Monday, May 17, 2010

Lower your protein intake, raise your health & lighten up!

Trimming your food budget isn't the only reason to curb your protein consumption. There are so many other reasons this makes sense that even if you don't go all the way vegetarian, having 2-3 days a week when you introduce meatless or reduced meat meals to your family could make an impact both economically as well as on your health.

Lightening up makes a lot of sense and I'm sure you've seen the articles all over telling people that we consume way too much protein (which we do in comparison to other cultures) and could benefit from the reduction of animal meats in our diet. I'm also sure that many of you "out there" have thought that this is nuts (since you love your meat, as I do) and turning vegetarian just isn't an option. Hey, I hear you- but I can also say that during the time I was a vegetarian (during 3 years a long time ago due to high Cholesterol), I did see improvements in my life: it was cheaper, I ate industrial quantities of food and lost weight and digestion was easier on my body. But I like meat so I went back......

So instead of eliminating meat all together, we now do meatless meals every now and then. My family hardly notices them at all..... Why? How? By making dishes high on flavor which they enjoy so they don't even miss the meat! Not hard at all even with my picky eater. I look to all types of meals for inspiration but have found that the Asians and neighboring regions are the best at presenting interesting, flavorful, colorful and exciting dishes that don't need a big piece of meat to fill you up.

Looking at the options available you can see how this would make rice, noodle, curry and casserole type dishes to be especially well suited for us to reach our goals and you can reduce your protein content easily and not cause "meat withdrawal'"..... In fact, most people don't even miss it at all since all you're doing is reducing your intake and not putting anyone on a restrictive reduction diet that will psychologically predispose them to resist and dislike it. In this way you have a better chance of actually bringing about real change into your family's diet that will translate into long term lifestyle improvements that will give you actual results. Plus you'll eat yummy food too! Sounds like a plan to me.....

Want to take a look at some options? We all know about salads and wraps but how about non-rabbit food.... Try some of these and you too will see it's easier than you thought, it might surprise you. Don't want to spend a lot on imported Asian ingredients? Look in your local .99 Store first! You'll be surprised how many of these ingredients are there and at a low price! I shop at an Asian market and they are very cheap plus since I make these often, it makes sense to have a variety of them on hand. I also only buy 1 type of Soy Sauce, add water to make "light soy" and some lemon/oj juice for Ponzu. No sense in having all those bottles when you can adapt.

Pineapple Bacon Fried Orzo.- Using pasta instead of rice will give you another version that can be used but you can use cold rice for this as well.

5 slices of bacon
1 tbl minced garlic
1 tbl minced ginger
1/2 cup sliced scallions, some greens reserved for garnish
1 cup pineapple, cut in 1/4" pieces
5 cups cooked orzo
3 tbl Soy Sauce or Ponzu
1 tbl lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Canola oil

In large saute pan or wok over medium-high heat, cook bacon until crisp and remove to a paper towel-lined plate. When cooled, crumble. Drain bacon fat, wipe pan clean and lightly coat with canola oil. Over medium heat, saute garlic, ginger, scallions and pineapple. Add orzo, soy sauce, lemon juice and crumbled bacon. Toss to combine and heat through. Check flavoring and season. Serve family style, garnished with scallion greens.
NOTE: You could add shredded chicken or meat, peas, carrots or any other veggie too.

Pineapple Fried Rice.- A twist to the usual fried rice but one that's easily adaptable to any changes you might like to make. Good place to start.

8 rings canned pineapple, drained (can be fresh), cut in pieces
1/2 carrot, grated or in small pieces
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 green onion, white and green sections, sliced fine
1–2 tbl canned hot Japaleno peppers (optional) or red pepper flakes
2 tbl oil for stir-frying, or as needed
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
2 cups cold cooked rice or leftover rice
1-2 tbl light soy sauce (or add water to regular soy sauce)
1 tsp curry powder, or to taste (optional)
Sugar, to taste

Heat a wok or frying pan over med-heat. Add the oil, rotating the pan so that it coats the bottom and sides. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, ginger and chopped Jalapenos. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the onion. Stir-fry for 1 min, then add the red bell pepper and the grated carrot. Add the pineapple. Stir-fry briefly. Add the rice, and cook for about 2 min, continually stirring and tossing until it becomes shiny. Stir in the soy sauce. Stir in the curry powder and sugar. Taste and adjust the seasoning if desired. Stir in the green onion or use as a garnish. Serve hot.
NOTE: Garnish Suggestions: toasted coconut, crushed peanuts, and/or fresh mint sprigs or cilantro. Chicken, pork,veggies, etc.

Szechuan Noodles.- A basic recipe, easily adaptable to your taste.

