Textured Vegetable Protein? No, thanks.

Question: When you think of “vegetable” what images come to mind? Personally, I picture carrots, onions, celery, leafy greens, tomatoes on the vine- that sort of thing. When manufacturers name something veggie or vegetable derived, they know this is the image we conjure up and market their products accordingly. Marketing is all about creating the right image.  Anything marked vegetable is healthy, right? One would think…

Well now, imagine my surprise upon learning that vegetable oil, for example, wasn’t made from the typical garden produce as the picture on the bottle hinted. Vegetable oil is soybean oil.

Yeah, um… I don’t see any pictures of soybeans on those bottles.

Mazola Vegetable Oil

So, considering what we know about vegetable oil I should have suspected the true origin of textured vegetable protein and steered clear, but I didn’t. And we ate it. This matters to me because, a few years ago, a wise healthcare provider suggested that I try cutting soy out of my diet to see if it would help control my raging hormones, since soy effects estrogen levels. It was in taking a closer look at my diet that I realized just how much of that particular vegetable we’d been consuming. The realization briefly made me want to become a soybean farmer because that stuff is in just about everything.

So, soy. I’ve avoid it for the past 3 years and am happier & healthier for it. Most noticeably, my acne has disappeared and stayed away, menstrual cycle became regular, mood swings and depression no longer have me in a stranglehold, and major pit odor is a thing of the past. I love being a girl! Which brings me to my recent use of textured vegetable protein and subsequent elimination of that item from the pantry.  Forever.

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I was SO exited to find TVP in the bulk foods section of my grocery store and use it to stretch our ground beef.  I re-hydrated the freeze dried granules with hot water or broth and some tomato sauce along with whatever seasonings I liked for each particular dish. After soaking for a few minutes I’d cook it right in the pan with raw meat. The result was a seemless addition that even my husband couldn’t detect which tripled the amount of beef I had cooked. That’s right, instead of one meal from a pound of hamburger we got 3! I loved this stuff.

After two weeks of using it though, I was experiencing some unpleasant things like the return of acne and serious mood swings as well as upset stomach that just wouldn’t go away. So, I finally got around to looking into just what textured vegetable protein is… and was extremely disappointed. According to Bob’s Red Mill, one of the producers of this product,

“Textured Vegetable Protein is made from defatted soy flour that has been cooked under pressure and then dried.”

TVP

Nothing against Bob, I love his products, but that doesn’t sound good. Think about how much that (GMO?) soybean has  to go through to become this little protein packed nugget and the term “highly processed” comes to mind. I should have researched before trying something like this however, part of me just didn’t want to hear anything bad about my new favorite pantry staple. Oh, the shame- I’m guilty of willful ignorance to save a buck!

I haven’t used TVP in a week now and am seeing my unpleasant symptoms steadily decline. I usually use rice to stretch my beef and will continue to use that though would like to also try wheat berries and quinoa as alternatives. What tricks do you use to add extra nutrition and/or stretch the food dollar? I would love to hear some of your creative ideas! Thanks for reading 🙂

 

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Stuffed Shells and Stocking Up on Freezer Meals

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I haven’t had a chance to photograph this recipe yet, so how about a random picture of an onion instead? Aren’t vegetables beautiful? So, any-hoo… my husband calls this recipe amazing. I usually get comments like, “Whoa. How do you make this? It’s SO GOOD!” My shells aren’t mushy in texture and hold their shape well. Another mark in their favor is that Stuffed Shells is one of those recipes that makes more than we can possibly eat at once so I always have an extra pan for the freezer. Bonus! Doubling something I’m already cooking is pretty much my approach to building up a stash of freezer meals. There are also a few things I like to cook ahead and freeze for faster meal prep later like:

  • Rice: Next time you make rice, do a double batch. To reheat, just add 2 tablespoons of liquid for each cup of rice; microwave or cook in a saucepan (on the stove) until heated through. Will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
  • Ground Beef: I buy beef on sale and usually come home with 5 to 10 pounds at a time. The trick is to process the meat ASAP to preserve and get it ready for quick dinners later. I brown some and make burger patties or meatballs out of the rest. See my recipe for ground beef mix here.
  • Tomato Sauce: I like to buy a giant can of peeled, whole tomatoes and make up a bunch of spaghetti sauce for the freezer. On Italian night I go to my freezer for a package of pre-cooked ground beef, a jar of sauce and some Texas Toast. Boil noodles and toss a quick salad and dinner is done in under 30 minutes.
  • Shredded Cheese: Once in a while I get a really good deal on cheese and buy a lot of it. To freeze cheese grate it and package in airtight freezer bags with as little air inside as possible. Whole bricks of cheese will crumble upon thawing but shredding it eliminates that particular issue. Thawed cheese melts just fine so I pull it out to make cheese sauce, top casseroles, quesadillas and even sprinkle on sandwiches.

