Low Carb Solution: Big Game Snack Food
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
Here’s a recipe generated by an article in a magazine that caught my eye. The feature listed some of the most popular finger foods that Americana serves up at Super Bowl parties. The compilation of dishes claimed to be based on a 5-year study of on-line recipe searches and downloads in the two weeks leading up to the big game. This mouth-watering list included chips ‘n dips, hot dogs in a blanket, soft pretzels, baby hamburger sliders, mini tacos, ham & melted cheese on dinner rolls and single-serving baguette pizzas, just to name a very few. For me, many of these appetizers had been personal favorites in my BGI days (Before Glycemic Index) and, admittedly, are still very tempting--especially at half-time when everyone takes a break around the buffet table.
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
In football, they say that the best offense is a good defense. So this year my “defense” for the Super Bowl potluck buffet table will be a platter of these tasty, two-bite, Italian-inspired cheese baskets stuffed with four ingredients from Melissa’s pantry of pre-cooked, ready-to-eat ingredients. These little morsels contain all the requisites of a proper football finger food: salty, crunchy-chewy, cheesy and ever so slightly greasy with an addictive flavor. Move over bowl of chips, there’s new low-carb competition at the buffet table!
Making the little Parmesan baskets is the fun part of this recipe, though the process requires some speed and agility to form each basket before the cheese hardens again. Expect a few sacrificial practice baskets before getting the hang of it. I used packaged shredded Parmesan for consistency and convenience; shredding your own is fine to so long as the shreds are fairly long. Please note: though the picture of pre-melted cheese rounds in the recipe pictures below shows five being popped in the oven, I would suggest only attempting to bake this many at once if you have help stuffing them into the muffin tin when they are done. Working alone, my first attempt looked more like the infamous scene of “Lucy in the Chocolate Factory” as the melted cheese hardened into flat mini-Frisbees before I could get to them all. Once I lowered the production rate to working with just two rounds at a time I had better success, no shrinkage and a lot more fun! So slow it down, maybe pour a glass of an Italian Red that pairs with the nationality of basket ingredients, and enjoy the process!
A low-carb beer batter? Sure, just swap out the calorie-laden, high-carb white flour ingredient that is a part of most batters for almond flour. Actually this product is not a flour at all but a finely grained meal that, when mixed with baking powder, will cook up to a crispy golden brown. Surprisingly, though made completely from almonds [0 carbs!] this ingredient is also virtually tasteless. The key to a good batter is achieving a consistency that is not too runny or too thick; to accomplish this, one might have to tweak the amount of almond flour to beer ratio called for in my recipe. So pour the beer into the dry ingredients and beaten eggs last and in small increments. Mix between those small pours until the texture resembles the thickness of pancake batter. Hint: the heavier (darker) the beer the more flavorful the batter. BTW, in case you were wondering, beer is very low in carbs because it contains hardly any sugar.
Melissa’s Steamed Artichoke Hearts are a great time saving ingredient; not only is the prep and cooking already done, the field fresh flavor is far superior to jarred hearts. Still, the trick to a successful battered artichoke heart is removing as much water as possible before dipping in the batter. Drain all the water from the package with a gentle squeeze before opening it completely, then pat dry each heart individually. Lastly let the hearts rest for ten minutes sandwiched between several sheets of paper towel to absorb as much moisture as possible. A package of Melissa’s Steamed Artichoke Hearts will be enough to make fill 20-25 mini cheese baskets depending on the size of each heart piece, which will be cut in half once the battered choke heart is deep fried and cooled.
Another taste treat that makes assembly quick and easy is Melissa’s Sun Dried Tomato Pesto and Basil Pesto. Made from entirely fresh ingredients, both are ready to use right out of their respective jars. Using both of these delicious sauces provides a choice of distinctively different flavors to enjoy and, no doubt, compare to each other during a half-time taste test! Plus the red and green color contrast adds to the platter’s overall presentation. Both pestos also have a very practical role in the construction of this app as they are used like a mortar to secure each piece of fried artichoke snugly and securely in the mini-basket to keep it from tipping over.
Parmesan-Artichoke-Pesto and not a wasted carb in the group! What more could one want in a single bite (or two) while watching the big game? Why a sprinkle of pine nuts, of course! I confess to being a devoted pinion-head who has been known to include the deliciously decadent pine nut, one of the company’s most popular retail items, on just about everything. However, for this mini-basket of Italian flavors, pine nuts really do complete the Italian flavor motif with that wonderfully rich, buttery taste that always lingers on the palate. So here’s yet another taste temptation to add to that game day buffet--but with a total carb count in the single digits! Enjoy the game!
Beer-Batter Artichoke Hearts in Parmesan Baskets
Makes approx. 20-25 finger appetizers
1 pkg. Melissa’s Steamed Artichokes Hearts
1 jar Melissa’s Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
1 jar Melissa’s Basil Pesto
1 pkg. Melissa’s Pine Nuts
16 oz. Parmesan cheese, shredded
Silicone baking mat or parchment paper
Low-carb Beer batter
½ cup almond flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 oz. beer of choice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Canola oil for deep-frying
Spread cheese to form a 2-inch circle on a baking pan covered with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. Bake rounds in a 350°oven for about 4 minutes or until the cheese starts to bubble and begins to shows a hint of golden brown. Careful not to burn! Cool for 30 seconds, remove each cheese round from the baking sheet with a thin spatula and then gently work it into a well of a muffin pan with your fingers. This must be done quickly while cheese is still warm and pliable to form a small cup. Hold the cheese in the well with fingers, a cork or shot glass for a few seconds until it cools completely in the mold.
For the batter, mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk. Beat the egg, then add it along with the beer to the dry ingredients and stir to blend. Pour 2" to 3" of canola oil in a heavy bottom pot or Dutch oven and place on high heat. When the oil temperature of 365°, dip the artichoke hearts into the batter, allow excess to drip off before placing in the hot oil for 2 to 3 minutes; turn the hearts over in oil with a slotted spoon until golden brown on both sides . Remove to a paper towel lined plate. When cool, slice each heart in half, cross-wise.
Assembly: Place a dollop of either Melissa’s Sun-dried Tomato Pesto or Basil pesto in the bottom of each parmesan basket, nestle an artichoke piece into the pesto cut end down, then slather a little more pesto around the heart to secure it and sprinkle with a few pine nuts. Arrange on a serving plate.