Best way to say Be Mine, Valentine to a Low Carb Love

Traditionally, of course, it’s ‘sweets for your sweetie’ on Valentine’s Day, but what if your sweetie eschews sugar and carbs?  Then sweets are the last thing he or she might appreciate.  So what to do?  There’s always champagne or flowers or a nice dinner out, but why not think about giving something your beloved will actually relish — a savory gift that keeps on giving?

Bacon and Eggs Heart

Why not treat your sweet to a Bacon of the Month club.  Here’s one from Zingerman’s.  Another from Bacon Be Mine. And another from Bacon Today.

There’s sure to be a flavor that suits in a gift that’s always the right size, right color!

 

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

INGREDIENTS

  • 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

DIRECTIONS

  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.)

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.

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!

Low Carb Hummus of Grilled Zucchini and Tahini

Today’s paper brought an interesting article from AP Food Editor JM Hirsch helping us solve the perennial summer dilemma of what to do with a bounty of zucchini. The stuff of jokes, cartoons, and sitcom scripts, zucchini overload is no joke for some gardeners if a prolific crop comes in.

Grilled Zucchini Hummus Associated Press Photo

While low carb devotees can steam it, sous vide it, saute it, grill it, and make zucchini noodles, hash, and fritters with it, we can’t turn it all into zucchini bread, as so many gardening cooks might do, simply because the carb load is too high in most quick bread recipes. And for the same reason, low carbers don’t get much chance to enjoy hummus made with chickpeas. But here comes this recipe that solves both the what-to-do-with-a-bushel-of-zucchinis and the need-a-low-carb- version-of-hummus problems all at once! Couldn’t be better.

Made of nothing but grilled zucchini, roasted tahini, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, smoked paprika, and salt, it’s a winner. Get the recipe here.

A low carb dip still doesn’t avoid the need for a dipper, often a carb minefield. So to keep the carbs low and free of grains, wheat, or gluten, dip it with chicharones (pork skins), fresh celery, cucumber slices, jicama, or cherry tomatoes. You’ll hardly miss the pita.

Yum-O!

Low Carb Caramel Hot Chocolate

Especially when dieting in the winter, having a bit of something warm, sweet, and comforting as a treat can sometimes be the difference in sticking to your dietary guns and throwing in the towel. As a lover of chocolate, a mug of cocoa fills the bill for me and this recipe, based on unsweetened almond milk, is not only delicious, it’s low in calories and in carbohydrates. I’ve been a fan of unsweetened almond milk for years, using the vanilla version to enrich sugar free chai, as well.

Caramel Hot Chocolate
1 serving

6 ounces (180 mo) Blue Diamond Unsweetened Chocolate Almond Milk
1/2 ounce (15 ml) Torani Sugar Free Caramel Syrup

Put the ingredients into a microwave safe mug and heat on high until warm. How long depends on your microwave, but should be between 60 to 120 seconds. Remember: time will vary depending on whether you’re heating from room temperature or refrigerator temperature.

Alternatively, you can make it in bigger batches, though for that I would not recommend heating it in the microwave. Rather, heat it in a pan on the stove top, in a slow cooker, or if you have one, in a zip pouch in your SousVide Supreme water oven at 160F to 180F, depending on how hot you like your cocoa.

Enjoy!

A Little Piece of Piggy Heaven: Mangalitsa Pork Neck Roll

Couldn’t resist passing on the information in this blog post from Chef It Yourself about cooking a Mangalitsa pork neck roll. As readers of Mike’s blog know, he and I took a three-day seminar a few months back on the proper techniques for butchering and cooking Wooly Pigs, or Mangalitsa as they’re more properly called.

Among the delectable treats we enjoyed was some pork collar (neck roll) and I can attest that it’s truly beyond divine. A meat-lover’s Nirvana. Savory and succulent and filled with sweet, tasty fat. Just one look at a photo, such as this one from the Chef It Yourself blog:

Does that look luscious or what? I am going to try to get my hands on one and sous vide it!

