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Indulge your fast food cravings without guilt—with recipes that deliver the same great taste without putting your health at risk or inches on your hips
Americans all want to "eat healthy," but when they yearn for the fast foods they love, what they want most are the fabulous flavors that have made them favorites in the first place. That's what makes this collection of recipe makeovers so exceptional. Los Angeles food writer, chef, and caterer Devin Alexander specializes in low-fat, high-flavor, scrumptious cuisine. In Fast Food Fix, she shows the reader how to transform 75 fast food favorites into healthier versions that are even more flavorful than the originals. Fast Food Fix:
• demystifies the special seasonings and secret sauces of choice fast foods—showing how to reproduce their flavors quickly and easily from common ingredients
• teaches how to lighten many dishes with new cooking techniques, such as the oven-frying method that yields incredibly crunchy popcorn chicken with 35 fewer fat grams than the original version from KFC
• reveals simplified cooking methods that save time in the kitchen, proving that "fast food" can still be fast even when prepared at home
For Americans hooked on fast food flavors, these recipe makeovers by a chef with an impressive repertoire of culinary tricks will quickly become a kitchen staple.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
GET YOUR FAST FOOD FIX
I consider myself a fast food admirer. I love the way fast food tastes, and I admire the folks who've spent countless hours creating the irresistible flavor combinations that we Americans can't wait to find in drive-thrus. Actually, I consider these people artists of sorts, and I, for one, really appreciate their work.
Fast food had been a regular part of my diet for most of my teenage years. However, when I stopped eating it, I lost 25 £ds. When I kept it out of my diet and made a few other changes, I lost another 25. In recent years, I've heard many stories similar to mine. Meanwhile, movie hits like Super Size Me advise us that eating a steady diet of fast food might cause maladies from sluggishness to liver failure. Bestsellers like Fast Food Nation warn us that feces might be found in our meat supply. So we Americans slowly but surely started to wonder more and more about the hazards of eating fast food. But just as we were starting to realize that it might be a good idea to steer our cars a bit more frequently to grocery stores instead of through drive-thrus, the fast food chains responded. They started offering healthier options, which has been great. But one major problem remains: cravings. When plagued with visions of a Big Mac, will a McSalad do the trick? When you're dying for a Cinnabon, will an apple hit the spot? Probably not. And when we're told we "can't" or "shouldn't," we want something even more--after all, it's human nature.
That's where this book comes in. It gives you options. It's a "go ahead, have it your way--really" cookbook. And "have it your way" every day if you want. Each of the fast food favorites in this book is a solution for satisfying the most-common fast food cravings. I'm hoping that we as a nation will be able to turn our backs on supersizing but will still get our Fast Food Fix with ingredients we select ourselves in the portions that our bodies need.
Fast Food Fix Promises
To give you the best creations I possibly could, I decided to make some promises about the recipes before I wrote another word of this book.
1. The serving size of every recipe contained in this book is at least as big as the original version, but it will contain considerably fewer grams of fat, calories, and chemicals.
I did my best in every case to buy three of each item from different locations of each chain. I broke down the recipes by first weighing and measuring each item and then its component parts on two scales. I re- created them by looking at the weights provided by the nutritional data sheets in conjunction with the serving sizes that were in front of me. Then, after I tested my versions, I purchased a final sample (when at all possible) to make sure my versions looked as large and weighed as much as the originals (in many cases, mine are significantly larger).
2. The recipes will use only common ingredients and employ basic cooking techniques with instructions as to how to cook the food properly to yield optimum results.
Though I can't promise that every item called for will be available wherever you shop, I did make sure key ingredients were available nationwide. In a few cases, it makes sense that it was harder to find ingredients for regional recipes outside the local area--grocery stores tend to stock popular, regional items. In the end, I was happy to learn that though 96% lean ground beef isn't sold everywhere, I found it in at least one major grocery store in each city I visited, and it was in all Trader Joe's stores and even in Wal-Mart Supercenters.
3. If the inspiring fast food item contains beef, the Fast Food Fix version will also contain beef--no substituting "girly veggies" for "manly beef."
There isn't even the slightest hint of a disclaimer here. I feel strongly about this promise and stuck to it throughout. I don't even believe in substituting turkey bacon for bacon, so I didn't do it.
