I Use Too Much Junk?

I got an unsubscribe request from the blog digest today, accompanied by this pithy critique: You use way too much commercial junk in your recipes. Yuk!

I'm only human; I toyed briefly with the idea of sending back an email saying "Sorry you don't find the blog worth what you pay for it." But then I thought, "Hmmm. Do I use too much commercial junk?"

So I looked back through the recipes I've posted in the past few weeks. Most recent was the Creamy Chicken-and-Noodles in a Bowl; it included whipped cream cheese with chives, tofu shirataki, and pre-cooked chicken breast strips. Frankly, I don't normally use the pre-cooked chicken breast strips, but in the context of 15 minute recipes, they make sense. The rest didn't seem all that exceptional to me; maybe I should have used organic raw milk cream cheese and fresh chives?

Previous to that, I published the recipe for Cocoa-Peanut Porkies. They have just three ingredients: Pork rinds, sugar-free semi-sweet chocolate, and natural peanut butter. The pork rinds contain nothing but pork skins. The peanut butter contains nothing but peanuts. The sugar-free chocolate does, indeed, include some inulin and artificial sweeteners, but then if I'd use expensive organic semi-sweet chocolate it would have included sugar, which doesn't strike me as an improvement.

Before that came the recipe for pumpkin pudding. That one contains canned pumpkin. Canned pumpkin has nothing in it but pumpkin, and since raw pumpkin is only available for a couple of months in the fall it was the choice that allowed readers the most latitude. Also, I was trying to make it a 15 minute recipe, and cutting up, stewing, and pureeing pumpkin pretty much precludes that sort of thing.

Other than that, the pumpkin pudding does include vanilla whey protein, an ingredient I consider beneficial. And, of course, it has sugar-free sweeteners, both erythritol and Splenda. Again, I ain't using sugar, so it's use an alternative sweetener or scratch desserts entirely. Stevia is only good in some things; I find it problematic to use, to say the least. No way am I using agave nectar, a "natural" sweetener that appears to be worse than high fructose corn syrup. I offer no apologies for my sweeteners.

Before that? Flax pancakes. The ingredient list reads thusly:

1 cup flax seed meal
1 cup vanilla whey protein powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon Splenda granular
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup oat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs

Again, yeah, vanilla whey and Splenda. But flax meal? Plain yogurt? Eggs? Cinnamon? Heck, I even used mined ancient seabed sea salt, though I didn't specify that in the recipe.

I figured out a long time ago -- like, back before the turn of the millennium -- that most of my readers aren't hard-core foodies. Most of my readers range from good home cooks who like to try a new recipe now and then, to folks who, up until they realized that what they were eating was killing them, were living on Kraft mac-and-cheese and frozen pizza, just like the rest of America. I always keep in mind the woman who came to one of my very early book signings and asked plaintively "What can a low carber eat who, up until she went low carb, lived on Lean Cuisine?"

I have a rule about ingredients: If I have to go to more than two stores in Bloomington, Indiana to find an ingredient, I don't use it. The only exception is specialty low carb stuff that often only is available on online, but will make a real difference for a lot of people, and then I cite online resources to find it. Heck, I frequently mention to look for an ingredient at a health food store, or in the international aisle at a big grocery store, or wherever, because I know that a fair number of readers won't know where to find it.

But when I had a recipe I wanted to adapt that called for kirsch? I went to two local liquor stores, and when they didn't have it, I scratched the recipe. Because while some of you will go on an ingredient hunt, many will simply look at that unfamiliar ingredient, that thing that they're not sure where to find it, and walk right on by that recipe, never to return. I try to walk a middle line, truly, between expanding tastes and scaring people off.

Too, I keep budgets in mind. I could write recipes for exquisite small-farm, raw milk cheeses and grass-fed meats, but while many of you aspire to that stuff, many of you can't afford it, at least not all the time -- and neither can I. But a shift from mac-and-cheese and frozen pizza to basic low carb grocery store commodities like block cheese, meats and poultry, eggs and vegetables, will go a long way to improving your health, and the health of your family, too.

People also need recipes for a variety of occasions, from "I just need to get something on the table quick!" to "My boyfriend just ditched me, and I need something to keep me out of the Ben and Jerry's," to "What can I serve for Thanksgiving that won't torpedo me?"

I know every recipe isn't going to appeal to every reader. Heck, I've sold somewhere in the neighborhood of a million cookbooks now, and thank you all very much! Even assuming, as I do, that a lot of those are multiple sales to the same buyers, this figure argues in favor of somewhere around a half-million people buying at least one. No way can I please all those people all the time.

