August 2008 archive

Crunchy Low Carb Snack Bars

This will be my last post for awhile. I’ll be heading back to university this Monday and having an actual life!

When a good little low-carber wants something to snack on, she usually reaches for string cheese, sliced veggies, or a spoonful (or five, in my case) of peanut butter. Packaged diet bars and cookies just won’t do. They fail to satisfy the hunger like whole foods. Scary artificial sweeteners and the polyols that accompany them have very unpleasant side effects. Abstain from the “M” word–MALTITOL–if you have a social life and want to keep it. On top of that, a chewy, dry bar encased in a chocolate vegetable oil coating is a big disappointment to the natural food adapted palette. What’s a hungry health foodie to do?

A brilliant gal named Elana came up with a fancy shmancy version of coconut bark, chock full of nuts and seeds, slathered with a blanket of rich chocolate to make your snack time extra special. Spoil yourself rotten with these babies when you can’t look at another cold cut or celery stick. The coconut oil makes them a bit crunchy, tickling your corn chip- and pretzel-deprived taste buds. I cut down on the sugar, de-carbed the chocolate coating, and punched up the flavor with a little twist on the preparation. The testers absolutely flipped for the toasted pecan version. I’d recommend starting there and then following wherever your culinary imagination takes you! There are no hard and fast rules with this wonderfully versatile recipe.

One trick to maximize the lovely flavors of these natural ingredients: Toasting, my friend! Don’t be afraid of somehow “destroying the nutrients” in the nuts. Roasting the nuts can actually improve digestibility. I like to think that our tongue is so well designed that it knows what’s best for us, in the same way that it regulates sodium intake. These bars are even more fabulous with the aromatic, slightly smoky flavor that toasting imparts to the nuts and coconut, so don’t skip this step!

Crunchy and sweet, topped with a layer of smooth dark chocolate! You won’t believe they’re free of sugar and gluten. Promise.

Recipe Notes:
~To toast the ingredients, spread nuts and coconut flakes around a small pan. Pop ‘em in the toaster oven and toast for one cycle on medium heat, watching closely to prevent excess browning of the coconut flakes. You might have to stir them around the pan mid-cycle.
~I buy unhulled sesame seeds for the highest calcium content. Get them at the bulk bin or refrigerated section of your local health food store.
~Non-hydrogenated palm oil based shortening is sold under two names, to my knowledge–Spectrum Organic shortening and Jungle brand shortening.
~I get my nuts, seeds, honey and almond butter from the bulk bin section at the health food store. You can buy as much or as little as you want that way. Just be sure to sample the almond butter for freshness.
~Peanut butter is the cheapest option, but almond butter lends a more neutral flavor. Make your own macadamia nut butter with a magic bullet or powerful food processor. Heat the nuts in the microwave for 20-30 seconds and blend. Macadamia nuts contain enough natural oil to turn into a smooth paste after enough pulsing and scraping.
~If you buy roasted pistachios, rinse the salt off under a colander, pat them dry, and toast them for one cycle under medium heat to crisp the pistachios back up.
~For the 85% chocolate, I alternate between Lindt, Ghirardelli, and Green & Black’s organic. Use whatever brand you prefer–the carb counts are similar.
~DON’T heat the flax seeds or hemp seeds. You want to keep those precious omega-3s intact!

The following is my absolute favorite version. It smells like a Samoa cookie, no joke!

Crunchy No-Bake Snack Bars

Ingredients:
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup golden flax meal (could also use sesame seed meal)
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup almond butter (could also use peanut or mac nut butter)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of raw honey
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons erythritol
1/8 teaspoon of pure stevia extract

Easy Chocolate Ganache Topping

Ingredients:
4 squares of 85% cacao chocolate
2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening (could also use more coconut oil or organic unsalted butter)
1 tablespoon erythritol
1/8 teaspoon pure stevia extract
1 teaspoon organic heavy cream (or full fat coconut milk)

Preparation:
For Snack Bars:
Powder erythritol in coffee grinder or magic bullet. Toast coconut and nuts in a dry pan over medium-low heat or the toaster oven, until slightly browned. Pulse nut and seed mixture in a food processor just until nuts are chopped. Melt coconut oil and nut butter in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir until smooth. Add vanilla extract, honey, erythritol, stevia, and sea salt, stirring until incorporating. Fold into nut mixture. Press into an 8 by 4 pan with a spatula. Quick set in the freezer for 20 minutes. Cut into 6 bars. Store in the refrigerator, covered with a paper towel and plastic wrap.

