Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Shirataki 101:  What the Hell Are They, Where Do I Get Them, and How Do I Use Them?

What They Are

Shirataki noodles are a traditional Asian noodle, perhaps best known as the noodle traditionally used in the Japanese dish sukiyaki.  Shirataki noodles are made not from starch, but from a soluble fiber known in Asia as konyakku or konjac, known in America as glucomannan, a thickener similar in principle to xanthan or guar gum.  “Plain” shirataki noodles are translucent; some shirataki have soy added, and these have a more ordinary beige noodle appearance.  Shirataki come in various pasta shapes.  Personally, I prefer House Brand Tofu Shirataki, as in my opinion it has a better flavor and texture, but there are several brands with or without tofu, if you’re avoiding soy.

Unlike traditional pasta, shirataki are packaged “wet” in plastic packs with water.  Plain shirataki can be stored at room temperature, but soy or “tofu shirataki” must be refrigerated.

The soluble fiber from which shirataki are made is not only extremely low in carbs, but also very healthy – good for improving blood cholesterol as well as controlling blood sugar.  Unlike a lot of low-carb products, you don’t need to limit the use of these.  They’re good and good for you.

What They Aren’t

A “frankenfood.”  Asians have been using shirataki since dirt was young.  They just happen to be naturally low in carbohydrates.  They’re not a fake food, contain no starch, sweeteners or other oddball chemical ingredients.

Exactly like regular pasta.  There’s an old but true saying:  “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”  Shirataki are not wheat-and-egg pasta any more than cauliflower rice is exactly like regular rice, or radishes are exactly like potatoes.  Don’t expect them to be a pasta clone.  If that’s what you want, eat Dreamfields and take your chances with iffy ingredients and processes that may or may not wreck your low-carb way of eating.  However, shirataki can be used like pasta, and they’re delightful on their own merits.  They’re different, not inferior.

Where to Buy Them

If you have a large grocery nearby, see if they carry any shirataki noodles, or ask if they will.  I’m fortunate in that the Meijer across the street carries the House Brand Tofu Shirataki that I like.

Oriental or international groceries very frequently carry shirataki of some kind.  If they do, this is probably your best bargain.

Buying shirataki online is the easiest option, but also the most expensive.  Because of their water packs, shirataki are heavy and shipping can be pricey.  Nevertheless, I’ll list a few online sources.  Very comprehensive site with lots of good information about shirataki, recipes and so forth.  They carry plain shirataki in a wide variety of shapes.  This online Asian grocery carries both plain and tofu shirataki at decent prices.  Another very comprehensive site, carrying plan Miracle Noodle brand shirataki in various shapes.  A low-carb-specific site carrying both Miracle Noodle brand and House Brand shirataki.  Just a word here.  For some reason, you can’t order a 10-pack of the House Brand Tofu Shirataki macaroni shape at this site, but, bizarrely, you can order the 10-pack from them via Amazon.  Go figure.  If you’re buying other low-carb products at the same time, this is a reasonable place to buy.  Carries only the Miracle Noodle plain shirataki, but if this is what you want, Netrition may be your best source because of their cheap $4.95 flat rate shipping.  Carries numerous brands and shapes.  If you’re getting a type eligible for Amazon Prime shipping, and you have a Prime membership, this is an easy and reliable way to go.  Also carries the Miracle Noodle brand.  If you’re buying supplements at the same time, this may be an affordable and easy way to go.

How to Prep Them

As stated above, shirataki come packaged in a plastic water pack.  Put a colander in the sink, cut open the bag and dump the noodles into the colander.  Rinse thoroughly (or the noodles may have an “off” taste from their time in the pack).

If you have spaghetti, fettucini or other long shapes and you want them shorter, drain the noodles, place them on a cutting board and chop them with a chef’s knife.  They’re very difficult to cut with your knife and fork on your plate in sauce.

Technically, shirataki noodles can be eaten right out of the pack, but I find that it’s preferable to do some precooking.  The goal here is twofold:  First, to improve the texture of the noodles; and second, to get rid of some of the water in the noodles so they don’t “sweat” it out into your sauce.  There are three techniques for doing this:

Boil ‘em.  Put the noodles in boiling salted water and cook for about five minutes.  Drain thoroughly before using.  This is probably the fastest method and is good when you’re going to use the noodles in a “wet” context, such as a soup.  You can also boil the noodles right in the stock or broth if you like.

