Keto Snack Review: I tried Aldi Millville Carb Conscious Breaktime Bars

Crispy. Light. Sweet. Clean-tasting. Good looking. Won’t fall apart. Inexpensive.

These qualities are not easy to find in the world of low-carb and keto foods. Certainly not all in the same item.

Aldi has managed to pull it off. I am impressed.

I tried Aldi’s Millville food low carb bars. store brand’s Carb Conscious Elevation Breaktime Snack Bars. The two varieties are Cranberry Almond and Peanut Butter Fudge Crisp. Each provides 10g protein and 2 net grams carbohydrate (16g total, minus fiber and sugar alcohol). The Cranberry Almond bars have 6g fat; the Peanut Butter Fudge Crisp bars have 7g fat.

I am impressed. These are perfect for that afternoon sleepy slump, where you want something sweet and tasty. A delightful pick-me-up. That’s when I want to reach for a sugar boost, but inevitably it just makes me feel worse. Crash. These bars have the taste and texture I want, but the boost is better: it’s a fat and protein boost. So snacking on one of these provides real satisfaction.

I definitely can see eating these as low carb breakfast bars from time to time. Great for times when you need a low carb keto breakfast on the go.

Totally will stock up on these before my next road trip, too. Keto road food can be tricky.

I’ll keep buying, trying, and reviewing until I find the best protein bars for weight loss, and for general keto snacking. And, I’ll be researching and experimenting to figure out how to make keto protein bars that are nutritious, wholesome, and of course, scrumptious. Keep coming back for when I have that protein bar recipe!

I’m continuing to look for cheap protein bars without soy. I’m not a fan of high-tech soy products. Unfortunately, an Aldi’s Millville Carb Conscious bar doesn’t fit that description. It does contain some whey protein. The whey comes in the form of whey protein concentrate (cranberry bars only) and whey protein isolate — I think that’s the same thing as what you get in a container of whey isolate protein powder)  but mostly the protein comes from soy, in the forms of soy protein isolate and isolated soy protein. (There’s a difference, I guess?) So, I wouldn’t categorize these Millville food bars as whey protein bars.

To be fair, though Aldi doesn’t bill these as low carb protein bars, but as low carb snack bars. There is a Millville protein bar, but it’s not a low carb bar. The Millville Elevation protein bar contains net carbs galore, along with all the protein. Oh well.  

Trying out the low carb snack bars from Aldi

First I tried one of the Cranberry Almond bars. It was getting close to noon, and I’d forgotten to eat breakfast before leaving the house to go grocery shopping around ten. (Only when I’m keto adapted is such a thing possible, by the way.) By the Donald pulled out of the Aldi lot and headed for Costco, I was pure appetite. A great time to try one of these bars. When I opened the foil wrapper, a delicate fruity smell wafted out. I bit through the pretty, glossy yogurt icing (made with whey protein concentrate and cultured skim milk) and the crispy bar studded with fruit and nuts — the crunch was audible.

If I didn’t know better, I would have attributed the airy, crispy body of the bar to rice — it was a lot like eating a rice crispy treat. Millville Elevation Breaktime low carb snack bars get their crisp from soy, however. The first ingredient is something they call “soy crisps,” which I haven’t so far found listed or described as a standalone ingredient elsewhere. (There a a few products named “Soy Crisps” from other companies, but they’re completely different.) Millville soy crisps have just two ingredients: isolated soy protein and tapioca starch. Usually I steer clear of high-tech soy products. But I don’t plan to base my entire ketogenic diet around low carb snack bars, so I’m calling this a good tradeoff for me. If I’m going to eat a high-tech snack, I’m glad I can choose one that’s not all sugar and starch.

The bar was so good, and I was so hungry, that I expected to wolf the whole bar down before we got to the next store, but that low carb miracle occured: satiation. Yep, I only ate a quarter of it before going into the store. That’s the power of just a protein and fat versus carbohydrate. Even just a few grams provide deep satiation fast, with long-lasting nourishment. If you’ve been practicing keto for any length of time at all, you know that’s why it’s so darn near impossible to overeat on keto.

Those two little bites fueled an entire trip through Costco. If you’re a Costo nut like me, you know that’s an achievement. I ate the rest on the way home, and somehow didn’t need anything else until the side dish I made to go along with our rotisserie chicken was ready to serve.

These bars aren’t just tasty; they can be effective as a satisfying stopgap mini-meal. Those “I’ll just eat a little something real quick” situations are the worst for me. It’s so easy to nosh on something that makes me drag instead of energizing me. Then a little more, because I still need energy. Then more, and next thing I know, I’m stuffed, without ever having eaten well. Has that ever happened to you?

I’m big believer in living on delicious dishes made from whole foods that you cook at home — especially if you grew it or fermented it yourself, too! But that doesn’t happen 100% of the time. It makes sense to me to fit good ready-made products like this can fit into my keto-focused whole foods lifestyle.

Comparison with Atkins bars and other snack bars

The bars I tried were the Carb Conscious “breaktime snack bars.” Aldi also makes two different Carb Conscious “treat bars” (candy bars) and three varieties of “light meal/snack bars.” I haven’t tried any of these others yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

At the Aldi where I bought these near Madison, Wisconsin, the box of five bars cost $4.79. That breaks down to 95 cents a bar. Considering that an ordinary Snickers bar costs more than dollar these days, I call that cheap.

