Saturday, August 30, 2014

$33 keto challenge - days 4, 5, and 6

Over the past three days, I've had lunches at work, and social dinners that don't allow me to keep up with this challenge.  Next week, I am travelling for work so there's no way I can try it again.  I don't know what to do, but I'll try to think of something.

Sorry for the lack of updates, but I've been frustrated with my situation of not being able to do this properly.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

$33 Keto Challenge - Day 3

Today's lunch is basically a mirror of yesterday's, but I've added one hard boiled egg for a little more substance.







DINNER UPDATE:

Dinner will also look eerily familiar to yesterday's since it's exactly the same, only with an extra egg on the plate.  Sometimes this is how things go when you're short on time and on a budget.  The food still tastes great and is fantastically inexpensive.  There's no room here for complaining.  :)



Monday, August 25, 2014

$33 keto challenge - day 2

For lunch today, I'm going super simple chicken salad.  Chopped romaine lettuce, half of a sliced cucumber, a little bit of the italian seasoning, and 5 ounces of thigh/leg meat.  I pulled all of the meat that I roasted yesterday and put it into a glass lock in the refrigerator.  It makes putting together a salad really easy.  Tonight, I'll chop up the romaine, and another cucumber the same way so everything is ready to go for tomorrow.  I'll bring some mayo along and use that as dressing at lunch time.




DINNER UPDATE

For dinner, I had more chicken.  Yay.  This time, I simply rubbed a tiny bit of oil so the seasoning would stick, and sprinkled on some of the new cajun spice I got from the dollar store.  While the chicken was cooking, I chopped up a couple stalks of celery and a green bell pepper to eat as a little salad.  I'm rationing my lettuce and cucumber for lunches at work.


After baking in a 400 degree oven for about 35 minutes, the chicken came out looking and tasting fantastic.  With a little mayo, a couple hard boiled eggs, and a dusting of cajun spice, dinner was served.  




I know I just wrote this recently, but it bears repeating: baking/roasting chicken with a simple spice mixture is unbelievably simple and tastes fantastic.  There is no reason the collective 'we' can't be eating healthy even while on a tight budget as long as we're able to buy these foods so cheap.  I have no excuses.  "We" have no excuses.

$33 keto challenge - day 1

I started the day by roasting a couple leg quarters to use for salads on Monday and Tuesday.  I'd like to take this opportunity to put on the record that roasting chicken is so simple and yields fantastic results with very little effort.  At only 89 cents per pound, I can't imagine getting a better meal at this price point with the amount of work involved.

All it took was to rub a little oil on the chicken quarters, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and finish by shaking on some of the fancy $1 italian seasoning I just purchased.  I cooked it in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes, and then increased the temperature to 400 and cooked for an additional 35 minutes or so.





My lunch was one of the leg quarters pictured above, two hard boiled eggs, and two celery stalks.

For dinner, I wanted to try frying chicken on the bone the same way I fried the boneless chicken breast last time; using pork rinds as breading.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work quite as well because of how long the chicken needs to be cooked.  The pork rinds burn a little, and it leaves a slightly bitter taste to the chicken.  I'm wondering if I par-cook in the oven for 10-20 minutes, I could have better results.  Maybe I'll try that later this week.

Anyway, the meal was a cucumber and bell pepper 'salad' with mayo and italian seasoning with black pepper.  I wanted something cool and refreshing to go along with the salty, crunchy chicken.




Sunday, August 24, 2014

$33 keto weekly challenge - shopping list

Like most everything in life, practice makes perfect.  This certainly applies when shopping on a strict budget, and my experience doing this before makes a world of difference.  The first time I went shopping for a $30 weekly keto challenge, I felt like I had everything under control and my shopping list was as good as it could possibly be.  Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the difference in the amount of food I've purchased for the same amount of money is incredible.  Last week, for example, most of my protein came from 7 pounds of chicken breast.  This week, I bought 20 pounds of chicken leg quarters.  Even after de-boning, that will come out to almost 50% more meat.



My shopping list this week is far more complete and includes additional spices to use other than salt and pepper.  The reason I have extra money this week is because the last time I went shopping, I bought a large container of mayo.  That mayo will last through this week, and allowed me to buy some spices that will last for at least a month.  I think it's important to spend extra money on things that will last a long time and bring some much needed variety to your diet.  I learned my lesson the last time around buying peach iced tea mix that, while delicious, didn't even last the entire week.

