Cooking in Trios

Last fall, while watching The Minimal Mom on YouTube, I discovered the cookbook Cook Once, Eat All Week.

The title’s a bit of a stretch. The “cook once” is the prep cooking, and it results in three easy-to-assemble dinners. If you have four people in your household (as we do when the kids are home from college), you’ll have to do two rounds of prep cooking to cover six nights out of the seven. If you have only two people in the household, then each meal yields enough for two dinners (unless you both happen to be super hungry that night—just sayin’).

However, unlike some of the cook-ahead schemes I’ve heard of, the prep cooking does not take all day. In fact, it’s pretty manageable. The other thing that caught my attention was that almost all of the recipes are (or can be made) grain-free. That alone was enough to make me want to try it. A cookbook filled with recipes avoiding pasta, rice, and polenta would be awesome!

One other factor: I was very tired of our usual round of dinners. I desperately wanted something new.

So I ordered the book!

Wow! When it arrived, I was amazed and pleased.

My biggest problem was choosing which trio of recipes to try first. They all looked so good—which was a surprise for me. I’d never seen a cookbook before in which all the recipes looked good.

I did eventually choose. And I was wowed all over again. The prep cooking was very manageable. The final assembly on the night of eating was truly fast and easy. And every single one of the recipes was delicious.

I’d been somewhat skeptical as to how it would really work, but desperate enough to try it regardless.

Still…how would the second trio go?

Easy. Delicious.

Third trio? Fourth? Fifth?

Same. This cookbook was a total winner for me.

I eventually hit a few recipes that I felt needed some adjustment, but they were in the minority.

I’ve been wanting to tell you all about these adventures in cooking for months now, but I kept forgetting to take photos. And a post about cooking has to have at least a few photos.

Finally, once my kids returned to college for the spring semester, I buckled down with my camera. There’s just one problem: I’m past the boatloads of recipes that required no adjustments and am forging ahead on the ones that I could tell without cooking them that I’d need to switch something up.

For example, I can’t eat cabbage unless it is cooked to death. So I substitute kale. Also, I’ve learned that I hate collard greens. (I’d never eaten them before.) So, again, I substitute.

What I want to do is share the entire process for a trio, from shopping list to prep to on-the-night assembly. Just be aware that the trio that follows is not identical to the one presented in the book.

Let’s get started!

Week 14

Rustic Beef Casserole
Roasted Pepper Casserole
Beef Ragu

Shopping List
fresh cilantro, 1 bunch
semi-dried parsley, 0.35 oz
garlic, 3 cloves
kale, 2 bunches
lemon, 1
limes, 3
yellow onions, 3 large
green bell peppers, 5
zucchini, 5

ground beef, 6 pounds
Cotija cheese, 1 block
shaved parmesan cheese
plain yogurt, 2 large tubs
frozen cauliflower florets, 4 pkg, 12 oz each
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
chicken broth
crushed tomatoes, 28 oz can
red cooking wine
mayonnaise (I make mine homemade, but of course you can buy it)

chili powder
bay leaves
dried basil
garlic powder
onion powder

Note on groceries: The recipe for “Meal 2” actually calls for poblano peppers, but our grocery store does not carry them, so I substituted bell peppers, and they worked just as well. But I’ll try poblanos, if I can ever get them.

One other thing: I discovered that I love drained yogurt—it’s creamy and flavorful—so I usually substitute that for sour cream.

Once you’ve got your groceries in, start the prep cooking!

Prep Day

• Cook the ground beef

ground beef, 6 pounds
1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt

Melt the butter in a large pot on the stovetop at medium heat. Crumble the beef into the melted butter. Sprinkle with the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat s fully browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Set aside to cool.

Divide the beef once it is cool. Set aside 4 cups to use later in assembling the Rustic Beef Casserole. Divide the rest in half and put each portion (roughly 3 cups each) in a container in the fridge. Label one container “Roasted Pepper Casserole,” and the other “Beef Ragu.”

• Prepare the zucchini noodles

Use a vegetable peeler to create wide ribbons of zucchini. (Discard the seed cores.)