Fry ‘em.  Put shirataki noodles in a dry nonstick skillet over high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the noodles stop “sweating” liquid and reduce slightly in size.  This method, in my opinion, produces the best results if you’re going to serve the noodles in a sauce that might be damaged by the noodles “sweating” liquid, like an Alfredo sauce.  It cooks the most liquid out of the noodles, so they absorb more of whatever sauce you serve them with.

Simmer ‘em.  If you’re making a long-cooking noodle dish, like, for example, beef and noodles, put the noodles in and slow cook them right along with everything else.  This is one of the big advantages of shirataki noodles:  Unlike regular pasta, they will never get mushy.  No matter how long you cook them or how often you reheat them, they only get better.

How to Use Them

Shirataki can be used in pretty much any context you would use regular noodles.  They make incredible beef and noodles or chicken and noodles.  They work in stir-fries, macaroni and cheese, shrimp scampi, seafood alfredo, pesto sauce, with a simple butter, garlic and black pepper toss or browned butter and grated myzithra cheese.  Not to mention all kinds of soups or cold pasta salads.  Shirataki pad thai is excellent, too.

Oddly enough, I’ve never made sukiyaki.

Personally, I’m not fond of shirataki with tomato sauce.  For some reason it just doesn’t work for me.  Part of it may be that since I started low carbing, I’ve limited my tomato sauce intake because of the carbs in the sauce, and that much tomato sauce in one mouthful overwhelms me.  Now, I’ve made a tomato cream sauce, I’ve made shirataki tossed with garlic, asiago and sun-dried tomatoes, and those were great, but traditional spaghetti and tomato sauce?  Not so much.

Many of the sites above where shirataki noodles can be purchased have recipe collections.  Type in “shirataki recipes” on Google and you’ll get plenty of hits.  Better yet, just experiment in dishes where you used to use traditional pasta.  Get creative.  Have fun!

That’s what low carbing is all about, after all.

A Low Carber in Indianapolis, Part 1

The Midwest isn’t the most low carb-friendly region in the world.  We Hoosiers love our starches – we can’t choose between rolls, biscuits or cornbread any more than we can choose between rice, noodles or potatoes.  Two-starch rule?  Hell, I’ve seen four-starch meals.

That said, Indianapolis is pretty darn workable for low carb, whether you’re shopping or dining.  So today we’re going shopping.

Meijer.  Large chain grocery/department store.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother naming a chain grocery store; we’re all familiar with them.  But I do need to point out a few very special things about Meijer.  First, many Meijer grocery stores in Indiana carry Fage Greek Yogurt.  The one across the street from me on the far west side carries House Brand Tofu Shirataki noodles in the refrigerator department right alongside the tofu.  They also carry low-carb tortillas and such.  They also have an outstanding produce department with an excellent selection of bulk nuts and low-carb veggies like jicama, chayote and daikon that can sometimes be hard to find.

The important thing about Meijer, however, is the store brand products, which are actually truly exceptional.  The Meijer brand cottage cheese is rich, creamy, flavorful, and contains NO dextrose or other funky ingredients.  The Meijer brand heavy whipping cream contains a single ingredient:  Cream (which also means it tends to clump up in your fridge, which doesn’t hurt anything; to the contrary, I love watching a lump of cream melt in my tea).  The Meijer brand boxes of beef and chicken stock are fantastic.  Ordinarily I make my own chicken stock (I’m not masochistic enough to make beef stock), but the Meijer stock is a pretty decent substitute for homemade.

Trader Joe’s.  I adore Trader Joe’s.  The moment you walk in the door, you find yourself in front of a refrigerator case with a gorgeous selection of cheeses at very reasonable prices.  TJ’s is a low carber’s dream, stocking things like almond meal, inexpensive and delicious almond butter, cultured butter, freeze-dried blueberries with no sugar or glycerin added, canned tuna in olive oil, and a TJ’s brand mayonnaise that won the Cook’s Illustrated taste test – it contains absolutely zero sweetener, and is actually cheaper than Hellman’s.  In the supplement section, there’s a wide variety of protein powders.  There’s a snack foods section with an incredible selection of various nuts and seeds.

Another standout at Trader Joe’s is the TJ’s brand sprouted low-carb breads, wheat, rye or multi-grain.  This is probably the best low-carb bread I’ve ever found.

There are two Trader Joe’s in Indianapolis:  One on West 86th Street, near the Michigan Road exit, and one on East 82nd Street across from the Castleton Square Mall.

Saraga.  This ginormous international grocery is the undisputed king of ethnic groceries.  A gigantic melting pot, it’s divided into clearly labeled aisles by ethnicity.

