Monday, January 21, 2008

A Healthy Breakfast: Gregg Avedon's Apple-Walnut Protein Pancakes

Let me say up front that I hesitated to blog about this recipe because most people are turned off by food that sounds too healthy. Hearing about such recipes makes some people somehow feel inadequate or contrary and causes them to tune out when they should tune in. If that's your reaction, fine. I'm not here trying to force anyone to cut calories or eat more healthully. But these pancakes are healthy, delicious and as easy to make as any other pancake recipe I've seen. And really, my mission as the Ganbaru Cook is simply to blog about what I'm preparing and how I've made others' recipes my own; that's my only agenda I swear!

My partner and I are health conscious about what we eat, though he is certainly more disciplined than I. For years we have worked out together at Results the Gym; taken active vacations cross-country skiing, hiking, and biking; and striven to eat mindfully and healthfully. Yes, I love to cook, but his desire to not eat butter, cream, lard (a minor point of contention on that one, but that is a future post), mayonnaise, etc. moderates what dishes I'll try and how I'll modify certain recipes to make them palatable to him and better for us both. However, I always eat for flavor first and healthfulness second. Everything in moderation, nothing in excess (hopefully)! Brian, however, is the converse: Eating healthfully first and foremost is his philosophy, and it's a bonus when it tastes really good. He is rarely tempted by sumptuous, rich foods--not even my homemade organic ice cream--and almost always makes healthful food choices; he's in fantastic shape so props to him!

Over the years we have both enjoyed reading Men's Health Magazine and I was pleased to receive from the publishers of Men's Health a cookbook by Gregg Avedon, who's been on the cover of the magazine--usually shirtless--twenty times! Gregg writes a cooking and nutrition column for the magazine and has compiled more than 150 recipes into a book, Men's Health Muscle Chow: More Than 150 Meals to Feed Your Muscles and Fuel Your Workouts. It's what you'd expect in a cookbook for guys: simple recipes designed for maximum workout benefits, strategies for simple prep and clean up, and an eating plan to cycle how you eat so that you can lose fat, gain muscle and look your best. Gregg is quite the nutrition and supplement expert. His list of foods to eat for maximum workout benefits is comprehensive and I'm pleased to say that we already eat 90% of what he listed.

Perusing the cookbook flagging recipes as usual and remembering that I've got a container of lowfat ricotta from the farmers market that I need to use, I latched onto the Apple-Walnut Ricotta Protein Pancakes. (Also on the menu this week is a chicken dish by Jamie Oliver that has a ricotta herb mixture stuffed under the skin.) Let me admit upfront that I've had inconsistent results with various pancake recipes. I like them light and fluffy, but have had them at various times dense, undercooked, or flat. I have no doubt these shortcomings are in my method, not the recipes themselves in most cases. When we lived in Japan, a friend used to make pancakes for himself and his wife every day for breakfast! Needless to say his pancakes were perfection. He even used orange juice as the liquid instead of milk, and when he last visited he made us the pancakes and wrote down the recipe. But mine have never achieved his level of greatness. When entertaining for breakfast, he would make a stack of 8 inch pancakes, buttering each layer and then serve them like a gateau of crepes, that is, sliced like a cake into wedges. What a happy memory!

So I latched onto the Apple Walnut Protein Ricotta Pancakes (hereafter ricotta pancakes) knowing I had all the ingredients on hand. Of course I first had to consult other sources for ricotta pancakes and found one by Giada De Laurentiis and another by Tyler Florence. Giada's is basically her riff on dressing up pancakes using a pancake mix as the base. Tyler's starts off with roasting the apples for 45 minutes and whisking egg whites to stiff peaks, which is too involved considering I was making breakfast and wanted to eat ASAP. The odd thing about Gregg's ricotta pancake recipe in the book is that it has apple in the title, but no apple in the ingredients. I couldn't find online any published errata for the book, but I found a similar recipe on the Men's Health website, linked to above. That version uses apple-flavored whey protein powder where the book specifies vanilla protein powder. And here I was expecting to add chopped or grated apple! Because I was determined to have apple in my pancakes, I decided to dice and saute a fuji apple for a few minutes in vegetable oil (yes I was tempted to use butter, but managed to forbear!). The diced apple could have been added to the batter, but I just added a couple of tablespoonfuls to each pancake as soon as I poured the batter. Any leftover apple I just added to my maple syrup.

