Friday, July 22, 2011

Cocoa banana bread

After making the most delicious cocoa brownies ever, I wanted to adapt the recipe for diabetics (or more specifically, one diabetic in my life) and also make it whole wheat. Unfortunately, diabetic sugar doesn't react well to being heated sometimes and as I suspected, it turned out really gross. 

What it should look like. 

The cocoa, butter and sugar are supposed to be heated together baine-marie style, and as you can see from the photo below, for some reason the consistency just wasn't right. It's supposed to be smooth and it was chunky and weird. So I scrapped that recipe and moved onto banana bread. 

I still wanted to do something a little different and definitely chocolatey so I had the idea to add some cocoa to the banana bread batter. Lucky for me, it turned out really well and I didn't have to deal with the letdown of two failed recipes in one day. 

That's more like it. 
I adapted this recipe, and just added 1/4-1/2 cup of cocoa to the batter before baking. The final product was definitely banana bread, but with a kick. It's especially good after having sat in the fridge for a few hours or along with a cup of coffee

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cheer-you-up Brownies

So I just made brownies. Yes, this is a blog about healthy cooking but when a friend is feeling less than stellar, sometimes the best way to cheer them up is by baking them something they love. And my BFF loves brownies. Plain brownies without nuts. 

I again headed to Smitten Kitchen. I can't count the number of times I've headed to that website wanting to make something healthy, and found myself in the kitchen making something naughty instead. This wasn't one of those times; this time I expressly headed to Deb's website for a brownie recipe and I wasn't disappointed. 

I decided on this recipe that makes use of cocoa but not chocolate because it's what I had on hand. I also didn't use diabetic sugar because diabetic sugar doesn't do that well in brownies. Something about melting the butter with the chocolate and sugar that doesn't perform as it's supposed to. I've tried many a time and the outcome is always...brutal. Or should I say tragic? 

Back to the brownies! They are super easy to make. There is one step that might trip you up, and that is the bain-marie. A bain-marie is when you place a bowl filled with chocolate or whatever over some lightly boiling water, meant to melt the chocolate without burning it. It's a precarious technique, especially if you don't have a nice glass (heat-proof) bowl. I used a metal bowl and am not sure if it's heat-proof but it worked fine. Turns out you can actually microwave the ingredients as well. 

My homemade bain-marie. 
I didn't use any nuts because my friend is allergic but I'm sure these would be divine with some walnuts or pecans

I also lined the pan with some aluminum foil. Keep in mind that the first pan I used was too large and thus the brownies would have been super thin. So if you're not sure what an 8x8 pan looks like, go for the smaller option. Because deep-dish brownies are the best! 

These turned out intense but not too heavy. They are quite fudgy in the center, however, so if you like a firm brownie, bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, not moist. 

Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the side, or just on their own. You can't go wrong with brownies. 

Note: Like Deb mentioned, these took longer than the directed 20 minutes to bake. I think mine even took around 30 min (and even then, the center wasn't fully baked). So adjust according to your preferences. 

Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Tahini Salad

Last night before dinner I was looking at recipes on Smitten Kitchen and stumbled upon a recipe for butternut squash and chickpea salad. I was killing time before dinner and happened to have all the ingredients so I got in the kitchen and whipped this up in under an hour. 

You can't find butternut squash in Istanbul, or if you can, you definitely can't during the summer, but I had purchased some sweet potatoes earlier in the day and swapped those for the squash. I used this recipe and it turned out beautifully. 

Turns out sweet potatoes and tahini make a really great team. The tahini melts into the warm sweet potatoes creating a creamy treat that's low in calories yet really indulgent. 

Since I didn't have any parsley on hand, I subbed some green onions for them. I would NOT recommend this. The green onions combined with the raw red onions was just too much punch for the dish; almost overwhelmingly so. 

All in all, this dish is a wonderful hearty dish for summer that doesn't take too much time and is filling without being heavy. I recommend serving it with a side of arugula salad with lots of lemon or maybe as I'm prone to do (for almost everything) a dollop of yogurt. 

Note: The combination of chickpeas (protein) and sweet potatoes (healthy, low- glycemic index starch) make this a perfect vegetarian entree

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pet Peeve: Bad Reporting in 'Health' Magazines

Article from 'Health' Magazine.
One of the things that really pisses me off is when magazines or publications supposedly devoted to health and nutrition provide inaccurate information for readers. 

I picked up a copy of 'Health' magazine today and found an article titled, '8 under 80 calories'. The article is about 8 treats under 80 calories. They have chosen popcorn, a corn dog, cotton candy, Salt Water taffy, Italian ice, dry-roasted peanuts, french fries and root beer as the snacks that are supposedly healthy, and all under 80 calories each. 

What annoys me about this article is the fact that none of the choices are natural by any means. It's not just about calories. It's about choosing food that is as unprocessed as possible and that has vitamins and nutrients. The corn dog, cotton candy, salt water taffy and french fries are so processed no health magazine should be promoting them, ever. Yes, they are okay as once in a while indulgences but people turn to this magazine for information on how to be healthy! And these are the options they provide you with? It seems so ludicrous to me. Articles like these are one of the reasons people are struggling with weight in our country. 

What do I recommend? I wish at least one or two of the choices were more natural. Maybe a piece of fruit or even a salad (lightly dressed). Yes, I realize that the article is about smart snacking on the boardwalk but maybe don't snack on the boardwalk (if all your options are so unhealthy) and bring healthy snacks with you, instead! What an idea! 

Fries and root beer are not good snacks!
And I'm sorry but any magazine that is supposed to be about health that tells you Diet Root Beer (with zero calories) is a good snack is clearly misguided. Haven't they read the latest research that says that soda, even diet soda, promotes weight gain? Grr, makes me angry! 

