Creamy Tomato Soup

I love cream of tomato soup. I love the acidity of the tomatoes and the richness of the cream. Of course, that doesn’t bode well when you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight. I found a great recipe for tomato soup in a cookbook, and I adapted it for a lighter lifestyle and for a “creamy” feel and finish. I hope you like it!
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp (dried) fennel seeds
  • Cooking spray 
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 – 14oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 – 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 4 cups broth (I used chicken)
  • 1 tbsp. sugar (I used Splenda) or to taste
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 can fat-free evaporated milk
  • 1 Tablespoon of fresh chopped basil

Crush the dried herbs until the are aromatic. Spray heavy soup pot with cooking spray or heat and add oil. Add the onions and cook over medium-high heat until nicely translucent and browned, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste and combine. Slowly stir in white wine until incorporated and no lumps of tomato paste remain.
Add the tomatoes, broth and sugar. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Bring to a slow simmer (just bubbling) and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Add cinnamon and stir to blend. Add basil and evaporated milk. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, cinnamon and sugar. Serve.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
(Note: I will have to calculate the nutritional information and append later)

Starting With Packaged Soups

I’m a great fan of pre-made packaged soups, and my very favorite pre-made soups are from Trader Joe’s. I love the ability to use these soups as a basis for a more substantial, flavorful meal. They cut down on the time it takes to put dinner on the table, and they are mostly healthy. I love using these soups as a way to stretch leftovers as well! In fact, I cook up about 10 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the grill, cut them up, bag them in 3-ounce portion bags and put them in the freezer. Whenever I need a protein for a quick meal, they’re ready to go with a quick zap in the microwave.

Those of you with issues with sodium intake need to keep a close eye on the sodium levels in some of the packaged soups; many manufacturers use sodium (and sugar) to pump up the flavor of their soups. Trader Joe’s has lists of fat-free, low-sodium, vegetarian, vegan, etc. foods on their website.

My current favorites from Trader Joe’s are:

  • Organic  Low-Sodium Butternut Squash soup
  • Garden Vegetable soup
  • Carrot and Ginger Soup
  • Black Bean Soup

What do I do with these soups? Well, there are already a couple of recipes on this blog, but here are a few ideas:

Carrot and Ginger Soup or Butternut Squash Soup. These soup are slightly sweet, so add things that enhance that sweetness.

  • Add sweet curry powder to the soup base and heat the soup. At the same time, steam some cauliflower (frozen or fresh, cut into bite-sized pieces) in the microwave. Cut up some cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces. Drain the steamed cauliflower and add it to the soup along with the chicken. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Dinner!
  • Add some spices (I like nutmeg) to the soup to alter the flavor to your tastes. Add some chopped frozen spinach and diced chicken. Add some other vegetables as desired. You can also add some canned beans (drain and rinse well before adding) to this soup to add substance and nutrition.

Garden Vegetable Soup. This is a tomato-based soup that’s very low in fat.

  • Add diced tomatoes, fresh steamed vegetables (the microwave is your friend) and some sort of protein (leftover cooked ham would be great here). You can also add cooked pasta or rice, but do so at the end.
  • Leftovers go well in this soup. Add a serving of chili or some stew and some vegetables.
  • Make a creamy tomato garden veggie soup. Add canned or fresh diced tomatoes, basil, tomato paste and fat-free evaporated milk. If it’s still too thin, add some cut up chunks of stale rustic bread.

Black Bean Soup. Even though this is a bean soup, it’s really a pureed thick broth (like the other soups noted above). The base soup is tasty, but needs a lot to make it satisfying.

  • Add more beans, some ham, veggies and cumin to make a standard Cuban black bean soup. Yum!
  • Add some corn, spinach and sweet potato (pre-cook in the microwave) plus some spices to make a yummy veggie stew.

These soups have been a staple to my cooking this winter, and I love how quick and easy it is to make dinner. Couple with some home-made high-fiber bread, and you have a hearty and delicious meal.

