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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In the Sugar Zone

For those of us with the curse of the sweet tooth, we all know that eating healthy can come to a dead halt with just a simple craving.

But with the healthier alternatives available for us these days, we don’t really have to feel that we’ve sunk into a deep dark hole. While we can admit that we are in the "sugar zone" -- or chocolate zone or whatever our zone of choice may be -- we can take a breath, find some humor about it, and most importantly take a minute or two to think about our options.

If you are the “right here, right now” type, resolve that it may take a little more effort than simply just opening the fridge or freezer for ice cream, a soda or boxed cookies. If you don't have anything a little healthier, can you take 10 minutes to make a quick trip to the natural foods market for a better option?

A couple of my brand name quick-fix favorites are Amazake rice drinks (a sweet, thick beverage made from sweet rice) and Blessings Fudge Raw-eo Cookies (raw cookies made with ground almonds, cashews, honey and carob). They’re sweet, but are a healthier option to refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and white flour. OK... I go for the chocolate sometimes too, but always organic and fair trade! (See my upcoming article in the August issue of my Natural Cooking eLetter for more on fair-trade chocolate, and a fantastic raw chocolate mousse cake!)

If you like spending time in the kitchen, try experimenting with desserts using pureed fruit, agave nectar, brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup instead of white sugar. These options have less impact on insulin response and make for a smoother rise in energy compared with white sugar. Honey is very sweet and impacts the system in a similar way to sugar, but I use it occasionally, as it comes power-packed with antioxidants and immune building nutrients.

So you don’t have to hit the floor anymore when it comes to cravings. With all the delicious but nutritious options available to us these days, the curse of the sweet tooth could actually be a blessing!

Oatmeal Pecan Praline Cookies
(sweetened with golden raisin puree and barley malt syrup)
Yield: about 2 dozen cookies

These comfort cookies are perfectly sweet, great for lunch boxes and healthy enough even for breakfast. The malt adds a lively flavor that goes nicely with the oats and spices, and the praline gives these treats a touch of sophistication without loosing the comfort of a good schoolhouse cookie.

Pecan Praline
1 cup pecans or walnuts
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons maple syrup

3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup barley malt syrup (see note)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup unbleached flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

For the pecan praline, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Place the pecans in the pan, stirring and flipping frequently, until the pecans are lightly toasted, about 5 minutes—watch out, they burn fast at the end. Add the spices and salt; mix about 30 seconds.

Turn the heat to low and add the maple syrup. Stir constantly, cooking until the mixture has thickened and is very sticky, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate and cool completely. As soon as the praline is cool enough to work with, chop the chunks into small pieces, separating the pieces with your fingers if they are clumping together.

For the cookies, preheat the oven to 350º. Blend the raisins and the barley malt syrup in a food processor until roughly puréed (the batter will be a little chunky).

With an electric mixer, beat the raisin mixture with the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until well blended. In the meantime, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl. Slowly add the flour mixture into the mixer, blending until smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. Turn the setting to low to fold in the rolled oats, optional raisins, and pecan praline.

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or a baking liner. Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Lightly press the cookies down with your palm. Bake 12 minutes, until lightly browned—they will be soft to the touch right out of the oven and will set up while cooling. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool.

Note (Barley Malt and Brown Rice Syrups): Malting is a process using the grains’ own enzymes to break down the sugars in the grain. These products are roughly fifty percent complex carbohydrates and fifty percent simple sugars, making them less sweet and easier for the body to metabolize. You’ll find these in glass jars in the baking or sugar section of your local natural foods market. They are becoming readily available at commercial stores too.


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