Shreen Wojton doesn't cook from recipes as much as from memories.
She remembers restaurant dishes, forkfuls that made her think: "I could make this." Then in her home kitchen in Clarence, Wojton, The News' February Cook of the Month, gets to work.
Adding to the challenge of re-creating restaurant tastes, Wojton, who cooks for her husband, Bob, and four children, is a steadfast adherent to the Atkins diet. So she uses little or no sugar or starch in her dishes. That means potatoes, pasta and bread are generally off limits, as is fruit with lots of natural sugar.
"It sounds very boring, but maybe that's why I became more adventurous in cooking," said Wojton, who, like her husband, is a pharmacist. "I'm creative. If I want pasta, for, say, goulash, I take tofu and cut it up, parboil it in some chicken stock just to give it some flavor, and I'll put red sauce and meat on it."
For 15 years, Wojton has been sticking to the Atkins regimen, mainly for weight control and diabetes protection.
"As a health care professional, it makes total sense to me," she said. "When you eat something high in sugar or starch, your body releases insulin," which puts your body into fat storage mode.
"If you have high levels of insulin all the time, your body becomes resistant to insulin, and you can become a type II diabetic," said Wojton.
She started Atkins when she was doing her residency at Buffalo General Hospital. Her children -- Portia, 9, Phoenix, 8, Fauna, 4, and Pierce, 2 -- have grown up with it. Besides a little brown rice, occasional doughnut or piece of bread here or there, Wojton's children eat the same diet their parents do, she said.
"I don't make anything separate for them. If we're having Indian [food], they're having Indian," said Wojton. "If we're having Thai, they're having Thai. I don't make macaroni and cheese, I don't make chicken nuggets," unless a baby sitter is supervising, she said.
Despite the restrictions of the Atkins menu, Wojton's children have adventurous palates. "They love Indian. We go to the lunch buffet at Tandoori's," she said, referring to the Transit Road restaurant. "My daughter says, 'I love lamb.' How many 9-year-olds say that?"
Wojton shared a family favorite, pork tenderloin with a creamy mustard sauce she sweetens with Truvia, her choice in nonsugar sweeteners. She completes the plate with roasted asparagus with grape tomatoes. The pork and asparagus can be cooked on a grill or in the oven.
After all the dishes she has been inspired to make after visits to fine dining restaurants, the sauce for the tenderloin left her a bit sheepish.
"Before I was Atkins, I liked the chicken fingers at Arby's," she confessed. "They had a honey mustard sauce that was creamy, and I duplicated it. I hate to admit it, but yes, this is it."
Try it before you scoff, she suggested. "Everyone loves this sauce, I'm telling you. People get addicted to it."
> "HONEY" MUSTARD PORK TENDERLOIN
2 pounds pork tenderloin (usually 2 1-pound tenderloins)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar or white wine
2 tablespoons mustard, preferably Dijon or spicy
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried marjoram or thyme (optional)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup mayonnaise
4 tablespoons mustard
4 packets Truvia (about 14 grams) or other sweetener, or for non-Atkins version, 4 tablespoons honey1
In a small bowl, combine vinegar or wine, mustard, oil, garlic and spices. Coat pork well with marinade. You can cook it immediately, or let it soak in longer, up to overnight, for more flavor.
Roast tenderloins in 375 degree oven or grill on high for 20 to 30 minutes, until meat thermometer registers 140 to 160 degrees, depending on doneness desired. Pork may be pink inside, as long as it is to temperature.
While pork is cooking, in a small bowl, mix all sauce ingredients together until smooth.
Remove meat from heat, and let rest for at least 5-10 minutes for juices to redistribute. Slice thinly and drizzle with sauce to serve.
> ROASTED ASPARAGUS WITH GRAPE TOMATOES
1 bunch asparagus
1 pint grape tomatoes
Olive oil, for drizzling
Balsamic vinegar (optional), for drizzling
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste1
Wash asparagus and cut off tough ends. Place spears in a single layer on foil-covered cookie sheet, and top with tomatoes.
Drizzle vegetables with olive oil and vinegar, then salt and pepper to taste.
Roast at 500 degrees in the upper third of the oven, until the spears are tender when pricked with a tip of the knife, about 10-12 minutes depending on thickness. Remove baking sheet from oven.
On the grill: Wrap asparagus and tomatoes, arranged in a single layer, securely in foil. Place packet on grill for 15-20 minutes. (Vegetables can cook on the grill alongside the tenderloin.)
Serve hot, or cold as a salad.
> EASY ATKINS CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 packets (14 grams) Truvia sweetener, or for non-Atkins version, 4 tablespoons sugar1
Dissolve Truvia or sugar in cream. Stir in cocoa powder and vanilla.
Whip cream into soft peaks. Spoon into glass and garnish with berries, if desired.
> COOK OF THE MONTH
Name: Shreen Wojton
Mouths to feed: 6
Go-to instant meal: Frittata from refrigerator stuff
Guilty pleasure: Dark chocolate