Low-Fat Pumpkin Spice Granola

Pumpkin Granola PicI absolutely love homemade granola.  It is incredibly easy to make and so nutritious!  The best part is that you are in control of the ingredients, it is completely customizable.   Add any combination of nuts and dried fruit, whatever you prefer.  You can even switch up the sweeteners, use honey or agave instead of maple syrup.  This recipe uses maple syrup to keep it vegan.  The possibilities are endless.  I love the fact that this recipe uses no butter or oils to hold the mixture together – the pumpkin does it all, making it low-fat with a lot less calories.  Added bonus, it makes the house smell heavenly!

It’s a great recipe to welcome in the fall season!

LOW-FAT PUMPKIN SPICE GRANOLA

Makes about 6 cups.

3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups old fashioned oats
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together pumpkin puree, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and salt. Stir in brown sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla until thoroughly combined.

Add the oats, cranberries, raisins, pecans, coconut, and pumpkin seeds to the bowl. Stir to evenly coat with the pumpkin mixture.

Spread evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, stirring well at the 20 minute mark.  Note:  If you prefer your granola clumpy like I do, then spread the mixture in a thinner layer and do not stir during baking.  Do not stir until it has cooled completely on the baking sheet, then break apart into chunks.

It will not be crisp when you remove it from the oven, but it will crisp up as it cools.  Allow granola to cool for several hours before storing – so that it doesn’t get soggy!.

Source: Adapted from Pastry Affair

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Gluten-Free, Guilt-Free Oatmeal Muffins

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Now there’s absolutely no excuse for skipping breakfast!   These muffins are like a portable bowl of oatmeal. The fruit is even included.  AND… they are kid-tested and approved!

This is a great base recipe.  Make it your own, play with it, use your creativity.  I often add walnuts, flax seeds, cranberries (dried or fresh), chocolate chips, any kind of fruit, whatever is in season.  This is good clean eating.  Enjoy!

Banana Oatmeal Muffins
Yield: 12 large
Bake: in 400ºF oven for 20 minutes

1 1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup yogurt, plain low-fat
1/2 cup milk, low-fat
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup brown sugar  (or any natural sweetener of choice)
1/3 cup oil, sunflower or vegetable oil
2 bananas, large, ripe, mashed
1 egg, large, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cup oat flour  (just grind 2 cups oats in blender)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

Instructions
In a bowl mix together rolled oats, yogurt, milk, and vanilla. Let soak for 10 minutes.
Mix oat flour, salt, spices, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl.
Add brown sugar, mashed banana, egg and oil to rolled oats mixture. Mix well.
Add dry ingredients to the rolled oats mixture. Mix well. Fill greased or paper lined muffin cups 2/3 full.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes.

For the Love of Pancakes! A Healthier Take

When I think of ‘healthy’ pancakes, certain images come to mind, that of the flat, rubbery, grainy variety.  Over the years, I’ve experimented with many different types of flours to come up with a healthier version of the traditional white-flour pancake.  I’ve tried whole wheat, buckwheat, oat flour, and even combining these in varying proportions.  Some turned out better than others, but in general, the end result was always the same,   disappointing to say the least.  Good nutrition is definitely important, but it doesn’t always make for a great experience, for that we also need great taste.  I never settle for any recipe simply for the nutritional benefits, it must also be great tasting.  I test all my recipes against some of the toughest critics I know ….my kids!

I recently discovered brown rice flour while trying to find healthier alternatives for white flour (other than whole wheat flour).  Brown rice is one of my favorite staples, so the thought of incorporating it in other forms was intriguing.  I bought a bag of Bob’s Red Mill whole-grain brown rice flour not yet knowing what I would do with it.

