As some of you know, I am presently in Boston getting treated for Stage IIIC melanoma cancer, and one of the things I am trying to understand is what the impact of a low-carb, high protein and fat diet is on the side effects of my immunotherapy treatment with Sylatron. Based on what I’ve been going through, and seeing the side effects others who eat a carb-rich diet are having, I find myself thinking that my dietary approach (which I have pursued for years prior to my recent cancer diagnosis) is the right one.
I do know from the way my body reacts to the consumption of wheat and sugars that physically I am a lot happier if I can minimize the intake of foods with a high glycemic index (meaning foods which spike my blood sugar and insulin levels).
Also, my readings suggest to me that the western diseases that have permeated our society, resulting in obesity, diabetes, and coronary/heart disease, are caused in great part by the excess (and it doesn’t take a lot) consumption of high glycemic foods, such as those with processed grains and sugars.
While the commentary I’ve seen so far about this new Kraft product seems to take issue with the fact that this is a sneaky and improper way to get kids to eat more vegetables, the analyses seem to completely ignore the health benefit of reducing process wheat intake for kids, especially as Mac & Cheese is something that many kids consume by the bucketload (I know my kids did, as did I when I was a starving college student).
So kudos to Kraft, and I hope we will see grains and carbs slowly disappear from Mac & Cheese and other processed food products in the coming years.
As Americans who live outside the U.S.A., the day of American Thanksgiving holiday (which is tomorrow) has special significance. It’s the day we gather with a few close friends who are half-American (one member of each couple is American, the other is Dutch) and their multi-cultural children, share food everyone has prepared and brought with them, and generally have a wonderful, relaxed day.
Of course, the day involves lots of eating, lots of shooting the breeze (an American euphemism for spouting off, er, random intellectual discussions), and utilizing each other as culinary guinea pigs. (Oh, I wasn’t supposed to say that out loud?)
My contribution to tomorrow’s feasting are the following items:
A turkey injected with and brined with a savory sour orange marinade, from a recipe provided by La Caja China – it’s the mojo criollo marinade, and then roast in my Weber grill.
A cranberry cinnamon rum ice cream, with rum included because it will keep the cream soft in the freezer (since I use Splenda instead of sugar, and that produces a very solid cream otherwise), and, of course, because rum tastes good.
A cranberry compote ice cream for those who don’t like rum (with guar gum to keep it soft).
Orange juice caviar (small spheres of alginate filled with orange juice – just because I had leftover orange juice from the marinade described above).
Cranberry relish pearls (larger alginate spheres using a cranberry orange relish puree that Linda made yesterday) – should be a nice topping for turkey and other treats tomorrow
Cranberry powder – I first had this at Mark’s American Cuisine (great restaurant, by the way) in Houston a few weeks ago with a foie gras dish, and decided I needed my own tart dusting powder. Required my dehydrator, cranberries, and an awful lot of patience.
Garlic mashed cauliflower – made with lots of butter and cream and a touch of white pepper, and virtually no carbohydrates
Linda is making a peanut butter pie and a pumpkin pie, Krystyana is making a garlic parmesan mayonnaise vegetable casserole, our friends Caren & Frans are providing more veggies and Dutch apple cake, and our friend Dan is bringing a turkey smoked in his Big Green Egg.
All in all, it should be an interesting experiment meal tomorrow!
While we normally don’t eat large quantities of bananas because of the high starch and sugar content, we occasionally make exceptions for finger bananas, so on an impulse last week, when I encountered bunches of them at a local market, I bought one bunch (about 20 bananas). Initially they were still a bit green, but as the week progressed they continued to ripen, and we were just not eating them fast enough.
Faced with the prospect of possibly having to throw them out, I remembered that some years ago I bought a dehydrator with the intent of making beef jerky. Intent and reality never collided, and the device sat in our storage room collecting dust. Until now, as I realized this would be a perfect way to save the bananas from premature extinction.
It was a match made in heaven.
What a dehydrator does is blow warm (or hot) air down over trays of food. The warm air evaporates or dehydrates the moisture from the food, effective drying it out. Very simple process. The particular dehydrator I had was made by Open Country, targeted primarily at folks who hike around a lot and want to carry food with them that weighs less than normal (considering I probably bought this at a outdoor sporting store, it makes sense).
