04 March 2012

The New American Plate - The Book and the Concept

My brother, Rich told me about this book a while ago and I poohed-poohed it, all the while knowing that he was concerned about me and was trying to pass on a good idea and some good recipes.

We all have to come to terms with weight loss and dietary control in our own time and it's taken me a while, but hey now ! I'm slowing coming around. The Weight Watchers membership has been a good first step. I'm managing to stay somewhat  mostly disciplined in my diet and as I get used to things like portion control, looking at the actual plate content analytically has started to kick in ... and here is where this cookbook comes in.

the new american plate cookbook is about a concept as much as it is about the recipes. There's no preaching to give up any one 'bad' food. Instead, the writers have urged lowering portions of certain foods like meats, butter, cheeses, rich sauces and increasing the presence of whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, healthy oils like olive oil and canola oil and spices and herbs. One's plate or bowl ought to have three healthy portions of fruits and vegetable or bean-based or whole grain based foods and one small portion (3 - 4 oz.) of meat. Like so ...

The rationale behind all this reconfiguring of the plate ... increasing foods that are known to safeguard against cancers and at the same time lower blood sugars and cholesterol levels. We Americans, are full of all those bad things because our diets have sucked for so long. Well, not all Americans, but THIS American is full of all that bad stuff. Anyway, the book is a product of the nutritionists, doctors, and scientists working at The American Institute for Cancer Research. It has extensive discussion of the chemical components of the foods that are good for you, how to combine these foods in a meal to make the most of them, strategies for judging portions realistically, and recipes to help you make the changes to a healthier and yet, tasty diet. The writers are pragmatic. They know it takes a gradual shift in eating attitudes for folks to be successful in changing long-held eating habits, so there is discussion of ways to do just that.

I am at a transition stage, as I move Silent Bob and I toward this concept. I've cut back on the meat portions, am making more whole grain-based sides versus the basic potato. We are really concentrating on vegetable sides, but I don't always have two sides of vegetables. Anyway, I'm happy that I'm changing up the diet a bit. And the weight is starting to come off, although I'm not saying much to the family about dieting. SB and I are doing this thing on the down low.

This book has been a pretty good source of vegetable sides, whole grain, and soup recipes. Thus far, I've made Cinnamon and Raisin Couscous with Chicken (page 139), Kale with Sweet Corn (page 29), Scottish Crackers (page 240), Mushroom and Barley Soup (page 215), and New American Beef Stew (page 137). All the recipes have been very good, although I do notice the decreased fat content and lower salt levels. I've been pretty good about sticking to the recipes. Oh all right, I put reduced salt beef stock in the Mushroom and Barley Soup instead of fat-free chicken stock. It just seemed wrong to make a chicken-based barley soup. And I put rosemary and garlic powder in the Scottish Crackers. And I used venison in New American Beef Stew instead of the beef ... and added a cup of oatmeal stout to the stew gravy.

I'm trying, okay? Sometimes, you just have to make a recipe your own! Overall, it's a great resource. If you're making any dramatic changes in your lifestyle think about borrowing it from the library for a look-see. Then, if it's your cup of green tea, buy it.

SO !! This was my lunch today. Mushroom and Barley Soup with Scottish Crackers. Totally tasty.

Scottish Crackers
a recipe from the new american plate cookbook with my little change

1⅓ c. old-fashioned oats
⅔ c. whole wheat flour
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried rosemary
3½ tbsp. canola oil
6 tbsp. cold water

 Making Crackers:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375° and have ready a large cookie sheet.
  2. Place the oats in a food processor and whiz them until they resemble a coarse flour.
  3. Add the whole wheat flour, salt, rosemary and garlic powder and whiz to combine.
  4. Pour in the canola oil and whiz until it makes the mix crumbly.
  5. Add the cold water one tablespoon at a time and whiz until the dough comes away from the sides of the processor bowl.
  6. Turn the dough into another small bowl and scrape the unincorporated flour from the food processor onto the dough.
  7. Use your hands to knead the rest of the flour and spices in.
  8. Add a drop or two of water at a time to get everything to a pliable dough stage (like pie crust dough).
  9. Divide the dough in half and place one portion on a lightly floured rolling surface.
  10. Roll to a very thin and consistent thickness (⅛ inch) and use a 2-inch cookie cutter to make the cracker shapes. You can also use a pizza cutter to zip square or rectangular shapes – it’s faster.
  11. Place the crackers closely together on the cookie sheet. These crackers don’t rise or expand, so you can really crowd the sheet.
  12. Bake for 12 minutes in the pre-heated oven (middle rack). Turn the crackers over and bake another 12 minutes.
  13. Crackers should become golden … don’t let them brown up.
  14. Remove from the hot cookie sheet and cool the crackers on racks … store ina closed tin to keep them crispy.
Makes up to 3 dozen crackers

Note: Okay, so these little crackers were really crispy and had a nice rosemary and light garlicky vibe. They were really good in the soup because they soaked up the broth nicely. The remainder of the crackers are being tried out with a hummus spread and with some smoked Gouda as an afternoon snack with tea. I'm thinking they will pass muster in both cases. You be the judge.

