Chapter One: Stella Style
I'm George Stella, the Low-Carb Chef, and six years ago I weighed 467 pounds. That's right, 467 pounds! I was only thirty-nine years old, but I was suffering from congestive heart failure and living on disability. I couldn't even button the largest pair of pants I could find at the department store, so I used a safety pin instead and let my shirts hang down in front so no one could see. By then, it didn't really matter anyway. I could hardly walk, so I stayed home in a wheelchair most of the time. I couldn't even make it across the kitchen without stopping for a breather.
Only a few years earlier I'd been a chef at some of the finest restaurants in Florida -- Café Max, Sausalito Restaurant, Windows on the Green, the list goes on and on. Somehow, though, I lost control of my life. I began to eat, and then to eat even more, and when it was all over, I'd eaten my way out of a life most chefs only dream of.
I was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1959. I was kind of a chubby kid, but not what you'd really call overweight. When I was eleven years old, my father, a former vaudeville entertainer who had fallen on hard times, decided to move the family to Florida. Times were tough, but the weather sure was an improvement. After a few years of sweating under the hot Florida sun, I'd pretty much burned my baby fat off. It wasn't until I experienced heart problems as a teenager that I had my first real problems with my weight. The treatment I was given -- massive doses of the steroid prednisone -- actually ended up causing a lot of my problems, including gaining a lot of weight. Luckily for me, my mother found a doctor who understood what was really going on -- just before I was about to undergo heart surgery! With his help, I was able to wean myself off the steroids and bring my weight down again.
By then I had already been cooking for years. I got my start early, thanks to a good friend from the neighborhood, Jimi Volpe. At the time he was working as a line cook at the Ranch House Restaurant on Deerfield Beach, right next to the pier. He was only fifteen and had lied about his age in order to get the job. I was only fourteen, but I was tired of pushing a rusty old lawn mower around to make money. So I followed Jimi's advice, told the manager I was sixteen, and before long I had my first job in a restaurant -- washing dishes!
I didn't wash dishes for long, but I was in the kitchen for good! Jimi kept pestering the manager to let him teach me how to cook the line, and finally the manager gave in. I had found my calling, and from that moment I decided that I wasn't just going to learn how to cook -- I was going to become a chef!
There was just something about cooking that clicked for me right from the beginning. I just loved working in the kitchen. I loved being in the middle of all the action, surrounded by the noise and the smells of the cooking food. I loved learning from everybody I worked with too. I was hooked on cooking, but I got hooked on some pretty bad eating habits too. That's where all my problems started.
The results of those bad habits wouldn't show up for a while though, and once I got past my heart problems, my luck changed for the better. I met my wife, Rachel, and we got married and had children. With a family to provide for, I really had to concentrate on my career, and it wasn't long before all those hours in a restaurant kitchen, and my terrible eating habits, began to take their toll. I still remember the first time -- after stopping the steroids -- that my weight climbed back above 200 pounds. I wasn't happy about it, but I wasn't too worried either. I'm drawing the line here, I told myself. All it would take was a little willpower.
Well, it turned out willpower wasn't enough. By the time I turned twenty-five, I weighed more than 300 pounds, and by the end of the year I was in the hospital again -- after suffering a massive heart attack!
They kept me in the hospital for a couple weeks until my condition stabilized. While I was there, I lost over thirty pounds, and I remember thinking that I could just keep going if I put my mind to it. Plus the cardiologist was lecturing me every day about losing weight, and I had a family to support. When I left the hospital I was really determined to regain control of my eating -- and my life!
For another few years, I succeeded. The problem was that every time my weight went up and down, it seemed to go up a little more and down a little less. I was working at bigger and better restaurants, but I kept having to buy bigger and bigger pants too! I knew I had a problem -- a big problem -- but I just couldn't face up to it.
I told myself that all the great chefs were big. I remember the first time I saw Paul Prudhomme, the famous New Orleans chef who brought Cajun cooking into the mainstream. I thought to myself that as least I wasn't as big as he was. (It wasn't long, though, before I was.) In the meantime, I kept telling myself that a skinny chef just wouldn't look right. If his food was any good, how could he be so skinny?
It was then that I became the executive chef at the Phillips Petroleum Company's showcase restaurant, Windows on the Green. All the while, though, my health was failing. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson after the first heart attack, but I just kept eating myself sick, even though I'd had a long history of heart trouble. Each extra pound just made things worse. My back began to act up, and then my knees and my feet started bothering me too.
By the time I was thirty, my weight was affecting both my health and my career. Suffering from chest pains and shortness of breath, I started missing work. That didn't do much for my career. Each time I changed jobs, I promised myself I'd finally figure out a way to lose weight, but I just didn't know how to do it.
It was a miracle my heart didn't just give out -- for a whole bunch of reasons. Finally one of my doctors told me that if I didn't start losing weight right away I'd never see my next birthday. I'll never forget the way he leaned across his desk and looked into my eyes as he said it. I can still hear those words today. But even a sentence of death wasn't enough to make me change. I'd been wrapping myself in a protective blanket of food for so long that as soon as I wheeled myself out of his office all I wanted to do was get back home and eat some more. I was scared, and I was worried, but I just couldn't stop eating. I'd been doing everything the wrong way for so long that I didn't believe I could change.
