There’s something special in Jessica Seinfeld’s brownies. Something your mom might not have put in hers. Something green and leafy.
That’s right – there’s spinach in her brownies. Carrots too, actually.
It started out as a way for the wife of the Seinfeld star to appease her children’s persnickety appetites while sneaking in their daily dose of fruits and vegetables by pureeing them and adding them to their favorite foods. What emerged was a cookbook,
Deceptively Delicious, a controversy and a commendation from the one-woman media-conglomerate, Oprah Winfrey.
Sophomore Erin Motzenbecker first heard of Seinfeld’s cooking style while watching Winfrey’s daytime talk show. Intrigued by the recipes’ unique pairing of vegetables and comfort food, Motzenbecker decided to try them out.
“It seemed like a good idea,” Motzenbecker said. “If you have pasta, then you’re probably not going to eat a vegetable with it. But if you puree a vegetable and put it in the sauce, you get both. You can’t taste the difference.”
USF Senior Dietician Kim May recommends that students consume 1 cup of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily, and feels this is an unconventional – and perfectly healthy – way of accomplishing that goal. Each serving of Seinfeld’s scrambled eggs, for example, provides 1/4 cup of pureed cauliflower.
While the addition of these purees into starch-dominated meals increases the nutritional value, consumers must be wary of how many nutrients are lost during the cooking process.
“Vegetables do not lose their nutritional value if they are mechanically altered – sliced, chopped, or pureed,” May said. “If they are cooked for long time periods, however, they can lose some of their nutrients. Steaming, microwaving or cooking for only short time periods can help reduced nutrient losses.”
Joy Bauer, the nutritionist who contributed to Deceptively Delicious, advises in the book to “cook vegetables just until tender” to avoid diminishing the nutrients.
These “stealth vegetable” recipes can also help people consume fewer calories in one sitting. A Penn State study served children two types of pasta – one traditionally prepared, and one with pureed cauliflower and broccoli in its sauce. The children ate the same amount of pasta, but researchers found that they consumed 17 percent fewer calories when eating the vegetable pasta, making this a viable option for students trying to diet healthfully.
Between classes, work and school projects, though, finding time to puree and prepare Seinfeld’s dishes may be a challenge for some students. On her blog at Oprah.com, Seinfeld suggests substituting made-from-scratch meals with boxed goods, or swapping vegetable puree – which can be hard to come by since “food processor” isn’t on the list of dorm-friendly items – for baby food. If baby food is used instead of a puree, Seinfeld recommends reading the labels to avoid brands that have thinned out their purees with water, as this will reduce the meal’s overall nutritional value.
For Motzenbecker, the issue isn’t the time it takes to puree foods – it’s finding the right time to puree.
“It’s not time-consuming at all,” she said. “However, I wake up early in the morning, and my roommates don’t. The processor’s really loud and I don’t want to wake anybody up. That’s my problem, actually.”
After cooking with Deceptively Delicious, Motzenbecker has tweaked the concept to apply it to meals beyond the recipes the book offers.
“If I don’t use a recipe that’s physically in that book, I’ll puree whatever and put it in whatever,” she said. “Or I’ll be like, ‘Well, she used this to make deviled eggs, so I’ll use that to make egg salad,’ or something like that.”
Motzenbecker isn’t alone in finding her own variations of these “deceptive” meals. The concept of integrating vegetable puree into popular foods is nothing new. In fact, shortly after Seinfeld’s Oct. 8 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, some critics complained that the work
borrowed heavily from Missy Lapine’s The Sneaky Chef – a similarly premised cookbook that had been published five months before Seinfeld’s, according to Amazon.com.
“(The claim that the concept of my book is not original) is absolutely 100 percent true – mothers and grandmothers have been doing it for
decades,” wrote Seinfeld on her Web site, Deceptivelydelicious.com. “However, the idea for my book was my own, and every recipe in the book came from my own experimentation, with my own family, in my own kitchen.”
Other books, such as The Art of Hiding Vegetables, have been around since 2005, and Cookie Magazine’s monthly “Sneak It In” feature provides recipes advocating the same concept.
Regardless of the idea’s origins, this covert cooking method could be a good way to console yourself after Thanksgiving dinner has forced you to loosen your belt a few notches. After all, those spinach-and carrot-laden brownies are vitamin-enriched and relatively low-calorie.