Nutty Apple Crisp

My roommate and I had a housewarming party on Friday, and of course I wanted to make sure people had plenty to eat and snack on–with the caveat that it was healthy enough for me to eat too. So I made hummus to serve with veggies, roasted a whole chicken, and baked an apple crisp.

So this sounds basic enough, but I wanted to reinvent the already healthy and relatively low-calorie apple crisp to be low-glycemic and reduce the sugar content. So I grabbed my traditional Better Homes & Gardens Apple Crisp recipe and went to work on changing it.

First, I wanted to eliminate the 1/4 cup white flour in the topping so I replaced it with 1/4 cup almond flour. I also nixed the 1/2 cup brown sugar and replaced it with 1/4 cup agave nectar for sweetness and 1/3 cup wheat bran and 1/4 cup flax-seed meal for texture (and health!). I replaced 4 Tbsp. of butter with 1 Tbsp. olive oil to reduce the overall fat and saturated fat and then added a pinch of kosher salt to make the flavors pop. I added 2 Tbsp. of unsweetened coconut and 1 oz. of chopped almonds for flavor and texture. I kept the rolled oats, even though they are medium-glycemic, because they are fundamental to the texture and taste of my apple crisp. I also added Ceylon Cinnamon to the topping.

For apples, I used half Pink Lady and half Braeburn. I rarely use Granny Smith apples for baking because they have an inconsistent texture depending on age and time of year. One time in college I made apple crisp with all Granny Smiths, and someone asked me if I used applesauce in my apple crisp. Ouch! Since then, I have used a mix of apples and ones that stay firmer during baking. To make the apple crisp faster to make, healthier, more toothsome, and colorful, I don’t peel my apples.  Then, instead of adding 2-4 Tbsp. sugar to the apples, I tossed them with 4 packets of Truvia (Splenda would also work) and some Vietnamese cinnamon.

With baking the crisp, I realized that this topping can burn a lot easier than the butter-based version, so the crisp should be checked at 15-20 minutes instead of the 30 minute mark. To help the apples bake in the right amount of time, I cut the apples thinner than I normally do, more of 1/8 inch thick than 1/4 inch like usual. Each 1/8 inch apple wedge was then sliced in half. If the topping is done before the apples are soft, cover with aluminum foil for the rest of the baking.

I loved this apple crisp. The topping had a nuttiness and chewiness to it that was very satisfying. The apples turned out perfectly. And I loved that this dessert was guilt-free!
 

Nutty Apple Crisp

Special Equipment: Knife, cutting board, casserole dish or pie plate; Time: 20 minutes prep, 20-30 minutes bake at 375°

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

For the apple filling:
3 Pink Lady apples, thinly sliced (~1/8 in.); do not peel
3 Braeburn apples, thinly sliced (~1/8 in.); do not peel
4 packets Truvia or Splenda, or to taste
1/2 tsp. Penzeys Vietnamese cinnamon

For the topping:
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup almond flour
1/3 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup flax-seed meal
1/2 tsp. Penzeys Ceylon or Vietnamese Cinnamon
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 oz. almonds, coarsely chopped

1. Place the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°.

2. Place the sliced apples in a large mixing bowl and lightly toss with Truvia and cinnamon.

3. Combine the first six topping ingredients together. Add the agave nectar and olive oil and mix til crumbly (you may need to use a fork or your hands for this). Add the coconut and almonds and toss lightly.

4. Place apples in a casserole dish. Add the topping and spread evenly over the apples.

5. Bake in the preheated oven until top is golden brown and apples are soft but not soggy, about 20-30 minutes. If topping is done but apples are not, cover with aluminum foil for the rest of the baking.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Traditionally accompanied with ice cream or whipped cream, though I did not serve either to keep it healthy.)

Whole-Grain Waffles for Sunday Brunch

This past Sunday, my husband and I hosted 25 friends for Easter brunch in our condo. As the RSVP numbers grew from 12 to 18 to 25, we knew we’d have to get creative with the menu, the serving method, and the seating plan. As usual, we had a coordinated potluck with guests bringing items that we had mutually agreed to. Instead of eating family style with china and fine linens, we had a buffet for most of the food and a self-serve waffle station equipped with three waffle makers and the waffle fixings.