2 12oz package egg noodles or spaghetti noodles

2-3 tbl balsamic vinegar
4-5 tbl cup sesame oil
2-3 tbl chinese chili oil (optional maybe)
3-4 tbl soy sauce
3-5 tbl white sugar

Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. Mix the dressing ingredients. Taste to adjust seasonings to your taste. Add to the hot noodles and toss well.

The noodles will absorb some dressing, Expect the noodles to be in a shallow "bath" of dressing. Serve hot or cold ( I like it at room temperature). Garnish with chopped green onion and toasted sesame seeds.
NOTE: You can also add red pepper flakes instead, peanuts, sliced green onions, fresh red & green peppers, etc.

Easy Stir-fry Orange Chicken.- A great weeknight meal for the family.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon chile paste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 slice ginger, minced
Oil for stir-frying, as needed

Place the cubed chicken in a bowl, and add the marinade ingredients. Marinate the chicken for 30 minutes. While the chicken is marinating, prepare the sauce ingredients and the garlic and ginger.

Heat the wok and add oil. When oil is ready, add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until aromatic. Add the chicken and stir-fry until it changes color. Push up to the sides of the wok, making a well in the middle. Add the sauce. Combine the sauce and the chicken. Stir-fry for another minute and serve hot.

*If you find the orange flavor too overpowering, try substituting a combination of orange juice and water to make 1/3 cup.
NOTE: So it will feed the whole family, I would add broccoli or green beans, bean sprouts, some bok choy, green onions, jicama, cilantro leaves and some almonds. Or if you just want chicken, add more. You can also use pork or fish for this.

Pork and Pineapple Curry.- A very easy preparation that's very tasty.

1/2 lb Pork cutlets, shops or steaks, cut in thin strips
10 oz canned pineapple or fresh, cut in small pieces
1 can (12oz) coconut milk
2 tbl oil
1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbl curry powder or paste
2 tbl fish sauce
1 tbl brown sugar

Heat oil in a pan until hot and fry curry powder or paste. Add meat and cook stirring. Add coconut milk, bring to a boil and cook for about 5 min. Reduce the heat and add lemon juice, fish sauce and brown sugar. Add pineapple and cook 1-2 min. Serve.
NOTE: You can substitute chicken or fish. You can add other vegetables along with the meat and cook. You can also top with coconut, nuts, cilantro leaves, bean sprouts, red pepper flakes, etc. Other colors of curry paste can be used like green or red.

Beef Chow Fun.- Traditional Chinese dish that is easy and fun to make.

1/2 lb beef flank steak or any beef in thin strips
5 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbl Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 tsp sugar
a few drops sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 lb fresh rice noodles
1 8-oz can baby corn
2 garlic cloves
1 tbl Chinese black bean sauce
1 1/2 to 2 tbl oyster sauce
5 tbl oil for stir frying, or as needed

Cut the flank steak across the grain into thin strips about 1/8" thick. Add the dark soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Marinate the steak for 15 min.

While the steak is marinating, prepare the vegetables: rinse the baby corn in warm running water and drain. Smash, peel, and chop the garlic cloves. If using refrigerated rice noodles, cook them in warm water to loosen about 10 min. Cut the noodles into 1/2" strips.

Heat the wok and add 2 tbl oil. When the oil is hot, add the beef. Lay flat and let brown for a minute. Stir in the black bean sauce and stir-fry the beef until it is browned and nearly cooked through. Remove from the wok. Clean out the wok and add 2 more tbl oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and stir-fry until aromatic. Add the rice noodles and stir fry until browned.

Push the rice noodles up to the side of the wok and add 1 more tbl oil. When the oil is hot, add the baby corn. Stir-fry briefly, then mix with the noodles. Stir in the oyster sauce. Add the beef back into the wok. Mix everything together and serve hot.
NOTE: I would add more vegetables to stretch the dish. Use green onions, broccoli, jicama, bean sprouts, bok choy, fresh red and green pepper or any veggies that you like. You can also use some chicken, pork or tofu instead.

As you can see a lot of the ingredients are repeated and used in many dishes, so if you buy sauces and other ingredients you'll be able to use them up easily. The more you prepare these types of dishes, the more familiar you will become with substituting ingredients and will be able to easily produce lovely stir fried dishes in a moment. All of these preparations are quick cooking and allow you to take advantage of leftovers as well which will also help you stretch your food budget and reduce waste. I no longer have a wok (it's on my list since I use these often) but any large pan will do, no need to purchase any equipment at all. Look to your local discount stores for ingredients, Asian markets have a great selection of vegetables and noodles too, along with Mexican markets and make these dishes economical to produce. So next time you make some white rice, make double and save it in the fridge, you'll be ready next time you feel like making some fried rice.

Also, you can use your sauces for simple and fast vegetable stir-fry's anytime just using some oil, your chosen vegetables stir fried, then add your chosen sauce, taste and serve! A side dish, quick lunch or vegetarian meal can be yours in a couple of minutes, fresh off the stove.....

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