Sweet Potato Cake with Marshmallow Topping

sweet potato cakeAround this time of the year everyone is talking about sweet potatoes, even Ellen DeGeneres. Last week she proclaimed on her show that the brown potato with the orange flesh is in fact a yam, and the white potato with golden brown skin is a sweet potato. Finally I had the facts, thank you Ellen! Until I read this Huffington Post article which says the exact opposite. According to HuffPo (who I am going to trust over Ellen on this one) both the white and orange oblong shaped potatoes are sweet potatoes, and a yam is some ancient breed with a hard shell and is rarely found in supermarkets.

Just 6 simple ingredients for the cake!

Just 6 simple ingredients for the cake!

On to the cake! This cake is moist, delicious, and super easy to make! The base of this cake is good ole’ boxed cake mix. Now, you might turn up your nose at the thought of a boxed cake, but let me tell you, I have made many a boxed cake and people proclaim it is the best cake they have ever had. My secret is adding a little something to the standard recipe. Whether its fresh vanilla bean, pureed fruit, or in this case, sweet potatoes! Sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie spice definitely take this cake from standard to crowd-pleasing Thanksgiving favorite!

This is the part where you pray your cake doesn't stick!

This the part where you pray your cake doesn’t stick!

Sweet Potato Bundt Cake

One little crack, but were going to cover that up anyway…

If you are new to baking, you can make this cake no problem. The “marshmallow” topping is a bit more advanced, which caused me a little baking heartache that I will tell you about later. FYI- the marshmallow topping contains no actual marshmallows. I got this recipe from Betty Crocker and would recommend it in every way. EXCEPT for the fact that the directions for how to make the topping are way more complex than necessary. I like simplicity. There is no need to do the step with boiling the water and whipping the egg whites over the boiling water. Just beat those egg whites and salt sugar until the cows come home and you are good to go. Soft white peaks should form within 5-7 minutes if you have a strong mixer. I used my Grandmas hand mixer from the 1960’s, works like a charm. I love that mixer. I never got to meet my Grandma, but I think its cool that I get to cook with the same mixer she used.

On to the heartache. I used salt instead of sugar in my topping. So upsetting. I don’t swear a lot, but cooking disasters call for a few four letter words. Of course I didn’t realize until I had completely covered my cake with the topping. I took a nice dollop of frosting to taste, expecting this glorious sweet and creamy flavor, instead I got a revolting mouth FULL of salt! What the heck was I thinking? Nobody switched the ingredients on me. I poured 6 tablespoons of salt straight from the salt shaker into my frosting!! I’m so upset, I can barely write this post. Its even giving me baking PTSD and leading me to rethink every step of the cake making process. Did I forget the pumpkin pie spice? How many eggs did I use? I attribute it all to those stupid complex directions that Betty Crocker gives you. Please just disregard step number 4 on the instructions.

Sweet Potato Bundt Cake with marshmallow topping

Cover it with “marshmallow” toping

Sweet Potato Bundt Cake with marshmallow topping

Sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar if you’d like

Sweet Potato Bundt Cake with marshmallow topping

If you have a kitchen torch, give it a whirl!

Sweet Potato Bundt Cake with marshmallow topping

It turns out salt does not brown as nicely as sugar.

If you would like an alternate topping, that’s a bit easier, I recommend a standard vanilla cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the complete recipe please visit the Betty Crocker website!

Sweet Potato Bundt Cake with marshmallow topping

look, I even have a cake stand now! Does that mean I’m a legit food blogger?

Sweet Potato Bundt Cake with marshmallow topping

How to Buy Eggs from Happy Hens

eggsHave you heard the news? The latest research shows that eating eggs does not raise your cholesterol in most cases. Forget the egg whites, go for the whole egg! The yolk has been demonized for having high levels of cholesterol (which it does), but it is also chock full of protein, lutein, and choline, which are important nutrients for brain and eye health. The majority of fat in eggs is unsaturated fat which is considered “heart healthy.” The American Heart Association recommends up to seven eggs per week for healthy individuals, and limiting to four per week if you have high cholesterol or heart disease.

