Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spaghetti squash with ricotta, sage, pignoli, and parmesan

Spaghetti squash (and pumpkin) are much lower in carbohydrates than other winter squashes. When I set out to devise an alternative to the traditional sweet potato casserole (marshmallows optional) I kept coming back to the idea of a creamy spaghetti squash casserole. The addition of ricotta as a binder gives the squash a smooth, velvety texture. Rather than making a sweet casserole, I punched up the flavor with toasted pine nuts, sage, browned butter, garlic, and parmesan. Finally, a quick trip under the broiler gives it a crispy topping.

SPAGHETTI SQUASH CASSEROLE

INGREDIENTS:
  • 1 medium-sized spaghetti squash (about 2 lbs)
  • 1/2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp minced fresh sage leaves (note: I used 1 tsp but it didn't seem like enough. Next time I will bump it up to 1 Tbs.)
  • 2 oz pine nuts (pignoli), toasted until fragrant and brown
  • 3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1-2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1.5 tsp salt and lots of pepper)
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and microwave on high for 6-8 minutes. Shred the flesh with a fork and then scoop it out with a big spoon into a casserole dish.
  2. Heat the butter over medium heat until nut brown. Add the garlic and sage leaves, saute until garlic is straw-colored, then add to the squash.
  3. Add the ricotta, pine nuts, salt, and pepper to the squash. Smooth out the top.
  4. Sprinkle the top evenly with a layer of Parmesan.
  5. Broil until the top is brown in spots.

Better than mashed potatoes

Mashed or pureed cauliflower has become popular among low-carbers as an alternative to mashed potatoes. It has a lighter texture, similar to whipped potatoes that you might find on top of a shepherd's pie. They're convincing enough that guests either won't know the difference, or simply won't care. I decided to liven up this recipe with roasted garlic, goat chevre, and asiago cheese.
INGREDIENTS:
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbs grated asiago cheese (parmesan is a fine substitute)
  • 3 Tbs crumbled chevre (soft goat cheese)
  • Salt to taste
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Slice off the top of the head of garlic, drizzle on the olive oil, then wrap tightly in foil, twisting at the top. Bake for an hour and let cool.
  2. Steam the cauliflower in a vegetable steamer basket until very soft and slightly overcooked. Let drain and cool slightly.
  3. Squeeze the garlic out of the cloves and puree with the cauliflower and remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Taste and add more salt if desired.
Simple dairy-free variation: Exclude the cheeses and roasted garlic. Add 2 Tbs melted ghee or other fat of choice to the food processor when pureeing. 

Pumpkin Tiramisu


Pumpkin pie is a common sight on Thanksgiving tables. Pumpkin cheesecake occasionally makes an appearance. However, I wanted to do something a little more unexpected. Introducing: pumpkin tiramisu. Did I mention that it only has 3 grams of carbohydrates per huge serving? It's also gluten-free. And hey, pumpkin is healthy, right?? That being said, this is a very rich dessert. I will be posting a low-calorie pumpkin dessert soon for those who can't bear the cream and egg yolks.

