Sunday, February 26, 2017

Triple-Banana Oat Pancakes

Imagine It! The convenience of blender pancakes made with just wholesome oats and banana and egg. No pancake mix. No refined flour. No added sugar. No gotta-get-to-Whole-Foods weird ingredients.

But It's For Real! For some, it will matter that these light and tender pancakes are gluten-free and dairy-free. But for real pancake lovers? What matters most is that these taste and feel like honest-to-goodness real pancakes. And for people who mark the Christian calendar's Shrove Tuesday with pancakes for supper? This is your recipe!

Triple-Oat Banana Pancakes ♥, just oats, banana and egg create delicious pancakes with the pancake taste and texture we know and love.

FIRST. Just so you know, this family is downright religious about pancakes. We believe in pancakes, not just for breakfast but for supper. After-church pancake breakfasts are a given but when my sister and I were growing up, our mom also made pancakes (or waffles, yum!) for Sunday night supper, usually topped with soft scoops of vanilla ice cream and maple syrup. (Just think of that, melting ice cream pooled with warm maple syrup ...)

Sure, for a dozen years now, I've been the internet's "veggie evangelist." But I'm also the self-appointed evangelist for "pancakes for supper." If you too are a believer, help spread the word! It's a message to believe in, Make Tonight a Pancake Night!

Triple-Banana Oat Pancakes ♥

SECOND. All blasphemy whimsy aside, no question, my almost 91-year old father is a life-long pancake fiend. Given an accommodating short-order cook, he'd happily tuck into a short stack every day. (The only thing that makes him happier? Donuts. And maybe #PieDayFriday.)

So when he first came to live with us almost a year ago, I made pancakes a couple of times a week. The idea was to use familiar comfort food to ease the transition into our new living situation. Pancake bribery persuasion? Maybe.

Triple-Oat Banana Pancakes ♥, just oats, banana and egg create delicious pancakes with the pancake taste and texture we know and love.

THIRD. But truth be told, I do pay attention to nutrition and really wasn't happy with my pancake-a-day (see-the-doctor-every-day) breakfast practice. It put an overload of refined flour and sugar into my father's aging body, let alone Jerry's and mine.

Even homemade pancakes don't measure up to my evolving view of what constitutes healthy everyday eating. (Did I ever tell you about the time someone called my plateful of warm-from-the-oven cookies "junk food"? No, I protested, They're homemade! Yes, I realized later, she was right. Admittedly, it was a shocker. Truthfully, it changed my thinking.)

Banana + Oat Pancakes to the Rescue! I adapted a random internet recipe, combining no more than everyday pantry ingredients of oats and eggs and bananas. Except? I did borrow essential flavor cues from my sister's wonderful Lifetime Pancakes that are the "house pancakes" both in Adanna's home in Texas and here in mine in Missouri. Those cues? A barely detectable underlying spice (nutmeg is my favorite but cinnamon is lovely too) and a tiny splash of vanilla. So simple but what a difference!

Triple-Oat Banana Pancakes ♥, just oats, banana and egg create delicious pancakes with the pancake taste and texture we know and love.

At first, Dad thought he'd like the pancakes with bananas stirred right in the batter but then changed his mind. A few pieces on top, though? A grand idea!

What about a drizzle of homemade banana syrup? It's pure sugar and entirely optional. But for banana lovers, wow, it sure does intensify the banana essence.

And in case it's not yet clear, I'm still conflicted evolving about the rightful place of flour and sugar in our diets. Thoughts, anyone? Where're you on the Refined Flour and Refined Sugar question in the Year 2017?

Lenten Grass ♥, an old Finnish tradition, good way to mark the season of Lent with children.

And one more quick thing. With Lent beginning this week, consider planting a plateful of Lenten grass. This is an old Finnish tradition, a way to mark the Lenten season, especially for children but a tradition I've happily followed since I lived in Finland as an exchange student. I'll be digging out my favorite platter this week!

Here's how! Lenten Grass


Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Time to table: 15 minutes
Makes about 12 small pancakes

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract (or more vanilla)
  • Oil, for the griddle or skillet

  • Sliced bananas
  • Banana Syrup (recipe below) or maple syrup

PANCAKES So easy! Just throw all the ingredients into the blender, breaking the bananas into chunks as they go in. Give the blender a whizz until everything's combined. You may need to use a spoon or spatula to move the ingredients around a bit, don't forget to turn off the blender before doing that! Um, experience talking.

