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Cook This Now! The 340-calorie cheeseburger and crunchy baked French fries

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Cheeseburgers are my downfall.

Well, bad habits, inconsistency and the failure to prepare for weight loss are my downfalls.

But, also cheeseburgers.

They’re gooey, greasy, meaty … all the reasons you’d love a cheeseburger. But wouldn’t you know it, cheeseburgers don’t really love you back. Unless you make them at home, that is.

As I’ve slimmed down, I’ve noticed how my cheeseburgers have slimmed down too: I used to eat doubles with bacon at fast food restaurants regularly. Over time I left the drive through behind, dropped a patty, and most of the time the bacon too. Mayo never makes an appearance anymore.

I found the blueprint for a skinnier burger in Men’s Health “Cook This, Not That.” In short, the basics of a skinny burger revolve around the type of bun you use and the ratio of meat to veggies.

Men’s Health suggests potato buns, which skew close to the 200 calorie mark depending on brand. I went with a freshly baked small-sized white bun from my local Fuddrucker’s. Four fresh buns for less than $1.50. That’s a deal.

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You want the amount of veggies to be larger than the amount of meat. For the recipe at top, Cook This, Not That’s 340-calorie A-1 Steak Burger, they use 1/4 lb. of ground beef per burger plus a whole lot of sauteed onions and mushrooms.

The burger, a small meatball that you smash on the grill to sear hot and fast,  has a crunchy crust in just a few short minutes with this method. This is the trick to making really great burgers at home without a grill.

Doctor it up with blue cheese, hatch chilies, a slice of bacon … anything you’d want to put on a burger out really. (Read more: Fat Dude’s Grass-Fed Breakfast Burger.)

I stick to about 1 oz. of cheese on each burger (a 100-110 calorie serving size) and ask the guy at the deli to cut the cheese into 1/2 oz. slices. That way, it’s like I’m getting two pieces of cheese, but in a serving size that’s less calories than even one piece of cheese at a regular restaurant.

And because you can’t have a solid burger without fries, you know I had to make those too.

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Fries are simple: If you know know that 150 grams of potatoes is 110 calories, you’ll automatically know the perfect serving size for an order of homemade French fries.

The trick to getting them crispy is to first cut the potatoes (into planks, then into fries) and then soak them in cold water, changing the water once, for about 24 hours. The starch will leave the potatoes, ensuring a crisp result.

To cook, spray with cooking spray, salt and bake the fries at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then at 425 degrees for a final 10 minutes.

You’ll never crave another deep fried spud or calorie-laden restaurant burger again.

Baked rigatoni: Little work, lots of servings, and just 425 calories

I’m all about doing as little work as possible to make as many servings of food I can. Soups, polenta, and especially rice and pasta dishes are good for this.

If you order pasta at a restaurant the results can be calorically catastrophic. A heavy hand with the olive oil, too many noodles or too much sauce can weigh down what would have been a decent meal if someone had paid attention to the portion control. Plus, there’s a good chance there’s a load of butter in there too. Bummer, dude.

For the baked rigatoni I make, you can use regular or whole-wheat pasta (whole-wheat is preferable). Each serving of noodles will be about 200 calories and will weigh 2 oz. Use that rule to portion out however many servings you want. The pan above, which was the next size down from the typical Pyrex rectangular casserole pan, held six portions.

You can make your own sauce, or use any bottled sauce you would like. If I’m making sauce, I go with something simple like the passata di pomodoro from the Mozza cookbook (San Marzano tomatoes, evoo, sugar, salt, pepper). It makes a great mother sauce, and can be dressed up with garlic, herbs, or whatever else you’d like to throw in it. Another Mozza sauce to try would be Nancy Silverton’s basic tomato sauce, which can be found on Bon Appétit.

And after all that build up, I used a jar of store-brand tomato basil from Sprouts. Gotta save time when you can, right? Each 1/2 cup was 50 calories, with 6 servings to the jar.

I also threw in three cheeses, garlic and half a pound of mushrooms for some meatiness.