Line two rimmed baking sheets with tea towels. Toss the zucchini ribbons with 1-1/2 teaspoons of sea salt. Spread the ribbons across the towels.

Let sit an hour, then gather each bunch up in its towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the zucchini.

Line an air-tight container with paper towels, place the ribbons in it, and store in the fridge for use in “meal 3.”

• Caramelize the onions

3 large yellow onions
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sea salt

Remove the skins and then thinly slice the onions.

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and salt. Cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have reduced and turned a deep caramel color.

Set aside to use later in the prep day when assembling the casserole for “meal 1.”

• Roast the peppers

Pre-heat oven to 400°F.

Remove the cores and seeds from the peppers. Slice them in 1-inch strips. Toss the pepper strips in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Cover a rimmed baking sheet with baking parchment. Spread the pepper strips on it.

Roast the peppers for 25 minutes. Set aside to use later in the prep day when assembling the cassrole for “meal 2.”

• Prepare the kale

2 bunches kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of half a lemon
pinch of sea salt

De-stem the kale and chop medium coarsely.

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add kale, cover pot, and cook 3 to 4 minutes, until the kale is wilted.

Divide kale in half. Store one portion in fridge for us in “meal 3.”

To the other portion, add the lemon juice and salt, stir, and set aside to use later in the prep day when assembling the casserole for “meal 1.”

• Make the red wine reduction

1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon thyme

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduc heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes. Set aside to use later in the prep day when assembling the casserole for “meal 1.”

• Make the mashed cauliflower

3 packages frozen cauliflower florets, 12 oz each
1/4 cup drained yogurt
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Steam the cauliflower florets for 15 minutes in a covered pan on the stovetop.

Place the steamed cauliflower and the rest of the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until blended and smooth. Set aside to use later in the prep day when assembling the casseroles for “meal 1” and “meal 2.”

• Assemble the casserole for “meal 1” (Rustic Beef Casserole)

4 cups cooked ground beef
red wine reduction
4 cups mashed cauliflower
wilted kale with lemon juice
caramelized onions

Place beef and red wine reduction in a large bowl and toss well.

Spread the cauliflower in a 3-quart casserole dish. Layer the kale atop the cauliflower. Spread the beef atop the kale. Top the beef with the caramelized onions.

Cover the casserole with a lid or with aluminum foil.

Store in the fridge until you are ready to cook and serve it. If you are doing prep on the same day you plan to eat “meal 1” (and it is getting close to dinner time), you can pop the casserole in a 350°F oven and cook it for 30 minutes.

• Assemble the casserole for “meal” 2 (Roasted Pepper Casserole)

roasted peppers
mashed cauliflower
3 cups cooked ground beef
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
juice of 1 lime

Place beef, seasonings, and lime juice in a large bowl and toss thoroughly.

Spread the roasted peppers in a layer across a 3-quart casserole dish. Layer the mashed cauliflower over the peppers. Layer the beef mixture atop the cauliflower.

Cover and store in the fridge.

• Make the tomato sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
crushed tomatoes, 28-oz can
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup red wine

In a medium saucepan, sauté onions and olive oil over medium heat for 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute.

Add remaining ingredients and stir. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cool and store in fridge to use in “meal 3.”

• Make chipotle cream sauce

3/4 cup drained yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 chipotle peppers
2 tablespoons adobo sauce (from can of chipotle peppers)

Place all ingredients in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until smooth. Store in fridge to use in “meal 2.”

Meal 1: Rustic Beef Casserole

pre-assembled casserole
1 tablespoon semi-dried parsley

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Bake covered casserole for 30 minutes.

Let cool slightly, garnish with parsley, and serve.

Meal 2: Roasted Pepper Casserole

pre-assembled casserole
chipotle cream sauce
1 oz cotija cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Bake covered casserole for 30 minutes.

Remove casserole from oven, remove lid, and let cool slightly. Drizzle chipotle cream sauce over the casserole. Sprinkle with cotija cheese and cilantro, then serve.

