Works for Me Wednesday: Low fat tricks
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer, hostess of Works for Me Wednesday, requested our best low-fat cooking secrets this week.

Here are my top 10 low fat cooking tricks. Of course, eating healthy to lose weight and nourish yourself properly takes more than just cutting out fat - or else I would live on Snackwells - so there are some other health related notes thrown in.

1. Substitute unsweetened applesauce for oil in cake recipes. I do this all the time, for cakes and brownies. Unsweetened applesauce is undetectable in the finished product. It will change the texture of cookies, though.

2. Fat free dairy products Cooking with non-fat milk is virtually undetectable. Fat free sour cream cooks up the same, as well. When we have pancakes or waffles, instead of butter and syrup, I "healthy" it up using fat free vanilla yogurt and canned peaches. Get peaches in light syrup, chop them so they are small bits, and put on the stove. Add cinnamon and boil for a minute or so - it will naturally thicken. Then, have peaches and cream with your breakfast! Vanilla yogurt and strawberries are good too - roll it up and it's like a cheese blintz almost.
Use fat-free evaporated milk. I'll admit it, I started doing this because I was too cheap to buy half and half or heavy cream; evaporated milk is fine for pasta sauces or scalloped potatoes. Part skim mozzarella, ricotta, and low fat cottage cheese melt and cook up well without compromising flavor. Just stay away from fat free cheese - it's got a strange texture, almost no flavor, and doesn't melt well.

3. Chicken broth Use it instead of butter for mashed potatoes, cooking up chicken in a pan, or in casseroles.
I can't buy bouillion, cartons, or cans of soup because my son can't have MSG - besides, do you really want to eat 38% of your daily sodium allotment in chicken broth?

Ever the cheapskate good steward, I boil up the chicken carcass after eating. Or, if you crockpot your chicken, simply fill the crockpot up with water after dinner, leave the bones and scraps in, and cook on low overnight (8-12 hours). Put a colander or strainer over a large bowl or pot and drain in the morning. Freeze in ice cube trays, or I bought cheap square plastic containers at the dollar store and use those. Each one of the squares holds approx. 15-16 oz (the same size as a soup can)and I can pop them out and put in freezer bags like "bricks" in my freezer. The fat rises to the top when it cools, and you can pop it right off. Also a good base for gravies, and a great emergency-I-forgot-to-make-dinner today meal. Add a bag of alphabet noodles or mini stars (sold for a quarter in the Mexican food aisle), a can of diced tomatoes, and canned veggies. We like garbanzo or white beans for protein.

4. Lard, or shortening No, really! If you grease your pans with a very small amount, it will add virtually no extra fat, but you won't need oil or butter to cook in to keep food from sticking.
Non-stick cooking spray is in every kitchen, it seems, but it's not very safe. The ingredients are usually oil, soy lecithin, and propellant - maybe alcohol too. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier, and is fine, but do you really want to eat propellant? Propellant cooked to high temperatures? Plus, it leaves a gummy build up on my cookware and muffin tins that's hard to remove. You know how aerosol cans say "Do not use near heat or flame"? I created a flamethrower once spraying Pam into a frying pan on a gas stove. Fortunately, my eyebrows grew back and I can avoid that Zsa Zsa Gabor look.

I put some shortening or lard in a glass jar with a silicone pastry brush (I got a 2 pack at the dollar store). I use that to grease my pans - it works very well! I like the silicone brush because it won't lose any "hairs" into the food, sterilizes easily, and I can grease a HOT pan or waffle iron and not worry it will burn. You should not be able to see a visible coating. When I worked at a pizza place in high school, we had a giant vat of shortening and greased all the pans with it. It's fine to sit out (you store your Crisco in the cupboard, don't you?). I put a small amount, 3-4 spoonfuls, at a time so the jar does get washed too! Sterilize the brush in the dishwasher every week and you'll be fine. I'm planning to switch to lard as I phase out hydrogenated oils sometime in the future.

