Friday, October 30, 2009

Sous Vide Lemon Low Carb Custard

The Sous Vide equipment makes this super easy. Takes me less than 5 minutes to prepare! I love egg custard because it tastes great but it was always a hassle to do it on the stovetop and I never really tried it in the oven. But in my sous vide, it is a dream! I'm going through eggs like mad between this and having my hummus omelet again.

  1. Crack 6 eggs into a bowl, pick out any shell.
  2. Pour them into my blender.
  3. Add to blender sweetener equivalent to 1/3 cup of sugar (to taste). This time I used Lo Han and Splenda.
  4. Add about 1/3 cup of lemon juice or more if you want more lemon-y goodness.
  5. Add about 1/2 tsp of vanilla.
  6. Blend well.
  7. Taste, adjust as needed.
If you are afraid of raw eggs then you can always use your SV (sous vide) equipment to pasteurize the eggs (135' for 1 hour 15 minutes) before hand.

Pour the egg mixture into a heavy duty freezer type bag with a good seal. I then fill up a container with water and put my not-completely-sealed bag in there, that forces the air out. Submerge it just until the egg rises to the seal, then finish sealing the bag.

Edit: One suggestion, put a ceramic bowl on the bottom of your sous vide bath.   I think the bottom of the bath gets hotter (if you have a rice maker) and this will keep the eggs from getting too hot should they actually come in contact with the bottom of the SV.

Double check the seal and stick it in the SV bath at 155' for around 30 minutes or when set up nicely.

Slide it into a container and refrigerate or serve hot with raspberries or strawberries.

I wanted to add instructions for non-sous vide use. If you don't have a water bath you can make this on the stove top.  Use a double boiler, or create one.  I always just put a metal bowl on top of my pot of boiling water.  Then I pour the mixture into the bowl and stir until it reaches about 160 degrees or starts to leaves trails when you stir.  You have to stir the entire time, otherwise you'll end up with scrambled eggs.  Another thing to be wary of is to make sure that you don't let it heat too quickly.  It should take at least 5 minutes to get up to 160 degrees.  Any faster than that and you might end up with scrambled eggs.

Picture of a homemade double boiler

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Outwitting the Lizard

Update: When I initially wrote this it was about binge eating, but I think there are a lot of good tips one could apply to those times when you don't binge, but you eat a food you know you shouldn't eat.

I wrote something recently on a message forum that people seemed to respond to. Over the last several years I've read a bit about what I call "neural psychology", or the way the brain wires itself and how it makes us behave the way we do.

The books that provided, for me, a lot of insight into this was Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell and another good one was The End of Overeating, by David Kessler. Also I've seen a spate of articles on Science Daily and New Scientist about whether or not we actually have free will. Both books talk about how the brain works and how we struggle to understand or even verbalize why we do what we do and why we seem to have so little control over certain behaviors. Anyone who has been a food binger has probably learned one thing, it's almost impossible to stop a binge once you start one.

Why do we binge?

I think a lot of people waste a lot of time trying to find the reason behind this behavior. They attribute it to emotions, or a bad childhood, or something else. They flog themselves with guilt and shame over it and in the end that's very counterproductive. Feeling out of control makes you stop thinking rationally and you do all kinds of stuff, including more of the bad behavior you're trying to fix.

Lizard In Your Brain

The reason for your problem now is because at some point you rewired your brain such that binging sets off some kind of reward. Oh yes, you feel lousy AFTER you binge, but during your binge all kinds of great things are happening, lovely chemicals your brain absolutely craves are being created and released, in much the same way that anyone who is an addict can tell you about. Whether they're an addict on heroin or addicted to gambling, the results are the same. The brain has strong neural circuitry that causes you to want to indulge in the behavior. I won't get into the science, you can pick that up from the books I mentioned, or other science sources.

This brain rewiring probably begins to happen the first time we eat too much of something yummy. We feel great and want to have another ice cream cone. In days gone by, having a keen interest in opportunistic eating like that would be a great survival trait. If you lost interest in high calorie, high sugar food before it was consumed, you wouldn't have the fat stores to reproduce. But we were built for living as we lived 1,000's of years ago, not in the current age where extremely tasty food is super cheap and always available with very, very little effort.

