I was interviewed recently about life with PKU for this genetic testing website. They published it for National PKU Awareness day.
I have been excited to post about this dish ever since I learned about it from Chef Andy at my recent PKU Event. This recipe is so simple, and so delicious!
Have you ever even heard of Jack Fruit? I hadn’t. But it turns out it is the perfect substitute for pulled pork. It’s appearance and texture when shredded make you feel like you’re biting into a warm satisfying BBQ sandwich.
Can you believe that is fruit?
Look for canned Jack fruit in your local Asian Market, or possibly a health food market. My local Sprouts did not carry it, but an Asian Market down the freeway did.
It is important to buy the Jack fruit that is in just water, and NOT sweetened.
1 can of this makes about 2 sandwiches. You boil the jack fruit and let is simmer for an hour. Make sure to keep adding water though. The second time I made this I forgot and ended up with charbroiled jack fruit because all the water evaporated.
Chef Andy’s recipe included a homemade BBQ sauce, but I am all about convenience, and BBQ sauce is actually pretty low in Phe (8 mg/ Tablespoon). Also, I thought it tasted really good on toasted bread with mayonnaise spread on the inside of each slice.
1 can jack fruit in water
Up to 1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce
2 slices of low-protein bread or buns (or whatever bread you can tolerate)
Empty can of jackfruit with water into a sauce pan. Make sure fruit is covered in water (add water if needed). Bring to a boil. Let simmer for 1 hour, until fork tender, adding water as needed.
Drain water. Pour fruit into a mixing bowl. Pour 3/4 cup BBQ (or to taste). Stir well, breaking up chunks of jack fruit.
Toast bread or warm rolls. Spread with mayonaise. Spread BBQ jack fruit onto bread and enjoy!
You may be thinking that was a typo. But no, I meant, “protein cooking,” not, “Low-protein cooking.” Because, for many of us, we are not living our PKU life in isolation, we are a part of a family! We often end up cooking protein and low-protein food side by side.
Growing up I am sure I took it for granted that my mom cooked two meals pretty much every night for dinner. There was the normal or protein dish, and then there was my dish. Then she was always good at serving a fruit and vegetable that we would all eat. Bless her for doing that for me and our family!
Now I have my own family and I have the challenge of cooking two meals a night. Because I am used to my diet, it’s not that resisting the protein foods is hard. It is actually that motivating myself to cook something I can’t eat is difficult at times. But I do my best. Also, I’m not that good at cooking meat! And I don’t have as big of a food repertoire, so I have to really try to get out of the box.
I should add, my husband is very understanding, never complains, and almost always likes what I cook! So I am lucky. :)
Since protein-cooking has been a struggle for me I imagine it has been hard for others as well. So I would like to share some things that help me.
5 Ways to Navigate Protein-Cooking as a PKUer:
1. Find a recipe you are excited about
Sometimes you may have to make a sacrifice and just cook your family’s favorite meal, even if you can’t eat it. But most of the time I think it is a good idea to think of something that sounds good to you. For me, cooking takes a lot of mental energy. I have a handful of recipes that I’m really comfortable with. But when I go online and try to look for new ones, in order to motivate myself to plan, shop for and cook a new recipe, I have to be excited to eat it myself.
An example of this would be my recent discovery of Southwest Salad. My husband liked it in a restaurant so I thought I’d try to make it for him, but it sounded really good to me too.
2. Aim for health, but take it easy some days
I know using as much whole food as possible is ideal. But I need to be realistic for my circumstances and phase of life (a young family trying to get through grad-school with a 1 year old and a budget). Sometimes I have to use canned soups, and even the occasional freezer meal. I have found that most of the time it is pretty doable to plan for about three meals a week that are more fresh or harder to prepare, and the rest of the time I go for more convenience.
Examples: Grilled cheese and tomato soup; fish, tater tots and green beans
3. When it comes to meat, the Crock Pot is your friend
I hope to improve my meat-cooking skills, but in the mean time, the crock pot is a great way to almost guarantee it will turn out well. Casseroles are simple as well. Also, making use of prepared meats like meatballs and sausages is easier than trying to make the perfect fried chicken or grilled steak (…actually I’ve never even tried to make steak). As far as chicken goes, mine often turns our dry. But recently we discovered that chicken with the skin on stays more moist and my husband really likes it.
