Saturday, March 9, 2013

Weights and Measures

Today's post was supposed to be about my recipe for Vietnamese noodle soup, or "pho". I developed my recipe over 11 years ago, when my husband and I moved to Sonora, which is Spanish for "City Without Pho". After moving there, we began to miss our favorite pho restaurant in Cupertino, so I did some research on ingredients, and invented my own.

As with most of my recipes, I developed my pho recipe without the use of measuring tools. It was all done by sight and taste--a dash here, a splash there until it was just right. So tonight was the first time I have ever created my pho with the use of measuring spoons. Unfortunately, things turned out a little "off". It wasn't bad, but it was definitely not blog-worthy. So I have the measurements from my first attempt written down with some notes, and I'll try again in the near future.

This mishap with measurements inspired me to write a little bit about one of the secrets of our recent weight loss. The most important part of our diet wasn't something we ate; it was the little Cuisinart scale sitting on my kitchen counter.

We were counting calories, and limiting ourselves to 1200 net calories a day (if we exercised, we could get some bonus calories in there). So I had to start paying closer attention to the labels on our food and figuring out just how much of what I could get into a 400 calorie meal. Here are some of the important ones that I committed to memory:

All kinds of meat or fish: 4 ounces/serving
Pasta: 2 ounces (dry)/serving
Low fat cheese: 28 grams/serving

Why am I putting in all of the measurements by weight and not volume? Because non-liquid ingredients leave varying amounts of empty space in a measuring cup. If you are measuring shredded cheese, for example, and pack it into a cup, you're getting more calories than if you pour the cheese into the cup without compressing it. The only way you can get an accurate measurement is to weigh it.

So my little kitchen scale gets a lot of use. Since I cook for two, I shop for meals that only use a half pound of meat--and package with a half pound of beef or pork isn't easy to come by in the supermarket, unless you go to the meat counter and have them cut to order. So I had to get creative. During grilling season, instead of buying cuts of beef like T-bones and New York strips, which are normally served individually and are way more than 4 ounces each (I am living in the land of "Cowboy Cuts", after all), I buy cuts like beef flanks and pork tenderloins, which I can carve after cooking and serve a specific amount that I weigh on my handy-dandy scale, and save the rest for leftovers. For ground beef, I buy 2 pound packages, portion out 8 ounces of beef onto individual sheets of plastic wrap and wrap them up, then put it all into a Ziploc freezer bag for storage in my freezer. When I want a meal, 8 ounces of ground beef is ready to defrost. Chicken is a bit easier, as I aim for packages of 2 breasts that weigh around 1 pound. Then I just cook one chicken breast for our dinner and freeze the other.

Even though we aren't trying to lose weight any more, I still use my kitchen scale way more than I used to. That's because our stomachs adjusted to the smaller portions, and I don't want to start "expanding" them again by eating the way we used to. This way, I can still cook the same things I cooked before our diet (paying less attention to counting calories), but by controlling the portion size my weight on the bathroom scale remains the same.

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