Sunday, October 28, 2012

In Honor of Halloween: The Zombie Apocalypse Zero-Carb Diet

For all you walking dead out there for whom the weight isn't falling off (heh heh) quite fast enough, here's a few tips on zero carbing for the Halloween season!

1.  Beware of organ meats.  Liver actually contains carbs, did you know that?  Indulge in moderation if you wish to keep your svelte, gaunt look.

2.  Net carbs versus no carbs.  You get to subtract fiber!  This means if you accidentally ingest some clothing or the odd bit of jewelry, you don't have to count the extra carbs.

3.  Walk it off!  Exercise is a good thing, even though a slow shambling pace doesn't burn off a lot of calories.  But moving around has additional benefits, because every little bit that falls off means less weight!

4.  Chew the fat.  Did you know that bone marrow and brains have very high fat content?  Or that raw meat contains absolutely no trans fats?

5.  Dodge diabetes.  Beware not only of Halloween candy, but of people who have overindulged in Halloween candy.  The blood of diabetics is high in glucose.  Glucose is sugar.  Sugar is bad.  Therefore, eating people who are full of sugar is bad.  Don't do it.

6.  Okay . . . it happens.  Zombies lose bits and pieces, and meat takes teeth to chew.  If necessary, you may have to resort to meat grinders or a Vitamix blender.  Both of which have buttons.  So my advice is, don't lose your fingers.

7.  Only water is water.  However, zombies don't drink water, so . . . who cares?

8.  Never accept apples on Halloween.  Apples are carby.  Besides, razor blades happen, and that's just unacceptable.  Real zombies do not floss.

And finally:

9.  Sharing is caring.  Broaden your social circle and exercise portion control at the same time.  Bring a dozen friends and share.  Zombies who meet together, eat together!

Have a happy, healthy and carb-free undead Halloween!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Frugal Low Carber: Say Cheeeeeeeese!

I was just watching a commercial that actually got me thinking -- and not in a good way.  The commercial was for the new Kraft shredded cheese with Philadelphia Cream Cheese added to it to make it creamier.  There are a couple cheeses it's been added to, but the primary one is mozzarella.

Now, at first glance, this sounds great.  But take a deeper look.  First, you're starting with regular old part-skim mozzarella.  I am not a big fan of part-skim mozzarella.  It doesn't melt smoothly, it's very stringy and easily picks up a kind of acrid flavor.  Most of the problems are due to the lack of fat.  (And as a low carber, the words "low fat" or "part skim" should be sending up red flags to begin with.)  So now Kraft is going to remedy that by adding cream cheese.

Well, pardon me, but bullshit.

If you want to add cream cheese to your recipe, add it.  Yourself.  It's cheaper for you, better tasting, and you have control over the proportions.

However, there's a better option.  Buy whole milk mozzarella.  It isn't nearly as easy to find, and you have to plan ahead, but it's far from impossible and you'll be amazed at the difference.  If you have a Gordon's Food Service (GFS), you can buy whole milk mozzarella in big loafs, which they will slice for you at no extra charge.  Many Sam's Clubs also carry whole milk mozzarella.

There are many advantages to whole milk mozzarella.  First and foremost, it tastes better.  It's delicious to eat just out of hand and even better cut in cubes and marinated in seasoned olive oil.  It melts much better than part skim, is less stringy and much more creamy, and glory hallelujah, you can actually reheat it without it turning into leather.

Also, unlike pretty much every other cheese in the world, you can freeze whole milk mozzarella, whereas part skim mozzarella, frozen and thawed, is not a good thing.  I vacuum seal packages (or sometimes just put them in ziploc freezer bags and squeeze out all the air) in about 1-pound slabs of slices and freeze them, and they thaw out nice and ready to use.  (I should add here that sliced or cubed mozzarella melts better and less stringily than shreds.  Go figure.)

Finally, you need to be cautious with grocery store shredded cheese.  It often contains starch to keep it from clumping.  Not only does this add unnecessary carbs, but the additives can change the consistency of cheese sauces.  Furthermore, shredded cheese molds faster and the mold can be hiding in the middle of the package where you won't see it till you've already dumped that cheese into your casserole.  Now, I'm not telling you not to buy shredded cheese -- I do, and I use it, too.  I'm just saying read the labels, Grasshopper, and be careful of it.

Parmesan is a cheese of many faces.  At the bottom of the quality scale is the stuff in the green can.  Next up from there is shredded parmesan.  Then chunks of "parmesan cheese," and at the top, real genuine Parmigiano Reggiano.  All have their uses, but don't get them confused.