You can’t possibly miss the awe-inspiring produce section, filled with both the familiar and with stuff you’ve never heard of before.  Their produce, unlike what you’ll usually find at the grocery store, is fresh and well-treated and about half what you’ll pay at Kroger.  And the selection!  You can buy jicamas bigger than a soccer ball, daikon the size of your arm, four different kinds of avocados, and probably fifty different kinds of green leafy vegetables.  There’s only two down sides:  First, how do you find out a carb count of a vegetable or fruit that doesn’t even have a name in English; and second, many of the staff don’t speak much English, so it’s hard to ask, “What is this and how do I cook it?”

A walk through the meat and fish aisle is just as jaw-dropping.  They have every kind of fish and seafood imaginable, fresh and/or frozen, and a whole bunch of kinds you’ve never heard of.  This is a wonderful place to buy fish and seafood, right up to sashimi quality.  The fish are whole, but just talk to the nice people behind the counter, they’ll cut you fillets or steaks to your preference, and unlike chain groceries, here you have no problem getting fish heads and carcasses for stock.  Or just to eat, if you like any of the numerous oriental fish head recipes.  As a sidebar, if you’ve never tried jellyfish salad, you are really missing out.

The meat is extremely fresh and inexpensive, but you can run into a problem here because they don’t use the same cuts you’re familiar with, so sometimes you’ll run into a lovely-looking, reasonably priced piece of beef and wonder whether you should pot roast it or pop it on the grill.  Once again, there may be a communication problem with some of the employees, but they really want to help, so just keep at it until you get your questions answered.  You’ll also find recognizable cuts at jaw-dropping prices, like whole beef tenderloins for $5.99 a pound.  Chicken, whole or cut up, is even more reasonable, as is pork.  Duck is cheap, once you get past the shock of buying it with the head and feet still attached. 

One big benefit of an international grocery is that you’ll find a lot of things you’ll never see at a mainstream grocery.  I love to buy chicken feet here – they make the best chicken stock ever.  Also, goat.  I love goat curry.  But we’re just warming up.  Pigs’ feet, beef tongue, liver, oxtail?  Hey, this is Indiana, pass the fork.  Kidneys, heart, chitterlings, even brains?  Okay, I’m sure some stores go there.  Tripe?  Ummmm . . . maybe.  But pork rectum or uterus?  Uhhhh . . . no.  No, I can’t say I’ve ever seen either of those at the grocery, but I’d sure love to see what Martha Stewart would do with them.  Not that I’d try it.  Sorry, but that’s a little too far down the digestive chain for me.  They also sell whole sheep’s head.  Obviously somebody is buying these things.

In the refrigerator section, you’ll find an excellent selection of shirataki noodles at probably the lowest price you’ll ever see, so stock up.  In the dairy section, I like to buy Paneer, an Indian cheese which has the interesting property of not melting – cubes of it feature in my all-time favorite Indian dish, Palak Paneer, a spicy creamed spinach with fried cubes of Paneer.  Saraga’s dairy section also has a lovely selection of yogurt and kefir.

Getting into the canned and packaged goods, there are some staples you’ll want to buy here.  Authentic Thai fish sauce, real slow-fermented soy sauce (you couldn’t pay me to eat American soy sauce), rice wine vinegar, miso paste, canned coconut milk, canned bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, canned black beans, spices and curry pastes are all items best bought at an international grocery – you’ll get a far better selection and pay a small fraction of the price you’ll pay for these specialty items at a chain grocery or health food store.

Pass right by the snack section.  Trust me.  Everything is either loaded with sugar or starch.  However, don’t miss the aisle of dried seaweed!  If you’ve never tasted seaweed before – seaweed salad, seaweed in soups, toasted nori snacks, seaweed-wrapped sushi – you’re seriously missing out and need to start experimenting.  Besides being rich in vitamins and minerals and naturally low in carbs, seaweed contains what the Japanese call “umami,” the elusive “fifth flavor” most people call “savory” or “earthy” as opposed to the four more common flavors of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.  Good soy sauce, for instance, is rich in umami, as are mushrooms.  And seaweed.  Eat some and you’ll crave it evermore.