After carefully reading the manual, I sliced up all the bananas, placed them on the dehydrator’s trays, set the dehydrator’s temperature to 135°F (the temperature suggested for fruit) and let the device do its thing for the next 8 hours, after which we had dehydrated banana slices.
The dehydrator, as part of the process of forcing moisture out of food, ends up shrinking the food item being dehydrated, which in turn concentrates the flavor. So, the dehydrated banana slices were sweeter and more flavorful than regular moist bananas.
I felt inspired now, having realized how stupidly easy it was to use the dehydrator. So, next I got some lean roast beef (raw), sliced it in quarter inch thick strips against the grain, and then marinated it for half a day in a mixture of ketjap manis, sambal oelek, garlic, vinegar, and water.
I then dehydrated the beef for eight hours at 155°F (recommended for meat), and voila! Beef jerky! After it cooled, we found the beef jerky to be a bit drier than desired. Next time I think we’ll try for 6 hours and see if that makes it a bit moister. But it tasted great, and there was no question that it was fresh beef jerky.
My next effort was to make low-carb chips using daikon radish and eggplant slices, using the dehydrator to eliminate most of moisture so I could more easily fry the slices in my fryer. That worked moderately well, but the four hours they spent in the dehydrator were again a touch too long. What was interesting was that the daikon radish also got bitter after being flash fried, but was incredibly “radishy” tasting out of the dehydrator.
Yesterday we found fresh strawberries at our local market (not a common occurrence here on Bonaire – we’re usually stuck with frozen berries), as well as fresh blueberries (an even rarer happening), so we sliced up one box of strawberries, put them on the dehydrator trays, and dried them out. Krystyana added a handful of blueberries to one of the trays too.
Again, four hours was too long for the strawberry slices – they were completely dry, but powerfully flavored. I plan to take advantage of that dryness to make a potent and flavorful strawberry powder in my blender. The powder can then be used in cooking, as an additive to yogurt or cream, or anything else a strawberry-loving heart desires.
The blueberries were in for 13 hours, and were still overly moist and kind of bland – no doubt due to the fact the skins have not been punctured to assist the escape moisture. I don’t think we’ll try whole berries again. Cutting them in half might have been better.
The kids devoured the original batch of beef jerky, so last night we worked together to marinate two batches of beef – one in a chipotle, brown sugar, chili powder, garlic, and vinegar marinade, and the other in a lemon grass, cumin, soy, brown sugar, and fish sauce marinade. They went in the dehydrator this morning, and four hours later the thinnest slices were ready, and all the meat was properly dried (not overly so) after six hours. Both were delicious.
The kids are already talking about what flavors of jerky they want to make next. And in the process both have been learning about better knife use as well as selecting appropriate cuts of beef (for jerky it should be quite lean).
The manual for the dehydrator also suggests that you can dehydrate sauces like spaghetti sauce for later hydration, or something like apple sauce in order to make a fruit leather that can be rolled up in wax paper and eaten later as a snack. We might try something like that soon.
If you don’t have a dedicated dehydrator, you may be able to simulate the results using a convection oven which can be run at lower temperatures.
We spent yesterday in Los Angeles as a quick stop along our trip from New Hampshire to Hong Kong. Our friends Todd and Jenna were in town and took us out to dinner at a delightful small Salvadoran/Mexican restaurant called Gloria’s Cafe.
I should mention that Jenna is a huge fan of food truck cuisine – an amazing revolution in quality restaurant food on wheels, akin to the gastro pub revolution which hit England by storm a couple of years back, in that ordinary eating locales have been upgraded with gourmet and foodie offerings. In Los Angeles, the food truck movement appears to be the result of chefs being able to set up a food truck for a mere fraction of what it costs to open an immobile restaurant, and with lower overhead and more flexible hours as well.
So why is the food truck movement relevant to Gloria’s Cafe? It’s because Jenna was trying to find a spot where we could dine at an assorted set of good food trucks (something she tracks via Twitter feeds from the truck chefs), but last night they had scattered with the wind, all over the greater Los Angeles area. Had we been available a week ago, for First Fridays, we could have enjoyed them all on a particular hopping street in Venice Beach, however.
