Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer Vegetable Lasagna

It was really too hot to cook today, but my friend had given me some beautiful, organically-grown summer squash from her garden and I desperately wanted to make this recipe. Luckily, it cooks in a dish just the right size to fit inside my toaster oven, so we didn't cook while it did! This is the time of year when zucchini are plentiful in the garden or readily available at the farm stand, so I assembled two lasagnas and froze one for some busy day in the future. (If you do the same, wrap well to prevent freezer burn. Also, to cook from frozen add another 30 minutes to the cooking time.)

Lasagna may sound difficult, but the "no-boil" noodles available make it super easy. You can find them next to the regular lasagna noodles in your grocery. They're thinner than the boiled variety, which is perfect for someone looking to reduce their carbs. Also, use whatever vegetables you have on hand to create your own version and enjoy this wonderful, comforting meal at any time of year!

Summer Vegetable Lasagna
(Serves 6)

1 (10 oz.) package of frozen chopped spinach (thaw or microwave for 5 minutes)
15 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon basil, dried (or 1 teaspoon fresh, chopped)
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 cups No sugar added spaghetti sauce (I use Hunt’s brand)
1 teaspoon Italian herbs, dried
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 no boil lasagna noodles (I use Barilla)
1½ cups zucchini, quartered and sliced thin
1½ cups summer squash, quartered and sliced thin
1 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees. Spray an 8" x 8" glass baking dish with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

2. If spinach is frozen, place in microwave-safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Place spinach in strainer and press out as much liquid as possible using the back of a spoon. If still warm from microwave, allow to cool for 15 minutes before proceeding.

3. Place cooled and drained spinach in a medium mixing bowl. Add ricotta cheese, Parmesan, nutmeg, pepper, basil and egg. Mix together with a fork until well combined; set aside.

4. To the spaghetti sauce, add the Italian herbs and garlic and stir to combine. Measure ¾ cup of the sauce into the baking dish and spread to coat the bottom. Lay two no-boil lasagna noodles side-by-side on top of the sauce. Spread ½ of the ricotta-spinach mixture over the noodles, being sure to spread mixture to edges of dish. Top with 1½ cups sliced squashes and distribute equally. Measure 6 tablespoons sauce over vegetables and spread to edges of dish. Sprinkle evenly with ¼ cup mozzarella.

5. On top of the cheese, lay two more lasagna noodles side-by-side, but going in the opposite direction than the first layer. Top with remaining ricotta-spinach mixture and the remaining sliced vegetables. Measure another 6 tablespoons of sauce over vegetables and spread to edges of dish. Sprinkle evenly with another ¼ cup mozzarella.

6. For the final layer, lay the last two lasagna noodles side-by-side, but again going in the opposite direction from the layer before. Top noodles with remaining sauce and sprinkle evenly with remaining ½ cup mozzarella cheese. (Note: Noodles will puff up during cooking, so you’ll want at least ½-inch free at top of dish to allow for this expansion.)

7. Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray and cover tightly. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 5-10 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving to allow the filling to set.

Nutritional Information per serving (1/6th of recipe): 329 calories, 28.2 g carbohydrate, 13.9 g total fat, 7.2 g saturated fat, 4.4 g fiber, 22.4 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

How does this recipe compare to traditional lasagna? This lasagna is considerably lower in calories, carbohydrates and fats. For comparison, the lunch-size portion of traditional meat lasagna at a well-known Italian restaurant (only 4" x 4½" slice) is an astonishing 858 calories, 54 g carbohydrate, 47.4 g fat, 5 g fiber, 54 g protein.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Artificial & Alternative Sweeteners

I am often asked which sweetener I use and would recommend. First, I’ll say that I’ve tried almost all of them! Right now, in my house, I have several sweeteners that I use in various ways, but my all-time, most dependable favorite is Stevia. I buy it by the large bagful and have dedicated a canister to it on my kitchen counter. Through experimentation, I’ve discovered that it is stable in cooking if the heat isn't too high (350-degrees or below) and will sustain its sweet flavor over a long period. When I need an extremely low-carb and calorie sweetener, this is the brand I turn to almost exclusively. Below is a review of the sweeteners I have used and for what purpose:

Artificial Sweeteners
1. Splenda is sucralose and comes in a granular form or various blends for baking. It's safety classification has been changed by the Center for Science in the Public Safety from "generally considered safe" to "caution."  The reason is because new studies have shown that there is a chemical transformation that occurs when heated that creates dioxins, which are toxic and can be harmful to health.  Also, there may be a link to certain health conditions, including insulin resistance, diabetes and may negatively impact the microbiome, reducing beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.  This once was my artificial sweetener of choice, but after the recent findings, I no longer use it or recommend it.  To read more, please visit: http://www.drfranklipman.com/artificial-sweetener-splenda-linked-with-toxic-dioxin-production/
 Nutritional Information per teaspoon: 2 calories, 0.5 g carbohydrate.

2. Sweet-N-Low is a mixture of saccharin, dextrose and cream of tartar. It is best used for sweetening desserts that are not cooked or added to beverages. It has a slight bitter aftertaste and is not stable in heated foods and will eventually lose its sweetening power over time when heated. It comes in a very sweet powder or liquid. In my house, it is used to sweeten my husband’s coffee only. He prefers it over Stevia because one packet will sweeten his tall mug of coffee where two Stevia packets would be required. I never use it in cooking and don't recommend it. Nutritional Information per packet: 2 calories, 0.5 g carbohydrate.

3. Equal is a mixture of aspartame, dextrose and maltodextrin and has many of the same properties as Sweet-N-Low. It comes in packets and also in a dispensable form that can be used in cooking that can be measured 1:1 in recipes like regular sugar. It should never be used alone in baking, but can replace up to half of regular sugar. It is not stable in heated foods and will eventually lose its sweetening power over time when heated, so for that reason I don’t use it in cooking. It has a slight aftertaste which seems to intensify when heated, but is not as unpleasant as Sweet-N-Low.  There has been much negative press about aspartame and its impact on health.  I do not use it or recommend it. Nutritional Information per teaspoon: 4 calories, 0.5 g carbohydrate.

