Entries in desserts (3)


Skip's Apple-Bread Pudding

A New Food Culture

In response to reader demand, we made a goal to publish 52 recipes to support the 52 Healthy Changes.  Because the recipes support the new food culture—the transformation from factory food-like stuff to natural foods—we call them breakthrough recipes.  The breakthrough recipes aren't new—they're just healthier versions of traditional dishes.  They maximize natural ingredients and minimize refined stuff, like sugar.  Here are the recipes by category:

  • Breakfast, 4
  • Drinks, 1 (Green Smoothie)
  • Breads, 4
  • Salads, 5
  • Dips, 2
  • Fish, 2
  • Meat, 3
  • Soups, stews, and legume dishes, 10 (The best value in dining.)
  • Vegetables, 9 (This is the critical issue—eating more vegetables.)
  • Grain, 1 (Skip’s Chicken Rice Pilaf)
  • Casseroles, 3
  • Desserts, 4 (We look for flavors that depend on natural ingredients rather than sugar.)
  • Miscellaneous, 4

Sometimes I’m surprised by how hard it is to improve a recipe, even though it’s based on a traditional food, so I fall behind.  I work hard on this but may need to borrow a few favorite recipes from readers to complete the year.  This week’s recipe goes with Healthy Change 27: Enjoy your candy a piece at a time; never bring a bag or box into the home. 

Bread Pudding

Las Brisas is a popular seaside restaurant in Laguna Beach and they serve a great buffet brunch.  I always finish with their bread pudding, a dish my Mom used to make, which includes a sweet sauce.  I like it but I have to admit it’s pretty sugary.  So my challenge here is a healthy bread pudding—meaning it doesn’t rely on sugar for flavor and has whole ingredients.

Bread pudding is a traditional recipe, so I looked in my Fanny Farmer 1896 Cook Book.  Sure enough Ms Farmer had a recipe and it used only 1/3 cup of sugar, though the Vanilla Sauce added ½ cup. 

To make a bread pudding from natural ingredients instead of refined sugar I included fruit—apples and raisins.  Apples and raisins also go with the spices common to bread puddings—vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  I added walnuts because I'm a Californian; if I lived in Georgia I'd use pecans.

Because bread pudding is custard, it’s sometimes cooked immersed in water to avoid over heating the eggs.  Fanny Farmer used a “slow” oven.  It seemed simpler to follow Ms. Farmer, so I set my oven at 275 F.

The result of my experiments was an easy-to-make healthy pudding. There’s no sugary sauce but I do like it with a little vanilla ice cream, Greek yogurt, cream, or whipped cream.  The beautiful wife liked the result—she prefers it with a dollop of Greek yogurt, seen below—but thought the pudding tasted more like an apple pie, so we called it Apple-Bread Pudding.

Skip’s Apple-Bread Pudding

Ingredients: (Feeds 8)

  • 3-4 slices of whole wheat bread (bread can be stale, but not moldy)
  • 2 apples, peeled and sliced or diced
  • 1 C chopped walnuts
  • 1 C raisins
  • 2 C milk
  • 2+4 T butter
  • 4-6 eggs (for more of a custard texture, increase the eggs)
  • Optional: ½ C brown sugar or turbinado
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 rounded tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp fresh nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt (or less if butter is salted)

Directions:  (Preparation: 30 minutes.  Baking time: 50-60 minutes.)

  1. Turn oven on to 275 F.  Warm milk in a saucepan just enough to melt butter.
  2. Peel apples, remove core, and thinly slice or chop.  In a warm frying pan, sauté apples in 2 T butter about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to soften and caramelize.
  3. While apples are cooking, break bread into crumbs and mix with raisins and nuts in a 2-qt. baking dish.  Stir sautéed apples into baking dish.
  4. Prepare custard mix by melting 3 T butter in warmed milk and beat in eggs, adding optional sugar, and spices. (Note: I forgot to add the sugar once and nobody noticed, though we all had a little Greek yogurt or ice cream with the pudding, so I made the sugar optional.)
  5. Pour custard mix over bread mixture in baking dish; press crumbs down as needed to moisten. 
  6. Bake in a warm oven (275 F), 50-60 minutes, until top layer is nicely done but not dry.

