Low Carb Zucchini Fries

Low Carb Zucchini Fries RecipeI consider zucchini to be the “Swiss Army Knife” of summer vegetables since there are so many different ways to prepare it – both as a main course as well as a side dish. Though fresh zucchinis can be had year round in most locales, it’s at its best during the summer months. I’m a big believer in the strategy of consuming fruits and vegetables when they’re in season. Zucchini also are easy to grow in backyard gardens provided you have sufficient space to let the vines roam. The following recipe is just one of many ways to prepare a healthy and tasty side dish using zucchini.


Though this recipe won’t make you forget McDonald’s fries, it will hopefully begin to gently lead you towards a path of choosing healthier and lower carb side dishes. There are quite a few recipes out there for zucchini fries, but I’ve found them to still be a little too heavy on the starchy carbs for my liking. Most use flour and breadcrumbs to provide a crispy coating to the fries. This is great, but through a little experimenting, I’ve managed to come up with something just as good that doesn’t add to the glycemic load of the recipe and is also much simpler to prepare since it eliminates a few extra steps. The other recipes require that you first dredge the zucchini strips in flour and then dunk them into egg before another dredging operation into breadcrumbs. We’re gonna skip all that and get right into cooking up some zucchini fries!

It’s Officially Zucchini Season 2015!

With zucchini’s popping out in gardens all over now that it’s summer, why not take advantage of all the great ways to enjoy them? Besides this fantastic low-carb baked zucchini fries recipe, there’s also zoodles. In the video below, I demonstrate how to use a simple Vegetti slicer to make oodles of zoodles! It also includes a delicious recipe for combining them with a low-carb version of Chicken Parmesan.

These fries can either be served as a side dish or can also be served on their own as an appetizer. Hold the ketchup and serve them with a dip of hot marinara sauce or cold homemade salsa. Bring these out to your friends during your next Super Bowl party and see how they react.

Servings: 2

low carb zucchini fries nutrition info

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium size zucchini
  • ½ C Parmesan cheese
  • 3 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • ½ tsp Ground pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Peel the zucchini with a potato peeler and cut into strips ¼” thick and about 3” long
  3. Pour 2 Tbsp of olive oil into a glass baking dish and dump the “fries” into it. Lightly toss the fries until well-coated with olive oil.

    Sliced Zucchini Fries

  4. Dump Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper onto a plate and sift together using a fork.
  5. Place several fries at a time into the Parmesan cheese mixture. Roll the zucchini strips over several times in the mixture making sure that they are thoroughly coated on both sides with cheese.
  6. Place the zucchini strips in uniform rows on the cookie sheet. You don’t need much spacing between them, but you may need a second cookie sheet depending on how many fries you wound up with.
    Baked Zucchini Fries
  7. Sprinkle the remaining olive oil using a metal soup spoon evenly over the tops of the fries.
  8. Bake the fries for 10 minutes and then remove from the oven. Carefully flip them over using a spatula and then place back into the oven for another 10 minutes or until well-browned.
  9. Remove fries from oven and server immediately – either as a side dish or as an appetizer with one of the aforementioned dipping sauces.

Checkout More of Our Delicious Low Carb Recipes Here!




Low Carb One Minute Cheesecake

low carb one minute cheesecakeIn the lowcarber’s on-going quest to find low-carb versions of traditional dishes from the high-carb world, there exist the ones from the pastry world. I won’t bother to enumerate any of them here. The list is legion and I’m sure you just rattled off at least a dozen in your head while reading the previous sentences. It’s a world you’re better off leaving completely behind. But if you insist on going there, then you need to be aware of the preparation challenges with adapting these temptations to your way of eating.

The crux of the problem with pastries of most kinds is twofold and comes down to finding suitable substitutions for two major ingredients: flour and sugar. Without these key ingredients why even bother? Cauliflower double-fudge brownies anyone?

The essential challenges are finding substitutes for refined white flour and that sweetest of all ingredients: sugar. There are nut flours you can choose from and coconut flour isn’t a bad one. It tastes like coconut and is sort of sweet and you can always use baking powder and/or tapioca flour for low-carb forms of leavening. Where the typical sugar substitutes fall short when it comes to baking is lack of caramelizing properties at least for most of them. But what if there was a sweet treat that just about everyone craves that doesn’t use flour and can do just fine without caramelization?

