Friday, July 22, 2011

Mocha Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Ice cream. Ahhh. What is more delicious on a sunny afternoon? I can't think of anything off the top of my head, frankly.

This chocolate coconut milk ice cream, featuring the gorgeous caramel notes of coconut palm sugar, is rich, creamy, smooth, just sweet enough.... oh, baby! Then come its hidden virtues: low-carb, low-glycemic, vegan, and lactose-free. This recipe can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Your mouth will have trouble believing that this is a healthy treat!

Mocha Coconut Milk Ice Cream
makes approximately 1 quart

2 cans full fat coconut milk (14 oz each)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 pinches salt
1 cup plus 2 tsp Coconut Palm Sugar
1 cup fresh brewed espresso; decaf or caffeinated (2 double espressos) or best quality, fresh brewed, VERY strong coffee

Toppings: Toasted unsweetened coconut curls, and/or toasted almond pieces

Tools: a blender, immersion blender or food processor
an ice cream maker

Combine all of the ingredients, and using either an immersion blender, blender, or food processor, process briefly to combine and emulsify the ingredients. (I swear by my immersion blender.) Place the mixture in the refrigerator and chill until completely cold.

Following your ice cream maker's instructions, pour the mix into the bowl of the ice cream maker and churn until it reaches the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. (If you have too much ice cream mix to fit in the maker, set it aside to freeze as a second batch. The ice cream freezes so fast that even a low-tech ice cream maker like my ancient Donvier stays cold enough to freeze the extra mix.)

Unlike ice cream made with dairy products, coconut milk freezes VERY fast and VERY hard, and is at its most luscious creamy state of goodness when it is softer than dairy ice cream. Therefore, it is best to serve it right away, rather than freeze it and serve it later. Since it comes together so fast, you can have everything ready and then make it just before serving. Or, if you wish to freeze it, be sure to allow ample time for it to soften; far more than you would for dairy ice cream. This is one ice cream that could probably make it safely to a party in a hot car!

The ice cream is delicious on its own, but topping it with toasted coconut curls and/or almond slices makes it even more divine.

Notes: if you don't have a blending tool, this can be made with a whisk. The coconut palm sugar dissolves very quickly, but the cocoa powder tends to clump. You may wish to put the cocoa through a sieve if you are using this method.

Coconut Milk:
you can use light coconut milk, but it just won't be as good.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

(Low-Carb, Low-Sugar, High Protein) Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookie Variations

Have you heard the anecdote about Julia Child's mayonnaise recipe? Her discovery was so ground-breaking that when she sent the recipe to her friend Avis De Voto to test, Julia marked it "top secret;" she was afraid it would fall into the hands of recipe rustlers! I've been feeling a little bit that way about a couple of my recipes; they are so off the map, and so delicious, well. This peanut butter cookie recipe is one of those recipes. I've been cooking and tweaking and experimenting away, driven towards perfection like a low-carb Julia. I keep pushing the envelope; how much high protein, high fiber, low carbohydrate, and low glycemic items can I add to a cookie before it ceases to be a cookie and becomes some dreadful "healthfood bar"? The answer: I still don't know! So far, I have only walked in the valley of deliciousness.

Of course, many of you have no concerns at all about carbohydrates. Lucky you! However, everyone can appreciate having healthier treats, less sugar, and more protein and fiber in their or their children's diets. I have included variations that I think will accommodate many different situations.

Disclaimer: These are very, very peanut buttery. Although 99.9% of those who have eaten these cookies declare them universally delicious, one young taster spat out her bite, declaring it to be "too peanutbuttery!" Don't say you weren't warned.

EVEN NEWER! EVEN MORE IMPROVED! The last recipe was very good, but I had to keep tinkering - this is EVEN BETTER!

Peanut Butter Cookies
makes 2 dozen substantial cookies

1 1/2 cups creamy, unsweetened, salted peanut butter
1 stick (4 oz) salted or unsalted butter

1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 TB applesauce

1/4 cup + 2 TB Coconut Palm Sugar (or 1/4 cup brown sugar)
1/4 cup + 2 TB xylitol
1/2 cup erythritol
8 tiny scoops stevia powder

3 TB flax meal
6 TB soy protein
2 TB whey powder
3 TB almond meal
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour, using the "spoon and sweep" method

1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

Optional:  6-8 ounces sugar-free chocolate bars, broken into large chunks, or sugar-free strawberry jam.

1. preheat the oven to 350 degrees F

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

3. Measure the protein powder, whey powder, and flax meal and put into a medium sized bowl. Using the "spoon and sweep" method (spoon the flour loosely into the cup until full, then scrape off excess with a knife) measure the flour and add to the other flours. Add the salt and baking powder and whisk to combine.

4. Place the peanut butter and butter in a mixing bowl and cream until it is very smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically.  (I use the paddle attachment.)

