Saturday, October 31, 2009

Game Day Munchies!

My large extended family are dedicated fans of college football. Although we may cheer for different teams on any given Saturday, we all enjoy the weekly watching parties that accompany the games. It's too easy to overeat when your attention is on the TV screen, so it's a good idea to plan ahead and provide finger foods that are nutritious and fun to eat. Put out some sliced apples or pears sprinkled with cinnamon and you'll see the fans gobble them up! Here are a couple of my favorite healthy party appetizers that are easy to prepare and delicious. They're perfect for any occasion, so keep them in mind for the upcoming holiday season. Go team!

Spinach Pepper Jack Dip
(Makes ten ¼ cup servings)

1 can condensed Cream of Celery Soup
¼ teaspoon pepper
One 10 oz. frozen spinach (thawed and drained)
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese (or Mexican Blend with spices)
½ cup light sour cream
¼ teaspoon cayenne (ground red pepper)
2-3 dashes of Tabasco sauce or to taste

1. In a medium sauce pan, heat soup, pepper, and spinach on medium-high heat to a boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add cheese, stir until melted. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.

2. Add sour cream and cayenne, stir to combine. Sample mixture to check spice level. If you like it hotter, add Tabasco sauce to taste. Serve with a variety of raw vegetables, such as celery, carrots, broccoli florets, and cauliflower. This also is a great dip for my Oven Fried Spicy Chicken Nuggets (see recipe below).

Nutritional Information per ¼ cup dip (vegetables not included in calculations): 104.8 calories, 6.1 g carbohydrate, 6.7 g total fat, 2.9 g saturated fat, 1.1 g fiber, 4.1 g protein

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Oven Fried Spicy Chicken Nuggets
(Makes eight appetizer servings of 3 nuggets each)

12 chicken tenders (cut each in half)
½ cup whole wheat style Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon onion salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Dash of cayenne (ground red pepper)
½ teaspoon smoked Paprika
1½ tablespoon olive oil (or use oil in a Misto pump sprayer)

1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Drizzle ¾ tablespoon olive oil onto a baking sheet and place in oven until hot.

2. Meanwhile, place panko, cheese, onion salt, pepper, cayenne and paprika into a large food storage bag and shake to combine. Remove baking pan from oven and tilt to coat pan with hot oil. Add a few pieces of chicken to the breadcrumb mixture at a time and shake until chicken is lightly coated. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces. Carefully arrange them on the hot baking sheet in a single layer without pieces touching. Drizzle remaining ¾ tablespoon oil over chicken and bake for 10 minutes. (If you have a Misto pump, spray oil to coat top of chicken.)

3. After 10 minutes, remove pan from oven and turn chicken over to brown second side. Bake for another 8 minutes until chicken is cooked through and crispy. If necessary, remove chicken to paper towels to drain briefly before serving.

Nutritional Information per serving (3 nuggets): 94.7 calories, 3.5 g carbohydrate, 3.2 g total fat, 0.3 g saturated fat, 0.5 g fiber, 12.2 g protein

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pumpkin Doodles

Today was a cold, rainy day that just called for baking cookies. This time of year, I always have a craving for spicy desserts made from pumpkin. This delicious, soft, cake-like cookie really fits the bill! It's rolled in a sugar-spice mixture in the same way you'd make the classic Snickerdoodle cookie, thus the name. Instead of only cinnamon in the sugar, I used pumpkin pie spice which is a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. This substitution really gives these cookies the flavor of my favorite holiday dessert. These sweet, wholesome cookies have lots of hidden nutrition from the flaxseed meal, almond flour and canned pumpkin. Flaxseed meal provides lignans, Omega-3 fatty acids and is loaded with thiamine (vitamin B1). It also helps to stabilize blood sugar. As I've mentioned many times, almond flour is a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, iron and fiber. Pumpkin provides vitamin A and beta-carotene, plus many other nutrients. Weighing in at only 5.6 net carbs per cookie, you can feel good about indulging on this sweet treat because it packs a serious, nutritious punch!

Pumpkin Doodles
(Makes 36 cookies)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
¼ cup flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
¾ cup Splenda granular
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 egg
¾ cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup zante currants (or for color, chopped dried cranberries can be substituted)

Topping Ingredients:1 tablespoon Splenda
1½ tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees. If desired, line cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

2. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flours, flaxseed meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, orange zest, and pie spice. Stir with a fork to break up any clumps in the almond flour; set aside. Measure the currants (or chopped dried cranberries) into another small bowl and add ½ teaspoon of the flour mixture and toss to coat; set aside.

3. Prepare the topping by placing the Splenda and powdered sugar in a food processor and grinding into a uniform fine powder. In a small bowl, mix the processed Splenda and sugar and 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice; set aside. (If you do not have a food processor, grind the Splenda with the back of a spoon until it becomes a finer powder, then mix with the powdered sugar.)

4. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the shortening, Splenda and brown sugar with a handheld or standing mixer. Add egg and pumpkin and beat for 2 minutes. With a wooden spoon, add the dry ingredients all at once and stir until well combined. Fold in currants or cranberries. Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonful into the sugar-spice topping mixture (or a level small cookie scoop). Roll just one side in the sugar-spice mixture and place on cookie sheet with the topping mixture side up. Flatten slightly with palm or bottom of glass. (Tip: If dough is too soft, place in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes and it will be easier to handle.)

5. Bake for 11-13 minutes until bottom is golden brown. (Top will not brown much, so watch carefully.) Remove to wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Nutritional Information per cookie: 61.3 calories, 6.4 g carbohydrate, 3.6 g total fat, 0.3 g saturated fat, 0.8 g fiber, 1.3 g protein.
Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Note added 11/5/09: I had a few of these cookies leftover and they were beginning to dry out and become a bit stale, so I crumbled them and added one packet of Quaker Maple Brown Sugar Weight Control instant oatmeal and 3 tablespoons firm butter. Using a pastry cutter, I blended the ingredients until they formed coarse crumbs, sprinkled it over a dish of sliced apples and baked it in a 350-degree oven for 35-40 minutes. It made the most awesome, fragrant Apple Crisp! I served this quick and easy dessert to my in-laws and they raved.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pom-Pear Chicken over Spinach

Pomegranates are on special this week in my grocery, so I purchased a couple to play with. As I've mentioned before, they are a super fruit! The arils (seeds) are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and phytochemicals that can heal your body from within. Although they're a culinary adventure to eat fresh, pomegranates can be juiced and used in cooked recipes, as well. As in this savory dish, they can be combined with other mild tasting fruits, such as pear, which only enhances the best qualities of both.

I consider this a main dish salad because the spinach is fresh and uncooked. Pile it high on your serving plate then top with the warm chicken and sauce. It will only slightly wilt the spinach, so you'll be sure to get all the nutrients from this delicious green, including calcium, vitamins A, C and K, beta-carotene and folate. This dish is practically wearing camouflage--your family will have no idea how healthy it is!

Pom-Pear Chicken over Spinach
(Serves 2)

1 pomegranate
two (4 oz.) boneless and skinless chicken thighs (all visible fat removed)
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
2 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar
2/3 cup chicken stock
1 pear, peeled and chopped into small chunks
1 tablespoon seedless all-fruit raspberry jam
3 cups baby spinach leaves

1. Cut the pomegranate, not in half, but at the 1/3 mark (so one piece will be 2/3 of the fruit and the other piece will be 1/3). Take the 2/3 side and using a citrus juicer, juice the pomegranate until all the arils (seeds) have been drained of their juice. If necessary, strain the juice of pits or flesh and set aside. You should have approximately 1/3 to ½ cup juice. From the remaining piece, carefully spoon the arils into a small bowl: set aside.

2. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium-high and cook the chicken until browned on both sides and almost cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side. Meanwhile, divide spinach leaves between two serving plates and set aside.

3. Add the shallot to the pan and cook until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add the vinegar, reserved pomegranate juice, chicken stock and stir to loosen any brown bits from bottom of pan. Cook for a few minutes until slightly reduced. Add the pear and jam and continue to cook until jam is melted and the liquid has reduced and thickened into a nice sauce.

4. Place a piece of chicken on top of each pile of spinach. Divide and spoon sauce evenly over chicken, allowing the sauce to spill onto the spinach. Over each serving, sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the reserved pomegranate arils and serve immediately.

Nutritional Information per serving: 274.5 calories, 29.3 g carbohydrate, 10.3 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 3.9 g fiber, 16.9 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tangerine, Pomegranate and Cashew Salad

Last year, my daughter introduced me to pomegranate. I was surprised by its strange, seed-filled center (called arils) and delighted with its burst of floral, sweet and tangy flavor when you bite down on them. Pomegranate is being hailed as a super fruit because it is filled with antioxidants and phytochemicals that help the body fight infection and disease, including cancer. It is also a good source of Vitamin C, B5 and potassium. If you've never tried this exotic fruit, it is a unique and tasty experience I highly recommend.

Another fruit coming into season and available in the stores right now are Clementines, which are small tangerines that are most often seedless. They are easy to peel and perfect for packing into lunch boxes for a quick, Vitamin C rich snack. The origin of this light salad came about because I had a half bag of Clementines in my refrigerator that needed to be eaten. The addition of fruit to a green salad brightens the flavor and brings a sweet taste that is most appealing to children (and adults) that claim they "hate" vegetables. The Asian-style dressing was a spur-of-the-moment creation, using what I had on hand, that resulted in a delicious, low-fat topping that perfectly complimented the combination of fruits, vegetables and nuts. This recipe is a keeper and one I'll turn to often this winter while Clementines are so abundant.