By the way, if you're not wired to binge, as David Kessler's book points out, you will never in a million years understand a binge eater. It is like trying to explain a color to someone who can't see. Your brain just isn't wired that way. Consider yourself lucky.

So these neural circuits get established and we strengthen them every time we binge. These things are very primitive and in my opinion, don't really have much to do with our higher reasoning. So when we're being pushed around by the lizard-like parts of our brain we're completely at a loss when we try to describe using our higher reasoning why we did what we did. So are we helpless? Absolutely not! Our only blame in all this is if we can't use our higher reasoning powers to out-wit the stupid lizard-like portions of our mind that operate purely on impulse. But repeating to yourself "I will not binge" is probably not going to be helpful, or punishing yourself, etc. Stupid neural circuits are going to fire, you just have to engage other circuits to weaken them... and most importantly you need to break the constant reinforcement.

I have lots of things that trigger my "inner lizard". Going into 7/11 or other convenience stores and working in an office with a vending machine are my two biggest ones. While my Mom's health was failing it seemed like I could do almost nothing to resist the lure of Cheetos, or Doritos. But I did finally figure out a few things and got control of the binges. Here's my arsenal of tips:

Time: Every time you binge you reinforce the behavior and the trigger. For me, just walking past a vending machine can trigger an urge. The more I do the behavior (and the more recently) the harder it is to avoid triggering again. Some people think they'll cut down, or somehow control the behavior by indulging in it just a little. They're kidding themselves. The longer you don't binge, the easier it gets to continue to not binge.

Remove triggers: Take the stuff you binge on out of your environment as much as possible. Try to convince the people you live with to respect your need for a trigger free environment. If you can't, you'll have to figure out a way to store those triggers so you don't see them all the time (if at all). This was easy for me because I live alone. But frankly, even if I didn't live alone, I'd probably be pretty insistent that my family remove these things from the house.

Avoid external triggers: If walking past Cinnabun or a 7/11 is a strong trigger, you might need to pick a different walking route, or not step inside a 7/11, until you've had enough time pass for your triggers to lessen, and have gotten some techniques for dealing with what happens when you're around your triggers.

Deflection: I find it very useful to have something else when I trigger on something. For instance, I walk into a 7/11 and badly want some chips, I can usually a cup of coffee with cream, which I don't ordinarily drink the cream so that's a pretty nice treat for me. Or a fresh piece of gum. When eating at a friend's house I will offer to bring the dessert and make sure it is something sugar-free (like a low carb cheesecake with a nut crust) and as paleo as possible. Everyone always loves these desserts by the way.

When I eat X I crave Y: So don't eat X. This is really simple yet I run into people that would rather lose an arm than stop eating something. Come on people, use your higher reasoning skills, stop being lizards!

Avoid triggers when your defenses are low: Stress can make our higher reasoning shut off and let Mr. Lizard make all the decisions. So if you are very stressed, even just hungry, avoid the people, places and things that are likely to trigger you.

Understand the consequences of failure: Understand that failing right now is going to make it more likely that you fail in the future. From personal experience I can tell you it's a lot more difficult to stop a pattern of binging than it is to resist this one triggering moment. When you fail you're just reinforcing the neural circuitry that causes you to trigger.

Understand the health consequences of failure: Learn about how eating this crappy food could cause you to end up with Type 2 diabetes, cause premature aging (look up Advanced Glycation End Products or AGEs), read the book "Good Calories, Bad Calories", or read it again. Think about the consequences 10 or 20 years from now. How do you want to be living then? As an invalid? Buy a glucose meter and see how eating crap affects your blood glucose. Did you know that at levels over 140 damage is happening all over your body? Damage that can lead to kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, even limb amputation.

Hormones: Eating sugary, starchy crap food is going to push your blood glucose and insulin around and make you hungry and further increase your cravings. Don't get that cycle started!

