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Last week I made a salad for my clients. Tuscan Lentil Salad. They asked me for protein-rich, healthy, and low-carb meals.

Since I cook for each client once a week (for the most part), I have to come up with a practical menu where the food is easy to eat straight from the container (on a lunch break at work), and most importantly – easy to reheat later in the week. Usually I put some kind of soup on the menu, like Tomato Bisque with Quinoa, or Creamy Cauliflower Soup with chunks of the veg floating joyfully inside, or another health miracle, my Beet Soup, also known as a liver cleanser. Most of the soups I make are loaded with variety of good stuff while staying very light in the calorie department.

It’s very important that there are fresh vegetables on the menu, but a regular green salad lasts a day. Hence, for my clients I opt for hearty salads that will stay fresh for up to three days. I play with grains like a 6-year old with LEGO blocks. One day it’s Wheat Berry mix, another Quinoa blend, Barley, Farro, you name it. Last week, however, I used a recipe by Julie Daniluk, a Canadian nutritionist and the host of Healthy Gourmet (a TV show) simply because it looked divine.

Photo credit: Julie Daniluk

Click on the photo above to get to the recipe itself.

When I was mixing all the ingredients at my clients’ kitchen, they both peeked over my shoulder and instantly requested a taste of the wonder. Let me just say that it didn’t end on a simple one bite tasting. An entire portion planned for one of the meals later in the week disappeared from the counter. A few minutes later, the husband returned to the kitchen with an empty container in hand, still licking his mouth.

“THAT WAS DELICIOUS.”

The wife only said:

“CAN WE PLEASE HAVE THIS SALAD EVERY WEEK?”

Your wish is my command. The salad became a staple on their menu. I also tested it on Jason and he loved every bite. Well, not the olive bite. I tried so hard to sneak some succulent, delicious olives into his bowl, but his olive detector would not be fooled. There are only few edible things Jason is on non-speaking terms with, and olives just happen to be one of those misfortunate bastards.

Since the Lentil Salad was such a success, I had to give credit where it was due. Julie Daniluk is a walking encyclopedia of food knowledge. Put any type of produce, nut, meat, you name it in front of her eyes and she begins to recite all the attributes of the food like a poem.

I will have you know also that Oprah Winfrey got a whiff of the Healthy Gourmet show, and with no avail had her people load all the goodies up on her new network’s website. Aha, just look at the web address when you visit the show’s web page.

I’ve studied nutrition for my own benefit over the years. However, I never went to school to bring that knowledge up to more comprehensive and organized level. Julie is the reason I started looking into various nutrition programs around the country that offer either the traditional, thus purely scientific approach, or more holistic one that produces life coaches. Keep your fingers crossed!  I’m very excited about this project.

Pst, one more thing. It occurs to me that I have more in common with Julie beyond the affection for healthy and whole foods. Me thinks there’s Polish blood flowing in her veins…

To Be Investigated!

Once again I was so touched by the outreach from so many of you after my last blurb. I appreciate your words of support on that meatless journey of ours, as well as condolences and sympathy for my misery. Thank you all!

As I’m typing these words, I am also engaged in the process of sipping a barely-tolerable non-alcoholic beer (How the hell has that landed in our refrigerator?), the multi-tasker that I am. If you must know, beer, beside calories from carbs, also contains–are you ready for this??–protein!, vitamin B6, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, folate, and a roster of other micro-elements. Seems like a much better option than a can of soda, don’t you think?

Moreover, beer made a brilliant match with our dinner last night. The food was packed with both–flavor and protein. Come to think of it, if I don’t look like the pre-governor Arnold at the end of this month, I am going to pack my toys and leave this stupid … protein club. The food was something else though.

Last night on the menu there was a POACHED EGG OVER MASHED RUTABAGA & CELERY ROOT, WITH BROCCOLINI AND EDAMAME SAUTÉED WITH GARLIC ON THE SIDE. Inhale. Exhale. Now breathe as if your life depended on it.

It seems a lot of people are scared of poaching eggs. Turns out the devil is not as scary as they paint him to be. Yes, you can quote me on that. It’s all about the technique. Boil water in a small saucepan and then add salt and 1-2 tsp of vinegar (e.g. white wine, rice, apple sider). Break an egg into a small bowl or a cup, spin the water in the saucepan with a fork or spoon (what-have-you) and gently slide the whole egg into the boiling liquid. Vinegar helps coagulate the egg white, and the whirlwind from the spin helps keep the whole protein (yup, there it is again!) together. Turn off the heat, cover the a lid and leave for 3 minutes precisely. Feel free to set your alarm clock as you have no idea how fast three minutes race by when one’s plating the dinner. When the alarm goes off, using a slotted spoon scoop the poached egg out, let the excess water escape through the gaps, and serve as desired.

