Cookbooks come in many varieties…celebrity-inspired tomes filled with glossy photos of beautiful people and the food they prepared, usually heavier on stories than culinary tips; diet-based books that all seem to promise increased vitality and decreased waistlines; and of course the myriad of choices that cater to individual food preferences and/or allergies: Gluten-free, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Ketogenic, Diabetic, Paleo, Vegan, and something new to me…Pegan, a combo of Paleo and Vegan.
I venture a guess that most of our readers have an extensive cookbook collection. I have a special bookshelf just for my favorites. Over the years I’ve tried to whittle it down. The only problem is I keep finding new additions!
My reasons for selecting new cookbooks are varied: author, cuisine, simplicity of ingredients, a healthy approach and cooking techniques. I love to explore new foods and methods of preparation balanced by my limited time, energy, and budget as a single mom.
Two recently published cookbooks caught my eye. The first contains the word “Diet” in the title…usually a turnoff. Beginning at the tender age of five, I have tried EVERY diet on the planet. However, this publication also includes the word “Restaurant” in the title. As much as I dislike diets, I love dining in restaurants, so I sat down to thumb through it and ended up reading Part One, the Gourmet Weight-Loss Plan, in its entirety.
The Restaurant Diet, How to Eat Out Every Night and Still Lose Weight by Fred Bollaci incorporates the author’s inspiring personal quest to improve his health without taking punitive measures including eschewing dining out for the duration. Part One of this book is devoted to the “Gourmet Weight- Loss Plan”, broken down into four positively-named phases: Beginning, Opportunity, Challenge, and Achievement. Bollaci lost 150 pounds in one year, an impressive accomplishment, and has maintained his weight loss for seven years while continuing to enjoy delicious culinary treats all over the globe. Wisely, he advises anyone interested in pursuing this plan to first consult their physician. His support team included a physician, a nutritionist, and a therapist. As many of us know first-hand, emotions can play as much of a role in weight management as calorie intake and exercise.
There is no silver bullet here…moderate daily exercise is recommended and both phases one and two include a weekly cleanse day – fruit, veggies, and tea only. Calorie counting, food tracking and elimination of “white” carbs are part of phases 1-3 and included in 4 as needed. Here comes the good news…one glass of wine, preferably a really good glass of wine, is allowed with dinner every day (with the exception of the weekly cleanse day) from Day One. Yay!
Aside from sharing his very personal struggles to help others facing similar challenges, I was impressed by the author’s ability to convince chefs and proprietors of some of the nation’s top restaurants to share their recipes! Presented alphabetically by state, from California to Vermont, each recipe includes a tidbit about the restaurant’s setting and history, notes for healthy preparation, nutrition facts, and the corresponding phases of the program during which they can be enjoyed. Bollaci delivers on the gourmet factor with such offerings as Cornmeal Blinis and Lemon Crème Fraiche, Chicken Pappagallo with Agrodolce, and Fig & Chestnut Risotto.
Following this nationwide tour of Bollaci’s favorite restaurants and healthy dishes, he includes recipes from an Italian cooking school as well as his favorite hotel in Italy, the Hotel Santa Caterina on the Amalfi coast. The Hall of Fame section includes the specialties of famous establishments that sadly are no longer in operation.
Finally, Bollaci shares several of his original healthy recipes. According to the author, two of his favorites are Fred’s San Marzano Tomato Sauce and Fred’s Famous Meatballs. With his permission, we have included the recipes. I’m going to make these for dinner tonight!
Fred’s San Marzano Tomato Sauce
Yields 12 cups * All Phases
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 28-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes, hand-crushed
1 cup water
2 cups fresh basil leaves (packed), torn
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat oil in a large stockpot
- When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic, and sauté until golden brown (do not burn the garlic)
- Add the hand-crushed tomatoes with the juice from the cans. Put ¼ cup of water in each can, swish it around to gather up all the last of the tomato goodness, and add it to the sauce (1 cup of water total).
- Add the fresh basil, salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately or let simmer.
One cup of tomato sauce is sufficient for a 4-ounce serving of pasta. Most pasta contains 100 calories per ounce so 4 ounces of pasta with 1 cup of my sauce is 481 calories. Add a Tbsp. of freshly grated Parmesan, which is 22 calories.
Fred’s Famous Meatballs “Two Ways”:
Sicilian Style Three Meats with Raisins and Pignoli & Traditional Neapolitan-Style
Yields approximately 15 meatballs
Sicilian Style is Phases Two-Four
Traditional Neapolitan-Style is all Phases
2 Tbsp. golden raisins (optional)
¼ cup marsala wine to soak raisins (optional)
1 cup plain bread crumbs (store bought is fine)
¼ cup of skim milk
½ pound ground lean sirloin or round
½ pound ground veal
½ pound ground lean pork
4 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. pine nuts, lightly toasted (optional)
1 tsp. of chili flakes (optional)
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Soak raisins in marsala wine for half an hour (optional).
- To prepare the bread, remove the crusts, cut into small cubes, soak a couple of minutes in the milk.
- Mix the ingredients with a fork until well amalgamated.
- Roll the meatballs by hand, forming approximately 15 balls (you can adjust the size as you wish).
