Grain-free Cheddar Pecan Shortbread Wafers with Dried Fruit

A friend shared this recipe for cranberry-pecan cheese wafers that she makes during the holiday season. It sparked my interest for two reasons: one, it’s easy to adapt to grain-free and two, there are no limits to the flavor profiles that can be created with the base cheddar pecan shortbread recipe. The cranberries and cayenne pepper can easily be exchanged to suit ones tastes, and even the type of cheese and nuts can be switched to something else. Smoked Gouda and walnuts, maybe, or Parmesan and pistachios. Here are some of my suggestions:

• Dried cherries, orange zest, ground fennel seed
• Dried cranberries, smoked paprika, ground chipotle powder
• Sultanas, ground coriander seed, mild curry powder
• Dried apricots, lemon zest, cardamom
• Cognac infused raisins, crushed mustard seeds, black pepper
• Dried apples, allspice, cayenne pepper
• Dried blueberries, lemon zest, ground lavender buds
• Salt cured olives, thyme, rosemary

I made batches of the first two and both turned out great. I used 1 Tbs of orange zest and 1/2 tsp of whole fennel seeds ground in a mortar and pestle with the dried cherries and 1 tsp smoked paprika and 1/2 tsp chipotle powder with the dried cranberries. The trick is to not overwhelm the cheddar and fruit flavors with spice, so use a little more of milder flavors and a little less of stronger flavors. I also don’t recommend using more than two different spices or spice blends.

I halved the recipe from the original since I don’t see this as primarily a holiday recipe, but as an alternative to cookies for any occasion. They’re not extremely low carb due to the dried fruit, but much lower than regular cookies and perfect for someone who likes salty and sweet treats. The dough needs to chill a good 6-8 hours to firm up, so it’s best to plan that down time in advance. I made the dough the night before and baked it the next morning. Let the wafers cool completely before eating; the flavors are even more developed the day after baking.

2 cups almond flour
2 cups sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped
3/4 cup dried fruit, chopped
1 Tbs chia seed or flaxseed meal
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
3/4 tsp salt

Soak the dried fruit in several cups of boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Drain the fruit and dry it off as much as possible with paper towels. Dice small, if necessary. In a stand mixer, blend together butter, cheese, chia or flax seed meal, salt, and selected spices until well combined. Add almond flour gradually until combined. Stir in dried fruit and chopped nuts. Divide the dough in half, roll into equal sized logs, and wrap in plastic wrap. Seal and chill in the refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours and up to 3 days. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F and prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Slice rolls of dough into 1/4 inch thick slices and place on prepared baking sheets, leaving at least an inch between waters to allow them room to spread out during baking. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until an even golden brown. Cooking times will vary based on the ingredients used. Let cool fully for serving or covering for storage.

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Creamed Spinach with Leeks

I had a few ingredients in my fridge that I don’t usually buy (leeks, Brie, fresh spinach, white wine) and decided to make a combination of braised leeks and creamed spinach. It turned out much better than I expected. I think it could be improved with bacon and/or mushrooms, but I didn’t think of it until after I finished the dish.

Leeks can be tricky to clean if you’re not used to them. I sliced the leeks into rounds, agitated them in a bowl of water to remove soil, strained them in a fine mesh colander, and finally rinsed them. I like to get as much of the tender parts off a leek as possible when slicing them, peeling off the tough dark green parts on the leaves as I get to them and continuing to slice the tender light green parts. The tough leek leaves can be stored in the freezer for use in stocks or broths.

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3 leeks, sliced and cleaned
10 oz fresh spinach leaves, destemmed
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup butter
3 oz Brie, rind removed and diced
2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, braise leeks in butter and wine. Simmer on medium until leeks are tender and the wine has evaporated. Add spinach, heavy cream, and thyme. Simmer on low until the spinach is cooked down. Add Parmesan cheese and Brie. Stir until the cheeses are melted and well incorporated and the sauce has thickened enough to coat the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and serve.