I'm sure you'd find that half the products they promoted are actually advertisers in the magazine as well. Frustrating, but true. So don't be fooled! You know what is healthy and what isn't. Don't let some 'health' magazine convince you otherwise. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chocolate fudge

Okay, so if you take a look at my past blog posts, you'll probably notice that I tend to post one healthy post and one indulgent one. Maybe this means you can't necessarily call my blog a 'healthy living blog' but I'd like to disagree. First of all, everyone has to indulge once in a while. Second of all, just because I am baking these delicious things, doesn't mean I encourage eating all of it! I like to make naughty things and share with my friends, which is why I usually bake treats for special dinners or vacation. Thirdly, I personally believe desserts that you make at home are much healthier than ones you buy at the store because you know exactly what goes into it, and it's free of preservatives. 

Don't forget the parchment paper!

So, let's get to it. I was in Bodrum in the south of Turkey a week ago and wanted to bake something for my friends, but couldn't even imagine turning on the oven in the 100 degree weather. I searched online and found this 'no-bake chocolate cake' recipe from 101cookbooks and knew it would be perfect. Although, to be honest, it's more of a fudge. 

However, as is often the case when baking in Turkey, I wasn't able to find heavy cream at the local store. So I thought mascarpone would make a great substitute. My friend Can who is a great cook himself recommended I add a little milk into the mascarpone to mimic the consistency of heavy cream. Worked like a charm. 

One of the best things about this recipe besides the fact that it requires no baking is the fact that it's so rich, you really only need a tiny piece. A little goes a long way here. Also, you can really add in any spices that you want. 

I made it just as Heidi from 101cookbooks recommends- by infusing the mascarpone with espresso and all spice

Finally, I used sugar-free chocolate and it still turned out great. Sugar-free chocolate doesn't bake that well so this recipe is really perfect for chocoholics who can't have sugar. 

Note: This dessert is incredibly decadent so I recommend serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or with coffee to cut the richness. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How to Make Take-Out Healthier

Even if you're trying to eat healthy, it's unrealistic to cut out all indulgences forever. This sets you up for a binge later and is certainly not fun either! Even though ordering take-out usually means a meal much higher in fat and calories, there are ways to make smarter choices

One of my favorite indulgences is the lentil burger at Gourmet Burger Kitchen. It's made with a mixture of green lentils and (I think) potatoes and is just amazing. I'm a big fan of the veggie burger and this has to be one of my all-time top recipes. 

However, the burger comes on a huge, fluffy white burger bun. When eaten with the bun, the burger is rather heavy. Also, the bun is made of white flour and thus (metabolized as) pure sugar. So there's a super easy substitution. I ordered the burger (junior size) and threw out the bun. Then I placed the burger on a bed of greens and diced tomatoes and drizzled some balsamic vinegar on top. 

I saved 130 calories from the bun and still thoroughly enjoyed my lunch. One of the key tips of weight loss is to figure out what you can live without and more importantly, what you can't. In other words, if you're a big dessert person but don't care for alcohol much, cut out all alcohol and enjoy your desserts in moderation. This is the way to stay sane while eating healthy. I personally don't like desserts, but enjoy wine and vodka, so I don't eat desserts on a daily basis but might eat healthy all day to be able to enjoy my vodka soda at night. You get the point. 

For me, when it comes to this burger, the bun is really unnecessary. Next time you order take-out, try this trick on your favorite dish and let me know how it goes. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Breakfast of Champions

Last night, while laying in bed trying to get to sleep, I was thinking about breakfast. More specifically, what I would make myself for breakfast. I think I have already spoken about my love for the first meal of the day, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I do this regularly. 

Anyway, I knew I wanted to go on a run today (trying to build up my running mileage again and I'm going on a beach vacay in a few days!), so I thought I'd make something nice and hearty but not heavy

I've been trying to stay away from simple carbohydrates like white bread and flour recently, but carbs are super important, especially when it comes to working out. Carbs are what give your body energy, so it's never a good idea to cut them out completely. However, some carbs are better than others. Enter: sweet potatoes. 

Fun fact: Sweet potatoes are a slow-releasing carb, which means that they don't make your blood sugar spike. The natural sugars release slowly which allows for the energy to carry you through a tough workout

I spoke about the benefits of sweet potatoes here, so I don't think I need to repeat myself. All you need to know is, they are awesome for you! And are one of my favorite vegetables. And for a veg-head like me, that's saying a lot. 

Forgot to mention the avocado! Yum! 
So herein lies my recipe for 
Sweet Potato Spinach Scramble
1/4 diced onion
1/2 sweet potato
1 cup chopped frozen spinach
1 egg
a few slices red bell pepper
nutritional yeast (optional)
Sriracha (optional)

Directions: Saute the onions in a little olive oil in a hot pan. I like to buy pre-diced onions that I keep in the freezer; much easier than always having to dice one up. Once they're nice and translucent, add the spinach and diced red bell pepper. Meanwhile, poke the sweet potato with a fork allover, wrap in a paper towel and microwave for 5 minutes (until soft). Chop the sweet potato into bite-size pieces, and add to the spinach mixture. Once the entire mixture is cooked through and the flavors have mixed, turn the stove on low and add the egg. Here you can either do a scramble like I did or sunny-side up. Doesn't matter. Feel free to play with the veg; if you don't have red bell peppers, you can use tomatoes or mushrooms. 

Garnish with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast and some Sriracha for a kick. 

This breakfast is perfect because it has 3 servings of veg, protein for lasting energy from the egg and quick-energy/healthy carbs from the sweet potato. It kept me full for 4 hours and got me through a nice 30 minute run. 

All in all, the perfect way to start the day

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