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Visions of Sugar Plums danced in their heads…

Visions of Sugar Plums are dancing in their heads

Visions of Sugar Plums are dancing in their heads

Did you always wonder what a sugar plum was at Christmas when you read that famous poem “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” ?  I guess I always assumed it was some kind of candied plum similar to the yucky candied fruits you stick in a fruit cake and so I certainly never dreamed about them.  But, it turns out they are not; they are actually more like a homemade Lara Bar.

Remember that not so long ago, before the days of cheap HFCS and flying fresh fruit across the world, sweet things, especially during the winter were a rare treat.  Think back to when you got an orange in your stocking and you were excited about it.  So, some dried fruits and nuts rolled in a bit of sugar or exotic coconut was something special…one might even have visions about it.  🙂

Sugar Plums are a combination of dried fruits, such as prunes, figs, apricots or dates finely chopped and mixed with chopped nuts such as walnuts or almonds, and once exotic spices like coriander, anise, fennel, caraway, or cardamom.  This mixture is rolled into balls and often coated with sugar or shredded coconut.

The girls all love these and help me make them.  Their job is to form the balls with well washed hands. 

The first time I tried these, I used powdered sugar to roll them in.  I don’t recommend that as by the next morning, the powdered sugar layer had turned into a clear sticky layer on the sugar plums.  It was also VERY messy. The next time, I used Sugar in the Raw, a coarse minimally refined sugar and that worked a lot better.

We find them plenty sweet with all that dried fruit, but if you want them sweeter, then add a bit of honey.  Oh, they are really fast to make and require no baking.  Last Christmas, I made a “Figgy Pudding” for the first and last time.  This was a LOT easier.

Old-Fashioned Sugar PlumsMaking Sugar Plums
Based on the recipe from Nourished Kitchen
Yield: 40 sugar plums

  • 1 cup shelled walnuts (or pecans or almonds)
  • zest of 1 orange or ½ tsp orange extract
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander seeds
  • 1 cup chopped pitted dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted prunes (prunes are just dried plums), roughly chopped
  • Coarse granulated sugar or dried coconut, optional

Toss the nuts into a food processor with the zest of one orange, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, coriander as well as chopped dates, apricots and prunes.  Pulse the mixture three to four times to combine, then process the dried fruit, nuts and spices until a paste forms – about four or five minutes.  Depending on your food processor, you may need to do this in two batches.  My Kitchenaid food processor likes doing only half of a recipe at a time.

Transfer the paste to a mixing bowl and form the sugar plums by rolling about 1/2 tablespoon of the paste in the palms of your hands until a round ball forms.

Rolling the sugar plums in sugarDredge the Sugar Plums in either coarse granulated sugar (Sugar in the Raw works great because of its large crystals) or dried coconut.  Sugar Plums can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 1 month. If you layer the Sugar Plums, place a sheet of waxed paper between each layer.

Variations: You can substitute any nut or seed for the walnuts such as pecans or almonds or pistachios, you can useSugar Plums close-up different dried fruits such as dried apples, figs or raisins to replace some of the fruits and you can use the spices of your choice such as anise, cloves, or ground cardamom to replace the coriander.  You could even add a bit of unsweetened cocoa powder.

– Stacey

Sugar Plums in Bowl

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Spiced Pumpkin Mousse – alternative to traditional pumpkin pie

Girls eating spiced pumpkin mousseTraditionally, everyone loves pumpkin pie during the Thanksgiving season.  But, pumpkin pie, even totally made from scratch, has a lot of sugar.  So, here is another option that has all the pumpkiny goodness, but less sugar and empty calories.  It is also a lot easier and faster to make!

We try not to eat a lot of unfermented soy in our family.  I realize that if you are a vegetarian or vegan, soy is probably a necessity, but since we eat dairy, eggs, and meat, we have lots of other protein options.  However, I found a recipe a couple of years ago from Clean Eating magazine for a Pumpkin Mousse that tastes just like the inside of a pumpkin pie and it does use silken tofu. Since this is something we only enjoy a few times a year, around Thanksgiving, I do make it with tofu.  But, I try to find tofu make from non-GMO (genetically modified) soybeans.  The organic ones are non-GMO.

