The Low FODMAP Diet for Beginners – A Resource Package

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Green Leek Powder – A Low FODMAP Substitute for Onion Powder

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A few days ago I had a brain wave. It started off with me getting really annoyed, as I couldn’t find a decent looking dry bouillon recipe that didn’t contain onion or garlic powder. Green leek tips are my go-to onion replacement method in most meals… why couldn’t there be a green leek tip powder?

Why couldn’t there, indeed? I just had to make it myself.

It worked beautifully in the bouillon powder and I am sure it will work just as well in any dry rubs and spice blends in the future. This method would also work for the green parts of chives/spring onions, just beware that it will probably take a lot less time and the temperature might need to be lowered – I have not done it myself, so I can’t give exact numbers.

FODMAP Notes

  1. Green leek tips are low FODMAP in 1/2 cup serves, any more and fructans might be an issue. Make sure you measure your green leek tips before you desiccate them, so you know by how much they have reduced. The leek tips I used reduced by half, so 1/4 cup is the new low FODMAP serving size. You get the picture.
  2. Do not use white leek (the bulb) while on elimination, as these are given a high FODMAP rating. If you are off elimination and have tested them successfully, use your discretion as to whether you try them out here or not.
  3. Try asking your supermarket/local green grocers if they have any leeks that have not had their tips trimmed, or if they could perhaps occasionally order them in for you. You’d be surprised what they’d agree to, though a local grocery store is more likely to agree to strange requests.
  4. If you decide to grow your own leeks, you can:
    1. Grow from seeds, or the 2 inch base of the bulb planted in fertile soil.
    2. Grow in full sunlight (not planted down in little valleys as leeks typically are), so the extra sun stimulates more chlorophyll production. This means that more of the leek will be green leaf and less white bulb.
    3. Pick leaves off as required, leaving the plant to grow for the season.

Green Leek Powder

Serving size depends on the difference between the initial amount and final amount (see notes).

  • 1 bunch green leek tips, weight measured.

Preheat your oven to 90 C/200 F.

Slice your leek where the green becomes white. The more sensitive you are to fructans, the less white you should allow to bleed into the greens you keep. Give the white bits to a neighbour, or anyone else who can use them.

Separate the leaves and wash them thoroughly. Pat dry.

Arrange them in a single layer on lined baking trays, then put into the oven. Shut the oven door – we are not truly dehydrating them here but also roasting them a little. The intensifies and adds to the flavour, both good things.

Set the timer for two hours, then check them every 15 minutes thereafter. They are ready when they are crispy and snap easily when bent.

Let them cool to room temp, then smoosh (for lack of a better term) them into your food processor and blitz until a fine powder forms. I needed to use my coffee grinder to get the fine powder you see above, as my small food processor is on its last legs.

Use as required as a substitute for onion powder, like in a low FODMAP bouillon powder or instant noodle cup. Enjoy!

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Meet Nicer Food’s Infused Olive Oils – Low FODMAP Flavour for your Dishes

low fodmap, nicer foods, garlic infused oil, fructose malabsorption, irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, gluten free, organic

About a month ago, Jesse and Kate Watson of Nicer Foods contacted me and asked me if I’d like to test drive their newest product. Given how much I liked their last effort (chocolate peanut butter flavoured protein bars, mmmmmmmm…….) I of course said yes. Please realise, though, that the opinions here are my own; even though they very generously sent me a full-sized version of each of the four flavours, I was not bound to give them a good review.

Firstly, 10 points to Gryffindor – I mean Nicer Foods – for great customer service; they have always replied promptly to my enquiries and these little beauties reached me just two days after I agreed to review them, in a well padded parcel.

For the uninitiated, the low FODMAP diet restricts garlic and onion, among other foods, based on their high quantities of fermentable carbohydrates, known as fructans (or fructooligosaccharides/FOS, part of the O group), which aren’t absorbed in the small intestine, so travel on into the colon, where your resident gut flora digest them, leading to gas production, bloating, cramps and altered bowel movements. You know, exactly what you want to read about in the review of a gourmet food product. Sorry.

For the less than savoury reasons mentioned above, those following the low FODMAP diet for relief of digestive complaints will eliminate garlic and onion varieties, which for some might seem like the end of the world for their taste buds. However, luckily for us, FODMAPs are water soluble, so foods like garlic and onion can be sauteed in oil until their flavours have seeped in, leaving the fructans behind. This means that oils infused with the essences of higher FODMAP foods can impart the flavour into your meals, without the FODMAPs. Sounds great and easy enough, right? Well, the down side to this is that you really shouldn’t store your homemade infused oils; you can make them but only if you plan to use them right there and then. Botulism, a potentially fatal bacterial infection, is caused by the food-borne bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which thrives in low oxygen, alkaline, warm environments – just like infused oils.

Personally, I’m not happy to risk a case of Botulism to have the convenience of homemade infused oils lying around and, while I’m happy to throw a couple of garlic cloves into simmering oil when I’m cooking, I most likely won’t be bothered when I am making a heat-free-prep meal, like dips or salad dressings.

So, what to do? Supermarkets and websites sell varieties of infused olive oils that we can take advantage of. But what makes Nicer Foods’ infused oils stand out from the crowd? Firstly (and most importantly), they are made with the intention of being completely FODMAP friendly, so you don’t have to worry about garlic or onion “juice” getting into the oils, like you do with others. Have you ever seen the garlic infused oils on the supermarket shelves that have bits of garlic sitting at the bottom? Chances are you may react to that particular oil – depending on how sensitive your gut is. Secondly, they taste great – more on that later – and thirdly, I’d happily support a family owned start up company over a chain-brand that probably doesn’t care as much about quality control and its customers.

