a diet before the Super Bowl. If they made it from January 1 until then, they’ve made it about a month. 4 weeks. Maybe 5 tops. If you’re on one of the standard, popular American diets you’ve lost maybe 5 – 8 pounds by then. Most people can gain that back the week after they quit.

Bummer.

So if you’re looking for a new plan, you’re looking for Plan Z.
Here are my top 7 reasons you want Plan Z instead of any other diet.

1. The ZR50 Crave Control Spray.

That’s exclusive to Plan Z. You don’t have to suffer while you detox and diet. I can help with that. ZR50 Crave Control Spray is patented. It’s all natural. No chemicals. No hormones and it works.

2. Plan Z is guaranteed to work.

Cut your risk. Go with Plan Z. We have TWO guarantees. You can review the diet and even take it to your doctor. If you decide it’s not for you, pack it all up and send it back to get 100% of your money back. Or with guarantee number two you actually get to try the diet for 9 days with little risk. We call it the Skeptic’s Guarantee. Ask for that and we’ll work closely with you to make sure you get on solid ground as you get started. You can prove to yourself this diet is the best one you’ve ever done.

3. No exercise.

Most dieters are thrilled to hear they don’t need to exercise while they are on Plan Z. When you get to the maintenance mode of Plan Z you can exercise all you want and tighten up so you feel great in your new clothes.

4. You lose a lot and you lose it FAST.

The average Plan Z dieter loses 31 pounds in just under 50 days. That’s FAST.

5. The food.

You eat REAL food with Plan Z. No magic shakes. No frozen boxes showing up on your doorstep. There are over 900 recipes to choose from. You decide what you’re hungry for and you make a quick meal. Your family can eat the same things as you do. I am a food writer. I promise this to be the best-tasting diet on the planet. Hands down.

6. The Education.

There’s a big problem in the dieting industry. They don’t educate you about how you really got fat in the first place. It’s got nothing to do with calories in/calories out. It has everything to do with what you eat and how your body decides to process it. And they don’t teach you anything about how to keep it off. We do. We go to great effort to get you the information vital to your thinner future.

7. Dessert twice a day!

Need I say more? Come on over to Plan Z.

It’s an easy decision.

Chicken Breasts with Zola's French Pan Sauce

This dish is easy and it tastes fancy!


7 Reasons to Diet with a Buddy

When you’re on a diet, having a strong support system can mean the difference between success and failure. We have a major league support team at Plan Z, but if you can add a personal support network to that and buddy up, the benefits are even greater.

A buddy can be a spouse or significant other, or a friend that lives nearby. Sometimes buddies are coworkers who support each other at work. In other cases, they live across the country from each other! What’s better with a buddy? Everything! I’ve listed seven of my favorite reasons below.

1. Picking Recipes Together

If you and your buddy live together, you can each be in charge of dinner 3 nights a week. Then, one day a week, go out together and have dinner in a restaurant, Plan Z style.

Plan Z has over 900 recipes now for everything from comfort food to gourmet dining so it’s fun deciding where you’re going to eat. Get adventurous. There’s no reason you can’t try new meals and diet at the same time. And you don’t have to eat bland or boring food. Just make a meal plan. Having a plan will keep you keep you from buzzing through the drive-thru at the last minute.

2. Shopping Together

We don’t require buddies to shop together, but when you live together, it happens. The great news is, our buddies tell us it’s a fun experience. I get notes from buddy-husbands who tell me before Plan Z they hadn’t been in a grocery store in years. Now, when they shop with their buddy-wives they are amazed. They have learned to read labels and are astonished at how many things in a grocery store have sugar or HFCS in them — it’s now more than 80%! They are even trying new foods!

 

3. Cooking Together

In my house, my husband is my buddy, and when we cook together, my husband is the sous chef while I am the master chef. In our case, that means my husband does the chopping. He’s become quite adept with a chef’s knife and has his dicing down pat. Dinner comes together faster that way.

One buddy-husband in Colorado told me that before Plan Z he had never even set foot in the kitchen until dinner was done. His wife did all the cooking. After being on Plan Z he got so into cooking that he proudly became the house chef. His kids surprised him at Christmas with a beautiful set of knives that he uses almost every day. Now, they can give him culinary gifts for birthdays, too.

Another way to split up kitchen duties is to have one buddy cook and have the other buddy clean up. My husband makes me sit and watch TV while he cleans up. Then he makes dessert. Most often he whips up a bowl of Plan Z raspberry ice cream. He loves that stuff. And I love him for loading the dishwasher.

4. Weigh-Ins

Buddy weigh-ins are a great way to hold each other accountable. Weigh yourself and report out to your buddy. I have heard of many a man doing the happy dance in his bathroom after a morning weigh-in. Just the vision of that makes me smile.

Buddies motivate each other, too. Everyone has bad days. You probably won’t lose the same amount of weight every day, so be there for each other and support each other.

 

5. Compare Water Intake

We did an informal study and found that those who drink 100 oz of water consistently lost 30% more weight than those who drank less than 70 ounces a day. That’s a big difference! For most, that level of water-guzzling takes some getting used to, so it’s a good idea to check in with each other in the middle of the day to see how it’s going. Your body gets used to the water, but the first week or so you’re in the potty a lot during the night. I try to finish drinking my 100 oz before dinner so I don’t have to drink too much too close to bedtime.

6. Cook Food in Batches

Many buddies take time a Sunday to cook up a couple of recipes that can be made in big batches. Things like chili or soup. Or fire up the grill and make enough for leftovers.That way you have a go-to lunch all ready to go. You want to mix things up, though. Don’t let your body get bored eating the same things over and over again. If you do, you risk losing less weight. It’s weird, but it can happen. Take advantage of your freezer too. Many a recipe freezes well in small containers that can fit in your lunch box.

 

7. Rate the Food

You can both go online and rate the recipes for Plan Z. Or you can just compare tasting notes. Buddies who live across the country from one another do this all the time. Two buddies in Canada chatted every day by email or text about what they were eating and the recipes they enjoyed.

No cheating, though. Cheating on a diet doesn’t hurt anyone except you. This is your time to make yourself a priority.

Be Public About It! Your buddy might be someone who cares about you but doesn’t live with you, so you can be pen pals of some sort. Or even consider posting about your progress in the Plan Z Facebook Group. Or Tweet your progress.

Share the love.
Share the success.
Share your delicious results.

Wanna do Plan Z with a Buddy?
Give us a call in the office at 800-255-9853.
Buddies get special pricing, so they share the savings, too!

Cheers,

 

Cheesy Scallop Bake

This dish is similar to the fancy French dish called Coquilles St. Jacques but it’s much easier to make. Simple ingredients, a little sautéing and then pop it under the broiler. With a salad and side veggie this is fancy enough to serve to company.


Enjoy the Super Bowl without Gaining Weight

One of my favorite Super Bowl parties was one I called the Chili Championship.

Here’s how it works:

You set up a chili buffet with all the fixins. This works really well because people can get up from the TV viewing area and do self-service on the chili. At my previous Super Bowl parties I served appetizers during the first half of the the game and then served an entrée during half-time, with dessert at the end. That had me in a time crunch during the game. I didn’t get to watch football and I missed the Super Bowl commercials. With a chili buffet, I have a lot less work to do. Plus, everyone loves chili.

Chili tastes better the day after you make it, so you can prepare it ahead of time and reheat on game day. When you set up the buffet, the chili can be kept warm in crock pots, on the stove on a low simmer or even in pans kept on warm in the oven. They'll all work.

Now, for the real bonus: Get others to bring chili.

If it’s a small party, I'll go with just two chili choices, and I would make both of them. But, if it’s a big party; let’s say 20 – 40 people, you can have six chili options. I never do more than six; even if the party is bigger. It's just too much to coordinate.

Choose up to six friends and have each person make a batch of chili. A batch that serves 10 is enough because people will sample more than one kind during the game. You can assign chili types so your guests don't all show up with the same kind, or you can leave it to chance and let them bring whatever they want.

Think about it -- there are SO many different kinds of chili. The chili base can be made from beef brisket, or ground beef. Pork chili is popular in the south. Chicken chili is popular at my house. There are ‘white’ chilies made with chicken broth and cream.

Many folks add beans to their chili. Some add macaroni, and others add corn. I don’t add these things anymore because they make the chili have higher carbohydrate counts, but if someone brought it to a party, I'd have a bite or two. There are veggie chilies and of course, there are more levels of heat than you can count! That being said, not all chili has to be spicy. My favorite chili is really mild, and tastes like comfort food.

I have a collection of small, pretty bowls that only hold about a cup. These are great for chili sampling. If you don’t have pottery bowls you can go to the party store and pick up some paper bowls. They have small and large ones that work perfectly. You can then recycle them and have less clean up. Super Bowl parties don’t have to be fancy affairs.

On the side, have bowls of chopped white, yellow or green onions, chopped tomato, sour cream, jalapenos, grated cheeses, fritos, minced cilantro...you get the idea. You can even have bacon bits for those who think everything is better with bacon. Garnishes make the chili a custom affair for each individual.

Another fun thing is to have an assortment of hot sauces by the fixins. My husband has a really funny story of the first time he tried Scorned Woman Hot Sauce. He hiccuped for about 30 minutes after he dipped into that one.  Fried his taste buds. Not really so funny but when he tells the story, it is.  He boasts about how he loves hot sauce and spicy food but he’s never eaten that particular hot sauce a second time.