4. Sugar Alcohols are widely being used in processed and prepared sugar-free products, such as baked goods, puddings and candy. Xylitol is a form available for home use. As with most sugar alcohols, consumption can result in bloating, diarrhea, and odorous flatulence, although xylitol generally rather less so than other sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol or maltitol. Because I experience these uncomfortable and socially embarrassing side effects when having consumed even the slightest amount of sugar alcohol, I never use them or eat any product made from them. Many people can tolerate sugar alcohols at first but, over time, will eventually succumb to the side effects and no longer be able to eat them without discomfort. I have listed it here to warn others who might be saying, “I get sick when I eat any artificial sweeteners.” Check the nutritional label on your food products (don’t just look on the front of the box). Most often you will discover that these sugar alcohols are the real culprit, not all artificial sweeteners. Also, “sugar-free” products that use sugar alcohols for sweetening are not carb free. Maltitol, xylitol and the other sugar alcohols (usually ending in “itol”) do count toward your total carb intake of the product. When you’re counting carbs, you have to count the sugar alcohols by half. So, if the nutritional information says it has 12 grams of sugar alcohol in a serving, you need to count 6 as part of the total carbs. Nutritional Information per teaspoon: 2 calories, 2.4 g carbohydrate.

5. Stevia was once only available in health food stores in the supplement section, but it is now being manufactured in the USA and has become available in the sugar section of your grocery. It can be found under the brand names Truvia, SweetLeaf, SteviaPlus, Stevia in the Raw (and others) and available in packets, granular or liquid. It’s the topic of a lot of conversation and spouted as the natural alternative to those wishing to stay away from artificial sweeteners. It is labeled “natural” because it is extracted from the stevia plant, but it is processed and manufactured in a way that isn’t exactly natural, meaning it is derived from a natural source and being used in its natural state, so it falls in a weird category. (NOTE: Some brands combine it with Erythritol, which is a sugar alcohol. When compared with other sugar alcohols, it is much more difficult for intestinal bacteria to digest, so it is unlikely to cause gas or bloating. Although if consumed in larger quantities or if you have a sensitivity to sugar alcohols, it is possible to experience digestive disturbances. Also, allergic side effects can be itching with hives, so be aware and check the food label on the package.) Stevia can be an excellent alternative to other artificial sweeteners, especially for sweetening beverages and in recipes that don’t require high heat cooking. Unfortunately, even though it is a zero calorie sweetener, it is not the “magic” sugar substitute for every purpose because it has proven to be unstable in recipes cooked at temperatures over about 350-degrees Fahrenheit and will lose its sweetening power over time when heated. Also, some people complain of an aftertaste, similar to aspartame or saccharin. I don’t notice an aftertaste especially when combined with raw honey or table sugar in cooking.  Currently, this is the no-carb sweetener I use and recommend.  I use the drops in beverages and some recipes.  If bulk is needed, I use the granular.  Whenever possible, purchase organic stevia.  Nutritional Information per packet or drop: 0 calories, 0 g carbohydrate.

Alternative Natural Sweeteners

1. Fructose is the type of sugar found in fruits and high-sugar produce or plants, such as corn or agave. After processing, the result is either a sweet liquid or granulated sugar that has been clinically shown to have a lower glycemic response in the body than regular table sugar. This is not to say it is calorie or carb-free, because it is not. Because fructose is usually 25% to 30% sweeter than sugar, you can use less in recipes and maintain the same level of sweetness. The fact that you can cut the amount by ¼ to 1/3 is about the only advantage of using fructose in place of sugar. The final carb count may be slightly less, but your blood sugar will be raised significantly compared to artificial sweeteners. Recently there has been some controversy about fructose contributing to metabolic syndrome, which is very often a condition that T2 diabetics are afflicted with and can lead to many health concerns, including heart disease and high blood pressure. Personally, I avoid fructose (unless I'm eating fresh fruit or vegetables) and will not buy a product if it lists High Fructose Corn Syrup on the label. Nutritional Information per teaspoon: 15 calories, 4 g carbohydrate.

2. Due to its increase in popularity, I would like to discuss Agave Nectar, which can be found in most health food stores and is being added as a natural alternative sweetener to many prepared products these days. For diabetics, it is not the miracle sweetener because it does contain high amounts of carbohydrate (16 per tablespoon) and will raise your blood sugar quite a bit. It is fructose extracted from the agave plant and processed into a light or dark liquid, similar to honey but not as thick. It is 25% sweeter than sugar, so you can use ¼ less in a recipe and still maintain the same level of sweetness. Because it is a fructose, the same health concerns apply to agave nectar as to high fructose corn syrup and other fructose sweetening products. Nutritional Information per teaspoon: 20 calories, 5.3 g carbohydrate.

3. A new arrival on the scene is Yacon syrup. It is extracted and condensed from fresh yacon roots, a South American plant found in the Amazon region, and has a taste similar to molasses. Like agave, it is much sweeter than sugar so you can use less in recipes. It has a carbohydrate count of 6 grams per tablespoon, so it considerably less than agave. It is nutritionally known as a prebiotic. It contains inulin, an indigestible sugar (mainly fructose) that passes through the body essentially unrecognized and is broken down in the intestines and stimulates the activity of "good" bacteria in the digestive system. It must be noted that this process can cause some digestive symptoms in some people, such as bloating and gas, especially if consumed in larger quantities. It is best to experiment with small quantities to see how your body reacts before consuming larger amounts or using in recipes. Currently this product is hard to find and can be purchased on the internet or at Whole Foods. It is expensive, usually costing $10 or more for an 8 ounce jar! Due to its recent appearance, not much is available yet on how diabetics have responded to this product, although looking at the nutritional information and the fact that is fructose, I probably will not use it. I have purchased this product and have used it in tea and the flavor is pleasant. Due to the high cost, I don't believe it will be a staple in my pantry. Nutritional Information per teaspoon: 8.3 calories, 2 g carbohydrate.

