Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies (Repost from Nutrish and Delish)
As a former pastry cook at fine dining restaurants, I created and tasted numerous desserts primarily made with refined sugar, butter and heavy full fat cream. I won’t lie, most of them tasted pretty great, but day after day of taste testing (which a cook has to do to ensure dishes are made correctly for the guests) got to me both physically and mentally. I remember one day when my co-worker Maggie and I looked at each other while we were preparing the evening’s desserts and we both had the look of dread on our faces. Did we really have to taste the freshly made raspberry coulis on the warm and fluffy beignets one more time?!
I know, I know…poor us. Trust me, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the experiences I did and learn about traditional baking and dessert making from world-renowned experts. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But overtime, my body learned the power of over indulging in not-so-good-for-you foods.
Despite getting sick of buttery and sugary treats, I still crave and love baked goods and dessert. Baking will always be one of my main passions. It’s just nowadays, I really try to cut back on the refined ingredients and add as much nourishment as I can to whatever I’m creating without compromising its taste or texture. Some of my trials are major errors and others are just simply delicious while being quite nutritious!
Here’s one of my most recent examples: Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies.
Oatmeal cookies are usually thought to be healthy because they contain whole grains (aka fiber) and typically fruit, but a lot of times these cookies are also loaded with butter and refined flour and sugar. If you haven’t noticed by now, the first thing I usually do is try to see how much whole wheat flour I can use in a recipe without it becoming too dense or tough to chew. Why choose whole wheat flour? It is closer to its original grain form and contains more protein and fiber than its nemesis: unnecessarily overly processed white flour.
Check out the list below of the remaining key ingredients in this recipe and the reasons I chose them:
Coconut oil: Yes this is a saturated fat but unlike butter, coconut oil may help the body’s immune system, regulate blood sugar levels and raise good cholesterol (HDL) instead of just raising bad cholesterol (LDL), which high levels of can lead to heart disease.
Honey: Yes this is a sugar and yes it is nutrient dense with a decent amount of calories per serving, but the reason honey makes the cut into my cookies is because it is naturally made as opposed to fully stripped and refined like white sugar. Honey also contains flavonoids and antioxidants, which can help protect against inflammation, cell damage and chronic illness such as heart disease, while sugar only offers calories. That said, honey should still be used in moderation because of its sugar content, and you'll see I often use pure maple syrup too since it has about 25% less sugar content.
Cranberries (dried): Any dried fruit is calorically dense because each piece of fruit keeps it’s calorie content despite shrinking in volume. It is especially important to exercise portion control here and choose dried fruit that is 100% natural with no added sugar, which is often found with dried fruits. Fruit itself contains enough natural sugar that it does not need anymore to taste sweet.
Cacao nibs: This is chocolate in its purest form – literally just cacao beans crumbled into teeny tiny fully flavorful pieces. And as I’ve stated before, chocolate (without a lot of added sugar and fat) has many health benefits, including antioxidant and fiber filling powers.
Hemp hearts: These little seeds are not only adorable with a delightful nutty taste to them, but they also have over 3 grams of protein per Tablespoon. Additionally, they have both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential fats (i.e. our body cannot make them and we must get them from foods) needed for our brains and nervous system to function.
These cookies are just as easy to make as a traditional oatmeal cookie recipe, but instead of just being a treat to satisfy your sweet tooth, they also exclude a lot of typical processed ingredients and include more protein, fiber, healthy fats and antioxidants. A much healthier (and just as tasty) dessert! I hope this post helped you guys get a better feel for how I think and what my goals are for my recipes and this blog.
Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies
(with vegan sub suggestions)
Yields: 2 dozen cookies
Preheat the oven to 350*F.
Combine the coconut oil, honey and brown sugar in a bowl (if it doesn't fully mix it is okay and will become more cohesive in the next step).
Add the egg, vanilla and almond extract and mix well.
Stir in the oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon until combined.
Mix in the cranberries, cacao nibs and hemp hearts.
Drop the dough by 2 Tbsp placed about 2 inches apart on a nonstick baking pan (I typically use a Silpat or parchment paper).
Place the sheet tray in the oven and bake the cookies for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool and devour! :D
How yummy does these cookies look?! Nom nom nom... They were fluffy yet chewy with a nice nutty flavor from the hemp hearts, chocolate crunch from the cacao nibs and pure sweetness from the cranberries. So I packed some up for my future snack attacks so I wouldn't eat them all right away! Thank you mason jars - the kitchen accessory with a million joyful uses. ;) Enjoy!!
