Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pumpkin-Sweet Potato Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting

by:  Tara Fuller

This is a very special cookie recipe that I got from a friend a couple of years ago.  The original recipe called for shortening and only canned pumpkin. Although I am including that recipe for those wanting the original,  less healthier and albeit guaranteed delicious version, I have substituted virgin raw coconut oil for the shortening and added sweet potato in place of some of the pumpkin. These cookies freeze very nicely and taste great right out of the freezer*.
Frosted cookies

3c Sugar
1c Butter, Coconut Oil or not healthy Shortening
2c canned pumpkin (or substitute some for sweet potato)
2 eggs
2 tbs Vanilla
5c Flour
2 tsp Baking Soda
1tbs Salt
2 tbs Nutmeg
2 tbs Cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.  Beat sugar, oil, pumpkin/sweet potato, eggs and vanilla in large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth; gradually add dry ingredients (dough will be sticky).  Form into small balls (I like to use a fruit ball scoop) and place on a cookie sheet (I like to line cookie sheet with parchment paper). Bake in 350 degree preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.  Once completely cooled, frost with Cream Cheese recipe below or your favorite store bought variety. 

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8oz pkg Cream Cheese, softened
1/4c unsalted Butter (softened)
2 to 3 tsp of unsweetened vanilla flavored coconut or almond milk (regular milk can also be used)
1 tsp Vanilla
4c Powdered Sugar
1 to 2 tsp of Lemon Juice

Beat cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla in mixer until smooth and creamy.  Gradually beat in powder sugar, 1 cup at a time on low speed until smooth and spreadable.  Frost cookies and refrigerate. 

*To freeze.  Place cookies single file in a Tupperware or similar bowl.  Freeze 15 minutes or until frosting is firm.  Place another row of cookies onto of the previous row and freeze until second row cookie frosting is firm.  Continue process until container is full.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Coconut oil is the new healthy

Credits:  coconut‑oil.png
by:  Tara Fuller

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the use of coconut oil in recent months; some even touting it as the "healthiest oil on earth."  A simple Google search will return page after page on the health benefits of using coconut oil as a topical application for improved hair and skin to consuming as much as 3 or 4 tablespoons per day to enhance the immune system, promote heart health and weight loss.  For those who have been around the block once or twice, this information is likely to be completely contradictory to what you have ever heard or thought you knew about coconut oil. So what's changed?

The use of coconut oil prior to World War II for baking and frying were prevalent among western countries until  the 1950s when saturated fats were linked to raise bad cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease; and like most things, politics were hard at play.  As many of us learned from watching Food Inc., the United States is the largest exporter of soybeans and therefore, by uniting with the American Heart Association to promote the substitution of saturated fats for polyunsaturates, made it quite profitable for soybean and corn industries to use marketing strategies that encouraged the public to abolish all saturated fats including tropical oils.  

But as time passes, researchers are learning not all saturated fats are created equal.  Unlike other oils high in saturated fats, studies show that natural, non-hydrogenated coconut oil (Virgin) does not raise serum cholesterol or contribute to heart disease as previously thought.  Instead, studies show evidence that coconut oil actually raises HDL, the good cholesterol, thereby improving LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio, resulting in decreased risk of heart disease.

Besides breast milk, coconut products, especially coconut fats contain the highest source of lauric acid, a medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) which are more easily metabolized by the body than are long-chain triglycerides (LCT) most common of saturated fats and oils.
"Approximately 50% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid, which has the additional beneficial function of being formed into monolaurin in the human or animal body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia. Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of the free lauric acid." -Mary Enig, Ph.D
Because MCTs are more easily metabolized in the body instead of hanging-out in the bloodstream like LCTs, some believe the body is able to convert the fat into energy before being stored in the body as fat, resulting in weight loss.  However, to date, there are no studies to back these claims.

In a nutshell, adding virgin coconut oil to your cupboard may be a wise investment.  It has one of the longest shelf life of any cooking oil, lasting up to two years before the risk of rancidity; and has a smoke point of 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  There are many ways to incorporate coconut oil into your diet such as into your pastry recipes or in popcorn; but to help you out, here's a great Web site that provides free coconut recipes!

Health benefits are only attributed to unrefined virgin coconut oil because low-quality oil is made from copra instead of fresh coconuts, which loses its health-promoting qualities in the refinement process.  

Health benefits attributed to using Virgin Coconut Oil as part of a healthy diet
  • Improved balance of good/bad cholesterol
  • Helps to prevent:  heart disease, senility, cancer and other age-related diseases
  • Increases metabolism 
  • Aids in weight loss
  • Boosts immune system
  • Aids digestion
  • Improves skin hydration and increases skin surface lipid levels.
  • Fights acne and other skin conditions
  • Reduces signs of aging such as wrinkles and liver spots 
  • Moisturizes hair 

Friday, October 7, 2011

The healthier pie crust

by: Tara Fuller

About This Crust:  On a quest to find a healthier but tasty pie crust was difficult to say at the least.  Not finding what I wanted, I took recipes I thought had potential, combined what I thought would work and adjusted where I saw needed, and Vavoom, a pie crust that's flaky and buttery although no butter is used.  This is the perfect crust for any recipe requiring a pie crust.
3/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 cup Unbleached Flour
1/4 cup Grapeseed oil
1 pinch of salt or 1/16 tsp
1 tbsp of sugar (for sweet pie)
1/2 cup of chilled water

Whisk flours and salt together in small dry bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Pour oil in separate container and freeze both flour and oil for 1 hour.