4. Whey Low is another new line of alternative sweetener products to hit the scene. There is one type being advertised as suitable for diabetics, called Whey Low D granular. It is a combination of fructose and lactose (milk sugar) said to produce a lower glycemic response compared to 100% regular table sugar. I have used this product and have experienced a significant rise in my blood glucose. Also, it contains as much carbohydrate as regular sugar (4 grams per teaspoon or 96 grams per ½ cup), so I’m not sure I believe their claims. The one good difference between Whey Low and regular sugar is that it is reduced in calories, so using it can reduce the caloric count of the final product. In the recipes in which I've used it, the texture was a bit gritty, as if the sugar didn’t dissolve completely, which I found strange and a bit unpleasant. Also, it doesn’t easily dissolve in beverages (which probably explains the grittiness in my cupcakes). I don't recommend it because it is difficult to find and was not pleased with its performance. Nutritional Information per teaspoon: 5 calories, 4 g carbohydrate.

5. Honey is indeed a natural sweetener that is more dense and sweeter than regular table sugar, so you generally use less. If only a small amount is called for, it can be a good alternative, even though it does contribute carbohydrate to the final product. One tablespoon is 17.3 grams of carbohydrate (or 135.2 grams per ½ cup), which can add up quickly when used in quantity in recipes. The cautionary advice I would recommend is use it in moderation or small amounts.  Currently I use Wild Raw Honey sparingly or in combination with Stevia and am very pleased.   Nutritional Information per teaspoon: 21.3 calories, 5.7 g carbohydrate.

6. Let’s not forget table sugar. It is sucrose and primarily comes from sugar beets or sugar cane. It's chemical makeup is about 50% glucose and 50% fructose.  It is a basic food carbohydrate and immediately turns to glucose in the body. It needs to be limited in a diabetic’s diet because it can cause havoc on blood glucose when consumed in even moderate amounts at one sitting. But since we all know that ordinary white granulated sugar is the product everyone is trying to emulate, it is good for us to look at it for comparison. Nutritional information per teaspoon: 16 calories, 4.2 g carbohydrate.

The bottom line…
If you are diabetic and want to include an occasional sweet treat in your diet, most likely you will have to include some artificial sweetener in the recipe to reduce the carbohydrates and minimize the effect on your blood glucose. If going natural is your desire, before you choose a sweetener with carbohydrate, test to see how your blood glucose responds—don’t just guess, make assumptions or take anyone else’s advice. It is important to know how the product reacts in your body. The way to test is to dissolve about 4 tablespoons of the product in water and, first thing in the morning before eating anything or taking medication, test your fasting blood glucose level and record. Drink the mixture all at once and take a BG reading after 15 minutes and record. Thereafter, take your BG reading every 30 minutes for 2 hours to see what effect the sweetener has on your blood sugar readings. If you experience a significant rise, that particular sweetener should be limited in your diet or only eaten in small amounts.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Roasted Nut Butter & Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yesterday my daughter said, "Mom, do you know those cookies you made? You have to make some more. They were so good!" That was quite a compliment, considering she's not diabetic and can eat any kind of dessert or cookie she wants. (To view recipe, see my earlier post Vanilla Sugared Almond Cookies.) But instead of making the same recipe, today I decided to experiment with other ingredients and the fabulous result is only 5.3 net grams of carbohydrate per cookie...and that includes chocolate!

This recipe was inspired by all the delicious roasted nut butters available nowadays. I could have used almond butter, cashew, sunflower, pumpkin seed or hazelnut butter, but my daughter's all-time favorite is peanut butter. It's classic to combine chocolate and peanut butter, but I invite you to get adventurous and try this recipe with other, more exotic flavors. The almond flour is made from raw, blanched almonds and is mild enough not to compete with the more intense flavor of a nut butter. The nice part is that it will add oil to the dough, so you can get by using less dairy butter, which means less saturated fat and more fiber and protein. I suggest using 73% cocoa or higher dark chocolate chips because they bring a big chocolate taste (and less sugar) to this cookie, even though there's only ½ cup in the whole recipe. I purchase mine at Whole Foods or rough chop a dark chocolate bar, which may be more readily available in your grocery. Look in the candy aisle or the displays near the register.

Roasted Nut Butter & Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Makes 32 cookies)

1 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
½ cup Splenda, granular (not baking blend)
5 tablespoons butter, softened
¼ cup nut butter (Choose your favorite. If natural, stir before measuring.)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup dark chocolate chips (73% cocoa or higher, rough chopped or use mini chunks)

1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar and Splenda together with a handheld or standing mixer until sugars combine with butter. Add the nut butter of your choice and beat until mixture is creamy and light. Add egg and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes until well incorporated and slightly thickened.

4. All at once, add the dry ingredients and, with a wooden spoon, stir until flour is well incorporated and a soft dough forms. Fold in chocolate chips.

5. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (or not quite level small cookie scoop) about 2 inches apart onto cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with hand, bottom of glass or criss-cross with a fork. Bake until set and beginning to brown around the edges, about 8-10 minutes. Cookies will not brown much, so watch carefully and do not overbake. Remove immediately to wire rack and cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Nutritional Information per cookie: 80.4 calories, 6.3 g carbohydrates, 5.4 g total fat, 1.3 g saturated fat, 1 g fiber, 1.8 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

How does this compare to a traditional Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookie? My recipe is much lower in calories and carbohydrates, lower in fats and higher in fiber and protein. For comparison, the average nutritional information for the same size cookie made from a traditional recipe is 134 calories, 18 g carbohydrates, 7 g total fat, 0.5 g fiber, 1 g protein.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus & Cucumber Sandwich

I remember my grandmother loved toast made from Pepperidge Farm Very Thin Sandwich bread (white, of course). It was released as a low-calorie, low-carb alternative for the first low-carbers when Dr. Atkin's began the craze in the 1970's. Well, after falling out of favor for about 20 years, it took an obesity epidemic to prove his reduced-carb diet plan was essentially sound for many people dealing with diet-related diseases, such as T2 diabetes. Thankfully, more bread companies are paying attention to the healthy eating trend currently going on in the country. A couple of companies have recently come out with some delicious and convenient 100-calorie, high fiber rolls that can be used for sandwiches or hamburgers. I am aware of two brands right now, but if they become popular, then others will follow soon. In your grocery, look for Pepperidge Farm Deli Flats or Arnold's Sandwich Thins. They come in white, whole wheat, multi grain or rye! All varieties average around 20 grams carbohydrate and 5 grams fiber (a net carb count of 15 grams).

