February 12, 2010

Bless you Chef Kerr

In my teens I was obsessed with Chef Graham Kerr's eponymous TV show. Now, once upon a time, Chef Kerr had been known as the Galloping Gourmet.

Photo credit: the Everett Collection, via Watching What We Eat

The GG was an advocate of local, fresh, and seasonal ingredients. However, his recipes all called for mountains of butter, cream, and fat, and virtual rivers of wine. I looked him up on Wikipedia and found this marvelous tidbit:
He was once called the "Most Dangerous Man in America" from the Heart and Stroke Foundation due to his high fat, high calorie recipes featured on his influential cooking programme.
Flash forward to the 90's. Graham is getting to middle age, and his wife has survived a heart attack. He develops a new show in which he re-imagines old GG recipes with a healthier bent. To this day, I credit the Graham Kerr show with my love of garlic and cilantro, and my general aversion to heavy salt.

This is all just background to set up my latest experiment.

Let me start by saying, I love ranch dressing. LOVE it. Pizza, chips, veggies, gimme some. I am also a total ranch snob. I pick restaurants based on the quality of their ranch. I do not like low-fat ranch. It's usually watery, and that fake fat they use can cause, er, let's say digestive complications.

I gave up the bottled stuff in favor of packets last summer. It's tastier and way cheaper, but get this. It calls for a cup of mayonnaise. You heard right, a CUP! Do you know how gross a cup of mayonnaise looks in a bowl? I do.

Thinking on this, I remembered a trick Chef Kerr used to use all the time: substitute strained yogurt. He used it in place of cream cheese, sour cream, mayo -- just about any rich, fat-laden dairy-type product. So I gave it a try. Why not, right?

What you need:

  • Plain yogurt (important: NOT vanilla)
  • Cheese cloth (available from any fabric store; I used 2 yards)
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Large strainer (I used my flour sifter)
Ok, all you need to do is, fold up the cheese cloth and use it to line your strainer.

 Here's where I thought, maybe the sifter wasn't the best choice.

Put the strainer over your mixing bowl, and dump in the yogurt.

Here's where I was sure. Gotta get a proper strainer.

Wrap the whole thing in plastic, put it in the fridge, and forget about it for several hours, or even better, overnight.

 Glass bowl is important so the plastic wrap will stick.

While you're off doing all the other shit you gotta do, the whey will be draining through the cheese cloth and into the bowl. Note: the yogurt will lose about half its volume through this process, so adjust your measurements accordingly.

I'm usually vehemently anti-waste, but I couldn't think of a thing I could do with yogurt-whey. I just discarded it.

 Any ideas for using this?

What's left behind in the strainer is the solid part of the yogurt. I was amazed. It was fluffy and thick, almost like whipped cream cheese.

See where this is going? I substituted the yogurt solids for mayo in my ranch. With deep trepidation, I gave it a taste...

 Don't judge. My hands were clean!

Are you kidding me?! YUM!! I think I like this better than mayo! Who knew? Well, I guess Graham Kerr knew, like 20 years ago. I busted out some celery sticks and ate some right out of the bowl. Couldn't resist.

 Momma's got a brand new ranch, y'all!

Some numbers, in case you're curious.
  • One cup of plain yogurt has 150 calories, 8g fat.
  • One cup of mayo? A ridiculous 1440 calories, 160g fat.
  • This way, the entire bowl of dressing had 360 calories, 13g fat.
  • A 2-tablespoon serving has roughly 22 calories and less than 1g fat.
  • By way of comparison, with mayo a serving has 103 calories, 10g fat.
If I may belabor the obvious, there's room for trimming these numbers even more. Using 1% or skim milk would help, as would a nonfat yogurt. I might actually try nonfat next time. I'm feeling brave now.

One last tip from my inspiration, the erstwhile Galloping Gourmet. Try to avoid yogurt with gelatin added; it apparently interferes with the straining process.

I'll be experimenting with this trick some more. If any of y'all do, please comment and let us know how it goes!


  1. Do you really use the word "eponymous"???? It's one of those words I read, but never say.

  2. I do sometimes say eponymous, although it's usually accompanied by an ironic half-smile. But it beats the hell out of "self-titled" -- go on, say them both and tell me different.


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