Culinary Baby Steps for a Healthy New Year

Andy Mueller

andy mueller | in the kitchen with chef andy | jan. 2018

For those of you who put a little too much pressure on yourselves with seemingly impossible New Year's resolutions, this may help. Consider the thought of taking small steps in the right direction instead of the typical "all in" concept of quitting. After all, the end justifies the means if the goal is reached, right?

Consider your culinary resolutions. Giving up sweets altogether may be a bit heavy, and on the other end of the spectrum, giving up liver flavored bubble gum might be a little light. A smarter step might be giving up donuts and switching to fresh fruit for breakfast. This way you can still have a piece of birthday cake when the occasion arises, but you can be proud of the calorie and fat-laden sacrifice you make in the morning.

Another baby step might be to push the butter aside and find a healthier alternative. I'm not saying give up butter. Nor will I ever say give up butter completely. I'm merely suggesting instead of dousing your steamed broccoli with it, choose a different approach that may surprise you not only health benefits, but with flavor as well. There was a time when I wouldn't eat broccoli unless it was wrapped in bacon, dipped in beer batter, then fried golden and served with buttercream dipping sauce and a Fudgsicle. Obviously, the wrong approach to the right idea.

Another way to take a step in the right direction without sacrificing flavor is to look for other alternatives to the all-to-often consumed ground beef in things like lasagna and casseroles. Consider portabella mushrooms for alternatives to ground beef for burgers and give thought to the often overlooked eggplant for a tasty version of vegetarian lasagna that might change your mind about the purple powerhouse of a vegetable. If you've had a bad experience with eggplant and think it's bitter, don't worry; it's very common. An important step was probably skipped that turns bitter bites into tasty delights if you remember this rule: "de-gorge before you gorge." The following recipe explains the method and turns the bitter eggplant into the creamy and tasty king of Italian style comfort.

Eggplant Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To de-gorge the eggplant: This simply means we are going to remove all the bitter juices inside the eggplant before cooking it. To do this, slice 2 large or 3 medium sized eggplants into ¼-inch disks and place them in a large colander over the sink. Sprinkle each disk lightly with salt on both sides. Let them rest over the sink for about 30 minutes to de-gorge all the bitter juices. After the juices are gone, rinse the eggplant disks thoroughly and pat dry of all excess water.

While the eggplant disks are draining, make the sauce. In a large sauté pan over medium heat add:

2 tablespoons olive oil

When oil gets hot add:

1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 cup diced onions

2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic

Sauté for five minutes until onions start to sweat then add:

1 small can green chilies

4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup chicken stock (vegetable stock will work)

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

Cook for about twenty minutes until sauce starts to thicken. Set aside

In a large mixing bowl combine:

2 cups ricotta cheese

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Stir to combine. Slice three large tomatoes into thin disks.

In a greased 13 by 9 inch pan, place one thin layer of sauce on the bottom, then place a layer of eggplant on top of the sauce.

Top with dollops of ricotta mixture to cover eggplant. Place a layer of sliced tomatoes on top to cover the ricotta mixture. Arrange another layer of eggplant on top, then cover with the tomato sauce. Cover sauce with shredded mozzarella cheese then bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and slightly golden. Let rest for 10 minutes, then scoop out with serving spoon and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil if desired and fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy

Chef Andy Mueller is a well-seasoned Chef with over 30 years in the restaurant business. He's been on Food Network with Guy Fieri, was Reggie White's personal chef during their Super Bowl run in 1996 and has been Executive Chef at Zimani's in the late '80s, the original Executive Chef at Black & Tan Grille the first four years of operation and owned restaurants in Door County including Glidden Lodge restaurant north of Sturgeon Bay and Hillside Restaurant in Ellison Bay. He currently owns the massively popular supper club "Galley 57" in Allouez at 2222 Riverside Dr.

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