The holidays always call for plenty of desserts. Whether I’m throwing a party, giving gifts of food, or reliving holidays past through sweet treats, desserts are integral to my life this month. I’ll share a few of my favorite recipes with you.
Every year I host a Christmas caroling party at my home. Choirs from churches all over the area stop by to sing in my living room. Sometimes a Filipino celebrity or two will perform. My guests just love it. I like to put out a dinner buffet so that the choirs have something to eat before they go home. The buffet always includes pretty bite-size desserts. My Brazil Nut Tarts are dainty and healthy and delicious. Brazil nuts provide selenium, vitamin E, and omega 3 fatty acids. All of these FoodTrients keep your skin healthy, revitalized, and elastic. I add a hint of lime juice to brighten the flavor and fat-free evaporated milk and Whey Low Gold brown sugar substitute to keep the calories down. The crust is made with whole-wheat flour. The singers gobble them up. The recipe is in my cookbook FoodTrients: Age-defying Recipes for a Sustainable Body.
I love to give food as Christmas presents. On my list are family members, friends, employees, and doctors’ offices full of people. I need to make large quantities of whatever treat I choose. A couple of years ago, I had a custom-made ice cream flavor whipped up by a local ice cream maker. To make an unusual dessert, I used pandan leaves. Pandan leaves (“pandanus” in French and “pandano” in Portuguese) are sometimes referred to as “the vanilla of the east.” They are long and bright green and are used as a flavoring in Asian and Indian cooking. I’ve made cakes and have flavored creams and custards with pandan leaves with excellent results. The leaves need to be pounded or steeped to release their subtle flavor and aroma. Sometimes they are used—like banana leaves—to wrap meat and fish before grilling or steaming. In India, they are used to season biryani rice dishes. Their flavor is similar to lemongrass, but less tangy. I love to pair pandan extract with young coconut milk, and that’s the combination I used in my unique, pale green Pandan Ice Cream. Everyone loved it, even though most of them had never even heard of pandan leaves. It was a Christmas surprise!
Last year I made batches and batches of my Prune and Walnut Bars as gifts. I cut them in pretty triangles, set them on decorated plates, and wrapped them up with cellophane and ribbon. I delivered them to the offices of doctors who care for my nursing-home residents. The sweet, chewy bars were gone in a flash! Prunes and walnuts are loaded with antioxidants, so these bars are a holiday treat that come with age-defying side effects. Because I use Smart Balance 50/50 Butter Blend instead of butter, they aren’t too caloric. I also lower the sugar impact by using Whey Low Gold brown sugar substitute. The nurses on my list appreciate this. I’m sure they’ll want more Prune and Walnut Bars this year. The recipe is also in my cookbook.
I like to pair exotic ingredients with familiar and comforting recipes from my past. As a nostalgic treat to enjoy at home, I make Cherimoya Circles. These custard balls rolled in sugar crystals are based on a recipe my mother created many years ago (though I replace the butter with Smart Balance 50/50 Butter Blend). I use cherimoyas as the main ingredient because they’re unusual and exotic. Cherimoyas are somewhat rare in North America, although they grow in tropical South America and in Spain. Cherimoyas can be purchased online from melissas.com all year long and shipped anywhere in the U.S. In Britain they’re called “custard apples,” which aptly describes their texture and flavor. These pale green, round fruits, about the size of a baseball, need to be soft and ripe before they can be eaten. The black seeds inside are poisonous and must be discarded without cutting or crushing. But I go to the trouble of finding and ripening and seeding cherimoyas because their perfumed, delicate flavor is so pleasant. Also, cherimoyas offer vitamin B6 (an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory), vitamin C, iron, and riboflavin for cell energy. Click here for the recipe.