Examples: Crock pot chili (ground beef, beans, onions, tomatoes, spices),Casserole (pre-cooked ham or sausage, rice , cream of mushroom soup, onions, cheese), Crock pot sweet and sour meatballs (store-bought sauce, meatballs, green peppers, pineapple)
4. Branch Out with Protein Sources
Meat isn’t the only way to get protein (as we all well know!) Try using legumes, chick peas, quinoa, nuts, peanut butter, tofu? (haven’t done that myself) to mix things up. Add on cheese (to almost anything if you’re my husband); add bacon bits to soups and salads. Canned meats such as tuna, salmon and even chicken can be really helpful.
Also, sometimes instead of doing two main dishes, my husband and I share a main dish but I throw in a protein side for him such as edamame if we are having Asian food like this oriental salad or chow-mein dish.
5. Master the art of the low-protein version
My mom was good at this. I have shared a few examples of this on my blog. When the family had casserole she would make “goop” for me. When they had burritos I got low-protein mexi-rice with all the veggies. The idea is to take the flavor of whatever you are making for the family, and apply it to a food that is lower in protein such as low-protein pasta.
Beef stroganoff | lo-pro stroganoff
Taco Salad with black beans and cheese | lo-pro taco salad
Southwest salad with black beans and cheese | lo-pro southwest salad
Stuffed peppers with beef | stuffed peppers with rice or low-pro rice
So if you are a PKUer cooking for a family of protein-eaters, I hope this has inspired you or given you some good ideas.
What do you like to cook for your family?
This Saturday I went to an awesome event hosted by my PKU clinic at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, sponsored by BioMarin Pharmeceutical Inc.
It was held in a cooking studio called AndyFood. There were a couple presentations followed by a cooking workshop by Chef Andy Broder. I learned some interesting things, got inspired about cooking and met a bunch of awesome people!
One of my favorite parts was hearing from Christine Brown, the Executive Director of the National PKU Alliance. She got us up to date on the latest goings on in research, education, support and advocacy. So much good stuff! One piece of news I found particularly interesting is that soon they will be launching a website specifically geared toward adults. Topics featured will include weight management, bone health, maternal PKU etc. Here is the statement on NPKUA’s webpage:
Plans are underway to create an adult focused website that will serve as the virtual home of the program and a community base for adults with PKU. Conceptually developed by adults with PKU, and specifically geared to the education and social support of PKU Adults, the website will be the only one of its kind. The hope is that this platform will also serve as an educational center for all aspects of adult PKU with educational webinars, short instructional videos, and social networking capabilities.
Andy demonstrated how to make several low-protein dishes and then let us jump in and help in the preparation.
Andy and his Sous-Chef
The most inspiring parts for me were learning of two new ideas for meat subsitutes:
He used this in ministrone soup as well in a stroganoff — shake n’ bake style.
This stuff sort of shreds like pulled pork! So it tasted great in his BBQ pulled jackfruit sliders recipe. I hope to try these myself so look for upcoming blog posts!
Potatoes au gratin with sweet potatoes, low-protein rice, and vegan cheese
Everyone helping out
Grant (resident young PKU super-star) making biscuits!
An awesome couple I met who has an 8-month old baby with PKU. They were smart and got a baby-sitter. :) They are gonna rock low-protein cooking for their son!
Minestrone soup with jicama, other veggies and low-protein rice
This is another restaurant inspiration. I’ll admit, when we were first married, my cooking repertoire was sort of small. When I was single I was ok repeating spaghetti, pasta, tomato soup, etc. But Now that I have a family I like to create variety. I have gradually been collecting more and more recipes that are simple and reasonably healthy. There are plenty of recipes out there of course, but it has taken me time to find the ones that work well for me.
Recently my husband had southwest salad at a buffet we went to, and loved it. So I went home to look up recipes. I soon realized this is one of those recipes that could be really complicated, but doesn’t need to be. Also, it was one that can be easily adapted for my diet, so the work for one meal is making two. That is always nice when you are cooking for both PKU and normal eaters!