If I had obscured the delicacy in question in the title of this post, I bet it would have taken you a while to come up with it, unless of course you’re a cheesecake fanatic. After all what is cheesecake, besides a big ole hunk of cream cheese, combined with eggs and a ton of sugar? Baking a cheese cake is typically a rather involved, time-consuming process. My Aunt Mary’s “Light as air fluffy cheese cake” is a rather big production, but oh so worth it. I’m providing the link to the recipe on her blog for information purposes only. You’ve been warned! Oh, and be sure to watch the video she recorded.

I found this microwave version of a single-serving cheese cake on Facebook. I’ve adapted it to replace the sugar with a few drops of liquid stevia. When it comes to cooking and dressings, substituting Swanson Vitamins’ liquid stevia will make you swear that real sugar was used. I lied in the title. Actual preparation time is somewhat under five minutes with a cooking time of ninety seconds. And of course you need to let it chill in the fridge for a few hours prior to eating. That’s a true test of your willpower!

Note-1: This recipe doesn’t use a crust. As you probably know, most cheesecakes have a streusel type crust made from either crushed graham crackers or bread crumbs. It also uses quite a bit of sugar along with butter. Honestly, I don’t really miss the crust. I was thinking about making a faux crust using almond flour, but I think the crunchy granularity of the sugar would be missed in this case.

Note-2: Portion control tip. I’ve mustered the discipline to consume exactly half a mini cheesecake per sitting. My typical routine – when I have some on hand – is to eat half with my afternoon coffee (great combo!), and then finish the remaining half as dessert after dinner or as an evening snack. It sounds really hard, but it’s a great way to manage both appetite and cravings.

cheesecake-label

Ingredients:

low-carb cheesecake ingredients

  • 2 oz cream cheese softened
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • 1/4 tsp organic vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 6-8 drops liquid stevia
  • Small ramekin for “baking”

Directions:

  1. Place cream cheese in a microwave-safe bowl and soften (about 20-30s on High).
    softened cream cheese
  2. Add remaining ingredients and whisk together.
    low-carb cheesecake batter
  3. Pour batter into small ramekin and microwave on High for 90s. Stir gently after 30s. Recheck at 60s and only stir if still soupy.
    one minute microwave cheesecake
  4. Chill in fridge for at least one hour.
  5. (Optional) top with fresh strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries or if you’re feeling really decadent; sugar-free jam.



Homemade Salad Dressing Recipes

Homemade Salad DressingsA staple of any diet, low carb or otherwise, is salads. Sometimes you do find yourself feeling like that proverbial rabbit from noshing on all that lettuce and the only saving grace is all the salad dressing you can drench it in to mask the fact that you’re essentially eating roughage.

Once upon a time, back in the days when low fat diets were the law of the land, it was about finding the lowest fat versions of salad dressings. Fast forward a decade or two, and it’s now all about finding salad dressings with next to zero carbs. In this quest, we allow in a lot of unhealthy stuff in the form of vegetable and seed oils, sodium, and a laundry list of preservatives. That’s if you’re going the convenient route and purchasing bottled salad dressings.

A question that gets asked quite a bit in online low-carb groups is what are good salad dressings to use when eating low-carb. It’s important that they have as few carbs as possible to those asking these questions. Taste seems to often be a secondary concern.

When I see these types of questions it causes me to wonder if these people have ever considered making their own salad dressings. It’s a very simple matter to whip up a healthy and tasty salad dressing at home and most require only two basic ingredients: oil and vinegar.

The oil part can consist of EVOO, avocado oil, yogurt, or mayo. There are even more options for the acid portion of the dressing when you consider that there is more than one type of vinegar as well as lemon and lime juice.

The possibilities really begin to open up when it comes to the host of spices that can be incorporated into a dressing. And if you want REALLY simple then take a cue from the lead photo of this post and take a page from the Mediterranean Diet and pour EVOO and red wine vinegar directly from the bottles (or cruets if you’re being fancy). Sprinkle some dried oregano over it and voila!

In the video below I demonstrate how to make two very basic salad dressings: a basic balsamic vinaigrette and my interpretation of honey mustard with a low-carb twist. Enjoy!

Photo Credits (morguefile.com):

  • Oil and Vinegar cruets: deegolden



Low Carb Bread That Doesn’t Suck

low carb cheesey breadOne of the first things that gets thrown out when starting to eat low carb is bread—bread of all kinds: sliced bread, dinner rolls, sub rolls (hoagie rolls in Philly), Kaiser rolls, English muffins, and biscuits (oh, no, not the biscuits!)

