I cook for 4 back-to-back days, about once a month. My goal is to cook 14 recipes a day, for each of the 4 days. This approach helps me get ahead. When the time comes, I’ll be able to focus on cookbook writing, while sitting on a pile of beautiful food photography!
This round has some really great ones, including a bit of a surprise … a total pushing of the envelope! You’ll see! Other than that, I’ve got taco shells made of cheese, slow-cooker Cochinita Pibil (spiced pork shoulder, wrapped in a banana leaf. YUM!), low-carb favorite “Mock Danish”, zucchini bread, corned beef hash, something In-n-Out lovers would call a “Double Double Animal, Protein Style”, a big bold lasagna, a game changing stuffed double-cut pork chop, noodles made from pureed chicken, CREPE noodles and so much more!
I just wrapped up my last cook on Thursday. Somehow … it’s just completely zapped me. I think I caught a cold while doing it. I’m sick … WHHHhhhaaa … BOO HOO!
In any event, it’s time to do a blog post. I hope it turns out well. My mind is a bit fogged and clogged, but it’s that time. Please forgive me if it’s a bit kerfuzzled. I’m trying. Let’s do it!
Gluten: What is it good for?
While pursuing a low-carb lifestyle, things like grains were pretty much just right out of my way of eating. I didn’t eat them, short of the occasional splurge with Dreamfield’s pasta, or using some of the various ultra processed Frankenfoods designed to keep low-carbers eating things like white bread, chocolates and tortillas. For the most part, these Frankenfoods served their purpose, as long as I could withstand the cravings they inevitably brought along with them. I believed them to be low-carb and tasty, so … I ate up!
In December of 2012, I asked my audience what they’d like to see me focus on. I received all sorts of emails and comments from people, but one in particular came from Jennifer Eloff, best selling low-carb cookbook author.
A little history: When I first started this lifestyle, I discovered LowCarbFriends.com. I participated in many discussions, but also did a HUGE amount of reading. Several of the people posting became like celebrities in my mind. They were prolific posters, with their own following, series of amazing recipes and ideas, tantalizing photographs, graceful story telling, etc. Some of them include individuals like Jamie VanEaton, Lauren Benning, Linda Genaw and … Jennifer Eloff. Years ago, these women changed my life! (they still are!)
When I got the email from Jennifer, my jaw hit the floor, right as I fell out of my chair. It was a short and sweet email, telling me my site was great and that she’d just added me to her website and that … Oh! By the by … could I focus on more gluten-free recipes?
At that point in time, I really didn’t understand “gluten”, short of it being the wonderglue in breads and pastries. It’s the strands of elastic protein that gives baked goodies their structure. Being that it was a protein, and not a carb, I didn’t really see the harm in it, but … THIS WAS JENNIFER ELOFF!
This little email started a discussion between the two of us. I was really quite honest with her and stated that I didn’t know much about it and generally believed that “gluten-free” was just a fad and a new marking spin to sell a whole new breed of snacky-like creatures, under the guise of “healthy!”. I knew about Celiac disease and knew that it was no laughing matter, but I also knew it was a small percentage of people. I promised to look into it, to study and officially take a stance from a place of knowledge.
At precisely this same time, I was taking a food writing course at a local university. One of the assignments was to pick a “hot news topic” from the nutrition world, but write about it as a news piece, without sharing any opinion of my own. At its core, the idea was to identify and share information about gluten, as opposed to putting forth my own opinion of the stuff. Ultimately, I got high marks on the essay, while finding the execution of it incredibly challenging. I really don’t like writing outside my own voice, or without sharing my own opinion. I mean, I’m an opinionated dude! This … stretched me … which is what a good class should do!
Here is the essay for the class. Remember that it’s intended to define gluten, not necessarily praise or condemn. It’s just an overall essay “about” gluten …
Gluten: Broken Down
Gluten is, in short, a protein contained within a variety of grains, which is primarily used to add texture and structure to breads. That is a wild simplification of this protein composite, comprised primarily of four proteins: albumin, glutelin, globulin, and prolamin. Most of that protein (80%) is made up of the prolamin called “gliadin” and the glutelin known as “glutenin”. This information, of course, is provided simply to illustrate how simple gluten isn’t.
Protein is found in every cell, muscle and tissue of our body and is also present in many of the foods we eat; the only difference being the structure. Protein is required by the body in order to grow, maintain and repair all cells. It is vital for virtually every process that occurs within the body. Proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids, which are themselves chemical compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, which when combined in the proper structures form the proteins that the body requires.
