“The attitude of men toward animals is this: Once having seen them alive, he can’t bear to see them die, and once having heard their cry, he can’t bear to eat their flesh. This is why men keep their distance from the kitchen.” wrote the Chinese philosopher Mencius For millennia, men have cooked up excuses not to do the cooking. But two dozen centuries after Mencius, most of these excuses have grown pretty old. Now, a lot of us not only carve the occasional bird but stuff and truss it as well. And we whip up the gravy, sauce the cranberries, and convert actual pumpkins into pie. In fact, many men have discovered that they can get their kicks in the kitchen, Cooking turns out to be a lot like fooling around with your kiddy chemistry set, but better.
Because when you have finished an experiment, you get to eat it. (And if it’s a total bomb, you get to go out to dinner.) When you take charge in the kitchen, you take control of what you eat. And by taking control of what ends up on your plate, you put yourself in a stronger position to whittle down your gut and keep it there. In the battle of the bulge, the kitchen is your battlefield and you are the commander. Remember the words of Sun-tzu, the great Chinese philosopher of war: “Because the able commander plans and calculates like a hungry man, he is invincible in battle and unconquerable in the attack”.
The Lean Larder
It’s up to you, the hungry man, to plan and calculate in order not to fall before the fatty foe. That stick of butter, the tub of sour cream, those hot dogs and cheese and peanut butter in the icebox and pantry – those are the arms of the enemy. Your larder should should be your arsenal. When you stock it lean, your going to be cooking from a position of strength. You want ingredients that are lean, versatile, and easy to use, Apart from that, the actual contents are entirely up to you. A man’s pantry is a personal thing. You, for example, may feel that no kitchen is complete without a bottle of barbecue sauce, and no cupboard should lack crackers. That’s cool. This is not meant to exclude them. This is just a basic list of staples that, if you have them, can be used to produce all sorts of easy, healthful, low-fat meals and snacks.
The point, really, is that when you provision yourself, you should go as low-fat, whole-grain,low-sodium, and high fiber as you can. Perhaps the point would be better made if we were to make a list of what your pantry is better off without: lard and marshmallow cookies, for example. Or frozen fish sticks. On the other hand, we also include some things on our list that aren’t necessarily good for you. Sugar, for example. Sure, it doesn’t offer much in the way of nutrition, but you’ll need it for some recipes that are nutritious. Or maybe you just need a spoonful to make those breakfast bran buds go down.
Either way, you don’t have to give up sugar, or butter, mayonnaise, or other less than healthful foods, as long as you use them sparingly. You can use this list to stock your pantry lean, to restock, and to fill in some gaps. But down the road, you’re going to add to it when you buy those extra things that you’ll need for various recipes. While on the topic of planning, that’s a good way to build up your stores. Before you go to the supermarket, spend a few minutes thinking about what recipes you might be whipping up in the next week. Then build your shopping list around those recipes. That said, your lean larder should contain the following:
- Beans, canned or dried.
- Bread, whole-grain.
- Chicken breast, boneless.
- Chicken broth, non-fat.
- Fish, fresh or canned.
- Flour, whole-wheat and white.
- Fruits and vegetables, fresh.
- Garlic, fresh or paste.
- Honey and molasses.
- Jam, all-fruit.
- Ketchup and mustard.
- Mayonnaise, low-fat.
- Milk, 1 percent or skim.
- Non-stick spray.
- Olive and canola oils.
- Parmesan cheese.
- Pasta, dried or fresh.
- Potatoes and yams.
- Pretzels or other low-fat snacks.
- Rice, white and brown.
- Soups, canned or dried.
- Sour cream, non-fat.
- Soy sauce, reduced-sodium.
- Spices (including blends).
- Steak sauce.
- Sugar, white and brown.
- Tomatoes, canned (either purée or paste).
- Vegetables, canned or frozen.
- Whole-grain crackers, low-fat.
- Wine for cooking.
- Worcestershire sauce.
- Yoghurt, low-fat or non-fat.
Once you have your larder stocked, it’s time to buy some tools. Good kitchen tools aren’t cheap, but it’s better to spend a little more and have it for life than to buy cheap gear that you’ll throw out a year later. Besides, choosing the right equipment can go a long way towards keeping fat out of your diet.
- No-stick Cookware – You can cut a lot of fat out of your diet just by acquiring a couple no-stick skillets with tight fitting lids. Not only will they allow you to cook with little or no added fat but they’re also easy to clean. What’s better than that? This is definitely not the time to go cheap. Cooking with good equipment is a pleasure; cooking with cheap junk is not. A well-made skillet, for example, will distribute the heat evenly and cook food better than a cheap one.
