Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blueberry Baked Oatmeal

One of the great things about Costco is that you can buy huge bags of frozen unsweetened blueberries for a low price. The bad thing about this is that it takes quite awhile to get through a bag. Fortunately, blueberries pair well with a variety of baked goods, and one of my favorite presentations is this blueberry baked oatmeal. These bars smells heavenly and are a tasty snack or breakfast with a low calorie count.

Blueberry Baked Oatmeal (sugar-free, whole grain, low-fat):
1 medium egg
1/2 C. unsweetened applesauce
1/4 C. skim milk
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 C. granular Splenda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 C. rolled oats
3 tbsp. whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 C. frozen unsweetened blueberries
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F./175 degrees C.  
  2. Grease and flour a loaf pan or spray with cooking spray. 
  3. Whisk the egg, applesauce, milk, Splenda, vegetable oil, salt, and lemon juice together until thoroughly mixed. 
  4. Add the oats, sprinkle the flour and baking powder on top and mix with a spoon until the flour and baking powder are mixed in and the oats are thoroughly moistened. 
  5. Stir in the frozen blueberries. 
  6. Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until set (check with a toothpick or tester). 
  7. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes, remove from the loaf pan and allow to cool completely before cutting. 
Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lemon Anise Cake

I've been experimenting with cake recipes, which may seem like a strange thing to say considering that I've made a lot of muffins and they are probably just another type of cake to most people. To me, "cake" has more moisture and is meant to be lighter. For the first time, I considered using white flour instead of whole wheat, but the truth is that I'm concerned that applesauce as a substitute for sugar and fat won't work quite as well with white flour. I'm afraid it'll drag the cake down, and since whole wheat is better for you, I just went with what I knew.

This cake is not the same as a normal white flour, sugar, and full fat cake. I want that to be clear up front. It is spongier in texture, but it's still good, moist and pleasant. You can see the detail of the texture in the detailed picture below. The flavor is fabulous and this is definitely one of the best results I've had with a particular flavor combination. It's really delicious, at least to my taste buds! My husband also really liked it.

Lemon Anise Cake (sugar-free, whole wheat, reduced fat):
1/4 cup skim milk
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup granular Splenda
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (half a small lemon)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. anise extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
  1. Spray a round cake pan with cooking spray.
  2. Whisk milk, applesauce, egg and egg yolk, oil, Splenda, lemon juice, vanilla, anise extract, almond extract, and salt together until well-blended.
  3. Sprinkle the whole wheat flour into the liquid ingredients and stir until just moistened. Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes.
  4. While the batter rests, preheat oven to Bake at 350 degrees F./175 degrees C.
  5. Stir in the baking powder until thoroughly incorporated.
  6. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30 minutes (or until a skewer comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs).
Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Persimmon Bread

Back home in Pennsylvania, each fall brought my family large bags of zucchini. In Japan, zucchini is expensive, but this time of year brings us somewhat lesser-sized bags of free persimmons. Even if our acquaintances here don't have trees of their own, relatives who live further afield send them boxes of the fruit and they can't possibly eat it all themselves so they share with us. This is always a very delightful experience for me since I love persimmons, but I often cannot eat them fast enough before they go bad.

The answer to the problem is persimmon bread, which I have made before but never in a sugar-free whole wheat version. Fortunately, persimmons can substitute very well for unsweetened applesauce so it was easy to formulate a recipe that worked on the first attempt. The result is a lightly sweet, surprisingly moist bread with a quite mild persimmon taste. In fact, I'd guess that even people who aren't fond of persimmons would enjoy this bread much as people who don't love zucchini can find eating a quick bread made with that vegetable enjoyable.

I found that one persimmon of relatively "average" size yielded about 3/4 cup of puree, though your results may vary if you have smaller or larger fruit. To prepare the puree, you just peel and de-seed the persimmon (if yours have seeds, mine did not) and run them in a food processor until liquefied. I will be freezing a lot of puree as my persimmons start to go soft. In fact, I may try subbing persimmons for applesauce in some recipes if I have the time to experiment and any ideas for complimentary flavors.

In this recipe, I used walnuts, but you can leave them out if you don't like nuts in your quick breads. It will also save you 50 calories per slice if you omit the walnuts. That being said, walnuts carry some good nutritional benefits and the small amount of calories is worth adding in the consumption of a bit of healthy fat.

Note that I did not eat this bread when fresh, but after it had sat overnight. It was incredibly moist and I think no one would know it was sugar-free or reduced fat from the texture, though the fact that it is whole wheat and a little heavier is pretty clear. You can make this into 6 or 8 servings, but I prefer 6 because this is a small loaf. One slice with margarine or butter makes a lovely breakfast with coffee or tea.

