Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chopped salads = easiest weeknight dinners!

My body has been craving salads, which is unusual for late December. I think that it is telling me to get some nutrients after my holiday indulgences, and I agree. I haven't been doing very well with the ketogenic lifestyle lately, and it is time to get back on track.

Whenever I crave salad, I want something interesting and somewhat gourmet, but I don't always have a lot of time to wash and prep my veggies. I am also somewhat picky about salad greens, because I can not tolerate the chunky white parts of lettuce, so I take a lot of time to go through and remove all of them whenever I make a salad. I discovered these new(ish) Dole chopped salad kits, and they are good! They are easy to eat, since everything is chopped into little pieces, and there isn't much of the chunky white parts to pick out.

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work tonight, and I got a Sunflower Crunch chopped salad kit, which has cabbage, kale, carrots, sunflower seeds, bacon bits and a sweet onion citrus dressing. It was $3.49. I also got a rotisserie chicken for $6. Rotisserie chicken is the best thing ever for low carbers. I don't have time to roast chickens! Nor do I really care to touch raw chickens. $6 is such a low price to pay for the convenience of getting one ready to eat. And they are always so juicy and delicious. We took our ingredients home, chopped up the chicken, dumped the salad and chicken into a bowl, tossed with dressing, and devoured. You can't get much easier and healthier than that! And, compared to our usual habit of going out to eat all the time, it was very economical at just under $10 for two people. I've made it my New Year's resolution to eat way more of this meal in different variations- I am thinking around three times a week. Besides Sunflower Crunch, these chopped salads also come in the following flavors: Sesame Asian, Bacon & Bleu, BBQ Ranch, Chipotle Cheddar, and Summer Garden Blend. (Dole should be paying me for this free advertising, but they're not!) That will ensure I am getting all kinds of good vitamins and protein, and it will be so fast and easy. That is a resolution that I think I can stick to!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving salad

organized for your viewing pleasure

A few weeks ago, Kent made a turkey because we not only wanted a traditional turkey dinner, we also wanted leftover turkey to make jambalaya and for this salad I dreamed up. This is like a Thanksgiving dinner in salad form, and it is delicious! I invented this salad around one of the balsamic vinegars I got from Allspice in Des Moines- a cinnamon pear flavored one.

Thanksgiving Salad

1 bag pre-washed butter lettuce
2 cups leftover turkey meat
2 pears, thinly sliced
1 cup dried cranberries
4 oz apricot Stilton cheese
1/2 of a red onion, thinly sliced
4 oz pecan halves

1 part cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar (or use Alessi pear infused white balsamic)
1 part Splenda
1 part olive oil
splash of water to thin

Toss salad, shake dressing, et voila! Makes 2 large meal sized servings.

nom nom nom

Emily's Cabbage & Kielbasa Soup

It's no secret that I love cooked cabbage. When Kent makes it for me, he first boils it, then transfers it to a roasting pan and drizzles it with garlic butter before crisping off the tops under the broiler. I wanted to make a soup that had a similar taste of garlicky buttery goodness, but with meat and potatoes to make it a complete meal. This is what I came up with, and it turned out amazing! So amazing, in fact, that I ate four bowls of it in a row. If you want to be extra low carb, omit the canned potatoes, but I figured it was okay fat ratio-wise, as long as I topped each bowl with a pat of butter and let it melt in. Heavenly. I wanted a giant pot of this soup, but this recipe can easily be halved. 

Emily's Cabbage & Kielbasa Soup

128 oz chicken broth
26 oz cream soup base (or 3 c half and half)
1 head of cabbage
1 onion
1 head (approx 8-9 cloves) or fresh garlic
4 kielbasa sausages (2-14 oz packages)
2- 14 oz cans of sliced or diced potatoes
2 T butter (more for garnish)
2 T olive oil
freshly cracked black pepper

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil and butter. Chop onion, add to pot. Sautee for 5 minutes. Peel and mince garlic, add to onion, continue to sautee for a minute, then add chicken broth and cream base.  Core cabbage and chop into one inch squares. Add to pot. Slice sausages in half, then into half rounds and add to pot. Rinse canned potatoes and if using sliced potatoes, cut each slice in half before adding to pot. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until thickest parts of cabbage pieces are tender. Serve with a pat of butter and cracked black pepper for garnish.  

Makes approximately 16 servings.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cool as a cucumber

I love cucumbers! They are my favorite vegetable, besides cabbage or course. I REALLY love when coworkers with overflowing gardens bring in heaps of cucumbers to share! They are especially perfect for the height of summer when it is hot outside, you need to cool down and don't really feel like expending much energy on cooking. Because cucumbers are so full of water, they are very hydrating and good for your skin when you consume them. You can also just put slices on your eyes to reduce puffiness. I love when snacks double as beauty products! Here are two ultra lazy non recipes centering on cukes.


Cucumber Mint "Spa" Water

Want to pretend you are relaxing at a fancy spa? Put those extra slices on your eyes and sip an icy glass of this! 

1 small cucumber
1 bunch fresh mint
1 1/2 liters of filtered water

Peel and slice cucumber into thin slices. Put in pitcher. Leave mint leaves attached to stems. Rinse off, then gently rub each leaf between your thumb and index finger to release their oils. Add to pitcher, fill with filtered water and refrigerate. I have found that you can get at least one refill pitcher' worth of water out of your original cucumbers and mint.