With food truck gastronomic nirvana out of reach, Jenna went to Plan B, and that was Gloria’s Cafe, in the Culver City section of Los Angeles. Gloria’s is in a little strip mall with limited parking, but definitely make the effort to find a parking spot even if you have to walk a bit. You won’t regret it.
Something about Gloria’s looked familiar to Linda, and when we got to the front door she finally figured it out – she and Bas had seen the restaurant featured on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (making it the second such restaurant I had been to with Todd – we visited China Bandido in Phoenix, Arizona together in March 2009).
Gloria’s is tiny – seating perhaps three dozen people, and featuring a rustic sort of ambiance and a pleasant homey convivial atmosphere. We arrived at around 7pm, early enough to get seated within minutes. We started with one of the house specialty libations – a pitcher of Sangria, which was very good indeed (Jenna and I polished off a second pitcher over the course of the evening).
One of Gloria’s sons, a wonderfully congenial man, soft spoken yet exuberant about the food served in his mother’s restaurant helped guide us through the menu. We settled on a number of typical Salvadoran items for our appetizer, include green tamales which were almost creamy in texture, chicharron (fried chunks of pork), and papusas.
Papusas, as Gloria’s son passionately explained, started with corn flour – masa – which was specially treated to created round fluffy (and, oh my, were they fluffy!) pancakes. A filling is placed on one pancake and then a second pancake is sealed over the top. The fillings available all included a Salvadoran cheese, and then either pork, beans, or herbs (or nothing extra at all). You then eat the papusa with a pickled cabbage called “curtido” and some non-spicy salsa. We split three different types of papusas amongst us and were very happy. Add the green tamales served with a Salvadoran cream similar to sour cream but cheesier in flavor and we were in masa heaven.
Our main courses all came on huge platters featuring rice and beans, refried beans, and the main course itself. Linda chose the house specialty, Carne Adobada – simmering chunks of pork in a wonderful sauce. Jenna had the garlic shrimp which were swimming in a pungent and heady garlic butter sauce (as were my pork chops), and Todd settled for well marinated steak in the form of Bistek Encebollado.
Mama Gloria came by several times to check on us herself and make sure we were enjoying her food (which, without doubt, we were).
Dessert was another delight – with a nice thick flan offered (reminding me of Quesillo, the local flan we can sometimes get on Bonaire), and an dessert empanada, featuring a sweet milk custard wrapped in a sweet plantain (banana) shell, and sprinkled with sugar. Terrible for our low carb lifestyle, but oh so delicious.
Gloria’s was an excellent plan B, and I am already contemplating ways to arrrange a return visit. And maybe we’ll see actor Brian Doyle-Murray there again – he was there last night, and had to wait for a table for quite a bit longer than we did.
Thank you Mama Gloria! And thank you Jenna & Todd!
About a year and a half ago, we took a private docent-led tour in New York City with Elizabeth Knight as part of a “History of Tea” tour arranged by Context Travel. Context no longer offers this tour, but you can still take custom tea tours and get tea training with Elizabeth via her own company, Tea With Friends. I highly recommend it if you are in New York City and have the time.
You might think that New York is a rather odd place for this, but as it turns out it was a brilliant choice, as it offers a broad range of cultural, historical, and culinary traditions that immigrants and business people have brought to this urban environment. Perhaps the most stunning thing we discovered even with all the diverse types of teas in the world is that they come from one type of plant – Camellia sinensis.
The base types of tea – white, green, oolong, black – are produced by processing the leaves and buds of the tea plant in different ways. There’s a great article on tea processing at Wikipedia.
Be that as it may, one of the things we learned with Elizabeth (and elsewhere) is that most tea-bag tea is made with tea “dust” or “fannings“, which are typically (but not always) lower grade leftover bits of tea leaves. In various tea tastings over the last couple of years we have also found that for certain types of teas, such as green and oolong, the flavor and aroma of brewed whole leaf teas is generally far superior to tea-bag teas. Subsequently we have raised our tea standards, as life is too short to drink mediocre tea.
