Last year, three people gave my husband a tin of gingerbread cookies from World Market. My family loves gingerbread, and they love cookies, so these seemingly innocent crispy little delights soon became like crack for my family. By the time Rob brought home the third tin, I’m pretty sure he sighed “Nooooooooo….”, as he pictured losing control over his late night munchies. Between my two kids and Rob, they polished off all three tins before we left for Santa Fe for Christmas. Sometimes I feel a little deprived in my gluten free life, but after watching the addiction unfolding under my roof, I was actually thankful that trying one of these gingerbread cookies wasn’t an option for me.
I was in World Market last week, and when checking out at the register, two people came up and asked the store clerk where to find the gingerbread cookies. He pointed to no less than five places where four feet tall mountains of the tins were displayed. I decided to ask him how the gingerbread cookie sales were going this year, and I was not shocked to learn hundreds had been purchased already this Christmas season. Crack people, I’m telling you, those things are like crack.
Even though I was deprived the experience of World Market gingerbread cookies, I love to make anything with gingerbread flavor. The signature flavor of gingerbread comes from the type of sweetener used – blackstrap molasses. I LOVE blackstrap molasses – its earthy sweetness and the many nutrients that come along with such a delicious food.
While it’s true that sugar and natural sweeteners in general are not healthy to eat regularly, small amounts of sweet treats are part of life, a part that if missed out on for too long can lead to cravings and binging. Christmas is a particularly tempting time to indulge in sugary foods, but the good news is that it is a short season of the year. My personal way of approaching the sugar that comes with Christmas is to partake in small amounts, making sure to get plenty of healthy veggies and protein too, so I stay grounded and feel good while enjoying the season. And, I also substitute natural sweeteners that do a good job making desserts taste good but at the same time are gentler to my body, giving me a boost of nutrients while my taste buds enjoy.
Blackstrap molasses is a sweetener that has quite a few nutrients that are good for you. Blackstrap molasses is made during the process of refining sugar cane into white table sugar. It is the dark liquid left over after the refining process, and it contains a truckload of important energizing minerals for your body in large amounts. Molasses is known for its high iron content (it contains 20% of the daily recommended amount in just one tablespoon!). Iron is a mineral crucial for maintaining optimal energy, as it is used by your body to make hemoglobin, which is the protein in red blood cells that picks up oxygen in your lungs and carry it to all the cells in your body. Iron is also a key part of enzymes that keep your body producing energy and your metabolism revving. In addition to iron, molasses has quite a bit of calcium, which is important for muscle contraction (including your heart), nerve impulse conduction, and of course healthy bones and teeth. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to indulge and eat something sweet, I feel a whole lot better about choosing something sweetened with molasses than white sugar.
Molasses has a strong, bittersweet taste and can be substituted for other sweeteners in recipes besides gingerbread. Substituting molasses changes the taste of the recipe, as it is a much bolder, robust sweetener. Below are simple substitutions:
- 1 cup molasses for ¾ cup brown sugar
- 1 cup molasses for 1 cup corn syrup
- 1 cup molasses for 1 cup maple syrup
- 1 cup molasses for 1 cup honey
- 1 1/3 cup molasses for 1 cup white sugar
I love the aroma of gingerbread almost as much as eating it, so I made this gingerbread pudding cake in my slow cooker, so my whole house would fill with the rich smell. The cake turned out very moist, and I enjoyed it by itself and also as a topping over coconut milk ice cream.
To start, I used a standing mixer to cream together ghee and maple sugar. Ghee is clarified butter that is a casein free and lactose free alternative to butter. If you cannot tolerate ghee, try substituting coconut butter or coconut oil for the ghee. I used maple sugar, but coconut sugar also works well. Maple sugar is made from maple syrup and contains the important minerals manganese and zinc, which is needed for healthy immune function. Maple sugar is yet another natural sweetener that also gives something good to your body.