Wasn’t it bad enough that the pasta and rice also got banished and don’t get me started on the pizza! I think just about everyone who has begun a low-carb diet has eventually begun the search for the Holy Grail soon after starting and I’m not talking about the grail from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It’s the search for substitutes for the great-tasting, carb-laden foods that most of us continue to crave after giving them up. It’s these cravings that never seem to subside and are often the ruin of many a low-carb diet despite the best of intentions (cue House of the New Rising Sun). The low-carb, and even gluten-free versions of these items, especially bread, almost always leave you disappointed. The ingredients in a lot of these breads run the gamut from nut and seed flours such as almond, coconut, and flaxseed to even chia seeds. I think I’d only want chia seeds on my retro Chia Pets and even that’s a stretch.

I’ve never tried any of the commercially available low-carb breads and really have no desire to at this point. The outrageous prices of most are more than enough to ward me off and if they turn out to taste like, well, flaxseed, then I’m really going to feel dumb. The homemade versions, though commendable for the attempt, often involve way too many ingredients and steps. And judging from the flour substitutes, it doesn’t look like something I’d want to attempt baking. I could be wrong, but instead, wondered if I could perform a “food makeover” that involved a “nutritional compromise.” It’s a fairly large one at first glance after you learn what one of the ingredients is.

My Challenge: would it be possible to make a dilute version of a high-carb, highly-refined food item such as a biscuit or roll that would taste very close to the full-on version, but be compatible with my way of eating while not incurring too much of a unhealthy dose of things like trans-fat, sugar, and refined white flour?

Bisquick box

It’s an outrage I tell, ya!

I began by studying a lot of the low-carb and gluten-free bread and biscuit recipes. A version that caught my eye used eggs and cheddar cheese as the foundation for the “dough.” Batter would be a more apt description. It also employed baking powder and a few other ingredients to give it a bread-like quality when baked. It then occurred to me that I could leverage Bisquick for both its leavening as well as its gluten content. Yes, sorry, this recipe is far from gluten-free, so my apologies to readers with celiac disease or are otherwise gluten-sensitive. I was just thinking about myself on this one.

The resulting recipe so far has met my needs perfectly. I use a half-and-half mixture of Bisquick and almond flour and the net carbs work out to 6g per roll/biscuit/muffin—however you’d like to call them. The trans-fat is less than 1g which qualifies for 0g with respect to nutritional labeling requirements for commercial food products. Now, I certainly understand that this sort of thing qualifies as low-carb, Paleo, etc. sacrilege and you’re free to skip this one. But you’ll never know what you’re missing!

low carb bread ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup Bisquick (oh noooos!!)
  • 1/3 cup almond flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 Tsbp whole milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I use extra sharp New York style)

Servings: 6

low carb bread nutritional label

Utensils:

  • 6 English muffin rings
  • 1 non-stick baking pan
  • 1 large mixing bowl

Directions:

  1. Grease English muffin tins with coconut oil or butter – don’t use Pam! Arrange evenly on non-stick baking pan.
    English muffin rings
  2. Add Bisquick, almond flour, cheese, eggs, and milk to large mixing bowl and whisk. Should be the consistency of thick pancake batter.
    low carb bread batter
  3. Pour or spoon about 1/4 cup of batter into each muffin ring. This will be well short of the top of the ring, but the bread will rise during baking. This does make for a pretty thin roll, so can use more if cutting quantity back to 5 or 4 rings. Bear in mind that this ups the carbs and all other nutrients proportionally. Don’t worry if some of the batter seeps out under the rings. It shouldn’t be much.

    low carb bread batter poured into muffin ring

    Batter only comes up part way in ring

  4. Bake at 400F for 12 minutes.
  5. Remove baking pan from oven and let cool. Carefully release rolls by scoring around the inside of the ring with a butter knife.

    baked low carb rolls from oven

    Some battered leaked out – no biggie, simply trim!

  6. Allow to thoroughly cool before slicing. Store in cookie tin or plastic container. Since these don’t have extra preservatives, they won’t keep long unrefrigerated. I leave them out for about 3 days before refrigerating.