So, to the oils!… Which are available online for purchase at Nicer Foods’ website for a reasonable price.

Shallot Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Great taste, a little strong but pleasant. It works wonders as a simple salad dressing with a pinch of sea salt or as part of a cooked meal. Just beware, though, that as it’s an “extra virgin olive oil,” (EVOO) I’d keep your heat low, so don’t use it while stir frying, or simply add it in at the end of the cooking process.

Meal ideas:

  • Salad dressing, with a pinch of sea salt and perhaps a dash of white wine vinegar.
  • Drizzle over your pasta of choice and throw on a few cherry tomatoes, some shredded basil and Parmesan cheese.
  • Onion replacement in hot meals, if used carefully – would work in combination with the garlic oil in any Italian or Mexican dishes that you wanted to try, such as this Bolognese sauce.
  • Jazz up your favourite low FODMAP dip recipes – this would go well in a roasted capsicum dip.

I like the shallot oil so much that it has earnt it’s own pouring spout. If I had to pick, it’d be my favourite.

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Garlic Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A pleasant and mild garlic flavour. I’ve tried store bought garlic oils before and some have had an obnoxious garlic taste but this one, thankfully, does not.

Meal Ideas:

  • Salad dressing (as above).
  • Use carefully in cooking, such as garlic free carnitas or Napoli sauce (after sauce has been reduced from the boiling point).
  • Whip up a delicious garlic infused guacamole.
  • Bake some spinach and Feta muffins, or mini quiches, using the garlic oil as part of the fat content, to spice up the flavour.

Pictured here in a green leek chimichurri sauce.

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Lemon Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Refreshingly zingy. I like the other oils a lot, too, as the steadily emptying bottles can attest – but this one speaks to my inner baker and dessert-aholic. The flavour reminds me of a lemon biscuit (cookie) that my Gran used to buy and that I now want to replicate. I wish it came in a bigger bottle!

Meal Ideas:

  • Drizzle over seafood as it’s removed from the heat.
  • Use it as part of a zesty summer salad dressing.
  • Use it as part of the fat component in a lemon-infused baked goods – I’m planning a recipe right now.

Basil Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Herby! I love the versatility of this oil. Good quality oil – as are all the others – that can be used in a variety of ways.

Meal Ideas:

  • Make an extreme basil pesto, or add it with a bit of the garlic oil to a spinach or kale pesto for some basil flavour when basil is out of season.
  • Drizzle it into a bowl of plain EVOO and Balsamic vinegar (which is low FODMAP in 1-2 tbsp. servings) and use it as a dip for your gluten free or FODMAP friendly bread for a simple appetiser.
  • For a super simple lunch or dinner, drizzle some over freshly cooked gluten free pasta, add in some chopped cherry toms and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and you’re done.

All in all I can safely say that I recommend these oils. The team at Nicer Foods has done a great job. The fresh flavours, combined with no ill reactions on my behalf, and a friend’s rave review of my shallot oil/sea salt salad dressing (“That’s all that was in the dressing?!”) makes this a win-win product in my books.

How to Make Homemade Pumpkin Puree – Low FODMAP and Gluten Free

How to make homemade pumpkin puree - low FODMAP, fructose friendly, gluten free, healthy

Tinned pumpkin puree is extremely useful to have around – I normally have a few cans on hand for lunch or dinner time emergencies (for example, to make pumpkin soup, or a pumpkin and tomato soup) – but really, when you’re trying to impress guests, it doesn’t help you bring your A game to the table. Freshly roasted pumpkin is miles ahead in terms of taste, so, at this time of year, when desserts apparently have to follow the pumpkin theme, too, it’s handy to have some freshly roasted pumpkin puree in the fridge or freezer to whip up your favourite pumpkin pie or cheesecake.

Speaking of this time of year, it’s starting to get dark at 3.30 pm already! Not that lighting has been great during “daylight hours,” anyway. Seattle is notorious for being dark and gloomy, though it doesn’t rain quite as much as Hollywood would have you believe. So I’ve been chasing it around the house for photos… you do what you have to! Though I don’t think Bailey was too impressed that his kennel was being used for a prop.

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FODMAP Notes

  1. Pumpkins/squash generally contain some level of polyols, usually sorbitol. I would not eat them if I was on elimination but if you are in the reintroduction phase of the low FODMAP diet, I’d test 1/4 cup of pumpkin first, as that is what is listed as safe for all varieties except Jap/Kent pumpkins, which are safe in 1/2 cup servings. Of course, if polyols are not a trigger for you, eat as much as you can/like.

How to roast a pumpkin

This method works for any pumpkin/winter squash variety.

  • One pie pumpkin, around 1-1.5 kg/2.2-3.3 lb
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 sharp knife
  • 1 spoon
  • 1 large baking tray
  • Cooking oil

Choose a smallish pumpkin that is brightly coloured – this will give you the best chance of a strong taste. The bigger pumpkins with duller colours tend to be a bit bland. The pumpkins I chose were around 1.1 kg each and yielded approximately 450-500 g of puree.

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Preheat your oven to 200 C/400 F. If you have not done so, rinse the pumpkin of any obvious chunks of dirt, before chopping it into four or five pieces and scooping/scraping out the seeds.