As brunch progressed, more and more people came up to me and asked about the waffles, wondering what they were and what was in them. They repeatedly praised the waffles, their texture, and their depth of flavor compared with regular white flour waffles.

What I did was swap out some of the white flour for almond flour, flaxseed meal and whole wheat flour. This upped the fiber content, the nutritional value, and the flavor. I also substituted olive oil for butter so that we’d have a more heart-healthy fat. Then for an extra kick of fun I added Mexican Vanilla and Ceylon Cinnamon. (Another week I added Almond Extract and that was a hit too!)

The below recipe is a “double recipe” suitable for larger brunches. If you a serving a small group, I recommend either halving the recipe or cooking all the batter and freezing the leftover waffles, wrapped separately. Reheat the waffles in the toaster oven for a quick breakfast.

Whole-Grain Buttermilk Waffles


Special Equipment: Waffle Maker
Serves 12

Ingredients

½ cup almond flour
½ cup flaxseed meal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 cup white flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Penzeys Ceylon Cinnamon
6 large eggs, well beaten
6 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups low fat buttermilk
1 Tbsp. Penzeys Mexican Vanilla Extract

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the wet ingredients and whisk til well-combined.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the well of the dry mixture. Using a wooden spoon, mix using long, swift strokes until combined but mixture still has a pebbly look to it. Do not over-mix or waffles will be tough. Do not severely under-mix or you will have surprise pockets of flour.
  4. Using a preheated waffle iron, add the batter to the center of the waffle iron and smooth out gently with the back of a measuring cup or with the wooden spoon. Close the lid. The amount of batter will depend on your waffle maker. I have waffle makers that take from ½ cup to 1 cup for a full waffle. Experiment with your waffle maker to determine the amount, then use that size measuring cup to scoop the batter.
  5. Waffle is done when the steam stops escaping from the sides of the waffle maker and the waffle is golden brown. Waffle can be cooked slightly longer if a browner crust is desired.
  6. Serve hot with pure maple syrup, butter, powdered sugar, and fresh fruit.

Variation 1: Instead of vanilla extract, add 1 Tbsp. almond extract to the wet ingredients. Cinnamon is optional.

Afternoon Iced Coffee

So as I just posted, I had a very yummy weekend brunch. One item didn’t quite make it to the table–the second pot of organic Guatemalan coffee. Oops!

Well, I certainly didn’t want to waste the coffee but with the beautiful spring weather I didn’t really feel like hot coffee. So I figured I’d try making Iced Coffee. Now I read last summer about how complicated it is to make Iced Coffee properly with enough coffee flavor. Thus, I was quite pleased with how delicious my Iced Coffee was with 1% organic milk, Truvia, ice, warm to cool coffee, and almond extract for flavoring as desired.

Now for the coffee, I always use a burr grinder to freshly grind the beans without burning them like a blade grinder can do. I use a 10-cup Capresso coffee maker, using 10 to 12 Tbsp./scoops of ground beans.

For the Iced Coffee, I took a 16 oz. glass, filled it with ice, then added 1% organic milk, coffee, Truvia, and 1/4 tsp. almond extract. The ratio of milk to coffee depends on your tastes–I think I used a 50/50 ratio. Be careful with Truvia because it doesn’t dissolve well in cold temperatures. You may want to use another sweetener.

Well, here’s to many more warm days and Iced Coffees ahead!

Weekend Brunch a Hit

On Saturday, I hosted a “coordinated-potluck” brunch for my friends. I was trying to keep the menu on the healthier side while still providing plenty of food. Check out the menu: Self-serve waffle station w/ pure maple syrup & sliced strawberries & whipped cream on request, Canadian bacon, turkey bacon, garden salad w/ avocado and cucumber tossed with homemade sherry vinaigrette, scrambled eggs, organic Guatemalan coffee, roobais chai tea w/ milk and Truvia, mimosas, and sparkling wine.

My friends loved the food, raving about the waffles as they polished them off. Meanwhile I nibbled on the relatively healthy bacon protein sources, scrambled eggs, the salad, and the unadorned sliced strawberries. I skipped the OJ from the mimosas, preferring to avoid the high sugar content and “just” have the delicious Brut sparkling wine from Louis Bouillout.

