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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Southwest Chicken Brunch Casserole

This casserole is amazing. You would never know it is low carb. Ever. You know all those breakfast casseroles that use bread, biscuits, stuffing, potatoes, etc for a base? And we can't use those, and end up with a much eggier version? This casserole solves that problem. You would swear this is a traditional bread based casserole. My secret weapon of choice today was the addition of almond flour waffles. I used my waffle stick baker, but any Belgian style machine would work.

Beyond that, the Southwest flavors are great for a change of pace. Now, if you aren't familiar in working the Diner system, this casserole will involve a few steps to assemble. If you are a Diner, you probably have some frozen waffles in the freezer, some chicken cubes in the freezer, and maybe even some cilantro pesto in the freezer. Catch the theme here? Yes, I almost always cook once and eat multiple times. That is the essence of the Diner system. You can still make this recipe from scratch, so I will give you that recipe here. I was testing this recipe as a green casserole for my Diner News, but the green colors kind of baked out. I will share it here instead.

I would suggest that you could make life easier in the months ahead if you make a triple batch of the waffles. They will be great later with chili poured over them, as breakfast wafflewiches, or as the base for another version of a breakfast casserole. You could even eat them with sugarfree syrup, but I would suggest reducing the amount of salt.

In addition to the waffles, it is also a great time to make a batch of chicken cubes. I use breast meat because it is easier to slice. You can prepare it however you want, baked, grilled, even poached. You can go plain, or use a marinade. This recipe used mesquite marinated chicken. The remaining chicken is awesome in omelets, skillet dishes, salads and even as a pizza topping.

I made my Cilantro Chile Pesto last summer. I love to keep extra summer herbs in the freezer for winter. This gave me fantastic flavor for this dish. Go ahead and make up a batch. It freezes really well and will flavor soups and casseroles, even grilled veggies and meats.

Now, if you already had those done like I did, this recipe will go together quickly. If not, the time is an investment in the future. You can pat yourself on the back when another meal goes together so easily.

Southwest Chicken Brunch Casserole

Waffle Base:
1 cup almond flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup half and half
2 tbsp light olive oil or melted coconut oil

4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
3 cups cubed, cooked chicken
1 tsp mesquite flavored liquid smoke
6 eggs
1 cup chunky salsa
3 tbsp Cilantro Chile Pesto OR very finely diced fresh cilantro
1 avocado

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, baking soda and salt. To the dry ingredients, add the eggs, half and half and oil. Mix well and spoon into a greased Belgian waffle maker. Bake until nicely browned and crisped. Line the waffles into the base of a 9" x 13" casserole dish. (It is fine to tear apart some pieces of waffle to fill in gaps as best as possible.)

Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the waffles and bake for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese into the waffles. This will help keep them from becoming too soggy.

Grill or bake the chicken if you don't have pre-cooked chicken. Cut into cubes. In a medium bowl, add the cubed chicken. Sprinkle the liquid smoke flavoring over the chicken and toss well to distribute the flavoring. Remove the waffle base from the oven and spoon the chicken mixture over the waffles.

In the bowl used with the chicken, add the eggs, salsa and Cilantro Chile Pesto. Beat all ingredients until very well combined. Pour this mixture over the chicken and waffles. Cube the avocado. Distribute the avocado cubes over the top of the casserole, using the back of a spoon to slightly press them into the wet ingredients.

Bake the casserole for 35-40 minutes, or until the center is set. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting.

6 servings, each   421 calories    42 g protein     25 g fat     4 g net carbs

This would be good served with some extra sour cream or some hot sauce for those who prefer more heat. The avocado gets very soft. If you prefer a firmer texture, add that after baking rather than before.  My guys are not huge avocado fans, so I chose to blend mine into the casserole a bit more.

So even though the Cilantro Chile Pesto turns the egg mixture green, the color disappeared upon baking. I suppose you could use more, but the flavor is nice. A little chipotle chili powder would also be good to add to the egg mixture. My marinade for the chicken had some chile heat added, but I am trying to keep the recipe a little simpler, and easier to duplicate. If you are a pepper expert, add some. This is definitely a recipe to play around with. I will be trying some more traditional breakfast bakes now that I know the waffles work so well. This dish, with the spicy chicken, could easily be a lunch or dinner entree as well. Super versatile!

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Green Tea Party

My friends and I have decided to make a monthly girly day for tea, lunch and girl talk. Today was my day to hostess. The sweet girls who came to my house are also friends of the Diner, so they agreed to let me experiment on them. Haha!  Since the theme for the March News is Green, that meant I served mostly green foods. We had a Basil Vinegar Roasted Green Beans, Spinach Gnocchi, and Chicken Alfredo in Spinach Crepes. Amazingly, neither spinach dish tasted very much like spinach, but they were a gorgeous green color. Despite the full bag of fresh spinach that went into these two dishes, they tasted more like---cheese! That is always a great thing for me, since I adore cheese.

Both test recipes worked well, even though I decided I liked the baked gnocchi better than the traditional boiled potato variety. That is the recipe I will give to you. I will share that one here on the blog, but it will be in the Diner News too. The wonderful crepe recipe, well, that will stay in the Diner News for my subscribers. I really appreciate those of you who support me by ordering the Diner News. I try hard to keep it different from the blog, although sometimes, recipes are available in both places. Other recipes I am including this month? Broccoli Bites, Romanesque Dolma, Nori Chips, Avocado Dip, Spinach Flatbread, Cream Cheese Mints... and more assorted veggie recipes. It is all green!

Now these Spinach Gnocchi. I tried them boiled the traditional way, and baked. I much preferred the baked. The texture is a little lighter than my Notato Gnocci from the Low Carbing Among Friends book. Those I like boiled. Baking is actually a little faster too. These are tender, not chewy. The are great with Alfredo sauce poured over the top. Use that sparingly, because these are tasty without sauce. I think I may try the leftovers with some garlic butter. I will keep you posted on that one!

Baked Spinach Gnocchi
8 cups fresh spinach
1 cup Ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
4 tbsp coconut flour
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder

Place the spinach, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, coconut flour, xanthan, salt and baking powder in a food processor or good blender. Pulse until all ingredients are finely blended. Chill dough for an hour or more.

Using a small scoop, drop balls of dough on parchment or a silicone liner on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 350. Remove from oven and cool two minutes before removing from sheet. Serve with Alfredo or red sauce.

 These might be good enough just to serve as snacks, rather like spinach puffs. They are a little more moist than bread, but lighter than most pasta. Good either way! 

Tea parties are such fun. We probably tried 15 flavors from my tea arsenal. I borrowed an idea from Martha, and used mismatched china and napkins, so that each serving was unique. Since I collect one of a kind pieces for my photography, I doubt I could put together a formal service these days anyway without pulling out my Christmas china...but we had fun.The younger girls were not too keen on the green beans, but we old ladies liked them. I needed the tangy bite of vinegar to balance all the cheesy flavors from the other dishes. Our dessert was a strawberry lemon mousse served as dessert shots. I was not so crazy about that, but I was trying to use up the rest of the container of ricotta cheese, leftover from the gnocchi. Maybe I should have just made more gnocchi? Any way, a good time was had by all. I think in this hurry scurry world, we often forget to create the time to spend with our dear friends, nurturing those relationships. I made a special meal, and we spent real time connecting. I can't help but think those are the moments that matter the most.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Among Friends Thursday - Vanessa's Cheeseburger Bacon Roll

It is meat lover's night at the Marshall house. Tonight we tried a recipe from Jennifer's section--a recipe belonging to Vanessa Romero of Healthy Living How To.  Cheeseburger Bacon Roll. A cross between a meatloaf and a bacon burger. I had never tried a bacon weave before, but it really wasn't hard at all. And the effect--well, I am betting it attracts more male adoration than the most beautifully dressed cupcake! My hubby is working late tonight, so he hasn't tried it yet. The boy told me three times how much he liked it. Thanks,Vanessa for making me a mom/wife hero.

My men are not the only ones affected by the delicious smells of bacon. My pitty boy Tinker cried and cried for a bite. When he really begs, he forms the word "mama" over and over. Poor guy.  From the time I took the roll to the table to photograph and slice, he begged. Sorry, guy, it is too good to share. Kibbles for you. Yes, that is him in the photo below. He climbed up on our bench at the kitchen table and watched every move I  made.
I did a couple of things differently. Vanessa uses sausage seasoning, but she says to use any spice blend of your choice. I used a meat rub made especially for my favorite team, my Oklahoma Sooners. That was tasty and gave the meat a steak seasoning kind of flavor.  I  also used sliced PepperJack cheese. Vanessa's photos show sliced cheese, but she says that shredded might work better. Next time if I use sliced cheese, I will be sure to let it warm up a little, since it was a bit difficult to roll up while it was cold. Not too hard, though. Once I cut into my roll after baking, it seemed that much of the cheese had leaked out, so I may not have sealed the meat well enough. It was still really delicious, though, and great fun. I think this would be a great show stopper for entertaining.

If you have our cookbook, the recipe is on page 42. Vanessa has an amazing site too, so be sure to visit her. Our book features so many talented cooks, all with their own style, it has something--lots of things, for everyone.

Tonight, I served ours with some steamed cauliflower with cheese sauce, and a recipe I am working on for the March Diner News. Broccoli Bites made in my cakepop machine. The theme for the month is Green. These fit the bill and they are fun to eat. They will definitely make it into the News!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bacon Brown "Sugah" Brussels

So these may not be everyone's favorite veggie. I seldom made them while my boys were little. It just was not worth the battle. Perhaps if I had made the much maligned vegetables this way my guys would have liked them. The trouble with the cute little sprouts is their tendency to be bitter. None of that here!

