Monday, September 19, 2016

But Are They Really Brownies?

I, like many of you, used to laugh at everyone that tried to make incredibly good-tasting, bad-for-you foods healthier. Cakes should be dense; brownies should be frosted; ice cream should be topped. How in the world is replacing delicious ingredients with things like fat-free applesauce and bananas ever going to work? But then one day, I decided that perhaps the root cause of never being able to lose those final three pounds (yeah, you know the ones) may or may not have something to do with the fact that I shovel copious amounts of cake, cupcakes, ice cream, and pie into my, well, pie hole. Appropriate nickname for the mouth aside, this obvious correlation was still startling. As much as I hate the meal known as lunch, I figure nixing it in favor of half a pint of Blue Bell after dinner wasn't something that could ever fall into the "I really know how to adult" category. If you told me as a child that as an adult I could eat all the dessert I wanted to, when I wanted to, I probably would've stopped listening after that. Never mind the "obvious consequences" speech. So here we are, years and many pant sizes and Jillian Michaels workouts later, trying to shed the final pounds standing between me and a year-round bikini body. I've gone to extreme lengths. Like buying froyo instead of Blue Bell, using calorie-counting apps, and replacing bad-for-you ingredients with healthy ones. That being said, you'd never know by looking at these chocolate peanut butter brownies that there's anything remotely healthy about them.
But they're made of stupid healthy ingredients.

And only three of them, to boot! That's right. I don't even really need to give you an actual ingredient list, although I will because clearly that's why we're all here. Or maybe you're just checking in to make sure I haven't lost my dessert-loving mind. Maybe I have, but those last three pounds went along with it, so I still consider it a win. Now, do these actually taste like brownies? This is a yes and no answer. They are dense, they are moist, they are sweet, they are chocolately, but they are also peanut buttery, so that makes a bit of difference in flavoring between plain chocolate brownie and chocolate peanut butter brownie, hence the name; if you hate peanut butter and chocolate, I have a substitution for you that will make these taste like plain chocolate brownies. See below. But even WITH the light cream cheese frosting, one brownie tops out at only 200 calories! And that's for 9 servings in a 9x9 pan. You could totally divvy these up into 12 servings and they'd only be 150 calories! Insanity!
No, this can't be everything? Oh, but it is.
Ha, three whole ingredients. It's so simple that it's actually borderline ridiculous. This is hands down the easiest dessert I have ever made, and you all know how much I love a good shortcut. All you need are 3 ripe to overripe bananas, 1/2 a cup of JIF creamy peanut butter (or Skippy if you hate your family), and 1/4 cup of dark cocoa powder.

Now, I'm quite new to the chocolate/peanut butter combo. I hated it throughout my entire youth, and then my taste palette grew into it as an adult. I know, I probably got the ordering there completely wrong, but what are you gonna do. If you have taste buds that die a little at the thought of this flavor combo, replace the peanut butter with almond butter. This will yield a classic brownie taste. I also have to avoid almonds because ingesting them gives me terrible eczema. Isn't the human body wonderful? I think some itchy elbows might be worth it in this case though. This is definitely a keeper of a recipe, so I'll load up on lotions and try it this way next time.

Back to the recipe and far, far away from discussing eczema while trying to sell you on food. Coat a 9x9 or 8x8 pan with cooking spray and preheat your oven to 350. In a large bowl or stand mixer, mash up the three bananas until completely smooth. Add in the cocoa powder and blend. In a small bowl, nuke your peanut butter for 30-45 seconds until melted. Add this to the cocoa powder and banana and mix for 1-2 minutes until completely smooth. Pour into your pan.
And forget to rotate photo.
Bake time is a little harder to gauge here. Since there is no flour or sugar in these brownies, they're not going to yield to a toothpick test. I baked for 25 minutes, until the top looked firm and set. You know, like my abs thanks to all this healthy eating we've been doing. I kid. Once set, I cooled for 10 minutes on a rack before moving to the freezer to finish because I'm impatient.
Hello, you firm devil.
While the brownies are setting in the freezer, it's frosting time. Now again, you can make some adaptations to cut even more calories out of this frosting. But even with a full-fledged, fatty fat fat cake, frosting is the most important thing in the world to me, so I refuse to go fat free. For my frosting I used one 8. oz. block of REDUCED fat cream cheese at room temp, 2 tablespoons of regular cocoa powder (not dark), 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of skim milk. I simply blended them all together.
Thick n' creamy. As it should be for frosting, but not your thighs.
Once the brownies are totally cool (in temp, not in an 80s reference), get a spatula and go to town. The frosting is thick, so if you need to heat up a metal spatula with hot water to get things smoothed out, go for it. Or, be an adult about it and just use sprinkles to cover up the unevenness.
Like so.
Let's have a talk. I am 29 years old and still not entirely sure what gluten is. I realize a lot of people in this world think they're allergic to it, so I have good news for you if you're one of these people. Upon my review, there is literally not a gluten to be found. I almost hate saying this, but if you're a vegan, you could find fat free/no animal byproduct cream cheese and almond milk for the frosting, and even you could eat these. I will draw the line there and not ask any questions about what it must be like to eat granola for every meal of the day. Just know, here's an alternative.
Seriously. Don't actually tell me what a gluten is. Even if I'm allergic to it, I refuse to make anymore changes. Banana-based brownies are all I can handle right now.
I love these brownies. But literally, the only thing that makes the dense, peanut butter and chocolate swirl of flavor taste even better? One scoop of salted caramel froyo. Yeah, I didn't realize froyo could be obtained by the carton. As a lifelong Blue Bell-er, I had never really given it thought. I've also recently gotten into smoothies because of this little factoid...take my Blue Bell away, Albuquerque, and you've forced me to look into alternatives. Healthy ones. I refuse to give up flavor, though. But now I just find a way to refine it into lower calorie desserts. Because one scoop of froyo a top a chocolate peanut butter brownie is still under 350 calories. I think the simple act of looking at a bakery brownie or glancing a carton of regular ice cream adds up to at least 500 calories, and that's not even ingesting any of it. So go crazy and try replacing the flours, sugars, and eggs with banana and nut butter of your liking. I promise you won't regret it. If these brownies aren't thick enough for you like a fatty brownie, just bake in a smaller pan or stack one on top of another, maybe with a little froyo filling. That's the great thing about being a health nut. You'll find the most creative ways to consume fewer calories! 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I shall henceforth just refer to these as 'weird brownies.' ...not to be confused with weed brownies, of course. They're really brownies and really special (again, not that kind of special), but I'm still not sure how its possible.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

It's Still Not Technically Fall, so Here's a Final Summery Dessert

Ahhh inaugural Football Sunday. The air is crisper, the (c'mon, I live in the desert), and the mornings smell distinctly like fall. But sadly, it is still not really time for autumn for another couple of weeks. I promised my husband I would wait to go crazy with the pumpkin desserts until fall equinox. But after spending the day clutching my chest, shouting like crazy, and feeling cautiously hopeful (as a Vikings fan, this is just typical Sunday behavior), I really wanted to bake dessert. We're on the precipice of my favorite season, and dammit, the house should smell like the inside of a Yankee candle store. I'm still trying to perfect a wide variety of healthier desserts because I want to have my cake and eat it, too, without also permanently becoming a stretchy pants person. I feel like pregnant women, competitive eaters, and most dads on Thanksgiving should be the only people allowed to wear such articles of clothing. I also still firmly believe leggings are not pants, but this is a rant for a whole other day. I digress. I've still been drooling over last week's low cal chocolate chip cheesecake, so I'm continuing in the savory direction. I wanted cake-like consistency with a fruity taste and sweet finish that lingers on the tongue. I've also decided that my use of adjectives when describing desserts should place me as a front runner should cake sommeliers ever become an actual job. I needed to make a dessert that would give summer one literal bittersweet, final say adieu to a treat that will have you blissfully happy to bear farewell to flipflop season. 
Footwear choices aside, I'll eat any dessert in bar form.

These lemon cake bars pack a punch. They're tart and mouthwatering, but they leave your sweet tooth satisfied thanks to the lemony glaze on top. Sliced up into 12 bars, they're only 175 calories a piece. Tell me what pumpkin-filled fall dessert can say the same?! No, literally, tell me because I'll want to make it in a few weeks. I may be basking in the glow of a Vikings win, but even if we had lost, these bars would've had me feeling better in no time. So uh, I guess if you're a Titans fan, sorry eh, but you could make these to soothe your soul. I promise you making these will be 1,000 times easier than watching your team fall to the Kings in the North. Skol.
At least the ingredients list isn't as confusing as our starting roster.
I had everything I needed already on hand to make these lemon cake bars, so I consider that another victory. Add one more to the win column today, and I may just go buy a lottery ticket. Chances are you'll be able to whip these up in under an hour from start to finish as well, so grab:
  • 1 stick of butter at room temp
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 eggs at room temp
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1 tbs dried lemon jest
  • (not pictured) 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (or you can just double the amount of zest but things may get crumby in texture)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • For healthier bars: 1/2 cup All Purpose flour and 1/4 cup whole wheat flour. Otherwise, use entirely All Purpose but add on a bunch of extra calories (boo)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Optional: 4-5 drops of yellow food coloring because things should be pretty, dammit.
Preheat your oven to 350 and coat a 9x9, 8x8, or in my case because our "furnished" condo is lame, an 8x11 pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl or your stand mixer bowl, dump the sugar and butter together and cream until fluffy. Then add in the egg, lemon juice, zest, lemon extract, vanilla extract, and yellow dye. Blend for a minute until fully incorporated. While this is mixing, in a medium bowl combine the flours, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Dump the dry ingredients in with the wet ones and mix for two minutes. Pour into your prepared baking pan and smooth out with a spatula since the consistency is thick. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with some wet crumbs.
 This could definitely be eaten with breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Thanks, healthy food!

Let your bars cool on a rack until they're at room temp. Or you can speed things up by putting them in the freezer for a half an hour. I had time to walk the dogs and enjoy a thunderstorm while these cooled, like Mother Nature was reminding me the season of pumpkin is nigh.
Of course I'm adding sprinkles. I need sprinkle rehab.
The glaze is so easy, even a Raiders fan could put it together! I'm kidding. A little. What good is football season without some lighthearted ribbing, or if you're an Eagles fan, full-on verbal assault? Simply mix together half a cup of powdered sugar and two tablespoons of lemon juice until no chunks of powdered sugar remain.
Oh yeah, hit me with the good stuff.
Drizzle the glaze on your cooled bars and spread out with a spoon. Top with sanding sugar for extra pizzazz. I like a little sparkle with my desserts, what can I say. You can stick these in the freezer for a half hour so the glaze will set and they'll be ready for crisp, even slicing and consumption! Or you can leave them out if you're into teasing yourself that you can handle the pressure until you go crazy. I expect Cowboys fans to take this route.
At least you have Jason Witten? And dessert.
When you're ready to eat, pop these into the microwave to warm them up for a bit. If you're really feeling indulgent, top them with some sherbet. I imagine this would be insanely decadent and summery. Like a final reminder that sometimes it really does need to be so swelteringly awful outside that the only thing in the world that could satisfy your desert-induced thirst is a huge glass of lemonade. Or in this case, lemon cake bar. I promise you won't be disappointed when that first tingle of lemon hits your tongue and that glaze reminds you why sweet and sour is a winning combo. I believe some of the best things in life a multifaceted: sweet and sour, chocolatey and salty, winning and rubbing it in the losing team's get the idea. But now we get to add one more thing to that list: low-cal and delicious. It's hard to come by (much like winning your division at the end of the season. Deal with it, Green Bay), but when it happens, it's pure magic. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Sundays were made for treating yourself.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Cheesecake by Any Other Name...

