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Carb Solutions: A Healthy Holiday Duchess Swirl

Image of Low Carb Duchess Swirls
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].

Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.

  • The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
  • The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Duchess Potatoes are a fancy version of mashed potatoes with a recipe origin that has been lost in culinary history. The dish first appeared in print on menus served to French royalty on special occasions soon after it became legal in the late 17th Century. Potato cultivation was banned in France from 1748 to 1772; the tuber was considered to be poisonous and cause leprosy! Medieval myths aside, in a sense, the tuber is still banned if you choose or must follow a low carbohydrate discipline! However, that does not mean we carb-conscious cooks cannot enjoy some of the tasty potato preparations developed through the centuries, from the ancient Inca tribes of Peru, who first grew it as a food source, to the royal kitchens of France. We just cannot include the actual tuber in our ingredient list!

Basically, the Duchess Potato is mashed potatoes fortified with egg and cream, piped through a pastry bag into decorative swirls in single-serving portions, and then brushed with butter and browned in the oven. Two glycemic-friendly, easily mashed ingredients come to mind right off that could be subbed for the potato here – yams or cauliflower. Yams because they are rich in flavor, packed with nutrients, and can be a medium to low glycemic stand-in for the potato depending upon how it is prepared. Cauliflower because it’s a good match in color and mashed texture, as well as currently the most politically correct veggie in these gluten-free times of everything cauliflower from rice to pizza! But why choose? ‘Tis the holiday season – a time of festive colors and recipes! Since the Duchess presentation has special occasion royalty in the dish’s history, a two-tone swirl that offers two distinct flavors seems entirely appropriate for the season! These tasty little discs of goodness are quite portal so make a batch for the next holiday potluck to ensure that there will be at least one tasty low-carb choice on the buffet table.

Baby Garnet Yams have thick, reddish-purple skin that protects a bright orange interior. The Garnet has a much denser texture and more complex flavor than the thin-skinned Jewel variety, which is sweeter and cooks up fluffier. The variety’s thick texture and buttery moist yam flavor sweeten during the cooking process. As mentioned, the cooking method for yams determines its glycemic impact on blood sugar. When boiled for 30 minutes, yams have a low GI value of about 46; when boiled for just 8 minutes, they have a medium GI of 61. Roasting destroys resistant starch, giving the yam a much higher glycemic index, i.e., peeled and roasted yams have a GI of 82. Russet potatoes mashed also score a GI of 82 for a similar three-ounce serving. Bottom line – boil.

Cauliflower is a versatile, nutritious vegetable that can be steamed, sautéed, roasted or MASHED. A member of the brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts), cauliflower is packed with nutrients. The veggie provides a significant number of antioxidants, which are beneficial for reducing inflammation and protecting against several chronic diseases. Cauliflower also contains a high fiber content, essential for digestive health and key to maintaining blood sugar balance during digestion. Cauliflower can replace grains and legumes in many recipes, which is a great way to eat more veggies while following a low-carb diet.

Not a whole lot to this recipe – essentially cook, mash, fill a pastry bag and form swirls -- though the visual and flavor results belie its simple prep. However, a few tips I learned the hard way will save the reader time and angst. Firstly, the word “mashed” needs to be defined for this recipe to go smoothly, literally. Meaning “chunky style” in a pastry bag will not work. I missed a few pieces in my mash, which halted production when one of those overlooked pieces hit and clogged the tip of the bag. So, think “puree” as in velvet smooth / not mashed; if need be, use a mixer or food processor. It sure beats having to unclog the bag in the middle of the prep and then clean up the mess that generates after!

Filling the bag with two colors that must be kept separated during the filling process was another learning curve moment. If you have an XL pastry bag, you can fill two smaller bags with each color and then insert both into the larger bag. For us savory cooks with just the bare minimum in the baking tool chest, there is a way to carefully fill both colors on each side. First, slow down and be deliberate. Do not try to fill one-half of one side of the bag with, say, the yam mixture like a half circle; it leaves no room to work the second color; instead, use a long knife or thin spatula to lay down a thin strip of the mix from the tip up along on one side. Then thicken that strip with another layer, leaving plenty of space on the opposite side of the bag. Now carefully hold the side with the strip of the mixture in the palm and apply the same strip of cauliflower from deep in bag up. Thicken with another swatch, though the colors should not be touching. Now carefully squeeze the bag to bring the two colors together, doing a few test swirls on the side until both colors start to come out evenly. The bag will have to be cleaned and filled several times -- practice makes perfect.

A holiday potluck dish has several prerequisites. It has to be able to be made in advance, is portable, reheats quickly and is easy to serve. This dish can be made and refrigerated for a day or two, then transported on its own serving tray and reheated before serving. Include a spatula in the presentation for easy pick-up, though the small swirls are sturdy enough to be finger food. Enjoy!

Low Carb Duchess Swirls
Yield: 12 swirls of differing sizes
Image of Ingredients
1 head Cauliflower, florets separated for steaming
4 Baby Garnet Yams, peeled and cut into chunks
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons whipping cream
4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon agave

Image of steamed and mashed cauliflower
Steam cauliflower florets for about 15 minutes or until tender. Place in a large bowl or food processor and mash into a smooth puree. Add cream cheese, 2 tablespoons milk and 1 tablespoon butter; beat until light and fluffy.
Image of sweet potatoes puree
Bring yams to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes until tender. Drain and place in another bowl; mash or process until smooth puree, then add in the orange juice, agave and remaining butter.
Image of purees in plastic bag
Carefully apply the cauliflower mixture to one side of a pastry bag; the yam mixture to the other side.
Image of oven-ready swirls
Pipe into large and small duel-colored swirls onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper; I used two trays to accommodate the shorter cooking time for the small swirls. (Photo combines sizes from both trays)
Image of baked low-carb swirls
Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes or until heated through and tops are lightly browned. Note: the small swirls cook quicker, so watch carefully and remove sooner.
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