With the New Year comes, for many, the resolve to shed a few of those extra pounds put on during lavish holiday feasts with family and friends. But often after seasonal indulging we find taste buds unwilling to accept a bland diet of carrot sticks and the like. For a great number, the idea of starting a restrictive diet is unfathomable at best.
For those whose palates are still reveling in holiday turkey with stuffing and gravy plus all the trimmings, we offer some streamlined versions of flavorful delicacies, all made less fattening in the clay pot cooker. The suggestions here have eye and taste appeal but have fewer calories than these same dishes might total when prepared by conventional means.
Food cooked in clay is more healthful since the vitamins and nutrients are retained rather than cooked out as in other methods. It is leaner because the porous clay, which is submerged in water for 10 to 15 minutes before using and drained, soaks up the water like a sponge and then breathes while baking. With high oven temperatures the water turns to steam and penetrates the contents of the pot, performing a self-basting action. This method allows the calorie conscious to use inexpensive, tougher cuts of meat that will turn out as buttery tender as more choice selections.
With clay pot cooking almost any meal can be prepared without adding fats, oils or water, so no extra calories are added to the food.
Variety of Choices
Clay pots come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 2 to 16 pounds, either glazed inside and outside or unglazed. The pot should always be placed in the center of a cold oven as the food begins to cook as the oven temperature increases. Very high temperatures should be used in wet clay pot cooking and as much fat as possible should be trimmed from the meat before cooking. Add a little liquid to the clay pot cooker, preferably wine, to keep the meat from getting dry. To brown or to add extra crispness, remove the lid and cook in the oven an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or place the pot under the broiler until meat reaches desired texture.
Caring for the clay pot cooker is easy when some simple guidelines are followed. Use a stiff brush and hot water to clean the pot. Use the brush to remove any food particles that stick to the pot. Then fill the pot with hot water and allow it to soak a few minutes. Never use scouring powder or detergent on the clay pot cooker. They block the pores and hinder its natural cooking methods.
After the clay pot has been used several times, it will begin to darken in color. This is a natural seasoning process and does not affect the cooking. With continued use it is suggested that homemakers fill the clay pot cooker with water, bring it to boil for 30 minutes or so to clean the pores completely. When the pot is not in use, keep it in an airy place. Don't close it completely; just place the lid upside down on top of the base so that air can circulate freely. CLAY POT HADDOCK
1 1/2 pounds haddock or cod
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon low-calorie margarine
1/4 pound onions, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon mustard seed
Fresh dill weed
Soak top and bottom of 3 1/4-quart clay cooker in water 15 minutes. Drain.
Sprinkle fish with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and let stand. Place dollops of margarine in pre-soaked clay cooker and add fish. Add onions and mustard seed.
Cover pot and place on center rack of cold oven. Bake at 400 degrees 30 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and fresh dill. Makes 4 servings. CLAY POT PORK ROAST
2 pounds roasting pork
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned and quartered
1 teaspoon butter or margarine, optional
1 teaspoon bread crumbs
Caraway seeds, optional
Soak top and bottom of clay cooker in water 15 minutes. Drain. Rub meat with salt and pepper to taste and score skin. Place meat, onion, tomatoes and butter in pot. Sprinkle bread crumbs and caraway seeds to taste over meat. Cover and place cooker in center of cold oven. Bake at 400 degrees 2 hours. Drain. Makes 4 servings. SPANISH-STYLE CHICKEN
4 green or red peppers, sliced
4 tomatoes, sliced
2 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chicken, cut up
1 cup white wine
1 teaspoon butter or margarine
2 ounces stuffed olives
Hot cooked rice or noodles
Soak top and bottom of clay cooker in water 15 minutes. Drain. Place peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic in pot. Rub chicken with salt, paprika and thyme to taste. Add wine to pot and place chicken parts on top. Dollop with butter. Cover pot and place in cold oven. Bake at 425 degrees 1 hour. Cut olives in halves, add to pot and return to oven, uncovered, 5 minutes longer. Serve with hot cooked rice or noodles. Makes 4 servings. CLAY POT CASSOULET
1 pound white beans
6 slices bacon
2 pounds lamb or pork, cubed
4 chicken legs
4 tomatoes, sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
1 bay leaf
1 cup white wine
1 cup bouillon
2 tablespoons bread crumbs