In Defense of Fat

This is a follow up to the previous post on keto-friendly Tomato Sauce.  In the process of developing and writing about the sauce from a higher fat, low carb perspective I realized my approach to fat has changed.

There was a time when fat was considered the enemy and popular nutrition made a shift away from fatty foods to no-fat, fat-free, and low fat alternatives. It took quite a while before we could accept that this wasn’t a solid nutritional solution and substituting fat for sugar or other chemical derivatives had its own problems. So I avoided fat as much as possible.

Somewhere along the line I finally grasped the concept that fat serves a purpose. I knew that fat made things taste better, but still held out, looking for ways to up my flavors without fat.  Then, I slowly and selectively eased unsaturated oils (and yes, butter) back into my cooking and noticed improved appearance, texture and flavor—in everything from salad dressing to cookies and cakes.

Fats serve many purposes. Current science tells us we need good fats for energy, that some vitamins and minerals actually need fat for the body to absorb and process them; that fatty acids can fight depression, improve eye care, and brain health.  Fats can improve blood cholesterol levels, protect our organs, and decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It gets confusing when sorting out the good from the bad fats. Rule of thumb on daily intake: 20-35% of total calories. Other than manufactured trans fats, it’s all good in moderation. Moving from best to worst: monounsaturated fat (15-20% of daily calories), polyunsaturated fat (5-10%), saturated fat (less than 10%), trans fats (none).

Take tahini for instance.  It’s a nut butter made from sesame seeds that’s high in omega-6 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fat.  (1 tablespoon has 89 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams carbs, 8 grams fat, 2 grams fiber.)

It is all relative.

Tahini is not an oil, but it is oil-rich and a fortress of nutritional value. It is loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins B and E, and minerals including copper, phosphorous, selenium, iron, zinc, calcium. It’s good for the blood, bones, and the body, plus it aids in fighting heart disease and cancer.  Call it pro-active.

Here’s a quirky example of a bar that turns a simple sweet into an nutritional powerhouse.

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

It’s built with bland white beans, rich in minerals including potassium, and fiber for structure. Tahini is included for nutty richness, fiber, and moisture.  Chocolate looks like a candidate for flavor, but we opt for a small amount of cocoa powder.  It’s all we need, we can utilize tahini’s flavorful oil base to enrich the cocoa and bring it fully alive.

The result: a moist, mysterious fiber-rich bar with all the charm of a light butterscotch-amped blondie laced with cocoa nuttiness for sex appeal. What’s not to love?

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

Ingredients
⅓ cup AP flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
15 oz can white beans, rinse & drain, @ 1 cup mashed
1 Tbsp butter
⅓ cup each brown and granulated sugar
½ cup tahini
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp demerara sugar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Line 8×8” pan with foil and spray well.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa power, baking powder and salt, set aside
  3. In 1 cup microwaveable measure, melt butter, stir in sugar, heat 30-60 seconds to melt. Transfer to mixing bowl and cool briefly.
  4. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  5. Meanwhile, mash beans well and set aside.
  6. Stir the tahini into the cooled butter/sugar mixture. Whisk in the eggs, then vanilla. Stir in the beans. Mix in the dry ingredients to lightly combine.
  7. Evenly spread batter into baking pan and sprinkle top with demerara sugar.
  8. Bake 20-30 minutes until set in center. Cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove foil and bars to rack and cool 10- 15 minute longer. Cut into bars; these should be light and moist but not gooey. Store lightly covered in fridge. Yield 12-16 bars

Bananas for Blondies

Blondies.  Are they nothing more than brownies missing their chocolate?

I suspect that simplistic notion comes from the brownie loyalists:  a faction that believes brownies belong in a category by themselves. For them, a good brownie is no more than chocolate sullied with a bit of flour, sugar, and egg to keep it together.

It is pointless to try and sway the chocoholics of the world into considering much beyond hard core chocolate; they are quite happy with their lot.

But for those of us who appreciate full-flavored blondies and the possibilities they suggest, there are plenty of options, like coconut-chai, peanut butter, raspberry swirl, or pumpkin blondie.

Or, how about a banana blondie?  There is the prerequisite flour and eggs, but it also includes browned butter, brown and granulated sugars, plus it’s moistened further with a couple of ripe bananas and laced with a touch of nutmeg―then it is all finished with a buttermilk glaze and candied-spiced pecans.Banana Blondies A

Perhaps not addictive, but certainly delicious: tropical undertones, caramel complexity, nuanced and nutty, reminiscent of buttermilk doughnut… more than a non-brownie.

Banana Blondies with Buttermilk Glaze

Ingredients
2 1/4   cups  flour
3/4      tsp  nutmeg
1          tsp  baking powder
1/2      tsp salt
10       Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4     cup granulated sugar
3/4     cup light brown sugar
2         large ripe bananas, cut up
2          eggs
2         tsp  vanilla
Buttermilk Glaze
3/4      cup sugar
1/4      tsp  salt
1/3      cup  buttermilk
2        Tbsp  butter
1       Tbsp corn syrup
1/2    tsp vanilla
1      cup  candied pecans or walnuts (4 oz)  lightly chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line and spray 9×13″ pan.  Position rack in lower 1/3 of oven.
  2. Combine and whisk dry ingredients and set aside.
  3.  Melt the butter until it is bubbly and slightly nutty; in mixer, combine butter and sugars.  Beat in banana until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time, scrape down bowl and add vanilla.
  4. With spatula, stir in flour mixture; do not beat.  Spoon into pan, spread gently.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes, until top is light brown and tester comes out clean.  Pour the Glaze over hot blondies.  Yield:  18 approx.

Glaze:  In a small pan, bring all to a boil except vanilla; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Pour evenly over hot blondies. Sprinkle candied nuts over the moist glaze.

Allow to cool completely before cutting.  Store covered at room temp for 3 days, or freeze up to 3 months without nuts.