JOPLIN, Mo. —
There's a white powdery substance out there that many of us are addicted to. It may have a hold of you right now, giving you energy spikes that you can't imagine living without. You know what I'm talking about: sweet, white, sparkling sugar.
Maybe you're breathing a sigh of relief right now because you use the synthetic substitutes. That is some bad stuff. Sugar is bleached and stripped of all its redeemable qualities, but at least it comes from an actual plant. Sugar substitutes that come in little pastel-colored packets are chemicals. True, they have few or no calories, but you would be doing yourself a favor if you weaned yourself off the stuff. We get used to the taste of sweetness, but our brains don't know how to process it. Its negative nutritional value leaves us feeling like we need more. You know what that leads to.
I'm not some crazed sugar hater. I love sweet stuff, just like the next lady. But there are lots of ways to get your sweets fix without using processed white sugar or artificial sweeteners. Real maple syrup, honey and agave nectar are all great natural ways to sweeten your coffee, tea, oatmeal and baked goods. Sucanat is the best sugar replacement for baking, because it's real sugar and can be used in the same amounts as brown or white sugar. Don't be intimidated by its fancy name; Sucanat is simply a brand name that means SUgarCAne NATural. It is unrefined, dried sugar cane juice that retains its molasses content.
Stevia is at the top of my list for sweetness. It's close to my heart, because it's an herb that you can grow in your own garden. Stevia is super sweet -- about 30 times sweeter than sugar. Grow it, dry the leaves, then grind them into a fine powder or make simple syrup. You can buy Stevia at health food stores in liquid or powder form. Use it sparingly.
The moral of the story is this: Use moderation with sweet stuff, regardless of the form it takes. "Natural" doesn't mean that you should eat more -- it's still sugar, and sugar is already in lots of food. It goes by the name of molasses, evaporated cane juice, syrup, honey, corn sweetener and anything ending with "ose".
Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. What a perfect opportunity for you to show your family love by making them a sweet treat that's healthy, too. Yes, these recipes are all chocolate, because that's what Valentine's Day means to me. Use the following guide if you want to use natural ingredients in place of sugar next time you prepare your favorite dessert.
Honey: 3/4 cup=1 cup sugar. Agave nectar: 2/3 cup=1 cup sugar. Pure maple syrup: 3/4 cup=1 cup sugar. Sucanat: 1 cup=1 cup sugar.
Stevia: Depends on what form you use. Read directions, because this stuff is crazy sweet.
Secret ingredient chocolate mousse
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 to 3 tablespoons agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla soy milk
Place avocado in food processor and blend until the avocado breaks down a bit. Add cocoa powder, agave and vanilla, and blend again until you have a smooth consistency. Chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
Slow cooker brownies
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
11/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup applesauce, unsweetened
2 medium, ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup honey
4 egg whites
6 ounces unsweetened Baker's chocolate (6 squares)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)
Line the bottom of your slow cooker with parchment by placing the slow cooker liner on a piece of parchment, drawing a line around the base and cutting out. After inserting the liner, spray the entire inside with an oil sprayer.
In a large mixing bowl, blend the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder with a whisk.
In the microwave, using a microwave-safe bowl, melt the Baker's chocolate for 2 minutes, then stir between 30 second intervals until the chocolate is melted. Stir the oil into the chocolate.
In a separate large mixing bowl, blend the applesauce, mashed bananas, honey, egg whites and melted chocolate. Combine well with the whisk. Pour into slow cooker liner and cook for 4 hours. A knife inserted into the middle should come out clean. If not, continue to cook without the lid for an additional half-hour. To remove, run a knife around the edge of the liner and flip upside down onto a clean surface. The brownie should slide right out. Allow to cool. Slice and serve.
Molten lava cakes
Olive oil cooking spray
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup Sucanat
3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg white
1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Orange or pear slices, for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray four 4-ounce custard cups or small ramekins with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine cocoa powder and Sucanat; whisk in applesauce and oil.
In a small bowl, lightly whisk egg and egg white and add to cocoa mixture, whisking until smooth.
Stir in flour and vanilla until flour is combined completely -- do not over mix. Divide mixture evenly among prepared custard cups, place on a baking sheet and bake for 9 minutes. Centers should be soft but sides firm. Invert cups onto serving plates; let stand a few minutes before removing cups. Garnish each cake with fruit slices, if desired, and serve warm.
Have questions? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail her c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.