Sunday, March 2, 2014

Website Review: Thoughtful Cooking

Greg Fleischaker's Thoughtful Cooking blog is very similar to mine.  While he doesn't go into the "backstory" behind the creation of his blog it seems to be mostly about wanting to cook more healthy food for his family as opposed to a story of weight loss or other major health change as in my blog.

Content areas include recipes, cooking videos, a few postings on general food and nutrition, and a page dedicated to his "5 rules" when it comes to selecting food to prepare for his family.  He's currently updating content on a weekly basis.

What I like about Greg's blog - First, he seems to share a similar pragmatic sense about nutrition.  This is perhaps best summarized by a recent posting he made on sweet potatoes:
[M]y biggest concern with food is not whether or not hunter gatherer societies ate a certain food group, or whether sweet potatoes fall into the approved or not approved categories of any specific diet. My biggest concern is the decline of health for our society over the past few generations, as obesity rates soar, along with chronic heart conditions and cancer cases.
Perfect!  Practical advice and not nutrition dogma.

Greg also provides links to nutrition information.  These links are generally to more data-driven articles than nutrition hyperbole or commandments.  For example, earlier in the same posting he states:
Here’s a great article explaining the nutritional differences between baking potatoes and sweet potatoes. After reading this article, I don’t feel quite as bad about eating Idaho potato wedges, or oven baked french fries. But I know that many people are trying to stay away from white potatoes, either because of they’ve heard carbs are bad, or because they are on a special diet that restricts the consumption of white fleshed potatoes, such as some practitioners of a Paleo diet, or Primal diet.
Greg's not here to convert people to precisely his way of eating.  He's simply going to pass along the same information he's using to make daily decisions on what to feed his family.

The recipes are very practical.  Like me, Greg is preparing most of the family meals which means that he doesn't have hours to spend in the kitchen everyday.  The methods and preparation tend to be simple and straightforward and generally result in a finished product in about an hour with 30 minutes or less of prep time.  Along with each recipe he provides the "thoughtful" part of "Thoughtful Cooking" by explaining why he chose particular ingredients.  As in the examples above, it may be deciding between one ingredient versus another.  Or, in the case of fried chicken, why and where he chooses which chicken to buy.  Some of the choices are made for nutrition and others for sustainability or humane reasons.  Again, no conversion or evangelism here, just a discussion of choices and reasoning behind those choices.

Some of the recipes include a video demonstrating the recipe.  Greg has a rather unique method for his videos.  First he starts with a bare kitchen where no food is prepped (other than, perhaps, defrosting meat) and no appliances are ready.   The camera gives full view of his prep area and stove, but that leaves his head and shoulders generally out of the video.  The videos are also accelerated by a third to fit into a reasonable viewing period.  The acceleration means that the audio track is over-dubbed narration he produces after doing the video.  This narration tends to be less about the actual cooking steps (i.e., he's not producing what I'd consider a typical step-by-step cooking video), but rather an overview of the technique, ingredients, and "thoughtful" description of the ingredients as noted above for his blog postings.

Choices of recipes vary.  They include a number of baked goods (e.g., bread, muffins), main and side dishes (e.g., coconut oil fried chicken, sweet potato fries) and dessert/treats (e.g., coconut oil chocolates).  All of these have the feel of "Hey, lemme post what I made today for the family," and I love that.  This is a real guy, making real food, for a real family.  The recipes appear to be pretty well tested in terms of getting the same results with the cooking times and temperatures he recommends.  And, most importantly, the recipes taste good!  After all, noone wants to eat healthy food that sucks--no matter how healthy it is.

Social media features include a email subscription service and twitter.  Layout and design is straightforward and allows you to both browse the latest blog entries as well as go to a central recipe repository to find something specific you are looking for.  As with most blogs, there is a search feature as well.

