Thursday, 18 March 2010

Cookbook Review: Rocco DiSpirito's Now Eat This!

Now Eat This!
150 of America's Favorite Comfort Foods All Under 350 Calories
Rocco DiSpirito

It's good to be a chef these days. Especially a good looking, young celebrity chef. Lots of opportunities and unlimited access to great food. Rocco DiSpirito suffered a minor health crisis when he realized that thirty pounds had crept up on him and that he had become seriously out of shape. Determined and competitive by nature, he resolved to get back into fighting form. He took charge of his diet and worked out with a trainer. His chiropractor suggested he do a triathlon for charity and, although he finished last, this lead to recognition for his efforts. His determination and success in getting back into shape earned him a guest spot on The Biggest Loser as chef. The conditions were strict; no sugar, no sugar substitutes, no salt, no fat... serious hurdles for a chef, or anyone.
This book is not quite as strict, it focuses on the dishes that people had shared with him as being their "downfall dishes". The ones they crave and don't want to live without, the ones that blow their diets. He has reinvented the dishes in low fat, low calorie form - not as a health official but as a chef. Sacrificing flavour is not an option for him, this was a call to get creative.

The book does allow room for play and creativity, you may not be quite as strict in your diet as the recipes are - personally I will never buy diet cheese - but it is filled with great tips and tricks to lower the caloric count of your meals. Salt is not addressed, if that is an issue you will have to control your own sodium content, he leaves that up to the reader. The main concerns of the book are lowering fat and calories.

I found the book personable and easy to use, and enjoyed the recipes that we tried. Some needed a little extra in the way of flavour I thought, but that was easily done. There is room for creativity although the resulting caloric count might change. DiSpirito gives the calorie count for the traditional dish and then for his version - the difference is staggering. Watch for portion size though, we found it quite small.

So, what did we try?

For my daughter I made his Broccoli Falafel Salad with Yogurt Tahini Dressing from the Appetizers section. I thought this was very well done. A mix of broccoli, chickpeas and spices are made into patties, coated in lightly whipped egg whites and breaded in panko (in his case whole wheat but I could only find white) and baked on a rack. They turned out so crispy and delicious. A great technique that I will definitely remember. The yogurt tahini dressing called for lemon, I thought, so I added some. Like I said, there is room for play.

Using the same egg white and panko breading technique, I made his Shrimp Po'Boys with Spicy Mayo from the Sandwiches and Pizza chapter. These were very tasty and a big hit with hubby.

We served the Po'Boys with Sweet Potato Fries from the Sides chapter, made spicy with cayenne, sweet paprika, pepper and fresh thyme. These were hot and spicy and delicious. Hubs and I did have a philosophical discussion about sweet potato fries though - I like mine with a bit of crunch left to them, he thinks they should be totally soft. To each his own.

Also tasty and easy to make was the Chicken Cacciatore from the Chicken and Turkey chapter. I was surprised how mild this was. While we did love the ease of using the boneless, skinless chicken thighs and how simple the dish was to put together.. next time I would add onion, garlic, and chilies.

One of our favourites was his take on Fettuccine Alfredo from the Pasta and More chapter. I love the tang of yogurt with pasta, and he creates a thickened sauce by using cornstarch and chicken broth. We didn't miss the cream at all, in fact we liked this version better.

And finally we got our carnivore on with his Smothered Pork Chops with Apples and Cheddar Cheese from the Beef and Pork chapter. He uses the technique of roasting onions and sharp apples, puréeing most of them and using them as a sauce with grainy mustard and tarragon for a delicious and highly flavourful sauce. The cheddar cheese on top was new for us, but tasty.

All in all I liked the book. There is certainly enough room for personal style and needs as well as creativity. We learned some interesting and tasty tricks to reduce fat and caloric count without sacrificing flavour.

As with almost every book, the issue of adulterated food products is not addressed. In this day and age you must be a label reader, especially if buying anything "light", quite often the fat is replaced with chemicals and nobody wants that.

There is a chapter on desserts, but they all contain sugar substitutes that I am not interested in so I skipped it. I will spare you my thoughts on sugar substitutes. :)

North America, indeed much of the world, is out of shape. Overfed and undernourished, the only way to take control of what you eat is to make it yourself. Now Eat This! is a good guide to eating light at home.