After removing from freezer, combine flour and oil until mixture is crumbly.  If making sweet pie, add sugar.  Add chilled water (colder the better) into mixture until dough binds and isn't too dry. Roll dough between your palms to create two round balls and cover each with plastic wrap; and freeze 5-10 minutes.

Place dough between plastic wrap or wax paper (I prefer wax paper on bottom and plastic wrap on top) so dough won't stick to the counter.  Roll dough with rolling pin until desired size and thickness.  Bake as directed for pie recipe or on 350 for 5-10 minutes.  Dough makes enough for one 9" double crust pie.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Does buying Organic really make produce safer?

by:  Tara Fuller

Mom always said: "Eat your veggies" and that's exactly what you did.  You may not have liked the vegetables selected for you, but you ate because frankly, what other choice did you really have?  Now a mother, you likely find yourself mimicking those same words to your own child, if not to yourself as you scoop up a bite of your not so favorite vegetable or fruit.  This on-going battle continues from generation to generation because the health benefits of a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables are key components for improving health and reducing many prevalent health ailments. 

However, unlike the days of our parents, shopping for produce has become much more complicated. No longer can we just grab and go but instead, we must weed through isles upon isles of produce bins labeled with terms such as conventional, organic and local.  And if this weren't enough, now we throw GMOs in the mix.  Yes, deciphering which apple is the healthiest has become quite complex and can be very time consuming and expensive.

So does buying organics really make them safer? In theory yes, because when you buy organic produce it means the food was grown without synthetic pesticides, genetic engineering or irradiation; which when given in high amounts (significantly higher amounts than commonly found in food) to animals, are proven to cause cancer and birth defects among other serious health issues.  However, despite these studies, the amount of these substances consumed from food has not been linked to any adverse health effects in humans.  Some experts go as far to say, just because it's organic doesn't mean it's going to be better or cleaner.  The argument is that because many farms use manure as a fertilizer as well as 100 different pesticides, which can be used on organics, doesn't eliminate all contamination.  This is why, despite whether or not that cantaloupe was grown organically or not, it is important to wash the melon thoroughly before slicing into it. 

Knowledge is power.  And you may think to yourself that just because scientists haven't proved a link between non-organic foods and adverse health effects, you would rather avoid what you can just to be safe.  But, you can't afford the cost of organics, so what can you do?  There is another option.  Buying locally grown foods are usually less expensive than organic and although not certified, often meet the same standards as does organically grown foods.  The reason many small farmers don't label their products as organic is because they aren't able to afford USDA certification.

Another reason to consider locally grown foods as opposed to organic are because they are local.  First and foremost, buying locally grown foods typically taste better because they are harvested at just the right time for consumption.  Whereas many conventional and organic products are picked well before their maturity and left to ripen on trucks, boats and planes as they make their cross-country and/or intercontinental journey to your local grocer.  In a nutshell, buying local keeps harmful toxins out of your body, supports your local economy and reduces environmental pollution caused from transportation; and it tastes good!    

Unfortunately, buying organic and locally grown foods aren't viable options for many people struggling in today's difficult economic condition.  It can be costly and outright unobtainable for millions of families.  And it is important parents understand that buying conventional doesn't make them bad parents!  Above all, the most important thing you can do for yourself and your family is to eat as many fruits and vegetables as you possibly can!  The benefits of consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetable far outweigh any risks of pesticide and hormone exposure.

If you can afford to make some changes, each year, Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases the  "Dirty Dozen" fruits and vegetables that they recommend should be bought organic as well as the "cleanest" fruits and vegetables; which contain the least amount of pesticide exposure.  EWG recommends shoppers use the lists as a guide when shopping for produce as a way to lower pesticide intake. 

Print your own EWG's 2011 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Helping homeless youth in Southern Oregon just got a whole lot sweeter

Credits:  www.webnuggetz.c
 by:  Tara Fuller

The Cupcake Daily is a quaint, mother and daughter business enterprise in the hub of Talent, Ore. The women have made it their mission to make giving back to the community, the earth and their customers
evident in their day-to-day practices. Keeping true to their mission, The Cupcake Daily is earmarking all its tips for the month of October to the Maslow Project.
Maslow Project is a small, grassroots, nationally recognized outreach center for at risk and homeless school aged youths through age 21.  The organization depends on the generosity of its community members to ensure homeless youths' basic needs are met.  In addition to food, clothing and hygiene products, Maslow Project provides on-site access to a variety of services from community partners and assists youths' educational, employment and personal development goals while providing them the tools to succeed in those goals.
Maslow Project provides support and services to over 14-hundred youths in the Rogue Valley. 
"Maslow Project’s mission is to help youth build strong foundations by fostering self-sufficiency, removing barriers to services and education, and providing centralized access to resources. We are committed to treating youth and families with integrity, compassion, and respect. Through community collaboration, we empower youth to grow into healthy, productive, and independent members of society." -Web site 
Please show your support by tipping generously on your next visit to The Cupcake Daily.  If you are not able to make it to The Cupcake Daily but would like to make a donation to the Maslow Project, you may do so at their website.   

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has - Margret Mead