Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cooking with Point Density in Mind

Given how much simpler life is using easy-to-estimate point densities, I've taken to thinking about cooking in terms of point densities as well. By making my meals come out with a PPV-density close to one, I'm able to portion my lunches simply by weighing. All year, I've worked w/ a 6-PPV lunch(1), for example, which is as simple as weighing my leftovers into 6-ounce portions and grabbing one for lunch. Easy, right?

At its simplest, aiming for a PPV-density of 1 means starting w/ foods with a density of 1 in the first place. For example, let's say I'm throwing together a pasta salad in the summer. I start adding foods with a PPV-density of 1: chicken breast, ham, pasta, etc. For these foods, no weighing is necessary: I'm aiming for the dish to have a density of one, and these ingredients have that density. Simple enough, right?

Now let's say I want to add some cheese at a PPV density of 3. To do so, I just hit tare on the scale and add as much cheese as I want, keeping track of the weight. Let's say I put in 2 ounces of cheese. In order to hit my target PPV-density of 1, I will have to offset the 2 ounces of cheese w/ 4 ounces of 0 PPV foods: tomatoes, celery, spinach, whatever.

I can use a similar method for adding Olive Oil. If I put in 2 Tbs. of olive oil, that's 6 points/1 ounce. To get back to my density of 1, I'll need to add another 5 ounces of PPV neutral foods. Hit tare and start adding. I might start with balsamic vinegar, which I want in my dressing anyway, then throw in some more greens, peppers, whatever's in the fridge.

The beauty of this as opposed to following is a recipe is that:
  1. I can use whatever's in the fridge.
  2. I don't get more than one bowl dirty — no extra implements to measure with.
  3. I can still adjust flavors and balances as I go — if it needs more oil, I add it, I just have to offset it with 0-PPV foods at a 5:1 ratio.
  4. When I'm done I have something I can keep in the fridge and eat as much as I want while knowing points — weighing the dish will give me the PPV value and I'm done.
I suppose if you wanted to, you could write the recipe for my summertime pasta salad as follows:
Tom's Pasta/Grain Salad Recipe: 1 PPV per Ounce
Lean proteinas much as you want, no need to measure.
Pasta (or rice or couscous or whatever grain you prefer)as much as you want, no need to measure.
CheeseMeasure and offset with veggies at a 2:1 ratio
OilMeasure and offeset with veggies/vinegar at a 5:1 ratio
SeasoningUp to you: adjust the flavor profile any way you like.
If you prefer real recipes, it would be easy to make up variants of this by filling in the gaps(2), but to me the whole joy is in being able to improvise & then know the PPV of the food when I'm done w/ as little measurement as possible. Again, what I want in the end is the ability to weigh my plate and have the number of points I'm eating show up on the scale.

Other cooking can be done in terms of point density as well, though anything that gets cooked gets complicated, since cooking removes weight, which complicates matters.

For baking, for example, ultimately you're much better thinking in terms of items (slices, cookies, etc.) and estimating, since any calculations you do in terms of PPV-density just give you the density of the dough.(3)
Nonetheless, if you find this kind of thing fun and improvise as you bake, it's not a terrible idea to learn the PPV-densities of flour and sugar as well. (4)


1. I should mention that a 6 oz. lunch on its own is not filling enough: you have to supplement with 0PPV-foods. For me, I typically dress salad with just salt + vinegar, which means I can have as much salad as I want at 0PPV. I also pack fruit, carrot sticks, mini peppers, and whatever other veggies I have on hand. (back)
2. For those who prefer recipes, here are a couple that will end w/ a PPV-density of 1.
Generic TemplateChipotle Couscous SaladPasta Salad w/ Italian Dressing
Lean proteinas much as you want, no need to measure.3/4 c. chopped grilled chicken breast, generously salted, ideally flavored w/ an adobo rub or something like that; 1 can black beans1/4 c. sliced ham + 1/4 c. sliced chicken breast + 1/4 c. kalamata olives
Pasta (or rice or couscous or whatever grain you prefer)as much as you want, no need to measure.2 cups couscous 2 cups butterfly noodles
CheeseMeasure and offset with veggies at a 2:1 ratio1 oz. jack cheese + 2 oz. chopped tomatoes1 oz. smoked mozzarella + 1 oz. baby spinach + 1 oz. chopped tomatoes
OilMeasure and offeset with veggies/vinegar at a 5:1 ratio1 Tbs. (1/2 oz) EVOO + 1 tsp. canned chipotle pepper + 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar (1/2 oz total) + 2 oz. mix of scallions+cilantro+spinach+bell pepper1 Tbs. EVOO + 1 oz. balsamic vinegar + 1 oz. mix of celery + bell pepper + cucumber
SeasoningUp to you: adjust the flavor profile any way you like.Salt, cumin to tasteFresh oregano, basil, parsley; salt & pepper to taste
3. Baked Good Densities are as follows:
Baked GoodPoint Density (value of 1 oz)
Chocolate Chip Cookie (homemade)3 (3.42)
Brownie (prepared)3 (3.43)
Apple Pie (prepared)2 (2.06)
Cheesecake (prepared)2 (2.4)
Chocolate cake w/ frosting3 (3.09)
In short: you could skip all the calculations as you bake, weigh your baked good, multiply by 3, and call it a day without being too far off. (back)
4. Ok, I'm crazy enough I learned the PPV-densities of basic baking ingredients anyway and sometimes try to use them to calculate points on the fly, but I'm highly unusual in that (1) I think this kind of thing is fun (2) I like to improvise as I bake. In case you're like me, here's the info I use:

Baking ingredient densities

FoodPoint Density (value of 1 oz)
Sugar3 (3.26)
Flour, white3 (2.56)
Flour, whole wheat2 (2.42)
If you can stomach multiplying by 2 ½, that's a better estimate for flour.
Some basic recipes come out like this then:
  1. Bread = 5:3 (flour:water), or ~13 points / 8 oz. dough (using 2 ½) or an average point density of 1.6, before baking
  2. Pie Crust = 3:2:1 (flour:butter:water), meaning (3*2.5+2*6+0)/6 or 20 points/6 oz. dough or a point density of ~3.
  3. Shortbread cookie = 1:2:3 (butter:sugar:flour), meaning (1*6)+(2*3)+(3*2.5)=>20 points / 6 oz. dough or a point density of ~3.
As you can see, baking is probably the point where you're better off just looking up an equivalent food for an estimate, or doing the calculations precisely if you want to since you have the ingredient list and you're measuring anyway. (back)

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