Life after Mexico City ...
For anyone new to the blog, I've been travelling and moving across borders, to Seattle, WA. I have arrived and am slowly getting set up. My pots and pans just arrived and I cooked my first big meal, just 2 nights ago. I also whipped up 2 nice big batches of ice cream for a friend's birthday party; Sugar Free Maple Pumpkin Spice and Double Chocolate Chunk with Hazelnut. They were excellent!
I'm a bad low carb blogger. Don't tell anyone, though. Maybe if I'm lucky ... no one will notice!
We're on the precipice of one the biggest food based holidays in the US, and ... I have nothing to contribute. I had planned a huge feast of epic low carb proportions, but ... moved to Seattle, instead. I have only procured my first big pot for boiling water, just this Saturday. My kitchen is still lacking and I simply don't have the equipment or platters for a full scale Thanksgiving Feast. I had really wanted to blow the doors of this particular holiday, too. A shame! I do apologize to anyone that was looking forward to what I might do. I love Thanksgiving and always go all out. This year ... might be a special night at Ruth's Chris!
I don't want to totally leave people in the lurch. There are some fantastic low carb sites and recipes out there. I'm going to take this opportunity make a few well placed recommendations ...
If I were to design a low carb menu and create recipes for you, they would look something like this ... (click the pictures for the tantalizing and festive low carb recipes)
Bacon-Blanketed, Herb Roasted Turkey
Orange Cranberry Sauce
Garden Salad with Cranberries, Pine Nuts, and Bacon
Green Beans, Peppers and Almonds
"Mock" Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Caramel Apple Cheesecake
I had a moment ...
Here's a bit of a long winded rant about sweeteners. It's a bit of an overreaction, but in the heat of the moment, I was embarrassed and felt I'd mislead my friends ... hold on to your hats!
I have some friends (a married couple ... Ricky Roo and Suzanne) that are doing a sort of low carb paleo thing. They are doing an amazing job. Their approach is a bit different than mine, but they are succeeding ... and success ... no matter how it's achieved ... is never bad. However, we collectively hit a weird stumbling block, the other day.
I'm often talking about sweeteners and am a big fan of making my own blends. However, I always suggest "Truvia" as the best pre-mixed natural sweetener out there. It's more expensive than making your own, but ... it's good, zero carb, already mixed and ready to go!
I visited my friends' home for a dinner party they were having. For dessert, they had made a delicious cheesecake. I knew it was a low carb cheesecake, so I took a nice big bite. There was a strong "sharply sweet" flavor to it and I smarmily proclaimed, "I can taste the synthesis!" ... thinking it had been made with Splenda. I was just poking fun, because I knew they were trying. In any event, Suzanne reached under the counter and pulled out a bag of Truvia and said, "What do you mean? We used Truvia!" and handed me a bag of Truvia. She had a look on her face that read, "In your face, Foodie!" Suzanne had just put me in my place. DOH!
I do love Truvia and was a big fan, down in Mexico. I could find the packets with relative ease. By the time I left, I was also able to find the "spoonable" Truvia, which was a plastic tub of the stuff found in the packets. It's basically a zero carb sweetener made with refined natural ingredients. It's called "Truvia"!
Here I stand, in my friends' kitchen, holding this interesting plastic bag of "Truvia". I was all excited to see it, because even the spoonable tub of Truvia was tiny and expensive. THIS was a nice big 1.5 lb. bag of the stuff. Whoo hoo! Bulk Truvia! Then ... my eyes adjusted and I started to read the bag. This was the "Baking Blend" ... with Sugar!
Hmmm ... what is that?!
See, here's the thing ... Truvia (the Truvia I know and recommend) is little more than a mixture of Erythritol and Stevia. Again, Truvia is just a mixture of these two powders ...
"Erythritol" (a sugar alcohol) is a horrible name for one of my favorite discoveries. The name makes it sound like it belongs in a beaker ... not in a muffin. As a result, I feel this scares people off. Once the mystery is removed, it's little more than sugar, but with several quirks that can make it a bit of a challenge to deal with. I plan to get deeper into Erythritol in the near future, when I get into my own "Sugar" blends. For now, the most important thing to know about Erythritol is that it looks and tastes a lot like sugar. The good news is, it basically passes through the body and exits through the urine, before it's ever absorbed and converted to glucose. You get the great taste sensation, but never actually absorb it! This means it's "zero carb and zero calories" ... it's natural and yummy, too!