Tangerine, Pomegranate & Cashew Salad
(Makes 2 meal-size servings or 4 side salads)

6 cups salad mix (I use Fresh Express Fancy Greens) or lettuce
¼ cup grated carrot (if not included in mix)
1 celery stalk, chopped
¾ cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons pomegranate arils (seeds from inside fruit), rinsed
1 tablespoon dried cranberries
2 tablespoons cashews, chopped
2 Clementine tangerines, peeled, seeded and sectioned

Dressing ingredients:
3 tablespoons tangerine juice (squeezed from 2 Clementines)
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons almond butter (or tahini paste can be substituted, if a stronger sesame flavor is desired)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the lettuce mix, carrot, mushrooms, pomegranate arils, cranberries, cashews and tangerine sections; set aside.

2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until well combined and emulsified. Pour over lettuce mixture and toss to coat.

Nutritional Information per meal size salad (½ of recipe): 218 calories, 27.2 g carbohydrate, 11.3 g total fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 4.8 g fiber, 4.7 g protein.

Nutritional Information per side salad (¼ of recipe): 109 calories, 13.6 g carbohydrate, 5.6 g total fat, 0.3 g saturated fat, 2.4 g fiber, 2.3 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Creamy French Vegetable Soup

Last year, my husband and I went to Europe to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. While in the Normandy region in France and after a long, emotional day visiting the beaches and cemetery at Normandy, we spent the night in the beautiful village of Bayeaux. There, we were served a delicious soup that was just lovely. I asked how it was prepared and was told it was simply leeks, potatoes and carrots that had been pureed into a smooth and creamy soup. Being mainly potatoes, I knew the carb count was too high to eat very often, but since returning home I've tried on several occasions to duplicate that soup in a way more fitting with my dietary restrictions. Since the main emphasis cannot be white potatoes, I've substituted other more glycemic-friendly vegetables to recreate a similar taste and texture. The small addition of white cannellini beans really did the trick to boost the fiber and protein and added a "starchiness," similar to potatoes, that seemed to be missing from my other attempts.

This is a great recipe for the whole family. For kids who won't let a vegetable pass their lips, the smooth texture hides the fact that this soup is 100% vegetables. At this time of year, it's fun to create a spider web of creamy topping by dragging a toothpick through a spiral of sour cream that has been piped on top! For added fun, toast the squash seeds and drop them in the web as a garnish. A nice side dish might be cheese toast where a jack-o-lantern's face as been cut out of the cheese slice before melting under the broiler. Get into the season by choosing some different and interesting squashes that are abundant in the stores and farm stands or substitute other favorite root vegetables to make this soup exactly to your liking.

Creamy French Vegetable Soup
(Makes 8 servings, about 2 cups each)

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 carrots, diced
2-3 leeks, (white & light green parts), sliced
5 stalks celery (including leaves), sliced
2 small red potatoes, diced
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
2 turnips, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1½ teaspoons herbs de Provence
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Topping ingredients:
½ cup light sour cream
2 tablespoons light garlic and herb Alouette cheese spread

1. Cut or sliced all vegetables in a small dice, uniform in size. Heat olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat and add leeks, carrots and celery. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook stirring often until leeks are quite soft, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes, squash, parsnips, turnips, garlic, remaining 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Cook for another 5-8 minutes, stirring often. Add broth, herbs, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-45 minutes until vegetables are cooked through and soft. (Time will depend on size of diced vegetables.)

2. Turn off heat and allow mixture to cool for 40 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Add cannellini beans and stir. Puree soup with a handheld immersion blender or blend in small batches in a regular blender until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings.

3. Mix together the topping ingredients and spoon into a plastic sandwich bag. Snip corner of bag and pipe the sour cream mixture in a spiral on top of the soup to serve. If desired, drag a toothpick through the spiral design to create a spider web effect.

Nutritional Information per serving (soup only): 161.2 calories, 31.2 g carbohydrate, 2.2 g total fat, trace saturated fat, 5.7 g fiber, 5.3 g protein.

Nutritional Information per 2 teaspoons topping: 23.7 calories, 1.6 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g total fat, 0 g fiber, 0.7 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Smarter Peach Muffin

The goal of my cooking and baking is to make substitutions or additions to recipes that will boost the nutrition while reducing the carbohydrates and sugars without compromising flavor or texture. These wholesome muffins are a fine example. I have taken a traditional peach muffin recipe, substituted almond flour and oats for most of the nutritionally-empty white flour and further boost the nutrition by sneaking in pureed squash. (Use your own leftover cooked butternut squash or substitute canned or pumpkin.) By doing this, I have created a delicious muffin bursting with fresh fruit flavor that is an excellent source of potassium, Vitamins E, C and A, beta-carotene, magnesium, Vitamins B2, B6 and niacin. You'll never get all of that from a traditional peach muffin made from white flour and sugar! While all of this is good to know, what really counts is the taste. Trust me, these are delicious, especially warm out of the oven on a frosty morning.

