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Sherrie Norris Lovin’ Spoonful Cooking Column: Enjoying Comfort Foods In The New Year, Minus The Guilt

By Sherrie Norris

The holidays have passed, most of the calorie-rich foods have been devoured, thrown away or frozen for later consumption and all that remains are the memories — and likely a few extra pounds. 

For the last several weeks, especially, many of us have been faced with multiple opportunities to consume more than we need of those delectable seasonal delights, much of which are not on the  healthy choice list. Sure, turkey and ham aren’t terrible, but the gravy and sugar-coated sides can put us over the edge quickly. Same goes for a little chocolate, but who can stop at “a little” when the platters are laden with a variety of selections?

And, then the calendar pages are turned and with the new year, the new month, we are filled with regret and searching for ways to correct our “mistakes.”

While we might not have ready access during these winter months to the healthier food items that many of us love to grab from the garden in the summer, or pick up at the farmer’s markets on Saturday mornings, we can opt to make better choices in the super market,  in the restaurants and at the special gatherings where we dine.

We must make conscious decisions about not over-indulging, and in many cases,  it has to happen before we arrive at the special dinner at mom’s, before the office party begins and before going out to celebrate a memorable occasion. 

We shouldn’t have to deprive ourselves, but we need to remember that the key is balance and moderation.

Try to overcome the urge to overeat; think about those “’triggers” that can be avoided. Make sure to watch portion sizes and select one or two of your favorites from the myriad of tempting foods. Leave those extra calories behind — limit your intake of foods high in fat or added sugar, and the beverages,  too.

Included this week are a few ideas to help us through the winter season as we crave those familiar foods in anticipation of  a more healthy and active spring ahead. Think “comfort” without all the fat, calories and carbs.

Chicken Stew

8 chicken pieces (breasts or legs)

1 cup water

2 small garlic cloves, minced

1 small onion, chopped

1 ½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp. parsley, chopped

¼ cup celery, finely chopped

2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 small carrots, chopped

2 bay leaves

 Remove skin and any extra fat from chicken. In a large skillet, combine chicken, water, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, tomatoes and parsley. Tightly cover and cook over low heat for 25 minutes. Add celery, potatoes, carrots, and bay leaves; continue to cook for 15 more minutes or until chicken and vegetables are tender. Remove bay leaves before serving. 

Makes 8 servings.

Low-Fat Stuffed Potatoes

4 medium baking potatoes

¾ cup low-fat (1%) cottage cheese

¼ cup low-fat (1%) milk

2 Tbsp. soft margarine

1 tsp dill weed

¾ tsp. herb seasoning

4-6 drops hot pepper sauce

2 tsp. grated parmesan cheese

Prick potatoes with fork. Bake at 425º F for 60 minutes or until fork-tender.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Carefully scoop out potato leaving about ½ inch of pulp inside shell. Mash pulp in large bowl. Mix in by hand remaining ingredients except parmesan cheese. Spoon mixture into potato shells; sprinkle top with ¼ tsp. parmesan cheese. Place on baking sheet and return to oven. Bake 15-20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

Makes 8 servings. Serving Size: ½ potato each

Hearty Healthy Soup

1 lb. uncooked ground turkey or beef

1 cup chopped celery

½ cup thinly sliced carrots

 2½ cups tomato juice

 1 (14 ½ oz.) can French-cut green beans, drained

 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced ¼ in. thick

 ½ cup chopped tomato

 1 Tbs. dried minced onion

 1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce

 1 tsp. dried basil, crushed

 1 tsp. dried oregano, crushed

 ½ tsp. garlic powder

 ½ tsp. sugar

 ¼ tsp. pepper

1 bay leaf

In a large skillet, cook turkey or beef, celery and carrots until meat is done; drain. Place in a Crockpot. Stir in other ingredients. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 hours. Remove and discard bay leaf. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Bran Muffin Breakfast Trifle

3 medium low-fat bran muffins, coarsely crumbled

4 cups assorted fresh fruit chunks

2 cups nonfat or low-fat vanilla, or fruit flavored yogurt

Place half the muffin crumbs in a 2 ½ quart glass bowl or airtight container. Arrange all the fruit on top. Cover with remaining muffin crumbs. Spoon yogurt evenly over the top. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Vegetable Stir-Fry

1 lb. fresh broccoli

1 Tbs. (Smart Balance) margarine/butter 

1 tsp. peanut or olive oil

1 lb. carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

¾ lb. mushrooms, thinly sliced

5 medium green onions, thinly sliced

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbs. cooking sherry (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. thyme

Rinse and trim broccoli. Separate florets, cut into uniform pieces. Peel stems and cut into 2-inch lengths. Set aside.

In a large skillet or wok, heat margarine and oil over medium heat. Add broccoli, carrots, mushrooms and onions. Cook and stir 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp. Stir in lemon juice, sherry and other seasonings. Serve immediately.

Cinnamon Apple Bread Pudding

4 slices whole grain bread, cubed

2 eggs

2 egg whites

¾ cup unsweetened applesauce

½ cup skim milk

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ cup low fat vanilla yogurt

1 small apple, cored and diced

Ground cinnamon 

Sprinkle bread in sprayed baking dish; set aside.

In bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites, applesauce, milk and cinnamon. Pour over bread and press bread gently into egg mixture. Bake in oven at 375° for 30 minutes or until golden, puffed and knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Serve each piece with dollop of yogurt, apple and sprinkling of cinnamon.

Sunrise Power Smoothie 

4 large strawberries

½ cup low-fat plain yogurt

1 cup fresh orange juice

1 medium size banana

½ tsp vanilla

1 Tbs. honey

Remove stems from strawberries and wash. Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth.

Makes two (8 oz.) servings