BLT Salad

One of the things I’ve missed most in giving up gluten and keeping low carbs is the joy of a good BLT in the summer when the Vidalia onions come on and the tomatoes are at their peak. But I can have all the tastes of those, well at least almost all of them, with this:

BLT SaladBLT Salad
Serves 2

For the dressing

  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise (or your preferred mayo)

For the salad assembly

  • 1 small head iceberg lettuce, washed, torn, and dried well
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium ripe tomato, seeded and diced
  • 6 strips thick bacon, cooked crisp and chopped


  1. Whisk together all dressing ingredients, except the mayo, in a salad bowl and let stand a few minutes. Whisk in the mayo.
  2. Add the lettuce and onions and toss to coat evenly.
  3. Finally, add the tomatoes and bacon and toss gently to mix.
  4. Divide between two serving bowls and enjoy!

Homegrown Paleo

In Disney’s movie Frozen, Elsa famously asked Anna, ‘Do you wanna build a snowman?’ For me, better lyrics would be ‘Do you wanna build a farm?’ and my answer would be a resounding ‘YES!’ Ever since I read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, I’ve longed to build my own ‘Polyface’ farm. I dream of happy chickens laying eggs and pecking about their mobile pens, fat pigs (Mangalitsas, of course) foraging for acorns in the oak woods, sleek cows grazing in lush pastures, orchards and vines hanging with fruit, and colorful veggies and herbs in neat, tended rows in the garden. To me, it would be Eden itself, but it isn’t where my life is right now or may ever be.

Homegrown Paleo coverThat dream was rekindled with the arrival the other day of a review copy of The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Healthy Food by Diana Rodgers with Andrew Rodgers. This beautiful book is misnamed as a cookbook, although it is certainly that, with over 100 delicious gluten-free, farm-to-table recipes, arranged seasonally as the crops come in. The second title tells the bigger story — it is a complete guide to how to care for and manage livestock, keep bees, build coops and hutches, and grow your own paleo foods, whether you have a patio container garden or some land. She gives sustainable farm layouts suitable for as little as 1/8 acre or 1/4 acre, or 1/2 acre or a full acre. I have a full acre, actually a bit more, and don’t think it hasn’t got me to thinking about what I could do in my backyard!

The paleo recipes, alone, are worth the price of the book even if you have no ‘Green-Acres-is-the-place-to-be; farm-livin’-is-the-life-for-me!’ aspirations. But if, like me, you do have a just a touch of a ‘keep-Manhattan-just-give-me-that-countryside’ streak in you, you must get this book!

6 Books for the Low Carb Meat Lover

If you’re looking for that last minute, but perfect gift for the carnivore in your life, here are some of my favorites:

Meat: Everything You Need to Know by Pat LaFrieda and Carolyn Carreno

Meat Pat LaFrieda Cookbook image
Mike just got me this one for my birthday and it’s fabulous! From America’s most celebrated butcher, Pat LaFrieda, it contains everything you ever wanted to know about where various cuts come from and guidance in selecting the best cuts for what you want to cook. There are step-by-step photographic instructions on butchering and breaking down–even how to French a rib rack. Delicious recipes illustrate how to cook and serve every sort of meat, including veal, lamb, poultry, pork, and beef, and even offal and odd bits. Don’t expect to find any veggies or sides here; this is a book dedicated to meat!

The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat by Joshua and Jessica Applestone and Alexandra Zissu


Butcher's Guide to Well Raised Meat book image
The subtitle tells it all: How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry and More. From the tools you need to do it to (including even how to make your own tools if you’ve a mind) the book gives clear instructions on the art of butchery, beginning with ‘how to hold a knife’ and moving on to tackle topics as diverse as how to do that clever butcher’s wrap to how to do a pig roast in a pit. The writing is entertaining and often humorous.


Odd Bits by Jennifer McLagan

Odd Bits book image

In a world of prime cuts, we too often overlook the more economical and perhaps less photogenic parts of the beast. This book will introduce you to them all — the bellies, brains, cheeks, combs, ears, gizzards, hearts, hocks, kidneys, lungs, marrow, necks, shanks, spleens, tongues, trotters, and even testicles! Back before offal became awful, these odd bits had a regular place on our plates and in our culinary repertoires. Ms. McLagan, chef and author, has made it her mission to restore respect to the lesser known and her recipes will make you confident handling them in your kitchen.


Beyond Bacon by Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry

Beyond Bacon book image

Just from the tag line that reads ‘Paleo recipes that respect the whole hog’ you get the gist of this book, which its authors proclaim as ‘a love letter to pork’. In it, you’ll find information on how to source pastured pigs and techniques for rendering your own lard, making headcheese, and, of course, making bacon. And it’s filled with recipes aplenty for every conceivable sort of pork, as well as paleo offerings for the rest of the plate, including dessert!

