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Getting a laugh out of low-fat cooking

crazy plates

March 21, 2000
Web posted at: 11:14 a.m. EST (1614 GMT)

In this story:

Simplicity and silly names

Responding to readers

Low-fat doesn't have to taste bad


ATLANTA (CNN) -- Is the battle of the bulge getting you down? Don't find anything funny about eating low-fat foods? Meet the Podleski sisters, Greta and Janet. Their new cookbook has readers laughing and cooking low-fat foods at the same time.

These Canadian authors, who received rave reviews for their first book "Looneyspoons: Low-Fat Food Made Fun!" are dishing out a second helping of healthy recipes in their newest book, "Crazy Plates: Low-Fat Food So Good, You'll Swear It's Bad for You!" (Berkley Publishing).

"Crazy Plates" by Janet and Greta Podleski

Recipe count: More than 100
Art: Whimsical drawings
Nutrition info: Yes
Price: $19.95

Simplicity and silly names

The sisters have gone out of their way to make sure the book is easy to understand and use. It is colorful, fun to read, and gives the impression that even the most timid cook could tackle these recipes.

Janet, who does not cook, did all the research and writing, while Greta developed the recipes and helped edit the text. But when it came to humor, they collaborated. Each recipe name is unique, to say the least, and features a cartoon illustrating it.

For instance, a mildly flavored Dijon chicken with an herb sauce is called Celine Dijon Chicken. The accompanying cartoon shows a bird with a resemblance to pop-star Celine Dion standing on the bow of a ship, flapping its wings. Dion, of course, sang the theme song to the blockbuster movie "Titanic."

All the recipe and section names are based on contemporary themes, though the sisters say they occasionally wonder if they are the only ones who will remember a certain line from a show or some obscure reference.

Responding to readers

They have incorporated a lot of the ideas sent by readers of their first book into "Crazy Plates." For instance, at the suggestion of people on the Weight Watchers diet, they now include fiber content along with the other nutritional information for each dish. Each recipe has notes in the margin on health, fitness and nutrition. These tidbits are both informative and funny.


In creating the recipes for their new book, Greta says she learned from readers' letters what types of dishes people make most often and what types of ingredients they like to use.

Janet describes the 150 new recipes as "more adventurous" than those in "Looneyspoons," but Greta stresses they aren't more difficult. She made a point of steering away from exotic herbs, edible flowers and other "odd stuff" that might be hard for people to find.

"When I developed the recipes for both books, I only shopped at one grocery store -- my local one. If they didn't have the ingredients, then it didn't make it in the book," Greta says.

All the recipes were tested by Janet, a self-described "domestic dunce." She decided if they were easy to understand and if they weren't, they went back to the drawing board.

"If I can make them, anybody can make them. If I didn't understand a technique or an ingredient, I would say to Greta 'What is that? Can you explain that? Where do I get that from?'" Janet says.

Recipes calling for unusual ingredients are supplemented with "Cooking 101" notes in the margin. These notes explain what the ingredient is, and where to find it in a grocery store.

Low-fat doesn't have to taste bad

The recipes use some reduced fat products, but no fat-free products. The taste testers for "Crazy Plates" recipes included some of the best known low-fat food critics: children and men. Greta says while women buy most cookbooks, they are often cooking for families, so making sure men and children liked the food was important.

Greta is particularly proud of the Do the Cocoa Motion Cheesecake that she says always leaves people wondering how a chocolate and Kahlua dessert could be low-fat.

"Let's face it, it is a cookbook. The recipes have to be amazing to sell the number of books we are selling," Janet says.

The sisters say their cookbook promotes the kind of diet doctors and nutritionists have preached for years. But they recognize that this approach isn't as hip as the popular high-protein or high-carbohydrate diets.

"Because that doesn't sound too exciting to people, everyone wants a miracle... that's why we try to make it more fun, to make that message that is sometimes boring actually entertaining for people," Greta says.

To date, "Looneyspoons" has sold more than 850,000 copies, and "Crazy Plates" sold 250,000 copies in the first months of its release in Canada.

Its U.S. release was Valentine's Day, which Janet says is appropriate.

"It's good for your heart and good for your sweetheart," she says.

Lean ground beef: Healthy and hip
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Remaking 'comfort food' for the health-conscious
May 24, 1999

Crazy Plates
Penguin Putnam Inc.

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