I’ll be the first to admit that I can sometimes go overboard with the healthy substitutions when I bake. It’s gotten to the point where, when I say, “I made chocolate chip cookies!”, my husband suspiciously replies with “what’s in them…or not in them?” And while chocolate chip cookies made with whole wheat flour and one-third of the sugar that the recipe calls for are, admittedly, an acquired taste for some, something like banana bread actually lends itself really well to modifications that pump up the nutritional quotient. In fact, if you use sweet, overripe bananas, you can actually omit the sugar from the recipe completely and still end up with a tasty breakfast or healthy dessert. And if you throw in an extra banana or two, you can cut down significantly on the butter (you can also use coconut oil). Here’s how I do it:
4 TBSP (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or coconut oil at room temperature
2 large eggs
4 overripe bananas
2 TBSP milk
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional: 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1. Thoroughly grease the cups of a 12-muffin pan.
2. Mix together butter, eggs and milk until throughly blended. Mash up bananas and blend into mixture.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture and mix throughly to combine. If using, stir chocolate chips into the batter.
4. Scoop batter into muffin cups and bake at 325 for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until muffin tops remain firm when lightly pressed.
Enjoy! These muffins are amazing right out of the oven. I store in the fridge to keep them fresh, and then cut one in half, toast lightly and spread with a little butter when I’m ready for a treat. Pure, wholesome goodness.
How do you make a virtuous, run-of-the-mill fruit and vegetable smoothie more exciting? Simply add spice. Extras like cinnamon, cardamon, ginger and nutmeg can turn your boring old daily smoothie into something reminiscent of a festive holiday punch. Below is my recipe for a green berry smoothie with a spicy twist. Of course, the beauty of smoothies is that your really don’t need a recipe – just throw in whatever sounds good. For example, I sometimes like to swap out the spinach for basil leaves, and omit the cinnamon and cardamom. It really just depends on which fresh ingredients I have on hand.
Spicy Spinach Berry Smoothie Ingredients:
1/2 cup of frozen blueberries
Five or six strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup of fresh spinach leaves
1/2 cup of orange or cranberry juice
1/2 cup of water (to cut down on the sugar of using only juice)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
It’s a good thing butternut squash have a long shelf life because I really have to work up the energy to tackle one of those suckers. My pathetic knife skills combined with my lack of upper body strength make chopping them up a major chore. Fortunately, I came up with a recipe worth the effort.
As with many of my recipes, I sort of wing the measurements as I go along, so feel free to tweak to suit your taste. Note: You can easily make this vegan by subbing coconut oil for the butter.
1 large butternut squash
1/4 cup butter
1 TBSP maple syrup (brown sugar is also fine if you don’t have any syrup)
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oats
2 TBSP brown sugar
Dash of salt
1. Peel butternut squash and chop into approx. 1/2-inch cubes (discarding pulp and seeds).
2. Peel and chop pears into approx. 1/2-inch pieces.
3. Melt 2 TBSP of butter (saving the rest for the topping) in a 9″ x 12″ roasting dish and stir in the maple syrup and cinnamon.
4. Toss squash and pear cubes in butter and syrup to coat.
5. Melt 2 TBSP of butter in a bowl. Add flour, oats, brown sugar and dash of salt and stir until mixture is crumbly. (You may add another sprinkle of cinnamon here if you like.)
6. Distribute flour mixture evenly over the squash and pears. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, or until topping is golden brown and squash is fork-tender.
This recipe has less butter and sugar than most crumbles, so you can actually feel pretty good about eating your fruits and veggies. It makes a nice not-to-sweet dessert and a lovely breakfast. Hell, I even ate it for dinner tonight. Enjoy!
It used to be easy to get my kids to eat quinoa – all it took was a little soy sauce. But that got old after awhile…for all of us, so I sought out creative recipes online for pan-fried quinoa patties. The following is a hybrid of various veggie patty recipes I found that makes use of two of my favorite healthy staples: quinoa and sweet potatoes. They’re delicious on their own at any time of day (reheat leftovers in a pan with a little oil for a richly satisfying breakfast). I like them best spread with a thin layer of Dijon mustard and topped with sliced avocado. Pop the whole shebang into a bun and you’ve got an excellent vegetarian burger alternative for your summer barbecues.
3 large sweet potatoes
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
2 tsp dried (or 1 TBSP fresh) thyme
2 cloves chopped garlic
Salt to taste
2 to 3 TBSP olive oil for frying
1. Bake sweet potatoes at 375 degrees until soft (about 45 minutes). Scoop the insides into a bowl and discard the skins.
2. While potatoes are baking, place quinoa with two cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook until all of the water is absorbed (10 to 15 minutes).
3. In a large bowl, mix together the cooked sweet potatoes and quinoa (slightly cooled), and add all remaining ingredients except cooking oil. Mix thoroughly by hand.
4. Heat oil to medium-high in a frying pan. Form the fritter mixture into patties by hand: 2 to 3 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick.