Gliadin is a simple protein separable from gluten. It is blamed as being the addictive and most destructive substance within modern day wheat. It is partially soluble in diluted alcohol, which distinguishes it from the other grain protein, glutenin. Gliadin, the most abundant protein in wheat, is in large part responsible for the protein matrix which gives bread its rise, while also being blamed as the protein responsible for celiac disease, wheat intolerance and other allergies, such as exercise induced anaphylaxis and Baker’s asthma.
Gluten comes from different varieties of grains, such as: wheat, barley, rye and oats. Not all gluten is created equal, however. Wheat, for example, has near equal parts of gliadin and glutenin, which forms the lovely elasticity in good dough. However, rye, for example, has low levels of glutenin and oats have low levels of gliadin. These differences result in different textures and bread baking properties, while also resulting in different reactions for various gluten sensitivities. There are many grains and grain alternatives that do not contain gluten, however. Some are: buckwheat, flax, quinoa, millet, rice, corn, sorghum, teff and tapioca.
Gluten’s roles are many. As mentioned, gluten’s primary use is in baking, providing the structure within baked bread, holding pockets of carbon dioxide in place. This architectural network of crossed protein strands also contributes to its texture and chewiness.
Gluten’s story doesn’t end here, however. It is also isolated and removed from the grain, where it is often seasoned and manipulated into various meat substitutes for vegetarians. This serves as both a replacement food in terms of flavor and texture, while also serving to add protein to the diet. In fact, gluten is also used as an ingredient, often a thickener and/or stabilizer in an incredibly wide array of foods and products; items such as: beers/ales (grain source), chocolates and puddings (modified food starch), curry powder (to prevent clumping), soy sauce, ketchup (distilled grain vinegar), etc. The list goes on.
Due to a series of digestive and other issues related to gluten, such as celiac disease, wheat allergies and a wide spectrum of other non-celiac gluten sensitivities, gluten has become a buzzword in today’s nutritional landscape. Celiac disease is a very serious autoimmune disease, effecting millions of people (nearly 1% of the population). Individuals with the celiac condition experience gluten sensitivity in the lining of the small intestine. This abnormality creates issues with the digestion and absorption of food. In essence, the food is not fully digested, and nutrients are not able to be absorbed, leaving the person malnourished and leading to a whole host of issues, such as: depression, seizures, bone loss, arthritis, mouth sores, etc. This can eventually lead to liver diseases and cancer of the intestine. There is no clear single cause for celiac disease, but genetics do play a role, as does the consumption of gluten. Wheat allergies and other non-celiac sensitivities also exist, but often result in similar symptoms. It is difficult to ascertain the number of people afflicted. Theoretical numbers range from 6% to as high as 50% of the population.
Because millions of people are directly affected by gluten and millions more have seen positive side-effects of eliminating gluten from their diets, several gluten-free diets and cooking methods have surfaced. Gluten is often an ingredient in unhealthy foods and snacks. Thus, the reduction of these foods is beneficial, even if no sensitivity exists. Trends, fads and product marketers embracing the term “gluten-free” have helped to shed light on the issues, while perhaps overshooting the mark. Products have surfaced that take advantage of the trend, while offering foods with added unhealthy fats and sugars to take the place of the gluten.
In terms of seeing and identifying gluten; gluten is quite easy to isolate. One would pour a high gluten flour (such as bread flour) into a large bowl with a large quantity of water (4 cups flour to 1 gallon water, for example). Next, the flour is “washed”, by agitating the flour within the water, washing the carbohydrates away. The end result is a ball of elastic rubbery gluten, which can be seasoned and fried to make sietan.
This seemingly harmless mass of jiggle is considered “Generally Regarded as Safe” (GRAS) by the FDA. It is contained within many of today’s foods and aids in baking. In today’s various media outlets, gluten is often condemned and smeared. While a minority of the population experience diseases and issues related to gluten, grains and wheat, there is no scientific evidence to support that a gluten-free diet, for the general population, is any healthier than a diet without.
~ The End ~
Gluten: My Real Thoughts …
My personal feelings about this essay revolve around its complexities. After having read about it, researched it and written about it I still don’t quite know what a “gliadin” is, nor why I’d want one, or might want to avoid one!
What’s an amino acid? If I add baking soda, will it get foamy?
