Keto Tricks to Good Mashed Cauliflower

Potatoes are my kryptonite. Finding a good substitute for mashed potatoes is not enough! I need an excellent one. Like keto baking, getting riced cauliflower right requires some experience–and some tricks. After scanning many recipes, I experimented in making a single serving of mashed cauliflower to try out these techniques.

The Olden Days Before You Could Buy Riced Cauliflower

I remember having my first serving of “cauliflower puree” at a local, upscale restaurant. It was smooth, buttery and craveable. Not exactly potatoes in terms of flavor, but it completely delivered on a starchy, near-potato flavor and texture. This was back in 2012, when I first went LCHF. Back then, you had to buy a whole cauliflower and either chop like a mad thing or invest in a food processor to get mashed cauliflower.

Food processors have learning curves. Making this dish in 2012 was an involved process involving chopping up whole cauliflowers into florets, boiling or steaming them, mashing and squeezing all the excess moisture out of them –and then figuring out how to get the food processor to produce a nice, even “rice” from the florets.

Today as low-carb eating styles have become popular, you can get riced cauliflower in most supermarkets. This is a huge timesaver, but it’s only the first of the challenges. The real issue is creating YOUR WAY of making this “fauxtato” dish with the equipment you have at hand.

The Keto Tricks to Mashed Cauli

Trick #1. Steam or microwave or boil?

Reading over a half a dozen mashed cauliflower recipes, the first problem is getting the riced cauliflower to be sufficiently soft. You don’t want the cauliflower to be even slightly hard (or “al dente”). Some folks say the best thing to do is steam the riced cauliflower, others say you can microwave-steam rice cauliflower.

I’ve found with all of these methods, the #1 danger is getting your fingers or hands burned. The cauliflower gets dangerously, burningly hot. The steam can really hurt you, as in “visit the hospital” kind of hurt. Be sure you have oven mitts or gloves and are very careful with the escaping steam in these techniques!

Keto Old School: Boiling the Cauliflower

In the days before we could buy riced cauliflower, people boiled cauliflower florets and then put them through a food processor. The biggest problem in getting a good cauliflower mash was removing moisture from the boiled florets.

Boiling caulflower florets ADDS alot of moisture, which means we’d have to squeeze the moisture out of them. This process involved putting them into a cheesecloth (after they had cooled) and squeezing them the way one would squeeze moisture out of, say, cheese. I don’t make cheese. I couldn’t do this either.

Unless you’re an experienced cheesemaker or cook, this process is godawful. Or maybe it’s just me. You will risk severe burns if you don’t wait long enough for the florets to cool. It’s terribly messy.

Conceivably, you can simply boil the riced cauliflower. Reportedly, this does not result in as fluffy a result as steaming the cauliflower. At best, you’re going to have bland, wet granules of cauliflower. Not recommended.

Experiment 1: Microwave steaming

Some recipes recommended putting the riced cauliflower in a bowl, covering it in cling film, and microwaving it for 5 to 8 minutes. I found that the steam can burn right through the cling film. The steaming cauliflower gets VERY hot.

I put a plate on top of the bowl instead. In this test flight, I put the a cup of cauliflower in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. I microwaved it for 5 minutes, then checked it. The cauliflower was not yet soft and had begun to be a bit dry. I put in another tablespoon of water.

This was a simple method but the cauliflower can begin to burn. You don’t want to have to stop and start checking it, because you will get burns from the steam. You’ll also release the steam, when you check on it. This is exactly what I had to do. I checked it at five minutes, then added another 3 minutes. Microwave ovens vary from brand to brand in how quickly they cook food.

Notice the browned bits? That’s burnt cauliflower.
You want to keep this to a minimum or not go there at all!

And as microwaves vary, expect to to have to do an experimental batch–or two–before you find the right formula for HOW LONG you microwave HOW MUCH cauliflower. I was working on a formula for a large, personal serving. If you’re going to make this “family sized” (or for several days), I recommend regular steaming (see below).

Note: I recently found some “vegetable steaming bags” which may be a nice shortcut. I plan a future post on making a whole batch of mashed cauliflower, suitable for four to six servings. I will be using this product for that, as well as scaling up the “regular steaming” technique for that future recipe. But for now, I’m doing test batches, to get the technique down.

Option #3: Regular Steaming

This method involves putting a strainer above a pot of boiling water. The boiling water should not touch the bottom of the strainer. I used a tea strainer for this experiment that used just one cup of cauliflower. You can get a cheap strainer at the dollar store, if you don’t have one. This method is easy. It takes a little longer than the microwave, but it scales up for larger batches.

After the water got to boiling, I tented the pot with aluminum foil. It took about fifteen minutes on just one cup of riced cauliflower.

Trick #2. Let the cooked cauliflower sit for about 10 minutes.

Untent the cauliflower and poke it with a fork to make sure it’s soft. Take the tent off carefully so you don’t get burned by the steam! Letting the riced cauliflower sit for awhile allows the release of excess moisture as well as cooling the cauliflower down to where it can be more easily handled.

Trick #3. Use an electric hand mixer or an immersion blender.

Just whip the heck out of them. It took a good five or six minutes of serious whipping, adding the butter and the heavy whipping cream and salt. Some people recommend an immersion blender — and that’s another good option. But I grew up making mashed potatoes with the old reliable hand mixer –and it works very well.

The Results

Once again, I ate the results before photographing. :* I took both the steamed AND the microwaved cauliflower, which started out at two cups, and put them together in the same bowl. They were pretty much indistinguishable from one another. I added a tablespoon of butter, or so, and a tablespoon of heavy whipping cream and used the hand mixer. I got maybe a cup and quarter, pretty much one serving, out of the two cupped of riced, raw cauliflower. I plan another go at this in a couple of days — to make a much larger serving suitable for photographing.

Here’s a handy recipe I plan to use for my next try at cauli-mash.