FOR THE LADYFINGER COOKIES:
  • 4 oz (1 cup) almond flour, or blanched almonds ground up in a coffee grinder or food processor
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup Splenda (or preferred sweetener)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Line a cookie sheet with foil, then top that with parchment paper.
  3. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the yolks and Splenda until thick and lemon colored. Beat in the vanilla, then gently mix in the dry ingredients.
  5. Vigorously stir about a quarter of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the rest, being sure not to deflate the whites.
  6. Spread evenly in the prepared pan, shaking and tilting it to distribute the batter evenly.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes (20 minutes for me) until golden brown and springy. Let cool.
  8. When the cookies are cool, cut into bar-shaped pieces. Since I made the tiramisu in a loaf pan, I traced the bottom of the loaf pan on a piece of paper, cut it out, and then used that as a stencil to ensure that the cookies would fit.
FOR THE PUMPKIN MOUSSE:
  • 1 envelope unflavored unsweetened gelatin
  • 1 15-oz can pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
  • 1 cup Splenda (or preferred sweetener)
  • 1 heaping tsp molasses
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger (I might bump this up to 1/2 tsp since I love ginger)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (cold)
  • 1/2 Tbs vanilla extract
  1. Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water in a microwave-safe dish and let soften.
  2. Meanwhile, beat together all remaining ingredients except for the cream and vanilla.
  3. Microwave the gelatin mixture for 30 seconds, then immediately beat it into the pumpkin mix.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the cream and vanilla on high until soft peaks form. Vigorously stir about a third of the cream into the pumpkin mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the rest.
  5. Refrigerate until ready to use.
FOR THE MASCARPONE CREME:
  • 12 oz (weight) mascarpone
  • 6 Tbs heavy cream (cold)
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp rum extract
  • 1/3 cup Splenda (or preferred sweetener)
  • Pinch salt
  1. Beat yolks with rum extract, Splenda, and salt until light and lemon-colored. Beat in the mascarpone until smooth. Set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to stiff peaks. Vigorously stir about a third of the cream into the mascarpone mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the rest.
  3. Set aside until ready to use.
FOR THE TIRAMISU:
  • 1 recipe almond ladyfingers
  • 1 recipe pumpkin mousse
  • 1 recipe mascarpone creme
  • 2 cups very strong coffee, cooled (use double the amount of ground beans for brewing)
  • 1 tsp rum extract
  • Cinnamon for sprinkling
  1. Combine the rum extract and coffee.
  2. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, edges overhanging the pan by quite a bit.
  3. Dip a cookie VERY quickly in the coffee mixture, shake off the excess, and place in the bottom of the loaf pan. Repeat until an even layer is formed.
  4. Carefully spread on a layer of pumpkin mousse.
  5. Spread a layer of mascarpone creme on top of the pumpkin mousse. To ensure that the layers stay separate, try to dollop the creme evenly over the top and gently shake the pan to distribute.
  6. Repeat with another layer of cookies, another layer of pumpkin mousse, and another layer of mascarpone creme.
  7. Refrigerate overnight.
  8. Sprinkle the top liberally with cinnamon. Use the overhanging plastic wrap to lift the dessert out of the loaf pan. Serve in slices.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sugar-Free Cranberry-Grapefruit Sauce with Mint

Ever had an unsweetened cranberry? It's pretty gross; you might as well be eating citrus peel. However, when you add enough sweetener, the result is a delicious sweet-and-sour flavor. In general, I prefer cranberries in sweets rather than savory dishes, because these bitter berries need SO much sugar that by the time you've added enough for a balanced taste, you're left with a dessert. For Thanksgiving, though, I find that people are loathe to stray from tradition, so a side dish it is. On the plus side, cranberries are very nutritious, with only 4 grams of sugar per cup (and 5 grams of fiber!). When eating low-carb/low-glycemic, while fruit is mostly eschewed, berries and grapefruit are acceptable in moderation (primal/paleo eaters may consume a bit more variety). I love the combination of citrus and cranberries, but I went with white grapefruit instead of the more ubiquitous (and more sugary) cranberry-orange. A final sprinkle of fresh mint added a refreshing accent to the tart fruits.

I used Splenda in place of sugar. Many people prefer to use a small amount of natural sweetener (such as fruit juice or raw honey) instead of cooking with lots of artificial sweeteners. However, as I said above, cranberries require SO much sugar that you simply cannot get away with just a tablespoon of maple syrup or something. If you do not want to use Splenda and you do not want to use tons of sugar, I would suggest an alternate side dish; this beet and pomegranate salad is tonally similar and would probably work well.

