Sweets

A Healthy Gift of Chocolate for Valentine’s Day

hearts

It’s traditional to give loved ones chocolate for Valentine’s Day, but it’s also good for them (and you!) In my book Toxic Free I recommended chocolate as one of many antioxidants you can eat to help restore the free radical imbalance in your body caused by exposure to toxic chemicals.

It turns out that chocolate has many other health benefits as well.

An excellent article on GreenMedInfo.com called Chocolate Gives Statins A $29 Billion Run For Their Money points out that it has been known since 2006 that eating cocoa reduces the risk of dying from heart problems by 50% in older men, and they were eating only a half ounce of chocolate per week!

They went on to say that there is plenty of human clinical research supporting the eating of cocoa for the reduction of both cardioascular disease risk factors and other associated outcomes, including high blood pressure, endothelial dysfunction, insulin resistance, low HDL, stroke, heart disease, and other heart-related problems.

They also note that eating chocolate seems to improve the condition of the blood vessels in a way that reduces the accumulation of plaque in the arteries, and blood lipid levels.

And they had this to say about statin drugs: “Statins are produced from chemicals, and therefore guarantee a certain degree of collateral poisoning will take place, whereas chocolate has a long history of safe use both as a food and a medicine.”

Some of cocoa’s other benefits mentioned in this article include:

  • Slowing the aging process
  • Protection against Alzheimers
  • Stress reduction
  • Inhibiting Cholesterol Oxidation
  • Boosting cognitive performans
  • Inhibiting cancer
  • Improving diabetes
  • Boosting sexual function

If you are going to eat chocolate, be sure to choose an organically-grown fair-trade chocolate that does not contain refined white sugar. There are many brands at your natural food store and online that are sweetened with unrefined sweetners, but usually I make my own.

If I feel like a bit of chocolate, I eat a measured amount in a little bowl, after lunch as a treat with pecans or walnuts. That way I can eat “the whole thing” and it’s a moderate amount.

Here’s my recipe. I just eat it out of the bowl with a spoon, but you can also let it firm up in the refrigerator and cut it into squares or roll it into truffles.

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Sweet ’n Salty Fig Bars

fig-bars
baked in Xtrema bakeware

 

These bar cookies can be made with any dried fruits, such as raisins, dates, prunes, apricots, cherries and any other organic dried fruits you have available.

Oh yum! These are so delicious! Buttery, rich and slightly sweet, they are like a bit of autumn in your mouth.

When I was a little girl, the only cookbook in our house was Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book. I learned to cook from that book.

One of my favorite cookies was a bar cookie, with a little cookie crust, figs in the middle and sweetened oatmeal on top. Of course it was made with white flour and white sugar, even with sugar added to the fig spread.

Memories of that cookie were the inspiration for this sugar-free, grain-free version.

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Chocolate Bars…Your Way

chocolate-bar-your-way

Chocolate Bar with Coconut Sugar, Sea Salt and Almonds

 

Chocolate is actually good for you…it’s a great antioxidant that can help your body repair the damages from toxic chemical exposure.

The problem with most chocolate bars (even the organic ones) is that they contain cane sugar. Many contain the whole sugar, but if you want a chocolate bar sweetened with another sweetener, they are pretty hard to find in stores.

What actually inspired me to find this recipe was I wanted a chocolate bar with almonds and Himalayan salt, but I wanted it sweetened with coconut sugar. So I made the recipe below using coconut sugar, added a handfull of whole almonds and sprinkled Himalayan salt on the top, and it tasted great!

The point of this recipe is to give you the freedom to make any chocolate bar you want, with any sweetener, and any flavor.

I’ll tell you right off it has a limitation. It melts quickly so you need to keep it in the freezer and eat it right away. But if you are willing to do this, you can make your own chocolate bars.

Chocolate is temperamental to work with, but this simple recipe works great.

And you will also need to play with it to get the right degree of sweetness that you prefer. So it may take a few batches, but then you know the exact recipe (write it down!).

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Fresh Peach Melba Tart

peach-tart

 

I have loved peaches ever since I was about three years old and my grandfather picked me up and let me pick my own peach off the tree. It was warm and sweet and the juice ran down my arms. I loved it.

And so when peaches come in season, it’s a real treat for me.

This year I made a fresh peach melba tart. I have to tell you I was going to make peach cobbler with almond flour biscuits on top, but I really wanted the fresh, raw peaches instead.

The “melba” is the raspberries. There is a famous dish called Peach Melba, named after an opera singer from the 1800s Nellie Melba. Her favorite desert was vanilla ice cream topped with cooked peaches and raspberry sauce.

This basic recipe comes from the world of raw food. It’s pretty standard, but I had never made anything like this before. It’s all grain-free and dairy-free and delicious if you don’t expect it to taste like wheat and dairy. I think it tastes even better.

My official taste tester loved it too.

This recipe is basically a nut crust, a cashew cream, and fresh fruit. In addition to making a tart, you could also just pile up fresh fruit in a bowl or stemmed glass, top with the cashew cream, and sprinkle the crust crumbs on top.

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Martha’s Abundant Almond Cookies

almond-cookies

I’m calling these cookies “Martha’s Abundant Almond Cookies” because they were inspired by a recipe from Martha Stewart, and the basic recipe can turn into an abundance of different cookies! I’ve already made a half dozen different cookies from this recipe—all delicious!—and every time I make them I think of something new. Above, from left to right, are chocolate chip, almond chunk, and raisin.

This recipe began as Martha’s Five-Ingredient Chocolate Chip Cookies. “Simply Scrumptious” said the headline. The angle was you could make homemade chocolate chip cookies “in a snap” but—surprise!—they are gluten-free! And the can go way beyond chocolate chip!

The basic recipe is just almond butter, sweetener, and eggs. Martha used brown sugar, I use coconut sugar but it may work with other sweeteners as well.

The character of this cookie is very much like a toll-house cookie but not as crunchy. Very satisfying.

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Ancient Persian Chickpea Cookies

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This is a very old recipe from Persia for festive cookies made for the Spring Equinox, called Nan-e Nokhodchi.

Chickpeas are also called “garbanzo beans.” You can purchase the flour at almost any natural food store or online. It may be labeled “chickpea” or “garbanzo.”

These are delicious and nutritious gluten-free cookies you can eat any time of year. The dough is very pliable and holds up well to cutting with a cookie cutter.

The traditional recipe calls for cutting the cookies in the shape of four-leaf clovers for luck and garnishing with slivered pistachios. I cut them in the shape of flowers and put a bit of colored icing in the center (natural food colors, of course). They are visually delightful and well-liked when I take them to springtime parties.

These are flavored with cardamom, but you could experiment with other flavourings.

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Coconut Butter Candy

coconut-butter-candy

 

Last summer, when fresh raspberries were in season,  I wrote about using coconut butter (aka “coconut manna”) to make luscious Raspberry Coconut Bonbons. They were so delicious that I decided to see what other kind of candy I could make with coconut butter, since it taste so much like white chocolate (but not so sweet).

Coconut butter is simply coconut meat ground to a smooth paste—like peanut butter. It has all the health benefits of coconut oil (see The 50 Latest Coconut Oil Benefits Backed by Science), but particularly of interest at the moment is that coconut oil kills bacteria and viruses, so eating coconut oil through the cold and flu season really protects your body from getting sick.

This is a delicious way to get  your coconut oil!

These are so simple to make that I’m just going to give you a method instead of a recipe.

The most important thing you need to know is that coconut butter gets very hard when it’s cold and softer as it gets warmer. So when you freeze it, it’s like a very hard chocolate bar and when it’s warm it’s almost liquid. Depending on the temperature of your home, you may need to heat the butter to make these candies. You can place the jar in hot water, or empty the butter into a baking dish and warm it at the lowest temperature. You’ll need to “melt” it down to a consistency where you can stir it.

The basic method is to simply stir into the coconut butter whatever flavorings you want, then put it on a baking sheet and pop it in the freezer until it’s set up (about an hour). Then just break it into pieces. This type of candy is called “bark” and it’s common to add bits of anything to it, including nuts and dried fruits. Usually chocolate is used as the base, but coconut butter works very well!

Here are the three variations I made this week:

Peppermint Bark

Add peppermint extract to the coconut butter. No sweetener needed—completely sugar-free! I used 1/4 teaspoon extract per 1/4 cup coconut butter, but you can use more or less. You can also use any flavoring extract to make any flavor you want. After the butter set up in the freezer, I painted candy stripes on it with natural food coloring (check your natural food store or online). You can also soften the butter and then cut out shapes and decorate them, and refreeze, or add natural food coloring to make pastel mints. Be creative!

Chocolate Almond Bark

For this, I used 2 tablespoons organic cocoa and 3 tablespoons organic date sugar to 3/4 cup coconut butter, but you can use any sweetener you want in any amount. After spreading it out in the pan, I put chopped almonds on top and sprinkled it with Himalayan salt, then patted the additions into the butter.

All Coconut!

This is coconut butter topped with shredded coconut, sprinkled with coconut sugar. Press the shredded coconut and coconut sugar into the butter, then freeze.

Enjoy these variations and please leave a comment to let me know how you like them and if you come up with variations of your own that you like.






Caramel Apple Bread Pudding

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This is one of those warm, slow desserts that tastes like autumn. It takes some time to make, but it’s a great dish for a potluck or holiday meal. I just made it again this morning for a potluck, and it was relaxing and nice to just take time to peel the apples and stand there and stir them with butter and coconut sugar, knowing that my friends would be loving those buttery mixed with custard and soft biscuits. And they did.

Since I took this to a potluck today, the recipe is large. But you can also just cut the recipe in half or even make individual servings in ramekins. This photo was actually from making a half recipe and then dishing the cooked pudding into these ramekins and warming them up in the toaster oven. I’ve got three servings leftover from the potluck sitting in my freezer, waiting for a cold night.

Because it takes a while, I make this recipe in three steps, and then put it all together.






Apple Crumble Pie

Apple-crumble-pie

This is a quick and easy way to make a pie with any fruit, winter or summer. So quick, I’m just going to tell you quickly how to make it and not even write a recipe. Because you don’t need one.

Today I made it with apples.

Just cut up the fruit, sprinkle with cinnamon or any spice you like, sprinkle with any sweetener you want (or none at all), cover the top with Pie Crust Crumble, and bake at 350 degrees F until the fruit is cooked.

It tastes like pie!






Pie Crust Crumble

pie-crust-crumble

If you’ve ever watched the old Julia Child videos, she was famous for fixing dishes that didn’t work out.

Well, this is one of those, where the intended recipe didn’t work, but it turned into something delightful!

One of the drawbacks of using almond flour instead of wheat flour is that it just doesn’t hold together. And that’s just what happened with this recipe for pie crust: it didn’t hold together well enough to make a crust.

But what it did make was a perfect crumble that tastes like pie crust!

Make this dough and then crumble it raw over fruit and bake to make a “pie” or crumble and bake it as described below and just eat it as a snack or put it over other foods as a crunchy topping.

I sprinkled this crumble with cinnamon and coconut sugar and it was great!

I also used it to make Apple Crumble Pie.

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