In the years that followed that visit to the doctor's office, not only didn't I lose weight, I actually put more weight on. By that time, I could no longer find clothes that fit me. I couldn't ride on buses or on airplanes. In fact, there were cars I couldn't get into. And, because I couldn't stay on my feet for more than a few minutes at a time, I could no longer work. Towards the end, I left the house for only one reason -- to eat! (In other words, I only left the house for the same reason I was stuck in the house!) Besides, I knew what I looked like, and I was tired of hearing people make fun of me whenever I went. And just carrying that extra weight made everything so much harder. It was like carrying another man on my back -- and a big man too.
Finally, when my weight climbed so high that it kept me from working at all, I just gave up. I was on disability by then and basically just stayed home. I was really, really depressed. I'd really loved working in the kitchen. I had loved dreaming up new recipes and seeing them end up on the menu. That was the strangest part of it all. My work in the kitchen made other people very happy, but it made me and my family miserable.
I finally hit bottom in 1998. My father, who was still going strong in his nineties, died suddenly in Michigan. I was at my heaviest, and in poor health. I'd been out of work so long, that even if I'd been able to fit into an airline seat, I couldn't have afforded to go to his funeral. He was buried on my thirty-ninth birthday, and I couldn't be there.
How did it happen? How could someone with so much to live for almost eat himself to death? I didn't understand it myself, and everybody else had just one question for me.
"Why don't you just stop eating so much?"
Well, believe it or not, not eating was one of my biggest problems. That's right, not eating was one of my biggest problems! Go ahead and ask any chef how many meals he eats during a twelve- to eighteen-hour shift in a hot kitchen. I'll bet I know what the answer will be every time: not one! Sure, you pick here and there, but the truth is there's no time to eat. Plus, food just doesn't cut it once you're running on caffeine and adrenaline. I'd start every morning with a cup of coffee, then drink another cup on the way to work. As soon as I got to the restaurant, I'd make myself some more -- you guessed it -- coffee! By the time I felt like eating, we were deep into our prep work, and I couldn't take the time. And that, of course, was nothing compared to how crazy things got once the first customers arrived -- it was off to the races!
Of course I did eat, but I ate the worst sort of food at the worst time of the day.
I'd get home every night around midnight, drop my keys on the table, and go right to the refrigerator. Hungry and dehydrated, I'd start by drinking a couple quarts of juice (or, in other words, corn syrup, dye, and water). Then I'd really get to work. I'd eat whatever leftovers I could find, then grab myself a big bag of chips, and follow it all up with ice cream. Once I got started, I couldn't stop, especially after starving myself all day. I ate anything I could get my hands on: cookies, candy, cake, pizza, soda, crackers, pastries -- it didn't matter to me.
The result was that everything I ate was stored as fat. To understand this, it helps if you think of your body as a furnace. If you keep your body's furnace going all day, it'll burn everything you throw into it and provide you with plenty of energy. By not eating, you let the fire go out; if you throw another log on, it won't burn -- it'll just smoke! It's the same thing with eating. If you don't eat, your body's furnace cools down, and nothing you eat afterwards will burn -- it'll just get stored as fat! And if the food you eat is heavy in carbohydrates -- well, you're bound to get into trouble sooner or later.
I wasn't the only one in the family with a weight problem.
When I first met Rachel, she was so slender and full of life and energy that she was about the last person in the world you'd think would ever have a weight problem. She was even working in a commercial bakery, but nothing stuck to her ribs.
Twenty years and two kids later, she was carrying around seventy-five unnecessary pounds. Like most people who gain weight, she hadn't put it all on at once. She gained eighty-five pounds when she had Anthony, but she'd lost almost all the weight by the time Christian came along three years later. While pregnant with him, she was a little better about watching what she ate, so she only put on about fifty-five pounds. Those were the pounds, though, that she just couldn't seem to take off afterwards.
She did lose some weight right after Christian was born, and given what we know now, it seems pretty clear why. Our oldest son, Anthony, was really hyper as a little boy. After trying everything else, Rachel finally cut all the sugar out of his diet -- and I mean all of it! And guess what? Her plan worked! Anthony quieted down, and to her surprise, she lost weight! (In just a couple of months, she went from a size 14 to a size 12.) It didn't last long though. As he got older, Anthony got easier to deal with, Rachel slowly started allowing sugar back into the house again, and before she knew it, she was back up to a size 16. Finally, she just gave up trying. This is how she put it, in her own words.
I'd just gotten sick and tired of trying to lose weight all the time. It never worked -- all it did was make me feel worse. So one day I asked myself, why am I even bothering? I'm fat already. In fact, everybody in the family's fat, so we might as well just all be fat together.
From then on, she started eating whatever she wanted to and let all of us do the same. It's not surprising that we all continued to gain weight, especially if you listen to what Rachel was bringing home from the supermarket in those days.
Grocery shopping back then was all about how I could get the most amount of food for the least amount of money, and I didn't really care what kind of food it was. So to start with, I loaded the cart up with chips, pretzels, cookies, ice cream, and single-serving iced cakes. I also bought a lot of macaroni and cheese, mostly because it was Christian's favorite, but also because I thought it was good for him! I bought lots of regular pasta and big jars of store-bought spaghetti sauce. Every single time I went to the store I always bought big packages of hot dogs and, of course, hot dog buns to go with them. I bought boxes and boxes of sugary cereal and lots of potato salad too, you know, from the deli counter.