I can't even please me all the time. I regularly write recipes for ingredients I don't particularly like, because I know others enjoy them; I just test those recipes on people who like that food. (That Nice Boy I Married comes in very handy here; he likes a number of things I don't, and I like things he doesn't.) I've been known to have dinner parties for this very purpose.

So yeah, I write some pretty plebeian recipes. I use some pretty plebeian ingredients, along with a fair number of more exalted ones. If what you want are recipes you'd find in Gourmet or Bon Appetit, you can certainly subscribe to those magazines. I get Bon Appetit myself. But you're on your own when it comes to carb count.

If what you want is some new ideas for ways to rearrange the low carb stuff available at your local grocery (and health food) store, I'm your girl.

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Can't please everyone

I am so surprised that someone complained that you use too many store bought items in your recipes. These are cookbooks! You make the recipes that sound good to you. We can all make baked chicken, but if you want something different, you have to add different things. Some people miss having Sweet and Sour Chicken or Cheesecake & Cookies. How will you make them without a few store-bought ingredients.

Please don't let this person change your way of thinking when publishing your cookbooks. I have them ALL and love everyone. I make the recipes that I like and sometimes even buy the odd ingredients because I want to make something different. You are always so good about telling us which brands are better and cheaper and sometimes where to find them.

I love your 500 MORE RECIPES because the readers submitted their recipes. Look at the diversity. They are all tried and true and you even had testers to try them before publishing them. I love all the comments before the recipes too. I have found some of my favorite recipes in that book. Thanks again and keep up the GREAT work.

I Use Too Much Junk?

I live in a non-English speaking country (Japan). I don't speak the language well and I can't read kanji at all. Reading ingredients is very difficult, and while my DH is helpful, it is sometimes impossible to get the items in your cookbooks. The methods of cooking here are quite different too.

It is challenging to say the least to find some of the low carb ingredients that are in your recipes. Pork rinds? I've never seen them here. I've brought a couple of bags back from some of my trips home, but they don't last long and take up a lot of room in my suitcase. I have heard that people can buy them here in big cities, but I live in a small town.

I can order certain ingredients through a special importer, but it takes about a month and costs a lot. So, using special low carb products really isn't a possibility for me.

Having said all of that, I do have your Low carb-slow cooker cook book and I love it. I have a few favourite recipes in it and they are very well received.

I think what I'm saying is that I love your recipes generally, but really wish you could put a bigger list in them of possible substitutions. There are some of us who can't get "basic" ingredients.

Dana is a blessing

I just finished reading all of the comments following the post from the unsubscribee (unhappy camper) and I want to add my voice to the chorus of well wishers and HAPPY CAMPERS who love holdthetoast.com and Dana. I, too, have a huge cookbook collection and most of the recipes are untried but I just love reading them. They give me pleasure just in perusing them. It is impossible to please EVERYONE so we all just do the best we can. I love the low carb recipes and I know that this lifestyle works for me. KEEP up the great work Dana!

Thanks Dana!

Don't let one person's negative comments get you down. There are so many of us who rely on your wisdom and recipies to keep on going LC. Heck I started low carb because I leafed through one of your cookbooks at a friend's house and said "Hey low carbers can eat lots of different kinds of foods! I can do this!" I went out and bought the book the next day. I now have 5 of your cookbooks and I love them! I appreciate your work very much.

Don't let the moaning people get you down!!

Some people are never satisfied - I'm sure if they won the lottery they'd be moaning about how it had changed their life for the worse/wasn't enough etc. You have - and I hope will continue to - do great work to support people in their efforts to lead a healthier & slimmer lifestyle. Must be gutting to hear such negative feedback, but please do not let it detract from all the great things you've achieved - just look at all the positive feedback that has come from this to understand the respect your readers have for you.
For my part, I'm 30lb down on my worst & have reasonably (with a little often mojito based up & down!) consistently kept it off for the past 6 years in no small part due to the education and wisdom I've picked up from your blog & cookbooks. I've gone from being fat and a fairly rubbish cook to a miraculous UK jeans size 12 (think US 8?) and a reasonably savvy and good cook. Pretty good, huh?
I'm not the kind of person that 'joins' in stuff on the internet, normally preferring a quick stealth in & out look, but I felt strongly enough about this to change the habits of a lifetime & write in. You've done good. Really. Just imagine what the moaning people are like - bet they're the kind that runs their fingers over your surfaces looking for dust...
And I also wanted to offer you a huge slice of (low carb!) humble pie - I've read so many of your comments about avocado & cheese omelettes, but was never convinced by the concept. Faced with a very empty fridge for lunch today, I thought I might as well give it a go - and it was gorgeous. A true taste revelation. Amazed & looking forward to a repeat lunch tomorrow...