- Stirring Spoons – You’ll use these nearly every time you cook. Just be sure to buy wooden or plastic rather than metal, which will scrape the surface of non-stick pans.
- Blender or Food Processor – While it’s not essential to have these high-power kitchen tools, they’re incredibly handy for making your own low-fat soups, salad dressings, milk shakes, and such.
- Wok -No man should be without one of these babies. If you could have only one pan in your kitchen, you might make it a wok because you can cook just about anything in one. Also, because of the high heats used in wok cookery, you only need to use tiny amounts of oil.
- Broiling Pan – This is essential for keeping your meats from swimming in a lake of liquid fat. All it is, is a pan with a rack on top that allows fat to drain away during broiling or roasting.
- Gravy Separator – This gadget looks like a measuring cup with a spout on it, but the spout is attached at the very bottom of the cup. You pour the liquid into the cup, and the fat rises to the top. Since it pours from the bottom, it allows you to pour the juices back into the pot, and the fat stays in the cup.
- Steamer – This is a great thing to have around for steaming fish and vegetables, and steaming is one of the best ways to cook these foods because the moist heat requires no added fat. In addition, steaming causes food to lose fewer nutrients than boiling does. There are several types of steamers. The least expensive is the collapsible-basket type, which simply drops into any saucepan or skillet. Or you can get a free standing metal or bamboo steamer, which typically has two or more levels for cooking a variety of foods at once.
- Sharp Knives – One of the great pleasures of cooking is having knives that simply slip through the food; one of the great pains is having a knife you have to saw with. Besides, you need them sharp to be able to trim that fat off your London Broil. You need at least three knives: a heavy-duty chef’s knife (an 8-inch knife is ideal) for chopping vegetables, a good-size serrated knife for cutting meat, and a small paring knife for, well, paring.
- Microwave Oven – The microwave may may be usurping the place of the dog as modern man’s best friend. It’s a great way to get cooking done fast without cooking badly. You can, for example, bake a potato in 8 minutes without adding a drop of fat or losing a vitamin.
- Salad Spinner – This is one of those gadgets that takes the drudgery out of washing lettuce or spinach for a salad. Simply rinse the greens, toss them in, and give them a spin. They come out ready to eat.
Once you’re properly provisioned, it’s time to do battle. What are the cooking strategies of the general in the kitchen? The ultimate goal is to cook lean so that you can eat lean, while filling your life with so much good flavour that you may never leave the kitchen again. Here are more than 30 strategies for cutting the fat (but not the taste) from your cooking.
- Use No (Or Little) Oil or Butter -That’s the purpose of of no-stick pans and no-stick sprays. You can cook just about anything using little added fat. When frying an egg, for example, spritzing the pan with no-stick spray instead of using a pat of butter will save about 100 calories and 11 grams of fat. Or you can simply put a drop of oil in the pan and wipe it around with a paper towel.
- Forget About Frying – No other cooking method will dump as much fat into your diet as frying will. Steam, bake, poach, broil, boil it or sauté it in a little oil, but don’t fry it. When cooking fish, for example, put away the skillet and put the fish in the oven, basting it with a bit of lemon or orange juice. Or poach it in a pan half filled with water and sprinkled with crab boil or any other blend of spices that appeals to you.
- Hold The Mayo – Unless it’s low-fat, that is. Be aware of how much Mayo is mixed in with sandwiches such as the lean-lunch staple, a good old tuna sandwich. Most people think that’s good for dieters, but the smallest restaurant tuna sandwich has on average 720 calories and 43 grams of fat. Why? Restaurants and delis mix in so much mayonnaise that they turn tuna into a fat stealth bomb. So make that tuna salad with a touch of low-fat mayonnaise or salad dressing, and don’t put any mayonnaise on the bread.
- Sauté With Fluids – The traditional sauté, done with oil or butter, will transform the healthiest food into a high-fat (or at least higher-fat) meal. A good alternative is to sauté using broth or wine, or broth and wine. It will taste just as good, if not better, and you’ll get a fraction of the fat.
- Make An Exception For Vegetables – When sautéing vegetables, you don’t want to bury their distinctive natural flavours in broth or wine. Instead, use a low heat and add a little oil and water. The slower cooking time will cause the vegetables to release some of their natural juices, keeping the food from drying out.
- Enjoy An Instant Stock – When you don’t have broth ready made for sautéing or anything else, you can make a quick stock by pouring boiling water over shiitake, porcini, or other dried mushrooms. Soak them for about 15 minutes, then strain out the mushrooms. It adds a hearty, meat-like flavour to sautés, stews, sauces, and pilafs.
