As I mentioned in my last piece, when I actually started tracking what I eat and where most of my calories come from, I noticed a few foods that were providing a disproportionate number of calories. And it wasn’t necessarily the ones you might suspect. Sure, meats (particularly the fried and barbecued kinds) produce a fair amount. But I noticed that some of the things causing me to go over on the calorie count were not meat.
The presence of some of these items could be traced back to bad habits I’d acquired when I was a bachelor. I’d been told that it’s generally healthier to cook for yourself, so I gave it a shot. The problem is, I’m a pretty lousy cook.
There are a few exceptions. Like any red-blooded American male I can grill up steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs with ease. But I ran into trouble with anything more complicated than that. I’ve burnt things to the point where they were almost pure carbon. I’ve created unholy concoctions that probably violated the chemical/biological weapons provisions of the Geneva convention. I’ve baked cookies that had the consistency of hockey pucks, and were probably more useful as projectiles to drive the neighborhood kids off of my lawn than as food. The only thing I haven’t done is cause a fire or explosion. Yet.
I occasionally try to follow recipes, but that comes with it’s own set of challenges. I’ll spend hours trying to find a good recipe on AllRecipes.com or some similar site. But it can be discouraging. I’ll find something that looks great, only to discover that I don’t have half of the ingredients needed. Or that a recipe requires something be marinated for several days. Or just takes entirely too many steps. Brown this thing for ten minutes, while sauteing this other thing, then add this other thing with these additional things and simmer for hours. I don’t have the patience for all of that.
So when I cook it’s usually some variant of Irish cooking, as defined by the comedian Denis Leary, (put everything into a pot and boil it), Cajun cooking (put very unusual and exotic things that most people don’t consider to be food into a pot, along with outrageously hot peppers and sauces, and boil it) or stir fry (put everything into a pan and try not to burn it). I rarely get good results. At best, I get something bland. At worst, I get something that the houseflies aren’t even interested in. But there are a few solutions that could be deployed to remedy whatever horror I’d created in the kitchen.
One was a common solution deployed by the Italians. Smother it in melted cheese. Whatever affront to decency I’d cooked up could be improved noticeably with the liberal application of cheese. I tended to go with the Mexican blend. But there was a problem. I noticed when I started using the Cronometer app that one ounce of Mexican blend (which is really just a finger-full) was 100 calories. This was true of just about every type of cheese that I liked. And I tended to dump more than a few finger-fulls on my culinary crimes against humanity. So the number of calories I was getting from cheese were nearly as much as the rest of the meal. Other solutions I occasionally tried, such as dousing the vile victuals with barbecue sauce or other sauces, were almost as bad.
And even when I tried the healthy meal that almost no one can screw up (salad), I was making mistakes. I would drench the compost pile that is salad with dressing. And I thought that by using vinaigrettes I was being healthy. I wasn’t. The sheer volume of pretentious French dressings (and I don’t mean that gross orange stuff) that I inundated the salad with were giving me more calories that the rest of the salad combined.
Fortunately, when I started tracking these things with the app, I was able to Drill Down into the details of my Diet (see what I did there?) and see where I was going wrong. So when I transgress against all of the laws and norms of food preparation (a nightly occurrence), I now know a few new ways to redeem the end results of my questionable adventures in cooking.
One of them is the other Italian solution. Bury it in tomatoes. Emptying a half a can of peeled tomatoes on one of my kitchen borne travesties only adds about 75 calories. And buries the shameful evidence of my failure.
Another trick, which I should’ve picked up from the Cajuns earlier, was to soak the monstrosity that I’d created in copious amounts of hot sauce. My father tells me that he and his army buddies used to do this to their rations to make them edible. And although I think military rations are probably noticeably better than my cooking, I’ve discovered that even the abominations birthed in my kitchen can be redeemed with sufficient Tabasco sauce. And my sinuses have never been clearer.
As for the salad, I discovered that fat free dressings are noticeably healthier than the others. Unfortunately, they taste like something that is fat free. And by that I mean…gross. But I also noticed that Greek yogurt based dressings are also noticeably lower in calories. These taste very good. And also, they’re sold with the fancy schmancy dressing next to the produce, not in the condiments aisle, where the great unwashed of humanity buy their dressings. So I’ve switched to these, and not only am I healthier, but I think these things just make me better than other people.
In a nutshell, the things we dump on our food to make them edible can be the things that make us gain weight. I guess we all know we should go easier on condiments and what-not, but I never really understood what I was doing to myself until I actually started measuring it. Less cheese or other toppings, and healthier dressings and sauces is an easy way to knock out a couple hundred calories from my diet.
I’m sure it might occur to anyone seeing this that I could always just try to be a better cook. I tried. I’m hopeless. I need to douse just about everything I cook in something to scarf it down. I’m just going to need to watch what I do the dousing with and how much dousing I do. It’s not always easy. I’ll admit, the fact that cheese could be a problem was demoralizing, since mac and cheese is one of the few things I can cook well, apart from the aforementioned grilled offerings. But this doesn’t mean I can’t have it. I just need to go easy on the cheese part. Or run a few miles before I eat it.
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