All in all, I highly recommend Thoughtful Cooking.  It's a blog that has something for everyone looking to incorporate more healthy, sustainable, and humane food into their daily diets.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Low(er) Carb Chocolate Chip Cookies

Who doesn't love chocolate chip cookies?  As I've noted in the blog previously making treats for the boys (or myself for that matter) that don't taste like treats aren't any fun.  My experiments to date with totally grain-free and sugar-free baking have been less than (ahem) satisfying so here instead is a best-effort low(er) carb cookie!  A note about the ingredients first:

Einkorn flour - The one I use is a whole-grain flour meaning that it is not all refined starch (carbohydrate) and has additional protein and fiber.  The presence of the fiber (approximately 4-5X what is in "normal" all-purpose flour) helps mitigate the blood sugar impact of consuming the flour.  In addition, this particular flour is made from an ancient (i.e., non-hybridized, non-GMO'd) form of wheat that some believe may be healthier for you as well.

Hazelnut meal/flour - I really like the taste and texture of this nut meal versus some of the other nut and seed meals that are available (e.g., almond meal or flaxseed meal).  It doesn't seem to impart a bitter taste that some of these other meals can, though it tends to be a little more expensive than almond meal.

Semisweet chocolate chips - I've experimented with making my own non-sugar-sweetened chips as finding chips sweetened with erythritol or other sweeteners is both difficult and expensive.  So far, I haven't achieved a result that is worth sharing so for now I continue to use Nestle (or, for about 10% less carbohydrates) Ghiradelli semi-sweet chips.

Coconut oil and coconut sugar - Nice alternatives to butter and sugar with (some) additional nutritional benefits.

1 1/4 c whole-grain (Einkorn) flour
1 c hazelnut meal
1 tsp guar gum (optional)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

1 stick (8 TBSP) butter, unsalted
8 TBSP coconut oil
1 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup sucralose
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

1 bag of semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the flour, nut meal, gum, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Mix together with a whisk.  Set aside.

In a separate (large) bowl Cream together the coconut oil, butter, and sweeteners.  Add the vanilla and one egg at a time gently mixing the ingredients together.

Take the flour mixture and gradually add it to the wet ingredients in the large bowl.  Once all of the flour mixture is incorporated add the chocolate chips and mix until they are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

Drop the cookie dough by spoonful onto a baking sheet.  NOTE:  The Einkorn flour has less gluten in it than conventional flour.  Plan for the cookies to spread more than typical cookies (see photos).  The guar gum will help the cookies retain more of their structure, but still plan on them spreading more than you are used to.  For my baking, I typically can fit 4 "conventional" chocolate chip cookies across one row of my 15" baking sheets.  For these cookies, I plan on fitting 3 in a row.

Bake 8-11 minutes.  The combination of the hazelnut meal and thinness of the spread-out cookie tends to make these bake faster.  Pay attention as you get close to 8 minutes as the cookies will likely be browned nicely already (the cookies shown here were baked to 8 minutes).

The cookies should have a nice, crisp texture along the outside edge with more of a softer, chewy texture toward the middle.  The combination of the Einkorn flour and hazelnut meal imparts a nice nutty, but not overpowering, flavor.

Lastly, prepare to start baking in double batches.  These things go fast!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Making Do the Best You Can

Whether in hockey or in life, you strive for the best, but sometimes you must make do with the best you can do.  For example, my son's hockey team doesn't have a full-time goalie--this caused much consternation in our association:  should we then have three teams or two really large teams; if we create a third team how will the goalie situation work; without a full-time goalie will the team be non-competitive and what effects will that have on the team?  These and many other questions were raised at the start of the season.

And like many things in life, we just plugged ahead.  A third team was created so that the players could have better playing time.  There were two boys on the team who had played goalie in the past and were willing to share that responsibility.  And, I think most of the kids on the team have the attitude that they are here to play their hardest and if they lose games because of the goalie situation, well, that's just life.

Kind of like low carb cooking and (for me especially) baking.  Changing to a low carb style of cooking hasn't really affected our meals.  If the boys still want bread or mashed potatoes, well, I make that too and give it to them with dinner.  But the matter of baking and baking treats is something I've really taken quite seriously.  While I've never been a baker, circumstances in my life (including the changeover to low carb) have made me decide I want to control more of the food my family eats.  And that extends to the treats my boys eat.