But what kind to buy? There are so many choices at the grocery store. Brown eggs? Organic? All-Natural? What do these labels even mean? The majority of them don’t mean much. Here is a review of some of the terms you will find on an egg carton and what they actually mean.

All-Natural. Just close your eyes when you see this label on eggs, in fact, close your eyes when you see this label on any food product. It means nothing and is not regulated by any third party agency. A company can say well, we did not inject artificial dyes into our food, therefore, it is natural! Another company might use the term natural to mean they used sugar instead of aspartame. Yet another company will call something natural because they used Stevia instead of sugar. It’s meaningless, but it does get consumers to buy their product. Do not be deceived my friend!!

cage free eggs

Cage-Free. What comes to your mind when you hear the words “cage free?” I think about happy chickens roaming free in their outdoor chicken coup. Wrong. Cage free simply means the chickens are not in a tiny cramped cage. They are however, in a large dark warehouse with 20,000 other chickens with no room to move or flap there wings. Chickens are often debeaked to stop them from pecking each other to death and will likely never see the light of day.

Free Range. Free range is slightly better than cage-free. These chickens must have access to the outdoors. Meaning they live in a cramped warehouse and there is a small door that is open for an unspecified amount of time for them to go outside. It could be a porganicasture or it could be a 10 by 10 square foot of manure.

Organic. Ding ding ding, we have a winner! I don’t think it is critical to eat all organic food, but if you care about animal welfare,organic eggs are a good choice. For eggs to be certified organic they have to meet requirements that are regulated by the USDA. They can’t be caged, must have access to the outdoors, are fed an organic vegetarian diet and not given growth hormones or antibiotics. Unfortunately, practices such as beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted.

Certified Humane. This is actually the best choice for eggs, but it is not readily available in “normal” grocery stores. Certified Humane eggs meet all the standards of organic plus strict regulations such as the amount of space each animal gets, proper ventilation and food, and forced molting is not permitted.humane

Brown Eggs vs White Eggs. Same nutrients, different hens. Brown eggs are not healthier than white.

Omega-3 Eggs. This is the one type of egg that is nutritionally different. The chicken feed is supplemented with a source of omega-3’s, usually flax seed or oil. Therefore you get some omega-3’s in your chicken egg. Unless organic or otherwise specified they are raised the same way as conventional chickens.

I like to buy Organic eggs. Now that I have written this article I’m going to start looking for the Certified Humane symbol as well. It is also important to keep in mind that small farms may use organic practices but not actually be certified organic due to the high costs. For example, Underwood Farms in Moorpark is not certified organic, but they do use sustainable farming techniques and try to avoid synthetic pesticides when possible. I would also recommend buying eggs from a farmers market. Ask the farmer how the chickens are raised, they will usually be honest. Last not not least, quality food comes with a higher price tag. If you are buying super cheap eggs or meat, there is probably a reason it is cheap, and it’s not just because the store is having a sale! If you want some extra motivation to buy organic and humanely raised eggs take a look at these pictures of conventionally raised chickens.

Do you have any other egg related questions? I hope I cleared up some of the confusing and deceiving information that is out there.

Milk, it does a body good. Or does it?

milkDo you drink milk? I do sometimes, but I’m beginning to have second thoughts about it. Growing up my mom was always concerned we weren’t getting enough calcium. Although she never made us drink milk she did encourage us to finish the milk in our cereal bowls. I always did, my sister didn’t, I thought surely she was doomed for a life of weak bones. Being a vegetarian for most of my life I’ve always felt that milk was a good source of protein for me because I wasn’t eating other animal products.  I usually try to get 1-2 servings of either milk, yogurt, or cheese per day.

For years the government nutrition recommendations have included three servings of milk or dairy foods per day. These recommendations are based on the fact that the recommended intake of calcium is approximately 1000 mg and a 1 cup serving of milk has 333 mg of calcium, or approximately one third. That logic is a little bit silly because there are many other foods that have calcium besides dairy. Some of those foods include dark green vegetables, almonds, beans, oranges, tofu, and salmon.

