Monday, January 31, 2011

High Protein, Sugar-Free Banana Nut Bread

One of the ways you can tell how much action a particular recipe gets is to open someone's cookbook and see where the pages land. It can be fun to try this experiment the next time you visit a friend (and have had a glass of wine or two.) I've been making this Fannie Farmer Cookbook recipe for about.... oh, 40 years. (Ack! Believe me, that was hard to say.) But, it is still true; I started making this as a girl, using my Mama's cookbook, and when you crack open my own copy of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, this is one of the primary spots where it falls open.

Now, I know there are untold numbers of banana bread recipes out there, and I don't claim this one is the most delicious. Our elementary school pal Laura Kate served us some banana bread a few months ago that was unbelievably delectable, and Johanna did not spare my feelings about how much she wanted me to make that recipe. However, I think this one is one of the healthiest recipes around. The only moisture comes from ripe bananas and eggs - no butter, no oil, no fat. Most of the loaf breads out there (zucchini, pumpkin, persimmon) all seem to call for a cup of "salad oil."

Of course, if you've been following my posts, you know that the fat is no longer a problem for me - it's the sugar. Yeah, and the carbohydrates. So, of course, I had to make some changes to my old favorite. That being the case, I will give both versions of the bread; the original from Fannie Farmer, and the sugar-free, whole-grain adaptation. Either one is completely delicious, but of course, the whole grain version is even more nutritious, and you know how I like to pack in those nutrients.

Fannie Farmer's Banana Nut Bread

3 ripe bananas, well mashed
2 eggs, well beaten
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a loaf pan. Mix the bananas and eggs together in a large bowl. Stir in the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Add the walnuts and blend. Put the batter in the pan and bake for one hour. Remove from the pan to a rack. Serve warm or cooled, as you like it.

Notes from Christine: the recipe does not specify the size of the bananas, and of course, banana sizes vary widely. I use 3 large bananas, or 4 small ones. This can mean varied liquid amounts, which can add to the length of the baking time. Just be sure to test the center with a toothpick to make sure it comes out clean.

Christine's Banana Nut Bread - EVEN NEWER - LOWER CARBIER THAN EVER!
Adapted from Fannie Farmer

3 large, ripe bananas, or 4 small ones, well mashed
2 large eggs

1/3 cup erythritol

3 TB xylitol

5 tiny scoops stevia

1 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup almond meal
3 TB plain whey powder or milk powder

1/4 cup flax meal
1/4 cup soy protein
1 TB wheat germ
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a loaf pan.

In a small bowl, measure all of the sweeteners and whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork and stir in the sweeteners, then whisk in the eggs.

Measure the flours, salt and baking soda into a medium sized bowl and whisk them to combine.  Add the dry ingredients to the banana mix and stir well. Add the nuts and stir in well. Spoon batter into the loaf pan, and bake for about an hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Run a butter knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the loaf, then cool on a rack. This is most delicious toasted, served with butter or cream cheese.

Notes from Christine: You may have a bunch of questions as to why I've given the substitutions I have. Why whole wheat pastry flour? Well, pastry flour is lower in gluten than regular flour, and more finely ground; therefore, it makes a less dense bread, which I consider desirable! This way you get the whole grains and the reduced carbohydrates, but without the heaviness.  Why the flax meal? Flax meal is full of omega 3 fatty acids, which actively convert "bad" cholesterol into "good" cholesterol in your body. Here is a lovely way to sneak them into something yummy. Why the xylitol, erythrytol and stevia? As I have written in previous posts, stevia is a calorie-free, completely natural sweetener extracted from stevia leaves. However, it has a funky aftertaste. Therefore, it is best to mix it with another sweetener. Xylitol and erythritol are sugar alcohols, which the body metabolizes differently than sugar. They are way lower in calories, and metabolized 75% more slowly than cane sugar. They are very useful tools for diabetics or other sugar intolerant folks. I like those numbers! Plus, it is actually good for your teeth. However, erythritol is only abut 60% as sweet as sugar, and xylitol is extracted from birch wood.... So, ta-da! Mix them together!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sugar-Free Sweet Potato Pie