Bon Appetit! ~Lola

Crispy Pork with Palmini Stir Fry Noodles and Peanut Sauce

In this post, I experiment with palmini noodles — a vegetable product made out of hearts of palm (see my review here) and whey isolate to create a crispy pork dish low in sugar and carbs–served with a peanut sauce that uses Swerve instead of sugar to balance flavors. I amp up the flavor a bit with PB2 powder. The ingredient list is long but the flavor is exceptional.

My search for keto phad thai

I can actually make authentic phad thai in all its sugary goodness. It’s a carb nightmare. The rice noodles alone are 21 carbs for a mere three ounces. The other ingredients of an authentic sauce (like this one) include a healthy dose of sugar: palm sugar and tamarind paste. Palm sugar and regular sugar are about the same in terms of carbs (4g) — and tamarind paste is 3 g carbohydrate per ounce. But it’s the rice noodles that are killer.

Keto phad thai recipes substitute low-sugar ketchup for tamarind paste, which is hard to find. It’s….okay? I guess? Frankly, the ketchup based recipes are at best, so-so. I’ve tried to make tamarind paste from frozen tamarind fruit but so far the results are ghastly.

Going through the keto phad thai recipes, I saw quite a number using peanut butter. Here, I think there is some confusion about what phad thai actually is supposed to taste like. I’ve never seen peanut butter as an ingredient in any authentic phad thai sauce. Peanut butter is a key ingredient in peanut sauce, and peanut noodles are very good–these recipes seem to be some kind of mashup of phad thai and peanut noodles. So hmmmm. A peanut noodle dish is probably easier than continuing to struggle with phad thai. Maybe keto phad thai is something I could work up to over time –but for now, I’m hungry!

Palmini Noodles as a Swap for Rice Noodles Totally Works

At 2 net carbs per serving (serving size is about 2 ounces), palmini liguine (noodles) save this dish entirely as a keto meal. They need to be prepared according to the package–and that is a fiddly process.

  • RINSE the noodles thoroughly after getting them out of the package or can.
  • SOAK the noodles in milk for 20 minutes
  • BOIL the noodles for 10 minutes

And then you’ll get a great soft-textured noodle that soaks up sauce flavors like a rice noodle and can be stir fried rapidly in ghee or coconut oil (flavored with garlic, pepper and whatever other flavors please you).

Other Weird Ingredient Swaps in this Recipe

Whey protein isolate is a a carb-friendly substitute for AP flour. It was recommended in one of the keto groups, touted for making “the best”keto pancakes. In recipes around the Internet and in keto cookbooks, whey isolate is routinely used in “low carb baking mixes.” Two tablespoons have 1 carb. Compare that with AP flour’s 21.5 carbs for 1/4 of a cup and you can see the savings. It can be used as a thickening agent or as a breading–there are a number of keto fried chicken recipes out there that use whey protein isolate instead of flour.

PB2 powder is a keto friendly substitute for peanut butter. In this recipe, I do use 2 tablespoons of basic JIF peanut butter (6 net carbs for the entire recipe). But it didn’t have enough peanut flavor. Instead of adding more regular peanut butter, I amped up the peanut flavor with 2 tablespoons of PB2 powder, for 3 net grams of carbs. Half the carbs is a considerable savings–next time, I will forego the JIF entirely and just use the PB2 powder! I found this at Walmart and Giant. It’s great for flavoring things like whipped cream or cream cheese–the cream cheese gives it a bit of a tang.

This recipe is still a work in progress but man, it was certainly tasty. There are lots of “substitutes” in this list. I’m still tweaking this.

The Recipe

The Ingredients

The essentials
Two to four thin loin pork chops, cut into about 8 strips each
You could also use chicken thighs, also cut into strips
2-3 tablespoons of wheat protein isolate (for coating)
Salt and pepper
Palmini brand palm heart linguine (2 ounces per person)

The Sauce
1 can of coconut milk
2 tablespoons of PB2 powder
2 tablespoons peanut butter
(You can substitute 2 additional tablespoons of PB2 powder)
1 tablespoon soy sauce or coconut aminos
1 tablespoon of Swerve
1 tablespoon garlic paste (or 1 minced clove of garlic, maybe 2)
1 tablespoon of Frontera chili adobe paste (or Sriracha sauce)
1 tablespoon lime juice (about 1/4 to 1/2 fresh lime, squeezed–a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or other fruit vinegar can be substituted.)
1 tablespoon of ginger paste or grated fresh ginger (optional)

I typically also put about a tablespoon of garlic paste in the cooking oil or ghee for flavor. You can easily use less (or none) in this recipe. You can also substitute 3 minced cloves for the garlic paste.

The Veggies

I like broccolini, red pepper, and chopped onions for this dish. Broccolini can be hard to find. Chopped broccoli or zucchini slices go well with this instead. I’m also a big fan of sliced mushrooms (about 3 or 4) in this dish, mushrooms are totally optional. About 1 to 2 cups of chopped vegetables, and a quarter chopped onion were used in making the dish pictured.

Directions

Step 1: Prepare the noodles. 
Rinse the palmini noodles well in water: put them in a sieve and rinse well under a running tap. Then, put the noodles in a bowl and cover the noodles with milk. Set aside — letting them soak for 20 minutes while you get everything else ready.

Step 2. Prepare the pork.
Cut the center loin pork chops into half inch strips. Salt and pepper the pork.

Put 2 tablespoons of whey protein isolate on a plate. Dredge the pork in the whey protein isolate, rolling them around in the powder into they’re coated on all sides. Set the pork aside.

Note: I used four pork chops — but it was really a great deal of meat. I think this recipe would do well with two or three pork chops instead. I have a 6 foot five inch tall teenaged son whose appetite is the stuff of legends. This filled both of us up very well. He got more meat, I got more veggies.

Here you can see how I cut the pork into strips. I got about 8 strips per pork chops. It was MORE than enough for two people! But I have a teenaged son whose appetite is epic.

Step 3. Prepare the vegetables.  If you haven’t already done so, dice the onions, mince the garlic (unless you’re using paste), cut up the red peppers and brocollini or zucchini into small pieces. Chop the mushrooms (if using). Set aside.