I do not purport or intend to "trick" anyone into believing he or she is eating "the real thing." The Fast Food Fix versions model the same basic ingredients, flavors, textures, and feel as the favorites they re-create, but they're guilt-free.
It's also worth pointing out that in most cases, I've written recipes for single servings. My logic for this is pretty simple: These are recipes to help you satisfy real fast food cravings, so if you are the only one in the house hankering for a chili burger, you can easily fix it for yourself. This strategy also let me re-create the most exact flavors possible. However, in the interest of convenience, I've also made sure that all sauces yield enough for four servings (most of them store very well). By all means, if you are cooking for more than one person, feel free to multiply the recipes as necessary.
You may have perused the Contents and wondered why the Wendy's Single isn't included but Back Yard Burgers' Black Jack Burger is. Or you may wonder why Dunkin' Donuts is and Krispy Kreme isn't. Rest assured, the task of compiling the list was a process that involved a wide range of people.
A group of colleagues and friends and I started by listing what we considered to be the most popular fast food dishes available. I then broke them down by type and researched their nutritional values. Some fell off the list because the makeovers just wouldn't save enough fat or calories to make it worthwhile to spend the time and energy re-creating them. For instance, Boston Market used to have corn bread that resembled mini-loaves. Over the past couple of years, they reformulated their corn bread to have a smaller size and a different shape. The new, smaller version has only 120 calories and 3.5 grams of fat. Even if I were to cut the fat by 75 percent, you'd be saving only about 2.5 grams. Meanwhile, also on our list was Dunkin' Donuts Corn Muffins, which one of my friends swears by. I was able to eliminate 153 calories and 15 grams of fat from that jumbo muffin and found that opting for a standard-size muffin will set you back only about 2 grams of fat per muffin. Since the flavors are similar, it was a no- brainer. I skipped Boston Market's version and included the muffin from Dunkin' Donuts.
Other items fell off the list because I just didn't feel I could duplicate them as similarly as I would have liked. Unfortunately, I worked on at least 30 recipes that never saw these pages. For instance, though the Wendy's Single is extremely popular, it doesn't have a sauce or any truly identifying characteristic other than its square shape that could make the lighter version come to life. The Big Mac, on the other hand, was a slam dunk as soon as I was able to perfect the sauce.
Others got bumped, so to speak, because they were too similar. I did my best to provide a diverse menu, of sorts. If you're a big bacon fan, you'll find a burger you love. There are thin fries, curly fries, crinkle fries, Cajun fries, etc., which I found preferable to making a new version of the regular straight-cut fries I found in almost every restaurant I visited.
The pizzas are heavy on meat toppings because the veggie toppings don't add or subtract much. If you'd prefer a mushroom onion pizza, you can skip all of the toppings on the pizza from your favorite fast food pizza restaurant and follow the directions for the dough, sauce, and cheese, then top it with mushrooms and onions to your heart's content.
But Who Really Has the Time to Make Their Own Fast Food?
You may be apt to argue that the point of going to a fast food restaurant is that it's fast. But really, how fast is it? In traffic-congested Los Angeles, where I currently live, it can take longer to get to most drive- thru restaurants, wait in line, order the food, pay, and drive home than it does to make many of the dishes in this book.
Granted, there are exceptions; having pizza delivered to your door is immensely less time-consuming than making any of the pizzas in this book, and the Cinnabon Classic Roll takes much longer to make than it does to pick up. But for the most part, I would argue that it's definitely worth the little bit of time it takes to make your own food rather than wading through traffic. But to help you save even more time, I've provided "Drive- Thru" options for a number of the dishes, and I've noted which dishes take less than 30 minutes to prepare (look for the clock symbol at the top of those recipes). Hopefully, once you've employed a few of these options, you, too, will make and take the time.
Do You Really Save Money Eating at Fast Food Restaurants?
I know that a lot of people may have the impression that groceries are expensive and ordering fast food is not. It may seem that way, but is it true? We are constantly inundated with fast food deals for 99-cent Fish Fridays and Taco Tuesdays where you get three tacos for 99 cents, so we think that fast food costs less. But unless you eat those items and only those items used to draw you in, I've found that eating fast food doesn't necessarily pay.