Sugar forms a thick syrup which Splenda does not; so, I used a little bit of xanthan gum to thicken the juices. Xanthan gum is a vegetable starch which contains 0 net carbs and is available at most health food stores. Cranberries are very high in pectin, so you can probably get away with not using it, though it will be a bit runny.

CRANBERRY-GRAPEFRUIT SAUCE WITH MINT
Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 8-oz bag cranberries (I used frozen raw berries, since that's all the supermarket had)
  • 3/4 cup granular Splenda
  • 1 white grapefruit, preferably unwaxed organic
  • 1 Tbs mint, shredded (2 Tbs if you really like mint)
  • 1/4 tsp xanthan gum (optional, but recommended)
DIRECTIONS
  1. Remove the outer peel from the grapefruit. I used a zester but if you don't have one you could remove strips with a vegetable peeler and then slice them thinly. Bring 3/4 cup water to a boil. Add the Splenda and grapefruit peel. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. While peel is simmering, supreme the grapefruit and chop up the segments, making sure to reserve all of the juice. Or if you're lazy, just juice the grapefruit.
  3. Add the grapefruit flesh and juice to the simmering water, as well as the bag of cranberries. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
  4. If using xanthan gum, sprinkle it evenly over the cranberry sauce (do not just dump it in or it will clump). Mix to combine.
  5. Transfer to a bowl, stir in mint, then chill until cold, preferably overnight.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Low carb stuffing. Seriously.



I got to wondering what it would be like to eat a Thanksgiving dinner that was hearty and filling, but doesn't spike your insulin and lead you to a blood sugar crash. So, expect an upcoming series of posts with low-carb/primal/paleo/gluten-free Thanksgiving dishes.

Recently, I accidentally devised a low-carb recipe for "corn" muffins when trying to figure out how to make drop biscuits from coconut flour. I did not successfully recreate biscuits, but ended up with a result that ended up with a striking similarity to corn muffins. These are the base of this recipe.


You could bake these in a loaf pan, but I prefer my silicone muffin trays since I end up with more crunchy surface area. The stuffing itself has pancetta and leeks for added flavor, though you could substitute smoked sausage or even bacon for the former.

LOW-CARB "CORN" MUFFINSMakes a dozen muffins

INGREDIENTS
  • 2/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Whisk together the coconut flour, salt, and baking powder.
  3. In another bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the melted butter.
  4. Add the coconut flour mixture to the egg/butter mixture and stir to combine.
  5. Divide the batter among 12 greased muffin cups. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
HERBED "CORNBREAD" STUFFING WITH PANCETTA AND LEEKSMakes about 16 individual servings

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 recipe "corn" muffins (above)
  • 4 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 8 oz pancetta (or smoked sausage such as andouille), cut into 1/4" dice
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 Tbs minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups chicken broth (or 1 cup chicken broth + 1 cup cream or half-and-half for a more indulgent stuffing)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cut the corn muffins into 1/2" cubes. Spread them out evenly in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, including the crumbs. Bake at 250 degrees for an hour to dry out.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Melt the butter in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crisp. Add the onion, leek, and celery, and saute until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a minute longer.
  4. Grease a 13"x9" pan. Add the dry muffin cubes and the vegetable-pancetta mixture, including all of the butter and pan juices.
  5. Beat the eggs, combine them with chicken broth, and pour over the bread mixture. Also add the parsley. Combine everything with your hands, squeezing and crumbling the bread cubes to ensure that they soak up plenty of liquid.
  6. Bake, uncovered, at 400 for about an hour or until the top is browned and crisp.
Lower-fat/lower calorie variation: For the muffins, replace all or some of the eggs with egg whites (2 egg whites or 1/4 cup liquid egg substitute per egg). Replace the butter in the "corn" muffins with 6 Tbs full-fat ricotta cheese + 2 Tbs melted butter or oil. Cut back on the butter in the stuffing to 1 or 2 Tbs, use egg whites instead of egg, and/or replace the pancetta with smoked turkey sausage. It's up to you!

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