My favorite snack food in those days was cheddar cheese popcorn, and I always bought that in the big "Smart Bag." I also bought huge containers of powdered coffee creamer, the biggest bottles of ketchup I could find, and those gigantic tubs of margarine (which we went though almost as fast as ice cream)! I never bought name brands -- just store brands or generic stuff.
Bananas were our favorite fruit, except when oranges were in season. Then we ate them morning, noon, and night. I mean we were living in Florida, and we always knew someone who couldn't get rid of all of theirs, so we'd get them for free. I always made room in the cart for two or three gallons of fruit drink too. You know, the kind that costs practically nothing because all it really is is just colored corn syrup. Of course, I didn't know that then, or if I did, I didn't care.
Anyway, I always bought chicken, and ground beef too, but only whatever was on sale. I mostly bought frozen vegetables, because the fresh ones always seemed to be more expensive. In the summer months we did buy a lot of corn on the cob, but once again, only because it was always on sale. Our favorite vegetable by far was frozen French fries. I could never buy enough of them, the way George and the boys went through them. I bought gallons of milk too, and the cheapest white bread I could find. Of course, now I know that's the least nutritious kind, but back then I didn't know any better. And to go with the bread I bought the biggest jars of store-brand peanut butter and jelly I could find. Plus, I always bought lots of candy. That was my real downfall.
I couldn't wait for the holidays back then, because the day after everything was half off. So I just scooped it up by the armful, especially after Halloween and Easter.
It's pretty easy to see why Rachel had trouble losing weight, but her problem was nothing compared to those of our kids, especially Christian.
Christian weighed 300 pounds by the time he was fifteen. He was normal sized at birth, but by the time he went to kindergarten he was pretty chunky, and he just kept getting bigger and bigger every year. For him, every day started with sugar. He'd eat sweetened cereal, or doughnuts, or waffles, or pancakes just soaked in cheap syrup. Between meals he snacked on crackers, chips, pretzels, and candy. For dinner, in addition to whatever else was being served, he always loaded his plate with either pasta or potatoes.
As a result, he got heavier and heavier. You can imagine how the other kids treated him. He was bullied and teased and picked on from the moment he set foot in school. (He always told us that he wasn't, but we knew it couldn't be true. He finally admitted just how bad it was during an interview on a Food Network special in early 2004.)
I'm not surprised he kept it to himself. He was so ashamed of the way he looked back then that in the photographs we've got of him, he's always holding one of his hands up in front of the camera lens -- and holding something to eat in the other. As Rachel put it, by then we'd just given up. We were fat, and we weren't going to get any skinnier. Our point of view got so twisted that when our older son, Anthony, shot up to 225 pounds, none of us even thought of him as overweight. He just had a "little gut."
What could I say? I had gotten so big that the fronts of all my shirts began to wear through from the steering wheel rubbing against my stomach while I drove. I could barely walk -- forget about cooking the line. And then there were the things people said.
At first it was only little children, but gradually I began to hear adults whispering behind my back as well. By the time I went over 400 pounds, they didn't even bother to whisper. It was as if I wasn't a person anymore, just some dumb animal that couldn't understand anything.
I still remember the last flight I took (before I took the weight off). The stewardess took one look at me, dug out a seatbelt extension, then loudly enough for everybody on the plane to hear it, said: "Take this. You're going to need it."
I was so embarrassed I wanted to disappear, but of course that's the one thing you can't do when you weigh over 400 pounds. But that wasn't what hurt the most. I was dragging my family down with me, and I knew it.
One day, Anthony's girlfriend -- who had gone on a diet herself so she could fit into her prom dress -- left a beat-up paperback book on our kitchen table. That book was Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution.
A couple days went by before Rachel sat down at the kitchen table, picked up the book, and started leafing through it. I was sitting in my wheelchair in the living room, half asleep in front of the TV. Before long, I could hear her laughing in the kitchen. After a while, my curiosity got the better of me, and I called out and asked her what was so funny? Rachel started reading parts of the book aloud to me, and before long we were both laughing.
Who did he think he was kidding with this stuff? According to his book, it was suddenly all right to eat the foods everybody had been telling us not to eat -- foods like red meat, butter, cheese, and bacon. How could you eat food like that and lose weight? It was obviously a crock. Still, reading about all that mouthwatering food made us hungry, so we decided to give it a try -- you know, just for laughs. We didn't believe for a minute it would work, but what did we have to lose?
To be honest with you, we never actually even read Dr. Atkin's book. There were way too many tables and graphs -- and it was just too long. But we did leaf through the front of the book, and we got the idea pretty quickly. As Dr. Atkins put it, our bodies weren't designed to deal with all the high-carbohydrate, low-nutrition foods we were shoveling into them. The healthiest diet, he said, was one high in protein and fat, and super-low in carbs.
When we looked at what we ate during a normal day, it sure began to make sense. It seemed like we didn't eat anything but carbs from the time we got up in the morning to the time we went to bed. So we decided to give the Atkins Diet a try.