Of course you can always have your guests vote for their favorite chili. Give out prizes. Have a grand prize ribbon. Let your chili imagination have as much fun as your guests.

To get you started with your Chili Championship inspirations I’m giving you two chili recipes. The poblano chili is very popular with Plan Z Dieters. This chili is flavorful, but not spicy. On the other hand, the Caribbean Chicken Chili is a SPICY one. You can adjust the recipe for a milder palate if you need to. That's a Plan Z chili, too.

Who says a diet has to taste bad?

For This Week's Featured Recipe try your hand at one of my favorite chili recipes for the big gameday, Beefy Chili with Roasted Poblanos. It is sure to be a crowd-pleasing touchdown!

Enjoy the game. Enjoy the commercials.

Cheers,

 

Beefy Chili with Roasted Poblanos

Just in time for all the big football games coming up. My newest chili. LOVE this stuff! Big YUM.


P Is for Party

I was reading a design magazine recently and saw a party planning feature. The woman was talking about how you don’t need to know how to cook (even a lick), but you can still have a cocktail party.

She said all you need are the 3 Ps.

Parmesan, potato chips and Prosecco.

That’s it.

Her idea was that you go out and buy a really fine piece of Parmesan-Reggiano.

Put it on a nice platter. Cut some bits off of it with a cheese cutter. And leave the cheese cutter next to it so people can serve themselves.

Get out some pretty, small bowls and stack them with potato chips. Her idea was to prop the potato chips upright. Then sprinkle something on them. One idea might be a grating of pepper. Another idea could be Italian herbs or even a rub mixture.

Then serve Prosecco in some pretty flutes and there you have it. Cocktail party.

I “borrowed” that idea and expanded on it.

At my party, I served the Parmesan. Truth be told I’ve done that before. I love to nibble on bits of Parmesan and drink wine. It’s a perfectly simple opener to a dinner party. You just have to make sure you buy the good Parmesan.

I served the potato chips, too. I sprinkled a meat rub on them that is one of my favorites.

I also served Prosecco but I turned it into party punch. All I did was make up some cranberry apple iced tea and served half iced tea and half Prosecco in some pretty flutes.

Then I kept going. I did a marinated party salad of veggies soaked overnight in Italian dressing. I had a vegan in attendance at my party and wanted to make sure there were a few things that fit her diet. This was one.

Prosciutto on a platter with olives and nuts provided a nice antipasti platter. The accompaniments also provided more vegan options.

I served pork sliders with bread and butter pickles. I bought pulled pork at the grocer and found a fairly healthy barbecue sauce. All I had to do was mix them together and put it in a crock-pot to heat. Tiny buns on the side.

For dessert, I served my peanut clusters. Dark chocolate wonders.

And I broke all out and served gourmet caramel corn, but I took it up a notch and served it with mixed nuts scattered throughout. The caramel corn is a carbohydrate nightmare but if you put in the mixed nuts and people just eat a handful, the nuts make it less carby and take down the glycemic uptake.

Did you notice everything on my menu started with a P? I’ve never done a theme like that before. It was really fun designing the menu and it all worked out great. I hardly had to do any cooking either. This made for a super-easy weekday cocktail party for 15.

Cheers,

Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Peanut Clusters

These are delightfully decadent treats. CAUTION: Treat them like candy!


My 7 Reasons To Resolve To Eat Low Carb in 2020

This is why I recommend you resolve to low carb it in 2020:

  1. It lowers your cholesterol. Since 2002 over 20 human studies have been done that prove low carb eaters lose more weight and that it actually leads to improved cholesterol results. Has your doctor been barking at you to get your cholesterol down? This can help – a lot.
  2. You’ll lose weight. Low carb diets are more effective in losing abdominal fat. You want to get that belly gone. Right?
  3. A low carb lifestyle lowers your blood sugar level. When you eat carbs they are broken down into simple sugars. That causes an insulin response. But when you eat too many carbs, insulin’s response is to turn the excess carbs into fat. Insulin is the fat hormone. It has no choice. Your choice is...to not eat the carbs.
  4. It makes weight maintenance easier. If you don’t want to have to count calories, points or anything else, you want low carb foods.
  5. Type 2 diabetics stand to benefit the most from a low carb diet because living a low carb lifestyle allows you to get your A1C back in line. The association folks say you can’t cure diabetes; you can only control it, but I’ve talked with plenty of people who have it under such great control they no longer need meds, like Jay from Wisconsin. Can we call that a “cure"?
  6. Low carb eating tastes great! Instead of living on low fat carbs you get to eat things like butter and cheese without being afraid.
  7. By eating a low carb diet you get full faster. Protein and fat fill you up. Carbs take a lot longer. That’s why people can go to the movies and eat that whole tub of popcorn and still go out to lunch after the movie. The popcorn never filled them up!

Every year there are new fads hyped about how to lose weight. It’s never ending. I saw a health segment this morning that contends that if you wear yoga pants or sweat pants you’ll eat more than if you wear pants that button. Good grief. Eliminating your comfortable clothes is not a solution for weight loss.

How about this: If you’re eating low carb and really sticking to it, you won’t bloat like you do when you eat carbs. Keep the cozy pants.

Resolve to eat smart. Low carb eating is not a trend. It is a smart solution to weight loss and weight management. Want to learn more about Plan Z? Click HERE.

Cheers,

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

This dish is pretty easy to make. I was amazed at how authentic it tastes! You know how you can eat mac and cheese and not even use your teeth? This had the same result. BIG YUM!


Why NOT to Renew Your Gym Membership This Year

1. Exercise really doesn’t help you lose weight; unless you do a LOT of it.
You almost have to be a professional loser. One study showed that women over 40 years old who do moderate exercise 60 minutes a day, 5 days a week, will maintain their weight but they won’t lose weight.

2. Exercise makes you hungry.
An hour of cycling on an exercise bike for a 190 lb person will burn off 689 calories. Get off that bike and hit the nut bowl and you’re doomed. One cup of cocktail peanuts will set you back 828 calories. People have a tendency to munch when they are done exercising. Even one of those little teeny chocolate covered peanut butter power bars will have over 200 calories and after a tough workout, most people don’t grab that as their reward treat. And don’t get me started on quenching your post-exercise thirst with a beer.

3. You can get just as much benefit from doing short sprints in your driveway.
The PACE Program written by Dr. Sears suggests that short sprints that work your heart are much better for you than running at a moderate speed all over the neighborhood.

4. Your dog needs the exercise just as much as you.
Brand new news announced that over 50% of American pets are overweight. Fido could use the exercise. Walk him and you’ll both get some fresh air.

5. Your body breaks down over time.
High impact exercise taxes your joints until they begin to break down. You run on concrete for 20 years and you’re bound to start having troubles. Surgery is in your future.

6. The average orthopedic surgeon’s salary is $519,000.
Can you say profit?

7. If you live in North America you don’t get enough Vitamin D.
Get your Vitamin D naturally by getting out in the sun. Walk outside on your lunch hour or go ice skating. Have some fun.

All of these ideas are free. They don’t require a gym membership.
There are plenty of good reasons to exercise:

  • Yoga will help keep you flexible as you age and tighten your core.
  • Weightlifting will help build and maintain muscle mass. You need that as you age.
  • Your heart needs to stay strong so you need to do something that involves challenging your heart rate a bit. That can be done by walking the stairs in your house. Up and down. Up and down. Don’t have stairs? How about a brisk walk around the company parking lot or on a bad day, hit the mall and walk.

All of these ideas are free too, and most importantly they are all low impact exercise ideas. It’s a perfectly fine idea to set a New Year’s Resolution to exercise more. You just don’t need to go to the health club to do it. Save that membership money. Put it in a savings or retirement account of some kind. We are all living longer – thanks to modern medicine – and it’s not cheap to get old.

Exercise for muscle mass and bone density, flexibility, and mental acuity. Not for weight loss.

Cheers,

 

My Best Ever Stuffed Mushrooms

Just in time for football season or any other partying event. These won’t last long on your platter.


Why We Go On A Diet

We survey Plan Z dieters on occasion and ask them all kinds of questions. In a recent survey, we asked them the biggest reason they decided to go on a diet and chose Plan Z. You know what the most popular answer was?

I, for one, was surprised by the answer.

The most popular answer was, “I could not stand the pain any longer.”

  • My hips hurt.
  • My knees hurt.
  • My feet hurt.
  • My ankles were always swollen and sore.

They just hated the pain. They didn’t like the way they looked either, but it was the pain that was the final straw. Good news is we asked them why they did Plan Z AFTER they had completed it, and it was remarkable how many people said, “After Plan Z, my pain is gone or almost gone.”

So let’s set that aside for a minute and examine the situation.
I did a little bit of research.

We all know the advancing age of Baby Boomers is upon us. In the 80’s we learned that low fat was the way to eat and that we had to exercise. 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week was the recommendation. So, many of us started jogging after work. You never saw people in running shoes jogging down the road in the 1960’s. Now you see them every day. Some spring along the streets and others laboriously lope along. Some have a dog in tow and even others are jogging behind baby carriages outfitted with a suspension made to take the bumps along the way.

Some of us jogged for over 20 years before things started breaking down. Our joints could not take it any longer. And that goes for skinny runners as well as overweight ones. Joints wear out if you repeatedly beat them up by over-doing things like running. We didn’t evolve to jog five miles a day. We evolved to run away when a big animal was chasing us, but not to day-after-day go run a route around our neighborhood. Gain too much weight and the situation gets even worse. The cost of joints wearing out is huge.