- Prepare A Vegetable Broth – This is one of the easiest ways to prepare a low-fat, flavourful cooking liquid. No slicing, dicing, or peeling required. Just toss onions, carrots, peppers, celery, and whatever other scraps you need to clean out of your vegetable drawer into a pot of water. Let it simmer until the vegetables are reduced to mush. Strain out the mush and you have vegetable broth.
- Put Cold To Work – When you’re making your own stocks and soups, particularly when using meat bones or scraps, it’s a good idea to make them ahead of time, then put them in the refrigerator to chill overnight. This causes fat to rise and congeal on the surface, making it easy to skim off. You can do this with canned broth, too. Just keep a couple of cans in the refrigerator instead of the cupboard, and they’ll be ready to skim whenever you’re ready to use them.
- Make Lean Sauces – Many traditional sauces call for a large amount of milk or cream as well as butter. It doesn’t have to be that way. When making a white sauce, you can get the creamy texture without all the fat by replacing whole milk (or cream) with non-fat powdered milk, evaporated skim milk, or puréed mashed potatoes. For a red sauce, use puréed carrots or other vegetables as the fat substitute, You’ll get the same nice texture, and you probably won’t taste the difference.
- Buy Lean – When you’re stocking up on beef, always look for the leanest cuts that you can find. One way to do this, of course, is simply to look for meats that appear to have the least fat. Or read the label: “Select” is the leanest grade cut, “choice” is a bit fattier, and “prime” will clog up your arteries before you can say rib roast. Your best bet is to stick with round steak. You’ll get the least fat from eye of round, followed by top, bottom, and tip. A 4-ounce serving of select eye of round, for example, contains 5 grams of fat; a choice steak contains 25.
- Give It A Trim – Even the leanest cuts often require some trimming to remove excess fat. An easy way to do this is to put the meat in the freezer for 20 minutes. The fat will turn white, making it easier to see. Plus, the meat will firm up a bit, making it easier to trim.
- Go Easy On The Pork – In spite of what the advertising suggests, pork is not an extremely lean meat. It has one-third more fat than skinless chicken and twice as much as skinless turkey. Still, the leanest cut of pork – pork tenderloin – is leaner than most cuts of beef.
- Peel Your Poultry – You should skin your chicken or turkey before you eat it. That skin is loaded with fat, and you’re better off without it. Don’t peel poultry before cooking, however, since juices in the skin will help keep the bird moist.
- Give Thanks Early And Often – If you only dine on turkey once a year, you’re missing out on one great food. Consider this: Mr Turkey is less fatty than Mr Chicken. So why not eat more of the former and less of the latter?
- Don’t Get Skinned – Ground turkey can be a great substitute for ground beef in burgers, meat loaf,, and spaghetti sauce, but only if it’s ground turkey breast without the skin. Ground turkey that is made with the skin can be 10 times as fatty as ground skinless breast meat.
- Use Stealth Vegetables – You can cut the fat in meat loaf and hamburgers by replacing some of the meat with shredded carrots, onions, and green peppers. No one’s tongue, not even your, will be the wiser.
- Make A Slim Marinade – Use a fat-free salad dressing for marinades. In a marinade, what works as a tenderizer is the acid ingredient, so whether it’s lemon or vinegar or wine, it’s not the oil that you need. Fat-free Italian dressing is great for marinades. Five minutes for fish, 30 minutes for chicken, and an hour for meat.
- Make The Most Of Beans – It would be hard to think of a cheaper, easier way to reduce the fat in your diet than this. Dry beans, peas, and lentils come with a recipe on the bag. Lentils, in particular, don’t require the soaking that beans do. You can make a pot of lentil soup in 20 to 25 minutes and have enough food to eat for a week or to freeze for other times. That’s a real high-nutrition, low-cost food, but it can be very savoury depending on how you season it.
- Stock Up On Rice – To complement beans, buy some rice. Long-grain rice in big bags is practically free, and, of course, it’s relatively easy to cook, and the rice-bean combination gives you a nice complete protein. Incidentally, you can get more fibre, vitamins, and minerals by using brown rice instead of white. Traditional brown rice is very slow cooking, but you can also get a 10-minute brown rice that makes cooking quick and easy.
- Spice Up Your Life – For a lot of guys, there are only three seasonings: butter, salt, and pepper. Don’t cheat your taste buds (and expand your belly) by ignoring life’s rich tapestry. There’s a whole universe of spices out there that can make you forget about salt and butter. You don’t have to spend a fortune in the spice aisle either. An economical way to add flavour to your foods is to buy a few spice blends. To keep things simple, you may want to start off with just four blends: one each for meat, chicken, fish, and vegetables. Then you can slowly start adding individual spices as you need them.