In conversation with a friend recently I found myself wading into the murky waters of food and weight loss. We would both find ourselves in that rather tricky position of having a desire to fit into a smaller trouser size but possessing an even greater desire for a steak pie, nice wine, good sausage, local cheese and all the other scrumptious food available on our doorstep. We wondered if we lived in a less ‘food centric’ county would we be thinner! Perhaps; but with our collective love of food, moving was out of the question.
We both agreed that dieting was pure folly. I don’t care what regimen you try, be it the crazy Hollywood stuff of the baby food diet or even the more sensible programmes based on true science, in my mind a diet is a diet and that equals deprivation which will ultimately, in my case, always fail. I am just unsuited to self punishment or depriving myself of anything. The mere thought of it makes me sad and I’d rather be cuddly and happy than thin and miserable. The thought occurred to both of us; is it possible to still eat all the things you like and yet maintain a healthy weight? Or is it simply the case that a lettuce leaf, half a tomato and cardboard cracker bread is the only miserable path to perfectly svelte?
In the shop I often hear people talking about diet and weight loss. More often than not, the same people that were talking about it five years ago are still talking about it now. They’ve tried all the well known routes. “Are you sure that’s lean, I’m on the Atkins?” “That steak is far too big, Weight Watchers say that a portion is about the size of my palm”. “What kind of bread is in those breadcrumbs?” These are the usual questions and just to protect the identity of the insane I won’t quote some of the others. (Oh alright, here’s one of my favourites, “What kind of a heifer did that meat come from?” I’m never really sure what the person asking this question really wants to know, but it always makes me laugh.)
So we’ve decided that small changes are less traumatic for everyone and possibly more sustainable long term. So where do you start? Well I tried to create a better burger and I did surprisingly well. Making burgers in the past I would often have added some breadcrumbs and even an egg into the mix. I left both of these items out and using good quality lean steak mince I just added some onion, garlic, a tablespoon of half fat crème fraiche and a few herbs and seasoning and made a burger. It was great and I didn’t miss the breadcrumbs at all. I made the burger slightly bigger than usual and didn’t bother with the bun, but loaded some rocket and coriander on to the plate. Instead of covering it with cheese I caramelised some red onions using balsamic vinegar and a little honey and while they took about 30 minutes to cook, they added some lovely moistness to my burger. All in all it was a great feast and by the time I’d finished I hadn’t missed the bun.
I also tried a makeover on a simple omelette. If I’m having a late breakfast I will often opt for an omelette as it feels like a substantial brunch. I love bacon and ham in omelettes but this time I used some smoked bacon and a little less of it and loaded up with the mushrooms and onions. I also threw in a few sliced peppers, loads of fresh herbs and I cut back on the eggs by using three egg whites and just one yoke. I admit it was light, but you could get used to it and while the colour was definitely paler, the taste wasn’t as compromised as I thought it would be.
I was definitely onto something and so my quest continued. I felt like the government, making little cuts here and there and small adjustments to this and that. One tablespoon of butter instead of two or half a teaspoon of sugar instead of a rounded one and in one or two instances I just opted for a tomato based sauce rather than a cream sauce and didn’t skimp on taste whatsoever. Just in case you are wondering, at no time did I resort to using a sugar or butter substitute.
There are so many dishes that can be made over that I’m actually getting a little excited about it now. For example in a cooked breakfast I could use one less sausage or replace it with a rasher. Instead of two fried eggs I could have just one, but add in a heap of fried mushrooms. There are many different options and it’s all about choice. I have a new slogan, “Moderation for the nation without deprivation or starvation!” or how about “A substitution revolution for a new constitution!”. (You’re right, I’m better at producing meat than rapping any day, but you get my drift.)
If you do come up with any good ‘makeovers’ of common recipes let me know and we’ll try and pass it on through the website at Jameswhelanbutchers.com. I’ve decided that maintaining a healthy weight should never mean compromising on taste or the food that you love. I welcome your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers