Wednesday, July 28, 2010


When I began “Cooking with Jeanne,” the grand plan was to shed light on Mom’s humor and wisdom through food. I never expected to receive a similar gift in return.

Over the last few months, friends and family have contacted me to recount their own Jeanne anecdotes. Each time I hear a new story or a new insight into Mom’s personality, I feel like I’ve struck gold. With each email, my memory of her grows more vivid. Thank you everyone. Keep ‘em coming!

A note from our friend Marie Savatierre perfectly captured Mom’s love affair with food. Marie wrote: “She had a way of making whatever dish she made sound literally mouth-wateringly good, just by saying its name. Something about the way she relished food translated into how she pronounced the title and lingered over certain syllables.” Exactly, M!

Alas, there was a price to pay for such passion. Mom could grow a bit overzealous in her appreciation of food, resulting in a lifelong battle with weight. So annoying! Can you relate? As her offspring, I can relate all too well.

One afternoon, when I was home on break from college, Mom and I were tooling around Westchester searching for a fun activity that didn’t involve food. We landed at a nail salon, a trend still in its infancy at the time. Mom had always had short nails that broke easily. She explained this to the manicurist, who launched into a rapid description of the near-surgical procedure required for long, luxurious nails. To which Mom only replied: “Credit cards?” Fifty dollars later, Jeanne grinned shamelessly as she brandished ten bright-red acrylic tips. It became an expensive habit that she eventually kicked. Easier to lose 10 fake nails than 10 pounds, I tell you.

I am not harping on Mom’s weight to be cruel. It’s just that I cannot write an honest blog about her without touching on the D-I-E-T topic. Mom tried them all with varying success. Depressing, you might say. But here’s the thing: Mom may have battled her weight, but she actually knew a lot about health and nutrition. Years of dieting and a medical background taught her intellectually what worked (Weight Watchers and portion control), and what didn’t (diet pills, and binging on fat-free cookies). She just simply liked to eat a lot. As do I.

Mom was, in fact, an expert at cooking healthy food that tasted great. During one of her successful Weight Watchers periods, Mom and her friend cooked a low-cal Thanksgiving dinner. I heard it was amazing. (I was five at the time, which means I probably only ate mashed potatoes and green beans.) She also did a wonderful job of teaching her children to enjoy a wide variety of fresh foods. I continue to teach myself not to eat too much.

In that vein, I thought I would share some of the healthier recipes I came up with lately –ones that celebrate delicious food without breaking the calorie bank. Here are a couple good ones:

Soft Fish Tacos

A friend gave me this great, fast recipe for tilapia, a Godsend because I’ve always loved tilapia’s price tag, but hate how I prepare it. I added the cabbage after tasting the fish tacos at Mermaid Café, a dish I highly recommend. Cabbage adds a nice crunch.

Yield: 4 servings

• ½ teaspoon cumin
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 ¼ lb tilapia
• 1 tablespoon canola oil
• 4 cups spinach
• 1-2 cups finely shredded cabbage (Think cole slaw fine)
• ½ cup plain non-fat yogurt
• 2 teaspoons lime juice
• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (I also add some smoked paprika)
• 4 burrito-size tortillas (I like Tumaro’s whole wheat. 1 point on Weight Watchers)

1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Wrap tortillas in tin foil, and place in oven. Allow them to heat until just before serving.
2. Combine the cumin and salt and sprinkle over fish.
3. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat; add fish and cook 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Remove from pan.
4. Add the spinach to the pan with only water from washing clinging to its leaves. Cook, tossing constantly for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the spinach is uniformly wilted. Remove from pan.
5. Combine the yogurt, lime juice, and cayenne in a small bowl. Use half to toss with cabbage.
6. Slice fish into thin strips.
7. Remove tortillas from oven. Working one at a time, lay a tortilla flat on your work surface. Place cabbage mixture on one half, add one quarter of the spinach and tilapia, and top with remaining dressing. Close the taco by folding in half and press down lightly. Serve immediately.

Frozen Banana Whip

I stumbled upon this at a JCC Manhattan cooking class. Turns out whipped frozen bananas are creamy and smooth, and will fulfill your ice cream cravings like a dream. Also a great option for the lactose intolerant.

Yields: 2 servings

• Two bananas, broken into 2 inch pieces and frozen for at least an hour.
• 1 tablespoon, maple syrup

1. Put bananas and maple syrup in food processor.
2. Whip until smooth. (You may need to add a bit more liquid, either syrup or a drop of water)
3. Eat IMMEDIATELY. This stuff turns to mush after 30 minutes.

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