Friday, May 28, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recently, my daughter asked if I could send a "care package" from home with some of my healthy chocolate chip cookies. Looking over my collection of recipes, I discovered I didn't have one for plain chocolate chip cookies -- so I went to work creating one. These cookies are delicious, with a satisfying burst of chocolate, but only 6 carbs each! The substitution of almond flour in place of most of the high-carb, low nutrition density white flour makes them a healthier choice than traditional cookies while retaining the texture and flavor of the original. My daughter (who is not diabetic and can eat any cookie she wants) was very pleased and I think you will be, too.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Makes 30 cookies)

1¼ cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
¾ cup Splenda, granular (not baking blend)
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons zero trans fat buttery spread (such as Smart Balance)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup mini semi-sweet chocolate

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

2. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, and salt. Use a fork to break up any lumps in the almond flour; set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, buttery spread, brown sugar and Splenda together with a handheld or standing mixer until sugars are well combined with the butter and the mixture is creamy and light. Add egg and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes until well incorporated.

4. Gradually add the dry ingredients using a wooden spoon and stir until flour is well incorporated and a soft dough forms. Fold in chocolate chips.

5. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (or level small cookie scoop) about 2 inches apart onto cookie sheet. 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: 82 calories, 6.4 g carbohydrates, 5.7 g total fat, 1.8 g saturated fat, 72.5 mg sodium, 0.5 g fiber, 1.6 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

How does this compare to a homemade Chocolate Chip cookie made from a traditional recipe? My recipe is much lower in calories, carbohydrates, fats and sodium. For comparison, the nutritional information for the same size cookie made from a traditional recipe is 160 calories, 21 g carbohydrates, 8 g total fat, 4 g saturated fat, 90 mg sodium, 0.5 g fiber, 2 g protein.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cheesecake-filled Strawberries

Currently available in my local supermarket are extra large strawberries from California. As big and beautiful as they appear, their taste lacks the sweetness that you get from the smaller berries. The reason is because the outside of the large berries turn red and ripen long before the inside is fit to eat. Still, I couldn't resist because I love strawberries and crave them at this time of year. For me, the strawberry season is too short to overlook any of them! Although these larger strawberries are not the best choice for shortcake where the berry needs to shine forth, they are excellent for this quick and easy recipe. I hollowed out their white, tasteless insides to create a strawberry "cone" that is filled with a delicious, creamy cheesecake-like filling. Great for snacking, dessert or as an appetizer, these fruit cones are fun to eat and kids will love them, too! For a frozen treat on a hot day, place them upright in the freezer for about an hour before serving.

The recipe suggests using light cream cheese because it is readily available in any grocery store, but an alternative is White Stilton with Apricots, which is a wonderful snacking cheese that can sometimes be found in the speciality cheese section or Trader Joe's. If you choose the Stilton, only use 3 ounces and eliminate the dried apricots because they are already mixed into the cheese. The nutritional information per berry is only slightly higher but, in my opinion, worth the extra calorie or two.

Cheesecake-filled Strawberries
(Makes between 18- 24 strawberries, depending on size)

3½ ounces low-fat cream cheese, room temperature (see Variation below*)
8 ounces low-fat plain Greek yogurt
3 dried apricots (finely chopped)
1½ teaspoons crystallized ginger (finely chopped)
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 or 3 packets Splenda (or to your taste)
18 to 24 large strawberries

1. In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese and yogurt until well blended. (If necessary, use a fork to break up the cheese and aid in blending.) Add the chopped apricots, ginger, vanilla and Splenda; stir to combine. (This mixture can be made ahead and refrigerated until time to serve.)

2. Wash and dry the strawberries. Cut the tops off the strawberries and, with a small paring knife, hollow out and discard the white, fleshy center to create a cone; set strawberries aside.

3. Fill each strawberry cone with approximately 1 to 1¼ teaspoons of the cream cheese mixture and serve.

Nutritional Information per filled strawberry: 27.6 calories, 3.6 g carbohydrate, 0.7 g total fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 22.4 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber, 1.2 g protein.