Now I will be honest . . . until I actually sat down and factored out the individual cost of the dishes I was making, I didn't realize that it really is no less expensive to eat at the drive-thru. But item after item, it became more and more obvious that making the food at home was the way to go for me and my wallet. Consider this:
A medium serving of McDonald's French Fries costs approximately $1.49 plus tax (again, in June 2005 in the Los Angeles area). Now consider the cost of the ingredients needed to make them.
* Extra virgin olive oil costs $10.99 for a 16.9-ounce bottle of my favorite brand (though you could certainly find other brands cheaper), which will give you more than enough oil for 100 servings of my fries for 11 cents each.
* Baking potatoes cost around $2.99 for a 10-£d bag, which will give you about twenty 8-ounce servings for approximately 15 cents each.
* A container of salt goes for around 59 cents and would be enough to season hundreds of servings of fries, but for the purpose of this exercise, let's say that salt would set you back one cent per serving.
So by my calculation, you could make one serving of McDonald's French Fries for about 27 cents. At that rate, you could make a serving of fries for each member of a family of five and still save pennies over buying one serving at McDonald's.
Now let's consider the Big Mac. At the McDonald's near my home (where I'll be doing the grocery comparison), a Big Mac costs $2.15. To make one in your kitchen, you would need:
* Three ounces of 96% lean ground beef, which at $4.99 per £d translates to about 94 cents per serving
* One (31/2-inch) sesame seed hamburger bun plus one bottom bun, which would cost 33 cents if you bought a package of eight for $1.79
* One slice of 2% milk American cheese, which would cost 24 cents if you bought a 12-ounce package for $3.89
* A tablespoon of condiments (low-fat mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and relish), which would set you back about five cents tops
* One teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt, which for the purpose of this exercise we'll say costs one cent, though it's likely far less
* Two teaspoons of freshly minced white onion, which costs four cents at most
* One-third cup of shredded iceberg lettuce, which would cost about 11 cents if you bought a head for $1.29
* Two dill pickle rounds, which would cost about six cents if you bought a 16-ounce jar of them for $2.59
Going by these estimates, which are all based on buying name-brand products in standard-size jars at regular (not sale) price, the total cost of a Big Mac made at home with the leanest beef, low-fat mayonnaise, light American cheese, and fresh produce is $1.78.
IN SEARCH OF THE BEST DEAL
Did you know that a Big Mac costs different amounts at different locations even within the same city in the United States? I had no idea. I called five (randomly selected) locations of McDonald's in Manhattan (in June of 2005) and found that a Big Mac costs $3.15 plus tax at one location, $3.25 plus tax at another, $3.57 plus tax at two locations, and $3.79 plus tax at another. On the same day, I found two locations in the greater Los Angeles area with different prices. At one location, the Big Mac costs $2.15 plus tax, and at another, it costs $2.39 plus tax. What surprised me more, though, was that in my hometown of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, the Big Mac costs $2.75 plus tax. Because groceries are considerably less expensive in Wyomissing and the surrounding areas, and the cost of living is less than it is in Los Angeles, I was surprised to learn that you pay even more for a Big Mac in Wyomissing than you do in Santa Monica (near Los Angeles).
Next, let's consider a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino. To indulge your sweet tooth with this tasty concoction at home, you would need:
* One-half tablespoon of instant coffee granules, which would cost eight cents if you bought an 8-ounce jar of them for $6.39
* One teaspoon of sugar, which we'll say costs one cent, just as we did in the earlier example
* One-half cup of fat-free half-and-half, which would cost 37 cents if you bought a 1-quart carton for $2.99
* Two tablespoons of chocolate syrup, which would cost 14 cents if you bought a 16-ounce can for $1.59
* One-third cup of fat-free whipped topping, which would cost 22 cents if it came from a 7-ounce can that you bought for $2.99
The grand total for your homemade version of Starbucks Grande Mocha Frappuccino would be about 82 cents. If you were to walk into a Starbucks in my area and order that same drink, you would pay $3.55. That means you could make the same size of my version for a family of four for less than buying one.
I could go on here listing everything from Domino's Cheese Pizza to Burger King's French Toast Sticks, and from KFC's Popcorn Chicken to Long John Silver's Crunchy Shrimp Basket, but you get my point.