The Experimental Cook

December 5, 2004

I can always tell things are going better when I do something like invent a soup, as I did yesterday.

I chopped about half an onion with my little chopper, which is the best thing ever if you work in small amounts — a million times faster to use and clean up than a mini food processor, and just as good. See the Pampered Chef version here; I can’t remember if I technically got it from them or if it’s a similar one, but that’s the idea. Anyway. Chopped the onion, dropped it and a little bottled minced garlic into a sprayed nonstick saucepan, cooked it up a little. Added about 2 1/2 cups of chicken broth, some minced jalapenos, some chili powder, a little cumin, about a cup of canned corn, about a cup of canned black beans, and about a half a can of stewed tomatoes. Simmered it for a while, then stuck my hand blender right into it, just like they used to do on the infomercials, blending the soup while it was still on the stove simmering. Didn’t puree it perfectly, but got it nice and thick.

Then I mixed two tablespoons of flour and two tablespooons of skim milk with a fork until it was smooth and added that, which made it nice and thick. Shredded a skinless boneless chicken breast half I had poached on the stove while the soup cooked, let that cook some. Added a small handful of shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese, and finished it with a couple of tablespoons, believe it or not, of nonfat half-and-half, which gave it a creamier look. This wound up making two generous servings of soup for me, and when I ran the nutritional information, what do you know? It was just about perfect for what I would want for dinner. Well-balanced, right number of calories, and — if I do say so myself — very tasty. I would probably add the whole can of tomatoes next time, and either some cayenne or more peppers.

The point of this (short) entry is that this is what I’m trying to do — learn to do it by feel. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many points it had, and I couldn’t break it down into breads and milks, and the shredded cheese isn’t Core, and I didn’t consult any lists of what to eat and not to eat, but I know when I make that on the stove that it’s good for me, that I’m not overfeeding myself, and that it’s what I want at that particular moment.

Funny story — when I first ran the nutritional information, it was coming back at 675 calories a serving, which was a lot more than I thought it should have. I could not figure out what the hell I was doing wrong, and I was like, “Man, maybe I’m wrong, and I don’t know how to do this as well as I thought.” It just seemed off somehow; I know approximately what food values are, and I was really discouraged by it. Then I realized that it was counting a cup of dried black beans. Which cooks up into about a truckload of beans. So that’s what was wrong. I fixed it so it (by which I mean MasterCook 7, the program I use for recipe analysis) knew I was using canned beans, and bang! About 375 to 400 calories, which is exactly right for dinner.

It is possible. You can do it by feel, but you have to be patient and train yourself, and that’s why I encourage people to use a program for as long as they still feel like it’s good for them. At some point, you begin to internalize it and you can do a lot of it without counting, but it takes a long time to do that, and I’m just kind of establishing myself there, which is sort of fun and interesting.

Also, I have leftover soup to have for lunch.

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9 Responses to “The Experimental Cook”

  1. Rachel Says:

    That sounds fantastic. I’ve been using a Weight Watchers cookbook, which has some good stuff in there that is easily adjustable. For instance, I’d rather chew on my own shoes that eat fat-free cheese, so I don’t. I just use less.

    In your last entry, you talked about how you KNOW how to eat. I think WW gave me a lot of guidance in that area, and I agree with you. I know how to eat, and if I do that, as well as successfully control portion sizes (and, let’s face it, chocolate), I’m on track.

    Couple that with the working out and VOILA! There’s less of me to love.

  2. Nils Says:

    I’ve found that the less of me there is to love, the more I love ME … and when I love me more, I’m more fun to be around. So really, the less of me there is to love … the more there is to love about me.

    Wow. My head just exploded. That’ll take off a few pounds.

    The soup sounds delicious, by the way.

  3. peach Says:

    I (along with ongoing consultation with my doctor) just started Atkins and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. I know what I can have and how much and what the nutritional values are. Using that knowledge, I can develop meals on my own. For example, the shrimp scampi salad I had for dinner the other night. Impromptu, yet knowing enough about the foods and values, I could substitute things (like dry white wine) for other things (like more garlic) and be better than OK. And it tasted FABULOUS. And I made it for myself. I can feed my self on my own. And that, in and of itself, is a wonderful milestone to reach.

    Your soup sounds delicious, too.

  4. Omega Says:

    I just tried the corn-bean-tomato salad thingy and it is both tasty and filling. I like my food strongly flavored and was all set to load it up with salt and pepper, but it wasn’t even necessary with the olive oil and lime juice dressing. Very impressive all around–you definitely have the hang of this experimental cooking thing!

  5. Other Says:

    There’s a lot to be said for soup anyway — as a low-density food, unless you pour in loads of cream, it’s almost always going to be pretty manageable calorie-wise and yet makes you feel full because of the water volume.

    As a not-so-great cook, I also value soup’s redeemable properties — if you screw it up, you can almost always find a way to save it, unlike things that have to be baked, etc.

  6. Val Says:

    I made your invention the other night and the hubby and I both loved it. We even warmed it up the next day for lunch. You see, we’ve been pretty bad this year about going out to eat, but that is all changing now. I am learning to cook and he is learning to enjoy my cooking (even if I do tend to use meat substitute and brown rice instead of the things he is used to). Anyway, I wanted to say thanks for the recipe!

  7. Kym Says:

    Just popping by (you are on my blogroll) to wish you and yours a happy holiday!

  8. jen Says:

    I agree with omega. partly because I’m always screwing up potential meals.

  9. Kerri Says:

    First time reader and commenter. Love your site! And yes, the mini chopper from Pampered Chef KICKS ASS! Everyone should have one because… well, just because it’s so damn cool.
    It’s also a great way to release any anger and tension from your day. Chop the hell out of an onion or two and you’re on your way to ZEN.

    I just started my own weight loss blog, cuz I just don’t think there are enough of them out there. And, it’s a relatively easy way to chronicle this long journey to better health and tighter buns. Also, I was chosen by a local radio station to be their “weight loss poster child” for a year. I weigh in, ON THE AIR, every week. How’s that for built-in accountability?! I gotta say, it’s working. Looking forward to your next post…


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