5. Cook fritters in batches, flipping halfway through, until lightly browned on each side, adding more oil to the pan as needed.
6. Drain on a paper towel and cool slightly before serving with your favorite toppings.
I found this recipe for vegan lemon bars via Pinterest and was intrigued by the premise. Lemon bars are usually so ridiculously decadent and over-sugared, so I liked the idea of using coconut milk in the filling, whole grains in the crust, and easing up on the refined sugar. As I’m wont to do, I made some substitutions. I used maple syrup instead of agave in the filling (and about three-quarters of the amount). And I wasn’t sure what “coconut butter” meant, so I used coconut oil in the crust. Also – and this was a risky move – I found some old herbal stevia in the pantry and used it in the crust in place of rapadura sugar. This was a misstep, as the greenish tint and grassy taste leant a distinctive “rabbit food” quality to the crust that wasn’t entirely appealing. Powdered stevia would probably be a better bet (but check the recommended ratio because I believe it’s significantly more potent than sugar). Despite the odd crust, they were pretty tasty. No picture to share because my daughter and I gobbled them up before I had a chance to photograph. You can find the recipe (and prettier photos than I could’ve taken) on Vedgie-Wedgie.com and experiment with your own modifications (or not) – I’m not going to post it here because it has waaay more than five ingredients.
My dear friend Paige introduced me to raw pistachio pesto at the sustainable potluck I hosted a couple of months ago. She’s a busy gal and didn’t have time to prepare anything, so she picked it up along with a fresh baguette at Whole Foods…thereby introducing me to what turned out to be my favorite any-time-of-day meal ever. The problem is my favorite Whole Foods doesn’t carry it; I have to go to one of the busiest stores in Los Angeles with the nightmare parking lot to find it in the olive bar. (Talk about a “first world problem” – damn, do I sound obnoxious or what?) This inspired me to make it myself, tweaking the ingredients along the way (e.g. adding arugula for a nutritional boost). Here’s the recipe I came up with:
1/2 cup raw shelled pistachios
2 cups loosely packed arugula
2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Juice of one 1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until desired consistency is reached, adding more olive oil if needed. Note: You may need to process in batches if using a mini prep or blender.
I love potlucks. Who doesn’t, right? Perusing the variety of dishes on hand, determining what to have for my first and second (and sometimes third) course, and invariably overeating are all part of the tradition for me. I enjoy finding out how each dish was prepared – and provided I’m on my game that day – showcasing one of my favorite recipes.
The problem with potlucks is that they sometimes fall victim to conventional expectations. Green salad and mac and cheese are almost de rigueur and, while there’s nothing wrong with these dishes, they don’t necessarily take advantage of the best the season has to offer. Always eager for a green challenge to foist upon my friends, I decided to host a little “sustainable” potluck. The rules were simple: Dishes should be made with local, in-season ingredients (pantry items like flour, olive oil, etc., excepted). Fortunately for all of us, mid-March affords a greater variety of produce in SoCal than elsewhere in the country, so I knew we’d have plenty to work with. I also requested that the food be brought in reusable containers. Other than taking on dessert and drinks myself, I didn’t assign main dishes, sides, appetizers, etc., figuring that we’d end up with an assortment of good stuff and the categories didn’t much matter.
I ended up with a smallish group of adults and kids, and the following menu: Black bean, corn, avocado and red pepper salad with lime dressing (amazing), purple cabbage and carrot salad with crumbled almonds (yum), fresh bread and cheese with raw pistachio pesto (scrumptious), and my own sweet potato pudding cake made with rum and coconut (a bit of a cheat, but technically a pantry item). We ate, drank, complimented each other’s culinary skills and shared recipes. Grown-ups and tykes alike chowed down and leftovers were scarce – a sure sign of success. And despite the lack of a traditional “main dish” (i.e. meat), everyone left with a full belly.
Following is my recipe for the sweet potato pudding cake. It’s a hybrid of a couple of recipes I found online, adapted to make use of the ingredients I had on hand and to cut down on the sugar. It doesn’t conform to my five-ingredient-or-less philosophy, but I think it’s worth making nonetheless.
Sweet Potato Pudding Cake
3 to 4 medium to large sweet potatoes (about 2 1/2 cups).
1/2 cup coconut milK
1 TBSP corn syrup (light or dark)
1 to 2 TBSP rum (optional)
1 TBSP pure vanilla extract
2 TBSP brown sugar
1/2 cup whole wheat flower
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Dash of salt
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 TBSP brown sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 1 1/2 qt. baking dish.
2. Bake sweet potatoes at 375 degrees until soft (about 45 minutes). Scoop the insides into a bowl and discard the skins.
3. Add all additional ingredients to the bowl and beat thoroughly with a hand mixer.
4. Pour batter into prepared dish and top with coconut and brown sugar mixture.
5. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until just firm all the way through. This dish can be served warm, at room temp or cold, and as a side, dessert or breakfast.
So there you have my contribution to the sustainable potluck. If we’re lucky, I’ll be able to convince a couple of my guests to post their fab recipes in the comments below…