Persimmon bread (sugar-free, low-fat, whole wheat):
3/4 cup persimmon puree
1 medium egg
1/3 cup skim milk + 1/2 tbsp. rice vinegar (or any mild-flavored vinegar)
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup Splenda granular
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1.6 oz./45 grams walnuts (about 22 halves), roughly chopped
  1. Add the vinegar to the milk, stir, and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes.
  2. Whisk the persimmon puree, egg, milk with vinegar, oil, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and Splenda together until smooth.
  3. Sprinkle the flour over the liquid mixture and stir just to moisten. Allow the batter to rest for about 15 minutes.
  4. While the batter is resting, grease and flour (or use cooking spray on) a loaf pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees F./180 degrees C.
  5. Sprinkle the baking powder over the batter and add the chopped walnuts. Stir until the baking powder is well-blended but do not overmix or the bread will be tough.
  6. Spread the batter evenly into the loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes. The bread is done when a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. 
Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

With walnuts:

Without walnuts:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chocolate Oatmeal Cake Bars

I have found that working with chocolate without sugar and much fat really is quite a challenge because it is hard to get the flavor to be strong without those components. If you have ever wondered why coffee and cinnamon are in a lot of recipes with chocolate, it is because they enhance the intensity of the chocolate flavor without really coming across strongly as independent flavors. While you can skip the coffee in these recipes, it will make for a more anemic tasting result. Even if you hate coffee, it's good to use them in baking chocolate sweets in many cases.

I wanted to make a chocolate baked oatmeal, but I thought it might work better if it were more "cake-like" and less crumbly than my usual baked oatmeal. The result was a delicate, surprisingly light and soft cake bar which was (still) a bit crumbly, but generally held together well. I wouldn't recommend eating it when you're wearing a white shirt.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cake Bars (sugar-free, reduced fat, whole grain):
1 medium egg
1/2 cup skim milk
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 tbsp. espresso or very strong coffee
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup Splenda granular
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (regular, not quick cooking), divided into half
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F./175 degrees C.
  2. Spray a 11" x 7"  pan with cooking spray (I used metal non-stick).
  3. Whisk the egg, milk, oil, applesauce, coffee, and vanilla until smoothly blended. 
  4. Add the vanilla, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, and Splenda and whisk well. 
  5. Put 3/4 cup of oatmeal into a small bowl food processor and process until ground as finely as possible. 
  6. Add the ground oats, remaining 3/4 cup of whole oatmeal, whole wheat flour, and baking powder to the mixture and stir until evenly mixed.
  7. Spread the mixture into the pan and bake for 20 minutes. Do not overbake! A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with moist crumbs, not clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature and cut into squares.
Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

16 servings:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Garbanzo "Salad"

Quite some time ago, I purchased a case of garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) and having to find a way to consume 24 cans by myself in a fairly reasonable period of time got me sampling a lot of recipes. One of the ones I came across was for something which is commonly called "chickpea of the sea". This recipe is used by vegetarians to simulate the nature of a tuna salad sandwich without having to include the tuna.

Since I'm not a vegetarian, I'm not really concerned with emulating tuna, but I did like the basic idea of using garbanzo beans as a sandwich spread. I played with the original recipe and abandoned the more expensive and esoteric elements and came up with something which personally suited my tastes better. This is now one of my favorite sandwich fillings and inspired me to buy yet another case of garbanzo beans just so that I'd always have some on hand for making this and hummus.

One of the great things about this recipe is that there is a good chance that you can make it with food you tend to have on hand. It isn't likely to require a trip to the store for special ingredients. You can make this with white or green onions. The white onions will lend a milder flavor to the salad.

This works well both as a dip and served on bland crackers or as a sandwich filling. I especially like it on whole wheat bread with thinly-sliced tomatoes, but find it also goes well with Triscuits and other whole grain crackers. This makes 3 generous servings or 4 small ones.

Garbanzo "Salad" (low-fat, vegetarian):
1 can (cooked) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp. reduced fat mayonnaise
2 tbsp. yogurt cheese (plain yogurt that has been drained)
1/2 cup chopped green onion (or 1/3 cup chopped white onion)
1/2 tsp. whole grain mustard
1 tsp. rice or other white/yellow vinegar
salt, pepper, garlic powder (to taste, about 1/4 tsp. each)
red pepper flakes (to taste, optional)
  1. Place the drained and rinsed garbanzo beans in a small bowl food processor and pulse until they are coarsely chopped. 
  2. Add the onions to the top of the beans, then the mayo and yogurt followed by the remaining ingredients. 
  3. Pulse the food processor until blended, but still coarse. Stir with a spatula between pulses for even processing.
Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

4 servings:

3 servings:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Kitchen Materials

Previously, I wrote about how the type of whole wheat flour that you use can have a profound effect on the resulting baked item. The types of materials that you use can have a similarly strong impact on how your baked items turn out. In order to provide some insight into how I get my favorable results, I thought I'd share information on the materials I use and adjustments you may need to make if you use different materials.