Below are the weekly shopping list and pictures of everything.  I have receipts too, if anyone is interested in those.







$33 keto challenge

If you've been keeping up with the blog entries over the past couple of weeks, you'll know that I tried to eat every meal in an entire week with a total budget of $30.  While I was mostly successful, I wanted to try again with a slightly higher budget to account for my higher-than-normal protein needs.  My goal is to eat the entire week for $33, giving me an extra 43 cents per day for protein.

As it turns out, I only needed about half of that extra money this week.  There were a couple of very nice sales at both the grocery store and the farmer's market that gave me substantially more food this week than the previous challenge.  I took more time researching prices, and I learned plenty of lessons to apply to my shopping this time around.  I'll be posting the shopping list and menu plans shortly.

As always, thanks for reading and please don't hesitate to ask any questions.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Finding affordable meat for keto

Lately, as you may have noticed, I've been trying to figure out ways to eat well while spending as little as possible.  I'm convinced there have to be creative ways to create meals that basically everyone is able to afford, and still enjoy the benefits of maintaining keto eating principles.
It's easy to overlook important factors when pricing meat.  For example, most people believe it's always cheaper to buy the whole chicken instead of buying a boneless, skinless chicken breast.  While I'd agree that sometimes that's true, often a boneless chicken breast will be the better value.  There's a great article that covers the true cost of several different meat options.  In that article, the author concludes that a whole chicken's true cost, without bones, is 1.76 times the price you pay at checkout.  If you remove the skin as well as the bones, it jumps to 2.39x your purchase price.  That means, if we take a whole chicken priced at $1.49 per pound, the real price we're paying is actually $2.62/lb for boneless, or $3.56/lb for boneless and skinless.  Last week, my local grocer was carrying boneless skinless chicken breast on sale for $1.98/lb, which is a dramatic 45% discount over what the whole chicken in this example provides.

This evening, I went to two stores to look around and see what sort of deals I could find.  While none of the sales were noteworthy, it was fun to look around and I did find something new to me; a stew chicken for only $1.19/lb.  I'm hoping this will work well in a crockpot soup or maybe just for a broth.  I'll come up with a recipe and keep this blog updated with my findings.





One last thing to note is when you have a bone-in chicken costing roughly the same as a boneless piece.  For example, I just finished looking through the weekly ads for two grocers that I didn't visit today and I see one store has boneless skinless chicken breast for $2.29/lb and the other store has whole chickens for $0.99/lb.  Using the above numbers, we know whole chickens are about 2.39x the price if we don't eat bones and skin.  Using that calculation, the whole chicken and the boneless breast are within 3% of each other in price.  For me, I treat these as equal numbers and it comes down to what do I want to make with the chicken.  If I'm going to be stir frying something, or if I want to make some pork rind 'breaded' chicken tenders, I'll go with the boneless breast.  If I want to make a soup, or if I want to make a twist on classic fried chicken, substituting coconut flour, I'll prefer to buy the whole chicken.

Don't be afraid to get lost in the store and look at stuff you may otherwise never see.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I had fun reading labels and seeing what my local stores have available.  I usually know what I'm going to shop for, so I very rarely visit more than the fresh produce and fresh meat sections.  Of course, I found this frozen stew hen in a section I never visit, near the frozen vegetarian/natural foods.  Like Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."  Take a shot at finding something new.  What's the worse that could happen?


Monday, August 18, 2014

Thoughts on the keto challenge

I was on budget for 5 of the 7 days, and I think I've taken the first steps to prove to myself it's mostly doable for a person my size.  I require more protein than the average Joe, and a pound of raw chicken breast per day, along with a few eggs doesn't cover that requirement.  As I get more active and start going to the gym, that requirement is just going to get higher.  My estimated protein requirement for lightly active is somewhere around 170-200g.  Unfortunately, a pound of raw chicken breast checks in at only about 100g protein, and an egg is around 6.  I was able to get around 140g of protein with pork rinds, eggs, and chicken during the week.


The obvious solution is to add a protein powder to the diet.  I have whey protein that I purchased before I decided to embark on this $30 weekly adventure.  In the spirit of being frugal, I wanted to compare the price of protein in chicken breast versus that of the protein shake.