And for good measure, here's the soup recipe ... I hope you enjoy it!

Mushroom and Barley Soup
adapted from the new american plate cookbook
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, small dice
3 celery ribs, small dice
3 medium carrots, peeled and small dice
½ c. pearl barley
1 ½ tbsp unsalted butter, divided
5 c. mushroom caps, quartered
6 – 8 c. reduced sodium beef broth
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. black pepper
three pinches cayenne pepper

 Making the Soup:
  1. Place half the olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot and toss in the onions, celery, and carrots. Bring the heat up to medium high and sauté for a good 5 minutes, stirring them to keep them from browning up.
  2. When the vegetables are softened and glistening, add the second half of the olive oil and the pearl barley and stir to toast up the barley a bit.
  3. Meanwhile prepare the beef broth and add the Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and cayenne to it. Set aside.
  4. When the barley has toasted for about 3 -4 minutes, add 4 cups of the broth. Reserve the rest for a bit later. Bring the broth to a gentle boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer the barley/vegetables for 30 minutes.
  5. Melt half the butter in a fry pan and add half the mushrooms. Sauté until the mushrooms are browned and golden on all sides. Then turn that batch out onto a plate, melt the second half of the butter and add the other half of the mushrooms and repeat the sauté.
  6. When the second batch of mushrooms are browned up, turn the cool mushrooms back into the pan and add the rest of the beef broth. Stir and scrape the pan bottom to get the golden bits.
  7. Turn the whole lot into the soup pot with the cooking barley, and recover the pan. Let the barley finish cooking – nice and tender.
  8. Turn the soup off and let it sit a bit to meld all the flavours. When ready to serve, you can add a bit more water or beef broth if the barley has really absorbed a lot of the stock.


  1. I really like this attitude towards food, it makes a lot of sense and takes away a lot of the taboos. This soup and crackers really good and healthy...I'm still making huge biscuits to go with all my soups and probably counteracting any healthy benefits the soup might have!

    1. Yeah, Sue. This soup is really high in fiber, as are the crackers. To boot, the oatmeal in the crackers is one of the food items that helps control cholesterol levels. You will never know that you're eating 'healthier' ... it's just the way things are prepared (less butter and more healthy olive or canola oils) and the ingredients that work together to allow for a more 'full feeling' with less calories. There's even more to it with higher fiber and slowing the bodies metabolism of sugars and all that falderal ... which I know is working but don't really understand. Wink, wink!

  2. I must say this was really interesting; I am also trying to adapt my recipes to make them healthier; That barley soup as well as those healthy crackers really look wonderful. Love the idea of better portion on our plates.

  3. First of all, love your pics!! I've never made crackers before, I guess I thought they'd be harder than they are. And the soup is gorgeous! So healthy and yummy-looking. Sounds like a book I might have to check out.....

  4. I love the idea of eating healthier, but man is it ever hard. I made lentil and kale soup this weekend, but had a totally unhealthy breakfast. Baby steps I guess. I do love the look of your soup and healthy crackers. Good luck!!

  5. It does all make sense and that soup and those AMAZING crackers do look really wonderful... it's just not that easy to motivate yourself is it... and every day I say...' today is the day' but then the cakes start calling... good luck anyway xx

  6. Ha! I'm still having my cake and cookies, but far less of it ... that strategy for baking when I can take the sweets to share at a dinner party or at church is working so far ... but I do have to tell myself to 'step away from the dessert table'!

  7. Portion control is the hardest thing to master as far as we're concerned. When you love good food and then have a plat of something scrumptious in from of you it's hard to not want - and eat... MORE! This book looks like a great guide for healthy eating regardless of one's reasons. Thanks for sharing this!

  8. I absolutely agree with the food concepts behind this book as you've explained. I like books that talk about finding a healthy balance versus diets that talk about cutting stuff out altogether. Those never work with me since I go into denial and then binge-eat in a short while.
    Love the recipe for the crackers and soup. Thanks, Susan!


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