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Low Carb Parmesan Puffs

I found this great looking recipe for keto cheese puffs I wanted to try for Thanksgiving, but I didn’t have cheddar cheese on hand. I was also skeptical about piping a delicate meringue without deflating it. Spooning it out with a tablespoon sized measuring spoon, much like I do with cookies, worked great. I used fresh herbs from my garden, but any herbs or spices you prefer can be used. Since meringues tend to lose their crispness when stored, I recommend reheating any leftovers in a 300°F oven or toaster oven for 5-10 minutes before serving them. The leftover egg yolks went into a bed of salt for curing. I’ll post that recipe if they turn out well.

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6 egg whites
6oz Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 Tbs fresh chives, minced
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp fresh oregano leaves

Preheat oven to 300°F. Prepare two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. With an electric mixer, whip cream of tartar and egg whites in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Pulse Parmesan cheese and herbs in a food processor until well combined and finely ground. Gently fold the cheese mixture into the egg whites. Using a tablespoon sized measuring spoon, spoon out batter onto the baking sheets in 24 equal mounds. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown.

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Spinach, Bacon, & Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

I’ve been experimenting with stuffed pork tenderloin for the last couple of months. I’ve made it with pork loin instead of tenderloin, chicory instead of spinach, apples instead of mushrooms, herbed cream cheese and yogurt instead of herbed goat cheese, with and without Dijon mustard, and with and without herbs. I finally settled on my favorite version and measured my ingredients as I made it so I could write a recipe. Substitutions or omissions based on your tastes and seasonal availability is highly recommended.

Make sure the stuffing is completely cooled before adding it to the pork. This prevents bacteria from growing and greatly reduces chances of food borne illnesses, i.e. food poisoning.

I double butterfly the tenderloin to increase surface area for stuffing, though single butterflying with more pounding out is perfectly acceptable with less room for error. Here’s a quick video guide on how to butterfly a pork tenderloin. Seasoning the inside of the pork tenderloin with salt and pepper is an important step you don’t want to forget. It greatly improves the flavor of the dish.

Butcher string can be used to hold the tenderlion together instead of toothpicks, but I found the toothpicks to be easier and less messy to remove after cooking.

My favorite way to serve this stuffed tenderloin is either on top of roasted asparagus with blender Hollandaise sauce or under an egg poached in the microwave. When poaching an egg I usually add a bit of cider vinegar to the water for better set egg whites, but it’s optional. Egg yolk makes a nutrient dense and tasty sauce for the stuffed pork, better than gravy any day.

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2 lb pork tenderloin
8 oz baby spinach
4 oz cremini mushrooms, diced small
3 oz herbed chevre goat cheese, crumbled
3 slices thick cut bacon, diced small
1 onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried
2 tsp fresh oregano, minced, or 1 tsp dried
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

In a medium sauté pan, cook diced bacon until the fat is rendered and meat is crispy. Add onions and garlic to pan and cook until the onions are translucent. Add mushrooms and half the thyme and oregano. Cook until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Finally add the baby spinach and cook until the spinach is cooked down, but still bright green. Remove mixture from the heat, spoon into a shallow pan or bowl, cover, and chill in the refrigerator.

While the filling is cooling, soak 10-12 wooden toothpicks in water until needed and prepare a baking pan with olive oil to reduce sticking. Butterfly and pound out the pork tenderloin to approximately a 1/4 inch thick. Use half the measured  salt and pepper to season the inside of the pork. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, combine mustard, olive oil, the rest of the thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper and stir until well combined. Sprinkle the crumbled herbed goat cheese across the seasoned pork in a fairly even layer. Evenly spread the cooled spinach and mushroom filling across the top of the goat cheese on the butterflied pork. Carefully roll the pork lengthways, keeping all the filling inside the roll. Use the water soaked toothpicks to hold the seam closed. Brush part of the mustard and olive oil mixture over the bottom of the tenderloin (the side with the seam). Place tenderlion with the seam side down in the prepared baking pan. Brush the rest of mustard and olive oil over the top and sides of the tenderloin. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until a meat thermometer reads 155°F. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before removing all the toothpicks and moving the tenderlion to a platter or cutting board for slicing. Slice and serve.

