Re-imagined stuffed potato with red pepper sauce and sea scallops on the side

Winter tends to bring out the evil joneses. You know, those terrible comfort food cravings that are so hard to deny. 

Out of the blue the other day, I wanted a stuffed potato.  Really, really badly.  And not just any kind of stuffed potato, but one stuffed with bacon and every evil thing imaginable, and — very important — smothered in melted cheese, preferably cheddar. 

I don’t know where my head was that day, because I got hit by yet another cheese-related jones.  I wanted broccoli, the way my mother used to make it:  smothered in melted Cheez Wiz and topped with seasoned bread crumbs. (This was the ’70s — that’s what we did with broccoli in those days.)

So here I am, a mature, responsible adult trying to lose a bunch of weight and eat healthily, struggling with these very evil twin joneses.  What to do?

OK, forget about bacon.  I can stuff the potato with the broccoli.  But what about the topping?  Melted cheese ain’t gonna cut it, diet-wise, let alone melted Cheez Wiz (sigh).

Turns out, earlier in the week, I’d made a sauce from the oft-cited Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites (it really is a good book).   A very simple sauce:  You puree two parts roasted red peppers (drained and roughly chopped) with one part 1 percent buttermilk, and season with salt and pepper.  (A hand-held immersion blender works wonderfully for this.)  That’s it.  A 2-ounce serving has only 18 calories and hardly any fat.

I love roasted red peppers, and I thought this would be a great pasta topping.  So I cooked a modest portion of penne pasta and topped it with the red pepper sauce.  The sauce was delicious, but it just didn’t sit right on top of the pasta.  There was no dynamic, no interaction between the two foods.

You see where I’m going with this.

As luck would have it, I had some leftover red pepper sauce in the fridge the day the evil joneses hit me.  So I baked the potato, taking care to ensure it cooked through thoroughly; steamed the broccoli, taking care not to overcook them; topped with warmed-up red pepper sauce; and garnished with crumbled feta cheese.

It was fabulous, if I do say so myself.  In fact, you don’t have to take my word — ask my friend Trish, who, happily for her, showed up at my door famished and in need of something vegetably.  She came to the right place.

Oh, and did I mention the health benefits of this little dish?  Of course, we all know that broccoli is totally good for us.  But we tend to overlook the lowly baked potato — probably because of what we usually do to it:  load it with butter or sour cream.  A large, naked baked potato has 278 calories and 63 grams of carbohydrates.  But, it also has 7 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber.  It also provides 48 percent of your RDA for Vitamin C and 18 percent of RDA for iron.   Looking a little better now, isn’t it?

The lesson here is:  When you’re hit by an evil jones, don’t freak out.  Don’t repress yourself.  Instead, re-imagine your possibilities.  How can you turn your evil jones into a perfectly — or at least almost perfectly — healthy jones?

Low-fat cookbooks can certainly help, but sometimes you have to use your imagination.  You know, think outside the box, as they say.  Create an alternate reality. 

To me, that’s fun.  And very gratifying.

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