Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Healthy Holiday Baking Recipes from Paul Portelli


It's already started. The holiday season and all the food, beverages and social events that come with it. Regardless of whether you celebrate a holiday at this time of year, chances are you have been invited to a few parties, family dinners, or office celebrations and most of these will probably involve treats that you wouldn't eat on a regular basis.

If you're trying to eat well, manage a medical condition, lose weight, or just don't want to eat yourself into an uncomfortable glut in can be a tricky time. If you love sweet treats and are tempted to participate it can be doubly challenging. That's why today's blog is about Paul Portelli. In the past year he has made some major changes in his lifestyle with great success. One of Paul's strategies is to replace his high sugar and high carbohydrate treats with some healthy alternatives. He still has treats but now they are healthier and he eats them in the context of a broader, healthier diet.

Paul Portelli had his first heart attack 15 years ago when he was 43 years old and went for an emergency angioplasty ending up with two stents in his coronary arteries.  His second heart attack came at age 52 while vacationing in Turkey and he had to have another two stents inserted.  At 55 while getting an angiogram he was told that any more stents would just be a bandage solution and that he needed open heart double bypass surgery.  

After the bypass surgery he made an effort to make some very superficial lifestyle changes. But by the summer of 2013 when he met with his cardiologist he weighed in at 207 pounds.  At a height of 5’7” he knew he was carrying around a lot of extra weight. His doctor had warned him that he really needed to lose at least 30 pounds and although Paul thought about this advice he didn't really make any changes at the time.


But on Jan 2nd 2014 Paul decided to press a new game plan into action. He got rid of all gluten and refined sugar products in the house and started a concerted effort to change his diet and lose weight.  He went on-line to find recipes that were gluten and sugar free and found many very valuable websites that he still uses on a regular basis.  By avoiding gluten and refined sugar he was able to lose 40 pounds.  He is now 167 pounds and has taken 5 inches off of his waistline.  


Paul combines his new diet with long daily walks in the woods.  He planted a large garden last summer and eats lots of fresh produce and well balanced meals. He is conscious of everything that goes into his grocery cart.   


Paul still loves to eat gooey sweet treats and desserts. So he makes his own and only uses natural sweeteners. By eating these homemade treats in moderation and in the context of a vegetable rich diet he is able to maintain his new healthier weight and has a lot more energy and feels great in the process. Paul says "my biggest joy these days is being able to tie my shoes without my big gut restricting my diaphragm and making me short of breath". 


Following are some of Paul's favourite recipes for sweet but healthy treats. They contain healthy fats and grains, are packed with flavour and are easy to make.


Editor's note: if you have type 2 diabetes natural sugars like honey, dates, maple syrup, agave, and bananas will still elevate your blood sugar and require an insulin response and should be eaten in very limited amounts. Sugar alternatives (like splenda) are not an appropriate substitute as they also have an effect on the hormones that regulate blood sugar.


Tahini Cookies

  • 6 tablespoons of tahini
  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cups quick cooking oats
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. In a medium bowl, stir together the tahini, honey and cinnamon. Mix in walnuts and oats until well blended. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 – 13 minutes or until edges are slightly brown. Cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

The Healthiest Cookies EVER 

  • 1 1/2 cups raw walnut halves
  • 1 cup medjool dates, pitted (about 12)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 flax egg (see below)
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with an “S” blade, process the dates and walnuts together until a crumbly texture is formed. Add in the salt, baking soda, vanilla, and flax egg and process again until the batter is relatively smooth, a little stickier than traditional cookie dough. Add in the chocolate chips and briefly pulse, just to combine. Spoon the batter onto a lined baking sheet, and use your hands to gently flatten the cookie dough. (Tip: Wet your hands with water to prevent sticking!) Bake at 350F for 12 minutes, or until the edges are slightly golden. Allow to cool on the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve immediately, and store the leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer for best shelf life. These cookies should last a week in the fridge, and a month or more in the freezer. Makes 12 cookies. 



How To Make Flax Eggs (or Chia Eggs) Serves: A quick and easy egg replacement, featuring freshly ground flax or chia seeds. Mix 1 tablespoon ground flax or chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water until well combined, then place in the fridge to set for 15 minutes. Use as you would an egg in many of your favourite baking recipes.



Eatmore’ Fudge Squares

  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup almonds, unsalted
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, unsalted
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 4 tbsp natural almond butter
  • 1/4 cup more unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tbsp unpasteurized honey (K note: strict vegans can use agave)


Put dates in a bowl with warm water, allow dates to soak for 30 minutes, then drain. Mix together dates, almonds, walnuts, and 1/4 cup cocoa powder in a food processor until well blended. Spread mixture in a 9×5 baking pan (or an 8×8 is okay) until evenly distributed, and press down gently with a spoon. Mix together bananas, almond butter, honey, and other 1/4 cup cocoa powder in the food processor until well blended. Spread mixture over bottom layer until evenly distributed. Place in freezer for 30 minutes. Cut into 16 squares. Re-freeze whatever you don’t eat, and enjoy at another time!
Paul's option: put a layer of fresh raspberries or sliced bananas in between the two layers.  


Coconut Date Rolls:

  • 12 Dates
  • 3 Tbsp hot water
  • Shredded coconut

Boil water and add 3 tbsp to shallow dish with pitted dates inside. The dates shouldn’t be totally submerged in water, just enough to soak up some water. Let dates soak for about 10-15 minutes. Remove the dates from the water and place into a food processor and run until the dates are chopped. Form the chopped dates into a ball and then roll them into the shredded coconut. Place in the refrigerator and let harden for about an hour. You can dip the hardened balls into the healthy chocolate (see below) and freeze. They do not freeze hard. Will keep well in the refrigerator. 


Healthy Chocolate:

  • 1 cup Coco Powder
  • 1 cup Coconut Oil
  • ½ cup Maple syrup

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl. Pour into a chocolate mould and add whatever you like, nuts, raisins, natural peanut butter (no sugar). Put in the freezer for 20 minutes.  They must remain refrigerated. Can also use for dipping whole dried apricots, coconut date balls, strawberries etc. 


Old Fashioned Gluten Free Johnny Cake (Cornbread)

  • 2 cups coarsely ground yellow cornmeal  (can use regular cornmeal)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 egg at room temperature, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled (can substitute coconut oil)
  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, at room temperature (can substitute sour cream or  buttermilk)
  • 4 tablespoons honey

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Grease a 12-inch cast iron skillet or an 8-inch square or round pan, and set it aside. In a large bowl, whisk the cornmeal, salt, baking soda and baking powder, until combined well. In separate bowl, mix the egg, butter, yogurt and honey, and whisk to combine well. Create a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. The mixture will be relatively thin (thinner if you used buttermilk). Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 20-30 minutes (closer to 20 minutes if using a cast iron skillet), or until lightly golden brown on top, golden brown around the edges, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Slice and serve immediately.

Thanks for reading Getting Healthy with NP Sam. Comments welcome - click the pencil icon below. 

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