2 Healthy Choices for Holiday Treats

I’ve said before that sugar, not healthy fat, is what is killing us and contributing to obesity and so many chronic degenerative diseases.

Having said that, I know that life would be no fun if we couldn’t indulge in some kind of sweet or a dessert now and then, particularly during the holidays when decorated cookies, pumpkin pie and ice cream, gingerbread, and over the top fanciful desserts abound.

So here are a couple of recipes I’m going to try this holiday. SugarPlums and Dark Chocolate, Macadamia Nut Bark sprinkled- with- Sea- Salt. If you try then, write a response and let me know what you think!

This first recipe is perfect for what I’ve been looking for, because I USED to make this chocolate cookie/candy recipe (Haystack cookie) every Christmas and give it to my neighbors and my family. The basic idea is good: chocolate and nuts. But  there’s a big difference between this recipe and the one I used to make.

The one I used to make was made out of regular chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, cocktail peanuts, and those dried, fried chow mein noodles that you get either in a can or a package. If you were to grab a bag or can of each of those and read the labels, it wouldn’t take long for you to realize that this is a seriously unhealthy treat full of bad chemicals. The noodles are the worst… full of hydrogenated fat and other unhealthy ingredients.

Still… the cookie was tasty… so how to make it in a healthier version?

Here’s an idea from Mark’s Primal Blueprint which utilizes quality chocolate and nuts, along with the latest popular addition to sweets… sea salt.

Dark Chocolate Macadamia Bark Sprinkled with Sea Salt

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 09:40 AM PST

chocbark2‘Tis the season of candy and sugary baked goods showing up everywhere you go. Plates of cookies, tins of caramel corn, strings of candy canes and leaden logs of fruitcake – why these things symbolize good cheer is hard to figure out. There’s no reason to be a complete Scrooge about holiday desserts, though, just as there’s no reason to deprive yourself entirely if you’re craving something festive. When your sweet tooth goes looking for the ultimate dessert indulgence this year, look no further. Dark Chocolate Macadamia Bark Sprinkled with Sea Salt tastes fully and completely like “real” dessert. Not only will you enjoy every bite, so will the family and friends that you gift it to (hint, hint, don’t eat it all yourself!)

This perfectly Primal dessert is loaded with flavonoids from the dark chocolate and has a positive fatty acid profile from the macadamias. But the very best part about this decadent Primal treat is that you can whip it up in less than 30 minutes using only three ingredients. How’s that for making your gift-giving simple this year?

The full recipe is below, but there’s not a whole lot more to it than melting chocolate, stirring in nuts, sprinkling with sea salt and refrigerating. So why is the result so amazing? First of all, it’s important to use good chocolate. The darker the better, both for health reasons and intensity of flavor. Themacadamia nuts add a sweet, buttery component and the crucial sprinkle of sea salt on top is the flavor equivalent of an exclamation point.

macadamia nut

The result is a dessert that’s the perfect thing to nibble on around a roaring fire, surrounded by those you love most. Or, at a holiday office party surrounded by those you love a little less dearly. Or, at that neighborhood cookie exchange you can never seem to get out of…wherever the holiday festivities take you, it will be a little bit merrier if Dark Chocolate Macadamia Bark Sprinkled with Sea Salt is your sensible indulgence of choice.


ingredients 28

  • 9-10 ounces dark chocolate (aim for 85 – 90% cacao), chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon sea salt


Heat 2/3 of the chocolate in the microwave or on the stove. If using a microwave, heat the chocolate in 30-second increments, stopping to stir vigorously each time. It should take 2 minutes or less to melt the chocolate. If using the stove, create a double boiler by filling a pot with a few inches of water then balance or hold a smaller pot filled with the chocolate just above the water line. As the water gently boils, the steam will melt the chocolate in the smaller pot without burning it. Stir occasionally, removing from heat as soon as the chocolate melts completely.

Remove the melted chocolate from the microwave or stove. Add the remaining hard chocolate to the hot melted chocolate, stirring vigorously until it melts as well.

melting chocolate

Stir the macadamia nuts into the chocolate.

adding nuts

Line a rimmed dish of your choice with parchment paper or wax paper. The size of the dish will determine how thick the bark is. A 2-quart squarebaking dish makes thicker bark (like in the photos). A larger dish will obviously yield thinner bark.

pouring chocolate

Spread the chocolate evenly in the rimmed dish. Sprinkle with sea salt. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes, longer if chocolate isn’t solid yet. Use a knife to cut the bark into squares or misshapen pieces. Store the bark at room temperature.


Another healthy holiday treat is the proverbial “sugarplum”, from both The Nutcracker’s “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy”, and The Night Before Christmas fame: “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads“. I can see why the kids were dreaming of them… they sound delicious, while still full of healthy ingredients  such as nuts, dried fruits and spices.