A double batch of raspberry muffins. My oven has uneven heat distribution so I put the thicker walled muffin cups in the back where the oven is hotter.

Muffin tins:

I use stainless steel muffin cups. One set of 6 is thicker and better-made and the other is thinner and cheaper. I get good results with both sets, but am mindful of the baking time differences or positions when using the thicker ones. The thicker ones are slower to heat and therefore may require a few more minutes of baking times.

I also have a silicon muffin "pan" with 6-joined slots. I have tried making muffins in these and have gotten a poor result. It could be the properties of my particular silicon cups, but I have found that my whole wheat, sugar-free versions of recipes don't rise well enough in silicon cups. Even if the sides are ungreased, the sides don't "grip" and shorter, denser muffins are the result. Therefore, I wouldn't recommend silicon for my recipes. However, your results may vary.

Since I use individual baking cups, I can often space 6 cups on a baking tray with a lot of space between them. When I'm using a batter that uses frozen fruit, this may shorten the baking time because the very cold batter isn't resting in proximity to more cold batter in an attached cup. If you use a tin with joined cups, you may need to add a few more minutes to your baking time.

The same muffins baked and ready to cool. 

Pie pans:

I have two types of pie pans. One is a standard-size metal one with non-stick coating and the other is smaller tin with no coating that is about half the size of a standard pie pan. I have used both pie pans for making tarts and pies and have had good results with each. If you use a glass pie pan, there is a good chance you'll need a longer baking time because it takes longer for glass to heat up than metal, especially if it is relatively thick glass.

 My oven. Yes, it looks like a microwave, but it also bakes.

Cookie sheets:

My oven is a small combination microwave/convection oven. It is not a standard American or European-style "real" oven. Therefore, it has no built-in racks and can only accommodate specifically fitted ceramic cookie sheets which came with the oven when I bought it. They're square and rather thick. When I bake, I have to place whatever I am cooking on these sheets and heat does not flow evenly around them. The bottom is much slower to heat than the top because of this relatively thick ceramic sheet that I'm forced to use.

 An early experiment with baking in my oven just after I first bought it. Notice all of the unevenness (and the much cleaner cookie sheet). It has gotten better since then in terms of even baking.

If you are using a conventional oven with a wire wrack, you may find the baking times too long for you. If the bottom of your baked goods are getting too dark or if they are baking too long and drying out, you may want to place a cookie sheet under your pan. If you already use a cookie sheet and have a dry or too dark-bottomed result, you may want to stack two sheets or reduce the baking time.

On the rack. Note that using a butter knife to go around the edges of the tins causes me sometimes slice off the edge of the muffin when I'm being careless. You can see a slice that has fallen from a muffin in the back row.

Cake pans:

I rarely make cakes but favor muffins or cupcakes because they are easier to control portion sizes with, and I only have two very cheap, quite small cake pans which are heart-shaped. I picked them up at a 100 yen (like a dollar) store for a change of pace. I've only used these pans once, and had no trouble with them, but the same baking time issues apply when using a thin, metal pan as was mentioned with the muffin tins. If your cake pan is thicker or made of glass, you may need to adjust the baking time.

I occasionally make cakes (or brownies, but not sugar-free ones) in a square glass dish. This always requires a longer baking time because the glass is heavy and thick.

Loaf pans:

My loaf pans are heavy Pyrex dishes and require a longer baking time. They also do not brown the bottom of dishes very well. My baked oatmeal recipes are made in these particular pans and the tops always brown more effectively than the bottoms. If you use metal pans, you may find you require a shorter baking time than my recipes recommend.

The tins after the muffins are removed. I allow them to soak for about an hour and they come clean easily (I wash dishes by hand) despite having no non-stick coating and only the bottoms of the cups being greased.

Ramekins and casserole dishes:

I use ramekins and small casserole dishes that I have bought at the 100 yen shops. I doubt that there is much variation between such types of dishes, but more expensive ones might conduct heat more evenly and efficiently than my cheap ones. Overall, this should mean your dishes would bake more evenly than mine, but have little effect on the overall baking time (aside from the fact that I place my dishes on a ceramic sheet in my oven and therefore the bottom of these dishes take longer to heat up).

