Sunday, February 14, 2016

Recipe Renovation : Italian-Inspired Vegetable Soup

I know, I's been ages. I have my reasons, though - honest !

About a year and a half ago, I made the very difficult decision to leave a job I loved. Leaving was absolutely heart-wrenching, but I had no choice - it had become imperative that I focus on my family and my health, both mental and physical.  The job, while interesting and exciting and challenging and something I daresay I was pretty good at (and full of people who I loved dearly - still do, in fact) was too demanding, insanely stressful, and just took up way too much of my time...I was working nights and weekends, and even when I wasn't there I was working via my phone or thinking about working or feeling bad that I wasn't working. I couldn't focus on anything else; I quit my chorus, never saw my family, and just focused on getting through each day. So - with plenty of tears and not a small amount of fear - I walked out the door. And somehow, incredibly, against all odds I walked into another job that I love, with new people I adore, exploring a part of my field I hadn't really worked in much that turned out to be really interesting and a great challenge - but something I could definitely do. The new job not only gave me back my nights and weekends, but left me with enough mental energy to enjoy them. My family prospered, my chorus welcomed me back with open arms, and I was living more of the kind of life I had always envisioned for myself. Well, except for one little thing...actually, not so little.

My weight.

When I walked out that door so reluctantly my weight was the highest it has ever been in my life - including when I was pregnant. (Yes, 9 months pregnant me was smaller than new job and newly minted family woman me. ) I have always struggled with my weight; most members of my family are not small, and I'm definitely an emotional eater - and my emotions were in overdrive. Food was my main comfort - something that made me feel better, something I was good at making and talking about, and something I could use to make others around me feel good too. So I walked through another scary door..,,into a Weight Watchers meeting. I had done WW before and knew it worked; it's pretty much the only plan where you can eat absolutely anything as long as you keep track of it all...with my foodie predilections I have to have that flexibility or I can't do it. (No, I am no Oprah and this is not turning into a WW ad...the program has definite issues, especially with the newest revamp...but the basic premise is sound. The thing just works.)

I already knew how to cook and eat just that I didn't. I ate (and drank) all the time, like there was never going to be enough to fill me. Occasionally I made good choices, but not consistently enough to matter, I was going to need the accountability of someone weighing me every last April I finally took the plunge and walked in to my local meeting, I  cried hard when I got on the scale because I couldn't believe it really had gotten to that point, and I think I cried through my first few meetings too. But somehow, incredibly, my lucky streak with scary life choices was still with me. The meeting I walked into was not only full of supportive people with the same issues I had, but was led by an absolute dynamo of a woman who has cheered me on every step of the way. Her  no-nonsense take on what the program does and does not do is exactly my cup of (unsweetened) tea. And with her support, I have now lost over 80 pounds, Eighty. It's a ridiculous number, isn't it ? I barely recognize pictures of sad, stressed out me, I'm a new, happy woman - with knees and a back that don't hurt anymore - who has energy to get things done. And one of the things I want to get done is writing in my blog about all the exciting cooking I'm doing, And that, dear readers, is why we're here :)

If you've made it this far (yeah, I do go on :) ) you're probably thinking "Well, no wonder she was approaching maximum density - look at these recipes !! Butter ! Cream ! Cheese ! Pork fat !!" I assure you, I have not given up on any of these lovely things. I just keep track of how much of them I eat....and I don't eat them all the time. (And I definitely haven't quit drinking !)  I plan to keep blogging all the good things we love, as well as the good things that are good for us. Today's recipe is definitely in the latter category.

Each week at WW we get a weekly handout - usually consisting of some sort of pithy "yay us" articles and tips (this week's was all about an app with 1 minute workouts that we can download...of course, it didn't mention that it isn't available for Android. Because apparently screw us if we're not drinking the Apple Kool-Aid...wonder how many points that is ? See, I told you they have issues ! But I digress...). It also usually has a WW recipe...and herein lies the problem. While I cook a lot of Cooking Light recipes (for the most part they are pretty flavorful , filling, and work well with minimum tweaking) , I find most of the WW ones lacking - way too watered down, not enough flavor, too many points for not enough of a serving, This week's actually looked promising, though -a 0 point Italian-ish veggie soup that looked like it would actually work. With me spending most of Valentine's weekend alone I thought I might need the extra points for treats (and sure enough I woke up to caviar and chocolate...mmm !) , so I figured a pot of 0 point soup would fit the bill perfectly...I just had to fix it a little, Lose the fennel (personally can't stand the stuff), add in some other filling 0 point veggies to replace it...eggplant and mushrooms, that would be just the thing, Oh, and cook the onions a little first (really, WW - that's a soup making basic !) , and cook the firmer vegetables a little longer than the greens. Yup - minimal fuss, maximum taste...this stuff is awesome, Excellent flavor, perfect broth to veg ratio, just the thing for the sub-zero weather this weekend.. Eating a bowl while I blog, actually :)

The great thing about a soup like this is that it's so adaptable. As written, it truly is 0 points - meaning you can really eat your fill, as much as you want - and it's actually pretty satisfying just as is. You can definitely change around the vegetables - go ahead and put the fennel bulb in (thinly sliced), add some leeks, use up the green pepper you have hanging around - whatever you like. You can also add pretty much anything as a garnish or mix in and it would work; the bowl in the picture had 2 oz of cubed cooked polenta stirred in at the end (2 points - you can get it ready made in tubes, though we happened to have some made already) and 1 tsp of grated Parmesan sprinkled on top (0 points). Cooked white beans would be outstanding (nothing wrong with canned - 1/4 cup is 2 points), as would your favorite cooked pasta (points vary); adding some fish with the greens or adding cooked chicken or shrimp at the end would turn this into a main course for not a lot of points. Bread would of course be wonderful - just make sure you know what and how much you're eating if you're tracking,

Bottom line : eat what you like; then it isn't a diet, and that's the only way it works (for me, anyway),

So...if you've really really made it this far...thank you for reading, and staying with me, I promise moving forward I won't be quite so...soul-baring; not that there's anything wrong with that, this is just not that kind of blog. Usually :)

Enjoy !

Italian-Inspired Vegetable Soup 

loosely based on "Weight Watchers Weekly" recipe of Jan 24-30

1 cup chopped onion
olive oil spray to lightly coat bottom of pot (or use 2 tsp of olive oil - adds 3 points)
1 tsp kosher or sea salt
couple grinds black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small zucchini or yellow squash )or both), cubed
2 small eggplant, cubed
1 medium red pepper, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
6 cups vegetable stock
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp (or to taste) crushed red pepper
2 cups chopped escarole or kale, chopped (packed tightly)
2 cups fresh baby spinach (packed tightly)
28 oz fire roasted chopped tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat; lightly spray with cooking spray. Add onion and cook until it starts to get soft and a little translucent, stirring occasionally - 10 minutes is plenty. Add the salt and pepper after it's been on about 5 minutes,

Add the garlic, zucchini, eggplant, red pepper, mushrooms and stock; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the thyme, oregano, basil and red pepper. Let simmer for 10 minutes; add the escarole and simmer another 5 minutes, then add the spinach and tomatoes. Simmer another 5 or 10 minutes, or until all the vegetables are done to your liking, Stir in the parsley and additional salt and pepper to taste.