The secret is just a bit of sweetener, some broth and everybody's favorite--bacon. I mean, most things are better with bacon, right? This is a recipe from a Diner News from last year, but I tweaked it just a bit for a smaller amount of veggies, and checked it to make sure that frozen ones would work as well as fresh. This is pretty easy to put together. I used Ideal Brown Sugar substitute. It is made with xylitol. The sweetness is not strong at all, but it does cut the cabbage taste. If you don't have a brown sugar substitute, this will probably work just about as well with a bit of erythritol or Splenda. Just whatever equals about a tablespoon of sugar.

Bacon Brown "Sugah" Brussels Sprouts

14 ounces frozen brussel sprouts
3 slices bacon
1 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp brown sugar substitute
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter

Partially cook the frozen Brussels sprouts in the microwave oven for 3 minutes. Cut each sprout in half. Fry bacon until crisp. Place bacon on a plate to cool and pour the drippings into a saucepan. To the saucepan, add broth, sugar substitute and salt. Bring to a boil. Stir in the Brussels sprouts, place a lid on the pan and cook over medium heat for 7-9 minutes. Remove the Brussels sprouts with a slotted spoon. Dot with butter and crumble the bacon on top.If you like a slightly sweeter flavor, add another sprinkle of brown sugar substitute and stir gently before serving.

4 servings    101 calories      6 g fat   5 g net carbs

This a a delicious way to get some green things in. That is the theme for the March Diner News--GREEN. Not just greens, but all sorts of delicious green low carb foods. Desserts and dips, dressings and...well, vegetables too, of course. If you have any favorite green recipes, send them to me and I will include them in the March Diner News. If you aren't a subscriber, but your recipe meets Diner standards, that would get you a free issue too.

Get more great recipes at the Low Carbing Among Friends Facebook Page:     

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Among Friends Thursday - Maria's Cheeseburger Stuffed Buns

This is fun food! Maria, like I have said on the Low Carbing Among Friends Facebook page, is a substitution genius. She invented this recipe for a nutritional client who loved cheeseburger pockets wrapped in regular bread dough. I remembered my mom trying out the German version of these--Bierocks, which included cabbage too. I remember those being hard to make, trying to get the stretchy, gluteny dough to wrap around the filling. ( and just as tough to get it to stay wrapped) We did love them though, and I could imagine how great they would be as all American cheeseburgers. If Maria could invent it, we could give it a try.

Normally I don't like messing with bread doughs that rely on whipped egg whites. Beyond trying to get the timing right on how long to beat the eggs, there is a texture that just doesn't do it for me. I couldn't imagine any other way to get the wrap around job done for this recipe though. So I took Maria at her word and began to follow her recipe. The dough was easy enough to put together--much like the oh so popular Oopsies from Cleochatra, or the original Revolution Roll from the Atkins books--but with additional whey added for stability and a few other alterations.  Like I said, Maria is a genius. While this is still not my favorite bread replacement, no other bun would work for this application. And these are delicious all put together!

I think I made mine a little too big on the base, because I ran out of fluffy dough before I could cover them all over the top. Still, I think they look even better with some ground beef and cheese peeking through.(I also had to substitute some shredded cheese instead of sliced, but I don't think this made much of a difference) You can pick them up with your hands and chow down. Or, you can plate them over some lettuce and add your favorite burger fixings. I like them best that way. Sure, I had to eat with a fork--small price to pay.

These stuffed buns would be extra quick if you already have your Minute Beef  prepped. Just whip up the dough and bake. One note: I liked these best after I had let them cool off. When they were still hot from the oven, the bun stuck to the roof of my mouth. That did not happen when I ate another a couple hours later. I think cooling enabled them to get rid of a little more moisture. Perhaps letting them cool with an open oven door would be a good idea. Not a big issue, and certainly nothing to spoil the fun of eating these family friendly burgers. I had hoped to freeze them to see if they would hold up to be good lunch box food, but we ate them all. Maybe that it a good sign. I will just have to try it again. If you want to try them they are on page 120 of our Low Carbing Among Friends Cookbook. If you don't have it yet, order it soon. It would be fun if more of you would join me on Among Friends Thursdays and send me photos of recipes you are using from our book, or links to photos from your own blogs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thai Inspired Chicken Soup

I am not feeling too well today. (Maybe that maltitol in the sugarfree chocolate my sweetheart gave me for Valentine's Day?) I wandered into the kitchen to make some chicken soup. Nothing really sounded good, and I found myself just adding more and more things to the soup. I have been on an Asian kick as of late, so I had lots of those type ingredients. What I ended up with is sensational, though I am doubting it is actually very Thai. No haters, please. I have to admit I did not plan out this recipe; wasn't trying for authenticity, but it is easy enough, so here goes. Even my icky picky taste buds decided to love it today.