Smarter Peach Muffins
(Makes 12)

1 large ripe peach (or 1 cup thawed from frozen), chopped into small pieces
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
¾ cup rolled oats
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Grated rind of 1 small orange or large lemon
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
¼ cup Splenda granular (not baking blend)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup pureed butternut squash or pumpkin

1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees. Spray twelve muffin cups with non-stick vegetable spray; set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Break up any lumps in the almond flour with a fork; set aside. Chop peach and set aside.

3. In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg, citrus rind, brown sugar and Splenda with handheld or standing mixer until well combined. Add oil and vanilla and beat for 1-2 minutes until thick slightly increased in volume. Add squash puree and beat until combined.

4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients. Mix quickly with a wooden spoon, just until the dry mixture is moistened. Fold in chopped peaches. Using a ¼ cup measure or large cookie scoop, fill the muffin cups ¾ full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 3 minutes and then remove to wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers may be frozen.

Nutritional Information per muffin: 151 calories, 16.3 g carbohydrates, 8.7 g total fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 2.2 g fiber, 3.6 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

How does this recipe compare with a traditional peach muffin made with white flour? This recipe is packed with more fiber, vitamins and minerals (as mentioned above), plus it is 100 calories less and only half the carbohydrates! For comparison, the nutritional information for a traditional peach muffin is 258 calories, 36.6 g carbohydrate, 10.8 g total fat, 0.3 g fiber, and 3.5 g protein.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pork Tenderloin with Leek and Mushroom Pan Sauce

This is a wonderfully rich tasting, but surprisingly light main dish that is perfect for company. Recently, I discovered another low-carb pasta that is delicious and much lower in carbohydrates than any I've ever tried, plus it has more fiber than whole wheat. It isn't often I splurge and eat pasta, but the nutritional content of Carba-Nada might just permit an occasional pasta meal to fit into my diet again! (If you can't find Carba-Nada, use Dreamfield's brand which is found in most supermarkets in the pasta aisle.)

Pork tenderloin is a lean meat and, when pounded into medallions, is quick cooking while remaining moist and incredibly tender. The sauted vegetables in this dish add a wonderful flavor to the creamy pan sauce. The leeks have a very mild onion taste without being too bold or overpowering and I find mushrooms to always be the perfect companion for sour cream. This recipe would be equally delicious made with turkey cutlets, chicken or even sole. I hope you'll give this savory, saucy meal a try soon and let me know what you think.

Pork Tenderloin with Leek and Mushroom Pan Sauce
served with Low-Carb Pasta
(Makes 4 servings)

1 pound pork tenderloin
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 teaspoons parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, white and light green portion, sliced
1½ cups mushrooms, sliced
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Marsala wine
½ cup + chicken stock
3 tablespoons light sour cream
6 ounces reduced-carb pasta (I suggest Dreamfield's or Carba-Nada)

1. Slice pork tenderloin into eight 1¼" slices and place cut side down onto plastic wrap. Cover with another piece of plastic wrap and pound each slice until about ½" thickness. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

2. In a 1 cup measure, place 2 teaspoons Worcestershire, 2 tablespoons Marsala wine, and enough chicken stock to reach ¾ cup mark; stir and set side.

3. If your panko is not finely ground, place it in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add chopped parsley, salt and pepper to season breadcrumbs. Lightly dredge pork tenderloin medallions in seasoned panko crumbs; set aside.

4. Boil water for pasta and prepare as directed on package. (If using Carba-Nada brand, it takes about 5 minutes, so add pasta to boiling water after pork medallions are browned and you are preparing pan sauce.)

5. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook pork medallions about 3-4 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Remove to serving platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

6. Add leeks, mushrooms and a small amount of the chicken stock mixture to deglaze the bottom of the pan, stirring to loosen any brown bits from bottom of skillet. Saute leeks and mushrooms until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle vegetables with 2 teaspoons of flour and cook for another minute. Add remaining chicken stock mixture to pan and stir to combine. Cook until bubbly and slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add light sour cream to sauce and stir until smooth and creamy.

7. Divide pasta equally among four serving plates. Top each with two pork medallions. Divide and spoon mushroom sauce equally over each.

Nutritional Information per serving with low-carb pasta: 369.7 calories, 33.1 g carbohydrate, 11.8 g total fat, 2.6 g saturated fat, 5.3 g fiber, 32.3 g protein.

