When I was a kid, I wouldn’t eat anything green – unless it was some form of candy or ice cream. This horrified my then strictly vegan father, a hippie powerhouse of health, which very likely amused my mother, who was a Kraft Dinner loving, late night ice cream eating kinda gal (I say ‘was’ because she had a heart attack 5 years ago and now eats like my dad). He was huge on smoothies, but not just the delicious fruity ones, he’d also do the veggie shakes – who does that?! He made his own breads and chocolate cakes and cookies and all kinds of amazing treats as well as wonderful stir fry’s, casserole-type dishes, and soups. I’d eat some of the treats, but mostly I’d turn my nose up at them and eat some disgusting sugary and/or marshmallowly concoction. I didn’t know it then, but most of these creations were hiding a veggie or two. I do it too now, some recipes are from him, some I’ve found online or in cookbooks and others still are from my friends. Gill makes the most amazing black bean brownies, Jessica Seinfield has a chocolate chip cookie recipe with chick peas – it works!
Now? I’m on the phone with him constantly asking for ideas and tricks for substituting healthy options for the more horrible ingredients in my favorite recipes. The easiest change to make was using mashed bananas or applesauce instead of oil in cakes and muffins. Mashed bananas work best with chocolate or oatmeal items and applesauce is a good pick for pretty much everything else because you can’t taste it as much. Usually people don’t notice there is applesauce in it unless I say something, or people comment that it’s moist. Sometimes, if the main taste of the cake is a fruit anyway, I’ll just add more of it’s liquid in place of the oil called for, like in the chocolate-cherry cake I made for our Miss America party (I swear, I will post about this little gathering soon).
My favourite combo is chocolate and banana, there’s just something about it that tastes ‘right’, you know? Here is the recipe I use the most – this was the decoy cake I made for our dear friend Andrew’s 29th last year. It was the decoy for a hilarious cake Gill had done for him at Dairy Queen, where they used an image of Burt Reynolds body on a bear skin rug – with Andrew’s head! Anyhoo….
|Chocolate Banana Cake|
|2 cups white sugar
1 -3/4 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
|1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups mashed bananas
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
|Preheat to 350. Whisk your sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Then mix the eggs, bananas, water, milk, oil and vanilla extract. Add the wet to dry, as usual, till well mixed. Note that this batter looks really runny but bakes up just fine.Pour into your cake pan (10″ round or maybe a medium rectangle) or cupcake liners, and bake for about half an hour. Adjust time for the size of your cake/s or cupcakes.
Other more obvious tips were to use low fat or no fat vanilla soy milk instead of 2% milk, whole wheat flour over white flour in pretty much every recipe (I drew the line at pie crust for lemon meringue, it just wasn’t right), and to use parchment paper or a non stick pan instead of greasing. That’s all fine and the flavour of most of my regulars haven’t changed much.
There have been a few silly attempts at making fundamentally unhealthy food healthy. Like when I tried to make onion rings with crushed Fibre 1 cereal as the coating. Not only was that a bad idea (I guess it wasn’t *that* bad, but it wasn’t exactly a substitute for the taste, or even the texture, of an actual onion ring. The real secret to making decent-for-you onion rings is in the oil! Using french fries as a classic example here, if you fried them in vegetable oil (as most people do), you’re looking at a top temperature of about 300 degrees. The issue with that is most foods (yes potatoes included) don’t have a low insta-cook temp, so they have to sit around in the vegetable oil for a few minutes to cook and while they do that, they of course soak up awful amounts of oil that no amount of paper towel patting will remove. Now, enter higher temperature oils, like canola, saffron and sunflower. These oils have temperature ranges much higher, closer to about 450+, which is perfect for your fries and little shrimp pops and yes, even your deep fried chocolate bars (even I think that’s gross and I looooove Snickers muffins). Most foods will cook within about 30 seconds in oil that’s 450 or 500 degrees. I’m not saying that your canola oil onion rings are going to be totally free from any oil at all, but I am saying that the amount absorbed is negligible and that’s before you’re patted them down with a paper towel! Sidebar, don’t mess around with weird and likely dangerous ways to guess your oil’s temperature. Just use a candy thermometer and know for sure! Second sidebar, make sure you’ve got a fire extinguisher when you’re cooking with oil. I know we’ve all used oil hundreds of times with no issue, but a grease fire is unpredictably dangerous and not something to mess around with at all. Also, from experience, keep the fire extinguisher just outside of the range of fire from the stove and not right beside it. ‘Quick, jump through the flames to get to the fire extinguisher!’
I’m still not especially fond of most green foods, but I know better and actually eat them now.