Most people would like to enjoy dessert without the guilt of consuming lots of fat and sugar. That’s why chef Marisa Churchill’s new cookbook, Sweet & Skinny: 100 Recipes for Enjoying Life’s Sweeter Site Without Tipping the Scale, is sure to have wide appeal. You may know Marisa from season two of Top Chef, in which her low-fat chocolate cake was a big hit. Last week, I caught up with Marisa to talk about Sweet & Skinny, and to try some of her low-cal creations.
In addition to baking tips and calorie-cutting suggestions at the beginning of the book, Sweet & Skinny features five chapters of desserts: Desserts In A Hurry, Sweet Treats, Sinner Party Showstoppers, Holiday Favorites and American Classics. “I knew that in Sweet & Skinny I wanted to have American classics, because we all love things like chocolate chip cookies and whoopie pies,” said Marisa of choosing recipes to include. She started by picking the desserts she loves to eat. “I hate when you see these low-fat dessert books and they’re full of fruit desserts or meringues. That’s fine, but who wants to eat meringue all the time? You want to have variety.”
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Marisa’s Greek heritage also turns up in some of the recipes. “One of my favorite Greek recipes that’s in the book are the Kourabiedes, which are in the Sweet Treats chapter,” she said. “Those yummy, buttery cookies with powered sugar on top, not exactly low cal! That was one of the hardest recipes to make reduced-fat.” She explains that she started with her grandmother’s traditional recipe, one that had been described by the King of Greece as “the best he had ever tasted.” Marisa let her grandmother be the judge of whether reduced-calorie Kourabiedes could be included in the book. “When she tasted the finial batch, she actually said to me, ‘Are you sure this is not my recipe?’ That’s when I knew I had gotten it right.”
Unlike many of the packaged “diet” desserts that are commercially available, Marisa’s treats are free from artificial sweeteners or other highly-processed ingredients. She said her main focus was cutting calories “in a really natural way.”
Marisa uses simple substitutions to reduce fat and calories. “I started at first with some really obvious changes, like using egg whites or egg substitute for whole eggs,” she explained. “Then from there I started to get a little more innovative. A lot of the recipes in the book use browned butter, which has a much stronger flavor, so it allows me to cut the butter down by half in a recipe.” Another one of her calorie-saving substitutes is to use low-fat cream cheese instead of butter.
Many of the recipes also give you the option of being made sugar-free. To keep the desserts natural, Marisa uses Truvia, a sweetener derived from the stevia plant. A small panel on the side of the recipe will tell you how much Truvia to use in place of sugar, because it’s not a one-to-one swap. “It definitely bakes differently,” said Marisa. “if you are not familiar with using the product, I suggest that you follow a recipe.”
Marisa demonstrated her PB&J cookies and papaya mint popsicles (see video links below). The cookies, a twist on the classic peanut butter cookie proved to be moist and rich, while the popsicles were so good I was convinced to go buy myself a set of popsicle molds.
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