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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The a-maz-ing 100 calorie cupcake!

The other day I was reviewing the Thanksgiving menu with Keith, and Courtney asked what we were having. I got past the requisite turkey, stuffing, etc. to the Spinach Artichoke Au Gratin with Parmigiano-Reggiano and prosciutto. "Jenny, I think the problem with your recipes is that they're designed for a more mature palate." Ha! She's 10! Not a minute later, she was dipping her whole grain garlic toast into her dad's bowl of Creamy Broccoli Soup -- "This tastes a-maz-ing!" I think her palate is maturing, no? Victory!

"A-maz-ing" is really what I want to be about. Not just "good." Or worse, "good....for diet food." GAH! Nope, I want my recipes to taste "a-maz-ing" and I'll keep trying until they do. Trust me, Keith and I have rejected plenty! He knows I have the bar set high and "fine" isn't good enough.

So last week I talked about keeping Thanksgiving under control -- or at least allowing people the option to eat healthfully if they want to. The festivities are at my house this year, and everyone is responsible for a portion of the meal. I'll be baking bread (which isn't even whole wheat, but it's a special holiday treat), some sides, and of course the Spinach Artichoke Au Gratin from last week's post. I love to bake, so I wanted to do the desserts, too. Pumpkin pie is always expected, and I happen to LOVE IT. However, this is more of a cheesecake family. OK, really just Keith -- but if there's no cheesecake, it'll break his heart. All I really want is a cupcake. Any kind, really. Cupcakes are huge right now -- and I mean that both figuratively and literally! The cupcake craze has taken bakeries by storm and even created some that sell only the adorable little cakes.

So my idea was to make pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Pumpkin pie on the bottom and cheesecake on the top! The best of both worlds! Plus, cupcakes have got to be healthier than pie or cheesecake, right? Your standard slice (1/8th of the recipe) of pumpkin pie has about 400 calories (without whipped cream!) and that cheesecake packs a whopping 500 calories per slice. Yikes!

I'm about to break it down further, so if you really don't want to hear any more, skip to the recipe! But seriously, you should listen. Because these innocent little cupcakes are certain diet sabotage. I did a little digging and found out that a red velvet cupcake from Sprinkles -- the original cupcake-only bakery in Beverly Hills, has 497 calories! Ahhh! They also sell the mix, so let's compare apples to apples...er...pumpkins to pumpkins. One pumpkin cupcake has 270 calories...and the cream cheese frosting has 130. That's 400! Might as well eat the pie. The news doesn't get much better. Head to your local grocery store for a cupcake and you'll take in 200-300 overly sweet calories. You're better off heading to the baking aisle, right? Nope. With calories in box mixes ranging from 120 (if you can squeeze 24 out of that box) to 240 and another 75 calories per tablespoon of icing, you might as well hang it up.

So should I try to attempt a lighter pumpkin cream cheese cupcake? Only if it's a-maz-ing. Because "good...for diet food" just won't cut it.

The jury's still out, but I think I might be a genius (hee hee). Somehow, I managed to create a recipe that makes 24 regular-sized cupcakes that only have 100 calories each -- including the frosting! That's a third of the calories of a box mix cupcake and icing and an even smaller fraction of those bakery varieties. AND...here's the kicker....they taste a-maz-ing. If you like pumpkin-flavored things, of course. Which I do. A LOT. I'll still make Keith his cheesecake, but I'll have these to satisfy my sweet tooth. For only 100 calories. Or I could eat 5 for the same number calories in that slice of pie with whipped cream. It's been known to happen!

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 24

2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 can pure pumpkin puree (15 ounce can)
1 cup skim milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs (separated)

1 cup light cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugars, cinnamon, ginger and salt. In a separate bowl, combine pumpkin, milk, vanilla and egg yolks only (reserve egg whites in another bowl). Using an electric mixer (I like to use an electric hand mixer for these), mix wet ingredients, then add dry ingredients and mix for about 30 seconds. Rinse beaters and beat egg whites for about 3 minutes or until peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into batter until white streaks disappear.

Line a large cookie sheet with 24 heavy-weight cupcake wrappers (buy the kind that say "muffin pan not needed"). I baked half of this recipe this way, and half in a lined muffin tin. As you can see from the photo, these cupcakes will expand if not constrained by a tin (cupcake on the left). The bigger, the better, right?! Fill each cupcake wrapper 2/3 full and bake for 15 minutes in the middle of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely. In the meantime, beat softened cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Chill until cupcakes are cool, then frost!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Spinach Artichoke Au Gratin. Dinner party done light!