The Aldi bars cost less than their Atkins equivalent, Atkins Day Break bars. A box of those costs nearly $7 on the Atkins website.

In the mainstream snack bar world, the closest thing to a Nature Valley cranberry almond bar seemed to be the Nature Valley fruit and nut chewy granola bar with pomegranates, cherries, and almonds. They’re quite a bit cheaper: about 42 cents a bar when you buy a box of 12 at Walmart. The calorie count is nearly the same — 140 calories in Nature Valley bar versus 150 calories in either the Aldi or the Atkins snack bars. But the Nature Valley snack bar has  only 2g protein — and a whopping 23g net carbs! That’s from 25g total carbohydrate, 8g of which is sugar. We shall not speak of them again.

Like the Atkins Day Break low carb snack bars, the Elevation low carb snack bars come in a box of five individually wrapped bars, each 150 calories. The protein and fat counts are similar.

Both the Atkins and Aldi bars have just 2g net carbs to a bar. Aldi Elevation subtracts 9g of sugar alcohols and 5g fiber from the 16g total carbohydrate to come up with the 2g figure.

The Atkins snacks get to the 2g net carbs in a different way. First of all, Day Break bars are sweetened only with sucralose, and so there aren’t any sugar alcohols to subtract from the carb.  Aldi Elevation Cherry Almond bars are sweetened with inulin, maltitol, and sucralose. Aldi Elevation Peanut Butter Fudge Crisp bars are sweetened with maltitol, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium.

The sucralose-only recipe for the Atkins Day Break bars gives me cause for concern. I worry that it would have a strong enough aftertaste to put me off it.

One of the things that impresses me the most about the Elevation bars is how very mild the aftertaste of sweetener is. For me, that’s always been a problem with noncaloric sweeteners on the low carb ketogenic diet: the aftertastes. Not everyone can sense those aftertastes, though — and I wish I didn’t! It’s a matter of individual physiology, it seems. If you aren’t sensitive to the aftertaste of sucralose, you definitely won’t taste it in the Aldi Elevation break time bars. As for me, I’m happy with it.

Here’s another thing that makes me wonder about the Atkins version of these bars: the Atkins Peanut Butter Fudge Crisp bar contains no peanut butter. The only peanut thing listed on the ingredient label is peanut oil. Hmm.

The Aldi bar label does list peanut butter. It even clarifies with a little parenthetical, like this: “peanut butter (ground peanuts).”

The Atkins cranberry almond bar ingredient label doesn’t seem quite as promising as the Aldi one. The Aldi ingredients indicate a yogurt coating with cultured dairy products (cultured whey protein concentrate, cultured skim milk), for example. The Aldi Millville bar also contains inulin (from chicory root) — which is good for your gut bacteria. Also, for what it’s worth the Atkins cranberry almond bar nutrition label on the website doesn’t match the website picture on the box.

Conclusion

The Aldi bars were a hit with my husband and teenage son, as well. My husband — who has a very sensitive palate — said, “I wouldn’t be able to tell this was low carb. I would think it had sugar.” That said, he was able to detect a bit of sweetener aftertaste with the Peanut Butter Fudge Crisp. With the Cranberry Almond bar, the cranberry tartness was similar enough to the sour aftertaste that it effectively masked it.

As for my teenage son, he devoured the Peanut Butter Fudge Crisp happily. When I explained that it was a low carb bar made with sugar alternatives, he cheered.

Best keto side dish for the air fryer

Maybe you’re looking for sides to go with chicken. Maybe you need side dishes for steak dinner. Unless you’ve gone full-on carnivore, it’s not enough that you have a main dish. You still need low carb sides to make your keto dinner more fun and interesting.

It’s super easy to come up with keto diet dinner recipes when you master just this one. Truth to tell, with the right equipment and ingredients on hand, there’s not even that much mastery to it.

First, keep plenty of frozen vegetables on hand. We have sacks and sacks of veggies we grew over the summer that we processed as we harvested them: leeks, various squashes, chard, collards. Also, we like to get bags of mixed frozen veggies — different assortments for different moods.

Then, always have long-lasting fresh veg like onions and garlic in stock. You don’t need to put these in the refrigerator. 

And try to have a few fresh vegetables that are more perishable, too, like mushrooms, green onions, yellow squash, zucchini, fresh spinach, asparagus, and assorted colors of bell peppers. But not necessarily all at once! I always need to fight the temptation to buy more than I can use. When I do succumb and get every delicate, perishable item that caught my eye, then I at least try to cook with them, that night, before I’ve forgotten all about how excited I was about them! 

This is especially true of a veggie you haven’t cooked with or eaten before and don’t know quite what to do with. I’m looking at you, chayote. Right back atcha, Jerusalem artichoke and yucca. Well, as least you enriched the compost for next season. At least try to look up a recipe for it while it’s still the same day.

But the truth is, most vegetables don’t require their own special recipe. Almost everything, from jicama to beets, will respond well to just being sliced thin enough to cook through, and kissed with enough salt to let its natural flavor shine out.

