Friday, February 11, 2011

Heart-Healthy Cupcakes

For most, February is all about Valentine's day. It's a day to express your love not just to your significant other, but all your loved ones. Chocolate, roses, teddy bears, cards, fancy dinners, jewelry and hearts, hearts, hearts!

But February is also American Heart Month. This month (not surprisingly!) is dedicated to raising funds as well as awareness for heart disease and stroke. I never really paid much attention to Heart Month in previous years. Unfortunately, this year, it has hit much closer to home. A dear family friend, Sue Smith, passed away February 2nd, due to a combination of an enlarge heart and diabetes. Sue was a lovely woman who worked at our church, Alpine, for years. She was always at the front door of the church to greet new-comers with her warming smile, and always eager to make anyone and everyone feel at home. Sue's death came as a complete shock to all of her loved ones and friends, she was only in her 50's, and seemed in good health. Sue always read my blog and supported and encouraged me with my cooking and baking over the past years.

To pay homage to Valentine's Day and American Heart Month, I made healthier cupcakes. I used low-fat ricotta cheese instead of fatty butter for the cupcakes, which are only 95 calories each and contain less than 1 gram of fat. The glaze is made with fat free cream cheese, to avoid unnecessary fat and calories. The cake is sort of like red velvet. Actually, it started as vanilla bean cupcakes, one of my very first posts, then I added red food coloring and a hint of cocoa. This recipe for heart- healthy cupcakes is in memory of Sue, I think she would've loved these!

Heart-Healthy Cupcakes

Makes about 16

1/2 cup minus 1 1/2 teaspoon low-fat milk (2%, 1%, skim)
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup minus 1 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch salt
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon red color

4 oz fat-free cream cheese
3 drops red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
powdered sugar (about 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill cupcake tins with cupcake liners or use silcone cupcake molds. Lightly spray with cooking spray.

Slice open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and bean into the milk, set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream together ricotta cheese and sugar. Add egg and egg whites, beating after each. In a separate bowl, combine flours, baking powder, cocoa and pinch of salt. Slowly add to the ricotta mixture until completely combined. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk, squeeze out any moisture and discard. Add vanilla extract and food coloring to milk. Add milk to batter and mix until combined. Scoop batter into cupcake liners, bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops have a rounded top, and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from tins and cool.

To prepare the glaze: Use a whisk to cream cream cheese with the food coloring and vanilla extract. Mix in enough powdered sugar to make a glaze. Simply dip the tops of the cupcakes into the glaze, or drizzle over for a more dramatic look. Enjoy!

Cupcake on FoodistaCupcake

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Healthiest, Fudgy, Chocolatey and Chewy Brownies You'll Ever Eat!

I'm kind of a dork...

I've never been a fan of going out on weekends. For as long as I can remember, I've enjoyed spending my Saturdays watching cooking shows on PBS. I curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and watch my favorite chefs prepare delicious food. By the time the evening programming starts, I have been inspired to create a new recipe, head to the kitchen and get to cookin'. That's how this recipe came about.

This past weekend, I watched an episode of America's Test Kitchen. They conducted a taste test between homemade and box-mix brownies. Over 50% of the taste testers chose the brownies made from the mix, usually because they preferred the chewy texture. The show then tested recipe after recipe to find the perfect combinations and technique to make better-than-boxed brownies from scratch.

Unfortunately, the recipe for these particular brownies are nearly 250 calories a piece. For some, calories don't matter. But for me, 250 calories is an entire meal. There is no reason to sacrifice delicious food for a skinny waist, and that's why I set out to revamp the ATK recipes to be flavorful and chewy, but bold in flavor. They don't taste healthy, but they're 100 calories less per brownie than the original recipe. Like I've said before, anything can be made more nutritious with a few substitutions and a little know-how.

By replacing butter with low-fat Ricotta cheese and the majority of oil with applesauce, we maintain the moistness of the original recipe, but remove tons of unneeded fat and calories. I also made a few changes just to make these brownies that much more delicious, like using coffee instead of water. They don't taste like coffee, but the chocolate flavor is so much more pronounced. But, don't take my word for it. You'll have to try them yourself! Enjoy!

The Healthiest Fudgy, Chocolatey and Chewy Brownies You'll Ever Eat

Makes 24 2-inch Brownies
Adapted from Chewy Brownies

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling coffee
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
5 tablespoons low fat ricotta
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
3 egg whites
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350, line a 9x13 baking pan with nonstick foil. Move oven rack to lowest position.