It wasn't easy at first. We had to say goodbye to a lot of our favorite foods -- bread and pasta topped the list -- but at least we could go back to using butter again and eating things like bacon. We became serious label readers too, and tried to cut as many carbs as we could out of our lives. Before we knew it, the pounds began to fall off.
To tell you the truth, even today it's hard to believe that low-carb worked so well for us, especially when we remember how we laughed at the idea in the beginning. While we've taken the low-carb ball and run with it in another direction, the truth is that without Dr. Atkins's help you wouldn't be reading this book today. He was, to put it simply, a great man. While the medical establishment was ignoring his work, and the U.S. government was all but calling him a quack, he continued to spread the good word about eating low-carb. His basic idea -- that the modern diet of the world's most industrialized countries consists of overprocessed, carbohydrate-heavy, sugar-laden junk -- is now widely acknowledged to be the truth.
To be honest, though, right from the beginning there were parts of the Atkins Diet that we just couldn't stomach. The first was giving up coffee. It may seem kind of silly to make such a big deal out of it, especially given all the weight I had to lose, but drinking coffee was really important to me. (And don't even try serving me decaf or a cup of coffee without half-and-half!)
Serving sizes were a big problem too. Atkins insisted on portion control, but some part of me rebelled against the idea that I couldn't have as much as I wanted. (I know that sounds crazy, because I was so desperate to lose weight, but that's how I felt.) Rachel and I knew that there was no way we could stick with low-carb if we couldn't eat as much as we wanted. Starving ourselves had never worked. If the problem was what we were eating -- not how much we were eating -- then why couldn't we eat as much "good food" as we wanted? So right from the beginning we just let ourselves have as much as we wanted -- as long as it was low-carb -- and just ignored the advice about portion control. More than any other reason, I think we succeeded in losing weight because we never felt deprived. (We may have been counting carbs, but we could always tell ourselves that we weren't on a diet!) The point is that when we sat down to eat, we knew we wouldn't have to get up before we were satisfied -- and so we looked forward to eating! Over time, as our bodies adjusted to life without massive daily doses of carbohydrates, we found ourselves eating less and less.
The other problem we had with Atkins, right from the beginning, was that it was just too boring. Almost as soon as we started, Rachel and I began trying to broaden the menu. The recipes just weren't exciting enough, especially when it came to fruits and vegetables. All in all, there were just too many No's on the Atkins plan, and we didn't want to go through the rest of our lives without so many of our favorite foods. What's life without pizza or lasagna? Who wants to watch a movie without something to munch on, or watch a football game without some kind of chips? What do you mean no pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? And don't even try to get between me and a slice of cheesecake!
Finally, we didn't like the idea of buying prepackaged mixes (which showed up in a lot of the Atkins recipes). While there's nothing wrong with buying ready-made low-carb products, as chefs it rubbed us the wrong way. The question was this: How could we eat low-carb and still enjoy our favorite foods? To answer that question, Rachel and I went to the one room in the house where we'd always done our best thinking -- the kitchen. There we returned to what we'd been doing for more than twenty-five years -- that is, inventing new recipes. And while we were at it, we invented a whole new way of eating. We call it Stella Style!
What's Stella Style?
Stella Style means eating fresh foods, using low-carb ingredients to reinvent your old favorites, and developing better eating habits. It means eating low-carb meals, snacks, and desserts that are quick, easy to make, and that use simple ingredients you can find in your local grocery store. Most of all, Stella Style means eating food you like and not worrying about how much you eat!
Stella Style means putting food first. As a veteran of restaurant kitchens, I firmly believe that food is meant to be enjoyed. If you don't like what you're eating, you're going to be bored and unhappy, and people who are bored and unhappy with what they're eating quickly go back to their old eating habits. You don't have to say goodbye to all your favorite foods -- you can recreate them Stella Style! All you have to do is use your imagination.
Once Rachel and I made up our minds to create a new style of eating, we kept at it. It took us many years and lots of trial and error to come up with the perfect Stella Style New York Ricotta Cheesecake, but now it's one of our most-requested recipes. (You'll find it on page 216.) We experimented with several dozen different recipes for pizza crusts before settling on one that was just right for our Low-Carb Pizza -- one that didn't use refined flour and yet satisfied our craving for this favorite snack (see page 58).
Don't get us wrong. We've certainly tried the low-carb alternatives that are available at the grocery stores, but we always felt ourselves coming back to our roots as chefs, bakers, and "professional" food lovers. We vastly prefer homemade alternatives; they're cheaper, they don't have preservatives, and because you make them yourself, you know exactly what you're getting. When you crave the taste of chocolate -- and trust me, I often do -- just check out my recipes for Chocolate Pecan Bon Bons, Chocolate Pecan Brownies, or Chocolate Ganache! I'd rather make it Stella Style than buy something at the store. All it takes is a few simple ingredients, a few minutes to prepare, and I feel better eating it because I know what's in it!
