Archive of ‘Holiday and Seasonal’ category

Healthier Magic Cookie Bars (Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free)

Seven Layer Bars a.k.a Magic Cookie Bars, are my absolute favorite holiday treats. The combination of rich chocolate chips, toasted coconut, and the sticky sweetness of condensed milk all coalesce into an incredibly addictive bar cookie. My take on Seven (Six?) Layer Bars is sugar-free, gluten-free, and low carb. It’s a good thing they freeze well ’cause the batch I made today was just too tempting, sitting around on the counter top lookin’ all delicious and gooey!

Healthier Magic Cookie Bars (Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free)

You’ll need to make a homemade sugar-free caramel sauce to replace that Eagle Brand Condensed Milk that holds these bars together. With a touch of real honey, the sauce is smooth, creamy, and perfect for any dessert that calls for a drizzle of caramel. It doesn’t keep well, so you should prepare and use it immediately. Fortunately, it takes minutes to make.

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Twelve Days of Baking: Honey Nut Cookies and How To Make Almond Flour

This is my submission to Kimi’s Nourishing Sweets and Treats event at her wonderful blog, The Nourishing Gourmet.

Honey Nut Cookies (Low Carb, Paleo)

Exams are over and I’m back in Florida, where the mood is festive despite the 80 degree beach weather. I’ve planned a bit of Christmas baking for you guys, so stay tuned! In addition to attempting to make over classic holiday treats like chocolates and gingerbread cookies, I’ll be mixing it up with a few original healthful creations that will hopefully tantalize your tastebuds just as much as familiar favorites. Once you get the hang of working with almond flour and alternative sweeteners, non-traditional baking gets a lot easier. Make these upcoming weeks, filled with office parties and decadent meals, nourishing for your soul and your body, with good friends and healthful food.

This first recipe calls for a bit of honey as a sweetener, which works so well with stevia to achieve the perfect flavor in these gluten-free, low carb Honey Nut Cookies. These cookies are also, incidentally, egg-free! I’m still waiting for my erythritol to get here, and thought it would be good to share some recipes that don’t involve it. Erythritol is all natural and delicious, but it is so expensive that in these hard times, it’s nice to have a more reasonably priced healthy option. If I am using honey, I make sure to use as little as is necessary to sweeten adequately, and just count the carbs. If you’re worried about the fructose content, just know that per serving, you’re probably not ingesting enough to worry about. I feel much safer using a bit of honey and blackstrap molasses here and there than artificial sweeteners. It’s a personal decision!

In the pioneering footsteps (hah!) of Ree Drummond, I’m doing a step-by-step photo spread for making these cookies. They are so simple that this tutorial really isn’t necessary, but my sister and I had fun killing time this first afternoon back home, bumming around the house for the holidays!

Let’s make some cookies, shall we?

First things first: We need to make almond flour, the star ingredient in a low carb healthy baking arsenal. It’s so flippin’ easy.

Tutorial: How To Make Homemade Almond Flour

Step One: Add sliced, blanched almonds to food processor. Refrigerate or freeze the nuts beforehand for the best results.
Sliced almonds in food processor

Sliced almonds in food processor

Step Two: Whizz ’em up for a minute or two until finely ground.
Homemade almond flour

Homemade almond flour
Homemade almond flour

Pecans!
Chopped pecans

NuNaturals stevia
Nunaturals stevia!

Cookie dough!
Cookie dough

Scooping cookies

Cookie dough, patted and poked into cute rounds
Flattened cookie dough

Chewy Honey Nut Cookies

Chewy Honey Nut Cookies

Makes eight to twelve cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup blanched almond flour
2 tablespoons organic unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey (raw, if you can get it)
4 packets or 1/4 teaspoon good-tasting pure stevia extract
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1/16 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 275 (yes, 275) degrees Fahrenheit.

Chop pecans, and toast them for 12 minutes. Melt butter. Stir together all ingredients except almond flour and pecans. Mix in almond flour until a smooth dough forms, then fold in nuts until dispersed throughout dough. Shape into flat cookie rounds on parchment paper. Bake for 12-18 minutes, or until slightly browned around the edges. Let cookies cool and harden for a full 10 minutes before removing from parchment.

~6g net carbs per 1/8 of a recipe, 4.5g net carbs per 1/10th, and 3.5g net carbs per 1/12th

Holiday Indulgences: Sugar-Free Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake

healthy-indulgences-sugar-free-low-carb-paula-deen-gooey-butter-cake-thanksgiving
Pumpkin. Gooey. Butter. Cake.

