Thursday, December 17, 2009

What's cookin', good lookin'?

Almost all of my life I've been a picky eater. If it had any vegetable on it, I probably turned up my nose and went on. I'd pick through my mom's casseroles for the grains of rice and beef and would discard any thing that looked like it would taste gross (i.e. everything else in the casserole).

During the past few years, I've opted to branch out. I've tried new things and have tried eating the items as they are on the menu without a ton of omissions. I've found that I actually like zucchini, carrots, onions, and mushrooms. Instead of wanting my hamburgers with cheese, mayo, and ketchup only, I eat them with many veggies and no mayo. I've found that I love the burgers more when prepared this way. Who'd have thought? Definitely not the 6 year old me.

But cooking? It's still a little intimidating to me. I used to think that I had to look at the recipe and if I didn't have all of the ingredients (or if I didn't think that I liked all of the ingredients), then I shouldn't cook it.

So basically, this explains the THOUSANDS of dollars I've spent on fast food in my life.

I've only recently tried to cook. It's hard to do in my smaller than small kitchen. I've fallen into a rut during the last two years of having one of a few different breakfasts, one of a few different lunches, and one of a few different dinners. I still eat out more than not.

Given the unstable work environment I'm now in, I'm determined to save money and brush up on my cooking skills. I'd like to be able to have guests over and know what I could fix them without calling my mom in a panic. I'd like to be able to look in my fridge and figure out what I could make out of the various ingredients I have.

I want to continue to build on my healthy relationship with food. I want to get more enjoyment out of my food by preparing it instead of just eating more of whatever food I happened to pick up on the way home.

So I've been looking for cook books or websites that meet the following criteria:

1) They have to be easy to prepare.
2) They have to not require a bunch of ingredients because I don't have the space for lots of them AND I don't want to waste money by not using all of them before they go bad.
3) They can't make 6-8 servings per recipe. I don't usually like leftovers but I can bring myself to eat a few - just not 7.
4) They have to be healthy (like low in points, low in fat, high in fiber, or high in protein).

Not a lot of cookbooks/sites meet these needs. If you have any ideas, I'd love to know about them!

So I came across "Hungry Girl's 200 recipes below 200 calories" in a few weeks ago. I got free shipping from for a month and because this book was only $11 and change and I thought that I might as well purchase it to try it.

Here's what I found: all of the recipes feature items that are easy to have on hand - and pretty much all of them are packaged and processed. Most of the recipes are for sweet foods - lots of cookies, cupcakes, treats, and sweet breakfasts/lunches. All of the recipes are 4 points or less per serving and the serving sizes look pretty reasonable. AND there aren't a bunch of servings in each recipe. The list of ingredients are usually pretty small in number and it seems manageable.

I love everything about this cookbook other than that there is a lot of sweet items featured and I usually like savory items more. There are many savory items, just not as many as I would've hoped for. I'm looking for meals that I can make quickly and easily and these seem to fit the bill. The only other problem I have is with the amount of "fake food" in it. I'm not too bothered with this now because I figure this is a good way to get my feet wet in the world of cooking.

So far, I've written all of the points values by each recipe (those values and pictures can be found here). I also printed off the thumbnail pictures and taped them by each recipe so I can see what it looks like.

I've only tried one thing - "The Choco-Monkey Oatmeal." The recipe calls for some cinnamon, a package of low calorie cocoa mix, some salt, a sugar substitute packet, a half of a mashed banana, and (of course) oatmeal. I don't really know how to get permission to write the recipe here so I won't, but I'm sure that you're smart and can figure out how to mix it all up. Anyway, I tried it (as directed) yesterday and found that without some protein in it, I was ravenously hungry within two hours.

So today, I did something I haven't done before. I adapted the recipe! :)

I took out the sugar substitute, knowing that sugary type things in the morning sometimes triggers me to crave other sugary things throughout the day. And I added a tablespoon and a half of reduced fat peanut butter.

I am SO happy with my adaptation! It added protein and was very filling and satisfying. It was a bit thicker (almost like undercooked cake batter) so I'll add some more water tomorrow and adapt from there. The addition of the peanut butter made the breakfast only 6 points...which is pretty good for me - especially since if I eat well for breakfast, the rest of the day seems to go smoother.

There are a lot of other recipes that I want to try - ones that look easy to prepare ahead of time and then take with me to work. There are quite a few that require microwaving rather than pots and pans...which is the solution to my small kitchen issues.

I'm sure that there are those that will turn up their noses at this type of cooking...and maybe years from now I'll be like them. But for now, this is a manageable gap between cooking one meal a month and cooking a few a week.

It's progress, it's healthier than what I was doing, and it's fun. As cheesy as it sounds, THAT is the recipe for healthier living.


POD said...

You can rewrite it once you adapt it and say "adapted from..."
and give out that info.
It sounds good though. Something I'd eat.
I recommend a crockpot.
And a book I'm going to buy.
"The Pleasures of Cooking for one."
by Judith Jones (though I know there are two of you. You cannot eat that much food!)

Margie M. said...

I second what POD commented on and get a crockpot. They can be a lifesaver in the kitchen (and a newbie cook). Simple is always best when learning to cook. Stay away from Julia Child's recipes :)
When shopping for a new cookbook, I only buy ones that give nutritional guidelines so that I can figure out my points. Nothing will bum you out more than taking a recipe and having to look up every ingredient to find the WW point equivalent. Real turn-off even for me who has been married and cooking for 40 years. I'm happy you are taking up the challenge to cook at home. It can save you big $$$. I will be eagerly waiting for news on your blog about your cooking experiences!

Florida Food Snob said...

I am one of hungry girls biggest fans  she has another book that I highly recommend! I used to be the exact same way, plain jane…now I really enjoy the new foods that I discover. I no longer am part of the bread-meat-cheese sandwich club, veggies are my friend. I am constantly looking for new recipes. To be successful I need variety and I need to be prepared. I visit my library often – they have a huge selection of cook book for FREE! I have found a lot of slow cooker and 5 ingredient meal cookbooks most helpful considering the time required and easy difficulty level.

Kellie said...

Best book ever! I bought the first and second volumes of the Hungry Girl books and I have no regrets! Many of the recipes are so simple and sooo good!