Cooking Spray/Oil applicator (spritzer)/pan greasing:

I used to buy cooking spray ("Pam") for my pans but it's very expensive in Japan and creates more waste. I bought a stainless steel oil spritzer and have been using that instead with Canola oil. This is the sort that you have to pump about a dozen times to force air into and then it emits a highly pressurized fine stream of oil. This works very well with my metal pans, particularly for the bottoms of my muffin tins. It seems to work less well with glass and I'd recommend spreading a solid fat (shortening, butter, margarine, etc.) onto glass baking dishes if you don't have conventional cooking spray. While I have used the oil spritzer on glass loaf dishes for baked oatmeal, I have to carefully sprinkle flour into it or the center of the baked oatmeal comes out too moist and a little gooey.

Mixing implements:

I use metal mixing bowls, a metal whisk and wooden spoons. Usually, liquid ingredients are whisked together then the dry ones are stirred in with a wooden spoon. I use the whisk for those ingredients which are unlikely to be affected by overmixing and the wooden spoon for the flour and baking powder.

I also have an immersion blender set for which I use the whisk attachment when dealing with eggs for souffles or meringue. This electric whisk puts more air in the eggs more effectively than a hand mixer and spares my wrist compared to using a manual whisk. However, you can use whatever works for you personally with no ill effects as long as you get the eggs to the proper peak stage.

This same immersion blender is what I use for pureeing soups and as a small bowl food processor. I don't have much room in my small Tokyo kitchen and the set with its mixer, blender, whisk, ice crusher, and food processor attachments allows me to work with one appliance that occupies the smallest space. The benefit of the small food processor is that it works well for creating things like oat flour (ground oats) in small amounts. The down side is that it doesn't have the best ability to grind or process dry foods to a fine sate. I have also used the food processor to make homemade unsweetened applesauce (stewed apples that are pureed), and it works well for this.

My little photo pals:

The little fellows who I use to spice up my pictures are also 100-yen shop finds. They're actually erasers that I can buy in 3-packs for 100 yen. They have no effect on baking times or evenness of cooking, but they do make me smile. :-)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pumpkin Souffle

I've been trying multiple incarnations on the lemon yogurt souffle recipe that I posted in August. The recipe is rather tricky in some ways, but fairly flexible in others. The souffle part seems to hold up quite well with different ingredients, but the flavor hasn''t come through well in several of my experiments. The first was chocolate, and, while not bad, it wasn't strong enough. The second was pumpkin, and the first version didn't have yogurt cheese as an ingredient and it seemed too dry.

This version seemed to come out quite well. For me, the moistness of the souffle is a very important part of what makes it enjoyable. Making it both light and moist is tricky, but this version "had it all" including sufficiently present flavor elements. Clearly, the yogurt cheese is pretty integral to keeping these sugar-free souffles moist.

If you're looking for a substitute for heavy pumpkin pie desserts this Thanksgiving or Christmas, you might want to give this a try. It's delicious warm or cold, but I preferred mine warm and fresh.

Pumpkin Souffle (sugar-free, low-fat):
1/3 cup yogurt cheese (strained non-fat yogurt)
3 eggs, separated into whites and yolks in two separate bowls
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
1 1/2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
5 1/2 tbsp. granular Splenda
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
pinch salt
  1. Lightly spray 5 small ramekins (3.5 in./9 cm. diameter) with cooking spray or use a larger souffle dish if desired. 
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F./190 degrees C.
  3. Whisk the yogurt cheese, egg yolks, flour, 4 tbsp. Splenda (reserve 1 1/2 tbsp.), vanilla, pumpkin puree, spices, and salt in a large bowl until smooth.
  4. Beat the egg whites at low speed until bubbles form. 
  5. Add the cream of tartar and 1 1/2 tbsp. Splenda to the egg whites and beat at high speed until stiff peaks form.
  6. Gently fold the egg whites into the yogurt mixture.
  7. Spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared ramekins or souffle dish.
  8. Bake for 14-16 minutes until the tops are lightly browned, the edges are set and the center is still a bit wobbly. If you overbake the center, it will be too dry.
Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins

I love my whole wheat muffins recipes, but I also like the grainy flavor that oatmeal brings to baked goods. It has a unique, earthy flavor which reminds one of fields of grain. It also pairs very well with fruit and spices, so I wanted to create a fairly basic oatmeal muffin recipe from which I can experiment with variations in the future.

This is the second iteration of cinnamon oatmeal muffins that I worked with. The first version included a sugar-free crumble topping which added a nice dimension, but wasn't all that I had hoped that it would be and it added about 50 calories per muffin. I decided that the small enjoyment brought by the topping wasn't worth the caloric price and omitted it in this final recipe. However, I hope to work a bit more with the basic topping components and come up with something in a future recipe.