I can't claim this sandwich recipe as my own, but I can claim it as one of my favorites. I'd forgotten about it until recently when my daughter added the ingredients to a shopping list, and now I've had three this week! The flavored hummus packs a nice punch, while the cucumber adds a cool and satisfying crunch. Add a salad for a nice lunch or it stands alone as great afternoon snack.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus & Cucumber Sandwich
(Makes 1)

1 thin sandwich roll (see brand suggestions above)
2 tablespoons roasted red pepper hummus
5 slices cucumber
1 slice Colby-jack cheese
Baby lettuce or green leaf lettuce

1. If desired, toast sandwich roll. Spread with hummus and top with cheese, cucumber and lettuce. Enjoy!

Nutritional Information per serving: 224 calories, 26.7 g carbohydrates, 10 g total fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 5.8 g fiber, 10.1 g protein.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Vanilla Sugared Almond Cookies

I dare anyone to guess that this is a low-carb, diet cookie—it's that good! It is my variation of a Snickerdoodle, which is normally rolled in cinnamon-sugar. Instead I roll the top in Sugar-free Vanilla "Sugar" made with Splenda before baking (see my earlier post for recipe). The flecks of vanilla bean in the "sugar" and the addition of the dark brown sugar in the dough add a warm color and their own special flavors to this delicate, slightly caramel, buttery cookie. Have some with a cup of tea in the afternoon and you'll want to adhere to that British custom always!

Vanilla Sugared Almond Cookies(Makes 24 cookies)

1 cup almond flour (or finely ground blanched almonds)
¼ cup coconut flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ cup Splenda granular (not baking blend)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ tablespoons sugar-free Vanilla "Sugar" (made with Splenda, click to see recipe)

1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a small mixing bowl, mix together flours, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt; set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, cream together sugars and butter with handheld or standing mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg, canola oil, vanilla extract and continue beating until well blended and thickened slightly.

4. With a wooden spoon, stir in dry ingredients. Shape dough by rounded teaspoon into balls. Dip ½ ball into vanilla "sugar" and place sugar-side up about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with hand, bottom of glass or decorated shortbread cookie press. Bake until set, about 8-10 minutes. Cookies will not brown much, except around edges, so watch carefully and do not overbake. Immediately remove from cookie sheet onto wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Nutritional Information per cookie: 63.7 calories, 6.4 g carbohydrates, 3.8 g total fat, 1.7 g saturated fat, 1 g fiber, 1.7 g protein.
Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009
How does this compare to a similar bakery cookie? This recipe is significantly lower in calories and carbohydrates, lower in fats and higher in fiber. For comparison, approximately the same size Snickerdoodle (about ½ of a bakery-size cookie) is 140 calories, 22 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 0.5 g fiber, 2 g protein.

Sugar-free Vanilla "Sugar"

You probably already know or have heard about Vanilla Sugar. Gourmets use it in their dessert dishes to add a boost of vanilla (and elegance) to their special recipes. It's extremely easy to make in a sugar-free version. I keep it in my cupboard and use it often in my recipes. This is all you do:

Sugar-free Vanilla "Sugar"

1 cup of Splenda granular (not the baking blend)
1 vanilla bean

1. Measure Splenda into a food processor. Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using your knife, scrape the seeds from the pod and place in food processor.

2. Pulse until vanilla seeds are blended and well distributed throughout the Splenda. Store in an airtight container. For more intense vanilla flavor, place scraped out pod into the mixture during storage. Will keep for 6 months or more at room temperature.

Nutritional Information per teaspoon: 2 calories, 0.5 g carbohydrate

Some ideas for using Vanilla Sugar:
  • Instead of cinnamon toast, make vanilla toast. Spread room temperature butter on whole wheat bread, sprinkle with vanilla sugar and toast until bubbly and bread begins to brown. (Do not place in an upright toaster! Toast bread while flat, such as in a toaster oven or on a baking sheet in oven.)
  • Stir into coffee or tea.
  • Mix with ricotta or cottage cheese and spread on pancakes and top with fresh berries, instead of using syrup. This is a nice brunch item or afternoon snack.
  • Sprinkle on fresh berries, banana or apple slices.
  • Use in sweet recipes to replace some or all of the sugar.
  • Sprinkle on oatmeal, muesli or unsweetened cereal for breakfast.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Farmer's Market Vegetable & Bean Pot Pie

This time of year I sometimes go overboard buying fresh vegetables at the nearby farm stand. I guess when you live in the northeast, where winters are so long and the growing season so short, you get a little excited when you finally see lots of fresh, green things sprouting up all around you! This was the case this week. I had a refrigerator overflowing with more vegetables than I could possibly eat and had to use them before they spoiled.

Most store-bought pot pies, even the vegetable variety, are beyond the limits of a diabetic's diet because of the double crust and the over-abundance of potatoes. Not so with this recipe! I've included a few potatoes to disguise the fact that most of the white, starchy-looking chunks are turnip. (They look and so closely resemble the taste and texture of potatoes, my family never even suspected!) The base of this pot pie is a creamy, delicious mixture of vegetables and beans as thick as a stew, then topped with golden, flaky layers of phyllo to give it that distinctive pot pie crust. The beans provide protein and fiber, while adding creaminess and more substance to truly make this a satisfying meal.

