Versatile vegetable soup

I have been making pots of vegetable soup for the first time in years, and I’m loving it. It’s so cheap and easy and healthy! I feel good about myself every time I have a bowl. I have been using a basic recipe inherited from my mother, and freestyling the extras for different flavors with every pot. Here is how I make it:

1 T canola oil
1 c diced onion
1+ c diced celery
1+ c diced carrots or thin baby carrots
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
2 T Mrs. Knorr’s chicken powder
3 quarts water
Salt to taste (the chicken powder will go a long way toward seasoning it)

Heat canola oil in your soup pot and cook onion and celery until they soften. Add the other ingredients and bring to a simmer. Now you are ready to improvise. First, add your seasoning. I use three different combinations:

Scarborough Fair seasoning is parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. It has a traditional European/French flavor.
Italian seasoning is garlic, parsley, basil and oregano. It will make you think of minestrone.
Mexican seasoning is garlic, parsley, cilantro and Cholula hot sauce.

You also want to add more vegetables, by which I mean whatever you have on hand, leftovers or bags of frozen vegetables work equally well.

And then think about adding extras to give it heft. Pre-cooked legumes, grains, and pasta are all good, though you should think about whether you want to add them before or after the soup cooks. Pre-cooked beans and grains don’t seem to suffer from extra cooking, in my experience, while precooked pasta should be added just before you’re ready to eat.

Need I point out that with the 1 T of oil disappearing into about four quarts of soup, this soup becomes 0 PointsPlus per bowl before you add legumes, grain or pasta. Not a bad deal, huh?

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Foods I depend on

So I am pretty well back in “Core” mode, so called because of the now-defunct Weight Watchers program that really worked for me. There are several foods that I depend on when I’m doing this, and hard boiled eggs are one of them. No other egg preparation seems to have any staying power for me–they’re all too light and fluffy and melt away too soon. A cold hard boiled egg in your stomach, though, lets your body know that it’s got something substantial to deal with. Take that, stomach. I’ve been having one as my mid-morning snack, after eating Standby Oatmeal for breakfast.

I also depend on 1% milkfat, large curd cottage cheese. That’s another big slug of serious protein that sits in my stomach nicely. I usually eat a half cup as my bedtime snack and it keeps the midnight tummy-rumbles away.

Also roasted vegetables. I slice tomatoes, onions, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, squash, asparagus, or whatever other vegetable looked good at the market into pieces no more than 1″ thick and arrange them in a single layer on a tray. I spray them with olive oil Pam, salt, and roast at 400F for about 20-30 minutes. I can eat this hot as is or cold with a little fat-free dressing, I can wrap it up in an omelet, I can blitz it in the blender with stock to make a smooth vegetable soup. Tasty, easy, and oh so very filling and low calorie.

Because I feel so much better when I’m eating a lot of protein and moderate amounts of fat, it’s easy for me to under-eat carbs while I’m doing this. I know, isn’t that funny? The Core program had you count extra points for any kind of bread, but newer versions of it now allow light breads, so I’ve been eating that. I pile on protein salads–mashed up eggs and water-packed sardines, water-packed salmon with pickle relish, water-packed tuna with cottage cheese and a lot of pepper. On the days I’ve done this I’ve boldly eaten two slices at a time, and it works for me. It staves off hunger.

And finally nuts. It’s another thing that can look like a big calorie hit but is worth it, satiety-wise. Emerald now makes almonds with several tasty coatings that don’t involve sugar or much salt–Cocoa Roast and Vanilla Roast are the two I’m thinking of. If you want to take the hit of salt there are many many more fiendishly delicious flavors.

This morning I weighed 195.4, down another .4 pound in two days, that’s a total of 2.4 pounds in four days. It’s bloat of course, leaving my body along with the processed food. It feels good.

Avgolemono

Last weekend we had a snow day. It snowed, and it blowed, and it snowed and blowed some more. We were quite definitely stuck in the house, for all non-emergency intents and purposes. Given that it was already officially “spring” and that my blooming crocus were swiftly being buried, I felt grumpy. I needed a coping mechanism. Soup, soup sounded good. Warm, thick, nourishing soup. Soup with an emotional connection. How about… how about avgolemono? It’s yet another blast from my college past, when the sweet old couple at the mom & pop Greek restaurant around the corner were sort of surrogate parents… or at least surrogate home cooking. I cannot come up with a single friend from my college years who I didn’t take there at least once. Ah me… the souvlaki, the gyros, the moussaka (the memory makes my breath catch!), the retsina, the octopus salad, the flaming cheese, the honey rolls, and yeah… the avgolemono.

This is a thick chicken soup flavored with lemon. Excellent on cold days or whenever you need spiritual nourishment. The eggs make it opaque and thick, so your brain reads it as a cream soup, even though the only fat is two egg yolks in a vast pot of soup–so it’s very low in points.