When researching different uses for brown rice flour, I came across a recipe for gluten-free brown rice flour pancakes.  The fact that it is gluten-free made me think it might require special unconventional ingredients, however, this recipe is simple and straight forward.  I had everything on hand and after making a few changes and tweaking a few ingredients, I got ready for another pancake-experiment.  The brown rice flour batter is a little thicker than normal pancake batter, but a lot easier to manage.  The pancakes were perfectly golden and so light and fluffy in texture.  Their taste and texture are very much like the traditional white-flour pancakes, but these pancakes are packed with nutritional goodness.  Since they are made with high quality whole grain brown rice, they are rich in fiber and will keep you satiated a lot longer.  So, they taste great and are great for you, sounds like I found a keeper, right?  WRONG!

Before being officially passed, these pancakes must meet one more challenge … my critics.  It didn’t take long to get enthusiastic thumbs-up and big smiles from both kids.  The fact that I shaped them into teddy-bear faces with chocolate chip eyes and strawberry mouths, may have earned me extra brownie points!

Gluten-free Brown Rice Flour Pancakes

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 t sea salt
  • 1/4 t cinnamon
  • 2 t raw sugar (or any sugar substitute)
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 T canola oil

In a small bowl, mix together milk and vinegar, and let sit a few minutes to thicken.  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

Add egg and oil to the milk/vinegar mixture and combine well.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until combined.  Do not beat for too long.  It’s ok if the batter is lumpy.

Pour on to a greased non-stick pan on medium heat.  Flip when pancakes start to bubble on top.

Enjoy with maple syrup or any toppings of your choice.

Makes 10 – 12 medium pancakes

Low Fat Leek and Potato Soup

Low-fat Leek and Potato Soup

The best leek and potato soup I’ve ever had was at this little French boulangerie in downtown Vancouver; come to think of it, everything they served was fantastic and so authentic.  The soup, however, was a culinary masterpiece, in my opinion.  I couldn’t get enough of the velvety smooth texture and the uncomplicated yet delicate flavor.  It tasted fancy and gourmet, and for that reason, I assumed it would be a complicated recipe.  Much to my surprise when I started researching recipes.

Fresh leeks and potatoesLeek and potato soup is generally a calorie rich soup made with heavy creams giving it that  gourmet flavor.  I’ve reinterpreted the recipe to come up with this super ‘skinny’ version that has all the flavor but a fraction of the calories!   There are so many new and interesting variations of this soup; some by combining other vegetables; some with garlic and white wine, and even spicy variations.  However, I still prefer the traditional recipe that dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, it’s simple with only a few key ingredients:  leeks, potatoes, broth, and cream (for which I’ve substituted low-fat buttermilk).  The combination of these simple ingredients is like heaven on earth!  Served with crusty whole grain bread and it’s a meal in itself.

Ingredients

1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T unsalted butter
4 Leeks (white and light green parts only), sliced
1 Bay Leaf
3 Medium Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 cups Chicken Broth
½ t white pepper
½ t Kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1 cup Low-fat Buttermilk

Directions

Wash leeks in a colander under cold water and let drain for a few minutes.

In a medium stock pot over medium heat, melt butter in olive oil.  Add leeks, bay leaf, and ½ teaspoon of salt, allow to sweat for 5 minutes.  Decrease heat to med-low and cook for another 15 minutes, until leeks are tender.  Stir occasionally, making sure the leeks do not brown.

Add potatoes and chicken stock, turn the heat up to med-high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium, partially cover and let potatoes cook until very soft (almost falling apart), approximately 20 minutes.

Turn off  heat, remove bay leaf from soup, and blend with an immersion blender until smooth.  Add the buttermilk and white pepper.  Season with additional kosher salt as per taste.  Serve immediately as is, or topped with a dollop of sour cream and croutons.  Enjoy!

Makes 10 cups

Per Serving:  96.3 cal, 2.8 g fat, 14 g carbs, 2.7 g protein

Super Healthy Homemade Hummus – Easy and Diet Friendly!

Healthy Homemade HummusThis homemade hummus is packed with healthy goodness.  Don’t let the calories scare you!  These are nutrient rich calories, the kind we all need.  The high-calorie ingredients in hummus are the tahini (or sesame butter), and extra virgin olive oil which can be substituted for lighter alternatives, but in my opinion, these greatly contribute to the flavor, richness, authenticity, and nutritional content of the dish.