  • chicken breast: $2 per 100g, or about 50g/$1 
  • whey powder: $30 per 672g, or about 22g/$1

Well, the protein powder is twice as expensive as the chicken, tastes much worse, and it carries 3g carbs per serving.  When I do this again, I will have to add more chicken.  Unfortunately, this will add around $1 per day for 8oz of chicken breast, or about $3.50 per week.  In order to accommodate this, my next challenge will have to be $33/week.

There have been lessons learned and a ton of potential unearthed with this exercise.  I'm going to be more strict, and much better about blogging exactly what I eat the next time around.

Thanks for reading!

$30 weekly keto - day 7

Well, I have learned that if I want to do a $30 challenge, I can't eat according to budget for some meals, and then go out for others.  I end up eating some of my budgeted food for one meal, but then I can't count the day because I went out in my personal or professional life for another.  It has to be all or nothing.  I'm going to start this challenge again in the next couple of days with this in mind.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

$30 weekly keto - day 6

Last night I made soup.  The recipe is almost exactly like the dinner update on day 1, and it really couldn't be simpler.  The last time I made it, I didn't explain it well, so here's how it goes.


  • 2 green onions - the entire green onion except the very end root part.  I need as much flavor as possible.
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 romaine leaves
  • 3 basil leaves
  • 3 little parsley branches
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 large chicken breast (mine was 18oz)
  • oil/butter -- whatever you're cooking with
  1. Heat your sauce pan over medium-low heat.  
    • I use a 3 quart sauce pan over #4 heat, on a scale of 1-10
  2. While your pan heats up, chop your green onions, garlic, romaine, jalapeno, and herbs.  
  3. When the pan is hot, add your oil 
  4. Once oil is hot, add green onion and garlic and stir a couple times for about 3-4 minutes. 
  5. While the aromatics are heating up, slice your chicken up into about bite-sized pieces.
  6. After those 3-4 minutes are up, add your chicken, and season generously with salt & pepper
  7. Sautee chicken until it starts to get white on most of the sides.  Then add the jalapeno and herbs.  
  8. Season lightly again with salt & pepper.  
    • The majority of the tasting and seasoning will happen after we add water.   Be careful not to over-salt at this phase when you can't taste the food.
  9. Sautee the chicken with the herbs until the chicken looks all white, but not quite cooked through; about 2-3 minutes.
  10. Depending how much soup you want, add water accordingly.  I happen to like more broth with this soup, so I added about 7 cups of water.
  11. Increase heat slightly to medium and bring water to a boil.  (#6 on my stove's scale)
  12. Let the water boil for about 30 seconds, and then decrease the heat all the way down to simmer, or whatever your lowest setting is.  
  13. Now is the time to taste and season.  Since I only have salt & pepper, and the soup should have a spicy hint from the jalapeno, I only add a little bit of pepper compared to salt.  This is my preference, but yours could be different.  Add a little at a time, stir, and taste.  It's always easy to add more, but it's impossible to take it out if you add too much.  

For lunch today, I had a bowl of this soup without the pork rinds.  I'm saving the rest of those for another breaded chicken day... I think.  


Dinner Update

I went to dinner last night so I couldn't stick with my meal plan.  The worst part is the dish I specifically ordered without sugar, I think it came with some sugar because I gained 5 lbs overnight.  (It was a Thai shrimp & broccoli stirfry with garlic, and it's very common for Thai dishes to include sugar to help balance the flavor. )

Friday, August 15, 2014

$30 weekly keto, day 5

Last night, I made some.. wait for it... chicken!  With only having 2 spices and a few herbs, it's tough to make things taste different.  I'm saving the last of my green onion for another soup this weekend, so I couldn't use that in today's dish.

I took a single chicken breast, cut it up into something close to bite-sized pieces, sauteed with 3 garlic cloves, basil, and parsley.  While that was starting, I mixed 4 eggs together with some salt & pepper.  Once the chicken was about done, I dumped the mixed eggs into the pan, and just let it sit there while it cooked.  Instead of the scrambled egg texture, I wanted more of a flat egg/flan.  Hey, when you don't have much to work with, even these subtle differences are noticed.