Holiday foods were our biggest creative challenge, but we figured out a way to have our Praline Pumpkin Pie -- and eat it too (along with the Traditional Oven-Roasted Turkey, Garlic Mock Mashed Potatoes, and all the other trimmings of real Thanksgiving feast). Hey, I admit it -- we had a lot of recipe failures before we found the keepers -- but we stuck with it anyway. Where there's a Stella will there's a Stella way! It wasn't too long before the whole family got into the act -- shopping, cooking, and inventing recipes Stella Style. What did we have to lose?
I'll tell you what we had to lose -- 560 pounds!
That's right, as a family in just two years we lost more than 560 pounds! I went from 470 pounds to 210 pounds -- and I'm not done yet! Rachel went from 205 pounds to 130 pounds. Christian dropped from 300 to 140 pounds, and Anthony went from 225 to 160 pounds.
Think about it: 560 pounds is more than most families of four weigh to start with! And what's more, we've kept the weight off for years.
Once we started eating Stella Style we never looked back. As the pounds melted away, we decided to spread the word. In 2001, Rachel and I started our own company, The Low-Carb Chefs, and designed a special program called the "Complete Low-Carb Home Chef Program" to help support those interested in living low-carb. We traveled all around Florida teaching people how to carb-proof their pantries (as we'll explain below), shop low-carb, and cook gourmet low-carb meals. We even went on an Atkins Cruise -- not as customers, but as gourmet chefs -- to teach passengers how to bring this delicious lifestyle home with them. We also began talking about Stella Style more and more on television, and in magazines.
In early 2004, I hosted The Low-Carb Revolution, a Food Network special about living low-carb. Then in May of the same year, Rachel and I launched our very own show on the Food Network: Low Carb and Lovin' It. Every week we share the secrets of Stella Style -- and some of our favorite recipes -- with millions of viewers.
The response to our show has been overwhelming! We get tons of letters and e-mails from viewers all across the country, and most of them say the same thing -- we want more! More Stella Style recipes, that is. Hey, we're happy to oblige!
Why Does Eating Stella Style Work?
The last thing I want to do is load you down with lots of technical information (if you're like me, you just want to eat, not go back to school), but I will share a few of the basics so you'll understand why eating Stella Style works so well.
Your body gets all the energy it needs from the calories in fat, protein, and carbohydrates. When it wants energy, it burns those calories. The easiest calories to burn come from carbohydrates, so that's what your body turns to first when it's searching for fuel.
Our own government recommends that the average person consume 300 grams of carbohydrates a day! This means that when your body's looking for something to use to make energy, it turns to those easy-to-burn carbs first, leaving that harder-to-burn fat right where you don't want it -- around your middle. A carb-heavy diet actually makes you hungrier and increases your cravings, so you keep eating, and that spare tire around your waist just gets bigger and bigger. That's why even if you count calories, or watch your portion size, when you're eating a lot of carbs you just keep getting bigger -- and hungrier!
So what do I mean when I say "low-carb"? Just like it sounds, a low-carb diet means you really cut back on the carbs. Instead of eating the government-recommended 300 grams of carbohydrates a day, you have somewhere between 20 and 60, depending on your own metabolism and how close you are to your desired weight. Once you start eating low-carb, you'll quickly find out what works best for you. Everyone's different. My point is that you don't need to get all caught up with numbers when you eat Stella Style. In fact, when you eat low-carb Stella Style, you don't need to count carbs. Ever. If you follow the guidelines in this book and learn to make these recipes, you'll eat until you feel satisfied, without ever having to worry about how much food is on your plate. You'll be eating fewer carbs a day so that your body will start to burn fat instead of carbohydrates for energy -- and that's when the unwanted pounds will start to melt away.
Sure, in order for low-carb to work you've got to cut back on some foods and avoid others. You've got to break your dependence on high-carbohydrate processed foods, and that includes breads, cereals, crackers, chips, pastas, sugary sodas and juices, desserts packed with sugar, and certain fruits and vegetables. But that doesn't mean your meals have to put you to sleep!
How Does Stella Style Differ From The Atkins Diet?
The biggest difference between Stella Style and Atkins is that I think about eating from the perspective of a chef, not a doctor. It always seemed kind of funny to me that so many of the low-carb cookbooks out there were written by doctors. It's not that I have something against doctors -- in fact, if it weren't for two or three really good doctors, I wouldn't be here today. But if you wouldn't have your tonsils taken out in a kitchen, why would you use recipes that come out of a doctor's office? Stella Style is about getting you out of the doctor's office and back into the kitchen where you belong!
This is a cookbook, not a science book! Sure, we're here to tell you how we broke our dependence on high-carb junk, and lost weight doing it, but don't look for any chapters about the science of low-carb here. You can find that information in any one of a hundred places on the Internet, or in your library, or in a bookstore. I want you to keep this book in your kitchen, not in your office!
Think about it this way. Have you ever bought a computer, opened the 200-page manual, and after trying and failing to finish even one chapter, just gone ahead and put the computer together without it? I don't know about you, but I use my computer all the time, and I never read the manual!
The point is you don't need a book full of tables to learn how to lead a low-carb lifestyle. It's just not as complicated, or as boring, as some people make it out to be. You won't find any menus, tables, or items to check off in this book. Who needs them? You don't use salt and pepper to add up the bill when you eat out, do you? Then why would you need a calculator to eat?