Despite the brown rice, whole wheat bread, massive vegetable portions, and frequent trips to the gym, at my last check-up my doctor told me my glucose was too high, and it was time to change my diet. Sigh. She recommended the Atkins diet to me; high in protein, as much fat as you want, and very, very limited carbohydrates. Okey, doke. No more jam, honey, sugar, pasta, baguette, white flour, cookies, cake..... WINE - ack! COFFEE - double ack! (Although I simply did not find the explanation for dropping the caffeine compelling enough to do it, so I'm still having that double cappucino in the morning.)

Well, I really like sugar; always have. This was not so easy. A week in, and the holiday ads for Trader Joe's were looking like dieter's porno. Then came the holiday parties - ack again! It was time to cook up something delicious, but that Dr. Atkins would (possibly) approve; Sweet Potato Pie!

Despite their natural sweetness, the sweet potato (often erroneously referred to as the yam) is very low on the "glycemic index;" the measure of how quickly the body metabolizes the food into glucose. In addition, it is absolutely PACKED with nutrients - it's really a miracle food!

I decided to cook up a sweet potato pie, but with some major changes to the James McNair recipe I'd been using. The crust would have to be whole grain, of course. My friend Susan had been raving about the butter crust she makes using spelt flour for quite a while. Spelt is a relative of wheat, often used by people with wheat allergies. Susan recommended it because it is not as heavy tasting as whole wheat in a crust. Okay, spelt crust, 1/2 butter, 1/2 lard, check.

I'd just been reading about how good cinnamon is for your blood pressure (also an issue for me) so I decided to raise the amount of cinnamon. Now for the sweeteners; the McNair recipe calls for a cup of sugar - fuggeddaboutit! Stevia, a completely natural, calorie-free extract from the stevia leaf, is very sweet, but has a weird aftertaste, so you have to use it sparingly, and use other sweeteners to help mask the weirdness. I knew that Erythritol, a neutral tasting sugar alcohol, works well, but is 60% as sweet as sugar.  Then there's Xylitol, another sugar alcohol extract, which is fairly neutral and is as sweet as sugar.  The three make an excellent sweetening blend. Okay, stevia plus erythritol plus xylitol; check.

I made the pie over and over again, each time reducing the xylitol and balancing the sweeteners until I had the perfect balance. On my eighth pie, I knew I had hit the perfect balance.

Tonight I gave a little piece of pie to friends Heidi and Richard; Richard told me that the world NEEDS this pie recipe; I'd better blog it right away. So, here goes.

Sugar-Free Sweet Potato Pie

Pie Crust: Follow the recipe posted here -
but substitute spelt flour for the wheat flour
The recipe makes two crusts - save one for later.

1 1/4 pounds orange sweet potatoes (about 2 medium)
1/4 cup Erythritol
2 TB Xylitol
1/4 tsp of stevia powder
1 TB coconut palm sugar (optional but delicious)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 generous tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk

While the crust is resting in the refrigerator:

Preheat the oven to 400 F
Wash the Sweet Potatoes, cut out any bad blemishes, poke a few holes in them, and pop them in the oven until a fork or knife slips into them easily.

After chilling the crust for at least 15 minutes, let it come to room temperature for about 5 minutes. (Save the parchment you wrapped it in - you'll need it in a minute!) Sprinkle your pastry cloth and the dough with flour to keep the rolling pin from sticking. Roll it out until it is even and about 1-2" larger than the widest diameter of the dish. Line a 9" shallow pie dish with the dough, leaving an overlap at the top of about 1". Gently fold the excess crust down, and pinch it into place just above the top of the pan. (It will shrink as it cooks.) Crimp the edges with a fork.