I've started trying to bake grain-free and sugar-free with little success thus far (NOTE:  Success is defined as it tastes good to both me and my boys.  If it's not a treat then why bother baking treats, right?).  So, I've taken an incremental approach--what's the best I can do right now?  Right now that means dialing back, but not eliminating, the carbs:  cutting the flour in half and replacing the other half with nut or seed flours; and cutting the sugar by half or two-thirds and replacing the rest with sucralose or erythritol.  Is this ideal for my boys?  No.  But it's the best I can do right now and I continue to experiment (like, replacing some of the butter with peanut butter appears to improve the overall texture of the cookies, if a slightly peanuty taste is acceptable and compatible with the other flavors).  Just as I'm sure there will be some changes to our goalie strategy over the course of the season, I'm sure there are going to be more changes in my baking strategies for my boys.  I think the key for me is that I'm doing SOMETHING and I'm moving in the right direction AND the boys are enjoying the results just as much.

What I Ate: Cream of Spinach Soup with Feta, Carrots, Squash, and Bacon

I thought I would channel my inner Michael Chang, creator of the Cooking for Engineers blog, and a feature he ran there for many years.  This was my lunch yesterday:  cream of spinach soup garnished with some cooked carrots, fried summer squash, bacon, and a few pieces of feta cheese.  A low carb treat!

When some people hear low carb, they automatically think of bacon, butter, and steak.  There is far more to this way of eating than that.  Eating good, whole foods in a nourishing and (very) filling way.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Website Review: Vitacost, Netrition, and Amazon

Adopting a new way of eating can be difficult, particularly when it comes to a way of eating that departs from the Standard American Diet (SAD).  The adage, "Shop the perimeter of the grocery store," is certainly practical advice and channels your food purchases to produce, fresh and frozen meats and fish, dairy, and frozen produce which are all (or mostly all) amenable to a low carb lifestyle.  However, there is more to life and eating than simply these things.  If you want to have low carbohydrate sweets you'll need to find some alternatives to flour and sugar.  Maybe you want some items that you can grab and go on those mornings where you can cook or make a proper breakfast (think, breakfast bars).  Or maybe you want to supplement your yogurt or shake with some additional protein in the form of protein powder.

Some or all of those things can be found in supermarkets or specialty food stores in major, urban areas.  But sometimes the selection is quite limited or you may not live in an area that has stores with those items.  What do you do then?  The answer, as in many cases in the 21st century, is to go on-line.

There are many choices of on-line outlets for specialty food items.  I'll review the three I've used in the past and provide what guidance I can on selecting the right one for you.  Those three outlets are:  Vitacost, Netrition, and Amazon (of course, Amazon).

Vitacost is an online health food, vitamin/supplement, and healthy lifestyle merchant.  They have a huge selection of items ranging from sweeteners, protein powders and green foods, flour alternatives (almond meal, flaxseed, etc.), olive oils and other fats, and even canned food items like black soybeans or diced organic tomatoes.  If you are looking for cleaning products or healthy pet food or pet care products they have those too.


  • Free shipping with purchases over $49 and they provide "thank you, come again" coupons in their shipments to entice you back.
  • Each product description includes nutrition information and customer reviews.
  • Vitacost has a smartphone app that works great and provides all the functionality of the website including detailed nutrition information and product reviews.
  • They have a wide variety of products and I love that I can even get pantry type items such as canned goods that are high-quality and at great prices.  Black soybeans are a favorite of mine for chilis and my local markets don't stock them.
  • The breadth of "healthy" products they offer spans more than just food and supplements.  If you are looking for healthier alternatives for laundry detergent, cleaning products, or pet care, chances are you'll find them at Vitacost.
  • They offer both keyword and brand name searches for their product search.
  • They run frequent sales and promotions which can often be the lowest price on that product anywhere (if you happen to catch it on sale).
  • They carry coffee and tea if you are looking to try something different than what you can get at the local market.
  • They also offer exclusive content such as blog posts, videos, and recipes.


