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The Quest to Make Things Healthier


Bella S.F.
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In the quest to make things healthier when it won't detract from a recipe, do you find that certain things do not make a difference in the taste of a dish?

Instead of frying eggplant, I slice it, brush it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast it in a hot oven. Not only is it easier, it also tastes better. It makes a dynamite chicken eggplant parmesan.

Instead of deep frying tortilla strips for tortilla soup, I buy good, thin chips and just crumble them onto the top of the soup.

We love the chorizo that we get at the Mexican stores, but do not like the huge chunks of fat and the unidentifiable pieces of ??????? that are always in there. We have started making our own. We can add fat as well as seasonings to fit our taste. We also can eat it about as often as we want. The other chorizo and egg tacos with the fat dripping down to our elbows, amazingly delicious as it was, we figured that we should ration it to every 4-6 months. (a number I just threw out there which never really worked)

There are times when I use olive oil and butter to saute things instead of all butter.

I also will pan fry things like cutlets instead of frying them covered in oil like the recipe calls for.

So, do you have changes that you make that you can share? I am particulary interested in alternatives to deep frying things that do not have coatings. ( like uncoated chicken chunks in a Chinese recipe)

By the way, I know that some changes just don't make the dish worth eating. I am interested in the ones that work.

Thanks!

"My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne."

John Maynard Keynes

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Good topic ! I think few of us are willing to give up the goodie just 'cause it is healthier.

I find that if I cook my vegetables with enough salt, I can cut back dramatically on the butter. And that adding (a little bit o') maple syrup to a baked sweet potato (along with seasoned salt and lime) makes it taste much more buttery.

I look forward to the ideas to come!

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Good topic, Bella. I often brown meats and poultry on the outdoor grill instead of in the saute pan for a couple of reasons. My range hood performs poorly and I prefer not to sleep with the cooking odors of frying. So I reduce the fat content on the outdoor grill together with the odors. My grill is on the back deck near the door and fairly convenient to use.

The sacrifice is the fond from the saute pan, but I haven't noticed any major reduction in flavour. I also can brown a batch of chicken, for example - and then short ribs - I also use this technique for shanks (lamb, veal). This allows me to get a head start on the week night meal planning with some of the prep already out of the way.

Ditto the oil/butter combo.

I have a few others, but wanted to start with this.

Rover

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I have had some luck in this area, I find myself explaining myself lots however, not very attractive. I haven't had luck with mushrooms, they continually absorb amounts of fat, maybe I'm a indulgent parent when it comes to the fungi however. I like replacing fat with flavor as a general rule, but sometimes fat carrys flavor as in mushrooms, a little wine or alcohol is very effective but I never can decide too cook the alcohol out or leave it raw. I guess it depends if the flavor is soluble in alcohol, guess I should have paid more attention in science class.

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I have been playing with when to add the fats and how much. For example with mushrooms I have been doing the dry-fry discussed here (with a sprinkle of salt to help that liquid come out), and then adding just a breath of butter before serving. I can really taste the butter more than when I just saute in butter, perhaps because the mushroom flavor was concentrated first. I also find that when I use really gelatinous stock (the kind where your lips smack) in the dish I can reduce the fat component. I am also fond of glass eyedroppers for adding just a touch of something like sesame oil and strong flavorful vinegars. I also pay attention to layering of flavors to get complexity.

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1) Fat free half and half or evaporated skim milk subs nicely for cream in soups or flan. I've done both to no detriment before.

2) Ground turkey makes for delicious chili that's indistinguishable from beef based chili once all the spices are in.

3) Adding a potato or two or some cooked rice to a to-be-pureed cream of vegetable soup will make up for some of the dairy component. Then see tip #1.

