The Reading Room was able to speak with Gina Homolka, author of The Skinnytaste Cookbook, and discuss her new book and motivation for eating healthy. Gina is an avid blogger on her Skinnytaste website–where she share recipes and tips for staying healthy and fit. Make sure you scroll all the way down for a delicious “skinny” mac and cheese recipe!
The Reading Room: How did you go about putting your own unique spin on recipes and turn them “skinny”?
Gina Homolka: A few things. First, I cut back on the oil—you’d be surprised how many calories you save just by using a mister instead of pouring oil into a pan. Second, most recipes that generally call for frying can be baked, which is not only lighter, but also easier to clean up. And third, I do lots of swapping. For example, in my Baked Potato Soup, I swap some cauliflower for potato, and in my Double Chocolate Chunk Walnut Cookies, I swap mashed avocado for butter.
TRR: What was your biggest motivation for creating a cookbook and eating healthier in general?
GH: My biggest motivation for writing a cookbook was my Skinnytaste fans, who asked me daily to write one. Then once I started getting approached by publishers, I knew this was something I had to do.
TRR: Who are your taste-testers?
GH: My family, aunt, cousins, friends, and neighbors. Whoever’s around! But honestly, my husband and kids do most of the tasting and give it a thumbs up or down.
TRR: How do you find the time to cook up such delicious food on a weeknight? And do you have any advice for our readers to be able to do the same?
GH: My slow cooker is my best friend for those crazy-busy nights. I place all the ingredients in it in the morning, set it, and dinner is ready at night.
TRR: The cookbook is absolutely stunning. What was your favorite dish that is photographed?
GH: Thank you! I love how the photography turned out. I don’t have just one favorite image, though I love the Buttermilk Oven “Fried” Chicken, the Mongolian Beef and Broccoli, and the Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Prosciutto!
TRR: What’s the most important part of loving your body?
GH: My favorite quote is: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think it’s important to look in the mirror and love what you see, imperfections and all. Don’t try to compare yourself to other people.
TRR: Do you have any thoughts on body image that you’d like to share with our readers?
GH: I used to work as a photo retoucher before I started blogging. It’s ironic because I used to make people look thin via Photoshop, and now I make people thinner through eating healthier, which is far more rewarding. I worked on hundreds of photos of models and spent hours making them “perfect.” Nothing you see in magazines is real. We see only those perfect retouched images of people with no wrinkles, no pores, no dark circles, no veins. It’s all fake.
TRR: Who inspires you to keep up a healthy lifestyle?
GH: My kids. I want to be around a very long time to watch them grow up, and I know that living a healthy lifestyle with exercise and healthy eating is the best way to do this.
GH: I recently read the memoir It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell. It is an inspiring book about the struggles of losing weight and not recognizing the new person she saw in the mirror. Very inspiring. I have tons of cookbooks, but it seems I never have the time to regularly cook from them.
TRR: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
GH: One of the best experiences I had writing this book was seeing my aunt lose weight by eating my food. She was testing all my recipes with me, and we would eat lunch together. Since I had so much food left over, I sent her home with dinner every night. She went from a size 14 to a size 4 in the year we were working on the book! That was really incredible to see.
Skinny Broccoli Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. Eliminating it from my diet was not an option, so early on I decided I would figure out a way to make it work. My secret weapon was to add some greens—broccoli, in particular, because it and cheese are a match made in heaven. I also developed a lighter cheese sauce to further ease the calorie guilt. I love that extra crunch you get from toasted bread crumbs, so I sprinkle a little on top just before I bake it.
Cooking spray or oil mister
1 (12-ounce) bag broccoli florets
12 ounces rotini pasta
11⁄2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄3 cup finely chopped onion
1⁄4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
2 cups fat-free milk
1 cup Swanson 33% less sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 cups shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese (8 ounces; I recommend Cabot 50%)
1⁄4 cup seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs, homemade (see page 110) or store-bought
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 9 × 13-inch baking dish with oil.
Cook the broccoli and pasta to 3 minutes less than al dente in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and broth, increase the heat to medium-high, and continue whisking until the mixture boils. Cook until the sauce is smooth and thick, 7 to 8 minutes. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheddar until melted. Add the pasta and broccoli and stir well. Pour into the prepared dish and top with the bread crumbs and Parmesan. Spray with oil.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Increase the oven to broil and cook until the bread crumbs are golden, keeping an eye on them so they do not burn, about 2 minutes.
Per serving (about 1 cup)
Saturated fat: 4.5g