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Spread the pumpkin evenly around a lightly oiled baking dish of your choice and fill a small, oven-safe dish with water – this keeps the oven environment moist and prevents the pumpkin from drying out as it bakes.

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Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until it is fork tender (think boiled potatoes). Remove the dish from the oven, let it cool for 30 minutes or so, then scoop the flesh out and transfer it to a large bowl. Discard the skin.

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Either mash or blend the pumpkin flesh to form a puree and then store it in glass jars or zip-lock bags in the fridge (for up to a week) or the freezer (for no more than two months before quality begins to suffer).

Now you can use it for any cake, pie, bread, soup or custard recipe that calls for pumpkin puree. Easy peasy!

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Mirepoix – FODMAP/Fructose Friendly & Gluten Free

Mire Poix

A traditional mirepoix involves carrots, celery and onion; due to geographic and cultural divides, as well as taste preferences, variations have of course come about over time and often only include one of the original ingredients… which means that I don’t feel terrible at all about nixing the onion and replacing it with leek and chives!

A mirepoix actually forms the base of many sauces, stews and stocks – I’d been making one for ages unintentionally – and you have been, too – before I even knew it had a name. You know the browned vegetables that constitute the beginning of a stock, a pasta sauce, a chili or even the butter chicken sauce recipe on this blog? They are all actually a “mirepoix.” Go figure. I had no clue until a year ago, I just thought it was what you were supposed to do. Which you are. But it has a name. I’ll stop now.

I have adjusted this recipe of Alton Brown’s to be low FODMAP. You can use mirepoix as a pasta sauce on its own, to bake with oysters or top a pizza. Anything goes, really. I love versatility. Thanks to the dry heat used, which intensifies flavours, this simple method adds a real depth of flavour to dishes that require a tomato sauce base.

Notes:

  1. Celery contains enough mannitol to be high FODMAP if you eat an entire stalk, which you wouldn’t be doing here. However, if you are very sensitive, just reduce it or sub in some extra leek or add in celeriac (for texture).
  2. Green leek tips are low FODMAP in half cup servings, so unless you eat the entire batch of mirepoix, you should be fine.
  3. Tomatoes are low FODMAP in half cup servings.
  4. Carrots are low FODMAP in about a quarter cup serving size.
  5. Garlic infused oil is tolerated by many who are sensitive to fructans, even though it seems counter-intuitive. FODMAPs are water soluble, so the garlic sizzling/infusing in oil shouldn’t leach out too many fructans. Simple solution – use a pinch of asafoetida in its place, which is both low FODMAP and gluten free (unless wheat flour is used to cut it).
  6. Red wine is low FODMAP in 150 ml servings. Red wine vinegar is double fermented red wine, so it is also safe.
  7. Balsamic vinegar is low FODMAP in 1 tbsp. servings, which is all there is in the entire recipe.

Mirepoix

Serves 12-14 FODMAPers, depending on tolerance.

  • 2 large tins of whole, peeled tomatoes, separated into toms and liquid
  • 1 cup finely sliced green leek tips
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup minced green chives
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, whole or diced
  • 2 tsp. fresh minced basil
  • 2 tsp. fresh minced oregano
  • 2 tsp. minced capers
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Strain the tinned tomatoes completely – give them a squish to make sure all the juice is out – and reserve the liquid. Prepare all the veggies as required above.

Combine the tomato liquid, red wine, chives, vinegars and herbs in a saucepan and bring to the boil, before lowering heat to a simmer and reducing volume by half. This should take about 20 minutes.

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Meanwhile, preheat grill/broiler of your oven (grill in Australia = broiler in USA) and then simmer the whole garlic cloves over a med-high heat on the stove top, in an oven-safe pan, until fragrant and then discard if you are sensitive (or dice and leave them in if not). I love my cast iron pan; like this sauce, it’s versatile – the most versatile piece of cookware that we own (bake cakes/breads, stove top, grill/broiler safe, arm workout, you name it).

Add in the leek tips, carrot and celery and sweat the veggies until tender. Add in the tomatoes, then put the pan under the grill/broiler (on the top/second shelf) and leave it with the oven door open for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tops have begun to char. This adds flavour and is a good thing, so let it get moderately charred.

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Once the veggies have sufficiently blackened, put them back on the stove, on a medium heat and add in the capers. Saute for a minute and then tip the veggies into the (now reduced) tomato liquid. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture to the texture you need (i.e. pasta sauce would be chunkier than a pizza sauce), then flavour with salt and pepper before simmering for a further 5 minutes.

You’re done! Unless of course you want to preserve/can it, which I recommend, as you can make big batches and have jars on the ready for when you’re feeling lazy.

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Travel Series – Flying with Fructose Malabsorption

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I’m not a huge fan of flying. I’m not scared of it but I don’t find it enjoyable, either; long hours (15 hours between Melbourne and LAX) in cramped seating, recirculated air, mostly unsuitable foods and the bathrooms, if you can call them that, all add up to me not having a good time. I stress about connections until we make them and about whether our luggage will make it when we do.

We have had enough mishaps with changed departure gates, delayed planes and missing luggage (LAX is a disorganised hellhole) that Ev and I have become very adept at travelling light. The last time we went home to Australia, we got everything we needed for two weeks, including things for other people, in two carry on bags… and by “carry on” I mean the real carry on bags, not the giant suitcases that American based airlines let people take on and try in vain to cram into the overhead compartments, taking up space meant for everyone. Yes, that annoys me. If I’ve been responsible and packed my belongings into a small suitcase intended for overhead bins, perhaps with valuables in there, I am not impressed when I am told it HAS to be checked, because a 3/4 full plane has already run out of overhead storage. But I digress.