Step 4: Prepare the peanut sauce.  Empty a can of coconut milk into a sauce pan. Add 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and two tablespoons PB2 powder. Bring up the heat to about medium heat so that the sauce simmers. Add the garlic paste (or minced garlic). Stir. Add Swerve (about a tablespoon). Taste. Adjust to your liking. (I sometimes add ginger paste to this, too).

Peanut sauce really requires that you taste the recipe frequently as you go along. The proportions here will give you a slightly spicy, slightly garlicky sauce with a good zing — but people’s tolerance to heat is very hard to measure. I used Frontera band chipotle adobo chili paste as I like the smoky heat of it–and it is a little bit lower in carbs than Sriracha sauce. If you use sriracha sauce, you can hold back more on the garlic, since sriracha is chili and garlic (and sugar).

Be careful. I add chili pastes a teaspoon at a time, checking and tasting as I go along as these flavors are powerful. It’s easy to ruin this sauce with too much spice.

Let the sauce reduce. It should be a medium brown color and reasonably thick. This will mean cooking it over medium heat, stirring occasionally for five to seven minutes.

Step 5. Heat up the wok or skillet and cook the pork. Add oil or ghee to the pan, along with onions, garlic and ginger (if using)–and add the pork to the sizzling hot oil. Add a sprinkle of soy sauce for flavor. When the pork is cooked, take the pork (and browned onions) out of the pan and put it on a plate or bowl. Set aside.

Step 6. After removing the pork, stir fry the vegetables. Start with red peppers, broccoli and or zucchini, then, a bit later, add the chopped mushrooms (if using) cooking them until they’re getting a bit soft and just cooked through.

Step 7. Stir fry the prepared noodles (from step 1) with the vegetables in the wok or skillet. Add a teaspoon or two of lime juice or vinegar. Combine them well. Stir fry the noodles so that they become coated with the oil from them pan. Add cashews or peanuts.

Step 8. Return the pork to the pan and reheat the pork.

Step 9. Serve the noodles, pork and vegetables on a plate (or in a bowl). Taste the sauce. Adjust seasons if needed.

 Cover the pork and vegetables with a about a half cup of sauce.  Mix it up. Squeeze additional lime juice over the whole plate and enjoy.

Here’s the dish right before I poured the peanut sauce on it.

The Results

The wheat protein isolate was just as good at creating a crisp texture for the pork as wheat flour–and my son made no comment on it. (He notices EVERYTHING). I’ll be exploring this more as a food coating. It seems to have promise for fried chicken and fried pork chops

The palmini noodles worked very well. Personally, I find that preparing rice noodles can be even more annoying than palmini noodles. Rice noodles ALSO need to be soaked in hot water for at least an hour — preferably a couple of hours. They’re a tangled mess and its hard to make less than the entire package without getting broken rice noodles everywhere. Palmini noodles were much easier to deal with EVEN WITH all the prep steps. And my son thought they were just fine. I liked them better than rice noodles in this dish.

PB2 was such a big help to upping the flavor with lower carbs that next time, I don’t plan to use actual peanut butter at all.

Carby Facts

I figure my values this way for the ENTIRE recipe, which served two people

PB2 (2 tablespoons) 3 net carbs
Peanut butter (2 tablespoons) 6 net carbs
Palmini noodles (4 oz) 4 net carbs
1 tablespoon whey protein isolate: 1 net carb
Veggies:
Red peppers 2 carbs
Onions 3 net carbs
Brocollini 3 net carbs
Mushroom 2 net carbs

Sri Racha has sugar in it, so it might add a carb or two. Frontera Chipotle Chili Adobe sauce has less than a gram of carbohydrate per tablespoon.

These maybe a bit over–and that comes out to around 12 net carbs per serving, total.

More soon on palmini noodles. I just ordered a case.

Low-Carb Pasta: “Palmini” — A Review

One of the advantages of being in keto groups is you get to hear about all kinds of new products. “Palmini” — a low-carb pasta made from palm hearts–sounded too good to be true! Pasta at 4g carbs per serving?  I wanted to give this  try. 

Buying Palmini

This product was a creation of a “shark tank” investment and is currently not widely found in stores–but it is on Amazon.  

Palmini is available in a four ounce pouch (for 7 dollars) and a 14 ounce can size.  The pouch can feed one person; the can can feed 4-6 people — but you have to buy a CASE of it (six cans!)!  Buying the case brings the cost down to 27 dollars (which makes it a little over 5 bucks a can — MUCH more affordable than the pouch per serving)– but the six ounce pouch was good enough for a try-out.  After all, 27 bucks is an investment. Color me uncertain about this purchase, despite the rave reviews I’ve heard.

 The pouch says it holds about 2.5 servings in there — and that’s about right.  This is not a product to feed the whole family — just the one keto member who would like to be included on pasta night. The pouch is resealable, so I was able to get out just one largish serving, about half the pouch, seal it up and put in the fridge for another time later in the week. Not sure how long this will keep in the fridge — probably about as long as any other vegetable. 

The Palmini Package

WHAT is Palmini? 

Palmini is simply a lightly processed product made of  “hearts of palm” — a vegetable with very low carbs — which have been pressed and extruded to resemble short strands of fettucini pasta.  Think of it as an improvement over “zoodles” (those zucchini noodles you can now find in stores).  

I eat zoodles but I’m not happy about it.  I still haven’t figured out the best way to cook them so that they have a taste and texture that is  more “noodly” and less “vegetabley.”

Out of the box, they feel like soft, flat zoodles–only white, in short, straight strands about 2-3 inches long.  I followed the directions to rinse them well, and then the optional direction: let them sit in milk for fifteen to thirty minutes — to improve their (not unpleasant)  vegetable smell. 

Palmini, ready for the sauce
*The specks are some stray Italian seasoning from my pasta sauce*

You can them just eat them with sauce. OR you can boil them for five to ten minutes more to make them softer.  I chose to give to boil them because at 3.50 a plate?  I wanted a truly pasta experience. 