Making the best keto side dish for whatever you’re serving is as simple as tossing a cup or two or whatever veggies you have handy into a bowl and mixing them up with a couple of tablespoons of good quality tamari soy sauce, a few shakes of hot sauces, and plenty of healthy, natural oil. Then cook them fast and hot.

If you have an air fryer, that’s ideal. You can just place it all in the basket of your air fryer and let it go on a medium-high heat for 10 minutes or so. We got the Secura 5.3 quart Electric Hot Air Fryer a few months ago, and we love it. It made keto dinner so much easier to achieve. Who’da thunk it.

Keep changing up the selection of veggies, and you’ll be amazed at how different each meal turns out. Get some seasoning blends — natural herbs and spices only, no flavors (even “natural”), hydrolyzed anything, anti-caking agents, or anything else that doesn’t grow out of the ground. (Or under the ground, as the case may be.) Use different ones on different days, if you like. Try different oils — avocado, olive, coconut, ghee, even peanut. See how the flavors change. 

You don’t have to work hard at coming up with different assortments and combos. Just use whatever. Most days, 90% might be the same. But that’s enough to create complexity and variety. It’s like keto for dummies. At least, it works for me.

Today, we brought home a Costco rotisserie chicken from our shopping trip. I rummaged in the freezer and found a bag of round, green disks: it was the beautiful Kikinda squash we’d grown this summer for the first time. Kikinda  is sort of like zucchini, but tastier and with firmer, better texture. Also it grows to around 8 feet long, if you let it. That’s the squash itself, not the vine. But as long as you pick it before it gets much beyond 4 feet long, it’s still tasty and tender. (!) Bringing it out reminded me of our adventures with this exuberant vine just a few months ago. I poured about a cup and a half into a large bowl. 

Any summer squash will work with any low carb zucchini recipes you might have. You might not have a Kikinda lying around, but remember that yellow squash, green squash, zuke, or anything that even seems similar — they’re all pretty much interchangeable.

I added about a cup of sliced leeks (also from the garden) and a few fresh sliced mini bell peppers. I stirred in some tamari and a few dashes of Frank’s hot sauce. Next, I thought I’d try a new ingredient: almond oil. We got it from an Indian grocery store a few weeks ago, but hadn’t tried it yet. Today I got up the nerve. It was mild and almost sweet — lovely tossed among the veggies. 

Ten minutes in the air fryer, and we had a fantastic rustic keto side dish to go with our keto rotisserie chicken. 

Best Keto Side Dish for the Air Fryer

  • 1 1/2 cups zucchini, or any summer squash, sliced
  • 1 cup leeks or onions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup bell peppers, sliced
  • Any combination of any veggies instead of or as well as those listed here
  • 2 tablespoons good quality tamari soy sauce
  • A few dashes of hot sauce
  • Optionally add 1/2 teaspoon or so seasoning blend
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup almond oil (or any healthy, natural oil, like ghee, coconut, olive, or avocado).
  1. Preheat air fryer to 360 F.
  2. Place the veggies in a large bowl.
  3. Add the soy sauce and hot sauce.
  4. Toss all together.
  5. Add the oil, and toss together. 
  6. Put all into the air fryer basket.
  7. Air fry about 10 minutes. Check now and then. Stir if you need to keep it from scorching. Make a note if you need to cook a little longer or shorter in your particular air fryer.
  8. Remove to a serving dish, or serve it right out. 

Extra tip: add hot sauce again after you remove the veggies from the air fryer. That way you’ll get more flavors: the cooked and the uncooked hot sauce will have slightly different qualities.

A squeeze of lime tableside is always nice to brighten a dish, too.

Enjoy your meal!

Easy sweet white miso simmer sauce for low-carb side dishes

Last night I discovered a beautiful way to fuse some elements of Indian cooking with some elements of Japanese cooking for an easy, delectable simmer sauce that’s rich with complex flavor. This dish is flexible enough that you can adapt it in countless ways. You might have other vegetables on hand, or you might want to adjust the seasoning to complement the flavors of the other things you’re serving at your meal. Or you you might just want to suit your mood.

In the sauce, I simmered paneer, the Indian cottage cheese I wrote about elsewhere, and a type of squash called Yugoslavian finger fruit that we grew this summer. It has a flavor more pronounced than yellow squash, and sweeter than zucchini, and a texture more meaty and substantial than either. Will grow again! We sliced up and froze gallons of it, so that when we cook we can just pour some into the pan or pot.

Some of the ingredients are common to both Indian and Japanese cooking, like turmeric and cumin. But overall, I guess it’s a fusion dish, because I borrowed treatments from each.

The first Indian cooking trick I used is toasting whole spices for several seconds in a hot, dry skillet. You do this before adding any oil or anything else to the pan. In this simmer sauce, I toasted whole cumin seeds before adding coconut oil, which then fried it. That way I got a deep toasty flavor from the cumin that no amount of cooking could achieve, had I added it afterwards. 

The second Indian cooking trick is adding the same seasoning at different times during the preparation of a dish, but giving different treatments. In this case, I started with whole cumin seeds, and later added cumin powder in the simmer. In this way, you unlock different aspects of the cumin seed and build more a complex taste profile.

