Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mini Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

Recently I taught a cooking class entitled "How to Love Vegetables." We made main dish salads, vegetable snacks and nutritious side dishes but, just to prove how versatile vegetables can be, we also made these delicious miniature cupcakes that include grated zucchini in the batter. The amazing thing is, when peeled of its green skin, the zucchini is undetectable in the final result! The creamy, nutty peanut butter and sweet chocolate are the only flavors you'll taste. If you like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, then you'll love these little 4-bite wonders at only 5 net carbs each. They are quick to make and fun to eat. What an ingenious way to sneak a little vegetable into a picky eater's diet!

Mini PB Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting
(Makes 18 mini cupcakes)

½ cup of all-purpose flour
½ cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
½ cup Splenda granular (not the baking blend)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup peeled zucchini, finely grated (make sure it is finely grated)
1/3 cup almond milk or skim milk

Chocolate frosting ingredients:
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
1/3 cup almond milk
¼ cup mascarpone cheese (in the specialty cheese display at the grocery)
1½ tablespoons Splenda granular
1 tablespoon sugar-free, fat-free chocolate pudding mix

1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Arrange a rack in center of oven. Line muffin tin with paper liners. This recipe makes 18 mini cupcakes.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, beat the egg until light and lemon colored using a handheld or standing mixer. Add the peanut butter, Splenda, canola oil and vanilla. Continue beating on medium-high speed for about 2-3 minutes. (Don't underbeat this step, you need to fluff up the egg mixture with air.) Beat in the grated zucchini on low speed until fully incorporated.

3. Alternate adding the dry ingredients with the milk and beat after each addition, scraping down the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula. Use a small cookie scoop, spoon batter into the muffin cups until ¾ full (do not overfill).

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Test after 12 minutes and, if needed, bake another 1 to 2 minutes. The tops will only be slightly browned. Do not overbake because you don't want them to dry out.

5. Remove cupcakes to wire rack and cool completely before icing. To make frosting: Mix together the cocoa powder and almond milk and heat in the microwave for 20 seconds on high. Whisk until cocoa is incorporated and mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool, about 10-15 minutes. Add the mascarpone cheese and Splenda. With a handheld mixer, beat until light and fluffy (it should resemble a soft whipped cream). Add the dry powder from the pudding mix and beat until thickened. Refrigerate for at least 5 minutes until thickened and set. Stir before icing cupcakes.

Nutritional Information per cupcake with 2 generous teaspoons of frosting: 86.1 calories, 5.7 g carbohydrates, 6 g total fat, 1.3 g saturated fat, 0.8 g fiber, 2.4 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Baked Swedes Au Gratin

Swedes are still abundant in the stores, as the last of the winter vegetables are made available before the spring crop is harvested. Also known by their less appetizing name of rutabaga (or yellow turnip), they are an excellent substitute for potatoes in this creamy, cheesy side dish. When you swap out low-carb swedes for the high-carb potato, you gain a good source of fiber, vitamins C & B6, potassium, folate and calcium. The first time I made this recipe for my family, I tried half potato and half swede, hoping they would be more receptive to the idea of eating turnips. To my surprise, they loved the swede and requested that next time I leave out the potato! So, I did and they were a hit. The sauce is really a gravy made from chicken stock with grated cheese sprinkled throughout the vegetable layers. When baked, it's the gooey, yummy cheese that shines through to make it appear that the sauce is all cheese. If you like Au Gratin Potatoes and are looking for a lower carb alternative, try swedes. I think you'll be pleased, too.

Baked Swedes Au Gratin
(Makes six 1-cup servings)

3 tablespoons zero trans fat buttery spread light, such as Smart Balance
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
1½ teaspoons dried rosemary
Black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 large swede (1 lb.11 oz.), thinly sliced (aka. rutabaga or yellow turnip)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar (2% milk reduced fat)

1. Prepare the sauce by melting buttery spread in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir while cooking for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly add chicken stock while whisking constantly. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat and add rosemary, parmesan cheese and pepper; stir until cheese is melted. Preheat oven to 400-degrees.