Carnivore by Michael Symon

Carnivore book image

From the noted chef, restauranteur, and regular competitor on tv’s Iron Chef, who describes himself as a meat lover and his cuisine as ‘meat-centric,’ this book is a treatise on the various cuts of beef, pork, lamb, goat, poultry, game and game birds, including dozens of mouthwatering recipes for cooking each of them and sides to go with. Everything I’ve made from this book is flavorful and delicious!

Salumi by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

Salumi by Ruhlman book image

Like their previous book Charcuterie, which is also wonderful, this book offers a complete education on how to make (and best of all serve) each of Italy’s ‘big eight’ porky delights: guanciale, coppa, spalla, lardo, lonza, pancetta, proscuitto, and salami.  They even offer step by step instructions in how to butcher a hog American style or Italian style, if you want to take it a step further.  It’s a fascinating education, even if you don’t want to actually get into the salumi biz yourself!
Whatever your pleasure, or that of someone you love, these books will make a welcome addition to the library of any devoted meat lover!

Homemade Mayonnaise

Ever look at the ingredients in store-bought mayo? Almost all of them are some version of this ingredient list, taken from a major brand:

water, soybean (and/or cottonseed or canola) oil, modified food starch (corn, potato), eggs, sugar, vinegar, salt, lemon juice, sorbic acid, and calcium disodium EDTA (used to protect quality), natural flavor, vitamin E, beta carotene (for color)

Even if you go high-end ‘organic’, it doesn’t look a whole lot different on the whole. Take this ingredient list from a national organic brand:

organic expeller pressed soy and/or canola oil, organic cage free eggs, organic cage free egg yolks, organic extra virgin olive oil, filtered water, organic honey
organic distilled vinegar, sea salt, organic mustard
organic lemon juice

Granted, this product uses all organic ingredients — hey, that’s better, right? — and cage free eggs, which to me are an important point, but the major oil–the main ingredient–is still one of poor quality for human consumption.

And that’s what’s most important, really, the healthful or harmful quality of the oil it’s made from, a point on which neither the standard brands nor the organic alternative makes the grade.

Honestly it takes but a few minutes to make your own mayonnaise, without the additives, without the bad oils, without the sugar or honey. You can choose the quality of the ingredients, whether the eggs are cage free and humanely raised (and pasteurized if you’re concerned about bacterial contamination), whether the lemon is organic (or in my case off the tree in my backyard), the type of vinegar you use for flavor and acidity, and what kind of decent oil you want to use. I’ve used good olive oil, avocado oil, and macadamia nut oil. It’s up to you what floats your boat. Here’s how easy it is:

Homemade MayoHomemade Mayo
Makes about 1 cup


  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 lemon, for juice* 
  • 1/4 teaspoon (2.5 ml) sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon (2.5 ml) dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vinegar of choice
  • 3/4 to 1 cup (180 to 240 ml) oil of choice


  1.  Put the egg yolk, lemon juice, salt and vinegar into a blender and blend on medium speed. (Alternatively you can mix it in a bowl with a whisk manually).
  2. In a slow, steady stream add the oil with the motor running (or while whisking like a demon) until the emulsification comes nicely together and makes what looks for all the world like mayonnaise!
  3. Store in a very clean, dry, air-tight jar and use up within a week.

*(Harvest the zest, too, and stir in at the end if you want a lemon aioli, which is yummy on fish or vegetables.)

21 Day Sugar Detox

In our many years (decades, in fact) of working with patients in the clinic, using nutritional changes as the chief means of helping them to lose weight and solve their weight related/metabolic health issues, we generally recommended people go cold turkey off sugar and starch, which is quite effective. It’s the method we felt worked the best and was the quickest and in many ways easiest way to shift to the new eating regimen for the most people and it’s what we recommended in both Protein Power and Protein Power LifePlan.

In our experience, most people suffer little from making the switch, though it does mean a few days to maybe a week of some degree of withdrawal. It’s sort of analogous to pulling the bandaid off a wound — it’s more painful to make many tiny pulls that each hurt than one purposeful pull that hurts once and gets the job done fast. For other people, however, letting go of sugar is tough and becomes a stumbling block to successful transition to this new way of eating.

21 Day Sugar DetoxSo for that group who needs a day by day plan to get off the sweet stuff in a more gentle fashion, let me recommend Diane Sanfilippo’s 21 Day Sugar Detox.