Farmer’s Market Vegetable & Bean Pot Pie
(Makes 6 servings)

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
6 cups of low-carb vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces (use a combination of 1 or 2 zucchini, 3 small turnips, 1 or 2 yellow squash, 1 cup broccoli florets, 1 leek or whatever you have on hand)
2 or 3 small red potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces with skin (about ½ cup)
salt & pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs of fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 ¼ cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 can cannellini beans (15 oz.), drained and rinsed
½ cup peas, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons fat-free ½ & ½
6 sheets of phyllo dough (can be purchased in the frozen section of grocery)
1 tablespoon olive oil for brushing between layers of dough
3 teaspoons of freshly grated Parmesan, if desired

1. In a dutch oven or large pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat and add onion, carrots and celery. Add a little salt and pepper and cook until vegetables begin to soften. Add the 6 cups of vegetables, 1 more tablespoon olive oil, bay leaf and thyme and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften and have taken on some color.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Add flour and stir to coat vegetables; stir and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly add stock, stirring constantly until flour and stock has blended and has started to thicken into a sauce. Reduce heat further to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally until vegetables are almost, but not quite, cooked through. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350-degrees.

3. Remove from heat and add beans and peas. Add the fat-free ½ & ½ and stir to combine. Remove bay leaf and thyme stems (leaves should have fallen off). Check seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Divide mixture into individual oven-proof dishes or pour into one large casserole dish.

4. If using individual serving dishes, take one sheet of phyllo dough, cut into four rectangles and lay one rectangle on top of one of the dishes, tucking in corners of dough to fit. Coat lightly with olive oil (or use a pump oil sprayer, such as Misto). Top with another small rectangle and repeat with oil. If desired, sprinkle ½ teaspoon of grated Parmesan cheese and/or pepper, then repeat layering of dough and oil with remaining two small rectangles, ending with a light brushing of oil on the top. Follow the same procedure for the remaining dishes. (If using one large casserole dish, do not cut phyllo, but lay one sheet on top of the casserole dish filled with vegetables and coat lightly with oil. Repeat with remaining five sheets of dough ending with a light coating of oil on the top.)

5. Place individual dishes on a baking sheet (not necessary if using large casserole). Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until top is golden brown and crispy. Cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information per serving: 219.8 calories, 33 g carbohydrates, 7.5 g total fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 5.2 g fiber, 8 g protein.

Variation: Use a can of black beans and add chili powder, cumin and a few dashes of hot sauce to create a spiced up Mexican version.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

How does this compare with a store-bought Pot Pie? If you thought eating one of those store-bought pot pies was healthy because it was vegetable, think again! For comparison, one serving made by a well-known vegetarian food company is a whopping 420 calories, 54 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 4 g fiber, 9 g protein.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Asparagus in Parmesan & Pepper Phyllo Bags

It used to be that every time I saw the words "phyllo dough" in a cookbook, I'd immediately turn the page. I always assumed it was tricky to use or the recipe would be too difficult. Finally, one day, I courageously went outside my comfort zone and gave it a try...and found out that it was EASY and FUN! Honestly, it's hard to make a mistake with phyllo because it is a very forgiving dough, even though it's paper thin. Handle it carefully and, if it tears a little bit, just keep going. The typical way it's used requires several layers of the dough, which conveniently covers up any mistakes or torn places.

This recipe is an entertaining way to eat vegetables and your kids will love the crunchy "bag!" (These little, flavorful bundles look like fresh asparagus sticking out of the grocery bag.) They are equally delicious as either an appetizer or side dish.

Asparagus in Parmesan & Pepper Phyllo Bags
(Makes 8 appetizers)

8 sheets of phyllo dough (in freezer section of grocery)
24 spears of asparagus (thin as possible)
4 deli ham slices, very thinly sliced (prosciutto or turkey may be substituted)
¼ cup olive oil mixed with 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder (or use garlic flavored oil)
4 teaspoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees and line cookie sheet with parchment paper (or spray with non-stick cooking spray). Follow the directions on the package to thaw and handle phyllo dough.

2. Lay one slice of phyllo so that a long side is toward you (like an open book). Using a pastry brush, dab olive oil on the left side, as if you’re putting oil on the left page of the open book. Coverage should be quite thin and it is not necessary to completely cover in oil, just dab lightly. (Tip: If you have a pump oil sprayer, such as Misto, it can make this step easier; do not over do it, mist lightly.) Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon Parmesan and freshly ground pepper to taste. Take remaining side and close over oiled and seasoned side (as if you’re closing the book).

3. Turn dough clockwise so that a long side is toward you. Again, dab lightly with oil. Take three spears of asparagus and snap off tough, woody ends. Holding all three spears in your hand, wrap the lower half of the bundle with ½ slice of ham, leaving the tips uncovered.

4. Lay asparagus/ham bundle on the left side of the phyllo dough about 1” from end so the tips extend above dough rectangle (see diagram below). Roll lower portion of asparagus/ham bundle inside dough by first folding 1” flap over asparagus (see #1 in diagram); then fold up excess dough from bottom over stems (see #2 in diagram); finally continue rolling across remaining dough until completely encased (with tips exposed at top of “bag”).
5. Place on baking sheet with seam side down. Brush top of dough and exposed asparagus tips with a little more oil. Repeat procedure with remaining ingredients until you have created eight asparagus bags.

6. Bake for 20 minutes, turning after 15 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information (per piece): 98 calories, 8.8 g carbohydrates, 5.5 g total fat, 0.4 g saturated fat, 0.2 g fiber, 4.3 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sugar-free Lemon Squares on Almond Shortbread

Lemons are sunshine on this rainy day! Actually, this sunny fruit any day makes it a happy one. They are my favorite dessert ingredient and Lemon Squares rank near the top of my list of lemony treats. Even though their preparation is a two-step process (first you bake the crust), all the steps are very easy and take minimal effort. This cookie bar is extremely low-carb because almond flour replaces the regular high-carb wheat flour in the crust, which adds flavor and heart-healthy Vitamin E and monounsaturated fats. The use of Splenda instead of sugar performs perfectly in this recipe, further reducing the carbs until the final result is a tiny 4 net carbs per serving! Have a cup of tea, relax and enjoy....