- Drop rolled meatballs into a large pot of hot simmering tomato sauce and let simmer for a minimum of 30 minutes on low heat, gently stirring occasionally so they don’t stick.
Traditional Neapolitan-Style Meatballs
Use the same quantities of the above ingredients, except use 1 ½ pounds lean ground sirloin (omit the pork and veal). Also omit the raisins, marsala, and pine nuts. Mix and roll the meatballs, cook in simmering sauce as above.
Both dishes are cooked directly in simmering San Marzano Tomato Sauce. Eliminating the raisins and/or the pine nuts will reduce the calorie count.
I enjoyed each section of this book in different ways. The personal story is compelling. The Key Weight-Loss Tips and the Healthy Lifestyle Principles are practical and feasible to incorporate into my already packed daily routine. The selection of restaurant recipes are creative and elegant interpretations of healthy ingredients. Fred’s favorite recipes are tasty treats that you can prepare for your family and friends with the bonus of knowing they are nutritious.
Given the choice, I would prefer to dine at Fred’s favorite restaurants instead of preparing their healthy dishes at home. As mentioned earlier, I truly enjoy dining out and the prospect of enjoying a fabulous meal guilt-free is just too darn tempting to pass up! However, should I wish to impress dinner party guests with healthy, elegant cuisine, this will be my bible. Buon Appetito!
The second cookbook to come across my desk was a colorful journey of exotic locales and dishes. Palate Passport by Neha Khullar is a colorful diary of the author’s enviable worldwide travels. A self-described “foodie, coffee-addict, sparkly shoe-wearer, and enthusiastic dinner party host”, she gave up the corporate life in New York to explore culinary traditions around the world. Fortunate to travel widely throughout her life, Khullar tells us how she matured as she experienced different cultures, discovering that food was a universal common bond uniting all humankind.
Arranged in eight sections from Sauces to Sweets and Drinks, each recipe includes a four-color photograph, usually from her personal travels. Most also share the history of the dish and/or ingredients. Countries represented include Australia, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Ireland and India to name a few.
Many recipes call for somewhat obscure ingredients such as culantro (NOT cilantro!) and MDH Meat Masala (note tells us this can be found in South Asian grocery stores), and Kashmiri chili powder. Creative cooks can figure out substitutes for most of these items. Alternatively, we can embrace this opportunity to explore new shops and flavors. And isn’t that part of the fun?
Even some of the recipe titles are unique: Cig Kofte, a vegetarian version of Turkish steak tartare; Emirati Saloona, a fragrant and spice-filled mixture of chicken and vegetables that is a staple of the United Arab Emirates; and Bahn Xeo, a savory Vietnamese crepe stuffed with shrimp, pork belly, and mushrooms.
Khullar generously shared two of her favorite recipes for our readers to enjoy.
- 5 medium red bell peppers
- 1 medium eggplant
- 5 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large bowl, drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the peppers and mix until well-coated.
- Pour the peppers and eggplant onto a foil-lined baking pan. Bake for about 1 hour.
- Remove the peppers from the oven when they are blackened all over. Place them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and steam for about 20 minutes. Remove the charred skin, seeds, and core of the peppers and discard.
- Remove the eggplant from the oven when it is completely charred. Let it sit for 10 minutes or until completely cooled. Trim off the top of the eggplant and cut lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh of the eggplant and discard the skin.
- Place the roasted red peppers, eggplant pulp, and garlic in a food processor; pulse until roughly chopped. Add the rest of the olive oil, vinegar, and salt; pulse until the mixture is smooth.
- Transfer the sauce to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Let the sauce cool to room temperature. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container to store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Note: This sauce is a must for a ?evap?i?i sandwich (p. 128) and can also be used as a dip or cheeseboard accompaniment.
- 1 pound mud crabs or soft-shell crabs
- 4 tablespoons plain flour (if using soft-shell crabs)
- 8 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 8 fresh red chilis, roughly chopped
- 1 egg
- 2 scallions, cut into finger length pieces
- 1 teaspoon freshly-squeezed lime
- 1 small bunch cilantro – chopped
- 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Vegetable oil, for frying (if using soft-shell crabs)
Mix together for sauce:
- 1 cup of water
- 5 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 ½ to 3 tablespoons sugar, adjust to taste
- 1 ½ teaspoons cornflour
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce or dark miso
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Heat the oil in a wok or shallow saucepan over high heat.
- Add garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute.
- Add the chilis and stir-fry until fragrant. For mud crabs, add them at this stage. Fry well until the shells start turning red. Then add the sauce ingredients, stir well, cover with lid, and simmer until the shells are completely red.
- Break the eggs into the wok and streak with a fork; simmer until cooked. Squeeze lime juice over the eggs and stir in scallions and cilantro.
- For soft-shell crabs, cut each crab into four, dry well, dredge in flour and deep fry until golden brown and crispy. Make the sauce as above but omit the mud crabs. Toss soft-shell crabs in sauce just before serving.
You can enjoy this cookbook without ever lifting a ladle. Curl up on the couch with a cup of hot tea and prepare to broaden your world. Palate Passport is your ticket to adventure!