While we’re talking about Saraga . . . the whole area of Lafayette Road between about 16th Street and 46th Street, and 38th Street from Lafayette to Moller Road, is a positive Mecca of little ethnic groceries and restaurants.  My favorite Indian restaurant, India Palace, is in this area, but in this post we’re talking about shopping, so I just have to bring up the incredible Indian grocery two doors down from India Palace.  You have to look sharp for it – it’s just a door next to the Indian vegetarian restaurant next door.  You go in and find yourself in a long blank hallway and you wonder if you took the right door.  But go down the hallway and it suddenly opens up into a couple little Indian shops and the wonderful grocery.  I don’t recommend buying Indian sauces in jars, because inevitably they have sugar or thickener or stabilizers added, and they’re not much trouble to make at home if you have a coffee grinder/spice grinder and/or a food processor/blender.  But buying spices at an Indian market can save you a lot of money.  Whenever possible, buy spices like peppercorns, allspice, cumin, etc., whole and grind them when you need them; they’ll taste better and stay fresh longer.  The one exception is fenugreek.  Unless you have one kickass spice grinder, buy your fenugreek ground, because those seeds are like little pebbles and very hard to grind enough that you won’t lose a filling to them.  Other bargains at an Indian grocery include ghee, tea, coconut oil, and paneer.

Cost Plus World Market.  This isn’t primarily a food market, and it’s a chain (, but they do have some interesting international foods and good prices on Torani syrups.  They’re a little north of Indianapolis on 116th Street.

Farm Markets.  These are a great resource in Indiana and there are plenty of them.  By far the “biggie” is the Traders Point Creamery farm market.  It’s technically in Zionsville, but in actuality it’s northwest Indianapolis, just off of I-465 at the West 86th Street exit.  May through October, the green market is outdoors on Friday evenings and the emphasis is on locally grown meats and produce; November through April, the market is indoors on Saturday mornings and emphasizes local meats and cheeses.  Don’t miss out on Trader’s Point Creamery itself!

On the west side, the Old Farm Market has two locations:  One near 10th Street and Lynhurst, and one further west on Rockville Road in Avon.   

Here’s a lovely map showing other Indianapolis area farm markets:

Beware that these are seasonal and often have limited days and hours.

Health food stores and the like.  I always consider health food stores a court of last resort because the products are so overpriced – generally anything I can buy there, I can buy online cheaper and have it delivered to my door.  Nevertheless, there are a few worth mentioning.

There are two Whole Foods Markets in Indianapolis, one on East 86th Street near Westfield Boulevard, and one just north of Indy in Carmel.  The Good Earth in Broadripple has a nice selection, friendly staff and a funky/hippie feel that’s less intimidating than a lot of health food stores.  On the west side, Georgetown Market Natural Foods on Lafayette Road between 38th Street and 56th Street is virtually a natural foods supermarket.  There are plenty of other health food stores in the Indianapolis area, but those are the biggest and best.

Well, I’m shopped out.  I’ll probably post more on Indianapolis shopping in the future, and we haven’t even touched eating out yet, so look for Part 2, coming soon to a blog near you!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tea, Cheese, and Low-Carb Foodies

I'm at present indulging in one of my favorite spoil-yourself moments:  A big cup of black, hearty, malty, kick-you-in-your-face assam tea with cream, and a cheese plate.  It's not only a moment of pure sensuous delight, it's a moment of sheer food snobbery.

I actually looked up some definitions and found:

epicure, gourmet, gourmand, gastronome mean one who takes pleasure in eating and drinking. epicure implies fastidiousness and voluptuousness of taste. gourmet implies being a connoisseur in food and drink and the discriminating enjoyment of them. gourmand implies a hearty appetite for good food and drink, not without discernment, but with less than a gourmet's. gastronome implies that one has studied extensively the history and rituals of haute cuisine. (Merriam-Webster)

Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, foodies differ from gourmets in that gourmets are epicures of refined taste, whereas foodies are amateurs who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news.[1] Gourmets simply want to eat the best food, whereas foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food.  (Wikipedia)

Which, I guess, makes me an epicurean gourmand-ish foodie.

I'll settle for "foodie."

There are times when I'm a serious, no hesitation, food snob.  Like right now.  I'm a tea snob.  I want good malty pure assam loose tea, and when my beloved SpecialTeas closed, and with it vanished my favorite Extra Malty Assam, I began an online quest for a replacement that hasn't yet come to a satisfactory conclusion.  My cheese plate has slices of three of my favorite cheeses:  Manchego, a big, bold, slightly grainy Spanish sheep's milk cheese; Walder, a mild, slightly nutty kind of blue-collar Austrian cheese; and Etorki, another sheep's milk cheese, this one from France, but this one a strong washed rind.  I'm having my wonderful hot tea with my cheese, which is probably an abomination in the eyes of some, but I don't like wine except for cooking.  No idea how that affects my foodie status.