2. Spray a large casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Ladle a small amount of the sauce into dish and swirl until bottom is coated. Place 1/3 of the sliced turnip in a layer on the bottom of the dish, sprinkle with 1/3 of the onion and drizzle 1/3 of the remaining sauce over the vegetables. Repeat with another layer of turnips, half of the remaining onion and half of the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with ¼ cup cheddar cheese. Top with a final layer of turnip, the remaining onion, the remaining sauce and the remaining ¾ cup cheddar cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

3. After 45 minutes, remove foil and continue baking for another 25-30 minutes until turnips are fork tender and cheese is golden brown. (If you notice that the cheese is browning too much, cover with foil for remaining cooking time.) Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information per serving: 184 calories, 15.7 g carbohydrate, 9 g total fat, 4.4 g saturated fat, 3.5 g fiber, 10.5 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

How does this recipe compare with traditional Potatoes Au Gratin? This recipe has significantly less calories, carbs and fat (especially saturated fat). For comparison, the nutritional information per 1 cup of home-prepared potatoes au gratin made with margarine is 323 calories, 27.7 g carbohydrate, 18.6 g total fat, 8.6 g saturated fat, 4 g fiber, 12.2 g protein.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cowboy's Roast Beef Hash

Although the main focus of my diet is plant-based or consisting of lean protein, I am not a vegetarian and, on occasion, will get a craving for beef. My "meat & potatoes" husband is extremely supportive and never complains about how little meat and potatoes he gets these days but, when my beef craving hits, he enjoys it immensely! Recently, the supermarket had a special on pot roast, so I made one with enough left over for one of my husband's favorite dishes, Roast Beef Hash.

The best traditionally-prepared roast beef hash is pan-fried onions and potatoes with herbs, beef and finished with heavy cream. I took that same recipe and made substitutions to create a healthier version. Instead of potatoes, I used canned black-eyed peas (or try pinto beans) and a smaller amount of light cream, otherwise the recipe remained basically the same. I thought my husband would be disappointed not to be getting his potatoes, but he loved it! We both agreed the beans provided a similar flavor and texture, making this makeover recipe taste just as delicious as the original. The next day, I took the leftover Cowboy's Roast Beef Hash and served it with fried eggs for a super quick and easy breakfast. I guarantee, these hearty recipes will satisfy any meat & potato lover in your house, too.

Cowboy's Roast Beef Hash
(Makes 4 servings)

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1½ cups canned black-eyed peas or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked lean beef, diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup beef stock
¼ cup light cream

1. Heat olive oil in a heavy non-stick skillet or cast iron pan. Add chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Saute over medium heat until translucent. Add beans and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes.

2. Raise heat to medium-high and add roast beef, thyme, salt and pepper; stir to combine. Add beef stock and stir briefly. Spread mixture into an even layer and press into pan. Allow to cook until stock is evaporated by half, about 4 minutes. Turn mixture over with a spatula and continue cooking until liquid is nearly evaporated.

3. Add light cream and turn mixture again to incorporate cream. Press into skillet and continue cooking until the bottom is brown and beginning to crisp. Turn mixture one last time, again pressing into skillet, and cook until cream is evaporated and mixture is brown and crispy, but not too dry. Watch carefully and, if necessary, reduce heat so mixture doesn't brown too much or burn. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information per serving: 250.5 calories, 17.8 g carbohydrate, 8 g total fat, 3.4 g fiber, 24.8 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

How does this compare with traditional Roast Beef Hash? This recipe is less than half the calories, fewer carbs, 2/3 less fat and more fiber. A traditional roast beef hash recipe calls for beef with marbling, potatoes and heavy cream which makes the calories and saturated fat content soar to unhealthy levels. For comparison, the nutritional information per serving of traditional roast beef hash is 516.2 calories, 20.8 g carbohydrate, 29 g total fat, 2 g fiber, 39 g protein.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Turkey Meatball Florentine Soup

Normally, I eat a lot of vegetables, but sometimes getting enough of the dark, leafy greens is a bit more challenging. This soup fulfills my requirement in a delicious way and the little meatballs make it fun to eat! Spinach and kale are excellent sources of iron, beta carotene, folate and vitamins A, C and K. Of course, I would have to include my favorite super food (beans) which are loaded with protein and fiber. I used heirloom Cannellini Runner Beans because that's what I had in the pantry, but feel free to substitute your favorite white bean, such as Great Northern, or limas.

Turkey Meatball Florentine Soup
(Makes eight 1½ cup servings)

12 oz. dried white beans
2 teaspoons baking soda
8 cups chicken stock
½ pound 99% extra lean ground breast of turkey
5 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed (½ package)
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons seasoned breadcrumbs
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg
One 14.5 ounce canned petite diced tomatoes with liquid
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
6 cups kale, torn or rough chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Pick through beans for small stones. Rinse and cover with cold water and soak overnight or for 4-5 hours. Drain and place beans in a large pot and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 20-25 minutes or until skins split when you blow on them. Add baking soda to pot and stir to release gas in beans. (Note: The mixture will foam and bubble so, if necessary, do this in sink in case hot liquid overflows the pot.) After foaming has ceased, drain and rinse beans and return them to pot.

2. Add chicken stock to pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 1½ hours.

3. Take the thawed spinach and squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach. Place it in a medium mixing bowl and add the ground turkey, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, pepper, oregano, garlic powder and egg. Mix together with a fork until well combined. Turn up the heat to medium high and, as soon as the beans are boiling, form small meatballs (about 1-inch in diameter) and drop into the boiling liquid. Do not stir. Cover pot and boil for 5 minutes, and then reduce the heat to a simmer once again. Stir meatballs into the soup and cover. Continue simmering while you prepare the kale.

4. Wash the kale and remove the thick stems. Tear or chop leaves into bite size pieces. Place in pot and cover. As soon as the leaves have wilted, add tomatoes and Italian seasoning and stir soup to combine ingredients. Cover pot and continue simmering until beans are soft and mealy. The amount of time will depend on the type of bean used; check every 15-30 minutes until done. Taste soup and, if necessary, add salt and pepper to your liking.

Nutritional Information per serving: 246.8 calories, 36.4 g carbohydrate, 2.2 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 9.1 g fiber, 23.5 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mocha Cupcakes with Bailey's Irish Cream Frosting

Next weekend, our church is hosting a St. Patrick's Day dinner and I was asked to adapt a dessert recipe that would be appropriate for diabetics and others looking for a healthier alternative. The original recipe was loaded with saturated fat and carbohydrate, so some serious adjustments needed to be made. It was a fun challenge that required several delicious "taste testings" before a perfected recipe was finally obtained. If you can't find any instant espresso powder (which may not be a common ingredient found at the supermarket), you can substitute instant coffee granules and increase amount by ½ tablespoon. Also, if you want the Bailey's Irish Cream taste to really come through, eliminate the final dusting of espresso powder.

Now, the moment you've been waiting for (drum roll, please)...I am happy to present the following winning makeover recipe with only 11.3 net carbs per serving. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Mocha Cupcakes with Bailey's Irish Cream Frosting
(Makes 15 cupcakes)

1/3 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder (regular or decaf)
¼ cup almond milk
1¼ cups almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1½ tablespoons canola oil
One 2.5 oz. container of baby food prune puree (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup Splenda granular
½ teaspoon butter flavor extract
2 large eggs (room temperature)