Meal 3: Beef Ragu

tomato sauce
3 cups ground beef
salt to taste
wilted kale (without lemon juice)
olive oil
zucchini ribbons
1/2 cup shaved parmesan
black pepper

Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer in a large pot over medium heat. Add beef and cook 7 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the zucchini ribbons by heating the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the ribbons and sauté for 5 minutes. Drain off excess liquid and set aside the ribbons.

Add kale to the sauce and cook for 2 minutes. Add salt to taste, if needed.

Serve the sauce and the zucchini ribbons side-by-side. Garnish with parmesan.

*     *     *

Whew! That was a lot of typing! I think it was more work to type it all up than it was to cook it. I found the cooking to be remarkably stress-free. And the meals were so delicious!

Aside from the dairy ingredients, the above recipes are compliant with the Whole30 program of eating.

*     *     *

Uh, oh! I knew I’d not written all the Whole30 recipe posts that I’d planned, but I thought I’d written a brief intro about the Whole30 itself. Apparently not!

That means I won’t be able to link to it as I’d intended. Instead, I’ll provide links to my other nutrition posts. (And I’ll think about writing that intro post sometime in the future.)

For more about nutrition, see:
Milk Is Highly Insulinogenic
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous
Thinner and Healthier
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!



Why Calcium Isn’t Enough to Build Strong Bones (and What You Can Do About It)

Several months ago, when I wrote about my experience of gaining weight while drinking milk, and losing weight while eschewing milk, I promised I’d blog about how to keep your bones strong without the dairy products.

This is that post. 😀

Conventional wisdom – and lots of advertising – tells us that milk is the foundation of healthy bones. But like so many other bits of conventional advice about nutrition, it turns out to be wrong.

Here’s why.

1 • Calcium alone cannot give you strong bones.

Sure, calcium is an important building block for strong bones. You do need it. But you also need all the other building blocks: vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K, phosphorus, magnesium, and trace amounts of chromium, silica, zinc, manganese, copper, boron, and potassium.

Taking a calcium pill – or drinking extra milk – won’t ensure that you’re getting all the substances that go into strong bones. It might even harm you, since too much calcium can lead to impaired kidney function, kidney stones, high blood pressure, and possibly even an increased risk of heart attack.

Additionally, if you ingest too much calcium, then your body must adjust its stores of other vitamins and minerals in order to process the excess calcium.

2 • Calcium intake is irrelevant, IF your body is not absorbing it and building with it.

People living in the United States ingest far more calcium than those living elsewhere, and yet US residents also suffer more osteoporosis.

What gives?

In addition to having all the building blocks on hand, the environment must also be right for actual building to occur.

Imagine trying to build a house in the midst of a snow storm. You might have all the materials on hand – bricks, mortar, wood framing, nails, etc. – but I doubt you’d get much building done.

Your hormones and your inflammatory status play large roles in determining whether conditions in your body favor the building of strong bones. Or not. High blood sugar and chronic inflammation both speed up the breakdown of bone and slow down the creation of new bone cells.

The foods you eat also influence the building conditions in your body.

Grains possess a lot of phytates (to protect the seed), and legumes possess both phytates and oxalates. Phytates and oxalates chemically bind to the calcium present, both in the grains and legumes themselves, and in other foods present in the digestive tract, carrying the calcium out of the body entirely.

Soaking and sprouting grains and legumes helps to reduce the volume of phytates, but cannot reduce it sufficiently to where its presence ceases to leech calcium (and other minerals) from your body. Additionally, from my previous post on insulin, we know that grains yield high blood sugar for a significant interval after you eat them.

If you don’t eat enough protein, you’ll get the same accelerated bone loss that high blood sugar and inflammation produce.

And if you don’t eat enough healthy fats, you won’t be able to assimilate vitamins D and K, because they are both fat soluble.

Bottom line: in addition to having all the building blocks on hand, conditions within your body must also favor the building and maintenance of strong bones.

3 • There are better sources of calcium than milk.

I remember seeing lists of calcium rich foods several years ago and being skeptical that anything could be better than milk. I was a big milk proponent. Sure, 8 ounces of kale might have 180 milligrams of calcium, but 8 ounces of milk has 300. And I can easily drink 3 glasses of milk every day, but I sure won’t be eating 3 cups of kale every day!

Ah, but!