The orthopedic device industry is now topping at $43.1 billion a year. Yep, that’s a B for billion. And that’s only the parts! That doesn’t include hospitalization, the surgery, the aftercare or anything else.

  • There are 2.9 million joint replacements done per year.
  • 1.4 million of those are hips.
  • 1.2 million are knees being replaced.
  • 100,000 are shoulder replacements.

If you just count the hip surgeries, that’s over 3,800 being done per day and that even counts weekends!

Someone has to perform those surgeries. There are now over 25,000 orthopedic surgeons practicing in the US. The average orthopedic surgeon performs 29 surgeries/procedures per month. We are keeping those guys and gals pretty busy these days.

About a decade ago, I had back surgery. I bring that up because some surgeries are just plain structural in nature. Or even hereditary. Maybe something didn’t grow right in the first place. Or maybe my being overweight DID have something to do with it. All I know is the pain became unbearable. I could not function. I didn’t have a part replaced in my back but I had to have things adjusted so I could get past the pain. My disc had slipped so far I could hardly walk.

But hardly being able to walk applies to others too. When you are carrying around extra weight you are putting a stress on your joints that will eventually wear them out. Your hips will start to hurt. Your knees are more susceptible to injury. Your legs are just plain tired on a regular basis.

If you want to feel what it’s like to carry around an extra 50 pounds go to one of those big stores. Pick up a 50-pound bag of dog food and carry it around on your shoulder. See how long you last before you just want to go dump it back on the shelf. Lose 50 pounds and your body will thank you in a multitude of ways. Just ask these folks.

Now you just have to figure out what you’re going to do to lose it. And jogging probably isn’t an option. Am I close?

Chocolate Ganache

Sinfully delicious...and only three ingredients!


Mexican Avocado Soup with Chicken or Turkey

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z3 (ZReboot) recipe. I love this soup. This and a salad or a piece of low carb bread can make a meal. It’s also colorful, so I am including it in my Happy Healthy Holiday menu options. You can make this with leftover turkey and have a colorful way to use your extras.

Servings: Serves 3-4  as an entrée (each serving is 1-1/2 cups). Serves 4-6 as a smaller appetizer portion.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ripe avocados
  • juice of one lime
  • 1 cup of chopped onion
  • ¾ cup of heavy cream
  • ½ cup of chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 cups of chicken stock (organic if you can get it)
  • ¼ – ½ tsp of hot pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 chicken breasts or 4 cups of leftover turkey, shredded

Optional:

  • garnish with roasted pistachio kernels, quartered cherry tomatoes, and cilantro

Instructions:

The first thing to do is poach the chicken breasts if you are using chicken. In a sauté pan put the chicken breasts in with enough water to cover them. Bring to a low boil and poach them for approximately 15 minutes or until when you cut into them there’s no pink visible. Let them cool a bit and then take two forks and pull at the meat to shred it.

While the chicken is poaching you can prepare the rest of your soup. This is so easy!

Get out your blender. Into the blender jar, add the following:

Cut your avocados in half and take out the pit. Then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Work around any brown bits if there are any bruises. Put the avocado flesh in the blender. Add the lime juice, cilantro, onion, cream, chicken stock and chili flakes along with a good grind of sea salt and pepper. Whiz until smooth.

When you are ready to finish your soup, put the blended ingredients in a large saucepan and begin to heat on medium. Add the meat (either the shredded chicken or leftover turkey shreds). Heat until the soup is hot. Taste it. You can always add more chili flakes if you want it spicier. You can add a bit more lime juice or even add more salt. When you taste it you can decide.

When I served it I tossed on a few pistachio kernels, the chopped tomato, and the cilantro. I served it with one slice of low carb toast slathered in butter. Or you can serve with a few low carb taco chips. My husband also added some liquid hot sauce to his soup. The guy can never get enough zip.

Enjoy!

Cheers,


Pinecone Cheese Ball

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z3 (ZReboot) recipe.

I have to admit that this is not an original idea of mine. I saw a video another guy did and I changed it up to make my own recipe. The pinecone idea was his and I thought it was unique and festive. This can be done several ways. I am going to lay out a simple version and then give you suggestions for variations.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tub of Alouette garlic and herb cheese spread
  • ½ tsp of onion powder
  • a whisper of cayenne or to your taste. I sprinkle fairly liberally because I like the extra zip.
  • 1 can of almonds. I use the Planters Smokehouse almonds. You choose your favorite.
  • a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • a few raspberries (optional)

Instructions:

In a medium bowl, put in your cheese spread, onion powder and cayenne (if you choose to make variations, add those to the bowl, too). Stir to mix. Take out your chosen serving platter. Mound the cheese in the middle. Take a knife or spatula and form it into the shape of a pinecone. It’s really easy. Just round it at one end and bring it to a point at the other.

Then begin inserting your almonds. Take the first one, pointy tip out and poke it into the end of the pinecone. Then begin layering the almonds in rows (see picture). This part takes the longest. It might take you about 10 minutes to cover the whole pinecone.

 

Then just poke in the rosemary to look like pine branches and strategically position your berries for color.

Serve with crackers and celery sticks. The celery sticks help you cut down on cracker consumption.

More ideas:

  • Use other flavors of Alouette cheese. They make a great Tomato Basil version as well as others.
  • Add minced jalapeno and some chili powder to go Mexican
  • Add red and green pepper bits
  • Add diced onion
  • Add some grated cheddar to get a new flavor twist
  • Add bacon bits. The boys love bacon!
  • Add Sriracha sauce for a whole different kind of zip!

 

Your own variation will turn out great!

Enjoy!

Cheers!


Coffee-Crusted Steaks with Tomato Salad & Caramelized Onion "Jam"

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z2 (ZReduction) recipe.

Don’t let the coffee turn you away! I’m allergic to caffeine and I love this dish! It does not taste like coffee when it’s done and it won’t keep you up at night. You can use decaf grind if you want to. The rub just gives it an interesting flavor sort of a glazed feeling. Go easy the first time to see how much you like it. You’ll have extra rub left over for the next time you want to make it again.

Servings: Serves 2

Ingredients:

(Put these items in your coffee grinder and give it a good whiz.)

  • ¼ cup of fine ground, dry coffee
  • 12 turns of freshly grated pepper
  • 12 turns of freshly grated sea salt
  • 1 packet of Stevia

PLUS

  • 2 steak pieces, 5 oz each. You can use whatever cut suits your fancy.
  • Olive oil spray

For the Onion Jam:

  • 2 large Vidalia onions, sliced on level 1 of your mandolin or very thin if you are doing them by hand
  • 1 packet of Stevia

Instructions:

On a work surface, sprinkle on the coffee rub. One side of the meat is okay for the first time. Subsequent events you can cover the whole piece of meat it you want. Rub it into the meat and let it sit for 10 – 15 minutes.

Lightly spray a cast iron sauté pan (or other oven proof pan) with olive oil. A little bit is enough.

Put the steak in, on medium high, with the spice side down. Sear the steak for 2 minutes to get a good crust on that side, then turn over.

Put in the oven to roast for 6 – 8 minutes more. I take them out when my insta-read thermometer registers 120 – 125 for medium rare. The meat will continue to cook after you take it out. How long it needs to be in the oven will depend on how thick the piece of meat is that you chose.

For the Onion Jam:

While the meat is cooking, you can place the onions in a large sauté pan. Sauté on high for 5 minutes; stirring often. Add the Stevia and turn to low. Cook another 10 minutes on low, also stirring often. This caramelizes the onions.

Serving Suggestions:

Serve with chopped tomatoes set on a leaf of lettuce.

Enjoy!

Cheers!

  


Happy St. Nicholas Day

When I was little, I attended a Catholic grade school. I learned about St. Nicholas Day from the nuns. I brought my new-found knowledge home to my mom and she went right along with it.

I was really into gifts (still am), so when the nuns told me you were supposed to put your shoes by the front door and gifts would appear the next morning, I was hooked.

St. Nicholas Day is the 6th of December and is celebrated all over the world. It’s really big in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe. They even have parades and light fireworks.

So back to the gifts.

The idea is to put your shoes by the door the night before. Traditionally, your shoes would be filled with oranges the next morning, maybe a little chocolate and/or a teeny gift of some kind. I guess how many gifts you get depends on the family budget.

My brother and I put our shoes out and went to bed.

Magically, the next morning our shoes had an orange and some chocolates. St. Nicholas had arrived during the night! Wow!

I kept up this tradition. Even to this day, I put a little gift of a clementine or an orange on the desk of our employees, along with a little dark chocolate treat. I wish them all a Happy St. Nicholas Day. And now, I wish the same for you, too.

It’s fun to add holiday traditions in your life.
And share the joy.

Chocolate Cupcakes

These cupcakes are courtesy of Plan Z dieter Ashley, a professional pastry chef.


Potatoes and the Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index is all the rage right now. I am a big fan, but I have a few hints that might vary from what you read in most places.

The Glycemic Index is a measure of a food’s ability to spike your blood sugar. The index goes from 0 – 100+. (Yes, a food can actually score higher than 100. And white sugar is 100 so you know that’s sweet).

I consider any food that scores a GI of 50 or less as healthy (for diet purposes).

The Glycemic Index is more popular in New Zealand and Australia than in the US. They even mention a food’s GI score in TV commercials or on the boxes of things like cereal.

As with most things in America, we cut Big Food too much slack in my opinion. Instead of deeming things that score 50 or less as healthy, in America most listings will score foods as low, medium and high. 50 – 70 is considered medium. 70+ is high and not recommended or at least eat very little of it and keep it for special occasions.