Me and Chips

So, few years back I started bingeing on cheetos and doritos. I'd buy one bag from the vending machine and I couldn't stop until I consumed at least 1 or two more bags. It was terrible. The vending machine was like a ghost haunting me nibbling away at the corners of my consciousness, forever intruding on my thoughts. Finally I went cold turkey and after about 6 days of total abstinence the haunting stopped and 6 days turned into a much longer period.

I never had any major relapses but I did have minor ones. Every time I had a minor relapse I could feel the urges strenghtening and the chips would come nibble away at my consciousness. "Hello Nancy! We're so delicious... you know you want us." Even now if I'm at a party I know I cannot eat one chip. If one goes in the mouth, the entire bowl goes in. So don't even put the first one in makes it much easier.

When I'm about to set foot in a triggering environment I walk myself through it a little. "Ok, I'm going to have strong impulses when I walk in this store, but I'm going to focus on the diet soda section and leave." Or I treat myself to that coffee with cream. Or if the impulses are really bad, I walk myself through it like this:

"If I eat these I'm going to want them even more than I do now when tomorrow rolls around. I'm going to mess up my blood sugar for days. Who knows how much damage is happening to me due to my blood sugar skyrocketing above 140? I'm 50 years old, I don't need more AGEs to wrinkle my skin, hurt my heart and make me old!"

Aversion Training

When I found out gluten was causing me problems I knew I was going to have problems not craving wheat products like bread, cookies, bagels and so on. So I consciously set out to train myself to find those foods repulsive. Every time I smelled or saw those yummy wheat-y, gluten-y things I said to myself "poison". It was pretty low key and subtle but the message sunk in. People can eat that stuff around me and all that happens is I feel sorry that they're eating poison. I don't feel envious or feel like I'm missing anything, except perhaps a bad bellyache and days of diarrhea.

Can you ever eat your triggers in moderation?

I think it takes a long, long time to destroy a deeply etched neural circuit. I'm not sure one can ever unlearn the binge behavior. Even though it has been years since I've binged on chips I still feel those tuggings. I don't believe I can eat just a few and stop if there's more in front of me. I think this might need to be for life.

As a binge eater, this might sound depressing, but I think that's a bit of our wiring that causes that reaction. You're going to find other foods to replace these binge triggers that you will enjoy to satiety that don't cause you to binge. In fact, you should make that your goal, it will help alleviate whatever sadness and mourning you have over eliminating those triggers.

Good luck!

Monday, October 26, 2009

What am I eating now?

A new edition of "What am I eating now?"

I'm still gripped my Sous Vide madness and nearly everything is coming out of my SV contraption. So I'm cooking all my proteins this way except the occasional omelet. Remember awhile back, that amazing omelet with hummus filing? Well, I found guacamole makes a really nice alternative and it's easy to buy it pre-made without any weird additives. Or I might have a little custard I've created in my SVC (sous vide contraption) with some raspberries. Doing custard is fun because I basically blend together the eggs, sweetener and flavors (lemon and vanilla usually) in about 15 seconds and pour it into a ziploc bag. About 20-30 minutes at 155 in the SVC and I have a pretty nice custard.

I get some 80/20 hamburger for 1.99 a pound at Trader Joes and it makes some great hamburgers. I do them SV for about 1-1.5 hours at 135-140. Then generally a quick sear, although lately I'm not bothering. I don't even shape them into circles any longer. Why? I don't put them in a bun! They get shaped into logs, like mini-meat loaf. I top with guacamole or ketchup... sometimes both. Oh yes, raw sweet onions!

I'm also eating a pork roast I did SV for 24 hours. Came out nice, but not my favorite SV thing to date.

And with almost every meat meal I'm eating this wonderful mixture of cooked tomatoes...

A 12-16 oz box of grape tomatoes
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic minced or pressed
Red Pepper Flakes (lots of them because you like it spicey, I just know you do!)
Fresh Marjoram (this is a staple in my garden, can't live without it now)
Olive oil
Optionally, finely minced onion

Combine in reasonable amounts and cook until the skins pop on the tomatoes. It'll taste good but gets better as the flavors hang out together for awhile. This makes a wonderful accompaniament to meat.