Some people truly do enjoy flying but for the rest of us, here’s how I manage eating with FM and dealing with potential symptoms while flying. It’s pretty appropriate timing, because Ev and I are going to spend the next week in Cabo, Mexico! We’ve been waiting for this holiday since we got back from Cabo last summer. As much as I prefer road trips and exploring different towns, not staying in the one place for too long, sometimes it’s nice to just go and veg out somewhere that is completely relaxing and not have to worry (so much) about the food. As I have said previously, for me, Mexico/Mexican food seems to be a safe bet if I eat plainly and avoid tropical fruits.

The other posts in the travel series can be found here.

I’m sure I’ll be posting photos of tropical paradise on my Instagram account, if you’d like to follow along.

Step 1: Plan ahead, Stress less

Most people don’t need to be told that stress can increase their IBS symptoms; I know I don’t. It’s not all in our heads, though. Research also demonstrates that the two coexist (see here and here), as the autonomic nervous system and certain hormones, which are triggered during times of stress, also act upon the gut.

To avoid stress related IBS and ensure as smooth a travel/flight experience as possible, plan ahead. Some things to consider are:

  • Book your flights as early as possible – cheaper flights means more money in your pocket and less concern about finances during your trip. It’s only a small matter but everything helps.
  • Have all your home-affairs in order well before you go, so you’re not panicking about getting emergency cash out for the house/dog-sitter or paying a last minute bill.
  • Pack early. This is something I can’t help but do, as it all adds to my excitement of going on holiday. It also means you won’t be up until 3 am the morning of your 8 am flight to finish packing your bags.
  • Check in online 24 hours before your flight, if you are able. This means that your seat is reserved on the flight, all you need to do is collect your boarding pass and check in your luggage.
  • Call the airline to ask what their menu will be and decide whether it will be safe for you. This is more important for long haul flights, as I’m pretty sure that standard fare on every flight under 3 hours is a bag of pretzels/mixed nuts and a soft drink/water. Actually, mixed nuts and water sounds fine, thanks. I’ll take that. Just make sure they’re unseasoned.
  • A few days before you fly, call the airline again and re-check your meal preference. I normally go for the gluten free meal and pick what I can from it, supplementing with food I’ve brought from home. The last time I flew between Melbourne and LAX I didn’t do this; my gluten free meal was a normal meal and my husband’s normal meal was vegan. No idea how that happened. What was worse – they don’t carry spares and everyone who had successfully ordered a gluten free meal had shown up for the flight. Which is why I was glad I’d also packed snacks…
  • Pack some non-perishable FODMAP friendly snacks; more on this later, just make sure you call the airline(s) and ask what you are able to take in carry on and what must be in checked baggage.

Step 2: Make some safe food flash cards

If you don’t speak the language, flash cards listing the ingredients you can and cannot consume in the language spoken by the airline/at the airport will help prevent a lot of confusion, if you decide to brave the food.

In fact, even if you do speak the local language, flash cards might still be a good idea as the idea of fructose malabsorption is still so novel that the apparently random list of ingredients that you cannot consume might overwhelm the staff and create an unwanted fuss.

Make sure the lists are clear and concise as to what you can and absolutely cannot consume.

Step 3: Eat plain before the plane

Each time I fly, I will eat plainly in the preceding week, for a few reasons:

  • I know that additional stress seems to set me off with foods I can normally tolerate, so why push boundaries?
  • I want to give my gut the week to calm down, as some foods cause delayed reactions that can last a few days. This way, if I do happen to react to something at the end of the second-to-last week before flying, I have seven days for it to pass.
  • If I am starting from a better place, in terms of my gut, then a small slip up won’t end up with such severe results as it would if my gut wasn’t terribly happy to begin with.
  • Do you want to have diarrhoea on a plane? Exactly.

Step 4: Pack your own food

This will not always be possible, due to customs regulations and such but if you are able, I highly recommend taking FODMAP friendly snack foods to tide you over during flights and layovers while you’re away.

Some ideas include:

  • A variety of foods for different meal times – who wants tuna for breakfast?
  • Non-perishable foods (or at least foods that will keep for a few days outside the fridge) are best.
  • Easily digestible foods that won’t tax your gut too much.
  • Pack the food in a freezer bag and take what you are allowed to inside your carry on luggage. Some carry on restrictions might prevent this, so put it on your list of questions to ask when you call ahead.

Examples of what I might pack:

  • FODMAP friendly veggies of your choice, such as carrot sticks, celery (if you can tolerate polyols), cucumber etc.
  • FODMAP friendly fruits, to a lesser extent, such as bananas and berries. These will need to be kept in a hard case, as they’ll bruise easily while travelling, so I generally wouldn’t bring them on a flight as they’re more likely to get squashed than on a road trip.
  • Muesli bars, like my strawberry pepita or fruit free bars. pictured below. Muffins are delicious but I find that they squash too easily.
  • Pre-packaged snacks, such as corn chips or rice cakes.

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Step 5: Be prepared for the worst

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, shit happens. Literally. While it’s not ideal, you can lessen its impact on your travel by planning for it. If you have an FM-ergency kit, your life will be a lot easier. (See what I did there? You can use it). Keep this in your carry on, you may need it on your flight as well as at your destination.