Avocado and Cheese Omelets

SO GLAD YOU TRIED IT! True ambrosia. Who could possibly want Weetabix instead? (Yes, I've had Weetabix. Years ago.)

Now try guacamole stuffed into a tomato. :-D

your recipes

Your recipes encouraged my husband to cook. My husband would not make a frozen pizza prior to buying your books. He also lost twenty pounds by eating food that is better for him. I stock the pantry with a few staples and I prefer whole foods and your cookbooks contain far less process than alot of others. Some recip[es may be a challenge to find the ingredients but you can skip them- I find even the low carb bake mix KILLS my diet and I have cravings again so I stear clear, but I tolerate whey protein fine. Granted some recipes things are hardto find but old stand by's include your taco salad the stuffed peppers and tomatoes the seaosoning mixes and dry rubs for meat. Even the simple dill and salmon, or any omelet, stuffed egg recipes, joe, meatza,spaghetti squash carbonara, that green bean and ground beef casserole eggplant parmesan squared all of which my previously kitchen illiterate husband made. We use to use the taco seasonings that we used to buy in the packets in the store but now mix the seasonings as you direct in 500 and it is far superior. Compare those ingredients and we can truly see what junk is - Why so much sodium? Why so much sugar ? That is what junk is made of . As for the recipes with hard to find ingredients dont find the ingredients and make others that is why u have published so many books with so many recipes

Lettuce can replace all the low carb breads

Outside the US its difficult to get those lo carb manufactured products like low carb flour and tortillas and bread. But even when I've tried them in the States they don't impress me much. So what I generally do is use iceberg lettuce instead.

Shred it and you've got great fake spaghetti, and great substitute for rice or couscous.

Use them big bowl leaves as a wrap and you've got all your sandwich variants and "appetizer support platforms" (for really sloppy appetizers I use stiff kohlrabi slices).

And its as cheap as bread or cheaper really, and quick as a whistle (I discard the outer leaves and don't bother washing the rest on the theory that any dirt and pesticides must be on the outside layer).

Only bready thing it wont do is pancakes. Oh yeah, and pizza crust. That one is a killer. I love a good Roman pizza crust, thin and crisp (fillings are great in the US but the crust is usually like bread - yuck). Oh well.

Here Here, You said it all

Here Here, You said it all very well, Personally I find your recipes a perfect blend of "regular" recipes (simple to find ingredients) and those that stretch me to find something new and give it a whirl - I am more often than not very pleased with the new find. No you can't please all the people all of the time, but those you do please are Very Pleased!!
Thank you Dand

Don't let them get you down...

I love your normal recipes. They're realistic, I enjoy making them and don't go crazy shopping for them, and my family eats what I make from your cookbooks, which is no small thing. Be encouraged!

The only time i have a

The only time i have a problem with a recipe is when it has an ingredient that is low-carb related that I can't buy. We don't have ANY "low-carb" products at all. I wish I could buy Low-carb ketchup. I did make it once (from your CB!) but I eat it so seldom it's hardly worth the effort. So things like low-carb tortilla, and other things i can't think of right now - oh yes - carb-countdown-is there a substitute for that? Or carbquick, stuff like that. I really don't want to buy these things on the internet. Otherwise I find your recipes wonderfully full of "regular" foods!


As someone who makes a few recipe videos (largely based off the attributed genius of others but some of my own creation), I hear you on the "why can't you make it like I want it" crowd. I take some of my best inspiration from America's Test Kitchen, who espouse in their diet recipes everything I hate. Luckily, Richard Kimball loves rich fatty foods as much as I do.

If you need just one more ringing endorsement, you are doing great Dana and have no need to defend yourself. Your recipes are delicious and accessible to most cooks. If there's anything to be said, it's that there's too many, and your cookbooks are like drinking from a firehose. So many awesome ideas, so little time to try them all.

So needless to say, I looking forward to the upcoming books...


I think your cookbooks have quite a bit of variety. There seem to be plenty of great recipes for those who want to use only "whole foods," as well as many that use some of the more creative low-carb ingredients. I only wish I could buy your cookbooks as software/databases, so I can do searches and stuff like that.