Using the parchment paper you have discarded, cover the interior of the crust and fill it with dried beans, chickpeas, or pie weights. Bake until the crust is just set, 7-10 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights, prick the crust all over the bottom, and bake until the crust is almost done but not completely browned, another 5-10 minutes. The crust tends to poof up as it bakes, so carefully poke holes in the poofy spots to deflate them. Meanwhile, the sweet potatoes are baking at the same time as the crust. Remove the pie shell, reduce the oven to 375F, and let the crust cool for 15 minutes.


When the sweet potatoes are done, take them out and remove their skins. In a large bowl, using a fork, potato ricer or masher, mash the potatoes until they are pretty evenly crushed. (If they are still hot, you can add the butter now and use the heat to melt it.) Mix in the sweeteners, spices, baking soda and salt. Then add the vanilla, eggs and milk, and mix it all thoroughly.

Place the pie crust onto a baking sheet, and pour the filling into the crust. Bake until the top feels just firm to the touch and just begins to brown, about 40-50 minutes. If the crust begins to brown too much, you can cover it with strips of foil. (I find this very difficult to do; I prefer to be really careful about not pre-baking the crust too long.)

Notes from Christine:  If you don't have erythritol (it's hard to find), substitute 1/3 cup of xylitol.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spanish-Style Oxtails Braised with Chorizo

In addition to buying whole lambs and pigs directly from my rancher friend Mary Pettis-Sarley (new address: - gotta love that e-dress) I often buy a split quarter of an organic, grass-fed cow from Mike and Sally Gale of Chileno Beef in Petaluma ( It took me a few orders before I figured out why there was never an oxtail, tongue, or other organ in my share of the cow; there's only one of each of those, and no good way to decide who gets it! Therefore, Mike and Sally Gale have a big freezer-full of these cuts, and they wind up having to eat a lot of them themselves. They do, however, sell them separately; $10 a tail, $5 a tongue. You just have to drive up to Petaluma or Cotati to pick them up.

Oxtails are a delicious and frequently overlooked cut; bony and cartilaginous, they are tough unless you braise them for hours. But once you have, their tender, flavorful meat is succulent in that irresistible falling-off-the-bone way.

When I found this recipe (Gourmet Magazine 2003), it was so soul-satisfyingly delicious, I had to alert Mike and Sally right away. I just love how good the kitchen smells while it cooks (I've got a batch of it going right now) and the whole family is just crazy about it. I recommend serving this hearty stew with smashed potatoes or polenta to soak up the luscious, deeply layered flavors in the sauce.

Spanish-Style Oxtails Braised with Chorizo

from Gourmet Magazine

* 6 lb (2- to 3-inch-pieces) meaty oxtails
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 1 teaspoon black pepper
* 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 1/4 lb mild Spanish-style chorizo (like salami with smoked paprika)
* 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
* 4 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
* 4 garlic cloves, chopped
* 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
* 1/2 -1 teaspoon sweet or hot Spanish smoked paprika
* 1 cup dry white wine
* 1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole tomatoes in purée, coarsely chopped (including purée)

* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
* 1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar

* Special equipment: an 8- to 9-quart heavy pot

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Pat oxtails dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown oxtails in batches without crowding, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer as browned to a bowl. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot.

Remove and discard casing from chorizo, then finely chop sausage in food processor.

Cook chorizo, onion, carrots, garlic, and bay leaf in fat in pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Add paprika and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Add oxtails with any juices accumulated in bowl and chopped tomatoes (liquid should come about halfway up sides of meat) and bring to a boil.

Cover pot and braise oxtails in lower third of oven, turning once or twice, until very tender, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Skim fat from sauce, then stir in parsley, cilantro, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Note: If you have trouble finding Spanish chorizo (which is completely different from Mexican) you can use Italian-style salami; just add extra smoked paprika to make up the difference.

Cooks' notes: • Oxtails improve in flavor if braised 2 days ahead (add parsley, cilantro, and vinegar just before serving). Cool, uncovered, then chill, surface covered with parchment paper or wax paper and pot covered with lid. Remove any solidified fat before reheating.