Monday, May 18, 2009

The "E" Word

Exercise. It conjures up perky, fitter-than-thou folks who get excited about sweat, spin class and workout routines. Kill me, now. Just thinking about exercise makes this potato want to curl up on her Lazy Boy and take a nap. OK, it's not so bad as that. But for some reason, even activities that leave one with a feel-good-endorphin afterglow meet with massive mental resistance. 

And that's a shame. Because, diet and exercise are a perfect pairing, a dynamic duo and a one-two punch. In  combination, they  lower weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar more effectively than either would alone. 

So, the question is: how does one remove the "Eww" from exercise? Possibly, by taking the work out of workout. Playtime sounds a lot more fun, doesn't it? Think of activities that you want to do, instead of the exercises you feel you should do. Maybe walking on the beach, riding a bike or going on a hike. How about bringing along a buddy? Then you can socialize while getting into shape. 

My husband takes the one-step-at-a-time approach. He breaks the whole exercise event down into segments. First, get the gear ready. Next, get out the door. Drive to the gym or the pool. Once there, it's not so bad. Yet, he gives himself permission to quit. Does 15 minutes or so and then sees how he feels. It works for him. 

Of course, the more you exercise, the faster you reach your goal weight and the faster you get to Phase Two of the Brentwood Diet. That's a huge inducement. Fear of a heart attack and stroke works as motivation, too. Hey, whatever gets you moving is good. And that's the word on exercise. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Turkey Meatball Mania

Here's why turkey meatballs are Brentwood Diet superstars:

• Great Snacks--When the all-access bag of cut-up veggies doesn't satisfy, nibble on a few turkey meatballs

• Fast Food--Turkey meatballs don't take to long to whip up; and if you have them on hand, all you have to do is microwave them 

• Portable--Turkey meatballs are great to go. Bring 'em to work, school or even when visiting friends. (WARNING: These turkey meatballs proved to be diet lifesavers when friends invited us over for pizza or BBQ in Phase One. But, consider alerting friends that you're bringing them over: some friends will be happy to cook something you can eat, others will be thrilled you're arriving with your own Brentwood-Diet-approved food and a minority may be offended.)


Phase One: Curried Turkey Meatballs:


• 2 lbs. ground turkey
• 2 eggs
• 2 teaspoons curry powder or to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans with olive oil. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well. Form turkey mixture into 1- to 2-inch balls. Put balls onto cookie sheets--about 24 to a sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Check that they don't over cook.

Phase Two: Curried Meatballs with Coconut Curry Sauce:

Make the meatballs using the recipe above. While the meatballs are cooking, create a sauce using a can of coconut milk, 2 cups of chicken broth, a diced onion, a pinch of curry and a pinch of saffron. Reduce mixture until syrupy. Combine meatballs and sauce and serve.

Phase One: Cumin Turkey Meatballs:

Use above phase one recipe, substituting cumin for curry.

Phase One: Mushroom & Onion Turkey Meatballs:


• 2 lbs. ground turkey
• 2 eggs
• Handful of dried mushrooms 
• 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
• One onion
• Chicken broth

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans with olive oil. Put dried mushrooms in a blender and chop them up on the "puree" or "liquify" settings until powdered and set aside. Puree onion in blender and add to dried mushrooms. Add a little chicken broth to the mushroom and onion mixture to form a paste. Combine with other ingredients in a bowl. Add chicken broth as needed. Form turkey mixture into 1- to 2-inch balls. Put balls onto cookie sheets--about 24 to a sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Check that they don't over cook.

Mushroom & Onion Turkey Meatball Alternatives:

Phase One: With Fresh Mushrooms:

Use about a pound of pureed mushrooms instead of the dried or mix half fresh / half dry. Morels and Chanterelles work well. Cook the mushrooms and the pureed onion in the chicken broth and reduce. You may also use some pureed or finely chopped peppers, too. Cool and combine with other ingredients. You may need to throw in an extra egg, to keep the mixture firm enough to form meatballs. 

Phase Two: Mushroom, Onion & Truffle Turkey Meatballs:

Use the original Mushroom & Onion Meatball recipe. Add a little chopped fresh white or black truffles and/or truffle oil (sometimes available at local farmers' markets). This makes for a moister texture, but adds fat so it takes you into Brentwood-Diet-Phase-Two territory. Want to be super decadent? Add a tablespoon truffle pate to the mix. And make a sauce using a reduction of white wine and chicken broth, maybe with some truffle oil, diced onion and fois gras thrown in. 

*Caveat: Some cooks use precise measurements and get replicable results every time. I'm not one of them. This often falls short of perfection, but it makes for adventure. If you ever find your turkey meatball mixture too moist to create firm, round meatballs: don't despair. Just lightly grease 2 loaf pans or a large lasagna pan with olive oil and make turkey meatloaf. 

Gnocchi Guilt

I confess: I fell off the Brentwood-Diet wagon last week. The gnocchis at Spumoni, a Santa Monica restaurant, cried out to me. Gnocchis are Italian dumplings made with white potatoes and white flour--both forbidden foods on the Brentwood Diet.

Now, the gnocchis in question were no ordinary gnocchis. They were Spumoni gnocchis, which mere gnocchis can only aspire to--chewy, tasty nuggets of yumminess that embrace sauce. Sure, there were more Brentwood-Diet-friendly options on the menu, but to pass on the gnocchis seemed almost sacrilegious. Especially since, the pesto sauce that accompanied them was inspired, as well.

Of course, when in Phase Two of the Brentwood Diet, slips are factored in to the 90%-on / 10%-off formula of maintenance. And in the case of the Spumoni gnocchis, I only ate half the bowl. Nevertheless, the sense of guilt was way out of proportion with the cheat. Somehow, a well-marbled steak grilled to perfection or a snack of goat cheese slathered on a fresh fig seemed like lesser crimes. Yet, such detours from the Brentwood Diet come with hefty helpings of saturated fat.

So, why did those low-cholesterol gnocchis create such guilt? For some reason foods high on the glycemic index felt like greater evils than those high in saturated fat. Certainly, followers of the Atkins Diet would agree.

But in my case, such thinking was flawed. In fact, after over indulging during the holidays, I went back to a modified Phase One of the Brentwood Diet: all carbs were out, but fatty red meats were in. Big mistake. I the lost the extra five pounds, but a blood test a few days later showed high LDL-cholesterol levels for the first time ever. Worse, my husband's bad-cholesterol readings spiked, too. Since he's the patient with the health concerns, I really felt guilty.

Definitely, guilt comes into play in the Brentwood Diet. Whether induced by gnocchis, cheese cake or high-cholesterol levels, guilt serves to keeps you on course. Yet, some guilt is misplaced. The 10% license to eat whatever you want in Phase Two isn't about going off the Brentwood Diet--it's about sticking with it for the rest of your life. Because after all, the Brentwood Diet really is a lifestyle change. The occasional indulgence actually helps you manage your weight and your health in the long run. So, the verdict isn't in on my gnocchi guilt.