Wednesday, August 10, 2011


And now, let’s talk about America’s favorite subject: How to lose weight – NOW! HOW?

Open any magazine to find five foot ten inch models and movie stars who weigh 95 pounds almost wearing clothing. On the next page there’s an advertisement for “Lose 10 pounds in 10 days”. Keep turning the page to find the centerfold with recipes for cupcakes, pies and cakes, complete with tempting color photos.

We Americans are, without competition, the most overweight, diet conscious people on the planet. We are also the most impatient, looking for instant satisfaction and gratification from not only food, but our physical images, job descriptions, and material possessions. Most of us are not even taking the time to enjoy any of the aforementioned because we have gulped it all down too quickly without time to actually taste the flavors.

Through the years there have been almost 200 “successfully-proven” diets guaranteed to produce instant results. High Fat, Low Fat, Low Carb, High Carb, Low Fat, and a truck load of ridiculous and ineffective popular diets. “Overkill” diets, such as the popular Atkins, cuts out healthy foods like fruit and adopts a limited list of foods often high in fat. Although it is quite effective for some people, its extreme restrictions are incredibly difficult for most people to stick with. Most Low Fat Diets usually aren’t healthier because they trade fat for more sugar, sodium, or calories. Then there are “yo-yo” diets like the South Beach Diet that was created by a cardiologist. Although it is based on the glycemic index (effects of food on blood sugar levels) of nutritionally-balanced foods, it Studies have linked such low carbohydrate diets to low levels of serotonin, causing depression, sadness, and even anger and rage. It also takes you from high restriction to low restriction. You lose pounds; you gain them back, making it not only frustrating but actually dangerous to your heart and overall health. Of course, there’s always the Cabbage Soup Diet that claims to lose 10 pounds within a week, if you can tolerate this high sodium, low protein regime that can cause feelings of weakness and increased flatulence. And, we all know about the quick fix Detox Diets, such as Martha’s Vineyard Diet and Hollywood Diet where you spend your days drinking vegetable juice and other liquids. You lose weight in the short term and gain every pound back once you begin to eat real food again.

The Low Carb fad reached the height of absurdity in 1964 with The Drinking Man’s Diet. No more calorie counting because most of the things you liked best didn’t have to be counted at all: steak and whisky, chicken and gin, ham, caviar, pâté de foie gras, rum and roast pheasant, veal cutlets and vodka, frogs legs and lobster claws--they all counted as zero. No wonder the little pamphlet sold millions! Here was a diet Dean Martin could love. The book, written by Robert Cameron, sold for $1.00 and included this poem:

“With every Manhattan, Your stomach will flatten, If pounds you would burn off, Then turn on your Smirnoff.” It gave those who needed an excuse to slur their words and crash their cars a logical explanation for an unhealthy lifestyle

Then there are, what this Foodie labels, The Entrepreneur Diets that require you to purchase only their products from the store or mail order. Now, that’s good business.

So, you want to be thin or, at least, thinner. But, before you begin one of these crash diets, remember the satirist, Erma Bombeck, who wrote, “When you think of dieting, remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart”. It’s ok to have a few extra pounds, if you are eating healthy. And, unless you have health issues, you should enjoy a hot roll and that piece of cake, although no one needs a French fried potato. Kudos to McDonald’s new Happy Meal that cuts back on the fries and adds carrots and fruit. Keep your eye on the overweight kid trading his carrots for fries with the nutritionist’s skinny daughter!

So, is there any diet that really works for the long term and is also healthy? Weight Watchers and Mayo Clinic Diets continue to be the most successful because they are based on helping people adopt healthy lifestyle habits of food and exercise while eliminating negative ones. Both are based on the food pyramid, giving choices for a balanced intake of the four basic food groups. There is a bogus crash diet labeled Mayo Diet that is based around grapefruit, lots of salad and protein, and little carbohydrates. Weight loss was supposed to be in the region of 50-55 pounds in 10 weeks. Mayo Clinic never endorsed it.

And, if you do not follow any particular diet but want to shed some pounds, just cut back on what you eat – even the healthy choices. Stop eating when your hunger is satisfied. And, remember that the best exercise is pushing yourself away from the table.