Some of the quirks ... it's not as sweet as sugar. It's about 70% as sweet. It also has a subtle "cooling" effect (pure erythritol feels a bit like a very subtle breath mint, in the mouth). It also doesn't dissolve easily and loves life as a crystal. These are some of the challenges ...
Stevia is a plant, also known as sweetleaf or sugarleaf. The refined extracts of this plant are roughly 300 times the sweetness of sugar. It's also got a bit of a bitter or licorice flavor to it, which some find undesirable (including me ... I've never been a big fan of plain stevia powders). The good news is ... a little tiny bit goes a long way!
Even better news, blending of different sweeteners tends to neutralize the negative effects and accentuates the positive. The word I always see used is ... synergetic. They complement one another and build something more like sugar. See, if you take something not as sweet as sugar and blend it with something A LOT sweeter than sugar, in a precise ratio, you can get something that measures like and has the same sweetness as sugar. I'll get into the calculations in the future. Low Carb Math ... YIPPEE!!!
In short, however ... it just takes a tiny bit of refined stevia to boost erythritol to the sweetness level of sugar. This means that these blends are mostly erythritol, which ... means you need to deal with the wacky characteristics of the stuff ...
I realize it must feel like I'm straying, but ... I'm not. I promise. I'm trying to give a little back story, so you can understand my frustration with Truvia's "Baking Blend". This is foundational. When I focused on the label, I interpreted what I read as something containing near half sugar. Not "sugar", but ... actual honest to goodness sugar! Potentially even a lot of it! The second ingredient on the label was ... SUGAR! UGH!! I just about fell over, when I saw that. TRUVIA CONTAINS SUGAR!!!
I really felt deceived by this. My friends had no idea, but they said they felt like they'd been gaining weight, but ... didn't know why. I realize that the bag clearly states that it's got sugar in it, but ... it's "Truvia" and has been zero carb since its inception. To me "Truvia" means ... no carb. They didn't read the bag. They just knew that DJ says Truvia is awesome, so ... they bought Truvia. I probably would have, too, if I weren't such a low carb nerd!
Fine print, folks ...
Even in this case, the fine print lacks the details I personally need to make informed decisions ...
Here's the skinny ...
Usually "baking" implies a fairly high level of sweetness. Sugar will dissolve and stay melted, dissolved and evenly distributed within a cheesecake. It just becomes smooth, creamy and sweet. Unfortunately, large quantities of erythritol, suspended in a relatively small amount of cream cheese and eggs will ... re-crystallize. It becomes "gritty". You can crunch down on all the little tiny erythritol crystals. It still tastes nice, but the texture isn't at all what you want in a smooth and creamy cheesecake. Lots of recipes that use erythritol suggest you powder it, first (put it in a coffee grinder and grind it, until it's the texture of powdered sugar). This helps, but ... you can still feel the crystals. They're just smaller. It's like the difference between a course grain sand paper and ... a fine one. It's still sandy.
This is where the problems come in ...
How do you create a blend of sweeteners
that are low caloric, low carb, sweet and tasty,
derived from natural ingredients,
which don't turn to sand in cakes
... is cost effective?
That's the magic question. I'm not sure what happened, or which came first, but ... somehow sugar just tastes nice and has properties and characteristics that work well in desserts. It's one ingredient and complements them all! Is sugar just naturally that awesome, or did we engineer cakes, puddings and pastries around its unique properties? No matter the answer, to accomplish the same tasks without sugar is ... complicated.
In order to keep erythritol from crystallizing, it needs to be diluted with "other stuff". For example, if you add a little erythritol to a tomato sauce, it will dissolve and stay dissolved, because ... it's a small amount. The erythritol has been "bulked out" with ... tomatoes, onions and garlic. However, in a custard, there's a lot of it, in relation to the eggs and cream! There's so much that it feels comfortable reverting to its crystallized state. It's gritty. Sandy. Yuck.
So, then becomes the quest to find a complementary "bulking agent" (not tomatoes) that tastes good, is cost effective and dilutes the erythritol in desserts and other baked goods, without it crystallizing. Different companies, people and blends do all kinds of things. Truvia decided to just use sugar. In many ways, it makes sense. It IS a lot lower carb than straight up sugar. I'm not saying it's as bad as pure sugar. HOWEVER, I AM saying it's potentially about HALF as bad as pure sugar, but ... that's hard to know based on the label. The label is murky ... muddy ... done in a way that feels deceptive to me ...
