Interviews / August 16, 2012

Nancy S. Hughes

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Birthday: February 15, 1950

Location: Daphne, Alabama

Favorite TV show: BBC’s “As Time Goes By”

Her Web site:

Diet Detective: How did you become interested in cooking?

Nancy S. Hughes: After I had my second child, I wanted to lose those last baby pounds and got on a liquid diet, but after six days of my “meals in a glass” I was ready to eat a tree! The one thing I liked about the liquid diet though was that it was consistently low calorie, so I started making a list of what I could eat that was low in calories and started tinkering. That tinkering grew into a passion over time and the more I researched, the more I was inspired, the more I experimented, the more I gave to the dog at first…until I learned how to cook a new way. That passion still continues because I have a wide variety of services that keep me stimulated, and curious to learn more!

Diet Detective: Tell me about your food philosophy.

Nancy S. Hughes: I feel as though people think they are deprived if they eat healthy. Actually it’s the opposite, there are more choices, more techniques, much more interesting combinations of flavors and it makes eating more adventurous and fun!

Too many events happen around food. Those times are the memory makers. There’s no need to sacrifice the fun, just broaden your choices and cook together — you’ll never forget that!

Diet Detective: How do you come up with so many different recipes? You have created more than 4000 — what inspires you? And how do you go about creating a healthy recipe?

Nancy S. Hughes: It’s like anything you do a lot — the more you do, the more creative you get, it stirs your imagination. When I first started out, I would dissect every recipe that remotely sounded interesting. I poured over each one, examining it, trying to interpret the end result by reading every step, every ingredient, and trying to understand the process. But now, I can walk down a grocery aisle, glance at a photo, read an unrelated food article and a recipe is born. My mind feeds off everything, every meal, every event. It’s hard to explain, but I get so excited — it’s like going into a paint store and your imagination goes in a million different directions. I used to come up with recipes in my sleep, I’d keep a pad and pencil close by. Now, I’m known for note taking on napkins, match covers, receipts — even airline stubs!

Another way I’m inspired is by the people I write for. For example, right now, I’ve just finished a book for the American Diabetes Association, 15–Minute Diabetic Meals. The recipes are all diabetic–friendly recipes, meeting the nutritional guidelines set by the American Diabetes Association, but they are recipes that the whole family will enjoy which saves time, energy, and money! So it’s a bit of a challenge, but one that I like because I’m developing recipes that will help people and their loved ones stay healthy — now that’s inspiration!

Diet Detective: Would you mind sharing one of your favorite healthy recipes?

Nancy S. Hughes: I have so many favorites, but I think I want to share one of my favorite salads. I grew up with iceberg lettuce and a simple dressing — often bottled dressing. When I was old enough to drive myself to the store, I began experimenting with salads and the love affair with salads blossomed! Now that’s one of my most favorite courses of the meal! This is out of my latest book: 15–Minute Diabetic Meals with the American Diabetes Association.

Tomatoes With Avocado–Pickled Jalapeño Cucumbers

1 ripe medium avocado, seeded and chopped

1/2 medium cucumber, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons (about 8 slices) pickled jalapeño slices

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 medium tomatoes, cut in four slices each

Combine all ingredients, except the tomatoes, in a medium bowl. Arrange two tomato slices on each of four salad plates. Spoon equal amounts of the avocado mixture on top of the tomato slices. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, if desired.

Serves 4

Diet Detective: What’s always in your fridge?

Nancy S. Hughes: Fresh lemons! You can use the juice and the rind to add a pop of freshness to soups, salads, salad dressings, marinades, sandwiches, or just a simple piece of grilled “whatever”!

Diet Detective: What food would we never find in your fridge?

Nancy S. Hughes: Beef liver.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy ingredient?

Nancy S. Hughes: Olives…any variety. A little goes a long way in flavor and gives personality to just about any dish (except desserts!)

Diet Detective: Last meal?

Nancy S. Hughes: If you’re asking what my last meal ever would be, I think I’d have to say “none”…because I would spend so much time trying to make up my mind, I’d die from the stress of making a final decision — I like so many things! But probably, if really pushed, I’d say something with olives!

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite “junk food?”

Nancy S. Hughes: Potato chips and onion dip.

Diet Detective: Tell us the smartest and most unusual healthy cooking tip?

Nancy S. Hughes: There are two that I use all of the time: 1. Removing a dish from the heat and folding in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, or reduced fat buttery spread. This not only rounds out the flavors but gives another dimension of flavor that’s tasted immediately without adding too much fat. 2. Adding a small amount of sugar to a tomato-based dish, such as chilis, marinaras, soups and stew. The small amount of sugar cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, softening the flavors —something that a fat would do — but without the fat. It doesn’t add sweetness, but “curbs” the sharpness of the acidic tomatoes!

Diet Detective: Most important healthy cooking tool?

Nancy S. Hughes: Actually, there are two — silicone spatulas and the microplane. Silicone spatulas are basically rubber spatulas that can “stand the heat’! Use them with nonstick skillets and saucepans to scrape the bottoms and sides, collecting all of the concentrated flavors that accumulate while cooking. They are also gentler on ingredients when stirring and tossing and prevent the ingredients from breaking down too much. I have quite a number of them on hand — and they’re inexpensive, too! The microplane (or fine grater) is great for grating the peel from a citrus fruit and finely grating hard cheeses, fresh gingerroot, and even garlic! It helps to add tons of concentrated flavor to a dish with minimal effort — I’m all about minimal effort in everything I do!

Diet Detective: What was your worst summer job?

Nancy S. Hughes: Oh, my summer jobs were fun, it was when I first got out on my own as a designer. I worked in the antique department of a large department store. The furnishings were beautiful, but not enough “action” going on. I dusted more than I sold or greeted people. It was very frustrating — I love being creative, busy, with people, and “commotion”…it was just too quiet!

Diet Detective: As a child you wanted to be…

Nancy S. Hughes: Well, I knew I wanted to do something that fulfilled me and do it in a creative vein. I knew I wanted to be a wife and mother — but that’s where the domestic side stopped! I thought I wanted to be an interior designer in a big city, definitely not anything related to cooking or medical. So, after I tried my hand at interior design in a big city, I semi–retired after 4 years to start our family, and fell passionately, insatiably in love with the challenge of cooking healthy, without being “limited”. Wow, what a change of direction. But I’ve been able to incorporate my education in interior design with the creative, art side of food and presentation!

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