Non-dairy calcium rich foods

Non-dairy calcium rich foods

A couple weeks ago there was a study published in the British Medical Journal that showed Swedish women with high milk consumption (3-4 glasses per day) actually had a higher risk of bone fractures than women with lower milk consumption. How can it be? Milk builds strong bones! That is the message that has been drilled into our heads by the Got Milk Campaign. Interestingly, high milk intake was also correlated with overall increased mortality risk in both men and women. Strange. The study is just an observational study so it can not prove causation, but it does make you think twice. As any good scientist would, I scrutinized the study searching for “lurking variables” (I think my statistics teacher is proud right now). One possibility is that the women who have a family history of osteoporosis or bone fractures drank extra milk in an effort to prevent fractures. Obviously, it didn’t work. One last interesting thing about this study is that the increased risk of death and fractures was only seen with milk consumption, NOT yogurt and cheese. The researchers think it may have something to do with galactose, but it is just a theory at this point. If you to know more about galactose, let me know!

Aside from this new study, there are a few other hesitations I have with milk. For one, approximately 65% of  adults are lactose-intolerant. It does not make sense for us to drink something that makes us bloated and crampy, when we can drink water and have no side effects at all. I think this alone is pretty good evidence that milk is for babies and small children.  Lactose intolerance in babies is actually quite rare. Babies produce larger amounts of the enzyme that helps break down lactose, as we age we lose that ability. Second, Mama’s milk is the perfect food for babies and cow’s milk is the perfect food for cow babies  humans? Hmm, I don’t think so… It just doesn’t add up people! Those freaking milk marketers are really good! Finally, Harvard School of Public Health recommends drinking water instead of milk. I really like the Myplate that Harvard makes as opposed to our government’s “Healthy Eating Plate.” Perhaps the government should loosen its ties with the dairy farmers just a bit…

Heather’s Milk Recommendations

  • Only drink milk if you really love it and keep it to 1-2 servings per day
  • If your kids are drinking milk at school offer them water at home
  • Yogurt and cheese are ok, but I recommend no more than 1 serving of each per day
  • Go organic if you can afford it
  • Don’t be afraid of other calcium sources: soy and almond milk, leafy greens, tofu and beans!

Slow Cooker Applesauce

P1160600

Just four simple ingredients

I’ve been wanting to make this applesauce ever since we made it in my kindergarten class with Mrs. Brummet twenty years ago. In kindergarten we went on a foodie field trip and picked apples at a near by house and then walked back to class and made delicious applesauce. I remember it like it was yesterday. Now, applesauce might seem like one of those foods that is just take it or leave it, but if its home-made or school-made it is awesome!

This sauce is super easy to make, minimal ingredients go in, and maximal flavor comes out. I really love it because apples are super healthy and abundant in the fall. But sometimes, on a drizzly day like yesterday, you don’t want to eat a cold apple from the fridge. A big scoop of piping hot spiced applesauce, yes please!

I used super simple ingredients, and it can be even simpler. If you don’t have all spice, you can leave it out, but definitely do not leave out the cinnamon! I put one pat of butter, which might seem a little weird to you.  For the best flavor the butter is probably a good call. I do believe that most things are better with butter (just in small amounts). But if you’re vegan or you hate butter, just leave it out, no problem! I recommend using 1/4 cup brown sugar to give it that extra sweetness, but if you’re apples are super sweet (particularly if you are not using green apples) you can leave out the sugar. It will still taste great. You could also sub maple syrup, stevia, coconut sugar; whatever your heart desires.

apples

Step 1: Wash the apples

Step 2: Peel and chop!

Step 2: Peel and chop!

Step 3: Cover them in spices

Step 3: Cover them in spices

applesauce

Step 4: Cook in your Crock Pot and 4 hours later, voila! #Applesauce

Eat it plain or add it to oatmeal, pancakes, vanilla ice cream

Eat it plain or add it to oatmeal, pancakes, vanilla ice cream

apple pie oatmeal

Make apple pie oatmeal!

Apple Pie Oatmeal: Oats, a little milk, and applesauce topped with whipped cream, nuts, and cinnamon sugar!

oats, a little milk and applesauce topped with whipped cream, nuts, and cinnamon sugar!