While there are some great companies that specialize in tea bags with whole leaf teas, including Tea Forte, Mighty Leaf, and some of the teas from Harney & Sons, I generally find it more satisfying and less expensive to buy tins or bags of loose leaf tea and use the tea that way. The other nice thing about brewing your own loose leaf teas is that you can blend your own tea combinations to brew the perfect tea for the occasion.
Speaking of brewing, I have a drawer full of tea strainers, tea balls, and other tea infusion gadgets, but honestly I have not found anything which competes with the Teavana tea maker for properly and easily steeping and brewing tea.
Tea balls and infusers tend to be a pain to fill – leaves tend to fall out and things get messy. And tea strainers tend to be either too tough to clean after use, or have sieve holes which are too large and let tea bits through.
The Teavana tea maker, on the other hand, has a very dense pair of screens at the bottom which both prevents tea bits from getting through as well as getting stuck after brewing. Better yet, the tea maker also acts as a steeper so that you can steep and brew your tea for however long the tea requires and then drain the steeped tea into an appropriate vessel.
Let me diverge with a quick comment on steeping tea. The lighter the tea (e.g. white or green), the more delicate it tends to be, and thus the more care you need to treat it with when brewing. If you over-steep or use water that is too hot, you could burn the leaves and/or make it very bitter, thus ruining your tea experience. There is a nice basic chart to follow here.
For a while I was very anal retentive about measuring the water temperature of my hot water, but then an elderly Japanese lady in an underground market near the Shibuya Station in Tokyo showed me a cool (literally) trick. To get her boiling water cooled off to an appropriate temperature for the green sencha tea she was brewing for the tea samples she was offering, she would pour the boiling water into a room temperature tea cup, swirl it around, and then pour it over the green tea leaves (sencha) in the small teapot she used for brewing. That decanting into a colder container was enough to cool off the water temperature, and also served as a way to warm up the tea cup to avoid “shocking” the tea when it was poured for consumption a couple of minutes later.
So now, when I brew my white or green teas, I pour the boiling water into my cup or pitcher first, swirl it around a bit, and then pour it over my tea leaves to steep them without burning them with water that is too hot. For a 16 oz cup of tea I normally use a bit more than a teaspoon of loose leaf tea, while for a pitcher (almost two quarts) I will use about five (5) teaspoons of loose leaf tea, or even a bit more if I am decanting over ice to make an ice tea.
And my tea leaves are invariably in one of my Teavana tea makers (large to make a pitcher of tea, small to make a big cup of tea) as pictured above.
To heat my water, I have found the best thing is an electric hot water kettle like the one shown above. It’s faster than using a traditional stove top tea kettle, and easier to see exactly how much water you’re heating up. A microwave will do as backup for a cup of hot water, but I don’t have any assurance that I’ve reached boiling temperature in a microwave so I only use one when I don’t have a better way to heat my water (like in a hotel room).
My favorite teas are green teas – I particularly like the grassy nose of a decently brewed sencha, and also have become fond of oolong of late, with a splash of vanilla extract. In terms of blends, I like to steep fresh lemongrass and then add green tea leaves to it to produce my own lemongrass green tea. Oh, and I almost never sweeten my teas, with the exception of a chai-style blend.
I have been finding that more and more supermarkets appear to carry loose leaf teas now, but in a pinch you can probably find dedicated tea shops in a local shopping mall or town. Teavana appears to be the most populous in the U.S., with a very broad selection of teas. If ordering on-line, I have had great success with Teavana, Mighty Leaf, and Harney & Sons. I find the Japanese green teas to be best from Harney & Sons, but like Teavana’s Moroccan Mint and Masala Chai better than the equivalent products from Harney & Sons. Mighty Leaf has an amazing Orchid Oolong as well as the fragrant Celebration blended black tea.
All in all, I think if you have an interest in tea, once you go to loose leaf tea, you’ll find it hard to go back to plain old tea-bag tea. In fact, for my upcoming Antarctic trip, I bagged a bunch of loose leaf teas in my own tea bags because I didn’t want to suffer with normal tea, and couldn’t fit the Teavana tea maker in my limited luggage space. I also packed some low-sugar hot chocolate mix and my own datil and ancho chili pepper blend to make spicy hot chocolate to keep me warm on the inside. But that will have to wait for another blog post.