I use these rolls in various ways:

  • Have half a toasted roll with breakfast (the heated cheddar smells great!). The natural nooks and crannies (thanks to the eggs, cheese, and of course Bisquick) resemble actual English muffins.
    low carb toast
  • Use for sandwiches. A turkey and cheese pictured below simulates a club sandwich.
    turkey club on low carb roll
  • Use when I feel like having a “real” hamburger.
    cheese burger on low carb roll
  • Makes a killer sausage/ham, egg, and cheese biscuit a la Hardee’s!
    sausage, egg, and cheese on low carb biscuit

The important thing to note is I don’t make these all the time. They are just a part of my “carb rotation” now that I’m working more carbs back into my diet. And since they involve a bit more work, it’s something that naturally limits consumption.

A note about toasting: I like to toast a roll especially when making a turkey club, but just be aware that due to their thinness and cheese content, that they tend to curl up at the edges. Therefore, set your toaster lower than you normally would for regular bread and don’t freak out if they still curl up a bit. If you’re really careful, you can “smooth” the curls down a bit.




Chicken Alfredo Without The Guilt

low-carb chicken alfredo recipe Alfredo sauce is one of those decadent delights that we’ve been conditioned to regard as extremely rich and fattening. We’ve been told that a single exposure to it will surely lead us down the path to an early death courtesy of a heart attack that we so richly deserve. At least the first part of that belief is still true (it’s extremely rich). The rest has been proven to be pure baloney.

If you eat poultry, then you’re pretty much on Easy Street when it comes to eating low-carb. There are so many ways to prepare chicken that you could probably go for an entire year without repeating any of them. If you think I’m exaggerating, then punch “chicken recipes” into Google and let ‘er rip. It seems that just about every nationality and ethnic group has a chicken recipe they’re known for, with the exception of possibly the Inuit and Kalahari Bush People, but they have their own delicious forms of cuisine. What’s great about chicken and low-carb is that if an existing recipe isn’t already low-carb friendly then it can usually be adapted so that it is.

When you think of Alfredo the first thing that probably comes to mind is Fettuccine Alfredo. Now this definitely isn’t low-carb and it’s an unhealthy combination of starchy carbs and saturated fat. But when we divorce it from its long-term pasta pairing, things really open up in terms of low-carb possibilities. What is also great about Alfredo sauce is that it doesn’t require an additional thickener such as flour or corn starch. The heavy cream and loads of Parmesan cheese handle all that on their own… what’s not to like and best of all, no guilt (unless you want it)!

Servings: 2

low-carb chicken alfredo nutritional info

Ingredients:

low-carb chicken alfredo ingredients

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4oz each). Pound or cut in half so relatively thin.
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1/4tsp garlic salt
  • 1/4tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4c heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2c grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2tsp dried parsley flakes (optional)

Directions:

low-carb alfredo sauce recipe

  1. Season chicken breasts with garlic salt and black pepper.
  2. Heat 1Tbsp butter and 1Tbsp EVOO in a skillet.
  3. Sautee chicken breasts until brown on both sides and cooked through. About 4-5 mins per side. Remove when done to serving plate.
  4. Melt 2Tbsp butter in a small sauce pan.
  5. Add heavy cream to pan and lower heat.
  6. Gradually add grated Parmesan to sauce while stirring. Bring to just below a boil. Don’t overheat. Sprinkle black pepper into Alfredo sauce and stir.
  7. Pour Alfredo sauce over chicken breasts and sprinkle dried parsley on top.

The really great thing about Alfredo sauce is that you can pour it over just about anything, including beef, fish, and veggies. It did wonders for those cut green beans in the photo at the top of this post!




All Natural Sugar Free Hot Cocoa

low carb hot cocoa for wintertimeIt’s been a cold winter so far here in the Northeast, US. The other day the outdoor thermometer read a whopping 3F! And that’s without the wind chill factor. Of course, my brother Rob calls me a lightweight when I complain about the cold. He’s been seeing -14F with a wind chill of -40F out in Fargo, ND. Either way you slice it, cold is cold and cold weather and I don’t get along very well. That’s why this time of year I get nostalgic for hot cocoa.

It’s one of the ultimate comfort foods and something that brings those memories of being a kid rushing back. Who doesn’t remember coming home to a piping hot cup of hot chocolate after a long day of sledding and playing in the snow? The only problem is good luck finding a hot chocolate mix that isn’t loaded with extra sugar or a “sugar-free” version that isn’t a cloying mixture of artificial ingredients. Yuck!

