Easy, Tasty Heart-healthy Cooking

By Betty Trask

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Years ago, a succulent steak, topped with a generous dollop of herbed butter, and served with a sour cream laden potato was not only absolutely delicious, it was the norm for a tasty meal.

When the new low-fat way of cooking was introduced, the first few years were pretty awful. Boneless, skinless and mostly tasteless chicken, cooked every which way, had only one discernable flavour - whatever sauce one put on top.

In 1990, when my husband Roy suffered a heart attack, followed by open-heart surgery, his low cholesterol diet became my focus. Dietary fats were the enemy, and war was declared.

The evolution was difficult. While cookbooks burst at the seams with low-fat recipes, low fat seemed to mean low taste.

I tried to change that, and have found many ways to keep the zip in our meals.

One such change, on the advice of my daughter, a chef, was to season every layer as I cook. After sautéing vegetables, I give them a shake of salt and freshly ground pepper. Then I do the same with each layer. This method seems to lock in flavours better than adding it all at the end.

Braising is another of my favourites. I used to think only slow cooking meats (tough cuts) were suitable for braising, but now I use it for chicken pieces or pork. The key is to simmer meat gently in a bit of liquid, as it tends to toughen if it's rushed by high heat. Be sure the skillet has a tight-fitting lid, or is well wrapped with aluminum foil. This technique works equally well in the oven or on the stovetop.

Rubs, too, are a big help in the quest to enhance flavour. The recipe that follows demonstrates one such rub, but you can make them up as you like, using your own favourite spices. Rubs are excellent on meats for the barbecue, too.

One of the biggest hits in the taste department is the use of fresh herbs. They are easy to grow in a backyard garden, or are available year-round in the supermarket. They're good in salads, marinades, with roasted vegetables or tied in a bundle and added to a pot of beef stew or soup.

Reducing the sauce is also a very important step in producing a tasty meal. Don't be tempted to skip this step, which intensifies flavour by evaporating and condensing the sauce over lively heat (even if dinner is a few minutes late!). The taste and appearance of the meal are worth the wait.

In the summer, we routinely fill our freezer with local berries and cherries. These make welcome additions to our morning porridge and become dessert most nights.

Roy has a serious sweet tooth; no meal is complete without dessert. I have no trouble finding a variety of cake, cookie or muffin recipes in the many low-fat cookbooks. Most of these things can be frozen and thawed as needed.

The Internet also has many sites to go to for ideas. Epicurious.com is great, as is BonnieStern.com or Food Network Canada Recipes. Like cookbooks, these sites are a wealth of information, and can keep me busy for hours at a time. Don't be afraid to try new recipes - your spouse will forgive you for the odd flop!

Let's not forget the barbecue. It's one of the best methods for cooking meats, fish, and vegetables, too, without excess fat. Nothing better than a piece of grilled chicken or steak on a bed of salad greens, especially if you've used a tasty rub or marinade first!

If fish is not an important part of your current diet, try to eat it more often. Fish provides protein, niacin, vitamin B3, iron, selenium, zinc and essential fatty acids. Health experts recommend eating it twice a week.

And remember, have fun in the kitchen! A nutritious diet and plenty of exercise are the best ways to a long and healthy life.

Bon appétit!

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