One word of caution on using certain herbs and spices in SV... meat doesn't cook at a very high temperature so sometimes the herbs can be a little too strong. I found this was true with rosemary and I've heard with garlic too, I imagine onions could be a problem too. Oh yes, and wine. You need to cook these things before adding them to your protein if you're doing a low temperature cooking.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sous Vide! At last I have found you!

I feel like one of those musicals from the 1940's where I just want to break out in song and sing my love.... to a water bath held at a very precise temperature, coddling a steak in vacuum packed bag. *sigh* Ok, I have finally lost it.

I first heard about this when I stumbled on this article: Under Pressure in the NY Times back in February of 2009. I'd also been gently introduced to the notion of very controlled temperature cooking from an episode of Good Eats and it was rather exciting! I looked into what it would take to do Sous Vide at home and I didn't really see a way to do it that I could afford.

Just in case you didn't press the link and read Under Pressure in a nutshell sous vide is cooking food which is packaged into vacuum sealed bags at very precise temperatures. Why? Well, you won't over cook and dry out food if the temperature doesn't get too high. It also keeps all the flavor inside the food, instead of allowing it to vaporize or leach out. The flavors become very concentrated, the meat stays moist and perfectly cooked. The only thing that doesn't happen is the Malliard reaction, which we are all fond of, which causes food to brown. However, you can do a quick sear afterwards.

At some point I stumbled upon a lower cost solution for at home sous vide. You can buy a PID controller, such as this one, and use it to control a crockpot, rice cooker or other device with a manual switch. It will cycle the power on and off to maintain a very steady, accurate temperature. After thinking it over for awhile I decided this would be a really neat birthday gift to myself (a few months late) so I bought the equipment I needed:

Basic cooking guide for proteins: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking

Descriptions and general articles:

Latest cooking trend is in the bag: sous-vide cooking evolves from practical to progressive while filling a void

Sous Vide Recipes

 I will add more as I find more!

First Experiments

My first experiments were with steak. I bought some relatively inexpensive sirloin steak which usually comes out rather tough in my typical sear and finish in the oven method. But this time I seasoned the steak, vacuum sealed it, and consulted this wonderful document that shows cooking times for pasteurizing various foods (i.e. how long and what temperature is needed to kill the bacteria). I only cooked it to achieve pasteurization and while the flavor was amazing it was a little tougher than I'd like. Next attempts I doubled the cooking time (about 2 hours) and it was absolutely perfect. As tender and flavorful as the most expensive cut imaginable. A quick sear is all it needs after coming out of the bath.

I've been using this daily since acquiring the equipment, making turkey, chicken, veggies, custards and using it to pasteurize raw eggs. This has definitely revolutionized my cooking. This method is very easy and the results are usually excellent. It definitely makes eating well daily a much easier task.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Right to your lab results

I received an email action request from the which I feel pretty strongly about. It's basically a call to action to have the Federal rules changed so that patients can have better access to their own lab test results.

As someone who cares very much about my health I always want to know the results of any lab tests I take. I even get them from my veterinarian for my cat. Doctors are busy and they miss things, like they missed that my TSH was going out of range. My vet did not tell my some of my cat's labs were abnormal, things that perhaps a supplement or change in diet could have forestalled. Then I can research these things and come back and ask intelligent questions.

Some states have additional laws about lab results, but at least we can make sure the Federal rules don't stand in the way.

Anyway, please go to and endorse their declaration which reads:

A Declaration of Health Data Rights

In an era when technology allows personal health information to be more easily stored, updated, accessed and exchanged, the following rights should be self-evident and inalienable. We the people:

  1. Have the right to our own health data
  2. Have the right to know the source of each health data element
  3. Have the right to take possession of a complete copy of our individual health data, without delay, at minimal or no cost; if data exist in computable form, they must be made available in that form
  4. Have the right to share our health data with others as we see fit

These principles express basic human rights as well as essential elements of health care that is participatory, appropriate and in the interests of each patient. No law or policy should abridge these rights.