Heat a non-stick electric skillet to 325F/160C to 350F/175C or a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. Brush the surface with a little oil, not much, just enough so the pancakes will easily release not "fry" in oil. Use a partially filled 1/3 cup measure to scoop and pour the batter onto the hot surface. Let the pancakes cook until the bottom edges begin to brown and bubbles form and pop on top; check the progress underside by lifting a pancake's bottom edge with a spatula. Once the bottom side is done, flip and cook the other side.

TO SERVE Serve asap, hot pancakes topped with sliced bananas and drizzled with a little banana syrup.

MAKE-AHEAD TIPS Triple-Banana Oat Pancakes make up zip-zip! But if you want even a few minutes head start, gather the ingredients ahead of time, just don't combine them in the blender until you're ready to start cooking – and eating! If you're making the Banana Syrup, you will want to start it about an hour before eating.

ALANNA's TIPS In my house, with eggs, this recipe for Triple-Banana Pancakes easily serves four, eggs for the main course with small pancakes on the side. Without eggs, the recipe serves two. Triple-Banana Oat Pancakes are more fragile than flour-based pancakes. Do make them small so they'll turn more easily but do know that even small pancakes need to be flipped pancakes carefully, make sure the bottom side is completely done. To be fully cooked, the underside should be more brown than golden, use a spatula to check before flipping. We use our electric pancake griddle all the time, it's small enough for three but large enough to handle grandkids who often come for Sunday-morning pancakes.

Whole Recipe: 542 Calories; 12g Tot Fat; 4g Sat Fat; 423mg Cholesterol; 966mg Sodium; 91g Carb; 11g Fiber; 35g Sugar; 21g Protein.

Per Pancake, assumes 12: 45 Calories; 1g Tot Fat; 0g Sat Fat; 35mg Cholesterol; 80mg Sodium; 8g Carb; 1g Fiber; 3g Sugar; 2g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 1 & PointsPlus 1 & SmartPoints 2 (2 pancakes is 3 SmartPoints, not bad, Weight Watchers people, not bad!) CALORIE COUNTERS 100-calorie serving = 2 pancakes (3g protein).


Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Time to table: 1 hour
Makes 3 cups

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 ripe banana, in chunks

In a heavy saucepan, bring the water, sugar and banana to a boil and let simmer 1 minute. Off heat, let the syrup rest for 15 minutes. With a fork or potato masher, gently mash the chunks, then let rest another 15 minutes. Mash again, then rest another 15 minutes. Strain and store in a squeeze bottle in the refrigerator.

MAKE-AHEAD TIPS Make the syrup days or even weeks ahead of time and store in the refrigerator. I made a batch back in July, it's still good six months later; the banana flavor really becomes strong after a day or two in the fridge.

Per Tablespoon: 33 Calories; 0g Tot Fat; 0g Sat Fat; 0mg Cholesterol; 0mg Sodium; 9g Carb; 0g Fiber; 9g Sugar; 0g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 1 & PointsPlus 1 & SmartPoints 2

Pancakes for Breakfast & Supper Both!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce Recipe for Slow Cooker

The Recipe: Homey comfort food, it's the favorite for kids and grown-ups alike. This is my recipe for homemade meat sauce for spaghetti with all the flavor for a fraction of the calories. I make it ahead of time in the slow cooker for convenience and with a pantry's worth of spices for a low-fat and low-calorie healthy supper. Kid friendly!

The Conversation: Remembering Italian suppers hosted by my parents, such exotic world cuisine through my child's eyes!

~recipe updated 2017 for a little weekend cooking inspiration~
~more recently updated recipes~

Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce for the Slow Cooker with Giant Meatballs, another Quick Supper ♥ Low Fat. Low Carb. High Protein.

When I was a girl, my parents hosted a dinner party for friends, fussing over the food and the table. The theme must have been "Italy" because the menu was classic Italian aka "Eye-talian" as interpreted by Prairie Canadians and Midwesterners who’d no more seen Naples than New York.

(Side note: After this story first went live back in 2010, a note arrived from my 80-something father, a gentle reminder that during World War II, Canadian and Midwestern soldiers were in Italy by the thousands and that Italian military cemeteries hold thousands of those thousands.)

The kitchen table sagged with big platters of spaghetti topped with meat sauce, baskets of garlic bread and a festive (plastic) bowl of (iceberg) lettuce and tomato salad with – little doubt – bottled Italian dressing.

To my widened young eyes, this party was somehow "grown-up entertaining" – a far remove from the familiar "company for Sunday dinner" or "having people over for supper". Oh, it looked so worldly! so chic! oh-so-grown-up! What disappointment when the babysitter corralled all the kids and took us next door for the night.

Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce for the Slow Cooker, another Quick Supper ♥ Low Fat. Low Carb. High Protein.

Nowadays, ha! when just-add-hamburger spaghetti sauce comes cheap in jars, there’s nothing exotic about spaghetti with a meaty tomato sauce. It’s everyday food, inexpensive to make, easy to serve, a household staple.

So many recipes for homemade spaghetti sauce take their flavor from Italian sausage – it works, every time. But Italian sausage adds much fat and many calories, more than is healthful for an everyday meal.

So when I adapted this recipe from Taste of Home, I skipped the Italian sausage itself but kept its spices. Then I let the spaghetti sauce simmer at low temperature for a loooong time, concentrating the flavors. The result is assertive flavor that’s good for you and good to eat. Let’s have a party!

KID FRIENDLY! And there's no reason to send the kids next door for this party. In fact, Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce is one of my go-to kid-friendly recipes. We rarely make separate food for the kids but for Christmas dinner last year, the grown-ups feasted on seafood-thick Lazy Man's Ciopinno while the kids chowed down on spaghetti and meatballs. Everybody was happy!


Hands-on time: 25 minutes
Time to table: 9 hours
Makes 8 cups sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef (see TIPS)

  • 28 ounces canned diced tomatoes
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground fennel (see TIPS)
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • Cooked spaghetti
  • Giant meatballs (recipe adaptation below), optional
  • Chopped parsley, optional

MEAT In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium high until shimmery. Add the onions and garlic as prepped, stirring to coat with fat. Stir in the meat, breaking it apart but still leaving in chunks. Cook, stirring often, until the meat is well-browned, in fact, don't hesitate to let a little "burn" collect on the edges, it's flavor!

SLOW COOKER While the meat cooks, collect the remaining ingredients in a slow cooker. Add the meat. Cover and set on low for 8 hours. If possible, remove the lid for the last hour or so, cooking down the liquid.

TO SERVE Remove the bay leaves, THEN toss some of the tomato-y liquid from the sauce with the cooked spaghetti. Arrange spaghetti on serving plates and top with Meat Sauce. If using, top with Giant Meatball and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

MAKE-AHEAD TIPS This sauce can definitely be made ahead of time, it reheats beautifully. It freezes well too!

ALANNA’s TIPS I make this sauce with either ground beef and ground elk. If using ground beef, you may want to drain off any fat that accumulates in the skillet during cooking. Another way to remove fat is to make this a day before serving, refrigerate overnight, then scrape the fat off the top before re-warming to serve. The list of spices is long, for sure. Italian seasoning is a close approximation, but don’t hesitate to keep doctoring until it tastes good. To my taste, the ground fennel is essential, please don't skip it!

ADD GIANT MEATBALLS! We're fiends for tender giant meatballs in tomato sauce at Mia Sorella, our favorite neighborhood hangout. So I adapted my recipe for Finnish Meatballs to make giant meatballs. So good!

Here's how I adapted that recipe. First, substitute Italian-friendly ground fennel for the Scandinavian-typical allspice. Then form large meatballs, about 4 ounces each. Then I heat up the already-cooked Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce and cook the meatballs right there in the sauce in the oven, uncovered at 300F/150C until the meatballs reach 180F/80C, about 2 hours, drizzling the meatballs with sauce occasionally. Soooo good!

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Half Cup: 117 Calories; 4g Tot Fat; 1g Sat Fat; 35mg Cholesterol; 705mg Sodium; 8g Carb; 2g Fiber; 4g Sugar; 13g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points 2 & WW Points Plus 3 & SmartPoints 3. This recipe has been "Alanna-sized".
Adapted from Taste of Home, Feb-Mar 2009 issue

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Roasted Applesauce with Raspberries

The Recipe: It's such a simple idea, isn't it? Just throw a few raspberries into homemade applesauce. The results? A glorious raspberry gem color and a brightness never before tasted in applesauce. Is Ina Garten a genius? I think so!

Ina Garten's Roasted Applesauce with Raspberries ♥

My first batch of applesauce with raspberries, I cut the recipe in half. I didn't doubt the recipe, it came from Ina Garten's new cookbook Cooking for Jeffrey. (I've made a half dozen recipes from Ina's latest cookbook: one didn't work for us but five are new staples! Remember the beautiful Celebration Salad, the one with Maple-Roasted Carrots, Arugula, Dill, Cranberry Vinaigrette, Pomegranate and Glazed Pecans?)