I don’t have to put aside a special time to do freezer cooking since things like homemade sauce, casseroles or soup can be made in larger quantities with very little added time & effort and stashed for a night when I just really need a break.

Stuffed Shells

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, cubed
  • 1 sweet onion, minced
  • 1 C mayo
  • 3 C shredded cheddar
  • 3 C shredded mozzarella
  • 1 lb. ground beef, browned & drained
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1/4 t Salt & 1/2 t pepper
  • 1T Italian seasoning
  • 2 jars of spaghetti sauce
  • 1 12 oz. box jumbo pasta shells

Boil shells according to package instructions. Be sure to salt the water to help reduce sticky pasta. You can also add a little oil. Stir gently & frequently to avoid clumping. Remove shells to a single layer on wax paper. Brown beef with garlic & onion, drain.  In a large glass mixing bowl and microwave 30 seconds to soften. Stir in mayo, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper completely. Then add shredded cheese and ground beef and to create your filling. I skip this step and pull pre-cooked ground beef ready to use from the freezer. Prepare your baking pans with a little sauce to cover the bottom of each. Spoon filling into shells being careful not to over-stuff them, about 1 1/2 T. Arrange shells in your baking dish then ladle sauce to cover and top with more cheese if desired. I like to use a little cheddar on top. Cover with foil, bake 35 minutes until hot and bubbly.

To make ahead: Prepare but don’t bake. Cover tightly with plastic wrap then foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours or freeze for up to 2 months. Remove the plastic and replace foil to bake- refrigerated 40-50 minutes, frozen 2 hours.

Copycat Rice-a-roni

Whenever I’ve bought a box of Rice-a-roni or Hamburger Helper and cooked it up for dinner my family is like, “Oh, man this is so good! You should make this all the time! I love this stuff!” Prepackaged, sodium-filled, preservative-ridden food is their favorite. I can’t blame them, it is delicious. My Mom conscience, however, won’t allow me to feed them crap on a regular basis so I try to make the things they like from scratch instead. I can make more for less and it will have fewer ingredients which quiets my inner critic that nags me to feed them all natural, BPA free, non-GMO, sustainable organic, whole foods at every meal. I strive for not fast-food and usually succeed, so pipe down inner critic.

Tonight I’m making my homemade version of Beef Rice-a-roni but I also do this recipe with chicken which is the same method but substituting chicken breast and chicken broth for the beef. Everything else is the same.


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Homemade Hamburger Rice

Serves 6-8 plus leftovers. We love leftovers.

  • 1-2 lbs. ground beef, browned & drained
  • 5 1/4 -1/2 C beef broth (I mix up some bouillon)
  • 4 T butter, margarine or oil
  • 3 Cups white rice
  • 1 pkg vermicelli

    Toasting the rice & pasta

Brown  & drain your beef then set aside or, you can take a page from my book and pull your pre-cooked ground beef out of the fridge or freezer ready to go. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add uncooked rice and vermicelli and stir frequently to toast until you can smell the roasty toasty buttery goodness and start to see pieces of rice & pasta turn golden. Add the beef and broth and stir to combine. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to low. Let cook without opening or stirring for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Serve.

Note: I use a 12″ deep-sided skillet with a lid for this recipe. If you don’t have one this recipe can be halved and made in a smaller skillet. The vermicelli I use can usually be found in the Hispanic foods section of the grocery store. 

Stretching the Food Dollar: Ground Beef

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Feeding our party of 5 within a budget means making the most of every food dollar. One of the things that helps achieve this goal is shopping with a strategy. As I’ve said before, I shop the weekly store ads for the best prices on meat and make a meal plan accordingly. If beef isn’t a good deal then we’ll eat chicken, turkey or pork; if it is, then I try to buy extra for the freezer. The most I’ve purchased & processed at one time is 10 pounds.

When I do bring home beef I need to extend it into as many meals as possible. Make-ahead meatballs are an awesome and easy way to do that because of the “fillers” we add and can be used in many different ways. I also brown up any we’ll need that week and store in airtight containers in the fridge. Cooking ahead stops the meat from aging in the fridge and cuts out a step for later to help get dinner made quicker. Here are my recipes & methods for processing ground beef to best advantage:


IMG_1537Depending on how much meat you’re processing, adjust ingredient amounts to suit. Personally, I rarely measure and make this recipe using anywhere from 2-5 lbs. of beef at a time. So amounts can be approximate. The seasonings are purely for taste and can be substituted with others. I’ve used leftover ramen flavor packets, onion soup mix, steak seasoning, anything I have on hand. If you don’t have one of the items listed or are a little short, make due, it’ll be fine. Go ahead, be flexible and your meatballs will turn-out whether or not you have the perfect measurements.

