Asparagus, You Look Great. Have You Been Working Out?

Remember when brussels sprouts weren’t available everywhere? Back in the olden days, when they might appear in a cafeteria, probably hospital, boiled or smothered with cheese sauce as a tip of the hat that they tasted terrible. Then not too long ago, brussels made the acquaintance of the deep fryer and the Granny Smith apple and fruity vinegar, and now they’re everywhere and they’re delicious.

Asparagus had its heyday too, but no one seemed to do anything interesting with it. Grilled or occasionally deep-fried in the same type of batter onion rings are deep-fried in. It was good of course – I’d eat my shoelaces if they were battered and fried. But in general, asparagus was a yawn. I stopped making it at home because who cares.

Then along came this recipe. It’s based on a classic Italian salad, and not only is it easy to make, the egg viniagrette elevates the asparagus to something it only ever dreamed of being.

Note: If you’re not going to use asparagus right away, don’t be like me and store it in a plastic bag in the recesses of the veggie drawer, only to be forgotten until it gets wilty and smelly. Instead, trim the stalks and pop them stem side down in a glass of water, covering the tops loosely with plastic wrap. The thirsty stems sip the water and stay plump and fresh, and your refrigerator will think you gave it a lovely bouquet.

Asparagus with Hard-Boiled Egg Viniagrette

Ingredients

20 or so stalks of asparagus

4 TBS olive oil, separated

2 hard-boiled eggs

2 TBS of white wine or rice vinegar (or sub 1 TBS lemon juice)

1 TBS dijon mustard

Fresh chives or tarragon, chopped fine (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil, peel and chop the eggs. Break off the woody ends of the asparagus. Peel the stalks if they’re thick. Saute in 2 TBS of olive oil about 7 minutes until they start to soften. In a bowl, whisk together 2 TBS olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice if you’re using it and dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the asparagus on plates, sprinkle with the chopped egg, and pour the viniagrette over. Sprinkle chives or tarragon on top if you like.

My Friend Fennel

For a long time I wanted to buy fresh fennel at the store because it looked so nice and smelled so good. But heck, I didn’t know what to do with it. Then one day awhile back I was gazing dumbly at a beautiful, haphazard fennel pile at the farmer’s market and my mouth started watering like a hungry beagle. I bought 3 and scurried home to make fennel soup, which sounds much fancier than it is. I just simmered veggie broth with all the fennel bulbs diced up, some of the fronds, a little green onion, a rather old potato, salt and pepper. And I ate the whole pot.

Since then I’ve gotten a little more experienced with fennel. It’s delicious raw in a salad, and if you jack that soup up with lots more taters and some carrots and maybe pearl onions you can make something really hearty and stewlike.

But here’s my favorite: slow sautéed fennel. Which really means I forgot them in the sauté pan for a few extra minutes. Boy did it work though. Buttery, savory, just slightly sweet. And it turns out fennel is full of vitamins C and B6, folate and potassium. And even with the olive oil, it’s something like 40 calories for a whole bulb. And your kitchen will smell wonderful!

Ingredients

Fennel bulbs

Olive oil

Sea salt

Trim off the longest part of the fronds, leaving a few inches of stem, and then cut each bulb in half so each side has some stem. Steam for 3 or 4 minutes. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a sauté pan, then place the fennel halves cut side down for 3-4 minutes over medium high heat. Lower to medium and cook 10 or so more minutes until they’re browned. Sprinkle with a little sea salt.

 

Espresso Banana Bread

Banana bread should be in everyone’s arsenal. It’s so simple to make, even the gluten-free kind (recipe below), and it’s more versatile than it seems. Here are some ideas tested by moi:

  • Unbelievably delicious french toast
  • If you don’t make it too sweet, zesty cheese broiled on top (I’ve tried extra-sharp cheddar as well as Jarlsberg swiss) — especially good with an icy beer
  • Made with other fruits/veggies like apples or sweet potatoes instead of bananas
  • Banana bread pudding (gotta make that one again! perfect with whipped cream for weekend brunch)

Baking banana bread makes it look like you care, like you know your way around a kitchen. Banana bread is nostalgic — my mom made it, and it was one of the first recipes I made after leaving home. I just couldn’t seem to mess it up.

