Today is my last day of the two week healthy eating kick-off. I’ve been thinking of it as a re-boot. Shut things down, start them up fresh, let go of what you were doing before and look ahead (but not too far ahead – got to focus on one thing at a time!). As a refresher, for the past two weeks I’ve been eating a calorie and carb restricted meal plan consisting of three whey protein shakes (any two meals and a snack) and a single meal consisting of protein, measured amounts of vegetables and fruit and some additional fat like butter or a little cheese. It allows for some low carb grain products in very limited amounts, like a single low carb tortilla, or 3-4 gluten free crackers, etc. For the most part I skipped those items, but then, on Tuesday after being sick for 4 days, I got it into my head to have a toasted low carb tortilla with a bit of butter to have with my hearty chicken soup I’d been eating to fend off all those microbes. The recipe for the soup is below, it’s a favorite, even with D who often says he’s not a soup fan, but more of a stew fan. This one is hearty and chunky enough to be called a stew; adding a bit more stock makes it more of a soup – your choice.
Back to that tortilla. I’m not sure of your spiritual leanings, but some folks read a lot into common occurrences as signaling some divine message (whichever divinity that might be). I do this myself on occasion since its never a bad thing in my mind to have a little extra help in a chaotic world. But you know what happens in many of those stories as well as I, the listener ignores the message. You may think you know where this is going, but no, no sign of the face of God or Goddess on my tortilla. Unless of course you count that I burned the heck out of it. Not, oh-it’s-a-little-charred-let-me-scrape-that-off-and-eat-it-burnt. We’re talkin’ flames. On FIRE. Completely black and on fire inside the toaster oven! I actually thought for a brief moment that I might be able to just blow out the fire and toss it on the compost pile. Then I had a sickening moment as I grabbed a hot pad, hastily opened the door, yanked out the little pan with my tortilla on it and tossed it under running water that I realized I had no idea where our fire extinguisher was and even if I could find it would it be working after all these years and would baking soda work on a burning toaster oven the way it does on a grease fire? Thankfully, while the oven was utterly blackened by soot from the charcoal-ized tortilla, the appliance itself, being mostly metal, was not actually on fire. It was however, toast.
If you’ve never burned a tortilla, really burnt one up, go try it now. (Kidding. It’s that reaction like when someone says, “Ugh this smells awful” and shoves it at you saying, “Here, try it.”). It smells worse than any other burn smell I can think of at the moment. There was no way I was going to try and scrub out the soot and risk re-heating that toaster oven to release that evil. So, we’re in the market for a new small toaster oven. Not the worst thing ever: the toaster and timer setting broke a long time ago. And we’ll be picking up a new fire extinguisher as well. After opening all the doors downstairs, then gently toasting another tortilla in a cast iron pan on the stove, the normal way (Sigh. was it that hard to go the extra step and get out a pan?), I sat down to a nice, if late, lunch.
Here’s the part where the sign comes in. My stomach was upset all night. I do have mild wheat and rye intolerance/allergy. I can eat things with it in them, and most of the time it causes little trouble, though as I always say, I feel better overall when wheat is not on the menu. After not eating it for about 12 days however my body was not happy with this tortilla working its way through my gut. I was already feeling crummy and then tossed and turned with stomach pains and bloating all night. Should have just counted myself lucky with that fire and ate my soup. It’s with this that I’m looking forward to the next several weeks and possibly the next few months (depending on my goals and how the tests go) of eating a dairy and grain free low carb diet.
For an overview, the next two weeks of the plan (starting Friday) are three meals a day of 1)any kind of protein in reasonable amounts for one’s body mass, but not measured, 2) small measured amounts of low carb high nutrient vegetables, 3) healthy fats which includes animal, olive, avocado, nut, 4) some very limited types and amounts of fruit, and additional proteins and fats as needed if I get hungry between meals. It’s effectively a so called “paleo” eating plan focused on the kinds of foods our hunter-gather ancestors would have survived on and our bodies evolved to eating. There are some exceptions during this phase, since the detoxing/de-fatting of the liver and other vital organs is well underway, you can add back a cup of caffeinated beverage daily (which I don’t plan to add in) and 2 measured low carb alcoholic drinks per week total . Clearly, still very limited in what you can add back in at this point, but having done that work to get off all of it including the added calories and carbs, its worth being careful about indulgences. Alcohol in particular – in social settings it can trigger an urge to eat more or eat things you didn’t plan to (as every late night grocery frozen pizza eater knows.)