Cucumbers with Guacamole

1 cucumber (I like English seedless ones)
guacamole in a pouch
Johnny's seasoning salt

Slice cucumber. Lay slices on a plate and sprinkle with Johnny's. Squeeze a dollop of guacamole on each slice. Devour entire plate without guilt!

Two notes on ingredients: I have tried various brands of ready made guacamole, and the best one, both for flavor and price, is Aldi's Little Salad Bar brand. It comes in a two pack of pouches, which keeps it fresh longer, and is very convenient to squeeze out. I prefer the mild flavor, as the spicy is pretty hot. It is only $2.99. If you are not familiar with Johnny's, I highly recommend it! The original seasoning salt goes great on  everything, and they have lots of various blends for specific foods, like poultry or seafood. Kent is really into grilling and smoking meats, so we use a lot of this stuff! It is gluten free, and contains MSG, which in my opinion is what makes it so magical, but if you are sensitive to that, it is also available without MSG.

I hope you are enjoying a summer bounty of cucumbers like I am!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Out of town, out of ketosis, oh well.

I spent last week in Chicago for a convention, and took the opportunity to diverge from my ketogenic ways for a little while. I was focused on eating cheaply, and getting things that I would not be able to find at home. I was a little worried that I would reverse some of my weight loss, since I would be away from Kent's good influence, our magic exercise machine, the Noblerex K1 vibration plate unit, aka "The Jiggler," and my usual routine. I am pleased to say that despite having some blatant keto-cheato moments (cough, Magnolia Bakery, ahem), I actually lost three pounds upon my return home. I chalk that up to the sheer quantity of steps I took- I was walking miles all over the giant convention center and the streets of downtown Chicago exploring. For the most part, besides the bakery sweets and the burger and fries, I ate pretty well, even when consuming carbs. I made an effort to always have a salad for lunch, and incorporated vegetables into as much as I could. Sometimes, you have to think of what nutrients you want to give to your body, rather than what you want to avoid. Here are some of the highlights from my week in Chicago!

Naughty: There was an amazing buffet at the kickoff party for the convention. I did eat carbs, but a lot of the things pictured, I only had a bite or two of. 
Post party hotel bathroom selfie! We stayed at the Palmer House Hilton, downtown Chicago. 

Neutral: My new favorite restaurant- Roti Mediterranean Grill. It was amazing! It's like the Chipotle of Greek food. I still felt virtuous, despite the carbs. 

Nice: A couple of my salads for lunch- Southwest Chicken and Asian Chicken. These were both from a cafe inside the convention center, and I was impressed with how good they were. 

Naughty: A double cheeseburger with sauteed onions, mushrooms and mayo, plus cajun seasoned fries. I had heard great things about Five Guys, and they didn't let me down!

Naughty: Magnolia's famous vanilla cupcake, as seen on Sex and the City. I couldn't help but wonder, "Was it the best cupcake I've ever had?" The answer is yes. 

Naughty: personal sized pistachio cheesecake. Swoon.

Nice: Bacon and Blue cheese steak salad

Naughty, yet again: I had to return to Magnolia one more time for a slice of birthday cake. If it makes it any better, it WAS my dinner. 

A fruity spinach salad with pomegranate vinaigrette from the Corner Bakery Cafe next to the Palmer House. Eaten outside on the sidewalk while waiting for the chartered bus! 
It was a great week of adventure out of town, and I made some awesome memories. But I am very glad to be home and back into the routine! 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cooking with dog!

Arrroooo! (That's a dog howl...) I don't mean cooking dog meat! I am talking about this fun Japanese cooking show that Kent showed me the other night. The narrator/host of the show is a French poodle, who is voiced by a Japanese guy attempting a French accent. It's ridiculous, but entertaining. This is the episode that we watched, and decided to try to make these ourselves. I'm not going to post the recipe, since it is all clearly spelled out in the video.

We were already familiar with shirataki noodles- pasta made from konjac, a high fiber root, that have zero calories and zero net carbs. We hadn't yet tried to use them for an Asian noodle bowl, but our favorite Vietnamese restaurant recently closed, so we have to do it ourselves now. We had a few differences between our version and the video recipe. We used ribeye instead of sirloin steak. We used splenda + stevia instead of sugar in the sauce. We left out the bean sprouts. Kent added both fresh ginger and jarred garlic to the sauce. It didn't make sense to us to not include garlic! We garnished ours with fresh mint and Thai basil, as well as some fresh jalepeno slices that we let soak in the sauce while the noodles chilled.

Here are our results!
Tasteful noods.
Shirataki Noodle Bowls

2 pouches Miracle Noodle shirataki noodles, drained and rinsed well
2 ribeye steaks (charcoal grilled)
1 cucumber, cut into matchsticks
1 tomato, diced
2 eggs, scrambled into a thin omelette and sliced into strips

3 Tablespoons soy sauce
4 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon Splenda
1 Tablespoon granulated stevia
2.4 oz water (we used a 1 oz shot glass to measure this out)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
3/4 Tablespoon minced garlic

1 fresh jalepeno, sliced
fresh basil leaves
fresh mint leaves

Drain and rinse noodles after removing them from their bags. Boil in water for a minute. Drain and pat dry. In a dry skillet, cook noodles briefly to remove any excess water. Set noodles aside. Mix sauce, and spoon half of it over noodles. Set remaining sauce aside for finishing bowls. Slice the jalepeno and put the slices in the bowl of sauce. Grill steaks and make omelette. Let omelette cool and cut into thin strips. Also slice steak into strips. Set eggs and steak aside. Cut up vegetables. In two bowls, place half of the noodles in each. Top with steak and egg strips, cucumber and tomato. Garnish with basil, mint, and jalepeno slices to taste. Top with half of remaining sauce in each bowl.