Here’s what you’ll need for 6 portions the way I do it:

12 oz. rigatoni or penne
3 cups pasta sauce
2-3 clove garlic, minced or microplaned
1/2 onion, small dice
8 oz. crimini mushrooms
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 T unsalted butter
3 oz. fresh mozzarella, small dice
6 T mascarpone cheese
1 1/2 oz. parmesan, microplaned
2 T parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
cooking spray

To make it:

1) Follow the directions on the box to cook the pasta. Just make sure you salt the water to taste like the ocean before you cook the pasta. Make sure you reserve some of the starchy water before you strain it when it’s done!

2) Start up the sauce while the water heats up and you boil pasta. Over medium-high heat, cook the mushrooms in two batches, using 1/2 T of olive oil each time. Lightly salt the mushrooms. Next, using a dash of cooking spray, cook the onions and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. If anything sticks to the pan at any time, simply loosen with a little water. Start with the onions first, then add the garlic, so the latter doesn’t burn. When it’s close to done, throw the mushrooms back in and stir with the butter.

3. Somewhere in here, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

3. Add the sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. When the pasta is done, reserve some of the water, then drain. Add the pasta back into the sauce, with a couple spoons of the water. Let it simmer for a minute, until everything comes together.

5. If your pan is big enough, you can do this in the pan. If not, grab a large bowl. Mix the cheeses with the pasta and sauce, and drop in half of the parsley.

6. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the parmesan. If you’ve used a microplane to create a fluffy mound of fine shreds, you’ll be able to cover the whole dish in a fairly-decent blizzard of salty cheese. Bake for another 5 minutes until the cheese on top browns slightly. Let it cool for 10 minutes and then dig in. The leftovers taste even better.

With the sauce from Sprouts, each serving was 425 calories. Had I left out the olive oil and butter, and cooked the mushrooms with just Pam, the recipe would have run about 390 calories according to CalorieKing. Add a huge handful of mixed greens and a light drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette and you’ve got a solid meal for under 500 calories.

The serving is large enough to satisfy, and the creamy, cheesy sauce and thick, chewy noodles are as sinful as anything you’d get at a restaurant, with at least half the calories to weigh you down.

Enfrijoladas locas!!!

My buddy Dave introduced me to enfrijoladas recently at a Santa Ana restaurant called Potzol den Cano and I have a continual craving for this dish, which is essentially enchiladas, but with bean sauce. It’s possibly the best way to use beans ever.

Wifey Nadia hates enchiladas because she’s not down with the red sauce (which I think is crazy), but she was in love with these because the black beans go so well with chorizo and shredded chicken. Keep reading for the how-to. Continue reading Enfrijoladas locas!!!

Week 32, Meal 2: Sweet and sour chicken

Chef Brian’s pretty awesome at “magic tricks,” or at least that’s what I call them. Every once in a while, he’ll introduce a new technique to me that blows my mind. Some of my favorite tricks of his include corn pudding and salsa verde broth; Week 32, Meal 2: Italian Sweet and Sour chicken over sauteed kale with balsamic raisins and toasted pine nuts adds a new one to the repertorie: reconstituted raisins, plumped up fat and juicy with acidic balsamic vinegar.

Paired with a sticky glaze on skinless chicken thighs, the tart raisins provide perfect contrast in this sweet, sour and nutty dish.

Continue reading Week 32, Meal 2: Sweet and sour chicken

Week 32: Killer kale

Off the top of my head, I can come up with a shortlist of foods we should all have regularly: blueberries, almonds, green tea, dark chocolate, salmon and … kale. I hardly ever ate it before, but the leafy green has been used a few times here on Fat Dude.

Full of vitamins and minerals, kale is a neutral green that goes well in a variety of dishes. That’s why Chef Brian decided to spotlight kale with our Week 32 menu:

Week 32, Meal 1: Honey-sherry marinated chicken over roasted butternut squash, kale and ciopolini onion

Week 32, Meal 2: Italian Sweet and Sour chicken over sauteed kale with balsamic raisins and toasted pine nuts

Week 32, Meal 3: Citrus and Adobo Marinated Tuna over roasted fingerlings, kale, and tomatoes with garlic-chile oil and adobo citrus sour cream

Each recipe makes two portions. Keep reading for the full shopping list.

