Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hacking Dinner With Matt Fitzgerald

Over the last couple of months, I've been doing my best to put into practice what I learned from Matt Fitzgerald's fantastic books The New Rules of Marathon & Half-Marathon Nutrition & Racing Weight. I definitely don't beat myself up about not being perfect (there are some areas in which I am admittedly & intentionally imperfect), but by & large I do what I can to:

  • 1) get enough carbs (~380g per day for my weight & activity level)
  • 2) always eat when I'm hungry
  • 3) eat the right amounts of the right food groups
  • 4) limit fatty meats, refined grains, sweets, & fried things
  • 5) time my nutrients (carbs in the a.m., carbs pre-exercise, carbs & a bit of protein post-exercise, & protein in the evening; stick to about the same amounts at about the same time every day).

(I refer you to the books if you want to know more about the research supporting these recommendations for endurance athletes--he explains things much more clearly & thoroughly than I possibly could here.)

If you're going to write books aimed at endurance athletes, you better practice looking inspirational.
You might not think so, but by & large this is actually pretty easy for me (except for #1, which you would maybe think is easy but is actually very, very difficult). Limiting certain foods always seems like it's the hardest thing for people, but for me, #4 was barely a change. Even before I read the books, I basically didn't eat processed sugar except for special occasions, & don't tend to crave sweets. I've limited red/fatty meats for years because of the heart disease that runs in my family (special occasions only; don't miss it), & for the most part fried food just grosses me out. (If I have a weakness, it's refined grains; until SF's whole wheat pizza craze takes off & our Indian places start serving whole wheat naan, there is no danger of my getting this stuff absolutely perfect.)

In terms of #1 & #3, I spent a few weeks at first tracking everything in order to help me develop a sense of what "enough" of the different food groups & 380g of CHO (!) felt like, but at this point it's become so completely routine that I barely think about it. Obviously I can't definitively prove that it's all because of working on how I eat, but I can say that since the beginning of the year I have more energy (in spite of pulling doubles most days & sometimes even triples) & have reduced my body fat percentage by 5%.

One small change I've been trying to make is cooking & eating at home more. In general, I really do love fresh, nutritious foods & even enjoy cooking, but if I'm going to eat less healthy stuff, it's generally going to be on a day when we're busy & tired & haven't planned ahead around dinner (read: most days). So we end up with pizza, or burgers, or Indian food, etc etc etc. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE eating those foods & have no plans to give them up--but I'd rather plan to have them as a special treat than default to them because they're easy & convenient & we're both too brain dead to come up with anything else.

For now, my goals are modest. If I plan one meal per week ahead of time, I put it in the win column, because PROGRESS! Two meals? I am a god damned wizard.

The result of this has been researching & collecting tasty dishes that are high in lean protein, complex carbs, and/or beans & veggies, and also don't take a ton of time or effort to prepare. I was completely prepared for this to be a deeply tedious, boring, all-around disagreeable task, but it hasn't. Instead, it's been oddly gratifying & made the whole quick-delicious-Fitzgerald-approved-dinner thing seem weirdly doable.

Last night's dinner was particularly satisfying. Ahem:

Not my picture (source) but that's basically what it looked like.
Lemon Pepper Cilantro Catfish, adapted from this recipe. Prep time: less than 10 minutes. Cook time: 12 minutes.
  • Arrange catfish fillets in a casserole dish & season liberally with lemon pepper. (I did one large one but I think the recipe mentions 4 smaller ones; whatever.)
  • Melt 2 Tb butter in a small saucepan, then add 4 oz dry white wine (I used chenin blanc), chopped cilantro, several cloves of chopped or pressed garlic, & juice of half a lemon. Simmer for ~2-3 minutes & pour over catfish filets. (I re-seasoned with lemon pepper at this point because some of it got rinsed off by the wine sauce.)
  • Season with paprika & bake at 375F for ~12 minutes. (I check it every few minutes with a meat thermometer & just pull it when it gets to ~125 all the way through; 12 minutes actually ended up perfect.)

Cilantro-Lime Lentil Salad, inspired by these two recipes (but adapted liberally). Prep time: Boiling the lentils takes about half an hour, but you can use that time to prep everything else (less than 10 minutes). I preheated the oven & started the lentils cooking at the same time, then did all the rest of the prep for all 3 dishes during that time.

  • Boil 1 cup of lentils.
  • In a separate bowl, mix a bit of EVOO, juice from 1 lime, black pepper, garlic salt, cumin, a cup of chopped cilantro, & 2 cans of diced tomatoes (drained). (If you're concerned about seasoning measurements, boy are you in the wrong place. Do it til it tastes good.)
  • Toss lentils with tomato mixture & reheat if desired.

Now this totally is my picture. (You can tell from
the horrible light balance.) Still, delicious!

Sauteed Avocado-Lime Spinach, which I totally just made up. Prep time: 5 minutes maybe? Less if you don't have to chop spinach. Cook time: Less than 10 minutes. I chopped the spinach & garlic while the lentils were cooking, then did the sautee-ing while the fish was in the oven.