After din-din, our tummies were full, all cravings went to hell, and then we though gratefully about the troops stationed in the Middle East. We thought about the veterans who served their country the best they could, while now many of them are homeless and roam the streets of Los Angeles, or of your city. Let’s think of them not only on the Memorial Day. Let’s share a meal. Let’s not throw away food knowing there’s always somebody out there going to sleep hungry. And let’s all have a sunny and a very good day!

Today marks two weeks since we returned from Europe, the continent where people eat whatever they want (for the most part) and seldom exercise the idea of a dietary restriction. Mother Nature is still the biggest supplier of food there, and no one questions that order. I choose to believe that based on the quality of ingredients that had built our meals while in Poland, and then in France.

When we first arrived back in Los Angeles, Jason and myself decided we needed a break from eating meat, as it was such a fundamental part of our diet when still on the Old Continent. The first week went swimmingly well. I whistled cheerfully as I cooked away quinoa, made meals with a variety of beans, various grains (e.g. barley), then lentils, and greens rich in protein (like broccoli). Last but not least nuts were all around us, all day long. And I don’t mean just because we live in Hollywood. Each morning I began with a whole-grain toasted muffin, topped with a layer of almond butter and slices of fresh strawberries. Jason snacked on a mixture of raw nuts and dried fruits in between the meals. Roasted pine nuts or walnuts ended up in fresh salads. Toasted pepitas served as a base for my vinaigrette.

About three days ago I realized I was …hungry. Sixty minutes after I finished breakfast I was ready to eat again. The first craving hit me right between the eyes leaving a black-eye the size of a fist.  No matter how versatile menu I prepared for the day and how much flavor I incorporated into each dish, it all began to taste …boring. Every time I inserted a fresh bite of food into my mouth, from the start I knew it was missing one ingredient–meat. It didn’t matter what I was eating. If I could I would sprinkle pancetta bits into my whole-grain cereal with blueberries and a sliced banana. A temporary comfort I found in hard-boiled eggs, and cheese sandwiches.

Now, I know that all protein is equal. It doesn’t matter, from a scientific point of view, whether you get your amino acids (which are the molecules of the protein) from an animal or a plant, as our bodies are dexterous engineers and can put together a complete protein out of those building blocks. As long as you provide your system with those standard 22 amino acids it requires to form the protein we need. That’s the reason all nutritionists of the world emphasize the need for a versatile diet, in particular for the vegetarians walking amongst us.

Enough with the lecturing. I know that I had enough protein in my diet over the last two weeks not to NEED any meat. Though I realize now the source of my misery. It is all in my head. My cravings for a juicy steak, and beef stew, or a tender chicken thigh have everything to do with the fact that I can’t have it right now, for I do not appreciate restriction. It goes deeper than that. I refuse to be pressured. If there is a movie coming out that the entire planet can’t shut up about, and 70 million people go see it on the opening night, you can be sure Agi won’t participate in the mass hysteria. For example, I have never seen “Titanic” nor “The Da Vinci Code”. I wasn’t interested in the slightest. You know what else I have not watched, nor read? The entire “Harry Potter” series. Sure, we can argue whether I am better or worse for that, but it is not the point of this discourse.

Despite that fact that my diet over the last two weeks was nutritionally dense, I began to notice feeling weaker and weaker. I was no longer able to lift words and put them down on paper. At the gym, when requested by Jason to do abdominal crunches, I didn’t even stomp my foot on the ground anymore. I fought him just for a moment when he made me get down on the ground and throw my legs in the air, but only because resistance to a voluntary pain application is a part of my psychological make-up. Then I got a hair cut, as those two extra inches of hair made a whole lot of difference when washing it. Saving energy became my motto.

Agi in Poland, by the Baltic Sea, all happy and joyful knowing she can eat whatever the hell she wants!

I am facing another two meatless weeks, which in my head translates into a form of mind slavery. It is my brain that has to make an effort to relax and breathe knowing it will be OK.

Agi, let me introduce you to DISCIPLINE. I hope you shall become fast friends.

Amen.

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