On the bright side, I have found that using oats to substitute for some of the whole wheat flour makes a lighter muffin with a pleasantly texture. You can leave out the cinnamon if you'd like to pair it with a fruit spread which doesn't go well with that particular spice.

Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins (low-fat, sugar-free, whole grain):
1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 medium egg
3/4 cup skim milk
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup Splenda granular
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
    1. Spray the bottoms only of 6 muffin cups with cooking spray.
    2. Add the vinegar to the skim milk and allow to rest.
    3. Put the oats in a large bowl and add applesauce, egg, milk and vinegar, salt, Splenda, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. Stir until well mixed.
    4. Sprinkle the whole wheat flour onto the oat mixture and gently stir to just moisten. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes.
    5. Add the baking powder and stir just until well mixed. Don't overwork the flour or the muffins will be tough.
    6. Spoon or pour into the prepared tins and bake at 2000 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
    7. Allow to cool for 15 minutes and run a butter knife around the edges of the tin to loosen the muffins. Gently tap the bottom if they stick. 

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Orange Ginger Muffins

    I will admit that I was inspired by this recipe while perusing Better Homes and Gardens web site. They had a cake on offer which was orange and ginger. That cake was everything you'd expect, fat and sugar included. I didn't want to adapt the cake recipe, but the combination of ginger and orange sounded intriguing. It also reminded me of an episode of Fawlty Towers in which the main character, inn owner Basil Fawlty, is repeatedly asked for a "ginger and orange" drink by a guest and repeatedly fails to make it for him.

    In the first experimental batch, I made this with two teaspoons of ginger, but I think that one teaspoon is a better balance. The ginger totally overwhelmed the orange flavor. I also put very thin half slices of orange on top of the muffins, but I would not recommend doing it for future efforts. It may look a little nice, but the orange adds nothing and may taste a little bitter depending on the variety of orange you are using. Mine also dried out and got a bit darker than expected.

    The muffin itself had a good texture and rose very well. These are large muffins, and not quite as sweet as some my other offerings. I reduced the Splenda because I think that more weakly flavored muffins tend to be overwhelmed by sweetness if there is too much sweetener in them. I'm experimenting with pumpkin muffins and I have found that the pumpkin really faded into the background behind the sweetness so I need to tweak it some more.

    Ginger Orange Muffins (sugar-free, low-fat, whole wheat):
    juice and zest of 1/2 of a large orange (or one small one)
    1 cup unsweetened applesauce
    1/2 cup skim milk
    1 tbsp. rice vinegar
    3/4 cup Splenda granular
    1 tbsp. vegetable oil
    1 tsp. ginger
    1 egg
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
    1 tbsp. baking powder
    1. Add the vinegar to the milk, stir, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
    2. Whisk the juice, zest, applesauce, milk mixture, Splenda, oil, ginger, egg, and salt  together until smoothly combined.
    3. Sprinkle the flour over the liquid mixture and gently stir just until the flour is moistened. Allow this to rest for 15 minutes.
    4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. (190 degrees C.). Spray the bottoms of 6 muffin tins with cooking spray.
    5. Sprinkle the baking powder over the mixture and stir until just mixed.
    6. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups. They will be quite full.
    7. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs. Do not overbake as it will dry out the muffins.
    8. Allow to cool in the tins for at least 15 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges to loosen, pat gently if they stick to the bottom. Place on a rack for cooling.
    Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Kabocha Squash Soup

    Kabocha is Japanese pumpkin, but it really is more like an exotic version of squash than a variation on the familiar orange Halloween vegetable that we use for pies and jack-o-lanterns. It is smaller, sweeter, and has a different flavor. The skin is green and edible, but you may wish to remove it for this soup because it doesn't smoothly puree and affects the color. With the peel, the soup is greenish. Without, it is a deeply golden orange. Mainly, keeping the skin or not is an aesthetic choice.

    I have little access to the types of squash varieties that people back home in America do, so I work with kabocha by default rather than as an act of  defiance against more accessible varieties. For me, this is the "accessible" one. It's delicious, so it's no hardship, but I realize that a recipe like this may be of little value to those who don't have access to Asian vegetables. I've read that kabocha is similar to buttercup squash, so this recipe can be made with that as a substitute.

    I had this soup as a side dish with a protein-rich course and it is very filling and extremely tasty. There is a lot of substance in it and it should keep you full for hours. In fact, it filled me with warmth and satiety for about 4 hours! It's a lovely soup for cold weather.

    In regards to recipe alterations, I used chicken bouillon granules, and they were salty enough so whether or not you add salt depends on your consomme or bouillon's flavor and your personal tastes.