But like all kinds of bread, banana bread started messing with me. Wheat and sugar are some of life’s most delicious things, but evidently I’ve already had my fair share and now I try to eat as little of each as humanly possible. And because I’m human, that means an occasional slice of pizza and you better believe birthday cake. Those two are worth the stomachache. But there’s no reason to double over for a humble slice or two of banana bread. Not with all the great gluten-free recipes out there.

I didn’t make up this recipe, not at all; all I did was add the espresso flavor because by god it’s good that way! Somehow smokier and more caramelly than regular banana bread without actually tasting like coffee. It’s a tad less sweet too, so feel free to up the sweetener a little (not a lot or you’ll have texture problems).

Ingredients

2 mashed bananas (or 1 cup cooked sweet potato or 2 raw grated apples)

1 TBS vanilla

3 eggs

2 TBS maple syrup

1/4 cup granulated stevia or monk fruit sweetener

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 TBS espresso powder dissolved in 2 teaspoons hot water

3/8 cup coconut flour

Preheat oven to 350. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and spray any part of the pan the paper doesn’t cover. Combine the first 5 ingredients. No problem if the bananas are a little lumpy. Add the rest of the ingredients, coconut flour last. Stir until everything is combined and the batter has thickened. Pour into the pan, then bake for 40 minutes til a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes before slicing.

Little Balls ‘o Protein

I love sugar, just love it, but I try not to eat sugar. For one thing, my blood sugar is a tad out of whack, most likely a combination of advancing age and eating a zillion refined carbs over the years. You might be surprised that almost everyone over 45 or so has at least slightly wacky blood sugar. And you know what I don’t want to get? Diabetes. Wacky blood sugar is like going up the ladder rungs to the top of the slide, and diabetes is the slide. Luckily you can back down the ladder, which is what I’m trying to do.

Anyway, I still love sweetened, carb-loaded food, but my sweet/carb tooth can be satisfied with healthier options that don’t take much fuss or time. Like these protein balls. I’d been looking forward to making these because (1) I like small, cute food and (2) they’re healthy and tasty and I can just grab one or two (or a bagful …) and go.

Coconut flour holds everything together, but I promise these don’t taste like coconut. I happened to find vanilla bean paste on Amazon really cheap, but you can use regular vanilla and add a tiny bit more coconut flour. Just a tiny bit though, like a half a teaspoon. That stuff sucks up liquid like nobody’s business. You can use regular sugar; it only amounts to a ½ teaspoon per ball, so that won’t send anyone’s blood sugar soaring. For a no-sugar option, I’ve been using monk fruit sweetener (not easy to find in stores but Amazon has it), but it’s expensive and some folks say it has an aftertaste. You could use granulated stevia too. I’m not a fan so I don’t use it much in recipes where there’s any chance I might taste it.

Without further ado …

Ingredients

1/2 cup natural peanut butter

1/2 cup sun butter

1/4 cup coconut flour

1/4 cup sugar (or monk fruit sweetener or granulated stevia)

1 TBS vanilla bean paste

Mix all the ingredients together and then refrigerate for 30 minutes (or longer–they get even easier to handle). Shape into balls and roll in your favorite topping, which keeps them from getting all over your hands. Pop them back in the refrigerator until you want to bag some up and take with you. They’ll get a little softer but not mushy.

These 3 kinds are toasted sesame, toasted walnut and pistachio. I tried to roll them in dried cranberries but not only are cranberries hard as heck to cut up, they also looked like bits of dried blood. So no.

The takeaway: They’re easy to make, easy to take with you. They’re pretty small but the taste is big.

