Health and fun fare (COVER STORY FOR LIVE IT! MAGAZINE)
The Looneyspoons sisters have put fun into healthy eating
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
Greta and Janet Podleski were slaving over their first cookbook, Looneyspoons, in their tiny office in Janet’s Ottawa basement, they wrote their goal — “1,000,000 copies sold” — on a blackboard.
“Honestly, Janet and I didn’t even know if that was good,” Greta
recalls. “We thought it seemed like a big number. Then we found out
that 10 thousand copies sold would be considered a best seller in
Canada. But I remember we didn’t erase any zeroes off the board. We
still thought maybe we could sell a million.”
Fast-forward 10 years. That book, at the time meant to be a one-hit wonder, has become the first of three — followed by Crazy Plates and Eat, Shrink and Be Merry
— with a combined sales total of more than 1.8 million, plus a line of
frozen dinners, another of kitchen gadgets and a television program,
now in its second season on the Food Network.
Looneyspoons alone spent 85 weeks on the national bestseller list and Crazy Plates was a finalist for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Cookbook Awards.
“Who’d a thunk?” the sisters ask.
“If you had asked us after the first book, we would never had dreamt
that we would have two more books and a TV show,” Greta says.
“Especially the books because I remember thinking that we would never
write another book after Looneyspoons, that we had drained our brains
on that one! But we didn’t.”
“We say after every book, we’ll
never write another,” Janet agrees. “It takes us so long to write one.
There’s so much that goes into it and we do everything ourselves. Greta
doesn’t have staff helping her with the recipe development. But we
still had a lot of corny recipe titles in us….”
In fact, one
aspect that sets the Podleski’s books apart from other cookbooks is the
“fun factor.” The recipe titles are puns and parodies of well-known
expressions, movies, television shows, songs and such — “The Thigh Who
Loved Me,” “Charlie’s Angel Food Cake,” “Dilly Beloved,” “Celine Dijon
Chicken,” “The Gift of Crab” — and the books are peppered with cute
quotes, jokes, cartoons, and fun food trivia.
(original) idea was to make the topic of ‘healthy eating’ fun and easy
to understand and, most importantly, delicious,” Greta says. “Because
at that time, in the mid-nineties, it seemed like when people were
talking about healthy eating, they were talking about tofu and bean
sprouts for dinner. We really wanted to change that perception.”
They succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations, including their own and
Janet says it’s not just the puns and parodies but also the fact that
Greta develops recipes with healthy ingredients that really do taste
The humour may catch a reader’s attention but at the
end of the day, she says, they are really cookbooks. “It always comes
down to the food. It’s people telling their friends ‘you’re not going
to believe this dish I made out of a healthy cookbook and how my
husband and my kids gobbled it up. Normally they would never eat
anything that was remotely healthy.’ So making healthy food taste great
is really our job Number One.”
That’s the whole premise of
their new TV show, Eat, Shrink and Be Merry spawned by their third book
of the same name. Each episode features a popular high-calorie, less
than nutritious comfort food — like chicken wings, burgers, pizza, ribs
or even chocolate cheesecake — which challenges the sisters to create
what they call a “waist-and-heart-friendlier” version that tastes just
as good — or better.
Once they have the healthy version,
they take both “out into the street” — or the restaurant, fairground or
farmer’s market — for a random taste test.
“It’s kind of like Extreme Makeover Recipes Edition,” Greta chuckles.
The success of the show — atypically picked up for the second season
after just four episodes of the first — no doubt speaks to the success
of their creations.
What viewers and readers may not
realize, say the sisters, is the time and effort that goes into
creating tasty healthy food.
“If anybody could take chicken
wings and create a healthier version, everybody would be doing it,”
Janet says. “High fat cooking is actually really, really simple. Just
add more butter. Doesn’t taste good, add some salt. Hmmm, whipping
cream always makes soup taste better.”
It’s also not too difficult to make low-fat food but the problem is it will often taste like cardboard. “The key is to make something that is healthy and also tastes good. That’s what takes a lot of work,” she says. And,
it’s more work today than it was when they started on Looneyspoons a
decade ago. The entire healthy eating landscape has changed.
“Back then it was about low fat. Fat-free was the craze,” Janet says.
“It’s so different now. We talk about the good fats and the good carbs
and lean protein, fibre and sodium. There’s just so much more at the
To keep up, Janet went back to school and earned
a degree in natural nutrition and is now a Registered Nutritionist,
adding still more credibility to their offerings.
is said and done, do these sisters, who spend their days telling people
how to adopt a healthier diet and lifestyle practise what they preach?
“Greta and I are the 80/20 rule people,” Janet responds. “Eighty per
cent of the time we try to eat as healthfully as we can and choose all
those things we’re talking about — the good carbs, the good fats and
proteins. And then 20 per cent of the time we have whatever it is that
we’re craving. I think it balances itself out over the long run and
it’s realistic. Greta and I probably steer more towards almost 90/10
but we definitely have out moments of indulgences.”
Janet, who admits to a sweet tooth, that may be chocolate and Greta
drools over quarter pounders with cheese and fries. “I can’t think of
anything I wouldn’t eat if I wanted it,” Greta says. “No one has ever
offered me something where I thought ‘oh, I can’t have that.’ If I want
to eat it I will. I think you just have to eat more healthfully the
rest of the day. And you can make that work.”
And it’s not
just the food but lifestyle as well that they pay attention to. They
exercise and make sure to get a good night’s sleep and take vitamin and
mineral supplements, particularly important, Janet notes, when they’re
on the road, putting in long days and finding it more difficult to find
the good food choices they take for granted at home.
also maintain that the past 10 years of delving into healthy food and
lifestyles has had a positive impact on their own health.