I know, I know, I hear this a lot. But it's not up to me, it's up to my publisher. Who is, for most of the books, Fair Winds Press, Gloucester MA. So write 'em and tell them you want the electronic version. Who knows?

I've got lots of "junk"

I have learned that I can't eat dairy (any animal), grains (any kind), or legumes -- they are all "junk" for my body, so I read your recipes more for entertainment these days than for practical application. I've been at this (VLC) a long time. I miss the variety, but I do NOT miss the painful inflammation! But boy do I perk up when you write about meat & eggs with spices & herbs (not sauces).

Thanks for all you do - and I'm sure glad you're writing more often!

No dairy, grains, or legumes

I'm trying to come up with more stuff for the revised edition that doesn't have dairy, and of course I've long done grainless and legume-less recipes.

Try to have something for everyone. Well, everyone who is low carb.

"Junk" is a relative concept.

"Junk" is a relative concept. There are lots of folks out there who think it's a sin to touch a sweetener of any kind. I'm sure other people think pork rinds are junk food simply because they're sold in the same aisle as potato chips at the supermarket.

When I went low carb, your recipes saved me. I went from eating tons of fast food and box dinners to eating more healthy, fresh food than I ever had in my life. If your books didn't allow something jarred or canned every now and then, I probably would have been too intimidated to ever try to give up the safety of my Kraft dinner and Oreo cookies.

So thanks for helping me to be healthier.

I am not sure why a person

I am not sure why a person would go to the trouble to explain why they are unsubscribing from your blog. HUH? I just hit the un-sub button and figure....well, that blog's not for me. I have yet to feel the need to insult the blogger just because I don't agree with the recipes, the ingredients, the life philosophy or whatever else they are espousing.

Out of every recipe book I read, a full 95% of the recipes are something I will never make. But they give me a lot of enjoyment and a lot of education. I learn about methods, about ingredients that go well with each other, about substitutions that might be possible, and the recipes give me great ideas! I have long contended, and I still do: a recipe is, at best, a "suggestion," and my favorite quantity is "some." (But acknowledging that precise measurements are needed for baking)

If we were only allowed ONE way to cook every item, or if only one cookbook were allowed for each genre of cooking, this would be a terribly dull world. So, just keep on writing, and you will have an audience, especially now that you have earned your "chops" in the world of low carb cooking.

95% of Recipes Untried

I have a ridiculously huge cookbook collection, and I'd go so far as to say that 90% or more of them I've never made one recipe from. But I get ideas from them all the time; that's my... I was going to say bread-and-butter, but that's hardly appropriate. That's my eggs and meat. I look at other people's recipes and think "Ooo, interesting flavor combination. I wonder how that would work in an omelet?" (Or a main dish salad, or whatever.)

And anyway, I just find cookbooks fascinating. Among other things, they're a historical record; it's amazing what you can pick up about various eras of history from cookbooks. I have one that was put together in England in the 40s to raise money for the war effort. Amazing stuff. Just interesting to read.

love your recipes!

I have 2 of your books and wish I could afford more. Lots of times I've gone to your books to figure out what to do with a certain left-over. Sometimes I make one of your recipes, other times it gives me ideas on what I can do on my own!

I have to be careful about carbs and keep my levels VERY low. I also try to avoid processed foods whenever possible. All over the net you can find recipes for low carbers.....but so many depend on soy this and soy that.....and I can't have soy (and wouldn't eat it if I could!

Keep up the good work Dana!!

Wish you could afford more

Two words for you: Public library! I don't know about yours, but my public library will buy just about anything I request. And even if they won't buy it, they can get anything in any other public library in the country through interlibrary loan -- a service for which I have never been charged.

Libraries Rule.

Purists are annoying

I'm sure I'll tick someone off by saying this, but "purists" annoy the crap out of me. As you said, not everyone can afford grass fed beef and raw cheese... or even have access to it. And there is nothing wrong with occasionally using a low-carb substitute food like lc pastas or sugar free chocolates. I don't know about anyone else, but I live in the real world, where sometimes you indulge, albeit preferably in healthier ways. I recently was chided for promoting a product with Splenda in it - I was told it's not a healthy product. Maybe not for some people, but I've used it for years with no issues and so have lots of other people. I'd alienate too many readers if I just catered to those trying to live a splenda-free existance, so I simply try to talk about a varitey of things that would appeal to everyone at some point.

Just always keep in mind you can't please everyone, no matter how hard you try. :)