This simmer sauce dish leverages that technique in a very simple way, but it can get more elaborate. Way more. Some Indian dishes layer myriad flavor variations through extensive combinations of several spices and seasonings added at different stages and treated different ways: whole, mashed, ground, grated; toasted, fried, simmered, raw.

I learned about these methods from the cookbooks of the incomparable Madhur Jaffrey. She puts the spotlight on some of the most distinctive techniques that are found only in Indian cooking, so far as she has been able to determine. In my experience, these are nearly always left out of recipes for Indian food presented by and for Westerners. But many are are so simple, and add so much to your dish.

Jaffrey has written many Indian cookbooks for the non-Indian who wants to explore this ancient cuisine. Reading through her books is so much fun. She doesn’t just provide recipes; she tells stories about the foods she loved to eat growing up. She gives a sense of how Indian cookery developed over thousands of years into a broad-ranging set of interrelated techniques and tastes. 

These two methods in particular are so simple, and can add so much to a dish. I encourage you to add them to your go-to mental kit of things to do when you’re cooking, and see what you can invent. To recap, they are:

  1. Toasting whole spices in the hot, dry pan.
  2. Layering flavors by adding the same seasonings in different forms, and at different stages of cooking.

Sweet white miso is a type of flavorful soup base traditionally made from aging grains and beans with salt. It’s like a pickle, but instead of cucumbers or other veggies, the main ingredients are a mash of grains and beans. The most common type is probably mugi miso, a dark brown paste made with a classic pairing of barley and soybeans. Most misos also include sea vegetables, which are rich with iodine and other minerals.

Sweet white miso is mainly rice and soybeans. It has a delicate, rich flavor. It’s blond compared to the dark brown mugi miso.

Miso is the bit I borrowed from traditional Japanese cooking. It came to me via Macrobiotics, which I was deep into many years ago.  That includes the proper method for cooking it and retaining the probiotic benefit.

One of the best contributions of the Macrobiotics movement to the world, in my opinion, is that it rescued many ancient Asian foodways from oblivion. At least in the U.S., the only way to get several traditionally prepared artisan products is by getting them from American companies that were influenced directly or indirectly from by them. 

For instance, if you want the fermented foods rich with probiotics and that are prepared and aged using the traditional ingredients and methods, you can get them from health food stores. Or you can order them online. But in my sad experience, you can’t get them from Asian grocery stores. There, I’ve only been able to find facsimiles of the traditional foods. Instead of rich umami flavor developed over time by aging specially prepared soybeans, it will be added in the form of hydrolyzed soy protein. High-tech industrial methods have replaced traditional methods. MSG — monosodium glutamate — has replaced the far subtler effect of the glutamates that occur naturally in seaweed. Chemically identical, but somehow (maybe because there’s just less of it?) different in taste and effect. The end products don’t taste the same. They don’t have that nourishing quality you can feel in your bones when you partake. By now, multiple generations have been raised on these versions of the traditional item. Just like in the West, younger people don’t have the reference point of what Grandma’s cooking tasted like; we don’t know what we’re missing.

Miso is one of those foods. You can find lots of miso brands, but read the ingredients carefully. Be sure to only get brands like South River, Oshawa, and Eden, which inoculate this traditional fermented probiotic food with koji. These brands also produce their misos through slow cooking and the proper aging periods. The miso they sell are rich with active probiotics.

The sweet white miso I used is from South River Miso, which claims it’s the one that’s unpasteurized, certified organic, and “entirely handcrafted in the centuries-old Japanese farmhouse tradition.”

Because miso is a living food, like good yogurt and other probiotic foods, be gentle with it so that you don’t cook the microorganisms to death. Traditional recipes call for adding miso at the very end of cooking and heating it only “until the first bubble” — no more! Maybe it’s my imagination, but when I’ve let it go beyond that, there’s something missing in the flavor.

To get miso mixed in properly, you need to stir it with a bit of broth or water, and then add it to the rest of the dish. Otherwise it might stay clumpy.

Miso is salty! Remember, it’s essentially a pickle. One trick to using it: the dish should taste like it is desperately in need of salt right up until the end — which is when you add the miso.

It’s easy use miso in your cooking; it just takes a little attention.

Veggies and paneer in sweet white miso simmer sauce

  • Pinch of whole cumin seed (maybe 20 or so)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (eyeballing the amount is OK)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 cup kefir, whole milk if possible
  • 1 ounce (or an unmeasured handful) cubed paneer (Indian cottage cheese) (optional)
  • 2 cups sliced veggies, fresh or frozen (broccoli, cauliflower, winter or summer squash, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup water, boiling
  • 1 heaping tablespoon sweet white miso
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat until a drop of water that you flick into sizzles.
  2. Add the whole cumin and let it toast for about a half minute, or until it’s lightly fragrant. You can stir it around in the pan if you wish. Don’t let it burn!
  3. Add the coconut oil. 
  4. Add the onions. Stir and fry until they break down and become golden brown, about five minutes. (You could let them get very, very brown and soft; that’s another Indian cooking option that’s delicious — but it takes several minutes longer)
  5. Add the garlic and turmeric. Stir and fry another two or three minutes.
  6. Stir in the  kefir, ground cumin, and coriander. Let simmer for a minute or so.
  7. Stir in the paneer and veggies.
  8. Turn down the heat to medium-low and cover. 
  9. Let simmer for anywhere from 10 minutes to 45 minutes. As soon as the veggies are softened, you can move to the next step. But if you like, you can let the flavor develop longer. Just check in case you need to add a little water so it doesn’t scorch.
  10. Meantime, add the miso and boiling water to a mug. Stir it together, mashing the miso against the mug to break up any lumps.
  11. When you’re ready to serve, stir the miso-water mixture into the veggies.
  12. Heat just until you see bubbles. Remove from heat.
  13. Serve!