I have a problem. Well, many problems, but for the sake of this blog, let's just focus on the one. There are millions of delicious desserts out there in this world. So many that I have not one but two dessert boards on my Pinterest account dedicated to them. Where's the issue, you ask? They're all absolutely terrible for you. Anything dipped in double layers of caramel and deep fried just can't be good for the arteries. I've been trying my best to come up with desserts that don't rack up over 500 calories and still look like something you'd actually want to eat and not something you'd find on the bottom of your shoe after leaving a farmer's market. I had massive success with the strawberry bars from a couple weeks ago, but since I can't just reblog the same recipe week after week, it was time for experimentation. I decided to take on the cheesecake. Even the name itself sounds completely unhealthy, but there's nothing I love more than cheese or cake, so it was worth a shot.
And I'm really glad I did.
I know what you're thinking...'It looks like a cheesecake. So it either can't possibly taste like one or she's tricking us.' While I have been known to ramble off a lie so convincing a polygraph wouldn't know the difference (I'm still aspiring to become either Lucille Bluth or Mallory Archer, so this is a life goal), I promise you that no wool is being pulled over your eyes. Each slice of this decadent chocolate chip cheesecake is only 260 calories. That's right, it's pretty much the equivalent of eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast every morning but way tastier, so back away from the Raisin-bran. I have yet to try breakfast cheesecake, but since I've found a way to make low cal and delicious cheesecake, anything's possible. Did I tell you it's also insanely easy and quick to make? Because it is. There's even batter licking involved if you're not afraid of salmonella. It's good to boost the ole' immune system now and then.
Still not too good to be true!
Anything with premade pie crust cuts out half the battle. To knock off an extra 10 calories per slice, you can use a reduced fat pie crust. Even though I've moved to a land with a huge commissary, somehow they did not have reduced fat pie crust but Cannon AFB commissary always did. That's essentially my life in a nutshell. To make the cheesecake you'll need:
  • 1 premade pie crust of your choice (graham cracker, shortbread, low fat, etc.)
  • 1 8-ounce brick of reduced fat cream cheese at room temp
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 small container of Yoplait light vanilla yogurt (if you want a different flavored cheesecake like strawberry or key lime, you can always try a container of another flavor)
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips, mini sized 
  • Optional: additional regular chocolate chips for topping, chocolate syrup for drizzle
Preheat your oven to 350 and find a tray big enough to hold the pie crust. Dump the cream cheese into a large mixing bowl or your stand mixer (I envy you) and blend until fluffy. Then add in the egg whites, yogurt, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and vanilla. Blend for several minutes until everything is completely smooth. Fold in the mini chocolate chips and pour into the pie crust (smooth out with a spatula as needed):
It is now safe(ish) to lick the beater of your mixer. Just, you know, don't forget to unplug it first. But for scientific tasting reasons, forge on.
Bake your cheesecake for fifteen minutes and then cover it with foil to keep it from browning. Continue baking another ten minutes until the cheesecake is mostly set, like so:
There will still be a little jiggle. But if you've got Jello level jiggle, bake a few extra minutes.
Take the cheesecake off of the pan and let it rest on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes before topping with additional chocolate chips for garnish.
It really does look prettier this way, and plus, more chocolate. Woo!
Once you've added the additional chips on top, ignore every fiber of your being and place the cheesecake into the fridge for five hours to set. You could cut the time in half by placing it in the freezer though if your willpower is pretty much nonexistent. Not saying I've done this before (but I totally have).
But totally worth it because then you get to take really pretty pictures of a nicely set cheesecake for all your social media needs. You're welcome.
Okay, full confession time. No, it's not as dense as a full fatty, fat, fat cheesecake. But you won't care because it is still just as delicious without all the guilt and hemming and hawing that comes with trying to logically reason with your waistline as to why cheesecake is a necessary food item. It's incredibly decadent, and adding a drizzle of chocolate sauce on top simply throws this recipe into my list of top five cheesecakes Kate's ever baked. I literally have no regrets with this one. It's simple to make, and  I've crafted a cheesecake that per slice has fewer calories than a PB&J. Plus it won't make you feel like a child while you're eating it, so unlike the PB&J, the chocolate chip cheesecake is a dessert for adults that suffer from an extreme need to eat dessert but still want to fit into their summer clothes. Vanity, thy name is cheesecake. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!