As I was writing this piece, I started to wonder how many people are out there writing and regurgitating things they’d read, without fully understanding or absorbing the information, themselves. Apparently, I am one of those people. (that said, there are people with expensive educations throwing out false and misleading information, as well!) Welcome to the Internet, my Friends. It’s all a bit scary …
In any event, through the research on this article, as well as my own personal pursuit of understanding, I have formed the following opinion: avoiding gluten is likely going to help a person stay clear of wheat and most grains. This tends to have the side effect of lowering carbs. Due to modern gluten’s addictive nature, omitting it also decreases cravings, which tends to decrease overall calories consumed during a span of time. I do believe modern day wheat and gluten, even in processed “low-carb” Frankenfoods should be generally avoided, as they’ll cause cravings and stalls. I also want to point out that Celiac disease and other gluten intolerances are very real and life threatening issues. Gluten-free foods are requirements for individuals with these issues, as even a tiny amount can cause major destructive damage. However, even for the nonaffected, there are still benefits. That said … a massive pile of gluten-free brownies is still going to contain MANY calories, possibly even more than a standard brownie (due to the high caloric replacements often used). Too much is too much. Junk is still junk, even if it may be gluten-free.
Where my final confusion or opinion waivers, is in the gluten from ancient strains of wheat, prior to human manipulation. If I throw some dried and powdered gluten isolated from Emmer or Einkorn wheat into my almond meal/coconut flour pie crust, will it give me a flakey tender crust, without the addictive cravings?
Or … did I just become part of the problem, all over again?
I hate love food.
This week’s recipes …
What follows is a nice big sincere list of gluten-free recipes, starting with a spectacular (one might say, “Splendid”) bake mix! Most are baked sweets, but there are a few savory recipes, too. Check them all out.
I hope your week is full of wonder…
We’ll chat soon!
Splendid Gluten-Free Bake Mix
In early December, 2012, I asked my readers if there was anything I should focus on, or if there was any specific direction that they’d like to see me go. I received many thoughts and comments, but one that really caught me by surprise came from, non-other-than best selling cookbook author and low-carb celebrity Jennifer Eloff! She was incredibly complimentary, but suggested I skew more towards a gluten-free audience. My website’s overall fight, or angle, is 10 net carbs or less. I never had a beef with wheat, provided it didn’t impact my blood sugars (it does!). Because of the way it effects me, I never really much ate it, but I wasn’t opposed to using products containing wheat gluten (a protein, not a carb). In any event, since then, I’ve read a lot and have decided that modern wheat, including modern gluten, should generally be avoided. All this said, this is a recipe (Jennifer’s Recipe), and these notes should focus on the recipe-at-hand. I’ll focus on gluten in a blog post.
Through our discussions, I asked if I could use her gluten-free bake mix on my website. She said, “Sure!” She loves it when people use it! Jennifer has a few variations of her bake mix, with the most recent using gelatin, in place of the xanthan gum. I thought about using it, instead of this one, but it’s more complicated to use than the one I ultimately selected. These should all work, and Jennifer does a fantastic job of explaining how to use each one.
Here are the links to her bake mixes:
- SPLENDID LOW-CARB BAKE MIX (not gluten-free)
- SPLENDID GLUTEN-FREE BAKE MIX
- SPLENDID GLUTEN-FREE BAKE MIX 2 (without xanthan gum)
Here is the one I’m using on my site and in recipes where this bake mix is used, unedited. What follows are Jennifer’s words …
——— *snip * ———–
Almond flour versus almond meal produces slight differences. Since my husband is merely intolerant of gluten, we use oat flour by Arrowhead Mills®. * 1/4 Cup almond meal = 28 g. 1 cup Gluten-Free Bake Mix (almond meal) = 134 g. (Jen)
Serving Size: Recipe makes about 2 1/2 cups of baking mix. A serving is considered 1/4 cup. Recipe makes 10 servings.
Photo Note: Photos taken with Spicy Ham and Cheddar Muffins.
Plrischsant Lemon Bars
Ok, let’s try it …
This recipe is awesome!
Did it work? Are you convinced? Are you ready to give it a shot?
Ok, let’s back up. In all sincerity, this recipe truly was fantastic! The texture was AMAZING. When I pulled it out of the oven, it looked a bit like a hard rock. I was less than thrilled with the appearance, fresh from the hot box. I let it chill, thinking it would be a bit of a disaster. When I flipped over the pan, they just popped right out, as if they were eager to see the world. In my hand was a tough and perfect square, golden on the bottom and yellow on top. Things were looking up! I cut into it and the slice was magnificent! It didn’t shatter, like so many rock hard baked goods can. Nope! The knife glided right through, as if the lemon bars were guiding it; wanting to be split into perfect little portions.
I bit into one.
