Eating is meant to be one of life's great pleasures. The simple act of sitting down to a meal can bring us joy, satisfaction, and, of course, nourishment; in a word, fulfillment -- both physical and emotional. Just think of the many memorable events in your life: sharing an intimate, romantic dinner with your partner, toasting a job promotion with friends, celebrating your child's first birthday, or one of the many special holidays you've spent with family. You may or may not remember the delicious food you enjoyed on these occasions, but I'm willing to bet that you remember the moment, the ritual of eating with friends and family, the joy of sharing these events with your loved ones. Simply put, the pleasure of eating and the bonding experience of a meal shared with others is a truly gratifying experience, one that enriches and improves our lives.
Unfortunately, so many of us have lost that special connection with the experience of eating. The reality is that our busy schedules have prevented us from savoring the act of sitting down to a meal, whether it's just yourself or with those you care about. As a result, many of us have fallen into the trap of trying to satisfy the need for emotional fulfillment that once may have come from dining with friends and family by focusing on the quantity of food and eating more than we probably need or is healthy. That's where this cookbook can help: you can reclaim the experience of eating as a celebration by sitting down to enjoy these high-quality, delicious dishes without overdoing it. This book contains more than just recipes, though. You'll also find a few different two-week meal plans, all of which incorporate these delicious recipes into a day's worth of eating to ensure that you get all the nutrients you need and the right amount of calories.
I hope that you'll come to think of eating healthy, home-cooked meals made from the freshest, most natural ingredients as a gift that you give to yourself and your loved ones. This may require you to reconsider cooking a bit; I encourage you to try to think of whipping up a nutritious meal not as just another task you have to do at the end of a busy day, but as a ritual that provides important vitamins and minerals, promotes good health, and gives you a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with your family. Nourishing yourself and your loved ones, especially with great, healthy foods, is simply one of the most effective ways to satisfy the body and soul.
To me, that's what eating is all about, and I'm challenging you to make an effort to embrace that experience, to stock your refrigerator with healthy foods, to make your kitchen a special place where friends and family gather, and to sit down and enjoy meals once again! This cookbook can help you make all of these things a reality and, in turn, improve the quality of your health and perhaps even your relationships.
I know that many people just don't have a lot of extra time to cook a meal, and I took that into consideration when choosing the dishes to include in this book. Sure, there are some recipes that will challenge your skills in the kitchen; in fact, there's a whole section devoted to recipes from some of the greatest chefs from across the world. But the majority of the recipes here take just 30 minutes or less, and they include ingredients that you likely already have in your kitchen or can easily find at your local grocery store. The perfect example is Rotisserie Chicken Salad with Oranges and Pistachios (page 77). It's so easy to pull together and takes just 20 minutes to make because you're starting with an already cooked chicken from your local supermarket. Plus, it offers a new way to serve a familiar dish: instead of pairing the chicken with the same old side dishes, you're creating a beautiful salad with juicy oranges and crunchy pistachios. And there are many more recipes just like this one!
This cookbook will help you get back on track in the kitchen, and still leave you with plenty of time to get through everything on your to-do list. But I know that time isn't your only concern when it comes to eating; many of us have also become very calorie-conscious. For those of you who are trying to maintain your weight or slim down, these recipes will also help you focus on the quality of your food instead of the quantity. When you use fresh, high-quality foods, you won't have to eat as much to get that taste payoff. You'll be satisfied with less food, which means you'll consume fewer calories each time you sit down to eat. If you're looking for another way to keep your calories in check, you might be interested in our meal plans, which start on page 269. We've created three different plans, each of which offers six calorie levels (1,500, 1,600, 1,700, 1,800, 2,000, and 2,500 calories per day; as you know, calorie needs vary per person, and should be determined by how active you are and a variety of other factors). Putting together a perfectly balanced diet that provides all the vitamins and minerals you need each day without going over a certain calorie limit is like solving a complex puzzle. Don't worry: we've taken all the guesswork out of it with these meal plans.