While the mixer was still on, I added two eggs and vanilla. I scraped the sides of the bowl often until the eggs and vanilla were fully incorporated into the creamed ghee and maple sugar mixture.
Next, I whisked together blackstrap molasses and water and set aside.
For the dry ingredients, I combined almond flour, unmodified potato starch (sweet potato flour works well too), baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and sea salt.
Turning on the mixer again, I alternated adding the molasses-water mixture and the dry ingredients. After the wet and dry ingredients were fully incorporated, I poured the gingerbread pudding cake batter into the greased slow cooker and set the temperature to low. Before covering the slow cooker, I sprinkled the chopped pecans over the top.
About two hours later, I tested the cake with a knife to make sure it was cooked through. I turned off the slow cooker and let it sit for about 15 minutes before scooping out a serving.
- ½ cup ghee
- ⅓ cup maple sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla
- ¾ cup blackstrap molasses
- 1½ cups water
- 1½ cups almond flour
- ½ cup unmodified potato starch
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon sea salt, to taste
- ½ cup chopped pecans
- Using a mixer, cream together ghee and maple sugar.
- Add eggs and vanilla to the mixer, and mix together with creamed ghee and maple sugar.
- In a small bowl, whisk together molasses and water. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine almond flour, potato starch, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and salt.
- Turn on the mixer, and alternate adding the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients.
- Mix together until both wet and dry ingredients are fully incorporated.
- Grease the slow cooker with coconut oil, and pour the gingerbread pudding cake batter into the slow cooker.
- Set the temperature to low, and sprinkle chopped pecans on the top before covering.
- Cook for 2 to 2½ hours.
- Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Baby it’s cold outside. And I just can’t seem to get warm. I’ve been stuck in my house for four days due to the recent ice storm that rolled through Dallas last Thursday night. At first, I was excited to have a few days to snuggle up with the kids and to have an excuse to take some time off and do pretty much nothing. But I found that in addition to doing pretty much nothing, I did a whole lot of eating. All I’ve wanted to do is curl up under a mountain of blankets with something warm to eat. When it’s cold and dreary outside, I could literally eat (or drink) soup for every meal.
Years ago, I asked a holistic nutritionist to give me a set of recommendations specific for me, and he listed having warm foods and drinks to balance my cold and high strung nature near the top of his list. Heat is a natural relaxer for muscles and the mind, which is why a hot bath and warm mug of something without caffeine does a great job calming you down and preparing your body for sleep. In fact, heat is the best natural muscle relaxer and one I use regularly for tight muscles in my back and shoulders.
Speaking of sleep, our bodies want more of it during winter months. More sleep and more calories. (Yep, that just about wraps up my cravings at the moment.) The cool thing about the human body is that it’s a lot smarter than we give it credit for – it innately knows exactly what it needs. When we have cravings, it’s important to listen and meet those needs with the healthiest choices possible.
Reasons we crave warm foods during winter:
- Warm foods heat up our body temperature from the inside out. When it’s freezing outside, our bodies need all the help they can get to maintain the optimal temperature.
- Warming our bodies takes a lot of energy! So we need some extra calories and nutrition in the form of hearty and nutritious root veggies, greens, meats, healthy fats, and probiotic foods during the winter.
- Our bodies specifically crave carbs not only to meet the extra calorie requirement but to also give us a boost of natural endorphins and the happy neurotransmitter serotonin to battle the winter blues.
- Warm foods are grounding for our bodies. They give us the support we need during the ups and downs of winter weather.
- Our immune systems need that extra boost from warm bone broths and cooked foods packed with vitamin C and zinc like garlic, onions, and leafy greens such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage.
Healthy winter foods to serve warm and satisfy your cravings:
- Starchy (carb) vegetables: pumpkin, acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, and beets
- Non-starchy vegetables: garlic, onion, celery, cauliflower, artichokes, and leeks
- Greens: Brussels sprouts, beet greens, broccoli, cabbage, kale, Belgian endive, fennel, radicchio, escarole, and frisee
- Healthy fats: olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, coconut milk and cream, coconut, nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs, and meats
- Protein: eggs, meats, nuts, and seeds
- Homemade bone broth
- Herbs and spices
- Creamy probiotic foods like kefir and yogurt or cultured vegetables like sauerkraut
A few tips for preparing healthy warm foods this winter:
- Spice it up! The temperature of food is not the only thing that warms your body. Warming spices like cayenne, chili pepper, chipotle chili, cumin, curry blend, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, mustard, and anise also heat your body form the inside out.
- Make your own bone broths for soups and stews to give your body an extra immune system boost and to benefit for your gut health. Place bones in a large stock pot and cover with water. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and simmer over low heat for at least a day.
- Add a small amount of healthy fat in the form of olive, coconut, or sesame oil to your soups and stews, roasted and stir-fried veggies, sauces, and dressings. Or add an avocado or coconut milk or cream for a creamy texture. Fat is a slow-burning fuel for steady energy.
- Incorporate probiotics into your cooking in the form of kefir, yogurt, and cultured vegetables like sauerkraut to further promote a healthy intestine and immune system. A healthy gut is the first step to a healthy immune system and body. If you avoid dairy, try dairy free alternatives to kefir and yogurt made with coconut milk. I like to substitute kefir for cream or buttermilk and yogurt for sour cream in dips, spreads, sauces, and dressings. Just note that heating probiotic foods kills the good bacteria you’re seeking for your digestive health.
- Throw in something green with every meal for the added vitamin C and zinc, which are both immune system boosters.
- Drink warm beverages like warm lemon water or teas. Many decaffeinated tea varieties contain warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. I have a tea kettle constantly warming on my stove. I also like the Cuisinart tea kettle for a convenient cup of tea.
- Essential oils are a wonderful and healthy winter warming tool also. Diffusing winter oils and adding them to baths and body creams can help with body chills, chapped lips, indoor germs, joint stiffness, and depressed moods. Try these winter essential oils: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, black pepper, citrus oils like tangerine, orange, lemon, and grapefruit, pine, cedarwood, spruce, rosemary, peppermint, spearmint, myrrh, sandalwood, rosewood, and frankincense.
Last Thursday evening, on the night of the winter storm that covered Dallas with ice, my family enjoyed this creamy sun-dried tomato basil soup. It hit the spot. We all licked our bowls. I served the soup with a few rolled up slices of roast beef prepared fresh at Whole Foods.
To start, I soaked a 2-ounce package of sun-dried tomatoes in a half cup of water (or enough to cover the tomatoes) for at least 30 minutes. Sun-dried tomatoes provide tons of vitamins A, C, and K plus a healthy dose of potassium and iron.
Next, I chopped a small purple onion and three cloves of garlic. I added two tablespoons of olive oil to a medium saucepan, and cooked the diced onion and garlic in the oil for about five minutes or until translucent.
I added 2 ½ cups of chicken broth, the soaked sun-dried tomatoes with soaking water, sliced teardrop tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper to the saucepan. After bringing all the ingredients to a boil, I reduced the heat to medium-low, covered the saucepan, and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes.
I poured one 5.4-ounce can of Native Forest coconut cream into the large Vitamix container. Then I added the contents of the saucepan into the Vitamix as well. I covered the Vitamix with the lid and then a towel to prevent injury before turning it on low and working up to high speed. I blended the soup in the Vitamix on high for about a minute. I served this creamy sun-dried tomato basil soup garnished with pine nuts.
- 2-ounce package of sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in ½ cup water
- 1 purple onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2½ cups chicken broth
- large handful of teardrop tomatoes, sliced
- 2 tablespoons basil or handful of fresh chopped basil leaves
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 5.4 ounce can coconut cream
- optional: garnish with pine nuts
- Soak sun-dried tomatoes in ½ cup water for at least 30 minutes.
- Chop the purple onion and cloves of garlic.
- In a medium saucepan, saute chopped onion and garlic in olive oil for five minutes.
- Add chicken broth, sun-dried tomatoes with the soaking water, teardrop tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper to the saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
- Pour coconut cream into the large Vitamix container.
- Add contents of the saucepan, cover, and blend until smooth for at least a minute.
- Serve warm with optional pine nuts as a garnish.
I have a serious chocolate addiction. The darker the better. You can imagine my delight to read David Wolfe’s book Superfoods and find that he includes raw cacao (what chocolate is made from) in his list of the ten healthiest foods on the planet. How fantastic is that? I can now feel no guilt in indulging daily.
But not all chocolate is the same. To get the full health benefits of raw cacao, it needs to be just that. Raw…unprocessed…unaltered…pure. Cacao is the richest source of magnesium you can find. Over 2/3 of the population does not get enough magnesium in their diet. Magnesium is good for your nerves and muscles, your immune system, your bones, and your heart. It helps with lots of biological processes like regulating your blood sugar and your blood pressure, and it elevates your mood. Seriously, cacao actually does improve your mood. No wonder I reach for the chocolate when I’m stressed out and hormonal.
When picking out chocolate, I choose a variety with a high percentage of cacao. The higher the percentage of cacao, the more you benefit from all of those antioxidants. The flavonoids (the dark pigments that act as powerful antioxidants) in cacao are more numerous than other rock stars you hear about like green tea, red wine, and blueberries. A diet rich in flavonoids reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Extremely dark chocolate – the kind with almost 100% cacao – is pretty bitter. I have grown to love the bitterness of cacao, even enjoying raw cacao nibs sprinkled on chia pudding and other things, but I still crave that creamy, sweet dark chocolate too. These dark chocolate avocado truffles satisfy my sweet and creamy craving as well as my love for dark chocolate, and the best part is I can make them in a jiffy.
I start with a perfectly ripe medium sized avocado. I cut it in half, remove the pit, and mash it in a small bowl.
Next, I melt the dark chocolate chips in the microwave for about two minutes, stopping after one minute to stir. I chose Sunspire Organic Fair Trade dark chocolate chips because they are gluten, dairy, and soy free.
I combine the melted dark chocolate with the mashed avocado and then add a few droppers full of liquid stevia, raw cacao powder, and a little bit of vanilla. Stevia is a zero calorie sweetener that is actually an herb which contains antioxidants and works to cleanse the pancreas and regulate blood sugar. I avoid buying stevia blends like Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, and Purevia because they are processed and contain other additives like dextrose, maltodextrose, erythritol, and rebianna. I buy Sweet Leaf liquid stevia because it is pure and the least processed. Plus, it comes in a liquid version that is free of inulin (an irritant to some) and combines better with other ingredients.
I refrigerate the chocolate mixture for about thirty minutes, so it is easier to mold into balls. Then, I use a small spoon to scoop one chunk at a time into my hands and shape it into a ball. Lastly, I roll the dark chocolate balls in raw cacao powder. These dark chocolate avocado truffles turned out fantastic. Rich and decadent for those who love chocolate as much as I do.
- 1 medium ripe avocado
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- 3 tablespoons raw cacao powder, split
- 3 droppers full of liquid stevia
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla
- Mash the avocado in a small bowl.
- Melt the chocolate chips for two minutes in the microwave, stopping after one minute to stir.
- Combine the melted chocolate with the mashed avocado, and add one and a half tablespoons of the raw cacao powder, stevia, and vanilla, mixing together until smooth.
- Refrigerate the chocolate mixture for thirty minutes.
- Using a small spoon, scoop chunks of the chocolate mixture into your hands and form into balls.
- Roll the balls of chocolate in one and a half tablespoons of the raw cacao powder. Makes 12 - 15 truffles.
- Store in the refrigerator for a firm truffle or on the counter for a softer truffle.