So, let’s talk potatoes and the Glycemic Index.

Rule of thumb is the smaller (or younger) a potato is the lower the GI (Glycemic Index). Potatoes like fingerlings or small red potatoes (also called C-size) will have a lower GI. So just look for the smallest potatoes offered at your local store.

Larger potatoes have a higher starch content and therefore a higher GI. They all score high. And how you cook them matters. Believe it or not, a microwaved russet potato scores a whopping GI of 124! In the old days I used to come home from work and microwave a small russet and put diet margarine on it. I did that because they were low calorie. I was eating a 150 calorie dinner and thought I was doing myself a favor. No wonder I kept getting fatter! I had no clue.

The only large potato exception is a sweet potato but how you cook potatoes matters. A boiled sweet potato will score a GI of 44. That’s good. A baked sweet potato launches to 94. Not good. You now have something that resembles candy.

Mashing your potatoes and making them fluffy can skyrocket the Glycemic Index by as much as 25%. Boiled, baked or mashed white potatoes will always score high.

Adding oil helps. That’s why French fries and potato chips have a lower GI than, let’s say, a baked potato. French fries score 75. That doesn’t make them “good for you.” Don’t fool yourself. But if you’re like me and you cut yourself off at 4 or 5 fries rather than eating the whole pile, they can be part of your diet; just not every day.

Adding fat helps. Real butter not diet margarine. Cheese helps, too -- even sour cream and bacon bits. Anything with fat slows down the Glycemic Load. Glycemic Load or GL is the rate at which the spiking of blood sugar ensues.

The way to have the lowest score in the GI or GL categories is to make the potatoes ahead and chill them until they are completely cold. Then you can heat them back up and have a low(er) GI/GL experience.

What happens is some of the starches in the potatoes become what is called resistant carbs. Basically, this process causes the potatoes to digest slower, so they digest slower in your system and don’t cause the same blood sugar spike.

So, as often as possible plan your potatoes a day ahead. This is perfect for cooking for dinner parties or holiday celebrations. One less thing to have to deal with on the day of. All you have to do is re-heat. Potato casseroles often taste even better on day 2 so, this is a bonus.

Enjoy potatoes in moderation and use these hints to make healthier choices.

Cheers,

Dauphinoise Potatoes

Don’t let the name intimidate you. This is a wonderful potato casserole!


The Sweet Smell of Garlic

The first time I tasted roasted, whole garlic was in a restaurant called Bistro 110. This was about 1983. My best friend had ordered it for us to share.

I sat stunned, staring at it, when it arrived at the table.

The waiter set down a plate that had a whole bulb of garlic on it. The top was cut off and there was olive oil drizzled over it. Bread pieces came with it. The smell was divine, but it looked like a sloppy mess to eat and I didn’t have a clue where to start.

My friend Michele realized, that even as a foodie, I had no clue what to do.

“You just eat it like this,” she said as she demonstrated taking her fork and using a prong to pull out one clove of the warm, soft garlic and spread it across a piece of French bread.

I caught on, but I still wrinkled up my nose.

My only experience with garlic was in things like lasagna. I knew how pungent garlic could be if you used too much. I made that mistake once.

I had visions of putting a bite of that in my mouth and getting a fiery garlic flavor that would be overwhelming. Almost hot even.

I bucked up and dug in because Michele was way ahead of me already and she wasn’t even reaching for her water glass, so I thought it must be okay.

My first bite was quite the surprise. The squishy garlic was no longer pungent. It had taken on a smooth texture and aroma. Almost sweet. I didn’t even feel like I was going to get bad breath from it. It had a whole new flavor profile after being roasted in oil.

I’ve been a fan ever since.

With this offering I’m going to relate an assortment of things I have learned about garlic over the years.

Elephant Garlic: This is easy and says it all in the name. In your store you’ll usually find two kinds of garlic. The regular size and then near it you might find elephant garlic. Elephant is much bigger. It’s also milder (even raw) than regular garlic. If I am going to caramelize garlic I usually buy elephant garlic (more on caramelizing it later).

Scapes: Scapes are the blossoms that form above ground when you grow garlic. You might find those in fancy, gourmet stores. They taste more like scallions and fancy restaurants will use them to garnish soups and salads. They are really pretty. When grown longer they can even be put on display in a vase.

When to use fresh garlic: My purist friends will say it’s important to use fresh garlic at all times. I just don’t have time to peel fresh garlic every time and anytime I do it makes my fingernails smell like garlic for a few days. I’m not giving up on my manicures so sometimes I don’t peel garlic. Last night I got my husband to do it. If the dish you are going to cook involves really bright, fresh ingredients, use fresh garlic for sure. You’ll notice the difference.

When to use jar garlic: In grocery stores you’ll find minced garlic and chopped garlic in jars. I use that pretty often. You choose your preference based on whether you want to see chunks for if you want it to blend into the sauce smoothly. If I am making something heavier like a lasagna I see no reason not to use garlic from a jar. One teaspoon of jar garlic will mimic one large clove.

When to use powdered garlic: My opinion on this has changed. I used to save powdered garlic only for things like a quick garlic bread. Then I watched my friend James cook. James is a chef. He lived in Italy for 12 years and specializes in Italian cooking at his restaurant, Pisolino in Chicago. James gets out his big jar of powdered garlic and pours it into just about anything on his stove. I was shocked. I thought he’d fall into the purist category. Nope. So now I’ve taken up using powdered garlic in things like soups. It’s so easy.

Roasted Garlic: I’m going to give you the recipe for roasted garlic but I will also describe it here, too. It’s that simple. Just cut off the fuzzy top of the garlic down far enough that you’ll be able to see the cut side of most of the cloves nestled in the wrapper. I cut down about an inch from the top. Use a sharp knife or if you slip you might slice yourself.

Get out a square of aluminum foil and place the garlic flatter side down on the foil. Drizzle 1 or 2 Tbl of extra virgin olive oil over the top and wrap the garlic in the foil like a pouch.  I place it in another dish in case any oil oozes out. I don’t want that on the bottom of my oven, burning.

Then roast the garlic about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. And voila. You can check to make sure it’s done by poking it with a sharp paring knife. If the knife slides in easily the garlic will be soft to eat. It’s ready. Let it cool a bit so you don’t burn your mouth. If you want to keep the carbs down, serve it with seed crackers instead of bread.

Caramelized Garlic: When I caramelize garlic I try to use elephant garlic. All I do is peel it and cut the large cloves into one-inch chunks. I put it in a small oven-proof pan and drizzle a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil over the top and roast that in my oven, uncovered, for about 30 – 40 minutes. With this one I am leaving it in there until it begins to brown on the edges. That makes it even milder. You can serve this just like you do with the regular garlic or if I am going decadent I might pop the whole amount into a large batch of mashed potatoes. The caramelized garlic with break up and spread through out the potatoes. The olive oil is the substitute for butter and all you need is salt and if you like it, pepper. I have served this to rave reviews at big dinner parties. Caramelized garlic is so smooth in taste it almost adds a sweetness to the dish. Your garlic-loving friends and family will love it.

Garlic is also easy to grow in your garden. I’ve never done it. I don’t go through that much garlic but here’s a link about it that I found really easy to follow.  https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/advice/a18057/growing-garlic-460709/

Enjoy!

Cheers,

Roasted Garlic

Super easy. Mega-delicious.


Pumpkin Spiced Coffee

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z2 (ZReduction) recipe. The commercials are everywhere in the fall. Pumpkin this and pumpkin that. Starbucks is famous for their pumpkin spiced latte. But get this. A tall (which most know is their smallest size) comes in at 40 whopping grams of carbohydrates. That’s disgraceful and disgusting! Double that for a venti and you’ve now hit the carb jackpot and hit a number of carbs that is higher than most folks can handle for an entire day without gaining weight. People don’t often count the calories or the carbs in their coffee. They’ve destroyed their carb intake for the day with a pumpkin spiced latte and they haven’t even eaten food yet!

So we came up with this reasonable facsimile. We hope you enjoy! Dieter Carolyn who is a pumpkin latte mega-fan enjoyed this and is now converted! And she’s saving money too!

Servings: Serves up to 12 (cups of coffee)

Ingredients:

  • coffee for a full pot
  • 1 – 2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice mix
  • Truvia to taste
  • 1 Tbl of cream per cup of coffee

Instructions:

Fill your coffee filter basket with your normal amount of coffee to make a full pot. Now sprinkle on 1 – 2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice over the coffee grounds. Fill with water and brew as usual. You’ll have pumpkin spice-flavored coffee.

If you want sweetened coffee put Truvia in your cup of brewed coffee. A half teaspoon will do it for most folks. Then add a Tbl of cream if you want it creamier (latte style). If you’re not trying to lose weight you can add more cream. Remember it’s not the cream that will make you fat. It’s the sugar – the carbs.

Variations:

Want cinnamon coffee? Sprinkle the same amount of cinnamon over the coffee grounds

Want vanilla coffee? Sprinkle 2 tsp of vanilla over the grounds and proceed as usual.

There are all kinds of spices hanging around in your spice drawer that could make an exotic cup of coffee if you want to experiment. I think of things like cardamon. That would make an interesting kick. Apple pie spice might be a go-to for me. Nutmeg sounds nice and homey. If you are using stevia drops you can put any of those flavors either directly into your brewed coffee or sprinkle them over the grounds to make a whole pot at once. I used to use the toffee flavored stevia drops in my coffee. Since then, I’ve gone back to plain but I did my experimenting. I’m not a caffeine drinker so I’m not an expert. Maybe you have more ideas you share with me!