I went slightly beyond the directions: I seasoned the boiling water, just like real pasta, with a dollop of olive oil and lots of salt, just as one should prepare regular pasta.  Some stray Italian seasoning got into the pasta water — as I was fixing my red sauce — and that’s where the specks on the plate came from. 

The Results

The noodles are pretty darned close to real pasta.   I boiled them for about six minutes.  The texture was close to a slightly al dente wheat fettucini.   They picked up the red sauce flavor very well and within a few bites, I was only faintly aware of their vegetable nature.  I also couldn’t stop thinking about how perfect these would be for a low-carb phad Thai recipe I’ve been working on. Hmmmmmm.  And for fettucini alfredo.  And tuna noodle casserole.  And, and, and!! 

By the end of the plate, I was a very happy camper.  

The Carby Facts

Palmini consists of palm hearts, water and salt — and fumaric acid (to preserve it) . At 4 carbs–2 of which are fiber — how can you beat that?  A serving is net TWO carbs.   I expect to buy more palmini — and hope it gets into stores soon.  Until then, here’s a link to the pouch portion on Amazon. 

I will in all likelihood pony up for a case in the near future.  

Namaste!  ~Lola

Getting Started in Low-Carb Baking

Getting starting with low-carb baking seems simple. The basic ingredients (almond flour, baking powder, and eggs) are easy to obtain.  The “mug cake” just needs a few ingredients and a microwave. You will read rave reviews about Fat Head pizza, almond flour muffins and similar recipes.  Like me, you may not be fully pleased with your results. But it’s an art–a complicated, fiddly art — because at the end of the day, it’s baking. If you are already an experienced baker, getting great results isn’t difficult. If you’re new to baking? Oh, my, the learning curve! 

Gaining Confidence as a Keto Baker

Low-carb baking is an applied science.   Like all sciences, there is theory and there is the application–which can vary greatly.  The absolute best way to learn keto baking is through keto baking classes.  I can’t find any in my area. (When I retire, this might be an entrepreneurial idea!)   The next best thing is learning through videos. 

Youtube has been my teacher.  Like all Internet learning, it’s not necessarily the best teacher.  Blogs are a great resource, too, but with Youtube demonstrations, I get a better understanding of what things should LOOK like.  Even though I can’t actually touch, smell and taste the dough, I can at least SEE the steps and the product as it goes from a set of raw ingredients to  something edible.  

Baking shows have also been a resource for me.  I had reached a stage in my life where I can watch other people eat things I should never touch without experiencing cravings or pangs and instead consider: how can I adapt that for keto and LCHF?    This is a big leap for me. My early forays into keto baking were less than satisfying.  Now, I’m looking at keto baking with new eyes.  There are gluten-free bakers like Elizabeth Pruiett out there, revolutionizing the recipes.   Her book on gluten-free baking, Tartine All-Day, is on my Christmas list.   From baking shows, I’ve learned that cooking with almond flour does not HAVE to be basic.  But we have to start somewhere–but rest assured, there is a lot more to keto baking than just the basics! 

The Basic Recipes

I’ve been cooking and eating in the LCHF (Low-carb, high fat) way of eating for going on seven years now. There are three basic recipes that you will see making the rounds in LCHF, paleo and keto communities:  cloud bread type recipes, Fat Head pizza dough recipes, and the almond flour recipes. 

“Cloud” bread.  This is a a kind of very soft, baked merengue which has a bread-like quality.  It consist of whipped egg whites, sometimes lightly flavored, baked in the oven.  It’s one of the easiest recipes –and at the same time, it can be a challenge for a new baker.   There are some secrets to getting egg whites to whip into those “stiff peaks” — and I really struggled with it.

If you’re not getting “stiff peaks,” here are some tips from my research and practice in making these things.

  • Start with room temperature egg whites.  
  • Use 1/4 tsp (or a pinch) of cream of tartar
  • A copper mixing bowl (pricey!) or a stainless steel mixing bowl (easier! and cheaper) works best for getting those peaks.
  • Use a hand-held electric mixer. Seriously, my $300 stand mixer did not do near as good a job as my nine-dollar mixer from Kmart.  

Here’s a link to one of the many versions of cloud bread out there on the Internet.   I like this Youtube recipe as it is simple and easy.  Here’s the four minute Youtube video on how to make it.    Other recipes will have you adding garlic or other ingredients because frankly, cloud bread doesn’t have much flavor at all by itself.  It’s more or less a “blank canvas” for lots of other flavors.  I like a little rosemary and parmesan myself for a sandwich.  I also add a little Swerve to make a sweet roll-type bread for a danish!  Other good additions: turmeric, garlic and finely chopped sweet onions make for a substitute for naan for Indian dishes or as a nearly no-carb substitute for low-carb sandwich wraps for Trader Joe’s chicken shawarma (see my recipe here.)

Fat Head Pizza.  There is a long, complicated story about the Fat Head movie by Tom Naughton,  the Fat Head Facebook community, and the invention of this now famous dough for “Fathead Pizza.”  Here’s a link to the original recipe

Fat Head pizza is a riff on “rugelach” dough, a  type of cream cheese pastry that swaps wheat flour for almond flour, and adds mozarella to create a pizza-like dough that is much more similar to actual pizza dough than any other “faux dough” out there.   Fat Head is reasonably easy to put together but there are tricks to getting it right.  If you’re not an experienced baker who has a good “feel” for kneading dough, like me you may struggle. Your dough may not be as crisp and as pizza-like as a more experienced baker’s product would be.  

“Fat Heads” are fans of Naughton’s movie, “Fat Head,” a personal documentary (Naughton is a professional film producer) on obesity and the low fat diets that have made so many of us obese.  I discovered the Fat Heads shortly after reading “Wheat Belly”by Dr. Bill Davis in 2012.   