Truvia has gone and bummed me out!
To give some metrics that show why I'm bummed out ... I try and limit myself to about 30 net carbs a day. A cup of pure sugar has about 200 grams of carbs. This suggests that I can ingest about 2 1/2 tablespoons of pure sugar, per day. This also suggests that I eat zero vegetables, fruits, nuts or dairy. Point being ... it's not a lot.
Splenda gets a lot of grief because it's synthetic. Splenda has about 24 grams per cup. This is MUCH better than sugar's 200. I could theoretically eat a whole cup and STILL have some room for veggies!
The label for the Baking Blend of Truvia states that it contains potentially upwards of 96 grams of carbs, per cup. This is because it's near half sugar! The claim is that it's only 1 net carb per serving ... this is the part that feels deceptive to me. A single serving is ... a half of a teaspoon. Who uses a half of a teaspoon in anything?! I could put a half a teaspoon of sugar directly on my tongue and ... barely even notice it. Bleh. It's just not a useable metric, but it doesn't stop people from heaping loads of it into their foods, because ... it's only 1 carb! I guess I just feel let down. I held Truvia to a higher standard. This method is designed to conceal the actual larger, more meaningful and useable numbers ... in my humble opinion.
I read the website and the claim is, you're supposed to use "half" the amount of Truvia's baking blend in recipes, in place of sugar. So, it's still upwards of 96 grams per cup, but ... you're only supposed to use half a cup. This results in some twisty equivalent of 48 grams per cup of replaced sugary sweetness, which ... is still twice that of Splenda (while being a refined natural blend of ingredients).
Splenda recently put out something called "Nectresse". It's their "all natural" sweetener, I'm assuming ... to combat the synthetic issues related to Splenda. It's got the same issue as the baking blend of Truvia. In fact, they're basically the same product ... kind of ... sort of. They're both erythritol/sugar blends, punctuated with a bit of stevia or monk fruit extracts. Nectresse also uses the miniscule 1/2 teaspoon serving as the amount, but they claim you would use 1/4 cup of Nectresse to a cup of sugar. This suggests, then, that ... it's a natural form of "sugar" that contributes about 24 grams of carbs per cup of sweetening power. I still detest the 1/2 teaspoon serving illusion, though. Nectresse is roughly the same as Splenda, (24 grams of carbs per cup of sweetening power) but ... natural. Perhaps it's a better product than both Splenda AND Truvia's Baking Blend. I also like that they marketed it as its own thing, as opposed to Truvia who slapped the "Truvia" name all over its sugar laden "Baking Blend". The way Truvia handled it, made me feel like I lied to my friends. That really upset me!
My Quick and Dirty Solution ...
I'll get into my own sugar blends within the next week or two, but ... in a pinch, I usually use granular erythritol and liquid sucralose (basically, pure liquid Splenda) for my sweeteners. It's quite common for me to throw a dash of powdered stevia in that, as well. This works, is quick and painless, but takes some getting used to and would look like chemistry to your average sugar lover.
Because of all of this nonsense and what feels like slightly not-so-hidden agendas (kinda) ... I'm going to start investigating "Swerve" sweetener. This looks like my new favorite recommendation. It's also erythritol based, but is bulked out with Oligosaccharides, which are treated like fiber in the system, but tend to give sugar-like properties to desserts. They also offer a full teaspoon as the serving size (still not great, but twice the amount of their competitors!) and they also suggest that near 100% of the contents are erythritol. I've never used it, but have heard good things and the label suggests that it's nutritionally the best option. If it genuinely bakes well in my future desserts, it will officially become my new suggestion to people. In fact, it probably already is ... I just don't have the personal experience to back it up.
More on "Swerve" in the future!
Finally, it should probably be noted that ... I'm just a monkey with a keyboard, an opinion and a desire to be healthy. I don't make a penny from any of these companies. I'm just sharing my thoughts and am hopefully backing them up with something resembling logic.
I had actually written another piece on reading labels, but this rant is too long. I'll save that for next week. Whew!
(recipes still in development)
Cauliflower "Au Gratin" with Roasted Garlic, Sage and Bacon
Tunisian Spiced Rack of Lamb
Blackberry Basil Sorbet
This week's recipes ...
This week's post takes me to exactly 100 recipes. Yay! There are many successful cookbooks out there with less than 100 recipes. I really feel proud of this and ... believe it's quite an achievement. If you happen to see me walking down the street ... pat me on the back. I've earned it. Interestingly ... I've really only just begun!