For lunch today, I decided to pair this with a couple eggs for the crucial snack periods, and some lettuce.  I'll probably use the lettuce as a wrap for some of the bites, and just as additional green crunch on others.





Dinner Update:


Well, for dinner I had basically the same thing.  I chopped up the lettuce and added a whole cucumber, which makes it a tasty "salad" according to my book.  I added some crushed pork rinds for "croutons" to finish it off.


Dinner Update 2:

I ended up eating a protein shake and a couple of sausages late at night.  I wasn't hungry, but I was starting to get very concerned about my lack of protein.  


Thursday, August 14, 2014

$30 weekly keto - progress update

So far, the $30 challenge hasn't been as difficult as I thought it would be.  Sure, I'm a little hungry every now and then, but I've been doing a great job about leaving small snacks available when I know I'm going to get hungry.  Even something as small as a single hard boiled egg goes a very long way to curb hunger until my next meal.

Even before this challenge, I've been keeping an "OK" record of my weight progress.  You'll notice huge lapses early on, but for the past 3 months or so I've really been able to maintain focus and record.  There are quite a few days where I've weighed myself, but it was within less than one pound so I didn't record it.  (I need to stop doing that.  If I weigh, it needs to get recorded.  Period.)  The past 3 days, while on this challenge, I've dropped what I think is an incredible amount of weight; almost 8 pounds.  I know almost all of that is water, but it's still interesting to see how my body reacts to eating much less.

My weight chart

In a previous blog entry I mentioned the importance, in my opinion, of keeping a food journal.  If you look at my journal over the past few days, you may notice that my protein number is well below what it should be.  For me, the most important number to make sure I hit is protein intake.  I'm a very big guy at 6'7 and 381lbs, and I can't afford to lose muscle due to insufficient protein.  If I had to do the shopping trip over again, I would definitely add another pound of chicken breast in favor of the iced tea mix.  I don't think I'm in any real 'danger' since I'm still getting over 100g, it's just that I'm not very comfortable with less than 80% of my target.  The first three days of the challenge, I hit 80.7, 69.7, and and 68% respectively.

There's not much I can do at this point since I've already done my shopping, but if I do this again next week I need to keep this target in mind.

$30 weekly keto - day 4

For lunch today, I'll be eating the meal I had originally slated for last night's dinner.  It's the remainder of the salad I made on day 1 combined with the chicken I made on day 2.  I'm also eating two hard boiled eggs that I will treat as a morning and afternoon snack.  If you've noticed that today's lunch portion looks to include more chicken than in days past, you'd be right.  I'm doing that because my protein numbers are less than I'd like, and I need to increase them.  I'll include an update after this on my nutrient numbers and weight loss so far.



I realize that the cold chicken that was cooked with a mayo coating looks less than appetizing, but rest assured it tastes quite good.  Promise.  :)





Dinner Update

I ate a few servings of pork rinds, and snacked on a piece of chicken.  After drinking two glasses of peach iced tea, I just wasn't hungry.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

$30 weekly keto - day 3

Unfortunately, I will have an off-site with work today and lunch will be provided.  I will do my best to have a reasonable salad that is in-line with the calorie count I've been eating, but I suspect that will be difficult.

Last night I decided to sharpen my kitchen knives.  After getting them nice and sharp, while slicing cucumbers I momentarily mistook the end of my finger for a piece of cucumber.  Woopsy.  Mistakes happen, but I've got it under control now and should be able to continue taking pictures like normal.

The chicken I made last night is a totally new idea I've never tried before.  I rubbed an entire chicken breast with mayo on both sides and put it in a piece of foil.  Then, I covered with salt & pepper, and added a couple basil and mint leaves.  To finish, I added one sliced garlic clove with about half a sliced cucumber, and baked it in the oven.  My one pound chicken breast was done in about 40 minutes at 350 degrees.


The meal for tonight's dinner will be the remaining salad mix, with some extra lettuce and mayo, and a sliced hard boiled egg.  On top of the salad will be slices of the chicken I made last night.