Recipe: Butternut Squash Three Bean Soup

Need something quick and easy but are at a loss for what to make?  Look in your pantry.  I often grab what I have and make something easy and delicious with it.  The trick is to have a variety of goods in your pantry to choose from.  Here’s what I made last night:


  • 2 packages (1 quart each) Trader Joe’s Organic Butternut Squash Soup (Low Sodium)
  • 1 can (14 ounces) small white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (14 ounces) pinquintos or small red beans, drained
  • 1 can (14 ounces) cut green beans, drained
  • 1 small can mushrooms
  • 1 box (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach
  • 4 ounces (4 slices) honey roasted turkey deli meat, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Place the first 5 ingredients to a boil.  Add the frozen spinach and turkey meat and cook until the spinach has thawed and incorporated into the soup.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Was that easy, or what?

Makes 10 servings, 1 cup each.

Nutritional Information

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 152 Calories; 1g Fat (3.3% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 271mg Sodium.

WW Points Estimate: 2

How to Lighten a Recipe: Part 4–Try Different Cooking Methods

Strategy 4: Use Different Cooking Methods To Bring Out Flavor.

Deep frying is bad.  We all know that.  Foods absorb a ton of oil, and at 1 point per TEASPOON of oil, that’s really bad.  Pan frying and sauteing are also bad since they use oil to brown, crisp, cook and add flavor.  So what do you do to add flavor, texture and taste?

  • Oven Frying. Well, this is the obvious substitute for deep frying, and it comes out well if you coat well and use non-stick spray to help crisp up the coating, you’re golden!  Crush up some corn flakes or Fiber cereal (Fiber One Original) to resemble crumbs.  Use Egg Beaters to coat your food (meat, veggies), let the excess drip off and then coat the food with the crumbs.  You can season the crumbs in lots of ways–use Ranch dressing mix, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, lemon pepper, etc.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  I like to line my baking pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up.  Spray the foil with non-stick spray.  Place your breaded food on top.  Spray the top of the food with more non-stick spray.  Bake for 10 minutes, flip over, spray again.  Bake for another 10 minutes or until food is done.  Food cut into strips, flat rounds, etc. cook fastest.  Now you have a crunchy and delicious oven-fried alternative.
  • Braising. Braising is a “slow food” technique that enables the flavors to develop and meld.  You brown your meat (do so in a non-stick pan with some non-stick spray) add aromatics (veggies, herbs, spices) and braising liquid (a good stock is always nice, wine is great), cover your pot and let it simmer over low heat either on the stove or in the oven.  After the meat is so very tender, strain the liquid and reserve the solids.  Place the liquid back in the pot and skim off any fat.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a good simmer, and reduce the liquid until thick and the flavors are concentrated.  Adjust the seasoning.  You can also thicken the liquid with a cornstarch slurry (mixture of cornstarch and water or another cold/room temp liquid) by adding the slurry to the boiling liquid.  Boil and stir a couple of minutes.  Add the meat and solids back into the sauce OR cut up the meat and serve the sauce on the side or over the top.  YUM!  To keep the recipe light, make sure you use lean meats and strain off all the fat.
  • Saute. A nice skillet saute is a great method of keeping fresh ingredients crisp and delicious.  It’s also a way to create a quick meal with little fuss–just one pan.  First, make sure everything is cut (nice dice or julienne–small pieces cook quickly).  Start with some onions in a non-stick pan and a little non-stick cooking spray.  Cook on medium-high heat until they are translucent and a little brown.  Now add your meat.  Saute to add a little color to the meat and to develop flavor.  Add your vegetables and your seasonings.  Saute for a minute or two, then add your sauce ingredients.  Heat until everything is cooked through and sauce has reduced to a glaze (or thicken with a cornstarch slurry).  Serve over brown rice or simply on its own.  Yum!
  • Grill. Grilling adds lots of flavor to meats and vegetables without a lot of calories.  Make sure you use non-stick spray rather than oils to keep the foods from sticking and to keep calories low.  Marinated meats are especially nice on the grill, but make sure that  your marinade is low in fat and sugar to keep calories low and to keep the food from burning on the grill (sugar burns very quickly over high heat).
  • Pan Roast. Pan roasting starts the cooking on the stove and finishes it in the oven.  You need to make sure that your pan has an oven-safe handle (that won’t melt).  Heat the pan, add some non-stick spray, and add your seasoned meat (salt and pepper).  Brown on the first side, flip and brown on the 2nd side.  The browning will caramelize any natural sugars in the meat and build flavor.  Place your meat in a hot oven (I use around 400 degrees) and roast for a few minutes.  Check your meat for the proper level of done-ness (is that a word?) and remove.  Remember–your meat will continue to cook outside of the oven, so a little under done will make the meat perfect when you serve it.  Let the meat rest for a few minutes and serve.