So, I'm a tea and cheese snob.  But I'm not a food snob.  I'll turn around and have a great old time with a skillet of cabbage fried in bacon grease with onions and some spicy sausage, or my version of homemade Hamburger Helper (which admittedly involves caramelized onions and burgundy wine) made with shirataki noodles.

I believe in spoiling myself, and I chose Atkins way back in March of 2003 specifically because I realized that this way of eating permits the foods that allow me to continue to spoil myself.  When my husband and I started Atkins, I promised myself and him that we would never "settle," that every bite of food we put in our mouth would not only be low carb, but it would be delicious -- in fact, more delicious than what we ate pre-low carb, more delicious than people around us were eating.  I promised that we were going to spoil ourselves rotten with low carb.  By and large, barring moments of sheer laziness, I've kept that promise.

Since we started Atkins, I've been retrospectively appalled at what I used to blindly shovel into my mouth -- how low the bar, both nutrition wise and taste wise, we set for our food in the name of other priorities -- convenience, sugar/starch addiction and a quick mood fix for blood sugar lows.  Carbs notwithstanding, I wouldn't now touch some of the crap I used to eat with a ten-foot pole.

When I was a child, my maternal grandmother lived with us (thank God, because my mother could, and did, ruin anything she attempted to cook) and taught me to cook.  Grandma, unknowingly, was a forerunner of the "slow food movement."  She believed in home cooking the way a televangelist believes in God.  She firmly believed that "boughten" prepared food was inherently unhealthy and that the only good food was that cooked from scratch, with love, in a home kitchen.

Thanks to Atkins, I relearned this valuable lesson -- to make and eat wonderful home-prepared food and not settle for convenient but mediocre "boughten" food.  In that sense, I'm an epicure.  Or maybe a gourmet.  But always and foremost a foodie.

Don't just eat low carb to lose weight, or because it's healthy.  Eat low carb because it's better, more delicious, a homemade labor of love.  Eat low carb to spoil yourself.  Eat low carb because when you sit down to a plate of stout-braised beef short ribs, cauliflower fauxtatoes rich with cream cheese, and sauteed baby spinach, you know at least one of your friends is settling for cold french fries and a hamburger made with pink slime that a meat processing plant made from meat deemed unfit for human consumption, liquified and ammoniated to kill hopefully most of the harmful bacteria, and then sold to your local fast-food chain to stretch their ground beef.

And on that note, I'm going to make some more tea -- and cut the cheese.<G>

Friday, March 23, 2012

New Orleans Addendum -- the ultimate low-carb snack!

Can't believe I forgot to mention this.  If you're in New Orleans, head over to the new Audubon Insectarium.  Attached to their snack bar is, yes, the Eat-A-Bug Cafe, where you can sample various insect tasties.  No, I'm not joking.  Apparently they have cooking demonstrations at times, but when I was there, all they had was several dishes out to taste.  I had to pass on most because of the sugar content -- Chocolate Chirp Cookies, really??? -- but I did try the fried crickets with southwestern spices and the cajun-spiced fried wax worms.  Believe it or not, both were very tasty, something I wouldn't hesitate to pay a couple bucks for to munch on at a movie.  Both had the exact same texture and mouthfeel as a cheese curl and they tasted exactly like what they were seasoned with.  No buggy flavor or disagreeable texture at all.  I didn't even have to grab for my water bottle after.

There were some non-fried options -- an herb dip, a salsa and so forth -- but those involved chips and crackers, and to be honest, I'm not as receptive to eating bugs in any "gooey" context.  I thought I was doing pretty good to eat bugs at all.<G>  That said, if I was in a marketplace and somebody was selling seasoned fried crickets or wax worms, I'd certainly buy some now that I've taken the plunge.  Delicious, nutritions, and low carb!

Low carb is all about adventure and life experiences.  Take a chance!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Low Carber In New Orleans

The Big Easy – home of jambalaya, gumbo, pralines, Hurricanes and hurricanes and all other manner of diet destroyers.  What’s a poor low carber to do?

My husband and I just returned from a vacation in New Orleans.  Because we were only there for five days and would have paid out the wazoo to get our car out of the purdah that is valet parking and put it back again, we pretty much stuck to the French Quarter and environs.  However, in many ways our situation represents a worst-case scenario because obviously someone more mobile has a lot more choices in dining and shopping.  So if we can low carb successfully under our particular circumstances, anybody can do it.