Dinner Update

Well, the work thing yesterday ended up having a second act for happy hour.  I didn't pay for anything, but I also didn't eat according to my meal plan.  Consequently, I'm not going to count yesterday in my 7 day plan, and I'll extend my exercise through next Tuesday instead of Monday.  I'm still undecided if I will continue eating this way for a longer period.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

$30 weekly keto - day 2

Today will be mostly a repeat lunch from yesterday.  I'll be finishing the rest of the chicken fingers with some salad, a couple hard boiled eggs, and a serving of pork rinds.  I decided to save the soup for dinner since the weather is again going to be very warm.  Avoiding standing over the stove in the hot house will be a nice bonus tonight.








Dinner Update

For dinner, I ate the last serving of my soup from last night, a hard boiled egg, and some pork rinds.  I apologize for not taking any pictures, but I sliced my finger up pretty good preparing my meal for tomorrow night.  I'll post a little more about that in my day 3 update.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Keeping a food journal

I think it's important to keep track of everything you eat, regardless if you eat the wrong things.  I absolutely need to hold myself accountable, and seeing terrible numbers reminds me to get focused.  Over the course of the past 20 years or so, I've practiced terrible eating, which lead me to become more than 100 pounds overweight.  Eating keto over the past several months has helped me drop more than 50 pounds, and I need to keep that in perspective.  For me, keeping an accurate food log is my way of reminding myself what I need to do.  Sure, some days I mess up, but that can't be an excuse to continue wandering down the wrong paths.

I really believe logging my food has changed my life.  If I'm honest with myself and the tracking software, I have no excuses.  If there's a sudden shift in weight one way or the other, I can see what I ate to make that happen.  If I want assistance from a dietician or fellow ketoers, I have a way to show them what I'm eating.  My journal/tracker of choice is myfitnesspal and if you want to follow my personal food diary, you can find it here.

In closing, all I can say is if losing weight is important to you, find a way to know exactly what you're eating.  Get a food scale, and start measuring your food.  I can nearly guarantee you're eating more (or less) than you think you are if you're not weighing what you eat.  Be honest in what you record, as the only person impacted by a food journal is yourself.

$30 weekly keto - day 1

I've finished preparing some of the food for the next 2-3 days.  I will be eating a simple salad of lettuce, cucumber, mint, parsley, and basil.  I will dress the salad with a little mayo and black pepper, and add a sliced hard boiled egg and some crushed pork rinds when it's time to eat.  In addition the salad, I made pork rind 'breaded' chicken fingers that will go with either a mayo dip, or simply cutting them up and eating in the salad.

The total ingredients that I used to make this food is as follows.  In parenthesis is the amount of the weekly total that I've used for this meal.


  • 1 cucumber (1/4th of my weekly allowance)
  • 1 ounce of pork rinds (1/9th)
  • 2 eggs 
    • I used 2 eggs in the breading process.  I don't count the 12 hard boiled eggs since those will be eaten over the course of the week.
  • 2/3 head of lettuce (1/3rd)
  • 18oz raw chicken (about 1/6th)






I think I'll try to put together a soup tonight so that I can have soup and salad for lunch on Tuesday.  :)

Lunch Update:


This morning, I packed my lunch and it turned out like so.




In total, it's 3 hard boiled eggs (2 chopped, 1 for a snack), 5.3 oz of chicken fingers, about 1/4th of the salad, and another ounce of the pork rinds.  Having just finished lunch, I still have the hard boiled egg, and 2 chicken pieces left.  I think that's about perfect to have laying around in case I get hungry before going home.


Dinner Update:

I had those leftovers around 4:30pm, just before I left for work and they worked perfectly to hold me over.  As I suggested earlier, soup sounded like a good plan for dinner.  It's extremely hot today (93f/34c) so a light soup works perfectly.

I chopped up 2 green onions, 2 garlic cloves, two lettuce leaves, and about 13oz of chicken breast.  I also added a few basil leaves and parsley branches.  I ate one bowl, and then decided the rest should include jalapeno so I chopped one of my jalapenos into the remaining soup.  The peppers add great flavor, so next time I will do this from the beginning with the entire soup.  To top the soup off, a couple of crushed pork rinds for even more flavor.



I had a couple bowls of soup, a couple glasses of peach iced tea, and I feel totally satisfied.  In total, I ate about 1,300 calories today which is around half of what I normally eat.  Today's menu provided me with about 80% of my suggested protein macro (147/182g) so I need to do a little better job of eating protein.  Today, I ate less than 1/7th of my chicken which means I should be able to add a little extra over the next few days to compensate for today's numbers.  