A Grain of Salt

An article appeared in our local bugle today that caught my eye.

The piece, written the AP’s Michele Kayal centers around Mark Bitterman’s, new book Salted which extols the glories of the natural salts of the Earth and which I just received from my darling husband for Christmas.

The reason it caught my eye is that we are salt junkies of the deepest dye. We love natural salts of every hue, buy them wherever travel, and now have quite a collection of them in our kitchen. We have Truffle Salt, of course, French Fleur de Sel and Gros Sel de Mer with herbs and pepper, pink salt from the Himalayas, and Maldon flakes from England. In the photo above, counter-clockwise from the top left are some Jurassic Salt and Black Salt we picked up at Michael Chiarello’s Napa Style store in the wine country (the pinkish ones) and the Vital Mineral Blend Celtic Sea Salt we use for everyday cooking and seasoning.

Regular table salt, the kind that comes in the round cardboard canister, is NaCl–sodium chloride–of course, and while it may or may not be iodized, lacks most all the trace minerals present in natural sea salt. Those minerals are important to good health, particularly having all the proper forms of iodine (both iodine and iodide) required for optimizing not only thyroid function but all sorts of other glandular tissues that depend on it.

An accidental bit of kitchen chemistry I experienced a while back proves the point that there’s stuff in mineral blend sea salt that isn’t in plain salt. I was blanching some chopped red cabbage, which is one of Mike’s favorites, in a large pot of water. Once at the boil, I added a tablespoon of mineral sea salt to the water, then dropped the cabbage and let it briefly boil. I’ve done this countless times with Kosher salt or table salt, but using mineral blend sea salt something strange happened. The burgundy color of the cabbage and water was transformed to a shockingly bright blue. I mean bright blue with not even the merest hint of red in it. The cabbage tasted the same as it usually did, but the color was strikingly different. Repeat the experiment yourself if you like and report back. Maybe different salts will yield different hues, who knows?

I plan to do try the technique again when I need blue food (of which there are few naturally occurring ones) for some event — say July 4th or a Superbowl party, if the Denver Broncos or Cowboys or some team I like with a vivid blue in their team color scheme ever makes it back to the big dance. Obviously not this year for the Broncs or the Boys, but maybe a red, white, and blue theme for the Pats. That’s looking more likely.

A Sea of Irish Cider

As many of you may know, Mike and I have been on a two-week jaunt through the Emerald Isle occasioned by his participation in a golf tournament in County Cork. A visit to Ireland means, for him, plenty of Jameson and Guinness (both of which he enjoyed in ample measure) and for me (really for us both, because he likes it, too) it means enjoying a pint of good Irish hard cider.

I’m not, nor have I ever been, a big beer drinker, chiefly because I don’t even remotely like bitterness in food or drink. I figure natural selection gave me bitter taste receptors to warn me off of poisonous foods, so why tamper with 4 million years of genetic tweaking?

I can drink the maltier, non-hoppy brews (it’s the hops that impart the bitter character so many beer aficianados covet) and have found a very few microbrewery offerings that go down pretty easily over the years. But I’d still rather have something else and figured what with the carbs and calories involved why push myself to drink something that I don’t really enjoy and that can only cause me bariatric pain in the end? So in days gone by, when all around me were into their Black and Tans or their Guinness Stouts or their Firestone Double Barrel Ales at pub gatherings, I’d either opt for a glass of wine (which sometimes leaves you feeling like a bit of an outcast and in many cases isn’t the very best wine you could hope for) or I would painfully nurse a pint of something just to join in with the gang.

Then, about 10 years ago, I discovered hard cider and pub life was forever changed for me.

Now I had something that tasted as good as it looked, brimming golden over the rim of the glass, and that I truly could enjoy. Now, I, too, could order a pint!

And on this two week sojourn that took us from Dublin to Galway to Lahinch to Kinsale to Cork, I did so with (I admit it) pretty much reckless abandon. It was vacation, after all.