Spiced Pumpkin Mousse
Serves 10

  • 2 15 oz. cans 100% pure pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 1-lb pkg silken tofu, drained well
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice (OR 1.5 tsp cinnamon + 3/4 tsp ginger + 1/4 tsp nutmeg + 1/4 tsp cloves, all ground)
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt (optional)

In the bowl of a food processor combine pumpkin and tofu.  Process until combined, about 30 seconds.  Add maple syrup, all spices, and optional salt.  Process until combined, about 30 seconds more. Transfer mousse to a resealable container, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Drain any water that has accumulated from mousse.  Give it a quick stir and scoop 1/2 cup mousse into each of 10 small glasses or ramekins. 

Top each serving with homemade whipped cream if you would like or to be even healthier some real yogurt mixed with a little honey and vanilla.  In the pictures, I have placed a layer of plain yopurt and a drizzle of honey between two layers of mousse.  There is more yogurt on top.  Keep mousse refrigerated until ready to serve.

– Stacey

Spiced Pumpkin Mousse

The nutritional info from About.com’s recipe analyzer, but not including a whipped cream or yogurt topping, this is just for 1 serving of the mousse.  Lots of Vitamin A and a pretty good amount of fiber and protein for a dessert!

More beany treats – Garbanzo Bean Blondies

I hope you all liked the recent Black Bean Brownies post and recipe.  I decided to try making blondies using garbanzo beans, AKA chickpeas. But, you probably could use just about any white bean for this.

I went to lots of sources for white bean blondies recipes and some of the recipes that inspired mine are at Meal Makover Moms, Struggle Muffins, The Blissful Baker, The Runny Egg, Peanut Butter Lover, and Professional Palate.  So, I came up with a recipe I had planned to make using peanut butter, chocolate chips and nuts.

But, I was chatting last night with one of the other soccer moms at the soccer skills camp our girls were attending and she mentioned that she likes to add lemon zest and dried cranberries to her sugar cookies.  I had been thinking of using some dried fruit in the blondies so I went with that flavor combination of lemon and cranberry instead.  This may not be the traditional butterscotchy blondie, but it is good.

When I first thought of making blondies, I had planned to just used chocolate chips and nuts, but when I changed to cranberries, I decided to use the white chocolate chips again and for my nut butter in the recipe, I used almond butter.  So, I am going to give you two recipes…the one I made and the one I planned to make, but didn’t.  I will probably try it in the future.

Garbanzo Bean Blondies – with peanut butter, chocolate chips, and nuts
(makes 16 2″x2″ blondies)

  • 1 can chickpeas AKA garbanzos, drained and rinsed (about 1.5 cups)
  • 1 medium banana
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2-4 Tbsp natural creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed or oat flour
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Garbanzo Bean Blondies – with almond butter, white chocolate chips, and dried cranberries
(makes 16 2″x2″ blondies)

  • 1 can chickpeas AKA garbanzos, drained and rinsed (about 1.5 cups)
  • 1 medium banana
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar (I used Sugar in the Raw)
  • 4 Tbsp natural creamy almond butter
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp lemon oil (use lemon zest instead, if you have it)
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries (I used Craisins brand since I had it on had, but it is sweetened)

Directions for both  versions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease an 8×8 inch baking pan; I use my MISTO oil sprayer.  Place drained chickpeas in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Add the banana and eggs and process until smooth again.  Add all the rest of the ingredients (except chocolate chips and nuts) to the food processor and process until completely smooth. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.  Scrape batter into prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. Do not overbake.

The girls all liked these Craisin blondies, but I don’t think they are quite as decadent as the previous chocolatey brownies, but it has nothing to do with the beans, just the lack of lots of chocolate.  🙂  I used 1/2 cup of Craisins, but that may have actually been too much, the cranberry taste was a little stronger than I would have like, so will probably reduce the cranberries to 1/3 or even 1/4 cup next time.  If you are going to make it with a less assertive dried fruit such as apricots or raisins then you may want to use the full 1/2 cup.  Also, I actually used more like 1.5 bananas in mine because that is what I had leftover from dinner, but it made the batter a little wetter than I liked, so if it looks too moist in the pictures, that is why.

– Stacey

Time for a treat – Black Bean Brownies

Child Eating Black Bean BrownieTime for a TREAT!  Black Bean Brownies!  Yay!
 
Wait, that sounds nasty to you?  Well, you have never had a black bean brownie then.  Because the chocolate flavor is so intense that you can’t even tell that all the flour in a regular brownie has been replaced by beans.  So, while these brownies are high fiber, lower carb, and even gluten-free, they are also rich, moist, and delicious.