The key is not how much calcium is present. The key is how much your body assimilates. The reason our RDA for calcium is so inflated is that most of the calcium from milk and pills goes right through. But the calcium from vegetables like kale and mustard greens and others gets absorbed and used. It is more bioavailable.

I went looking for some of the recent studies on calcium from plants versus calcium from milk and landed on the Harvard School of Public Health site with an interesting paragraph that I will quote below, since it occurs in the middle of a hugely long web page.

In particular, these studies suggest that high calcium intake doesn’t actually appear to lower a person’s risk for osteoporosis. For example, in the large Harvard studies of male health professionals and female nurses, individuals who drank one glass of milk (or less) per week were at no greater risk of breaking a hip or forearm than were those who drank two or more glasses per week. When researchers combined the data from the Harvard studies with other large prospective studies, they still found no association between calcium intake and fracture risk. Also, the combined results of randomized trials that compared calcium supplements with a placebo showed that calcium supplements did not protect against fractures of the hip or other bones. Moreover, there was some suggestion that calcium supplements taken without vitamin D might even increase the risk of hip fractures. A 2014 study also showed that higher milk consumption during teenage years was not associated with a lower risk of hip fracture in older adults.

So…if slugging down gallons of milk or dozens of calcium pills is not the answer – and it isn’t – how do we build and maintain strong bones?

I want action points! 😉

First of all, don’t look to bone density drugs such as Fosamax® and Boniva®. These deposit long-lasting compounds (alendronate and ibandronic acid, respectively) within the bone matrix, which give the illusion of greater bone density. But they do not form the normal matrix that actually makes bone strong. In fact, taking biophosphonates leads to bones that are more brittle and more likely to fracture! Talk about irony!

Okay, what does work?

1 • Avoid the foods that result in chronic inflammation, elevated blood sugar, and that remove nutrients from your body.

Highly processed foods and sugar-laden foods are especially bad. Grains and legumes become more and more problematic as we get older.

I hate to start with a “don’t,” but it’s a pretty important don’t. If your bones are currently strong, if your weight is normal, and your health is good, then you might be able to get away with skipping this #1 and leaning hard on #2, #3, and #4.

But I’ve got osteoporosis, I’m still carrying some extra pounds (even after the 23+ that I’ve lost), and I don’t have quite as much pep in my stride as I want. Action point #1 is critically important for me!

2 • Eat meat, seafood, and eggs, cooked with clarified butter, coconut oil, lard, or tallow to get adequate protein and adequate fats.

These are nutrient-dense foods containing many vitamins and minerals, in addition to the protein and fat. They help keep your blood sugar levels within the optimum range. They do not promote inflammation.

3 • Eat kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, broccoli rabe, cooked spinach (many of the nutrients are not bioavailable in raw spinach), sea vegetables, bone broth, sardines, anchovies, shrimp, oysters, and canned salmon.

More nutrient dense foods that are high in calcium and the other building blocks for strong bones. You’ll get what you need without having to worry about balancing calcium with magnesium and potassium and all the others, the way you would if you were trying to get it right using pills. Plus the phytonutrients that may be a part of why calcium in plants is more bioavailable than from other sources are present.

4 • Lift weights.

Or do heavy yard work regularly. Or do yoga poses, many of which build strength as much as they increase flexibility. Engage in physical activity that is weight-bearing.

The compression of working against gravity stresses our bones in a healthy way, triggering them to build more of the structural matrix that can support the load.

I’m a swimmer, which is not weight-bearing. It has all kinds of other benefits, but strengthening my bones is not one of them, alas. So I lift weights in additional to swimming.

And there you have it.

Eat meat, seafood, and eggs.
Eat green, leafy vegetables.
Do weight-bearing physical activity.
And avoid foods that produce high blood sugar and inflammation.

I’ve been trying a lot of new-to-me recipes over the last few months, and I plan on sharing them with you as I continue to blog. I’ve also got a few more health hacks to write about. Stay tuned! 😀

For more about health and nutrition, see:
Test first, then conclude!
Let’s Talk Insulin
Milk Is Highly Insulinogenic
Thinner and Healthier
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous



Milk Is Highly Insulinogenic

When I first encountered that word, insulinogenic, I completely garbled its pronunciation. In-su-lino-whadya-hooya? What the Hades?

