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The Most Decadent Diet Ever
By Devin Alexander
ISBN: 0767928814
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publication date: April 2008
Format: Paperback
List price: $19.95
Type: Diet
Sample recipe: BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger
Intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
Apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive coffee-table Biblical stature
Competition: outclassed follower in the pack strong challenger likely champ
Variety: too little too much unusual nice mix just right
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 ≥300
Practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% ≥80%
# of ingredients: ≤4 ≤7 ≤10 ≤12 >12
Ingredient hunt: 7-Eleven airfare required online pantry supermarket
Recipe complexity: too hard simple medium challenging professional
Instructions: inadequate verbose bare-bones full-figured educational
Time conscious: unconscious outright lies white lies realistic honorable
Cooking time: weekend project takes all day takes time ≥30 minutes <30 minutes
Added info: zip overwhelming scant balanced generous
Photos/drawings: none distracting decorative instructive glorious
Recipe results: ≤dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
Nutritional info: none overwhelming hit or miss adequate comprehensive
Tone: food police fearful neutral supportive comforting
Result: guilt-inducing heavy-handed balanced encouraging inspiring
Format/Ease of Use
Layout: ugh cluttered fine considerate work of art
Legibility: unpleasant challenging tolerable clear brilliant
Production quality: cheesy dubious years of service gift quality stunning
Page numbers: non-existent hard-to-find spotty sufficient every page
Table of contents: AWOL frustrating passable useful excellent
Index quality: none tragic adequate good a treasure
Page flipping: upsetting tedious acceptable rare never
Writer: beginner food writer writing cook personality auteur
Cook: unknown self-taught chef teacher celebrity
Fulfills ambitions: falls short almost there satisfactory exceeds home run
Flavor delivered: sad inconsistent tasty delicious exceptional
Overall tone: sterile trying too hard straightforward best friend mom
Value: ouch! a little pricey worth splurging on the money a deal
Overall rating: skip it fair good great Ochef Top 100

Comments: Perhaps most people tell themselves little white lies to get them through the day. We are in no position to judge, but when it comes to putting those lies in print – promoting them to others – we become concerned.

Perhaps, we also thought, we don't know the meaning of the word "decadent," because the author of this book is implying you can spoil yourself rotten and lose weight on her diet. From our perspective, though, there is nothing decadent in this book. After turning to not one, but three dictionaries, we found that she is right and Ochef is wrong. Decadence is "a process, condition, or period of decline, as in morals, art, literature, etc.; deterioration; decay." We assume the "etc." in that definition can be replaced by the word "cooking" in the case of this book.

In the author's world, you don't count calories, you count "decadent disks" – each of which is worth 100 calories (and a serving of her recipes is 1, 2, 3, or 4 decadent disks). So yes, you're still counting, but the decimal point has moved two spaces to the left, greatly simplifying the math. Also, you eat five small meals or snacks a day, which we assume means you're single, or like people who work the night shift, are always out of synch with most of society.

To her credit, the author (a trained chef) is good at trimming the fat and other terrifying food gremlins from her dishes, while leaving in or adding high-flavor ingredients. The Barbecue Bacon Cheeseburger has flavorless 96%-lean ground beef (if you can find it), light cheese, and a reduced-calorie bun, but gets its flavor from 1-1/2 slices of bacon, 1 to 2 tablespoons of minced red onion, and 2 teaspoons of barbecue sauce.

Where, though, are the amazing nutritional savings? We made the Dark Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, which was certainly as good as a chocolate cake made from a mix (though gummy). The author says a traditional serving of chocolate cake contains 550 calories and 27 grams of fat, while hers contains 294 calories and 6 grams of fat.

We compared her numbers with those of Betty Crocker's Super Moist Devil's Food Cake and Dark Chocolate Frosting and found that the decadent diet cake has 49 fewer calories per serving (not 261 fewer) and only 1 gram less of fat (not 27). If you cut Betty Crocker's cake into 8 servings, then yes, it does have the calorie and fat load the author ascribes to traditional chocolate cakes, but if you cut it into 14 slices, as she does with her cake, the nutritional values are certainly in the same ballpark, with a lot less work (plus you won't have to add 21 minutes (in 3-minute increments) to the suggested 16 to 18 minutes of cooking time to get a cake that is done).

The tone of the book pretends to be your chatty best friend, but includes such nonsensical and frightening statements as, "in the long term, you'll be saving money on doctor bills" if you make sure to find 96%-lean ground beef rather than 93% lean (with its 20 extra calories and 3.39 more grams of fat). For us, it is a 30-mile drive to find 93% lean, and probably 130 miles to find 96% lean.

If it's not hard enough to find some ingredients, it can also be a challenge to figure out some instructions. If a recipe says, "1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp butter," you can figure it out by the writing on the butter wrapper (although it would have been much nicer to say, "6 Tbsp butter.") But to say, "1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp cream cheese" is maddening. The cream cheese wrappers we know are measured in 1-ounce increments. The required amount here is 3 ounces, but why make someone jump through hoops to figure out how to make your recipe?

The message of the book is that you should eat lots of fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly (which every diet book says), and that you absolutely can eat indulgent foods, but in very small portions, and that you have to make some big changes in your life to lose weight, but should pretend they're small changes.

Maybe we can't lose weight without telling ourselves a lie here and there, but does that mean others should be sharing their fibs with us? It is a book of contradictions, where "love food" appears to mean "terrified of food," where "healthy" appears to mean "I just want to be skinny," and where the most consistently honest statement is the correct use of the dictionary's definition of "decadent."


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