This recipe is from The Nourished Kitchen

sugar plums recipeSugar plums, round and humble, evoke a sense of otherworldly fancy – of mystic lore, ancient yuletide celebrations, of poetry.  From Clement C. Moore’s much-cherished ‘Twas the Night before Christmas to sugar plum fairies of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, these beloved confections have woven themselves in and out of the culinary traditions of Christmas and Yule.  And while sugar plums still hold a place of fanciful whimsy in our poetry and plays, the confections are little more than a vestige of the bygone days of the old-world, all but forgotten in modern kitchens.  A simple sugar plum recipe contains but nuts and dried fruit – wholesome ingredients,  that, in their humility, may lack cloying sweetness that modern holiday treats like sugar cookies, marshmallow fudge and peppermint bark offer to contemporary tastebuds.

With culinary tradition, of course, comes nourishment and while the complex sweetness of a traditional sugar plum may pale in comparison to modern-day sweets, the confections offer a greater and more complex depth of flavor – combining allspice and coriander, cinnamon and fennel or other spices with dates, dried cherries, figs, prunes and apricots.  There was a time when prunes, wrinkled and plain, served as a treat and a time when sugar plums made up the stuff of children’s dreams.

The term sugar plum is a bit of a misnomer by today’s standards as it once applied to nearly any small, round treat – from dried fruit to hard candy made of sugar and coriander.  Today we think of a plum strictly as a summer stone fruit, with the sugar plum itself being one of the sweetest varieties of fruit – lacking the mouth-puckering sour skin of other plums.

In the sugar plum recipe below, we call for soaking walnuts overnight in slightly salty warm water – a traditional process that not only improves flavor by releasing some of the nuts’ bitter tannins into the water, but also improves digestion of these foods by neutralizing enzyme inhibitors naturally present in nuts and seeds; moreover, the simple process also helps to facilitate the degradation of food phytate – a naturally occurring antinutrient which binds minerals in the digestive tract preventing your body from reaping the full complement of minerals offered by nuts, seeds, grains and legumes.  We couple soaked walnuts with dates, prunes and unsulphured apricots as well as an assortment of old-world spices: cinnamon, allspice and coriander for a treat that is wonderfully nourishing and truly special.

Sugar Plum Recipe

Sugar plums, wholesome and humble, are easy to prepare at home – combining nuts with once exotic spices and dried fruits.  Perhaps this Christmas Eve, you can find a little room on your supper table for these nourishing treats from a time gone by.  You can purchase organic and wild-crafted spices online.

Sugar Plum Recipe: Ingredients

  • 1 cup shelled walnuts (see sources)
  • 1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt (see sources)
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 cup chopped pitted dates (see sources)
  • 1/2 cup chopped unsulphured apricots (see sources)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted prunes (see sources)
  • powdered unrefined cane sugar (see sources) or unsweetened dessicated coconut (see sources), optional

Sugar Plum Recipe: Equipment

  • mixing bowl
  • colander
  • kitchen towel
  • food processor

Sugar Plum Recipe: Method

  1. Toss walnuts into a mixing bowl with one-half teaspoon unrefined sea salt and add warm water to cover by two inches.  Allow the nuts to soak, covered, in salty water overnight between eight and twelve hours.
  2. After the nuts have soaked between eight and twelve hours, drain them in a colander and rinse them well.  Pat them dry with a kitchen towel.
  3. Toss the soaked nuts into a food processor with the zest of one orange, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, coriander as well as chopped pitted dates, unsulphured apricots and pitted prunes.
  4. Pulse the mixture three to four times to combine, then process the dried fruit, walnuts and spices until a paste forms – about four or five minutes.
  5. Transfer the paste to a mixing bowl and form the sugar plums by rolling about two tablespoons of the paste in the palms of your hands until a round ball forms.  Dredge the sugar plum in powdered unrefined cane sugar or unsweetened dessicated coconut.

YIELD: about 3 dozen sugar plums.
TIME: 10 minutes (active), 8 to 12 hours (soaking)
VARIATIONS: Substitute any nut or seed for walnuts and use the spices of your choice.

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2 Responses to 2 Healthy Choices for Holiday Treats

  1. johnrmcphee says:

    Susan What do you think re Mark & his Primal Blog? Seems to me as though this is The Gospel … and is a regimen that would be hard to beat?

  2. I think it’s great… and I check it out most everyday. Tough for some people to embrace completely and a big jump after being told for most of our lives that fat is bad and to eat bagels, pasta and grains…. a lifetime of habits and lifestyle patterns can be hard to break.
    But it’s in keeping with everything that I’ve been told during and since taking my classes. Logic alone would tell you there’s something to it, as we evolved to survive on what was available. And the fact that fat is the main preferred supply of fuel for muscles (the heart being one), our fat phobia is disturbing. But of course, the BAD ADULTERATED fats really ARE bad, and I think exercise has to be considered in the whole equation. Our early ancestors ate lots of natural, healthy fat… but they also got lots of exercise too… they weren’t sitting around on their behinds in front of a computer. (oooops! what am I doing right now?).
    Do you follow his blueprint John?

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