Tomorrow is Valentine's Day.
Instead of heart-shaped, we're going heart-smart with Ted and Lori Larizzio of Jim Thorpe. The fact that this pair is the sweetest couple I've ever met (they were high school sweethearts and have known each other since kindergarten!), makes it a slam dunk.
When I came up with the idea for this food column, Lori was one of the first people I wanted to feature. After meeting her and Ted when I did a story about them in May of 2011 (http://www.tnonline.com/2011/may/06/keeping-his-memory-alive ), we became Facebook friends.
Several times a week, Lori posts photos of dishes she and Ted make sometimes it's dinner for the family and other times it's jars of homemade sauerkraut for dozens of friends.
I sent Lori a message on Facebook, asking if she and Ted would like to share one of their recipes. Within minutes I had an answer: "Yes!!!!!"
While the basis of this column is "comfort food," Ted and Lori prove it doesn't just mean high calorie dishes.
"Part of the comfort I see in food is the comfort we, Ted and I, get when we open our home and feed others," says Lori. "It's a different level of comfort than typically thought about. Cooking helps us heal. Being busy in our kitchen ... serving others ... just doing those things, has been a vital part of our recovery from the trauma of losing our boy.
"It's something we love to do ... keeps us close doing it ... and provides comfort in our hearts," she adds.
The Larizzios are a close-knit family. They are the parents of two boys, Jordan, who is 27, and Adam, who passed away unexpectedly three years ago at the age of 22.
If possible, that tragedy brought them even closer. Sharing meals was always a priority. Supporting and taking care of each other has become even more important, and that includes taking care of themselves by eating healthier and exercising.
Several years ago Lori learned her cholesterol was too high and she needed medication to help bring it down. As a nurse, she knew she had to do more.
"I needed to live a healthier lifestyle," she admits. "It scared me."
Sticking to a healthy diet, which includes lots of vegetables and tweaking recipes to use less fat, Lori's cholesterol has dropped over 100 points.
She's hoping that soon, she will no longer need medication.
In addition to lowering her cholesterol, Lori has lost weight. Ted and Jordan have as well, with Jordan really benefiting from mom and dad's efforts in the kitchen.
"I was never a breakfast eater," says Jordan, adding that Lori eventually succeeded in getting him to start his day the right way.
"Since I started eating breakfast, I felt more energized as the day went along."
And that's not all. Over the past three years, by just eating more healthfully amping up the fruits and vegetables and lowering, not cutting out, the fat content Jordan has lost close to 70 pounds.
He attributes his success to "Lori's healthy cooking."
I'm here to tell you as well, that Ted and Lori's healthy cooking is more than just healthy, it is incredibly delicious. Not only did I get to photograph these two in their homey country kitchen, but we sat down to this meal together and I couldn't hide my amazement that anything that low-calorie, could taste so good.
There is nothing that even hints at "diet" with Ted's Teriyaki Drizzled Chicken Tenders. In fact, with the crunch of crispy fried chicken, and a drizzle of sweet Asian glaze, it tastes more decadent than diet.
Apparently, I'm not the first to say so, as the recipe earned Ted bragging rights at an annual neighborhood cook-off in Jim Thorpe.
Ted came up with this recipe, specifically for the event, and came home with first prize.
Lori's recipes are also low in calories, but loaded with flavor. Plenty of healthy veggies, a few dashes of olive oil, and a splash of cider vinegar, lemon juice or sesame oil, make these side dishes so scrumptious. Try them; you won't be disappointed!
Check out Comfort & Joy every Wednesday in the TIMES NEWS. Past recipes are available online at http://www.tnonline.com/lifestyle/comfort-and-joy .
Previous columns include several soups, such as Corn and Potato Chowder, French Onion Soup, Zuppa Rustica and "What to do with that ham bone" Soup; as well as Twisted Crullers Sweet Dough doughnuts.
Teriyaki Drizzled Chicken Tenders
For the chicken:
1 pound boneless/skinless chicken strips
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup olive oil
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup diced chives
For the teriyaki sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup brown sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/8 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Heat olive oil in frying pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine flour, garlic powder, onion powder, Old Bay, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Put the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl. Combine the eggs and water in a third shallow bowl.
Coat the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, then the egg mixture, followed by the bread crumb mixture. Place in hot oil in frying pan until bread crumbs brown. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to remove excess oil. Place on a baking sheet. Bake until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear. Remove from oven.
While the chicken is baking, combine the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepan over low heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens and bubbles.
Drizzle sauce over chicken tenders, top with diced chives and serve.
Serving size two strips; estimated calories 300 per serving for chicken, and 35-40 calories per tablespoon of sauce.
Lori's Sautéed Spinach Mix
1 bag spinach
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice and zest
2-3 tricolored bell peppers, cut into thin strips
1 medium red onion, cut into thin strips
Heat pan, add oil and butter. After butter melts, combine garlic, salt and pepper. Add onion and bell peppers until softened. Add spinach and lemon juice. Top with lemon zest. Cook until spinach reduces and serve.
Approximately 100 calories per serving.
Lori's Asian Slaw
In a glass dish, combine:
1 12-ounce bag coleslaw mix or broccoli slaw mix
1 12-ounce bag broccoli, cauliflower and carrot mix (chopped finely)
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup slivered almonds
Salt and pepper to taste
In another bowl, whisk together:
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Pour the dressing over the slaw mixture, stir well. Top with parsley or chives. Refrigerate and serve chilled.
Approximately 90 calories per serving.