Enjoy!

Cheers


How to Cheat on Your Diet at Thanksgiving

Whether you’re on Plan Z (or any other diet), the holidays can be difficult. Even if you have solid discipline, your relatives and friends can try to sabotage you. Most of us don’t have great discipline, so a combination of both can be fatal to dieting success.

I’m going to get right to the list of options that I have found successful in straying from a diet for a day. This won’t be successful if you try to do it a whole long weekend but if a day will help you feel more like part of the celebration, then these are strategies you can employ and usually “get away with it” without much damage when you step on the scale the next morning.

First, let’s talk alcohol. For most, feeling out of the celebration comes from not drinking an alcoholic drink. Or your friends and family push it on you. I have had many dieters who insist on their glass of wine when they get home from work. Let me tell you flat out, that if you do this daily, you’ll lose about 60% less weight than you would have if you didn’t; and that’s if you do it in moderation. Drinking alcohol regularly while you try to diet just doesn’t work. Another complication is that those who start to drink often can’t stop at one. If that’s you, skip to the next part of this article because if you start and don’t stop, it usually leads to a large piece of dessert. Enough said.

If you feel you can be disciplined in your consumption of alcohol, there are a few things that will work. Under the category of “neat” drinks (no mixer included), you can consider cleaner liquors; things like gin, vodka, tequila, bourbon or whiskey. Forget sweeter things like rum and brandy. You can have one drink on ice and usually get away with no weight gain the next day. There are no carbs in clean liquors but there are plenty of calories.

If you want to risk having two drinks, you can use small amounts of the same liquor and top it off in a tall (and I mean TALL) glass with club soda/sparkling water. You can’t have mixed drinks like bourbon and Coke and get away with it. The mixers are where all the carbs/calories and artificial sweeteners come in that will mess you up.

Wine/champagne. Depending on your size and metabolism you can get away with one glass of white or red. They just need to be dry. That means pick a dry wine; not a sherry or something like that. No dessert wines. If you don’t know dry wines like chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon or Malbec, ask your liquor store manager and they can help. If you are a larger person, you might get away with two; just this once, but I would not push it. Err on the side of one glass and then switch to sparkling water.

Next big priority. Bring a side dish that is approved on the diet and pile it on! This means eat your veggies. I’m supplying you with three to choose from for this article. There are more, but these are popular.

For an appetizer or snack before dinner, stick to things approved for the diet, or have a ¼ cup of nuts. 2 options for appetizers are included here.

If you’re having turkey, stick to white meat. If you’re having beef, eat the leanest cut you can get. This is time to splurge on a beef tenderloin steak. If the host isn’t serving beef tenderloin or prime rib, consider bringing your own and just heat it. They won’t mind. Lasagna is not going to cut it. Sorry.

Just about every Thanksgiving table includes potatoes of some kind. My husband loves mashed potatoes so much that if we were invited to someone else’s house for the holiday, he’d insist we bring mashed potatoes “just in case they don’t make any.” Eat two tablespoons. That’s right. Just a teeny bit. Get your thrill and back away. If I eat a cup of mashed potatoes I can count on 2 pounds pasted to my butt the next morning. You don’t want that. Might take you a week to get it back off! Don’t even think about the sweet potatoes with the brown sugar and marshmallows. No. Ouch!

Speaking of back off, back down on the gravy, too. 2 tablespoons are your limit there.

If you want two tablespoons of the stuffing and that’s your priority, you definitely have to choose between the potatoes and the stuffing. Both won’t work.

No bread. Period. No bread.

For dessert, might I suggest you make one of the ZReboot desserts from the Plan Z site. You can choose any one. I have given three popular options with this article. Now here’s the trick. Cut your piece so it’s 1” wide at the back. That piece might be so narrow it doesn’t even hold together well. But look at it this way, it’s dessert. You can have just “one bite.” Take it off by yourself. Slink away. Eat it in teeny bites like you’re some kind of squirrel. Savor it. Roll it around in your mouth. Lick the plate if you have to. Enjoy the moment. Your time for bigger dessert portions will come.

There are several cheats on this list. If you want to wake up the next day with any chance at a sensible gain of 1 pound, then pick three off the list. If you do them all you could get away with “holiday mayhem” and not gain, or it could be three pounds you’re looking at; and that’s without tasting Grandma’s pecan pie.

Be reasonable. And be happy when you step on the scale. Be safe AND happy this holiday season. Follow these simple rules.

Remember, the average American gains at least 7 pounds over the holidays. You don’t have to follow the crowd.

Enjoy!
Cheers,


Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z3.5 (ZReboot 3.5) recipe. This is a quick cake that can be served at a party. You don’t need large pieces when something has as much flavor as this does. Pumpkin treats are a big hit in the fall and over the holidays.

Servings: Serves 12

Ingredients:

The Cake

  • 2 Tbl of melted butter
  • 1 cup of pureed pumpkin (from the can)
  • ½ cup of ZSweet or Swerve sugar substitute
  • 4 eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • ½ tsp of grated sea salt
  • 1-1/4 tsp of baking soda
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp of pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 tsp of nutmeg
  • ¼ cup of coconut flour or Carbalose flour
  • ¾ cup of Super Fine Ground almond flour

The Frosting

  • 8 oz of softened cream cheese
  • ½ stick of softened butter
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 3 – 4 drops of liquid stevia
  • ½ cup of POWDERED ZSweet or Swerve*

*I buy powdered ZSweet online but if you only have the granulated version you can put it in your food processor and turn it on to make your own powdered sugar. 

Instructions:

For the Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray your pan with butter spray or baking spray. I used my 8" loaf pan. You can also use a 9”x 9” square pan or a 9” round springform pan. The final result will look like a single layer cake.

In your mixing bowl, put in the eggs, butter, pumpkin, sugar sub, and vanilla. Begin beating on medium to mix the ingredients. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides so everything is incorporated. Now let the mixer run for 2 minutes on high. I actually use a timer because I want to make sure the eggs get good and whipped.

Turn off mixer. Now, most cake recipes will tell you to mix all of the dry ingredients in another bowl and then incorporate them. I’m too lazy for that or in a hurry. I put all of the dry ingredients in the bowl on top of the wet ones but I make sure that as I add them I sprinkle them on so nothing is in one blob. Dust your spices over the top. Sprinkle the baking soda and even spread out the flour. Then do the same thing to mix. Run the mixer on medium for about 10 seconds to blend. Then stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Next, let it run for another 2 minutes to make sure the batter is all incorporated well and you’ve stirred everything really thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into your prepped 9” pan and make sure it’s spread evenly. Then bake for 30-35 minutes. You can test for doneness with a toothpick. If it comes out clean you’re all set.

Cool the cake before you frost it.

For the Frosting

Put all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until creamy. You can taste test your frosting to see if you want to add any more liquid stevia. I think it’s plenty sweet with just a few drops. A little of that stuff goes a LONG way so be careful when adding it.

I frosted this cake in a simple manner. If you want to decorate it you can make the recipe for the frosting again so you’d have enough to pipe a border on top and bottom.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator. I try to take the cake out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving it, but truthfully, the cold cake tastes really lovely, too.

Enjoy!

Cheers,


Want Potatoes on Turkey Day? Here's What to Do

My childhood Monday dinner went like this:

Mom would set my plate of food in front of me. Every Monday we had the same meal…baked chicken, mashed potatoes, and a veggie. Usually, the veggie was peas.

Once mom gave me my Monday meal, my first move was to dig a hole in my mashed potatoes and push in a pat of butter. I was raised in Wisconsin during a time when we were not afraid of butter, so that was a nice extra touch. I remember the butter was always cold. I’d cover it up with some of the warm mashed potatoes so it would melt.

I then proceeded to eat my chicken, followed by my peas. I’d save the mashed potatoes until the end. The potatoes were my favorite. I’d break open the encased butter which, by the end of the meal, was melted and gooey. Then I’d dig in with my spoon and savor those potatoes. I’d roll them over my tongue to get every last bit of flavor from them. If there were any mashed potatoes left over I’d ask my mom for a second helping.

Of course, at that age, I didn’t realize our bodies processed mashed potatoes and sweet desserts in almost the same way. I just knew I loved mashed potatoes and I wanted to eat them every chance I got. Knowing what I do now, I find it telling that even as a child I saved my mashed potatoes until the end of my meal so I could eat them like a dessert.

Once I was an adult and started having dinner parties, I specialized in making fancy kinds of mashed potatoes. Some of my most popular dishes were the ones where I added parmesan and coarsely ground black pepper or, (even better) the ones in which I’d add shallots that were roasted in olive oil until they became a caramelized goodness.  I recall those as being an extra-special favorite of my good friend, Jill.

We all thought the little gourmet things added to the mashed potatoes made them more decadent. Now I realize adding those things actually made the mashed potatoes more…healthy.

I should probably clarify that statement – mashed potatoes will never be “healthy.”  However, by adding fatty things like butter and Parmesan cheese into the potatoes, I was setting up a digestive situation that actually made things easier on our livers. The added fat caused our livers to not convert as much of the potatoes into sugar (and potentially into fat).

Let me explain: the measurement of the increase in your insulin level when you eat something is called the glycemic uptake.  Most foods will increase your blood sugar level, at least a little bit. Obviously, eating something sweet will increase the amount of sugar in your blood a lot. What most people don’t realize is that really starchy foods increase our blood sugar just as much as really sweet foods!