My Sugar-free Lemon Squares on Almond Shortbread
Makes 12 servings

For crust
1 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup Splenda granular (not baking blend)
¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into several pieces
2 teaspoons canola oil

For filling
2 eggs
¾ cup Splenda granular (not baking blend)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (or more if you like it tart)
¼ teaspoon baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Prepare an 8” x 8” baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, measure almond flour, 2 teaspoons flour, salt, Splenda, lemon zest and mix together with a fork. Add cold butter and, using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter into flour mixture until the butter is well distributed and mixture looks like coarse crumbs. One teaspoon at a time, drizzle canola oil over mixture and stir in using a fork. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of the baking pan and bake for 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, make filling: Put eggs and Splenda into a medium mixing bowl and beat briskly with a wire whisk for about 1 minute until light yellow and slightly thickened. Add the flour, lemon juice, lemon zest and baking powder and beat until well incorporated. Pour over crust and return to oven to bake for 20 minutes or until set and edges begin to brown. Remove to wire rack and cool completely. Optional: Dust lightly with 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar before serving.

Nutritional Information per serving (1/12th of recipe): 109 calories, 5 g carbohydrates, 9 g total fat, 2.3 g saturated fat, 1 g fiber, 3.1 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

How does this compare with a traditional Lemon Square recipe? My recipe is far lower in carbohydrates and calories. Also, it has less saturated fat, more fiber and protein. Even though it is higher in total fat, because of the almond flour, my recipe is rich in Vitamin E and monounsaturated fat, which are good for your heart and overall health. For comparison, the nutritional information for the same size Lemon Square made from a traditional recipe is 165 calories, 25.7 g carbohydrates, 6.6 g total fat, 3.75 g saturated fat, 0.3 g fiber, 2.2 g protein.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Stuffed & Roasted Tomato Margherita Salad

I love the combination of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese in traditional Caprese salad. This is a delicious twist on that classic that mimics my favorite Margherita pizza with the added fresh basil. In each bite, you'll taste the rich, creamy mozzarella with the smoky flavor of the roasted tomato and crunchy seasoned breadcrumbs - yum! I eat it slow with my eyes closed to truly experience this heavenly mix of flavors and textures. This recipe can be enjoyed by one person for lunch or share it with a friend to accompany a meal.

My Stuffed & Roasted Tomato Margherita Salad
(Makes 1 lunch-size serving or 2 side dish servings)

1 ripe tomato (I prefer a plum tomato)
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 minced garlic clove
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Italian-style breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan Cheese
2 cups green leaf lettuce
1 tablespoon fresh basil, torn into small pieces (or dried, if you don’t have fresh)
10 sprays of Wishbone Red Wine Mist Salad Spritzer (or 2 teaspoons balsamic vinaigrette dressing of your choice)
1 ounce of sliced, fresh mozzarella

1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Wash and pat dry tomato. Cut in half lengthwise, scoop out with spoon and discard pulp. Lay cut side down on paper towel to drain for 5 minutes or pat inside dry with paper towel.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Add tomatoes and toss until well coated. Remove tomato halves to small baking pan with cut side up, leaving olive oil mixture in bowl.

3. To the oil mixture, add the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Stir breadcrumbs and oil together until crumbs are coated and mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Divide evenly into tomato halves and bake for 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, tear lettuce into bite-size pieces, place on serving plate and add basil. Top with dressing and toss. Cut mozzarella into two slices, place on lettuce leaves and garnish with freshly ground pepper. When tomatoes are roasted and stuffing is golden brown, place on salad and enjoy!

Nutritional Information per lunch-size salad: 201 calories, 8.6 g carbohydrates, 15.2 g total fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 2.5 g fiber, 7.8 g protein (If serving as 2 side salads, divide nutritional information in half to calculate per serving.)

Original Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Pasta, Potato & Rice Substitutes

Pasta and potatoes, I love them - but sadly, they don't love me. As a matter-of-fact, white starches (such as rice, pasta, potatoes and white bread products) should no longer be on my menu, except rarely or in very small quantities. A serving of any of these white, starchy no-no's should be limited to 1/3 cup once or twice a week, at the most. Have you ever measured out a level 1/3 cup of pasta? It's not much more than a spoonful. Plop that in the middle of your plate, top with spaghetti sauce and that's not much of a meal! I thought the days of my favorite spaghetti dinner were over for good. But instead of giving up, I got creative!

There are lower carb, higher fiber pastas on the market, such as Dreamfields brand, which is formulated in such a way that only 5 net carbs are absorbed by the body. It tastes like regular pasta to me, so it is my favorite "go to" brand when cooking for my family. Even with reduced carb pastas, portion control is important. One serving is about ½ to ¾ of a cup of cooked pasta, not a heaping plate full, but a small side-dish size. Also, it is best to test and see how your blood glucose reacts to the different reduced carb pastas before you include it regularly in your food plan. (To see how your body reacts to any food, check your blood sugar about 2 to 2½ hours after eating, if it is still elevated and over 150, then the offending food should be limited in your diet.) When it comes to potatoes and rice, for me they need to be avoided almost entirely. Here are some of my favorite food substitutes that can stand in nicely for this disastrous trio that are much more nutritious while adding fiber and flavor to your meal.

Pasta Alternatives

1. Spaghetti Squash is extremely easy to prepare, but you do need to plan ahead for cooking time. Simply cut the squash in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, onto a baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray or oiled with canola or olive oil. Bake in a 375-degree oven for about 45-50 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. With a fork, scrape the noodle-like strands onto a serving plate. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper before topping with your favorite pasta sauce. Nutritional Information for 1 cup of cooked spaghetti squash: 40 calories, 9.9 g carbohydrate, 0.2 g fat, 2.2 g fiber, 0.9 g protein.