Keto bread

I’ve tried a few keto-friendly bread recipes, like cloud bread and almond flour cornbread, but they left me unsatisfied. I mean, cloud bread is great, but it’s not much of an improvement over substituting giant mushroom caps for a sandwich bun. It’s very, very eggy, understandably since that’s the main ingredient, and I would get frustrated when I didn’t shape them perfectly, further destroying the illusion they’re bread. They can look a little like something your cat coughed up if you’re not careful. And I’m not careful, I’m impatient.

And almond flour cornbread … a few ingredients, a few minutes in the microwave, and voila. So far, pretty good on the careless and impatience scale. But then I found myself doing more things to it to make it more like bread: toasting it, making it into a grilled cheese sandwich in a skillet, French toast. All good, but not satisfying my bread needs. And too many steps when I just want some dang butter on it.

Then there’s this keto bread. Yes, it still tastes eggy —  there are 6 total in the recipe — but eggs aren’t stealing the show. The a-ha moment: whip the heck out of the egg whites, fold ’em in gently and the bread rises wayyy more. More lift somehow makes it less eggy along with really improving the texture.

Ingredients

1/2 cup almond flour

6 large eggs, separated

4 TBS butter, melted

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 pinch salt

Black sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 375. Separate egg whites from yolks. Add cream of tartar to the whites and beat until soft peaks form.

Mix egg yolks, butter, almond flour, baking powder and salt very thoroughly. The dough will be pretty lumpy.

Fold 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the almond flour mixture until blended, then fold in the remaining 2/3. Be careful not to overmix or the bread won’t rise much!

Pour mixture into a buttered 8″ x 4″ loaf pan and sprinkle black sesame seeds on top. Bake for 30 minutes. Check with a toothpick to make sure it’s baked through. If the middle isn’t quite done, turn the oven off and give it a few more minutes. Cool before slicing.

 

Dark chocolate sesame protein bars

I used to be a big fan of those low-carb protein bars like Atkins and Pure Protein, washing one down every morning with a big travel mug o’ coffee in the car on the way to work. Yes, I eventually realized they were the reason I was ravenously hungry by 10 am (and had occasional heinous gas at unpredictable times), but hey they were quick and convenient.

They also had a weird aftertaste and over 50 — 50! — ingredients. And once I started testing my blood sugar I had to face up to the fact they also spiked my numbers.

Soooo … I’ll make my own, I thought. Back when I first began baking low-carb, I was big into coconut flour. I happened across a simple recipe that used it and coconut oil and maple syrup, all ingredients that by now I’ve either stopped using or have cut wayyyy back on. Why? Too much coconut flour makes me feel like I’ve swallowed concrete. And if you’re using coconut oil too, everything tastes, well, coconutty. Not always what I’m going for. And it may sound more natural than other sweeteners, but maple syrup does the same thing to my bod as plain old sugar. And it does much worse things to my wallet.

So at about my 20th time making these bars, I did this new 2.0 version using a touch of garbanzo bean flour for lightness and my new best friend monk fruit sugar. Oh, and I just happen to really like sesame seeds, so in they went. They’re nutty and sweet but not too sweet, and they don’t sit in my stomach like lead if I happen to eat a little too much of them.

With no further ado …

Ingredients

4 TBS butter, melted

1/3 cup + I TBS monk fruit sugar

2  teaspoons vanilla

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup coconut flour

2 TBS almond flour

2 TBS garbanzo bean flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup mini dark chocolate chips

2 TBS sesame seeds, toasted (reserve a little to sprinkle in top)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Mix everything together, then spoon into a greased 8″ x 8″ pan. Sprinkle reserved sesames on top and bake for 22-25 minutes. A toothpick coming out clean means they’re done. Easy, right?

Lemon fennel loaf

I’ve made gluten-free zucchini bread at least a dozen times. But I didn’t have any zucchini and when I want to bake I want to bake, so I just substituted fresh fennel for the zucchini and added lemon because fennel already smells a little lemony. I crave fresh fennel pretty regularly so I’ve been keeping it on hand. Glad I am! I think as long as you’re substituting like for like, you should be good to go. And it worked! I just wish the fennel had come through more because it’s a lovely bright flavor. Think I’ll try it again with ground fennel seed.