4) A dollop of unflavored yogurt can make up for some of the oil in a hummus or baba ghanoush recipe. Makes it a bit lighter and fluffier too.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I haven't had luck with mushrooms, they continually absorb amounts of fat,

Of course, if you're sauteeing them in olive oil, then it's not a question of an unhealthy fat, just a lot of extra calories. For just that reason, here's a technique I came up with. I use cremini ("Baby Bella") mushrooms, sliced. I put them in a heavy, non-stick (Williams Sonoma) roasting pan, and toss them quickly with just the amount of oil I'm willing to use. I also season them with whatever I need, like some salt and pepper and fresh thyme. Then I bake them in the oven, tossing them around every now and then. They brown and develop a lot of flavor from the heat of the oven roasting them, and they do it without the constant need for adding oil. But then again, this is similar to the eggplant technique given above. But for me, it cuts out a tremendous amount of olive oil when I want sauteed mushrooms.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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A trick I use when I want "creamed" soups is to strain the broth out (or sometimes leave the vegetables in) and puree the liquid in a food processor with cooked rice. This is a Julia Child trick, but the result is a rich soup that practically anyone would believe is a "cream of something" soup. You can do it with a nice homemade chicken soup and start the meal with a "cream of chicken soup" that's actually fat-free but gives a nice rich feeling to the meal.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I have been oven frying for some years to get the fat out. In some ways it comes out better than frying, but not all. I find if the pieces are smaller, they tend to do better. It is a good way to fake a chinese dish like General Tso's (we demote him to colonel for the oven version :raz: ), but once you stir fry the baked/fried nuggets......it is all good.

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When making curries or stews, I let it sit for about an hour on a VERY low simmer without stirring it so the fat rises to the top and can be skimmed off. I used to stir every 15 minutes or so and the fat would always stay emulsified and be eaten. Now, I often am skimming away as much as a cup of fat with little noticable effect on the flavour.

Interestingly enough, it seems like adding more fat at the beginning encourages the soup to "break" and the fat to rise. More fat at the start encourages better browning and more even cooking as well so it's a double bonus.

PS: I am a guy.

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Here's a few things off the top of my head (OTTOMH?) that I do for healthier meals:

Steam your veggies.

Roast/grill your meats.

Season with fresh herbs or spices just prior to eating.

Use more fruit and fruit juices for flavouring savory meals.

Thicken/create sauces and soups with yogurt or mashed potatoes.

Sous-vide mains for complete control of flavour, texture and calories.

French fries are not an everyday food, and don't drink from the gravy boat.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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...

4) A dollop of unflavored yogurt can make up for some of the oil in a hummus or baba ghanoush recipe.  Makes it a bit lighter and fluffier too.

Also, I use a ratio of 1:1 or 2:1 mayonnaise to unflavored yogurt for making tuna or egg salad. I also usually add chopped celery or carrots to the mix and lemon juice.

Another great idea I got from someone on eGullet is to add cooked chickpeas to tuna salad--it "stretches" the calories and is a very nice tasting addition!

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Another great idea I got from someone on eGullet is to add cooked chickpeas to tuna salad--it "stretches" the calories and is a very nice tasting addition!

I love chickpeas in tuna salad too! Along the same lines, I also like to stretch some mayo-based salads with vegetables and fruits e.g. chopped apples, celery, mango, tomatoes, cucumbers....not all at once, unless you're feeling particularly adventurous.

I haven't used full-fat cream cheese in years....for the applications I use, neufchatel works just fine.

Sauces can be thickened nicely with cornstarch vs. beurre marie...but when I do use a beurre marie, I tend to cut down the proportion of butter to flour and just whisk the crumbly mixture patiently in a separate bowl with hot liquid instead of adding a richer paste directly to the pot. Some sauces thicken up well with the addition of tomato paste, reduced balsamic or roasted garlic instead of butter.

Lots of times, I reduce the sugar in baked goods by 1/4 to 1/3 with no ill effects. (sometimes up to 1/2) It even aligns better with my tastes, as I often find things too sweet. I haven't heard distress from the peanut gallery.

When I make mashed potatoes, I generally use less butter (for 8 pounds of potatoes, I might use 1/2 stick) and lower-fat dairy (low-fat buttermilk + 1% milk) than most recipes might call for. I'll heat the milk with fresh herbs and garlic to add another layer of flavor. For the butter that I do use, I add some in for flavor when mashing, but I like to reserve a good amount for melting over top. This may be a personal perception, but sometimes I feel like buttery flavor is lost when it's all just mashed in to enhance texture.

