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.)

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Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelets

So here’s another recipe from Easter Brunch that was a huge hit: Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelettes. People could not believe their taste buds and ears when I told them this recipe was completely diet-friendly! I was thrilled with how many compliments people gave these omelets. One person said, if this is diet food, I need to be on this diet. 🙂

So here’s what I did to turn a moderately healthy but high calorie recipe into an “Eat Clean” recipe that was both healthy and moderate in the calorie count (~150 cal if divided into 8 servings). I modified a Gordon Ramsay recipe to increase the number of servings, increase the nutritional value including more lean protein and veggies, and decrease the fat per serving while keeping all the flavor. To do that, I kept the number of whole eggs the same at 4 but added a carton of egg whites, equal to 10 egg whites. I increased the baby spinach from 2 oz. to 6 oz. I eliminated the 2 tsp. butter and decreased the olive oil from 2 Tbsp. to 4 tsp. I kept the amount of goat cheese the same at 4 oz. but increased the amount of Parmesan Reggiano from 2 Tbsp. to 3 Tbsp. and upped the quantities of sea salt and black pepper. Overall, this upped the number of proposed servings from two to between four to eight depending on whether this is the only main course or served in a buffet as we did.

Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelets for a Crowd


Special Equipment: Broiler, broiler-safe skillet, large sauté pan
Serves 4 as a main dish or 8 as a side dish

Ingredients

6 oz. baby spinach
1 tsp. olive oil
4 whole eggs
1 container egg whites, equivalent to 10 egg whites
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt to taste (I prefer red Hawaiian sea salt)
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
4 oz. goat cheese
3 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan Reggiano

  1. Preheat the broiler. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. When skillet is hot, add 1 tsp. olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom in the film of oil. Add the baby spinach to the pan. Stir and toss with a wooden spoon until the spinach is lightly wilted. Remove the spinach from the heat and place on paper towels. Tease the spinach leaves apart with a fork. Set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and the egg whites. Do not add salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the broiler-safe skillet over medium-high heat (medium for cast-iron). When you feel a good heat rising, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil and tilt the pan to coat.
  4. Pour the whisked eggs into the skillet. Using a metal fork, continuously stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure the eggs do not stick. When eggs are 2/3 set, stop stirring, making sure the eggs are evenly distributed prior to the next step.
  5. Add the spinach leaves, spreading them evenly over the surface of the eggs. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Pinch the goat cheese into small pieces, spreading over the top of the spinach. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the omelet. Turn off the stove burner.
  6. Place skillet under the broiler until the cheese is lightly browned but not burnt, about 1-4 minutes depending on your broiler and pan. Serve in the pan at the table or at the buffet.

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.

Super Quick and Flavorful Meat

So I took a step outside my normal comfort zone and did some very simple stovetop cooking with meat last night. I had thin cutlets of pork and thin pieces of “hangar beef” that I bought at Grand Mart, the nearby ethnic supermarket. I was in a hurry, so I just sprinkled a variety of spice blends on each and rubbed it in with my fingers. My favorite pork seasoning was the Penzeys Sweet Curry Powder. My favorite beef seasoning was Arizona Dreaming from, you guessed it, Penzeys!

The key to having these thin cuts of meat taste good is to have a high temperature in the pan so that the outside sears/browns quickly but the inside is moist not dry. I had the pan over a medium-high heat and it was so hot that the 1 tsp. olive oil immediately began to smoke. I cooked the pork first, about 1-2 minutes per side just until each side had browned a little and the meat had stiffened slightly but not completely. I did the same with the beef. I had to cook each set of meat in batches so the pan wasn’t overcrowded–the key is to brown the meat, not steam the meat. 🙂

So after I cooked a pound of beef and a pound of pork, I sat down to try each. I have to admit that I was skeptical that a thin cut of meat could actually taste good. I cut into the curry pork cutlet with trepidation but happy that it didn’t have the characteristic ultra-white color inside of overcooked pork. I put it into my mouth and tasted it. Huh. It was actually good! Then to try the Arizona Dreaming Beef. Same thing (except not too brown inside instead of not too white)!

So now I have protein for my lunches for the week set to go!

I love braises!

Okay, so I’m about to share the Lamb & Dried Bean Stew recipe that I made for my Lebanese dinner party. It took me awhile to type it up and get it to you, because I wanted to get in all the attention to detail that I use to create the dish.

For me, a braise or a stew is a work of art and, dare I say it, an act of love. It creates amazing depth of flavor through careful browning, slow simmering, and intuition-led adjusting of seasonings/acidity/sweetness at the end of the cooking process. In all, braises/stews are my favorite types of meals to cook for company. They fill the home with mouth-watering aromas and the whole process is therapeutic for me. And, of course, my friends love the food!

With a braise, I love to serve a rich red wine such as Syrah, Zinfandel, or a big Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannins in the wine and the slightly higher alcohol levels (at least for New World wines) balance well with the intensity, flavor, and depth of the braise. Also tomato-based dishes just scream red wine to me. For a more Old World style wine, I’d recommend Chianti Classico Riserva, a Priorat from Spain, or a Cote-du-Rhone.

I hope you will come to love cooking and eating braises and stews as much as I do! Now for the recipe, including plenty of techniques to take with you to other braises/stews.