The book is sufficiently informative, but not weighty, in the initial sections describing the whys of getting off sugar and full of helpful charts and meal plans and all the what and how-to information, including lots of delicious recipes, such as a gorgeous Shrimp Pad Thai that use zucchini noodles instead of grain-based pasta and a number of slightly sweet treats that don’t pretend that maple syrup or coconut sugar are something other than what they are – sugars – but make sparing use instead of fruits, such as apples and green tipped (under ripe) bananas for such things as Granny Smith Apple Crumble and Grain-Free Banola.

If you’ve been wanted to go low-carb or paleo, but were unsure if you could finally give up the sugar, this book may be the interim step and the help you’ve been waiting for.

Is Almond Flour Bad for You?

Low Carb Comfort Food CookbookI got a question passed through from our customer service gathering point the other day from a reader, who had run across a post on the Empowered Sustenance blog by Lauren Geertsen called 5 Reasons to Avoid Almond Flour and had some concerns. Our reader wrote:

Just bought your book “The Low Carb Comfort Food Cookbook” Shared it with my friend and she made some of the magic rolls first and they were very tasty. Just love bread. Was wandering around on the internet and ran across this article. Love almonds. Is this article for real? Don’t need to sabotage my diet if it is. I can use coconut flour – love coconut too. Please let me know and thank you for your help.

So let’s take a look and see.  Is almond flour bad for you?

Ms. Geertsen’s blog post made 5 basic points:

  1. Almond flour skews perception about quantity.  [I agree.]
  2. Almond flour is very high in inflammatory PUFAS. [I completely agree and it’s important to consider and the main reason not to overindulge.]
  3. The fats in almond flour aren’t heat stable. [ I disagree, as applies to almond flour versus almond oil, at least at the internal temperature reached during baking. And Ms. Geertsen has actually amended this one based on a scientific rebuttal.  Good on her!]
  4. Almond flour is high in enzyme inhibitors. [Agree, but as Ms. Geertsen goes on to say after the main 5, the primary source of phytic acid–the enzyme inhibitor in question–in almonds is in the brown coat, the bran or hull, so ‘blanched almond flour’ would be lower in enzyme inhibitors, if this is a main concern.  The plant world is full of anti-nutrients, however, so unless you plan to only eat meat (and there’s nothing wrong with that) you’re going to get some.]
  5. Coconut flour is healthier [sic] than almond flour.  [Agree that its fat is primarily saturated, which is absolutely a more healthful, better choice than the PUFA found in almonds and their meal/flour.]

I  hadn’t previously seen Ms. Geertsen’s post, but it’s a good one that makes some valid points about the overuse of almond flour (or for that matter any nut flour, including coconut) as a substitute for wheat flour.  I completely agree with the basic premise of moderation.  You can’t simply shift from a diet heavily reliant on things made of wheat and other grains only to consume heady amounts of the same stuff made with nut flours and not have it create some problems.

Moderation in all things hasn’t become a cliche of 2000+ years duration for no good reason.

So how does this all square with the information in our Low Carb Comfort Food Cookbook that the reader wrote to us about? While many of the recipes are still good solid ones, there are definitely some that I would now eliminate or in which I’d tweak the ingredients.

(A little timeline context: the Low Carb Comfort Food Cookbook, which we co-authored with Ursula Solom, was published by John Wiley and Sons in 2003. It’s now over a decade old. It was followed in 2005 by a book by just Mike and me, called The Low Carb CookwoRx Cookbook, based on recipes from our PBS television series of the same name, also almost a decade old. I would make changes to both, were I to write them now.)

At the time we wrote them, our main concern in both books was lowering carbs.  We were trying to find tasty and more healthful ways to sharply reduce the sugar and starch content in a variety of comfort foods, with an eye toward giving folks who missed them a reasonable substitute to enjoy occasionally. We made the point in the books (and on the show) that while these foods were definitely lower in carb, they weren’t, in most cases, low in calories.  Quite the opposite. And we cautioned readers not to view the low-carbness of the recipes as a license to eat all they wanted of them any time they wanted to.  Overindulgence, however, is somewhat limited by satiety; these foods are calorie dense and filling.

For the most part, in the collaborative first book, the non-baking recipes were ours and all the baking recipes were Ms. Solom’s. She had worked for years to develop recipes for breads, crackers, and desserts that were lower in carbs, so that she could continue to enjoy these types of foods herself, after she had adopted (and benefitted from) a low carb diet.

Coconut flour wasn’t much in vogue nor as readily available when we wrote the book as it the case now, so Ursula relied on almond flour and other nut flours as substitutes for wheat flour (or to at least reduce the amount of wheat flour, which she still used to a degree) in her recipes.(And, for the record, I would still take almond flour over wheat flour from a health standpoint, PUFAs notwithstanding!)