For Ganache Topping:
Powder erythritol in coffee grinder or magic bullet. Melt shortening and chocolate in microwave in for 30 seconds. Stir until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Stir in cream, erythritol, and stevia, until mixture is completely blended. Spread over cooled bars immediately.

~4.35 grams net carbs per 1/6 of a recipe

Check out that funky green color! It’s from all the pistachios and pepitas. The flavor is pretty phenomenal, too. Very pistachio-y.

Pepita Pistachio Variation (a.k.a. REPTAR BARS, RAWRR!)

1/2 cup pistachios, roasted
1/4 cup plus two tablespoons pepitas, toasted
2 tablespoons hemp seeds (could use more pepitas)
1/4 cup sesame seeds (could also use golden flax seeds)
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup macadamia nut butter (could also use almond butter)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon raw honey
1/8-1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons erythritol
1/8 teaspoon pure stevia extract

Follow the steps listed above.

~6 grams net carbs per 1/6 of a recipe

Low Carb Chocolate Pots De Creme

Calling all chocolate lovers! You will think you’ve died and gone to heaven with this one. After testing out a few batches of Super Simple Biscuits, I had a lot of leftover egg yolks. Eight of them went into a traditional custard-based ice cream. To use up the rest, I googled “egg yolk dessert recipes” and found these yummy sounding ideas at GourmetSleuth. The Pots De Creme looked intriguing. Simple ingredients, check. Easy to de-carb, check. What really caught my eye was the variation using chocolate! After giving a test batch to my faithful friends slash recipe testers, it has become my most requested dessert. I promise that it only sounds intimidating with that fancy french name–preparation is a snap. This is one of the easiest and most delicious sugar-free, gluten-free desserts, ever. Step one for being the Hostess with the Mostest: Buy some adorable ramekins and serve up personal portions of this rich chocolate custard. Step two: Watch your guests’ eyes roll back in their heads and silently congratulate yourself!

Cut the intensity of the dark chocolate with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. You can make this dessert dairy-free by replacing the heavy cream with full fat coconut milk. To flavor the custard, use whatever flavoring you think pairs well with chocolate. I used pure almond extract for the pots de creme pictured here. Peppermint and orange would also be delicious. Top with a sprig of mint or a curl of orange zest for an elegant touch. I grated some leftover chocolate and sprinkled it over the custard. C’est magnifique!

Chocolate Pots De Creme
Adapted from a Bon Appétit recipe

Makes 3 servings

Ingredients:
1 cup organic heavy cream OR coconut milk
**2 ounces 85% percent cacao dark chocolate (I like Lindt and Green & Black’s), chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (use whatever flavor you like) OR espresso powder
3 large organic egg yolks
5 tablespoons erythritol
1/8 teaspoon pure stevia extract
pinch of sea salt

**Cut the chocolate bar into thirds and use of two of them. Just eyeball it.

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place 3 ramekins in a large roasting pan. Combine cream, chocolate, and espresso powder in a saucepan over medium low heat. Whisk every few minutes until chocolate melts. Stir to blend cream and chocolate completely. Do NOT overheat! You don’t want it to bubble up.

Powder erythritol in a coffee grinder or magic bullet. Whisk erythritol and stevia into egg yolks until mixture is smooth. Slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking the whole time. Stir the mixture until totally smooth and divide between the 3 ramekins. Optional step: Use a toothpick to pop the little bubbles that form on the surface of the custards. Heat a measuring cup full of water for a couple of minutes in the microwave, and pour water in the roasting pan until it reaches about an inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 minutes. The centers of the custards should still be very jiggly. Remove ramekins from water bath (wear potholders!). Let the custards cool to room temperature. Store them in the fridge covered with a paper towel and foil for at least 2 hours. I’d recommend making these before you go to bed so you don’t get antsy and sneak a taste before they’re ready!

