Here's The Skinny You Can Cook -- And Enjoy -- Low-fat Meals, Authors Say

February 19, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

Jack Sprat could eat low fat,

His wife could eat no lean.

And so betwixt them both, you see,

He outlived her by a long shot.

The point of their rewriting the nursery rhyme, according to Francine Grabowski and Linda Levy, is that the low-fat life is desirable, obtainable and even delicious. Even if your family demands that "dinner" be such dishes as fried chicken and mashed potatoes, you can cook -- and persuade them to eat -- in a more healthful way.

To prove it, Grabowski, a registered dietitian from Pennsylvania, and Levy, a humor writer from New Jersey, teamed up on "Low-Fat Living for Real People" (Lake Isle Press, 1997, $12.95), a guide to low-fat living, from shopping, dining out and eating snacks to preparing family meals.

The two had known each other for years, since Levy sought Grabowski's advice on preparing low-fat foods, then realized that their professional collaboration was just the kind of thing lots of people need.

"When people come to see me, they're afraid the food's not going to taste good," said Grabowski, standing beside a mound of broccoli at Giant's Rotunda store on a recent stop on the tour to promote the book. But Levy had learned from their collaboration that that wasn't true, and both believed something had to be done to keep such myths from proliferating. "That's really how this book came to be."

"My husband had angioplasty 10 years ago, which is the balloon that opens the heart vessels," Levy said. "So we had to go on a low-fat diet -- and found the information out there was really boring and technical and overwhelming." That's when she turned to Grabowski. And now, she said, their book is "the book I wished I'd had all those years ago."

The book mixes humor and nutritional information in a way that's designed to be accessible to everyone.

"We want to focus on how easy it is" to live a more healthful life, Grabowski said. Once people know what to eat and what to shop for, "it can be much easier and very time-saving to walk around the supermarket and buy healthy food, because you're going to eliminate a lot of time in aisles where the food is not so great for you," Grabowski said.

The heart of their low-fat strategy is using food items with a lot of character to add flavor to sandwiches, soups, sauces, chicken, and pasta.

"We have a recipe in the book called unlikely chicken," Grabow- ski said. "You combine yogurt with some mustard and some apricot jam. Yogurt acts like a moisturizing cream, and it makes the poultry so tender. This is how you add flavor, No. 1, using fruit when you're cooking, and No. 2, having this moisturizing cream that's fat-free.

"You have to find things that keep the flavor in. We're standing right here by the spring mix -- talk about ease. And flavorful -- you throw some of that unlikely chicken on top of this, it's absolutely wonderful -- and embarrassingly simple."

Levy said she's amazed by the variety of convenience items available today. "Cut-up vegetables, cut-up fruit, you can go to the salad bar -- so many shortcuts. It takes less time to do some of these fast things at home than it does to do takeout."

As they cruise through the store, the two point out their favorite flavor enhancers.

"This is a tough aisle right here, this cheese aisle," Grabowski said, "because I want flavor in my food. And I love cheese. Now cheese has this Mr. Big of the fat world: saturated fat. One of the things that we talk about is that you can grate cheese, and use a small amount -- 1 ounce of cheese, grated -- it looks like a lot but you've cut down the fat."

You can, for instance, use good, real Parmesan cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and add a few shavings to pasta. You get an intense burst of flavor, without a lot of fat. It's better, they said, to use a small amount of something good than to use a lot of a bland substitute.

Most of the flavor enhancers Levy and Grabowski like can be found in the condiment aisles -- items such as flavored and balsamic vinegars, and Dijon and other mustards.

But there are some that are more basic.

"Chicken broth, vegetable broth -- both are wonderful flavor enhancers," Levy said. "We store chicken broth in the refrigerator. Because then, you take it out and you scoop off that little glop of chicken fat and you throw it down the sink -- and you wind up eventually calling the plumber instead of the cardiologist. Which I still think is cheaper."

"Hot tip," Grabowski said. "Next time you saute onions, saute in vegetable broth. Onions are so flavorful, and as they turn golden brown in the pan, they really increase the flavor of food."

Tomatoes are another great nonfat flavor-maker, Grabowski said. can be crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce -- it comes in many, many varieties."

And so is wine, Levy said. "We have a recipe for black beans and rice that uses some wine -- very great flavor that you can get from that."

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