Food & Wine suggests that chicken skin may be the next bacon. And another article in Toronto Life mentions that David Chang of Momofuku Ko (a restaurant that’s on my dining bucket list) uses crispy chicken skin as a garnish with pasta. Wise chef!
I believe self congratulation is in order for my being, unwittingly, a trend setter.
After a year of making chili rellenos with jalapeño peppers instead of the poblanos required in the original recipe, we finally found poblano peppers here on Bonaire! Even making the recipe for the last year, it is far from perfected, but we have discovered ways to make it easier on my mom and myself.
What makes our recipe low carb is that regular chili rellenos recipes require a corn flour batter to coat the peppers with. Flour is obviously not low carb. So we use beaten eggs instead.
The first thing to do when looking for the perfect pepper for this recipe is an unblemished jalapeño or preferably poblano pepper.
– 6 poblanos (or 10 jalapeños)
– 3 x 8 oz. packs of full fat cream cheese
– 1 x 8 oz. Four Cheese Mexican blend pack
– 4 eggs
– 3 paper bags
First of all, set your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Then wash the poblanos and dry them off well. On a gas stovetop, lay a flat grill rack on the burner area. You need an open flame for roasting the peppers. Strategically place the peppers so that they are directly over the flame. Turn the pepper when the side facing the flame is entirely black with bubbling skin. When the pepper is black on all sides, stuff the pepper into a paper bag and roll up the opening to keep the steam in. After about 5 minutes, the peppers should be cool enough to pick up.
At this point, and when using jalapeños, I would search for gloves or a victim. The burn in a jalapeños can vary but I would not ever take a chance with getting a hot one while barehanded. This is due to a previous accident when making chili rellenos with jalapeños. After gutting about 10 of them, my fingers started hurting like crazy. My mom and I tried everything to make it stop, from sour cream to aloe. It did not work…. And that is why I suggest gloves.
Take a pepper out and start peeling off the skin while attempting not to break apart the flesh of the pepper. My mom used a small knife for this, but finger nails are almost as successful. We peeled the skin into the sink because this is long process.
Take a knife and slit one side of the pepper, from the stem to the very tip of the pepper. The seeds will be just as hard to take out of the pepper as the skin was to remove and just as sticky. The likelihood of making a gaping hole in the opposite side of your slit is high, so be wary of pulling on strings of the flesh. And wear gloves if it’s a jalapeño.
Mix the cream cheese and the four cheese Mexican blend in a bowl until thoroughly mixed.
Take out a large casserole dish and spray with Pam or grease it with butter. Lay the peppers on the bottom of the casserole dish and start stuffing the peppers with the cheese mixture. Don’t overstuff them. The rest of the cheese can rolled up into little balls and placed around peppers. They melt really well and are yummy to eat separate from the peppers as well.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and brush it over the peppers and dump the rest into the dish. Put the peppers into the oven for 30 minutes, or until the egg is cooked.
Our stand-up freezer stopped freezing sometime in the last 20 hours, so we found ourselves performing freezer food triage earlier today. Fortunately we have a couple of refrigerator/freezer units still functioning in the house, so key frozen meats and other frozen products could be kept ice hard.
However, we did find there wasn’t quite enough space for everything, so in addition to feasting on now thawing left-overs tomorrow, we enjoyed a special treat tonight – Crispy Fried Chicken Skin.
We discovered a couple of months ago that our butcher simply throws out the chicken skin from thighs and breasts when packaging meat for retail sale. What a waste. So we kept a stash of chicken skin in vacuum sealed bags in our now malfunctioning freezer.
As long time fans of pork rinds (zero carbohydrates, and only saturated animal fats if prepared right), chicken skin ranks right up there for us. When fried correctly, chicken skin is like great popcorn – a nice crunch, a bit of greasiness, and a lot of satisfaction in both taste and emotion, but none of the carbs. Ignore the misguided advice to have fat-less (and thus bland and dry) chicken, and instead enjoy the skin, if you can find a good source for it.