  • Analgesics to help with cramps – ibuprofen is a known gastric irritant, so I personally don’t use it but if it works for you then don’t stop. I prefer paracetamol (acetaminophen) to help ease cramps, which are not fun to have on a plane.
  • Dextrose/glucose tablets – to help offset any excess fructose that you may accidentally consume, using the co-transport method of absorption.
  • Any supplements that you take, such as a probiotic, digestive enzyme or multivitamin. It’s best not to disrupt your schedule, if possible.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Wet wipes/baby wipes, in case of an emergency cleaning situation.
  • Any other methods that you know work, such as Buscopan (I’m not saying it does work, it’s just an example). I would advise against using something you haven’t tried before, especially on a plane. It’s best to try those things out at home, beforehand, where you can crawl into a ball and feel sorry for yourself without upsetting the rest of the flight and your holiday.

I hope these guidelines help you fly and travel successfully, as they have me. If you think of anything that I should add, please let me know.

Basic Brine for Poultry

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A brine is a fool proof (famous last words?) way to ensure you get moist, juicy chicken or turkey every time. It actually doesn’t have to be poultry, that’s just what we use it for the most. Any dry meat is fair game. Simply soak the bird in the brine (time depends on the size of the meat), rinse thoroughly and then use in the recipe of your choice.

Bringing works in a couple of ways:

  1. Moisture enters the flesh, so the meat is juicier before cooking, thus the typical fluid loss during cooking does not dry it out to the same level as non-brined meats. This happens in two parts – firstly, the water leaves the chicken’s cells to create an isotonic solution with the brine; once equilibrium has been reached, the water flows in and out of the meat, carrying with it the dissolved salt and flavourings that you added, trapping them within the flesh.
  2. The dissolved salt also acts directly on the proteins, causing the peptides to swell and then unwind. Water then flows within the protein and is trapped there when heat denatures them and causes the protein chains to bind together once more.

Brine

Enough for one 2.5-3.0 kg (5.5-6.0 lb) chook/other bird.

  • 2.5 litres of water
  • 0.5 litres of FF stock (or water)
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup ground black pepper
  • Aromatic vegetables – such as celery, green leek tips and carrots (optional, performs the same role as the FF stock, if you have none)

Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Watch it closely, as it will boil very quickly with all the salt in there. Let it gently boil for 5 minutes, then take it off the heat and allow it to come to room temperature. Do not strain it.

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Once the brine is at room temperature, submerge the (cleaned) bird and weight it down, if necessary, to ensure that the entire bird gets the brine treatment. Leave a chicken in the brine for 3-4 hours and a turkey for at least 6 hours. Place the saucepan with the brine and chook inside in the fridge to keep cool while the process takes place. If your pot won’t fit in the fridge, put the lid on and submerge it in icy water. The ice will need to be replaced regularly to maintain a cold temperature, so you’ll need to stick around to keep an eye on it. An Eski (cooler) also works to keep the temperature at or below 38 F/3 C.

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Once the brine is complete, remove the bird just before cooking and rinse thoroughly to get rid of excess salt etc. Use it in the recipe of your choice, such as this spatchcocked turkey for Thanksgiving or BBQ smoked rosemary chicken.

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The Great Cake Tin Bake Off – Stainless Steel vs. Non Stick

Has anyone else ever gone to buy bake ware, looked at the immense range of options and been utterly overwhelmed? Yeah, me too. There are so many different materials you can bake with (not to mention the variety of styles of cake pans, pie dishes, tart/quiche tins etc) at a range of prices and not all of them are necessarily good to use.

Aluminium has been linked (inconclusively) with neurotoxicity that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and is known to compete with calcium for absorption; so given my family history of both Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis, this isn’t something I want to play with. In Australia, at least, I had never even come across aluminium cookware, unless it was the core of the base of a sauce pan or fry pan, surrounded by stainless steel. In the US, it’s quite common to get anodized aluminium cookware, such as cake tins and biscuit trays (cookie sheets for you Americans 🙂 ). The first time I saw an aluminium cake tin over here, I was a little shocked; I remembered quite clearly learning about the potential health risks associated with aluminium in my year 8 science class – complete with picture of the Mad Hatter – and couldn’t understand why something that is even remotely likely to cause such serious health issues is still used to bake. I know it’s a great heat conductor and lends itself to evenly baked cakes but shouldn’t health come first?

PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), a chemical used in the process of manufacturing the non-stick Teflon coating, has also been associated with health issues (though not conclusively), such as increased rates of certain cancers in lab animals and humans – though only one (polymer fume fever) has been directly linked. How many of us have heard that as soon as the lining has been scratched, we need to throw the pan/tin/whatever away so as not to ingest any of the chemicals? Over-heating the pans, which is surprisingly easy to do, can also cause noxious fumes to be released, and while these are not considered dangerous the long-term effects of regularly breathing in these fumes isn’t known. I’m not very comfortable with using something that is 1) that flimsy and needs regular replacement, 2) could have unseen scratches or patches of heat related decomposition that could flake little bits of the chemical into your food and 3) isn’t rated up to the highest oven temperatures I might bake bread at.

When we first moved to Seattle and stocked up our kitchen, I just bought the general supermarket cake tins (non-stick ones) – because we were both tired of spending so much money on home goods and because I hadn’t used anything else before. I baked with these tins for a couple of years and last year it came to me: we have always said how terrible non-stick fry pans are, so why am I using a non-stick cake tin? A cheap one, too, so the surface is probably even weaker.