I wanted to make the waffles a little healthier so a made a few changes from my normal buttermilk waffles from the Joy of Cooking with ingredients in my pantry. For the flour, I changed out white flour to bread flour to add gluten to prepare for my two flour substitutes. I used 1/4 cup each of flax seed meal and almond flour as a substitute for 1/2 cup total of the flour (1 3/4 cup flour in recipe total). The flax seed meal and almond flour cut down on the carbs, added healthy fats including Omega-3s, and, I hope, cut down some on the glycemic index of the waffles. Olive oil replaced the butter, and I used the minimum quantity of added fat (4 Tbsp. instead of the normal 8 Tbsp.). Olive oil cut down on the saturated fat. To make the waffles more almondy, I added about 1/4 tsp. of almond extract–next time I would try adding 1 tsp. of extract.

Next time for the waffles, I’m considering trying whole wheat flour + gluten + flax seed meal + almond meal for the flour mixture. I’d like to get more fiber into the dish, lowering the glycemic index. If you have other ideas on how to reduce the highly-processed flour and increase the fiber, let me know!

For the salad dressing, we mixed 1 Tbsp. olive oil with 1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar and a touch of balsamic vinegar, red Hawaiian sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper. A touch of honey or agave nectar would likely have had the same general effect as the balsamic–to cut the acidity of the sherry vinegar by adding a little sweetness. We dressed the entire salad with this small amount, tossing with tongs to coat.

In all, great food, friends, and conversation!

Salud!

Roasted Almonds with Sea Salt

Fresh from the toaster oven

Note: I originally wrote this post last Thursday but was unable to post due to Internet connectivity issues over the weekend.

 

I’m a little sad tonight. The reason why seems pretty pathetic but it feels like I’m telling a good friend and companion that I can’t spend much time with her anymore. And who is this good friend, you ask? My friend is exotic yet approachable, well-rounded yet has a gorgeous body. My friend has layers to her personality: sweet and charming, spicy and loud, mellow and smooth. My friend can be anything I want her to be. She’s from all over the world yet she still comes to see me at my home and sit at my dinner table with me.

My friend is extra virgin olive oil—from Spain, Italy, California, Greece—I adore it and use it nearly every time I cook. Olive oil adorns my green beans, carrots, salads, bread (when I have it), hummus, and on and on as you can imagine. So what’s the problem then? Well, I’m finally realizing that my quantities of olive oil are outrageously large compared to what I need for healthy living. So I need to reduce my dousing of olive oil to a sprinkle of olive oil, that is, cut my copious ¼ cup, give or take, of olive oil for sautéing to 1 tsp. or maybe 1 Tbsp. if I’m feeling generous.

But I know that olive oil is good for me. It has heart-healthy fats and promotes good cholesterol. The downside though is that is still has 120 calories in 1 Tbsp. So if I use my nominal ¼ cup quantity and my food absorbs all the olive oil, I’m looking at an extra 480 calories per food. Hmm… Does using a ¼ cup olive oil instead of, say, 1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. make the taste so much better that it’s worth the extra 360 to 440 calories per dish?

So I’ve been trying out this smaller quantity of olive oil this week and had good results. In fact, I just made a snack of roasted almonds for tomorrow’s train ride using 1 tsp. olive oil for two servings. Normally I would just pour the olive oil on haphazardly with no regard for quantity. The 1 tsp. of olive oil coated the nuts beautifully—I just had to massage the olive oil onto the nuts with my hands instead of tossing the nuts and oil with a wooden spoon. Now I’d really like to use the same mindfulness toward my olive oil use as I do in a yoga class. Measuring spoons here I come—I mean 1 tsp. measuring spoon here I come!

Here’s how to make roasted almonds yourself.

Roasted Almonds with Sea Salt


Time: 5-10 minutes
Special equipment: Toaster oven, baking pan for toaster oven (e.g., Pampered Chef Mini Bar Pan)

2 oz. raw almonds
1 tsp. olive oil
Pinch sea salt or kosher salt

1. Place almonds on baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Using your hands, coat the almonds with olive oil. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt or kosher salt.

2. Place baking pan in toaster oven and turn the toast function to high. Toast until almonds turn just a bit browner but not black. If not done at the end of one toast cycle, stir the almonds and repeat until almonds are at desired roasting level.

3. Serve. Makes 2 servings.