Adding water to leaner ground meat patties can enhance juiciness without using additional fat. It works pretty well for meatballs and burgers. For times that additional fat is necessary, I might add peanut butter (thanks Marlene :wink: ) or oil with high monounsaturated fat (e.g. olive, canola).

That's all I can think of now. Glad this topic was started- I've already gained some great ideas that I'm excited to use!

Edited to describe sauce thickening better.

Edited by Sony (log)
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For me, eating more healthfully means trying to put more vegetables in my diet, and not eating so much snack food.

I add vegetables to everything--broccoli, cauliflower, and/or red peppers are added to mac&cheese, red peppers and asparagus get added to sausage rolls, etc.

As for frying without frying, you can make pretty much any Chinese recipe without battering and deep frying. The Thai version of sweet and sour pork doesn't use batter, and instead the pork is cooked by stir frying.

I bake pita chips (admittedly, I did that by accident--I wanted to dry them a bit more before frying them, but I over-crisped them, so I ate them as is) to eat as a snack. Spritz a bit of olive oil on them and add some zaatar to make them a bit more flavourful.

etc.etc.

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In eliminating cream from blended vegetable soups I've discovered that the stronger more intense the vegetable the less need for cream or dairy. Soups that are made with very delicate flavored veggies, for instance potato-leek, seem to suffer most from no cream.

A sorrel or spinach-sorrel combo is potent, and if made using a chicken stock needs no more than one or two potatoes to give it a velvety smooth consistency after blending. The more flavorful the greens the less the potato changes the flavor and simply functions to enhance the texture. Throw on some toasted garlic crouts or a swish of creme fraiche and it's yummy. Works great using olive oil, no butter.

Tomato soup works really well too without the "cream of" by roasting the tomatoes to boost the flavor. I do it with canned Italian tomatoes in the winter and use chicken stock (flavor of the tomatoes is so strong canned stock seems fine). All the tomato juices from the can are used and solids get pressed out at the very end.

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I just got home from work and I haven't had time to go through the many responses here. I am going to try to get to them after dinner. (A salad and Porcini Ravioli... yum)

I wanted to respond to you dockhl. I'm game for going through A New Way to Cook. I have only made one dish from there, Chicken with Sherry Vinegar Sauce. It was recommended by a fellow eGulleteer. Sorry, at the moment I can't remember who. The dish was really good. I would like to try more of the recipes in that book. It also sounds like I need to look through it more carefully for good tips. I have put that on my schedule for what to do over Winter Break. My favorite things to read, cookbooks.

"My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne."

John Maynard Keynes

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I am not sure of my time to commit to cooking thru the cookbook, but I will say I love the suggestions. My hubby and I have been on a bit of quest lately to make things healthier and its a challenge, so I love all the tips everyone is giving. I am a dessert hound. It seems I have to end the day with something sweet. My answer to this, Fruit based desserts. I mean why are desserts here in the US it seems these huge, intestinal nightmares?

Making omlets (sp?) with one whole egg, two whites doesn't effect the flavor...

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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My concept of cooking through it is pretty vague and casual :rolleyes:

Maybe just a thread where we can try recipes and post them, kinda like the Cradle of Flavor Thread that Crouching Tiger so boldly started.

I'm moving this weekend but when I get settled I'll start the thread and all who want to can contribute, as is convenient. How about that?

Back to your scheduled program................. :laugh:

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Shoot, I was looking forward to the New Way To Cook thread. Some great stuff in there and for whatever reason, I often overlook that book.

At this time of year, I'm going to be on a quest to make things healthier for sure (you know, after a bake all the requisite cookies and cakes)!

It'll happen, and hopefully you and I won't be the only ones cooking ! :hmmm:

I think it deserves it's own thread, not rehashed here.

I am loving all these suggestions; I don't want to stop eating well, I just don't want it to kill me ! :laugh:

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