These techniques help you create flavor and texture without fat to create wonderful meals.  Get out of your rut and try something new!

How to Lighten a Recipe: Part 3–Get Creative!

Strategy 3: Get Creative With Your Cooking

Are you tired of cooking the same dishes over and over? Don’t know what to cook, let alone what low-fat goodie to cook? Well, since your pantry (see pantry, food favorites and Costco favorites) is now stocked with low-fat, high-fiber and fresh ingredients, you have the makings of some fast and wonderful dishes. But how? Well, just grab some stuff and go! Here are a few suggestions (taken from my pantry list and some staples I have on hand).

  • Pineapple Teriyaki Chicken = Boneless, skinless chicken breast + soy sauce + canned pineapple + fresh ginger + chicken stock +Splenda + cornstarch: Sautee cubed chicken breast until brown, add soy sauce, pineapple, ginger and chicken stock, simmer until done, add cornstarch mixed with water to thicken.
  • Warm Sweet and Savory Shrimp Salad = Shrimp + garlic + Kraft Fat Free Cesar Italian + Spinach + mushrooms + onions + Splenda: Sautee onions, add mushrooms, add shrimp and garlic, add dressing and Splenda, cook until shrimp is just done, take off the heat and toss in spinach
  • Light Waldorf Salad = Cooked boneless skinless chicken breast + apples + fat free mayo + Splenda + salad greens
  • Savory Salsa Omelet = Leftover meat + chopped broccoli + sliced mushrooms + sliced grape tomatoes + salsa
  • Quick Soup = Canned beans + leftover meat OR boneless skinless chicken breast (cubed), + spinach + onions + carrots + canned diced tomatoes + chicken broth + sliced mushrooms + seasonings
  • Stuffed Potatoes = baked sweet potato (baked in the microwave) + fat free Cream of Mushroom/Chicken/Broccoli soup + vegetables + cooked chicken or turkey + spices
  • Stuffed Potatoes 2 = baked sweet potato + 1/2 cup Most Excellent Vegetarian Four Bean Chili + 1 cup steamed broccoli + 1 Tablespoon fat free sour cream
  • Faux Seviche = 1/2 pound Fat free imitation crab meat + 1/2 cup chopped grape tomatoes + 1/4 cup sauteed sweet onion (sauteed in non-stick cooking spray) + chopped Serrano or Jalapeno chili peppers, to taste + lime juice, to taste + salt and pepper to taste
  • Faux Waldorf Salad = 1 cup cubed cooked boneless skinless chicken breast + 1/4 c fat free mayo + 1/8 c fat free sour cream + 2 apples, cored and cubed + 1/8 cup chopped walnuts + Splenda (to taste) + a bed of mixed salad greens

Getting the idea?  Just take what you have and make it into something special.

How to Lighten a Recipe: Part 2–Pump Up the Flavor

Okay.  So you’ve substituted low-fat ingredients for the higher fat originals.  However, that reduction in fat can sometimes make the recipe less tasty; you no longer have the texture, flavor and richness of the fat in the dish.  If you’re finding that the lack of fat or protein substitute has significantly impacted the deliciousness of your dish, it’s time to pump up the flavor.  I find the flavor of soy protein (Boca Burgers, for instance) to be fairly boring and not entirely satisfying.  Thus, when I’m using the soy protein in my dish, I usually add something to pump up the otherwise dull dish.  Here are some suggestions.