Nutritional Information per serving of meat and sauce (no pasta): 264.7 calories, 15.1 g carbohydrate, 11 g total fat, 2.6 g saturated fat, 0.8 g fiber, 23.3 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cherry Chocolate Cream Torte

My husband says, "It's not dessert, if it's not chocolate!" Personally, I like fruit flavors best but, occasionally, I'll make a special dessert for him and find myself being swayed by his conviction because chocolate is so rich, decadent and utterly delicious. No wonder cocoa was once used as currency and was reserved only for royalty. There is something about the creamy, smooth texture that satisfies like nothing else in the world!

This cake is very quick to prepare, taking only minutes to bake and cool. I was able to whip up this spectacular dessert in less than 1 hour from start to finish. Essentially, it is a thin chocolate angel food cake with four layers of creamy, gooey goodness! The success to whipping egg whites is to allow your eggs to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes and be certain to use a very clean bowl and beaters, then the magic just happens. It's easy, so don't be afraid to give this fabulous recipe a try. The chocoholic in your family will love you for it.

Cherry Chocolate Cream Torte
(Makes 10 servings)

Cake Ingredients:
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup almond flour (or finely ground blanched almonds)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon chocolate extract (or 1 teaspoon strong cold coffee)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
½ cup Splenda granular (not baking blend), divided

Filling Ingredients:
1¼ cups skim milk, cold
2 oz. mascarpone cheese (can be purchased in specialty cheese section of grocery)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 tablespoons Splenda granular
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pkg. sugar-free, fat-free instant chocolate pudding (the size that makes 4 servings)
1½ cups canned lite cherry pie filling (I use Lucky Leaf brand)
2 tablespoons chocolate shavings for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees. Line a 15" x 10" jellyroll pan with parchment paper. (Batter will not spread, so any baking sheet with low sides will do. If yours is larger than recommended pan size, fold edges of parchment paper to create the proper size space for batter.)

2. In a small bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt. Stir with a fork, breaking up any clumps in the mixture or sift through a fine sieve; set aside.

3. Separate eggs by placing the yolks into a small mixing bowl and whites into a clean, dry large mixing bowl. Set yolks aside. Using clean beaters, beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form, about 1-2 minutes. Gradually add 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons Splenda and continue beating until stiff peaks form; set aside.

4. Add chocolate extract to yolks and beat with a handheld or standing mixer at high speed for 4-5 minutes until thick and yellow. Gradually add 1 tablespoon sugar and 6 tablespoons Splenda to yolk mixture and continue beating until sugars are dissolved.

5. With a rubber spatula, take about 1/5 of egg whites and stir into yolk mixture to lighten. Pour ½ of yolk mixture into egg whites and gently fold to incorporate. Repeat with remaining yolk mixture until fully incorporated, being careful not to deflate egg whites. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the egg mixture and fold until just blended and cocoa is evenly distributed.

6. Quickly pour into prepared pan and spread to create an even layer. Bake in preheated oven for 12-14 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and allow the cake to cool in pan for 5 minutes, and then move to wire rack and remove parchment paper from bottom.

7. Meanwhile make filling: Place milk, mascarpone cheese, cocoa powder, Splenda and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl and beat with a wire whisk until cheese and cocoa powder are blended into the milk. Add the entire package of pudding mix into the milk mixture and beat until well blended and smooth, about 2 minutes. Place in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes, until thick and set.

8. Cut cake in half, and then cut each piece in half again to create four equal slices. Be certain that cake is cooled completely before proceeding. To assemble, place one slice of cake on a serving platter. Spread 1/3 cup of cherry filling on top, breaking up cherries to more easily distribute them. Top with 1/3 of the thickened pudding mixture and spread to edges. Place second layer of cake on top of pudding and repeat with 1/3 cup cherry filling and half of the remaining pudding. Repeat procedure with third layer, 1/3 cup cherry filling and the remaining pudding. Top with final cake slice and dollop ½ cup of cherry filling evenly over top of cake and gently spread to cover. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings, if desired. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information per serving (1/10th of cake, not including shaved chocolate garnish): 145.6 calories, 17.8 g carbohydrate, 5.8 g total fat, 2.3 g saturated fat, 1.6 g fiber, 5.8 g protein.

Original Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Avocado and Black Bean Quesadilla

Since my daughter went off to college a couple of years ago and started cooking for herself, I'm always delighted to hear about the wonderful and healthy recipes she creates in her little kitchen. A love of cooking is something we have shared all her life. From the time she was age two and could stand on a chair, she's been at my side at the kitchen counter. Now many of our phone conversations are about food talk, exchanging recipes and encouraging each other in living a healthy lifestyle. She's a very talented cook and rarely uses a cookbook. Her main emphasis is using fresh whole foods to whip up unique and delicious vegetarian dishes. During a recent phone call, she told me about a new recipe and, it sounded so wonderful, I had to try it immediately. Wow, is it good! The combination of flavors, along with the crisp, toasted tortilla and smooth, creamy dip is fantastic. Thanks, Maralee, for sharing this one!

