RECIPE: Low-FODMAP Sesame Peanut Power Bars

Sesame Peanut Power Bars

Power to the peanuts.

There’s one trick to going on any sort of restricted diet, no matter how complex, how punishing. Follow this rule, and managing any elimination diet is a breeze.

The simple trick? Never leave the house.

Yeah, it’s not impossibly hard to keep to the low-FODMAP diet if you stay at home and always cook for yourself, but what if you have, you know, go to work, travel or basically do anything else that requires you to get out of the house for more than a few hours at a time?

Well, there’s no simple answer, beyond remembering to always pack a lunch or to have a list of low-FODMAP-friendly restaurants on hand. But one thing that’s saved my day more than a few time has been making sure I brought along some (sorta) healthy, gut-friendly snacks. And when I saw a recipe for some tasty Sesame-Peanut Bars in a recent Bon Appetit, I knew I could easily convert them to the side of low FODMAPs. Salty, crunchy, chewy and sweet all at the same time, they’re an addictive treat, and they’ll be your best friend in a pinch.

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Ode to a rice cooker

Rice cooker

My culinary workhorse.

I hate to admit this, but I have a thing for kitchen gadgets. I like to talk a big game about how I don’t really care about owning a lot of “stuff,” that it’s experiences that matter to me, but… as soon as I step into the kitchen, my hippy-ish anti-materialistic philosophy kinda flies out the window. My sous-vide circulator, my pressure cooker, my Vitamix, my bullet smoker—they all bring me a lot of joy. And, hell, I’d argue they help me create experiences—delicious dining experiences—and don’t just sit there looking pretty and collecting dust.

The gadget I use the most in my kitchen—once or twice a day!—isn’t as sleekly powerful as the Vitamix or as geekily futuristic as the sous-vide machine. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common kitchen appliances in the world.

It’s my rice cooker.

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Pasta problems

Make sure you read the ingredients closely.

The nefarious noodles.

When it comes to low-FODMAP eating, I’m not particularly interested in eating “fake” or “substitute” versions of foods I used to enjoy. As you probably know, gluten grains are a no-no, but gluten-free bread doesn’t do it for me, and, until this weekend, I’d never even tried to replace my beloved pasta (my passion for which I have written about before). The truth is, those “fake” foods kind of depress me. All I can think about when I have pseudo-bread is how much I’d rather be eating the real stuff. So I try to stick to recipes that are delicious and wonderful in their own ways, rather than trying to recreate something they are not.

A few days ago, though, I was putting my new pressure cooker through its paces with a tomato sauce recipe of my devising. It is, after all, tomato season, and I had just returned from the market with a backpack full of bright red beauties. And while I know that tomato sauce has many uses, I decided this was the time to finally try out a gluten-free pasta. I invited a friend over for dinner and asked him to pick up a bag of quinoa-based pasta (which tends to get the best reviews) from the health food store.

The first thing I noticed about the pasta was its red colour, which, I read on the back, was the result of the red peppers added to the noodles as a flavoring ingredient. Neat!, I thought, not realizing that reading the distracting note about the peppers on the package—and not the ingredients, which I otherwise always do—would be my downfall.

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RECIPE: Low-FODMAP Migas, for Breakfast or Lunch

Low FODMAP breakfast or lunch migas

Scrambled plus.

Eggs. I’m a little obsessed with them, even if I (as I’ve mentioned before) so often mess them up. Still—poached, scrambled, omelette-ed, I love them all. And while I eat steel-cut oats for breakfast basically every day of my life (more, much more, on that soon), I’ve found that eggs often form a great basis for my new sandwich-less lunch lifestyle. I’ve talked before about the Feta Double Heada I sometimes have as a treat on weekends, and today I want to introduce another favorite. It’s a breakfast/lunch (there must be a word for that) with a Tex-Mex twist, but I’m not talking about huevos rancheros, as delicious as they are. No, today I’m talking migas.

Migas are basically scrambled eggs plus, and the “plus” I’m talking about here are crispy strips of corn tortillas. They’re fast and easy to make, endlessly customizable, and they go perfectly with a splash of your favorite hot sauce (I’m personally addicted to Frank’s, but Tabasco, Valentine, heck, even Sriracha* will do the job, though mind the garlic). A tomato salad on the side balances out the meal nicely and adds some brightness.

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BREAKFAST: Feta Double Heada Omelette

Toast? Who needs toast?

If you’ve read my Day in the Low-FODMAP Life post, you know I eat oatmeal for breakfast almost every single day. It’s easy to make, super-filling (and it lasts—I don’t get hungry an hour later), inexpensive, and with the right modifications (cinnamon! maple syrup! bananas!) it tastes great.

But there are mornings—usually weekend mornings—when I want something a little different. A treat. And when I do, I turn to eggs, despite my absolutely limited facilities in making them. (I love eggs and I cook them all the time, but I always manage to screw them up somehow—bits of shell in the pan, broken yokes, poorly-peeled hard-boiled ones—they’re sort of the great tragic relationship of my life). I used to think eggs absolutely had to be served with toast or a bagel, but I realized pretty early into my low-FODMAP adventure that this wasn’t necessarily the case.