I had been thinking for a while to experiment with natural cocoa powder and the opportunity arose recently when I tried out an incredible low-carb fudge recipe that Lynn Terry posted on her Traveling Low Carb blog. She has two recipes: one for chocolate and peanut butter fudge and one for all peanut butter. They’re both based on healthy coconut oil. She posted a great variation using heart-shaped molds to make Valentine’s candies. Clever and delicious! I then got motivated and decided to try the chocolate and peanut combo fudge so I picked up a can of Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa.

hershey's all natural cocoa powder

Um, bitter!

The first thing you discover with this stuff is it’s bitter. Not semi-sweet, dark chocolate bitter, which I love, but nose-crinkling, mouth puckering bitter! It almost seems like there’s not enough sugar in the world to make this stuff palatable. Fortunately, liquid stevia once again came to my rescue and made everything all nice and sweet and perfect!

There’s a recipe on the side of the Hershey’s can for “Favorite Hot Cocoa.” I modified it for a single cup—the recipe on the can makes four servings. I also replaced the sugar with sufficient liquid stevia and used some heavy whipping cream for some added richness and a silkier texture. The addition of heavy cream is essentially topping the finished product with a dollop of whipped cream, but for those too lazy (me) to make whipped cream. Whipped cream actually reverts back into cream form when it dissolves in the hot liquid, so no fuss, no muss! If you don’t have cream on hand, then just replace it with more milk.

It took me a few tries to get the measurements just right. If you look at the recipe as a two-step process, then things come into focus. The first step is to make a thick chocolate sauce. This then forms the base for the milk portion. It’s really very similar to making hot chocolate using Nestlé’s or Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Hot chocolate makes for a great snack in place of coffee or tea as well as a very satisfying and filling dessert. Just go easy on the mini marshmallows if you got ‘em!

Serving Size: 10 oz

low-carb hot cocoa nutritional label

Ingredients:

low-carb hot cocoa ingredients

Yep, salt. Helps cut the bitterness.

 

  • ¼ c water
  • 1 Tbsp Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Dash tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
  • ¾ c whole milk
  • 4-8 drops liquid stevia

Directions:

  1. In a small sauce pan, bring water to a boil.
  2. Stir in cocoa powder with a wooden spoon. Mix well until powder is completely dissolved. Should form a thick chocolate syrup.
  3. Lower heat and add salt and vanilla extract. Stir.
  4. Add heavy whipping cream.
  5. Gradually add milk while stirring. Raise heat slightly to just below a boil. Be careful not to scald the milk.
  6. When thoroughly hot, pour into a coffee mug. You may want to use a teaspoon to mix in any remaining syrup at bottom of mug while drinking.

low-carb hot cocoa serving suggestion

Serve hot – pug mug optional!

 

 




Chili Recipe

When it comes to chili, people can get rather passionate. Texans insist that real chili doesn’t contain beans. Cincinnatians agree on that point, but then go and commit “chili sacrilege” by seasoning their peculiar version with cinnamon and then dumping the whole mess on top of buttered pasta!

There’s a famous place here in DC that makes huge batches of spicy red chili for the sole purpose of slathering it on half smokes. They even have a stand at Nat’s Park. Nothing more American than a “Ben’s Chili Bowl” half smoke, a cold beer, and baseball!

Wherever your tastes in chili lie, it’s a hearty meal that will warm you up in the dead of winter or spice up a Fourth of July cookout.

Unfortunately, many people on low-carb eating plans think that since chili usually contain beans, that it’s a forbidden dish. I’m not sure which low-carb diet plan forbids legumes. Atkins? Paleo? Sorry, I seem to have misplaced my low-carb diet plan scorecard.

Beans are a great source of protein as well as a natural source of soluble fiber, something which is quite important when eating a lot of animal protein and cutting out most grains. I’m sorry, but there’s just not enough lettuce and broccoli to make up for the lack of bulk in the typical low-carb diet.

That’s why I suggest the use of fiber supplements such as Metamucil. Beans can help pick up the fiber slack in your diet and if you’re a vegan attempting to do low-carb, then beans should be an important part of your diet in order to round out the protein portion of your macros. My wife makes a vegetarian version along side my “chili con carne.”

I enjoy homemade chili year round, but really get into it when there’s snow on the ground.

Chili occupies sort of a no-man’s land between a soup and a stew. And for that reason, I like my chili on the “wet” side. My version borrows a pinch of cinnamon from the Cincinnati version and some of the seasonings typically used for beef stew — another hearty wintertime meal.

