And now come the regrets.
Did I really have to have that second piece of pecan pie? Couldn’t the mashed potatoes have had maybe a little less butter? Did I truly have to eat all of those mint chocolates that our friend brought from Chicago?
Yes. Yes I did. Those things are great.
But now I’m feeling it: every Christmas cookie, every potato pancake, every Frango mint. My belt is annoyed at me. My scale groans when it sees me approach.
So in the spirit of resolutions made for the New Year, I decided to make a bunch of dishes that will make my belt and scale happier, and me, too. I went low-cal.
Naturally, I did not want to give up on flavor and enjoyment. I determined to make dishes that both tasted good and were relatively good for me — or at least good for my waistline.
I began with a riff on an old favorite, carbonnades a la flamande, the famous Belgian dish of beef-and-onion stew cooked in beer.
The difference in the version I made is that the beer used is stout, a dark beer such as Guinness that is rich in coffee and caramel flavors. Despite its full-bodied flavor, the beer has only a few more calories than Bud Light. And its taste is so mellow, it needs less brown sugar than traditional carbonnades to smooth out the stew.
The recipe uses less beef than the regular carbonnades, which cuts back on the calories. But you don’t mind the loss, because it makes up for it in chunky mushrooms, which blend in perfectly with the other flavors.
It’s a hearty, warming stew with a robust taste. You don’t even notice the flavor of the beer, which melts away into the sauce for an utterly satisfying meal.
My next dish was equally intriguing: Lemon Chicken With Bulgur. Bulgur is one of those grains that I rarely think to use when I’m cooking, and I’m always happy whenever I use it. It has a nutty taste similar to brown rice, but a creamier and more luscious texture.
It also happens to go brilliantly with chicken — and especially, as I discovered, with lemon chicken.
The recipe includes a couple of curveballs that are unexpected but delicious. Mixed into the other ingredients (onion, garlic, lemon) are a half-teaspoon each of cardamom, coriander and cumin.
The Indian spices are subtle, but you know they are there. They act as a quiet sounding board to amplify the bright citrus notes of the lemon. They make what is already a great dish even better. It is sure to join your repertoire, as will the Beef Braised in Stout Beer.
And so, for that matter, will Turkey Wienerschnitzel.
The flavor of turkey is similar enough to veal that it makes a reasonable substitute; I even know a chef who used to cook turkey at his restaurant and jokingly call it “redneck veal.”
Veal is hard to find these days, and it is expensive when you do see it, so Turkey Wienerschnitzel would be a great idea even if it weren’t so delicious. Based on the classic Austrian dish, it is a turkey cutlet, breaded and lightly fried, served with capers and slices of lemon. A fried egg on top tastes great, too.
This version, which was created by Steven Raichlen in his pre-barbecue days, saves some calories by dipping the turkey in egg whites instead of whole eggs, and it theoretically requires only two tablespoons of oil to fry four cutlets.
To be perfectly honest, it took me three tablespoons of oil to fry the four cutlets. But that isn’t too bad, and the Wienerschnitzel was exceptional.
My last low-cal, high-flavor dish takes potatoes to a new level. Bombay-Style Potatoes are a type of spiced potatoes that, despite the name, appears to have originated in England.
Curry and potatoes have long been a popular combination, and the Bombay style usually adds tomatoes to the mix. But the version I made uses Granny Smith apples instead to add just the right amount of sweet tartness to the spicy curry.
I cheated when I made mine. Instead of putting together a homemade blend of spices for the curry, I just used curry powder out of a jar. It was awfully good the way it was, and I can only imagine how much better it would have been if I had only taken the extra few minutes to make my own.
Whether you mix together your own curry or use the store-bought variety, be sure to use Yukon Gold potatoes with this dish. Their texture is almost butter, their taste almost creamy, which absolutely brings the recipe to life.
Daniel Neman • 314-340-8133
@dnemanfood on Twitter