Healthy tip for weight-loss success: Do the opposite of the low-fat mainstream advice

Today in the mail I got one of those slick mini-magazines from my insurance provider. You know, those glossy publications stuffed with breezily written lifestyle advice along with lots of phone numbers and URLs for their various departments and services. Which is useless, because when you need something,  you’re just going to call their main number and ask them to transfer you to whoever you should talk to, anyway.

One of those mailings that leads you to wonder, “How much is this particular rag adding to the cost of health care?”

Right on Page 2 was an article, “6 Healthy Tips for Weight-Loss Success.” It contained the usual vapid gems like “talk with your primary care provider” — a person whose medical training includes virtually nothing about about nutrition, and even if it did, the current mainstream advice is still woefully off target, in the main.

Another “tip” exhorts the reader to “slow down” and “put your fork down between bites,” because of course, the reason we struggle with weight has nothing to do with the composition of the food we eat, and everything to do with the fact that we’re gluttonous, out-of-control debauchees.

In other words, according to my insurance provider, it’s not the food itself that’s the problem; it’s me. I just stuff my face too fast.

Why is my insurance provider giving me life advice, again? Isn’t their job just to pay my medical bills? Tell me again, how come they can afford to do so much of the former, at the same time they say they can’t afford to do the latter?

But the tip that really got to me was this one: “Cook creatively.”

That got my interest. What did they mean? Finding new combinations of spices or veggies? Buying cookbooks to get ideas about new dishes? Exploring ethnic cuisines? Preparing breakfast foods for dinner, and vice-versa?

Based on the headline, that tip actually sounded promising. Learning to cook is the best way to get something really good to eat, as I’ve been saying for years. The more you learn, the more creative you can be. Just as with any skill, as you progress, you can free yourself from recipes and build things that are truly your own. 

I read on. Oh! That wasn’t what they meant. At all. 

What followed the “Cook creatively” headline was, to me, a complete non-sequitur: “Instead of using butter or cream, cook vegetables in a non-stick pan or try grilling or steaming them.” How come? The weight-loss “tip” continued: “These methods don’t add any calories.” 

In other words, don’t add fat to your vegetables.

The underlying idea, of course, is that calories make you fat. Eat less calories, and you’ll lose weight. Therefore, don’t add anything caloric to your veggies, and your veggie dish will be less fattening. Use a plastic-coated (i.e. non-stick) pan, because the benefit of cutting calories is totally worth letting bits of plastic gradually wear into your food.

Only one problem with that logic.

Your fat-free grilled/steamed/misted-and-sauteed veggie will leave you hungry

You’ve made a dish that won’t move the needle on your hunger. Broccoli, spinach, eggplant — they provide virtually no calories. You eat some, and you’re still hungry. You eat enough, and eventually your stomach becomes full; yet somehow you’re still hungry. 

Fat is the most satiating nutrient there is. Prepare veggies with plenty of it, and you’ll be satisfied. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up to crave sweets later in the meal, or later in the day.

Also, it’s much more difficult to store fat as body fat. So it’s smart to eat plenty of it, so that you fill up on food that isn’t per se fattening. You leave less room for starches or sugars, which do pack on the pounds.

Another factor: fat, and to a lesser extent, protein. fill you up in a way that’s self-regulating. You don’t have to count calories or grams, if you don’t want to. In contrast, if you’ve followed a low-fat weight-loss regimen, you know how hard it is to toe the line.

I well remember making myself count every calorie on lowfat dieting. It took conscious effort of will to eat only so much, and no more. Then there was the ideation between meals and preplanned snacks. You know, those visions of food that flash through your mind unbidden. Those images that you cannot prevent. Know that they arise because of physiological triggers. Your body is calling for food that has some component that it needs right now. These images and urges do not mean that you’re weak or greedy.

Try this: use plenty of butter or other healthy, natural oils in your veggies, and you’ll find it’s easier to skip the sugars and starches.  Otherwise — well, you might very well find that you’re still hungry. 

And when you are hungry after following helpful “tips” like that one, please know that it’s not because you’re some kind of glutton. It’s not because you lack “will power.” It’s not because you’re weak, sloppy, or self-undermining.

Maybe you just didn’t get enough to eat.

Easiest Low-Carb Fried Chicken in the Air Fryer

I must have heard about air fryers fifty times before I paid the least bit of attention. I was sure it was a gimmick. A gimmick for people who are afraid to eat fat. A gimmicky electric gadget for producing desiccated, leathery facsimiles of actual fried food.

How wrong I was.

One day a friend who had recently gone cuckoo for keto showed me her family’s new air fryer from Costco. I nodded politely. Then she showed me the chicken she’d fried in it. My eyes popped when I saw the perfectly crispy skin.