Historians tell us that fermented cider, not ale, was the chief alcoholic drink of the American colonies, so there’s even a patriotic connection to ordering a pint of cider to be proud of. Whereas the colonists probably fermented their apple cider in non-airtight containers and so didn’t capture the carbon dioxide released from the fermentation of sugar to alcohol, today’s hard ciders are made much like beers, giving them a lovely bit of sparkle. The result is a delicate beverage with a lightly sweet flavor and an alcohol content somewhere in the 4 to 5% range. Even though a portion of the natural sugar in the apple juice has been converted to alcohol, to be sure there still a bit there and so drinking a pint of cider is, for a low-carber, something of a guilty pleasure.

Drinking a lot of pints is a real dietary vacation!

I’ve long wished that someone would make a ‘light’ cider, so that I could enjoy with less metabolic impact. And, on this trip, I discovered that, at least in Ireland, someone does. Bulmer’s, the prevailing cider brand throughout Ireland, makes a Bulmer’s Light Cider that has only 92 calories and only about 3 or 4 grams (if I remember the label correctly) of residual sugar. It’s sweetened with a blend of sucralose and aceK. We ran across it in a grocery market in Dublin, sold in cans, and I had great hopes that I’d find it in some pubs along the way, but never did. Still, it’s a comfort to know it exists.

Bulmer’s cider has been imported into the US since about 2000, as I understand it, but under the Magner’s name. So far, I’ve only been able to trace the original product and have found no mention of the ‘light’ but it gives me hope that in the future some savvy beverage importer might bring the reduced carb/reduced calorie version to our shores.

If anyone out there knows of a US available light version, please do share with us all!

Until then, I will just have to content myself with the occasional pint of Hardcore on tap at my local Irish pub.

Chocolate and Bacon: A Sweet and Savory Taste Treat

Readers of this blog know that Mike and I have followed a low-carb way of eating and day-to-day living for about a quarter of a century now. We try to follow our own advice most of the time, with (admitted) dietary vacations thrown in for fun and psychosocial health. But even when we’re hewing pretty close to the straight and narrow, it’s nice now and again to treat ourselves to just a little indulgence, which at Casa Eades is often a small square or two of good dark chocolate. I try to keep a bit on hand, just for this purpose.

While waiting for my Americano the other day at a little coffee bar/grocery/deli not far from our house, I was perusing the chocolate bar display and noticed something unusual. There along side the Chocolate with Raspberries, Chocolate with Orange, Chocolate with Almonds, Chocolate with Coffee Beans and other typical chocolate and something combinations was one called (and I am not making this up) Mo’s Bacon Bar from Vosges Haute Chocolat.

Curious, I bought one to try.

Oh, my Heaven above!

I have always relished juxtaposition in flavors and textures in foods and I dearly love the savory, sweet combination. When I was young and foolish and thought myself metabolically invincible, I used to snack on a combination of Duncan Hines Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies and Cheetos (I preferred the ones quick fried to a crackly crunch over the baked to a delicate crunch, except in a pinch, because, again, I liked the soft cookies juxtaposed against the crispy cheese puff.) One bite of a cookie, one bite of a cheeto…another bite of a cookie, another bite of a cheeto. Ah, such were the days of my misspent youth, before I had my brain transplant and realized what damage I was actually doing to myself by regular indulgence in carby junk!

With just a bite of Mo’s Bacon Bar, I was transported to sweet/savory nirvana! The Vosges website says it better than I could

Two equally obsessive foods come together in one perfectly balanced bite of savory, smoky, and sweet. Applewood smoked bacon, Alder wood smoked salt, blend with a array of chocolates

The whole bar, were you to eat it, contains nearly 30 grams of pure sugar and about 400 calories–the maker claims there are 2.5 servings–3 squares each–in each 3 ounce bar. That’s enough to break the bank when you’re really holding the line against carbs. But if what you’re after is just a little indulgence after a good low-carb meal, one square at a bit over 3 grams is just enough with a cup of decaf Americano to finish a meal nicely.