Thai Inspired Chicken Soup

 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 quart chicken broth (mine was home made)
4 cups cauliflower
2 cups water
4 ounces canned green chilies
1 tsp green chili powder*
1 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt (unless you are using a salted commercial broth)
1 cup coconut milk
3 tbsp peanut flour
1 tbsp lime juice

In a medium sized pan, add whole chicken breasts, broth and water. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Remove the chicken, one breast at a time to trim the fat and cut each breast into bite sized chunks. Return the diced chicken to the pot. Break the cauliflower into small pieces and add to the pot. Stir in the green chilies, chili powder, fish sauce, garlic powder, onion powder and salt. Simmer until cauliflower is tender and chicken is cooked through. Stir in the coconut milk, and lime juice. Remove 1/2 cup of broth and place it into a small bowl. Stir in the peanut flour to make a paste. Add the paste to the soup in the pan and stir to distribute. Serves 4.
*If you are unable to find green chile powder, use 2 cans of diced green chilies.

This would probably be even better with some cilantro, but I didn't happen to have any on hand. The peanut flour added a great flavor. If you only have peanut butter in the kitchen, I am pretty sure that would duplicate the flavor. I really don't feel 100%, so considering the fact that I bothered to photograph this soup and post here on the blog, you should believe that I liked it. Now I think it is time to go curl up with my Kindle Fire and forget about food for a while.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Strawberry Heart and Bacon Rose Salad

This is my last chance to give you some inspiration for Valentine's Day tomorrow. It is a pretty salad--pretty because of the sliced strawberries, lovingly cut into hearts. It is a delicious salad too because it features a man's favorite rose, the bacon rose. The base is a simple plate of spinach leaves and everything is topped with a light vinaigrette dressing. Voila! ( I had not added any dressing yet in the photo because I had to shoot it too long before we actually got to serve the salad. Ahh, that elusive natural lighting!)

Making the strawberry hearts is pretty straightforward. I sliced mine with a V shape on top to make a heart. Then I sliced each berry into thirds. Pretty and no fuss.

The roses are a little more complicated, though they could probably be made simpler. For those who are eating really clean, just use bacon with no sweeteners. They certainly don't need to be sweet. But today, I chose to make ours as maple crusted bacon. To do that, I added a few drops of maple flavoring to about 1/4 cup of my erythritol blend. I then dredged each slice of bacon in the sweetener mix. I made a  couple of roses by simply rolling the bacon in a spiral shape and baking them upright. I tried making a heart shape of flattened bacon. I have seen those on Pinterest, but my shapes did not hold. Those got eaten right away! I am trying to keep the hubby away from those roses until tomorrow. Good luck there, he knows I have them. Of course, the dog is putting in his bid for the bacon too. Cooking bacon must be torture for a sensitive dog nose.

Are you all making anything special for Valentine's Day dinner? I would love to hear your ideas.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

I am getting a lot of baking in for Valentine's Day this year. I have had the idea for this recipe running around in my head for a few weeks. I found the time to try it out today. This makes a true dessert muffin. Outrageously yummy. I was going for two things. First, the flavors of all the ultra pricy chocolate dipped strawberries you see these days. Second, a sweet shortcake like muffin, full of rich vanilla flavor to set off the small touches of chocolate and fresh berries. These are light and airy, yet the three flavors balance so well!

I refuse to buy chocolate chips with stomach wrenching sugar alcohols. I also dig my heels in when it comes to paying way too much to order specialty low carb chips online. So, I made my own for this. Actually, I made enough for several recipes. I wish my chips were more solid. I am thinking it must be best to work with them frozen. They taste like rich dark chocolate. Sorry, you milk chocolate lovers, I am a dark chocolate devotee. If you want to try my recipe, I will post it here. If you have more money and less time than I do, buy some of your choice.

Sugarfree Chocolate Chips 

2 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup powdered erythritol blend
2 tbsp cream
Stevia drops to taste

Heat coconut oil and chocolate in the microwave or on the stove top until melted. Stir in the powdered erythritol until well dissolved. Add the cream, stirring well. Add stevia drops two at a time until the chocolate reaches the sweetness level you desire. Place the melted chocolate into a squirt bottle. Squeeze the chocolate out into chip shapes on top of parchment paper or a silicon mat. Chill or freeze before removing from mat. Store chips in the freezer.

I used a squirt bottle especially made for chocolates that I purchased at Michael's. If the chocolate needs to be rewarmed, It can be heated in the microwave. In the mean time, extra chocolate, if thinned and used as a sauce, can be stored in the squirt container.

The muffins themselves have a secret weapon for an extra special flavor boost. I adore the Vanilla Butter Nut flavoring. It can be hard to find, but it is worth it. To me, it adds an extra pound cake like flavor. If you can't find it, just use a tsp of vanilla extract. My son liked these so much, he just kept coming back for more. I think I have like 9 left out of a batch of 24 mini muffins. Between the three of us, we ate 15? Yikes! Well, my youngest is way too skinny. I am always trying to get food into him. Since I have found something healthy enough that he really likes, I will be making more to send along to his college classes in the mornings. He is such a sweetheart of  young man, he deserves a special Valentine treat from his mom--even though he does have a fiance now. They sure grow up too fast!

Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

3 eggs
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp Vanilla Butter Nut flavoring
1/2 cup erythritol*
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup finely diced fresh strawberries
1/4 cup sugarfree chocolate chips, frozen

In a medium sized bowl, combine eggs, melted coconut oil, vanilla and vanilla butter nut flavoring. Stir in the erythritol. In a small bowl, blend the coconut flour, baking powder and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Gently fold in diced strawberries and chocolate chips. Spoon into mini muffin cups. Bake until they are just turning golden, and a toothpick tests clean in the center. Makes 24 mini muffins.

* I used Swerve, a sweetener blend. If using straight erythritol, you may wish to add a tablespoon more.

I baked mine in my cupcake maker, so I didn't exactly come up with an oven time. My batches only took 8 minutes. I didn't add too much filling, either chocolate chips or berries because I did not want to make wet or overly rich muffins. With just the right touch of chocolate and strawberry, my guys loved these!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Blueberry Upside Down Chocolate Cake

The grocer had a special deal on blueberries a week or so ago. I bought more than I really needed, so the need arose to use them up--soon. I also had these adorable heart shaped bowls I picked up last year on discount. I really wanted to bake a cake in them, and I wanted to make an upside down cake with the blueberries. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember seeing a photo of someone doing this, but I have lost my reference. So I had to completely wing it on my own. I decided a richer version of my chocolate muffins would be in order. I wasn't really trying to duplicate a light fluffy cake. Being an upside down version, a denser treat fit the order. This is not the most beautiful of my Valentine creations, but I assure you the flavor is there. The berries burst in the oven and spread sweet fruit glaze all over the cake. It is impossible to see that in the photo, but trust me, there is no frosting needed. I just added a heart shaped dollop of coconut milk.

Long a fan of raspberry and chocolate, I decided this fruit combination would work as well. I was right. The berries make the chocolate more interesting. The chocolate makes the berries more indulgent. The cake was fun to share with the hubby. Rather than use two bowls, just serve one plate with two forks. That is more romantic. We ate one today, and the other, I will save for our Valentine dessert. I wanted to share the idea with you too in time for you to get the groceries if this blueberry heart becomes your little heart's desire.

Blueberry Upside Down Chocolate Cake

Berry Layer:
2/3 cup fresh blueberries
2 tbsp granular erythritol
2 tsp butter

Cake Layer:
1 cup almond flour
1/3 cup erythritol/stevia blend ( add an extra 2 tablespoons if using straight erythritol)
1 tsp baking powder

3 tbsp butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs

Lightly grease the cake pan(s). Add the berries, and sprinkle them with erythritol. Dot with butter and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the almond flour and the baking soda. In a microwavable bowl, melt the butter and chocolate for 30-40 seconds. Stir to combine after heating until the chocolate is melted. Stir in the erythritol until mostly dissolved. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Pour the chocolate mixture into the almond flour mixture. Combine by hand. Pour the batter over the berries and smooth the top. Bake in a 350 degree oven 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out cleanly.  The baking time will be determined by the size of bakeware chosen. Let cake(s) cool for five minutes before inverting onto a plate.

I use an erythritol and stevia blend which brings the sweetness up to the equivalent measure of sugar or granular sucralose. If you choose to use straight erythritol, you may choose to increase the amount, as erythritol is generally 70% as sweet as sugar. Since sweet preferences vary, the amount to add may vary to taste. I like both ZSweet and Swerve. You can play around with whatever sweeteners you prefer. There are so many to choose from these days! This recipe would, I think, make 6 large cupcakes, although I used 2 heart shaped baking dishes.

Tomorrow I am trying out a couple of strawberry recipes, so stay tuned. I promise I do have a dinner entree that was a hit with my guys too. That will have to wait until after Valentine's Day. Collard greens, while your body may love them, just don't make it on the holiday menu. But still, I did get them to eat greens, so that is something!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Among Friends Thursday - Carolyn's Peanut Butter Brownie Bites

Last week, I had to take some "treats" to a church function. It is amazing how terrible the food tends to be at church. Donuts. Really? Potlucks--nothing but carbs! Well, my church at least does not offer anyone donuts, replacing them with granola bars, and I have to admit that the hospitality crew does at least offer bananas regularly. (especially at the first of the year when the staff does a Daniel fast) so they are a little ahead of the norm.

But this event, the idea was for hosts to lure people over to your table with goodies. We saw a lot of candy. A lot. I also knew there would be other small bites--cupcakes, cookies, brownies and the likes. Deciding that chicken wings would be a little messy, I decided not to buck the trend. After all, this was almost like a speed dating event, where John and I would be meeting and talking to dozens of people who might be interested in attending the Lifegroup we lead each week. How could I bring something that was both good for us and pretty too? In my mind, I decided to try out a Carolyn recipe. Her treats always look amazing. I can't claim I did right by her. My version of her brownie bites are not as gorgeous, but I had little time, and I had to make so many of them! I am lucky to have had the time to snap a photo. What mine may lack in glamor, they make up for in taste.