    Kabocha Squash Soup (low-fat):
    1 medium onion, diced
    2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
    400 grams/14 oz. (seeded weight) kabocha squash or buttercup squash
    2 cups water
    1 cup skim milk
    2 chicken consomme cubes or bouillon
    1/4-1/2 tsp. ground black pepper to taste
    salt to taste (optional)
    scant amount of vegetable oil (1 tsp.)
    1. Wrap the kabocha squash in plastic wrap and cook at high heat in microwave for 2 minutes.
    2. Remove the squash from the oven. Optional step: Use a vegetable peeler to peel off the outer layer of green skin. This will make a more uniform-looking soup without tiny bits of peel in it, but is not necessary.
    3. Scoop the seeds out of the squash and cut into pieces about 1"/2.5 cm. in size. If the squash is still too hard to cut, cook it for a few more minutes. Be very careful handling the knife as this is a firm vegetable and you may need to use a little force to cut it.
    4. Heat a medium-sized pot with a well-fitting lid over medium heat. Add as little oil as necessary to just coat the bottom of the pan (or spray with cooking spray).
    5. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook until the onions are softened and slightly transparent. If you're using cooking spray, you will need to watch them more closely and possibly lower the temperature. Stir every 5 minutes or so. Reduce the heat if they stick or start to burn.
    6. Add the water, milk, squash, pepper and soup granules or cubes. Cover and cook until the squash is very tender, stirring occasionally. It should take about a half hour at most after the soup starts to simmer.
    7. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. Salt to taste if necessary.
    I usually use Sparkrecipe's calculator to tally up the nutrition information for my recipes and present it as is, but in the case of this soup, I don't trust the information that I received. The main problem is that multiple sources which provide nutrition data about kabocha do not appear to be correct. Most of them say that a 3/4 cup serving or 85 grams (3 oz.) provides 30 calories, but this does not match the information I have read about kabocha calorie counts on packages of plain, frozen squash in Japan. The data I see says that the calorie value is 70 calories per 85 grams (3 oz.).

    I'm providing the SparkRecipes calculation, with my adjusted calorie count in red next to SparkRecipes value in black. I'm not asserting that I'm definitively correct (though I believe I am), so I'm offering the option of accepting the SparkRecipes calorie data instead of mine.

    Nutrition calculations courtesy of the Sparkrecipes calculator:

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    Blueberry Muffins

    Recently, I was thinking about zucchini bread. In fall in rural Pennsylvania, where I grew up, we were inundated with zucchini at this time of year and my grandmother used to make delicious zucchini bread. I decided that I'd try to modify that recipe to make it sugar-free and low-fat, but I found that it was rather tricky to get the correct moisture balance. My zucchini bread variation came out dense, wet, and with an unappealing texture. Any time that I work with a new fruit or vegetable, the ratios have to be carefully altered to avoid this soggy outcome.

    For these blueberry muffins, and my earlier raspberry orange muffins, I had to work with a stiffer batter whereas I had to work with a wetter one for the chocolate muffins. If I overload a batter which includes added fruit or vegetables (or a puree of either), it's important to reduce the milk and applesauce to stop it from getting too mushy. The chemistry of baking seems simple until you start to tweak things, and then it can easily fall apart.

    Fortunately, these blueberry muffins were an easy variation on the raspberry orange recipe and came out with a great texture and balanced moisture despite being liberally speckled with blueberries. I used unsweetened frozen blueberries from Radar Farms (a brand that Costco carries). You can use fresh ones, but that may affect the texture because frozen ones tend to have a fair amount of frozen juice around them. The baking time will definitely be affected if you use fresh because the frozen berries lower the overall temperature of the batter. If you use frozen berries, I wouldn't recommend thawing them out unless you want purple muffins.

    Blueberry Muffins (sugar-free, whole wheat, low-fat):
    1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
    1 egg
    1/2 cup low-fat milk
    1 tbsp. rice vinegar
    juice of half a small lemon
    1 tbsp. vegetable oil
    1 cup Splenda granular
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
    1 tbsp. baking powder
    1 cup frozen unsweetened blueberries
    1. Add the vinegar to the milk, stir, and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes.
    2. Whisk the applesauce, egg, milk, lemon juice, oil, salt, and Splenda together.
    3. Sprinkle the flour over the liquid mixture and gently stir just until the flour is moistened. Allow this to rest for 15-30 minutes.
    4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. (190 degrees C.). Spray the bottoms of 6 muffin cups with cooking spray.
    5. Sprinkle the baking powder over the mixture and stir until just mixed.
    6. Stir in the frozen blueberries. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups.
    7. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
    8. Allow to cool in the tins for at least 20 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges to loosen, pat gently if they stick to the bottom. Place on a rack for cooling.
    It's very important to allow them to cool for awhile since the high fruit content will make them fragile until they are close to room temperature.