Parmesan cheese starts losing flavor when it's grated, so I use the pre-grated stuff in the can specifically when I want less flavor -- in my beloved Joel's Magic Pizza Crust, and in low carb breadings, where a more neutral flavor is a good thing.  The shredded parmesan is fine for toppings and casseroles and the like -- it tastes nothing like genuine Parmigiano Reggiano, but it's fine in its own right.  I rarely buy grocery store chunk parmesan.  Real chunk Parmigiano Reggiano doesn't cost much more per pound (I buy from and the difference in flavor is incredible -- a little goes a long ways.  Every person who claims to like cheese should once in their life eat a bite-sized chunk of real Parmigiano Reggiano.  It'll alter your reality.

Do not try to freeze parmesan in any form.  It will take on a cottony texture and a sawdust flavor.

Think outside the bag.  There are a whole lot of cheeses out there besides cheddar, "swiss", monterey jack and mozzarella.  Instead of mozzarella, try provolone.  Instead of parmesan, try asiago.  Instead of cheddar, try edam or gouda.  Instead of monterey jack, try havarti or fontina.  Instead of "swiss," try gruyere or emmental.

If you happen to live near a Trader Joe's, they're a decent source for a large variety of reasonably priced cheeses to let you experiment.  Do read the label -- oftentimes I can buy cheese cheaper online at  Gourmet cheese shops are particularly bad in this regard.

Okay, that's my cheese tips for the day.  As usual, read the label!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Frugal Low Carber: One ham, six recipes

We're in the fall stretch, and with fall comes hams on sale at the grocery store.  I can get them as low as 77 cents a pound.  We're talking normal Kroger Cook's brand shank or butt portions, bone in (because I do not buy boneless or rolled or other sham ham).  I don't give a ham salad recipe because I don't like ham salad!

Recipe 1:  Basic Crockpot Ham

Start with one cheap bone-in ham that will fit in, but pretty snugly, your crockpot.  You also need one bottle or can of hard cider, such as Woodchuck or Strongbow or whatever.  Yes, the cider has some carbs.  Trust me, what you're going to consume will be negligible at any given time.

Wedge the ham into the crockpot.  Pour the cider around the ham.  Cover tightly.  Cook on low for anywhere from six to eight hours, depending on whether you want to be able to slice the ham or whether you like it to fall apart in chunks like I do.

Remove the ham from the crockpot and save the liquid.  This is the most incredible ham stock ever and we're going to use it.  Pour the stock hot into a bowl or Tupperware container and chill.  Use the ham stock for making greens (below) or in soups, stews, beans, etc.  The layer of fat that forms and hardens on top of the stock can be used just like bacon grease.  Don't waste it.  You can also freeze the stock (fat layer removed) for later use.

Pick over the ham.  If you have a use for the chunks of ham fat and/or skin, by all means, keep them.  You now have extremely tasty, tender ham that's ready to serve.

Note to pet owners:  Please don't give ham or any of its byproducts such as fat, skin, or cooked bones to your pets.  The bones will be brittle and easy to splinter.  The high fat content PLUS the sodium is a severe danger to your dogs or cats and can cause pancreatitis.  Please, please remember:  Animals are NOT geared to handle high sodium levels, particularly when coupled with fat.  Fat alone is fine for a healthy pet; fat plus sodium is very bad.  Please don't give your pets ham leftovers.

Recipe 2:  Heavenly Hammy Greens

You need:

2 bags collard, turnip or beet greens
1 onion, chopped
2T bacon grease or rendered fat from the ham stock bowl
1/3c ham stock
2T apple cider vinegar
1/4 - 1/2t crushed red pepper (optional)
1 packet Splenda (optional)
1/2t salt or to taste
Chopped ham to your preference

Melt the bacon grease or ham fat in a large, heavy pot over medium high heat.  Add the onions and saute until onions are translucent and softened, about 5 minutes.

Add greens in batches, tossing thoroughly with the bacon grease and adding more as they wilt down, until all are added.  Add ham stock, vinegar, red pepper, Splenda and salt. 

If using collard greens, add the ham to your desired degree of hamminess -- more for a main dish, less for a side, whatever.  Lower heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until greens are tender.  If using turnip, beet or other tender greens, add ham and simmer briefly, until greens are tender.  Remove from heat and pour off cooking liquid into a saucepan.  Place saucepan over medium high heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 15-20 minutes.  Return to greens and ham.