Now one of my go-to special weekend meals is a big ol’ omelette, cut in half (the other half goes to my wife) and filled with something savory. I don’t get too fancy because I don’t like my omelettes overstuffed or too wet, so for this meal I just added crumbled feta cheese near the end. Now, feta doesn’t melt as nicely as cheddar or Emmental (it doesn’t melt at all, in fact), but I’m willing to make that sacrifice because next to parmesan cheese, good Greek feta cheese may be my favorite substance on Earth. (I can’t overstate my relief when I saw they were on the low-FODMAP list. Seriously. Can’t live without them. I don’t like adding watery tomatoes to the omelette itself, so we dice them up and serve them on the side with some fresh basil.

Now, you may have noticed a couple of other guests on the plate. It was initially hard to imagine eating eggs without bagels or toast alongside them, but corn crackers make a satisfying substitution. I shmear ’em with kopanisti, a feta (hence the double header) and red pepper spread I find pretty addictive. Kopanisti is often made with garlic (the kind I get is not), so you can always make your own by following a good, simple recipe and removing it entirely or substituting it with a dash of garlic oil. It’ll add a little spice to your breakfast, and is great for snacking on as well.

What’s your favorite omelette? Let me know in the comments below.

RECIPE: Delicious Low-FODMAP Chicken Stock

One cup of delicious low-FODMAP chicken stock

One cup of liquid gold.

I went through a couple of ideas when I was deciding which recipe to post to this blog first. The delicious “Moorish paella,” made with risotto rice, harissa and merguez sausage, that’s become a staple around these parts?. Or the Martha Stewart-inspired flourless chocolate cake that is, I swear, lighter, creamier and just plain better than the regular gluten-filled cakes we used to enjoy. Or maybe an adaptation of the Ottolenghi chicken-and-wild-rice salad that makes the best, most lunchable leftovers?

I had settled on the paella, when I opened my freezer to pull out some frozen chicken stock in which to simmer the rice. As it happened, I was fresh out. And then it occurred to me—maybe I should hold off on a more complicated dish and focus on something simple, a “building block” of low-FODMAP eating, if you will.

Because the truth is, there are a LOT of recipes that call for some kind of stock, particularly when you’re cooking with a lot of rices and grains, as we low-FODMAP eaters often are. And while it’s often tempting to just buy a can or tetra pack from the grocery store, they can often be a digestive mine field, as some combination of onions and garlic are almost always used to flavor commercial stocks. Plus, homemade stock just tastes so much better! You can use it in soups, stews, sauces, gravies—keep it in one- or two-cup portions in the freezer and pull ’em out as needed.

It’s actually super easy to make stock. Preparation time is under 10 minutes, and as long as you’re around to let it simmer away for a few hours, you can let your stove do most of the work for you. Typically, stocks are made by lightly simmering chicken carcasses (bones and however much meat you have on hand, or to taste)  along with a bunch of aromatics—tasty vegetables that enhance and bring out the flavor of the bones.

The problem for us low-FODMAP eaters is that two of the most commonly and heavily-used aromatics in stocks are onions and garlic. (This is why eating at restaurants can be so difficult—beware of sauces and soups!) So to make our low-FODMAP stock, and to make it delicious, we’re going to have to do two things: replace the missing aromatics, and cook it longer so as to bring out more flavor to compensate for what’s missing. We’ll add green onion tops to replace some of the missing taste and aromas from the onions, and throw in some extra carrots to fill it out even further. And while many recipes will tell you to simmer your stock for at least an hour or two, I’ll advise going even longer—or even better, using a pressure cooker if you have one (in which case you’ll only need to cook it for 45 minutes or so).

Low-FODMAP Chicken Stock Ingredients

I made mine in a pressure cooker, but a regular pot is more than fine too.

delicious low-fodmap chicken stock

Ingredients

Bear in mind that stock-making is an inexact science, and not to take the measures here too seriously. If you’ve got extra carrots or chicken, throw ’em in. Don’t worry about the exact amount of water either. It’ll all taste good in the end if you simmer it long enough.

3-4lbs of chicken carcass (this can be the body of a roast chicken you’ve already cooked and eaten, plus whatever bones and scraps of meat you’ve saved, or you can always buy inexpensive chicken backs at most grocery stores.)
3-5 carrots, chopped on the bias (diagonally); don’t worry about peeling them, just give ’em a good scrub
3-5 stalks of celery, chopped on the bias
One bunch of green onions, chopped on the bias (JUST the green parts)
3 or so bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp salt (don’t overdo it on the salt, as the stock will reduce and you can always add more later)

Instructions

1. Throw everything in a big pot.

2. Add enough cold tap water to cover everything in there by a couple of inches. Cover and gently bring to a boil.

3. Just when it’s started to boil, adjust the heat way back down again to just about minimum. Do not  over-boil your stock. Let it just gently simmer away; the water should be just moving below the surface. Then back away.

4. Check for taste every hour or so. Remember that it won’t quite taste “right” until you add a little salt, so if you’re not sure, scoop out half a cup or so, sprinkle with salt, stir and then taste.