    Nutrition calculations courtesy of the Sparkrecipes calculator:

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Working With Whole Wheat Flour

    The type of flour that you use will have a profound effect on the outcome. Since my recipes work well with the type of flour that I use, I thought it would be of value to talk about what I'm using. If you're using a different type of whole wheat flour, your results may differ, or you may want to slightly alter the amount of liquid you use. 

    The flour that I use in my recipes is whole grain whole wheat bread flour. I buy it through a third party seller, but I get 10 lb. bags that are shipped from the mill and obviously intended for more commercial rather than personal use. I buy my flour this way because it is much cheaper than buying small bags at Japanese supermarkets and I use a lot of flour. The value of using this type of flour is that it keeps the nutritional benefits intact, is unbleached, and as high protein as possible. The appearance is of relatively larger grains that are light brown in color.

    Because I use this type of flour, rather than more finely ground or bleached "white" whole wheat flour, I have to give it a little extra time to absorb moisture. This is why my baking recipes recommend allowing the batter to rest for 15-30 minutes. The flour being more fully hydrated will allow for a better rise and texture in the final product. I don't recommend using specialty whole wheat flour such as that which is ground more finely for baking because it removes some of the wheat germ and you lose the benefits of the whole grain and some of the protein. However, you can use any type of whole wheat flour that you like and adjust the resting time (or eliminate it) to your particular flour.

    In general, the finer the flour, the less of a need there is for resting the batter and possibly the less moisture you will need. The only way to know for sure is to experiment with your particular type of flour. If your baked goods are too dense, doughy, or dry and the baking time in your experience seems very different from that recommended in the recipe, then you may need to adjust the amount of liquid (usually low-fat milk) or applesauce a little to improve the texture and bring your result more in line with mine. 

    In general in regards to the batter type:

    Fruit- or vegetable-based cakes or muffins:
    The batter should be relatively thick to provide structure and accommodate the extra moisture from the fruit or vegetables.  The batter generally needs to be spooned into the baking pans.

    Flavored cakes or muffins (e.g., chocolate):
    The batter should resemble thick cake batter. It should be pourable, but spooning it is possible as well.

    Since whole wheat flour is richer in gluten than white flour, it's even more important not to overwork it when you mix the batter. One of the reasons why I always say to stir only until moistened prior to mixing in the baking powder is that stirring too much will work the gluten (the protein in wheat flour) and make tough baked goods. When you're working with whole wheat (and especially with quick breads or thicker batters), always mix as little as possible while still making sure all ingredients are adequately incorporated.

    If you have any problems with the results of my recipes, I welcome questions and will be happy to try and help you get a better result.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    Banana Custard

    Though summer is over, I still have banana puree in my freezer that I'm trying to see my way through. I decided to try and use it in a low-fat custard preparation and this worked out particularly well. It has a very strong banana flavor though, so it's not for those who are less than ardent fans of this particular fruit. It's also on the sweet side so you may want to reduce or eliminate the Splenda if you don't like sweet custards.

    I've made custards on the stove top many times as well as in the oven and I have wondered about the use of water baths and the value of them. For those who don't know, most oven-baked custards use a water bath (placing the baking dishes in a larger pan full of hot water) to regulate the temperature. It creates a softer custard with a smoother texture. For these banana custards, I used a water bath for some but also made one without the bath. There wasn't a problem with the one which was made sans bath, but it was firmer and cooked faster. If you want a finer, softer texture, use the bath. If you don't care and want something which is more firmly set, you can skip the bath.

    Banana Custard (sugar-free, low-fat, gluten-free)
    3 medium eggs
    4 tbsp. Splenda granular (1/4 cup)
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1 cup banana puree (about 2 large bananas)
    1 1/2 cups skim milk
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F./175 degrees C.
    2. Spray 4 ramekins or individual serving Pyrex baking dishes with cooking spray. 
    3. Puree the bananas in a food processor.
    4. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor bowl and process until fully incorporated.
    5. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dishes/ramekins (up to the top is fine). There may be a little leftover.
    6. If using a water bath, place the baking dishes into a larger dish and fill the larger dish with very hot water up to the lip of the dishes. The water level should reach the top of the custard mixture.
    7. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the custard is set on the sides and slightly jiggly in the center. If you are not using a water bath, it may take less baking time (likely 25-30 minutes).
    8. Allow to cool on a rack to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. 
    Nutrition calculations courtesy of the Sparkrecipes calculator:

    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    "Banana Bread" Baked Oatmeal

    During the long and humid Tokyo summer, bananas wouldn't last two days in my kitchen without going brown and mushy. My way to salvage them was to peel them, puree them in the food processor, and then freeze the goo for later baking purposes. The great thing about these extra ripe bananas is that they have a strong flavor and produce an excellent result in terms of the flavor profile. Be sure to use very ripe bananas for best results.