Here's a quick preview of the meal plan options you can choose from. If you're really time-pressed, the "Quick and Easy" Meal Plan (page 293) will be a dream come true. This plan doesn't require a lot of cooking, and all the recipes in this section take no more than 20 minutes to prepare. On a typical day you'll have yogurt, fruit, and nuts for breakfast, a chicken wrap for lunch, and Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish with Spicy Slaw (page 145) for dinner (another 20-minute recipe).
If you have more time to spend in the kitchen, check out the "Kitchen Connoisseur" Plan (page 272). While still relying on quickly prepared recipes, this plan has you spending just a little more time in the kitchen, and includes more adventurous recipes. Wednesday of Week 2 is typical: homemade muesli for breakfast, lunch (made in 10 minutes) is Shrimp, Avocado, and Sesame Seed Salad (page 74) and dinner is Vegetarian Baked Beans on Grits (page 158).
Cooking for a family? You'll love the "Family-Friendly" Plan (page 315), which uses recipes from this book that kids (and picky partners) can all enjoy. No one will turn up their nose at Ginger Waffles, Chicken Noodle Soup, Taco Salad, Cottage Pie (based on beef and potatoes), and other healthy versions of family favorites. In fact, don't be surprised if foods that weren't all that well liked by your family soon become welcome dishes. Take the Broccoli, White Bean, and Leek Tart (page 152) as an example. You may be thinking that your family doesn't eat white beans or broccoli, but when you put them into a creamy tart, they will not only eat these healthy foods but they'll actually like them! In terms of time, this plan falls somewhere between the "Quick and Easy" and the "Kitchen Connoisseur" plans. You don't have to follow the meal plans to the letter, of course. You can simply browse the section for recipes that will go over big at your dinner table.
No matter which plan you choose, you can be confident that you'll be getting all the nutrients you need. Each meal has been composed to ensure that you get the perfect balance of fat, carbs, and protein, and the plans are rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Why is this so important? Often, when someone fills up on empty calories (like a mound of French fries) or even has a relatively healthy dish that's missing a satisfying element, such as a whole grain roll, brown rice, or other complex carbohydrate, they tend to be more prone to grazing or snacking throughout the day. The end result: they take in more calories. These meals, on the other hand, will keep you satisfied and full, and will therefore help you cut your calorie intake. (Not to mention that these recipes also fit perfectly into the Best Life plan, a three-phased program to help you lose weight and live healthier. To learn more about the program, check out the revised and updated edition of The Best Life Diet [Simon & Schuster, 2009] or the companion Web site, www.thebestlife.com.)
This cookbook also includes an interesting mix of recipes. You'll notice a number of familiar classics (think chili and roasted potatoes), as well as comfort food with a healthy twist so you can enjoy these dishes every day, if you wish. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the results. For example, if you didn't know better, you'd think the Steel-Cut Oats "Polenta" (page 167) was a real splurge. But the recipe, which combines sage and oats to create a savory side dish with a crispy exterior and soft, indulgent interior, is high in fiber and uses no cream or butter. Basically, these dishes offer incredible flavor, but they're better for you! And we've also created fresh, new dishes by pairing basic ingredients that you may never have thought to combine. The Broiled Mahimahi with Grapes and Leeks (page 143) is the perfect example. You've probably never considered combining grapes and leeks, but the result is amazing; there's no need to add extra salt, butter, or cream. That means you can keep your intake of sodium and saturated fat down while enjoying fabulous, flavorful food.
I like to think of these dishes, most of which are a snap to prepare, as easy but elegant. That may seem like a bit of a contradiction, but it's not at all. The Broiled Mahimahi calls for just six ingredients, including salt and pepper! Don't mistake simple for boring, though. Many of these dishes may challenge your tastes and I hope that you'll try them with an open mind and enjoy them as much as I do. The recipes in this book -- including those in Best Life Recipes from World-Class Chefs, which come from a number of chefs who just happen to be some of my personal favorites -- may be a little different from what you're used to cooking and eating. For instance, chef Anita Lo's Barbecued Breast of Chicken, Suzanne Goin's Succotash Salad, and Nobu Matsuhisa's Parmesan Baked Small Scallops are unique yet accessible. I'm hoping that these foods will expand your...
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