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July 5, 2006 > Food Makeovers with Elaine Magee

Food Makeovers with Elaine Magee

by H.S. Sheikh

After a long week at the office, a steaming platter of fettuccine alfredo or spaghetti with meatballs is just the thing to indulge in while watching Law and Order reruns. Or, after a Saturday spent running errands, scrubbing soap scum from the shower doors, and making sure the kids don't play video games for four consecutive hours, a slice of key lime cheesecake or caramel apple pie is a well-deserved reward. But such indulgences and rewards can only be enjoyed sparingly. That pudgy midsection that has been in line for termination on many a New Year's resolution list since the beginning of the new millennium has made sure of that.

Of course, if you whip up Elaine Magee's healthier, home-style versions of popular comfort foods, chances are your taste buds will be sated and there will be no blowback remorse once the last bite of pasta or pie disappears. Magee is not a novice in the arena of healthy meals. Apart from being a registered dietician and writer for, she is author of "The Recipe Doctor" newspaper column, and has more than twenty-five books on nutrition and healthy cooking under her belt. Her latest book, Comfort Food Makeovers, is "about the way I like to cook and the way I like to eat." She says it's a "full-blown cookbook of favorite foods."

She employs a "three R's" system to reduce, replace and remove certain ingredients in comfort foods without sacrificing great taste. As Magee puts it, "Healthy food isn't going to do anyone any good if no one's eating it." With that noble goal in mind, she remakes some 110 dishes into low-fat, smart-carb concoctions, ranging from hearty stews and filling pastas to savory side dishes and sweet tooth pleasing desserts. The recipes are clear and easy to follow with a convenient chart listing calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, cholesterol, fiber, sodium, percent calories from fat, omega-3 fatty acids, and omega-6 fatty acids. Each list also compares before and after numbers.

Magee wants to "change the way America eats, one recipe at a time" and it seems like America will have no problem with her mission. I tried my hand at her Texas sheet cake and mashed potatoes and savory gravy. Both dishes were easy to make and easy to eat. Everything felt lighter on my stomach too, perhaps merely because I knew it followed a healthier formula, which is a notable accomplishment in its own right. The cake was irresistible in all its sugary, cocoa-glazed glory. I discerned no noticeable difference between her potatoes and gravy and the original butter-drenched recipe.

On the other hand, the book's format could be livelier and more colorful with a layout more visually enticing than the yellow and gray patterns it used throughout. This minor caveat makes Magee's recipes no less useful for those interested in lucid formulas for healthy cooking and no less enjoyable for those interested in delicious meals. In Comfort Food Makeovers, Magee lets us have our cake and eat it too by providing not only healthy, but also satisfying meal alternatives.

Magee (nee Moquette - yes, Elaine is the daughter of Nesly Moquette at Fremont's Heritage Bank) will be available for book signings at Borders Books and Music, 39210 Fremont Hub, on Saturday, July 8 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information call (510) 797-9799.

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