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Welcome to Athlete Food - our continuous adventure to seek out healthy food around the globe and at our own dinner tables. Hope you are inspired to get on a plane or get out the plates and cook a healthy dinner tonight!

Pecan Pie Smackdown

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November is the only time of year I can be counted on to cook something from scratch. This annual event comes in the form of pecan pie, made on Thanksgiving Day, when oven space is most precious. Vying for oven real estate with my cousin Anna’s 20-pound turkey is part of the ritual, as is a last-minute trip to the grocery store to buy the ingredients. I like to think my years of experience with this level of time-crunched, competitive cooking prepared me for triathlons.

My secret recipe is the one on the back of the Karo syrup bottle. My secret ingredient is chocolate chips. This year I decided to give my traditional pie an Athlete Food-spin by cutting the sweetness. To accomplish this, I considered using the coconut nectar I picked up in Kona instead of corn syrup. And I knew just how to adjust the recipe: I called Bec.

Bec came up with some good substitution strategies. But we both decided it would be best to stage a pre-holiday taste test. Our family has a bias against anything new or different on Thanksgiving. Their reluctance to alter the Thanksgiving menu dates back about 15 years to a novel cranberry dish that looked incredibly enticing. Let's just say it didn't deliver.  

With that notorious bowl of cranberry relish in mind, Bec and I went ingredient shopping last Friday and then set up a pop-up pie shop in Bec's apartment. We made a "healthy" pecan pie with cacao nibs, coconut nectar, and a whole-wheat piecrust. We pitted that against my recipe, made with one substitution. Bec didn't have any regular sugar in her pantry—no shock there—so we subbed in coconut sugar.

The pies looked identically delicious when we pulled them out of the oven. But as we reminded ourselves, looking tasty is only half of the battle to triumph at the Thanksgiving table.

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During our blind taste test, I liked elements of both pies. The healthy pie was sweet enough, but didn't leave me with the overwhelming urge to brush my teeth. The combination of the coconut nectar and cacao nibs resulted in a faintly boozy and pleasantly bitter taste. In comparison, the traditional pie's filling registered as bland and too sweet. The velvety chocolate chips won the texture prize for the traditional pie. While we both enjoyed the crunchy cacao nibs, we both thought it would be best to stick with a more classic take on this holiday dessert.

My conclusion: for Thanksgiving I'll bake my traditional pie, but will substitute coconut nectar for half of the corn syrup and use coconut sugar in place of regular sugar. Check in with @athletefood on Twitter and Instagram on Thanksgiving Day to find how the updated version of my pie turns out. I predict the Athlete Food upgrades will make my pie the new star of the dessert table. —Laurel

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The Recipes

Laurel's Pecan Pie (adapted from the back of the Karo bottle)

•                1 cup Karo Light Corn Syrup

•                3 eggs

•                1 cup coconut sugar

•                2 tablespoons butter, melted

•                1 TK vanilla extract

•                1/2 cup bittersweet dark chocolate chips

•                1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecans

•                1 9-inch frozen whole-wheat pie crust

To make Laurel’s Pecan Pie: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Mix the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Gently stir in pecans and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the frozen pie crust, filling it to ½ inch from the top. Do not overfill; doing so will make a mess in the oven. * Bake for 70 minutes. Cool completely before cutting.

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Bec’s Cacao Nib Pecan Pie

•                1/2 cup Karo Light Corn Syrup

•                1/2 cup coconut nectar

•                3 eggs

•                3/4 cup coconut sugar

•                2 tablespoons butter, melted

•                1/4 cup cacao nibs

•                1 cup pecans

•                1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

•                1 9-inch frozen whole-wheat pie crust

To make Bec’s Pecan Pie: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Mix the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Gently stir in pecans, cacao nibs, and pumpkin seeds. Pour the batter into the frozen pie crust, filling it to 1/2 from the top. Do not overfill; doing so will make a mess in the oven.* Bake for 70 minutes. Cool completely before cutting.

*Note: Since frozen pie crusts usually come in packs of two, I use the extra batter to make a second, unpresentable, scantly-filled pie to keep for myself. 

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