Comments:  Do you have a favorite dessert that isn’t too sweet and uses natural ingredients, like fruit?  Please share it.


Healthy Winter Desserts

The quick answer:  In winter, when you crave an after-dinner sweet, make fruit the first ingredient.


Next Year

We’re most grateful for all that has been accomplished in 2011.  In the next post we’ll discuss our  plans for 2012.  We started our conversation a year ago with three basic premises. 

  1. The modern American diet (MAD) is the primary cause of chronic disease (heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, etc.).
  2. Prevention of chronic disease by dietary reform is better than treatment.
  3. Dietary reform is too big a jump to do all at once, but could be substantially accomplished in a year of 52 weekly steps, called Healthy Changes.  

The three premises rested upon three hypotheses:

  1. Because the science of nutrition is impossibly complex and changes with time, we could balance science with two timeless oracles: food tradition and scripture.  This brings to mind the stability of the three-legged stool.
  2. Using these sources, an ordinary person given sufficient time could better define a healthy diet than any congress of conflicting and conflicted experts. 
  3. Because everyone is different, this diet could be improved though conversation with other concerned people.  Whoever reads this blog and comments, adds to that conversation.

The focus of this blog is prevention.  Only qualified doctors can diagnose illness and prescribe treatment; nothing in this blog should be considered medical advice.

The Sugar Addiction

Americans eat too much sugar, over 100 pounds each year.  So six of the 52 Healthy Changes combined to reduce our sugar intake to below the AHA target of 6 teaspoons daily for women (about 20 lbs./year) and 9 for men.  

Healthy Change #1 targeted the problem of excess sugar intake, by going after sugary drinks:  If you consume sodas or other sugary drinks, limit yourself to one (12 oz.) serving per week. 

Healthy Change #3 talked about breakfast cereals, but actually provided a rule for all processed foods:  Cereal products must be made of whole grains, and have more grams of natural fiber than grams of sugar.

Healthy Change #8 went after the bag of candy in your home:  Buy candy a piece at a time; never bring a box or bag of candy into the home.

Healthy Change #9 applied the “more sugar than fiber” rule to the bakery aisle:  Your daily bread must be whole grain, with more grams of fiber than added sugars.

Healthy Change #31 put the dagger into the diet drinks, which many mistakenly think are healthier than the sugar drinks:  If you consume diet drinks, limit yourself to one (12 oz.) serving per week.

Healthy Change #51 proposed that traditional spices and herbs replace sugar as our most popular flavoring agent.  This is the hallmark of a competent cook—to not rely on sugar to make food taste good.

The Easiest Thing

Did you notice this year how we haven’t had a single post on one of the healthiest food groups—fruit?  There’s a reason.  Fruits are so easy to eat they don’t need an eating rule.  They’re Nature’s candy—fruit is fun to eat so it usually is eaten before it spoils.  Not so with vegetables—if you don’t include them in your menu writing, they’ll go bad sitting in your refrigerator.

People enjoy candy during the Holidays.  Because we expected a lot of company, the beautiful wife bought a box of See’s candy (technically, a violation of Healthy Change #8).  Christmas passed without opening the box.  Later, overwhelmed by the noise of little grandchildren, I proposed a silence contest, with a treat for all who could be still.  Silence by the promise of See’s worked.  Had a few pieces myself.


We crave something sweet after dinner, a little dessert.  Have you noticed this craving more in winter?  I have.  In times past, summer’s fruit was put away for winter use.  Berries were preserved as jam.  Tree fruits were bottled, or dried.  Dried fruits could be used in compotes.  Traditional fruit preservation has declined because fresh fruits are available year around.  This presents an opportunity to reinvent, or at least redisocover fruit-based desserts:

Here are ten winter fruits desserts that can be made with little sugar:

