Friday, November 16, 2012

Protein - it's good for you!

TVP - Textured Vegetable Protein

Prices are going up. The price of just about everything is going up, and will continue to go up. The price of meat, however, is going to move a lot faster than most other things. For those of us who are omnivores, that gets a bit scary. What do you eat when you can't afford to eat beef, chicken, turkey or pork?

Since the price of meat started going up about two years ago, we've been slowly cutting down on the amount of it that we eat. It used to be (and yes, you'll be shocked) that we would sit down as a family of three adults and two small children, and eat 2.5 lbs of meat easily along with a variety of vegetables and grains. This is no longer the case.

Generally speaking, I allot 2-2.5 lbs of meat for dinner now. That feeds four adults, one older teen, and two seven-year-olds, plus leftovers most nights. That's a much healthier ratio of meat to "other stuff" at our table.

TVP repackaged
Still, finding 2 lbs of meat that we can afford to purchase for our family is becoming more and more difficult. The cheapest of ground beef (that I'll buy, and I'm guaranteed is not pink slime or worse) is currently $2.99/lb. Chicken legs with backs can be found for $0.79/lb but I have to drive to get them. I can pick up whole chickens for $0.99/lb, which is what we seem to end up doing most times. Breasts are easily $3.99/lb. Beef is anywhere from $3.99 to $16.99/lb depending on the cut. Pork is in the middle, ranging from $4.99 to $8.99/lb. Turkey is usually a bit more expensive than chicken, except around Thanksgiving. Right now, we're getting turkey at $0.49/lb, and I'm going to be filling the freezer with as much as we can afford.

When I'm cooking something made with ground or finely cut meat, I often substitute half of the meat for TVP, or textured vegetable protein. TVP is a meat substitute that is made from defatted soy beans. It doesn't have any flavor to it, and will easily pick up the flavor of whatever you are cooking. It's a dehydrated product, and requires about five minutes of soaking in broth or water before cooking with it.

The best things about TVP are that it is inexpensive (under $3.00 a bag) and a little goes a long way. A 10oz bag of Bob's Red Mill TVP will last weeks worth of meals. I mix it up with water and then sauté it in a tiny bit of butter and bacon fat for flavor. Sometimes I'll rehydrate it in broth to give it flavor of its own. I discovered that TVP rehydrated in water and then cooked in fresh bacon fat until it's crispy tastes almost like bacon bits (certainly more so than the "artificial" bacon bits you get at the store!).

When I make meatloaf or meatballs or spaghetti sauce or chili, I now use half or 1/3 ground beef and the rest TVP. The family can't tell the difference, and they get just as much protein (and less bad fats) as they would if I used all meat. For those who are on a restricted fat diet, TVP can be a real help.

A scant quarter cup of TVP makes an amount that is about equivalent to a pound of ground meat in both bulk and amount of protein. Use it in place of any ground meat, or in conjunction with it. I find that if I mix in a little real meat with the TVP it makes the flavor perfect. It's dehydrated, so it's incredibly light and stores in a small space.

Stored in the OJ bottle
When I buy my TVP, it comes in a plastic bag with the label on it. I don't like keeping stuff in bags, because they can be chewed on by mice, popped open accidentally, and once they've been opened for use you can never quite get them closed tight enough. I re-package my TVP into vacuum sealed baggies or into hard plastic containers. It just so happened that this week when I was re-packing the TVP, I happened to have an empty, clean, dry orange juice bottle that is squarish. It took two full bags of TVP plus a bit (the remainder went into a jar by the stove which I dip into frequently). It was easy to pour in, easier to close, and I no longer have to be concerned about children or rodents.

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