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updated: 10/9/2012 6:18 AM

Don marks 20 years of lovin' the lean life

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  • Don Mauer has been writing Lean and Lovin' it and sharing tips for cutting fat and calories from recipes for 20 years.

    Don Mauer has been writing Lean and Lovin' it and sharing tips for cutting fat and calories from recipes for 20 years.


On Oct. 8, 1992, Lean and lovin' it appeared right here for the first time.

Little did I think that 20 years and almost 900 columns later I'd still be lovin' it.

Along the way I've made more than 200 television appearances, done countless radio segments and got to spend time with such culinary luminaries as Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and Craig Claiborne.

When the column started I had shed 105 pounds and had kept it off for two-plus years by cooking great-tasting, low-fat and lower-calorie meals. Through the years I've shared healthier, low-fat recipes as well as research and inspiration that I hope has helped you on your quest to eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight.

Twenty years ago low-fat meals seemed to be t-h-e magical solution to losing weight and keeping it off. Although trimming fat (especially unhealthy fat like trans fat) and its 9 calories per gram (carbs and protein have only 4) does help, a higher protein, low refined carb (sugar and white flour) food plan now appears to be the healthiest path to a leaner you.

At times I believed that margarine was healthy and butter wasn't; that egg yolks and shrimp should rarely be eaten and vegetable oils (like soybean or canola) were healthier than coconut oil.

Today, margarines made with trans fats are known to be unhealthier than butter, egg yolks and shrimp consumed in reasonable amounts do not negatively affect cholesterol levels and coconut oil's specific type of saturated fats (medium-chain triglycerides) may actually be good for us.

Over the past two decades I created some lean solutions that made a difference in my life and, hopefully, in yours. Here are the cream of that crop.

Slimmed down dressing
Today, studies show that the majority of fat calories for women come from salad dressing. In the early 1990s, I zeroed in on salad dressing as my major fat and calorie delivery system (mayonnaise is 99-percent fat). I soon found that chicken (or vegetable) broth, slightly thickened with cornstarch, made a perfect at-home substitute for 95-percent of most homemade salad dressing's oil. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of calories may have been saved by that simple, flavorful substitution.

Gettin' saucy
In the early 90s, pureed prunes were pitched as the best way to cut fat from shortening in cookies, cakes, muffins and quick breads. Two prune issues: color and flavor.

When I first tried using applesauce instead of prune puree for the shortening in a quick bread and ended up with a chewy dessert with a very soggy bottom I knew that concept needed work. Draining the applesauce and not over-mixing the batter solved both problems.

In 2001, Cooking Light magazine recognized me as the creator of that nearly-perfect, fat-cutting solution.

Gettin' soaked
Brining (soaking in a saltwater and sugar solution) meats, poultry and some sea foods adds much-needed moisture and tenderization to lean meats. Maybe you've tried my unique buttermilk-based chicken brine, beer-based beef soak or a herby bath for turkey.

Makeover mania
Over these 20 years many of you have sent me your high-fat, high-calorie recipes to rework in my leanwizard's repair shop. The first, a recipe card with food stains for a wonderful zucchini bread, appeared in my snail mail and turned out to be an early column favorite. Recently reworking Mary Holda's banana bread allowed me to, once again, work my lean magic and share the results with you.

More to come
My best experience of all during these 20 years: meeting you and sharing stories at events around town. I've loved every minute of our 20 years together and I'm eager to spend this coming year with you.

Try this recipe: My 20th anniversary gingerbread cake started out by combining the best of two gingerbread recipes and then cutting the fat in half. I love a moist and flavorful gingerbread where the ginger sings, and this is all that and then some.

Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at

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