Oat+Ricotta Pancakes with Lemon and Blueberries

Next Monday will mark six weeks since my surgery. I feel fully recovered from the procedure itself so in that regard, I feel "normal" - but everything else about me has changed.

In the past two weeks I've progressed from pureeing everything in site to soft foods and lean proteins. I've graduated now to about 2.5-3 oz of protein plus about 1/3 of a cup of cooked vegetables, fruits, or complex carbohydrates per meal. While I've gotten the hang of "eyeballing" portions (4 oz of protein is about the size of a deck of cards, or your hand curled into a fist ) and I've memorized how much protein is in different foods, there is this new mindfulness that occurs every single time I sit down to a meal.

It sounds crazy, that a person could be full after eating that tiny an amount of food per meal, but that's what's happening with my new tiny tummy these days and it's delightful. Naturally I am hungry when it's time to eat, and my eyes are STILL way bigger than my tummy - I tell myself there's no way I'll be satisfied with that little bowl or plate of food. But I am. And it's delightful.

“What I hate is the new-age voodoo about eating, the notion that foods are either harmful or healing, that a good diet makes a good person and that that person is necessarily lean, limber, toned and fit ... Such a view to me seems in danger of fusing Nazism (with it’s ideological cult of physical perfection) and Puritanism (with its horror of the flesh and belief in salvation through denial).”
— Nigella Lawson, in How to Eat

A key component to eating well and making sure you're getting your daily requirements after bariatric surgery is to a) eat slowly, and b) chew your food twice as much as you think you should. And because I'm still a couple more weeks away from being able to eat a full 4 oz portion of anything, I'm extremely mindful of making sure what I am eating is both good, and good for me.

Mindfullness. Not just in eating, but in cooking as well.

I recently enjoyed reading Nigella Lawson's newest cookbook, Simply Nigella. I have always loved Nigella - I could quite literally watch her cook all day long. Her soothing voice, the way she looks at the camera knowingly, her late-night hikes to the fridge for leftovers - she is a true, kindred spirit. Nigella's unapologetic opinion about food is a breath of fresh air compared to the ever-changing and often contradictory "health" trends we encounter today.

In her previous book, How to Eat, she wrote: "What I hate is the new-age voodoo about eating, the notion that foods are either harmful or healing, that a good diet makes a good person and that that person is necessarily lean, limber, toned and fit ... Such a view to me seems in danger of fusing Nazism (with it's ideological cult of physical perfection) and Puritanism (with its horror of the flesh and belief in salvation through denial)."

Well, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!

I feel that anyone and everyone - not just people who are trying to lose weight, or maintain their weight - can benefit from mindful eating. I believe more than anything, that the culmination of this journey I began six short weeks ago is just that. Not obsessing about calories, not restricting myself from flavor, not eliminating entire food groups based on what I heard on MSNBC ... but being mindful about what I'm cooking, what I'm eating, and letting that nurture me.

Nigella sums up her introduction to the new cookbook thusly: "Food is not dirty, the pleasures of the flesh are essential to life and, however we eat, we are not guaranteed immortality or immunity from loss. We cannot control life by controlling what we eat. But how we cook, and indeed, how we eat does give us - as much as anything can - mastery over ourselves."

The recipe I'm sharing today is not from Nigella's new book (I'm still breaking it in), but I encourage you to pick it up. The meals are simple and elegant and so very satisfying. That pretty much sums up Nigella to me!

Today's post features a two-part recipe. Part one is the fresh ricotta I can't stop making (part two is the oat-ricotta pancakes). I'm a huge fan of homemade ricotta - it's so simple to make and tastes a million times better than store-bought (unless you're Airbnb-ing it in Italy), and I've made it mostly with simply a gallon of whole milk + lemon juice as the acid factor to get my curds to form. There are a lot of great recipes out there, but then one morning I was watching "Alex's Day Off" and perked up when Alex Guarnaschelli mentioned quite casually she'd be making her ricotta with whole milk, buttermilk, and a bit of cream.

There are some things, some people you just don't question - like Iron Chef and Food Network queen Alex Guarnaschelli. I made her ricotta and I will never be the same again. I'm not sure I can ever make it any other way. The buttermilk provides a mellow tang I love (and replaces the lemon juice, vinegar, or rennet in the recipe) and the touch of cream makes this ricotta lubricious. Here is her simple recipe:

Ingredients:

1 cup heavy cream

3 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

In a medium pot, bring the cream, milk, and buttermilk to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Simmer gently for a few minutes until the milk solids rise to the surface and form what looks like a raft. Shut off the heat and allow the milk to rest and cool gently on the stove, 15 to 20 minutes.

Line a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth. Use a large spoon to scoop the solids from the surface into the strainer. Pour the liquid gently over the solids in the strainer, allowing the liquid to flow through the strainer and trapping the solids in the cheesecloth. The liquid is the whey and can be used to thicken soups or as a substitute for water in bread dough, among other things. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow all of the liquid to drain out and the ricotta to firm up slightly. Use the ricotta as desired.

*Recipe copyright, Alex Guarnaschelli

I used half of this ricotta stuffed into large pasta shells, then covered them with tomato sauce and mozarella - delish. The rest of the ricotta I used in this tummy-friendly, gluten-free Oat and Ricotta Pancake recipe with lemon and blueberries.

These pancakes are satisfying in that they are both good (tasting) and good for you (complex carbohydrates + protein rich). This recipe was included provided to me by my nutritionist. The original recipe calls for cottage cheese, which you can use in place of the ricotta (I just had fresh ricotta on hand), but be sure to use whole rolled oats, not the instant kind. The purpose and goal of these pancakes is to use a complex carb like rolled oats rather than a processed grain like flour. Complex carbs will keep your blood sugar on a more even keel and will eliminate those spikes and low valleys that leave us hungry and tired between meals.

I like to add lemon zest and fresh blueberries to my pancakes, but you can leave those out and instead add a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg and/or cinnamon. One last note - the original recipe calls for ALL egg whites which I do recommend because that's what gives your cakes volume. You'll notice from my pics that there's one lone egg yolk in my blender - I just really needed to use up that last egg. 

Oat-Ricotta Pancakes with Lemon and Blueberries

Makes about 6 small pancakes - 6g protein each

Ingredients

4ounces (1/2 cup) cottage cheese or ricotta
6 large egg whites
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
fresh blueberries

  1. Add cottage cheese/ricotta, egg whites, rolled oats, vanilla, and baking powder to a blender and blend all ingredients together. Stir in lemon zest and blueberries (if using).
  2. Heat a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat. You can use whatever type of cooking oil you'd like here; cooking spray, a drop of vegetable oil, or be super nice to yourself and use a bit of real butter.
  3. Ladle about 1/4-1/3 cup of the batter into the skillet - mine only held two pancakes, just don't crowd them. When bubbles start to form on the tops of the pancakes, gently give them a flip and cook for another minute or so on the second side.
  4. Serve with more fresh blueberries, a dusting of powdered sugar, or some real maple syrup.
  5. Tell everyone in the kitchen how much you love them.