If you add a bit of fat whenever you eat high carb foods, the combination ends up slowing down the glycemic uptake so your blood sugar won’t shoot up as much or as fast. And it will come down faster too!

As we head into the holidays, we are heading into a potato frenzy period. Everyone wants potatoes with their holiday meals. Even if you are going to skip eating the potatoes this year, your family will likely pressure you to make them or they might even be so bold as to make a potato dish and bring it along if you won’t make it. So, I wanted to give you some options in case you are hosting the holiday dinner this year. Truth be told, I may eat a whole portion of potatoes on Thanksgiving but I am pickier about what potato dish I choose now. Since I only eat a full portion of potatoes about 4 times a year, it’s a big deal to me. I am still careful, however, in what potato preparation I choose to eat. What accompanies that potato is factored in highly too.

So, here’s a short list that lays out the Glycemic Index of different kinds of potatoes. Considering that sugar scores in at 100, you’ll see how the different potatoes rank. You’ll see why they are so sugary to your system that I refer to them as another dessert. If you focus on that when you are in the buffet line or ordering in a restaurant you’ll be likely to keep your potato portion under control.

How you cook the potatoes matters too. Raw potatoes score lower than cooked, but who wants to eat a raw potato?

For a select few of the potatoes, I added another column to show you how many grams of carbohydrates are in that type of potato and under the specific cooking method. The number of grams of carbohydrates each person can handle in a day without gaining weight will depend on how large that person is (height and weight) as well as the efficiency of their digestive system. But let me stereotype for a minute and speculate that most folks cannot handle more than 80-90 grams of carbs per day without starting to balloon up.  So why would you want to sink 37, 41 or even 63 grams of carbohydrates into your system from just one cup of potatoes! Remember that even fruit has carbs.

Everything you eat has to fit in that 80-90 gram number.

Keeping your carbohydrate percentage to less than 20% of your daily food intake is your secret to staying thin and healthy. That will keep your liver happy, your pancreas happy and even your circulatory system flowing smoothly with no clogs.

So memorize this:

The potatoes are the splurge. They are a splurge as much as any dessert.

Cheers,


What’s the Secret to a Happy Family Gathering?

I was reading my latest issue of Real Simple magazine the other day and came across an article on family gatherings that I thought was interesting.

They had done a survey of readers to find out what their secrets were to a happy family gathering. I thought I’d share a few of them with you and run a little commentary. After that, I might add one of my own and then my favorite part will be to ask you for YOUR feedback on your secrets to successful gatherings. You can add your family secrets below at the bottom of the article.

 

The one that made me laugh was right up front:

"An empty dishwasher and trash before the gathering begins."

I have to say that this is important to me no matter what the occasion. The least stressful dinner party for me is one where I am so prepared that the dishwasher is empty and so is the trash. My husband is an ace at making this happen.

 

Next up:

"We have a cell phone bucket at the front door."

I wish I had the guts to do this at every dinner party; just to make the point. Truthfully, folks at my dinner parties and other gatherings are not spending time on their cell phones. I don’t have that hosting issue but if I had a house full of my relatives, I can see how it might become a “thing.”

 

Two more that go together in my mind: 

"I always send an invitation not an expectation." And…

"A start time and an end time with an open-house policy. Come by anytime between 3PM and 8PM. Stay as long or as briefly as you like. No pressure."

I love both of these.

My family gave up a long time ago in the effort to get everyone together for a family event. It’s not that we don’t try once in a blue moon, but we have no heavy expectations on how many will come.

I think at last count if every one of my siblings show up with their kids (and their kids' kids) we’d have over 40 people. We are pretty spread out, too. It’s nuts to think any date you pick would work for everyone.

And having an open-house is a great way to take the pressure off of the hosts and guests. Hey, both turkey and roast beef taste good cold anyway. Can you say buffet?

 

My last feature from the article is:

"Creating space for people to have alone time."

Some folks just need a break from the maddening crowd. My husband’s family is very small. Ours is large. So, he likes to get some separation. He used to go into the den and let all the grand-kids climb all over him like he was some kind of jungle gym. That’s not alone time for sure, but it gave him a break from the crowd of adults all talking at once. The article talks about time for a walk in the woods to digest or even a brief nap.

 

One I will add of my own:

"Let people help. And team them up."

I have been very successful with this concept. Think about it. It might free some of your time up if you give a couple of folks a recipe and let them make something. I get the ingredients out and set them on the counter. Then I enlist two people to make whatever it is. Salads are super easy. So are side dishes. I suggest you combine generations. Maybe Aunt Ruthie hardly knows her teenage niece. Let them work on the salad together. Or get a nephew. You might find out how talented a cook he is. You’re around working on other things in case someone has a question. First thing they will do is laugh and apologize for their cooking expertise (or lack of it). Then they get down to business. At the end people remark about all they learned about that other person that they never knew before. Of course, everyone enjoys the dish too.

Enjoy a fun-filled season of holiday events.

Cheers,

Tipsy Plums with Sweet Cream

So what are your secrets to family gathering success?

Chime in below and let us know.

We can all share these ideas like one big happy Zola family.


Turkey Tips

Most people think the Thanksgiving turkey dinner is the most intimidating meal to make. I never understood that.

For Thanksgiving there was always a crowd at my childhood home. At least a dozen people, often more. My mother would get the biggest turkey she could buy, probably 25# or so. It would barely fit in the oven, (and of course there was only one oven).

Sides would be baked acorn squash and boiled green beans. Baked potatoes would be wedged in the oven around the turkey. There’d be a fruit plate and pies purchased at the local baker. Nothing fancy but the day still felt like a celebration.

My mother taught me, by example, not to be intimidated by such a big dinner. I just saw it as normal.

So, I’m always entertained when I see and hear all the ruckus about the Thanksgiving meal - everyone debating how to cook their turkey, what gourmet sides to offer along with the venerable green bean casserole and what ever happened to Grandma’s pumpkin pie recipe!

Today I’m going to focus on a few Turkey Tips I found that might shed some light on elements of the controversy. My goal is to lessen the hassle and the worry.

Let’s start with even before the turkey hits the oven.

Don’t Rinse It.

That’s right. The USDA now says more people get food poisoning from splashing the rinse water around the kitchen and getting turkey bacteria on your hands and apron and then transferring them around your kitchen. Cook your turkey to 165 degrees and all chance of food poisoning from the turkey itself will be gone. If something looks gross and you feel you have to rinse it, be VERY careful. I just dry mine off with a paper towel these days. During the week, I dry my chicken this way, too.

Opening the Oven to Peek is Okay. 

I’ve seen people yelling at each other in the kitchen to keep the oven door closed. No peeking. It was assumed that every time you open the oven door the temperature goes down considerably and affects how juicy your turkey finishes. Truth is the temperature does go down a smidge but not enough to really worry about. All it does is add a little time to the cooking of the turkey. 15 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey is the normal gauge and if you use a thermometer the reason to peek toward the end of the cooking time is to see if the turkey has hit 165 degrees. Then it’s done. Let it rest 30 minutes while you finish up the sides. That’s what encourages your turkey to be juicy.

No Basting Necessary

Holy bird! No basting? We thought that’s how a turkey got moist and tender. Fact is, the turkey will do that all by itself. If you want your turkey skin to taste crispy orange, baste it with orange juice. You want your gravy to have an extra buttery taste? You can baste your bird, but it’s not necessary. If you’d rather spend that time watching the big football game, go for it. And then you won’t be opening the oven as much either.

If you want more, there’s a book I’d recommend. The Perfect Turkey by Chef Keith Sarasin. You can find it at World Market, Barnes and Noble or online. His book has all the ins and outs of turkey cooking methodologies and it’s got over 100 recipes for sides and things in case you want a fancier dinner than my mother made, or you want to venture beyond the green bean casserole.

Enjoy Your Holiday!

Cheers,

 

Green Bean Casserole

Just like grandma used to make...but healthier!


Green Bean Casserole

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z3 (ZReboot) recipe. Everyone loves the green bean casserole with the mushroom soup and the crispy onions on top. Trouble is it’s so bad for you. Mushroom soup from a can. Can we say “processed food?" Danger! So I have come up with one that doesn’t take much longer to make, it’s real food; not processed food and you’ll still be getting that wonderful green bean casserole taste. Instead of using those really unhealthy onion crisps we will be making deep fried shallots. They taste so good!

Servings: Serves 6

Ingredients:

For the Crispy Shallot Topping:

  • ½ cup of coconut oil (find this in the health food section in most stores)
  • ½ cup of shallots cut into little rings (use more if you want more topping)

For the Green Beans and Sauce:

  • 2 pounds of fresh green beans, trimmed. You can use them whole or cut them into 1” pieces.
  • 2 Tbl of butter or ghee
  • 2 Tbl of gravy flour (this is a lighter flour but you can use regular flour, too)
  • 2 cups of whipping cream
  • 2 Tbl of Bragg's Aminos
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • wisp of cayenne (this is optional; I just like mine to have a teeny bit of zip)

For the Mushrooms:

  • 2 Tbl of butter
  • 1 lb of sliced mushrooms

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Heat the coconut oil in a small fry pan or sauce pan. When it’s hot add the onion strings a few at time til the whole ½ cup is loaded in. Fry until they are golden brown and take them out of the oil and drain on paper towels. Be careful. You’ll be tempted to eat them all before the casserole goes into the oven. They are so good!