Ingredients

  • 6-8 medium apples (I recommend using green and red)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp all-spice
  • 1 tbsp butter (omit for vegan, fat free)
  • 1/4 brown sugar (omit for no added sugar)
  • 1 cup water or apple juice (I used half water, half juice)

Directions

1. Wash, chop, and peel (optional) the apples

2. Place in slow cooker on high

3. Throw in spices, sugar, butter, and water or juice

4. Cook on high for 4 hours, test for doneness

5. When apples are soft mash with a potato masher or use an immersion blender to blend to desired consistency (I like it chunky)

6. Let cool slightly, serve warm. Will last refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Nutrition facts: Per 1/2 cup serving: 98 calories, 1.5 gr fat, 23 gr carbs, 0.5 gr protein, 10% DV vitamin C

Fall Favorites

After a friend asked me what the best type of nutrition bar was, I immediately thought of Mrs. May’s.  My intention was to write a post about the healthiest bars, but then I realized I don’t like a lot of store bought bars. So I figured I would share with you some of the products that I do LOVE.

Mrs. May’s Cashew Crunch This is my favorite snack food EVER. The cashew crunch has a light sweetness that goes perfectly with the salty, protein-packed cashews. Mrs. May’s also makes bars which are equally delicious and have built in portion control, as long as you eat just one.  Most of their products have a very short ingredient list, so you can feel good that you are not eating something totally processed. The one downfall of Mrs. Mays is that it is kind of hard to find in a regular grocery store, which is why I don’t have any to take a picture of right now (sad face). Basically, they are impossible to find unless you order them online. They are definitely worth it!cashew crunch

Walnuts I am the nutty nutritionist after all, so I definitely need to include nuts! I love all nuts, but I have an emotional connection with walnuts. When I was kid I loved walnuts. On my third (or maybe second?) birthday I got a giant box full of walnuts and it was pretty much the best present ever! We have video of me opening this box and I just start screaming at the top of my lungs because I’m so happy. Later that day I insisted on carrying the box around with me. This one lady at the party said to me “Heather, put your nuts down.” I gave her the dirtiest look that a three year old is capable of. It’s my birthday and I will carry my nuts if I want to. Long story short, I still love walnuts and eat them pretty much everyday. They are great on oatmeal, in baked goods, in homemade granola, and in salads!

Baby Nutty!

Baby Nutty!

walnuts

Honest Tea Water is my number one drink choice. But for those times when I just want a little variety I go for Honest Tea. They have unsweetened and lightly sweetened tea. My favorites are Peach White Tea and Moroccan Mint Green Tea. I also like the zero calorie Unsweetened Lemon and “Just” Green Tea. Aside from being delicious this company is fair trade and most of there products are organic. Look for the green organic symbol if you are not sure.Honest Tea

Mamma Chia Vitality Beverage I have a love-hate relationship with chia seeds. Have you ever tried chia pudding before? Well I have, and I am NOT impressed. Its a bummer though because chia seeds are packed with heart healthy omega-3’s and they are a great source of fiber. Fatty fish is one of the best sources of omega-3’s, but if you are vegetarian I would definitely go for the chia! The flavor of these drinks are really good, you can tell they are made with fresh fruit, and they are also certified organic! My favorite flavors are cranberry lemonade and blackberry hibiscus. I also love this company because it was started by a woman in San Diego and they are very eco-friendly. One percent of all the profits go to supporting sustainable and local farms.Mamma Chia Drinks

Shallots. In my opinion, shallots are amazing and very under appreciated. A shallot is like an onion and garlic that got married and made a super baby! The first time my boyfriend ever cooked for me the recipe called for shallots. He didn’t know what shallots were so he called his Dad (who happens to be a chef) to ask if he could just use onions instead. His Dad said “If you really love her, you will buy shallots.” He ended up buying me shallots, it must be true love. But then we broke up, oh well. I still love shallots!  Shallots go great with most fall vegetables. You can use them in pretty much any recipe that calls for onion or garlic. I made this recipe with shallots a couple weeks ago and it was fantastic.

shallots

Shallots are my friend

P1160588

Even Lucy the dog likes shallots

Those are some of my faves. What are you loving this fall?

Workout Wednesday: 6 Pack Abs in Two Moves

Yesterday cake, today abs!