Disclaimer:  My husband and I have a low-carbing-on-vacation policy which we call “vacation reasonable.”  What this means is that, for example, although I’ll stick to generally low-carb-friendly salad dressings like bleu cheese or caesar, I don’t ask how many carbs the dressing has.  I may drink a diet Coke even though it’s sweetened with aspartame.  We don’t have a specified number of net carbs to consume per day.  The hubby and I allow ourselves a specified number of off-plan meals within particular restrictions; for example, we’ll take starch cheats (never ever pasta, but that's another story!), but never sugar.  We limit ourselves to the off-plan meals (if any) that we’ve planned in advance.  For instance, on this trip, we both wanted some jambalaya and some gumbo; Paul wanted red beans and rice, and I wanted fried crawfish tails.  Those were our planned off-plan meals.  (The gumbo actually ended up not being a cheat at all, but more on that later.)

At any rate, our goal on vacations is to stay reasonably on plan but NEVER feel deprived.  To us the second part of that sentence is every bit as important as the first, because both of us are very susceptible to falling off the wagon if we start having dinner plate envy.  Regardless of how paranoid you plan to be on your own trip to the Big Easy, however, there should be something useful for you in the information to follow.

Breakfast – Or, The Eggs That Ate New Orleans

There’s no doubt about it.  Eggs have taken over New Orleans.  I swear, it’s true.  Since we were in the Big Easy about five years ago, suddenly everybody has eggs everywhere.  And they ain’t just for breakfast, sugar.  You can’t walk a single block in the Quarter without encountering at least one specials board proudly proclaiming “Omelets served all day.”  There are also a stunning number of poached-egg dishes (if you like poached eggs; I don’t) that seem to be ubiquitous.  (If you don’t like poached eggs, you can order one of those yummy dishes anyway, risking the raised eyebrow by requesting your egg fried or scrambled instead.)  Nevertheless, I’ll give you just a few fantastic breakfast spots.

The Ruby Slipper.  This cafe is just outside the quarter, just off of Canal Street at Magazine and Common Street.  All their breakfasts look luscious, but do not miss their Three Little Pigs omelet, with applewood smoked bacon, ham, andouille sausage, swiss cheese, and any of a number of veggies you may want to add.  The thing is monstrously big.  You can walk and shop all day on this puppy.

Jimmy J’s Cafe.  This small, ultra-friendly cafe is more than worth the walk to 115 Chartres Street and the somewhat slow but devoted and attentive service (to be fair, it's not their fault that they're slow.  The cafe is tiny, they have only one cook and a couple waitresses, and they're popular).  I had the seafood and spinach omelet.  My husband had the italian sausage omelet.  Both were incredible.

Camellia Grill.  This is, yes, a diner!  And what a wonderful diner.  Right in the middle of the Quarter at 540 Chartres Street, it’s open at all hours.  Bring a big appetite because their omelets are hearty and ginormous.  The Mexican omelet was meaty, cheesy, spicy omelet-y goodness at its best.

But don’t stop there.  There are omelets everywhere.  Shrimp creole omelets.  Crawfish etouffee omelets.  In the French Market, Alberto’s Cheese offers four-cheese omelets made with gourmet cheeses.

But before we leave breakfast, let’s touch briefly on brunch and the ultimate low-carb brunch indulgence in the French Quarter:

The Court of Two Sisters.  This place is the ultimate.  You must go at least once to their infamous Jazz Brunch.  Served seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., this will be your one meal of the day.  Guaranteed.  Make a reservation, because the best seating near the live jazz band is reservation only.  It’s served buffet style, but don’t let that fool you, because they keep the food fresh and refilled faultlessly.  There are plenty of carby temptations here, but there are so many wonderful low carb offerings that you’ll have no trouble staying on plan.  Their chicken salad is supernaturally delicious.  Pig out on cold boiled shrimp with remoulade sauce.  There are plenty of other low carb choices on the cold/salad buffet line.  Their omelet station turns out numerous omelets (the seafood orleans is heavenly) and Eggs Benedict (just slide the whole thing, ham on the bottom, off of the slice of french bread and eat it up – I don’t like poached eggs, but this was good).  There was sliced-to-order prime rib on the hot buffet line, braised veal (generally served as “grillades and grits,” but there’s no rule saying you have to take the grits!), chicken, eggs, sausage, bacon, you name it.  But let me point you to one magical offering on the hot buffet:  The infamous Gumbo Ya-Ya (also known as chicken and sausage gumbo).  This is smoky, spicy, long-simmered, delicious, not thickened, and, glory! The rice is served separately so you can have low carb gumbo!  Tank up on your gumbo here, because it’s all you can eat and you’ll look long and hard to find better!