But surely three pounds of apples for applesauce would be plenty? WRONG.

Because pure genius, that Ina, jazzing up everyday applesauce with raspberries.

I also skipped her brown sugar and butter substituted the more unusual star anise for the commonplace cinnamon. Good calls? BOTH.

Ina Garten's Roasted Applesauce with Raspberries ♥

Served plain? Although "plain" understates this applesauce, because it's hardly plain. There's that beautiful garnet color, a wee leeeetle bit of citrus, that underlying hint of star anise that gets people to asking, "What's that spice?"

But plain, wow, the raspberry really comes through, somehow the apples are simultaneously more sweet and more tart. Once upon a time, I dubbed a peach, cherry and blueberry combo "Peacherry Blues". The same thing's true here, what a magical combination, apples and raspberries. Hmmm, how about rasppleberries?

Ina Garten's Roasted Applesauce with Raspberries ♥

Next up, parfaits with chia pudding, a layer of Roasted Applesauce with Raspberries, all topped with orange sections, blueberries and a few Maple-Glazed Pecans. Gorgeous! I thought. But I had to laugh about my almost 91-year old father's reaction.

HIM, with suspicion, stabbing the fruit: "What's this?"

ME, invoking a familiar and favorite dessert: "It's sort of like tapioca pudding."

He kept stabbing, eating the applesauce and fruit, leaving the chia pudding behind. Heaven help me, feeding a picky eater who prides himself with never complaining.

But you? Off you go! Applesauce with raspberries it is! Chia pudding not required.


Hands-on time: 25 minutes
Time to table: 2 hours
Makes 4-1/2 cups

    (a double batch is recommended!)
  • Zest and juice of 1 large orange
  • Zest and juice (about 2 tablespoons) of 1 lemon
  • 6 ounces frozen raspberries
  • 1-1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut small
  • 1-1/2 pounds another apple, peeled and chopped roughly
  • Sprinkle star anise (or cinnamon or ginger or nutmeg)
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into tiny bits

Set oven to 350F/180C.

In a large bowl, combine citrus zests and juices and raspberries, stirring gently to combine and distribute, helping the berries to begin thawing. Stir in the apple pieces as they're prepped, this prevents them from oxidizing and turning brown. Stir in the star anise, then transfer to a ceramic baking dish. Dot the top with bits of butter.

Bake for 75 minutes, checking and stirring every 15 minutes. The Granny Smith pieces will be soft but intact, the other apples should be very soft and ready to fall apart; visually they'll appear firm, test one piece with the back of a spoon to make sure it's soft enough.

Remove from oven and transfer back to the large bowl. With a wire whisk, whisk vigorously until the apple pieces disintegrate, stop when you like the texture.

Transfer to covered containers and refrigerate until ready to serve.

MAKE-AHEAD TIPS Make up to a week ahead of time but do know, you might have to make another batch, this one has a habit of disappearing one spoonful at a time!

VARIATIONS Ina's recipe also includes 1/4 cup brown sugar, another tablespoon of butter and a full teaspoon of spice. Yeah, it could be awesome.

ALANNA's TIPS The Granny Smith apples hold up in the heat and don't break down during whisking, so these are the apples that provide the most apple-y texture that's so nice here. But you wouldn't want to use all Granny Smith, they're too tart and too firm. For the second apple, I used Galas, these whisked beautifully into an pink, airy sauce. I'd also use Jonathans, Empires, Golden Delicious (but not Red Delicious) and almost any other apple. I was so surprised that a big whisk could turn a dishful of apples into applesauce, hardly any "elbow grease" required. But hmm, I'm thinking that next time, I'll skip peeling the apples, then run the roasted apples through the food processor. That'd be amazing! Does anyone else find peeling apples totally time-consuming and tedious?! Once I even invested in one of those mechanical apple peelers: not worth the money or space. [Update: Grrrr, I had such high hopes for skipping the apple-peeling step! But sorry, the skin pieces burn in the oven and if as if that weren't enough, that rough apple-skin texture just doesn't work here, even after a long whizz in the food processor.]

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Half Cup: 97 Calories; 1g Tot Fat; 1g Sat Fat; 3mg Cholesterol; 9mg Sodium; 23g Carb; 3g Fiber; 17g Sugar; 1g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 1.5 & PointsPlus 3 & SmartPoints 5 CALORIE COUNTERS 100-calorie serving = 1/2 cup (1g protein).
Adapted from Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten, aka Barefoot Contessa, I've been cooking my way through a library copy. My Disclosure Promise

Raspberries = February's Favorite Fruit

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