Sunday, January 31, 2010

Making it Healthy

It's Saturday (well, it was two minutes ago), the day I spend in my kitchen.

I really spend several hours each day in there, the natural consequence of having three teenagers. But Saturday is the day to loll, to play, to do some prep for the week ahead. And today's play began with a serving of my healthy scones.

Since he started eating solid food a mere 14 years ago, my middle son has been a particular eater. As a toddler, it was a challenge; the list of acceptable foods was brief and frightening. He would not eat meat, cheese, peanut butter, or eggs; it was nearly impossible to get protein into his diet (Please don't tell him that for years I doctored his fruit smoothies with soy and whey protein powder! We considered it a breakthrough when he finally started liking chicken nuggets; a relative quipped that the only reason he liked them was that they had absolutely no resemblance to meat).

But what he would eat was carbs: potatoes, pasta, bread, cereal. And like any thoughtful parent, I decided to cram as much goodness as I could into what I prepared for him...and for his sibs.

I'd been baking bread off and on those years--timing risings between naps could be difficult--but what I could put together were quick breads: muffins, coffee cakes, biscuits, cornbread, scones. And of course, I could not leave well enough alone; I'd start with a basic recipe and then I'd have to tweak: increase the protein, up the fiber, add in omega-3s, reduce the fat, cut the sugar. The wonderful thing about playing with food is that you get to eat the mistakes.

(Now for an aside: I never realized how obvious my behaviors were; I always thought that, to my family, they'd see me clipping along following a recipe just as written, even if it was written in my own handwriting, and behold, out from the oven or lifted from the stovetop would be something tasty. The spell was broken this past Christmas. For my eldest's birthday, my mother made a Dobos Torte--a Hungarian seven-layer cake filled with chocolate buttercream. A cake worth aging for. The kids raved. "We wish Mom would make this." Oma: "Well, I could give her the recipe." Kids: "Don't bother. She won't follow it.")

I never quite understood the intent of the "healthy baking recipes" I've read in cooking and wellness magazines; the focus is on reducing fat and sugar, which are certainly worthwhile goals...but often the nutrition profile hasn't changed. I often wonder why no one considered substituting some whole wheat flour or nut meal for some of the all-purpose flour; brown sugar instead of white (and it doesn't need to be packed; trust me, it will be sweet enough; for many recipes, the sugar proportion can be reduced by 1/3 without affecting the final product...other than to make it much less cloying). These changes don't cut the calories, but they do add vitamins and minerals and flavor. I've discovered that a pie crust made with half whole wheat, half all purpose flours adds a wonderfully nutty dimension to apple pie, with no more calories than a totally white flour crust, but with considerably more fiber. Brown, rather than white sugar, in a pancake recipe adds a caramel-like note...maple syrup only gets in the way.

So this morning, for brunch, Healthy Scones made their appearance. And then a rapid disappearance. I am not even sure where the roots of this recipe came from, so I apologize for not giving the source of my inspiration. The recipe has morphed so much over the years that I think the originator wouldn't even recognize it. It also reflects my utter dislike for washing dishes--if you can reuse a tool and maintain good food safety, why not?

Healthy Scones (copyright Paula F, 2010)

1/2 c. old fashioned rolled oats
2 Tbs ground flaxseed with enough all purpose flour added to make 3/4 c.
1/2 c whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 Tbs. brown sugar
2 tbs butter, cut into small pieces
1 Tbs plain or vanilla yogurt (if the dough seems dry)
1 egg
1/3 c milk
1/2 c of add-ins(chopped toasted nuts, chocolate chips, cinnamon chips, fresh or frozen berries, dried fruit, or whatever sounds good to you; I will have to try cheese and herbs sometime)

Preheat your oven to 425F. In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients with a fork until blended. Using the same fork, mash the butter and the yogurt into the flour mixture until very small lumps form (it will be the texture of meal). With the same fork now, combine the milk and the egg until well blended, then pour into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. It will be a soft and sticky dough; let it sit for a moment to let the flours absorb the liquids while you are deciding what add-ins you'll be using. Stir in the add-ins until evenly distributed.

Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Scoop the dough onto the sheet and pat into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. You can use the fork to do this (that fork is getting a workout), but I usually use a clean hand dipped in flour (to keep the dough from sticking). With a butter knife (the one I used to level off the cups of flour and to cut the butter; nothing like recycling!), cut the dough into squares or triangles; I tend to make small ones, to yield about 24 scones.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until just set; they do not rise very high because of the weight of the oats and flax. The bottoms will be light brown but the tops will still be pale. Trust me, they are done; any longer and the scones dry out.

Let cool 5 minutes, then transfer to a serving plate. These are best eaten the day they are made. But that never seems to be a problem at our house.

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