|Susan Woodard rattles off her three rules for choosing a new recipe worth making. But then she thinks for a minute, smiles, and adds another.
Susan Woodard's caramel cheesecak. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
"If it's a dessert, I have a fourth rule: it has to have chocolate."
Her Caramel Cheesecake with Fudge Sauce and Peanuts, a top winner in the 2008 Culinary Expo at the Woodland Mall earlier this month, fills the bill in all four ways.
Woodard was drawn to the expo's Extension-sponsored "healthy baking" contest from the minute she read about it in the Sentinel-Tribune.
"I've been doing low-fat cooking for 30 years," she thought to herself. "This is my thing!"
She was so enthusiastic she entered one category, then a second, and finally sent in a third recipe. Her cheesecake ended up taking first place in the single-crust pies, her 30-year-old recipe for Boston Brown Bread was the quickbread category winner, and her meringue-based Brownie Pie took third place.
Clearly, Woodard is not the anemic, brean sprouts and bran type of "healthy cook."
"My first step is to find a recipe that looks really delicious. I don't want people to say 'ooh, looks healthy,' but 'ooh, looks good!'
"Second, it must be easy to make.
"Third, I've always looked for recipes with common, easy-to-find ingredients that are inexpensive."
To create her masterpiece, Woodard started by looking through her collection of regular cheesecake recipes. Her healthy cheesecake knowledge comes from trial and error. "Once, I put fat-free cream cheese in a cheesecake. It was a flop. But this one calls for reduced-fat" and has a wonderful, creamy consistency and taste. "And you can almost always substitute cottage cheese for the sour cream."
Woodard has discovered "there's some places where you have to have fat. So you just use it judiciously." A graham cracker crust, for example, "is too soggy without the canola oil." And, canola is a good bet, of course, because it is the most healthy of all baking oils.
She admits she added the fudge sauce to the cheesecake in deference to Rule Number 4!
But even it was healthy. "I used the skimmed evaporated milk, so I didn't need any fat for that.
"I put the peanuts on top and people think, 'ooh, peanuts, they're loaded with fat!' But I used just a handful; a hint of decadence. You feel it's sort of decadent, but it's not, really!"
Woodard and her husband, Rick Worch, just moved to Bowling Green a year and a half ago when he took a job at Bowling Green State University.
A native of Valparaiso, Ind., Woodard met her future spouse while both were students at Indiana University in Bloomington back in the 1970s "and we really wanted to move back to a university town. We just like the diversity of ideas, cultural diversity, and we have a 5-year-old daughter, and we wanted her to grow up in this kind of an environment."
Back at IU, Woodard obtained degrees in folklore and fine arts, and worked as an academic advisor. Then the couple moved to Michigan.
"I was managing an art gallery until we adopted Emily" when she was just 4 days old.
"Now that we're here (in BG) I'm getting back in the art business," said Woodard, who holds the volunteer position of executive director of the Arts in Common Gallery, in the former South Main School.
Woodard also has a home business. She sews Medieval clothing and sells the apparel at Renaissance fairs. Her costumes, for both sexes, focus on the 12th to 15th centuries and are noted for their historical authenticity.
She became a vegetarian way back in the '60s, as a teen, "first for more philosophical reasons. That was my first introduction to playing with recipes" as she experimented with healthy modification and food preparation techniques.
Now she shares what she's learned with her daughter.
"She's starting to enjoy cooking with me. We make a lot of bread because she likes to 'pound the bread,'" Emily's term for "kneading."
1 teaspoon cocoa
1/2 cup low-fat graham cracker crumbs (about 4 whole crackers)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2- 8oz. packages Neufchatel (1/3 less fat) cream cheese
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup Egg Beaters substitute
1/4 cup evaporated skim milk
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon chopped peanuts
Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray 9-inch pan with cooking spray. Mix crust ingredients in small bowl and press into bottom of pie pan.
In food processor, process cottage cheese until smooth. Add cream cheese, brown sugar, water and vanilla and process until blended and smooth. Add flour and process, scraping sides of processor if necessary. Add egg substitute and process just until blended. Pour into pie pan and bake for 40 minutes. Turn oven off and leave cheesecake in oven for additional 25 minutes. Remove from oven.
While pie is baking, in small saucepan, combine sauce ingredients. Over very low heat, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Set aside. As soon as pie comes out of oven, drizzle with fudge sauce and sprinkle with peanuts. (If fudge has thickened too much to drizzle, warm it in microwave for a few seconds.) Cool thoroughly and store in refrigerator.
Makes 12 servings.
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