In a large bowl, whisk cocoa and boiling coffee until smooth. Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in Ricotta cheese, applesauce and canola oil.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, egg whites and vanilla until frothy, about 2 minutes. Add egg mixture to chocolate mixture, whisking until smooth, about 1 minute. Whisk in granulated and brown sugar until fully incorporated. Stir in flour and salt with a rubber spatula until combined.

Pour batter into prepared baking pan and bake until a toothpick inserted half way between the center and edge comes out with just a few moist crumbs, about 28-33 minutes. Cool in pan, and cut into 2 inch pieces. Top with powdered sugar. Enjoy!

Click below to enlarge nutrition facts

Friday, February 4, 2011

50 Calorie Cranberry-Orange Cookies

Recipes are like breast implants. You can't honestly accept compliments if they're not yours.

I literally cannot make a recipe without changing, tweaking or modifying it. Anyone can follow a recipe, but where's the fun in that? So, I adapted these cookies to my liking. Actually, that's not true. I had an idea for a cookie, found a recipe that had the right proportions of ingredients for the type of cookie I wanted to produce, and switched up the ingredients to my liking. And they turned out great! Not to mention, they're only 50 calories a piece! These cookies are chewy, perfectly sweet and filled with flavor. I made them more nutritious by replacing butter with ricotta cheese and swapping half of the white flour with whole wheat. This is the original recipe . As you can tell, I switched the recipe up quite a bit. And here it is:

50 Calories Cranberry Orange Cookies
Makes 30 cookies

1/3 cup low fat ricotta cheese
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup minus 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
3/4 cup minus 2 tablespoons white flour
1/3 cup craisins (dried cranberries) finely chopped plus 30
1/2 cup powdered sugar + extra
1/4 cup orange juice + extra
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon orange zest + extra
1/16 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
Pinch of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 300. Cover 2 cookie sheets with non-stick foil.

In a large bowl, use a whisk to cream ricotta cheese and sugar. Spoon flour into measuring cups and level. In a medium bowl combine flour, cranberries, powdered sugar, and cinnamon. Add flour mixture to ricotta and sugar. Beat until just combined. Mix in orange juice, orange zest and ginger until moistened. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Once chilled, roll dough into 30 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets and lightly press with a fork. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool.

If desired, create a thick icing with orange juice and powdered sugar. Top each cookie with a dollop of icing, a pinch of orange zest and one craisin. Store in an air-tight container. Enjoy!

Click below to enlarge nutrition facts

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Vegetarian Mediterranean Stir Fry

I must admit, I've always been a bit of a free-spirit. Growing up, I went against the grain and colored outside the lines. I've always embraced being different, and this is often reflected in my food. I literally cannot make a recipe without modifying it one way or another!

That's why I decided to change up the oh-so-common Asian stir fry. I swapped broccoli, water chestnuts and snap peas with yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, mushrooms and red pepper. Then, I added basil and rosemary, and replaced soy sauce with balsamic vinegar. Finally, I used brown rice instead of white rice, to add nutrients and fiber. This is the perfect post-workout lunch or I-have-10-minutes-throw-something-together dinner. Enjoy!

Vegetarian Mediterranean Stir Fry
Serves 2

2 cups cooked brown rice
1 medium crookneck (summer) squash, sliced then quartered
1/2 medium zucchini, sliced and quartered
4 small mushrooms, medium dice
1/2 medium red pepper, medium dice
1 large clove garlic, minced
Leaves of one large rosemary stem, finely chopped
4 large leaves basil, finely chopped + extra
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Ground black pepper

Optional: Make a balsamic reduction while cooking the stir fry by simmering 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan, until reduced by about 1/3. Drizzle over the finished stir fry.

Heat a medium saute pan over medium-low heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Add red pepper and cook until slightly tender, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and rosemary and cook until garlic is slightly softened, about 30 seconds. Add squash and zucchini and cook until slightly tender, about 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn the heat to medium and add about 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, shaking the pan to toss. Add mushrooms, basil, rice and salt and pepper to taste. Stir and cook until mushrooms are softened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and top with finely chopped basil. If desired, drizzle with balsamic reduction. Enjoy!

Click below to enlarge nutrition facts