  • Their stock can be limited--a number of times I've gone to the website and found I can't order items because they are out of stock, or worse, have ordered an "in stock" item only to find out later that it is now back-ordered.
  • They don't have many bread replacement products.  They do stock a few mixes, but nothing like low carb tortillas or bread.
  • Selection on sweeteners and some other items is somewhat limited in both variety and sizes offered.  For example, they only have one brand and size of erythritol (1 lb) and it always seems to go out of stock.
Netrition is an online health food and vitamin/supplement merchant.  Their products are really focused around food and health and do not include items like cleaning or pet care.  That being said, they carry certain "fresh" items like bread and tortillas.  They also classify their products according to your dietary needs such as "low carb", "muscle building", etc.

  • Netrition offers flat rate shipping of $4.95 no matter the size of your order.
  • Netrition generally has the same or better prices on products (not always, but probably 50-60% of the time compared to Amazon or Vitacost).
  • Each product description includes nutrition information and customer reviews.
  • As noted in the summary, they offer "fresh" items like low carb tortillas and bread.
  • Their selection of low carb baking mixes items is HUGE!


    • Netrition does not have a mobile-enabled website or smartphone app.  So, if you use your phone as much as I do, you'll have to use the full version of the website which is difficult to view on a small screen.
    • They don't carry olive oil.  In particular, I get olive oils from California which have been shown to be genuine unlike nearly all imported or supermarket olive oils (including organic!).
    • They don't carry coffee or tea like Vitacost.
    What can I say about Amazon that hasn't already been said.  Yes, the on-line merchant you use to buy e-books, stream videos, and do all your Christmas shopping also has a large grocery and health food section.

    • The Amazon name and brand--they stand behind everything that is sold and will make it right should your purchase go wrong.
    • They have a smartphone app which gives you access to product information and reviews though I don't really like it that much.
    • Some items can be shipped for free if you are a Amazon Prime member (NOTE:  Shipping costs are HIGHLY variable as there are many Amazon resellers which offer the grocery and health food items.)
    • Selection is generally as good or sometimes better than either Vitacost or Netrition.  You want to choose betwen a 1, 2.5, or 5 lb bag of Xylitol?  Amazon, has it.
    • Generally the items lack nutritional information or labeling viewable on the website.  Sometimes you are lucky and that information is in one of the product photos, but generally it is not.
    • Prices are usually the highest on Amazon (and the shipping can also be expensive as you will not be buying all your items from one merchant).
    Based on the Pros and Cons listed above you may have guessed that I prefer Vitacost and Netrition over Amazon and you would be correct.  The nutrition and ingredient information is critical, particularly when starting out on this new lifestyle.  In addition, they generally have better pricing and more favorable shipping as you are purchasing everything from a single vendor.  Choosing between Vitacost and Netrition is more a personal decision.  I gravitate toward Vitacost because of the olive oil and I'm not interested in things like bread or the baking mixes.  I also find that Vitacost has the lower prices on Atkins bars which I use to supplement my diet.  My suggestion is to go to both websites and search for products that you are interested in and compare the selection and pricing.  Also consider items that you may be interested in the future and see which merchant has a better selection and pricing on those as well.

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    Blog Roundup: Week of October 14, 2013

    I spend a lot of time reading the blogosphere.  About 99% of the low-carb/paleo/real food/nutrition blogs out there publish a lot of what I consider to be "unuseful" information along the lines of:  "Gosh, I can't believe everyone doesn't eat the way I do.  Let me rant about how bad I think people are who don't agree with the way I eat."  While this can occasionally be motivating, most of the time I believe it's a waste.  Articles, posts, and podcasts which give information, tools or techniques are things that will help keep me (and anyone else concerned about their weight and health) going on the right path.

    So when I find blog entries, podcasts, or news articles that ARE useful and fit in with the goals of this blog, I will summarize them for you in a "Blog Roundup".  This week I've found a few good things for you to read or listen to.

    First is an interview with Dr. Barry Sears (creator of the Zone Diet) on Smarter Science of Slim with Jonathan Bailor.  Dr. Sears gives quantitative advice and techniques on how to optimize your diet to improve your weight loss and health.  Very much worth the 20 minutes or so listening.