Frosting Ingredients:
½ cup mascarpone cheese (4 oz.)
1/3 cup almond milk
1½ tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream
1 tablespoon Splenda granular
2 tablespoons sugar-free, fat-free instant white chocolate pudding mix (dry powder)
dust with espresso powder

1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Pour boiling water over espresso powder and stir until dissolved. Combine espresso mixture with almond milk and let cool. Meanwhile, line muffin tin with paper liners; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, canola oil, sugar, Splenda, butter extract and prune puree until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternate adding the dry ingredients with the espresso and milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Scrape down sides of bowl occasionally. Fill muffin cups ¾ full (do not overfill) and bake for 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cupcakes to cool in pan for a few minutes, and then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.

3. After cupcakes have cooled, make the frosting by combining mascarpone cheese, almond milk, Bailey's Irish Cream and Splenda in a mixing bowl. Beat well until mixture thickens to soft peaks. Add 2 tablespoons instant pudding mix and continue beating until well incorporated and thickened. Refrigerate frosting for at least 10 minutes. Spread 1½ tablespoons onto each cupcake and dust with espresso powder. Serve immediately or refrigerate until 15-20 minutes prior to serving.

Nutritional Information per cupcake with frosting: 190.7 calories, 12.6 g carbohydrate, 14 g total fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 1.3 g fiber, 4.1 g protein.

Make over recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010
The original recipe is one that appeared in Martha Living Magazine's March 2010 issue, p. 48.

How does this compare with the original recipe? This makeover recipe is much lower in saturated fat, calories and carbohydrates, plus it has more fiber and protein. For comparison, the nutritional information per cupcake made from the original recipe is 232.6 calories, 27 g carbohydrate, 12.2 g total fat, 7.5 g saturated fat, 0.4 g fiber, 2.6 g protein.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"BLT" Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

In the late afternoon, around 3:30, I often need a little snack to keep me going until dinner. It's too easy to reach for junk when I'm hungry and in a hurry, so I plan ahead and keep vegetables and fruit at the ready. Carrots and celery dipped in light ranch dressing, easy to peel clementines, apples sprinkled with cinnamon are a few suggestions. Here is another very quick snack that I enjoy on occasion and was adapted from a treasured recipe from my mother-in-law. I mix the "BLT" creamy filling ahead of time and store it in the fridge so, when it's snack time, I only have to hollow out a few cherry tomatoes, fill and eat! Also, these make excellent party appetizers.

I have in my kitchen "junk" drawer a melon baller. I don't think I've ever used it for making melon balls, but I use this tool all the time for coring apples and pears. You certainly don't need this specialized tool to make this recipe but, if you happen to have one, dig it out of the drawer because it makes quick work of hollowing out the cherry tomatoes.

"BLT" Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
(Makes 16-18 appetizers)

16-18 cherry tomatoes
3 slices ready-cooked bacon, turkey bacon or veggie bacon strips
¼ cup fat-free ricotta cheese
2½ tablespoons light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced onion (or 1 tablespoon dried)
3 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped (or 2 tablespoons dried)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Slice the tops off of the cherry tomatoes and remove the seeds and pulp with a small melon baller or spoon. Place cut-side down on paper towels to drain for 10-15 minutes.

2. Chop bacon into small pieces. If using turkey bacon or meat-free bacon strips, cook according to directions until crisp, then chop. Place bacon in a small bowl and add ricotta cheese, light mayonnaise, minced onion, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir to combine ingredients. If using dried onion, allow mixture to sit for about 12 minutes before filling tomatoes. (Mixture can be made ahead and stored in refrigerator until you're ready to fill tomatoes.)

3. Using a small spoon, fill each cherry tomato with mixture and serve.

Nutritional Information per stuffed tomato: 14.5 calories, 1.2 g carbohydrate, 0.7 g total fat, 0.2 g saturated fat, 0.1 g fiber, 0.6 g protein.

Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010
Inspired by a recipe from my mother-in-law, Catherine Sheehan of Tulsa, OK.