A long time ago when I found myself reaching for more sweet treats than my body needed, I instated the house rule: if you want a cookie, then make a cookie. Why? Well for starters if I'm really craving a cookie, then I would be happy to put the work into making one fresh from scratch instead of lazily darting to the nearest store for an unsatisfying quick fix. Secondly, so many store bought cookies are laced with processed ingredients and words I cannot pronounce, so if I am going to have a dessert snack, I am going to have one that will not harm my body but rather provide some nourishment.
This said, at any given time there is at least one type of cookie dough in my freezer! ;)
Except for last week... All week long, I wanted a chocolate chip cookie but with the usual hectic lifestyle we all lead, I had no time to bake until the weekend. So sadly no cookies for me!! :*(
By the time the weekend came, my craving was still in full force but changed slightly as I was reminded of how hard I tried last year to make a really flavorful pumpkin cookie. Many trials and tasty cookies later, I still wasn't completely satisfied. And then winter was over...
But here we are again, embracing crisp weather and decorating the house with mini pumpkins and gourds! As expected, I had some sweet potato puree, whole wheat flour, coconut oil and dark chocolate chips in the house, so away I went creating my wholesome treat. The sweet potato not only provides the main flavor, but is also loaded with vitamin C to help fend off the fall cold, B-vitamins for basically everything, potassium for my muscles and fiber to keep my heart healthy, my gut moving and my hunger tamed. The whole wheat flour also adds some fiber and protein to the cookies but most importantly doesn't spike and drop my blood sugar levels as quickly as a baked good made up of refined white flour. Essentially, even after eating my sweet treats, my mood will remain much stabler! The coconut oil, while still a saturated fat, unlike butter is known to raise HDL 'good' cholesterol and is a great substitute for anyone with a dairy allergy or intolerance. And lastly, the dark chocolate chips provide antioxidants and a richer chocolate taste with less added sugar than milk chocolate.
These cookies are my best turn out ever! The sweet potato flavor is alive and kicking and the texture is soft and moist (almost fudgy but not fudgy). If you like crispier cookies, I recommend flattening the dough a bit before baking and leaving them in the oven for a couple of extra minutes. Also, while I usually avoid refined sugar, I did use brown sugar with a mix of maple syrup and vanilla for the sweetener, but I think if you tried you could cut the sugar down. I'm okay with the amount because I rarely consume refined sugar and believe that moderation is key to a healthy lifestyle.
Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies (vegan optional)
(recipe adapted from Sally's Baking Addition)
Yields: 20 cookies
Combine the coconut oil and sugar until smooth. Stir in the puree, maple syrup and vanilla. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices.
Pour the liquids into the dry goods and mix until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Drop the cookie dough by 1 Tablespoon portions on a Silpat (or parchment paper or greased cookie sheet). Bake @ 350*F for ~10 minutes, rotating halfway for an even bake, until the tops of the cookies start to crack.
Cool and gobble up!
Goes great with coffee... ;)
with Hearty Apple Almond Crisp
You will quickly learn that I care a tremendous amount about breakfast, am a self-proclaimed breakfast-pusher and still believe it IS the most important meal of the day despite arguments and studies against the age-old saying.
This is why: breakfast jumpstarts my day and ultimately motivates me to end the day as well as it starts.
Eating breakfast is a daily reminder that I begin the day on the right foot, nourishing not just my body but also my mind. The positive start to the day gives me more energy physically and mentally, allowing me to concentrate better knowing that I am prepared to work or study without dealing with mood swings or cravings from lightheadedness due to low blood sugar levels. Choosing to have a healthful breakfast not only gets your engine going, but also prompts good decision making from the moment you get up. You are more likely to avoid the worse for you foods and prevent overeating at lunch or dinner.
Even if there are clashing studies on breakfast's physiological benefits, there are plenty of studies showing that skipping breakfast is associated with eating more throughout the day, greater BMI (body mass index), weight gain and metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes (1,2,3,4). Those risk factors include a large waist circumference, low HDL cholesterol levels (high-density lipoproteins aka ‘good cholesterol’), high triglyceride levels, high fasting blood sugar and high blood pressure (5). Earlier this year a prospective study from Sweden also reported that adolescents who skip breakfast or have "poor breakfast habits" are at increased risk for metabolic syndrome later in life. Eek! Too young!!
If your main excuse to skip breakfast is that you don’t have enough time in the morning to prepare, then try making it the night before (ex. overnight oats or yogurt parfait) or making something that is easy to eat during your commute (ex. veggie omelet wrap, homemade smoothie or nut butter on toast). Remember, breakfast doesn’t have to be huge or even comprised of traditional breakfast foods, but it does need to be a nutritious combination of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, and limited in sugar and saturated fats.
Check out one of my favorite balanced breakfasts that you only need to make once but can eat for a week (i.e. meal prep) when you know your schedule is going to be extra busy. My Hearty Apple Almond Crisp is loaded with fiber (whole grains, fruit), protein and omega-3 fatty acids, all necessary nutrients to keep my brain focused, my hunger managed, my mood stabilized, my digestive system running and my heart healthy.
And the recipe is easy peasy: place the fruit mixture in the pan, top with the oats mixture and bake in the oven until the crisp turns golden brown and the fruit liquids start to boil through the top. This recipe includes apples (yes, I am still using my Annual Farm Crawl apples - 13 pounds is a lot!), plums and blueberries, but feel free to get creative and switch up the combinations to your fruit preferences.
Hearty Apple Almond Crisp
Yields: 8 servings (7" x 11" glass baking pan)
Preheat oven to 375*F.
Combine the topping dry ingredients in a bowl. FYI - the flaxseeds have a strong nutty flavor to them so if you don't want that to stand out, cut the amount in half.
In a separate bowl, chop up the apples and plums into 1"-2" pieces and combine with the blueberries. Add all of the spices, orange juice and maple syrup from the first list of ingredients and stir until all of the fruit is coated. Spread the mixture into the bottom of a baking pan (make sure to grease it - I misted it with olive oil).
Add the almond milk, maple syrup and olive oil to the dry mix. Spread the oats mixture evenly on top of the fruit base.
Bake the crisp for ~45 minutes until the topping turns golden brown and the liquid starts to bubble through.
Eat alone or top with some nonfat plain Greek yogurt. Enjoy!! :D
February was National Heart Month and March is both National Nutrition Month AND National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so eeeeeverybody is talking about fiber fiber fiber! But why???
Because most of us are lacking it in our diets! It’s recommended that women get at least 25 gm per day and men at least 38 gm per day (a bit less for both if you’re over 50 years of age), however, the average American diet only includes about 15 gm of fiber per day (1).
You’ve probably heard that you need fiber to maintain regular bowel movements, preventing constipation and stimulating the muscles of the digestive tract to stay healthy and toned. Yes, toned. Yet there are so many more reasons it’s vital to our health.
First it’s important to know there are two types of fiber:
1) Soluble fiber – absorbs water, forming a gel-like substance, solidifying and adding bulk to stools.
2) Insoluble fiber – mainly remains intact and speeds up stool’s movement out of the body.
In particular, soluble fiber helps reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It binds with LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and takes it out with your digestive trash, and it slows down the absorption of sugar aiding in regulating blood sugar levels. Fiber also works to keep our waistlines from expanding. Most sources of fiber are low in fat, sugar and calories, and soluble fiber actually slows the movement of food in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract keeping you feeling full. Additionally, while studies are mixed, many of them have shown that fiber helps reduce the risk of colon cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the USA with about five percent of the population being diagnosed with it (2).
So where does one get all this fiber? Plant based foods.
Fiber is the indigestible portion of plants. For example, it is found in the bran (outer shell) of grains, which is why eating whole grains is preferable to refined, processed ones that have stripped the grain of its outer fiber containing layer. Soluble fiber sources include oats, oat bran, cereal brans, barley, rye, fruits, vegetables, legumes (aka beans and peas), seeds and seaweeds. Insoluble fiber is found in whole-wheat flour, whole grain items, brown rice, wheat bran, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds (3).
And how does one get enough fiber in his or her diet?
To start, get your recommended 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ to 3 cups of vegetables per day. Choose whole fruit and vegetables, not the juice forms, and eat the skin or peels, such as on apples, carrots and potatoes, because that’s where a lot of the fiber is in additional to a multitude of vitamins and minerals. Make a fruit and nonfat plain yogurt parfait for breakfast, add it to your whole grain cereals or eat fruit for dessert. Throw vegetables into everything from salads, soups, sandwiches, sauces, etc.
Choose whole grains, especially in bread and pasta products. Look for labels that say ‘100% whole wheat’ or ‘whole grain,’ and that include whole wheat, oats or barley as the first listed ingredient. Add oat bran, flaxseed meal or chia seeds to yogurt or cereal. When baking or cooking, substitute at least half of the flour with whole wheat flour.
Try substituting plant-based protein (ex. nuts, beans) for meats and cheese. Add nuts, beans or peas to soups, salads and pasta dishes, or even mash them up to make a fresh homemade dip for some cut up broccoli, carrot sticks or whole grain crackers.
ALWAYS read food labels. Look for at least 4 gm of fiber per serving. And be creative!
What else do you need to know? If you start to increase the amount of fiber you’re eating, do it slowly because adding fiber to your diet may cause you to feel bloated. Make sure to drink enough water for the fiber to absorb and to help it function properly in your system. Lastly, be careful not to just eat fiber filled products because too much of anything, even good for you foods, can be harmful, and too much fiber may lead to mineral deficiencies.
Below I’ve included a winter appropriate 'fiberful' sweet treat recipe. It's also suitable for vegans. Enjoy for breakfast, a snack or even dessert! :)
Zucchini Carrot Flaxseed Meal Whole Wheat Mini Loaves
Sift together the flour, flaxseed meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together in a bowl. Set aside.
Mix the coconut milk, applesauce, coconut sugar, maple syrup and vanilla in a bowl. Add the zucchini and carrots. Add the nuts if desired.
Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir until just combined.
Lightly grease the baking pans and spread the mixture evenly into each one.
Bake @350*F for about 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick/knife comes out clean.
Yields: 4 mini loaves
February is American Heart Month, raising awareness about heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and woman: 1 out of 4 deaths (1)! Heart disease includes conditions such as atherosclerosis (when arteries become clogged due to plaque build-up) that can result in coronary artery disease and ultimately cause heart attacks, heart failure and strokes by obstructing the flow of oxygen and blood to the rest of your body (1,2).
What causes plaque build up? It’s mainly low-density lipoprotein (aka LDL aka ‘bad’ cholesterol) mixed with fat, calcium and other miscellaneous materials found in your blood (1,3,4). LDL cholesterol is found in animal food sources such as meat and whole milk dairy. Many processed foods, especially commercially produced baked goods, that contain trans fats from hydrogenated oils or shortening are also high in LDL cholesterol.
The good news is that maintaining healthy nutrition habits can help prevent heart disease.
A heart healthy diet includes:
Limiting: saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt/sodium, alcohol
Incorporating: fruits, vegetables, whole grains (i.e. eat your fiber!)
Unfortunately, many traditional baking recipes use butter, which is no doubt a fantastic tool in adding texture and flavor to baked goods but alas a major dietary source of ‘bad’ cholesterol and saturated fat. Simply put each Tablespoon of butter is loaded with fat (11g), saturated fat (7g), cholesterol (30mg), salt (95mg) and very high in calories (100 kcals) (5).
I remember at my first post-college restaurant job we had THE best granola on the breakfast menu and we employees definitely took advantage of our endless access to it. But when I started working in the kitchen and had to make it for the first time, I nearly fainted learning that the recipe called for 4 pounds of butter. Granted we were mass-producing this tasty treat, but still!! Granola is one of those tricky food items because us dietitians keep telling you to eat more whole grains (which oats surely are) because fiber helps lower cholesterol levels, but typical granola is usually coated in butter and sugar (negating oats' benefits) and mixed with other nutrient dense foods, such as dried fruits and nuts. Not heart healthy!
That said, I do love granola for it’s delightful taste and texture from oats, fruits and nuts but since it is very high in calories per serving, it should only be used in small amounts, such as a topping to some nonfat Greek yogurt or low-fat ice cream, and not eaten like regular cold cereal. Granola is also easy to make at home where you can control the ingredients and lower the fat, sugar and calorie content per serving, making it a healthier food in your diet and for your body. Recently, I was reading my Real Simple magazine (love Martha!) and saw a recipe for Applesauce Granola. I didn’t make her recipe (it includes butter), but I did steal her applesauce addition (think: natural sweetener) to create this Tropical Ginger Applesauce Granola. It’s delicious granola but with much less fat, no added refined sugar, and packed with whole grains, fiber, healthy fats and protein. Now that is heart healthy!
Tropical Ginger Applesauce Granola
(adapted from Real Simple)
Combine the oats, cashews, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, coconut and ginger together in a bowl. Add applesauce and maple syrup and toss until fully coated.
Spread oat mix evenly on a baking sheet (I line mine with a Silpat).
Bake ~60-80 minutes @ 275*F, stirring the oats every 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Yields: 2 pints