An Apple (Pie) a Day..

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Apple Pie is an iconic American dessert.  And in my family, it was a regular.  I have quite a few childhood memories that include making and eating apple pie with my family. It was always around for holidays, made every year for my Dad’s birthday [because it was his favorite], and was enjoyed after most Sunday night dinners.  

Making the pies, at least when I was younger, was a family affair.  I remember my Dad sitting at our kitchen table running apples through a hand-cranked apple peeler and watching the thin strips of skin drop to the floor.  These were my apple strings were favorite part, I always loved eating the long ropes of apple skin while watching him crank away.

While Dad was peeling the apples, my Mom would begin making the homemade pie crust using her Mom’s recipe [obviously, because in our family, we just don’t do store-bought pie crust].  I remember her carefully rolling out the dough so it wouldn’t tear and crimping it perfectly around the edge of the pie pan, creating perfect edges with ease.  Once the apples were peeled and cut, she’d mix the apples in with the sugar and cinnamon and pile them high into the crust, neatly topping everything with a buttery-rich crumb topping.  In our family, crumb topping was the only way to enjoy apple pie.  Not only did you NOT have to roll out two pie crusts but you got that extra crunch & warmth from the topping that made eating apple pie that much more comforting.

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My mom would bake the apple pie an hour or so before dinner so by the time our meal was complete, we’d be able to enjoy warm apple pie – which is the only way an apple pie should be enjoyed, warm & fresh out of the oven.  In fact, my Aunt Val didn’t even realize apple pie was served cold until she was in her 20’s.  Some may say she was considered spoiled but I’d save she was privileges for never having to eat cold apple pie [yuck!]

Most people love enjoying a slice of apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream, and in my family, we enjoyed that once in a while but our standard was to accompany apple pie was with a few slices of sharp cheddar cheese on the side.  It might sound strange, maybe even a bit “Polak” but apples & cheese are a common pair and the creaminess of the cheese and its slight bite paired perfectly with the sweet-tartness of the apple pie.  My Grandma Hellert would be the to initially make the cheese request and at times, she’d simply show up with blocks of cheese whenever she knew apple pie was on the menu.

Although I have fond memories of apple pie from my childhood, my current apple pie indulgence is limited to visits home or in this past Christmas’ instance, my Mom’s visit to Austin. And honestly, I’m fine indulging in it every few years but in between these homemade treats, I still enjoy the flavors of apple pie by mixing up an Apple Pie Protein Smoothie – the healthified apple pie!

This smoothie recipe is something I came up with years later, after first enjoying an Apple Pie Milkshake during my 3rd grade class’ Apple Day celebration.  The original recipe had applesauce, cinnamon, milk, and of course, ice cream.  Mine on the other hand has fresh apples & applesauce, spices, almond milk & vanilla protein powder. It’s a slimmed down version of the milkshake but still delivers all the flavors of Mom’s apple pie without the fat, calories, and post-indulgence guilt.  It’s great for breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack or even a late night dessert!

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Apple Pie Protein Smoothie
Makes 1 smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almond milk, vanilla or original [I use unsweetened]
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 apple finely diced* [I prefer Fuji or Empire but I’ve also used Granny Smith for some extra tartness]
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  • 1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder [I use about 40 grams]
  • 6-8 ice cubes

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Directions:
Place everything in the blender beginning with the top of the ingredient list and working you way down.

Add additional ice cubes as needed to acquire your desired thickness.
Pour into a glass, sprinkle with cinnamon & enjoy!

*Note: Sometimes, I only add half of the apple to the smoothie and choose to stir in the rest to the smoothie after blending. Obviously, you can’t drink the smoothie but I enjoy eating it with a spoon, kind of like a soup smoothie!

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This smoothie requires a spoon!

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I lied when I said I didn’t like cheesecake

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DSC01131It’s true.  I tell everyone that I don’t like cheesecake but the truth is…I do like it and for some reason, cheesecake seems to be a favorite dessert of most people I know. Americans in general are crazy about it.  Heck, there’s even  a restaurant named after it!  I specifically remember my college roommate declaring her love for cheesecake, stating that she’d be having cheesecake as her wedding cake — years before she knew who she’d be marrying.

[And for the record, she had cheesecake.  Darn good cheesecake at that.  Some how, she mixed my two least favorite desserts, cheesecake & red velvet cake (I’ll talk about that another day), into a wedding cake and it tasted amazing!]

Unfortunately, with the exception of my college roommate’s wedding cake, I don’t tend to go as gaga as most over cheesecake.  Not because I dislike the flavor or taste of cheesecake but mostly due to the fact that the texture is lacking and it’s a rather  a calorie dense dessert — from crust to filling to the traditional cherry topping.

