Foodie: Apricot Gems are delicious and full of health benefits

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By Elizabeth M. Holm

When I was growing up, my mother would bake 20 different kinds of cookies at Christmas. Each would be stored in a separate tin in the pantry and neatly labeled so that we could easily find our favorite.

My choice was always a delectable combination of dried apricots, brown sugar and chopped pecans called Apricot Gems. As a child, they were simply delicious. As an adult, I love that the apricots also make them nutritious.

Apricots are packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Their deep orange color is the first clue that they are abundant in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant and the precursor of vitamin A.

Eating apricots can help protect your eyesight. The vitamin A formed from beta-carotene is essential for maintaining your vision and the xanthophylls in apricots protect your eyes from damage as you age. Lutein, a type of xanthophyll, can protect your retina from the blue light that emits from your computer screen.

There are more than 10 different antioxidants in apricots, including vitamin C and flavonoids that protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. Along with catechins that block inflammation, these phytonutrients make apricots a perfect food to eat to prevent both heart disease and cancer.

Dried apricots are a wonderful snack and add flavor and texture to baked goods. Given the health benefits of the fruit, it is no wonder these cookies are called Apricot Gems!

The writer is a registered dietician, nutritionist and a co-author of a cookbook.

Ingredients

1 cup dried apricots
1 1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Confectionary sugar

Cover apricots with water and boil for 10 minutes. Cool and chop into 1/4 inch pieces. Grease an 8x8x2-inch baking pan. Combine 1 cup of flour and 1/4 cup sugar.

Using a pastry blender, cut through the butter to make a fine, evenly distributed mixture. Spread into the pan and pat down to form a crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.

Sift together 1/3 cup flour, the baking powder and salt. Beat two eggs. Add the brown sugar and beat well. Beat in vanilla extract and nuts. Slowly, beat in the flour mixture. Add chopped apricots.

Spread the apricot mixture over the baked crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until done. Cool and cut into bars. Roll in confectionary sugar.

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