$30 weekly keto - shopping

The all-important shopping list.  This is the part that almost everyone will care the most about.  Before we get to the nitty gritty details, I have a few asterisks when it comes to my $30 total.  I assume the following to already exist in the house:

  • salt & pepper
  • some sort of cooking oil or fat (olive oil, butter, coconut oil, etc.)

In addition to those assumptions, I also grow three herbs that I will add to my meals without any associated cost: basil, mint, and parsley. 

Given those caveats, my weekly shopping list:






The list is pretty straightforward, but I'll go into my thinking when putting this together.
  • First, the peach iced tea mix is the one 'splurge' item that is totally un-necessary.  This was mostly a psychological thing by allowing myself a convenience item, but I will definitely enjoy the occasional iced tea instead of water.  
  • The pork rinds are my snack, but also work wonderfully as breading.  They are also one of the very few inexpensive items that give any crunch to the diet.  I love crunchy texture, and I normally crush almonds or macadamia nuts in salads for the added fat and texture.  Those luxuries do not exist at my $30/week price point, so pork rinds it is.
  • The cucumbers are a staple for me because of the price, but also because I love their taste and they provide a little boost of potassium.  I love them in salads, mixed with green onions & sour cream, or just plain with salt & pepper.  They're probably my favorite vegetable.
  • The lettuce is relatively cheap and filling.  I think simple salads will be very common when eating with the budget in mind. 
  • JalapeƱos are super cheap and add a bit of spice to any dish, obviously.  I like adding them to omelettes for a kick, or sometimes to spice up egg or chicken salad.  The actual total for my jalapenos were about $0.37, which would be about 7 cents per meal if I used one pepper per meal.  You can't beat that value.
  • Eggs are self explanatory.  They are so versatile and were on a fantastic sale this week.  It's a no-brainer for omelettes & salads, or just plain hard boiled.  
  • I think the garlic & green onion will make it much easier to create a soup.  If I can get onion, garlic, basil, parsley, chicken, salt, and pepper in a pot, I think some magic can happen.  Of course, both work well in an omelette too, or just to saute with chicken and lettuce.  Again, super versatile aromatics that are very cheap.
  • I think some people may view the mayo as the oddest choice, but here I go again using the word versatile.  I love it as a simple salad dressing over lettuce.  It's a great dipping sauce too.  I can combine it with eggs for egg salad, or diced/shredded chicken for chicken salad.  It works fantastically as a coating for baking.  There's so many uses, and it will last awhile.  Buying the 30oz container this week will free up some money next week.  
  • Lastly, our dear friend mr. chicken breast.  I can't think of a more versatile cut of meat.  We do everything with chicken breast, and at $1.98/lb it's basically impossible to beat on pure price.  

A picture showing everything, except for the green onion and garlic.  I purchased those later after realizing I was well under my $30 target.



There we have it.  These are the weapons of choice in my quest to conquer keto on about $4 a day.  

Keto on about $4 a day, or $30 per week

I frequent the Reddit keto forums, and I've often read people complaining about the cost of keto.  Even in my personal life, I've heard people say that it's expensive to eat according to keto rules.  I've been too lazy, I mean busy, and haven't kept track of my food budget.  While I know it's excessive, I don't know how what I'm spending. I like to think not knowing something typically has a straightforward solution: to simply learn it.  OK, let's do that.

I've decided that I want to get a handle on what I'm spending as well as dispel the expensive label sometimes associated with keto.  According to this Gallup poll in 2012, the average American spends around $150 per week on food.  Less than 8%, according to the same poll, spend less than $50 per week to eat.  My plan is to spend about 1/5th of the national average, and join those 8% by eating a full week's worth of food for $30.  If I can successfully do that, I will be eating for an entire month spending less than the average person spends in a week.  The ultimate goal is to fully discredit the 'expensive' moniker from keto.  In the process of doing that, I'll accomplish the secondary goal which is to gain a much better awareness of my food expense.


The following posts will be my story of overcoming these self-imposed obstacles to learn and grow from.  Along the way, I hope we can share insights of getting more with less.



