One of the complaints about trying to lose weight is having to eat “diet” food. Well, with the occasional exception of a frozen dinner here and there, I don’t DO “diet” food. I do food. There’s a common idiom I hear often in weight loss circles: eat to live, don’t live to eat. I have a serious problem with this: it implies (much like the phrase “clean eating”) that there is a right way and a wrong way to eat. Why can’t the answer be somewhere in the middle? I have a very good friend to whom food is deserving of worship, deeply tied to emotion and memory. I have an acquaintance who couldn’t care less about food having flavor: baked chicken breasts, brown rice and steamed broccoli would make her happy for months. As is almost always the case with me, I fall in the middle of the spectrum.
Okay, look, if I’m honest, I fall closer to the worship side. There are most decidedly foods worth worship for me: creamy foie gras pate with concord grape reduction, perfectly cooked duck breast with crispy skin (including bits of baguette dipped in the savory juices), duck hearts grilled rare, juicy smoked kielbasa, the corner pizza shop’s chicken parmesan. The list goes on. But if I want to lose or maintain my weight (and maintain my budget), I simply can’t eat those things on a daily basis. However, there’s no reason I can’t have delicious, flavorful foods without blowing my calories, particularly if I’m willing to tweak a recipe.
I have a bit of a problem with recipes. I can spend hours browsing the internet for recipes: and Pinterest is the worst for this. The problem is, most of the recipes I wind up bookmarking might be delicious, but they just aren’t everyday recipes, meaning, the calories are on the high side. So, being fairly confident in the kitchen, I find a recipe I love and tweak it! Several weeks ago I bookmarked a delicious looking Pork and Cider Stew from Food & Wine Magazine. Pork shoulder, bacon, butter, olive oil AND heavy cream make this recipe sound incredibly rich and comforting. I kept going back to the recipe: it just seemed so perfect for chilly February. So, this week, I decided to adapt it. Here’s my method for adapting almost any recipe.
- Find a recipe calculator. You won’t be surprised that I use SparkRecipes.com.
- Enter the ingredients of the recipe AS LISTED. The original recipe for Pork and Cider Stew serves 10 – 12. I plan on making a recipe that serves 4, so I used 12 as my original serving count.
- Panic a little. The original recipe is 742 calories per serving?! It doesn’t even include a starch! The photo has potatoes, but there are no potatoes! What can I do?!
- Calm down, and adjust. Start by reducing the ingredients to make a recipe the size you want. Now you know the amounts of the ingredients you’ll need, and you can substitute ingredients to get the desired results.
- Start substituting ingredients. This recipe has a WHOPPING 58 grams of fat per serving. It’s not surprising, considering the butter, heavy cream, olive oil, fatty pork shoulder and bacon. So we have fat covered. The easiest to replace is the heavy cream. When I want the creaminess of heavy cream in a stew without the fat, I replace it ounce for ounce with evaporated skim milk. That immediately saves you 55 calories and 7 grams of fat per serving. Next up, replacing that fatty pork shoulder with the much leaner pork loin. We’ve got 27 ounces of pork shoulder, which is a huge amount for 4 servings. We’re going to replace 27 ounces of pork shoulder with 16 ounces of pork loin (NOT tenderloin). BAM, we just lost 279 calories and 27 more grams of fat per serving. Crazy, huh? This recipe is now a manageable 414 calories and 24.2 grams of fat per serving. But if you’re like me, and 450 calories is the MAX you want to eat in one serving, you might be a little bothered by this recipe. Why? The only vegetable is onions! I hardly even count onions as vegetables these days, so I want more.
- Add in veggies for bulk. Most veggies add no fat but have tons of nutrients. Hmm. Potatoes and carrots? Sounds yum. Let’s do that. Make sure you add them into the instructions as well! I decided to add the potatoes and carrots after the pork had cooked for 15 minutes, so they could get tender but not mushy. Okay, that pushed the calories up to 491 per serving. Pushing it for me. Let’s do a final once over.
- Get rid of ingredients you really don’t need. There’s still a LOT of fat in this recipe. Do we really NEED the butter and oil, or can we use the vastly more flavorful bacon fat to brown the pork? Ahem. Please. Goodbye butter and oil! I’m dumping you and starting with browning the bacon so I can use its delicious fat to brown the pork loin. Booyah! Only 440 calories and 18.5 grams of fat per serving. Now this recipe is hearty AND healthy!
Here’s a comparison of the ingredients lists and nutritional information:
So how does it TASTE? Because I mean, really, what’s the point of cooking healthy food if it tastes awful and you don’t want to eat it, right?
I mean, uh, it’s pretty awful, I should just eat it all myself. Save you the trouble. *cough*
Just kidding, it was DELICIOUS! Seriously: it was rich, creamy, smoky, salty and the pork was so incredibly tender you barely had to chew. The only change The Hubs and I will make for this recipe in the future is to leave out the sage. We found it too strong and a bit overpowering. Maybe thyme would be a good substitute? I personally think it would be fine without any fresh herbs at all. And seriously? You do not need heavy cream in this recipe at all. The little bit of evaporated skim milk plus the cornstarch gave it a velvety mouth feel that was just divine. You can find MY lightened version of this recipe, ready to print, HERE, if you have a SparkPeople account. If you don’t, you can click the image below.