If you’ve heard of Paula Deen, you know what this awe-inspiring seasonal dessert creation is. Or more importantly, how it tastes. When I made this for my family as a freshman in high school, a new holiday tradition was born. We couldn’t stop eating it, and somehow a day after Thanksgiving there was nary a crumb in the pan of leftovers.

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Holiday Indulgences: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Healthy-Pumpkin-Chip-Cookies

Thanksgiving and holiday baking are on the horizon. My upcoming recipes will be incorporating my absolute favorite seasonal ingredient: pumpkin! Yes, it’s everywhere right now on the food blogs, but for good reason. Pumpkin embodies the taste of fall, with its smoky warmth, mirroring the auburn spectrum painting the leaves. It lends vibrant color and an air of comfort food to every dish it touches. Not to mention the health benefits! It’s low in carbs and packed with beta carotene. You may associate it with just desserts, but it pairs beautifully with caramelized onions and black pepper, making a mean dish of breakfast faux-tatoes (more on those later!).

Due to limited access to a real grocery store and fancy ingredients this semester, I am paring down my cooking arsenal and sticking to what I can find on campus. A bit of honey can do wonderful things for low carb gluten-free cookies. It acts as a binder, and complements stevia’s sweetness–a little bit of honey goes a long way. Yes, it is real sugar, but it is not heat processed, and low enough in carbs distributed throughout the whole recipe. As long as I count the carbs (6 grams per teaspoon), I am fine with honey and experience no cravings or portion control issues. Your tolerance may vary, of course!

One question I have received multiple times is why I don’t use agave nectar. I am certainly no expert, but it doesn’t seem like any food that has been boiled down for hours to concentrate its sugar can be considered healthful. There is no such thing as “raw” agave nectar, since you can’t use the sap straight from the plant. A second strike against it is that it contains a disproportionately high concentration of fructose, which causes a whole host of problems for the human body as documented in Good Calories, Bad Calories. Taubes sums up the research on fructose in an eye-opening chapter that will scare you silly of this “low glycemic” sweetener. Let’s have a look at the break down of components in natural sweeteners:

Raw honey:
38.5% fructose
31% glucose
12.9% maltose

Agave nectar:
90% fructose
10% glucose

I’ll be sticking to raw honey when I need a little of the properties that real sugar affords. Count the carbs for your daily total and be on your merry way. A bit of real sugar is not inherently evil for healthy individuals, when used responsibly.

Enough chatter… let’s talk cookies! These are not your momma’s pumpkin cookies. They are dense and moist, but NOT cakey! These are just sweet enough with a bit of rich chocolate in every bite, which nicely complements the spicy undertones. And the best part? They’re miraculously gluten-free (of course), dairy-free and egg-free. That means almost vegan, but I’ve heard that vegans care about bee welfare, too. Bless them!

What did I do for the chocolate chips? I’ll admit to being lazy and just breaking up a 70% Lindt bar, but if you are watching your carbs more closely you can use my homemade erythritol-sweetened chips. You could just use a chopped up 85% cocao Lindt bar if you can handle that intense chocolate flavor.
Low-Carb-Pumpkin-Chip-Cookies

Healthy-Pumpkin-Chip-Cookies

Pumpkin Chip Cookies (Dairy-Free, Egg-Free)

Yields sixteen cookies

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated shortening (I use Spectrum organic)
2 tablespoons raw honey
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 cup almond flour
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut, pulsed into a meal
1/4 teaspoon good-tasting pure stevia extract
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg
3 squares Lindt 70% chocolate, broken into chunks
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Pulse coconut until it forms a coarse flour (using flat blade in Magic Bullet). Level off 1/4 cup. Pulse chopped almonds into a meal if you don’t have pre-ground almond flour. Break chocolate into chunks with your fingers. Melt shortening. Whisk in honey, pumpkin puree, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in dry ingredients, excluding chocolate, until dough forms a smooth paste. Mix in chocolate chunks. Dollop with a tablespoon onto greased aluminum foil or parchment paper, spreading and patting into flat cookie shapes (these don’t spread). Bake for 15 minutes, then move cookie sheet to top oven rack and bake for 5 more minutes. Let cool completely on cookie sheet. Store in plastic baggies lined with paper towels.