Heat water in a large sauce pan. Put in the beans. Cook them on a low boil for five minutes. Then immediately transfer them into a bowl and pour cold water over them so they quit cooking.

In a sauce pan add the butter and flour. When the butter melts carefully stir the flour around. You are making a thickener for your sauce. Then slowly add the whipping cream. Keep stirring while you add it. Doing this will keep your sauce from getting lumpy. Add the Bragg's Aminos and a bit of sea salt and grated pepper. Cook the sauce, stirring fairly frequently on medium high. You want the sauce to bubble and begin to thicken. While the sauce is cooking you can cook the mushrooms.

Cut half of the mushrooms into small dice. The other half you can leave as slices. Saute the mushroom mixture in the butter until it begins to brown the mushrooms on the edges.

Assembly:

Put the green beans in a 9" x 13" ovenproof pan.

Add the mushroom mixture on top and stir them up.

When the sauce has thickened, taste it to see if you want to add the cayenne or even a little more salt and pepper. Sprinkle any extra seasonings over the top of the bean/mushroom mixture.  Stir to mix it up.

Bake in your oven for 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Top with the crispy shallots before you serve.

If you are making this for a holiday dinner you can bake it a day ahead of time and just reheat it or you can put the assembled casserole in the refrigerator covered. Then take it out and bake it the day of but keep in mind it will be very cold so it might take a bit longer to heat up. Add 10 minutes to cooking time. Keep the shallots in an airtight baggie or container.

The casserole heats up very well as a leftover option, too.

Enjoy!

Cheers,


The Art of the Antipasti Tray

The definition of Antipasti: An appetizer usually consisting of an assortment of foods, such as smoked meats, cheese, fish, and vegetables.

Sounds like a low-carb platter of perfection, doesn’t it?

Here are some basic but tasty ideas of what you could include in an antipasti tray:

Smoked meats – visit a smokehouse to get cool options like venison or boar
Marinate brocconcini (small balls of Mozzarella cheese) in olive oil, red pepper and Italian herbs
Roasted or grilled eggplant either marinated or turned into baba ganoush
Strawberries sprinkled with some really good balsamic
Roasted peppers with roasted garlic
Tuna seared with black pepper served sashimi style
Bacon wrapped scallops or shrimp
Roasted veggies chunked with any sort of dipping or drizzling sauce

I love to build antipasti platters for parties. It makes a perfect appetizer course or just something to munch on while watching a big sporting event. There’s no perfect combination. My plan here is to give you some options for how you might go about picking antipasti items for your party platter.

Meats: One traditional choice is prosciutto (a version of Italian ham). You can find this in the deli meat section. Salami is popular. There are tons of salami options. You can choose other meats, too. The one thing I ask is that you go to the deli section where humans wait on you. Ask them for the meat selections they either roast in house or are roasted nearby and made with no preservatives. It’s usually pretty easy to tell by looking in the case. Choose those meats. Stay out of the section of the store where the sliced meats are in shrink-wrapped heavy plastic. That’s a sure bet they are filled with preservatives.

Fish: If you like smoked trout or salmon you can have those on your antipasti tray. You can cook scallops and have a dish of those or you can even put picked herring on your tray. Just make sure what you are buying is fresh.

Cheeses: You can go crazy with the cheeses. Your platter might have a theme with Italian cheeses, French cheeses or even American. You can also do an assortment. Just put large blocks of cheese on the platter and let people cut off hunks, or cube the cheese so they can pick up cubes with a little tong.

Vegetables: You have three choices here. You can choose your favorite vegetables and serve them raw. Or you can make antipasti veggies. For instance, I marinate my own mushrooms. I just get mushrooms, clean them and then put oil, vinegar and spices in the bowl and let them sit in the refrigerator til party time. They get better with a few hours of marinating. You can get as involved in this as you want. You can also go the easy route and head to the olive bar in the grocery store. Most grocery stores have them now. There you’ll find marinated artichoke hearts, marinated peppers, olives and more. They have these little teeny red peppers at my deli that are stuffed with a sweetish cheese. These things taste like dessert to me. Love them. Look for the little marinated onions. Go wild.

Fruit: I often put berries in little bowls. I also use big strawberries with the green heads still on them for color.

Condiments: You can have little ramekins of mustard or even a chutney. I’ve even done little pots of pate.

Breads: I stay away from the baguettes or slices of bread but I do toss on a few Melba rounds. People not on the Plan Z diet love them and those of us who have done a ZReduction just wink at each other. You can also do a little crock of cheese spread (make your own or get a good one) and you can stick breadsticks in it. Cut them in half and stick them in, too if you want. Looks like a porcupine that way.

Display: The art of antipasti makes it special. You can go wild with this or be very simple. Don’t get worked up about it. I have two options for trays. One is to use a large platter. The size of the turkey platter is a good gauge. Then I put small dishes of the liquid items on there so the juices don’t mingle.

Another option is to use a large cutting board. This works well because when they cut the cheese they are cutting on a board. This looks very country-French or country-Italian.

Enjoy!

Cheers,


How to get Plan Z covered by your insurance

Our newest improvement will be welcome news! 

Plan Z is now covered by some insurance plans!

Let me outline four options:

HSA/FSA Coverage

Two easy ones are FSA (Flexible Spending Account) and HSA (Health Savings account) cards. If you have either one of those, all you have to do is order Plan Z using your card!

If you saved the money in your HSA account or your employer provided you with an FSA card, by all means take advantage of it. Making FSA and HSA payments are as easy as using the card like a credit card. When you place your order, use your FSA or HSA card at checkout.

Health Insurance

If you have health insurance, but no flex spending card, you can still work to get the diet approved if your BMI is above 25. Depending on your coverage, your insurance company might pay for all of your diet, or a portion of it. All you have to do is take these special forms to your doctor to complete:

Medical Necessity Form

Sample Letter of Medical Necessity

They’ll decide which one they prefer to use. Then ask your doctor to submit the form to your insurance company for approval (it has to come from your doctor's office or your insurance company might not accept it). Obesity is a disease that leads to other diseases that are also covered by insurance. So if you have Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or even things like sleep apnea, it all adds up to get your diet paid for by your insurance. Your doctor might prefer the general form or the letter format so take them both with you.

Tax Deduction

And lastly, you can get help from Uncle Sam. A quality diet, like Plan Z, is now deductible from your taxes. In this case, you pay for the diet up front, and save your receipt just like you do for other tax deductible items. When you file your taxes, you’ll deduct the cost of the diet along with your other deductible expenses. You can check with your tax advisor if you use one. For those who don’t get a refund, getting to deduct the full amount from taxes is like money in the bank. It’s money you didn’t have to pay in taxes; instead you invested it in yourself by paying for Plan Z.

I hope this helps you make an easy decision to do another round of Plan Z.

Feel free to call us with questions. My goal here was to make you aware and to help answer some of the basics.

Cheers,

P.S.  Remember many FSA/HSA dollars expire at the end of the calendar year. It’s a “use it or lose it” system. So take advantage of it NOW. Your eligible dollars might expire December 31, 2019.


Spooky Times

Halloween is hands down my favorite holiday. I used to celebrate big. We’d invite about 70-80 people to dinner and dancing (we had a big house then and we hired a DJ).

I’d make 13 courses. Starting off we’d have five or six appetizers in the bar area. Can you say blue cheese stuffed olives floating in vodka? We’d call those eyeballs.

Then I’d serve a buffet that went along a theme. The theme would match our costumes. So the year my husband and I went as Rhett and Scarlett from Gone with the Wind we served southern food.

The dessert buffet might have a cake covered in an icing spiderweb with candy spiders. One year I did a cake that was a red velvet cake and it had a hand coming out of the top of the cake.

You get the idea.

This year will be a calmer Halloween celebrated with all things pumpkin, so I thought you might enjoy this recipe for pumpkin pancakes. If you decide to drizzle them with syrup, take it easy on the sugar level.

Here, also is my Halloween greeting for you. Share this with your children and if they are older they can share it with their little goblins, too.

Cheers,
Happy Halloween!

 

Pumpkin Pancakes

A delicious and healthy treat!


Happy Halloween!

Here’s a Halloween song reminiscent of “Baby Shark.” Enjoy!

And share with your little ones or grand-kids.

Happy Halloween!

 

Pumpkin Pancakes with Pumpkin Spiced Whipped Cream

A healthy pancake recipe! Delish!


Pumpkin Pancakes with Pumpkin Spiced Whipped Cream

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z3.5 (ZReboot 3.5) recipe. Hot off the Griddle. “Zolafied” pancakes. Dieter Joan sent me her family recipe for pumpkin pancakes. They are a favorite with her family. She asked me if I could do a “healthy version” of pumpkin pancakes that she can serve at the holidays and keep her family full and satisfied as well as healthy. So here it is!

Servings: This makes 12, 4” pancakes. The carbohydrate count will be very low on these cakes. They fill you up too. If you want your kids “full and focused” before school give them these instead of cereal.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of Super Fine Ground almond flour (Bob's Redmill is the most popular brand)
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup of water
  • ¼ tsp of grated sea salt
  • 3 tsp of Truvia (stevia)
  • 3 tsp of pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 1 cup of pumpkin pie puree (the stuff from the can works great)
  • coconut oil or butter for cooking

Instructions:

Put all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with your electric mixer on medium high for a full 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl and mix a bit again.

Many pancake experts recommend you let the pancake mix sit for 15 minutes before you make the pancakes. This allows the active ingredients to do their job. I let this batter sit too.