Ah, November. I've always loved autumn, and here in Charleston, it's just starting to feel like it. For me, November always sparks the beginning of the holiday season -- at least the planning part. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite meals. It's the one meal of the year that I let myself splurge. (OK, seriously, I splurge regularly -- but this is the one meal I'll admit to!)

These past few months, I've been working really hard in the gym and staying within my limits in the kitchen. It's paying off! I feel fabulous and while I love Thanksgiving, I want to find a way to do it without the elastic pants. I know it can be done -- after all, the base of the meal is turkey. Diet food!

That's about where the diet part stops, unfortunately. And I know this post may make me unpopular at first, but don't shoot the messenger! It's time to break it down. I'll gain my popularity back with the recipe later in the post...trust me!

So what are we really eating at Thanksgiving -- or any holiday meal or dinner party, for that matter? It's difficult to calculate, since the traditional family recipes can vary so much. However, research and averages can get us pretty close, at least as far as the staples go. My numbers are based on relatively small serving sizes, since Thanksgiving dinner often has so many choices, you can't even fit them on one plate. And herein lies the problem, at least for me -- I can't leave anything to chance, I have to try it all!

I make it a rule not to eat potatoes for regular meals, but Thanksgiving has two kinds. Mashed potatoes, often with butter and sour cream, and sweet potatoes, often sweetened even more with brown sugar, nuts, even marshmallows. Unfortunately, both pack on the calories -- 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes with butter and sour cream can have over 200 calories. And that's without the gravy! Steer clear of that sweet potato casserole or the candied yams. They boast a staggering 200-300 calories in just a half cup. Shockingly, the side serving of this popular dish from Boston Market has 460 calories. Ahhhhhhh! For me, a sweet potato doesn't need any extra sweetness. Try eating one plain and see what you think!

By this time, you should know to stick to white meat turkey instead of dark meat. Fewer calories and half the fat! Gravy is made of, at a minimum, turkey drippings (stock and fat) thickened with flour. If you have to have the gravy just this once, don't drown that turkey! Have only a tablespoon or two. I like to have a side of tomato slices and/or pickles with my meals, so I dip whatever meat I'm having in the juice from those (yes, I know I'm weird).

OK, so those are the obvious ones...right? Stuffing is made of bread and fat, and though family recipes vary greatly, it's already off to a bad start. And speaking of bread, that little 2-inch dinner roll has 80-90 calories -- without the butter! A pat (about a teaspoon) of butter adds another 30-40 calories. So you should stick to fruits and veggies, right? Not this time! That quintessential green bean casserole has 167 calories in just 1/2 a cup. The cranberry sauce packs 209 calories in 1/2 cup. I know half a cup of tart cranberry sauce is a lot, but my brother can eat that much -- watch it, Evan!

Well now I've depressed myself. And I knew what I was going to say before I said it. A quick calculation, if you try everything (which I do), brings us to 1010 calories. That's 4 oz of white meat roasted turkey for 120 calories, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, 1/4 cup of cranberry sauce and one measly dinner roll with butter. I didn't even calculate stuffing or gravy...or myriad other sides....or dessert! So it's shaping up to be a meal that has more calories than I might eat in a day, maybe two.

So I've been quite long-winded, but I feel it all needed to be said. No wonder we unbutton our pants and fall asleep after dinner. Don't blame the tryptophan -- we just eat too much!

So what do you do? Make this! This Spinach Artichoke Au Gratin recipe is the answer and I can't wait to make it for my family this year. It has gourmet ingredients that make it special, it looks and tastes fancy enough for a dinner party, and it's bursting with the flavors of artichokes, Parmigiano-Reggiano and prosciutto. Delicious! And you don't even have to tell anyone that it only has 80 calories in 1/2 a cup. I promise they won't suspect!

Spinach Artichoke Au Gratin
Serves 12 (1/2 cup servings)

16 oz. package frozen chopped spinach (thawed and squeezed dry)
18-20 oz. quartered artichokes (frozen or canned and drained -- not the marinated kind!)
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup skim milk
1 egg
2 oz light cream cheese
2 tbsp light sour cream
3/4 cup shredded, grated or ground Parmigiano-Reggiano (divided)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 oz prosciutto, roughly chopped
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roughly chop artichoke hearts and combine with spinach and garlic in a casserole dish. In a separate bowl, combine milk, egg, cream cheese, sour cream, 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt and pepper. Beat with an electric mixer until cream cheese and egg are mixed in well. Pour mixture evenly over casserole, sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano mixed with the panko, and top with prosciutto. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until top just starts to brown and the prosciutto crisps. Avoid digging in before your guests arrive!

So what about dessert? For fear of adding insult to injury, I'll skip that discussion until next week. Don't worry, the svelte Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing will be your saving grace! Stay tuned...

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!