Low Carb Kitchen
Carb Solutions: Holiday Temptations
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:
December is a month filled with all sorts of high glycemic temptations: sugar cookies, gingerbreads, baklavas, shortbreads, fruitcakes, caramel-chocolate chip brownies, just to name a few of my own personal weaknesses. Many a carb-counter eventually surrenders in the face of such overwhelming culinary enticements, justifying a dietary “cease fire” in the spirit of the holiday celebrations with those infamous three little words of defeat “just this once” – and the high-carb slippery slope begins!
- 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.
So, rather than working so hard trying to just-say-no to all these tempting treats that are a part of the holiday season, I say fight culinary fire with culinary fire! That is, come up with some low-carb decadence for your own plate that befits the season without raising blood sugars or calorie counts! Like this special occasion recipe for a crust-less mini quiche that swaps out the usual white flour pastry in favor of a Portobello mushroom. The meaty Portobello is then baked, filled with a low-calorie twist on the familiar Artichoke-Spinach dip that gets repurposed into a light-textured, single serving quiche with a second visit to the oven. The best part is that each of these scrumptiously rich delights have a net carb count of only 6 grams per serving!
Melissa’s Steamed Artichoke Hearts are a key ingredient in this dish, both for flavor and speed of prep! While I am obviously prejudiced, these steamed hearts are a far superior ingredient than their jarred and oiled counterparts, especially for cooking. After a quick drain, the hearts go from package to food processor without any other prep. The freshness of flavor compared to the packaged taste of jarred or even frozen alternatives is just no contest. These steamed hearts are really a great product; serve standalone as a batter-fried appetizer, tossed in a mixed green salad or, for that matter, as a filling ingredient in a low-carb holiday recipe!
Do not be tempted to buy a store-bought Spinach-Artichoke Dip for this recipe—the mayo in those dips will skew the cooking process and result in a heavy filling in both texture and taste. You are going for quiche-like lightness in the dish. Same goes for using a frozen package of spinach. Think about it--only fresh-cooked spinach should be used to fill that pricey Portobello mushroom (and you)! ‘Tis the season—use the best for the best! BTW – steamed, not boiled in water for the spinach. The boiling process will leech far more nutrients from spinach than a quick steam. While I kept the filling ingredients short and simple, there is much room for flexibility in this mixture to suit taste preferences. Fresh herbs could be added or the sweet red pepper pieces could be replaced with a spicier variety of red pepper to kick it up a notch, as the saying goes, while still keeping the holiday color scheme.
Choose Portobello’s with deep cap cavities to hold more of the tasty filling. I find that a serrated grapefruit spoon makes a very efficient gill scraper. While this mushroom variety looks tough and hearty, the edges of its cap can easily break off – careful, patient cleaning will ensure no damage to the mushroom and a cleaner presentation. Tip: the stem of a Portobello mushroom is quite thick and can be difficult to remove without damaging the mushroom cap. Try slicing the stem length-wise into quarters with a sharp paring knife, then carefully break-off each quarter stem at its base.
Very large mushrooms, as depicted in this feature, can be served individually as a mini quiche side dish. Downsize to baby Portobellos to serve as finger-food on a holiday party platter. The point being that, while the days of gingerbread and sugar cookies must remain only fond memories for a lot of us, low carb decadence can still be savored during the holidays with guiltless abandon. Just jingle a few glycemic-friendly bells!
No-Crust Holiday Mini-Quiche
Makes 4-6 servings, using large mushrooms
2 tablespoon Olive Oil
4-6 Portobello Mushrooms, stemmed and gills scraped out
4 Tablespoons Red Bell Pepper, small dice
2 bunches Fresh Spinach, stems removed, steamed (cooks down to about a cup of spinach)
2 packages Melissa’s Steamed Artichoke Hearts
6 ounces “Light” Cream cheese, softened
2 ounces “Light” Sour Cream
1 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
½ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Pepper
4 large Eggs
Filling: Steam the spinach, drain and let cool. Add spinach to a food processor along with the rest of the filling ingredients, except for the eggs. Blend until smooth.
Remove stems and gills from mushrooms. Brush a large glass baking dish with olive oil. Place mushrooms in the dish, cap side down, and bake at 350° for 15 minutes.
While mushroom caps are baking, combine spinach-artichoke mixture and the eggs in a large bowl, whisk until smooth. Remove caps from oven, fill them with the mixture, garnish each mushroom with a sprinkle of diced red bell peppers; bake for another 20 minute, or until filling is set and slightly puffed. Serve hot.