The next day, I used the leftover ingredients as part of a delicious Asian salad. Kent turned the leftover sauce into a salad dressing, by adding some vegetable oil and a little more sesame oil to it, then shaking to combine in a jar.

Asian Steak Salad

Grilled sirloin steak, sliced into strips
butter lettuce
sliced cucumbers
sliced radishes
shredded carrots
shelled edamame
Asian vinagrette dressing- soy sauce, rice vinegar, minded garlic and ginger, sesame oil, stevia/splenda, and vegetable oil

Shake up dressing, adjust ingredients to taste. Combine all other ingredients in a bowl and toss. Easy!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

No compromise cheesecake!

I've gotten used to adjusting my expectations when it comes to diet desserts. I love the keto fat bombs that we've been making, but as delicious as they are, they are not the same as good old sugary candy. It's not a flavor issue, it's more of a texture thing. I wasn't sure what to expect when Kent told me about this cheesecake recipe. I was worried that it would seem fluffy and fake. I am very pleased to say that it seems like normal New York cheesecake- nice and dense and decadent! Not only is this cheesecake sugar free and low carb, it also happens to be gluten free! I have a feeling this will be a holiday standby for here on out.
Right on the money!
Individual Keto Cheesecakes

1/2 stick of unsalted butter (410 cals, 0 carbs)
1 cup almond meal (720 cals, 8 net carbs)
2- 8 oz packages of softened cream cheese (1600 cals, 16 carbs)
1/2 cup of Splenda, plus 1 Tablespoon (0 cals, 0 carbs)
1/4 cup of granulated stevia (0 cals, 0 carbs)
2 tsp vanilla (0 cals, 0 carbs)
2 eggs (148 cals, 1 carb)

(239 calories, 2.08 carbs per cheesecake)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place paper muffin liners in a 12 cup muffin tin. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the butter. Add the almond meal and the tablespoon of Splenda, and stir to combine. Divide this mixture into 12 spoonfuls and place one spoonful in each muffin cup. Using an oiled shot glass, press it down to cover the bottom of each liner. In a stand or hand mixer, combine eggs, Splenda and stevia, vanilla, and cream cheese. Mix on low to combine, then increase speed to remove lumps and make smooth. Spoon filling into each muffin cup, and smooth tops with a spoon. Bake for 17 minutes. The tops will not brown, but they will slightly puff up and crack. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before eating.

We topped ours with diced strawberries and whipped cream, which will add a couple more carbs. Other stir in ideas or toppings could be blueberries, raspberries, shaved Choco Perfection chocolate bars, or citrus zest. I saw on Pinterest that someone suggested making your own almond meal using almonds dusted with cocoa powder. You could also just add cocoa powder to the regular almond meal mixture. This is a great base recipe that will work with a lot of variations. Now, the hardest part will be controling ourselves, so that we can each eat one of these every night for the rest of the week!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Recipe: Blueberry Cheesecake Fat Bombs

Continuing with National Blueberry Month, I used our remaining blueberries from last week's salad on a variation of the fat bomb candy I talked about last week. Kent is a chocolate fan, but given the choice, I lean more toward fruity options. I wanted to figure out how to make something similar in texture, but flavored with something other than cocoa powder. This one was a winner! It would also be great with the addition of diced strawberries for a very 4th of July theme!


Blueberry Cheesecake Fat Bombs

7 oz coconut oil, melted
1 package of sugar free cheesecake flavored instant pudding mix
1/4 cup heavy cream
half a pint of blueberries

Lightly spray candy mold with non stick spray, and place it on a cookie sheet for stability. Place 4-5 blueberries in each mold. In a microwave safe bowl, melt coconut oil. Add remaining ingredients, except for blueberries. Use a blender to quickly combine. (If you delay, the gelatin in the pudding will get clumpy.) Once mixture is thoroughly combined, pour over blueberries into molds. Place in freezer until firm, about 30 minutes. Pop each candy out of the mold, and store in an airtight container in the freezer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Blueberry Lemon Salad with Blueberry Vinaigrette

I was already planning on writing about this salad we invented last week, when I learned that July is National Blueberry Month! It was meant to be! This week, I'll share two blueberry recipes that we've made recently. For the first, let's go the savory direction. I needed to come up with a side salad to take to an informal dinner party. The main course was grilled steak, and I wanted to make some sort of summery green salad that had fruit in it too. It doubled as dessert!

I was recently in Des Moines with my best friend Shannon, and we visited an amazing store there called Allspice. Besides having an awesome selection of dried herbs and spices, they have an area in the back with dispensers of various flavors of olive oil and balsamic vinegars. With tiny cups for tasting! It was incredible! It warrants many exclamation points!!! Kent is a master vinaigrette maker, so I had to get some choice balsamics for him as an early birthday gift. (It's no coincidence that I benefit from this gift, too!) After tasting almost all of the vinegars, I decided on a sampler pack of my choice of flavors- four smaller bottles for $36, which appears to be available in the store, but not online. I went with Peach, Cinnamon Pear, Dark Chocolate and Blueberry. We happened to have some blueberries in the fridge already, so a salad inspiration was born! I'd already had the idea to pair lemon zest with blueberries, but then Kent found this amazing Stilton cheese at the gourmet cheese island at Hy-Vee, and it really took it to the next level. If you can't find it, a mild blue cheese or goat cheese would work as well.