The deciding factor to making good meatballs is not so much in ingredients as in the size of your balls and how you cook them. I’ve found that if the balls are too small they’ll dry out no matter what and too big can give you an under-cooked surprise. Not cool. I get a perfectly moist & cooked meatball by measuring each with my trusty #60 disher scoop. Each of my meatballs is two scoops, which is about 2 tablespoons.  Meal ideas for meatballs include: with gravy & mushrooms, Swedish, with bbq sauce, with pineapple chunks & teriyaki sauce, sub sandwiches, cut in half to use as sliders, as a party snack or appetizer,  in a soup, with  marinara and mozzarella, sweet & Sour, in a Stroganoff or almost any meal that calls for ground beef. Put any of these over pasta or rice; there are just so many options!

Make-Ahead Meatballs

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  • 2 lbs. Ground Beef
  • I C precooked rice (I prefer white)
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 t pepper
  • 1/2 T onion powder
  • 2 t granulated garlic
  • 1 t Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/3 C ketchup
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 t vinegar
  • (optional) 1 T Italian seasoning

Preheat your oven to 350º and line a lipped baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and gently mix with hands just until combined taking care not to overwork the meat as that can make it tough. Portion out meatballs onto a baking sheet then form each on into a ball by hand. Bake for about 20 minutes until internal temperature reaches 160º. To freeze, cool to room temp then place in your freezer on a baking sheet for 30 -45 minutes before transferring to a freezer bag (be sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing to avoid excess frost and freezer burn). This method individually freezes each one and ensures they won’t turn into a smashed, stuck-together blob. Freeze for up to 4 months. To use after freezing, Place frozen meatballs onto a baking sheet, pie plate, etc., and place into a cold oven. Turn oven to 350º and bake for about 25-35 minutes until internal temperature has reached 165º.


I keep cooked rice in the fridge all the time ready to heat up for a quick lunch or add to a batch of ground beef. Handy thing to have on hand! If you cook your rice in beef broth it will add flavor to your meat mixtures. I like using carrot as a filler because it’s color doesn’t stand out too noticeably in the finished product and it adds an extra dose of roughage and vitamins to our diet. You can use other vegetables in addition or instead.  Adjust the onion as you like, my husband doesn’t like onion so I use very little here and mince it fine. Add up to a cup if you like! Beans are another great  filler though not as inconspicuous. Adding fillers ensures there is no loss of volume during cooking. For example, I just browned a 2.06 lb. package of meat and after this process the meat weighed in at 2.19 pounds. 

Make Ahead Browned Ground Beef

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  • 2 lbs. Ground Beef
  • 1 finely shredded carrot
  • 1/2 C minced onion
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 1 C cooked rice (I prefer white)

Spray a skillet with cooking spray or very lightly drizzle with oil then saute garlic & onion over medium heat for 2-3 minutes then add beef & carrot and brown. When done browning, drain fat then stir in rice, salt & pepper. Transfer to air-tight storage containers, cool slightly and store in the fridge for up to 3-4 days or freeze for up to 4 months.  You can reheat directly from freezer without thawing, especially if you froze it flat. If you froze in a container thaw ground beef for up to 24 hours in the fridge. Food safety guidelines advise that frozen foods be reheated to 165º.


Tips

Meal planning: Did you know that we really don’t need to eat meat at every meal every day? Planning  just one meatless dinner a week saves money and is a healthy habit to get into.  If you’d like to learn more on that topic, check out the website Meatless Monday for menu ideas.

Cooking with broth: I like to cook rice in broth to add flavor as a filler and my broth of choice is bouillon. I like bouillon cubes and powder because it keeps in the pantry for a long time and is a lot cheaper than stock or broth.

Browning large quantities of ground beef: One of my favorite food bloggers, Christy Jordan, has an awesome tutorial on her site for streamlining the process of handling large amounts of ground beef (like 5 lbs or more). Her method is so much faster than browning in batches! You can see that method on her site here.food scale

Kitchen tools: When buying meat in large amounts it’s so nice to be able to weigh out equal amounts to freeze. I have a digital scale that came from Costco for about $20 and use it for a lot of different things.

Another tool I wouldn’t want to be without is my disher scoop. I use it for cookie dough and meatballs and it rocks. They come in many sizes and greatly vary in price from El Cheap-o to Fancy-Schmancey. I have a cheaper model. Dishers can be found at most department stores but certainly at a restaurant or kitchen supply. 800px-Kitchen-Scooper-Small