I’d spent years working on my technique for achieving similar results in a big ol’ pot of oil. So many things can go wrong. Oil not hot enough? You have sad, soggy coating. Oil too hot, and it blackens on the outside before the inside really cooks. Use the oil too many times, and the taste of whatever you fried before permeates today’s meal. Especially if it was ever fish. Use a completely fresh batch of oil, and the molecular structure is bound together in a clean, glossy matrix that won’t interact properly with the surface of the food. So you need to save just a bit of the old oil (but not too brown and old, and certainly not fishy) to add to the fresh. But not too much.

Not to mention straining the used fry oil for reuse. And for heaven’s sake don’t pour it down the drain when you can’t get more use out of it. Lest you incur plumber bills when it coats and clogs your pipes.

“I just put the chicken in this compartment and turned it on,” said my friend, breaking my from my reverie. “Look how it turned out!”

From that moment, I had to have one. I wound up choosing the Secura Electric Hot Air Fryer Extra Large Capacity Air Fryer and additional accessories; Recipes and skewers accessory set (5.3Qt).

It had the biggest capacity I saw. I liked that it had a physical dial, instead of a digital display. I like that there’s an actual spring timer that literally winds down. And there’s a satisfying “DING!” that a real bell makes when the air fryer’s time is done.

How does it do it? How does an air fryer — with no added oil whatever — make perfectly fried chicken, With no muss, no fuss, no bother?

And yes, the chicken actually does fry. It’s real frying, even though it’s surrounded by air and not oil. 

Friends, the air fryer, so-called, is actually a turbo-charged mini convection oven. Why does that matter? In a regular oven, you heat the air in a closed chamber to a certain temperature, say 360 F. Because the air is still, the same air molecules (more or less) are always in contact with the food surface. The food, naturally, is much cooler than 360 F. It absorbs the heat from the air molecules touching it. Those air molecules are now cooler than 360 F. They absorb heat from the molecules next to them. And so on. Gradually, this bucket brigade of heat makes the food hot.

A convection oven, on the other hand, brings the air to the same temperature — 360 F in this case — but it heats the food much, much faster. That’s because it has a fan blowing the air around. You don’t have to wait for one molecule of air to heat the next to heat the next. The air blows around past the heater, then against the food, heating it. 

An air fryer is a tiny convection oven. The heating element is very near to the food, so the air is still really hot when it blows from one to the other. 

So far, that explains how an air fryer can bake or roast things. How can it fry chicken? Because chicken has a lot of fat in its skin. Healthy fat, by the way. Chicken has way more monounsaturated fat or poluunsaturated fat than saturated. Similar to, oh I don’t know…an avocado. Surprise.

But, I digress.

To fry chicken, you need to get the skin to 360 F. With deep frying, you get a pot full of oil to 360 (or just over, because the chicken itself will cool down the oil) and. With the air fryer, you get the air to 360 F. Because you’re blowing it against the chicken, and then past the heating element again to heat it up, the air is always at 360 F, for all practical purposes.

That’s hot enough for the fat in the skin to fry. Hot enough for the meat to cook.  No additional oil required.

Air Fryer Fried Chicken

  • Chicken thighs (or other pieces)
  • Lawry’s seasoned salt (or just salt)
  • All-purpose flour (optional)
  1. Place the chicken pieces in a bowl or container big enough to hold at least 2 quarts. It should be big enough that you can shake the pieces.
  2. Sprinkle generously with salt or seasoned salt. Shake the container as you sprinkle until you get about 1/3 to 1/2 coverage over the surface. Don’t worry about making it too salty. The salt makes the chicken juicy (not just adding salt flavor) and any excess will be left behind in the bowl.
  3. Set your air dryer to 360 F to preheat. Set the timer to 40 minutes.
  4. (Skip to the next step if you want lower carb count.) Place about 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour in a tub that holds about two quarts. Add the chicken pieces. Snap on lid. Shake to coat.
  5. Put the pieces in air fryer. Let it cook. Flip the pieces over every 10 minutes.

Paneer Keto for an Easy Low-Carb Breakfast

This morning I wanted a quick keto breakfast. Something warm and satisfying that I could eat while I worked. Donald had already made a batch of bacon, a family brand called Nueske’s that we’re lucky enough to buy local here in Wisconsin. He had gotten up earlier than usual, and when my alarm woke me, that signature aroma — deep, almost sweet, kissed with apple wood smoke — was in the air. 

I came down to find our son was nibbling from a plateful of it as he watched a pair of his favorite YouTubers playing a Pokemon Minecraft variation — his fave way to start off a school day. I couldn’t resist tarrying beside him for at least a half a slice, though I was planning to eat breakfast a little later. Okay, a slice and a half.

Somehow there was still bacon an hour later, the time I had planned to breakfast. The bacon filled the bill for finger food I could take to the computer. BTW this is where having cloth napkins really comes in handy. No one likes a greasy mouse. (Unless you’re a cat, I suppose.)

In the fridge, I spied paneer, from our recent trip to an Indian grocery store in a nearby town. Perfect. I decided to pan-fry them in ghee.