Blueberry Lemon Salad with Blueberry Vinaigrette

2 bags of prewashed salad greens, we prefer Butter lettuce
   (or a combination of butter lettuce with another salad green, like Frisee)
1 pint blueberries
1 cup pecan halves
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
1 large lemon, zested
1/2 cup lemon infused Stilton cheese, crumbled

1 part blueberry vinegar
1 part white balsamic vinegar
1 part powdered stevia
1 part granulated Splenda
1 part canola oil
1 part olive oil

Use equal parts of each ingredient. (1/4 cup of each will make a generous batch of dressing to be used for multiple salads.) Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake well to combine. We used half and half with the vinegars to conserve our fancy ingredient, and I'm glad we did, because it is plenty flavorful, even tempered by half cheaper white balsamic. We also prefer the flavor of half and half  ratios with the sweeteners and the oils. It's kind of hard to explain why, but they just seem more balanced and full when combined, rather just relying on one kind.

This salad was so good, we made it again a few days later, but this time, we used a blueberry Stilton cheese, pictured above, which is also found at Hy-Vee. It was really good, but I liked the lemon cheese just a little more. The lemon seemed a little more subtle and ethereal. Two of my favorite qualities in an ingredient.

On Thursday, we will continue with our blueberry celebration, and I'll share my recipe for blueberry cheesecake fat bombs!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Keto Sweets: Fat Bombs, aka "candy"

I have a chef for a best friend, and a very creative kitchen ninja for a husband, which makes me one lucky lady. I love that both of them are so supportive and excited about experimenting with ketogenic recipes with me. When I was researching ketogenic recipes, I stumbled upon something called a "fat bomb." That didn't sound very appetizing to me, but I'm glad that I looked into it further, because what it really means is keto candy! Fat bombs are an easy way to add fat to your diet, to get that ratio of calories from fat up. I have found that if I'm worried about eating a few carbs (for example, a little watermelon in a salad the other day), eating a fat bomb or two seems to counteract the little bit of sugar and keeps my fat ratio high enough that I remain in ketosis. Kent told me that he used to just eat a spoonful of olive oil once in a while, to get the same effect, but that sounds a little too intense for me. Fat bomb candy goes down a lot easier in my opinion! It seems counterintuitive to say that if you eat a few too many carbs, you atone for your sins by eating candy! But it is true, and like many things about this diet, it goes against what we've learned about nutrition in the past. But, the ketostix don't lie. Since I have begun adding fat bombs to my diet, my ketosis has been kicked into overdrive! I had the darkest test strip ever this morning (the deepest possible purple!), after having a decadent, absolutely not deprived day of delicious meals yesterday. There is no motivation like that to stick to this plan! I am really looking forward to getting a new scale this weekend. The one we have now is so frustrating, because you can weigh yourself 10 times in a row and never get the same result twice. I look forward to an accurate scale so I can really see some results. So far though, my clothes fitting looser is pretty good proof in my book.

There are tons of fat bomb recipes available online- especially on Pinterest. They have the potential to have endless flavor combos- especially with out large collection of sugar free Torani syrups. They don't require a bunch of fancy equipment, you could just pour the mixture onto a tray and break it up like bark, but I really like using silicon molds, so that's what we used to make them cute. Here are two recipes that Kent came up with, after he tried some that my best friend Shannon made for us. Hers were dark chocolate on the outside, peanut butter in the middle. He didn't want to mess with layers, so he came up with an all in one mixture.

Heaven IS for real. 
Chocolate Caramel Peanut Fat Bombs

7 oz coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup granulated stevia
1/8 cup granulated splenda
1/8 cup PB2 (powdered peanut butter)
2 Tblsp. heavy cream
2 Tblsp. Sugar Free Caramel Torani syrup
1/2 cup salted, roasted peanuts

Lightly spray candy mold with non stick spray, and place it on a cookie sheet for stability. In a microwave safe bowl, melt coconut oil. Add remaining ingredients, except for peanuts. Stir to combine. You will see that the stevia will not dissolve until the cream and Torani syrup are added. Once mixture is thoroughly combined, pour into molds. Top each candy with a few peanuts. Place in freezer until firm, about 30 minutes. Pop each candy out of the mold, and store in an airtight container in the freezer.

Every time I get one from the freezer, I sing La Bamba! 
Coconut Macadamia Nut Chocolate Fat Bombs

7 oz coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup granulated stevia
1/8 cup granulated splenda
2 Tblsp. heavy cream
2 Tblsp. Sugar Free Coconut Torani syrup
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts

Lightly spray candy mold with non stick spray, and place it on a cookie sheet for stability. In a microwave safe bowl, melt coconut oil. Add remaining ingredients, except for macadamia nuts. Stir to combine. You will see that the stevia will not dissolve until the cream and Torani syrup are added. Sprinkle a spoonful of macadamia nuts into each candy mold. Top with chocolate mixture. Place in freezer until firm, about 30 minutes. Pop each candy out of the mold, and store in an airtight container in the freezer.