If you want to know how many carbs are in a particular food, especially if you want to make substitutions of your own, check out one of the many carbohydrate counters available in bookstores or on the web. My goal is to get you to forget about counting carbs, or calories, or portion size. Still, I understand as well as anyone that it might take a while for you to get used to eating Stella Style. So I've included the net carbohydrates per serving of every recipe in this book so you can get a feel for how low-carb these recipes really are. But you don't need any other guideline beyond these simple rules: Eat when you're hungry, and stop when you're satisfied. What could be simpler?
You're plenty smart enough to make your own, informed decisions about what you eat. Besides, we're not proposing anything new -- most of mankind has been living a low-carb lifestyle for tens of thousands of years. Simply put, low carb is about fresh food. You don't need a Ph.D. in science to understand that. Just eat fresh foods! It's that simple! And when you have to shop for foods with a longer shelf life, read the labels! That's the only way you can keep products with added sugars -- which, as I'll explain, hide behind all sorts of different names -- as well as hydrogenated oils and "trans" fats (the "bad" fats) -- out of your shopping cart and off your pantry shelves. Everything you need to know is right there on the side of the box or the can (although I'll bet the manufacturers of all that high-carbohydrate junk wish it weren't). And watch out for low-fat foods that are just packed with sugar!
Finally, before we move on to the information you'll need to get started, I have one more thing to say. I wrote this book because eating low-carb literally saved my life, but I can't make that decision for you. If you want to start living a low-carb lifestyle, talk to your doctor and get the go-ahead first. If you decide to give it a try, just remember that I'm here to support you by sharing the story of what living low-carb has done for my family and me.
Getting Ready for Stella Style
The first thing you've got to do before starting Stella Style is learn how to carb-proof your pantry. (If you'd been living in Florida three or four years ago, Rachel and I could have done this for you, because it was one of the many services we provided when we first began working as the Low-Carb Chefs. Now, I'm afraid you're going to have to do it yourselves.)
The good news is that it couldn't be simpler. Just start at one end of the pantry, start filling boxes with all the high-carbohydrate foods you've been eating for years, and take them to your local food bank. How do you know what to keep and what to toss? Just read the labels. Here are the basic rules.
Rule #1: Get Rid of the Hidden Sugar and Bring in Sugar Substitutes
The first thing to go is all that stuff that's filled with sugar -- high in carbohydrates, low in good nutrition. Of course, this means getting rid of that bag of sugar, but don't stop there because you'll find sugar in a ton of foods. The hardest part of finding the sugar is that manufacturers don't always call it "sugar" on the label. You'll find sugar hiding behind dozens of different names. I can't even list them all here, but watch out for: sugar, syrup, corn syrup, HFCS (or high-fructose corn syrup), fructose, maltose, dextrose, and sucrose. You'll also want to keep natural sugar sources such as brown sugar, honey, molasses, and maple syrup, off your shelves, at least until you reach your maintenance weight.
Once you start reading labels, you're going to be pretty surprised to find out where all that sugar's been hiding. Sure, you expect to find it in candy, and in cakes and pies, and sugary children's cereals. But once you start looking, you'll find it in ketchup and other tomato products, condiments, salad dressings, deli meats -- even in vanilla extract! Take all of that stuff out of your pantry and fridge right now. You're going to substitute products that say "no sugar added" right on the label. (But even here, you've got to be careful. You'll find plenty of chocolate recipes in this cookbook, but make sure you use unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder -- not "no-sugar-added" cocoa mix!)
Meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish are naturally low in carbs, and they're a big part of eating Stella Style. However, if you buy deli meats, you'll have to ask the people behind the counter to give you only "no-sugar-added" sliced turkey and the like. And watch out for hot dogs, bologna, and other meat products; they can be chock full of fillers that are high in carbs. Read the labels!
Go through your pantry and fridge and get rid of those drinks filled with sugar. Instead fill those shelves with diet soda (the kind that has no calories, not the kind that boasts "half the calories," since it's filled with carbs). And don't forget Crystal Light, seltzer (plain or flavored), and club soda too.
Did you know that sugar hides in beer and wine too? Even the new low-carb beers are higher in carbs than dry white and red wine, while hard liquor is totally carb-free. However, keep reading those labels. Dark rum, for example, almost always has added sugars. And keep this in mind too: Alcohol is a fuel for your body, just like fat and carbohydrates, so if you're drinking a lot, your body won't burn as much fat.
Once you've tossed out the sugar in your pantry, on your refrigerator shelves, and in all the cans, bottles, and boxes where it's been hiding, bring in our favorite sugar substitute, Splenda. For baking, you'll need a measure-for-measure sugar substitute to get the right proportions in the recipe. If using any other sugar substitutes, follow the directions on the package, keeping in mind that you cannot cook with most other substitutes. Again, Rachel and I have found that Splenda does the best job in any recipe that involves heating or baking.
Rule #2: Low-Fat Is Not Your Friend
If you're like Rachel and me, you probably thought that filling your fridge and pantry with low-fat foods would help you lose weight. Wrong! All those "low-fat" foods in the fridge are packed with sugar, and are therefore high in carbohydrates! Get rid of 'em! Don't cheat here because the hardest part of changing the way you eat is keeping the wrong foods out of reach. Think about it. The cravings you've developed over the years are not going to disappear overnight. Until you re-educate your body, you just have to stay away from the junk.