Yield: 2 servings

Although this recipe calls for penne — a smooth, diagonally cut tube pasta — you can substitute any type of pasta, including farfalle, mostaccioli, rotelle or ziti.

1 cup uncooked whole-wheat penne pasta

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon water

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped, plus whole leaves for garnish

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces soft goat cheese

Optional: Chopped walnut pieces

1. Fill a large pot 3/4 full with water and bring to boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente (tender), 10 to 12 minutes, or according to the package directions. Drain the pasta thoroughly, but do not rinse. Toss with the olive oil and add a bit of salt to taste.

2. While the pasta is cooking, put the asparagus and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat the asparagus on high power until tender-crisp, about 3 minutes.

3. In a bowl, combine the cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic and pepper. Add the asparagus, pasta and goat cheese and toss until well mixed.

4. Divide the pasta into 2 servings. Toss the pasta with the tomato mixture, or cover the top.

5. Divide the pasta between the plates. Sprinkle with walnuts. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve.


Yield: 2 servings

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each 3 ounces
3 tablespoons fat-free Italian dressing

For the dressing:
1 ½ tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ clove garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons water
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 cups romaine lettuce
1/2 ounce (about 3 tablespoons) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup whole-wheat croutons

1. In a sealable plastic bag, add the chicken and Italian dressing. Put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, turning the chicken over after 15 minutes.

2. Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill or broiler. Away from the heat source, lightly coat the grill rack or broiler pan with cooking spray. Position the cooking rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source.

3. Grill or broil the chicken breasts until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side (internal temperature should be 165 F for 15 seconds). Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before slicing into strips.

To make the Caesar dressing:

1. Combine mayonnaise, olive oil, red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic and water. Whip together until smooth. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.

2. In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, croutons with the Caesar dressing. Toss thoroughly until the lettuce is coated with the dressing. Transfer the salad to individual plates. Top each salad with the grilled chicken and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.


Yield: 4 servings

SALSA: Yields approximately 2 cups

2 large ripe peaches, peeled and diced

1 small jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped (do not touch seeds with your bare hands) (or bottled jalapeño peppers, to taste)

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

2 individual packets Splenda® or 1or 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

⅛ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely minced cilantro leaves

BURGERS: Yield: 4

1 pound fresh salmon or 14 ¾ ounce can of salmon, drained and flaked into small pieces

1or 2 scallions, finely chopped

2 ½ teaspoons lemon zest

1 large egg, beaten or separated, white beaten separately until thick

¼ teaspoon black pepper

3 ½ tablespoons dried whole wheat bread crumbs

To prepare salsa:

1. Combine peaches, jalapeño and lemon juice in a medium bowl; add Splenda® (sugar) and mix well. Stir in salt and cilantro and toss gently to mix. Set aside.

To prepare burgers: Preheat the grill.

1. Place salmon in a medium bowl. If canned, mash the bones with the back of a fork.

2. Add the scallion, lemon zest, egg, pepper and bread crumbs. Mix well. Shape salmon mixture into four 1-inch-thick patties.

3. Spray a grill with vegetable spray. Set burgers in a grill basket or on the grill directly and grill at medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Flip burgers and grill until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes more. Serve salmon burgers with peach salsa on the side. Yields 1 burger and about 1/2 cup of salsa per serving.

The burgers can be broiled instead of grilled: Coat a broiler rack with cooking spray, preheat broiler and broil 4 inches from the heat for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until done to your liking.


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1 cup Hershey's unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups sifted flour

2 cups granulated sugar
2 extra large eggs (substitute Egg Beaters, if desired)

1 ½ cup hot water
1 cup canola oil

2 teaspoons vanilla 2 tablespoons concentrated frozen orange juice

13X9X2 inch pan

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Spray a 13"x9"x2" pan with vegetable spray.
  3. Sift together the cocoa, soda, baking powder and flour. Combine with the sugar in a bowl.
  4. Beat in the eggs and oil.
  5. Add the vanilla and orange juice.
  6. Spread in the pan.
  7. Bake 40 to 45 minutes.
  8. Cool completely before icing the top.
  9. Cut into squares.


