Learning To Lighten Things Up

Everyone in my family has an interest in lightening up the food we eat. When I read a recipe or see something made I think about how I could make it lighter. Although we work, we do not keep the pace that they did years ago when most of these recipes were conceived. Even those of us who exercise can use a few less calories. Since muscle weighs more when you exercise, you may actually gain weight for a while.

On one of my first trips to New York City as an adult, we were treated to dinner at Sardi’s. It is a restaurant in the theater district that frequently entertains the stars. There are photographs all over of the famous people who have dined there.

We were allowed to order an appetizer. I did not know what to order. Some of the items I did not even recognize. One of those was caprese salad. Someone in the party told me that was mozzarella cheese with tomatoes and a light dressing. I tried that and it was delicious.

I had not thought of that for a long time but when I saw some beautiful tomatoes on the vine at the store, I decided that I would make it and take it for our lunch. I used olive oil and balsamic vinegar for the dressing and added chives, parsley and basil. I made a well in the center and filled that with cucumbers. We all ate pretty healthily that day.

One night, I made my own catsup. I dug out my canning book and adapted a recipe from there. It really is fun to figure out the chemistry of food. I used my homemade catsup this morning to add flavor to some stuffed peppers. Last week I tried some frozen stuffed peppers. They were all right but they did not taste like those I make. I noticed right away that the package was different than the last time I used one. Now they cut the peppers lengthwise and fill them. You are getting twice as much filling, but half as much of the pepper. Well, it probably is not even twice as much filling when you come right down to it.

I saw one of the cooks on television make a version of a stuffed pepper that was a vegetarian entree. It looked very good. I copied down enough of the ingredients to get the idea. Recently I adapted that recipe to make it my own. I am not a vegetarian, but I like vegetables. I also know that they are good for you and not heavy on calories unless you add fancy sauces. I made my recipe with lean ground beef. It was an excellent dinner.

Ann’s Stuffed Peppers

4 peppers cut in half lengthwise

1 lb. ground beef, chicken, or turkey

1 yellow squash, seeds removed and diced

2 small zucchini, diced

3 stalks celery, diced

2 or 3 carrots, diced

1 c. cauliflower rice (run your cauliflower through the food processor until it resembles rice)

Brown the ground meat. Season each layer as you cook this. I used onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. When the meat is cooked add your vegetables, all except the cauliflower rice. When the vegetables are cooked add of 6 oz. can of tomato paste.

Make a sauce with:

2 cans of stewed tomatoes

of 6 oz. can tomato paste

3 T. catsup

Liquefy in blender.

Add cauliflower rice to the meat/vegetable mixture. Fill the peppers halves. Place them in a glass baking dish. Pour the sauce over the stuffed peppers. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until peppers are cooked. Serve warm. Serves 4-6 depending upon your eaters.

If I wanted to make this a vegetarian entree I would use mushrooms in place of the meat. The television cook did not do this either but I am sure baby portabellas would work well.

For those of you good Swedes who enjoy eating rutamus I will also share a lighter version that I discovered. The first time I tried it I used part potatoes. My son did not even know the difference. I do not think I will ever go back to using potatoes. Rutamus is a Swedish vegetable dish made with rutabaga turnip and potatoes. You cook equal parts of the vegetables along with a piece or two of lean pork. You remove the pork and mash the vegetables. It is a filling side dish. My new method is done with cauliflower. You cook equal parts of rutabaga and cauliflower then mash them up. It is delicious and you would never know the difference.

I have also used cauliflower rice to lighten up my chicken and rice soup. Do not add the cauliflower until you are ready to serve it. Pour the broth over the “rice” and let it sit a moment before serving. For leftovers keep the “rice” separate and add it the same way.

A lady from church told me that she loves to make mock pasta from zucchini. I published that recipe a while ago. I have used the mock pasta with pesto and with spaghetti sauce. I bought a little gadget to make the vegetable strips easier. I returned the gadget because it was expensive and it could not complete with my vegetable peeler. The lady from church did tell me her husband bought her an accessory for her stand mixer and that works very well.

When you try to lighten up your meals you have to be ready to experiment. Herbs help as well. I saved some of my herbs indoors to use over the winter months. I have already used some fresh chives for cottage cheese with chives and to put into my stuffed peppers.

Hope this helps you get some new ideas about lightening up your meals.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact her at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.