Why is the food at many restaurants better than anything you can cook yourself? There are several reasons. Chefs have training and knowledge that home cooks do not. They have access to finer ingredients.

And they are not afraid to do things that would give home cooks pause. Specifically, they feel free to make their meals memorable by loading them up with calories and fat.

The late Anthony Bourdain once wrote that patrons of some fine dining restaurants can expect to consume an entire stick of butter over the course of some meals.

Home cooks generally don’t cook that way. I, for one, suffer from a medical condition that keeps me from indulging in such excesses. The condition is called I’m Glad I’m Living and I Don’t Want to Stop Anytime Soon.

But restaurant food tastes so good. So what I like to do is take restaurant recipes and strip them of some of their sugar and some of their fat. The idea is to do that without removing too much of their flavor, though the restaurant versions are certain to taste better.

Here’s the thing: Every week, the Let’s Eat section runs a recipe from an area restaurant for a favorite dish requested by a reader (see this week’s on Page L3). The restaurants generously and graciously share these recipes with us as a way of connecting with their customers.

This week, I have endeavored to take four of those requested recipes and bring them back down to earth. I have nipped them and tucked them, edged them and trimmed them, removing fat where I could in an effort to turn them into recipes you could serve your family without causing instant cardiac arrest.

In general, I used less butter and oil than the recipes call for — and the butter that I did use, I often browned for a nutty flavor. In place of heavy cream, I used a mixture of half-and-half and whole milk, which I also used as a substitute for half-and-half. For recipes requiring Parmesan cheese, I used a greatly reduced amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano, which has a more intense flavor.

I did not use any product that that is specifically marketed as low calorie. The whole point was to make these dishes taste great, not be vaguely reminiscent of something that tastes great.

The results were highly satisfying. They hit that sweet spot of being delicious while still being far better for you than the original restaurant versions, though that is not always saying much.

I started, as one should, with a first course, a soup. It is a cream of broccoli soup served at Lumen, an event space that frequently caters celebrations such as weddings. You would expect the food at such a place would be rich, and indeed it is. One serving of their Broccoli Soup With Gougeres contains 475 calories, with 46 grams of fat.

Thinner Broccoli Soup With Gougeres

Yield: 10 cups soup and about 20 gougeres

I cut the butter in half and used a 50-50 mixture of half-and-half and whole milk in place of heavy cream, adding yogurt instead of sour cream. And to replace some of the flavor I was removing, I actually added a few calories — but a lot of taste — in the form of chicken stock, which I used in place of plain water to make the broth.

The soup is also served with a cheesy gougere, which is a little puff pastry. I cut back on the butter here, too, and used water instead of milk — gougeres are traditionally made with water, anyway. I did use the full complement of cheese, though, because you’ve got to have some fun in this life.

The soup was sublime, even with my substantial changes. I mean it was really good. And it is much better for you: My version has just 249 calories, with 13 grams of fat.

Feeling emboldened, I tackled the mushroom risotto served at Cellar House. The bad news is that it has a lot of rice, and there is nothing you can do about that; that’s what risotto is. The good news is that it is the short-grain arbrorio rice, which is relatively low in carbohydrates, for rice.

This time, I cut way, way, way back on the butter: just three tablespoons, instead of the recipe’s 11. But then I added a little more butter, half of a tablespoon, to bump up the flavor when I was removing two tablespoons of olive oil. And I used half as much Parmigiano-Reggiano as the called-for regular Parmesan.

Lower-Cal Mushroom Risotto

Yield: 4 servings

The risotto was creamy, even without the butter, and rich with a hearty, mushroom flavor. It has substantially fewer calories than the original version, 723 compared to 972, but it is still kind of fattening. The problem is all that rice, because the portion is huge. Maybe too huge; one way to knock down the calorie count would be to serve a smaller portion.

The fat content, incidentally, is greatly improved: 18 grams, compared to 42.

Portion size is also a problem with the other entrée I made, the seafood pasta from the Concord Grill. The Concord warns that their recipe makes enough to serve two, but even then they are being more than generous. They call for 10 ounces of uncooked spaghetti, enough to make four cups.

Sort-of Healthier Seafood Pasta

Yield: 2 enormous servings, or really more

All I could do was to cut back on the amount of olive oil and use half as much Parmigiano-Reggiano as the recipe’s Parmesan. And while the restaurant version of the dish essentially swims in half-and-half, I used half as much of the half-and-half/milk mixture. A bit of flour helped thicken the liquid, in place of the fat from the half-and-half.

It is easy to see why we got the original recipe request. This is a hearty and, heaven knows, filling dish. And it should be filling, because even my version checked in at a scale-tipping 937 calories and 36 grams of fat. On the other hand, that is down considerably from the staggering 1,360 calories — and 78 grams of fat — in the original restaurant version.

My advice would be to make this three servings, or even four, instead of two.

I ended, as one should, with dessert, the coconut cream pie from the Hawthorne Inn. Their version begins with a crust made from crushed shortbread cookies, a cup of sweetened coconut and a whole stick of butter.

That sounds amazing, but no. I used a regular pie crust, which I bought because I didn’t have time to make my own. I am so ashamed.

Slimmer Coconut Cream Pie

Yield: 6 servings

The only other change I made was to use whole milk in place of the half-and-half that the restaurant uses to mix with instant pudding mix. Yes, instant pudding mix. It’s actually called instant pudding and pie filling, and it doesn’t make a bad pie filling at all.

The original version has 797 calories, with 52 grams of fat. My version checks in at a trimmer 435 calories, with 20 grams of fat.

It’s not exactly healthful, but nothing that tastes this good ever is.


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