So here is my southwest salad recipe:
Onion (could be green, red or white…I had white on hand this time)
Corn (canned or frozen, thawed)
Online I found lots of recipes for different dressings, but I preferred to just go with the quick and easy way of simply mixing BBQ sauce and ranch. It tastes delicious! I would guess I did about 2 parts ranch, 1 part BBQ sauce. (you know me, I’m an estimator)
For your information, for the PROTEIN VERSION I add black beans, possibly canned chicken, and shredded cheese. That’s it! Two versions of one easy, tasty meal.
This is the first time I’ve done anything like this, so I am excited about it! This was freezer jam so it was really easy. Turned out delicious! And there’s nothing better than knowing you made it yourself!
I bought 4 lbs of raspberries in bulk. I actually mashed them up and put them in the freezer for a couple weeks until I had all the tools and time to make the jam.
To make freezer jam you need:
- Pectin (found in the jell-o section)
- Caning jars
- Sauce pan, bowls, spoon/spatulas
- A funnel would be helpful
There are recipes for jam online, but I simply followed the instructions and recipe that came in the pectin packet. For anyone interested I will walk you through my process.
First I had to thaw the raspberries. I put them in the fridge the day before making the jam. Then I just had to stir them a bit once I put them in this bowl.
Washed the jars and lids
The recipe says you can strain half of the berries to get out some seeds. I strained less than half because I didn’t want to run out of raspberries. You have to use the exact amount the recipe calls for. Little PKU shout out– I used my formula can to balance the strainer! :)
Measured out the sugar and stirred it into the raspberries.
Next I had to boil the pectin according to the instructions, and stir that into the raspberry/sugar mixture. I didn’t have a funnel so I used a measuring cup with a pour spout to pour the jam into the jars.
I had to let the jam set for 24 hours. Then I put one can in the fridge and the other three in the freezer.
That’s it! No fancy equipment required.
Oh, and this sweet girl woke up in the middle of the process. She was such a good girl and had some lunch in her high chair while I finished the final step of pouring the jam into the jars.
I have recently started using a different milk for my cereal.
For someone who likes to stick to her routine, this is kind of big. For many years now I have used Mocha Mix non-dairy creamer on my cereal. I still really like mocha mix, but it is expensive and I was getting annoyed with buy two different expensive milks for my husband and I. My husband likes almond milk. Almond milk is pretty low in protein (only 1 g for a whole cup), but I just didn’t like the way it tasted!
So one day I tried this almond coconut blend. It was pretty good but I could still taste the almond loud and clear. But after a week of traveling and drinking almond milk for convenience, I got used to it and this stuff now tastes great to me! It also only has 1 g of protein for a cup. Now we only buy one kind of milk. Yay!
What do you pour on breakfast cereal?
It’s been an exciting week in the kitchen! The day after making zucchini stroganoff I tried my hand at making homemade Cafe Rio for my husband and I. Cafe Rio, for those of you who don’t know, is a very popular and delicious restaurant in Utah, where I lived for 6 years. There are lots of copycat recipes for Cafe Rio out there. I decided to try making some sweet pork for my husband. For myself, I planned on at least making rice, plus the yummy cilantro dressing, and serving it over salad. But ever since ordering an eggplant dish at a Persian restaurant in San Francisco recently, I had been thinking I should experiment with eggplant as a meat substitute. So, thus “Sweet Pork Eggplant” was born! I used the same sauce on the eggplant as on the pork, and it turned out pretty good! And all together it was a delicious meal.
The tomatillo/cilantro dressing recipe is here: Kalyn’s Kitchen [I used canned tomatillos, and buttermilk ranch from the bottle and it was fine]
My rice was inspired by this recipe: Bountiful Kitchen [Instead of using the dressing I just added cilantro and lime juice to the rice] This could easily be done using low-protein rice for a lower Phe count
The sweet pork recipe I used can be found here: Oh, Sweet Basil: Cafe Rio Sweet Pork
It is really simple. It uses root beer, this sauce, and brown sugar. I used much less brown sugar than it called for, and my husband and I were both pleased with the way it tasted. For the sauce, I called my grocery store ahead of time to make sure they had it. The first one I called did not have it, but the second one did, so I was glad I called. I just poured about 3/4 of the pack over the crock pot pork, and used the remaining 1/4 for my eggplant dish.
