Gluten free is a no-go for me

Gluten free. Saying “bye bye” to bread and cakes and everything in between – been there, done that, bought the Tshirt, ripped it up and now it is in the bin.

Nothing as drastic as that in reality, but in my mind that’s the relief I now feel.

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Being ‘gluten free’ in the UK is a common phrase. You could say, ‘it’s having a moment’. We overhear conversations in the street, see it on menus in restaurants, aisles dedicated to products of the kind are growing bigger and bigger in the supermarkets, and companies are using it on their packaging as a marketing ploy for people to buy it, as gluten free means it’s healthier….

HOWEVER if you are coeliac or have Crohn’s Disease, gluten most definitely should be steered well clear of. Thankfully for those of you unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with coeliacs diease the quality of gluten free products has improved drastically over the past few years, people are more aware of what it entails and being actually able to eat something other than lettuce leaves is proving easier than ever.

Back to the gluten free tribe. We seem to have had this idea hammered into our minds that a food with the gluten removed is virtuous. Gluten is the devil that is causing all of our ailments in this modern day. Bloating, constipation, leaky gut, headaches, weight gain, depression, you name it gluten will the reason and once removed you will be healthy and this aura of wellness will surround you forevermore. Scrolling through Instagram you see bloggers saying how they’re gluten, dairy and wheat free excluding it completely from their diets and vowing to never eat some sliced white again. In the news, guaranteed there is a headline at least once a week stating that cutting gluten from your diet will be the magic cure supposedly to cancer and Alzheimer’s (?!?!?). I used to believe, wandering down the free from aisle in Tesco, that I was doing myself some good. Picking up that gluten free bread, perhaps some bakewell tarts and a box of gluten free granola (all gluten and dairy free of course), that I was being healthy. Still eating toast with jam (more, jam with toast in my case), snacking on sweet pastries and cakes and baking with gluten free flours convinced that what I was doing was the right thing. As I’m sure many still do.

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In cafes we see cakes, cookies and brownies – without the gluten – appearing more and more frequently. I’d assume the thought passes through most peoples’ minds, that they wouldn’t dream of having a piece of normal cake, but that gluten free brownie is a no brainier. Compare the ingredients of your usual bread and its gluten free counterpart. First thing you will surely notice is the huge markup in price for something which is at least half the size, it feels like a dense rock and there will be so many unknown ingredients and added things you wouldn’t expect to see in bread to just keep it all stuck together. Next try the gluten free brownie, I’m reckoning the sugar content will be much higher as when you remove one thing it has to be replaced with something else to keep the flavour. And what’s cheaper than white sugar and vegetable fats?

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So what even is gluten? Well, it’s a protein. Gluten is not bread. Found naturally in wheat, spelt, rye and barley and added to convenience foods and sauces where it is used as a thickener. It’s what gives bread that good bounce and chew, and ensures your cake isn’t a pile of crumbs. So it is not the maker of all evil or spawn of the devil it is in fact protein. Perhaps by removing gluten from our diets we are missing out on a source of protein, which is something we all seem to be striving for more of nowadays?

If you’ve ever tried excluding something from your diet you will know how much of a shadow it casts over your life. You see the evictee everywhere you look, bread rolls shopping for milk, toast running for the bus, and croissants playing football in the street. You want it more and more, crave bread at every meal, spend hours in your day searching for where to eat with gluten free options, worrying about that pizza night your friends are planning and what you are going to eat and in the end probably end up crying into half a loaf of bread and butter.

Sucks to be gluten free.

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So, yes, of course if you feel like you have some digestive issues go and see your doctor or a nutritionist or dietitian to get that thing checked out. Don’t cut things out of your diet ‘cos your best friend told you to’, or you want to be as skinny as that blogger on Instagram and she doesn’t eat gluten. Think about the poor people who are coeliac and have to avoid gluten for the rest of their lives. It isn’t a choice for them. Don’t go on a ‘gluten free diet’ to lose weight, if the bread basket is placed in front of you and you fancy some, have some bread, it’s NOT going to kill you!

I have most definitely stopped that gluten free escapade well in its tracks. I now struggle to get through a weekend without a visit to our local baker for a loaf of sourdough, and if that’s not accessible there’s always a stash of rye bread in my freezer. At work if there’s some Danish pastry going free, no way on earth am I going to pass that up, and I am never going to a pay a premium for gluten free oats when oats naturally are gluten free in the first place!! On the sourdough note, due to the grains being fermented it is far more digestible than breads using commercial yeast, never mind tasting better due to a longer prove, so sourdough sure is the way to go.

