I’ve really been on a baking kick for some reason. Maybe it’s just a seasonal thing – bake when it’s cool out since you don’t notice the oven being on like you do in the summer. Anyhow, one thing I’ve been working on quite a bit is a good low-fat cornbread. I made several batches (five, I think?) before I really arrived at one that I felt was worthy of posting. I went through several rounds of trying to make it with cheddar cheese and chile peppers, including the round that resulted in the lovely, colorful picture below:

Liquid Ingredients (Sans Milk) For Cornbread

Liquid Ingredients (Sans Milk) for Chile-Cheddar Cornbread – Which is NOT the Recipe that Won Post-able Honors

As attractive as the mid-way step was for this batch, it ended up being rather dry, since I hardly used any butter to compensate for the fat in the cheddar cheese. An earlier attempt used avocado as the fat component, and while that was good, it still seemed to dry out rather quickly. And then another batch I made included some fire-roasted red peppers, and sadly started to mold on day three! (That was when I discovered that cornbread really only keeps at room temperature for 1 to 2 days! Which brings me to a handy little website I found called Still Tasty, which has the shelf life of foods with various methods of storing foods).

For my final, approved version I decided to scrap the cheddar cheese (since the cheddar taste never seemed as apparent as I envisioned it would anyhow), used a bit more butter and then added sun-dried tomatoes and roasted green chiles, as well as a few other flavor components. And as soon as it cooled, I cut it into pieces and stuck it in the fridge. This round really made up for the rest of them, though – it’s got a very robust taste with just a bit of heat from dried red pepper flakes. (And it’s not dry!)

Low-fat Cornbread with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Roasted Green Chiles
makes 8-12 pieces

3/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup flour (I used white whole wheat)
2+1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground sumac*
1/4 heaping tsp dried red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1/3 cup loosely packed sun-dried tomatoes
4 oz can diced roasted green chiles (I used mild)
2 Tbsp melted butter
2 egg whites
3/4 cup skim milk

* You can find ground sumac in Middle-Eastern markets or at Whole Foods

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine dried ingredients from cornmeal through black pepper and set aside.

If the sun-dried tomatoes are fairly hard, soak them in hot water for about 10-15 minutes, then drain. Cut into very small pieces.

Combine the sun-dried tomatoes, green chiles, melted butter, egg whites, and skim milk in a separate bowl.

When the oven has reached baking temperature, add the dried ingredients to the liquid ingredients, and stir just enough to incorporate the dry ingredients. Pour better into an 8 inch square pan (or a large bread pan), and smooth out the top. Bake for 25-35 minutes (it will take longer if you use a bread pan, I think), until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack. Store in the fridge once cool!

Low-fat Cornbread with Sundried Tomatoes and Roasted Green Chiles

Low-fat Cornbread with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Roasted Green Chiles

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Low-fat Brownies

February 17, 2013

I’ve been on a bit of a baking kick lately, and the most recent thing I’ve been experimenting with is low-fat brownies. I made several batches until I got things very close to the way I wanted them, playing around with using both coconut milk and avocado as lower-fat alternatives. What I finally settled on was a very small amount of butter and an egg, with the main moisture coming from applesauce and yogurt. I also made them with erythritol, a granulated sugar alcohol that I have baked with for years. After my week of real food, I re-examined the use of sugar vs. honey vs. sugar substitutes, and once again arrived at erythritol being my best bet, since I like to avoid the high calories in sugar. Erythritol is extremely low on the GI scale, and seems to have gotten very good marks on safety. The thing I really like about these is that they are low enough in fat and calories that you can have 1/9th of the pan for fewer than 100 calories and less than 3 grams of fat!

I recently got a wonderful heavy aluminized steel baking pan with a silicone coating (USA Pans is the brand), and I love it. I’ve discovered that you don’t even need to grease it and things still come out wonderfully!

Low-fat Brownie Batter

Low-fat Brownie Batter

Low-fat Brownies
makes 9-16

1 cup flour (I use King Arthur white whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter, slightly softened
1 egg
1 cup erythritol
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the first four ingredients very well in a small bowl and set aside. Using a mixer, cream the butter, egg and erythritol together. Then add the next five ingredients, applesauce through cinnamon, and continue to mix well. Now add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture, combining with a spoon until the flour is combined (but don’t over-mix). Pour batter into a sprayed or greased pan (or one with a great silicone coating!). Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Low-fat Brownie

Low-fat Brownie

I enjoyed the flavor of the Matcha Green Tea and Yogurt Chip Cookies I made in late December so much that I wanted to make another baked something with it. I didn’t really want to do cookies again, so I thought – hey, why not try biscotti with it? I made a lot of biscotti last year, and it’s pretty simple to make, so I thought my odds were pretty good that it would work out well.

I threw in some chocolate chips and yogurt chips I had left over from previous baking endeavors. I also did a combination of butter and applesauce to lighten things up a bit (and to make up for the chocolate and yogurt chips).

What I found particularly amusing was how much the dough ended up looking like the stuff you put in the bottom of a flower arrangement to keep the flowers in place. Fortunately it didn’t taste remotely the way I imagine that stuff would taste.

Matcha Biscotti Loaf

Matcha Biscotti Loaf – Ready to Bake

Matcha Biscotti
makes about 20

2 Tbsp butter, melted
5 Tbsp applesauce
1/2 oz matcha green tea powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup white and/or chocolate chips
2 eggs
3/4 cup erythritol (or 1 cup sugar)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 + 1/2 cup flour

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil, and spray well with cooking spray.