*Variation: If using 3 ounces of White Stilton with Apricots in place of the cream cheese and dried apricots, add an additional 1.3 calories, 0.04 g carbohydrate, 0.1 g total fat, 0.1 g saturated fat, 5.7 mg sodium, 0.02 g fiber and 0.3 g protein per filled strawberry.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Frosted Blueberry Cream Delight

With the warmer weather approaching, you'll want to try this yummy recipe. Lately, this has been my go-to snack late in the afternoon or for dessert. When the cream is added to the frozen blueberries, it immediately coats the berries in cream and freezes into a slushy, soft serve "ice cream" that is very refreshing. I use the smaller, lowbush wild variety of blueberry that has been shown to contain more of the polyphenol antioxidants and anthocyanins than it's larger highbush relative. These nutrients have given blueberries their nickname "the super fruit." I don't think there is a medical condition these amazing little berries can't improve -- from helping to stabilize blood sugar and preventing urinary tract infections to reducing inflammation, high blood pressure and other signs of heart disease! They are definitely worth adding to your list of favorite foods. My preferred frozen fruit for this recipe is Wyman's of Maine Wild Blueberries, but if you can't find them in your area, try any brand. Oh, by the way, frozen blueberries don't leave you with the telltale purple smile that cooked berries do, so you can enjoy this treat anytime without feeling self-conscience afterward!

Frosted Blueberry Cream Delight
(Makes 1 serving)

1/2 cup frozen blueberries (the small Maine type preferred)
1 packet stevia
1-2 tablespoons organic heavy cream or full-fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon whipped topping or whipped coconut cream

1. Place the frozen blueberries into a serving dish. Sprinkle with stevia and stir to coat berries. Add the cream and stir. Top with whipped topping and serve immediately while mixture is still frozen.

Nutritional Information per serving: 95 calories, 10.4 g carbohydrate, 6.6 total fat, 3.7 g saturated fat, 4 g fiber, 13 mg sodium, 0.6 g protein. Net carbs per serving: 6.4 grams

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

Variation: Try this with other frozen fruits and berries. I recommend giving these larger fruits a quick chop in a food processor before adding the stevia and cream. Another idea is to chop fresh strawberries or other fruits into small pieces before freezing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chicken Caprese Pasta

Here is an outstanding pasta dish that is extremely flavorful and healthy. The trick to reducing the carbs from pasta is to take a small amount and stretch it. In this recipe, only 3 ounces feeds four people, but you'll not feel deprived at all! The plum tomatoes make this dish especially fresh tasting, light and delicious but, if time is an issue, you can substitute petite diced from a can and eliminate the salt.

Insalata Caprese is the inspiration for this pasta dish. Traditionally, it is a combination of sliced tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil. Also, a balsamic dressing is common. I've added more vegetables to the fresh tomatoes to boost the nutrition and created a balsamic-tomato sauce that brings it all together beautifully. Looking for a meatless meal? Simply leave out the chicken and enjoy.

Chicken Caprese Pasta
(Makes 4 servings)

3 ounces dry spaghetti or angel hair pasta (I recommend Dreamfield’s)
1½ teaspoons olive oil, divided
6 ounces chicken tenders (about 4 tenders)
4 cups seeded and chopped plum tomatoes (about 6 tomatoes)
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup zucchini, quartered and sliced (½ medium zucchini)
3 cups baby spinach leaves
3 tablespoons fresh basil, rolled and sliced into ribbons (or 1 tablespoon dried)
¼ teaspoon salt, divided
Ground black pepper to taste
2 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes (or purchase small balls in the cheese section of your grocery)

Sauce Ingredients:
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons chicken broth

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. While water is boiling and pasta is cooking, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook about 3 minutes per side until juices run clear; remove to plate and cool until it can be handled. Shred or cut into bite-size pieces; set aside.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon olive oil to pan and add onion. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook until beginning to soften. Add zucchini and garlic; saute for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. While vegetable mixture is simmering, in a small bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients; set aside.

