Monday, August 29, 2011

Counting Calories or Pennies? Your Savory and Inexpensive Autumn Go-To Food

Beef stew, meatloaf, spicy chili, and shepherd's pie- all traditional fall comfort foods, to keep you warm and full on a brisk day. Soon, it will be that time of the year to prepare all your downhome favorites...unless you have seen the cost of meat lately or are trying to limit fat, calories, or cholesterol. What's a foodie to do to keep food cravings at bay and the grocery bill in check?

I found a simple and inexpensive new staple for home cooking that I have personally tested and experimented with to see if the product lives up to the hype. This month I have been trying to limit my calories to 1500 a day and bring my grocery bill in check. I am also a vegetarian and was getting very tired paying five dollars a box for veggie burgers and breakfast patties. Boca burgers taste great, but who can afford them? And hamburger while watching your calories? No way!

So, what is this answer? TVP. A food that has been eaten in other cultures such as India for many years and is included in most of the processed meat substitutes such as Boca Burgers and Morningstar Farms Crumbles. Ummmmmm, so exactly what is this and how do I use it?

TVP= Textured Vegetable Protein. I know, sounds like something that tastes like cardboard, right? No! I was skeptical too, until I tried it; however, after seeing the unbelievably cheap price for a quality brand, I had to try it for myself. And, boy am I glad, at 2.42 for a 10 oz bag of Bob's Red Mill brand TVP, it is so much less expensive than beef or pre-made vegetarian substitutes. TVP comes dehydrated, so when water is added, it triples in volume, meaning that your 10 oz bag is equal to 30 oz of fresh hamburger. Try getting almost 2 pounds of ground beef for that price!

Purchase the Bob's Red Mill TVP here, but read on for more information and recipes:

What is TVP and where does it come from? TVP is made from the byproducts of soybean oil. Due to increasing production of bio-fuels, every year the amount of soybean oil produced increases. TVP is what is left of the soybean after the oil is extracted and the water is removed. It is then pressed or formed into different sized pieces to resemble different types of meat. Soybeans are rich in protein and fiber, and are a cholesterol-free food. So, TVP is cheap, healthy, and good for the environment because it utilizes the waste products of vegetable oil production. Here is a fascinating article about TVP:

If you are still reading, I am going to assume you might be wiling to try TVP and want to hear about some of the foods I cooked with it. I love to experiment in the kitchen, so whipping up some delicious creations was fun and easier than I expected. 1 oz of TVP has only 80 calories and equals 3oz of hamburger. It is naturally low in fat. So, that is a tremendous savings of calories compared to ground beef. Well, let's get to the good stuff...what did you make?

First, I made a taco salad. I rehydrated the TVP and simmered it in a skillet with taco seasoning mix from Ortega. I added extra water to the skillet instead of browning it in grease or oil and drained the excess liquid off after cooking. It tasted amazing! Just like beef taco filling, except it was a bit blander, so I had to add 2 packets of taco seasoning. I took 1/2 cup of the hot taco "meat" and used it to top a romaine salad that had plenty of fresh tomatoes and onions, 1/3 cup of cheddar cheese (lowfat), and topped it all with salsa. Voila, a VERY filling meal for less than 400 calories. I had enough taco meat left over to make burritos in lo-carb wraps and another taco salad later in the week.

Next on my agenda was meatballs. The great, big huge kinds that you can use to top spaghetti or eat as a stand alone meal. I did not have a recipe for this, so I tried 1/2 TVP and 1/2 uncooked Quaker Oats with a little salt, pepper, garlic, and onion. I added boiling water to the dry mix until it was the consistency of fresh, uncooked hamburger. I formed the mixture into large 2oz meatballs, rolled each formed ball in seasoned bread crumbs and baked them on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. I then turned them and used the broiler for a few minutes to finish up and brown the underside. I estimated each meatball to be approximately 125 calories and I ate these plain with marina sauce, broken up in a low-carb wrap with light mozzarella and pizza sauce. Delicious!

Finally, I prepared my version of an Italian beef sandwich. Back home in Wisconsin, the local Italian place with the famous hot beef had a secret for their hot beef recipe...pickle juice! To make my hot beef sandwiches, I simmered the rehydrated TVP in a skillet with Johnny's Au Jus concentrate and 1/2 cup of pickle juice. I drained the excess liquid from the skillet to save as a dipping Au Jus and enjoyed my sandwich on high fiber bread with low fat mozzarella and Au Jus on the side. Fabulous.

My next projects for TVP include vegetarian chili, lasagna, and beef stew. TVP is also available in chicken, turkey, and sausage flavors, so it is very versatile. It also has a long shelf life and can be used to stock emergency shelters.

Google shopping results are here:,or.r_gc.r_pw.&biw=1166&bih=649&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=iw#q=tvp&hl=en&sa=N&prmd=ivns&source=univ&tbm=shop&tbo=u&ei=4zZcTvWzF5S5tgfEkPD6Dw&ved=0CKIBEK0E&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=e25c01bcffb7a7&biw=1166&bih=649

This article brought to you courtesy of Clare, proprietor of Mylana:

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