5. Bean juice. If you eat light colored canned beans, like great northern, garbanzo/chick peas, or navy beans, drain the juice into a measuring cup instead of the sink. Add brown mustard or vinegar, plus whatever spices you like, to make your own fat-free vinaigrette. It has that "mouth" feel of oil, but is fat free and full of vitamins. (Again, I've done this because finding salad dressing that is free of MSG, BHT, and food dyes is near impossible. There are some organic varieties out there, but they are hard to come by in my small town and expensive!) I've never tried this with black beans or kidney beans, but I'd guess it would come out the same way, just a darker color. Related: eat salads. It will take the edge off of hunger. We eat salad, then main dish, then salad again if we are still hungry. Fat free plain yogurt and salsa, a half and half mix, makes a nice dressing for taco salad as well.

6. Drain your meat I brown my ground beef or turkey (usually turkey - it's cheaper), then I pour it in my colander and rinse it with very hot water. If you have a septic system or copper plumbing, you might drain most of the fat over a bowl or tin can first, then rinse. This eliminates almost all of the fat, and is also my secret for cooking spaghetti sauce without grease pools floating on top! Put the meat back in the pan, add your spices, and then cook as usual. For meatloaves, I put it in a loaf pan, but don't pack it corner to corner. I leave an inch or two of space at one end. When I take it out of the oven, I set it on top of the stove to drain (prop the meat end on a burner to make a slight incline). The fat will drain into the gap and you can pour it out.

7. Cheese is a condiment. Use a sprinkle for flavor (buy a stronger kind if you need too - sharp cheddar instead of mild, monterey jack with peppers instead of plain, etc.). You should be able to see the food under the cheese!

8. Make your own chips Easy tortilla chips: Cut corn tortillas into wedges with a pizza cutter. Spary with lime water (lime juice and water in a mister); actually, I use one of my silicone brushes to brush it on before cutting. You're looking for a little flavor, not soggy tortillas. Bake in a 325 degree oven, stir them around occasionally, until crisp. Time will vary depending on humidity, type of tortilla, how much you sprayed them, and altitude. Take them out, put them in a lunch bag or big bowl; salt, cover, and shake. Cheaper than Baked Tostitos, plus you won't get a bunch of broken ones in the bottom of the bag. You can also do this with sweet potatoes or other root vegetables; whole wheat tortillas will make a pita chip. A lot of people spray the chips with non-stick cooking spray also - this works well, but I don't buy cooking spray anymore (see #4).

9. Use the real thing, but dilute it with nonfat products. Mix an avocado with fat free yogurt and salsa for a mexican dip that has a guacamole flavor. Add a can of pinto beans and use less hamburger. Make an omelet, but use 2 egg whites and one whole egg with yolk. Eat ice cream, but eat half as much and fill the bowl with frozen strawberries (not the kind in sugar!). Make nachos with black beans, salsa, and a sprinkle of cheese on top.

10. Some fat-free/low fat substitutes are almost undetectable. Fat free sour cream is one. Soyrizo is a meat free version of chorizo - but my husband can't tell the difference and it adds a TON of flavor (especially to refried beans, fat free, natch!). A lot of soy products taste weird, but this stuff is good. You can get lard free tortillas. Pretzels - rods, waffles, large, small, are tasty and have crunch. Same with airpopped popcorn - add chili powder, jalapeno salt, or other flavors to jazz it up. Yolk-free egg noodles taste the same, especially if used as a base for stroganoff or topped with veggies. Baked products, like chips and cookies, are another story - they usually just don't have that same crispness and mouth feel. They also usually have artificial sweeteners in them, another big no-no at my house.
A wonderful treat is fat free homemade ice cream sandwiches, though! Take 2 squares of fat free chocolate (or cinnamon for Mexican version) graham crackers, put a scoop of fat free Coolwhip or frozen yogurt between, package in plastic wrap, and freeze. The graham crackers will soften and it's oh-so-good!

Remember, eating well is about more than calories - presentation and taste count too!
posted by Milehimama @ Mama Says at 1/10/2007 11:20:00 AM | Permalink | |