Archive | April, 2014

Breakfast or dessert: Healthy chocolate cherry drop biscuits

24 Apr

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I initially envisioned this as a cookie recipe, however the texture of the result was more akin to a biscuit: just a bit crisp on the outside, and soft and pillowy on the inside. The shape in the image above is cookie-like, but that was a result of me sort of shmooshing the batter into a cookie shape out of stubbornness. I recommend you just drop the batter as the recipe instructs. It will puff a bit, but not really change shape or spread as it bakes. If you really wanted to go nuts and play with shapes, I think it would make a dense, but fantastic, muffin or coffee cake.

The reason for the softer biscuit-y texture I attribute to the proportion of wet to dry ingredients. For the time being I’m continuing to indulge my natural sweetener experimentation, which I only possess in the form of various syrups and liquids. The thing I miss about white sugar is the way it caramelizes when baked. I am eager to try this recipe with dry natural equivalents, like natural maple or date sugar, where the excess water has been removed, leaving only the powdery sugar crystals. However, it is prohibitively expensive for me to play too much with those at the moment. But enough talk…

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Healthy chocolate cherry drop biscuits
My own recipe

Ingredients

¼ c. maple syrup
24 drops liquid stevia
1 c. all natural dried tart cherries, chopped*
½ c. almond meal
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil**
¼ c. 2% plain greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ c. oat flour
¾ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 c. dark chocolate chunks (or nuts if you’d prefer a healthier option)***
2 eggs

* I used a food processor to make almost a cherry paste, which I hoped would add fruit flavor to the overall batter, however it was largely masked, so I’d advise simply chopping so that you retain the flavor of the mixed-in cherry chunks.

**If you’re strongly opposed to a (very slight) olive oil scent/flavor, I think you could omit it entirely, and maybe double the yogurt.

***I will probably get some side-eye for calling these healthy when there’s a cup of chocolate chunks, but look at alllll the other ingredients and tell me, is that so bad??  Plus, as always, I recommend using the darkest chocolate available (I use 72% discs).  In my world that’s a healthy choice.

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

1)Add your maple syrup, chopped cherries, stevia, almond meal, evoo, vanilla, and eggs to a stand mixer with paddle attachment, and mix thoroughly (or by hand if no mixer).
2)Add greek yogurt, baking soda and salt, and mix thoroughly.
3)Add the flour, in small additions, mixing to incorporate.
4)Add chocolate chips and mix to incorporate.
5)Drop by large tablespoonful onto parchment lined baking sheet.
6)Bake for 8-12 minutes until edges start to become a golden color. (watch carefully as the bottoms will be susceptible to burning before the outside).
7)Let cool and enjoy!

If you want just a few at a time, consider freezing the dough, wrapped tightly in plastic, and pressed into a rectangle, cutting off chunks as you need them, and baked according to the same time/temperature. I always do this now, and the batches baked straight from the freezer are almost like scones since they retain their shape and get slightly crisp on the outside while the inside stays soft (Almost underbaked, but in a yummy way. Refrigerate these if you have leftovers).

Sweet snack alternative: Puffed wheat “kettlecorn”

15 Apr

I came upon some puffed wheat cereal in the store and decided to give it a try as a nice whole-grain option for breakfast.  I expected it to be more dense, but it is so light and airy that it immediately reminded me of popcorn.  I was really excited to roll with that and try to put my own spin on it, making a healthier kettlecorn using maple syrup.  The end result makes a yummy snack, but I won’t lie that there was a moment after I finished where I was like “Ohhhh, I just made honey nut cheerios…”.  I could probably just buy honey nut cheerios, but I like to think this is an “elevated” version.

The candy coating on this snack is very minimal, so you don’t get the same kind of clumping that you would expect from caramel corn, which has that satisfying bite to it.  You could definitely play around with the recipe, increasing the coating so that there are more crunchy clumps, with the caveat that the sugar/fat content will go up.  The final result also does not taste strongly of maple, or honey, but rather has a general sweetness that you may or may not prefer.  Regardless, this was a fun experiment, and I think the puffed wheat has a lot of potential in other snack/baking recipes, so I’m excited to keep playing with it.

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Puffed Wheat “Kettlecorn”

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

7-8 cups puffed kamut or puffed durum wheat

1 cup slivered almonds or nuts of choice

1/2 cup pure maple syrup (I also added a drizzle of honey, couldn’t resist)

2 tbsp. butter + 2 tbsp olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 200°F and line a large pan with parchment paper.

2) Pour the puffed wheat and nuts into a large bowl, and set aside.

3) Set a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the maple syrup, butter + EVOO, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a low boil.

4) Cook the mixture to 230°F, thread stage on a candy thermometer. To test this, allow a drop of the syrup to cool, then pull it between two fingers; if it forms a thread between your fingers, it’s ready.

5) Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in vanilla and add the baking soda. Stir thoroughly, the syrup will foam up.

6) Immediately pour the hot syrup over the puffed wheat and pecans, and stir until it is evenly coated.

7) Spread the mixture onto the parchment-lined pan. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15-20 minutes to prevent burning.

8) Remove tray from the oven and allow to cool.  This can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days (if you’re in a high-humidity area, it may or may not lose some of the crunch).

Eat!  This would be a great dry snack at the movies, or even eaten just like any other sweet cereal with milk in the morning.

 

 

Sneak attack: Better for you brownie cake

11 Apr

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I’m on a roll, guys.

I just couldn’t hold back with this one.  I have repeatedly tried to come up with a healthier brownie recipe that is just as swoon-worthy as the not-so-healthy variety, and while some of my attempts have met with success, they never quite achieved the element of swoon I was going for.  Either not sweet enough, or too dense, or just “meh”.  I might have turned the corner with this one though.  I had a hard time deciding whether this fell into the brownie category or the cake category (hence my cop-out hybrid title).  It’s a cake-like brownie, because of how deliciously moist and fluffy it is.  Can’t complain.  In my next attempt I might try playing with the proportions of flour, leavener, and egg, to see if I can get a fudgier consistency.  Another idea is to melt the chocolate chips into the batter instead of mixing them in whole.

Why the sneak attack?  Secret ingredient: BEETS!!  Note that I do not have a natural love of beets.  They will always taste at least a little bit like dirt to me.  But in this recipe, the earthy flavor is totally buried and undetectable, so the beets instead lend only their color (like red velvet cake!), moisture, and nutrients.

Beets and chocolate are not a new combination to the food blogosphere, and several sources helped inspire the idea, however other than the not-so-secret ingredient, this recipe is entirely my own. Others out there look equally delicious, but still include butter or processed sugars, and I wanted to see if I could have success with healthier substitutes. See for yourself!

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Ingredients:

1 c. beet puree (I got this from two medium beets, roasted or boiled until fork tender, and pureed in a blender)*

¼ c. extra virgin olive oil

¼ c. honey (mine was the creamed variety, but I think liquid would be fine)

¼ c. agave

1 tbsp. chia seeds

¼ c. almond meal

16 drops liquid stevia

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

¾ c. oat flour (or whatever flour you have/prefer)

½ c. cocoa

½ c. chocolate chips (Optional, but I can’t resist. Good quality dark chocolate is best, I use a 72% disc that I buy in bulk at a local market)

 

Instructions

1)Prep your beets by roasting or boiling until fork-tender. (This part takes the longest. I left my beets whole and it probably took an hour of boiling, so I’d recommend cutting them in smaller chunks first)

2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

3) Puree the beets in a blender (I had to add a couple splashes of milk to get things going), and measure out a cup. It should be a similar consistency to applesauce.

4) Add the beet puree to a mixing bowl, along with the olive oil, honey, agave, chia seeds, vanilla, stevia, and salt. Stir to combine (I used my KitchenAid).

5) Add the almond meal and eggs. Stir to combine.

6) Add the baking soda, flour and cocoa, a little at a time if necessary, stirring to combine.

7) Stir in chocolate chips (or nuts, etc).

8) Pour into greased pan and bake for 15 – 20 minutes if using a 9 x 13 pan, or 25+ in a smaller pan, until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.*

*I got nervous looking at the amount of batter, and ended up using a 9”x13” pan because I was afraid in a smaller pan the edges would burn before the middle was ready.  This was probably unnecessary. They came out perfect after exactly 18 minutes in my oven, but are on the thin side. Next time I will take my chances on my 8”x8” so I have a thicker final product.

UPDATE April 2014: I made a version of these using sweet potato puree with half a cup of dark chocolate chips melted into the batter (instead of stirred in whole), baked in a 8 x 8 pan for about 25 minutes, and can confirm that these alterations baked well. Texture was not as fudgy as a traditional fudgy brownie, but solidly more brownie than cake, and totally delicious.

What’s for breakfast: DIY energy bars

9 Apr

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Really I like to call this the DIY Bonk Breaker, but I’m afraid to get sued. Don’t sue me, Bonk Breakers, I love you.

I decided to try these recently because I’ve been making an effort to cut back on processed sugars (and on spending money).  I have always had a sweet tooth.  I can sit down and eat an entire bag of candy, or pint of ice cream, or plate of cookies, in a single sitting.  Not just once in awhile, but often.  This started when I was a kid and started making some allowance money and friends and I would go to the 7-11 after school and buy candy (I’m from a small town, we were bored.  At least we weren’t doing drugs).  I became kind of a hoarder of sweets, and still am.  This surprises some people because I am also an athlete who runs and/or bikes 5-6 times a week.  When I’m being active, I need sugars to fuel me, so what I’m really trying to curb is my “off-time” indulgence, when I’m hanging around the apartment, etc.