Ingredients:

3-4 servings

  • 1lb ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 3/4c sweet onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil – preferably canola (don’t recommend EVOO or coconut oil)
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp (or more) chili powder
  • 1 tsp (or more) cumin powder
  • 3 large bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 15oz cans kidney beans (dark or light or one of each for color variety)
  • 1 150z can Hunt’s tomato sauce
  • 1/2 tomato sauce can of water

Directions:

  1. Dump both cans of kidney beans into a colander. Rinse thoroughly with cold water to remove bean slime.
  2. Heat 1Tbsp cooking oil in large sauce or stew pot. To this add chopped onions and bell pepper. Saute on medium heat until vegetables are soft. Add minced garlic and stir until garlic is pungent. Don’t let garlic brown.
  3. Add beans and tomato sauce and 1/4c water. Lower heat to simmer.
  4. Meanwhile, heat 1Tbsp cooking oil in large skillet and brown ground meat. Season with some black pepper, salt, and dash of cumin powder. The meat doesn’t need to cook through. It will finish cooking in sauce pot.
  5. Using a slotted spoon transfer ground meat to sauce pot. Optional: add about a tablespoon of grease from skillet to sauce pot for beef flavor and a touch of greasiness.
  6. Season chili with salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin powder, oregano, bay leaves, and cinnamon.
  7. Stir chili and add a touch more water so that the chili can “stew down” while simmering. Bring to boil and then let simmer for 1 hour without a lid.
  8. Ladle into large soup bowls and use topping suggestions below.
  9. This recipe makes 3-4 servings. You can freeze the leftovers in a plastic carryout container for quite a while. Defrost 24 hours before reheating. I like to add a tablespoon or two along with some Worcestershire sauce to reconstitute the wetness. This also makes a great meal to take to work or school. Simply reheat in the microwave.

Topping Suggestions:

  • Grated cheddar cheese
  • Chopped fresh or pickled jalapenos
  • Sour cream

Chili Trivia:

  • Legend has it that chili got its start on the streets of San Antonio, TX. Mexican women cooked it up and served it to the locals. Town officials eventually banned these vendors citing “health” reasons.
  • 5-Way Cincinnati Chili consists of: beanless chili served over vermicelli pasta, and topped with shredded cheddar cheese, chopped onions, and jalapeno peppers. Sorry, no Cincinnati Chili for you!
  • Texas Chili is made without beans, as any good Texan will be sure to remind you!

 




Pesto Recipe

Pesto RecipePesto was once a pretty big deal, going back a decade or two. Nora Ephron referred to it as “the quiche of the 80s” in her screenplay for “When Harry Met Sally.” Its popularity reached its pinnacle sometime during the 90s and was the go to ingredient for the folks we now refer to as hipsters. Its fall from grace notwithstanding, it’s still some pretty tasty stuff. Unfortunately, the most popular uses for it tend to be heavy on the carbs: over pasta, on all sorts of bread, and for the truly hip, as a pizza topping.

But don’t despair low carbers!

There really are some great low carb uses for it, which I’ll list at the end. But first, let’s find out how easy it is to prepare. I think you’ll be surprised. Probably the most difficult part of making your own pesto is obtaining fresh basil. But even this isn’t difficult at all.

The best way to get fresh basil is to grow your own. Basil is an extremely hardy plant and grows like a weed. It will even grow in low quality soil. Simply purchase a basil seedling from a garden supply store and plant it. You can even plant it in a pot on your deck or balcony. Plant it after the last threat of frost has passed in your area during the spring and remember to water it occasionally.

There are several varieties of basil, but the best kind for pesto, and Italian cooking in general, is sweet basil. There are also pungent varieties that are more appropriate for Asian dishes such as many of the Thai basil dishes. If you’re not the gardening type, then you can buy fresh basil in-season at your local farmer’s market or as cuttings year round at most grocery stores.