Lamb and Dried Bean Stew


Special equipment: 8 quart soup pot, bouillabaisse pot, French oven, or heavy bottomed stock pot; Pressure cooker or pot for cooking dried beans or use canned beans; sauté pan/frying pan or Le Creuset 3.5 qt casserole pan; tongs

Prep time: 40 min to pressure cook beans (can be concurrent); 2 hours to prep stew; Cooking time: 2-2.5 hours

Ingredients

2 lbs dry white beans (Great Northern)
6 large onions, diced, divided
9 cloves garlic, minced
4 lbs leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes by butcher
¼ cup olive oil, divided
2 28 oz cans tomatoes, petite-diced, diced, or whole tomatoes crushed between fingers
12 Tbsp. tomato paste
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
1 Tbsp. Lebanese mixed spices (recipe to follow), more to taste as desired

1. Following the directions for your pressure cooker, cook the 2 lbs dry white beans. In the Cuisinart Pressure Cooker, I cooked the beans for 25 minutes and used the natural pressure release. Alternatively, cook on the stove top (I haven’t done this, so I can’t give you the details). Another option is to use canned beans—I estimate about 5-6 cans of Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained.

2. Place both the soup pot (or alternate) and the sauté pan on two front burners. The soup pot should be on a medium heat while the sauté pan will be a medium high heat. The soup pot will be used for sautéing the onions and garlic while the sauté pan will be used for browning the lamb.

3. After you feel a good heat rising, add 1 tsp. olive oil to the soup pot, rotating the pot to cover the bottom in oil. Add about 1/3 of the onions to the pot, stirring to cover with the oil and transfer the heat. Stir occasionally. When the first batch of onions is soft and has just a bit of color developing, transfer to the holding dish. Repeat from the beginning of this step until all onions are cooked except for three handfuls to use to deglaze the lamb sauté pan.

4. After the onions are cooked, add 1 tsp. olive oil to the heated soup pot to cover the bottom. Then add all the garlic to the pot, stirring continuously. Cook for about 1 minute until you can smell the garlic and the garlic is golden brown. Do not let the garlic burn. Remove to the holding dish immediately.

5. Meanwhile, dry the lamb cubes with paper towels. When you feel a good heat rising from the sauté pan, add 1 tsp. olive oil and rotate the pan to cover the bottom in oil. Add the lamb cubes, one-by-one, leaving at least an inch between cubes in the pan. If the pan is overcrowded, the lamb will steam instead of brown. When the first side is browned, use tongs to turn the lamb cubes over. When nicely browned, turn the lamb cubes to get a light browning on the other four sides. These sides will not take as long to brown, so watch carefully. When the first batch is browned, transfer to a holding dish. To remove the browned bits and retain their flavors, add ½ tsp olive oil to cover and throw in a handful of diced onions and sauté until onions are done and have removed most of the browned bits from the bottom. Transfer onions to the holding dish. Repeat from the beginning of the step, ensuring the lamb cubes are still dry, until all lamb cubes are browned.

6. To get the last of the lamb bits out of the pan, add the juices of one can of tomatoes, stirring to work the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Allow the tomato juice to reduce slightly, creating a richer tomato juice base flavored with lamb. When done, turn off the burner for the sauté pan.

7. At this point all lamb, onions, and garlic have been browned/cooked. Add the tomato paste to the Soup Pot. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes to add complexity. Then return the lamb, onions, and garlic to the Soup Pot. Add the reduced tomato juice, the canned tomatoes, two pinches of salt, a tsp. of pepper, and the mixed spices. Stir to combine and cook for about five minutes.

8. Add the cooked Great Northern beans until the pot is nearly full or the beans are gone (I used a 7 ¼ quart pot and had about 2 cups of beans left).

9. Add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer until the lamb is fork-tender, about 2 to 2.5 hours.

10. Adjust seasonings to taste, including salt, pepper, and mixed spices.

11. Serve and enjoy!

Lebanese Mixed Spices

Combine equal parts of the following:
Allspice
Black pepper
Cinnamon
Cloves
Nutmeg
Fenugreek (You can substitute fennel seed if necessary)
Ginger

1. If any of the spices are whole, grind through a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or coffee burr grinder on the finest setting or use a mortar and pestle to grind as finely as possible (not ideal).

2. Store in an airtight container. Used in many Lebanese dishes.

Hummus

I decided to try making hummus after seeing a hummus recipe hanging up at The Energy Club. The only problem is I kept forgetting to pick it up. So I improvised off a couple of recipes at allrecipes.com, what I could remember from the gym version, and my own tastes.

I loved this dip so much that I have shared it at the Superbowl playoffs and a girls’ road trip. Everyone who has tried it has given it rave reviews. So now I’m making it for my diet. Here I have reduced the amount of grapeseed and olive oil used and thinned the hummus with water instead of grapeseed oil. (If you want the more decadent version, add 1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil to the hummus and top with ¼ cup olive oil.)

To keep with the healthy theme, try pairing the hummus with mushrooms, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers instead of white pita bread. You’ll get your veggies and lean protein in while delivering lots of flavor and a full mouth feel.

Hummus

Time: 15 minutes
Special equipment: Food processor

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
¼ cup tahini paste
¼ cup lemon juice, from 2 lemons
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp Penzeys Aleppo Red Pepper (or red pepper flakes)
1 tsp. grapeseed oil
Dash cayenne
Pinch Penzey’s Smoked Spanish Paprika
1 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil

1. Add first 7 ingredients to the food processor. Process until smooth.
2. With the food processor running, add up to ¼ to ½ cup water to the food processor feed tube to produce a better dipping consistency.
3. With the food processor running, add 1 tsp. grapeseed oil to feed tube.
4. Remove bowl from food processor and empty hummus into serving container.
5. Sprinkle hummus with cayenne and Spanish paprika to taste. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil over the top.
6. Serve with mushrooms, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers for a healthy snack or meal.