Lunches and Dinners

The hardest thing to do in the Big Easy is find a light meal.  I think it’s against their religion.  You may well end up eating two big meals instead of three smaller ones.  That, or carrying a lot of leftovers around with you.  But whatever you do, you’re going to enjoy it.

Po-Boys and Muffulettas.  These infamous sandwiches can be enjoyed one of two ways.  One easy technique is to bring low carb bread or, even better, Joseph’s Middle East pitas ( with you.  Purchase your sandwiches and transfer the contents to your pitas for a sloppy good time meal, although some juice and “debris” will necessarily be lost in the transfer.  If you don’t want to do a sandwich transplant, however, there’s another option.  I saw several restaurants offering muffuletta salads!  However, you can always do it yourself.  Order your sandwich, order your salad, combine them.  The best Po-Boy/Muffuletta spot we’ve found is Johnny’s PoBoys (  It’s crowded, fair warning.  Plan to wait in line and probably carry out because it's very popular, seating is very limited, and because of the lines and crowds running through the place, you wouldn't want to sit there anyway.

Go green – salads.  Trust me, you will not be "settling."  You will never taste such wonderful salads as you can get in New Orleans.  At Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar, I had the most amazing seafood salad, with boiled shrimp and a ton of fresh-picked crabmeat on top of the tenderest, spicy baby greens.  Tossed with remoulade, it was incredible.  Or try Oceana Grill and do not miss their caesar salad with blackened shrimp.

I don’t know whether this counts as a salad or not, but at the Napoleon House I tried what sounded like an unlikely combination:  Shrimp remoulade served over two avocado halves.  It was unbelievably good and sinfully rich.

Just the Seafood, Ma’am!  If you like oysters, boiled shrimp and/or crawfish, you’re in the right place.  Numerous establishments offer boiled crawfish (break off the tails, pinch out the nugget of meat, dip it in cocktail sauce or remoulade and eat, and then make like a local and suck da haid!  And no, that is not an off-color comment!) and even more offer oysters on the half shell, char-grilled, etc., etc., etc.  You can sit down and eat literally pounds of raw or boiled seafood and nobody will blink an eye at you.  Although they might cheer you on.  Bootleggers generally has good prices on boiled crawfish, and I’d send you back to Felix’s Restaurant for oysters – you can slurp down several dozen in the time it takes the line to move across the street at the more famous Acme Oyster Bar.

Blackened, not stirred.  Whether or not you eat blackened redfish, New Orleans is brimming with wonderful fresh fish prepared in a variety of manners.  If you like spicy, by all means have blackened.  If you like it tamer, try meuniere.  But you can’t swing a stick without hitting some wonderful blackened, grilled or baked fish dish.  Shrimp and crawfish tails are also incredible.  Hit busy restaurants at off times so they have the time to accommodate special requests and substitutions.  Redfish Grill on Bourbon Street is one of our favorites.

Snacks and Nibbles

You’ll have no trouble finding the usual low-carb snacking fallbacks, such as jerky, nuts and pork rinds.  You can often find them coated with fiery cajun seasonings.  Yum!

Woman Eating Gator!  Two snacks you need to track down and enjoy are alligator-on-a-stick and blackened gator bites.  The two are entirely different.  Gator-on-a-stick is the body meat of the alligator.  It’s rich, slightly tough and rather beefy and good.  Gator bites, served either fried (not low carb friendly!) or blackened, are bite sized pieces of the tender, white, juicy tail meat.  Both are delicious and eminently low carb.  You’ll also find gator sausage readily available.

Alberto’s Cheese.  Located in the beautiful French Market, they offer omelets, salads, and, glory! Cheese plates.  Order a cheese plate, grab a table and people watch.  I saw cheese plates available in other restaurants, including the Napoleon House, as well.


Lagniappe, in N’Awlins parlance, means “a little something extra” – a little bonus thrown in.  And here’s some from me.

Nature’s Cupboard.  In the French Market, stop at this booth for a snowball.  They always have at least a couple sugar free flavors, and you won’t believe how wonderful this is on a hot day.

World Famous N’Awlins Cafe and Spice Emporium.  Also in the French Market.  Hot sauces, spice mixes, coffee, spicy nuts, gator sausage sticks for handy snacking.