Update:

There's a tertiary reason for my $120 monthly total that I didn't include in the first version of this post.  According to this data provided by the USDA, the average monthly benefit for a Washington resident on SNAP is $126.  I want to see if it's possible to eat as a healthy adult on what the government provides, without any secondary food requirement.  (food banks, etc.)  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Zucchini Lasagna

The first time I read "zucchini lasagna", I probably gagged a little.  How does that even sound edible?  Welp, eating according to keto means no pasta, and I happen to really love pasta.  Why would someone tease me with zucchini in place of noodles?  I thought I was going to regret this, but desperate times called for desperate measures.  This is the how it went down.

First, the full ingredient list so you have everything in one spot.

  • olive oil
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 7 medium, ripe, on the vine tomatoes
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
  • 3 mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • half white onion (4 oz by weight)
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 12 oz ground pork 
  • 7 oz shredded mozzarella
  • 2-3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt & pepper
  • cumin
  • dried Thai chili (optional)
  • dried oregano
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • dried basil

Zucchini Slices


Well, this is pretty straightforward.  I used a mandolin, and probably wouldn't make this dish without one.   (My mandolin of choice is a Swissmar Borner V-1001 V-Slicer Plus Mandoline which is absolutely beautiful in it's simplicity.  I've had it for about 3 years and it's still as sharp as can be.)


The primary problem with zucchini and lasagna is that zucchini is full of water.  If you don't take any precautions, and try combining zucchini with a meat sauce, you'll end up with a very soggy lasagna.  To combat this problem, simply slice your zucchini ahead of time, salt them, and lay them out to dry.  There are obviously several ways to do this, but here is my method.



You Need
  • at least 3 medium zucchini
  • salt
  • mandolin
  • cookie sheet
  • paper towels

Instructions



  1. slice zucchini with mandolin after trimming off the root edge.
  2. place all zucchini into a colander and lightly salt all slices.  make sure the colander ends up somewhere you're OK with water dripping;  I placed the colander inside a larger bowl.
  3. let them sit in the colander for a bit while you prepare the tomato sauce.
  4. once the tomato sauce is finished, remove the slices from the colander and layer them on the cookie sheet, with a layer of paper towels in between. 
    • one layer of zucchini slices, one layer of paper towels, one layer of zucchini slices, one layer of paper towels, etc.
  5. let the zucchini rest on the cookie sheet until it's time to construct the lasagna, and move onto preparing the meat sauce.

Pictures!



Tomato Sauce 


Every worthwhile pasta dish is built upon a spectacular sauce.  In the case of this lasagna, we need to create a red sauce to accompany our meat, cheese, and zucchini.   My take on tomato sauce is very straightforward: simple ingredients, simply prepared.

(everything will be blended together so these chops can be quick and easy.)


You Need


  • 7 medium, ripe, on the vine tomatoes, cut into fourths
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • 1tbsp roughly chopped parsley
    • I picked a few small branches from my parsley plant, but neglected to measure. this is a best guess
  • 3 mint leaves, roughly chopped
    • I was picking basil and parsley so I added some mint.
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp dried Thai chilis
    • optional -- I prefer a little kick to my marinara.
  • half white onion (4oz roughly chopped)
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste



Instructions


  1. heat the olive oil in a pot capable of holding all of the ingredients. 
    • I used a 3 quart saucepan
  2. once oil is heated, mix in the garlic, both onions, and celery. 
  3. mix in the dried oregano, chilis, and cumin, and saute until onions start to become translucent; usually around 5 minutes
  4. once onions are starting to get clear, lower the heat to medium-low and add the tomatoes, basil, parsley and a pinch of salt & pepper.
    • I find it important to wait to add most of the salt & pepper until after everything is blended.  I have over-salted too many sauces by salting before I could taste everything together.
  5. cook covered for at least 15 minutes, but if you have more time, lower the temperature after 15 minutes and simmer for a few hours. 
  6. use an immersion blender and mix all ingredients until smooth. 
    • if you don't have an immersion blender, then you're going to need to mix these in the regular blender. it'll probably take a couple batches since the tomatoes will still be mostly solid. I would recommend, if it's at all possible, spending a few bucks on a simple immersion blender.  They're real time savers if you're going to be making any sort of sauces.
  7. lower the heat to your lowest setting, cover, and let the sauce simmer while you finish the rest of the dish.
    • In case you've forgotten, it's time to go back to your zucchini before moving to the meat sauce.  (step #4 of the zucchini instructions)

Meat Sauce

Well, in my opinion, lasagna really isn't lasagna without a meaty sauce.  I chose ground pork because it's what I had on hand, but any ground meat would work.  I spice the meat with complimentary spices like I normally would, except I add very little salt.  This goes back to the note above about not really salting the food until it's in the final form that will be on the plate.