Mix all ingredients through salt in a large bowl. Add the baking powder, and then gradually add the flour mixture in about 3 batches, combining well.

Rinse your hands in cold water and just shake (but not dry) them off. Take the dough and form skinny loaf between 2-3 inches wide and about 12 inches long. (The dough will spread a bit as it bakes.) Note that you can make 2 loaves if you’d rather.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until it has the consistency of a loaf of bread (just a tiny bit of give when you touch the top). Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. As soon as you remove the biscotti, decrease the oven temperature to 275.

Slice the loaf diagonally with a serrated knife into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. Wipe the aluminum foil with a paper towel to get rid of excess cooking spray, then arrange the slices on the baking sheets, and bake until the biscotti are dry – anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes (seriously, it’s a crazy range – I have different results with basically the same batter each time). Remove from oven, and cool on a rack.

Matcha Biscotti

Matcha Biscotti

I finished up my week of eating only real food this past Sunday, and it went pretty well. It turns out it’s definitely possible to do, but takes a little extra preparation up front, and a lot more label reading and thought. I was secretly hoping that I would get a good start on dropping the 5 extra holiday pounds that seem to find me every year, but that actually didn’t budge – nor did I really feel any different by the end of the week. That led me to conclude that either 1) it takes more than a week of ‘clean eating’ to really see any effects and/or 2) I don’t really eat all that badly to begin with.

There are a couple of things that make me think the latter is true (and the first is probably true, too): First, my evening meals were really no different than the things I normally make – I usually cook dinner with whole ingredients. Second, during the work week I take food and eat during the day, and that food usually includes organic cereal made with whole wheat, dried fruit, nuts, and organic fat-free Greek yogurt — none of which are particularly horrible. The big changes I made to my day-to-day eating were 1) no low calorie/ low fat/ high fiber/ high protein/ ( highly processed and added to)  ‘Alternative Bagels‘, 2) no Luna fiber bars (or any other kind of bars), 3) no Guiltless Gourmet baked tortilla chips with Kraft Fat-Free Cheddar Cheese to make nachos, and 4) no over-snacking on dark chocolate or other sweet dessert items.

Despite the lack of any huge revelation at the end of the week, I am completely glad I did this, and I do plan to make some adjustments to my diet going forward:

  • Unless every ingredient is whole or organic, or all the spices are listed individually, I’m going to try to avoid foods that list more than 5-10 ingredients. There were several things that I normally buy that I think should have been perfectly allowable, but just had more healthy ingredients than 5. But some of the items I checked out at the store (lower-fat cream cheese, for instance) literally had around 20 ingredients, only 8 or so of which I could identify in any way. That’s just kind of gross when you think about it.
  • I’m going to investigate preservatives a bit more, and allow those that seem relatively safe, but try to avoid foods that seem needlessly preserved or use mysterious preservatives or those for which the verdict is still out. Given the fact that a full time job makes it difficult to cook everything from scratch, and some time-saving is necessary, I’m not going to bar a food item if it includes say, citric acid.
  • I’m going to think a bit more about whether the foods I’m eating are really nutritional, or if they’re just empty calories. I won’t cut myself off from nutritionally useless things like half of a dessert when eating out, or the above-mentioned baked tortilla chips completely, but I was eating them more than once a day, which I’d like to stop.
  • Now that I discovered it’s possible to make bread with literally ALL whole wheat flour that’s still light and tasty, just by adding a mashed potato, I’ll probably bake with more whole wheat.

And now, some pictures of my dinners last week:

Leek, Pepper, Rice and Heirloom Beans deglazed with Espresso Balsamic Vinegar

Leek, Pepper, Rice and Heirloom Beans deglazed with Espresso Balsamic Vinegar

I’ll post a recipe for the above dish later on.

Curried Chicken and Potatoes

Curried Shredded Chicken and Potatoes

The recipe for Curried Shredded Chicken and Potatoes is on my recipe page — BUT I used real coconut milk for it instead of the ‘lite’ chemical concoction I used for the original recipe.

Quinoa, Heirloom Bean and Kale Salad with Espresso Balsamic Vinaigrette

Quinoa, Heirloom Bean and Kale Salad with Espresso Sesame Balsamic Vinaigrette

This salad was really simple. Make a bed of  kale, red cabbage and carrot, then add 1/2 cup cooked quinoa, 1/2 cup cooked heirloom beans, and dress with Espresso Sesame Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette (I used honey instead of maple for this week).

Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Tomato Sauce

Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Tomato Sauce and Shaved Pecorino Romano (supplemented with a smaller version of the Quinoa and Bean Salad for protein)

When I don’t have summer-fresh tomatoes I just use a couple of cans of organic diced tomatoes for my home-made tomato sauce. Here’s the recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Heirloom Tomato Sauce.

Berbere Chicken with Oven-Baked Potatoes

Berbere Chicken with Oven-Baked Potatoes (the chicken looks charred, but it wasn’t – I think it was just that the dark spice rub got darker!)

This was boneless chicken thighs coated with berbere (a spice combination I make from Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe) and then grilled. The potatoes were just tossed in olive oil then salted and peppered and roasted in the oven. We also had an arugula salad on the side.

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