O …. M …. G … (exclamation points!!!!!!!!)
The crispity texture was the best I’ve experienced in a baked good, since my parmesan hazelnut crackers. It was as if pleasant, crunchy and crispy all got together and formed a whole new word, which I can’t quite pronounce …
… Plrischsant …
… And it was, too! It really reminded me of a crisp butter cookie, but with a strong lemon essence. Finally, I powdered them up with some powdered Swerve, where they gained that last little bit of a cool breeze.
This is on my top 10. It just has to be.
“Sun Kissed” Mixed-Berry Cobbler
As a low-carb lover and promoter, I’m asked almost daily, “How do you live without fruit?” Believe it or not, I’m often asked, “How do you live without vegetables?!” People are so misinformed … I love fruit and I eat berries quite regularly. Blueberries are a particular favorite!
Here we’re going to get into an EXCELLENT low-carb, sugar-free, gluten-free, grain free (ok, that’s a lie … there’s an oat or two, but I’m on a roll!) mixed berry cobbler. Rest assured, this is FAR from FLAVOR-FREE. The taste sensation on this cobbler is as good as any you’ve ever had, but with DRAMATICALLY less carbs. Imagine a hot scoop of this stuff after a slow, lazy dinner, with a fresh scoop of sugar-free vanilla ice cream, melting and dripping all around your warm bowl. Or, imagine heating up a slice of this for breakfast, the day after.
Some coffee, a few slices of bacon and a nice slice of re-heated mixed berry cobbler before beginning my day? Yes, please!
Chocolate Chunk Cookies
There was a time in my life where I’d always have balls of cookie batter in the freezer. Yep! Fresh, homemade, pre-scooped, perfect little balls of various flavors of cookie dough. When I had guests, I’d throw a few different flavors into the oven and within about 15 minutes, the whole place smelled amazing and my guests could anticipate sweet circular little wonders.
Welcome to my world!
Those days are gone, sadly. I have long stopped with the balls of dough in the freezer. As welcoming as they were for my guests, they’re just bad for people. When I switched to a sugar-free lifestyle, I completely stopped with the cookies. At first, I had no access to the ingredients necessary to make alternatives. By the time I figured out how to import “exotic” ingredients into Mexico (where I was living, at the time), I’d long since moved away from a cookie-heavy lifestyle. Pursuing them no longer interested me, or even OCCURRED to me, for that matter. In fact, short of the occasional splurge into breads, most all baking ceased for me. That is, until I decided to give this awesome gluten-free baking mix a try. It comes from Jennifer Eloff, a leader on the low-carb landscape. I had to try it! So, I dug out my old cookie recipe (a variation of the Toll House recipe, I believe), dusted it off, and worked to add in Jen’s baking mix! The end result? COOKIES! They were excellent! They’re not as sickeningly sweet and didn’t have quite the same “chew” as my original cookies did (as I used a secret ingredient that would get me shot within low-carb circles), but they were as good, if not better than, most chocolate chip cookies out there!
Time to stock the freezer! ?
Note on Chocolate Chips: Most sugar-free chocolate chips are made with the sugar alcohols sorbitol or maltitol, both of which have an impact on blood sugars, even though they are labeled “sugar-free”. I see this labelling as only a half-truth. Furthermore, these sugar alcohols cause tummy troubles for many. There WAS an excellent erythritol based chocolate chip on the market, but it was very expensive. My guess is, they were hard to make. People loved them, but couldn’t afford the cost it took to make them. So, they were pulled from the market. However, the same company still makes AWESOME chocolate bars. I used ChocoPerfection’s Dark Chocolate Bars in these cookies. I chopped them and made “chocolate chunks”. 3 bars makes about 1 cup. Perfect!
Also, Carolyn from AllDayIDreamAboutFood.com is a trusted low-carb blogger. She recently wrote about this and developed her own chocolate chip recipe, which I’m sure would work well, too. Sugar-free chocolate chip recipe, here.
Serving Size: Recipe makes about 12 good sized cookies.
Blueberry Custard “Puddle Pie”
I really wanted to do a nice blueberry filled custard pie, but I wanted to do it without thickeners. I also didn’t want it to taste like eggs with blueberries. I was 99% certain that this wouldn’t work, but I wanted to try; there are times where you just gotta do things and see.
I did it … and I saw it! Meehhhhhhh …. NEXT!
I think I wanted to post it to show I screw up. This never stops me from trying again, nor does it ever stop me from EATING my screw-ups. Remember my brownie debacle? I turned that into a Bombe Jell-O recipe! It’s that whole lemon to lemonade thing.
