When Peter Schaffrath was asked to prepare dinner recently for the People For Ethical Treatment of Animals awards ceremony, he knew that if he served any dishes derived from animal products, the diners would growl.
Guests are just getting harder to please.
Nevertheless, Schaffrath, executive chef at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel, was able to devise a successful meal, including desserts, that used neither meats, (nor fish, nor fowl) nor dairy products. However, many hosts are finding that food allergies, fat- and cholesterol-watching and just plain moral objection to certain foods have made it increasingly difficult to find something safe to serve.
There's even more incentive to make heart-healthy food appealing when it's the food-loving host who is counting calories. When Susan Coco and her husband, Leo, went on a weight-loss program several years ago, the couple resisted accepting or extending dinner invitations for the first few months of the diet. For the Cocos, who moved to Northwest Washington from New Orleans, the restrictions of a diet were doubly difficult since, as Susan points out, "the emphasis in New Orleans is to have fun, and nobody worries about what they eat."
During the week the family would have side dishes of red beans and rice and gravy, but there are "no gravies now," she says sadly. "We don't even buy butter anymore."
What the Cocos have found, however, is that it is possible to keep clipping new recipes as long as the forbidden fat is virtually eliminated, and other flavorings, such as onions, peppers, celery or garlic, are increased.
And Susan says that she doesn't mind cutting calories from the food she serves to her guests, "if I can do it without them knowing." And although they might relax the rules for a party, the healthy habits the couple has adhered to generally keep the company food from being complete caloric blow-outs. "We just think differently about food now so we don't do that anymore," she says.
Jane Mulligan, general manager for Treats Custom Catering in Alexandria, says that the company is accustomed to requests for specific menus that are low in calories, or that work around a food allergy.
"We get requests from vegetarian hosts or those allergic to dairy products," she says. "Sometimes even herbs cause problems."
"It's a challenge, but it's the way I've always had to eat," she adds. Allergic to corn and all corn products, such as corn syrup, Mulligan says she went into the food business "so that I could eat when I went to a party. I could recognize what went into a sauce, or if it was a packaged something," she says.
Mulligan says she can honor requests for low-fat entrees by making two sauces for an entree and making sure they are served on the side, or by making a mixed fruit pure'e to complement a dessert. "Strong-flavored pure'es go a long way toward making something taste good," she said. "You don't have to have a rich custard."
Here are some recipes that are low in fats (animal, saturated or otherwise) which should keep even the most particular guests happy.
TREATS' THAI VEGETABLES (6 servings)
FOR THE MARINADE:
1 quart cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
1 rounded tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
2 blades lemon grass (split lengthwise)*
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 to 4 jalapenåo peppers, seeded
FOR THE VEGETABLES:
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 bunch scallions
1 large carrot
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
In a saucepan, bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil, then lower heat and cook for 15 minutes. The sauce will reduce slightly. Add the ginger, lemon grass, garlic and jalapenåo peppers and steep for half an hour.
Peel and seed the cucumbers and cut into half-moon shapes. Seed the bell peppers and cut into a julienne along with the scallions. Peel and finely shred the carrots. Mix all the vegetables together, add the cilantro and add the vegetable mixture to the marinade. Marinate for three hours or overnight, then remove the vegetables from the marinade with a slotted spoon and serve at room temperature.
Per serving: 92 calories, 2 gm protein, 24 gm carbohydrates, .4 gm fat, .1 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 mg sodium.
BALSAMIC VINEGAR CHICKEN (6 servings)
Susan Coco adapted this dish from a recipe in Gourmet magazine, lowering the fat content by removing the skin from the chicken, pouring off the bacon fat and using vegetable spray. The result is fragrant dish that still gets a lot of flavor from the dried mushrooms and the vinegar.
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 slices bacon
Vegetable oil spray
12 chicken thighs, skins removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup beef broth
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon arrowroot, dissolved in 2 teaspoons cold water
3/4 cup canned tomatoes, drained and chopped
Parsley, for garnish
Soak the porcini in hot water until they are soft. Drain and reserve the liquid, passing it through 2 sheets of paper towels to strain out the grit. Fry the bacon in a heavy skillet, remove to a plate and pour the bacon fat out of the pan. Trim excess fat from the bacon and spray the pan with vegetable oil spray.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Cook the chicken for 20 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove the chicken to a platter. Saute' the garlic in the olive oil, then add the porcini liquid, wine, broth and 3 tablespoons of the vinegar and cook for 4 minutes. Add the diluted arrowroot in a stream, then the tomatoes. Return the chicken to the skillet and add the porcini and the bacon. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the remaining vinegar. Serve, garnished with parsley.
Per serving: 276 calories, 28 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 99 mg cholesterol, 253 mg sodium.
PETER SCHAFFRATH'S POTATO AND CORN CAKE WITH CARROTS AND BLACK BEANS (6 servings)
3 large baking potatoes
1/2 cup cooked corn kernels
1 carrot, cut into julienne
2 scallions, sliced
1/2 cup black beans, cooked
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons margarine
1 1/4 cups carrots, sliced thinly
1/2 cup onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 bunch fresh dill weed, chopped
6 cups fresh spinach, blanched
Shred the potatoes and mix with the corn, carrot, scallions and beans. Form the mixture into 6 cakes (if the mixture starts to fall apart, moisten with a little olive oil). Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan and saute' the cakes for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
Melt the margarine in a saute' pan and cook the carrots, onion, bay leaf, salt and pepper. When the carrots are soft, remove the bay leaf and pure'e the vegetables. Add the dill.
On each plate, place blanched spinach leaves in the center, spoon some carrot sauce around, and top with a hot potato cake. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 259 calories, 6 gm protein, 32 gm carbohydrates, 13 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 114 mg sodium.
PETER SCHAFFRATH'S CARROT CAKE WITH ORANGE GLAZE (12 servings)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
3 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup corn oil
1/2 cup apple juice
2 cups maple syrup
1 cup golden raisins, chopped
4 carrots, grated
2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, grated
FOR THE GLAZE:
Juice of 3 oranges
Peel of 1 orange, chopped
2 cups apple juice
Pinch of sea salt
3 tablespoons arrowroot dissolved in 1/4 cup water
Spread the walnuts on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven, or until lightly browned. Chop the nuts and set aside.
Sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder. Combine the oil, apple juice and syrup and add to the dry ingredients. Add the raisins, grated carrots and ginger.
Pour the batter into two oiled 9-inch layer pans and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool on a rack.
To make the glaze, combine the orange juice, orange peel, apple juice, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Add the dissolved arrowroot and stir. Cook and stir for 2 minutes until the mixture becomes thick. Set aside to cool.
Spread the glaze over one cake layer. Top with the second cake layer, sprinkle with the chopped nuts and spoon additional glaze over the top, as needed.
Per serving: 592 calories, 8 gm protein, 89 gm carbohydrates, 25 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 623 mg sodium.