~5g net carbs per huge serving

Turn Up The Heat: Low Carb Chicken Curry

After experimenting with various flavors of Protein Packed Ice Cream, I had a lot of low fat cottage cheese leftover. I’ve been obsessed with pureeing cottage cheese lately. It can sub for anything creamy, sneaking in extra protein to keep you satisfied. It also makes this typical “diet food” more sexy to eat. It’s not that I don’t absolutely love heavy cream and FAGE total and all of the lovely wholesome saturated fat those contain. If you haven’t read Good Calories, Bad Calories yet, pick up it up and prepare to be blown away by what the scientific evidence really shows regarding the relationship between heart health, disease risk, and saturated fats. Hint: It’s not what the processed food-pushing establishment tells you! There are many ways to incorporate healthful natural fats into your diets: Eat grass-fed 85/15 beef and chicken thighs, use cream in your coffee, sauté with butter or coconut oil, and my favorite way–pop a square of extra dark chocolate! There can, however, be too much of a good thing, especially when you’re watching your waistline. Your body won’t tap into your stored fat if there is too much dietary fat coming in. And no, a high-protein diet won’t wear out your kidneys!

Regardless of whether you use full-fat yogurt or pureed cottage cheese, this curry is packed full of flavor and will leave you wanting more. No need to slave over a hot stove since it takes less than a half hour (he-ey, Rachel Ray!) to whip up. If your cabinet isn’t already stocked will all of these lovely spices, don’t hesitate to make the investment. You will want to make this dish over and over. The only ingredients I had to run out for were the ginger root and the garam marsala. Garam marsala, an aromatic blend of spices, is ideal for adding an Indian flair to omelets, stir fries, and other quick n’ dirty meals. The downside of making curry is that the whole house still smells like all of those wonderful spices, reminding me that my dad ate the leftovers. Guess that means I’ll have to make more…

Indian Chicken Curry
Adapted from an AllRecipes recipe

Makes 4 small servings

Ingredients:
1-3 tablespoons of oil, butter, or ghee
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon of garam marsala
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
1/16 teaspoon pure stevia extract
1/8-1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 boneless chicken thighs or 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup plain yogurt or pureed cottage cheese (I used Friendship 1%)
3/4 cup coconut milk (lite, if you prefer)
1/2 lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional–omit if you don’t like spicy foods)

Preparation:

Prep vegetables. Heat fat in a skillet over medium heat. Saute onion until browned and fragrant. Add garlic, curry powder, cinnamon, paprika, bay leaf, ginger, sweetener, and sea salt, stirring around the pan for 2 minutes. Use a food processor or magic bullet to puree cottage cheese or yogurt with coconut milk and tomato paste. Add chicken and coconut milk mixture to pan. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, squeeze in the lime juice, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, and stir in the cayenne pepper if you’re using it. Finish with more lime juice to taste, and serve over riced cauliflower.

~6 grams net carbs per serving, using lite coconut milk and pureed cottage cheese

Riced Cauliflower

Makes four small servings

4 cups of fresh grated cauliflower
1 tablespoon organic unsalted butter
1/2 crumbled organic boullion cube (watch out for MSG!)

Grate cauliflower with a cheese grater. Add butter to a pan over medium heat. Stir fry cauliflower for 2 minutes, crumbling the boullion cube over it during the cooking process. Cook until just tender, and remove from pan.

~3g net carbs per serving

Garnished with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime, mm-mmmm!

Low Carb Low Fat Ice Cream (with a secret ingredient, shh!)

Every once in awhile I think I have an original, particularly ground-breaking idea. 99% of the time, that isn’t the case. This is one of those ideas that gave me false hope. Oh well, it was fun feeling creative until some googling showed me this link to Jessica Su’s cottage cheese ice cream at her Su Good Sweets blog (WARNING: NOT low carb). Do I get points for making it sugar-free and all natural?

This one goes out to the body builders, PSMFers, and those with gall bladder issues (love you, Mom!). Fool your friends with this creamy, delicious frozen treat that’s low cal, low sugar, and guilt-free. It doesn’t taste like cottage cheese, honest! My faithful testers weren’t able to detect anything except lemony goodness, although one of them made a face after I revealed the secret ingredient. You don’t have to portion control here, since a 1/2 cup serving has 90 tiny calories and 5 grams of carbs! It’s basically the most delicious way ever to get in a whopping 18 grams of protein and 15% of your RDA of calcium (I’m looking at you, vegetarians!) Yes, you can have ice cream while losing weight and eating for optimal health.