There are so many possibilites with these things. I would like to make one that is a dark chocolate shell filled with unsweetened coconut mixed with caramel Torani and chopped almonds for a German chocolate vibe. Or a lemon cookie flavored one using our zero carb protein shake mix (which tastes like vanilla wafers) and lemon essential oil. I will keep scheming and post more recipes as they develop!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Keto Sweets: Drink Your Fat

When Kent did the Keto diet years ago, he had one thing different than this time around- not much of a sweet tooth. That made things easier for him to resist, but it also didn't make him invent keto desserts. This time, with me on board, necessity is the mother of invention, because I do have a sweet tooth, and need to find a fix! It has paid off for him, because although he doesn't crave sweets like I do, he is benefiting from the delicious things I'm coming up with. This week I'd like to focus on a couple of ways we are satisfying the dessert cravings, while staying in ketosis. Today's method is through dessert-like beverages.

The first idea I had was to make a root beer "float" using diet root beer and a little heavy cream. This quickly became Kent's go to breakfast, because it is quick, easy and portable. I decided to branch out and try some different flavor profiles, and wanted to use some of the many types of sugar free Torani syrup that we have on hand. Cream soda, as a vanilla base, is very versatile with lots of other flavors. Here's a list of the winning combinations I've come up with so far:

This stuff is awesome! 
Diet root beer with 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
Diet cream soda and 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
     +2 Tablespoons SF Chocolate Torani syrup
     +2 Tablespoons SF Raspberry Torani syrup
     +2 Tablespoons SF Chai Tea Torani syrup
     +2 Tablespoons SF Butterscotch Torani syrup
     +2 Tablespoons SF Peach Torani syrup, + 1 Tablespoon SF Brown Sugar Cinnamon Torani syrup
Diet orange soda with 2 Tablespoons SF French Vanilla Torani syrup and 2 Tablespoons heavy cream

I also like to use our Keurig coffee maker to make iced coffee in the summer. We currently have two flavors of K-cups, a chocolate donut flavor, and a vanilla biscotti, which are both sugar free. I really like to brew my coffee into a mug, using the 8 oz strength, when I first wake up in the morning. I put the mug into the freezer to cool off the coffee. Right before I leave the house, I fill a large insulated cup with ice, and pour in my cooled coffee. I add sugar free Torani flavored syrup (usually French Vanilla, Caramel, or White Chocolate), a packet of stevia, and some heavy cream. Stir it up, and I'm out the door. I get my sweet fix, and the heavy cream keeps me fueled all morning.

It works best to try to adapt things that are already creamy.

I also use the Keurig to just make hot water to brew tea. You can actually put a tea bag inside of one of those reusable k-cups to pressure brew it, or just run the hot water and steep the teabag in your cup. I am not normally a person who likes dairy in tea, but I do love Thai iced tea, which is a bright orange colored black tea that is flavored with vanilla and is traditionally served over ice with sweetened condensed milk. I did the same, but replaced the condensed milk with two stevia packets and some heavy cream. It is just as tasty! I love coming up with alternatives to things I used to love, and I don't feel deprived at all. Sometimes the low carb version is better than the original in flavor, not just in health benefits!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Be prepared!

With any low carb diet, it is crucial that you be prepared with food on hand, or at least a list of appropriate restaurant options. I know that when I get hungry, I get cranky, and the most common argument (discussion, really) Kent and I have is when we are trying to figure out what to do for dinner, and the more indecisive we are, the hungrier and crankier we get! It's a frustrating spiral.

For foods to keep on hand at home, I have created a standard keto grocery list ready to go in a spreadsheet, so my shopping is easy every time. Here it is, for your reference. If you'd like, you can modify the spreadsheet in Excel to add columns for each of the grocery stores in your area, and keep track of the prices on items to see which store has the best deals. This is called a price book. Keep in mind that sometimes places like gas stations and drugstores actually have better prices on certain items than grocery stores do, so keep your eye out! I have not yet made a price book, but it seems like a good idea. A little extra work seems to be worth it in the long run, because eating low carb isn't cheap, and any way to save helps. My grocery shopping is typically split between Hy-Vee, Walmart and Aldi. I like to stock up on certain things when I can make it to a Trader Joe's, but the closest one is two hours away.

Sometimes though, we get busy and realize that we really need to go grocery shopping, but we are hungry right now, and need to go out to eat. I made a list of restaurants in our area that we already like, and the best low carb options at each place. I encourage you to do the same, since every town has different options. I folded this list up and put it in my wallet. Next time I am ravenous, I won't have to rely on my starving brain to come up with ideas when I'm desperate. Here is my list- maybe some of the options will work for you too.

Baked fish with butter sauce and slivered almonds, steamed veggies from Highway 63 Diner.

House salad with creamy garlic dressing, cheese curds from Highway 63 Diner.
I only have the carb counts listed for a few of the items on the list below. Feel free to do the research- I was just going with the basic criteria for us- mostly gluten free with a high calories from fat ratio.

Highway 63 Diner: baked fish in butter sauce, steamed veggies, cheese curds, double bacon cheeseburger without a bun, house shredded salad

Pepperjax: Double steak rice bowl, minus the rice, with mushrooms, onions, and cheese. Add mushroom sauce and au jus.

