Little things mean a lot less fat

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In an article in yesterday's A La Carte section, the phone number for cookbook author's Lynn Fischer's catalog was incorrect. The correct number is (800) 835-2867.

The Sun regrets the error.

No need to think big when you're trying to pare fat from your diet, according to Lynn Fischer: "What works best is a lot of little things," says the cookbook author and TV cooking show host. "Drink milk that's skim -- if you have a problem with the taste, mix it with one of the nonfat creamers. Don't give up on low-fat products because you haven't liked them in the past -- there's low-fat Brie from France now that has half the fat of regular.

"Nonfat cream cheese and sour cream are perfectly fine -- though they're higher in salt. But only 7 percent of the population has a problem with salt.

"I'm not 'You can't eat this, you can't eat that,' " said the petite and trim Ms. Fischer, tucking into pasta at a harborside restaurant on a recent visit to Baltimore to promote her book. "My philosophy is, widen the variety of foods you eat, and any small thing you can do to improve your health, no matter what it is, even walking from far away in a parking lot to the store, improves your quality of life."

The facts and formulas trip off her tongue; after four years and more than 200 television shows, Ms. Fischer is a walking interactive video, a fount of information about everything low-fat, lean and low-cholesterol, from what kind of fat is found in foods -- "Go ahead and eat an avocado, the fat is mostly monounsaturated" -- to using egg substitutes -- "They make wonderful deviled eggs. You have to process them for four minutes, though, otherwise they could be gritty."

With a new book out, "Lynn Fischer's Healthy Indulgences" (Hearst Books, $20) and a new TV show based on it, produced by Maryland Public Television, that began airing in April, Ms. Fischer is back on the low-fat trail. This time the emphasis is on taste.

"I go around the country and I asked people at book signings, what do they want? After I did the first book, they said 'we want it quick and we want it easy.' But now people say they want it to taste good. So that's what this book is," Ms. Fischer said. "I'm really a kind of plain, simple cook, but this is fancy, gourmet -- French recipes, Japanese recipes, Thai recipes, Malaysian recipes -- really interesting food that doesn't take a lot of time, but makes use of a lot of spices and herbs."

Ms. Fischer, who has been a model, a magazine editor, a talk-show host and a TV medical reporter, said she doesn't consider herself a "chef."

But teaching people to trim the fat is Ms. Fischer's primary mission, and she approaches it with the zeal of a missionary. And she likes to recount her successes with converts. "The director of my television show has lost 100 pounds on my food," she said. "But he wouldn't try anything until he ate my apple pie. He just didn't believe it would taste good. Once he had the apple pie, then he was a devotee. And then I gave him books, and I gave him [tips on] how to do it, and he was really watching the show then for content, not just for form. A lot of people write me too tell me how much weight they've lost. It's the nicest thing about the job."

It helps that she is preaching to a fairly attentive audience. "All of America is starting to wake up to the fact that our diets are oversaturated with fat," said John Potthast, producer of "Healthy Indulgences" for MPT. Ms. Fischer's approach gives people the tools they need to reduce the fat, he said. "I think there's a real hunger in the American public to learn how to do this."

Ms. Fischer's show (which airs at 6 p.m. Sundays on Channels 22 and 67) is available to about 83 percent of the U.S. population, Mr. Potthast said, "which is good. Even the established cooking stars, like Pierre [Franey] and Julia [Child] are available in about 85 to 90 percent of the markets."

"People are looking for a healthier way to eat," said Ruth Glick, Columbia-based author whose most recent cookbook is "100 Percent Pleasure," written with Nancy Baggett of Ellicott City. The two are currently working on a book of "Skinny Italian" recipes. "They're looking for recipes they can incorporate in their diet. [Ms. Fischer] has ideas they can use."

Ms. Fischer's basic idea is simple: "One of the things I try to do most of all is to lower the fat enormously -- [down to] 10 percent of calories from fat."

And she is willing to try any technique or product to reach the goal. "I use a lot of sprays, I use all the gadgets. I try all the new products, and some are very good and some aren't. I like some egg products better than others -- but they're 99 percent eggs, and they're pasteurized. I use them in eggnog, I use them in Caesar salad, I use them in mayonnaises." (She is so fond of her gadgets that she has a catalog offering them and some of her other favorite products. For a copy, call [800] 835-2967.)

And should you chance to fall off the nonfat wagon, she said, don't give up. Just get back on.

"This is an adaptive process. It's taken me maybe 30 years to do some things. Other things I've figured out -- skim milk, OK, I got it. But it's all the little things that allow you to keep your fat under 10 percent," she said. "Try some of these low-fat things. If you're used to high-fat mayo, try using half and half. Remember, it's adaptation. Anything you do that improves your health will improve the quality of your life.

Here are some recipes from "Lynn Fischer's Healthy Indulgences." She suggests serving the crab dip with Scandinavian crisp bread.

Hot Maryland Crab Dip

Makes 2 1/2 cups

1 8-ounce container fresh lump crab meat

1/2 cup non-fat cottage cheese

1/4 cup non-fat cream cheese or farmer cheese

1 tablespoon horseradish

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon non-fat milk

1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons Calvados (apple brandy) or white wine (optional)

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons finely chopped celery

Several shakes of cayenne or paprika

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

If the crab meat is frozen, drain it well in a sieve, pushing on solids with a paper towel to remove all moisture. Fresh or frozen, pick over to remove any bits of cartilage and set aside. In a food processor, puree cottage cheese, cream cheese, horseradish, mustard, milk, lemon juice, and Calvados 3 to 4 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the cottage cheese mixture (which should be very smooth), the crab meat, onion and celery, and stir until well-blended.

Spoon the mixture into an ovenproof dish and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until bubbly and lightly golden on top. Sprinkle with cayenne or paprika and parsley, for garnish.

Per 1/4 cup: 49 calories, trace of fat (no saturated fat), 25 mg cholesterol, 189 mg sodium.

Note: When thinned with 1/4 cup non-fat milk, the dip becomes enough sauce for four servings of pasta.

Roast Chicken With Thyme and Rosemary

Serves 6

2 1/2 -pound chicken, skinned, defatted (wing tips and tail removed)

2 tablespoons spice mixture, such as Mrs. Dash, Spike or other colorful herb and spice mixture

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 sprig fresh thyme

Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with the spice mixture. Place the rosemary and thyme inside the chicken. Place the chicken in an oven-roasting bag, tie and, using a knife, cut a slit into the top. Place the bag in a microwave safe casserole and cook at high for 12 to 16 minutes (or bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes), carefully turning once after 7 minutes.

If any part of the chicken is pink, return (covered) to the microwave oven for 4 or 5 minutes, or the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the chicken from the bag, discard the herbs and serve hot.

Per serving: 179 calories, 6 g fat (2 saturated), 90 mg cholesterol, 83 mg sodium.

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