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When you switch to a wholefoods based diet, or even increase the amount of fruits, veggies, wholegrains and legumes on your plate, you will notice that as a result you are eating less gluten. I’m not preaching here, if you want to go by that label then please do, but for me I find it better to not put up any fences between me and bread. No I don’t eat it everyday, I don’t eat white pasta, or pizza on a regular basis, not for the reason that they contain gluten, more for the fact that I base my diet on lovely veggies, beans, nuts and wholegrains. When I have pasta it’s either wholemeal or spelt and if I go out for a pizza it will be a bloody good one (not one rummaed from the freezer).

This is one of the latest trendy diets, but just don’t fall for it. Save your money for an occasional treat, that coffee from your favourite café, a massage, a dinner out with a loved one, or visit your local shops to buy some local produce and cook up a mega meal. Lots of plants is where it seems to be at, and I reckon it will be sticking around for a long time. And this diet sure ain’t a fad, this one’s a keeper!

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Cookie cravings

Let’s cut straight to the chase.

Cookies

Banana. Peanut butter. Chocolate.

That is all my friends, and it sure is a good’un

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I don’t know about you, when I come to baking a so called ‘healthier’ snack or treat it gives me serious anxiety and stress before I’ve even made anything. Then don’t get me started on whether it’s cooked when pulled out the oven or if it will taste any good or just end up in the bin. A tight chest, knot in my stomach and usually tears ensues, makes me wonder why I bother in the first place.

Well that’s my issues laid out on a plate. Back to the recipe at hand.

It is known by most that baking is a cheap hobby. White flour, butter, caster sugar and eggs are typically the main ingredients to feature in a homemade bake. All friendly on the purse, leave your tastebuds happy however there’s not much going on the nutritional side of things. So when it comes to everyday snacking I want to find something wholesome, full of fibre, healthy fats, a littlleeee bit of sweet (NOT TOO MUCH) and just tastes real good. I love hummus and crudités, some full fat yogurt or banana/apple drizzled with nut butter they’re all great. But sometimes you just need that satisfaction that comes in the form of a baked good.

And chocolate, always chocolate.

Finding a recipe for something along ^^those^^ lines seems pretty easy to begin with- a quick google – factor in that you want it free from refined sugar and LOADS of things pop up. Look more closely and the recipes tend to just replace normal sugar with equal measures of expensive ‘healthier’ sugars like maple syrup and coconut sugar. I will keep this short – and will do a post on where I stand in the big bad world of sugar soon – however we need to keep the amount of added sugar in our daily diets down to a minimum. I’m looking at you honey, agave and dates too!!

If you do find a recipe that has reduced sugar and isn’t drenched in syrups, from my experience they’re always dry, unpalatable and claim to be ‘better than the real thing’. Course they ain’t. There’s no butter for starters. Bird food comes to mind, basically loads of nuts and seeds, and millet that’s what birds like isn’t it?

I’ve had a bit of an obsession with the blog Oh Lady Cakes recently, when I stumbled across these cookies, let’s say trail bar. As rightly pointed out by my mum they’re yummy but if you’re expecting a cookie you would be severely disappointed. FAIR ENOUGH. So trail bars it is! I altered the original recipe slightly to omit the maple syrup, the added banana chips sound divine, but sourcing some which aren’t deep fried or coated in sugar is like finding the holy grail, so instead I used coconut flakes and cacao nibs instead of the peanuts. Walnuts chopped up would add nicely to the ‘Chunky Monkey’ vibe going on.

So a base of mashed bananas, peanut butter, oat flour and rolled oats leaves these trail mix bars moist with that chewy claggyness you expect from a peanut butter cookie (I’m selling these really well aren’t I). To sweeten slightly I used some medjool dates (they’re a great source of fibre however still very high in sugar so don’t go overboard) and whizzed them up with the nut milk to form a date paste. They’re subtlety sweet but not teeth achingly so, AND only sweetened by fruits which makes me even happier. You don’t want to over bake these otherwise they will be like sawdust.

We want some goo. Goo is good.

All in all, the stress came – they smelt good, and looked good but the idea of them not tasting good always kills me as I hate to throw expensive ingredients away – but alas it swiftly left, as on the first mouthful I knew I was onto a winner.

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Pre their short stint in the oven

 

So by all means bake these *ahem* cookies, they’ll last on the counter or in the fridge for a good week. If you’re like me and they live up to your cookie cravings and you’re not expecting it to be a proper COOKIE COOKIE (ya know what I mean), then by all means here’s a recipe for banana, peanut butter and chocolate cookies.

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However if you want a wholesome snack that doesn’t lure you into a false pretence of being a cookie, only to be severely disappointed afterwards as it contained oats not butter and sugar, then here is a recipe for a banana, peanut butter and chocolate trail bar. Most definitely NOT a cookie.