My experiences with fat head pizza were somewhat mixed.  My doughs were not as crisp as others were reporting–and I didn’t know why.  At best, I was getting a kind of soft calzone dough.   I also didn’t know what I could do. In 2012, low-carb baking was just getting started.  There were discussions about using xantham gum and psyllium husks to improve texture–but I had already lost some of my baking confidence.   

Here’s a link to “Fat Head” — it’s on Amazon Prime.  Here’s a link to Wheat Belly by Dr. Bill Davis. No, I’m not an Amazon affiliate on this blog, yet.  These are provided just to be helpful. 

Almond Flour Cake, Muffin, Bread, etc. and its variations. Almond flour products tend to have a dense texture and a bland taste that is not like that of wheat.  Anyone who says it tastes “just like bread!” or “just like cake!” has clearly forgotten the taste of bread and cake. 🙂  Either that, or they have palates so clouded by junk food that they are poor judges of the world of flavor.  

Early Experiments with Almond Flour

When I first started low-carb baking, with the usual, super easy “mug cake” formula, I was very underwhelmed.  Sure, it was something that could be described as “cake-like” and sweet.  It could also be described as “heavy” and bland.  On more research, I discovered that many people were beginning to substitute coconut flour for at least SOME Of the almond flour to achieve a lighter texture.  I have to agree that I found these to be somewhat better but the results were not enough for me to want to pursue this line of experimentation.  Headbanger Kitchen has a video that gives a quick demonstration on how to make the basic almond flour “bread” recipe.

Almond butter bread dough was a craze, briefly, back in 2012.  Almond butter is expensive at about 10 bucks a jar, so that made for ridiculously expensive bread. This did produce a sliceable loaf of bread but still, pretty dense.    After a bit, people began to substitute peanut butter, much cheaper.   Here’s a video from Head Banger’s kitchen that shows a realistic bake and review of the results that I really like. 

I love the Headbanger videos because they are realistic. He’s not trying to be a domestic goddess with perfect food. He’s a keto cook who creates interesting videos that you can follow along.  Little hint though, one cup is equivalent to 100 grams. 

These are the very plain basic, very basic recipes.  You can see from the Headbanger videos that he is trying to give an honest presentation. He’s not overselling the product. These results are not “luscious.”  They are plain, simple food that HAS to be elevated to give us what we deserve:  super-tasty, wonderful food (that isn’t going to kill us). 

Getting More Advanced

I would’ve entirely given up on low-carb baking as “not worth the trouble.”  Then I got into “baking shows.”  Baking shows with baking tips, including lots of tips suitable for low-carb baking.  I learned that there is a whole bunch of almond-flour based fine pastry recipes.  The almond based recipes of keto are just basic beginning points.  They are definitely NOT the last word in keto baking. 

In this blog, I’m going to pursuing excellence in keto baking.  I am, probably like you, FAR FROM an experienced baker–but I AM an experienced researcher.  The baking shows have shown me that baking is a science.   In science, we experiment.  We collect data.  We publish our results. 

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be doing some posts on going from basic to more advanced keto baking. 

I’m going to be chasing down new recipes and conducting some experiments to help us become better keto bakers.  I’m going to have some fails and I’m going to fearlessly discuss them. If I can do it, you can do it. 

Resources

Diet Doctor has a good site on beginning low-carb/keto baking with recipes suitable for beginners.  Diet Doctor is one of my go-to sites for information and recipes for the keto way of eating.  I’ll be using this and other sites to create my next posts– but if you’re anxious to get started, it’s a good place to begin learning. 

Happy Holidays!  Hope your baking dreams come true.  ~ Lola

The ABC Low-Carb Wrap

Recently, I started making the occasional “tuna wrap” for a low-carb on-the-go meal.  Today, I ran out of tuna and had to find a substitute: Avocado!  Here’s a great quick recipe for those days when you’re too tired to cook or in a hurry.  It’s a good “pack lunch” option, too. 

The Low Carb Sandwich Wrap

There are increasing numbers of low-carb sandwich wraps out there.  I’ve used low-carb tortillas (La Tortilla is pretty good—obtained on Amazon), a sweet potato wrap (BFree–at Harris Teeter)  and a “white” wrap (Tumaro’s–available at Giant Food) very successfully.    La Tortilla’s are sturdy and the flavor is okay. Definitely my go-to for enchiladas and tacos. 

Low carb wraps usually weigh in at about 6 net carbs.  That’s usually better than low carb breads (which can be 10-12 net carbs).   Some people use lettuce leaves for wraps — which can be a bit messy. Low-carb wraps are nicely packable.  I can put one in a baggie and order a sandwich at any sandwich shop or even use it to contain a gyro, cutting the carbs on take-out.  

They’re definitely not on everyone’s list of “keto” products, of course.  Wheat is involved, and wheat definitely is on my list of “acid reflux” triggers.  I try to keep the use of these items down to once or twice a week.  

Sometimes, a sandwich

When I work late, or on a busy Saturday, a super-quick sandwich helps keep me “on plan.”  I’ve been trying to eat more fish, and tuna salad is an easy way to do that.   This weekend, I went to work on my signature tuna salad wrap and discovered that the can of tuna fish I thought I had in my pantry—was a can of cat food. (Oh my.)  I had been thinking about the new “avocado toast” that’s filtered on to menus from the West Coast.   I’d bought some avocados to test some recipes — so hmmm. Why not an avocado wrap instead?

This is a a really simple sandwich.  Here’s the ingredients

  • A low-carb sandwich wrap
  • Shredded cheese (I used Trader Joe’s three cheese blend of mozzerella, cheddar and ) — 2 tablespoons
  • Pre-cooked bacon (3 strips)
  • A ripe avocado
  • Garlic paste (1 tablespoon)
  • Lime juice (1 tablespoon or thereabouts)
  • Salt
  • Optional: a dash of cumin, onion powder and chili powder

I put the wrap on a plate and the pre-cooked bacon on it in an “H” pattern: two slices parallel, one across.

I put the cheese down the middle of the wrap. 

