Banana Bread, As Healthy As It Gets

healthy banana bread

I am posting this all-American comfort food because somehow people (ok, me) always end up with a few very ripe, brown and spotty bananas just sitting on the counter.

Bananas that are too ripe to eat, but are just perfect for baking.

I make this classic treat quite often in the cold season, because that’s when I buy bananas (the other part of the year my parents’ garden supplies us all with plenty of fresh fruit). This time I felt dedicated to find inventive ways so I could have my cake – and eat it totally guilt free. That meant swapping a few ingredients for a lightened up, better-for-you banana bread that is not only just as delicious as the original, but also wholesome and nourishing.

I believe in tradition, but I also like altering classic recipes sometimes to make healthy treats. It’s all about smart changes. Flavor is super important but the result needs to be lower in calories, sugar and fat and at the same time, higher in fibre, protein and healthy oils.

This banana bread has all those redeeming qualities. It won’t send your blood sugar levels for a loop, not to mention that you can whip this up with just one bowl, a few measuring cups and some basic ingredients. The Husband approves too, so I can assure you: the loaf passed the taste test.

Moist and dense, delicious and filling. Perfect for breakfast and beyond, also freezable. The homey comfort of banana bread, updated to fit a more health-conscious life.

healthy banana bread

Some notes, if I may:

  • This recipe is dairy free.
  • You can make this recipe gluten-free by using a GF flour blend, or oat flour.
  • Bananas: the riper the better. They are super sweet! I actually made this recipe without any sweetening, and it was still totally enjoyable.
  • You can use any other kind of nut meal instead of walnuts, or omit nuts completely. In that case, increase the amount of flour to 1 cup.
  • Sweeten the batter with the natural sweetener of your choice. So far I tried it with birch sugar, honey and maple syrup, all working well.
  • Feel free to substitute the currants with blueberries, cranberries, raisins, or whatever floats your boat.
  • Banana bread keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days, or can be frozen for up to 3 months. It’s best if you slice before freezing to be able to thaw individual pieces.

healthy banana bread

Healthy Banana Bread

  • Difficulty: easy
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Classic banana bread recipe updated with better-for-you ingredients. Yield: 1 loaf

Ingredients

3 very ripe bananas

2 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

2 tbsp natural sweetener of your choice

½ cup whole wheat flour

½ cup walnut meal

½ cup vanilla protein powder

½ cup fresh or frozen blackcurrants

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F), lightly grease a 9×5” loaf pan (or line with parchment paper).
  2. In a large bowl, mash bananas with a fork.
  3. Add eggs, salt and sweetener, whisk well.
  4. Add walnut meal, protein powder, flour, baking powder and baking soda. Stir to blend with a spoon or spatula, just until combined.
  5. Gently fold in fruits, if using.
  6. Pour batter in pan. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45-50 min.
  7. Let cool in the pan for 10 min before transferring to a wire rack for another 20 min before slicing. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

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Baked Beet Chips, a Healthy Swap

baked beet chipsYesterday, the Husband and I officially strated mulled wine season, but that’s not exactly what I’m here for today. I have a confession to make.

I don’t really know how to put this, but I don’t like potato chips. Yup, that’s right. There was a time in my life when I thought I did and I snacked on them like everyone else, but they gross me out now.

What’s wrong with her I hear you ask, but it’s what it is: the thought of that rancid, oily smell and overpowering artificial flavors of the commercial stuff got me to skip the greasy bag. When I want potatoes, I make them for myself.

Cravings don’t mess around though. Speaking of nibbling on crispy and crunchy, you must have seen the veggie chips trend. Carrots, kale, sweet potato, plantains, zucchini, radishes, even tomato. And beets. Don’t forget the beets!

I love beets, but that wasn’t always the case. As a kid, you encounter the dreary pickled variety in kindergarten, and that’s the point when most of us come to hate beets for the rest of our lives. (Mind you, pickled beets are really yum, just not those they serve at the cafeteria.)

Then you become a grown-ass adult, learn to admit when you’re wrong and revise your opinion on a bunch of matters. I did that with beets, among other things.

No, beets don’t taste like dirt. If you still think they do, you need to grow the eff up and learn to like them because beets are really amazing! Ok, they are unsightly and stain your hands, but also extremely healthy, crazy delicious, and more versatile than you ever could have imagined.

Let’s go over the health benefits of consuming beetroot real quick:

It may help reduce your blood pressure due to high nitrate levels, decrease the risk of diabetes thanks to a strong antioxidant and promote healthy digestion because of the fibers. Beets are also packed with vitamins and minerals and are anti inflammatory. Some people even call beets superfood!