Recipe 3:  Hammy Mac

You'll need:

4 packages shirataki macaroni (I use House Brand, but use the shirataki brand and shape of your choice, rinsed thoroughly and drained
4 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream plus more
2c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Additives of choice (see note)
2c or more chopped ham

Simmer shirataki in salted water for about 20 minutes to improve the texture (optional) and drain very thoroughly.  If possible, leave sitting in a colander for a half hour.

In a heavy saucepan, melt the cream cheese with 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream over medium low heat.  Add shredded cheddar cheese and whatever else you like in your mac and cheese -- I tend to add Old Bay seasoning or a little mustard, salt, pepper and cayenne.  Let melt slowly, stirring occasionally, until cheese sauce is smooth.  Add ham and cheese sauce to macaroni, tossing to coat thoroughly, adding a little more cream if the sauce is too thick, but make this adjustment after adding shirataki in case they "sweat" liquid into your sauce.

If desired, this dish can be baked briefly with slivered almonds or pork rind crumbs on top.

Recipe 4:  Ham and Gruyere Crustless Quiche

This will make two quiches if you're using nonstick round cake pans like I do.  If you only want one, halve it.

You'll need:

1T bacon grease or rendered ham fat
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, thinly sliced
8 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded
3c finely chopped ham
3c heavy cream
6 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste 

Melt the bacon grease or ham fat in a heavy skillet.  Saute the onions until they begin to brown.  Add leeks, saute briefly.  Reduce heat to low, cover the skillet tightly, and walk away from it for 20 minutes to let the leeks steam.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425.

Divide cheese and ham between two nonstick round cake pans (8 or 9-inch diameter doesn't really matter).  Whisk eggs and cream together in a bowl, adding salt and pepper, and divide egg mixture evenly between the two pans.  Divide the leek/onion mixture between the two pans.  Stir both pans to distribute ingredients evenly.

Bake the quiches at 425 for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 300 and bake for 30 minutes, or until a a cake tester inserted in the center comes out with no liquid egg on it.  Let the quiches rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Recipe 5:  Hammy Cabbage Skillet

You'll need:

1 head cabbage
3T bacon grease or ham grease
2T apple cider vinegar
1 packet Splenda
2c chopped ham
Salt and pepper to taste

Core the cabbage and cut it into bite-sized squares:  Cut into 1-inch-thick slabs, then cut the slabs into 1-inch pieces.

Melt the bacon grease over medium-high heat.  Add the cabbage and saute until the cabbage reaches the desired degree of crispness or tenderness (I like my cabbage with lots of crunch left).  Add remaining ingredients and toss thoroughly.  Serve hot with extra cider vinegar.

Recipe 6:  Open-Faced Hammy Melt Sandwiches

You'll need:

1 bun-sized Muffin In A Minute (see note), split and toasted
Ham, sliced or shredded
2 eggs
2 slices Swiss cheese
1c heavy whipping cream
4T mustard
1t Old Bay seasoning

Preheat the broiler.  Fry eggs separately, shaping the eggs as they fry so they will fit on the split muffin halves.  Place the toasted MIM halves on a small baking sheet.  Top each muffin half with sliced or shredded ham, a fried egg, and a slice of swiss cheese on top.

Make the sauce:  In a small saucepan, simmer the heavy whipping cream with the mustard and seasoning until it thickens slightly.

Put the pan with the muffin halves under the broiler just long enough to melt the cheese to bubbling slightly.  Remove from oven and serve hot, spooning the mustard cream sauce over.

Note:  Muffin in a Minute recipes are many and varied.  The one I use for a sandwich bun is as follows:

1T butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1/4c flaxmeal
1/2t baking powder
1/4t salt
1 packet Splenda

Mix in desired container -- I use a straight-sided bowl the size of a hamburger bun -- and microwave 1 minute on high.  Split and toast.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Losing My Religion, Metaphorically Speaking

I'm here at my computer in my basement office, TV turned off, email turned off, not answering the door, hiding from religion.

And let's be clear here.  I'm not speaking of religious faith.  I'm speaking of people who have "got religion" about something or another.

Somebody has gotten religious about something when they're no longer content to believe and practice it themselves and/or with like-minded people and let others do as they like, but now they've got to go out and coax, nag, manipulate and/or outright force others to do likewise.  Mine is the One True Way; forsake all others -- or else -- and get with the program!!!

Right now so many people have "got religion" over the election, I'm cowering under my desk hiding from my own friends.  I can't turn on the TV, read my email, or open my mailbox without being inundated with other people's political religion.  All I can say is, I've never been so happy to be self-employed at home.

