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