If you are wondering what type of blog this actually is, that is a good question. I like variety. I once had a plan that I would be a weather woman who taught a workout class and then made a meal on a cooking show. The type of meal we would make would correspond to the weather, and the type of workout we would do would depend on the meal. For example, cold weather would be soup and yoga. Hot weather would be indoor spin and pasta. Make sense? Is it just me? Well two out of three aint bad.

This blog is a hybrid, but it will pretty much all be healthy living related. Primarily nutrition and food, with some workout stuff on Wednesdays! If you are not interested in 6 pack abs, toned arms, and sexy legs, just tune me out on Wednesdays.

10 Minute Abdominal Workout

  • 30 basic crunches (keep chin off chest, don’t pull neck)
  • 1 minute Russian twist (from video)
  • rest 10- 20 seconds
  • 10 push ups (knee push ups or wall push ups)
  • 1 minute jack knives (bent or straight legs, from video)
  • rest 10- 20 seconds
  • 1 minute plank (abs strong, no mountains or valleys)

Congratulations! You made it. Repeat twice.

 

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Avocado Frosting

vegan chocolate cake

In honor of world vegan day, I decided to make a vegan chocolate cake! Let me tell you, this cake does NOT disappoint. It is super fudgey, moist, and amazing! This cake is not just good for a vegan dessert, it is good period. My taste testers had no idea it was lacking eggs and butter. Bonus, this cake is made with fruits (banana and avocado) and vegetables (beets)! A dietitian’s dream come true! Therefore, I feel perfectly content eating this cake for breakfast and dessert.

The whole cake is fabulous, but if there is one thing that is really impressive, it is the frosting! I plan to make it my go-to chocolate frosting from now on. Have you ever tried making frosting with avocados? Well I haven’t either until I made this cake! This frosting is great tasting, full of healthy fats (hello avocado) and it is a perfect texture for spreading and making beautiful cake designs. Win-win.

The original cake recipe called for whole wheat flower and coconut sugar.  I have cake baking anxiety so I did not want to use whole wheat flour in fear that it might produce a dry cake. Cake anxiety is real. If you’ve ever made a wedding cake I bet you know what I’m talking about! I didn’t use coconut sugar mainly just because I didn’t have it on hand and didn’t want to buy an obscure ingredient I will only use once. I know coconut is all the rage right now, but I would like to remind you it is still calorie laden sugar. Similar to honey, any nutritional benefit is extremely minimal.  I really like this quick article on coconut sugar from fooducate.

My lovely friend Ann-Marie helped me with some of the photos of this cake. Sheesh, this girl is talented. I don’t know how she does it, but my photos did not look this good when I took them! Heck, I was proud of myself the other day when I cropped a shadow out of a photo!

This recipe is adapted from Food and Nutrition Magazine and developed by Michaela Ballman MS, RD. Make this cake. Serve it to your vegan friends. Serve it to your non-vegan friends. Heck, serve it to the queen if she happens to be coming over.

cake batter

The batter is bright red from the beets!

vegan chocolate cake

No cake stand, I am a sad sad food blogger.

chocolate cake

chocolate cake

It’s too delicious not to dive in!

 

Vegan Chocolate Banana Beet Cake

Wet Ingredients

  • 3 roasted beets, pureed (~1 cup)
  • 1 cup soy or almond milk
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 3/4 cup coconut or white sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 very ripe banana

Dry  Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups AP flour (or whole wheat)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Frosting

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (optional)
  • hazelnuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 F and roast beets for 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool. Puree in a food processor. Reduce oven to 350 F. Grease two 8 inch cake pans. Add vinegar to milk and stir. Set aside to curdle. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients and set aside. In a separate bowl use a mixer to cream coconut oil and sugar. Add pureed beats, banana, milk, and extract. Mix until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until combined. The cake might seem a bit thicker than regular cakes, but that is ok. Resist the urge to thin out the batter.

Pour evenly into baking pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes. I cooked mine for 22 minutes and it was perfect. Allow to cool before frosting.

Frosting: Add all ingredients to a food processor or mixer. Process for several minutes. If using the powder sugar star slow or else it will fly all over the place. Mix very well until there are no more little flaky green avocado specks, unless you like that type of thing… Garnish with hazel nuts and coconut (or regular) whipped cream.

Bon Appetit!