You'll Need
  • 12 oz ground pork
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • pinch salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 cups tomato sauce from the earlier steps

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in the pan over medium heat
  2. Add the meat & stir in spices to break up the meat. 
  3. Cook until the meat about halfway cooked - about 3-4 minutes
  4. add about 1.5 cups of the tomato sauce and continue cooking over medium-low for another 5-7 minutes, reducing the sauce.
    • In the beginning of this recipe/blog post, I wrote about the water content of zucchini.  Although we're doing our best to eliminate a lot of that, we also need to take special care of our meat sauce in the same way.  In order to thicken the sauce, this additional reducing step is required to help avoid overly soggy lasagna.  
    • now is also the time to add the final touches of salt & pepper, and other spices you feel you may need.  this is the best stage to taste and adjust since everything is now together how you'll eat it on the finished plate.

Final Assembly

Finally!  This is the easy part.  

You'll need
  • pre-heated oven to 350 degrees
  • meat sauce from earlier
  • zucchini slices from earlier
  • 7 oz mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2-3 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • oven-safe pan/dish 

Instructions

  1. Start by spraying your baking dish to help with not sticking
  2. add about 1-2 tbsp sauce to the bottom of the dish
  3. make two layers of zucchini on top of the sauce, alternating directions with each layer.  if you're using the same dish that I was, this ended up being 3 slices horizontal, and then 3 slices vertical.
  4. add mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese directly on top of the zucchini slices, and then add a couple tablespoons of meat sauce, followed by zucchini again.
    • I'd estimate about 1.5 oz of mozzarella on the bottom layers so that you have a little extra for the top.  I only added the Parmesan cheese on the first and last layer.  I was afraid of the dish being too salty if I added too much.
    • I ended up with 4 layers of zucchini, so the bottom three layers had about 1.5 oz, which left 2.5 oz for the top.  This is my method, but maybe you want more cheese in the middle.  Adjust accordingly.
  5. continue layering in your preferred manner until the last of the meat sauce has been used.  
    • I ran out of meat sauce and cheese well before I ran out of zucchini slices
  6. once the layering has been finished, add the dried herbs to the top of the dish.  
    • I prefer adding a little more basil than oregano on top since there is a significant oregano flavor already.  Adjust according to your taste preference
  7. place baking dish/pan in oven, uncovered, and cook for 30 minutes.  
This is the layering process






When it's all cooked up, it should look something like this





Thanks so much for reading.  Enjoy!

Weight loss & keto

In October of 2013, I decided that I'd had enough of my weight problems and embarked on a mission to actually fix it.  I've had some bumps along the road and erased previous gains a few times, but I didn't give up.  Over the past ~7 months, I've lost nearly 50 lbs and I've done it by eating more fat and eliminating carbohydrate. I've been eating what is referred to as a ketogenic diet (keto), which is eating primarily fat, with a moderate amount of protein and extremely limited carbohydrates.  A typical ratio of calories by fat, protein, and carbohydrate is 65, 30, and 5 percent respectively.  This means, on an average day I eat less than 30g of carbohydrate, and it's often less than 20g.  So far, I have not added any exercise to my daily plans, but that will come shortly.  I have planned on adding the gym after I've lost 60 pounds, which should be in a month or two.  Anyway, I will be posting recipes here that have helped me along the way.  This is the reason you won't see any grains, bread, sugar, fruit, or similar in the recipes.

A few articles or pages devoted to keto or keto principles, in case anyone is interested in further information.

A guide to ketosis

Diet Doctor's Guide to LCHF (low carb, high fat)

Time magazine's "The Truth About Fat"

Hello again..

Yea, I stopped updating my blog.  Yea, I'm going to try to post more.  No, I probably won't keep up like I should.  This blog thing is more work than it seems.

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