½ cup Hershey's cocoa, sifted
2 ⅔ cup 10X confectioners’ sugar

6 tbsp. softened butter substitute (Fleischmann's or Weight Watchers)

1 teaspoon vanilla

⅓ cup fat free half and half

1.Sift the cocoa and sugar together into a bowl.

2.Add the butter and beat until thick and creamy

3.Add the vanilla.

4.Beat in the half and half in a slow steady stream until mixture is smooth.
5.Cover the top of the cake.

Tune in Comcast channel 22 & BrightHouse 199 to watch host, Valerie Hart, interview chefs in their kitchens "The Back of the House", or watch it live on your computer at Follow her food page on Wednesdays in The Daily Commercial.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


One of the oldest edible fish known to mankind is Tilapia. This mild little freshwater fish with white, firm flesh is said to have been “St Peter’s Fish” of the Bible. It is widely believed to have been the fish in the Sea of Galilee that, with a few loaves of bread, was multiplied by Jesus to feed the masses of hungry people – a miracle that taught the apostles to have faith.

The common name, Tilapia, refers to several species of fish belonging to the Cichlid family native to Africa and the Middle East. Raised by the Egyptians over 4,500 years ago for food, it is the second most widely cultured fish in the world next to the Carp. Reportedly more than one billion pounds of Tilapia were raised last year in ponds, cages and rice fields.

There are two explanations for their entry into the lakes of south and central Florida. The first comes from conjecture that, after the fish was imported into South America, it was smuggled into south Florida for breeding in private ponds, but somehow wound up in the canals of Dade County. Documented facts, however, show that Auburn University imported them in 1959 for aquaculture research to study their spawning behavior and early life history, food habits and lower lethal temperature. During the sixties, they were imported into Florida by the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission as a biological control agent of nuisance aquatic plants and as a sport fish like the bass. Phosphate pits at the Pleasant Grove Research Station near Tampa were stocked. The experiment was a failure, but the Tilapia had already been promoted as a “superfish”. Before the study was completed, the public gained access to the fish and began spreading it into the lakes, canals and private ponds throughout the state. It was so adaptable to fresh, saline and brackish waters, reproducing in abundance approximately every six months, that researchers feared it would harm some Florida ecosystems. The trade-off was that it created commercial and sport fishing in some lakes that would have been ecosystems with low yields. Surpassing bass in their ability to fight, they usually are brought in by nets, just as stated in the Bible. And, when it seemed as though its prolific breeding habits were going to threaten our eco-system, nature stepped in with a hard winter freeze that killed the little warriors by the thousands, leaving them to wash up on shore for a massive clean-up by residents and nature’s own garbage disposer, the snowbird from Ontario, known as the turkey vulture.

Although China and Egypt are the largest producers of Tilapia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia supply a greater portion of the world with frozen fillets. Most of our tilapia is imported from Latin America and Southeast Asia where management and farming practices are less environmentally friendly. Since tilapia is not native to these areas, severe environmental damage can occur if they escape to the wild. These little fish are so hardy that they can be transported live to Oriental markets and restaurants, where they have become a favorite selection.

Tilapia has absolutely no “fishy” odor or taste. It is so mild and sweet with such a lovely texture that it lends itself to a creativity all its own. It is equally fabulous sautéed in butter, creamed, curried, prepared with Oriental seasonings or spiced-up under a variety of sauces. The recipes below are some of those featured in my book, The Bounty of Central Florida. The book does not identify brands that are suggested in these recipes.


Yield: N/A

Tilapia fillets

Salt and pepper

Mixture of ¾ seasoned breadcrumbs with ¼ all-purpose flour

Equal amount unsalted butter and vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a pan

Lemon or lime wedges to serve on the side

1. This fish is so mild – so tender – so wonderful, it really needs no embellishments. Lightly salt and pepper the fillets and dip them into seasoned breadcrumbs or flour. Heat butter and oil in a non-stick skillet. Cook the fish, uncovered, until browned on both sides. Serve with lemon wedges on the side. Accompany with quickly steamed fresh broccoli, spinach or cauliflower (Melt sharp Cheddar cheese, Mozzarella or Gorgonzola over the cauliflower for extra flavor). Serve freshly-baked French bread on the side.