Paneer (or panir) is sometimes called Indian cottage cheese, but it’s unlike the image that conjures. It’s not a spoonable item you’d buy in a tub. It’s a solid brick of cheese, about as solid as cheddar or Swiss. But it’s not aged, so the flavor is mild. The fresher your paneer, the better, and you can even make it yourself fairly easily. (I’ll cover that another time.) However, you should be able to find it anyplace that sell Indian groceries. In my experience, storebought paneer is quite excellent, and certainly more keto convenient.

The magic of cooking with paneer is that is doesn’t melt. You can pan-fry or deep-fry paneer, and you’ll get a toasty, tasty surface. You can simmer it in a sauce, as with paneer tikka or panner curry, and it will hold its shape while it soaks up flavor. You don’t have to use an Indian-style recipe. Because it’s mild in flavor, it lends itself to any cooking style at all. It’s ideal for protein-rich Indian vegetarian keto cooking, in fact.

So I pulled out our 8″ chef knife and cut a few half-inch slabs off the block of paneer cheese. Carefully, making sure to keep the slabs even. Now that I know how to do that, it’s easy; it just requires attention in the right places.

The trick to making slabs that are uniformly thick is to first line up your knife edge perpendicular to the cheese, then look at the blade and make sure it’s perfectly vertical. As you bear down, slide it forward a little. Keep your eye on the side of the cheese. Watch as the knife goes straight down.

The mistake I made for years was to keep my eyes on the top surface of whatever is I was cutting through. But this doesn’t make any sense. I’d look at the result, and it would almost always be vexingly diagonal. When you look along the side, you’re tracking the actual direction you’re moving your knife through.

This tip works for anything you want to cut even slices or slabs of — butternut squash, onions, hard-boiled egg, summer sausage, and 

If you find that your knife tears through cheese instead of slicing, your knife is dull. I talk about how to keep your knife sharp in The worst kitchen advice you’ll always get: don’t sharpen your own knives.

You might find that it’s difficult to cut an even piece. Perhaps your knife wants to skip out and away from the cheese, and you can’t get the blade to dig in properly. Or the blade leaves marks in the cut where it stopped moving, or changed direction, or where you had to saw it back and forth. Or you have a hard time getting a good enough grip to push down through firm cheese, your knife is too small. When a knife has a slender handle, you can only grip with the strength of your fingers. You need the strength of your whole hand.

Good tools make cooking easy. In this case, you need a sharp knife with a hard, steel blade, and it needs to be big and heavy enough. Then you can push through dense material with ease. That’s why I reached for our 8″ J.A. Henckels chef knife. It’s worth its price new, but this is one of our best thrift store finds ever. The Victorinox chef knife I recommend inHow to Chop Like a TV Chef Without Spending a Fortune on Knives 

The ideal knife for cutting through firm cheese feels heavy in your hand, with a triangular, wedge-shaped blade long and wide enough that you can easy bear down atop it with your free hand. The handle should be large enough that you can wrap your knife-wielding hand around it to make a sturdy fist.

I cut down the slabs into rectangles about 1/2″ x 1.5″ x 2″ — sort of like narrow, short dominoes. If I were simmering the paneer in something like paneer tikka, cubes would make sense. For finger snacking, this shape made sense. Plus there would be plenty of surface to brown with only a single flip. Browning every surface of a cube? Hm, that would be five flips…no thanks!

Meantime, I had some ghee heating in a cast iron skillet. It only took a minute or so on each side to bring the paneer to a lovely brown. The paneer wedges kept their shape utterly. 

A taste test revealed that paneer on its own is a little too mild for me, even though the fresh cheesiness was wonderful. After also experimenting with dipping in tamari (soy sauce) and dusting with seasoned salt, I found that just the lightest dusting of fine salt was all that was needed to awaken the flavor. Next time, I’ll add the salt before frying, so it gets a better chance to permeate the cheese before the surface is sealed with oil.

While I was at it, I made a few wedges of Swiss the same way, just to compare how the two cheeses behaved in a hot pan of ghee. The Swiss cheese melted into a bubbly puddle that, when cool, became a delicate, lacy cracker that exploded with Swiss cheese flavor. I’ll devote space to making perfect keto crackers and crisps out of cheese another time.  

Now I had toasty warm paneer, crisp Swiss crackers, and bacon to fuel my morning as I sat down to my laptop with a cup of strong coffee. Good thing I had that cloth napkin, too.  

Pan-Fried Keto Paneer in Ghee

  • 1 or 2 teaspoons of ghee (or more — any amount will work)
  • Paneer (panir, or Indian cottage cheese)
  • Fine salt, like salt for popcorn and nuts (or any salt will do)

Place ghee (or butter, or coconut oil, or any healthy fat) in a heavy skillet.

Set the skillet to heat up over a burner on medium. Be careful if you’re using butter, as it burns more readily than ghee.

Slice paneer into pieces about 1/2″ thick and whatever shape and size you prefer. You can make triangular wedges, long sticks, rectangles, squares, or whatever works for your purpose.

Lightly salt the paneer.

When the ghee is hot enough that a tiny drop of water sizzles when you flick it in, add the paneer. Gently, so you don’t splash it on yourself.

Flip the paneer after about a minute. You’ll want a turner that’s thin and rigid enough to separate it from the pan.

Fry on the other side.

When both sides are streaked with pale golden brown, you’re done. Darker is also good, but less tender.