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Chicken Based Noodles

I earned my crafty cook stripes today with this crazy idea for chicken based “noodles.” I got the idea from an old episode of Chopped and a chef who made fish based “noodles” with egg whites. It worked better than I expected, though I recommend adding more seasoning to the chicken purée to make the “noodles” more flavorful. They’re kind of bland with just salt added. Poultry seasoning, white pepper, or granulated garlic would all be good additions.

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The most difficult and time consuming part of this recipe for me was getting the chicken purée in a piping bag and coming out of the tip in an even flow. I used the frosting technique of rolling the frosting/purée in plastic wrap before adding it to the piping bag. I’m not sure if this made the process easier, but it definitely made clean up a snap.

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I piped the noodle base in lightly simmering homemade chicken soup to cook them, but I imagine they could be cooked in salted water, pasta sauce, or broth depending on the application. They worked great added to the soup, though, I had to do it in several batches as I waited for the noodles to cook through so they were set enough to stir into the soup. At least they cook quickly.

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1 skinless boneless chicken breast
2 egg whites
1 tsp salt

Cut the chicken breast into several large pieces and place in the bowl of a food processor or high speed blender. Pulse several times to break up the chicken. Add egg whites and salt to the chicken. Pulse until the purée is smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Fill a piping bag with a medium to small sized round tip or quart sized Ziploc bag with on corner snipped off with the purée. Pipe the purée on the top of gently simmering liquid. Pipe the noodles to the length and shape you prefer without overlapping. Allow to cook through before either stirring the noodles into the liquid or removing them with a handled strainer. The noodles are cooked when the color changes from light pink to white and are firm to the touch of a spoon. It only takes a few minutes for the noodles to cook. It may take three or more batches to pipe and cook all the purée, depending on the diameter of the stockpot. After all the noodles are cooked, serve as desired and enjoy.

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Beef Stew with Turnips

Stews are a staple in my diet during the cooler months of autumn and winter and, while I don’t use recipes to create them, I have come up with a few tricks to make more nutritent dense and better textured stews that fit within my low carb, high fat eating pattern. First, I make and freeze my own bone broth seasoned with onion, garlic, carrots, celery, bay leaves, black pepper corns, and apple cider vinegar. Second, I use lower carb root vegetables like turnips, rutabagas, or kohlrabi instead of potatoes. Third, I purée some of the vegetables cooked in the stew along with stock as a flavorful thickener to the stew. Fourth, I dice and freeze uncooked fat trimmings from roasts or steaks to use in stews. Fifth, I simmer the stew for at least four hours on the stove top; cooking in an Instant Pot would take less time and a crock pot would take more time.

Below is my basic beef stew recipe using these tips. Other low carb vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower can also be used with or instead of root vegetables and/or mushrooms. I use whatever I have on hand.

2 lbs beef chuck roast, diced
1/2 lb beef fat trimmings, diced
6 cups beef bone broth
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium turnips, peeled & chunked
3 medium carrots, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 oz mushrooms, diced
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tap black pepper

In a large stockpot, cook beef fat trimmings until the majority of the fat is rendered. Add diced beef, onions, salt, and pepper. Cook until the beef is browned and the onions are translucent, stirring often. Add the rest of the ingredients to the stockpot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once turnips are cooked through, carefully remove most of them from the stockpot along with enough broth to cover the turnips. Purée the turnips and stock with a high speed blender, food processor, or immersion blender. Return purée to the stockpot. Stir well. Continue to simmer the stew until it reaches desired thickness and the meat is tender.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Mousse

Last week I roasted two small sugar pumpkins and made purée. I used part of the purée in cupcakes and decided to use the rest in an easy pumpkin and cream cheese dessert. I used maple flavoring and a little nutmeg so the autumnal flavors were accented and not overwhelmed. The texture, though, is light and airy, like any good mousse. Homemade pumpkin purée is less dense than canned pumpkin, so the texture will vary depending on the type of purée used. This mousse would make a nice addition to a layered trifle or parfait or as a pumpkin cream cheese frosting.

2 8oz packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups pumpkin purée
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup stevia-erythritol blend
1/2 tsp maple flavoring
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

In a large bowl, blend all ingredients with an electric mixer until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl often to evenly combine the ingredients. Chill in large bowl or in individual serving dishes for several hours. Fresh nutmeg can be grated on top before serving.

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