When I did some research about avocados, I was pleased to read about the health benefits of this marvelous fruit. Although 75% of the calories in an avocado comes from fat, most of it is monounsaturated and a diet that includes eating a lot of avocados has been clinically proven to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They have 60% more potassium than bananas and are a good source of B vitamins and vitamins E and K. Also, they have the highest fiber content of any other fruit! So, don't be alarmed when you see the total fat grams on the high side because there's a lot of good, solid nutrition in this quick and easy-to-prepare quesadilla.

Avocado and Black Bean Quesadilla
(Makes 1 serving)

One 8" low-carb flour tortilla (I recommend Chi Chi's or Manny's)
¼ ripe avocado, mashed with fork
¾ teaspoon lime juice
¼ cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon mild or medium salsa
2 tablespoons chopped tomato
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese (or Mexican blend)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1½ tablespoons light sour cream
Dash or two of hot sauce, or to taste
Chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish

1. Place the ¼ avocado into a small bowl and mash with fork. Add lime juice and stir to combine. Stir in black beans, salsa, chopped tomato, salt and pepper. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cheddar cheese on ½ of the tortilla and top with avocado and bean mixture and spread to within ½" of edge. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and fold tortilla in half.

2. Preheat large skillet or griddle to medium high. Using a pastry brush, coat one side of tortilla with ½ teaspoon olive oil. Place oiled side down and grill until browned. While the first side is grilling, brush the remaining oil on the uncooked side of the tortilla. When first side is browned and toasted, carefully flip tortilla and grill second side until browned and toasted. Remove quesadilla to serving plate and allow to cool for a few minutes before cutting into three wedges.

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the sour cream and hot sauce. Serve on the side as a dip. Sprinkle sour cream and quesadilla with chopped parsley or cilantro, if desired.

Nutritional Information per serving: 395 calories, 35.8 g carbohydrate, 21.2 g total fat, 6.7 g saturated fat, 13 g fiber, 18.6 g protein

Original Recipe by Maralee Sheehan, copyright 2009
Posted with permission from author.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Easy and Quick Peach Crisp

There is nothing more delicious and welcome on a cold day than a fresh fruit crisp right out of the oven. Right now, when peaches and apples are so abundant, this is a quick and easy way to partake in this year's fruit harvest. I love this recipe because it is so versatile! Start with a base of your favorite fruit, such as apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries or berries. The ease of using a packet of instant oatmeal, possibly something you already have in your cabinet, then adding appropriate spices to jazz it up takes only a few minutes of prep time before the wonderful aroma of bubbling fruit combined with the oatmeal cookie-like topping fills your kitchen. If you don't need a full recipe, the topping can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week and you can bake individual fruit crisps whenever they're needed. So, remember this simple recipe when you want a special treat just for yourself or invite a couple of friends over for an afternoon tea party.

Easy and Quick Peach Crisp
(Makes 3 servings)

2 large ripe peaches, skin removed and sliced (or substitute 2½ cups fruit of your choice)
1 packet low sugar Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal (I use Quaker Weight Control brand)
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon Splenda granular (or 2 packets)
2 tablespoons cold butter

1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Place sliced peaches into a buttered 8-inch x 8-inch glass baking dish or divide peaches into three individual baking dishes; set aside.

2. Into a medium mixing bowl, combine instant oatmeal, spices, salt and Splenda and stir. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter into oatmeal mixture until it resembles crumbles and the butter is well distributed. Spoon evenly over peaches.

3. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10-15 minutes. Serve warm.

Nutritional Information per serving: 162.6 calories, 20.5 g carbohydrate, 8.5 g total fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 3.4 g fiber, 3.2 g protein.

Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Confetti Succotash Salad

Succotash is traditionally a corn and lima bean mixture that became popular in the American South and Midwest during the depression of the 1930's. Not being a lima bean fan, I usually substitute peas, but lately I am including edamame for the added fiber and protein they bring to the dish. In this recipe, I've taken it a step further to create a bountiful main dish salad that is perfect for lunch by itself, or pair it with grilled chicken for dinner. Because it is served cold and keeps well, take it to your next Pot Luck or picnic. The variety of colors and textures make it, not only delicious and satisfying, but also fun to eat! (If you need to avoid soy products, just substitute green peas or limas for the edamame and reduce the cooking time.) For the cheese, I simply cut four mozzarella cheese sticks that I always keep on hand in my refrigerator for a quick low-carb snack. Also, the convenience of using frozen vegetables reduces the preparation time and allows me to offer this bright, colorful salad any time of year. I'll have to remember this in February. I'm sure it will be a welcome reminder of long forgotten summer days when Maine is blanketed in snow a few months from now.