From now on, your refrigerator is going to have only full-fat dairy products. And while you're poking around in the fridge, don't worry about eggs; they're definitely included in Stella Style.
Rule #3: "Diet" Doesn't Always Mean "Low-Carb"
Have you stashed a bag of diet candy on your shelf to ease those cravings? Uh oh -- go read the label. Most diet candy, like a lot of diet foods, is high in carbs. Toss it. But don't worry, I won't make you give up your sweets, you'll learn to make them yourselves in a very few minutes -- Stella Style!
Rule #4: Watch Out for Bad Fats
Certain fats are great for Stella Style. In general, you want stuff that's high in monounsaturated fats and oils. When you cook Stella Style, you'll use canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil for most recipes. You want to stay away from hydrogenated oils and "trans" fats. The good news is these are easy to avoid when you're eating Stella Style, because you won't find these in fresh foods, just in overprocessed ones.
Rule #5: Out with the White Flour
Eating Stella Style means getting rid of all the highly processed, overrefined white flour products that are probably a big part of your diet. That means saying goodbye to the white flour on your shelf, as well as everything made from it: bread, pasta, crackers, pretzels, snack chips, cereal, cakes, pies, muffins, and mixes of all kinds. (Whole wheat flour is allowed during maintenance.)
Rice and potatoes are also extremely high in carbs, so you won't find them lurking in any of my recipes. Hunt them down in your pantry, as well as all the foods made out of them, like potato chips, rice cereals, snacks, and so forth.
You may be feeling a little panicky by now. Don't worry! I promise you that you won't miss these high-carb foods once you're eating Old-Fashioned Egg Mock Potato Salad, Deep-Fried Onion Rings, and Sausage and Herb Stuffing!
Remember, Rachel was a professional baker. So even though I'm asking you to toss out your white flour, I'd never ask you to do without muffins, pizza, and our own mock pasta! You'll find recipes for them all here! Just bring in the soy flour (which you should keep in the fridge or freezer), and the wheat or oat bran, and you'll be ready for a whole new world of baking!
Rule #6: Choose the Right Fruits and Veggies
Fresh fruits and vegetables are a huge part of eating Stella Style, and I'd never ask you to give them up. However, some fruits and vegetables are naturally so high in carbs that I don't include them in my recipes.
I love fresh fruits and vegetables because they're higher in nutrition than canned products (which can also be full of salt or other additives you don't need). So keep plenty of the right fruits and veggies on hand!
Rule #7: Think Alternatives
Stella Style doesn't mean doing without, it means finding creative ways to reinvent the foods you love. The key is keeping the right stuff on hand, so you can whip up a Stella Style recipe whenever -- or long before -- the next craving strikes!
Remember, if you have any doubts about which foods should go and which foods can stay, just read the labels!
Grocery Shopping Stella Style
The next thing you've got to do for Stella Style is to change the way you shop for food. The answer, you'll be happy to hear, is simple: Shop the outer aisles of the supermarket! That's almost all there is to it. Just grab a cart and work your way around the exterior walls of the store. That's where you'll find the strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, the cantaloupe and honeydew melon. That's where you'll find the broccoli and cauliflower, the spinach and mushrooms, and all the wonderful varieties of lettuce. That's where you'll find the fresh dairy aisle, with cartons of whole milk and heavy cream, and the whole-milk cheeses like Cheddar, provolone, mozzarella, ricotta, and cream cheese. That's where you'll find the beef, chicken, turkey, pork, and fish. That's where you'll find the frozen foods, too, and lots of them are low-carb! Just read the labels! That's also where you'll find the cold cuts (don't forget to look for "no sugar added") and in the supermarkets that sell them the dry red and white wines.
If you stick to the outer aisles, there's really only one place you have to stay alert, and that's the fresh produce and fruit aisle. Other than that, all you really have to remember are these three things: Shop the outer aisles, read the labels, and check your handy carb counter if you have any questions!
Of course, you're not always going to eat at home, so even if you've carb-proofed your house and started shopping the outer aisles, you still need to think about what you're going to order when you eat out.
One of the most frequently asked questions we get on our Internet message board is this: Did you change the restaurants you went to once you started low-carbing? The answer -- and it's a big surprise to most people -- is NO! We ate at exactly the same restaurants we used to -- we just ordered differently. Restaurants with buffets, for instance, were one of our favorite places to eat, and believe me, even though we were low-carbing, we still kept going! All we did was switch the kinds of food we ate.
In the old days, we loved buffets because you never had to wait to be served, and for someone who's always hungry, that's a big advantage. (Plus you could hide how much you were eating.) We used to load up on the bread, and rolls, and potatoes, to say nothing of the desserts, but once we began low-carbing we just started at a different place in the serving line. We ate lobster, prime rib, grilled fish, and clams or mussels. There was always turkey, too, and ham, and rotisserie chicken. There were roasts, chicken wings, and spareribs -- to say nothing of the salad bar, which was almost all low-carb. The truth is that we were already eating a lot of low-carb foods, but we put so much high-carb foods on top of them that it didn't matter. So all we had to do was avoid the things that had gotten us into so much trouble in the first place. We stayed away from the desserts and didn't even go near the pasta, rice, or potatoes. The funny thing is that after a few weeks went by, we didn't go back as often for refills. Once our metabolisms began to change, we just didn't need as much food to feel full.