Be sure to look for a cottage cheese without scary additives. Gum thickeners are pretty natural, but the phrase “artificial flavors” is probably a bad sign. Use full-fat or low fat cottage cheese if you’re not watching your calories. I like Organic Valley products–no hormones! If organic cottage cheese doesn’t fit into your budget, Friendship 1% blends up nice and creamy with no strange additives. If all else fails, compare labels and pick the one with the lowest sodium content–the saltiness is noticeable, especially with the lemon flavor. You don’t have to fear dietary salt, but some people are more sensitive to the taste than I am. Did you know it’s actually more dangerous to eat a low sodium diet than it is to just eat how your tastebuds tell you to?

Bust out your old ice cream maker (or find a nifty automatic model on Craig’s List like I did) and get ready to be amazed. Even if you are enjoying your low carb cream n’ egg yolk based ice cream, give cottage cheese ice cream a fair chance. The protein is very satisfying, so it’s a wee bit easier to portion control than the best ice cream recipe in the world by my man, Alton Brown (low carb tweaks coming soon!).

Protein Packed Low Carb Ice Cream

Makes two servings

Ingredients:

Lemon Variation:
1 cup of cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
4 tablespoons sugar-free sweetener–
For ALL NATURAL sugar-free sweetening, use both of the following:
-3 tablespoons erythritol
-1/8 teaspoon pure stevia extract


Chocolate Almond Variation:

1 cup of cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup liquid egg whites or lite coconut milk
4 tablespoons of sweetener–
For ALL NATURAL sugar-free sweetening, use both of the following:
-3 tablespoons erythritol
-1/8 teaspoon pure stevia extract

Optional:
1 Tablespoon glycerin (to keep ice cream soft)

Preparation:
Combine ingredients in a blender or magic bullet. Puree until smooth and free of lumps, scraping down the food processor a few times. Freeze according to your ice cream manufacturer’s directions. Store in a tupperware container in your freezer and consume immediately, or within two hours of making your ice cream. It turns into an icy rock beyond that point (unless you add a tablespoon of vodka to the mix). You can always pop the container in the microwave for a few seconds to defrost.

This is all that was left of the chocolate almond!

Easy Low Carb Gluten-Free Biscuits

What’s the fun part of going to Red Lobster? How do you get the gravy mopped off of your plate in a satisfying yet dignified manner? What’s better than toast as a carrier for fruity jam? The answer to all of these important questions comes in the form of the fluffy, moist, and positively addictive biscuit. I always associate them with memories of volleyball tournament weekends and team breakfasts at Cracker Barrel. Soft white biscuits with a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey were a meal all by themselves for my former carboholic self. Baking powder biscuits are made with a pretty standard technique and recipe, consisting of all purpose flour, baking powder, and some sort of fat cut into the flour. It’s not that simple, though. You have to handle the dough tenderly, working it just to the point where it comes together without aiding gluten formation, which acts to toughen it. You have to consider the protein content of the flour you’re using along with the way you cut out the biscuits (press, not twist!) so as to ensure flakiness. Shockingly, it’s much easier to make gluten-free nutrient dense biscuits. For once, we health nuts have an easier time of making a baked good! Let’s celebrate with some good eats, shall we?

You may be wondering at this point how such a feat is possible. Biscuits with no flour and no fancy shmancy natural ingredients to imitate gluten? How can this be? It’s all in the egg whites, my friend. They are the solution to all of your problems. They fluff, they puff, they create airy little clouds with just a little coaxing and some hot steamy lovin’ from the oven. Egg whites are all protein, zero carbs, 20 calories a pop. Fortunately, egg whites happen to play nicely with almonds, another hero of the low carb bakingverse. Finely ground blanched almonds have very little nutty taste and yield a light, moist texture to these easy peasy biscuits.

Finally, we introduce the fat to the party in the form of butter or shortening. Not just ANY shortening mind you! Trans-fat free shortening made from organic palm oil will fluff up your pastries without shortening (hah!) your lifespan. It has a higher melting point than butter, allowing the protein structure of the egg whites to puff up more around the fat before it melts away. Butter for flavor, shortening for texture is the rule. That rule doesn’t totally apply here since almonds already have a nice flavoring and fat component, unlike the processed “enriched” garbage that is white flour. When I was testing batches, I noticed that butter allowed for more browning on the tops. The flavor was comparable when the biscuits made from both fats were tasted side by side. If you want a better rise, it’s worth the special trip to your local health food store to find Spectrum Organic Palm Oil Shortening. That’s the only kind I’ve ever seen around here. It’s priced comparably to organic butter, so you have no excuse for not trying it out!

These little guys were baked in foil-lined ramekins. They came out the perfect size and shape!