Having been away from the low carb community for a while (while still low carbing), one thing that has blossomed is the entire paleo and primal eating movement. Its always been around, but it’s gotten more mainstream (read accessible and adaptable). Picking around blogs this week in anticipation of where this eating plan is going, as well as searching for things like “gluten free tortilla recipes,” I’ve come across a lot of new and helpful info on getting the junk out of your everyday diet. But things seem to have come even further along with all the inspiriting recipes, blogs, cookbooks and products out there to bake and cook gluten-free. There are a number of interesting gluten free low carb flour substitutes made of nuts, coconut and low carb grains that chefs were just beginning to experiment with when I ventured away from the online and low carb blogosphere. Over the next few weeks I’ll be adding some new blog links to a separate section on Low Carb/Paleo/Gluten Free. There’s nothing I like better than home cooks being inventive!
I hope this won’t turn off any of my French Friday/Dorie Greenspan readers: I’ve been cooking without sugar for a long time, and doing very limited baking even when I was baking sugar free and low carb. Once the more restrictive phases of this eating plan are behind me, I’ll be able to experiment with some of the new techniques and ingredients and hopefully be able to join in the desserts and sides in Around My French Table, as well as other blogs, with some grain-free adaptations. Meanwhile, here’s my homemade chicken soup to help cure what ails ya.
Homemade Chicken Soup for Body and Soul
This is a two-step soup; making a stock, then making the soup itself. I usually make them at separate times, freezing the stock for making soup at a later time, but it’s possible to make them over one day if you start first thing in the AM.
Make your stock:
Every good soup starts with a homemade stock. Mine tends to evolve in the freezer over time: I collect up onion peelings and trimmings, carrot peelings, ends and tops of celery, and parsley stems in a freezer bag. In another bag I collect up all the unneeded chicken parts: necks, backs, wing tips, carcasses left from roasts. When I have about a bag of each, I get out the big crock pot, dump in all the veggies and chicken parts, add a couple of garlic cloves and a few black peppercorns and then cover the parts with water – about 3 quarts or more. Don’t simply add more water to make more stock – it just dilutes the flavor. Ideally you are aiming for a stockpot full of parts and scraps, covered with enough water so that it circulates around the flavorings and bones. Most slow cooker directions suggest you should thaw frozen items before cooking, so you avoid any bacteria and subsequent toxin buildup when the outside cooks and the inside is cold/lukewarm. Unless all your items have frozen into a solid 5 pound block, I don’t usually bother to thaw them out. However, to be on the safe side, thaw raw chicken parts in the fridge before making the stock. Let the stock simmer for 8 hours on low. Strain off all the vegetables, bones, any remaining meat bits, etc. and discard them. If you want a really clear clean stock, strain the remaining liquid through cheesecloth or a coffee filter draped in a strainer. I filter mine through a Chemex brand coffee filter fitted inside a large strainer. Depending on the size of your batch, it might take two coffee filters – the upside is that the Chemex filter tends to strain out much of the fat which you can then choose to save for other uses or toss. Another option is to cool the stock overnight in the fridge: the stock should have turned mostly gelatinous when cold. The fat can be scraped off the top and most of the particulate will have settled to the bottom where it can be ignored/discarded. You will end up with anywhere from 3-4.5 quarts of stock, depending on the starting amounts of chicken and veggies.
Make your soup
1 whole roasting chicken, 2.5 pounds or so (you can use a pre-cut one, but why pay more?)
½ onion, chopped or 1 leek, tough leaves and tops removed, then sliced finely and washed a second time to remove any remaining grit
5 oz mushrooms, sliced. I prefer baby bellas/cremini
4 stalks of celery, about 1-1.5 cups chopped
1 small/ ½ large diakon radish, cut in quarters length-wise, then chopped. You should end up with about 1.5 cups
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half, NOT chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Additional water if needed
Place the chicken in a soup pot large enough to fit the chicken covered with stock. Pour in your stock, if you don’t have enough you may add enough additional water to cover the chicken, then toss in the bay leaf along with some salt. Cook the chicken until tender, and can easily be pulled off the bone – but not until it has lost all its flavor and turns to mush. Pull out the entire carcass/parts and cool until they can be handled. While this is cooling, re-strain your stock. [Yes, this is labor intensive. You could have just cooked some chicken and put it in your already cooked stock, but I’m telling you it won’t taste as good.] Sauté your onions/leeks, mushrooms and celery in a tablespoon of olive oil or butter in a sauté pan (or the bottom of the empty stock pot if you have not poured the stock back in). Cook until wilted, but not browned, then add to the stock. Add the chopped diakon and garlic halves. Put soup on a low simmer. Pick all the meat off the chicken bones and discard the skin and bones. Tear or chop the larger pieces or meat so they are more bite sized, but still chunky. At this point you can determine how stew or soup-like your chicken soup will be. I like a ratio of about 1/2 – 2/3 chicken and veggies to stock. This is quite a bit more hearty than your average soup, so you may choose to set aside some of the chicken meat to use in another dish. Check the soup for saltiness, add salt as needed. Add pepper to taste. Check the doneness of the veggies – they should be tender, but still hold their shape. Add the chicken meat at the end. Serve. Freeze remainder for the next cold/flu outbrerak.