5. With a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg, vanilla and applesauce and mix until just combined.

6. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the sweeteners, process until well combined.

7. Scrape down the sides again and add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure it is all incorporated. You will have a very dense dough. Squeeze it into a ball; if it does not hold together well, add another tablespoon of applesauce and mix well. If it is too moist, add a teaspoon of flour. Continue either item until the dough is corrected.

8. Using your hands or a spoon, make balls of dough and place them about 1 1/2" apart on the cookie sheet. You can make the cookies as big or small as you like (Don't worry, they don't run at all.) You can fit 12 to 15 medium-sized cookies on a sheet pretty easily. Using a fork, carefully press the balls flat from both directions, leaving the characteristic crosshatch mark on the surface. If they break apart, just squeeze them back together with your fingers.  OR, instead of the cross hatch pattern, gently press your thumb into the center of the ball of dough to make a depression.

9. Place the optional - but highly desirable - chocolate or dollop of sugar-free jam on the surface of each cookie.  (Also pictured above is a variation with dark peanut butter cups; off the menu for me, but yummy for non-dieting family members!)  And, of course, you can make all the different variations in one batch.

10. Bake the cookies until they are just golden brown, and slightly puffed, 12 to 15 minutes or so. Using a spatula, put on a rack until cool (or cool on the cookie sheet). Repeat until you have baked all of the dough.

Notes from Christine: "What is the spoon and sweep method, and why should I bother using it?" I learned this method from the Bakers' Dozen Cookbook; Flours and other ground items can settle or be crushed down while in transit or sitting in a canister. This means that if you just scoop up a measuring-cupful and level it off, you are very likely to wind up with more flour than the recipe really calls for, making the results too dry and crumbly, because the proportion of fat and liquid to solids gets thrown off. I have, on occasion, skipped doing it this way and been really disappointed with the results. In a more precise world, we would use a scale and weigh the flours and sugars like the Europeans, but American recipes are all designed by volume rather than weight. If you "Spoon and Sweep" you will get much more consistent results.

"What's with all of these obscure sweeteners?" Erythritol and Xylitol are sugar alcohols; super low-glycemic, super low-calorie, super low-carbohydrate, and good for your teeth.

Xylitol is a little sweeter than cane sugar, has a fairly neutral flavor with a little bright, almost pepperminty quality, and can be found easily at a well-stocked health food store or really good grocery store.

Erythritol, very neutral in flavor, is about 60% as sweet as sugar, and is very difficult to find in stores, except in individual packets.

Stevia is a natural, calorie-free leaf extract, super concentrated and very sweet, but with a weird aftertaste and no volume; due to its highly concentrated state, one tiny tiny scoopful (which comes with it in its container) is equal to a teaspoon of sugar. It is easily purchased at Trader Joe's or any grocery store.

Coconut Palm Sugar is made from the nectar of the coconut palm blossom, extracted and then cooked down, much like maple sugar or cane sugar. It, too, can be found at a really well-stocked grocery store. (Berkeley Bowl carries them both. Coracao Confections, which uses it in their line of treats, also sells it.) I have been buying all three items online from Emerald Forest, a Colorado-based company which manufactures these sweeteners in their own facility. Be aware that some Xylitol and Erythritol brands in American packaging are actually imported from China and repackaged. That is why I buy both of them directly from Emerald Forest or Global Sweeteners.

Sugar-free Chocolate: You can get good sugar-free chocolate, sweetened with maltitol (another sugar alcohol) from See's, and decent stuff from Trader Joe's - a great buy. My favorite is xylitol-sweetened chocolate from Emerald Forest; however, it's pretty expensive for putting on cookies. 

If you don't have erythritol, use an additional 1/3 cup xylitol instead.

If you don't have coconut palm sugar, substitute 1/4 cup xylitol or 1/4 + 1 TB erythritol or 1/4 cup
brown sugar.

If you are using "natural" unsalted, fresh ground peanut butter, add an additional 2/8 tsp salt, plus 1 TB trans-fat free shortening.  Use a food processor to cream up the peanut butter some more.

Salted vs. Unsalted Butter:  What can I say?  One day, I accidentally used salted butter instead of unsalted in these cookies.  Guess what?  They tasted better!  All these years of following others' instructions to use unsalted butter, and it tastes better here!  Why?  Because the contrast of salt and sweet that is an integral part of the yummyness of peanut butter cookies is played up more by the extra salt.  That's why!  But if you like it less salty, or want to consume less salt, use the unsalted butter.  Okay?

And if you aren't concerned about sugar or carbohydrates, substitute 1 cup brown sugar for all the sweeteners combined.

And lastly, if you like, you can substitute all the proteins and powders with whole wheat pastry flour; that will add to the carbohydrate load, and subtract from the protein, but it will still be a healthy treat.