Kitchen Witch Cookbooks, 631 Toulouse Street.  Come to browse the enormous stock of new and used cookbooks, pet the two shop dogs, listen to the proprietors’ Hurricane Katrina story, but don’t leave without one of their homemade spice blends or their handmade vanilla extract (bottled in large-sized ex-Crystal Hot Sauce bottles).

The Spice & Tea Exchange, 521 St. Louis Avenue.  Nothing but spices, spice blends, specialty salts, and a head spinning array of delicious teas.  Go!

Okay, now for that off-plan meal.

One choice.  Just one.

Coop’s Place.  This little bar/restaurant near the far end of the French Market is the ultimate neighborhood dive, and it looks like it.  The bartender will be snarky and rude.  Relax, laugh and enjoy it, it’s part of the fun.  Be sure to read the blackboard and the specials, but order the Jambalaya Supreme.  There are two reasons why you should take your off-plan meal here and order this particular dish.  One:  You’ll never find better jambalaya.  And two:  It’s so brimming with boneless rabbit, chicken, andouille sausage, tasso (spicy seasoned ham) and shrimp that there’s a much smaller proportion of rice.  You won’t miss it.  Trust me.

Pitfalls, Pratfalls and Downfalls.

Beware of Bourbon Street and all those sugary specialty drinks.  Just don’t do it.  Even at best, hard liquor is a low carber’s downfall.

Beware the Brew.  In New Orleans they make delicious, lovingly brewed iced tea.  Just be sure to taste a small sip when you get it.  Although I specified unsweetened tea, I was inadvertently brought sweet tea once.  I took a big old swig before I realized.

Beware the Beignets.  Everybody goes to Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait, but you might do better getting your cafe elsewhere because it’s hard to sit there and watch all those beignets go by.  Here’s a tip:  If you absolutely cannot resist the siren song of the beignets, ask for them plain, without the powdered sugar topping.  Trust me on this.  Break off a bit and dunk it in your cafe au lait.  The plain beignet is so rich and lush that you won’t miss the sugar, and a bite or two will do you fine.  I fell for this one, but thankfully we noticed someone else ordering the plain beignets, so we spared ourselves the sugar damage.

Pass on the Pralines.  Just make a wide detour around those sugar patties.  My husband, meaning well, pointed out Aunt Sally’s Sugar Free Praline Pecans.  They were, literally, rather spongy and under-roasted pecans covered in a thick layer of pure white granulated maltitol.  Ewwwww.  Ate one piece and threw away the rest of the $10 5-ounce box.  Skip it.  Nothing in those sweetshops – just walk on by.  Go have a snowball in the French Market.

If you do stumble, take some comfort in the knowledge that you're doing a lot of walking in the French Quarter.  Even if you avail yourself of the riverfront trolley, chances are you're walking literally miles in one day.

And one last serious reminder . . . water, water everywhere!

Carry water with you and keep that bottle full.  New Orleans is hot and steamy and you will sweat and sweat and sweat.  Drink a lot of water.  If you must (Louisiana tapwater is not yummy), flavor it with those handy little Mio water flavoring bottles.  But drink it, and remember that alcohol and caffeinated drinks -- even iced tea -- will dehydrate you even faster.  And keep an eye out for bathrooms, because public facilities are few and far between.  As Napoleon said, go while you can, when you can, and keep that water coming!
Me and My Blog!  (Or:  Excuses and Disclaimers)

I'm a writer.  I'm a low carber.  When you put these things together, you either get a blogger or a cookbook author.  I'm a big believer in the concept that food and recipes are a social thing to be shared freely -- a gesture of caring and friendship.  So the idea of writing a cookbook to sell kind of rubs me the wrong way.  Also, I have plenty to say besides listing recipes.

So, a blog.

Let me state from the outset that this whole thing is profoundly abnormal for me.  I'm a fiction writer -- a fantasy novelist, to be specific.  Writing nonfiction in a public forum?  So not me.

My husband Paul will also tell you that I'm the barest step up from a Luddite.  Technology is not my strong suit.  So you can expect a really plain, elementary, un-fancy blog with absolutely no bells and whistles unless somebody decides to get on here and put them on for me.

What you CAN expect is a big, abiding love for food in general and low carbing in particular.  I'm enthusiastic about my way of eating.  I do it hedonistically and I want everyone else to enjoy it as much as I do.  I don't want a low carb lifestyle to be livable and sustainable.  That's not good enough for me.  I want it to be delicious and fun and an adventure and something to look forward to every day.

Head on over and check out my web site, too, at, for recipes, my loopy cheese journal, pictures and so on.