4. Add baby spinach to vegetables and cook until wilted. Add pepper, basil, drained cooked pasta, chicken and sauce mixture to skillet and toss until pasta is coated and vegetable sauce is well distributed. Remove from heat and add fresh mozzarella; stir to combine and serve immediately.

Nutritional Information per serving: 253 calories, 30 g carbohydrate, 8.3 g total fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 4.6 g fiber, 285.5 mg sodium, 17.8 g protein

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Parmesan Crusted Sole & Fish Taco Quesadillas

Do you love batter-dipped fried fish? It's a favorite way of eating fish for many people, but it's not the healthiest method of preparing what should be a nutritious protein choice. There are oven-fried methods or broiling, but they usually don't have the same satisfying crunch if you're craving fried fish. Here is an alternative that cooks up quick and easy. The trick is to substitute parmesan cheese in place of the high-carb, low nutrition density batter and control the amount of oil used for cooking. The parmesan lowers the carbs by half, doubles the protein and adds 180 mg. of calcium per serving! If you love the flavor of authentic English fried fish (usually accompanied with chips or fries), sprinkle yours with a little malt vinegar and eat it with a big crunchy salad.

Parmesan Crusted Sole
(Makes 2 servings)

8 ounces sole filets (or substitute tilapia or flounder)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon lemon pepper
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 to 1½ tablespoons olive oil

1. Mix together the flour and lemon pepper in a plate. Place the beaten egg in a second plate and the grated parmesan in a third plate. Line the three plates next to each other. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Dry the fish filets with a paper towel and dip into flour mixture and coat lightly. Next coat with the egg and finally dust each filet with the parmesan cheese mixture on both sides. Place into the preheated skillet and cook, without turning, for at least two minutes or until a brown crust forms. Gently turn fish to second side and continue cooking until crispy and brown. (If necessary, add another ½ tablespoon oil to aid in browning.) Fish is done when it flakes easily and is opaque throughout. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information per serving: 302 calories, 11.9 g carbohydrate, 14.9 g total fat, 4.8 g saturated fat, 0.4 g fiber, 25.9 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

How does this recipe compare to batter-dipped fried fish? While this recipe is lower in calories and total fat, it has only half the carbohydrates and twice the protein. For comparison, the same serving size of a batter-dipped fried fish is 320 calories, 21 g carbohydrates, 19 g total fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0 g fiber, 14.8 g protein.

Have leftovers? Try this recipe!

I made the above recipe for my daughter recently while she was home from college for a short visit. We had leftovers and the next afternoon she made Fish Taco Quesadillas, which were wonderful! She flaked the fish, added lime juice, a little more lemon pepper, garlic, red pepper flakes and chopped broccoli florets. She placed this mixture with a little shredded taco cheese into a folded low-carb flour tortilla and browned both sides over medium-high heat in a non-stick skillet. Served with salsa for dipping and a favorite vegetable, it made a delicious and quick lunch.

Quesadilla recipe by Maralee Sheehan, copyright 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Old-Fashioned Banana Pudding with Vanilla Cookies

This is one of my very favorite desserts and sometimes I just need the "real thing" to satisfy my craving for it. The taste of this makeover recipe is exactly the same as the original and will satisfy the pickiest of banana pudding connoisseurs, but this recipe is only half the calories and one-third the carbs. Right now, Trader Joe's is offering an outstanding vanilla wafer cookie with flecks of vanilla bean that makes this recipe over the top! Of course, you can use the traditional Nilla brand by Nabisco and recreate a fond memory from your childhood, too.

Old-Fashioned Banana Pudding with Vanilla Cookies
(Makes 4 servings)

Pudding ingredients:
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
1¼ cup almond milk (Original flavor)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon banana flavoring (optional)
2 teaspoons Splenda granular (or 2 packets)
1 package of fat-free, sugar free instant banana cream pudding mix
1 small banana, quartered lengthwise and sliced into cubes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
8 vanilla wafer cookies (choose your favorite brand)

Whipped Topping ingredients:
3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons almond or soy milk (or fat-free ½ and ½)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Splenda granular

1. Measure the ¼ cup mascarpone cheese, almond milk, extracts, and 2 teaspoons of Splenda into a medium mixing bowl. Using a hand-held or standing mixer, beat on medium to high speed until well blended and increased in volume. Add sugar-free pudding mix and beat for 1-2 minutes. Refrigerate pudding mixture for a least 10 minutes before proceeding.

