When U.S Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously defined pornography in 1964 by simply saying “I know it when I see it,” he could well have been speaking about another conundrum facing Americans a half century later; what constitutes a healthy dessert. Actually, the converse of Stewart’s quote is more apt. Most of us have no idea what a healthy dessert is but we have a pretty good idea of what it is not.
It is not gooey or sweet or delicious, some folks say. It is none of those things, others say. It is tasteless cardboard best steered clear of.
Others say the whole concept is oxymoronic, that dessert is by definition, a decadent treat to be enjoyed specifically because of its obvious detriment to one’s health in favor of one’s happiness. Potter Stewart would probably agree.
And what does “healthy” even mean when it comes to food? That an item is not overtly bad for you or that it’s actually good for you? Ask a dozen experts and you’ll probably get a dozen answers.
Carbs and sugar seem to be the current demon of choice among mainstream health professionals, so there are a lot of low-carb and low or no sugar desserts out there. Back when fat was all the rage as the root cause of all things dietary, it was replaced in a lot of foods by carbs and sugar. Now that those things are being removed, wonder what’s replacing them and if the replacement is better or worse than the thing being removed.
One camp argues that grain is the culprit and “gluten-free’ is the answer. Others are still on the low-fat bandwagon from the ’80s, so it’s no surprise we can’t define healthy dessert when we can’t even define healthy food.
Proponents of “real food” have an interesting take on the question of what food is healthy. This ideology maintains that it is not the food itself that is healthy or unhealthy, it is what is done to it before you eat it.
This philosophy advocates rolling back the lpast 50 years of food technology and shopping the perimeter of the grocery store where the fresh stuff resides. The theory is that back when food was cooked at home from fresh ingredients and not prepared in a factory, very few people were fat. And diet-related illnesses were much less common.
The plan requires no counting of calories, carbs, sodium or any other components of food. Just eat only food that is real and all that other stuff will take care of itself.
For instance, real food folks have no issues with butter. Butter is nothing more than milk that came from a cow, the cream was allowed to rise to the top, and was skimmed off and shaken. Fairly minimal processing that could be done in a farmhouse 200 years ago. Unlike margarine that is made in a factory using heavy metals, bleach, hexane and other solvents, stabilizers and lots of additives and artificial colors and flavors. Real food people don’t eat margarine.
Real food probably works because you have to make everything yourself from scratch. And unless cooking for yourself is your full-time job, that’s going to cut down on quantity.
Recipes follow for real food, low-carb, gluten-free, grain-free and paleo. Pick your poison and be free of it.
Whole-wheat pecan maple cinnamon rolls
This real food recipe meets real food standards. They are whole-grain and don’t use refined sugar. They do have several sticks of butter and over half a cup of maple syrup. Are they healthy? You decide. Are they delicious? Definitely. Are they a time-sucker? Yes, they are definitely that. A breakfast roll or dessert that has to rise twice for a half hour each time is not exactly a fast food. Which could explain why people who eat this way lose weight and become healthier. Decadence is just too much work.
1 stick butter
⅔ cup milk
2 tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 packet yeast (2¼ tsp.)
3 cups whole-wheat flour
½ tsp. salt
4 tbsp. butter
⅔ cup crushed pecans
¼ cup pure maple syrup
3 tbsp. cinnamon
½ cup cream cheese, softened
¼ cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. butter, softened
In a small sauce pan melt the butter for the dough. Remove from heat and stir in the milk, syrup and yeast. Set aside.
Mix together the flour and salt. Drop in the eggs and the butter/milk mixture and mix to combine. If very sticky to the touch add more flour (a tablespoon at a time) until it forms one ball that can easily be handled. Transfer the dough ball to a bowl that’s been greased with butter, cover with a clean dish towel and let rise for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter for the filling, then stir in the pecans, maple syrup and cinnamon.
When ready, roll out the dough onto a floured surface to a rectangle about 14” x 9” in size. Cut and pinch together pieces if needed to make an even rectangle.
Evenly brush the filling mixture over top then, starting on the long side, roll over the dough until the seam side is facing down. Carefully cut pieces between ¾” and 1” thick and place cut side up in greased baking dish. Reshape as needed. Let rise for another 30 minutes. (At this point you could cover with plastic wrap and store in fridge overnight.)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Mix together the frosting ingredients until smooth and immediately pour over top allowing it to seep down into the crevices. Serve warm.
Unprocessed Chocolate Mousse
A wacky recipe that reputedly tastes quite good.
1/4 cup raw cacao powder (or unsweetened cocoa powder)
1/4 to 1/3 cup water
1/4 cup raw agave nectar
Peel the avocado and cut it into pieces. Place all ingredients in a blender and process until completely smooth. Spoon into serving containers and chill for two to three hours before serving.
Homemade thin mints
The Girl Scouts are frequently criticized for the unhealthiness of their addictive cookies. here someone has adapted one of the most popular of those cookies to be grain-free and paleo. The recipe also uses coconut sugar, which is much lower on the glycemic index than white sugar and the current darling of a number of foodies.
1 cup almond flour
2 tbsp. coconut flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder , plus additional for sprinkling
1/2 tsp. Celtic sea salt
1/2 cup coconut sugar
6 tbsp. unsalted butter (or 5 tablespoons palm shortening), room temperature
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
10 drops peppermint essential oil
16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
Place almond flour, coconut flour, cocoa powder and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until combined.
Place the coconut sugar and butter in the bowl of a standing mixer with beater attached. Beat on medium-high for 4-5 minutes until lighter in color and fluffy. Beat in the egg and the yolk and then the peppermint oil. With mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture and mix until incorporated.
Place a piece of parchment paper on the counter and sprinkle with cocoa powder. Place the dough on top of the parchment, top with another piece of parchment and roll the dough using a rolling pin until it’s ¼-inch thick. Place the rolled out dough and parchment on a baking sheet and place in the fridge for 15 minutes (this will make the cookies easier to cut).
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and adjust the rack to the middle position.
Remove the dough from the fridge and remove the top piece of parchment. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles and carefully remove the dough (the dough will be a bit sticky) from the parchment and place on a clean baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining dough. Bake for 11 minutes and cool completely.
Melt the chocolate over a double-boiler. Carefully place a cookie in the chocolate and using a fork, turn the cookie over so both sides are coated. Use the fork to lift the cookie out of the chocolate and place on a cooling rack or piece of parchment (I prefer the parchment because when the cookies are completely cooled they will lift off very easily). Repeat with remaining cookies. Cool and store at either room temperature or in the freezer.
Low-carb Carrot Cake
From Jessica Johnson Stone’s collection of low-carb recipes. Jessica adheres to a low-carb diet. This recipe has no added sugar, is gluten free, grain free.
7 oz. butter, melted
3 tbsp. granulated stevia or sweetener of choice to taste
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cup grated/shredded carrots
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
½ cup shredded/desiccated unsweetened coconut
1 ½ cups ground almonds/ almond flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. mixed spice
2 tsp. baking powder
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup cream cheese
1-2 tbsp. granulated stevia, or sweetener of choice, to taste
Beat eggs, melted butter, stevia and vanilla together. Add grated carrot, walnuts and coconut, then mix ground almonds, spices and baking powder. Pour into a greased and lined 8-inch cake pan. Bake at 350°F for 40-50 minutes or until a fork pushed in, comes out clean.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Warm the cream cheese in the microwave for 20 seconds to soften it. Stir in 1-2 tbs stevia or sweetener of choice. You could also add some lemon zest to give it more flavor. This would add a small number of carbs.
Cover cake with cream cheese frosting.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie
From Jessica Johnson Stone’s collection of low-carb recipes.
1 1/4 cup almond flour
1 tbsp. coconut flour
1/3 cup sweetener (I used Swerve)
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
4 oz. neufchatel or cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup natural peanut butter (or almond butter)
3/4 cup sweetener (I used Swerve)
1/2 cup water
3-4 ice cubes
1/2 packet unflavored gelatin
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (optional)
1/3 cup sugar-free chocolate (or chocolate chips, I used Hershey)
1 tsp. coconut oil, melted
Preheat your oven to 350°F. and lightly grease a pie pan. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients needed for crust. Use a spoon or spatula to mix the ingredients well until a dough is formed. Press the dough into the pie pan until it’s evenly coating the bottom and sides of the pan. Bake the crust on the middle rack for about 7 minutes. It doesn’t need to be completely baked; just set. Set the crust aside to cool (I put mine in the refrigerator). Begin peanut butter filling by whipping the whipping cream until it gets stiff peaks. Don’t over-beat it. Set aside. In a glass cup of bowl, boil your water in the microwave (or on the stovetop). Mix the gelatin into the boiling water until it’s completely dissolved. Add ice cubes to the water to bring it to a much cooler temperature. Stir it– you should have approx. 3/4 C of water with gelatin mixed in. Set this aside. Place the peanut butter, neufchatel cheese, almond milk, vanilla and sweetener in with the whipped cream and mix with an electric mixer until smooth. The mixture will thin out significantly. Slowly pour the gelatin-containing water into the pie filling. Beat the mixture until smooth. It will be quite watery. Add in the xanthan gum and beat the mixture for another 30 seconds, if you’re using xanthan gum. (It’s not necessary, but it does help to set up the pie nicely). Pour the pie filling on top of your crust and place the pie in the refrigerator on a level surface. Allow it to set up for a minimum of three hours up to overnight. Once the peanut butter is set up, top it with melted chocolate. To do so, melt your chocolate in the microwave in 20 second increments. Once it’s almost all the way melted, add in the coconut oil and stir well. Microwave for an additional 5-10 seconds. Pour the melted chocolate into a baggie and snip off a teeny, tiny hole in one of the corners. Use the baggie to drizzle melted chocolate over the pie. Return the pie to the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes to allow the chocolate to harden. Slice and serve.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.