“We know a lot more. We learn on the job,” Janet says. “We’re always
reading and trying to keep up to date. And I think we’re healthier for
The Podleski sisters’ TV show, Eat Shrink and Be Merry
premiered it’s second season April 5 and is seen on the Food Network
Canada Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m, Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and
Sundays at 11 a.m. all Eastern Standard Times. The episodes and recipes
can also be found on the internet at foodtv.ca
Lord of the Wings
In one of their favourite shows from Season One of their TV show, Greta
and Janet created a healthy version of honey-garlic chicken wings and
blue cheese dip.
“I took boneless, skinless chicken
thighs, because they’re dark meat, cut them in half and marinated them
in honey garlic marinade,” Greta explains. “Then I rolled them or
folded them so they would look like the shape of the longer wing (not
the drumstick) and partially baked them so they would hold their shape.
We grilled them and used the extra sauce to baste them, so they had
grill marks and were sticky and gooey. I did a makeover on the blue
cheese dip and we served that alongside with carrots and celery sticks
and made it look like it came from a restaurant, in a little basket
with red and white checkerboard waxed paper. They were a huge hit.”
Here’s the recipe:
Lord of the Wings (Yield: 32)
serving (7 boneless wings with 2 tbsp dip): 543 calories, 18.6 g total
fat (5.2 g saturated fat), 57 g protein, 30 g carbohydrate, 0 g fibre,
258 mg cholesterol, 975 mg sodium
Ingredients: Chicken "Wings" with Honey-Garlic Marinade* 1/2 cup honey 1/4 cup hoisin sauce 3 tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 tsp grated gingerroot 1 tbsp minced garlic 1 tsp sesame oil 1/2 tsp curry powder 1/2 tsp ground coriander 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper 3 pounds (1.35 kg) boneless, skinless chicken thighs Blue Cheese Dip 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese 1/3 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise (not fat-free) 1/4 cup light sour cream 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 tsp sugar 1/2 tsp minced garlic 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder 1/4 tsp salt Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Directions: Chicken "Wings" with Honey-Garlic Marinade
Whisk together all marinade ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.
each chicken thigh in half. Place chicken pieces in a large,
heavy-duty, resealable plastic bag. Add 1/2 the marinade to bag
(reserve remaining marinade). Turn bag several times to coat chicken
with marinade. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with
foil and fold or roll the chicken pieces into uniform oblong “wings.”
Place wings on baking sheet close together (touching), as this will
help them hold their shape. Bake for about 10 minutes, until partially
cooked and still pink in the middle.
Meanwhile, preheat gas
grill to medium-high heat. Brush grill rack lightly with oil or spray
with cooking spray. Using tongs, transfer par-baked wings to grill and
cook for about 2 to 3 minutes per side, basting often with reserved
marinade. The more you baste, the better they taste! They should have
some nice grill marks on them. Serve hot wings with cold blue cheese
Blue Cheese Dip Whirl together all dip
ingredients in the bowl of a mini food processor until almost smooth.
The dip shouldn’t be perfectly smooth like sour cream; it should have
some texture, but no lumps. You can mash the blue cheese and mix the
dip by hand, but it will be chunky. Cover and refrigerate until ready
to serve. Keeps in the fridge for about two days. (from The Food Network — foodtv.ca)
Turk du Soleil
Thai-inspired turkey burgers with zesty peanut sauce (Makes 6 burgers)
Burger (patty only – the label on the package of buns will give
nutritional information per roll): 229 calories; 11.2 grams total fat;
2.6 grams saturated fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 1.2 grams fibre; 105 mg
cholesterol; 485 mg sodium.
1/3 cup bottled light peanut sauce 1 tsp toasted sesame oil 1 tsp reduced-sodium soy sauce 1 tsp grated lemon zest 1 tsp grated gingerroot 1 1/2 pounds (680 g) extra-lean ground turkey or chicken 1 cup fresh whole wheat bread crumbs, or 1/2 cup dry unseasoned bread crumbs 1/4 cup finely minced green onions 1 tbsp minced fresh cilantro 1 egg 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 6 multigrain or sesame-seed burger buns lettuce and sliced tomatoes
To make sauce, combine peanut sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, lemon zest and gingerroot in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside. In
a large bowl, combine ground turkey, bread crumbs, green onions,
cilantro, egg, salt, pepper, and 3 tbsp of the sauce (use the rest of
the sauce to baste the burgers). Mix gently using your hands. Form
mixture into 6 patties, about 1/2-inch thick. Cover and refrigerate
until ready to grill.
Preheat grill to high setting. Spray grill
rack with cooking spray or brush lightly with oil. Grill burgers for
about 5 minutes per side, or until cooked through and no longer pink in
the centre. Brush burgers with reserved sauce during last 2 minutes of
cooking time. Serve burgers on lightly toasted buns with lettuce and sliced tomatoes or any of your favourite burger toppings. (from Eat, Shrink and Be Merry)
Rhapsody In Blueberry A classical dessert jazzed up with a symphony of flavours and textures. (Makes 8 servings)
Topping 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats (not instant) 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 1/4 cup butter, melted 2 tbsp apple juice or orange juice 1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt or light whipped topping (optional)
oven to 375 F. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Add
blueberries. Sprinkle blueberries with granulated sugar, cornstarch,
lemon juice, and lemon zest. Mix well and set aside
topping, combine oats, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in a medium
bowl. Add melted butter and juice. Using a fork, stir until mixture
resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over coated
Bake for 30 minutes, until blueberries are bubbling
around edge of pan and crumb topping is golden brown. Cool for 10
minutes before serving (it’s hot!) Serve with a dollop of low-fat
vanilla yogurt or light whipped topping, if desired. It’s also tasty
with a small scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt. (from Eat, Shrink and Be Merry)