This was a total experiment, so I really had no idea what I was doing. But this is what I did. Preheated the oven to 425. I greased a 11 x 17 baking dish with butter. I quartered the eggplant. I put the pieces of eggplant in the dish and buttered the tops. I put them in the oven for about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, I mixed the Old El Paso sauce, maybe 1/4 cup root beer and probably 1/3 cup brown sugar in a bowl. After the 8 minutes I pulled out the eggplant and covered them with the sauce.
Then I put them in the oven for another 20 minutes.
Served this over salad, topped with the rice, dressing and crushed chips (the store I was at didn’t have tortilla strips) It was yummy! Overall another cooking success.
Ok I am so excited about this! Lately I have been getting more into cooking. In the past it has been a little stressful for me. This is probably partly because I didn’t have much practice — I simply hadn’t developed the skill very much. But for the most part I think it’s because I was torn between my idealistic desire to eat mostly whole foods, and the reality of being a young, inexperienced, low- budget, convenience-seeking mom cooking for myself with PKU plus a husband with opposite nutritional needs.
I have embraced that I appreciate meals that are easy to cook. Also, the further I get away from my college years, where life is fast-paced and stressful, and happily settle into my slower, (though at times stressful in a whole new way) life as a wife, mother and home-maker I have found more motivation and mental energy to put towards cooking yummy meals. I have taken on trickier recipes and enjoyed it!
So anyway, with this new-found confidence and enjoyment of cooking I was lying awake one night thinking of the crock-pot stroganoff I often make for my husband and how good it smells. Normally when I make that for him I make myself some “goop.” But as I lie awake in bed I decided next time I would try making my own stroganoff…without the beef. The next day this idea developed into using vegetables besides mushrooms. I looked up vegetarian stroganoff and didn’t see one that looked good. But I like zucchini so I thought I’d give it a try. I was really happy with how it turned out!
As a disclaimer, I have a relatively mild case of PKU, plus I am nursing a 1 year old and my levels have been pretty low giving me even more flexibility. This recipe may be a little high in Phe for some PKUers. I still feel it is worth sharing because maybe the idea can inspire a recipe with similar flavor, but suited for your individual needs. For example, maybe the sour cream could be taken out and possibly be replaced with heavy whipping cream.
First step, sautee onions and garlic in olive oil
While those cook slice zucchini
I use Better than Boullion for my beef broth. I got this ready (in the microwave, actually) then added it to the vegetables so the zucchini could soak up that beef flavor
The I added the mushrooms, onion soup mix and cream of mushroom soup. After emptying the cream of mushroom can I just add less than half a can of water to thin it out.
I was so happy with how this meal turned out and it was so fun to have a new flavor on my menu! Also, my husband doesn’t need meat every night so this was his meal too. Besides the separate pasta, I loved having both of our meals in the same pan!
- 1 Tb Olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 cup quartered zucchini
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 cup mushrooms
- 1 (1 oz) packet onion soup mix
- 1 (15 oz) can cream of mushroom soup
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- A least 2 servings Low-protein pasta
- Slice the onions in large slices and sautee in olive oil over medium heat for about 3 minutes
- Add the garlic, turn the heat to low and let the onions cook until they are soft and translucent
- Boil water and cook low-protein pasta of your choice according to package directions
- Return heat to medium, add the quartered zucchini and beef broth and cook until the zucchini becomes softer and you can see the seeds
- Add mushrooms, onion soup mix and cream of mushroom soup. Add less than half a can of water and mix it all together. Cook until everything is warm
- A few minutes before serving stir in the sour cream
- Serve zucchini stroganoff over low-protein pasta
Pineapples were on sale, so I grabbed one. I had no idea how to tell if they were ripe…but this girl in the store actually stopped to fill me in! I was so grateful! You pull off one of the top leaves and if it comes out easily, it’s ripe!
This was also my first time cutting a pineapple, so I watched this handy-dandy video to learn how.
I had some bananas on hand and I had bought a mango as well so I put it all together and served it with dinner. Yum! The fresh pineapple was delicious.