Beware of becoming religious about low carb.  It's easy to do if you're passionate about your way of eating, how much it's done for you, all the unhealthy food out there and WOW, the government needs to outlaw high fructose corn syrup and GMOs and trans fats and while we're at it tobacco and alcohol, who needs those, and artificial sweeteners and MSG and caffeine . . .

Okay, this is starting to sound like Demolition Man, and I've never seen such a horrific depiction of the future in my LIFE, so stopping now.

The truth is this:  There IS no One True Way.  Repeat the magic phrase:  "Your mileage may vary."  Say it to yourself ten times before the words "should" or "shouldn't" even consider leaving your mouth.

You've probably run into somebody on a different WOE than you -- a different version of low carb, or a different WOE altogether, like low fat -- who's gotten religion and is determined to tell you how wrong you are and why you should fall on your knees and repent and run out and buy the book and sin no more.  Don't you feel tempted to yell, flee, or in the alternative pelt them with jowl bacon?  Well, no, who wants to waste nice tasty jowl bacon?  But you get my point.  These are the feelings you inspire in others when you yourself don't live and let live, when you try to push your views at someone who has their own belief system and isn't in the market for a replacement.

Believe me, I'm no less guilty of religion than the next person.  I'm religious about hunting, pet ownership, animal testing, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, the war on drugs, and a whole host of other things.  I grind my teeth and repeat my mantra a lot because very few of my friends' views jibe 100% with my own.  I try, try, try to respect other people's beliefs as just as valid as my own, their right to live, eat, etc. just as important as my own, and try not to spend too much time on a soapbox.

Bear in mind that preaching can have unintended consequences.  Right now, for instance, I've gotten so saturated with political saliva spewed at me from every direction that for the first time since the age of 18 I am seriously, seriously considering not voting at all.  The shocking degree of mud slinging in the ads, coupled with people knocking on my door, calling on my phone, and stuffing my mailbox have so sickened me with our political system that I want to turn off all media and just go hide until the damned election is over.

When Aunt Agnes just will not take no for an answer and keeps pushing her famous fudge at you every time she sees you, she shouldn't be too surprised to see less and less of you.

I am passionate about low carbing.  I'm also passionate about cooking and have been both pre low carb and now.  Consequently I have a lot of recipes.  Sometimes one of my non-low-carbing friends or family members will want a recipe for something I used to cook pre low carb.  Many of these friends and family I feel would benefit tremendously by low carb.  But I send them the recipe nonetheless.  I may suggest, "You know, I've got a fantastic sugar free pots de creme recipe, and a great sugar-free cheesecake, too, that would work for your dinner instead, and I'd be happy to send you the recipes," but I don't preach.  Until I have my own life perfectly in order (and show me anyone who does!), I can't presume to tell someone else how they should be living theirs.

And therein is the crucial difference between offering and preaching.  Offering is a pressure-free suggestion.  Not interested?  Fine.  On to the next topic.  Preaching is an attempt to influence or manipulate somebody else to do what you want them to do.  You don't want them to make a free choice on their own.  You want them to fall in line and get with the program and do what you know deep in your heart is best for them.

Beware this kind of thinking.  This is how the low fat movement got started.  This is how Dr. Atkins was relentlessly persecuted throughout his career.  This is how wars and hate crimes start and friendships are lost.

We are all different.  What works for you doesn't work for me.  What works for me may not work for anybody else in the known universe.  I'm allergic to mushrooms.  Most of you probably aren't.  I adore cheese, hearty black Assam tea and Thai food.  Some of you probably don't like any or all of the above.  No one low carb plan -- or even low carb itself -- or any system of political or religious beliefs or type of underwear -- is a good fit for everyone.  Each and every person must find what works for them.  And please, please, when you do, nobly resist the temptation to wax evangelical about it.

There are no winners in a holy war.

It's alive! Alive!

Hey, everybody.

You've maybe noticed my conspicuous absence for . . . oh, several months.  I'm still here, still low carbing.  Sorry for the absence, just got caught up in a lot of Real Life messes like a legal property line dispute, an air conditioner that gave up the ghost in the middle of a triple-digit heat wave, senior parents with health problems, a dear friend in the hospital with what everybody thought was a heart attack, things like that.  And me, slogging through really record-breaking insomnia and, probably not coincidentally, depression.  All of that ended up with me barely able to string two thoughts together, much less put them into a readable sentence.

But here I am again, back like a case of Athlete's Foot.  For those who actually follow my crazy ramblings, I apologize for the long silence.

Let's get back on track.