I microwaved the wrap, with the bacon and cheese, for 90 seconds.  Cheese should be bubbly! 

Next, I split the avocado, scooped it into a bowl. I added the garlic paste, lime juice and a good dash of salt and mixed it all together.  You can substitute your favorite guacamole recipe for this.  Adding chopped tomatoes and sweet onions would be a great addition.  That might add a carb.  Cumin, chili powder and onion powder can be added as an option to kick up the flavor. 

I put the avocado mixture into wrap with the cheese and bacon and there we have the ABC (Avocado, Bacon & Cheese) Wrap. 

I estimate that this is about 7 carbs net total–much of it will depend on the kind of wrap you use. 

 No picture!  I was so hungry, I ate it immediately.  It was so good, salty from the bacon, cheesy and cream–and the bacon added some nice texture.  Why pre-cooked bacon?  Convenience.  This is definitely a keeper recipe, easy to put together, with lots of good fat.   I’ll post a picture soon.

Online Groups for Keto & LCHF: What to Look For

Finding a group for support online has always been a great help to me in pursuing this WOE.  There are many different kinds of LCHF, keto and paleo focused groups, though–and there are literally dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands to choose from.  Groups can be a huge time-suck. Worse, they can discourage you, as well as encourage you. How to choose where to spend your precious time and energy? 

Open Group Vs Closed Groups

In an open group, there are no real privacy settings. People who are not part of the group can easily see who is in it and read the posts. For ways of eating matters, open groups have their advantages –but also their disadvantages.  The main advantage is you can read the group contents without joining it to see if it is for you. 

If you’re in a webforum of some kind (rather than Facebook), the moderators will have different tools available to them. Many non-Facebook forums or groups are open.  And there are those that are closed. Forums or “chatrooms” exist on just about every platform–WhatsApp, Wechat and Telegram all have this capability to form groups.

On Facebook, closed groups are more common.  In a closed group, people can see that you’re a member from the “outside” but no one can see the posts without joining it. Closed groups require people to request to be “added” or admitted.   Only people in the group can read the posts and comments (and see what goes on there.)

Openness helps to keep things civil (but it is certainly no guarantee).  Still, few people want to be in a group for support that is open for the whole wide world to see.   There are people I don’t want to know about my weight loss (or my stall or my struggle with my kryptonite, the wonderful, evil potato.)  I grew up in the South. I have sisters. Enough said! 

When you apply to be added to a group, pay attention to how long it takes to add you. If it takes a week?  Then there is no real attention being paid to the group by moderators and administrators.   Lack of attention to what’s going on in the group is a warning sign of an inadequately attentive moderating staff.  A day or two is quite normal to wait for an “add.” Bonus points for “same day service.”

You’ve been added. Now what?

There are three main questions to ask when you sign up. 

  • How long has the group been around?
  • How many people are in the group?
  • How many posts a day? 
  • How many moderators/administrators are there?
  • What are the rules? 

New Groups Vs Old

When you sign into a group after you’ve been added, you get a peek at the stats for that group on your first visit. Pay attention to this.  If it’s not Facebook, then you can ask how long the forum has been around–and where the rules are located if you don’t see them.  

Newer groups tend to be friendlier and more active. Older groups have people with lots of experience and knowledge.  I’ve seen excellent new groups and ones where the moderators and administrators are a bit out of their depth.  I’ve seen old groups that let the older members bully new members.  New groups often change and shift as everyone gets to know one another and the moderators and administrators figure out how to do their jobs.   The next question is how hard is the job of these moderators?  Can they keep up with the work load?

In one newish group, I posted about a product that I had tried (Trader Joe’s vegetable pizza crusts) — and someone pointed me to “their” quick and easy fathead pizza recipe. Now, I’m an old dog.  Fat Head Pizza has been around for yonks (a long time, years in fact).  The poster replied to my post invited me to check out her recipe and I found that this link she provided was in fact an invitation to her personal, new closed group. This is an attempt to “poach” a member from one group into another.  It took the moderators about a day to find that post and remove it from the replies.  That was pretty fast!  Still, if I was a newbie at groups, I might have signed up for her group to see “her” recipe.   

If she had posted her recipe, or a link to her recipe, that would be fine. Attempting to use my “ignorance” to her advantage, to steal away a member from one group into another was not ethical.  Groups do divide and separate all the time.  Growing a group is hard. Poaching is dirty pool.  I wouldn’t join any group that did that. Should I have notified the moderators?  If it had gone on for more than a day, I would’ve.  This was a small “bait and switch” that they initially missed (but clearly someone did their homework and found this quickly).

The Importance of Rules

Look at the number of posts per day, the number of moderators/administrators, and the number of members. Groups can be in the tens of thousands.  My favorite group just leaped up to 6K!  When I joined it had four moderators/admins and 72 posts a day. And it was six months old with 4K followers.   72 posts is a moderately active group.  This activity includes comments and replies, not as many as that sounds.  

I look for a group that is well established with a long list of rules about behavior.  Rules against bad behavior, spamming, rules about fighting, guidelines on how to discuss civilly, rules about what will be tolerated and what is out of bounds are usual.   If the group is old (2 years is “mature” in Facebook, many are four, five, or even seven or eight years old), it’s not uncommon to find super-long lists of rules:   old groups have weathered many internal fights and have figured out how to manage those conflicts with clearly stated rules, up front.   These rules will tell you volumes about they consider “fair and just” treatment.

Some groups are ruled by Somebody With A Book and so everything is about their Bible.  Others are ruled by a Brand of some kind (such as Atkins).  If the somebody with a book is smart, they’ll monitor the heck out of conversations and keep the tone under control.  A good author needs to develop a personal relationship with customers.

Brand-based groups tend to have more diet police. No one’s personal reputation is on the line; it’s all about the interpretation of the brand by the group owner, administrators and moderators. Controlling individuals tend to proliferate in brand-based groups because it is all about the “discipline” of their brand, not about personal relationships. 