Because the online version is different enough from the one in the book, I basically used Gregg's recipe as an inspiration for my own adaptation below. Gregg's recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour, another uncommon household ingredient, unless you do a lot of baking with an eye toward healthful baked goods--like the Food Network's Ellie Krieger who makes some delicious triple chocolate chip cookies with whole wheat pastry flour. I had on hand Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain Pancake and Waffle Mix (which contains whole wheat pastry flour actually) that I used, but any pancake mix would do just as well. Keep in mind that pancake mix has leavening (baking powder and/or baking soda) in it already, so adding more leavening will almost guarantee light, fluffy pancakes.

Unless you're into weight training, you probably won't have whey protein powder on hand either though it is sold at Whole Paycheck. One scoop of the GNC brand of vanilla whey powder we favor is about 1/3 cup, so you could just use that much additional pancake mix in its place. A few tablespoons of wheat germ plus additional pancake mix to equal 1/3 cup might also do the trick, but I haven't tried that myself.

Normally I would not specify brands or lowfat or nonfat, which you can of course subsitute for nonfat or full fat. But this time I wanted to show the nutritional breakdown for 1 pancake, so I had to be specific about the ingredients I used, which I plugged into to determine the nutrient breakdown.

Apple and Walnut Protein Ricotta Pancakes
Adapted from Men's Health Muscle Chow by Gregg Avedon
Makes 6 super healthy 5 inch pancakes

vegetable oil, a tablespoon or two as needed
1 medium apple such as golden delicious, granny smith, or fuji, peeled, cored and diced

Dry ingredients:
1/4 cup Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain pancake & waffle mix
1 scoop GNC vanilla whey protein powder
1/2 cup plain instant oatmeal
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Wet ingredients:
1/3 cup part skim ricotta cheese
3 large egg whites (I saved the yolks to make blood orange ice cream)
1/3 to 1/2 cup of lowfat buttermilk

Butter, optional
Maple syrup, optional
  1. Pre-cook the apples. In a small frying pan, heat about of teaspoon of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the diced apple, stir to coat with the oil and saute for about five minutes to soften and lightly brown the apple. It's important that you use an apple for cooking as some varieties for eating turn to mush when cooked. Not a disaster but I'm going for having a chunk of apple in every bite of pancake.
  2. Make the pancake batter. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and use a whisk to combine. Combine the wet ingredients in another bowl (use 1/3 cup of buttermilk to start) and whisk to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix just until combined. The batter can be slightly lumpy. If the batter is too thick add more buttermilk as necessary (I needed half a cup), but the batter should not be too thin either or the pancakes will spread too much when the batter is added to your skillet and you could end up with one huge pancake instead of two or three smaller ones.
  3. Prepare to make your pancakes. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees to keep the cooked pancakes warm as you prepare the rest. Heat your largest nonstick skillet over medium heat and add about a half teaspoon of oil. Use a paper towel to spread the oil around the pan and remove any excess. Repeat between each batch of pancakes to spread the oil and remove any pancake crumbs. Reduce heat to medium-low.
  4. Make your pancakes. Use a 1/3 cup measure to spoon the batter into your skillet. Place a couple of tablespoons of apple chunks onto the uncooked side of your pancakes. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on the first side until golden brown on the bottom and carefully flip to cook for 2 to 3 minutes more on the second side. Place the cooked pancakes on an oven proof plate and keep in the oven while you cook the rest of your cakes.
  5. Serve them up! Garnish the pancake stacks with any leftover apple and serve.

I will say that these pancakes are sweet enough without any added sugar in the batter, but who the hell eats pancakes without syrup (or butter either)? Gregg Avedon apparently, but he doesn't eat these cakes with eggs and bacon on the side as a Sunday breakfast with the family. They're more like a quick post workout meal as he makes them before hitting the gym. So in the nutritional analysis below I did not include butter or syrup. How much you use or whether you use those at all is entirely up to you. Just know that 1 tablespoon of real maple syrup (the only kind worth eating) has 52 calories (13.4 grams of carbs) and one pat of butter has 36 calories (4.1 grams of fat). I probably used 3 tablespoons of syrup and one pat of butter on mine.

Per pancake (I ate three but two would have sufficed; we also had two scramble eggs, two slices of turkey bacon, and a half grapefruit):

Calories: 141; Fat: 6 grams (36% of calories); Saturated fat: 1 gram; Carbohydrates: 14 grams (36% of calories); Fiber: 2 grams; Protein: 10 grams (28% of calories); Sodium: 231 mg

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