Let me break it down for you —

Crust:  

This is basically cookies [they try to trick you by calling them crackers, but they’re cookies] mixed with butter and baked to make another cookie to use as the crust.  Simply put, you just made cookies with butter and more cookies.

  • Graham Crackers: Simple enough, not really all that indulgent as long as traditional grahams are being used rather than the cinnamon-sugar topped crackers
  • Butter:  Butter isn’t actually horrible for you. But 9 out of 10 doctors don’t recommend drenching cookies in butter.

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Cream Cheese Filling: 

This is simply fat-added, sugar sweetened, emulsified milk.

  • Cream Cheese: This is usually full-fat cows milk mixed with emulsifiers to lend firmness, stabilizing the cream and lengthening the cheese’s shelf-life.  [Have you ever looked at the expiration date on unopened cream cheese?  It’s at least 3 months.  Doesn’t that freak you out?]
  • Cream: Yep, more cream because the cream from the cheese just isn’t enough.
  • Sugar: This is totally acceptable, this is a dessert.

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Topping:

  • Cherry Pie Filling [from a can]: Yes, I’m specifically stating it’s from a can because the likelihood of someone actually making their own cherry topping is slim to none.  America is all about short cuts and there’s nothing easier than “open & dump” when it comes to can goods.This canned pie filling is unnatural and overly sweet.  The red filling sure is pretty against the white creamy cheesecake base but doesn’t it look a tad artificial to you?  Have you ever seen cherries that hue of red? No?

    Me either. That’s because it’s fake.  And those cherries, they’ve been soaking in that thick, sugary syrup for god knows how long. They’re basically artificially flavored sugar bombs.

Now, usually, cheesecake – and most cakes at that – are served in oversized portions making that fatty, sugary dessert sitting on your plate that much more of an indulgence.  And if that’s what your intention is, to completely indulge, then pick up your fork and savor every bite!

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But for those of us that want to enjoy cheesecake without guilt as a regular weekday dessert – I went about healthifying my version of cheesecake, creating Chocolate Almond Cheesecake Bites!

They’re portion controlled bites that have a bit of added cocoa powder, chocolate chips and almonds to make for a flavorful, decadent weeknight dessert without the calorie and sugar bomb splurge of traditional cheesecake.  The almonds also add a dose of healthy fat, give the crust a bit of extra crunch and the mini chocolate chips add some texture and a touch of bittersweetness to the filling!

CHOCOLATE ALMOND CHEESECAKE BITES

Makes 24 bites

CRUST:

  • 5 sheets reduced fat graham crackers
  • 1/4 cup whole, unsalted almonds
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

FILLING:

  • 8 oz 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened*
  • 6 ounces nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup egg whites **
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.  Line a mini-muffin pan with 24 foil liners and set aside.

Make the Crust:

In a food processor, process graham crackers until they reach a crumb-like consistency.  Place in  a small bowl and set aside.  In the same processor, grind almonds  into an almond-meal consistency and mix with graham cracker crumbs.

Combine graham cracker-almond crumbs with the melted butter until just coated, it will still be slightly course in texture.  Distribute mixture evenly into cupcake liners and firmly press crumbs together to form a tight crust.  Bake 7 minutes or until set.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool while making the filling.

Make the Filling:

In a stand mixer, beat cream cheese for 2 minutes.  This is mandatory as it helps give the filling a light texture by incorporating air.  Beat in the yogurt, egg whites, sugar, cocoa powder, and flour until smooth [about 2-3 minutes].  Add in the lemon juice and the vanilla & almond extracts until just combined.  Remove from mixer and fold in chocolate chips.

Evenly distribute the filling into each cupcake liner, filling about 3/4 of the way full**.  Bake for 16 – 18 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Finish cooling by placing the pan in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.  Serve after being well chilled.

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Notes:

* If you forgot to let your cream cheese soften, remove the paper packaging and place it on top of the pre-heating oven while you make the crust.  It should be just soft enough once you finish.

** Either store bough egg-whites or traditional egg whites may be used – simply measure out a 1/4 cup of either.

*** Depending on how light & fluffy you mixed your filling – you may have some remaining.  Place it in an oven safe bowl, lightly coated with non-stick spary and bake along side the mini cheesecake bites for a crustless treat.

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And just for comparison – let’s take a look at how my healthified chocolate almond cheesecake bites [left] compare to something similar – like the Cheesecake Factory’s Hershey’s Chocolate Bar Cheesecake [right, source].

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I’m not sure about the rest of you but 500 calories is almost 1/3 of my daily calorie intake (roughly 1 meal) and 30 grams of fat maxes out my average fat intake for the day. Plus, this doesn’t even account for the whipped cream and adorning chocolate syrup that accompanies the cheesecake to your table.

I know in my case, I’m much safer enjoying my portion controlled cheesecake bite with a glass of red wine on the side while not having to stress about burning the extra calories at the gym in the morning.

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