Winter blues. I think we all get them. The long, dark nights. The cold temperatures. The snow and ice. At least that’s what happens here in the Northeast. Maybe if we lived in a tropical climate where the temperatures never dropped below 70 and I could take a walk on the beach every morning during the winter, things would be different. But here in winter wonderland, I am reaching that point in the season where I can’t wait for longer, warmer days and to just get a glimpse of something green growing around us. It happens every year. But, this year, I am making an effort to embrace the winter season for what it is and what it means to our bodies. For me, this means going to bed earlier to catch up on sleep that I have missed out on over the past 7 years of pregnancies, breastfeeding, and late night wakings. And trying to spend more time curled up with books that have been on my reading list for years. And indulging in comfort foods that my body craves during the cold months. I find myself taking that extra helping at dinnertime and not minding so much that I’ve had to switch to my larger sizes of clothing usually stored in a container in the basement. I’m working on filling myself up in every way possible. For food, that mostly means hearty soups and stews and baked goods. I pretty much love anything that comes right out of the oven right now…muffins, breads, cookies, granola. There’s something about plucking a muffin from the tray and breaking it in half and watching the heat escape as I inhale that scented steam. Mmmm…I’m feeling better about winter already. But the other night, for whatever reason, I found myself craving the no-bake cookies that my mom used to make when we were growing up. True, you won’t get that hot oven smell hovering in the kitchen when you make these cookies but you can still enjoy them warm and the chocolate satisfies my comfort food craving all the same. Because of my aversion to refined flours and sugars and unhealthy oils, I haven’t pulled out an old family cookie recipe in years. They always seem to contain heaps of all-purpose flour, vegetable shortening, and white or brown sugar. But I pulled out the one labeled “Mom’s No-Bake Cookies” and ran my finger down the list of ingredients…sugar, milk, cocoa powder, butter, peanut butter, salt, oatmeal, vanilla. And I thought, I can do this. I can take this recipe and make it a little bit healthier for the next generation without losing the delicious taste that I’ve come to expect. So after swapping out the sugar for maple syrup (and cutting the amount in HALF!) and the butter for coconut oil, I had a new version of the no-bake cookie that uses no refined sugars and is still tasty enough to make you want to eat the entire batch at once! Win! After the first round of taste testing, Joe suggested that it might be nice to enhance the subtle coconut flavor that you get from the coconut oil. So I made a second batch with shredded coconut added to the mixture and we decided that they taste like little chocolate macaroons. Yum! Here is the final version of the recipe:
- (all ORGANIC, if possible)
- 1 cup maple syrup (could also use honey here)
- 1/2 cup milk (I used raw cow’s milk but you could use your milk of choice – almond, coconut, rice, etc)
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 1/2 cup nut butter (I used almond but any would work – peanut, cashew, sunflower seed)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 1/2 cups rolled oats
- 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Mix maple syrup, milk, cocoa powder, and coconut oil in a pan over medium heat. Heat until melted and combined. Stir for 1 minute and turn off heat. Stir in nut butter, salt, oats, and shredded coconut. After mixture has cooled slightly, add vanilla (this will keep the vanilla from evaporating since it is alcohol-based).
- Spread some wax paper out on a baking sheet. Drop batter by spoonfuls onto wax paper. Let cool slightly. (This is a great place for a taste test while they are still warm!) Place the entire baking sheet in refrigerator or freezer to completely cool and harden. Transfer cookies to a container and store in refrigerator or freezer to keep coconut oil in a solid state.
Feel free to play with this recipe to align with your tastes. Don’t ever be afraid to change up a recipe if it doesn’t work for you! If I’ve learned anything in my years of baking experiments and substitutions, it’s that baking is much more forgiving than I had originally imagined and it is in fact possible to eliminate refined sugars and flours (or whatever it is that doesn’t work for you…gluten, dairy, etc) and still enjoy the end result. When I first started on this journey of overhauling our pantry ingredients, I thought that I could only substitute half of the all-purpose flour or vegetable oil in a recipe at a time. But I quickly realized that a bread, muffin, or cookie recipe with 100% wheat flour and even something like ground flax seed or applesauce in place of all the oil is still awesome and satisfies my sweet tooth. I also replace all sugar and brown sugar in recipes nowadays. Instead, I only use honey, maple syrup, or raw agave nectar. I get a lot of questions about how to use these substitutes in recipes and I can’t say that I follow any hard and fast rules or mathematical equations but here is a rough guide to how it works for me:
Flours – I replace all white flours with whole wheat flour in a 1:1 ratio – I also frequently use rolled oats to replace about 1/3 to 1/2 of the flour in a recipe
Sugars – I replace all sugar and brown sugar with honey or maple syrup but here I only use 1/2 to 3/4 of the amount of sugar called for in the original recipe
Oils – I replace all vegetable oil or shortening (and sometimes butter) in recipes with one of the following options:
- coconut oil in a 1:1 ratio
- applesauce (or pear sauce) in a 1:1 ratio
- mashed bananas in a 1:1 ratio
- pureed pumpkin or squash in a 1:1 ratio
- ground flax seed in a 3:1 ratio (for example, if a recipe calls for 1/4 cup oil, I use 3/4 cup flax)
Hope that helps some of you get out those old family recipes and make them again, with your own twist! Happy baking and here’s hoping that the groundhog does not see his shadow on Monday!