Village Inn/Perkins: Steak or pork chop and eggs, with cottage cheese, omelettes

Famous Dave’s: naked ribs, brisket, or any meat with tiny bit of sauce, salad or veggie sides

Texas Roadhouse: chopped steak with salad, veggies/salads

Buffalo Wild Wings: wings without sweet sauce

Lonestar Steakhouse: garlic steak medallions, creamed spinach

Domino’s: wings without sweet sauce

Chinese buffet: any meat without breading, veggies like cabbage, green beans, cooked to order hibachi, mayo baked mussels

Hu Hot: any combination of stir fry without noodles (use cabbage)
Sauces, per ladle:
0 carbs- ginger/garlic broth, sesame oil, chili garlic sauce
1 carb- soy sauce, lemon/lime juice, hot chili oil/garlic oil
3 carbs- Five Village Fire Schezwan, Khan’s Favorite, Mean Bean Garlic, Yellow Belly Curry
4 carbs- Black Thai Peanut, Sweet Chili Sauce
5 carbs- Beckster’s Ginger, Kung Pao Yow, Samurai Teriyaki

Jimmy John’s: Italian Nighclub Unwich

Sub City: Sub in a tub

Fast Food Burgers
Hardees: Low carb thickburger

McDonalds: double cheeseburger without ketchup, mustard, or bun, add extra onions, shred lettuce and big mac sauce

Marco's Pizza: meatball bake- add extra cheese

Olive Garden: garden salad without croutons (6c), Antipasti meats and cheese salad topper (1c) Roasted parmesan asparagus (7c), Grilled Chicken Spiedini with creamy alfredo (4c), Steak Toscano (11 c), Herb Grilled Salmon (9c), Steamed broccoil (2c)

Las Margaritas: ribeye y mas with chile relleno, guacamole

Fiesta Jalisco: Shrimp in lemon juice, carne asada

Ribeye y mas with chile relleno at Las Margaritas. We skip the rice and beans, and add guacamole to our steaks. 
The best way to avoid succumbing to desperate carb cravings is to be prepared. That means either with food on hand at home, with a ready-made grocery list to stay focused and avoid impulse buys, or with a list of keto friendly dining options. It takes a little bit of effort up front, but you will be rewarded again and again for planning ahead! 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Making the Most of It When Your Meals Are Out of Your Control

I spent last week in Indianapolis as one of the lucky few who were chosen to participate in this year's AFSCME Women's Leadership Academy. It was actually the reason that I started this low carb diet when I did, because I knew it was coming up, and really needed to feel good and have energy for this adventure. The experience was great, but it can be hard to adjust to living in a hotel for a week. The biggest challenge was the fact that I had little control over what I was served for meals, so I had to work with what I had in front of me and make the best decisions I could, given the limited options. Luckily, the most important meal of the day, breakfast, always had easy low carb options. The hotel I was at, Embassy Suites downtown Indianapolis, had a great hot breakfast buffet, and even had staff on hand for customized omelettes. My typical breakfast each morning was scrambled eggs, sausage, and a little bit of fruit, with an iced coffee. It was so tasty, it was actually easy to bypass all the pancakes, french toast and danishes!
Breakfast of champions!
I managed to stay in ketosis for the first two days, but quickly realized that reaching keto levels of low carb was going to be hard, and I just needed to do the best I could, and not beat myself up over a few carbs. With limited options and not enough time to leave the building to find other choices, I had to make the best of my situation. (Plus the meals provided were free.) Luckily, all of our meals had more than one main dish, and most of them had something that would work for me. There were a couple that were tough though, like the baked potato bar, and the pasta bar days. Every meal did have a large iceberg, cucumber and tomato salad, and a huge bowl of mixed fruit salad, so I tried to eat some that with every meal. I didn't feel bad about consuming the sugar found naturally in fruit, because come on. That's a pretty virtuous splurge in the grand scheme of things. Here are some highlights of my meal choices last week:

Iceberg salad with ranch, green beans with pepperoni, sliced pork, piece of chicken

I was so excited to see a spinach salad with strawberries and feta- that was the first thing that reminded me of home! I made it a meal by adding chicken.

Steamed broccoli and beef in gravy.

On deli wrap day, I tried to avoid eating most of my tortilla, but filled up on salad.

On build your own sandwich day, I cut up deli meats and cheese to turn my side salad into a main dish chef's salad.
We did have a little time to ourselves, and I was able to eat some great salads out at restaurants then. Again, probably not as keto as when I can make them myself and control the salad dressing ingredients, but still pretty darn good carb wise, and definitely delicious! 
I had the Farmer's Market Steak Salad at the Colts Grille next to the hotel for lunch as soon as I arrived. 

I was really looking forward to going to California Pizza Kitchen on my free night. I always long for their salads, and I wasn't disappointed. I ordered two half size salads, because I couldn't decide on one. This is the caramelized peach salad with craisins, goat cheese, and red onion. I added grilled shrimp to mine. 