  1. Apple with cheddar cheese—no cooking required.  See this Washington Post article for cheese ideas.
  2. Apple Crisp with granola topping—there are lots of recipes.  I could eat this every week; it’s great with vanilla ice cream, or just cream.
  3. Pear Crisp.  I’m not a big Ina Garten fan, but she does have a recipe that combines pears and apples.
  4. Chocolate dipped fruits—winter strawberries need a little help and what’s better than chocolate?  Here’s Martha’s recipe.
  5. Tropical fruit—if you have a ripe pineapple, combine it with banana and/or coconut.
  6. Baked Apple—here's a recipe for this traditional winter treat.
  7. Poached Pears (photo shown above)—delicious with a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, or lemon sorbet (recipe here).
  8. Banana Nut Bread—good for desserts or snacks.  When bananas get brown spots, simply slip then into the freezer until needed.  Recipes abound but I do a health-up by replacing half the white flour with whole wheat flour, cutting sugar by 1/3 and replacing with brown sugar, substituting butter for less healthy oils, and adding applesauce to reduce the butter.  I also double the walnuts.
  9. Orange slices with warmed raspberries—this recipe is another way to enjoy winter navels.
  10. Dried Fruit Compotes—this recipe can be made from a variety of fruits by simply adding honey and a little vanilla.

Please comment.  Share your favorite healthy fruit desserts and treats.

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.


Sugar: Love Gone Bad

Unless you live in a cave, you know about the diet-related surge in overweight and obesity in America.  What one thing has done the most damage to our diet?  After much pondering, my answer is “sugar”.  Better said, the problem is that sugar is the #1 additive in processed foods.  The experts don’t agree on how much sugar the average American is eating, but a good estimate is 30 teaspoons a day.  You don’t put that much sugar in your food?  You don’t have to; it’s already there.  A large bowl of ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, an 18 oz. soda and candy bar for snacks during the day, and a slice of cake after dinner adds up to 30 tsp of sugar.  And that’s just a fraction of what we eat in a day.  The foods in our diet are ever changing, but sugar is a constant.

My engineering career was in the medical device field.  During those years I gained an appreciation for the limits (and cost) of therapy for the chronic diseases.  I learned one big lesson:  Because these diseases generally aren’t curable, prevention is much better than treatment.  We were always looking for the next new application of technology for treatment.  I was fortunate to be part of a start-up company with a revolutionary treatment for brain aneurysms—for someone with a treatable aneurysm, this was a big deal.  If I were to invest in the next “big thing” today, I would put my money in companies working on diabetes.  

Although overweight and obesity are risk factors for diabertes, no one sets out to get diabetes—the diagnosis usually comes as a surprise.  Like high blood pressure, diabetes is a silent killer; a person is typically diabetic for seven years before the symptoms bring them to a doctor.  Some 24 million Americans are diabetic; six million don’t know they have the disease.  Most people have type 2 diabetes—mainly caused by too much sugar in the diet—which is usually preventable.  (Not so with Type 1, a tragic autoimmune disease typically diagnosed in childhood.) 

Our high sugar intake doesn’t just ruin our figure; it ruins our health.  Sugar is linked to a host of diseases besides diabetes, including atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, some cancers (including breast and prostate cancer), autoimmune diseases like arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease, and so on.  I forgot to mention dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  And the meanest cut of all—accelerated aging. 

Later this week we’ll post a review of the best book about dietary sugar.  There’s also an upcoming post on Word of Wisdom Living as a protection against breast cancer.

Of the 52 Healthy Changes, five address the problem of too much sugar in our diet.   We previously addressed the problem of sugary drinks and candy-like breakfast cereals.  The next biggest source of sugar is candy.  Walk through your grocery store and observe the space dedicated to candy, including the treats conveniently located by the cash register.  Though this candy is sweet, have you noticed that much of it doesn’t even taste good?  We all enjoy an occasional treat; the goal of this change is focused on the word occasional:

This is a change you can live with.  Remember there isn’t a limit on the sugars in fruits and other natural foods, which come with a host of protective nutrients.  And if you’re baking a homemade chocolate cake, feel free to bring a piece by my house. 

There will be two more Healthy Changes about sugar; one will address diet drinks and how they actually cause us to eat more sugar.  The goal of these changes is to bring our intake below the American Heart Association recommendation of 6 teaspoons (25 grams) daily for women, and 9 tsp. (37 grams) for men.  Yes, the guys are allowed a little more; the rule is based on average body weight. 

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.