~3.5g net carbs per cookie

Sugar-Free-Pumpkin-Chip-Cookies

Preview:

Chocolate Pie w/Peanut Butter Cookie Crust (Dairy-Free)
Sugar-Free-Chocolate-Peanut-Butter-Pie

What are you cooking up for the holidays? Leave a comment and share!

Dairy-Free Indulgences: Decadent Low-Carb Hot Chocolate

UPDATE: Kimi over at The Nourishing Gourmet blog recently put up a very informative post regarding the best type of coconut milk. Check it out!

Healthy Hot Chocolate

Now that it’s cooling down, I like to warm up with my sweet treats. There’s nothing like a big frothy mug of hot cocoa to relax all of the tension in those cold muscles. Apart from satisfying your sweet tooth, hot chocolate can actually do your body good… if prepared with wholesome ingredients! Studies show that cocoa and dark chocolate may even improve insulin sensitivity and reduce heart disease risk. Check out these journal articles regarding the health effects of cocoa if you’re feeling nerdy:

~Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a
significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood
pressure in healthy persons

~Effects of cocoa powder and dark chocolate on LDL oxidative susceptibility and prostaglandin concentrations in humans
~Flavonoid-Rich Dark Chocolate Improves Endothelial Function and Increases Plasma Epicatechin Concentrations in Healthy Adults
~Effect of Dark Chocolate on Arterial Function in Healthy Individuals

Coconut milk, the creamy base for my cocoa, is also packed with good stuff–lauric acid and medium chain triglycerides, which raise HDL cholesterol and are less likely to be stored as body fat! It’s a much better option than soy milk, which is often genetically modified and contains phytates.

To make this dairy-free hot chocolate every bit as creamy as the dairy-filled version, I add melted dark chocolate, full fat coconut milk, and a whole fresh egg in addition to the cocoa powder. This makes for a very filling, nutrient-packed drink! You can use any 85% cacao content chocolate you prefer. Lindt 85% is widely available, reasonably priced, and delicious. This luscious drink is almost like a pourable chocolate custard. You can sweeten it with any combination of sugar-free sweeteners you like. Just remember that using multiple sweeteners is key to making sugarless chocolate treats taste yummy.

Yes, you read that right–this drink calls for a raw egg. The risk of contracting salmonella from conventional eggs is exceptionally low. For organic eggs, which come from healthy hens, the risk is close to zero. I have been consuming one to two raw eggs per day in smoothies for over a year, because the nutrients in the yolk are best preserved in raw form. If you’re still squeamish, go hunt down some pasteurized shell eggs, which are available in many supermarkets. As for the taste, raw eggs make smoothies and shakes unbelievably creamy and frothy. Try it and you won’t go back to egg-less smoothies!

If you’re wary about the coconut milk tasting strange in hot chocolate, fear not. The flavor of coconut milk is so subtle that it is not noticeable in most recipes. I promise you it does not distract one bit from the rich chocolate taste. If you like, you can add flavor extracts to keep your cocoa interesting. Use whatever strikes your fancy! I’ve been adding mint flavor extract to my mug lately, making a liquified Thin Mint type drink. You don’t miss those transfat-laden cookies at all when you’re sippin’ on this mug of heaven.

I like to eat the frothy cap with a spoon first.
sugar-free-hot-cocoa


Dairy-Free Hot Chocolate

Serves 1

Ingredients:
2 squares (.7 ounces) 85% cacao content chocolate
2 teaspoons good tasting cocoa powder
4 ounces of coconut milk
2-3 ounces piping hot water
Combination of sugar-free sweeteners, to taste
-1 tablespoon erythritol
-Pinch of NuNaturals Pure Stevia Extract

Splash of pure vanilla extract
1 fresh organic egg (optional)

Preparation:
Break up chocolate squares with your fingers, or chop into chunks. Add cocoa powder and pour in coconut milk. Microwave for 30-50 seconds, and stir coconut milk and chocolate together until chocolate has melted completely. Whisk egg lightly in a separate bowl. Transfer chocolate mixture to a blender. Add flavor extracts and sweeteners, and blend the mixture at low speed. With the blender running, add beaten egg and then piping hot water. Taste, and add more sweeteners or extract if necessary. Serve immediately–do not reheat.

~7-8 grams net carbs per mug

All gone!
low-carb-hot-chocolate

Fourth of July Fun: Gluten-Free Low Carb Chocolate Cupcakes

I was in a celebratory kind of mood after class today, so I whipped up something indulgent for Independence Day!