  • Heat some EVOO in a skillet/wok/frying pan/whatever; once it's shiny, add a few cloves of chopped / pressed garlic & let simmer til fragrant. (Don't let the garlic burn! Burnt garlic is just the worst.)
  • Add a LOT of spinach, tossing gently to coat with EVOO/garlic.
  • Once the spinach has cooked down a bit, add the juice of half a lime & toss to coat.
  • When suitably cooked down, toss with garlic salt to taste & garnish with fresh avocado.

Look, it's a plate of sauteed leaves-of-something!
Because all sauteed leaves-of-something look the same.
(source, which, btw, features a bitchin' recipe for
"Sauteed Leaves-of-Something." You are welcome.)

In case it isn't obvious, all of this should be paired with the rest of the wine from the catfish.

Seriously. 20 minutes of shopping, & probably 40 minutes in the kitchen, grocery bag to table, and it was all mouth-wateringly delicious. I just cannot argue that we don't have time to cook (excepting karate nights), particularly if we do all the shopping for the week ahead of time. The hard part is doing the advance planning, which is what I'm working on right now. (I also suspect this will become easier as I build up a database of tried-and-true recipes.) If, by the end of the year, I can reliably plan & cook two delicious, Fitzgerald-approved dinners per week, I'll be extraordinarily pleased with myself.


  1. Wow... that looks really good! I need to make that lentil salad! :)

    1. It was *so* good. I will totally make it again!

  2. When it comes down to it I think that there's always enough time to cook. It doesn't have to take forever. It's just a matter of being prepared. And it makes the times that you do have take away so much more special and fun.

    1. Yep....I really just have to get on top of the planning. :P

  3. I am definitely linking to this in next month's blog post about my goals, including my "cook more stuff" one. But I think a key is to never waste the wine. :-)

    1. Totally. Wasting good wine is alcohol abuse. ;)

  4. I like eating out, but I cook at home most of the time. Generally because I like to cook, although my 9-6 schedule does limit me (few fancy foods can be prepped as rapidly as I'd like my food ready on a weeknight!). We eat a lot of beans and rice (crockpot!), lots of greens, a good amount of pasta, plenty of ethnic foods, and generally healthy. I also always pack my lunch (leftovers, a salad, and two snacks - fruit and a protein) and cook most breakfasts. I don't like being unsure of my next meal! And I can't leave my pharmacy (no lunch break), so I can't buy lunch. We do eat two meals a week not homemade - one takeout, one out to eat. But those are treats I'm not ready to give up.

    1. Agree -- I can't deal with uncertainty around food, which is one of the big motivators for trying to get in the habit of planning ahead & cooking at home as much as possible. It's just a fact that we will almost always grab something on the way home from karate (burritos, pizza, Indian), which I'm fine with. I definitely need to use my crockpot more! I love it & just never think about it / plan ahead.

  5. Having a lot of vegetables in the fridge and a few basic staples in the pantry make cooking a healthy meal a lot easier. Veggies used to be a side for me, now they are what I plan my meals around, and a whole wheat (usually) starch is the side.

    1. Definitely. Something that has helped me a LOT has been stocking black beans, lentils, & diced tomatoes, because they're *so* easy to just throw into a pot with seasonings & be like, "Look, dinner!" Also sweet potatoes, because they're healthy & we both love them.

  6. Def going to try the lentils and the spinach. I DO eat fish but I've never tried catfish...does it have a strong flavour? (Apart from the spices etc). I'm pretty good at meal planning these days - I make my plan at the start of the week, get the groceries delivered and I'm off. It makes life easier for me so I like it. I shall never love cooking but I do love eating

    1. You should try it once! I would say catfish has a medium flavor--more than say halibut (which I never eat because I find it so bland) but not as strong as darker fish like tuna or salmon. Catfish is one of my go-to protein sources because it's so cheap, so healthy, & at the bottom of the food chain (so it's environmentally friendly). I really do need to get in the habit of at least sketching out dinner plans at the beginning of the week. It makes such a difference!

  7. Mm, that fish looks amazing. I tend to grill mine with a little cajun seasoning and have other ideas about what to do with white fish (cumin and garam masala, tandoori-style?). I never really know what time I'll get off work (...yay media...) and so we eat a lot of leftovers to avoid the takeout trap. Can you make larger batches and freeze stuff?

    1. Lemon pepper is my go-to. (I'm trying to move out of my comfort zone & try other things, hence paprika!)

      Alas, our freezer is tiny, & our housemate generally keeps it full to bursting with frozen meat & broths. Sometimes there is a tiny bit of space but fitting things into it definitely becomes a bit of a brainteaser. But we eat leftovers pretty quickly, so I do often find that if I make a big batch of something, we'll eat the rest within a few days, so that's something else I need to do more often. (Especially with the crockpot!)

  8. I find planning ahead the biggest challenge too. Now that we've moved to the 'burbs (and away from the cheap & delicious food heaven that is Oakland), we're going to have to cook more, whether we like it or not. We went to Trader Joe's on Sunday and racked up the biggest grocery bill ever - because we have so much more freezer and pantry space, and because we have many more meals to cook! I've been meaning to join Pinterest just to collect recipe ideas.

    Oh, so since you mentioned that you loved sweet potatoes, this recipe is one of my favorites:
    (we usually go heavy on the sweet potatoes)

  9. I absolutely love the chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese, basil and dried apricot recipe from that cookbook. It's a family favorite.