Continue reading Week 32: Killer kale

Cheap ‘n’ easy: Marinara (or meat) sauce and parmesan polenta

A bunch of my ingredients for Week 29: Salads that don’t suck went bad prematurely, and because I’m on a budget like most everyone else, I chose to postpone the blogging and use my remaining food dollars on meals that I could stretch over a few days.

One of my favorite cheap meals is homemade marinara sauce or meat sauce over parmesan polenta. If you buy grits or polenta once,  you pretty much have grits or polenta in the pantry for a while. Marinara sauce can be made with a couple of cloves of garlic, an onion, tomato paste and tomato sauce.

You can add meat, or pretty it up with fresh parsley or a couple of extra ingredients, but if you need to be cheap about it, you can get outta dodge with a handful of meals-worth of flavorful sauce for about $3, maybe less.

Keep reading to see how easy it is. Continue reading Cheap ‘n’ easy: Marinara (or meat) sauce and parmesan polenta

Week 25: Mad Fresh Mex

We’re almost halfway through one year of recipes — this being Week 25 and all — but by the look of this menu, my midterm exam has arrived a week early.

Chef Brian’s “Fresh Mex” menu has a long list of ingredients and I’m a bit intimidated by a lot of prep and a lot of cooking going on at once, but after an easy week of making sandwiches I’m ready to jump into the mix in a big way. Here’s what’s cooking, amigos.

Week 25, Meal 1: Marinated pork loin over jalapeno corn pudding, sauteed peppers, smoky ancho sauce

Week 25, Meal 2: Coriander and garlic marinated tuna over corn and black bean salsa, avocado puree, and lime sour cream

Week 25, Meal 3: Chicken tacos with avocado puree, lime sour cream, and grilled corn-jicama salsa

Each recipe makes two servings. Continue reading for the shopping list.

Continue reading Week 25: Mad Fresh Mex

Week 20, Meal 1: French aromatherapy

Of the three meals on the menu for Week 20, I was most excited for Week 20, Meal 1: Bouillbaisse with crouton and garlicky yogurt rouille.

There’s something about making French food that makes me feel more distinguished as a home cook. Maybe because for many chefs, French cuisine is the starter to learning classic techniques and the fundamental lesson that simple really is better.

That we’ve never much cooked with seafood on the blog (save  for fish and shrimp) or made much broth (except that awesome oxtail broth for the pho), this meal provided a new challenge that I knew would have a big  payoff at the end. Continue reading Week 20, Meal 1: French aromatherapy

Week 19, Meal 3: Ja-makin’ me hungry for tacos

I have this habit of trying to feed my co-workers little bites of whatever is on the menu that day just to see how other people like Chef Brian’s food.

They’re usually stoked on whatever is cooking that day, but in the case of Week 19, Meal 3: Jerk chicken meatball taco with cabbage and pineapple salsa, my buddy Josh said he’d never had flavors like these before.

Indeed, it’s not easy to find a place making legit jerk chicken in Orange County — and this was my first encounter with Jerk spice as well — but now that I’ve had a taste, I’m curious enough to seek out the real deal.

For those of you in the Jamaican-less boat Josh and I are in, here’s Fat Dude’s take on Jerk chicken, turned into a meatball and thrown in a taco … mostly cause we can, but also cause tacos are good anytime, with most anything shoved in ’em. Continue reading Week 19, Meal 3: Ja-makin’ me hungry for tacos

Week 19, Meal 2: (Indian) wedding soup

I’ve had this curious case of the sniffles for the last week — a reprisal of the yuckies that sidelined me a few weeks back — and it threw off my kitchen game last week.

The whole time I was cooking Week 19, Meal 2: Indian spiced lamb meatball soup with kaboucha squash, kale and wild rice I ran into problems. I couldn’t smell if the spices had toasted enough or taste if the dish had enough salt.

I planned to package the soup up for the following day, but there was a little miscommunication in the kitchen and we ended up leaving the soup out overnight in our comfortably warm condo.

I wasn’t so keen on trying it the next day as the cold hadn’t subsided (it still isn’t gone) and I wasn’t willing to test the boundaries of food poisoning.

So here goes the soup that never was. Continue reading Week 19, Meal 2: (Indian) wedding soup

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