Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Protein Rule, and, What Would You Cook?

January 5, 2005 I established the following rules:

Prepare and cook all of my own food, so no fast food allowed was a given.
Vegetable first.
Protein second.
no foods excluded, including carbs, fats, candy, etc..

As long as I put the first three rules into place and kept my calories at 1200 approx., and I say "approximately" because I did not want to turn into the kind of person that journaled 8 calories for a carrot stick....but that's just me.  I knew at around 1200 calories daily average the weight would fall off of me...and it did.

My reasons for listing my rules in this order is that I had a big interest in becoming a better cook, in fact a huge interest in becoming a really good cook!  I had been taking cooking classes, at least once a week, if not twice and three times, for over 1 year.  It occurred to me one night as I was attending yet another class that if I just spent the two hours at home cooking in my own kitchen, instead of sitting in a class room kitchen watching someone else cook I just might improve my own skills a little bit quicker!  It was the last cooking class I ever went to.

Vegetables first.  I like eating a lot of food and, until I don't, which I'm totally open to, I like the feeling of a full tummy.  I knew with my new calorie guidelines the only way to increase the volume and portion sizes of my meals was to do it with the least calorie dense foods possible, and those foods are vegetables, plain and simple.  Little did I know two other really cool things would happen!  I felt healthier than ever, not just because I lost weight, but because of the nutritional value of the vegetables I ate regularly. And I pretty much know how recognize, prepare and cook any kind of vegetable my little heart desires!  No more broccoli and cauliflower just because I didn't know anything else!

I also want to add that for two years I never bought an organic vegetable (on purpose).  I regularly shopped at a Vietnamese and Mexican market close to my house because the selection was nicer and the prices where much, much less expensive.  I'll write about how and why I did eventually start buying only organic, but I've come full circle and these days I buy a combination of both.  I successfully lost over 100 lbs never buying organic vegetables.

Protein....ah, protein!  Since I'm not a vegetarian, meat tops my list of proteins.  Any kind of meat, and with my pressure cooker, any kind of cut of meat.  Since I don't blame "fat" for making me fat I never buy lean cuts of meat for the sake that they are lean.  If I buy something lean it's because I want that particular kind and cut of meat, but usually I buy the least lean 100% of the time.  Fat is flavor and satiation, in my experience, and it hasn't let me down yet.  I successfully lost over 100lbs never eating only lean cuts of meat.

No food excluded.  Let me first write about carbs and sugar specifically.  Yes, when I do eat less "carbs" I think I feel better, but the truth is probably closer to when I don't overeat carbs I feel better!  The same goes for sugar in the form candy, cookies, ice cream and cake.  I never restricted these foods from my diet because I knew these foods were not making me fat.  What was making me fat was overeating.  I knew plenty of "regularly sized and healthy people" who ate all foods, bread included, so it must not be the bread.

I know I've already said it, but I'll say it again.  I successfully lost over 100lbs, and have kept it off for, going on, 8 years by sticking to these rules, I made for myself based on my own common sense.  I am now convinced that creating new habits starts with making rules and sticking to them.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday are my mornings to cook and write.  If I don't go to the market the day before then I'm pretty much stuck with what I have in my fridge and freezer since I start around 4:30am.  I did not go to the market yesterday!  So I had to take quick inventory of what I already had on hand...veg and protein first.


Onions (always), celery, red chard (just the leaves, no stalks), jalapeño, cilantro, parsley, a hoard of purple and white Japanese sweet potatoes, butternut and kabocha squash. cabbage, and frozen tomatoes.


1 pound each, ground beef, ground lamb, lamb sausage.

I made two large meals, and I'll be happy to tell what I made, but first, what would you cook using these ingredients, or what you have in your fridge right now, and your own pantry staples?

This post was supposed to be about protein! Mostly because my idea was to ask you all what you would make if you only had ground beef and lamb and lamb sausage! And I want to write more, specifically about protein because I hear all the time how difficult a lot of people have making sure they get enough.  How much is enough?  Well, until I write more about it, it's not so much that you get enough, it's more about not choosing that bagel, pastry, crackers, bread, and cookies instead!  Maybe it's time for you to make your own "protein rule"!


beverly said...

OK, you could ALMOST make this with what you have on hand. I made it yesterday and boy is it good.

Chard Soup (from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyday - best cookbook on my shelf and I am not vegetarian.)

