Tuesday, 7 January 2014

It's Cookie Time!

Every morning I prepare and pack my daughter's lunch for school.  Normally a sandwich or leftover dinner, a couple of veggies, some fruit and yogourt...and 1 treat.  I've made a point of baking a batch of homemade cookies OR muffins, placing them in freezer bags, and freezing them every couple of weeks.  That way I can take one cookie or one muffin out of the freezer and by lunchtime it will be defrosted and ready for consumption!  I enjoy baking her treats as I know i can control what goes in it.  This post is to help you get creative with your favourite cookie recipe and make it just that much better for your child (or yourself)!

One of the ways I create a "healthier" cookie, is to cut the sugar in half. So if the recipe calls for 1 cup of white sugar, I will use 1/2 cup of Coconut Palm Sugar OR Organic Cane Sugar. Sometimes I can get away with only 1/4 cup of sugar - especially with Banana muffins, where the bananas already create a sweeter muffin.  Now that I cut the sugar in half, I can't even imagine making a recipe with full sugar - sweetness overload!

***Coconut Palm sugar is made from the sap of the coconut palm.  It has a deep colour as well as a rich flavour - not unlike brown sugar.  Is it healthier?  Well, in the sense that is it very low in fructose compared to most sugars, then yes...but it is still sugar.  Many people like to use agave nectar, not realizing it is made up of 85% fructose.  Why is fructose bad for you?  Because our body doesn't produce it naturally.  Only our liver can metabolize fructose (whereas the entire body can metabolize glucose), so when we consume too much fructose, our liver becomes overworked and it will then begin to turn the sugars into fat.***

The only time I find you have to watch how much sugar you cut is when using a recipe with oats OR cocoa.  Cocoa is bitter, so you do need some sugar to balance out the bitterness, but if you enjoy dark chocolate, then I encourage you to try cutting the sugar - it gives a richer, deep chocolate taste.  Oats can also have a bitterness to them, but I find I am okay with cutting most of my recipes sugar content in half.  Realize that by cutting the sugar, you will end up with a different cookie than store-bought - but that is the point in making your own.

Flour.  I have yet to jump into the "gluten-free" lifestyle.  I've cut out dairy and meat, but I do still enjoy my whole wheat pasta or even some homemade garlic bread made with fresh ciabatta bread.  We have recently begun to cut back though - opting for a gluten-free pasta as well as cutting back on bread (I now enjoy my oats for breakfast instead of toast).  At this point, I normally use whole wheat flour with my baking.  Occasionally I will opt for unbleached all-purpose flour, but normally that is only for birthdays or Christmas baking. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of all-purpose flour, I will use 1 cup of whole wheat.  Sometimes I get a bit crafty and substitute some of the flour with oats.  You can also grind your oats to make an oat flour.

Butter and Oil.  When baking muffins for my daughter's lunch, I always use unsweetened applesauce instead of oil.  It gives the muffins a light and fluffy texture and tastes great!  For cookies, I normally use coconut oil instead of butter.  It gives the cookies a nice crunch around the edges, as well as adds a subtle coconut flavour.  Coconut oil will be solid when you open your container, so I often melt the amount needed to make it easier to work with. 

***The health benefits of coconut oil are endless.  It helps with digestion, boosts energy, makes you full longer, is high in lauric acid (which research is showing helps raise your HDL - good cholesterol - and lowers your LDL - bad cholesterol), and is good for your skin and hair.  There are many more benefits you can find by researching.  We purchase our cold-pressed, organic coconut oil at Costco, where we can buy a large tub of it for a fraction of the cost at most other retailers.***

The extras.  Most recipes call for chocolate chips.  All three of us love chocolate, so we do use semi-sweet chocolate chips - but I do cut back on what most recipes call for.  I will either replace some of the chocolate chips with unsweetened coconut, raisins, chia seeds OR my favourite, hemp hearts.  Walnuts are also a great addition - as are my new favourite, pumpkin seeds.

***Just like coconut oil, hemp hearts provide us with energy, as well as aiding in digestion and helping cholesterol levels.  They are also a sort of "super food" for diabetics as they help control blood sugar levels.  They are tasty as well with a mild nutty flavour - add them raw to your cereal or yogourt OR bake with them!  I even throw a couple of tablespoons in my homemade pancakes.***

And here is today's finished product.  Homemade Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies - whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, half the sugar (and coconut palm sugar), coconut oil instead of butter, reduced chocolate chips and added hemp hearts and an extra 1/4 cup of oatmeal.  DELICIOUS!  You can transform your favourite cookie or muffin recipe to suits your wants and needs!  It might not be exactly like that double chocolate chunk cookie from your favourite coffee shop, but I promise it will be better for you!  And even better, try one of your home baked cookies with a green tea!

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