Hungry Girl is back -- and she's got French toast
To the uninitiated, "Hungry Girl 1-2-3" might seem like an unusual title for a cookbook. But for Lisa Lillien's legion of fans, the title says it all.
"Hungry Girl" is the brand. "And the recipes are 1-2-3 easy," said Lillien, during a break at her Woodland Hills test kitchen, which also serves as the headquarters for the "Hungry Girl" empire, which revolves around daily e-mail blasts giving nearly a million subscribers the lowdown on calorie-conscious noshing.
With her book due out at the end of this month, Lillien is preparing to embark on a mini book signing and publicity tour with stops at the Grove in Los Angeles, Costa Mesa, New York and Arizona, as well as a number of TV appearances. Meanwhile, she's preparing to launch yet another cookbook, on cocktail recipes and party foods, set to hit shelves in June, just in time for summer.
Lillien's last cookbook -- "Hungry Girl: 200 Under 200," as in 200 recipes under 200 calories -- debuted at the No. 1 spot on the New York Times' bestsellers list. So, of course, it all raises the question: Can lightning strike twice? Or thrice?
Lillien isn't doing any prognosticating. She says it's all a numbers game and she's not playing: Some weeks, it takes as few as 12,000 books sold to make a dent in the top of the NYT's bestseller list; other weeks -- if an Oprah-endorsed book is in the running -- that same book wouldn't have a chance. Instead, she says, she just wants to keep focused on giving readers tasty, calorie-conscious recipes and the inside track on a variety of topics -- nutritional information on menus as well as the best new products on the market.
"If it's anywhere on the list, anywhere at all, I'd be thrilled, but it's just exciting to be coming out with a new book," she said. "I just hope people like it."
Her last book kept each serving at no more than 200 calories. This book still keeps the calorie count on the skinny-jeans side of the equation but gives Lillien more freedom to play. "The last book was a challenge because of the 200 calories; this turned out to be the easiest book ever because there were no limitations." Well, except for the limitations Lillien puts on all "Hungry Girl" recipes: They have to be easy, guilt free and, of course, tasty. (And, actually, many of the recipes are still in the 200-calorie-or-less range.)
Fans will find lots of entrees and recipes with ease of cooking in mind: Crock-pot recipes, foil-pack recipes, microwave recipes and even no-cook recipes. There's also an entire chapter dedicated to bagged broccoli slaw -- it's a mix of broccoli, cabbage and carrots -- that Lillien uses as the base for several veggie-rich dishes. She also feeds it to her bunnies. "We go through a big bag of that each day; we all eat it."
Another chapter is dedicated to French toast recipes. But isn't French toast all about the carbs and syrup and calories? Usually. But this is French toast "Hungry Girl" style: Light bread, low-fat waffles or low-calorie hot-dog buns take the place of more calorie-rich bread; add in some sugar-free syrup, light whipped butter, egg whites and you still have plenty of room to play, Lillien says. (The Super-Cheesy Ham-Stuffed French Toast is 256 calories per serving, yet still manages to include not one but two kinds of cheese.)
"You can use a lot of great ingredients that give you the decadent taste without all the calories," she said.
Fans who subscribe to Hungry Girl's daily e-mail blasts rely on her to give them the skinny on new products. So what is she crushing on these days? Says Lillien:
-- "I love the new Jello Mousse Temptations. ... Just 60 calories in the whole thing. They're light, fluffy and decadent ... a little sweet treat."
-- Laughing Cow's Mini Babybel lights: "They're not new, but they're a new find for me, and they're one of my new loves." The iconic waxy packaging makes for portion-size enforcement, plus it melts like "real" cheese. "It's great to use for pizzas and quesadillas."
-- New Yoplait Light flavors. "There's a new red velvet cake that's really good."
"I'll tell you what I don't like," Lillien suddenly said. "Products that are going from Splenda to Stevia." There's a time and place for Stevia, she said, but it can really mess with the taste.
She also said she wished more manufacturers would simply offer products with less sugar -- not necessarily artificial sweeteners. Some people don't want artificial sweeteners, but they also don't want all the excess sugar (and calories) in a given product. One item that she says strikes this balance well: Smuckers' Low Sugar preserves. "You get the real test of preserves with sugar, without all that sugar."
Lillien's upcoming appearances include: 7 p.m. April 8 at Barnes & Noble at the Grove and at 3 p.m. April 10 at Borders in Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza. And set the TiVo: She's scheduled to appear on QVC on Easter (April 4), on KTLA on April 7, on the Bill Handel radio show April 8, and on both "Good Morning America" and "The Doctors" on March 30. Appearances on "Extra," "Rachael Ray" (where Lillien is practically a regular) and "The Joy Behar Show" are also in the works.
-- Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch
Photo: Hungry Girl