Frying up chicken skin is incredibly easy. Get out your deep fat fryer, and turn on high (450 degrees Fahrenheit on the model I use). If your frying temperature is too low, the chicken skin ends up very chewy, so fry at a high temperature.
Cut your chicken skins into small pieces (I find one inch squares to be a good size), and once the oil is at full heat, put the skin in the fryer. Stir a bit to make sure your skins cook separately instead of in a large chunk.
After about 4-6 minutes you should see the skins browning and losing their rubbery textures. Remove from the hot oil onto a plate with a paper towel to drain off the excess oil. Lightly salt with your favorite seasoned salt (I use Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning – love that stuff). Let the hot skins sit for a few minutes to allow retained moisture to evaporate, and to let the skins cool down enough to safely eat. Then enjoy.
I will note that several Asian restaurants I’ve eaten at offer crispy chicken skin on their menus as well. I have had it Yakitori-style (grilled on a skewer) at Japanese restaurants in New York and San Francisco, and most recently in a spicy sauce in Berlin at Kori & Fay (see picture above).
As we have been researching nutrition and dietary practices and the impact thereof on human health, including the connection between diabetes and heart disease and high carbohydrate diets (a.k.a. the “Western diet” most folks in the western world eat, including bread, pasta, sugared drinks, etc.), we have found that our desire for chocolate has not abated.
Our solution has been to try to find the best sugar free chocolates we can, and our search led us to Godiva, an internationally known chocolatier chain. For years we have greatly enjoyed their sugar free chocolate bars, which we found to be comparable, if not better, than their sugared kin.
However, after trying to look up a link for Godiva’s excellent sugar free dark chocolate for the chocolate peanut butter pie recipe I posted last night, I came up empty. This morning I contacted Godiva’s on-line help service. Here’s the transcript:
Please wait while we find an agent to assist you… You have been connected to Ed . Ed : Hello Jake. How may I assist you today? Jake: Hi Ed. It appears that it is no longer possible to order Sugar Free chocolates from the Godiva web site. Is that a permanent change? Ed : correct Jake: Has Godiva discontinued all of its Sugar Free Chocolates? That would be tragic. They were the best ones out there. Ed : sorry, but they have Jake: How sad. Thanks. Ed : Thank you. Have a nice day. Ed : and Holidays! Ed : bye
And that’s all she wrote.
Godiva Sugar Free Chocolate, rest in peace. And now we have to try to buy all we can before the stores sell out. Sigh.
I’ve already mentioned one of my favorite versatile food items is mayonnaise. And when I cook savory dishes, I find myself eagerly looking towards garlic as one of my ingredients.
That’s why it’s probably no surprise that my favorite hot dip combines mayonnaise and garlic, and to provide some substance, it also includes Parmesan cheese and artichoke hearts. And it’s incredibly easy to make, although I have not come up with a good and short name for the Garlic Parmesan Artichoke Mayo Dip.
First, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius).
Then, get a baking dish, and then combine equal portions (by volume) of grated Parmesan cheese (like Kraft’s), canned artichoke hearts, and mayonnaise. I usually use a cup of each.
Then add as much minced garlic as you think you can handle. I personally add 10-20 cloves depending on whether I will be meeting with others the next day (less cloves if I like the people I’m meeting, more if I don’t or am not meeting with anyone). I should add that while you can sometimes buy minced garlic at the supermarket, the acidic liquid they package it in robs the garlic of a lot of its pungency, so I prefer fresh or at least some of the garlic that I have pre-minced and stored in oil with salt for later use.
After you have thoroughly blended all the ingredients and smoothed out the top to make it nice and flat, pop the baking dish into the oven and cooking until the top is a nice light to medium brown color. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 15 minutes.
Serve with something nice and crisp. Folks who eat carbs might enjoy it with tortilla chips, pita chips, or toasted wafers of baguette. Low carbers can use cucumber slices or pork rinds. At home we also use the dip as a condiment for meats like steak or pork.
The Garlic Parmesan Artichoke Mayo Dip is also a great thing to bring to pot-lucks and BBQs.