Yield: 2 Servings

Grilled in a cast iron skillet

2 Tilapia fillets

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Paul Prudhomme’s MAGIC Seasoning Blends, Blackened Redfish Magic®

Cast iron skillet

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano, or ½ teaspoon dried

1/8 teaspoon cumin powder

1 small onion, chopped fine

Optional fro Garlic aficionados: Crushed or minced fresh garlic

14 ½ ounce can spicy Stewed Tomatoes with herbs

Red Bliss or white boiling potatoes

1. Squeeze lemon over fillets. Melt butter. Brush or dip the fillets into the melted butter. Sprinkle Paul Prudhomme’s seasoning all over.

2. Heat the skillet over an outside grill. The hotter the grill, the better the results. Do not cook this recipe inside. This is very important because this cooking method produces intense smoke.

3. Cook over high heat for a short time on one side. Turn fillets and cook on the other side. Be careful not to burn. Serve with sauce on the side.

4. SAUCE: May be made in advance: Combine oregano, cumin, chopped onion and canned stewed tomatoes in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 15 minutes, or longer. Or, combine ingredients in a covered microwavable container. Microwave 1 minute on high. Stir. Microwave 1 minute longer for crunchy onions, 2 minutes for soft.

5. Boil small potatoes to accompany.


Yield: 4 Servings

4 Tilapia fillets

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon flour

½ teaspoon turmeric*

1 cup concentrated chicken broth

1 small fennel bulb, julienne into fine strips

1/3 cup heavy cream

Note: *Turmeric is a delicious member of the ginger family and an excellent substitute for saffron. It is one of the major components of curry. Use it sparingly because it is stronger than saffron.

1. Sprinkle the fillets with salt. Melt the butter in a skillet. Sauté quickly on both sides until brown but not overcooked. Remove the fillets from the pan to a warm platter.

2. Over low heat in the same skillet that the fish was cooked, stir in the flour. Add turmeric. Add the chicken broth, a little at a time, stirring. Add the fennel strips and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened. Stir in the heavy cream. Spoon the sauce over the fillets and serve immediately.


Yield: 2 Servings

Quick, easy, crunchy and delicious!

2 Tilapia fillets

Salt to sprinkle

1 medium egg yolk

2 medium egg whites

½ cup Betty Crocker® Potato Buds*

¼ cup sliced almonds, slightly crushed

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. Sprinkle fillets lightly with salt.

2. Beat the egg yolk and whites together. Dip the fillets in until very moist.

3. Place almonds in a small plastic bag and hit them to slightly crush. Combine them with the potato buds. Add white pepper and salt. Cover the fillets lavishly with the mixture.

4. Sauté the fillets over medium heat, covered until brown on one side. Remove cover. Turn fillets over and brown the other side, tossing in extra almond slices to brown.

5. Note:* Do not question why, but only Betty Crocker® Potato Buds work with this recipe.


Yield: 4 Servings

4 Tilapia fillets, sliced across into 1” rectangles

2 tablespoons Lawry’s®: Sesame Ginger Stir Fry Seasoning

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ sweet onion, minced

½ orange or yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips

½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, placed under the broiler until golden

1 pound can refried beans

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon Oyster sauce

½ sweet onion, minced

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Lawry’s® Sesame Ginger Stir Fry Seasoning sauce (bottle)

1. Slice fish into strips. Cover with Lawry’s sauce.

2. Cook onion, pepper and ginger over low heat until soft. Add fish and sauce. Cook quickly on both sides. Do not overcook. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Set on top of beans serve. Accompany with a green vegetable.

3. BEANS: Cook onion and ginger in sesame oil and oyster sauce until soft. Add garlic and cook over low heat 1 minute only. Stir in Lawry’s sauce. Stir in refried beans and cook, stirring, until very hot.

Tune in Comcast channel 22 & BrightHouse 199 to watch host, Valerie Hart, interview chefs in their kitchens "The Back of the House", or watch it live on your computer at Follow her food page on Wednesdays in The Daily Commercial.