Strategy 2: Pump up the flavor when you reduce the fat.

  • Salsa! Salsa! Cha Cha Cha! I love adding salsas to dishes to spice them up and give them a new depth of flavor.  Salsas are low in fat and calories and already have beautiful spices and flavors ready and able to give your dish a kick of flavor–and heat.  Salsas also come in a myriad of flavors, so you can add even more complexity and interest in your dish by selecting an unusual salsa–how about Peach Chipotle Salsa?
  • Spice (or herb) up your food. Taking fat out? Add flavor by adding spices and herbs. Fresh herbs add a lovely, bright note to any dish. When using fresh herbs, try layering the flavor. Add some of the herbs when initially adding ingredients, then adding more at the end of cooking to give the flavor a pop.  Dry herbs should be added early on in the cooking so they can impart the most flavor.  Spices can also be layered to make the flavors pop.
  • Reduce to reduce! Reducing sauces concentrates flavors, providing greater flavor and texture without adding fat. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce it to a simmer and cook (no lid) until the flavors mellow and the sauce reduces 1/3 to 1/2. If you have a protein that improves with longer cooking times, leave it it. If you don’t, take it out while the sauce reduces or cook it separately. Return the protein to the pot in the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking to reheat it and meld the flavors.
  • Use fruit to add a new dimension to your cooking. I love adding fruit to dishes I’m cooking. Fruit adds natural sweetness, another textural component and lovely flavor. Making a tomato-based sauce? How about adding some mango or peaches to add some flavor? Making a wine-based sauce?  How about some berries or grapes to balance the acid and richness of the sauce?  Summer is here, and beautiful fruits are abundant.  Use them to the fullest!
  • A little dab’ll do ya. Here’s a secret–Better Than Bouillon paste.  It’s a concentrated soup base (yes, it does have a lot of sodium), but a small amount will boost the flavor of your dish.  It comes in a variety of flavors–beef, chicken, ham, vegetable, mushroom, turkey, lobster (yeah!), clam and chili, as well as organic and low-sodium versions.  Use it instead of salt to flavor and salt your sauce.  Use it in your marinades, your meatloaf, your sauces, your soups…you get the picture!
  • Mix and match. Have some leftover dish that isn’t enough for a meal?  Try repurposing the dish and create something new.  Have some leftover pasta sauce?  Use it as a base for a rich tomato soup.  Have some leftover casserole or chili?  Make it into a savory dinner omelet or frittata, or even top a bed of lettuce or spinach and make a warm salad.  Have some leftover soup?  Add beans, a little pasta and vegetables to make it into a hearty stew.  Have some leftover protein (chicken, beef, turkey)?  It’s now a great casserole or enchilada filling.  The nice thing about repurposing leftovers is that you’ve already built a base of flavor…this just builds on that flavor and makes it shine.

So, get your flavors on when you reduce the fat!  In Part 3, we’ll talk about getting creative with your cooking.

How to Lighten a Recipe: Part 1–Substitute!

A couple of weeks ago, we got together with some friends to cook and enjoy a meal together–we call it our Cooking Club. The menu theme was Greek this time. While the meal was healthy–chicken kebabs, grilled pita bread with salad, grilled haloumi cheese with lemon–it was laden with fat and calories. My husband and I made a few adjustments (changed the dressing on our salad to fat free, skipped the haloumi cheese course), we were still able to enjoy ourselves and stay within our Weight Watchers plan. However, when I got home, I reworked the recipes to reduce the fat (and points).

There are simple, very straightforward substitutions you can make in a recipe and still have a delicious meal that’s Weight Watchers friendly. However, always take into account the impact of your substitutions–that is, what that substitution will do to the taste and texture of your dish.

Strategy 1: Reduce the fat and calories in a recipe by substituting lower-fat/calorie alternatives.