Ingredients:

  • A big bunch of fresh basil (fill up a colander with cuttings)
  • 1/4+ C Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO in Rachel Ray speak)
  • 1/2+ C Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1-2 large cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp pine nuts (these are rather expensive – I leave them out)

Directions:

  1. Pluck individual basil leaves from branches. Then pinch off the stems. You just want the leaves – not the crunchy bits.
  2. Place the leaves into a food processor with a chopping blade. Fill with small batches of leaves at a time. Once chopped, the leaves with shrink down considerably.
  3. Add a few tablespoons of EVOO to the food processor.
  4. Add in a few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, and the pine nuts if desired.
  5. Replace food processor lid and pulse the mixture a few times until liquified.
  6. Remove lid and stir mixture with a wooden spoon or plastic spatula. At this point, gauge how soupy you want your pesto. This will be determined by the amount of EVOO.
  7. Add in another batch of basil leaves and repeat steps 3-6, continuing until all the leaves have been chopped.
  8. Make certain that all the leaves have been chopped. Add more Parmesan and/or EVOO depending on the consistency you’re after. It takes a few times making pesto and sampling it to get the consistency that’s most to your liking. The good news is it’s impossible to mess it up!
  9. Pesto will keep covered in the fridge for several days. Be aware that its surface will darken, but don’t worry, it’s still good. Simply give it a good stir to bring up the green color. You can also freeze extra pesto either by spooning it into an ice cube tray or freezing larger batches in a plastic container. But hopefully you won’t have any leftovers after trying out all the great low carb serving suggestions below!

Serving Suggestions:

  • Place 2-3 Tbsps in an omelet. Also try adding a dollop of cream cheese along with it and any of the typical omelet fillings such as chopped onion, green pepper, and ham.
  • Use as a salad dressing by mixing in fresh squeezed lemon juice or a dash of balsamic vinegar. Serve over salad greens or use in a Caprese salad.
  • Use on top of Portobello mushrooms and top with mozzarella cheese and bake for a great pizza experience without all the carbs!
  • Use wherever you’d use a marinade such as on chicken or fish. It’s great on the grill!
  • And of course, it’s best over pasta, but you didn’t hear that from me! Tip: if you’d like to try it over pasta, then I highly recommend a linguine made with Jerusalem artichoke flour.



Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala RecipeI’ve had a pin to “Chicken Marsala” on my Pinterest “Low Carb Eating” board for quite some time – without linking to a recipe, much to the disappointment of other Pinterest users. I feel very remiss about this and will not rectify this omission. No excuses!

I’ve had a Haddock Marsala recipe up for a while, and though it’s quite similar to the one for Chicken Marsala, it’s a bit different in certain respects. Haddock is also a rather “fishy” tasting white fish and not to everyone’s liking. But that’s where the Marsala variation can really help and I recommend giving it a try as a way of introducing more fish into your diet. Anyway, on to making Chicken Marsala!
[GARD]
This recipe is very simple to prepare (the only kind  I deal with). The most challenging part is preparing the chicken so it’s thin enough and that’s the secret to a successful Chicken Marsala recipe. Fortunately, there are some dead simple ways for achieving this. There are three ways to go about obtaining the desired state of thinness:

  1. Pound the heck out of rather small (already thin) piece of chicken breast. I use a rolling pin. Place the breast between two pieces of plastic wrap and position the breast at the edge of a counter and then pound away being careful not to turn it into pate. I’ve since broken off one of the handles of our rolling pin thus rendering it useless for baking purposes. The upshot is that it’s more like a mallet now, which is perfect for pounding purposes.
  2. Purchase prepared chicken fillets. Convenient, but you pay a premium for the convenience.
  3. Use chicken tenders. These don’t require any additional thinning, but you will need to use more than one in order to comprise a full serving. This is my preferred method.

As I mentioned in the Haddock Marsala recipe, there is a flour coating applied to the meat. You’re welcome to omit it. It’s just a personal preference to use a coating to seal in the juices and it also provides a thickening agent for the Marsala sauce when de-glazing the pan. But leaving it off will not detract from the recipe. You’ll just need to simmer the Marsala wine a bit longer and perhaps add a touch more butter in order to help with the thickening process.

Ingredients:

  • Half a small chicken breast pounded thin or 3-4 chicken tenders
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh white mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 c Marsala wine

Ingredients for optional coating:

  • 1/2 c white flour
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt or powder
  • 1/4 tsp paprika

Directions:

(You may skip Steps 1-2 if you’re opting out of the flour coating)

  1. On a large plate add flour, garlic salt, black pepper, and paprika. Sift together with a fork.
  2. Coat both sides of the chicken with the flour mixture. I find a  large soup spoon helpful in the coating process.
  3. Heat butter and olive oil in a medium sized stainless steel saute pan.
  4. Once butter and oil are sizzling, carefully place chicken in saute pan.
  5. Cook approximately 6 minutes per side or until the coating or meat without coating is well-browned.
  6. Remove chicken to a plate.
  7. Add chopped mushrooms to pan and saute until soft – approximately 2 min.
  8. Reduce heat on the pan and pour in Marsala wine. De-glaze the pan with a wooden spoon.
  9. Let mushrooms and wine simmer until the sauce begins to thicken. Add a small pad of butter if not using a coating.
  10. Carefully add back chicken and let simmer for about 2 minutes. Spoon the wine over top chicken to create a glaze.

