Sunday, December 7, 2014

No Sugar Apple Pie

In my continuing endeavors to make desserts without added sugar, or fake sugar, I have invented a new delicious version of apple pie. I had one honeycrisp apple that was sitting around getting old, so I peeled and cored it and diced it up into small cubes. Put half the apple in a small frying pan with water and bring it to a boil. Let the apple get really soft and then use a fork to mash it up. Add the rest of the apple, and a dash of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves to taste. Cook this until the whole apple cubes are soft, but don't mash them.

While this is happening, take some of the store-bought frozen puff pastry cups and bake them up according to the package directions. When they're done, cut off the tops, spoon in the filling, mine made three perfectly, and top with the top piece of the cup to serve. This was perfectly sweet and spiced and the pastries are crispy and crunchy. It hits all those flavor and texture elements you want from a baked good. I would imagine you could do this with regular puff pastry and turn it into a turnover. Or you could use phyllo dough or pie dough, I'm sure it's all great. You could probably even attempt this filling for an actual regular-sized pie, but I can't vouch for it. If you do try this for a whole pie, I would recommend skipping the cooking of the whole apple cubes and just let it cook in the oven while the crust bakes.

This was super easy and super delish. I highly recommend it!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Apple Spice Cake

This cake took three attempts to perfect, but I finally got it. I have altered the original recipe enough in the ingredients as well as the method for preparing it that I can safely call it my own creation. I am really excited about this because since I don't really eat sugar anymore, except in the form of fruit, I miss out on a lot of textures. I don't miss sweet because I get plenty of that from fruit, but baked goods and the textures they produce are something I definitely don't get enough of anymore. Well, here is a cake, with a real, true cakey texture, but with only fruit for sweetener. So, without further ado, here is the recipe, along with notes for why I did what I did.

Apple Spice Cake
Wet ingredients:
1/4 cup butter, softened--You want this to be quite soft, because it's the only fat source in the entire batter, besides the egg, you need it to be able to mix easily into all the dry ingredients. I microwave it until it actually starts to melt, that's how soft you want it.
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large sweet apple, peeled, cored, and grated with the small shred option on a box-grater.--Do this over a bowl to collect any of the juices that will drain out because there will be a lot. I used a large Honeycrisp apple. And by large, I mean one of those "big as your head" apples.

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups flour--I put the first cup of flour into a sifter, then added the spices and baking soda and topped it with the second cup of flour and sifted it all together.
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground ginger--This is the key spice. It was my addition and it really adds a warmth that is amazing.
1 tsp. baking soda
1-1 1/2 cups chopped pecans--You could easily use walnuts or omit these altogether if you so desire. Pecans are a naturally sweeter nut, though and that's what I chose to keep them in from the original recipe.
1 cup raisins, chopped--Chopping the raisins is key to the recipe because it allows the sweetness otherwise trapped inside the raisin to permeate the entire batter during the baking process.

1.) Butter a 8"x8" baking dish(I used Pyrex) and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2.) In a small bowl, mix the butter and egg together(because you can't really cream the butter without adding sugar to it, the butter will be oddly chunky-looking, but this is ok), then add the vanilla, the unsweetened applesauce, and mix well.
3.) In a medium bowl, sift the dry ingredients except for the pecans and raisins. Add the applesauce-butter mixture all at once and mix until combined, trying not to overwork the batter. Add the grated apple and any collected juices, the pecans and the raisins and mix again until thoroughly combined.
4.) Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for about 40 minutes. Use toothpicks to test for doneness. This makes 12 generous servings.

I have not attempted to freeze portions of this but will try with this batch. I don't know why it wouldn't work. I think the next thing I might try, if I wanted to, would be to attempt this recipe with a gluten-free flour mix to see if it will hold up as well. I cannot vouch for that, but if you try it out yourself and it works, please let me know! I am also tempted to try out a version with pear and dried cranberries instead of apples and raisins, but that probably will be for another time...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Change-it-up Breakfasts