  • Select a low-fat protein. Boneless skinless chicken breast is the first thing that comes to mind, but there are other ways to cut the fat and calories in a dish while creating depth of flavor. 96% fat-free ground beef is a great substitute for regular ground beef. Browning it before you add it to a dish caramelizes the sugars in the meat and adds great flavor. Extra lean (4% to 5% fat, or even the lean 7% fat) ground turkey is another great substitute, but you have to be aware that ground turkey does require extra care to keep it from drying out. You need to be more careful not to overcook it or else you will have a dry, chewy mess. Fish, shrimp and scallops are also great proteins that you can use without a lot of fat, but beware that not all fish are equal–salmon, while containing healthy fats, still packs more fat than other fish choices. Shrimp tends to be high in cholesterol, so if reducing cholesterol is part of your dietary needs, you want to use shrimp in moderation. Soy proteins are a good substitute for beef, but know that the flavor and texture could be significantly different. You could use a mixture of extra lean ground beef and some soy protein to provide both flavor and protein for a dish.
  • Use non-stick spray instead of oil for sautée or browning. When a recipe starts out “brown 1 onion in 1 tablespoon of oil” or something to that effect, you KNOW that you can save 120 calories and 14 grams of fat if you substitute non-stick cooking spray for that oil. If oil adds flavor, either use an olive oil cooking spray or a mixture of the cooking spray and a tiny bit (1 teaspoon) of oil to add flavor.
  • Reduce the amount of fat–but leave some in for flavor. Creating a marinade that requires 1/4 cup of olive oil?   Use 1 tablespoon instead and save 360 calories.  Making a salad dressing that requires a lot of oil?  Use a little oil, and then use another method to create texture and body–for instance, guar gum or xanthan gum (available online) can add viscosity but not add fat or calories.  Certain oils add flavor, but you don’t need to use so much to add flavor.  Just remember to think about what else the fat adds–texture, body, etc.–and adjust accordingly.
  • Use non-fat cream or sour cream. Fat-free half and half is a great substitute for heavy cream, and fat-free or low-fat sour cream works great in lieu of the full fat version. Fat-free evaporated milk also works wonders. If the fat-free sour cream is too loose for the sauce, add a little cornstarch to it and mix well before adding it to the pot.
  • Use Splenda/sucralose instead of sugar. I love Splenda. Some people are up in arms about the potential health issues with artificial sweeteners. However, I like the ability to sweeten without adding undue calories and sugar. I like Splenda more than Equal–Equal/aspartame’s sweetness diminishes when cooked, so it’s only good for cold items or added to hot items with no additional cooking. Others have tried Stevia, but I don’t find it pleasant. If using Splenda for baking, you need to be aware that sugar has a significant role in the texture and appearance of baked items. Thus, if substituting Splenda for sugar, only replace 1/2 of the sugar with Splenda (or use the Splenda baking blends).
  • Puree your food. Instead of thickening soups with cream (or even fat-free half and half), try adding a puree. Puree half of a vegetable-based soup to thicken it. If you’re adding protein, add it after creating and adding the puree. You can also puree some of the broth with some cooked beans to create a creamy finish and thicker texture.
  • Use vegetables instead of starches. Layer sliced zucchini instead of pasta to create a lasagna. Serve your pasta sauce over a bed of steamed broccoli instead of boiled penne. Cook and mash cauliflower instead of potatoes (and use fat-free sour cream or half and half instead of butter and cream) or “rice” the cauliflower using a grater or a food processor and steam–this makes a nice textural rice substitute. Use spaghetti squash instead of pasta.  I also love to create warm salads out of main dishes that were formerly served alone or with a starch.  For instance, chili (try my Most Excellent Four-Bean Chili) ladled on top of a bed of spinach wilts the spinach and provides you with vital nutrients and a entree salad at the same time.
  • Use other low-fat alternatives. There are tons of low-fat alternatives to high-fat foods. Many cheeses come in low-fat versions. However, if they are specifically used or flavor in dish, you might be better off using the real thing or using SOME of the real thing. For instance, there is NO substitute for freshly grated Parmesan cheese for adding flavor to a dish. However, instead of using 1 cup in a recipe, you could reduce it to 1/4 cup to impart the flavor.

I’ll be posting other ways to lighten your recipes.  Stay tuned!