Heat 2 T butter on medium high and cook one peeled and thinly sliced red potato and a chopped onion, 1 1/2 tsp salt for 8 min. Need to use a heavy pan and keep stirring because it makes a brown flavorful crust on the bottom of your pan.

Add 1/2 cup water and scrape all the yummy browned juices.

Add one bunch of chard and cook about 5 min. or until wilted. (here you can do a couple different things, either add 2 cups sorrel or small bunch of cilantro, if you use cilantro add some paprika as well OR do as I did and add nothing.)

Add 6 1/2 cup water, bring to a boil then and simmer in partially covered pan for 15 minutes.


At this point add juice of 1 large lemon if you didn't use the sorrel.

Mix a little of the soup w/ 1/3 c. sour cream and then stir in adding salt and pepper to taste.

Madison recommends serving w/ rice or croutons. I served it w/ rice the first time but truly loved it more w/ no additions.

Easy, Inexpensive. Delicious. I served w/ a ham and cheese panini but really any protein of your choice.

beverly said...

OK, one correction. It is 3 (small) red potatoes. I don't know if you could substitute a sweet potato as that is what you have on hand. I don't think I would but who knows.

Tracy Reifkind said...


Do you know how hard it is to come by sorrel? Seriously, it's one of those vegetables you have to grow yourself! I love sorrel, but the only time I can get any is if someone brings it to me...or maybe I should just grow some this year!

Sounds really good with a ham and cheese panini!

Thanks for sharing!

beverly said...

Yes I do know! II don't think I have ever seen it in a store or a farmer's market. I only know about it from reading recipes. I have one pitiful little plant which I harvested. The recipe asks for 2 cups and I had about 1/2 cup. I put it in but also added the lemon. It was a really good meal. I made it to share w/ my daughter for a sweet little company lunch. I hope to find another sorrel plant so I can grow my own in more substantial quantities. The cool thing is that it is perineal and comes back every year.

Thank you for all that you share!

Diana said...

My body loves protein! It's not unusual for me to have anywhere from 200-250g of protein a day. I eat a lot of eggs and meat. I get lots of looks when I leave the grocery store with a 5 dozen box of eggs. Add elk which is high in protein-around 25gm.
I've just added a protein powder to days of big workouts. I use Sunwarrior which is a great one-all natural. Add some spinach, kale, fruit and a few other items, you've got a great post workout drink!
What's your take on protein powders?

chrystad72 said...

oh great post! I actually just tend to keep food pretty simple. I find if you buy great produce and meats they pretty much have tons of flavor themselves. I like just taking whatever protein I have on hand and maybe add in some crushed garlic, salt pepper and some chilies and roast it for a few hours. Then I just toss it with whatever veggies I have on hand. Maybe a little coconut oil on top (love the flavor!) and I call it a day. Im a minimalist I guess=)

But I wanted to mention too that Ive been wanting to try sorrel to and cant find it anywhere. Sheesh! one day I tell ya...

Anonymous said...

I've never liked lamb unless it's in moussaka! So, moussaka (very little dairy as I can't digest it and/or use none.

I use a lot of squash but it almost always ends up in a stew or soup that I finish by puréeing. I like it best at that consistency.

Kelley Riebel said...

I'd make four meals:

I would start with mixing some of the ground beef and lamb, mix it with some of the onions, a pinch of the jalapenos, all of the parsley and make a meatloaf or two single serving mini meatloaves.

I'd take the remaining beef and lamb and make a stuffed cabbage dish braised in a light mixture of tomato sauce and court boullion using the tomatoes you have frozen.

If you have left over tomatoes, I'd then slice the sausage, fry them lightly before creating a stew with the tomatoes, kabocha and butternut squash, topping with cilantro. (Onions if there are any left over)

Then for an easy after workout meal (if you are carb loading) I'd mix the sweet potatoes (In bacon fat!) and roast them nicely. Top with a tiny bit of butter. Keep it simple!

Unknown said...

Hmmm..I'd have to think a bit to come up with actual recipes, but with the ingredients that you list, I'd go with two meals:

1) Greek style kabobs + side of sweet potatoes or squash

2) Stuffed cabbage leaves (stuffed w/ meat and veggies) prepped in a tomato base...I'd probably use the chard leaves for this as well, though not sure how well they'd hold up. Again, probably a side of the squash

3) If I still have extra squash left and had a few eggs around, i'd probably mix the two and make "pancakes" for breakfast. If NO eggs, then I'd probably make a pureed soup with them....

