Friday, January 27, 2006

Sugar Free Friday #15

When Sam from the venerable Becks & Posh announced that this month's Sugar High Friday would be a challenge in making sweets without the calories/fat, I was thrilled. Do you remember the TV commercial for Nutrigrain bars where a woman's butt consisted of two giant cinnamon rolls? Well, that is how I felt after the holidays and I vowed to lose a few pounds...which isn't easy when you're in the food blog universe. However, I knew it had to be done and challenged myself to the South Beach Diet, which I've been on for exactly 4 1/2 days. The first two weeks are the most difficult - no carbs which means no flour, sugar and grains. And let me tell you- I am a bread girl. I went shopping last Sunday and stocked up on various lite cheeses, lean meats, veggies and a few backups like some sugar free Jello cups and South Beach Diet frozen meals in case I got lazy.

The last 4 1/2 days have actually been pretty easy- the key is to make everything yourself. I had one of the frozen meals for lunch but realized that homemade low-carb is SO much better, and you can eat more volume for the same amount of calories as a boxed meal. Mashed cauliflower is a favorite I've been making for awhile now- it honestly fills that need for carbs! I made a big batch of it over the weekend and ate it throughout the week along with some chicken marsala and green beans, baked chicken coated in almond meal/parmesan (instead of bread crumbs) or baked salmon with peppers and onions. All of it was delicious. But a girl can't live without dessert right? Now for the results of the Sugar (not) Free Friday challenge...

Normally, I wouldn't just substitute Splenda or Equal to make a light dessert, but since I am on the low-carb diet I have to stay away from all sources of sugar- including honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, etc. I didn't want my creation to simply taste like an overly-fake-sweet version of the real deal so I was cautious with the amount of Splenda that I used. Using any sort of flour at this stage of the diet is also a no-no so any baked goods were out of the question. I decided to make panna cotta and used low-carb vanilla yogurt, fat free half & half, a few packets (not cups, packets!) of Splenda and half of a vanilla bean. I wasn't sure if the lack of fat content would make it watery. I dissolved the gelatin, combined the ingredients, poured the mixture into ramekins and waited.

The next day I eagerly took one of the ramekins out, unmolded it and topped it with a fruit compote (frozen berries + 1 packet of Splenda) for the photo's sake (I can't have fruit either but hey- what's the harm of one bite?). Took the photos, and then tasted. Wow. I have to say- it was delicious! Creamy and smooth with an undeniable vanilla taste. It was not overly sweet and had a pleasant yogurt undertone. The main thing was the texture- it was so satisfyingly creamy. It reminded me of eating melted ice cream, and at under 80 calories per serving, it was a treat I could live with! The aftertaste of Splenda was faint at best, although I am probably used to it from having in my coffee every morning.

I have to thank Sam for the challenge- it resulted in a light dessert that I actually look forward to making again. I suppose you could use any flavored low-carb yogurt but the vanilla flavor mixed with both vanilla extract and vanilla bean is one of the high points of this dessert.

Note: I was in a bit of a hurry so I didn't cool the fruit compote before putting it on the panna cotta, which resulted in the panna cotta cracking a bit under the heat!

Vanila Bean Yogurt Panna Cotta
(makes 6 servings)

2 TBS water
1 1/2 teaspoons unfavored gelatin
2 cups fat free half & half
1 1/4 cups low-carb or sugar free lite vanilla yogurt (I used Dannon's Lite & Fit)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean
4 packets of Splenda

Pour the water over the gelatin to dissolve (about 12 minutes). In a large bowl mix one cup of the half & half, all of the yogurt and vanilla extract. Scrape the vanilla beans out of the pod and add them to the remaining half & half along with the Splenda and heat mixture in a small saucepan. Pour mixture over the yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Pour into 6, 4 ounce ramekins and refrigirate until set (overnight is best).

To unmold, set each ramekin in a shallow bowl of warm water for a few seconds, place plate over the ramekin and flip over. Top with any fruit compote or preserves you like.

Nutritional info per serving (without fruit):
Calories: 78.8
Fat: 1.25 g
Carbs: 9.2 g

Weight Watchers Points per serving: 1.5


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Nic said...

Neat! The panna cotta looks beautiful. I've used ff half n half before and am always suprised at how well it turns out in things.

Anonymous said...

Hi there - I found you through Nic's Bakingsheet. I, too, lived in Japan for seven years and got tired of living with a kitchen that had one little burner. (And I was an 'expat'...) I also tried the South Beach diet - which I actually enjoyed trying. Your panna cotta looks beautiful, and I'll give it a try soon.

Sam said...

thanks for adding the WW points. The SOuth Beach diet sounds too restrictive to me. Kudos to you for sticking with it.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Tuna Toast,

I've just been reading your musings, mostly because a friend of my sister's said she had seen your blog about wanting my grapefruit tart recipe. I wrote it out for you and posted it in response to your request. Now I see you are making panna cotta, which I make regularly. Your picture looks beautiful, so I thought I'd share a little trick with you for panna cotta. If you stir the warm mixture over an ice bath for a few minutes to cool it before pouring it in the ramekins, the vanilla bean seeds will stay suspended in the (thickened) cream, lending their flavor to the whole body of the custard, and not pile up on the bottom.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Have you been to Table 8? Their desserts are not entirely to my liking, but they did a coconut macaron (as a garnish to a more involved dessert, of course) recently that I'm dying to try myself.

Anne said...

Hi anonymous,

Wow- thanks for writing out the recipe...but I don't see it posted. I would love to get it from you. Can you email it to me at

Thanks for the tip on the panna cotta- I was wondering if the lack of fat made the vanilla sink but now I know why. I will definitely do the ice bath next time.

I have never been to Table 8- I hesitate since I hear really mixed reviews on it. Some people love it and others just hate it.

Thanks again- I'd love to get the tart recipe again if you don't mind. I love all of your pastries and desserts- one of my faves is your brown butter cake w/ carmel ice cream. YUM!!!