I decided that everyone likes brownies. Peanut butter is a favorite too. So I baked these up in my cupcake maker. It made quick work of them. Loved the fact that the frosting was minimal, since I had to find a way to transport these all to church. Certainly, I could not hold them all in my lap! We arrived safely. The tables looked almost like a bake sale or cupcake competition. Glad to say, my gluten free, sugarfree brownie bites held their own. People seem to appreciate a home baked treat over the fancier store bought goodies. I made a little sign to explain that these were sugarfree and gluten free. A couple of guests actually thanked me for providing that option. I got thumbs up responses from everyone who tried them.

Even amid the vast selection of brownies and cupcakes, most of mine got eaten. It is a little intimidating seeing people sample them right in front of you. What if they just spit it out? Woohoo. No one did!

These brownies are dense, being made from peanut flour. I still have a stash my soon to be daughter-in-law brought me from her hometown Trader Joe's. Wish I had one of those here... They are very chocolatey, and not overly sweet. The peanut butter cream cheese frosting is amazing. Easy to prepare and the flavor is the best. Perfect with the brownie. I adore the slightly salty combining with the sweetness.

Since I made so many, we had a few leftover to eat at home. We could not have done that if I had gotten lazy and run to the store to buy bakery cupcakes to attract the masses! Still, they did not last long enough, as I am wishing there were more...If you would like to try the recipe too, it is on page 197 of the Low Carbing Among Friends Cookbook. You can order it by clicking on the link at the right. Carolyn has such a talent for creating wonderful baked goods.

Today I am lunching on Maria's Cheeseburger Stuffed Buns. I am off to take some photos, so you will have to wait until next Thursday to hear about them--unless you try them for yourself!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Coconut Milk Sweet Treats for Valentines

St. Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and it is time for us to choose what wonderful treats we can delight ourselves in. I would say that it is all about making what our loved one likes, but that would be a lie. This time, I make what I would like and hope he follows suit. I am going to have more than one post this week devoted to the special day, so keep watching. Today's offerings are embarrassingly easy, yet so delish and elegant, any sweetheart is going to smile.

For starters, you have choices. Chocolate or strawberry. Mousse or frozen confection. All from the same basic technique that takes advantage of full fat coconut milk. I gave you a recipe in the February Diner News for Chocolate Mint Mousse. Yes, it is paleo if you allow some sweeteners. I chose stevia, but you can add whatever you like. The mousse recipes don't need too much of a sweet boost. What we are doing here, is taking advantage of the natural thickness of the chilled coconut milk. I tested two brands, and both worked really well. Thai Kitchen and Badia both passed my test. Some other brands did not. Hint: if you can hear liquid sloshing around inside the unopen chilled can, chances are you don't have enough to work with. I can't even hear movement in these brands while they are still room temperature. That is what you want for mousse.

I got the idea for coconut milk mousse last fall, when I discovered that ingenious cooks were using coconut milk as a whipped cream substitute. I took my instructions from The Nutty Kitchen blog. It worked for me with hardly any whipping, so why not flavors? I had the idea stuck in my notebook for a paleo themed newsletter, so that is when I tried it. Well, come to find out, there are others similarly as brilliant as I. Go figure. Chocolate Covered Katie actually calls the mousse, frosting shots. Her version did not go with mint flavoring like I did, but they are remarkably close. After I saw hers, I decided you might be able to pipe the mousse out. It worked. From there, I piped some onto parchment paper and froze them. Delight! They are like gorgeous little bites of chocolate mint ice cream. Oh yeah. Easy storage and portion control! Just pluck the frozen bites off the parchment and put them all in a freezer bag. They will be waiting to make you feel better 24/7.

But back to Valentine's Day.  As much as I like the chocolate mint, I wanted pink. Strawberry Mousse to be precise. Another hit! Light and airy, a berry cloud with the slightest touch of coconut. Perfect for the sweetest day. This mousse is a little thinner than the chocolate, given the wetness of the strawberry puree. I don't think this could be piped as a frosting. Think of it more like a whipped cream consistency. It could be dropped onto parchment from a spoon like little pink clouds. I decided to try the pink mousse out in my heart shaped ice cube trays. Perfect pale pink hearts. Being larger than my piped chocolates, these are just a little trickier to eat. They melt a little, but need about 5 minutes out of the freezer to avoid breaking a tooth. That would spoil a romantic evening... The look is so fun, though, they are worth the timing trouble.

Ready for the recipes?

Chocolate Mint Mousse

1 can full fat coconut milk, chilled overnight
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp mint extract
1/8 tsp stevia extract (OR 1-2 packets of sweetener)

Open the can of chilled coconut milk. Scoop out the solidified portions, leaving the coconut water in the can. Reserve that for a smoothie or soup. Add the creamy portion to a small bowl. Stir in cocoa powder, vanilla and mint extract. Hand whip or use a hand mixer to incorporate all ingredients. Spoon into dessert glasses and chill.  Makes 2 large desserts, or 4-6 dessert shots.