Bullying and incivility can occur in any group.  I’ve seen excellent groups fracture and lose people when incivility and bullying become increasingly, gradually more evident.  I personally ghost those groups if they are large.   This is why they may appear to have tens of thousands of members — if they’ve been around for a several years, it’s possible that even a big group is composed largely of inactive members.  

Do you want to stay?

Four moderators for seventy two posts is pretty good.  The work has been spread around so that someone is usually around to pay attention to posts.   If posts run up to 200 or 300,  you’d need more moderators and things will get missed.  There will be arguments in groups. Keeping things civil is difficult enough–keeping up with threads that go on and on is really tough, even for a large moderator pool.  I’m in a couple of groups with over 10K members and lots of moderators and a good bit of activity.  Fights and bullying and uncivil behavior can occur in the best of groups.  You’re always adding new people — and many people join groups just to troll others.  (See my post on the diet police about this problem.)

There is also the question of the purpose of the group– and what it is YOU are looking for. Recipes?  A cheering squad?  Helpers? Some people are looking for the Magical Keto Recipe for a Perfect Body.  There is no recipe; my body is cantankerous and unique. What works for one may not work for someone else.

Last but not least–read several days worth of posts.  This will tell you a great deal about the tone of the group and what matters to them. Is this mostly recipes? If so, what do people say about them?  Often the group will “police”  the recipes to make sure they are not giving “bad” advice.  For example, if the group is anti-artificial sweetener (they often are — with a passion) how do people respond to the post using one?  Are people civil?  Are they condescending?  Are the downright mean and bullying? Are they outraged? 

  • Is everyone’s voice given respect? 
  • Are spammers in the group hawking their own particular product? 
  • How do moderators respond?
  • Do posts that are against the rule (like the rule on spammers) taken down promptly? 
  • How are newbies with questions treated?
  • How are even obvious or even (to your mind) “dumb” questions treated? 
  • Are there arguments?  How are they mediated?   Are people encouraged to be civil and respectful or do they “dogpile” on a thread with negativity?

The Right Group (or Groups!)

Facebook groups are not the only forums out there, but these rules can apply to just about any forum.  I would suggest that folks try out two or three, at least different groups. Don’t be afraid to come in, thank the moderator for the add (that’s polite)–and sit back for a few days and read what everyone else has to say at first.   As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s amazing what you can see by observing.”

 Groups can provide recipes, hints for success, perspective and support. Often support is lacking at home for ANY kind of change.   A group can also harbor individuals who will actually undermine your confidence by their tone and attitude.  Don’t give those group your energies. If the group is very large (10K plus), it’s doubtful it’s going to change.  Smaller groups of 500 or so ? They will have different dynamics.   Really small groups of under 100 can be like small towns where everyone knows everyone’s business — for good or not-so-good–towns vary!   If you need support, ideas, knowledge, recipes — groups can be a tremendous help on your journey.  Do your homework and you should be able to find the help you need. 

Namaste ~Lola

Quick chicken enchiladas

I need meals I can put together quickly.  This chicken enchilada recipe took me about half an hour from start to finish.  The result is cheesy and a little decadent!  And yet it’s simple and filling. The secret is sour cream and low carb tortillas. 

Cooking and Keto

Even with lazy, dirty keto, people have more success if they cook their own food.  Control over the ingredients is critical.  But most of us live “Standard American Lives.”  We work all day –and we don’t really know how to cook that well.  I myself was raised on canned, frozen and take out everything. Moving to a different standard, a higher standard, takes some conviction and help.   This is a good recipe to start out on. 

Fortunately there is Pinterest.

Pinterest, Youtube, and other Internet resources are out there to teach us how to cook. I haunt the food blogs looking for easy, tasty meals that don’t require a certificate from the Culinary Institute of America to prepare. I came across this recipe on Pinterest but there were several others, nearly identical.  

Differences from the main recipe.

I used fresh chicken, not cooked.  Rotisserie chicken would be rather dry (if leftover) and they’re so often overcooked to begin with.  My son said he would agree to “taste” but wouldn’t commit to eating a full meal of it.  I found a package of chicken breast tenders for $3.48  When I make this again, I’ll be using a package of chicken thighs — and save the leftovers as this is a really great recipe. 

I used a small can of El Paso (rather than a larger can) because really, I was making this mostly for myself.   My son was very unsure of this recipe.  I made three for myself with enough leftover for two for my lunch tomorrow.  As it happened, my son ate (and enjoyed) one of the three enchiladas. He was hooked on the first bite!

I added fresh red peppers.  This made the fresh flavors pop and added to the sweetness of the onions. 

Cheese and Time.  The original poster used about 3 to four CUPS of cheese.  And she cooked this for half an hour. I’m sorry but the chicken is ALREADY cooked and so you’re just melting cheese and reducing the sauce a little.  Half an hour and that much cheese?  Not really necessary. 

The ingredients

  • A package of chicken breast tenders (thighs will also work)
  • El Paso red enchilada sauce (I used the small can but I’d think the large can would be a little better if making more than the five enchiladas I made. I had to skimp on the sauce as it was.)
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of chopped sweet onion
  • a clove of garlic (or a teaspoon of garlic paste)
  • low carb tortillas (I used La Tortilla brand)
  • shredded Mexican cheese (about a cup)
  • olive oil (2-3 tablespoons
  • 1 pat of butter
  • Optional: chopped red pepper (a  half will do) and / or chopped mushrooms 
  • I sprinkled some cilantro on the finished product (see photo) before serving — to make it pretty. 🙂 

Yes, that’s all.  

Just out of the oven!

The directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. In a large skillet, heat up the oil and butter together til hot. 
  3. Add the garlic and the onions to the pan, set it at a medium level of heat. Brown the onions.  This might take five minutes. 
  4. Cut the chicken into small pieces.  I took a tenderloin and cut it into three pieces; if I had used thighs, I would have done three or four. 
  5. If using the red pepper and mushrooms, add to the skillet and cook for another three or four minutes. 
  6.  Add the chicken to the skillet and brown, cooking until it’s all the way done. 
  7.  Add the sour cream to the skillet and about half the can of enchilada sauce.  Set the can aside, you’ll be using that later.
  8.  Combine the sour cream and enchilada sauce with the chicken and let that all cook for maybe two minutes.  Then turn off the heat. 
  9.  Take an oven-safe casserole dish and line it with aluminum foil. 
  10. Add a little more olive oil OR spray the foil with cooking spray (I use coconut oil spray).   This is to help slide the enchiladas out later. 
  11. Put 2-3 of tablespoons of enchilada sauce from the half can you’ve reserved (from step 7) on the aluminum foil. 
  12. Dip a tortilla in the sauce and coat on the outside. You want it just a little wet with enchilada sauce. 
  13. Add a tablespoon or so of chicken and sauce from the pan in the tortilla. 
  14.  Add a tablespoon or so of shredded cheese.
  15.  Roll up the tortilla.
  16.  You’ll repeat steps 13-15 til you run out of chicken.  Should make between four and five enchilada, possible six.  (If you use a large can of enchilada sauce and thighs, then you can get as many as eight. )
  17. Pour the rest of the sauce over the chicken enchiladas.
  18.  Scatter shredded cheese on top of the sauce. 
  19.  Put in the oven til the cheese gets hot and bubbly and slightly brown.  This will probably take ten minutes.  To be honest, I cooked these for five minutes in the oven. 

Dinner is done.   My son said “add this to the dinner rotation!  I heartily approve!”    He thought it was as good as or better than our favorite restaurant. There is no higher accolade in the house.  

Carb Facts

  • Enchilada sauce: 4g net carbs per servings
  • La Tortilla low-carb tortillas 6g net carbs per tortilla

Thus the two enchiladas I had were a total of 20 net carbs.   I’m going to work on a lower carb enchilada sauce to see if I can get these down to 7 carbs a piece.   That’ll take more effort on my part, but for a quick and easy dinner, this one works 

Three Great Websites to Get Started on Low-Carb

A “Blogmas” Post

My favorite Facebook group swelled by over two THOUSAND members after Thanksgiving. That’s a lot of people starting keto, even if it’s dirty, lazy keto.   There’s a real need for guidance and support for newbies, so here’s my “blogmas” list for “how to get started.” 

The Diet Doctor

The Diet Doctor is probably the best all-around website on low-carb dieting of all kinds. Run by Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt and team of over forty, it provides some great advice and help for getting started and for maintaining a low-carb lifestyle.

If books are not your “thing” and you prefer getting your knowledge via video, there is an entirely optional “membership” plan, with a free one month trial, that will give you a sound education on keto from a physician.  It’s not a substitute for actually talking to your doctor. If you have serious medical issues such as insulin-dependent diabetes, talking to your actual doctor is a MUST–and this website explains who really needs to talk to their doctor (and who probably doesn’t need to do this). 

I have never tried the paid membership option. I DO turn to this site (as I have for many years) for its very large recipe file and clear, helpful  (and free) knowledge resources.  The entire site is also available in Spanish and Swedish. 

Even in its free version, this website is probably as good or better than any book out there on low-carb.   The membership version is less than $9 US a month–with the first month free. 

Mark’s Daily Apple

Mark’s Daily Apple is another well-known site, quite commercial but with customer-centered principles. Mark Sisson’s book, The Primal Blueprint came out around the time I first got seriously interested in low-carb –around 2011. He began with the “paleo hypothesis” — the notion that human beings were are not genetically programmed by evolution to consume the current junk food diet. A diet more like what we ate in our early evolutionary history would be “better” for us.

I’m a card-carrying anthropologist. Doctorate and everything. And I can tell you that humans have continued to evolve after the paleolithic.  This evolution is precisely why some people can eat dairy with no ill effects– and other people can’t.  The next problem? The food we eat — those species–have been changing all this time, too. (We’ve had an active hand in changing them.)   Our genes have changed–our food’s genes  have changed.  Still, the notion of “ancestral eating styles” has tremendous merit.   The manufactured diet that we’ve been eating since the 1970s has clearly caused this obesity and diabetes epidemic. 

Still, I am a paleo fan and at one point, went full-on paleo. Great food. Great health. But it is not necessarily a weight-lowering diet.  Even Sisson eventually altered his point of view, gradually embracing keto (and combining it with the paleo precepts.)  Sisson’s site has some great resources for starting keto.  He’s got yet-another-book out, The Keto Reset Diet, that I plan to review as part of my Blogmas postings.   

Dirty, Lazy Keto

Dirty, Lazy Keto totally deserves a plug. While Ms. Laska is not in the same league as Diet Doctor and Primal Blueprint, her emotionally supportive, permissive style of keto is bringing many people great results. I once wrote that I didn’t think her book was worth the price (I thought it should be cheaper, but a great resource). I hereby eat my words. Sitting in the Facebook group, chatting with the folks there and how that book changed their lives, I think it’s totally worth it. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon. You’re very welcome.  Laska is not going to provide you with the sound medical advice of the Diet Doctor or the full-on hoorah of Sisson’s rock-star writing style and in-depth research, but she speaks from the heart.

Laska’s approach is simple: just count carbs, don’t worry about the other “macros” (proteins, fats). Other approaches have specific metrics and people have apps that count their “macros” to get their diets tuned to whatever their approach deems to be “perfect” for weight loss.   She also doesn’t see anything wrong with artificial sweeteners, diet soda or other taboos, in moderation. Yes, people lose weight on this — many of them, lots of weight.  She doesn’t even make people count the carbs in leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables–making this by far the simplest (and most sane) approach to changing one’s way of eating.  She lost 140 lbs this way.  Others in the group report impressive results. 

If you’re tired of the harping of the religious nuts in the keto (and paleo) communities, if you want gentle encouragement and big yays for your victories, come hang with the dirty, lazy keto people on Facebook

More soon and happy Blogmas! ~Lola