    I've got a lot of baked oatmeal recipes which have been a hit with my husband and this one is currently at the top of his list. He believes that it actually tastes better than real banana bread, though it could be that he has been off of sugar and white flour for so long that he has forgotten what the real deal tastes like. Nonetheless, this is a delicious version of baked oatmeal which satisfies both a sweet tooth or the need for a quick, delicious breakfast or snack which is also nutritious. I usually double the recipe and make two loaves at once and slice each loaf into 6 bars, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze. With tea or coffee, they really satisfy and are easy to grab and take with you. If you tend to buy nutritional bars as snacks, these make a cheaper substitute (and are tastier).

    "Banana bread" baked oatmeal (sugar-free, whole grain, low-fat) 
    1 egg
    1/2 granular Splenda
    1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
    1/4 cup skim milk
    1 tbsp. vegetable oil
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 tsp. vanilla
    3/4 cup pureed banana
    1 1/2 cups rolled oats
    3 tbsp. whole wheat flour
    2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F. (175 degrees C.).
    2. Grease and flour a loaf pan.
    3. Whisk the egg, applesauce, milk, oil, vanilla, cinnamon, banana puree, Splenda, and salt together until well mixed.
    4. Sprinkle the oatmeal over the liquid. 
    5. Sprinkle the flour and baking powder over the oatmeal.
    6. Stir with a wooden spoon until well moistened.
    7. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Be careful not to underbake this as it will come out too moist.
    8. Cool in the pan until it can be handled comfortably (about 30 minutes). Loosen the edges with a spatula and gently remove the cake.
    9. Cut into 6 pieces.
    Nutrition calculations courtesy of the Sparkrecipes calculator:

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Chocolate Muffins

    Have you ever bought one of those big chocolate muffins from Costco? They have chocolate chips and are huge and sweet. Well, this muffin isn't going to rival that type of muffin, but I think it comes pretty close. To get a muffin like that, you need lots of sugar and fat. If that's what you want, I'm afraid I can't deliver something precisely like it in a whole wheat, reduced fat, sugar-free format. Of course, I'm also not going to offer something which is nearly 700 calories as the Costco muffins will provide.

    Since the flavor of chocolate is carried across more effectively by sugar and fat (hence the reason it is often delivered in the form of a candy bar), it's a tall order to make a chocolate muffin without those fattening aspects and it took a few tries to get this just right. The results of my baking are a muffin which has a somewhat greater chocolate intensity than a plain chocolate cake. It's moist and the texture is excellent. As is often the case with whole wheat baked goods, these are better the next morning as it allows the moisture to balance out and the "wheaty" flavor vanishes entirely.

    You can make 6 quite large muffins or 8 medium-size ones. Nutrition information is given for both at the end of the recipe. Note that this delivers a nice amount of protein for a baked item due to the whole wheat flour and cocoa powder.

    picture lightened to show detail - these are actually very dark in color

    Chocolate Muffins (sugar-free, reduced fat, whole wheat):
    1 cup unsweetened applesauce
    1 medium egg
    3/4 cup skim milk
    1 tbsp. rice vinegar
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1 cup Splenda granular
    3/4 cup cocoa powder (I used Van Houten)
    2 tbsp. Canola oil
    2 tbsp. espresso or very, very strong coffee
    1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
    1 tbsp. baking powder
    1. Scald the milk, add to the cocoa, stir until dissolved, and allow to cool.
    2. Whisk the applesauce, egg, milk, cocoa mixture, vanilla, salt, espresso, oil, cinnamon, vinegar, and Splenda together. Mix until everything is smoothly incorporated.
    3. Sprinkle the flour over the liquid mixture and gently stir just until the flour is moistened. Allow this to rest for 15-30 minutes.
    4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. (190 degrees C.). Spray the bottoms of 6 large muffin cups with cooking spray.
    5. Sprinkle the baking powder over the mixture and stir until just mixed evenly.
    6. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups. They will be about 2/3 to 3/4 full.
    7. Bake for 30 minutes. A skewer inserted into the center comes out with sticky crumbs, but not wet batter. Do not overbake (a skewer should not come out clean) as it will dry out the muffins.
    8. Allow to cool in the tins for at least 15 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges to loosen, pat gently if they stick to the bottom. Place on a rack for cooling.
     Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

    For 6 muffins:

    For 8 muffins: