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Knocking the Fat Out of Family Favorites

Get quick tips on how to knock out the fat in favorite family meals.

Knocking the Fat Out of Family Favorites

Skimming the fat in your recipe means more than just using leaner ingredients. It also means using healthful cooking techniques and tools. Here are some quick tips and tricks of the trade:

Be careful when cutting back on the amount of sugar in cakes, cookies, or other baked goods. Many times, reducing sugar will affect the texture or the volume.

  1. Use low-fat and no-fat cooking methods, such as steaming, poaching, stir-frying, broiling, grilling, microwaving, baking, and roasting as alternatives to frying.
  2. Get a good-quality set of nonstick saucepans, skillets, and baking pans so you can sauté and bake without adding fat.
  3. Use nonstick vegetable sprays or 1 to 2 tablespoons of defatted broth, water, juice, or wine to replace cooking oil.
  4. Be aware that fat-free or reduced-fat cheeses have slightly different cooking characteristics than their fattier counterparts. For the most part, they don't melt as smoothly. To overcome this, shred these cheeses very finely. When making sauces and soups, toss the cheese with a small amount of flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot.
  5. Trim all visible fat from steaks, chops, roasts, and other meat cuts before preparing them.
  6. Replace one quarter to one half of ground meat or poultry in a casserole or meat sauce with cooked brown rice, bulgur, couscous, or cooked and chopped dried beans to skim the fat and add fiber.
  7. Deciding to remove the skin from poultry before or after cooking depends on your cooking method. Skin helps prevent roasted or baked cuts from drying out, and studies have shown that the fat from the skin doesn't penetrate the meat during cooking. However, if you do leave the skin on, make sure any seasonings you've applied go under the skin or you'll lose the flavor when the skin is removed.
  8. Skim and discard the fat from hot soups and stews, or chill the soup or stew and skim off the solid fat that forms on top.
  9. Use pureéd cooked vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes, and cauliflower, to thicken soups and sauces instead of cream, egg yolks, or a butter and flour roux. Also, use soft tofu to thicken sauces.
  10. Select “healthier” fats when you need to add fat to a recipe. That means replacing butter, lard, or other highly saturated fats with oils such as canola, olive, safflower, sunflower, corn, and others that are low in saturates. Remember, it takes just a few drops of a very flavorful oil, such as extra-virgin olive oil, dark sesame, walnut, or garlic oil, to really perk up a dish, so go easy.
  11. Skim the fat where you won't miss it, but keep the characteristic flavor of fatty ingredients such as nuts, coconut, chocolate chips, and bacon by reducing the quantity you use by 50 percent. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of walnuts, use ½ cup instead.
  12. Toast nuts and spices to enhance their flavor and then chop them finely so they can be more fully distributed through the food.
  13. If sugar is the primary sweetener in a fruit sauce, beverage, or other dish that is not baked, scale the amount down by 25 percent. Instead of 1 cup of sugar, use ¾ cup. If you add a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice, you'll increase the perception of sweetness without adding calories.
  14. In baked goods, add pureed fruit instead of fat. One of the reasons fat is included in baked products is to make them moist. The high concentration of natural sweetness in pureed fruit will actually help hold on to the moisture during the baking process.

    Fat has flavor, but so does fruit. Fat adds liquid volume and moisture to bread or cake batter, but so does fruit. When making this substitution, if the recipe calls for ½ cup of fat, simply add ½ cup of pureed fruit. Use applesauce in apple bran muffins or cakes. Pureed, crushed pineapple works well in pineapple upside down cake. Here are some other tips:

    • Dark-colored fruits, such as blueberries and prunes, are best used in dark-colored batters. You can add lighter-colored fruits, such as pears or applesauce, to almost any batter without changing its color. Adding yellow-orange fruits, such as pureed peaches or apricots, can often add an appetizing yellowish crumb.
    • You can use pears and apples nearly universally in baking because their taste is mild and unnoticeable. Apricots, prunes, and pineapple add a much stronger flavor. Bananas and peaches are somewhere in the middle, adding a little flavor, but never overwhelming. Here's a secret: if you don't have a food processor to puree your own fruit, use baby food. It is already pureed, has a mild flavor, and is usually made without sugar.
  15. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form before incorporating them into baked goods. This will increase the volume and tenderness.
  16. Make a simple fat-free “frosting” for cakes or bar cookies by sprinkling the tops lightly with powdered sugar.
  17. Increase the fiber content and nutritional value of dishes by using whole-wheat flour for at least half of the all-purpose white flour. For cakes and other baked products that require a light texture, use whole-wheat pastry flour, available in some well-stocked supermarkets.
  18. Vegetables can be fat replacements in other recipes, too. Try …
    • Adding baby carrot puree, roasted red pepper puree, or mashed potatoes to your pasta sauce to replace olive oil.
    • Replacing some of the fat in nut breads or cakes, such as carrot cake or zucchini bread, with vegetable purees or juices, such as carrot juice or pumpkin puree.
    • Substituting pureed green peas for half the amount of mashed avocado in guacamole or other dips.
    • Replacing fat in soups, sauces, muffins, or cakes with mashed yams or sweet potatoes.
    • Using white potatoes to thicken lower-fat milks in cream soups and bisques.
    • Substituting a layer of vegetables in your favorite lasagna to replace meat or sausage.
    • Topping your pizza with vegetables instead of meat.

Source: ADA. “Skim the Fat: A Practical and Up-to-Date Food Guide,” 1995.

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