So, I have been eating what I thought was a healthy breakfast of shredded wheat cereal and milk during the work week for about a year now, and healthy snacks of AkMak crackers and Trader Joe's brand Triscuits throughout the day. I would eat other stuff with it and for lunch, of course, but I noticed that almost daily I was having problems with feeling bloated and having heartburn. Sorry if that's TMI, but I finally got to the point where I realized I either needed to change my diet or medicate myself to take care of the problem. Heartburn over an extended period of time is not good for the body and can lead to cancer down the road, so I knew I needed to take care of the problem. I am not a fan of medication if I can alter my behavior/diet instead. What I wasn't sure of is the root of the problem, exactly: too much fiber or too much gluten? A little bit of both? I decided to cut all those items out of my diet for a while and replace them with gluten-free items. So, I am eating gluten-free crackers and popcorn/rice cakes with my snacks throughout the day, and finding them quite tasty, actually. My most exciting change, though is breakfast. What to do that isn't milk and shredded wheat, is low in sugar, and can be prepared quickly in the morning? I came up with a few options I thought I'd share here...

First, a bit on the prep: Buy a bag or jar of bacon bits. Not the fake junk, the actual stuff. And get some green onions and tomatoes and chop them up on Sunday, keep them in a leftover container for the week. Take a pound of bulk breakfast sausage, cook it, and divide it up into two ounce portions that you freeze and can take out on Sunday to thaw. Buy a pint size container of egg whites from the store to keep on hand. And shredded cheese, or a block of cheese that you shred yourself, is a must to keep on hand. I have a block of Monterrey Jack cheese that I cut up into 1 oz. cubes. I shred one cube on my grater, using the smaller holes so that it's finer and you get more with the same amount of cheese.

Breakfast tacos: I was quite proud of these. Take one of the 2 oz. containers of sausage and use half of it for this recipe. In a small frying pan, heat the sausage, and add chopped green onions. When this is all heated, add 1/3 cup of the egg whites, which equals 2 eggs, to the pan and scramble them until your preferred doneness. In the meantime, take two corn tortillas and place them on a microwave safe plate. Wet a paper towel and don't wring it out entirely. Set it on top of the tortillas for a minute before microwaving it, with the paper towel still on it, for 30 seconds. This should be enough time to steam them properly. You only need about a half ounce of cheese for these since everything has so much flavor already. Place half of the cheese directly on the tortillas, then top with half of the scrambled egg mixture, then the rest of the cheese. Top with chopped tomatoes and more green onions and salsa, if desired. Or whatever other topping you might want. This is very filling I have found. It can also be done with bacon if you like.

Egg Bowl: This is one of my new favorites. This one requires some prep work the night before you plan on making it. Get a bag of the potatoes O'Brien, the hash browns with onions and bell peppers in it, and take one 3/4 cup portion, which is a single portion, and fry them up in a frying pan with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. When it's done, place it in a microwave-safe bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge until the next morning. Use 1oz. of sausage and reheat it in the frying pan with more green onions and tomatoes until heated through. Add 1/3 cup of egg whites and scramble until finished. Take the plastic wrap off the bowl of potatoes and reheat for about 45 seconds in the microwave. Again, you only need about a half ounce of cheese for this. Place half the cheese on the potatoes before topping with the scrambled egg mixture. Top that with the rest of the cheese and more tomatoes and green onions if desired. Mix these all together and there you go! Again, this can be done with bacon if you want.

Oatmeal: I had a hard time working this one out. I have a love-hate relationship with oatmeal. It's so good for you but I never find it lasted very long for me before I was starving again, and took so much brown sugar to make it palatable that I didn't want to eat it anymore. I read in a cookbook once about ideas for adding savory toppings to it instead and decided to experiment with that. The one I worked out seems to do very well for me. Take a serving of oatmeal, which is 1/2 cup oats and 1 cup water, and place it in a microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle it with a little bit of salt and add one tablespoon of the bacon bits to it. One tablespoon equals one strip of bacon, not too horrible, really. Stir this together and microwave for 2.5 minutes or until done. And that's it, it's flavored enough to be palatable, but without the sugar. I might try this out with milk or half milk and half water, just to get a bit more calcium from it.

I have not done this one yet but I want to try out an egg McMuffin with Canadian bacon, the egg whites, and cheese on an English muffin. I might try topping it with sliced tomatoes and green onions too. This of course has gluten, but if done in moderation instead of daily, might not present too many issues. Plus, maybe there is gluten-free English muffins out there if I look for them. I can't vouch for it yet, but that's my game plan.