The word hummus means chickpea in Arabic, which is the primary ingredient in this ancient dish.  Chickpeas are a great source of fiber which helps reduce levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).  When served with a grain, such as pita, it’s a complete-protein food and extremely low-fat.

Tahini or Sesame ButterTahini is a paste made by grinding up sesame seeds and dates back as far as 1600 BC.  Tahini contains a lot of natural oil, almost 50%, which gives it a high fat content.  The oil, however, is mostly in the form of monounsaturated fat which is beneficial for the body since it contains increased levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).  Tahini is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with a multitude of vitamins and minerals.  Antioxidants along with vitamin E in tahini reduces the aging of body cells which helps slow down the aging process.  Tahini is an extremely rich source of calcium, one of the best sources, even better than dairy (which is hard for the body to digest).  And finally, it is also one of the richest sources of protein, being almost 20% complete protein, it beats out milk, soy beans, most nuts, and sunflower seeds.

Extra virgin olive oil contains extraordinary amounts of antioxidants that fight everything from fat buildup, cravings, inflammation, to helping boost your metabolism.  It is also an extremely rich dietary source of monounsaturated fat containing oleic acid, which is a proven fat loss agent when combined with a low-calorie diet.

This goes to show that you can’t always judge a food simply based on the calorie content.  The focus should be quality over quantity, when it comes to calories.  The high-calorie ingredients in hummus are also high quality, and the health benefits they offer are worth the extra calories.  Having said that, you should still exercise portion control.  According to this recipe, one serving of hummus is 2 tablespoons per person.  Use instead of mayo on sandwiches or in wraps.  Makes a perfect mid-day snack with some veggies.  Is also great in salad dressings.  The possibilities are endless!

Ingredients

    1 can Chick Peas (15.5 oz)
    2 T Tahini
    2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    ½ cup Low Fat Yogurt
    ½ Lemon, juiced
    1 t Lemon zest
    1T Flaxseed meal
    1 garlic clove
    1 t sea salt
    ½ t ground cumin
    ½ t ground coriander seeds
    ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Directions

Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor until a creamy consistency.  If too thick, add 2 tablespoons of water and mix.

Makes 12 servings

Nutrients per serving: 76.4 cal, 4.4 g fat, 7.2 g carbs, 2.3 g fiber, 3.1 g protein

Guilt-Free Brownie Bites!

These are so absolutely delectable that you’ll never know they’re guilt-free!  The texture comes out perfectly moist and the flavor is so rich and fudgey that a mini bite-size muffin is all it really takes to satisfy that chocolate craving.  The best part is they contain only a fraction of the calories and fat!  The mixture for these can make 12 regular size muffins or about 30 generously topped mini muffins.  The rule of thumb seems to be 1 regular muffin to 3 mini muffins, but I like to make my minis a bit more substantial, therefore, I only get about 30 minis instead of 36.

I’ve omitted the eggs and oil in this recipe and replaced it with a healthy natural substitute that doesn’t alter the taste.  The secret ingredient in this recipe is pure pumpkin puree, which is naturally low in calories, zero fat, and provides dietary fiber (and who couldn’t use a little extra fiber!).  Sounds really healthy right?  You wouldn’t know it from the taste!  These are super easy to make and a great way to sneak in some extra veggies for the kids.  To make them even more decadent, add a cup of chocolate chips.

Guilt-free Brownie Bites

1 pkg Devil’s Food Cake mix
1 can pure pumpkin puree
¼ cup milk (skim or low-fat)
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl blend together the pumpkin and milk.  Add box of devil’s food cake mix, combine well.  Batter will be sticky.  Fold in the chocolate chips, if using.

Line mini muffin tins with paper liners and spray the inside of the liners with cooking spray.  This will keep the brownie from sticking to the paper when you are peeling the liner off.  It would be a shame to waste any of the brownie goodness to the paper, especially since they’re mini muffins, every bit counts!

Spoon the batter into the liners, bake for 12-15 min.

Makes 24-36 mini muffins, each serving is 70 calories

Or 12 regular sized muffins, each serving is 183 calories