Wednesday, March 6, 2013

All About Dates! Or My New Favorite Sweetener

Do you like dates? I'll be honest, up until recently my only exposure to them were the date nut quick bread my folks used to make around the holidays when I was a kid. We ate it with thick cream cheese spread on top. I also remember driving by a date farm of some sort on the way to San Diego several times in the past several years, seeing a sign advertising 'date milkshakes'.

Over the holidays this year, I decided to send my dad some homemade date nut bread. He always used a quick bread mix that is no longer available and I wanted to make him something special. So I found a recipe and bought a box of Zahidi dates. Oh yeah, there are many varieties of dates, this was just what I happened to find that day in the market. These were in the produce section, not dried. Whole dates, with the pits in them. I didn't want to use something that had been dried, with sugar added.

So the date nut bread turned out fantastic. Much like I remember as a kid (and yes, I still ate it with a layer of yummy cream cheese on it). My dad enjoyed it too. After that though, the dates sat in the fridge.

I've used them for a few things since, added to my homemade coconut almond milk for a touch of natural sweetness. I tried pureeing them and adding them to granola bars. That's it though.

So I was wondering about using it for more things and decided to read up. Wow! These fruits and pretty amazing! Here are some facts:

Iron: 100 grams contains about 11% of the daily recommended amount!

Fiber: We all know the benefits of fiber in our diets.

Potassium, calcium, manganese, and copper! All of which assist the body in a variety of necessary things like red blood cell production, bone growth, blood clotting, etc.

Good source of Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin K.

Contains B-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin, otherwise knowns as antioxidants. The inclusion of antioxidants in your daily diet can offer protection from a wide variety of cancers! In this day and age, we need all the protection we can get.

If you're into the whole glycemic index of foods, they fall into the lower end of the glycemic index.

Once I realized this, I wanted to find a way to include it a little more often. Since I used them previously to sweeten my homemade milk, I realized this might be a great option to sweeten other things as well. I already use applesauce and banana. Why not dates?

So recently I decided to make date paste out of the remaining box of dates. I simply removed the pits and soaked the fruits in water for a few hours. I drained the water off (but reserved it in case I needed a little liquid to help with the blending). I blended them up with a bit of the water until I got the consistency of a peanut butter. Done. I have seen some recipes that also call for lemon juice and a pinch of salt. I suppose I may try this in the future. Another option I read about was adding nuts and cinnamon (um, YUM!).

Now, what can you use date paste for? Anything that you would use any other sweetener for. If you're replacing syrups or honey with date paste, you will want to thin it out some to get the same consistency. From there you can play with using it in recipes and other areas you would want. So far I've used it on toast, in yogurt, pancakes, and smoothies. It's a very sweet sort of paste that reminds me of caramel sort of.

One thing to remember: If you're watching calories, etc, dates are fairly high in calories. However, I'd still rather get my 'sweet' calories from something like this than from added refined sugars. Will this replace all my other sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, etc)? No, because in small amounts these all offer some health benefits. Plus, as with all sweeteners, we use them sparingly. However, I feel good about using dates just like I would bananas and any other fruit to sweeten items and I can't wait to bake with them! I'll continue to share recipes I try using dates in the future.

**Date paste, from what I've read, should be refrigerated and will last from 1-2 weeks. However, judging by how fast it's being used up in this house, I doubt it'll last you that long either.

Have you used dates? Do you like to eat them plain? Please share!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Oatmeal Pancakes

I have a wonderfully versatile recipe to share with you all today. I've been meaning to share this for awhile, but when I make them (and I make them often) I get too excited and end up scarfing them down before I can take pictures.

This morning I wanted a bit of chocolate so I had chocolate chip oatmeal pancakes. Once again I ate them before taking photos. Then when Amelia got up (she likes to sleep late) I decided to whip up a tiny batch for her, to share with you all.
(Served to Amelia with banana slices and almond butter for dipping)

There are several things I love about this method. One, you can make as little or as much as you want. Two, you can just about do anything you like with it! I'll share a few of my favorite combinations. Three, you can adapt the recipe for most dietary restrictions. Gluten Free? Check. Vegan? Check. The rest of the allergens? Check. I'd be willing to bet these could be made with coconut or almond flour as well for a grain-free, Paleo version but I've not tried that yet. Plus it's so easy and fast to make. I have the batter ready before the pan can even finish heating up.

And best of all they are super healthy and need no artificial sweeteners (though we added sugar today from the mini-chocolate chips, this is not an everyday addition). I don't even use syrup on them! A bit of extra mashed banana and a drizzle of drippy almond butter and they are just perfect for me!

The original recipe is from Kath Eats. I adapted it slightly to my tastes. From there, I honestly don't measure much anymore, since I make them so often. I find it pretty hard to mess this one up.
(this picture shows roughly half of the recipes measurements since I was just making them for Amelia)

Oatmeal Pancakes for one: (can be multiplied for many)

1/4 cup quick oats (you can use other types, but I find the quick oats have the best texture in these)

1/4 cup egg whites (or whites from two eggs, or you can use a whole egg, or for a vegan option try a flax egg)

1 tbls whole wheat flour (can be omitted, texture will be slightly more egg-y in that case, or you can use a GF flour for a gluten free option. In this case, make sure your oats are GF as well!)

1/4 tsp baking powder (I've made these without, but I like them better with. I use an aluminum-free type)

1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tbls milk (non-dairy or regular or I'm sure it'd be fine with water too)

1/4-1/3 mashed banana ** This can be omitted if you don't feel you want the extra sweetness. Or of course you could always use something like pumpkin, or date puree or regular sugar/sweetener. I've never had them without so I can't comment on the texture.

*Optional add-ins for extra nutrition: chia seeds, ground flax, wheat germs, protein powder, etc. My favorite is 1 tsp of chia seeds (learn more about them here) and 1 tsp of ground flax. I find this doesn't change the texture much, but when I add these I like to also add about a tsp of water to the mix.

Mix the dry ingredients (including any add-ins like flax or chia) and mix well. If you add the liquid first, I find it doesn't mix as well. If using banana, mash it up and beat together with egg (or flax egg) and milk.

Mix wet into dry ingredients. Continue to prepare as you would regular pancakes.

Mix-in ideas:

Banana bread: sprinkle of walnuts, mashed banana and cinnamon (yum!)

Blueberry: Lots of blueberries! Fresh or frozen!

Strawberries and cream: small dots of cream cheese and fresh strawberries

chocolate chip: about a tsp of mini chocolate chips or a few regular chocolate chips

PB and Jelly: berries and peanut butter (you'd sort of mix the peanut butter in with the wet ingredients)

Almond joy: shredded unsweetened coconut, chopped almonds and chocolate chips

Brownie: cocoa powder and a sprinkle of sugar (I'd make sure to add the banana in this case)

Apple pie: chopped apples and cinnamon (alternately, you can sauté the apples with a little cinnamon and butter and serve them on top of the pancakes)

Carrot cake: shredded carrot, raisins and cinnamon (top with some lightly sweetened yogurt for "frosting", yum!)
Anything else you like! The possibilities are literally endless!

This recipe, made in this method including the banana and chocolate chips has roughly 300 calories. Obviously, that all depends on measurements and add-ins.

By the way! You can make extras and freeze them! They freeze so well and you can either heat them on the stove or microwave them or even pop them in the toaster! For me, they're such a great option for busy mornings. I love knowing I have some made and frozen for quick breakfasts.

Try them tomorrow! You'll be hooked too! Do you ever make oatmeal pancakes? How do you like them served?

***Edited*** So I decided to try a grain-free version using some coconut almond meal that I had left after making almond coconut milk. Now, I did NOT care for these. However, if you have actual flour (either almond or coconut) I'd bet they'd have been better. The flavor was fine, but I didn't care for the texture. I'm betting that it's from the grainier texture of the meal over what flour would be. Unfortunately I don't have actual coconut or almond flours and no experience with working with them.