2. Zucchini "Pasta" can be made by cutting lengthwise into 1/8" thick slices, then further cutting thin slices into 1/8" wide matchsticks (or use a mandoline to cut into long julienne, matchstick slices). Heat ½ tablespoon olive oil in a pan, add minced garlic and saute until just fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add zucchini to pan, add salt and pepper to taste. Saute until limp and spaghetti-like. (If desired and to fool your tastebuds into thinking you're eating a more authentic noodle pasta, add 1/3 cup cooked spaghetti noodles to zucchini and toss together.) Remove to serving plate and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Top with your favorite pasta sauce. Nutritional Information for 1 cup of cooked zucchini "noodles" sauteed with olive oil without added pasta noodles: 86 calories, 7 g carbohydrate, 6.6 g fat, 2.3 g fiber, 1.1 g protein.

Potato Alternatives

1. Potato & Cauliflower Mashed "Potatoes" can be an acceptable substitute for many people, especially those starved for their much-loved, but forbidden, creamy spuds. Simply steam 1 large head of cauliflower until tender. Meanwhile, boil 1 large russet potato that has been peeled and cut into chunks until fork-tender. Drain vegetables and place into large mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon unsalted butter. Mash with a potato masher or whip with a hand mixer. Add milk or chicken stock 1 tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4. Nutritional information per serving (¼ recipe) : 122.8 calories, 21 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 4.5 g fiber, 3.9 g protein.

2. Roasted Vegetables are one of my favorite side dishes and is so easy to prepare. Cut up a variety of vegetables into similar sized pieces and place on a baking sheet. Some suggestions are butternut squash, parsnips or sweet potato (definitely good potato substitutes), cherry or grape tomatoes, carrots, acorn squash, zucchini, or asparagus. For taste and visual appeal, try a mixture of your favorites. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast in a hot 400-degree oven until vegetables are fork tender, usually 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the type of vegetables chosen. Approximate Nutritional Information per serving (½ to ¾ cup): 147 calories, 21 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 6 g fiber, 1.5 g protein. (If using lighter vegetables, such as summer squash, tomatoes or asparagus, the totals will be much less.)
Rice Alternatives

1. Lentils are in the legume family, so they are high in fiber and protein. They cook up fairly quickly, about the same amount of time as rice. There are several colors and varieties of lentil, so finding one to compliment your oriental stir-fry or to have as a side dish is not difficult. To add more flavor, simmer in chicken, beef or vegetable stock instead of water. Also, add herbs to further link the lentils to whatever you're serving as the main course. Nutritional Information (per ½ cup serving) is 112 calories, 19.3 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 7.2 g fiber, 8.9 g protein.

2. The nutritionists will tell you, "eat brown rice instead of white rice," or "quinoa is the new super food," or "barley is a better choice than white rice," etc. Actually, in comparison, they are not much different (although brown rice, barley and quinoa are slightly more nutritious than white rice). Below is a chart so you can decide for yourself. The deciding factor really should be how your body responds to eating any rice or grain because your glycemic response is what is most important. Check your blood sugar about 2 to 2½ hours after eating, if it is still elevated and over 150, then the offending food should be limited in your diet.

I hope you'll give these a try. I'm sure you'll find them as satisfying and pleasing as the original high-carb foods they're replacing on your dinner plate. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Black Forest Cake

Cake is usually off limits for diabetics, which makes it difficult and sometimes depressing when they can't even have a slice for their birthday or at the holidays. This was the case for me, so I became determined to find a way and began experimenting. With a net count of only 25 carbs per slice, this decadent "special occasion" recipe allows a diabetic to have their chocolate cake once in a while and enjoy it without guilt or the usual out-of-this-world spike in their blood sugar! This beautiful, rich cake is a show-stopper and one you'll be pleased to serve to everyone at the party.

At this time of year fresh cherries are available, so I have used them. But if they are not in season, substitute a can of sugar-free cherry pie filling that has been drained of the thick liquid in place of the chopped cherries. Also, don't be turned off by the grated beets in this recipe because you will not taste them, I promise. Beets are a common ingredient in traditional Chocolate Velvet Cake and add color and natural sweetness (which is why I can get by with so little sugar), plus they compliment and enhance the chocolate flavor. Have a happy, special day!

My Black Forest Cake
Serves 12 (or makes 12 cupcakes)

For the cake
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup coconut flour
½ cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dry buttermilk powder
5 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons Splenda granular
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
4 ounces beets, peeled and finely grated (½ cup)
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 TB hot water (can be decaf or regular)

For the white chocolate whipped cream frosting
1 pkg. sugar-free, fat-free white chocolate instant pudding (the size that makes 4 servings)
2 oz. mascarpone cheese
1 cup cold skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
½ tablespoon Splenda, granular
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup fresh sweet cherries (pitted and chopped) and 12 cherries pitted, but left whole for garnish. (If fresh cherries are not available, drain a can of sugar-free cherry pie filling in a strainer until much of the thick liquid has drained off.)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom with parchment paper and lightly spray the sides of an 8-inch springform baking pan with cooking spray.

2. In a small bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, dry buttermilk powder and cocoa powder. Set aside.

3. Using a standing or handheld mixer set at medium-high speed, beat the eggs, sugar and Splenda for 4 full minutes until pale and fluffy. (Do not underbeat at this step because you need to incorporate air into the batter.) Add the oil and continue to beat for another 30 seconds. On low speed, beat in the grated beets, coffee, followed by dry ingredients and beat on low until the batter is smooth.

4. Pour into the baking pan and place in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Test with a toothpick inserted for doneness; it should come out clean. Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes if needed, testing every 5 minutes. Do not overbake so cake doesn’t dry out. (NOTE: If baking 12 cupcakes, only bake for 12 minutes then check for doneness. Add an additional 5-7 minutes if needed)

5. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan and unmold onto cooling rack. Cool on a wire rack until cold.