We had been discussing fourth of July plans in my lab group, and I was thinking about what kind of dishes we’d have at the table this year. This time last year, I wouldn’t have given the issue a second thought. I wasn’t a reformed carboholic at that time. Thinking back, I’m having visions of potato salad and oh, those Lofthouse cookies. Now the thought of how sickly sweet those bland disks of white flour and sugar were is making my mouth pucker.

It’s funny how much your taste buds change after giving up processed food. After taste-testing the fruit puree for this dish, I had to gulp down my sparkling water because of the sweet taste coating my tongue. Even natural sugars are sometimes too intense for this steak salad lovin’ palate. Methinks this is a good thing, if considerably less exciting in how it limits my exploration of the bounty that processed food companies have to offer. No cute snacks to nosh on, exempting what I cook up myself, which basically entails cheese sticks and zucchini slices with salsa. Too lazy to put effort into snack food. It’s hard enough finding time to makeover the good stuff, the piece de resistance of the meal, the apex of the dining experience… dessert!

Bring these festive sugar- and gluten-free chocolate cupcakes to your fourth of July picnic, and be good to your friends and family. Or just save yourself the expense (Let’s be real–the weird natural ingredients add up!) and partake in one of these rich, dark chocolate treats before you’re surrounded by Ruffle chips, baked beans, and American flag sheet cake. One you’ve had your sweet fix, you can thoroughly enjoy your bunless burger and first and foremost, the good company. That’s what living well is all about, huh? It’s not having to worry about feeling uncomfortable from what simply fuels our bodies.

Witness explosions of tangy berry goodness.


Fudgey Firework Cupcakes

adapted from this recipe by Linda Sue

Yields 16 cupcakes

Ingredients:
1/2 cup organic butter
4 oz cream cheese
1 cup sweetener equivalent
For ALL NATURAL sugar-free sweetening, use all three of the following:
-1/2 cup erythritol or xylitol
-1/4-1/2 teaspoon pure stevia extract
5 organic eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups plus two tablespoons nut meal (almond, pecan, etc.)
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan or guar gum (optional, to reduce crumbliness)
1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
4 squares 85% cacao chocolate (Ghirardelli Midnight Reverie is my new favorite)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Soften butter and cream cheese in the microwave in 10 second intervals. Cream butter and cream cheese along with sweeteners until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat to incorporate. Add eggs one at a time, beating continuously. Stir together nut flour, baking powder, sea salt, gum, and cocoa powder. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in 2 steps, incorporating thoroughly after each time. Finally, beat in melted chocolate (use microwave and 15 second intervals). Grease muffin tins or silicone cups with non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening or butter. Mound batter just up to the tops of the tins, because it will rise and settle back down to the original level. Bake for 20 minutes, and remove cupcakes from the pan in their liners as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Let cupcakes cool individually on a wire rack for 20 minutes and store in an airtight container just as the cupcakes are lukewarm to the touch. You want to keep them moist, as erythritol doesn’t hold water in the baked good like sugar does. If you refrigerate the cupcakes, warm ’em up in the microwave for 10 seconds or so to get them soft again. Best consumed fresh, like anything made with all natural ingredients!

Tips:
~I used pecan meal because it’s more reasonably priced, but almond meal or any other finely ground nut would work just as well.
~Use Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa to give your cupcakes that super chocolatey taste you remember from when you were a kid!
~Use 1/2 teaspoon stevia if you want them to be as sweet as traditional chocolate cupcakes. I don’t like anything that sweet any more and use 1/4 teaspoon stevia.
~Remember to look for SUGAR-FREE vanilla extract! Many products have added sugar.

I used my Healthy Cream Cheese Frosting recipe with pure raspberry and blueberry puree. You might add some organic blue food coloring to the blueberry puree to make the color scheme truly patriotic! If you have extra puree, save it to flavor some Almost Instant Ice Cream or sweeten your morning cup of Fage yogurt.

Cowering in terror, waiting for the chocoholic to come back for more…

Berry Puree

Makes lots of puree!

Ingredients:
1/2 cup fresh or frozen organic raspberries or blueberries
stevia, to taste
Pinch of xanthan or guar gum (optional)

Preparation:
Microwave berries until soft and heated through. Blend until liquified. Add a pinch of veggie gum and stir well. Let puree rest for a few minutes to let it thicken. Spoon into a ziptop bag and snip a tiny piece off one of the corners. Pipe puree onto cupcakes.

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