5. When it’s ready to taste (or has reduced as far as you’re willing to go), pour stock through a strainer (or a cheesecloth, or even a coffee filter) into a large bowl. Make sure you push on the solids with a wooden spoon to get every last delicious drop. Strain it again if you like, until it’s as clear as you want it (the old story about French consommés was that they were so clear you could read the date on a penny at the bottom of a bowl, but you probably don’t want to go that far).

6. Let cool. If you want a really non-fatty stock, let it sit in the fridge overnight and skim off the solid white fact that will have accumulated on top.

Store for up to three days in the fridge, or even better, save some in the freezer. I like to ladle two-cup portions into freezer bags and then label them with the serving size and date. When I need some for a recipe, I just pull out however as many bags as I need and let them thaw.

It doesn’t get that much easier than making your own chicken stock, and once you taste it, it’s hard to go back to store-bought. And if you’re on a low-FODMAP diet, that’s probably not even an option anyway—but this is one case where you won’t be missing out on flavor. Isn’t it nice when it works out that way?

What’s your favorite use for chicken stock? Let me know in the comments below!

A Day in the Low-FODMAP Life

A tasty dinner side salad

Salads are fun. Seriously.

One of the most challenging things about changing the way you eat, particularly when you’re eliminating broad categories of food, is visualizing just how it’s going to work on a day-to-day basis. I know that was one of the most difficult parts of adopting the FODMAP-free lifestyle myself, and it took me a while to get my head around the fact that I wouldn’t be able to rely on some of my oldest, most relied-upon eating habits.

If you’ve ever tried to eat gluten-free, you know what I’m talking about: life without bread is hard! I used to feel like Jerry Seinfeld, who once said, “The whole concept of lunch is based around tuna.” For me, it was sandwiches. Imagining lunch without sandwiches, or breakfast without toast, or dinner without pasta… it seemed impossible at first.

But gradually, it got easier. It was all about picking up new habits and getting used to planning things a little more in advance. Now there’s a barely a day when I don’t wake up with a hot breakfast of oatmeal already waiting for me in my rice cooker and a plan for at least lunch, if not lunch and dinner.

I thought I’d share a typical day in my Low-FODMAP Life to help newcomers to the diet understand how possible it can be with just a little forethought and effort.

Steel-Cut Oats in the Rice Cooker

Oats are your friends.

Breakfast

You’ve got tons of options when it comes to breakfast. Personally, I’ve left toast in the dust and become addicted to oatmeal. (Most oatmeal is processed with wheat, so there’s a bit of gluten to be found, but in such small amounts it probably won’t affect people on the low-FODMAP plan. Still, there are plenty of gluten-free options available). Typically, I put 2/3 of a cup of steel-cut oats in my rice maker before I go to bed, along with the appropriate amount of water, some brown sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. I put it on “porridge” setting at set the timer, and wake up to a hot, delicious breakfast. I’ll sometimes add some raisins right before serving, or slice up some bananas and put them in the pot before setting the timer so they get all nice and baked-tasting. When I’m out of steel-cut, I’ll just cook up a small pot of regular rolled oats in the morning. Eggs are also your friends in the morning—hard-boiled, scrambled, or fried. Try frying up some strips of corn tortilla and adding beaten eggs to the pan to make migas, a Tex-Mex treat (just avoid the milk and onions if you use that recipe!).

Lunch

Lunch without the sandwich or wrap option can be challenging, particular if you’re eating on the go. What I typically do is make a grain salad and add whatever veggies and proteins I desire. I’ll cook up some quinoa with spices, like a bit of curry powder, let it cool and then mix in greens and shredded carrots. Topped with smoked chicken or canned tuna, and some crumbled feta cheese, it makes for a surprisingly filling mid-day meal. Alternately, I might fry up a couple of eggs and have them on top of the salad, or make an omelette and have sliced vegetables (cucumbers, bell peppers) on the side.

Dinner

Sadly, you’ll have to say goodbye to pasta and pizza (I’m ashamed to admit that those were two of my staples, and let’s not get started on hamburger), but I still haven’t run out of new, delicious combinations. I’ll often set my rice cooker to make brown rice, sometimes adding a splash of coconut oil, and then roast, pan-fry or grill up a protein of my choice—sausage, chicken, pork chops to name just a few. Then we’ll make a nice salad on the side, or steam some green beans. If I want to mix things I’ll up, I’ll make potatoes, roasted or mashed (without milk of course) or sometimes go for a larger portion of protein and forgo the carbs completely. I’ve also become addicted to one-pot meals that incorporate proteins and rice, like arroz con pollo or paella variations, many of which can be de-FODMAP-ified. And we’ve just discovered the many uses of polenta. (All of these I’ll be discussing more in depth in the future—recipes to come!)

Dessert

Going FODMAP-free doesn’t mean you have to skip the sweets. I might have some sliced strawberries, treats like flourless chocolate cake (recipe coming soon!) or a dairy-free sorbet.

I’d love to hear about your daily routine. Drop me a line or leave a note in the comments below!