Chicken in Garlic Sauce - my take on a French bistro classic
This time of the year even here in California it gets cold. In a week it can go from warm 70’s to cool days with nights I usually have a fire burning. It’s at this time of the year after we've rolled back the clocks losing an hour each night that the nights gets icy and out comes our hibernating instinct. With the change, it's harder to stick to workouts and easy to eat some really bad (but good!) food. I find myself wanting to eat what can be pound-packing “comfort” foods. I crave them and not in small quantities. And to make matters even worse, with the leaves turning in wine country, not only do I find myself wanting to eat more heavier foods but I also tend to drink more vino and head to Napa for extra wine tastings and good wine purchases. Bottom line is November hits, the weather cools and suddenly you can eat and drink more and slack off on your workouts. Dangerous combination. So what is a person to do? For me I don't want to settle - I want my comfort food this time of the year but I also want to stay healthy...
Potatoe Gnocci with Thyme and simple Bolognese
So let’s cut right to the chase: what are some approaches I'm using this past month or so to eat some of this great food but still keep it healthy?
First, I DO cook the "comfort food" but I try to keep it healthy through ingredients and portions . And if I do cook something less healthy like a Welsh meatpie, I do it rarely. Recently, I cooked a French bistro chicken (recipe in my book - see above for an iPhone pic) and another night a thyme gnocchi with a Bolognese sauce (pic to the left and a couple iphone pics of the operation in production below - this one is not an "everyday" one in terms of time!). The bistro chicken was very healthy because of some techniques using little oil, a non-stick sauté pan, white wine for flavor and great anti-oxidant laden vegetables like carrots, celery and allicin-loaded garlic. Moderate on the fat, super high in protein and flavor. Similarly the gnocchi was healthy with potatoes and herbs but it could have been made healthier by eliminating the egg yolks from the gnocci or using whole eggs instead. But sometimes its good to not cut corners on flavor. And the sauce was super healthy with red wine, carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes and with lean ground veal for added protein. Two relatively healthy super comfort foods. One of these was not “every day” easy like most recipes in my book, but to kickoff the winter cooking I wanted to crank it up a bit. So that’s the first key for comfort foods I shoot for: Try to keep the fats down and add in the healthy ingredients.
– this is the most important rule I follow yet one I have a hard time with. Watch the portions. It is so easy to add an extra scoop or two. Better to save the leftovers the next day for lunch or for a quick dinner later in the week. For me I have found portions is the most important item to keep in line when cooking comfort food. If I screw up here I will pack on the pounds. Third
, I try to go easy on the butter and turn to super-flavored sauces instead. The Bistro Chicken for example has a white wine and herb sauce that also has pureed roasted garlic in it. No need for butter here. Similarly, this week I’m cooking a mustard seed crusted pork tenderloin in a wine sauce. Super lean pork with some potatoes in a super low fat wine sauce. All
the flavor with the fat cut way down. I also recently did a version of my grandmother's pork steak and mashed potatoes that has one-fourth of the fat of her version by using lean pork tenderloin with little added fat in a non-stick pan. That particular one in fact has 104% of your daily protein and only 22% of your fat – very good for a “comfort food meat dish”. And with my son home from college, I'm doing a simple chicken curry this week that is loaded with vegetables and protein, super healthy Indian spices (see this blog post
for more) that has 72% of your protein and only 10% of your fat. And tomorrow night a simple lean veal chop with lemon, parslely, garlic and just some salt and pepper - with a great salad and just some good bread it will be a great healthy simple dinner. Even vegetables (other than mashed potatoes!) can be comfort food: the other night I blanched for a couple minutes some thin french green beans and stir fried them with olive oil, mashed garlic, a very small dash of butter, and salt and pepper - super good and very healthy. Everyone ate twice as many green beans as usual so the added flavor can actually get you eating more good food.
Duckhorn's Paraduxx Winery. Now this is how you taste...
, enjoy the wine over the holidays. Below is a picture from last month where at a wine tasting at a favorite winery of mine Duckhorn’s Paraduxx
winery, we had a great Vigioner to start and then went right for the great reds including a favorite from Howell Mountain in Napa (any wine I've had from that mountain - regardless of the vineyard, I've loved). Sometimes its fun to go all out. I don't know if that's really a fit gourmet tip but I include this thought anyway because it fits with what and how I'm cooking comfort food right now. Yep, wine is a good comfort food too. Great by a fire with some homemade turkey soup....
So just a few thoughts on healthy comfort food. It’s all about cutting fat, using the right techniques and ingredients, and watching portions - but still finding a way to have some great tasting comfort food when it gets cold and your body craves it. Oh and don't forget you have to get out and exercise…some thoughts on that will likely be a topic for a future blog.