Then just before grilling the pancakes I gave it one more 5 second swirl with my electric mixer.

You have a couple of options for grilling. I used my electric fry pan. That’s my favorite or you can do them on your stove. Electric fry pan temp should be 400 degrees. On the stove medium-medium high.

For oils. First batch I did with coconut oil. Works great. Second batch I did with butter. Works equally as well.  Your choice.

The batter with be a bit thicker than regular pancake batter. When I put the batter on the surface I had to nudge it around a little to help it spread. You could add a bit more water if you want your batter thinner.

The pancakes will not bubble like normal ones so just watch for them to be golden brown on the bottom and then gently flip them. They do puff up like regular pancakes.

Leftovers can keep in zipper bags in the refrigerator and re-heated.

Serve with Pumpkin Spiced Whipped Cream

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of whipping cream
  • 2 tsp of vanilla
  • 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice

Instructions:

Mix with your mixer until still peaks form; just like regular whipped cream. Serve this on your pancakes instead of syrup. Or if you want some syrup just do a teeny bit; like a capful.  And use REAL maple syrup. No diet syrup. A bit of the real stuff is better for you. I served mine with the whipped cream and a very teeny drizzle of syrup. It was WAY YUMMY!

Enjoy!

Cheers,


Halloween Treats

My husband and I have always enjoyed Halloween. Years ago I declared it my favorite holiday. I like Halloween more than Christmas.

Early in our relationship my husband and I decided to celebrate the Trick-or-Treaters. Instead of seeing them as an interruption we decided to make adult fun out of the process.

First thing we do each year is set up a small table by the door with two chairs. Usually I grab a hall table. That way we can sit in the entryway of the house. We have our basket of treats all set to go. We make a cocktail and set up a snack for us too. Maybe some nuts.

Then we get out a game we want to play. Usually it’s a card game that is not spoiled by the ringing of the doorbell. Each time the bell rings one of us gets up to greet the kiddies and we let them pick out what they want for a treat. Because we are both sitting by the door we both get to see the costumes and enjoy the ceremony of the little ones chirping out “Trick-or-Treat.” We get to greet the moms and dads that are accompanying the kids too. It’s really a treat for us, truth be told.

For dinner we order a pizza. Don’t freak. Even I eat pizza. I just only eat one piece of crust. For the rest I just pick off the toppings with a fork. My husband is an expert at piling even three sets of toppings onto one piece of crust and eating that. But I digress.

Since starting Plan Z I no longer give out candy. I used to pride myself on having the best candy bar selection in the neighborhood. I’d get the good stuff.

Now I get even better stuff. I have taken to giving out toys!

I have found the perfect place to buy Halloween treats is at the craft store. This year I bought Halloween themed pencils, whistles, kazoos, crazy glasses, flying frog toys, spider rings and stretchy skeletons. How fun is that!

Last year I bought wind up plastic monsters and Halloween tub toys.

At first the kids get a startled look on their faces when they go to grab into the basket and there’s no candy. We tell them they can pick a toy or two and then they turn to their parents and say, “Look Mom! They are giving out toys! YAY!”

The only trick is sometimes they have a hard time choosing. I don’t mind. That gives us more time to enjoy the costumes and the fun.

Now for the economics of it. I checked the pricing. Those little Snicker Bars are 17 cents each. I got 137 toys for under $20. That’s about 15 cents each. So I get the satisfaction of giving them something that lasts more than the two seconds it takes to rip open a piece of candy and jam it in their mouth. Not to mention the sugar high and even maybe a tummy ache that comes along later.

I have given them hours (or at least minutes) of fun. They can flip their flying frog across the table over and over again. They can tease the family cat with it. Or they can use their Halloween pencil for weeks. They can blow on their kazoo or their Halloween whistle til they drive their parents nuts.

And when I close the door after each little child leaves, I feel good. And that makes for a Happy Halloween.

 

Monster Mouths

A ghoulish (and healthy) Halloween snack idea.


Caramel Sauce

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z3 (ZReboot) recipe.

I never thought I’d be able to come up with a caramel sauce. It’s tricky to make, and my favorite caramel sauce recipe has sweetened condensed milk in it. That’s not something I eat anymore.

This caramel sauce recipe is fairly easy to make. You just need to keep an eye on it and use a large sauce pan even though the ingredients won’t be very deep in the pan. That’s the only way to get the butter and sweetener to caramelize. The first time I made it I used what I thought was a large enough pan, but it took too long to cook and eventually separated before it was finished. I had to start over. The inspiration recipe I used is from a woman named Maya Krampf. Her website is WholesomeYum.com. I’m sure she’d appreciate it if you check that out. My recipe is almost the same as hers; just a slight variation or two.

A couple of hints: You’ll want to serve this caramel sauce the day you make it. I served it about 30 minutes after I made it. It was still warm. As it cools it will thicken a bit more and that’s perfectly fine. I did refrigerate the leftovers and that’s not good. It turns back into a block of sweetened butter-ish stuff and it doesn’t reheat well. It separates when you bring it back up to a warm temperature. So you can make this early in the day and just let it sit at room temperature until you are ready to serve it. If you reheat it very gently in the pan I think it will warm up again without separating.

And as Maya pointed out, you don’t want to double or triple the recipe because it takes forever to cook and might separate like mine did the first time around. If you need more, I suggest you make two separate batches. I added some grated sea salt to mine and came up with salted caramel sauce. That’s an option. I served mine with sliced apples. Dipping the apple slices in the caramel sauce was fun and makes you feel like a kid again. I’ve listed some more options at the bottom of the recipe too.

Servings: This recipe makes about 1 cup of sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • 3 Tbl of sweetener. I used Swerve. You can also use ZSweet. If you use Truvia it might have a tinny taste. Truvia doesn’t heat well. You can buy both of the recommended sweeteners online. You could also use a brown sugar substitute. Maya recommends Sukrin Gold. I found that online, too. Be sure to use granular sweetener. I don’t think a liquid sweetener will work for this recipe.
  • 2/3 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp of organic vanilla

Instructions:

Put the butter in a medium-large sauce pan. Mine is about 8” across. Add the sweetener of choice and melt on medium. Stir regularly and cook for 3 – 4 minutes until it’s golden brown. Watch this carefully so you don’t burn it.

Add the cream. Bring to a gentle boil; just bubbling and reduce to a gentle simmer. I put mine on low. Cook for 7 – 10 minutes; stirring regularly until the sauce is a nice caramel color and will coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

Variations and serving ideas:

I added a nice grate of sea salt to make salted caramel.

You can serve this over ice cream. There are ice cream recipes on Plan Z. I also sometimes buy a small carton of organic coconut milk ice cream or Haagen Daz now makes little cartons. Just keep your portion to 15 grams of carbs or less and make sure you’re in ZReboot and fully stabilized before you venture in this direction.

Serve with sliced apples for a nice treat like I did.

You could also chop up some peanuts and sprinkle those on or dip your slices in chopped peanuts for a caramel apple treat. This way you get the experience of the treat without eating a whole large caramel apple.

You could serve it with grapes that have tooth picks in them. I just don’t recommend eating a lot of grapes.

For the fancy dinner party you might consider making almond pound cake and serve it with a nice drizzle of caramel sauce on top.

Instead of the fruit and cream, for a dinner party I’m going to fry wedges of the pound cake and drizzle with caramel sauce and maybe a squirt of truvia-sweetened whipped cream.

Enjoy!

Cheers,


Baked Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Plan Z Phase: This is a Z3 (ZReboot) recipe. Talk about comfort food. This is the pure definition. Thankfully fat doesn’t make you fat so you can eat this at parties and not feel the guilt.

Ingredients:

  • 10 oz package of frozen, chopped spinach – thawed
  • 18 oz of artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup of mayonnaise
  • ¾ cup of sour cream
  • 1 cup of pepper jack cheese
  • 6 oz of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cayenne to taste

Instructions:

Remove the thawed spinach from the box. Spread it across a few paper towels and put another layer of paper towels on top. Squeeze out the excess liquid. Then transfer the spinach to a bowl.

In a food processor, chop up the artichoke hearts.  You can leave them as chunky or as smooth as you like. I cut mine to the size of large dice.  I like a few chunks.

Add the artichoke hearts to the spinach. Now add the mayo, sour cream, Parmesan and stir.  Season with salt and pepper and stir again.  I like some extra zip so I put a light dusting of cayenne in too.

Pour this mixture into a 9" x 13" oven proof pan. Put the pepper jack cheese on top. If you don’t like pepper jack you can use mozzarella or even cheddar. Again, I like the zip.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbling hot. I keep mine in there until the cheese starts to brown. I like that extra crispy bit.

Serve on plates with a spoon or you can use a low carb dipper like Melba toast. If you decide to use pita bread, cut it into triangles. Brush the pita bread with butter or ghee and then sprinkle on some Italian herbs. Bake for 7 minutes or until the pitas are crispy on the bottom. Butter will slow down the glycemic intake, and your blood sugar won’t spike as much. Also when I eat pita chips like these (or any cracker) I mound my dip on the chip and then only take a bite of 1/3 of it. That way I can “recycle” the chip. I don’t dip it back in the bowl. Instead I remove the dip from the bowl with a spoon and put it on my plate. Then I use the spoon to mound more on my chip or I can scoop now since the dip is on my plate. It keeps the carbs down. I get three dips of dip from each chip. Works the same with guacamole or other dips.

Enjoy!

Cheers,