Avgolemono

8 cups chicken stock (I use Knorr chicken powder to make mine)
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup Arborio rice, dry
2 chicken breasts, 6-8 oz cooked weight
1 tsp dry oregano
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup lemon juice
2 eggs

Marinate chicken breasts in 1/4 cup lemon juice, salt, and oregano for several hours or overnight. Pull out of marinade and bake at 400 for about 30 minutes, until done but not tough. Meanwhile, bring your chicken stock to a boil then add the carrots, onions, garlic, and rice. Cover and let cook for about 20 minutes, until rice is close to done. Shred chicken and add to pot. Put the 1/2 cup lemon juice and 2 eggs in a small bowl and whisk well. Ladle two cups of the hot broth into egg and lemon mixture, whisking well, then pour it all back into the soup pot and return soup to the boil.

Makes eight huge, comforting servings with 4 PointsPlus apiece. Pleasant and also virtuous with a little pita bread and a big Greek salad. Can you buy retsina where you live? You should try it, the salty-sour savoriness of this soup plays well with it.

Standby oatmeal

This oatmeal recipe is my weight loss standby. I’ve eaten it for breakfast every morning in every successful Weight Watchers campaign I’ve had. Some mornings I feel that I need some protein with it, and have an egg or some turkey bacon. Some mornings it’s fine by itself.

Oats are packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber. They stick to your ribs and do wonderful things for your digestion. The applesauce boosts all of that, and adds sweet flavor to the oats. Cinnamon is supposed to stabilize blood sugar, helping you go longer before you need lunch.

Standby Oatmeal

1/2 c old fashioned oats, uncooked
1 cup water
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce (the size of one of the prepacked servings)
1/2 t cinnamon
2 packets Splenda
pinch salt

Put oats and water in a very deep bowl and microwave to cook. Cooking times will vary with microwaves; I do 4 minutes at 70% in mine because 3 minutes at 100% makes it boil over. Did you notice I said a VERY DEEP bowl? Older microwaves were fine at 100% for 3 minutes. Our current one is newish and very peppy.

When it’s done, stir in the other ingredients and eat slowly. It makes a really, really big bowl of porridge for 4 PointsPlus.

Fish tacos

We’re having this tonight, and it’s one of my very favorite dinners. It’s summery, carefree, fresh, nutritious, and delicious. Eat it on your back deck on a soft summer evening… or, like us today, just wish you were.

There are four components: white fish fillets, corn tortillas, guacamole, and pico de gallo.

For the fish fillets: preheat your oven to 400. Lay white fish fillets (such as tilapia or perch) in one layer on a baking sheet. Squeeze lime juice over, then dust with chili powder and salt. Bake until fish is done and flakes easily, about 15-20 minutes. If it’s summer time, you can grill them with charcoal for an extra-special smoky flavor.

For the corn tortillas: I use little 6″ ones that come many to a package. Wrap them in aluminum foil and bake them at the same time you bake the fish, just to get them warmed through and pliable.

For the guacamole: if you live in a place like me, you can only buy rock-hard avocados. So buy them, the brown-skinned kind, not the green-skinned kind. Leave them on the counter until they soften enough that they give a bit to a firm poke. Then you know it’s taco night. To prepare the guacamole cut them in half and scoop the flesh out. For each avocado, add the juice of 1/2 lime and one pressed clove of garlic. Add a tablespoon of cilantro paste (use fresh if you prefer, but I find the paste distributes better in the guacamole) and a healthy pinch of salt. Take your potato masher to it all until it’s a consistency you like. Taste; adjust salt and lime juice to your liking.

For the pico de gallo: dice tomatoes, green onions, and cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over and salt to taste.

Assemble tacos by smearing 1T of guacamole on a flour tortilla and adding 2oz baked fish, flaked, and a spoon of pico de gallo (it’s zero points, so load up!) Each taco prepared this way is 4 PointsPlus, so have a couple! Make up a pitcher of a Crystal Light mocktail to go with it for zero PointsPlus–the mojito flavor is especially nice.

Grocery day 3/19/2013

My daughter and I got groceries a day early. I have an appointment to get (more) recall work done on my Toyota tomorrow morning. Also, we were running out of milk.

This week’s cooking plan:

fruit salad
preserved lemons
chicken pepper stir fry
pork cabbage stir fry
rotisserie chicken, orzo, broccoli
fish tacos
greek salad
catfish, green beans, spanish rice

The fruit salad is just a nice thing to have around, really great on yogurt. Preserved lemons are lemons cut into wedges and packed into a mason jar with salt, then left in the fridge for a month. The lemons turn savory and mellow and absolutely delicious. They are used in many Moroccan recipes. I guess other things are self-explanatory; I will talk more about the greek salad and fish tacos sometime. They’re two of my favorite meals.

The shopping list was thus:

2lb deli turkey
oranges
grapes
strawberries
romaine
cucumbers
feta
flatbread
ginger
iceberg lettuce
tomatoes
green onions
cabbage
lemons
cilantro
avocados
milk
ranch packets
corn tortillas
la croix
green beans
frozen white fish

A good 2/3s of it is produce, how about that? Well, I shouldn’t really take much credit. I organized the pantry this weekend and now I understand just how much pasta and rice and beans we already have. Also, that freezer full of meat. My husband asked for deli turkey and iceberg lettuce to make sandwiches with. The grocery store didn’t HAVE any iceberg lettuce though, can you believe it?

My daughter, who turned two last week (!!!), was game to try a spring of cilantro, which she liked, and a little deli turkey, which she didn’t. She wouldn’t eat her birthday cake or her birthday macaroni and cheese. The child is a mystery.