Confetti Succotash Salad
(Makes 6 servings)

1 cup frozen edamame, shelled
2 cups frozen corn
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into bite-size cubes (or 1¼ cups grape tomatoes, halved)
¾ cup canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 ounces smoked mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese, cubed
1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces (or 1 tablespoon dried)

1. Boil 5 cups of water and add frozen edamame. Return to a boil and cook for 4 minutes. Add frozen corn, return to boil and cook for 1-2 minutes until vegetables are done. Pour in a colander to drain hot liquid and immediately rinse in cold water to stop cooking; set aside to drain completely.

2. In a medium bowl, place balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. While whisking, stream in the olive oil and continue whisking until dressing is well combined and emulsified. Add drained vegetables, tomatoes, beans, cubed cheese and basil. Toss with a spoon to mix the salad and distribute dressing throughout. Serve at room temperature or cold.

Nutritional Information per serving: 201 calories, 16.9 g carbohydrate, 10 g total fat, 2.6 g saturated fat, 4.1 g fiber, 12.5 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hidden Sugar, Beware!

Recently, my husband and I were on the road and we stopped at McDonalds for a break and a quick snack. Looking over the menu, I chose the Apple & Walnut Salad, which I believed would be a healthy snack. The salad consists of eight fresh apple wedges with skin, about one tablespoon of walnuts and approximately ¼ cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt. Sounds healthy, right? The total carbs are 31, but the most astonishing fact is that the sugar grams are 25! This is a great example of hidden sugars in a product normally thought of as healthy. When you break this salad down by item, it's difficult to understand why the sugar grams are so high. An apple is approximately 13.9 carbohydrate and 10.5 grams of fructose (the natural sugar found in fruit). It turns out the walnuts in the salad are "candied" which means they are coated with about a ¾ teaspoon of sugar, which is 3 grams of carb, all sugar. That leaves 11.5 grams of sugar in the ¼ cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt! Who would have guessed it would contain so much in such a small serving? But, that's my point. Eating this seemingly healthy snack of apples, walnuts and low-fat yogurt was the equivalent of eating approximately 7 miniature Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, when you compare grams of sugar per serving! On my journey with diabetes, I have discovered there is hidden sugar in the most unlikely food products and I need to be aware of exactly what I'm eating so I can accurately evaluate why my blood glucose numbers can fluctuate so wildly in a day or over time.

For comparison, later that day, I just happen to see boxes of both Honey Nut Cherrios and Captain Crunch with Crunchberries in the cabinet of my daughter's dorm room and looked at the nutritional labels. I was amazed to discover that ¾ cup of Honey Nut Cheerios is 22 carbs and 9 grams sugar and the Captain Crunch cereal contained 12 grams of sugar per same size serving. Don't misunderstand me here, because I am not suggesting that you substitute an apple with a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Instead, I'm trying to further illustrate how important it is to read the nutritional label of the foods you are eating and learn more about how the type of carbohydrate effects your BG.

In the case of refined sugar (white granulated table sugar), it is sucrose and will immediately raise your BG as soon you swallow it. That's why a person with diabetes who is experiencing a blood sugar low reaches for a piece of hard candy or drinks juice. It gives them the sudden needed spike to bring it up and out of the dangerous low level that could lead to dizziness, fainting or coma. But sugar does other things in the body that may lead to digestive disruption causing a person to not extract nutrients effectively from their food, it feeds yeast which may lead to an overgrowth and can be the source of sluggish digestion, bloating and gas. Glucose is the quickest source of energy, but if it is not used immediately through normal body function or exercise, it very quickly is stored as fat. Although we love it and have overwhelming cravings for it, too much sugar is not good for our bodies, whether you're a diabetic or not. In a recent report put out by the American Heart Association, it is recommended for optimum health that it be limited each day to 25 grams (5 teaspoons) of added sugar for women and no more than 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons) for men. To read a short, but informative article about this subject, check out this link:

I learned this the hard way. I grew up regularly eating high carb and fatty foods and sugar was added to many dishes you would never suspect. For example, I loved my grandmother's cooked cabbage. I would request it when I spent the night with her. I assumed because it was a vegetable, it was completely healthy. It wasn't until I was putting together a family cookbook after she passed away that I discovered that the reason it was so delicious was because she made it with bacon grease and added sugar! She was just cooking in the loving way she was taught and was common for the time, so I certainly don't blame her or anyone in my past for my current health problems, but it has been a long and difficult road to overcome and drastically change my lifelong eating habits that are the root cause of my diabetes. After all, T2 diabetes is a digestive disease, so what I eat will either aid in healing my body from within or cause more damage. The choice is mine and mine alone. Also, as a result of lessons learned through the management of my illness, I am doing what I can to provide better nutrition and an example of healthy living to my daughter so she might avoid the same difficult health issues in her adult life.

