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

Small Batch, One Bowl

My mom was an experienced cook, gifted with a natural sense of timing and flavors. For years her prize appliance was a stainless steel state-of-the-art Thermador range with grill top and convection oven. Later, she frequently preferred to fire up a huge countertop toaster oven instead.

A highly practical, early environmentalist, Mom viewed the larger oven as wasteful and inefficient for her smaller jobs.  On my visits I viewed this as odd—I figured that somehow her food would taste better cooked in the bigger, fancier unit.

Since we are our parent’s children, I eventually ‘evolved’ and came around to her way of thinking. I had shifted in my cooking, too.  I rarely needed big pans of food. (In fact, my current convection toaster oven is even smaller than hers.)

This caused a whole chain of events to occur. I was in the market for smaller pans and down-sized recipes.  I was on the look-out for one-bowl recipes with fewer ingredients, all which help move the process along.

My food portions went down, too:  it’s either that or eat the whole thing.  I learned about small batch baking:  food is ready fast.  I can be in and out of the kitchen with a plateful of goodies in very little time.

I knew I was on the right path when a small funky cookie jar happened across my path.

Although fewer cookies fill up the tiny jar in a hurry, typically a batch lasts well beyond a week or two.  Even better, cookies on display are a warm welcome for drop-in friends.

Tahini Cookies, Small Batch

Ingredients

  • ½ cup tahini
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.  Line a baking sheet with silpat or parchment.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together tahini and sugar.  Whisk in 1 egg to lighten, then stir in the vanilla and salt.
  3. Combine the flour and baking soda and stir into the mix, blending until smooth.
  4. Using tablespoon scoop, drop onto baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with sesame seeds.
  5. Bake 15-16 minutes until set and edges begin to brown. Transfer to rack to cool.  Yield 1½ dozen cookies.

Gaga over Tahini

Mornings can be hectic. There are days when I am lucky to get out the door wearing matching shoes—let along eat anything.  It’s at those times in particular I know I must grab something to eat along the way—and hopefully it’s beneficial.

Here’s my latest solution to eating on the run. It’s not designed as a meal replacement; it’s a tasty energy booster with food value that keeps me going until real food surfaces.

tahini bites

These wholesome raw bites are jet fueled morsels of sweet dates, toasted oatmeal, and my current fascination, tahini.  Since I’ve gotten pretty gaga over tahini, I thought it best to do a little more research—and was amazed at its nutritional value.

Call it a seed butter, in that tahini is made from roasted sesame seeds which give it a high oil content. In a 2-tablespoon serving, this powerhouse contains 178 calories, 16 grams of fat, 6 grams carbohydrates and 5 grams of protein; with no sugar and 3 grams of fiber.

What that means, is tahini is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats known to lower harmful cholesterol levels, as well as lower the risk of heart disease and strokes. It is rich in thiamine (30% of daily requirement), magnesium (24%), phosphorous (22%), iron (14%), and calcium (12% daily requirement). Tahini’s list of benefits goes on.   It naturally helps lower blood pressure, aids in bone health and arthritic issues.

Yes, moderation is important, but in a full recipe of 20 or more Tahini Date Bites, only 1/3 cup of tahini is used. These are so satisfying that two or three sweet bites will certainly get the job done. I’m fortified, and ready to go the distance.

 Tahini Date Bites

Few ingredients and simple to make, these hold well and improve with age.  Suggested variations are noted.

Ingredients
1 cup Medjool dates (var include 2 Tbsp candied ginger), seed and chop well
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1-3/4 cup oats, (var part almonds or other nuts) toasted
Finishing options
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (var pinch cinnamon)
1 tablespoon matcha tea powder
¼ cup raw coconut flakes
½ cup diced pistachio/pumpkin seed blend

Directions

  1. In a medium mixing bowl combine the dates, tahini, honey, vanilla and salt.
  2. Stir in the oats, it will be sticky.
  3. Divide into approximately 20 portions and shape into 1” rolls.
  4. Allow to chill in refrigerator for at least an hour to set.
  5. To finish, dust tops finish as desired. Yield: about 20.

Shades of Van Gogh

I bought a jar of tahini the other day and cannot leave it alone.  It should be sold with a warning label.

I am hooked. I put tahini on or in everything, and it keeps tasting better.  I write these words as I eye my latest showstopper. I am worried because I may polish this cheesecake off before the sun comes up.

It all began with my musing over the possibilities of a tahini cheesecake.    Mmmm.      That’s when the not-so-obvious addition of turmeric registered.  Now that’s intriguing.  Yes, turmeric interests me, too.  I want to explore its rumored health advantages, its lovely color, its mysterious flavor…  But, wait! Why not throw in a gingersnap and date crust and see what happens?

Tahini Date Cheesecake whole (1)

I hit the kitchen and gather up what’s on hand: Greek yogurt and Neufchatel cheese.  Ah, yes.  Elegant, nuanced… a bit of honey for sweetener is spot on.  Into the pressure cooker it all goes for 30 minutes.  That’s it.

Well, what can I say?  The filling’s golden color is worthy of a Van Gogh painting.

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The flavor is subtle—yet profound. It evokes the question, “Is it really that good?” Perhaps another bite… or two.

Ah, yes, it is certainly good for me. I have no shame.  Call the doctor.

Tahini-Turmeric Cheesecake with Ginger-Date Crust

Inspired by cheesecake from:  http://flavorrd.com/2016/07/instant-pot-greek-yogurt-cheesecake/

Ingredients
Crumb crust
1 cup ginger snaps, fine crumb
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup dates, chopped
Filling
4 oz. cream cheese, regular or Neufchatel, softened
1/3 cup tahini
½ teaspoon turmeric, toasted
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole or 2% Greek yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten

Directions

  1. Spray a 7” springform pan with non-stick spray and line bottom with parchment.
  2. For the crust: crush the cookies into fine crumbs, using either a food processor or a ziploc bag and rolling pin. Stir in the melted butter. When well combined add the dates and stir to distribute evenly. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a 7-inch springform pan, pressing firmly and spreading the crust about halfway up the sides of the pan (the bottom of a drinking glass works well for this job).
  3. For the filling: toast the turmeric in a small bowl in the microwave about one minute, until aromatic. In mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until light.  Whip in the tahini, then the turmeric honey, vanilla and sea salt until well combined. Add Greek yogurt and whip until smooth.  , sugar and vanilla in a large bowl, and whip together until very smooth. Then add the eggs, mixing until just combined.
  4. Pour the filling into the springform pan, being careful to fully cover the crust around the edges (if any crumbs are exposed, they can become soggy from the moisture in the pressure cooker).
  5. Place a trivet rack into the pressure cooker, and pour in 1 cup of water. Place the cheesecake on top of the trivet and close the lid. Set the valve to sealing position, and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes. When done, turn off cooker and let stand for 5 minutes without disturbing, then release pressure.
  6. Open the lid and use the trivet handles to lift out the pan. If water has settled on top of the cheesecake, gently blot any excess with a paper towel.
  7. Allow the cheesecake to cool on a rack at room temperature for 1-2 hours, then transfer it to the refrigerator to chill completely (at least 4 hours). Serves: 1 to 8.