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Carb Solutions: An Elegant Valentine’s Dessert

Image of Pomegranate Panna Cotta
By Dennis Linden

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.

A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
  • 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.
Looking for a perfect dessert to complete the menu of a romantic dinner for two that you are cooking for your carb-counting sweetie? Or perhaps you’re a diabetic doing the counting and the cooking of that special meal who does not want to ruin the mood by serving a dish that is “all about you” due to your own dietary restrictions, even though it is – and must be! Here’s a decadently delicious Pomegranate Panna Cotta that will have little, if any, glycemic impact that looks and tastes devilishly sexy.

Panna Cotta, a simple pudding with its origin in Northern Italy, is usually made with heavy cream, sugar, and gelatin. However, those ingredients can be tweaked to suit both caloric and carb considerations. The fat content of the cream can be eliminated without losing the thick consistency by subbing in a mix of non-fat milk and yogurt. Of course, sugar is easily swapped out in favor of Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup to make it glycemic-friendly.

The hardest part about making a good panna cotta is achieving the proper consistency and texture—it should be silky smooth and just firm, with a gentle wobble. My first stage was probably ready for adding the pomegranate topping after about three hours in the ‘frig. Admittedly, that “wobble” characteristic was the source of paranoid visions of the pomegranate jelly disappearing into a pudding that had not set properly, which sentenced my wine glasses to an overnight chill that might not have been necessary.

Now for the juicy stuff! The Pomegranate has always been notoriously related to the battle of the sexes in a good way. The fruit has been charged as the real culprit that Eve allegedly used to tempt Adam and not the apple. The aphrodisiac legend of the fruit started with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who put forth the pomegranate, with its abundance of seeds, as a symbol of fertility. The actual term aphrodisiac was coined from this mythical goddess’s name, so it was a natural guilt by association reputation for the pomegranate. Of course, the vibrant red coloring of the fruit has always been a shade that connotes sexual desire and heat.

While the science on the actual aphrodisiac effects of a pomegranate will probably always be mired in myth, the powerful antioxidants in the fruit have been proven to have a very positive effect on the physical well-being of the heart. Those antioxidants slow down or inhibit the hardening of the arteries, which can fuel various heart diseases. With regards to diabetes, fresh pomegranate juice actually increases the function of the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. It also reduces insulin resistance and makes the cells use up insulin more efficiently. As a result, glucose (blood sugar) is processed more efficiently by one natural occurring insulin. By lowering insulin resistance, pomegranates can also reduce diabetes-induced obesity. Further, the antioxidant anthocyanin that gives the fruit its rich red color, is believed to be effective in controlling type 2 diabetes.

For the occasion at hand, a romantic Valentine’s dinner, the pomegranate is just damned sexy and its appearance on the table sets the mood without anyone needing to worry about the very unromantic subject of carbohydrate management! I found that two tubs of Melissa’s arils were equal to about one medium-sized fruit for the whole seeds for the garnish, which should not be overlooked to enhance the appearance of the dish as well as the nutritional value of consuming the entire seed and not just the strained juice. Don’t forget the soft music and candles!

Pomegranate Panna Cotta
Serves: 2 servings
Image of ingredients
Panna Cotta

2 TBS hot water
2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
½ cup whole milk
1½ cup non-fat Plain Yogurt
1 TBS pure vanilla extract
1 TBS Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup

Pomegranate Jelly

¼ cup hot water
1 ½ tsp gelatin
2 tubs (5 oz. ea.) Melissa’s Pomegranate Arils, juiced (about ½ cup)
A sprinkle of whole Pomegranate arils (garnish)

Image of preparing panna cotta
For the Panna Cotta: Place the water in a small dish, then sprinkle the gelatin on top and allow it to bloom for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, yogurt and agave - stir until simmering and the agave has dissolved. Reduce the heat to low, add the vanilla extract and bloomed gelatin and whisk for several minutes, until all the gelatin has dissolved. Fill wine glasses ¾ full with the panna cotta and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, best overnight.
Image of Pomegranate Syrup
In a blender or food processor blend the pomegranate arils until liquid. Strain seeds out with fine mesh strainer.
Image of serving panna cotta
For the Pomegranate topping: Once the panna cotta has chilled, dissolve 1½ teaspoons of gelatin in 2 oz. of very hot water. Then add the pomegranate juice, stir and let cool for 5 minutes. Then pour a layer of the pomegranate juice on top of the panna cotta and chill for another few hours.

Plating: When the pomegranate jelly has firmed up, garnish with whole pomegranate arils. Pair with Orange Muscat wine and candlelight!
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