The technique for these biscuits is simple. All you need is a fork and couple of bowls. Follow these simple steps to biscuit perfection!

1. Cut cold fat (butter or shortening) into dry ingredients with the tines of your fork, rotating the bowl around with your other hand until the mixture has pea-sized chunks throughout. You could also use a pastry blender, in which case you probably don’t need to read these instructions.

2. Optional: Chill mixture in the fridge for 5-10 minutes or as long as you can stand it. The longer the better. The more the fat can get cold and hard, the puffier your biscuits will be. Remember that!

3. Separate the egg yolks from the whites (using the shell halves to tip the yolk back and forth a few times). Reserve yolks (save all that creamy goodness for ice cream or homemade mayo!) and whisk egg whites with a fork in a bowl for 20 seconds, until no longer stringy and gloopy. You just want ‘em a little foamy.

4. Remove mixture from fridge and whisk in the egg whites for a couple of seconds, breaking up any massive chunks in the dough with your whisk or fork. It’ll be an extremely runny dough with chunks of the almond mixture.

5. Drop biscuits in 4 mounds on to a cookie sheet. For puffier biscuits, pour batter into greased foil-lined ramekins/nonstick muffin cups/a muffin top pan and get that sucker in the hot oven before the fat can even THINK about softening!

The plain version is just lovely all by itself, hot out of the oven or toasted with homemade strawberry preserves. A teeny drizzle of honey whipped into butter would be a heavenly spread. I had to eat a few fresh biscuits to make sure they were as good as my tastebuds were telling me. You, too, might feel compelled to eat more than one, so beware!

**UPDATE (10/10/2013): A new version of these biscuits has been posted that’s even easier to make, and more delicious! Find the new recipe here.**

Fluffy Biscuits
Adapted from this recipe by Laura Dolson

Makes four biscuits

Ingredients:
1 and 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted organic butter or nonhydrogenated shortening
1 cup plus two tablespoons of finely ground almond flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
4 egg whites (see comments for results using 2 egg whites)

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

See numbered steps listed above! IF YOU ARE USING FOIL-LINED RAMEKINS, bake for 15 minutes. IF YOU ARE USING A MUFFIN TOP PAN, bake for 12 minutes. The edges of these biscuits stick really badly, so be sure to grease liberally whatever vessel you’re using to bake these. Some sort of non-stick pan works best here! Silicone muffin cups are great, too. Greased foil-lined ramekins are alright, but you have to gently tease the muffins out of the foil.

~243 calories, 4 grams net carbs per biscuit

Try some of these variations just for fun. These little guys are versatile, so play around with them and share your flavor combos with me, please!

A plain biscuit with homemade sugar-free strawberry jam, a cheddar garlic biscuit, and a sweet cinnamon biscuit hangin’ out.
Easy Drop Biscuits (Low Carb, Gluten-Free)

Garlic Cheddar Biscuits

One basic biscuit recipe
4-8 tablespoons of shredded cheddar cheese
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Add most of the cheese and all of the garlic powder to dry ingredients. Cut in shortening and chill dough. Whisk in egg whites and fill ramekins. Top with a bit of the reserved cheese. Bake as directed.

Parmesan Herb Biscuits

One basic biscuit recipe
4-8 tablespoons of parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried italian herb blend

Add most of the cheese and all of the herbs to dry ingredients. Cut in shortening and chill dough. Whisk in egg whites and fill ramekins. Top with a bit of the reserved cheese. Bake as directed.

Sweet Cinnamon Biscuits

For Dough:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 teaspoons sweetener (I used erythritol)
1/8-1/4 teaspoon pure stevia extract

For Cinnamon Swirl:
1 tablespoon organic unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon blackstrap molasses or honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon pure stevia extract
1 teaspoon erythritol (powdered in your coffee grinder)
2 teaspoons water
pinch of xanthan gum (optional, for thickening)
pinch of sea salt

Add vanilla and sweeteners to dry ingredients. Cut in shortening and chill dough. Melt butter and molasses together in a microwave safe dish for 15-20 seconds, until butter is melted. Stir in stevia, erythritol, water, xanthan gum, and sea salt. Heat mixture in microwave for another 15 seconds or so until erythritol is dissolved. Pop the filling into the fridge and let it cool until it thickens a bit. Whisk egg whites into flour mixture and fill ramekins. Dollop cinnamon filling on top of the dough in a swirl and bake as directed.