Fun post. I like your teaser...looking forward to seeing what YOU would make. Love your creativity and practical approach to food prep.

Tracy Reifkind said...


I'm eat too much protein! lol

Personally the only people I know that use protein powders are people that need more protein and don't like to eat! That is not me! I've never taken any kind of supplement, although that will probably change.

I don't think I need any, but Mark has used supplements his entire adult life for one reason or another, so I'll be taking some of his advice on what I should be taking.

Tracy Reifkind said...


You have to grow sorrel! It's too delicate to get to market and you may be lucky to find it at local FM's, but I've never ever seen it commercially.

It can't be that hard to grow for God's sake! It's probably a weed anyway!

I wrote a post about it last year when I begged some from a client's garden. It's got a slightly sour taste (like lemon) which goes great with salmon for instance. But when cooked it turns an ugly khaki green! I used it in quiches last year with asparagus.

One of my favorite cookbooks, and I only have a handful, is Mark Bittman's "The Minimalists Cooks"! I totally believe in minimalistic cooking. If I read a recipe that has some crazy ass ingredient it's a pass for me. I like the recipes that call for all the "real" foods I already have on hand.

Tracy Reifkind said...


I love pureed soups, heck, I love any kind of soup. You should try lamb again. There are all kinds of options, but I find even using half ground beef/lamb in a chili or sauce is a bit more earthy...but you have to like that sort of thing!

It's rare that I use any kind of dairy in main dishes, not even cheese ( I really dislike commercial cheeses). And as you know, many pureed vegetable soups don't even need cream as they are plenty "creamy" on their own!

Thank you for your comment

Tracy Reifkind said...


Geez! You got the first one right on! (more details to come).

I had a ton of sweet potatoes/squash, but I love it soooo much that I can only cook one serving at a time, otherwise that's all I'll eat until it's completely gone (about an hour, lol)

I did manage to get three meals, only because I did not use the butternut or Kabocha, which are large vegetables. I also did not use the cabbage...yet!

Great suggestions!

Tracy Reifkind said...


What spices/flavors are in Greek style kabobs? I think it's a brilliant idea! I did do something similar with the beef and lamb, with a side of potatoes! Also, I think using the chard leaves instead of cabbage is a great idea too! Chard leaves are pretty robust and I think it would work beautifully....I'm going to file this idea away!

I consider eggs are a "pantry/fridge" item! Who the hell doesn't always have eggs? How many eggs? Now that's a different question! But again, you are right on with the "pancakes". I make what I call "croquettes". Diced roasted squash, sausage, egg, cilantro, jalapeño "hash". I did not make some this time, but I certainly had the ingredients to!

Wow! I'm really impressed to read so many people knowing their way around real foods and real ingredients!

Thank you for commenting!

Unknown said...

From "unknown" - really Janine -

Traditional and True Greek Kabobs? Not sure. But in MY Greek Kabobs:
grated onion, oregano, parsley, mint, vinegar or lemon juice, salt, pepper, ground lamb + ground turkey or beef(half/half). Mix, chill, mold onto skewers, cook....voila. This is my FAVE thing to do with a landslide. I eat it w/ a vinegar slaw. Husband eats it in a pita w/ a mayo/sriracha sauce. Aargh, now I'm going to have to make it again soon. You've got me craving it!!

Tracy Reifkind said...


OMG! I love vinegar slaw! And I can totally see this as a super yummy combination and I totally get the addition of mayo and siracha! (although I'd have to add a teaspoon of sugar...sorry!)

OK. grated onion, freah oregano, or dried? I can totally see the fresh mint and parsley....I'm guessing plain white vinegar?

I'm doing this over the weekend!

Unknown said...

Well - how about you play with the following to meet your preferences?
(from my notebook w/ my comments)
2 lb meat
1/4 c. grated onion (*more & maybe add garlic)
2 T. fresh parsley (more, more, more)
2 t. dry oregano
1.5 t. mint from tea packet (it's all I had!)
1 T. vinegar* -- *I used red wine vinegar, but you can use whatever your taste buds crave, right?!?and i think that the original recipe called for plain white, yes.
2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper

good luck & enjoy!