I spent some time researching cookware and of course read what I already knew – aluminium is the best heat conductor and is recommended for baking. A cast iron cake pan would be amazing but very hard to come by and even more expensive… those things are heavy. You can also get glass bake ware but a cake pan is over $20 and I like my cook ware to be a little more versatile – I can’t freeze something in glass and send it straight into the oven, as I would before blind-baking pastry or a crumb base. I ended up choosing a stainless steel cake tin for both price and functional reasons but I was a little nervous about how it would perform.

The first time I used it, I made a double batch of my fructose friendly and gluten free banana cake and made the first half into muffins. Not wanting to overload the oven, I filled both the muffin pan and the stainless steel cake tin and cooked the muffins first, as they’d be done in 20 minutes. After baking the muffins I popped the full cake straight into the oven and what resulted was a dense little cake. I was disappointed. After thinking about it, though, I couldn’t blame the stainless steel tin – not yet. I had let it sit for 20 minutes while the muffins baked, so it would have lost some air from being beaten. I needed to find out how much of this was due to it sitting out before cooking and how much was due to the cake tin, so I decided to have a bake off. The results left me pleasantly surprised.

The Bake Off

One of the first things I learnt in my physiotherapy degree was KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. So that’s what I did.

Aim: To discover whether a stainless steel cake tin performs worse than, the same as, or better than a non-stick coated steel tin.

Method: Using the same cake recipe to keep things consistent, I made a double batch and transferred half into a greased and lined non-stick coated heavy steel tin and the other half into a greased and lined stainless steel tin. The oven was pre-heated to 180 C/350 F. I placed them both on the bottom rack, closed the door and set the timer for 50 minutes.

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Results:

While Baking

  • The non-stick cake rose much faster than the stainless steel cake and I was becoming concerned, even at 40 minutes.
  • After 50 minutes, neither cake was done – they were testing clean with a skewer but still felt a bit too soft.
  • At 55 minutes, the non-stick cake was done and I removed it from the oven.
  • At about 62 minutes the stainless steel cake was done and I removed it from the oven.

Cool Down

  • Both cakes had risen to about the same level while baking but after sitting out for 15 minutes, when it was time to turn them onto a cooling rack, the non-stick cake had collapsed to being quite flat, whereas the stainless steel cake had retained its dome.

Eating

  • Stainless Steel Cake – fluffy, very soft and moist. Taste was the same as always… delicious.
  • Non-stick Cake – not quite as fluffy (but only just), soft but noticeably drier than the stainless steel cake. Taste was still delicious.

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Not From A Packet Mix

Discussion: Stainless steel is not the best conductor of heat or electricity available today (due to it being an alloy – impurities reduce conductivity – and based on iron, rather than a more conductive metal like copper or aluminium), however this does not mean it cannot reach the same temperatures as other metals – it just takes a bit longer. My neighbour also wondered if the highly polished surface of the stainless steel cake tin reflected heat away from the cake (as the story goes with tin foil), rather than absorbing it into the metal; this is a good point and one which I hadn’t even considered, as my mind was heading off down the path of thermal conductivity.

If a material is lower on the thermal conductivity table – see link above, non-stick coating over heavy steel = approx. 43 W/(m.K), stainless steel = 16 W/(m.K) – it can be assumed it is more of a thermal insulator. Now, stainless steel is by no means a true thermal insulator (think more like bricks, wool and sand – things with trapped air pockets) but it stands to reason that it might have a fraction more insulating properties than the non-stick steel cake tin. Perhaps this slightly reduced rate of heat increase and loss played a role in the increased height retention and moisture within the stainless steel cake – in the photo above you cannot see moisture but you can see that the photos of the cake slices are zoomed in equally from the same angle and the stainless steel slice has clearly retained its dome, where as the non-stick slice has collapsed a little in the middle.

A reader, Cari, brought to my attention another reason that the non-stick cake might have risen very quickly and collapsed as it cooled, while the stainless steel cake did not. The non-stick lining has a lower coefficient of friction than the stainless steel tin – this means that the cake batter in the non-stick tin had less friction (grip) impeding its rise upwards, so it rose much faster than the batter in the stainless steel tin, which had to overcome a greater amount of friction. This worked against the non-stick cake as it cooled, though, as there was nothing for the cake to grip on to to prevent collapse, whereas the stainless steel cake could hold on to the sides of its tin to help retain its height.

Conclusion: For the price – $8, so about double that of the generic non-stick pan – the stainless steel cake tin performed better, albeit with a slightly longer cooking time. I am going to buy another so that I have two and might eventually invest in their muffin tins (I’m not too worried about our non-stick muffin tins as I always use patty pans).

What materials do you like to cook with? I’d love some thoughts and recommendations.

How to Make a Basic Meat/Bone Stock – FODMAP/Fructose Friendly

Making a stock is such a basic skill to have, yet it can translate to so many other dishes. Soups, sauces, stews, pie fillings – anything savoury can have its flavour boosted with a good stock.

But why should we bother making stock, you ask, when there are perfectly good bullion cubes and stock concentrates on the supermarket shelves? Firstly, these are often very high in sodium – although granted, you can get reduced salt stocks that can be quite flavourless – but there are also preservatives in store bought stocks/powders, they aren’t anywhere near as tasty, wouldn’t have as many nutrients and the big one… ONION.

I admit, you can now get onion and garlic free stock cubes – in Australia, at least, I haven’t seen them in the US at all – but, given all the health and flavour benefits of homemade stock, and seeing how easy it is to make, to me the choice is obvious. The only downside that I see is that our freezer is so small that we can’t make too much at once.