Seeing as it's becoming winter time, it seemed fun to throw a warm and slightly exotic beverage on the pile. I have a nice spiced Chai. It's REALLLLY GOOD! I've also combined a few of my favorite things ... BBQ's, Shrimp and Wrapping Stuff in Bacon. There's a grilled BBQ Bacon Wrapped Bacon Shrimp that would be sinful, if this weren't a low carb universe. I've also got a strawberry shortcake recipe that was monstrously tasty. Finally, there's a simple, but frequently eaten BBQ Pork Tacos. Each of these recipes are ... yum.
I'm still learning about all the social networks. The problem is, they evolve faster than I can learn them! How frustrating!
I guess Facebook just implemented a new algorithm that will prevent people from getting much of the content they signed up for. The idea, as they're spinning it, is that they will send you the best content from the pages you've "liked", but ... not all of it. They're worried people will get overwhelmed by "too much stuff" (even though it's stuff they've specifically stated they wanted). Anywhoo ... some digging has told me that small fries such as myself won't really be harmed by this. As a page gets bigger, the content is shown to a smaller percentage of the total number of subscribers. I've only got about 300 Facebook subscribers, so ... most of what I send gets seen. However, the bigger pages with 10's of thousands of subscribers aren't able to send to their whole list, without paying for the right to do so.
However! ... there is a way you can get ALL the content from your most favorite pages, should you desire to do so. After you've "Liked" a page, hold your mouse over the "Liked" button. A little menu will appear beneath the button. Select "Get Notifications" and ... you'll start to get EVERYTHING they send.
You will get less content from many of the pages that you've liked. It's already happening. Go look through your lists and select "Get Notifications" for the ones you REALLY like. With any luck, I'll grow in size and this will have more meaning for me, in time. While you're looking through your lists, why not include me in your list of notifications, too? While I may have blown Thanksgiving, I've usually got some decent recipes and some interesting thoughts.
Stay subscribed and ... see you out there!
ALL NEW Weekly Recipes!
||Spiced Masala Chai Tea
Calling this "Spiced Masala Chai Tea" is something like thrice redundant. It's really just "Masala Chai", but ... it seemed more fun to mix it up. Masala simply means "spice mix" in most of South East Asia, primarily known in Indian Hindi. In a similar naming ... Chai just means "Tea". So ... Spiced Masala Chai Tea is like saying Spiced Tea ... in a few different ways, all at the same time. Good times, huh?
||BBQ'd Bacon Wrapped Basil Shrimp
YAY! Another bacon wrapped recipe. YAY!!!
This combines several of my favorite things ... Grillin' stuff ... wrappin' stuff in bacon and ... shrimp! It's also got some fun little twists, like the addition of some BBQ sauce and a fresh basil leaf. Familiar and comfortable, yet ... different and with a slight basil kick!
It's enormously important to me to give credit where ... credit is due. My pound cake recipe is one that I got from somewhere. It's not mine. I don't know if it's modified or not, nor do I remember where I got it. I just know that it's in my notes and has been bumping around for a few years. I just looked to see if I could find the source of the recipe and was unable to.
Strawberry Shortcake is … for lack of a better term … scrumtrulescent. It's the hibbity dibbity. It's really just the absolute best. I don't know if the following statement is true, but … in my mind … it's a true American classic. It's wonderful, delicious and amazing, all at the same time. It's also something we can eat. YAY!
||Sweet n' Creamy Coleslaw
Coleslaw is a relative newcomer in my life. I would NEVER eat it, growing up. The idea of cabbage was just foul. Mayo wasn't a favorite and a sweetened creamy cabbage salad just sounded ... yuck. As I aged and learned about foods, I started to gain an appreciation for coleslaw. Now, it's ... YUM!
||Simmered Shreddy BBQ Pork
This is a favorite of mine. I eat this pretty regularly. It's the easiest thing on the earth and could probably only be easier by using a Crockpot (which I plan to learn to use ... very soon). It's little more than submerging pork in BBQ sauce, then slowly simmering for about 2 1/2 hours. Then, shred it. What you do from there is ... up to you.
||Soft BBQ Pork Tacos
I really love BBQ Sandwiches. It's one of my favorites. People often ask me what my favorite meal is, or my favorite restaurant. Over the years, I've given many answers to those questions, but … BBQ is mentioned easily 50% of the time.