Ursula also made pretty liberal use of vital wheat gluten to give elasticity to dough for pizzas and pasta, which choice, in light of today’s knowledge (science does march on),we wouldn’t have included at all.  However, there really isn’t a way to achieve an elastic dough (for a real pizza crust, for instance) without something to give it stretch, which is part of what the gluten does for wheat flour.  If you know of another (healthful) way, please do share!

For my part, I’m good just eating the toppings of pizza and using squash or (now) shiritaki noodles for pasta occasionally.

Protein Power coverThe dangers of overconsumption of PUFA or the specter of anti-nutrients weren’t really brought up in the books at the time, because these were really just cookbooks, not diet books; more ‘how to’ not ‘why’.  The intention was for these foods to be occasional treats, not staples in the diet.  And besides, we had already written pretty extensively in both Protein Power in 1996 and The Protein Power LifePlan in 2000 about the dangers of overloading on PUFAs to the detriment of sat fat and omega 3 intake and in the LifePlan  about the potential problems of lectins and other inflammatory anti-nutrients.

So, if we were to write these cookbooks today, what would we change?

I would likely make more use of coconut flour as an alternative to almond flour, primarily for the better fatty acid profile it provides.  But more than stressing about too much PUFA in the almond flour, it is the gluten that I would now remove (avoid) in light of what we’ve learned in the passage of a over a decade. At the time, what we knew about gluten was that is was just a ‘wheat protein’ and though we knew that some people really had to avoid WGA (wheat gluten antigen) and others could benefit from avoiding it, the science now suggests that it’s not just celiac and MS patients who may benefit.  Most anybody with metabolic syndrome probably benefits from avoiding it.

Personally, I have completely avoided gluten from all sources (wheat and other grains) for over 2 years now and intend to continue to do so always, for my health and wellbeing.

Swerve Sweetener

I would also completely replace the aspartame used in recipes in Protein Power with something that wasn’t an excitotoxin and in all the books I would make use of other sweet substitutes besides sucralose, such as xylitol, which has some real health benefit, and stevia.  They don’t always substitute one to one in the recipes as written, so a little jiggering around and guesswork will have to come into play to make some of them work. Likewise with the new Swerve sweetener, which is erythritol and oligosaccharides; it’s pretty easy to use as it measures spoon for spoon like sugar. I’d add these alternatives with an eye not necessarily to completely avoid using sucralose (thought I recognize there are those who would argue for that) but to limit using any one of them to excess.

A little of this; a little of that. Not a lot of any of them.

The better choice all the way around for health is to eat plenty of good quality fat, meat, fish, poultry, game, eggs, and fresh greens and green vegetables and low-sugar fruits as the mainstay of your daily diet.  And treat all sweetened things–even faux ones–as occasional treats, not every day staples.  Then no matter what you sweeten (or bake) with, you won’t get too much of it.

Low Carb Mint Julep for Kentucky Derby

Derby Day Mint Julep photo 2014Just watched the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby, in California, sadly, and not at Churchill Downs. But I had my low carb mint julep–in a perfectly sweating silver julep cup–in hand.  With a garden exploding in fresh mint (and, appropriately, red roses) it was hard to quit with just one… so we had another!

Congratulations to California Chrome and the DAP winners!  It was a thrill to watch from wire to wire.

Low Carb Mint Julep
Serves 4


  • 4 ounces (120 ml) sugar free simple syrup (Torani, Davinci or other)
  • 40 fresh mint leaves (plus 4 nice mint ‘tops’ for garnishing)
  • 8 ounces (240 ml) quality bourbon
  • 4 cups (.9 liters) cracked ice


  1. In a pan on the stove, bring about 12 of the mint leaves and the simple syrup to a boil and turn off the heat. Let the mint infuse into the syrup for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and cool.
  2. In each of 4 rocks glasses (or better silver julep cups) make the cocktails as follows:
    1. Put 7 mint leaves (a lucky number!)
    2. Add 1 ounce (30 ml) of the mint-infused sugar free simple syrup and 2 ounces (60 ml) of the bourbon and muddle well.
    3. Fill the glass with cracked ice and slowly stir to bring the sweet bourbon up to the top and let the ice begin to melt.
    4. Garnish with a mint ‘top’ and serve immediately.


Primal Cravings

Among the many paleo cookbooks that have come out lately–and there have been dozens with the rise of interest in eating in sync with our ancient genome–one that I really like is Primal Cravings: Your Favorite Foods Made Paleo by Megan McCullough Keatley and Brandon Keatley.