In-su-lino-gen-ic. Right.

So what does it mean? It means something that stimulates the production of insulin. In the context of milk, it means that milk produces a much bigger insulin response in the human body than it has any right to, given the amount of carbohydrates present in milk, mostly in the form of the milk sugar lactose. Milk punches so high above its carb content that it produces an insulin response like that of white bread!

Why is this of concern to me?

Well…when I was diagnosed with osteoporosis, I really stepped up my milk intake. I didn’t know that milk was insulinogenic, and I did know that my bones could use all the help they could get.

I found it difficult to drink 4 cups a day, so I began adding a pinch of stevia along with cocoa powder to my evening milk. Yum! It tasted like dessert!

Meanwhile, my weight had been creeping up. There seemed to be several obvious reasons for that. I had two health problems in sequence that kept me away from the gym for nearly 2 years. I’d allowed pasta back into my menu, perhaps once every 10 days. And I was getting into my middle fifties. I didn’t like the upward creep, naturally.

I was relieved when I resolved my health problems enough to return to the gym in May 2016. And I rededicated myself to kicking the pasta back out of my menu. Remembering when I tried Phil Maffetone’s 2-week test with such stellar results, I expected to see the start of a drop in weight. Imagine my surprise when I continued to gain!

“How can this be?” I asked myself. “I’m swimming three times a week. Lifting weights two or three times a week. I’m eating fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day. My calorie intake is modest; I’ve never been a big overeater. What the Hades gives?”

This unfortunate upward trend continued. “I wonder if it is the milk?” I asked myself.

You would think I might have done some more reading about milk, but I didn’t. I was attached to my milk. Besides, it was healthy milk from grass-fed cows lovingly tended by my local farmer, who had managed the apprentices at the famous Polyface Farm. It couldn’t be the milk!

But I suspected it was.

I tried to cut down and found that I couldn’t. Oh, oh! Was I addicted to milk?

Finally, in November 2016, after months of “quitting milk” and then “I’ll just have one last big glass tonight,” I decided I needed support. I’d visited a website devoted to the Whole30 way of eating some while back and noted that the Whole30 was the way I wanted to eat and that the site had forums. A forum sounded like exactly what I needed.

And it was!

Hanging out with a bunch of others who were eating the same way I wanted to eat – and posting on my progress – enabled me to give up the milk and ditch the last remnants of pasta. I saw almost immediate results. I had an annual exam scheduled with my doctor 3 weeks after I started my Whole30, and I found I’d lost 7 pounds. Without counting calories. Just by waving goodbye to milk. (Since I doubt my previous once or twice a month indulgence in pasta was the key to my previous weight gain.)

I also found my energy levels increasing and my mood improving. I felt good!

After 30 days of no milk (and no grains, no legumes, and no sugar – none), I’d lost 9 pounds. I decided to carry on as I was. I liked how I felt, I liked all the new meals I’d learned how to cook, I liked everything about my new routine. So far, I’m still losing weight, 20 pounds and counting at about one-and-a-half pounds per week. My yoga pants are beginning to get too loose!

It was only after these stellar results that I did a little researching on milk and learned that it is highly insulinogenic. Even my healthy milk from a local dairy farm run by a super careful and informed grass farmer.

When I was younger, I could get away with eating insulinogenic foods. At least, they didn’t pack the pounds on me, although – looking back – they did have other more subtle negative effects. But as I’ve gotten older, insulin in my bloodstream started to have the effect that it does in many, acting as a one-way gatekeeper that packs fat into the fat cells and doesn’t allow any withdrawals of that fat for energy. No more milk for this lady!

But what will I do for my osteoporosis?

That’s another blog post. Which I will write. I also plan to share more about my adventures with the Whole30 in future posts. But this is enough for now. 😀

For more about the effects of insulin, see:
Test first, then conclude!

For more on nutrition, see:
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous
Thinner and Healthier
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!

Can’t wait for my future posts to learn more about the Whole30? See: