Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ice Cream Pops and Brownies: Now for People Without the Metabolism of a Six Year-Old!

Objective: make a nutritionally dense dessert at a low caloric value without producing something that tastes subpar to a tray of cardboard. Dessert is primarily a name given to the justification of scarfing sugar, fat, and flavor that's been somehow combined. Instead of leaving that job to refined sugar and butter, I've swapped in three super foods to help out with the job.

Cocoa: Viewed as a health food by the Olmecs since 1200 B.C., a mood enhancer by the Mayans, a divine gift by the Toltecs,  and currency for the Aztecs, cocoa's significance has been picked up on by everyone within 20 degrees of the equator since before it could be exported. By the 17th century, doctors were recommending it as a cure all in Europe... Scientifically speaking, though all plant based foods contain anti-oxidants, the levels of polyphenols (linked to anti-aging benefits) in cocoa are particularly high. Plus, besides for being the most idolized food by many a culture, cocoa is 10 calories a tablespoon... count me in. There are two types of cocoa: natural and Dutch processed. This recipe calls for natural cocoa, because Dutch has been neutralized with Alkali and consequently won't react with baking soda.. meaning there would be no leavening reaction. Dutch cocoa, however, dissolves more easily and is useful in recipes calling for baking powder or other acidic ingredients.

Nuts: Nuts are the most easily justified source of fat in the world. Ten almonds contain nearly half of the Vitamin E one needs in a day. Walnuts contain the highest concentration Omega-3's (alphalinoleic acid) of any natural plant source. Both nuts are packed with B-complex vitamins and minerals, as well as protein. Additionally, studies have shown that the caloric intake of nuts offsets future caloric intake, lowering the total amount we eat, and that whole nuts, rather than nut butters or oil, are not fully chewed and therefore not as easily digested, allowing for some of the fat content to pass through the digestive system unabsorbed. This accounts for the weight gain that is less than anticipated in studies where people freely add calories from nuts to their diets. Bottom line: Want a rich taste in baked goods? Have some inkling that butter is bad for you? Achieve your dreams with the better fat - nuts!

Bananas: Instead of dumping refined sugar into a baked recipe, why not just add the sweetness, along with flavor, moisture and texture from a nutritious, unprocessed fruit? Bananas deliver a desirable flavor and consistency to sweets, as well as an unseen dose of potassium, fiber, and vitamin B-6. The amount of sugar a banana substitutes for in this recipe nixes approximately 350 calories from the batch, and adds in a number of health benefits. Additionally, the energy from the sugars and carbohydrates in a banana provide prolonged fuel, rather than a sugar high followed by a crash. While the root of the word could be that "banan" means "finger" in Arabic, or that the fruit is called a "banaana" in West African Wolof, right now it means "better than sugar," and that's the one you should remember, because it really is.

These three components make up the basis for the following simple recipes, done two different ways. The first is a recipe for brownies, where nearly half the calories are accounted for by walnuts and bananas. Their only fault is that you (I) feel bad after you (I) eat half the pan, since they're so guiltlessly delicious. The second is a simple frozen treat, void of processed high fructose corn syrup, polysorbate 80, cellulose gum, and everything else in grocery store popsicles. So go ahead and pick your (lack of) poison - baked or frozen.

Cocoa Banana Walnut Brownies:
- 3/4 C flour (I've used coconut for a gluten-free version, whole wheat, and all-purpose when making these for little kiddos)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 C natural unsweetened cocoa
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 C yogurt (I use coconut or almond milk)
- 2 tsp instant coffee
- 1/4 C + 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 eggs (to make recipe vegan, substitute 2 tbsp flax meal + 1/2 C cold water, blended until thickened)
- 1/2 C toasted walnuts
- 1 banana, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl, sift flour, salt, cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking soda. In a large bowl, combine yogurt, instant coffee, maple syrup, vanilla, and eggs, whisking well. Add dry to wet gradually, until just consistent, then stir toasted walnuts. Layer half the batter into a baking dish, top with sliced bananas, then cover with the remaining batter. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool and slice into 14 servings (at 100 calories each).

Almond + Dark Chocolate Bananapops:
- 3 bananas, cut in half
- 2.5 oz. dark chocolate
- 1/3 C finely chopped roasted almonds (or nut of choice)
- Kahlua or other flavored liqueur, optional
- 6 popsicle sticks

If using liqueur, soak bananas for 30 minutes prior to preparation. Over a double broiler, melt chocolate completely. Stick popsicle sticks through bananas and cover evenly with chocolate. Sprinkle coated bananas with nuts, then set on parchment paper and freeze. Enjoy.

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