Maybe I did it to showcase a secret in the recipe world. If you make a boo-boo and the food doesn’t turn out quite right, change what you call it!
This, of course, is how burned chicken was dubbed “blackened” chicken. People that would’ve complained, suddenly loved it!
Welcome to “Puddle Pie!”
After I sliced it, plated it and got the picture, I took the remaining liquid pastry and tossed it in the freezer, where it froze into a VERY quality ice cream pie! It’s almost like it was planned! I sliced out the remaining frozen wedges, over the days that followed, and really enjoyed every one … frozen blueberries, crumbs and all!
Frozen Puddle Pie makes for … tasty Frozen Puddle Pie!
Spicy Ham and Cheddar Muffins
As is so often the case with baked goodies, they tend to be sweet, rather than savory. I recently added Jennifer Eloff’s Splendid Gluten-Free Bake Mix to my website and wanted to bake some things. Since starting a low-carb lifestyle, I haven’t baked very often. This was a chance to do just that! However, I didn’t want EVERYTHING I baked to be a sweet dessert. I wanted at least one “savory” baked it.
This is that item!
Back in the Dark Ages, I used to make “Sweet Corn and Ham Beignets“, which are like corn and ham doughnut holes. They were AMAZING (BUT TERRIBLE FOR YOU!)! That’s where I got the idea for these things. However, rather than the corn, I substituted cheddar cheese! I tweaked it and played with it, until I was happy with the new muffin recipe.
The end result is a FANTASTIC savory ham muffin, with melted cheese all throughout and a nice spicy kick! As an added bonus, they reheat REALLY well, too! YUMMERS!
Serving: Makes 12 standard sized, super filling muffins.
Slow Cooker Gumbo-esque Stew
I’m a strong believer in attacking your own weaknesses. I suppose I got this idea from working in kitchens. There’s a famous Chicago chef who would push himself to improve the areas in which he was weakest. If he was lousy would butchering fish, he would arrive early at the fish markets and help the fisherman unload their catch. He’d do unpaid work at sushi restaurants. He’d spend every opportunity to turn his weakness into a strength! Then, one the weakness is no longer a weakness, he would look for a new weakness … and attack it!
Aside from planking, one of my biggest weaknesses (dare I say “nemisis”) is the slow cooker (AKA the “crock-pot”). I’m sure just about every crock-pot recipe on my website has me belly-aching about it, but the simple fact remains … the slow cooker baffles me. They are in millions of homes, but I’ve used one less than 10 times in my life.
This recipe is me trying to step up my game. This is me doing a slightly more advanced recipe than my previous “meat in a cooker … cook” recipes. This one has quite a few ingredients, with one being added near the end. It’s altogether really pretty simply to do, but as usual, I approached it with fear and trepidation.
This time, I came out of it victorious! Take THAT, Crock-pot! IN YOUR FACE, SLOW COOKER! I WIN!
(ok, that’s a bit over the top, but I was really proud of this one. It was tasty!)
If you really think about “American” food, your mind is probably going to think about things like hamburgers or grilled cheese; maybe pizza. I’ve never really considered the US much for having it’s own indigenous cuisine. That’s not to say it doesn’t excel at being an extraordinary fusion of flavors and cultures, but it hasn’t put much of its own thing out into the world. Cajun and Creole foods, while being a combination of other cultures (French, Spanish, German, West African and Choctaw), have formed enough of their own unique and clear styles to be appropriated by Americans.
Thus, Gumbo is a truly American recipe!
Here’s where our story takes a bit of a twist. This is not a true gumbo. It breaks several of the rules that make up a Gumbo, be it a Cajun or Creole version. This one falls somewhere between both, fuses some things that it probably shouldn’t (chicken and seafood) and totally omits two of the common hallmarks of a gumbo: roux (a cooked mixture of flour and fat) and/or filé powder (a spicy leaf stemming from the sassafras tree). Both are thickeners, with one being high in carbs and the other being tough to find, I chose to go with the glue which is the dish’s namesake: okra.
Okra can be found in West Africa, Ethiopia and Southern Asia. The Bantu language calls Okra “ki ngombo”. It is commonly believed that the name “Gumbo” comes from this word and origin. Okra is a vegetable that looks a bit like a jalapeño, but without the heat and ridges along the sides. Okra is famous for its “goo”. When they are cooked, they turn a bit slimy, which is great for thickening gumbo!
Because gumbo needs something to thicken it … I chose okra. The rest of the info … is in the recipe! Enjoy it. I did! ?
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