Remove it to your plate. Pour any ghee left in the pan over it.

Enjoy!

Why keto and low-carb have become so popular

In the early 1960s, a newly minted cardiologist named Robert Coleman Atkins was feeling poorly. He was depressed. He had packed on 90 pounds over the long, stressful years of college and med school. He tried cutting calories, but he just got tired and hungry, and his waistband wasn’t getting any any looser.

Once upon a time, common sense said that exercise builds up your appetite. That starch and sugar make you fat. That if you fatten your cattle and pigs on corn, then corn can fatten you up, too.

But during the mid-century modern era, a new type of advice had become mainstream: eat less and exercise, and then you’ll lose weight. Yet, somehow, the young doctor couldn’t make that work for him. He saw that it didn’t work for his patients, either. It seemed like these days, more and more people were having to watch their waistline.

Then he learned about some WWII research connecting carbohydrate restriction to fat loss.  He investigated. He tried it. The science made sense. The approach worked. He began recommending it to his patients. He opened a clinic. In 1972, he published his first book, Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution.

It was the first of the 17 books Dr. Atkins would eventually write, all recommending a diet based in whole foods, rich in low-starch vegetables and low-sugar fruits, moderate in protein, ample in dietary fat, and — we all know this part — low in carbohydrate.

He found the people who thought they needed to restrict their calories, and offered them a different solution to the problem of being overfat. He called out the expected/accepted solution of the day: restricting calories. He described how his solution avoided the pain points of the expected/accepted solution –namely, hunger and persistent cravings, even after meals. He described how his solution also was more effective.

Later, by the 1990s, the expected/accepted solution had changed. Now, people were told it wasn’t enough just to eat fewer calories than they wanted. They also needed to eat less fat, specifically. Dr. Atkins found the people who thought they needed to do that, and offered them his same solution to the problem of being overfat. 

Again, he called attention to the expected/accepted solution of that day, and then described how his solution avoided those pain points and also was more effective.

Dr. Atkins, tragically, died in 2003 after he slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk, fatally injuring his head. He died just as the greater low-carb movement was taking off, thanks to podcasters like Jimmy Moore, science writers like Gary Taubes, online communities like lowcarbfriends.com, amateur researchers like Chris Masterjohn (he’s no amateur today!), and a host of medical doctors like Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, who runs the excellent dietdoctor.com site, which provides a wealth of information on the science underlying ketogenic diets. And of course, thanks to a growing number of people who had actually tried the Atkins diet, or a similarly healthful approach like the Drs. Eades’ Protein Power.

In the years since, the idea of cutting sugar and not worrying about fat has gained traction. Today, it’s reaching a critical mass. More and more, people are discovering, despite the fear-mongering of authorities (who really should know better by now) who insist that deviating from today’s official dietary approach is downright dangerous — even though said approach is itself is unique in human history.

(Well, except for the ancient Egyptans, the only group of humans in history to ever follow anything like the USDA food pyramid. And also the only previous group of humans in history to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay anything like the way 20th century Americans did.)

As in the early 1960s, the science behind restricting carbohydrate and being lenient with fat makes sense. And it works. 

So the message that has made low-carb/keto take off goes something like this. 

[PAIN POINTS] Are you tired of going hungry and never feeling satisfied after a meal? 

[STANDARD SOLUTION IS INEFFECTIVE] Have you tried the recommended correct way to slim down over and over and over? Are you frustrated because the official advice just doesn’t seem to work when you do it? 

[THE EXPERTS DON’T GET IT] Do your trusted advisors insist that you just are not following their advice correctly — even though you are? Do they just tell you that you need to [cut calories][reduce dietary fat] even more?

[VALIDATION] It’s not your fault. Science shows that the advice you’re following leads to the exact results you’ve been getting.

[ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION] There is a better way.

[WHY STANDARD SOLUTION IS INEFFECTIVE] Find out why [counting calories][reducing fat] locks you into a cycle of gaining back all you lost and more. 

[ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION] Reducing carbohydrate solves your problem. Here’s why: A, B, C, D. Here’s how to do it: E, F, G, H. Here’s what to say to people who don’t understand why you’re doing this: I, J, K, L. Here’s a jillion testimonials: “I struggled for years. I can’t believe how easy this is to follow and how effective it is.” etc. etc. etc. 

Maybe you’re one of those testimonials right now. Or maybe you’re still exploring and experimenting. If you’re like me and many of my friends over the years, you’ve tried it all. And wondered why it didn’t work. And decided the problem must be you. It’s not.

There is a better way.

To rework Michael Pollan’s famous dictum, eat real food. Mostly fat. As much as you like.

When you actually do that, you won’t eat “too much.” You can try, but you won’t even be able to keep it up.

Relax. Enjoy. Make and share a great meal. Welcome home.

Best scrambled eggs recipe, easy and delicious

A couple of years ago, I stayed at a hotel nice enough that there was a cook in the breakfast line, making eggs to order. In fact, he was actually breaking individual eggs, then cooking them just for you. No hotel pans of scrambles here. Want an omelette? No problem. You could ask for anything at all that you wanted in them. I asked for salt.

You should have seen the commotion.

Continue reading Best scrambled eggs recipe, easy and delicious