Healthy Habits: Coconut

coconut-cake

“But it was scary and bad….”

Last week my high school daughter and I had a rather unpleasant experience. I had pulled into a parking spot behind another car near the seamstress who was going to alter my prom dress from almost 30 years ago for my daughter to wear to her prom this coming May. As we were getting out of the car, the gentleman who had been sitting in the car ahead of us, got out of his car and starting screaming profanities at me, shouting that I had hit his car.

We hadn’t hit his car, hadn’t even come close to his car, and as he pointed to his pristine, perfect-condition car and yelled, “Look at that damage you’ve done, you !@#$%,” I realized he clearly wasn’t in his right mind at that moment. Whether from a mental illness or substance abuse or something else entirely, I didn’t know, but I tried to reason with him until it became clear that he simply wasn’t going to stop cursing and screaming at me.

While this was happening, my daughter had begun to cry, and another gentleman who had been going into the apartment complex near the seamstress had come over and was acting as a shield between her and the driver, trying to help me to calm the man down. As time progressed, the man started becoming more profane and wouldn’t let me pass which brought the female owner of a nearby store out, who joined the gentleman from the apartment complex in now shielding both me and my daughter from the man.

Eventually the driver walked away into a nearby shop, and the man and the woman who had come to our aid, tried to soothe my daughter and made sure we made it safely to the seamstress’ store without any further issues. They both then stayed outside the shop door until the driver came out of the store he had been in and got into his car and drove away. After, they came into the seamstress’ store, let us know that he was gone, and asked if we were okay and if there was anything else they could do for us.

While all this was happening, my daughter had continually been crying and even after we began the fitting, she continued to cry, unable to stop. As we finished up the fitting, I pulled her into a hug, kissed her forehead and told her that she was safe, and everything was okay and that she needed to pull herself together. Her response was, “But it was so scary and bad, Mom. I don’t understand why you aren’t upset, too.”

“Because it wasn’t scary and bad to me,” I said. And it hadn’t been. For me, I had become angry because the man had frightened my daughter, but at no point had I feared that the man would become physical, and even if he had, we had been given protection in the form of two brave, kindhearted people who thought nothing of coming to the aid of strangers because it was the right thing to do. I pointed out to my daughter that what she saw as bad, I saw as positive proof that while bad things do happen in the world, there are also good people who do good things which we need to make sure to recognize and embrace and be grateful for.

Strangely, seeing the good in something seemingly bad is applicable to coconut. For the longest time, coconut was branded as bad for you because of its high fat content. In recent years, however, research has shown that coconut actually helps to lower bad cholesterol, is high in fiber and vitamins A and E, and may help the brain to better utilize glucose. This has led to a surge in uses of coconut oil, coconut milk, and coconut meat.

For folks with dairy allergies, coconut milk an be a good substitute for milk products, provided you don’t have an allergy to coconut or an overlapping issue due to tree nut allergies. For folks who want to cut back on products like butter, coconut oil works well as a substitute. For folks who simply like the nutty taste of coconut, adding shredded coconut meat to foods like oatmeal and cakes adds some of those nutritional benefits I mentioned above.

For a recent baking workshop I did, I experimented with making a coconut cake. I wanted something which wasn’t the traditional version of coconut cake which uses sugared, sweetened shredded coconut and a lot of sugar in both the cake and frosting. So, I opted to make a spiced coconut-pineapple bundt cake which wouldn’t need frosting and which would allow the taste of coconut to rise to forefront. Folks at the workshop loved it, so I am posting it below.

It uses finely shredded unsweetened coconut as well as coconut sugar for its sweetener. For folks unfamiliar with coconut sugar, it’s made from coconut which contains the fiber of its meat and therefore has a very low glycemic index level. It’s a nice replacement for sugar because it works just like sugar and folks can easily substitute one for one in a recipe, though I use half the amount because I don’t like foods to be overly sweet. If you do like things sweeter, you may want to increase the amount of either coconut sugar or agave which is used in the recipe below. I also used liquid egg whites in this recipe because there were folks attending the workshop who were watching their cholesterol but if you don’t have any health issues like that, I’d recommend using whole eggs because it makes for a moister cake and holds it together slightly better than just using the whites.

What is pictured above is the plain cake as it was cooling. For the workshop, I drizzled a tiny bit of a homemade gluten, dairy free vanilla glaze and sprinkled some additional coconut on top to give it a prettier presentation.