The first time I saw a recipe for them was at All Recipes and then saw a different version at Meal Makeover Moms. I made several different versions of them and then tweeked it to get the recipe I give below.

I typically use semi-sweet chips, but this time I went with some white chocolate ones.  I also add a little prepared coffee (left over from breakfast) to bring out the chocolate flavor and add some flax seed just to give it some Omega-3s.  Both of those are optional.  Also, we like nuts in our brownies, so I put either chopped pecans or walnuts in, but again that is optional if you are not a nut lover or have someone with an allergy issue in your family.

Black Bean Brownie Ingredients

Black Bean BrowniesBlack Bean Puree
(makes 16 2″x2″ brownies)

  • 1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained very well
  • 3 eggs (organic is great and pastured is even better)
  • 3 Tbsp peanut or coconut oil (or whatever vegetable oil you prefer)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 pinch of sea salt
  • 1.5 tsp aluminum-free baking powder (Rumford is one option)
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar OR 3/4 cup white granulated sugarBlack Bean Brownie Batter
  • 2 Tbsp prepared coffee (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp ground flax seed (optional)
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8” x 8” baking pan; I use my MISTO oil sprayer.  In a food processor, process black beans until smooth.  Add the eggs, oil, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, vanilla extract, and sugar, and process until smooth.  Add half of the chocolate chips, and pulse a few times or stir, so that the chips are mixed in. Stir in chopped nuts, if using.  Transfer the batter to the baking pan, and sprinkle the remaining chips on top of the brownies.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean; check during the last 5 minutes so they don’t burn.  When cool, cut into squares.

Black Bean Brownie Batter in Pan

In Pan Before Baking

Baked Black Bean Brownies

In Pan After Baking

I ran the recipe through the Calorie Count Recipe Analyzer assuming the generous 2″x2″ square serving and these are the nutritional results below.  The downside is that it is high in sugar, but not really compared to other desserts.  On the upside, it is high in fiber and protein and low in sodium.

Plus, they are yummy and very chocolatey.  I have seen a recipe online for garbanzo-bean blondies, so we may be trying those soon.

– Stacey

black bean brownies nutrition

Black Bean Brownie Closeup

Fast & Easy Fruit Sorbet

Fruit SorbetAs we were finishing dinner tonight I said “Hey kids, who wants sorbet for dessert?”  There was a round of “I do!” and less than 15 minutes later, we were all enjoying a bowl of mixed fruit sorbet.

You can make sorbet using your ice cream maker or your freezer and wait for hours, but this is the fastest and easiest way I have found.  And you can make it with any unsweetened fruit that you can find frozen in a bag in your grocery store, something we always keep a variety of on hand for smoothies.

I first saw this technique for sorbet back in the late 1990’s on a show that I really enjoyed on the Food Network called “COOKING LIVE with Sara Moulton”.  She actually cooked an entire meal in 30 minutes on LIVE TV, while taking questions by phone from viewers.  She did this several nights a week.  Anyway, on one of her shows, she made this sorbet using mixed berries, but you can use any frozen fruit.  In her recipe, she used some sugar to taste, but I use a bit of honey.  I have since seen Mark Bittman make sorbet the same way.  So here it is:

Fruit Sorbet

Frozen Dole Mixed Fruit
Frozen Fruit

Ingredients:

  • Bag of any frozen fruit
  • 1-2 Tablespoons milk (optional)
  • 1-3 teaspoons of honey (to your taste)

Instructions:
Place frozen fruit and optional honey and milk in a food processor and process until smooth.  Serve immediately, or place in freezer until ready to use. This recipe yields 6 servings.

Note:  The milk is just to make the processor run better as it doesn’t run well dry.  You can just let your fruit sit out for a while and partially defrost instead.   Or, instead of milk, you can use water, cream, half/half, yogurt, or any fruit juice such as orange, apple, lime, or lemon.

THIS IS SO EASY!!

The fruit I used today was the “Mixed Fruit” from Dole which consists of strawberries,  pineapple, mango, and peaches.  But, I have made it with mixed berries, or just one single frozen fruit.  You can really use any combination of fruits you can think of.  Mike, the girls and I all loved it… as usual.

– Stacey

Fruit Sorbet

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