Notes:

  1. Onion and garlic – the fructans are water soluble, so some will leach out into the stock water. Some can tolerate it, others can’t. You can easily omit the onion, though, as you get a lot of flavour from other ingredients.
  2. Meat/bones – use an entire chicken or fish carcass, including the wings and skin (great flavour and you can skim unwanted fat off later); alternatively, use soup or marrow bones (the same thing) typically from a cow but lamb shanks or pork hock will also work – whatever you can get a good price on, go with it.
  3. White wine vinegar can be replaced with white vinegar, apple cider vinegar etc. It helps to draw nutrients and flavours out of the bones and vegetables.

Stock Flavour Variations

These are only suggestions, you do not need to use all at once and of course, if you like a flavour that is not included here, go ahead and add it in.

  • Chicken: onion, garlic, bay leaf, carrot, celery, chives, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme.
  • Beef: onion, garlic, basil, bay leaf, carrot, celery, chives, ginger, mint, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and thyme. Red wine also goes well with beef.
  • Lamb: onion, garlic, basil, bay leaf, carraway seeds, carrot, celery, coriander leaves (cilantro), coriander seeds, dill, marjoram, rosemary, sage and thyme.
  • Pork: onion, garlic, bay leaf, carraway seeds, carrot, celery, cumin seeds, dill, fennel bulb, fennel seeds, rosemary, sage and thyme.
  • Fish: onion, garlic, basil, bay leaf, carrot, celery, coriander leaves (cilantro), coriander seeds, fennel bulb, fennel seeds, ginger root, tarragon. White wine also goes well with fish/seafood.

Basic Meat/Bone Stock

  • Carcass of the chicken/fish or 3-4 “soup”/marrow bones that are about 10 cm in length
  • Optional – 1 onion, quartered
  • Optional – 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, quartered
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into chunks
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 lug olive oil/cooking oil of your choice
  • 2.0 L water
  • 1 dash white wine vinegar
  • Salt to taste
  • Extras – for this chicken stock I used bay leaves, ground peppercorns, sage, rosemary, thyme

The following pictures were taken when I made a batch of chicken stock.

Heat the oil in your sauce pan and sear the bones, optional onion and garlic, celery and carrot until they have browned and a fond has developed on the bottom. The fond is the layer of brown that has stuck onto the base of the pot and it is a huge flavour bomb – just let this happen, because as soon as your pour in water, the layer will deglaze and dissolve, lending its flavours to the stock and amping up whatever dish you use the stock in.

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Once a good fond has developed, after 5-10 minutes of frying the meat and vegetables, pour in 2 litres of water and add in any extras of your choice, then bring it to the boil. Let it boil for 2-3 minutes, and spoon off the scum that develops if you would like a clear broth. This is the blood boiling – not everyone likes it, as it can impart a bitter flavour and cloud a stock, but some do. Whatever you choose to do is okay.

Reduce the pot to a simmer and leave it for at least 45 minutes, preferably 2 hours. The longer the pot simmers, the more intense the flavour will be and the more nutrients will leach from the bones and vegetables into the stock liquid. When you are about to remove it from the heat, taste a little and adjust flavours as required to suit your palate.

Place a heat-proof sieve over a heat proof bowl (this stuff is boiling hot) and pour the contents of the sauce pan over the top. The sieve will catch the solid ingredients. Remove the sieve and its contents and either discard them or if you have dogs, pick out the boiled bones, carrots and celery and blend them into a nutritious puree that your pups will love. Onions have been shown to cause anaemia in dogs, so be careful to pick out only the bones, carrot and celery.

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Once the stock has cooled, skim off any unwanted fat (this does contain flavour and nutritious substances as well but some either don’t like the taste, can’t tolerate the fat or are counting calories) and transfer the stock to a container to freeze right away if you won’t be using it in the next 1-2 days tops. Fish stock should be frozen if not being used within 24 hours. I like to freeze it in 2 cup measurements, as that is useful for makings soups and stews. Another idea is freezing it in ice cube trays, that way you can just flip them into a container and pick out as many as you like. Once thawed, the stock should be used within 24-48 hours or discarded – fish stock should only sit in the fridge for 24 hours.

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Since this photo was taken, we have begun using glass jars instead of plastic to freeze our stocks. Freezing glass is risky but I am not comfortable with plastics potentially leaching chemicals into the liquids – BPA free plastic containers are safe but make sure that the stock is completely at room temperature when you fill them.

We have Pyrex and canning jars, which are freezer safe; just make sure to leave about 20% empty space at the top to allow room for expansion when the stock freezes, because glass can crack and shatter in the freezer if its contents expand too much – be warned! Of course, I am not telling you that you have to use glass jars, just that this is what we do. You can make up your own mind. 🙂

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If you have dogs, don’t ditch the solids – pick out the onion and make a bone and vegetable slurry for them to enjoy with their meals. It’s nutritious and delicious; they’ll love you for it.

You can also follow the same principles to make a bone broth, which is full of nutrients and great for healing the gut – but I’ll cover that in another post.

FODMAP Friendly and Gluten Free Plain Flour Blend

FODMAP Friendly and Gluten Free Plain Flour Blend

After telling myself for the last two months that I would attempt to make my own gluten free flour blend – and then putting it off because every time I baked it seemed to be for an event and I didn’t want to serve up a gluten free disaster – I bit the bullet and bought some individual flours.