Coconut Pineapple Bundt Cake

Ingredients:

Shredded unsweetened coconut (amount depends on how much your bundt pan needs)

2 cups of your favorite gluten free flour blend

1/2 cup gluten free oat flour

1/2 cup gluten free millet flour

1 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

20 oz can of crushed pineapple in 100% juice

2 cups finely shredded unsweetened coconut

1 cup safflower oil

1/2 cup agave

3/4 cup liquid egg whites or 3 whole eggs

2 tsp gluten free vanilla

2 tbsp vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 12 in bundt pan with your preferred method.  I used vegan butter. Then “flour” the pan with unsweetened finely shredded coconut to cover the pan entirely.
  2. Mix together the gluten free flour blend, oat flour, millet flour, coconut sugar, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, mix together the crushed pineapple with its juices, the unsweetened shredded coconut, safflower oil, agave, egg whites and vanilla.
  4. Add the wet mixture to the dry with the vinegar and mix just until the dry ingredients are fully moistened.
  5. Carefully fill the bundt pan evenly all around. The pan will be full.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven until the Bundt has risen, is golden, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  I checked mine at 50 minutes and it needed about another 10 and finished with 60 minutes of baking.
  7. Remove the cake to a wire rack and allow it to cool for at least 15-25 minutes before releasing it from the pan and allowing it to cool completely on the wire rack.

 

Holiday Happenin’s: Stick Cookies and Cranberry Drops

holiday-cookies

“You’re done already?”

The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, a couple of my girlfriends and I decided to host a special dinner for friends of our who had graduated and would be leaving in August for college or boot camp. We spent hours scouring our parents’ cookbooks and one we took out from the library (no google back then!). On the day of the dinner, we worked for just as many hours in the kitchen, prepping, cooking, baking, and cleaning up.

When the guys arrived for dinner, we proudly served all the dishes we had literally slaved over all day long. Imagine our shock when in the time it took us to finish bringing out the entire meal, they had already scarfed down the food! It couldn’t have been more than 10 to 15 minutes from the time they began eating and the time they finished. (Did I mention these were football and baseball players?)

The guys didn’t understand why we were upset. We tried to explain that they hadn’t taken the time to enjoy the food we had spent so much time preparing, but in hindsight, I realize we 16 year old girls were expecting an awful lot from 18 year old boys!

I was reminded of that dinner when I received an email this week asking if there were any holiday cookie recipes which didn’t require all the rolling and cutting and fancy decorating. The mother explained that her children ate the cookies so quickly that the time put into them seemed far and above what one should invest. Remembering that fateful dinner, I understood exactly where this mom was coming from!

For our family, making the rolled sugar and ginger cookies I have on this site is a family tradition, and spending the day as a family, listening to Christmas music and decorating them together is something we enjoy. But for folks who are looking for an easier and shorter way to have family time, I have a couple of cookies which are just perfect.

The first are stick cookies. They are a peppermint candy cookie which you simply roll into a rectangle, cut into sticks and then bake. If you want to decorate them as my children did in the picture, you simply drop a few sprinkles on top and press. Easy, peasy as my son likes to say!

The other is a cranberry cookie which you just roll into a ball and flatten. On its own, it’s a nice, not too sweet cookie. If your children do want to have fun, though, they can roll them in colored sugar as my kids did in the picture before flattening them.

Cranberry Drops

Ingredients:

2 cups favorite gluten free flour blend

1/2 cup millet flour

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

1 cup julienne dried cranberries (If your store doesn’t sell them that way, just chop up regular dried cranberries in a food processor or simply use them whole instead in smaller pieces)

1 cup vegan butter

8 oz Toffuti cream cheese

1/2 cup Agave

2 tsp vanilla

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Blend together the gluten free flour, millet flour, sorghum flour and salt.
  3. Stir in the chocolate chips and cranberries
  4. Cream the vegan butter until smooth, scraping down the sides.
  5. Add the tofu cream cheese and cream together, scraping down the sides.
  6. Slowly add the agave while the mixer is on low until the mixture is completely blended together, scraping down the sides.
  7. Add the vanilla and mix just until blended.
  8. Add the dry ingredients and mix well.
  9. Form balls made of 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough. If decorating, roll the balls into colored sugar before putting onto the prepared pan. If baking plain, just put onto the prepared pan. For both, flatten the balls a little bit with the bottom of a cup or your clean hands.
  10. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, rotating halfway through the cookie time until the cookies are puffed and firm to the touch.

Stick Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup vegan soy free butter

1 cup coconut sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp peppermint extract

2 cup favorite gluten free flour blend

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1/2 cup millet flour

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Cream the vegan butter until smooth. Add the coconut sugar and mix well, scraping down the sides.
  3. Add the egg, vanilla and peppermint extract. Blend well, scraping down the sides.
  4. Blend together the gluten free flour blend, sorghum flour, millet flour, and baking powder.
  5. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet.
  6. Add the chocolate chips and crushed candies.
  7. Chill the dough for one hour.
  8. On parchment paper sprinkled with flour and using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a large rectangle that is 1/4 inch think.
  9. If decorating, put sprinkles on top and gently press them into the dough. Cut the dough into sticks. We usually do one inch by 4 or 5 inches.
  10. Put the cookies onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until puffed and becoming stiff to the touch.
  11. NOTE:  If you want, after pressing in the sprinkles, this dough can be cut into shapes and not just sticks.