They can be roasted, steamed, boiled, pickled, or just eaten raw. And flavoring them up is half the fun! You will feel so much better about crunching away on a delicious, real-food snack than reaching for that bag of chips. It’s so easy too!

baked beet chipsbaked beet chips

Baked Beet Chips

  • Difficulty: easy
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Healthy veggie chips bursting with flavor. Serves 2.

Ingredients

4-5 medium-sized beets

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and black pepper to taste

1 fresh sprig of rosemary finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried)

Directions

  1. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, preheat oven to 175°C (350°F).
  2. Wash and peel beets (it’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves so they don’t stain your hands).
  3. Using a handheld slicer or mandoline, thinly slice beets.
  4. In a large bowl, toss beets with the oil, salt, black pepper and rosemary to coat evenly.
  5. Arrange beets in a single layer on the baking sheets.
  6. Bake for 20 min, flip beets over to bake evenly on both sides, and rotate baking trays as well.
  7. Bake until sides are dried out, curled up and beets are lighter in color, about an additional 20-25 min. They will crisp up as they cool. Enjoy fresh and warm!

Love,

Fruzsi

Healthy (Kinda) Jam Shortbread Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Update: since I’ve first posted this recipe, I’ve further cut down on the fat, subbed AP flour one-to-one for whole-wheat, and used granulated birch sugar instead of brown sugar.

You know the ‘How to have a bikini body’ meme right? I’m positive we shouldn’t stress so much about our physical appearances (at least lot less than the media would suggest anyway), but I also don’t want to be a hypocrite.

I do watch what I eat and work out regularly, not so much as to fit any mould but to respect my body by treating it right. At the same time I also allow myself the occasional indulgence which I think is necessary for balance in life, and those treats are the things I like to post about.

Today’s recipe is an in-between in the sense that it’s most definitely a dessert, but it’s way less bad for you and that beach bod of yours than the average sweet. That’s what I call a win-win! Read on for my healthier take on the classic jam shortbread bars.

Shortbread is one part white sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour. Here I have:

  • substituted 2/3 of the flour with oats, nuts and protein powder
  • swapped the butter for margarine and used less than 40% of the initial amount
  • cut white sugar completely
  • the jam was a naturally sweet, no-sugar-added (diabetic) fig spread

And believe it or not after all this messing around, it’s still amazing! Let’s see why altering the original recipe is good for you:

White flour is heavily processed, the most nutritional aspects of the grain like fiber, vitamins and minerals are stripped away. The downsides to it are an overall lack of nutrients, highly refined carbs and also the gluten if you have sensitivities.

Oats on the other hand are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. They are packed with important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are high in fiber and protein compared to other grains. Nearly all of the carbs in oats come from complex starches, which you digest slowly. Also, they are naturally gluten-free.

Nuts were walnuts in my case, but the recipe would work with almonds, pecans, hazelnuts or pistachios as well, so knock yourself out! They are nutritional powerhouses: complete packages of protein, heart-healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

I’ve been drinking protein shakes post-workout and just lately started replacing some of the flour with protein powder in baked goods. My favorite whey protein is gluten, lactose and also sugar-free, plus the vanilla flavor complements most sweets well. Work with a 1:3 conversion (that is 1/3 cup of protein powder for every 1 cup of flour).

Figs are a great source of fibre and they are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as well. They contain prebiotics, which help support the good bacteria in your gut. Moreover, their potassium content helps regulate the amount of sugar which is absorbed into your body. The natural sugar content of figs also allows you to cut further down on the amount of sweetener used in recipes. I made this with a sugar-free, thick plum preserve as well, if you want a more fall-ish taste.

On to the old debate: butter or margarine, as fats and calories in them are about the same. The cold hard truth is, the healthiest option would be to skip both. The problem with butter lies in saturated fat and cholesterol, while the main concern with margarine is trans fats, the result of hydrogenation. Experts suggest consuming monounsaturated fats whenever possible (olive oil uncooked or vegetable oil for cooking). When baking, use a hard stick of trans-fat-free margarine in place of butter but whichever you select, limit your overall consumption.

What I also love about this healthier take is the texture; how crunchy-crumbly it is thanks to the oats and nuts. Frankly, there’s still fructose (fruit sugar) and a fair amount of fat in these bars, but they are incomparable to the average jam shortbread square in nutritional value. If you want a guilt-free dessert, it won’t get any better than this!

And as with everything else, portion size is key!

Healthy Fig Crumble Bars

  • Difficulty: easy
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Healthier, crunchy-crumbly squares filled with a yummy sugar-free fig spread.