To make frozen swirls, fill a pastry bag with the mousse. Place on a star tip. Pipe the mousse into bite sized mounds on parchment paper. Freeze. Once firm, remove individual mounds and place in a freezer bag. These must be kept frozen, but are best about 5 minutes after removing from the freezer. Too much longer, and the outsides will melt in the hand.

Serves 4:   259 calories     6 net g carb

Strawberry Coconut Mousse

1 can full fat coconut milk, chilled overnight
6 frozen strawberries
1/8 tsp stevia extract

Allow frozen berries to thaw about 30 minutes on the counter. Use a blender or food processor to puree the berries. Add the solid portions from the can of coconut milk. Reserve the water in the can for another use. Blend the berries and coconut milk. Add the stevia, and adjust taste to your preferences. Spoon into dessert glasses. Makes 2 individual desserts or 4-6 dessert shots.

To make frozen strawberry clouds, spoon the mousse onto parchment paper in bite sized mounds. Freeze two hours or more. For strawberry hearts, pour the mousse into ice cube trays and chill two hours or until firm. Remove from trays. Allow the hearts to warm 5 minutes before eating. Store remaining hearts in a freezer bag.

Serves 4:   254 calories     6 net g carb

These are pretty, easy, healthy and delicious. What more could we want for a fun Valentine treat?

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Miracle Made Mayo

Mayonnaise. It seems you love it or hate it. I am not the norm, as I can take it or leave it. I actually prefer mustard. Dare I even mention that Southern staple, Miracle Whip? In my part of the country, the two are often interchanged. Since my mom was never a fan of mayo, but even less partial to mustard, Miracle Whip was always in our refrigerator. My grandma loved the stuff, and always called it mayonnaise. If she sent my Papa to the store for mayo, it was Miracle Whip he brought home. I know, I know...crazy but true. That is what went into our potato salads, pea salads and sandwiches.

I still like the sweet, tart flavor I grew up with. I don't like the chemicals and frankenfood, though. My youngest son likes Miracle Whip, but does not do the corn syrup and chemicals. I made this for him. It is healthy; a bit thinner than the stuff in a jar but who cares? Great fats and good flavor with no chemical thickeners. Once you have mastered your style of making a home made mayo, it goes together in a snap. There are tons of different ways to make home made mayo. Some are time consuming, some a quicker, but tricky. I have made several batches that refused to thicken, or have "broken" or failed in some way I could not detect the problem. I gave up years ago trying to perfect mayo. Afterall, it certainly didn't keep me stocked long, being made with raw eggs. I didn't know how I could trust to eat it after just a couple of days in the fridge, and I surely wasn't going to drag out the blender ever couple of days just for a little mayo.

Then I learned that it can be easily and quickly made with an immersion blender. True, it sometimes didn't work for me then either, but at least it was quick and less mess. There are lots of tutorials for this method on YouTube, so go there before you try it. Note: None of the videos use my favorite recipe, but they will show the technique.) The trick I finally learned after reading scores of blogs--the one that finally got things to work consistently for me, is using warm eggs. Let them sit on the counter, or soak in hot water for a few minutes. Once I even warmed cold eggs in the microwave for 12 seconds. The chemistry of it all seems to work best this way.

When I learned that mayonnaise could be lacto-fermented like the salsa, escabeche, kraut and carrots I had done, I was sold. It had taken me a while to accept the idea of lacto-fermentation, but once I did, I was sold. Just adding some whey to this home made mayo makes it last for weeks. Even those on the fence about mayo can use it up in that amount of time. Since I make my own yogurt, I always have lots of whey with live cultures. I just stir it in after processing the mayo, then let it ferment for the day on the counter. Then in the fridge for the duration. I can't discern any fermented flavor either. The batch we are finishing up today was made on January 6th, and it is still fine.Considering the added health benefits of probiotics, I will never make it another way.

But I will make it. We don't do many sandwiches, but mayonnaise can be used in salads, salad dressings, casseroles, dips, etc. The mayo today was great stirred into the tuna salad and served in a red pepper boat. If I do want a sammie, using my Mr. Peanut Bread or Almond Butter Bread, the Miracle Mayo version is my condiment of choice. It takes me back. The texture of the bread is perfect, the taste of the whip is right. A real sandwich with no compromise. Today, hubby got his tuna sandwiches for lunch. I made finger sandwiches for him using my Almond Butter bread with the tuna salad.

First the Mayo.

Olive and Coconut Oil Mayo (plain or lacto-fermented)

2/3 cup light tasting olive oil
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 egg
2 egg yolks
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp sea salt

Allow eggs to come to room temperature. Add the egg and yolks to a tall jar or plastic container  just large enough to fit the immersion blender. Add in the mustard, vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Heat the coconut oil to liquid state, and carefully add it to the egg mixture. Pour the olive oil over that. Place the immersion blender at the bottom of the container. Give it several short bursts to blend the eggs. Do not move the blades up. When the eggs take on a white appearance, run the blender and very slowly move upward until all the oil in incorporated and the mixture is thickened. This should not take more than a minute. The mayonnaise will become more firm upon refrigeration. Should the mayo break and become separated or refuse to thicken, try adding another egg yolk.