If you want to learn more about how diet can impact your health, I highly recommend the book The Diet Cure by Julia Ross, M.A. Also, the BBC television program You Are What You Eat hosted by Gillian McKeith vividly illustrates how the food one eats can adversely or positively effect one's health and quality of life.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Beef Burgundy with Roasted Vegetables

This dish is so satisfying and delicious on a cold or rainy autumn day, when you can feel winter starting to creep in. Normally, Beef Burgundy is served over rice or pasta but, since I avoid white starches, I prefer to eat mine with vegetables like a stew. Oven roasting is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to prepare vegetables, so I hope you'll give these a try. Of course, feel free to substitute and use whatever vegetables you have on hand or your favorites.

Another thing that is different in this recipe is the use of pureed cannellini beans as a thickener. The reason is to introduce more fiber and nutrition. The ingredient most often used to make a gravy is white flour, which really only adds carbs and very little else. Also, by doing this, it makes this recipe gluten-free. (For some people, the gluten in wheat products causes digestive discomfort and inflammation.) Since Beef Burgundy is a long time favorite of my husband's, I worried that he might be able to detect the difference and turn up his nose. I worried needlessly because he loved it!

Beef Burgundy with Roasted Vegetables
(Makes 4 servings)

1¼ pound high-quality stew meat or sirloin tips
1 tablespoon canola oil
1¼ cup very hot or boiling water
½ cup burgundy wine
1 tablespoon Gravy Master (seasoning & browning sauce)
¾ cup canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste

Roasted Vegetables:
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces (or 2 small turnips)
1 medium to large onion, cut into chunks
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
1½ cup butternut squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 plum tomatoes, cut into large chunks
2 fingerling or small new potatoes, quartered (about ½ cup)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a heavy Dutch oven, heat ½ tablespoon canola oil on high heat. Add half of the meat and sear on all sides. Remove to plate. Heat remaining oil in pan and sear the remaining beef until well browned on all sides. Return meat to pan and immediately pour in hot water and stir to loosen brown bits from bottom of pan. Add the wine and Gravy Master to pot (liquid should just cover meat). Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until beef is tender.

2. After beef has simmered for about 30 minutes, begin preparing roasted vegetables. Preheat oven to 425-degrees. Prepare vegetables and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper until evenly coated. Spread out on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Arrange potatoes and zucchini cut side down. Roast in oven for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking time.

3. When beef is tender and while vegetables are finishing in the oven, take the cannellini beans and puree in a food processor or blender with several large spoonfuls of cooking liquid until completely smooth. Pour pureed beans into beef mixture and stir to combine. Continue simmering uncovered until liquid has reduced into gravy. (If too thick, add more water until proper consistency has been reached.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Divide roasted vegetables evenly among serving plates. You may spoon beef burgundy over vegetables or on side to serve.

Nutritional Information per serving beef burgundy only, no vegetables: 272 calories, 7.8 g carbohydrate, 5.3 g total fat, 2.25 g fiber, 40 g protein.

Nutritional Information per serving with roasted vegetables and beef: 403 calories, 29.8 g carbohydrate, 10.4 g total fat, 6.6 g fiber, 41.9 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Oh, Nuts!

I freely confess that I'm a nut junkie. Nuts are the perfect low-carb snack. They are a natural product, minimally processed and loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, heart-healthy fats and protein. In the late afternoon, when I'm feeling a bit hungry but dinner is a couple of hours away, I very often turn to a serving of nuts to keep me going. Portion control is important because these little gems are a dense, energy-packed food and not particularly low in calories. Usually, only ¼ cup or less is considered a serving (read the nutrition label). It's best to measure your snack into a separate bowl, instead of reaching into the bag or jar, to prevent mindless overeating. I have purchased a set of attractive, small serving dishes that hold just the right amount. This special touch makes what might be considered a boring snack a lot more fun!

Now, there are plain nuts and then there are fancy nuts! Ordinary nuts in their natural, unaltered state are excellent. But, some might say, they aren't very exciting and I agree. Luckily, nuts are becoming so popular as a snack idea, that some companies have gone out of their way to create interesting mixes, flavors and unique combinations that get me so excited, I squeal with joy when I find them! Here are some of my favorites:

Sahale Snacks: I love their Almond PBJ and Glazed Cashews with Pomegranate and Vanilla! But they also have some very interesting spicy varieties, too.

Emerald Nuts: I sometimes have their Cocoa Roast Almonds for dessert, they are so good!

True North: They have such a wide variety, it's hard to choose a favorite. Their Almond or Pistachio Crisps are a cross between a cracker and a chip. The Nut Clusters are like little chunks of candy. No wait... I love them all!

Look for these delicious, healthy nut snacks in your grocery store, at Target (True North & Emerald) or online. All of their websites, which are linked above, have convenient store locator functions to find a store near you. Go nuts!