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!