    Second is a follow-on posting at regarding the recommendation by Swedish health authorities that low-carb dieting is more effective.  This post has some specific information regarding the "MyPlate" guidelines and how to change them for a low-carb lifestyle in keeping with the new recommendations.

    Lastly, the Low-Carb Diets site at has a newsletter this week on sweeteners.  Laura Dolson, who manages this site and newsletter, is knowledgeable and practical in her assessments on topics of sweets and diets in general.  I find her advice is the one I gravitate to whenever I have a question on something "controversial" or debatable.

    Enjoy these postings as you educate yourself on how to be healthier.  Have a great week.

    Sunday, October 13, 2013

    Recipe: Grain-Free, Sugar-Free Granola

    One of the things I most miss since going low-carb is granola...  good, crunchy, nutty granola...  While this isn't a perfect replacement, it IS darn good.  NOTE:  This is VERY filling, I do not recommend eating a whole bowl of it like you would granola cereal.  Instead, it is great as a mid-afternoon snack on its own or sprinkled on top of fruit or yogurt.

    I've also included a technique in this recipe--making a simple syrup from Splenda or sucralose.

    1 cup roasted, salted soy nuts
    1/2 cup roasted, salted almonds + 1 handful
    1/2 cup slivered almonds (blanched or raw)
    1/2 cup walnuts
    1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (optional:  roasted, salted; or sprouted)
    1/2 cup roasted peanuts
    1/2 cup chia seeds
    1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
    1 Tbsp cinnamon (optional)

    2 cups sucralose
    2 cups water

    LCHD Technique:  Sugar-free Simple Syrup
    Pour 2 cups sucralose into 2 cups water in a small saucepan on the stove.  Stir the mixture with a whisk until the sucralose is dissolved.  Heat the mixture at medium-high heat until the mixture begins to boil gently.  Stirring occasionally, allow the mixture to boil for 20 minutes.  It should reduce to about 3/4 cup and will have a slightly golden hue.  Once reduced, remove the saucepan from heat and allow to cool.  This will be used to bind and sweeten the granola (below) and can be used for a variety of other things as well:  sweetening your coffee or tea, sweeten your plain yogurt, or using as a glaze for baked items.

    Granola Recipe:
    Preheat the oven to 250.

    Put all of dry ingredients into a food processor fitted with the S-blade.  Using the pulse function, pulse the mixture 10-15 times.  The mixture should have a range of sizes.  Pour into a mixing bowl.  At this point, I typically add another handful of the roasted, salted almonds (whole) to this mixture to give some bigger nut pieces.

    Starting with 1/2 cup of the simple syrup, pour it onto the mixture in the mixing bowl and use a spatula to incorporate.  Taste for sweetness and whether the mixture is well-coated.  If necessary, add the remaining 1/4 cup of simple syrup.

    Take a 10x15 baking pan and place a piece of parchment paper or silicone baking mat onto it.  Spread the mixture from the mixing bowl onto the paper or mat.  It should roughly cover the pan (with about 1/2" border on all sides) and be approximately 1/4" thick.  It should be pretty sticky and spread as a single mass.

    Place into the oven and bake for 25-30 mins on the middle rack.  After 25-30 minutes, remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pan.  It should be quite crispy and will be like a giant, brittle granola bar.  Break it up loosely (don't break all the "biggies"--those are the best part of the granola!) and place it into a plastic bag or glass jar.

    NOTE:  If using shredded coconut, this will add moisture to the mixture and will require additional baking time.  After 25-30 minutes, take the granola mixture out.  Most of the moisture will be trapped toward the center on the bottom of the baked mixture.  Using a spatula, break up the mixture on the baking pan being sure to turn over the pieces and expose any moist sections or pieces.  Put back into the oven and bake another 15-20 minutes.  Take out of the oven and test to see whether the mixture is fully dry.  If not, put back into the oven for another 5-10 minutes.  Once the mixture is fully dry, take out of the oven and allow to cool as above.  Store as above.