Serve with a vegetable side such as Parmesan Broccoli Bake or steamed green beans.

Servings: 1




Marinara Sauce Recipe

Homemade Marinara Sauce RecipeHaving been raised in half an Italian-American household, I’ve had my share of tomato sauce over the years. It probably makes up a significant portion of my bloodstream at this point. As I’ve turned away from eating starchy carbs which includes all the good stuff that Italians hold so dear such as pasta, pizza, and lots of bread with butter, I’ve had to find alternative uses for marinara sauce.

But don’t worry, I’ve found that you can have your marinara sauce and enjoy it too without the heavy starch load that typically accompanies it. For now, I’d like to share an old family recipe for homemade marinara sauce. In future posts I’ll share some unique ways of using it in some new twists on traditional recipes.

Being that it’s the height of backyard tomato growing season where we live, it’s a perfect time to show you step-by-step how to make marinara sauce completely from scratch. It involves a bit of extra work, but it’s well worth it in terms of freshness, flavor, and texture. I’m also including two variations on the recipe so that you can make quicker versions in just a few minutes. No matter which version you choose to go with, it will be light years better than anything you can get in a jar from your grocer’s shelf. Those jar sauces that look so inviting in the store are pretty horrid tasting – at least to my palate.

The best varieties of tomatoes to use as the basis of marinara sauce are the Italian style plum tomatoes such as San Marzano and Roma. We will occasionally toss in the odd salad style tomato if we have extras just to add some bulk to the pot. We also grow our own basil and oregano which are essential ingredients to any marinara sauce and really make the flavor of the tomatoes come alive. Instead of pureeing the tomatoes with a food mill or food processor, I employ a trick learned years ago from my aunt who taught me a lot about what I know about Italian cooking. The “trick” involves using a potato masher to break up the pulp of the tomatoes and release the juicy goodness inside!

This recipe makes enough for several meals or dishes and tomato sauce freezes very well. Those plastic carryout containers that soups come in from Chinese restaurants are perfect for storing and freezing extra sauce.

Servings: 1 ½ qts

Ingredients:

Homemade Marinara Sauce Ingredients

  • 12 Plum Tomatoes – San Marzano or Roma
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 6 leaves fresh basil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano

Directions:

  1.  Fill a large pot half way with water and bring to a boil.
  2. Slice the tops off tomatoes.
  3. Place tomatoes into boiling water being careful not to splash hot water.
    Roma Tomatoes for Sauce
  4. After about 3 mins check a tomato by running cold water over it. The skin should easily slide off. If not, then continue to boil another 2 mins.
  5. Remove tomatoes 2-3 at a time using a slotted spoon into a colander. Run under cold water and pinch off skins being careful not to squirt hot juice on yourself. Place peeled tomatoes back into colander.
    Peeled Roma Tomatoes
  6. In another large sauce pot, heat olive oil and add minced garlic. Saute just until you smell the garlic – don’t brown!
    Saute Garlic
  7. Carefully add peeled tomatoes to pot.
  8. Pour in tomato sauce
  9. Using a potato masher, carefully mash tomatoes until juice is released. No need to over mash!
    Mashed Plumb Tomatoes
  10. Add salt, pepper, dried basil and oregano, and basil leaves.
    Marinara Sauce Spices
  11. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour to boil off a lot of the water in order to thicken the sauce.
    Cooked Marinar Sauce
  12. You can either server the sauce immediately over pasta, etc. or let cool for about 15 mins before ladling into plastic containers. Refrigerate or freeze the sauce. If freezing, make sure that the sauce fill the container without a large air gap.
    Canning Sauce

Variations:

  1. Instead of whole tomatoes, use a 32 oz can of crushed or whole tomatoes. Use the potato masher method if using whole tomatoes. Proceed the same way as in the instructions above.
  2. For super quick marina sauce, use just a can of sauce (15 oz or 8 0z) and follow the same directions. The sauce will be much thinner, but great for use over pasta or in baked dishes such as eggplant parmigiano.
    Super Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe

Buon Appetito!