Thursday, December 30, 2010

Limoncello Pasta

My husband and I spent a wonderful week in Rome about a month ago and I'm still dreaming about the incredible Lemon Pasta we had at La Sacarestia near the Pantheon (twice). Yesterday, I was thumbing through a fun Trader Joe's cookbook I received for Christmas from my sister and was intrigued by one of the recipes. It was pasta topped with a lemon-vodka sauce, which sounded like it might be similar. The only problem was that it called for an entire container of mascarpone cheese as a base for the sauce! Knowing it would be too high in saturated fat, I began thinking of a way to lighten the dish. I happen to have a bottle of limoncello liqueur in the fridge and thought it might boost the lemon flavor, as well. To make a long story short, let me just say that I may have found the perfect combination of ingredients and portion size that will allow me to feast on my Roman Lemon Pasta more often! It goes very well with simple, grilled chicken breasts or tenders. A side of sauted spinach completed this healthy, quick and delicious meal.

Limoncello Pasta
(Makes 4 side-dish servings)

4 oz. dry angel hair pasta (I used Dreamfield's)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1½ tablespoon all-purpose flour
2/3 cup chicken stock, warmed in microwave
Zest from one lemon
Juice from one lemon
1½ tablespoons limoncello liqueur
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Prepare the pasta according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour, whisk and cook for about 45 seconds. Slowly add the warmed chicken stock while whisking constantly. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened. Add the lemon zest, juice, limoncello, mascarpone cheese, basil, salt and pepper. Stir until cheese has melted and mixture is smooth.

3. Drain pasta and toss with lemon sauce. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information per serving: 203.2 calories, 25 g carbohydrate, 9.5 g total fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 77.4 mg sodium, 2.7 g fiber, 4.9 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

Added 1/10/11:
I wanted to make this dish for an Italian Potluck reunion of my Rome traveling friends. To make this dish for a crowd and more portable, I first chose to use penne pasta instead of angel hair. I tripled the recipe, boiled the pasta for only 5 minutes, combined it with the sauce and poured it into a 13"x9" casserole dish. I topped it with a mixture of ½ cup breadcrumbs mixed with lemon pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil. I baked it in a 400-degree oven for about 25 minutes. This variation makes 12 side dish portions.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Easy Pear & Cranberry Cobbler

At this time of year when sweets are abundant, arriving in gift boxes every day and threatening my food plan, I try to have something on hand that I can enjoy without guilt. This fruit cobbler is an easy dessert that is delicious and good for me! It utilizes the wonderful Comice pears available in the stores right now (they are the sweetest and juiciest of the pear varieties), plus the warm spices give it a holiday twist. Apples can be substituted and are just as delicious. I used Quaker Oatmeal Pancake mix, but you can use any whole grain mix you may already have in your pantry. This cobbler is quick, very simple to prepare and just as tempting as anything my friends and relatives have given us this holiday season. Like me, you may find it a lot easier to leave the high-carb, sugary treats to others if you have an alternative to satisfy your sweet tooth. Best wishes for a happy, healthy holiday!

Easy Pear & Cranberry Cobbler
Makes 8 servings

½ cup whole grain or oatmeal pancake mix
½ cup almond flour
1½ teaspoons cinnamon, divided
¾ teaspoon ground ginger, divided
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons Splenda granular
1 egg
½ cup skim or almond milk
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 pears, cored, peeled and cut into 1" chunks (apples can be substituted)
½ tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
1 tablespoon flour

1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees. Spray an 8" square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, mix together the pancake mix, almond flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ginger, nutmeg, cloves and Splenda. Mix together with a fork to break up any lumps. Set aside dry ingredients and prepare pears.

2. Core and peel each pear, then cut into large chunks. Place the pears into a medium mixing bowl, add lemon juice and toss to coat. Add the dried cranberries, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ginger and 1 tablespoon flour; stir to combine. Spoon pears into the prepared baking dish; set aside.

3. To the dry ingredients, add the egg, milk and canola oil. Stir vigorously with a fork until batter is well combined. Pour over pears and spread to cover fruit. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes before serving. Also, it can be served at room temperature.

Nutritional Information per serving: 162.5 calories, 25.4 g carbohydrate, 6.4 g total fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 91.8 mg sodium, 4.6 g fiber, 3.7 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

How does this recipe compare to traditional cobbler? This recipe is much lower is calories, carbs and fat, plus it has 4x the fiber and double the protein! For comparison, a ½ cup serving of traditional fruit cobbler is 360 calories, 67 g carbohydrate, 10 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 1 g fiber, 2 g protein.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Peppermint Bark Cake

On Christmas Eve, it is a tradition in our family to have a simple meal of soup, salad and rolls. The idea is to make things easy and restful before the big day and allow us to attend evening church services without the hassle of preparing a large meal. With that simple fare, I always like to prepare a very special and memorable dessert, since it is usually the highlight of the meal. This year, I was inspired by the Chocolate-Peppermint Bark candy that is a holiday favorite of many and transformed it into a cake that sparkles with peppermint crystals!

If you're making this ahead, sprinkle the candy on top just before serving to preserve it's sparkle and freshness. To create the peppermint crystals, I broke four ½-ounce candy canes into a plastic bag and gently hammered them with the smooth side of my meat mallet (or use the side of a rolling pin) until they were the size I wanted. I removed 2 tablespoons and reserve it for the topping, then continued hammering until the candy was finely crushed (this I used in the batter).

This beautiful dessert not only makes a festive centerpiece, it is rich and decadent. The dark chocolate cake is fudge-like with the slightest hint of peppermint, the filling is creamy and the white chocolate topping is smooth and delicious. The grand finale is the sweet, minty crunch from the crushed candy canes. I already know it will be a hit with my family this year. (From sampling my "test cake," my non-diabetic husband has declared this the best recipe I've created so far!) I hope it will be enjoyed by your family, as well. Merry Christmas!

Peppermint Bark Cake
(Makes 12 servings)

Cake Ingredients:
¾ cup almond milk
1 oz. unsweetened or bittersweet baking chocolate (1 square), chopped
¾ teaspoon instant coffee granules (decaf or regular)
1¼ cups almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
¾ cup all purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons finely crushed peppermint candies
6 tablespoons butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
3 large eggs
One 2.5 oz. container of baby food prune puree (about 3 tablespoons)
1 cup Splenda granular
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Cream Filling Ingredients:
1½ tablespoons cocoa powder
½ cup almond milk (original or unsweetened)
½ cup mascarpone cheese
3½ tablespoons Splenda granular
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fat-free, sugar-free chocolate fudge instant pudding mix (dry powder)

Topping Ingredients:
1½ tablespoons almond milk (or fat-free ½ & ½ can be substituted)
½ cup white chocolate morsels
2 tablespoons crushed peppermint candies

1. Prepare an 8" springform cake pan by placing a circle cut from parchment or wax paper in the bottom of the pan and spray sides with non-stick cooking spray; set aside. In a small saucepan, heat ¾ cup almond milk over medium-low heat to scalding or microwave on high for 60-90 seconds. Remove from heat and add the roughly chopped unsweetened baking chocolate square and instant coffee granules; stir until melted and smooth. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before proceeding; meanwhile preheat oven to 350-degrees and assemble the remaining cake ingredients.

2. In a small mixing bowl, sift together the flours, ½ cup cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt and 3 tablespoons finely crushed peppermint candies; set aside. In a large mixing bowl and using a handheld or standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the prune puree, Splenda and extracts. Beat until well incorporated, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl at least once. Alternate adding the dry ingredients ½ cup at a time and the cooled milk and chocolate mixture until well combined, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally.

3. Spoon into prepared cake pan and bake for 38-42 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 10 minutes. Carefully remove cake from pan and move to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. Meanwhile make chocolate cream filling by first melting the 1½ tablespoons cocoa powder in almond milk over low heat or in the microwave for about 45-60 seconds on high. Stir to incorporate cocoa into milk. Set aside until cooled to room temperature. (If desired, place in refrigerator to hasten cooling.) Place mascarpone cheese in a large mixing bowl and add cooled almond milk mixture. Beat with a handheld or standing mixer on high until well combined and mixture is light and fluffy (it will resemble whipped cream). Add Splenda, extract and continue to beat until incorporated. Add the 2 tablespoons of chocolate instant pudding powder and beat well. Place in refrigerator for at least 10 minutes to set. With a serrated knife, cut cake into two layers. Stir chocolate pudding mixture before spreading onto lower half of cake. Top with top layer; set aside.

5. To make white chocolate topping, heat 1½ tablespoons milk and morsels in microwave for 15 seconds on high. Repeat if necessary. Allow to sit for 1-2 minutes. Stir until morsels are melted and mixture is smooth; set aside to cool. Mixture will thicken as it cools. To hasten cooling, refrigerate for 10-15 minutes until the consistency of a very thick, but pourable glaze, stirring occasionally.

6. Pour white chocolate topping onto the center of the top layer of cake and spread to edges if it doesn't spread out to cover top of cake and allow it to drip over the sides. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons crushed peppermint candies. Allow topping to cool completely and set. Store in refrigerator, but allow to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information per serving (1/12th of cake): 325 calories, 31.3 g carbohydrate, 21 g total fat, 9.2 g saturated fat, 3.5 g fiber, 6.8 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010

How does this cake recipe compare with a traditionally prepared cake? I've substituted almond flour for a large portion of the white flour and eliminated most of the high-carb sugar. These substitutions alone make a huge difference! For comparison, the same size serving of a similar cake made with traditional ingredients is 489.5 calories, 78.7 g carbohydrate, 24 g total fat, 14 g saturated fat, 2.2 g fiber and 4.8 g protein.