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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Rocco DiSpirito used all of his culinary tricks to slash calories from the 150 fatty foods Americans love in his new book, "NOW eat THIS!"
The 43-year-old chef showed that much of the fats and sugar in comfort food like macaroni-and-cheese and brownies can be replaced with ingredients such as Greek yogurt and beans without sacrificing taste.
DiSpirito, the former owner of the restaurant Rocco's 22nd Street which was the subject of a network reality show, has also completed a Web-based food/travel series "Into the Heart of Italy" with actress Marisa Tomei.
The New York City native, who recently completed a triathlon, spoke to Reuters about healthy cooking, asking his fans for help and surviving reality TV.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: "A lot of chefs have started to talk about this topic because we as a group are evolving and aging. And we realize that health as it relates to food and the messages we send out in the media are becoming important. This book is the anti-diet cookbook. It's one that says you can have your cake and eat it too."
Q: Isn't that what gets Americans who are overweight into trouble in the first place?
A; "What you can't have are the calories, but can you have the dishes you have grown to love your entire life and have versions of them that still taste pretty damn good? Yes, because chefs have gotten involved into the mix. With the craft comes the knowledge of manipulating food and picking certain cooking techniques and recreating certain creaminess in food without fat."
Q: How did you use Twitter to get suggestions for the dishes that were included in the book?
A: "If I was going to write a book that does not contain original recipes and that is what I believe to be America's favorite dishes, I better ask what that collection is. And luckily social networking provided the perfect platform for it. My fans were super responsive and incredibly engaged and helped me put together a beautiful list."
Q; Any healthful eating advice at a top-notch restaurant?
A: "If it's a once or twice a lifetime experience or twice a year experience, indulge yourself and don't worry about it unless your doctor tells you differently. If you live in New York City and eat out five nights a week, you probably need to do something about the amount of calories you consume. Usually, the things that are not so bad on the menus are the clear soups, any vegetable-puree based soups if they have no cream, any grilled or steamed vegetables, raw fish dishes, crudities and any roasted meats with no added fat. And stay away from desserts. Desserts are killers."
Q: Will you own a restaurant again?
A: "If you asked me this question five years ago, I would have called you insane and cursed at you probably. It's just funny where life takes you. If there's anything I've learned, you have to take the cues from life. Right now I don't know how I can fit a restaurant into my life."
Q: At least, you've learned not to open one on TV again?
A: "It's so funny. If I announced I would open a restaurant right now, I would probably have more offers to do it on TV than I could count. Isn't it interesting how that changed too? ... Now it's all done on TV and how differently people now react. It's interesting how chefs seek it out now. It's becoming important to a point that if you are not on TV, you may not become a successful chef. In the past, you could just be a great cook."
Triple Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies (20 cookies, 45 calories each)
Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup canned white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons light agave syrup
3 large egg whites
1-1/2 cups granulated Splenda
1/4 cup dark chocolate-covered cacao nibs
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degree Fahrenheit. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine vanilla, cocoa, cannellini beans, and the agave syrup, and blend the mixture until smooth, about three minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl halfway through blending.
3. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whip attachment, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the Splenda. Continue to beat the whites until they are creamy and nearly stiff. Add one-third of the egg- white mixture to the cocoa bean mixture in the food processor. Blend to combine, about 30 seconds. In two batches, fold the lightened cocoa mixture into the egg whites until they are almost fully combined. Add cacao nibs to the batter. Fold batter until cacao nibs are evenly dispersed and cocoa mixture is completely incorporated.
4. Drop mounded spoonfuls of batter onto the prepared sheets. Spread batter out to form cookies about 2½ inches in diameter. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the cookies.
5. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pans one turn halfway through baking. Using a metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.
Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney