Friday, August 31, 2012

Date Sugar

In the recent Eating Well Magazine (Sept/Oct 2012 issue), I read an excellent article on different types of sugar, from granulated white to natural sweetners, such as maple crystals or agave nectar.  But there was one listed that I'd never heard of before: Date sugar.  I was curious!  So I went on a hunt for information and where to purchase the product. 

It turns out that date sugar is simply dried and finely ground dates.  It makes an excellent substitute in recipes calling for brown sugar or to sprinkle on cereal or yogurt. It is significantly lower in calories compared to white sugar and you can use less (about 2/3 cup of date sugar when 1 cup of white or brown sugar is called for in a recipe), which further reduces the calories from sugar in the final product.  For comparison, 1/2 cup of date sugar is 288 calories, while refined white sugar is 387 calories per 1/2 cup.  Also, about 8 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup is a nice bonus that you won't get with white sugar!  Date sugar provides some vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as well.  My regular grocery store did not carry it, but it is available at health food stores, some Middle Eastern markets or online. I purchased it at my local Whole Foods store.  One important note: Date sugar crystals do not melt, so avoid recipes in which the sugar is required to melt, such as in drinks or candy.  In baked goods, pretty brown flecks will be visible, but in quick breads, cookies or whole grain recipes you'll not notice. 

To test its consistency and flavor, I made some banana bread using my own recipe.  (See July 29, 2009 blog post).  I substituted date sugar in place of the white sugar called for in the recipe.  The final result was wonderful! The bread was moist and flavorful.  The dates didn't impart any particular flavor, but the warm, subtle sweetness beautifully complimented the bananas.  The lovely sweetness lingered on my tongue; it was delicious!  I hope you'll be inspired to try it sometime.  I think you'll be pleased, too.

Other recipes to try:

Bananas Foster Quick Bread (May 10, 2011 post)
A Smarter Peach Muffin (Oct. 18, 2009 post)
Caramel Apple Tea Bread (Sept 17, 2009 post)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Italian Zucchini and Tomato Bake

Many years ago, there was a wonderful restaurant in Damariscotta, Maine called the Cheechako.  It was a favorite of my family and I remember the last time I had dinner there was on my 5th wedding anniversary, which happened to be the last weekend they were open.  (I've been married for 30 years, so it was quite a while ago.) They served a delicious zucchini vegetable dish that is the inspiration for this recipe.  With the summer's bounty of zucchini available at the farm stand, I often turn to this favorite dish at this time of year.  It's extremely easy to prepare and is a delicious way to enjoy this prolific vegetable.

Italian Zucchini and Tomato Bake
Makes 4 servings

14.5 ounces canned Stewed Tomatoes
2½ cups sliced Zucchini Squash
1/8 teaspoon Salt
1/8 teaspoon Black pepper
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash Italian Medley Salt-free Seasoning
2 slices High Fiber Bread, dried or toasted and cubed
½ cup shredded Italian Style Cheese (mixture of 4-5 kinds of cheese)

1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Slice zucchini into quarter-rounds, set aside. Partially drain stewed tomatoes and place them into a quart-size casserole dish. Roughly chop. Add zucchini, salt, pepper, and Italian herb seasoning. Stir to combine.

2. Top with dried bread cubes and push the bread into the zucchini mixture. Sprinkle evenly with shredded cheese.

3. Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes until zucchini has softened and cheese is melted and golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information per serving: 114 calories, 13 g carbohydrate, 5.1 g total fat, 2.7 g saturated fat, 457 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 6.1 g sugar, 16 mg cholesterol, 6.8 g protein.

Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Chicken Sausage & Grilled Onions Over Spicy Mustard Beans

The chicken sausages that come cooked in a package are convenient and easy to prepare.  When I don't feel like cooking, they often are my "go to" quick meal.  This recipe can use any flavor of chicken sausage, although I chose Chicken-Apple because its my favorite.  It's served over canned cannellini beans which provides lots of heart-healthy fiber!  Because they're not too exciting on their own, I drained and rinsed the beans before adding them to a spicy mustard sauce and heating them briefly.  This allowed them to pick up the flavor of the sauce and gave them a more interesting flavor.  The other reason I love this quick recipe is that it's a one-pot meal.  It's not fancy, but it's hearty and delicious! 

Chicken Sausage & Grilled Onions Over Spicy Mustard Beans
Makes 3 servings

2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sherry, divided
4 cooked chicken sausage links (any flavor), sliced into rounds
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 can (14.5 ounce) cannellini beans, rinsed & drained
½ cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard (or your favorite)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup shredded gruyere cheese (or parmesan)

1.  Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet on medium and add sliced onions and salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent.  Add 3 tablespoons sherry.  Reduce heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until beginning to turn golden in color.  Add sliced sausage and continue cooking until sausage has browned a bit and onions are caramelized.

2.  Meanwhile, while onions are cooking, in a medium saucepan combine the drained beans, chicken broth, 1 tablespoon Sherry, mustard and pepper.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to low and continue simmering for 5-8 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to sit until onion mixture is ready.

3.  When onions are caramelized and sausage is browned, add chopped tomatoes and stir gently until heated through.  Salt & pepper to taste.

4.  To serve, use a slotted spoon to divide beans equally among the serving plates.  (Discard any remaining liquid.)  Top each with 1/3 of the onion-sausage mixture and sprinkle with shredded cheese.  Serve immediately.
Nutritional Information per serving:  565 calories, 44 g carbohydrate, 28 total fat, 8.3 g saturated fat, 2210 mg sodium, 100 mg cholesterol, 14 g sugar, 11 g fiber,  33 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012

Best Ever Coconut Cream Pie

Moody's Diner in Maine is quite well known and appeals to the locals as much as the summer tourists. This past spring, while there was still snow on the ground, my husband and I took a drive and had lunch at Moody's. Although I couldn't eat a piece of their homemade pie, I did convince my husband to get a slice and share some with me. It was heavenly and a few bites just wasn't enough. I went home and immediately created my own low sugar, reduced carb version that was spectacular! Not long ago, I made this for a church potluck supper and, even though the dessert table was loaded with brownies, cookies and other delicious treats, everyone seemed to have their eye on my pie. As soon as the first few people approached the dessert table and took a slice of pie, onlookers became anxious and, without even finishing their meal, they began to storm the table to secure a piece for themselves. Within a couple of minutes, long before most people had eaten their meal, my pie was gone! The lucky few raved and couldn't believe it was a low sugar pie. It's easy to prepare and can be made ahead. If you don't want pie, try making pudding instead. Either way, I think you'll agree that this is the best ever!

Best Ever Coconut Cream Pie

3/4 cup Splenda granular
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (or lite)
1 1/2 cups 2% milk (or 1% for less fat)
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flaked, unsweetened coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
1 (9-inch) pie shell, prebaked
1/4 cup toasted coconut
Whipped cream, for garnish (optional)

1. In a 1-quart saucepan, combine 3/4 cup Splenda, coconut milk, and 1 cup milk. Scald mixture.

2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the remaining 1/2 cup milk and cornstarch together to make a slurry. Whisk egg yolks with salt in medium bowl. Temper yolks by adding 1/2 cup scaled milk mixture to yolks and whisk well. Add yolk mixture and slurry back into milk mixture and whisk vigorously over medium heat until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add coconut, vanilla, and butter. Whisk until uniformly incorporated.

3. Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell. Cover the pie with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Chill the pie completely, about 2 hours.

4. To serve, top with toasted coconut (see directions below) and a dollop of whipped cream.

5. How to toast coconut:  Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spread unsweetened coconut shavings, or sweetened shredded or flaked coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring once or twice, until golden, about 5 to 10 minutes. If toasting sweetened coconut, check and stir more frequently because the added sugar causes irregular browning.

Nutritional Information: Per 1/8 pie made with 1% milk and lite coconut milk:  282 calories, 23.9 g carbohydrates, 18.6 g total fat, 11.8 g sat. Fat, 0.5 g fiber, 168.6 mg sodium, 4.4 g protein.

Just pudding, made with 1% milk and lite coconut milk (1/8 recipe):
175 calories, 15 g carbohydrate, 11.5 g total fat, 8.2 g saturated fat, 0.5 g fiber, 79.6 mg sodium, 4.4 g protein.

Original recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2012

How does this recipe compare to a traditional Coconut Cream Pie?  My version is significantly lower in calories, fat, carbs, sugars, and sodium.  For comparison, the nutritional information for a restaurant size slice of coconut cream pie is 630 calories, 65 g carbohydrate, 39 g total fat, 24 g saturated fat, 1 g fiber, 370 mg sodium, 43 g sugars, 6 g protein.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Gelatin Dessert

This is not your ordinary Jello! It has the consistency of a mousse and the rich taste of a candy bar. I promise, you won’t believe that it’s made from gelatin. I got the idea from a wonderful, fun cookbook I recently purchased called “Hello, Jello!” by Victoria Belanger. It is filled with the most innovative and creative gelatin desserts you’ll ever see. Unfortunately, her original recipes are not necessarily carb –friendly, but that won’t stop me from making them over using Splenda and lower fat ingredients. My recipe was inspired by her Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, but I must give Victoria all the credit here because I never would have thought of this one on my own. I used regular custard cups as my mold, but she suggests using foil cupcake liners, which really makes it look like the real thing! This is an economical and easy, make-ahead dessert that you won’t want to miss.

Peanut Butter Cup Gelatin Dessert
Makes 6 servings

1 cup 1% low-fat milk
¼ cup fat-free half and half
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup Splenda granular
½ cup creamy peanut butter
1 packet (1 tablespoon) dry, unflavored gelatin powder
¼ cup cold water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, fat-free half and half, cocoa powder and Splenda. Heat over medium heat until it comes to a boil, stirring often. When it reaches a boil, add the peanut butter and whisk until smooth.

2. Meanwhile, place the cold water in a medium mixing bowl and sprinkle the gelatin powder over it. Allow it to sit and absorb the water for 2 minutes (important). Whisk the hot chocolate mixture into the gelatin mixture, whisking until the gelatin has dissolved completely into the hot liquid (about 2 minutes). Add vanilla and whisk until incorporated.

3. If using custard cups, divide the gelatin mixture equally between six cups and place in the refrigerator until set, about 2 hours. If you wish to use the foil cupcake liners, allow the mixture to thicken slightly before spooning into the liners. Refrigerate until set.

4. The dessert may be served in the custard cups, but you may wish to unmold and serve on a plate (as pictured). To unmold, run a paring knife around the edge to loosen and turn onto a serving plate. (If needed, you may warm the bottom of the custard cup in very warm water for about 30 seconds to make it easier to unmold.) If using foil liners, dip the bottom of the liner in warm (not hot) water for about 15 seconds before peeling the liner off.

Nutritional Information per serving (not including whipped topping): 173 calories, 14.6 g carbohydrate, 12.5 g total fat, 3.6 g saturated fat, 127.5 mg sodium, 2.3 g fiber, 8.2 g protein.

Recipe make-over by Kathy Sheehan, 2012. Original recipe by Victoria Belanger. If you’d like to see more gelatin recipes by Victoria Belanger, visit her blog at

How does this recipe compare with the original? My make-over recipe is much lower in calories, carbs and fat. For comparison, one serving of the original recipe from the book is 489.4 calories, 56.5 g carbohydrate, 21.2 g total fat, 14.9 g saturated fat, 251 mg sodium, 3.3 g fiber and 17 g protein.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

This is one of my family's favorite comfort foods - Bread Pudding. This version has pumpkin to boost the fiber and nutrition. It is delicious served at room temperature, but on a cold winter day, it is especially comforting eaten warm.

Low Carb Pumpkin Bread Pudding 
Makes 8 servings

2 cups low carb bread, torn into bite-size pieces & dried 
3 cups unsweetened almond or coconut milk, divided 
2 tbsp brown erythritol, divided 
pinch salt 
2 eggs 
2/3 cup pumpkin purée 
1/2 cup erythritol sweetener, granular 
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice 
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Set rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°.

2. Spray 8-inch square, glass baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place dried bread in pan and set aside.

3. In a 4 quart mixing cup, measure 1 cup almond milk, 1 tbsp brown erythritol sweetener and pinch of salt. Whisk until sugar is dissolved. Pour over bread and allow to sit, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, measure the remaining 2 cups almond milk, remaining 1 tbsp brown erythritol, eggs, pumpkin, 1/2 cup erythritol, spice, and vanilla. Whisk until well blended. Pour pumpkin mixture over and gently stir.

5. Bake in preheated oven for 55 minutes or until knife inserted about 1 inch from center comes out clean. Cool for 30 minutes before serving. 

Nutritional Information per serving: 106.38 calories, 6.8 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g total fat, 0.4 g saturated fat, 99 mg sodium, 2.8 g fiber, 7.8 g sugar, 6.4 g protein. Net carbs per serving: 4 grams

Original Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, 2012