Primal Cravings book cover recipes are good, solid nutritional takes on such beloved comfort foods as chicken noodle soup (made with zucchini noodles) and BLT’s made with a beautiful lattice of bacon in place of the bread. And on the subject of one of my favorite foods, there’s Bacon Ten Ways. (Ten!) With sections on meats and mains, sides and salads, snacks, sweets, and even breakfast options, it will be a worthy addition to the paleo or carb conscious reader’s cookbook shelf.

There are 125 recipes that are grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-optional, nutrient-dense to choose from along with cooking tips, shopping tips, and a short treatise on the paleo/primal philosophy that will be most helpful for newbies considering this lifestyle choice.

Some of the recipes (mostly the baked goods) do rely for decent mouth feel and sweetness on tapioca flour, maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, concentrated apple juice and other fairly carby–albeit gluten free and technically paleo–foods that for someone who really needs to follow a low-carb path to correct significant metabolic disruption might be too much.  The caveat, then, is that if you fall into that category, just put your common sense hat on and eschew those offerings until you get into better metabolic control. Those few aside, the lion’s share, far and away the majority of the recipes are perfectly suitable for the paleo practitioner and low-carb devotee alike. On my bookshelf, it’s a winner!

Shirataki Pasta: Low carbs and Great Taste

I am ever on the look out for ways to enjoy the things I love in a lower carb way without giving up on flavor or feel. Thus, my delight when Mike’s sister introduced me to shirataki pasta.Shiritaki_pasta borders

I honestly love pasta, although I have long eschewed it except for rare indulgences, because of the carb content. Nowadays, I don’t eat even small bits of it, having completely divorced myself from wheat, gluten, corn and any significant amount of most all grains about 2 years ago. But when I look back at it, what I realized is that I really loved pasta as a vehicle for sauce more than for the noodles themselves. And this wheat-free, gluten-free, practically-zero-usable-carb (and low calorie) substitute is ideally suited to be that vehicle!

Made from the tuber-like root of the Amorphophallus konjac plant, this pasta stand-in contains mainly fiber (about 40% glucomannan) and almost no usable starch.

Per our friends at Wikipedia:

The food made from the root of this plant is widely known in English by its Japanese name, konnyaku (yam cake), being cooked and consumed primarily in Japan. The two basic types of cake are white and black. Pushing the cake through a grid of sharp blades at the end of a wooden box gives noodles, called shirataki, which are also sold in white and black colors.

In a 2/3 cup serving there is only 1 gram of actual usable carb, so I figure, why not blow it out and have a double serving? From a carb standpoint, no reason, but because the fiber content is so high, it would be wise to take it slow and easy from a gastrointestinal standpoint. Suddenly downing a significant load of soluble fiber, if you aren’t used to it, can overwhelm GI tolerance and lead to bloating and gas.

That aside, the ‘miracle’ pasta (as one maker calls it) is also widely touted for many purported healthful benefits, some of which could indeed operate through reasonable and known mechanisms, contributed chiefly by the glucommanan. These include:

  • lowering blood sugar, by slowing absorption of dietary glucose, as most fibers do
  • lowering cholesterol, again, by slowing down absorption and reabsorption from the gut in a manner akin to Questran and other soluble fibers
  • helping to relieve constipation by holding water in the contents of the gut, similar to such products as psyllium

Glucomannan has also been reputed to assist in weight loss, through, from what I’ve been able to suss out, decreasing appetite by creating a sense of fullness and by supplanting the volume of other caloric foods. That mechanism isn’t as clear to me as a secret for long-term weight loss, though I guess there could be some benefit if you were to eat a lot of it. I’d just be careful about eating too much too fast! Caveat comedentis!

Pasta_Carbonara with borderWanting to give it a cautious try, I picked up a pouch of shirataki spaghetti at our local grocery store (in the bags of pre-washed salad section) and a few nights ago, I threw together some marinara, bacon, onion, garlic, and a couple of diced up hunks of left-over ribeye and made a Pasta Carbonara to put over them.

Mike–not actually a big pasta fan–loved it and so did I. It has a ‘bite’ reminiscent of really good pasta, firm on the teeth, yet tender, and holds up well to tossing with a hearty sauce like the one I made. It comes in spaghetti, flat ‘fettuccini’ noodles, and angel hair pasta noodles and even as ‘rice’. Whatever shape, I can guarantee we’ll be enjoying more of it in 2014. I’m thinking Seafood Alfredo, Linguini con Vongole, Spaghetti Putanesca. Oh, the list could go on!