The truth is, as our carbohydrate cravings slowly faded away, we started eating at home more and more. Sure, we still go out from time to time (who doesn't want a break every once in a while?) but the truth is that our house is so full of good food -- a lot of it already prepared, frozen, and ready to eat -- that it's often easier for us to eat at home than it is to go out! Here's another way to look at it. Now we go out to eat only when we want to, not because there's nothing in the fridge that interests us!
Cooking ahead is another critical part of Stella Style. Try doubling or tripling your favorite recipes and then freezing the leftovers! You'll never know how many times, especially during the first few months we were low-carbing, we were saved by being able to reach into the freezer and pull out some Turkey Vegetable Soup, or Meat Lasagna, or best of all, a low-carb dessert like Neapolitan Parfaits or Chocolate Ganache! You know what you like to eat, and with just a little help, you can fill your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer with low-carb meals and snacks that will keep your cravings under control.
Start by making a list of all the foods your family likes, especially proteins and veggies. Proteins should be from all sources, not just red meats. Chicken, fish, seafood, pork -- they're all fair game! As for vegetables, sooooo many of them are allowed on low-carb, but you just don't hear about them! In fact, way more are allowed than aren't! Broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, spaghetti squash, lettuce, celery, cauliflower, eggplant, zucchini, and garlic are all Stella Style vegetables, as well as tomatoes and onions in moderation.
After listing all the foods your family really likes, identify the ones that are naturally low in carbs, and then try and reinvent the ones you just can't do without! For instance, you can add Cheddar cheese or chopped veggies to a meat loaf instead of bread crumbs, or "bread" pork chops with seasoned soy flour. You can use sugar substitutes, whipped cream, soy flour, and unsweetened chocolate to recreate your favorite desserts. You can use cauliflower to create mock mashed potatoes and spaghetti squash as a substitute for pasta. We'll go into this in more detail in the recipes themselves, but for now, just remember this: There's almost always a way to reinvent your favorite foods Stella Style, using a little imagination and some low-carb ingredients from your supermarket or health food store.
Finally, before we go on to the recipes, there's just one more thing to cover. Some of the recipes that follow require special equipment (always included at the bottom of the list of ingredients). Most of the equipment really isn't that special at all (like six-cup muffin tins, springform pans, grill pans, and outdoor grills); you've probably already got them on hand. Feel free to use nonstick cookware and bakeware, even if not specifically called for, in place of ordinary muffin tins and baking sheets. When cooking Stella Style, just use your head and feel free to substitute food or equipment whenever and wherever it makes sense.
Stella Style: A Lifestyle, Not a Diet
Once you get going, I'll bet you're going to be surprised at how easy it is to stick to this new way of eating! Remember, Stella Style isn't a diet. It's a lifestyle -- a lifestyle devoted to healthy, satisfying eating habits and good food! And, once you get started, you'll be surprised at how quickly everyone else wants to join in too.
Our son Christian is a perfect example. When Rachel and I made the switch to low-carb, we never once thought about trying to force it on him. (By this time, Anthony was grown up and living on his own, so we didn't put any pressure on him either.) Anyway, for those of you out there who have teenagers, you know they'll never accept anything you try to force down their throats. Worse still, if you tell them something's good for them, you might as well forget about it! So even though we let him decide what he wanted to eat -- or maybe because we let him decide -- Christian eventually started picking at all the low-carb foods on the table, and before you know it, he was hooked. He just couldn't stay away from all that delicious food!
Then again, who would turn down a sizzling slice of Low-Carb Pizza, just dripping with cheese and pepperoni? Or a plate of Anaheim Shrimp Scampi sautéed in olive oil and garlic? Or a big helping of Stella Style New York Ricotta Cheesecake, with only six net carbs? Does that sound like a diet to you? And trust me, I'm just getting started.
Maybe you'd prefer a crisp Key West Caesar Salad (topped off with your choice of shrimp, sirloin, chicken, or salmon). Or perhaps you're in the mood for garden-fresh Grilled Summer Vegetables. Or how about a plate of Tequila Chicken (one of my all-time favorites)? And don't forget all the low-carb, high-protein foods that you've been warned to avoid for years -- foods like butter, eggs, and bacon. You can eat them all to your heart's content when you're low-carbing Stella Style.
If you're anything like me, your mouth is starting to water right now, and that's the whole point! Stella Style is all about the food! If you feel obligated to eat certain foods, instead of being able to eat the foods you really want, before long you'll go back to eating the way you used to -- the way that made you reach for this book in the first place! Once again, all you've got to do is learn how to make the right food choices, reinvent your favorite recipes using low-carb ingredients, and develop healthier eating habits. Never forget, when you're low-carbing Stella Style, you don't have to quit eating until you're full.
It almost sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Well, just remember this -- we did it. We did what all the others are just talking about! My family and I lost hundreds of pounds and, what's more, we've kept the weight off for years! So just start turning the pages and learn how to do it yourself -- Stella Style!
Copyright © 2005 by George Stella, Inc.