Ingredients

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, fine

½ cup walnuts

1 cup whole-wheat flour

½ cup vanilla protein powder

1/4 cup granulated birch sugar (or other sugar alternative)

150 g (10 tbsp) cold margarine, cut to cubes

¼ tsp salt

1 tbsp baking powder

1 ½ cup diabetic fig preserves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F), line a 22 by 22 cm (9×9”) baking dish with aluminium foil, covering the sides as well.
  2. In a food processor, pulse nuts until chopped but not too fine.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, mix oats, nuts, flour, protein powder, sugar, salt and baking powder for a few seconds until combined.
  4. Add margarine cubes one by one and mix until a coarse crumb of the size of peas forms and margarine is evenly distributed.
  5. With the back of a spoon, push 2/3 of the crumb mixture in bottom of tray. Bake until golden, about 20 min.
  6. Remove from the oven, spread preserves evenly on crust. Crumble remaining streusel on top.
  7. Transfer back to oven and bake until topping is golden, about 30 min.
  8. Remove from oven, let cool before slicing. Enjoy!

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship, commissions or gifts.*

Say Bye to the Cereal Box with Homemade Granola

homemade banana granola

They say in America everything is bigger and better. Surely not everything, but this certainly holds when it comes to the world’s most popular breakfast foods: I’m talking about the granola vs muesli debate. Both are simple, filling, and (more or less) full of good stuff, but there are differences.

Granola, invented in Dansville, NY by Dr. James Caleb Jackson is a sweetened, baked cereal consisting of oats, nuts, seeds, often including mix-ins such as dried fruit or chocolate. Some kind of fat is also added to achieve the crumbly texture.

Muesli on the other hand, introduced by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner, is neither baked nor sweetened, and not that crunchy either.

As a European I feel inclined to say how I enjoy the pure flavor of muesli, how much I appreciate the distinctness and the way oats, nuts and seeds complement one another, but I’ll cut the bullshit right there. Let’s face it: granola is just more delicious. That’s it, I’m sorry Max!

The perked-up version is more popular state-side and humble muesli on this side of the pond. We therefore don’t have such an impressive selection of baked cereals in our supermarkets here. And what we do have is quite expensive for what it is.

My old favorite comes in a big cardboard box with a small plastic bag inside containing just a handful of the simply too sweet stuff bind together with a not specified type of vegetable oil (how reassuring). A 100 g serving contains about 60 g carbohydrates and over 12 g fat. Wow. I still eye that fucker on the store shelf sometimes, but my body just deserves better.

Luckily, making the crunchy clusters at home couldn’t be easier! Replacing the processed, packaged kind is great not only because from now on it’s in your control what goes into your brekkie bowl (I loathe thee, raisin!). It doesn’t have to have a shitload of sugar and fat either!

(I was about to add reducing your ecological footprint too, but had to revise my opinion as the ingredients you’re about to use also come packaged. Bummer.)

homemade banana granola

Checked out many recipes and made a few batches until I found what works best for us. Granola is not an exact science, you have to tweak the ingredients to suit your taste, but that’s the beauty of it: having your own, special edition.

I wanted mine to be free of processed sugar, so I use bananas and a little honey instead to sweaten. Also decided to cut down on fat and substitute it with a healthier alternative: extra virgin olive oil, one of the richest in polyunsaturated fatty acids (a.k.a the good guys).

I use the same seed mix in my granola that I bake into my breads: equal parts sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, lint seeds and pumpkin seeds. As for the nuts, almonds and walnuts are our favorite, but hazelnuts and pecans are also a great choice. For mix-ins, I prefer spices. OK, sometimes I give in and add dark chocolate chips too. 🙂

This amount, kept in a glass jar, lasts for about a week in our house. I like to eat it with low-fat natural yogurt and berries that are a bit sour (just.love.blackcurrant.) while Husband is not that hard-core as he likes to put it, and prefers milk and banana slices drizzled with pure maple syrup.

homemade banana granola

See how a healthier, homemade granola is such a no-brainer:

Banana Granola

  • Difficulty: easy
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A healthy take on store-bought cereals

Ingredients

3 cups rolled oats (half fine, half coarse)

1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

½ cup almonds, whole or sliced

¼ cup seed mix (sesame, lint, sunflower, pumpkin)

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp allspice

a handful of dark chocolate chips (optional)

2 ripe bananas, mashed

2 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F, line baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. In two separate bowls, mix wet and dry ingredients except chocolate (if using).
  3. Combine wet & dry ingredients well to coat evenly.
  4. Spread mixture on baking tray in a thin layer.
  5. Bake for 30 min or until dark golden.
  6. Allow to cool, than crumble.
  7. Mix in chocolate chips, transfer granola to a glass jar or other airtight container.

How do you do breakfast cereal? I’d love to see some ideas so I can switch things up a bit from time to time.

Love,

Fruzsi