6. Meanwhile, make the frosting (see directions below) and refrigerate.

7. When cake is cooled, carefully cut into two layers with a serrated knife. Brush crumbs from bottom layer and spread 1/3 of frosting onto cake and smooth with a spatula into an even layer. Top with chopped cherries. Place top layer of cake on top of cherries and spread half of the remaining frosting on top and use the other half to cover sides. Garnish the top with whole cherries. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until ready to serve. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Nutritional Information per serving (1/12th of cake): 242.5 calories, 27.8 g carbohydrate, 11.6 g total fat, 2.7 g saturated fat, 2.6 g fiber, 5.6 g protein
1 plain cupcake (1/12th of recipe, no frosting or cherries): 184 calories, 23.2 g carbs, 7.7 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 2.5 g fiber, 4.4 g protein
White Chocolate Cream Frosting (1/12th of frosting recipe): 53 calories, 3.2 g carbs, 3.9 g total fat, 1.75 g saturated fat, 0 g fiber, 1.2 g protein

White Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting:

Measure 1 cup cold milk and vanilla into a medium mixing bowl. Add 2 oz. mascarpone cheese (¼ of 8 oz. container) and whip with a wire whisk until blended with milk. Using a wire whisk or handheld mixer, beat in 1 box of sugar-free instant white chocolate pudding mix until well blended and thickened. Refrigerate for 15 minutes until quite thick and set. Meanwhile, measure ¼ cup heavy whipping cream into a small mixing bowl. Using a handheld mixer, beat until beginning to thicken. Add ½ TB Splenda and ¼ teaspoon vanilla and whip until Splenda has dissolved and cream is thick and fluffy (do not overbeat or you'll end up with butter). Fold the whipped cream into the pudding mixture until fully blended and refrigerate for another 10-15 minutes before spreading on cake.

Original Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009
How does this recipe compare with the real thing? Black Forest Cake is usually frosted with 100% whipped cream, making it out of bounds for most people watching their fat, carb and calorie intake. My version is frosted with a mock whipped cream frosting that really is delicious and remains true to the original in taste and creaminess, but is a great deal lower in fat, especially saturated fat. Also, my recipe is significantly lower in calories and carbohydrates. For comparison, the nutritional content of 1/12th slice of a traditional Black Forest Cake is 622.4 calories, 81.9 g carbohydrates, 33.2 g total fat, 3.2 g fiber, 7 g protein.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Roasted Tomato & Tomatillo Salsa

For a long time I wondered what those little husk-covered, tomato-looking green things were next to the tomatoes in the produce section of the grocery called tomatillos. After reading about their sweet, apple-like flavor, I had to give them a try! This refreshing mild salsa makes a delicious accompaniment to steak or chicken grilled on the BBQ on a warm summer evening because it's not too hot or heavy. I slice the grilled meat thin and serve this along side or as a sauce. Also, it is a wonderful dip for vegetables, apple or pear wedges, baked tortillas or pita chips. As a low-carb snack, I love to spoon it onto colby-jack cheese slices! Any way you use it, I think you'll find its slightly sweet and tangy flavor delightful.

My Roasted Tomato & Tomatillo Salsa (Makes about 1 cup, serves 4)

½ pound tomatillos, about 6 or 8 depending on size (with husks removed)
2 plum tomatoes
½ small red onion
1 jalapeño (or only ½ jalapeño needed for mild salsa)
½ tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
½ tablespoon rice vinegar
½ tablespoon lime juice
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Remove husks from tomatillos, rinse and pat dry. Cut tomatillos in half and place on a baking sheet.

2. While protecting your hands from the oils, cut jalapeño in half and remove seeds and veins. Cut off stem and add to tomatillo in baking pan. (If you like your salsa very hot, just remove stem but do not cut it half or remove seeds.)

3. Cut red onion into 1” chunks and add to baking pan. Cut 1 plum tomato in half and add to baking pan with other vegetables. (Set other plum tomato aside.) Drizzle vegetables with oil and toss to coat. Season with a little salt and pepper, if desired. Roast vegetables in hot oven for 30 minutes, turning once, or until skins begin to char and take on some color. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

4. Decide on heat level of salsa by choosing ½ roasted jalapeño for mild, the whole jalapeño for medium or the jalapeño with seeds for hot. Put roasted vegetables, brown sugar, rice vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper into a food processor and chop to desired consistency. If you like your salsa chunky, do not over chop. Remove salsa from processor to serving bowl.

5. Take remaining uncooked plum tomato, cut into several pieces and place into food processor. Chop only until cut into a chunky consistency and add to salsa and mix together. Serve at room temperature or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Nutritional information per ¼ cup serving (salsa only): 29 calories, 6.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g fat, 1.4 g fiber, 0.8 g protein

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Whole Wheat Almond Pancakes

My husband has always loved to make pancakes on the weekend. When we could no longer enjoy them together due to my diabetes, we fiddled with his excellent recipe to come up with one I can indulge in so the tradition can live on. This reformulated batter so nearly matches his own, even the expert can't tell the difference. If anything, "the almond flour only makes it better" and those are HIS words! Enjoy a hearty, country breakfast again without the guilt:

Whole Wheat Almond Pancakes (Makes twelve 4” pancakes, 4 servings)

½ cup almond flour
½ cup whole wheat baking mix*
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 large egg
1/3 cup to ½ cup 1% milk (depending how thick you like your batter)
Sugar-free or low-calorie syrup

Mix together the dry ingredients. Add melted butter, egg and 1/3 cup milk. Mix until well blended. Add more milk if batter is too thick or to desired consistency. Heat griddle until hot and water “dances” on surface. Drop about 2 rounded tablespoons of batter to make a 4” pancake onto the hot griddle and heat until the batter bubbles. Turn pancake and continue cooking until golden brown.

* I recommend Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Insta-Bake Variety Baking Mix with Buttermilk.

Nutritional Information per serving of three 4” pancakes (does not include syrup): 186 calories, 15.6 g carbohydrates, 11.4 g total fat, 2.7 g saturated fat, 2.6 g fiber, 7 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

How does this recipe compare to regular pancakes? My recipe has fewer calories, far fewer carbohydrates and more fiber and protein compared to pancakes made from a dry mix. If purchased in a restaurant, a short stack of three pancakes is an astonishing 423 calories, 60 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 1.5 g fiber, 13 g protein (and that doesn't even count the syrup)!