My other CPK half salad was a California Fields salad, which had strawberries, watermelon, basil, feta cheese and pistachios. I added grilled chicken too. It was AMAZING. (This was the culinary highlight of my week!) I can't wait to recreate this one at home!
One lesson I learned the hard way, unfortunately, is that I am sensitive to a preservative commonly used on hotel salads. I got sick on the last day of my trip, and luckily was able to made it through the day and get home, but I still felt bad all weekend. I did some research on my unique symptoms (I will spare you the details) and learned about the hotel salad thing. Great! I was trying my best to be healthy and avoid carbs, and it kind of backfired on me. So, my advice to you is that, given the limited options, try your best to choose low carb foods that are cooked, and don't rely on salad as the main part of every meal. In the worst case scenario, just do what you can to minimize your carb intake, like peeling the breading off of your chicken, or eating the contents of a sandwich without the bread. Because you can always go right back to eating how you prefer when it is on your own terms again. I was worried that slipping up on a few carbs was going to bring my sugar cravings back with a vengeance, but I actually found myself craving my keto foods that I had grown accustomed to, not only because they taste great, but also because they make me feel so good! I am so glad to be home, and enjoying being back in the swing of things. I have another week long trip coming up next month, and now I will be better prepared to eat well without getting sick! 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Recipe: Asian Crunch Salad with Grilled Chicken

It's my goal to come up with as many different salads this summer as I can. The timing of starting a low carb diet in the summer is great, because this is when my body naturally craves fresh, cool, crisp salads the most. There are so many possible delicious combinations of flavors! I am also determined to show the world that low carb doesn't necessarily mean only eating greasy plates of meat. That stuff definitely has its place when you are trying to get a high ratio of your calories from fat. But I try to balance it so that if we have one meal that is full of meat or melty cheese, we also eat a meal in the same day that is very laden with vegetables. Gotta get some fiber, and some vitamins, too!

So crunchy and satisfying!

Asian Crunch Salad with Grilled Chicken

1/2 a bag of coleslaw mix
2/3 of a bag of shredded iceberg lettuce
1 can no sugar added mandarin oranges, drained
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced into half moons
1 bag of radishes, pre cut into matchsticks
1/2 a bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cashews

For dressing:
 (Makes enough for two batches)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4  cup splenda
2 shakes of soy sauce
1 Tablespoon minced garlic from a jar
fresh cracked black pepper
a little water to thin it out, if you want
1 Tablespoon smooth peanut butter

(Everything above the peanut butter is Kent's normal recipe for balsamic vinaigrette that we use all the time, because it is so magical and delicious. I call it Kent's Magical Balsamic Vinaigrette. This version just added a little peanut butter to make it a little more Asian flavored. I think it would also be good with a little bit of sesame oil in it.)

Combine all dressing ingredients into a lidded jar and shake to combine. It might be helpful to melt the peanut butter in the microwave first. We had to use a fork to break it up a little. Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl and toss with half of the dressing to combine.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Recipe: Stawberry Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

This is one variation of our famous strawberry salad. I am so glad that strawberries are one of the lower carb fruits, because they are my favorite. We've experimented with some variable ingredients in this salad, like spinach instead of butter lettuce, and pecans instead of sunflower seeds. As long as you have the strawberries, blue cheese, onion and balsamic dressing, the basic flavor profile is there.

As delicious as it is beautiful.
Strawberry Salad

1 bag of ready to eat butter lettuce or other salad greens like spinach or spring mix
10-12 strawberries, thinly sliced
1/3 of a cup of blue cheese crumbles
1/2 a small red onion, thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons shelled sunflower seeds, almonds, or pecans
Kent's Magical Balsamic Vinaigrette

This dressing made me love salads. That's powerful stuff. This is more of a formula than a recipe. You can use any kind of vinegar or oil, or add whatever extra herbs or spices to customize it to the salad you're using it with. We really like it with pear flavored vinegar. It is also nice with a little sesame oil and peanut butter to make it Asian style. The possibilities are endless.

Kent's Magical Balsamic Vinaigrette

Kent usually make this so that each part is equal to a half cup. That way, it makes enough for two or more family sized salads. 
1 part balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 part splenda (we tried stevia, and for some reason the brand we tried, Stevia in the Raw, made the vinegar taste bitter, so we are sticking to Splenda for salad dressing only, and we try to use stevia for other things.)
1 part olive oil
1/2 part water, to thin it out a little
1 heaping spoonful minced garlic from a jar
a few dashes of soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper

Whisk it up in a bowl, or shake it up in a jar. Viola!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Recipe: Creamy Whipped Cauliflower

I've never really been a fan of cauliflower, but the only way I'd ever had it was cut up on a crudite platter. Cauliflower is really an amazing secret weapon for low carb dieters, however, because of it's versatility in imitating other things, from rice to mashed potatoes. It takes on the flavors of whatever you season it with. Here's our super easy take on mashed "potatoes." This is what changed my mind about cauliflower!
Creamy, dreamy cauliflower
Creamy Whipped Cauliflower

1 medium head of  cauliflower
4 oz (half a tub) of any flavor of sour cream based chip dip (We used AE bacon french onion)
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
cracked black pepper to taste
other seasoning to taste (we used this stuff called Fire Sprinkle that is our friend Drew's secret recipe-it's a spicy barbeque flavor. You could use Mrs. Dash or any other seasoning blend you like.)

Remove the leaves and stem from the cauliflower. Break it up into medium sized florets. Put the florets into a soup pot and cover with water. Put a lid on it and bring to a boil. Boil until the florets are fork tender. It can't really boil too long, so just walk away for awhile. When the florets are tender, drain the water and put them into a blender or food processor. Add the chip dip, salt and butter. Blend until smooth. Pour into a serving bowl and top with freshly cracked black pepper and other seasoning to taste. This makes 2 large servings, and would be a great easy side to make when you bring home a rotisserie chicken in a hurry.
A big 'ol pile of smoked meats- chicken drumsticks and some pork ribs.
Here's the directions from the Traeger website for cooking the chicken drumsticks. We bought some that were already seasoned with barbeque flavor.