If you would like to extend the freshness and add probiotics, add a tablespoon of whey (the clear liquid from a yogurt with live cultures). Stir the whey in by hand. Leave the mayonnaise on the counter for 8 hours, then store in the refrigerator.

If you do not want the slight coconut flavor, choose an expeller pressed/refined version of coconut oil. If using a flavorless coconut oil, you may want to change the ratios of oil to half and half. The coconut flavor stands out too strongly if using the flavored oil in a 1:1 ratio. Do not use extra virgin olive oil, unless you want the olive flavor to dominate the mayonnaise.

Now you have your healthy mayo. If you want the Miracle version, read on. If not, don't tease me for being a Southern girl! This is yummy. This recipe is for a small portion, but you can double or triple with no problems.

Miracle Made Mayo
3 rounded tbsp mayonnaise
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar (the type with the "mother" included is the healthiest)
3 drops liquid stevia
a pinch (1/16 tsp) paprika
a pinch (1/16 tsp) garlic powder

Stir all ingredients together. Let flavors blend an hour or more if possible before serving.
Each Tbsp has about 100 calories and less than one carb.

This is great on sandwiches. The advertising says "a sandwich just isn't a sandwich without the tangy zip" if you miss it too, try this with an Almond Butter Bread finger sandwich. This sandwich is a sandwich!

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Among Friends Thursday - Kent's Low Carb Taco Bake

It's funny. I almost want to call this Ken's Upside Down Taco Bake. It is really similar to my Mexi-Burger Casserole in the e-book. Ken makes a base of egg and cheese. I pour mine over the top. But the taste? Just about the same! You know we liked this casserole, since I have one similar and liked it enough to include in my book.

I really do love Mexican food. What I hate is going to a restaurant and sitting on my hands to avoid the tortilla chips constantly shoved under my nose. We went to lunch with some missionary friends from China last week. They were craving Mexican food--somehow it is rare over there! I surely would never ask them to give up those freshly fried chips and home made salsa. I had a great fajita meal on the way, but the waiting was terrible. That is why eating at home is so much better. No tortilla chips to tempt me. With this dish, you get all the same tastes, without the carbs! Kent compares this casserole to taco pizza. Those are not my favorite, but I really liked this. Very satisfying. You can find it on page 294 of the Low Carbing Among Friends Cookbook. What? You don't have that yet? Just click on the book on the sidebar and get yours. They really are a huge bargain when you see the multitude of recipes in there. Every one I have tried is a winner!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mr. Peanut Bread, Almond Style

My Mr.  Peanut Bread is still the most popular post ever on this blog. I have had quite a few questions lately, so I thought I would devote another post to a popular variation. Almonds. Quite a few folk avoid peanuts, and choose to make the bread with almond butter. Yes, it is more expensive, because almonds are more expensive than peanuts. Yes, it is a little calorie rich. Other than those factors, it makes a great bread.

The flavor is much milder than the peanut version, making it suitable for any sandwich. The prep work is just as simple. No specialty flours, no hard to find ingredients. Great texture--so much like wheat bread. If you make your own almond butter, the price is reduced considerably. ( I told you how to make that in the January Diner News) It really is not that hard if you have a sturdy food processor. But of course, if you don't mind the cost of one cup of almond butter, then that is the simplest route to amazing sandwiches.

If you are ready to take the plunge, I have a few tips. Let the bread cool before cutting. For the photo, I needed the daylight, so I sliced it hot and got a few crumbs. You should get either 12 or 16 slices per loaf, depending on your preference. I use my ceramic loaf pan, which measures 8 1/2" by 4 1/2" and makes half sized slices. Therefore, you need 4 slices to make a full sized sandwich. The bread is so filling, though, I have found that half a sandwich is generally plenty, especially if paired with a yummy soup. If you use a larger loaf pan, you get shorter slices which make more like finger sandwiches.

I haven't tried the variations with the all almond bread, but the peanut version does really well in muffin cups, individual loaf pans and even plopped on a cookie sheet as artisan style bread. This recipe is so forgiving, you can also blend in other nut butters with the peanut or almond. Beware the sunflower butter. Chemical reactions can cause the bread to turn green. Who knows, I might try that out for St. Patrick's day.

Here is the variation recipe:

Almond Butter Bread

1 cup almond butter
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 packet stevia (optional)

Blend almond butter and eggs until smooth. Add in remaining ingredients. Pour into a sprayed 8 1/2" by 4 1/2" loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Let cool before slicing. Can also be baked in muffin tins for slider buns.

12 servings    151 calories   5 g protein   14 g fat   4 g net carbs
This is the sandwich I made today. A yummy lemon pepper tuna salad. Mmm.

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