I have been doing the oatmeal Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the tacos or egg bowl Tuesday and Thursday. This way I don't eat too much eggs and sausage and I don't get sick of oatmeal. It's a good way to divide it up. My heartburn is much less than it was and I feel healthier. I definitely do better with a higher protein diet. I've even, oddly enough, actually lost some weight while eating like this. It takes some coordination and prepping on the weekend or the night before, but it can be done. Each of these takes less than ten minutes in the morning, significantly less time for the oatmeal. I would highly recommend this to anybody looking to change up their breakfast routine, or eat less gluten throughout the day.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Magical Swedish Meatloaf

Last night I was told that the Swedish meatloaf I made for our Friday night family gathering was "magical", and it got enough raves that I thought I'd share the recipe here for anybody who would like the recipe for themselves. It was originally a Swedish meatball recipe, and had different ingredients, but I modified it for my own personal tastes and developed it into a meatloaf recipe in order to cut out a lot of the prep time. If you are not familiar with making meatballs, they are a very labor intensive dish. So, the following was my solution to it.

Swedish Meatloaf:
1/2 onion, peeled and grated
2 Tbsp. butter
2/3 cup milk
5 slices of white bread, crusts removed, diced
2 eggs
1 lb. ground pork
1 1/2 lb. ground chicken
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. pepper

1.) Saute the onion in the butter over medium-high heat until the onions soften and turn translucent, 3-4 minutes. (You aren't looking to really brown them or caramelize them.) Remove from the heat and cool.
2.) In a large bowl, mix the bread pieces with the milk. Set aside for a few minutes to let the milk absorb into the bread. When it's absorbed, use a fork to mask into a smooth paste, or use your fingers.
3.) Add the cooled onions to the paste and mix very well. Add the eggs and spices and mix very well into the paste. When it's been well-incorporated, add the ground pork and chicken and mix very well. (This will take a few minutes to really make sure the two different meats have blended as well as mixed in with the bread mixture. This takes patience. It will be a very runny mixture when it is complete, don't worry, it'll firm up when it cooks.)
4.) Pour into a standard-sized loaf pan, you don't need to grease it, and bake in a 350 oven for about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. Halfway through the baking, check to see if there are a lot of juices accumulating and pour them off if you need to. You will need to do this again at the end as well. Ground chicken has a lot more moisture in it than other ground meats and you don't want to steam/boil this.(Do not discard the drippings, save them for the gravy)
5.) When the meatloaf is at least 165 degrees internally, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for ten minutes or so before cutting into it. I usually serve this with plain noodles and the gravy that I will share the recipe for as well.

6 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup flour
1qt. chicken stock
1/2-3/4 cup sour cream
salt, to taste

1.) Melt butter in a 2 qt. saucepan. Whisk in flour. Let the mixture cook until it is a rich brown color, stirring constantly.
2.)As the flour mixture(roux) cooks, heat the chicken stock in another pan until it's simmering. Slowly add the chicken stock a little at a time. Stir well until the sauce is smooth and thickened.
3.)Remove the sauce from the heat and add the sour cream and salt to taste. Mix until fully incorporated and serve on the meatloaf and noodles.

Now, if you're like me, you don't always have time to make homemade sauce like this, or you don't always have the chicken stock on hand. I developed an alternative to this that I think works very nicely. Take a packet of chicken gravy mix(foodies might cringe at this, but we all know we use this stuff, don't try and pretend you're too good for it), and prepare it as the instructions call for. When it is made, strain the drippings from the meatloaf into the gravy and return to a boil. Allow it to boil for a few minutes to make sure the drippings come up to the proper temperature. When this is done, remove from the heat and add as much sour cream as you want. And, voila! There you have, easy semi-homemade gravy for the meatloaf that took a lot less time and butter...

This meatloaf makes about 6-8 servings depending on how large a serving you want. I also discovered that it freezes and thaws very well. You can make a whole recipe, eat it for a day or two and then wrap and freeze portions for another time. The gravy, however, you would need to make fresh each subsequent time. So there you have it, my Swedish Meatloaf recipe. Enjoy!