When ready to cook, start the Traeger grill on Smoke with the lid open until the fire is established (4 to 5 minutes).

Arrange the chicken legs on the grill grate and smoke for 30 minutes. (If you don't have a smoker, do this in the oven at 200 degrees for 30 minutes. If you have the option of convection, use it, it works even better this way.) Increase the temperature to 350 degrees and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the leg (but not touching bone) reaches 165 degrees F.

How do you think cauliflower compares to potatoes? Kent has nicknamed it "fauxtatoes"!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Keto on the Go: Pepperjax

Keto on the Go is my way of showing how a person on the ketogenic low carb diet can eat out at restaurants without sacrificing their hard work by blowing it! The goal is to be able to find something everywhere someone else suggest you meet for dinner, without being a Fickle Finnick. If you have a restaurant you'd like to me to review, let me know in the comments below!

She's a meaty mother. She'll get a hold on you, believe it.
Pepperjax recently opened in our town, and Kent and I had to check it out, since we are always looking for something new and different in our culture-starved town. (Actually that's not true anymore. Waterloo, Iowa has gotten some better restaurants in recent years that represent more cultures.) Unfortunately, we went the week before we started this diet, so I had what they're famous for- a Philly Cheese steak. It was awesome, and I don't regret it, but now I also have the memory of how good the bread was. Sigh. I wanted to try it again, and see how I could get the flavor I craved, but with a drastically lessened carb count.

The next time, I ordered the rice bowl (with no intentions of eating the rice). I got it "Gunner" style, which means double the meat, and it also apparently requires that all of the cooks on the line yell out "Gunner!" Sorry guys. I would hate any job that required me to shout on command. I also requested light seasonings, because the normal amount is pretty salty, so I had half as much as usual. They ask you what else you want cooked with the meat, and I really appreciate that is is customizable, since I HATE green peppers. I got my steak cooked with onions and mushrooms. I had two slices of whatever the mild white cheese is on top.

The awesome thing about Pepperjax is that they have this serve yourself sauce bar over by the drinks. It is nice that if you want something to dip in besides ketchup, it's all available at no extra charge. They've got an Asian au jus sauce, regular au jus, mushroom sauce, and "Kickin' Chili" sauce on the the warm sauce bar. There's ranch, spicy ranch, raspberry vinaigrette, and Dorothy Lynch dressing on the cold sauce bar. The variety of sauces is because you can make any meat a sandwich, rice bowl, burrito, nachos, or salad. I generously ladled on the warm mushroom sauce, and took one ladle of au jus. I probably ingested a few grains of rice that were stuck to my steak, but it was worth it to me to not have to launch into a big explanation to the line cooks about how I really just wanted a bowl of meat. Especially when it was brand new and there was a line out the door waiting behind me.

It was tasty and filling. I paired this meal with a fine vintage of tap water, to counter the (satisfying) saltiness. According to the nutritional info from the Pepperjax website, it looks like this added up to an 8 carb meal. It was $10.18 altogether, so not the cheapest meal, but not the most expensive for a sit down, semi-fast food place either. And when your $10 is all for meat, that seems like a decent deal. I will definitely get this again, particularly in the winter when I am craving comfort food smothered in gravy. Grade: Thumbs up!

Copycat Recipe: Applebee's Shrimp and Parmesan Sirloin

Can we match, or even, I dare say, improve upon our restaurant favorites as home? Let's find out, shall we? This week's copycat recipe...

I really love the shrimp and parmesan topped sirloin from Applebee's. But I knew we could do it better! So we made it ourselves at home, using ribeye steak- our preferred fattier, therefore, more flavorfully keto steak, over leaner sirloin. It was also my chance to see how it tasted paired with my favorite way to cook broccoli, which I dreamed up while wishing the side of veggies I was eating at Applebee's at the moment was more exciting.

Our inspiration.

Expectations: exceeded.

Grilled Ribeye with Shrimp and Cheese

2 ribeye steaks
16 shell on, raw large shrimp
Johnny's all purpose seasoning
1 bag of Kraft Touch of Philly 5 Cheese Italian Blend shredded cheese

Peel and thread shrimp onto skewers. Season with Johnny's on both sides. Tenderize both steaks, and season with Johnny's on both sides. Cook steaks on charcoal grill until medium rare. Cook shrimp skewers on grill as well, turning once, until opaque. Top steaks with shrimp and a handful of cheese. Put under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, or until cheese melts and starts to brown. Season with cracked black pepper. Serves 2 (large portions)

Choppin' brocoli, choppin' broco-li-hee!

Steamed Seasoned Broccoli

1 large head of broccoli
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tblsp. minced garlic in a jar (including juice)
the juice of one lemon

Cut broccoli into small florets. Put into a large microwavable steamer bag. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic, and lemon juice. Steam according to directions on the bag (typically 3 minutes). When done, shake in bag to combine all ingredients and serve. (Be careful of steam when you open the bag!)

Overall rating: A+ We totally exceeded our expectations, but we should have known- with these ingredients, how could we go wrong? Next time we may add some Cavendar's Greek seasoning to the shrimp skewers. Or try to make our cheese into more of a sauce. I realized later that the Applebee's version mentions white wine in the cheese sauce. But overall, it was totally delicious, and we were once again remarking about how decadent this diet is as we savored it's umami. Winner!