I’m doing this by limiting my intake to my mostly own baked goods and confections, using natural sweeteners with a lower glycemic index.  As with fats, America’s relationship to sugar is complicated, and it’s hard to parse the research.  Start looking at labels on the store bought food you buy, and you’ll see that added sugar is in practically everything, so I’m trying to be more conscientious.  At the end of the day, not all sugar is created equal (sucrose/glucose/maltose/whatever are broken down differently in your body), but sugar is still sugar and should be consumed in moderation.   Anyway, on to business…

The first step in this recipe (for locals) is: go to Sahadi’s.  Their bulk food section is a magical place, and one of the reasons I may never leave Brooklyn.  This recipe was (lightly) adapted from the beautiful Minimalist Baker blog recipe, which uses only 5 ingredients.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup packed dates (pitted) + 1/2 cup dried cherries or other dried fruit of choice (look for all-natural, no added sugar)

1/4 cup honey or maple syrup or agave, or combination

1/4 cup all-natural peanut butter (add ¼ tsp salt if unsalted)

1 cup raw unsalted almonds, loosely chopped

1 1/2 cups rolled oats (I use quick-cooking)

Optional add-ins:  1 scoop protein powder of choice (I use vanilla whey protein and it’s tolerable but somewhat overpowers the overall flavor), other kinds of nuts, vanilla extract, sunflower seeds, chia seeds (I usually add 2-3 tbsp), raw cacao nibs (I add another couple tbsp, for crunch), flaked coconut, toasted oats, etc.  The recipe is very forgiving so you can adjust ingredients pretty freely if you stick to similar proportions of wet/dry.

These are no-bake bars, but you’ll need a food processor*.
Instructions:

1. If the dates don’t feel sticky and moist, soak them in warm water for 10 minutes and drain.

2. Meanwhile, process your oats and almonds together to grind them more finely, which should take less than a minute (this part is optional, but the finer grain helps keep the bars from being crumbly and really closely matches the softer dough-like consistency of a bonk breaker). Add to a mixing bowl.

3. Add your drained dates (and other dried fruits, if using) to the processor, and process until only small bits remain (a minute or so). Should be very sticky and dough-y.  Add to the oat/almond mixture, along with the PB, honey (or other natural sweetener), and any other optional ingredients.

4. Mix either by hand (have fun with that), or with a stand mixture and paddle attachment.

5. Once thoroughly mixed, transfer to an 8×8 dish.

6. Press down very firmly until densely packed and level.  Set in ‘fridge or freezer for 15-20 minutes to firm up.

7. Cut into 6 even bars or serving size of choice**.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week (room temp is probably fine if just for a few days).

*If you don’t have a food processor and are very determined, you can try chopping the dates/fruit as finely as possible.  Your end result will be less doughy and potentially crumbly, so make sure to press into the pan firmly, or add a bit more PB/honey for hold.

**I’ve been increasing this recipe by 50% and it’s my breakfast for a week.  At that serving size, it’s a lot of calories, but it’s a whole meal (most important meal of the day!), and keeps me full all morning.

Nutrition breakdown, for the recipe and generous serving size given above (approximated):

325 calories
7 g fiber
13 g fat
9 g protein (even without protein powder)
48 g carbohydrate
28 g sugars

How it stacks up against a Bonk Breaker:

Very similar texture.  Main difference is the protein source.  This recipe gets most of it’s protein from nuts, which makes it higher in total fat (but still low in saturated fat).  Bonk Breakers use rice protein isolate, brown rice flour, etc, which I haven’t gotten my hands on yet. This recipe is also high in fiber, so depending on what you’re used to, you may want to limit your intake during exercise. They also have a decent amount of sugar, although as natural sweeteners they come with a few nutrients and are lower on the glycemic index, compared to table sugar.  It’s still less than what’s in a bottle of Gatorade, and not much more than a large apple.

Butter: Bad Headline, Good News

8 Apr

My foodie friend and soul sister at over at Brayfood.wordpress.com has some must-read insight on butter and the complex issues around our oft-misguided feelings towards fat.

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“Butter is Back” Mark Bittman (or one of his editors at the NYT) proclaimed in the headline of a recent Op-ed, which jolted people into internet activism last week (otherwise known as commenting/sharing/liking). Based on a recent review of studies on the effects of saturated fat on heart disease in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Bittman concluded that it was time people stopped fearing fat, and swap their margarine for the real deal. This sparked a wave of criticism from the medical community, the margarine industry, and the American Heart Association among others.

The problem is most readers seem to miss the mark on the underlying point of the article. If you read the the whole article it is obvious Bittman is  not promoting slathering butter on your bacon, rather he is saying butter (and fat in general) are not bad for you in moderation, especially when they come from…

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