It was actually quite spontaneous, as I had gone to the supermarket for ice cream ingredients and to replace the dismal biodegradable dishwashing detergent (Planet brand, FYI) for the better performing 7th Generation brand, and I was on my way to grab some bananas as I passed the health food section and the Bob’s Red Mill display caught my eye.

While I can’t stand their gluten free all purpose flour blend (bean flours, gross), I do like their individual flours, some of which are reasonably priced. I whipped out my phone and did a quick search for “make your own gluten free flour blend” and the Gluten Free Girl’s post on making your own plain flour blend popped up. I didn’t watch the video in the middle of the supermarket – I’m not that weird – but the text gives their ingredients, as well as listing different flours in classes:

  • Whole grain – brown rice, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, oat etc.
  • White flours and starches – white rice, tapioca, potato etc.
  • Nut – almond, coconut etc.
  • Bean – chickpea/garbanzo, fava etc.

The complete lists are on her website, and information is available on many other websites and articles about the specific flours. But the idea is that you need to replicate both the protein and starch content of wheat flour to succeed in gluten free baking. By following her guidelines of 40% whole grain flour blended with 60% white flour/starches, I subbed in flours that were both available to me at the time and that wouldn’t break the bank (the purpose of this venture being to save money), then experimented with recipes that had worked well for me previously with King Arthur’s GF flour blend.

I found that the mix the Gluten Free Girl recommends was a little too heavy for light baked goods like cakes and scones but it worked well in pastries. I will post my version of her recommended blend as another recipe – Low FODMAP and Gluten Free Wholemeal Flour. The specific  blend I ended up using is somewhere between the Gluten Free Girl’s recommendation and King Arthur’s GF flour blend, which is my favourite pre-made blend available in Seattle.

King Arthur GF flour goes for around $7/lb ($15.4/kg) on average – depending on the supermarket you go to. I buy spelt flour (which is NOT gluten free but can be made low FODMAP via fermentation) online for between $2.50-3/lb ($5.5-6.6/kg), which I think is reasonable, as a good wheat flour will cost almost that much, in Seattle at least. I can tolerate non-sourdough spelt products in small amounts but I don’t want to overdo it and end up reacting to it as well as wheat – it’s a sometimes food for me. So I still need a gluten free flour that performs well and falls within a certain price point. I would have been happy with under $4/lb ($8.8/kg) but I got this flour blend for around $2/lb ($4.4/kg)! That’s SO much cheaper than I had hoped for, and back in line with regular wheat flour’s price point.

Anyway, this flour blend produced fluffy, moist and delicious banana nut muffins and carrot cake without any funny textures or bad tastes (bean flour, ugh, I can’t emphasise that enough). Next stop, testing it out on a pastry recipe!

FODMAP Notes

  1. Brown rice is a contentious issue in the FODMAP world but Monash has it listed as low FODMAP (green light) in up to 1 cup servings, which, given it is only 20% of this flour blend and that you are unlikely to eat 5 cups of this flour, I think it’s safe.
  2. If you can’t tolerate brown rice flour, then buckwheat flour is a good alternative.
  3. Potato starch is different to potato flour. It is the starch of, rather than a milled potato (just as corn meal/flour and corn starch are different, even though in Australia corn starch is called cornflour – on this issue, I will admit we are wrong).
  4. White rice is low FODMAP in 1 cup servings.
  5. I do not include xanthan gum in this blend because I like to add that in separately for each recipe, adjusting the amounts based on whether it is a cake, biscuit/cookie, or more of a bread/dough.

FODMAP Friendly Plain Flour Blend

  • 400 g potato starch
  • 400 g white rice flour
  • 200 g brown rice flour (replace with buckwheat if you can’t tolerate brown rice)

It really couldn’t be easier. Weigh each of the flours out and then mix them thoroughly, either by hand or with your stand mixer on a low speed with either the whisk or paddle attachment. Use either your stand mixer – which would ultimately do a much better job – and let it mix on the “stir” speed for 5 minutes.

You could also weigh everything together into a container, close the lid and shake to mix thoroughly – but you will have to shake it for a while. I have tried this before and it’s a lot less reliable, as I don’t feel it mixes as well.

FODMAP Friendly Flour

Usage

To use this flour as a cup for cup replacement of wheat flour, you will need to add in xanthan gum, or a chia gel (1 tbsp. chia meal mixed into 1 tbsp. water). I didn’t add xanthan gum into the flour blend because the amount that I add to baked goods depends on what I am baking.

This is a general guide, taken from the Bob’s Red Mill xanthan gum packet. I don’t always follow this exactly, as I don’t like the way that too much xanthan gum binds up a cake and makes it chewy.

  • Biscuits/cookies – 1/4 tsp xanthan gum per cup flour
  • Cakes – 1/2 tsp per cup flour
  • Muffins/quick breads – 3/4 tsp per cup flour
  • Breads – 1 to 1 1/2 tsp per cup flour
  • Pastry/doughs – 2 tsp per cup flour

This blend is a “plain” or “all purpose” flour. Some recipes require a leavening agent, such as baking powder or bicarb soda, to allow the batter to rise. In this case, add the required leavening agent in at the time of baking, not into the flour blend when you first make it. This is because not all recipes want or need such additives – you wouldn’t want crepes that get fluffy!

Storage

Store your flour blend in an air tight container and then boast to your friends the next time they scoff at expensive gluten free baking is that, actually, you mix your own flours and don’t pay much more than they do. Give them a nice, big grin as you do it.