2. Slice banana into a small bowl, add lemon juice and toss with a spoon until fruit is coated. Gently fold bananas to the pudding mixture. Divide pudding equally into four dessert dishes. Stick two vanilla cookies into each dish (you may break cookies in half first, if desired). Push the cookies part way into the pudding and refrigerate for 45 minutes before serving. (Pudding can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Because of the fresh bananas, it is best served on the same day as it is prepared, but will keep for 1-2 days.)

3. Whipped Topping (optional): Place all of the topping ingredients into a medium mixing bowl and beat on high with a hand-held or standing mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Nutritional Information per serving of pudding with 2 cookies (no whipped topping): 146 calories, 17.4 g carbohydrate, 7.5 g total fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 0.6 g fiber, 1.5 g protein.

Nutritional Information per serving of whipped topping (about 2 tablespoons or ¼ of recipe): 49 calories, 0.6 g carbohydrate, 4.5 g total fat, 2.6 g saturated fat, 0 g fiber, 0.7 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

How does this recipe compare to homemade banana pudding with vanilla cookies? The difference is astounding because the homemade version that everyone dreams about is made with whole milk and/or cream, eggs, and sugar (and that's before adding the bananas and cookies!). For comparison, the nutritional information per ½-cup serving of the homemade recipe is 350 calories, 52.5 g carbohydrate, 14 g total fat, 9.3 g saturated fat, 0 g fiber, 2.3 g protein.

How does whipped topping made with mascarpone cheese and almond milk or fat-free ½ & ½ compare to real whipped cream made with heavy whipping cream? First, the taste difference is barely noticeable. Both are creamy, delicious and have a similar mouth-feel. The mascarpone whipped topping is slightly less in total fat per serving, but the real difference is in the amount of saturated fat per serving, carbs and number of calories. Real whipped cream is 3.5 grams of saturated fat per serving, 3 carbs (if made with sugar) and about 60 calories. The mascarpone whipped topping is 2.6 grams of saturated fat, 0.6 carbs (if made with a sugar substitute) and 49 calories per serving. When you're watching your weight, every little reduction helps.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Herb Gardening

There is nothing easier than growing your own fresh herbs. You don't need to be a skilled gardener and, as a matter-of-fact, you don't even need a garden! My house is surrounded by large trees and my driveway is about the only place that receives enough light for these sun-loving plants. In past years, I've had a few small pots with herbs but, this year for Mother's Day, I asked my husband and daughter to help me set up a BIG container herb garden! Together we chose a beautifully decorated, sturdy, large pot and had a great time choosing all the individual herb plants. We set it on the driveway between the two garage doors where it will get sunlight most of the morning and into the afternoon. It really dresses up the otherwise boring driveway nicely.

If you want to plant your own personal herb garden, pick a spot that receives at least 6 hours of sun a day. You don't need a large container, but some plants need more root space than others. For example, rosemary will do better in a taller pot because it's roots grow straight down. If you're planting in pots, make certain there is a drainage hole in the bottom of the container so the roots don't become waterlogged. If the plant flowers, pinch the flowers off to encourage a longer growing season and greater yield. You can always start from seeds (right now there are herb starter kits available at most gardening centers), but if you can't wait then purchase the plants. Water your potted herbs whenever the soil is dry. In hot weather, you might have to water daily. You can purchase "moisture control" potting soil which contains small pellets that soak up the water and release it slowly, making it possible to water less often. That's about all you need to know -- it's that easy. The best part about having your own herb garden is that all you have to do is step out of your kitchen and pick the herbs you need for a recipe, which makes cooking more exciting and fun!