Cooking with Agave

October 21, 2009 at 1:20 pm , by

CookbookFolks who’ve followed my posts may remember that I discovered agave nectar in my search for sweet things to feed the Jam Man, my family member diagnosed with diabetes two months ago. That’s the sweet syrup of the agave plant (used to make tequila). It has a low glycemic index, which means it’s digested more slowly than many other sweeteners so it’s less likely to spike blood insulin levels. One problem: cooking with agave can be complicated; it’s sweeter than sugar and its insulin fiber means liquids don’t cook away as fast. Here’s how Diabetes Forecast, the magazine of the American Diabetes Association explained baking with it, in a story on sweeteners: “To adjust a recipe, replace each cup of sugar with two-thirds to three-quarters cup of agave nectar, then reduce all other liquids in the recipe by a quarter. Lower your oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent burning, and shorten the cooking time on cookies by 3 to 5 minutes and cakes by 7 to 10 minutes.” Gulp! I stuck to simple things like using it to sweeten a butternut squash purée I used to make with maple syrup.

Fortunately, a few weeks ago Stephen Richards stopped by the office. He’s the author of Delicious Meets Nutritious, a cookbook where all the sweetening is done with agave. Xagave, to be precise—his company’s blend of blue and white agave nectar. Richards, an amateur cook, created the recipes in his Utah kitchen. Amazingly there’s even a recipe for the Jam Man’s favorite jam—raspberry, which we make every summer (we have a raspberry patch). I may have to indulge in some pricey store-bought berries so we can try it sooner. Meantime, with Thanksgiving coming up, I’m definitely planning to make their cranberry sauce. Do you have any good agave recipes to share?

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In Search of Sweet: Recipes for Diabetics

September 16, 2009 at 11:50 am , by

3825303348_f3da0e3740I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. But when you write about health for a living you do get asked a lot of health questions. Which is why I find myself on a hunt for diabetic desserts. It would be the Jam Man—the person with the biggest sweet tooth in my family—who got chosen for this disease. The Carnivore, who could devour an entire Marcella Hazan roast lemon chicken if dieting would permit it, was not hit. Nor were Pasta Guy or the Chocolate Twins.

So far, various family members have tried making granulated Splenda versions of some of our favorite pies and cakes—it did a particularly nice job on apple crisp and made a tasty linzer torte, but doesn’t taste quite like sugar. It also made delicious, but rather fragile, peanut butter cookies. Haven’t tested the sugar blend or  brown sugar versions, but I’m already finding web advice that recommends adjusting baking times and ingredients when baking with some sweeteners.

3782467373_ea66d6f81c_tWith one glass of alcohol a day on the diet, we tried a fresh lemon whiskey sour with agave nectar (blue agave is the succulent used for tequila). One dietitian green-lighted the nectar for its low glycemic index, which makes it digest slowly. The American Diabetes Association puts agave on its list of sweetener options but there’s still a lot of controversy about how healthy it is, especially for diabetics, because it has a high fructose content. The light agave has a very natural taste so I’m hoping to use it more when I find out more about it.

I also converted the famous Weight Watchers pumpkin mousse recipe (this blog has the recipe I remember from my WW class about 10 years ago) by using frozen raspberries (a Jam Man favorite) food-processed with a little milk in place of canned pumpkin. It tasted pretty good, but was more gluey than I remembered the original mousse being. Note for next time: Try just 1 box of pudding mix and stir in some Greek yogurt.

Do you have any great diabetic or sugar-free recipes? Please share them in the comments—we really need them!

In the meantime, I’m getting Jam Man a subscription to Diabetic Living magazine, which is owned by our parent company—and a good family to join when diabetes strikes someone you love.

Jam photo by amiefedora. Agave photo by oonaghs_eye.