Same same, But different.

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Banana, peanut butter and chocolate trail bars/cookies (it’s your call)

Ingredients

  • 1 large very ripe banana
  • 140g peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 80g medjool dates
  • 55ml milk (I used oat milk)
  • 120g oat flour (weigh out the oats and whizz to a flour, I did this in my Nutribullet with the milling blade on)
  • big pinch sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g rolled oats
  • handful of coconut flakes/desiccated coconut
  • two handfuls of chopped dark chocolate (at least 70%)
  • a handful of cacao nibs (can omit if you like, I like them for crunch and a deep bitter cacao flavour)

Method

  1. Mash the banana in a large bowl and whisk together with the peanut butter and melted butter.
  2. In a blender whizz up the dates with the milk to form a paste and mix this in with the banana mixture.
  3. Add in the oat flour, bicarb and salt and mix with a spoon to make a sticky batter.
  4. Fold through all the other ingredients until distributed evenly, then cover and pop in the fridge for around 1 hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 160C, line two baking sheets with baking paper.
  6. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out the mixture, roll into a ball and flatten into a thick cookie shape. Repeat until all the mixture has been used up. (You can of course lick the spoon but don’t eat it all!!)
  7. Bake in the oven for around 12 minutes until lightly browned around the edges but still underdone in the middle, this is what makes them stay gooey.
  8. Leave to cool on wire racks then store in Tupperware either on the side or in the fridge. Or pop in the freezer wrapped well where they will keep for a few months, just leave to defrost before eating, or put back in the oven for a few minutes to crispen up the edges and leave the chocolate nice and melty.

I like these obviously with a cup of tea (I’m Brtish), sometimes a rooibos, a chai rooibos or even a green tea (JUST DON’T DUNK!!). Sometimes only milk and cookies will suffice, so those days I pour myself a small glass of chilled milk, usually plant based or raw cows milk if we have some, with one of these.

Lovely

Much love and *hopefully* less stress in your baking ploys

X

 

 

 

Butterbean, macadamia and rosemary hummus

I remember my first time seeing hummus, having never eaten it or it being featured in our fridge, my thoughts weren’t leaning the same way as they are now. I remember being at my friend’s house, much younger, and seeing a tub of something  besides a bag of carrots. Now dips weren’t a part of my life as they are now, that does indeed mean no guac, hummus, baba ganoush, muhammara, salsa, tahini (I know it’s scandalous) perhaps the odd sighting of a sour cream and chive or some tzatziki. So coming across hummus, when I first tried it there was no convincing me. For young tastebuds only just developing away from chips and bread and butter, the savoury, garlicky tang of hummus didn’t do it for me.

I tried again possibly in my early teens, we had just bought a new blender and I found a recipe for homemade hummus. I thought, what could possibly go wrong, had a go, and remember it tasted a bit rubbish. Bland, chalky and just a bit meh. I’m sure that happened a few times, determined as I was to make it like the one you buy in shops, as I kept being told: ‘homemade is ALWAYS better than shop bought’. In my case that wasn’t true. A couple years later again, after week on week buying shop bought hummus (I had bought into the hype), I gave it one last shot. A simple cupboard raid recipe to use up that tahini after thinking it would be nice on porridge (another thing which hadn’t yet found a place in my heart) so in it went with all other common ingredients. Chickpeas, garlic, lemon, salt (lots of that), tahini, olive oil, a pinch of cumin and water to thin it out. Easy.

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Since that day as few years back, I’ve been making it to the same recipe ever since. I’ve had friends comment having the same experience as me, ‘I had a go at making hummus and it just wasn’t that great, so I gave up and bought some’.  Completely understandable, and you’ll probably think, as I did, that buying one is so much more efficient. Guaranteed it will taste right and no fiddly washing up. However shop bought dips contain so much more salt and fat than when whizzed up in your own food processor. If hummus is a daily thing on your plate or for a snack, changing it up a bit will benefit your pocket, tastebuds and waistline.

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Just make sure to keep a form of beans and any nut or seed butter in your cupboards, then you’re just two minutes away from a satisfying lunch or dinner or a friend for the lonely carrot in the bottom of your veg drawer. Even on Christmas morning, I was providing the starters for our dinner, and had a mini panic that I hadn’t made enough. I had prepared a salmon rillettes with mini toasts and crudités, but with the addition of a vegetarian to our family, a big bowl of hummus was surely on the cards. It always goes down well with a crowd and they will be really impressed if you’ve made it yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, when I’m travelling or away from home I can’t make my own so I always buy a shop bought. The best that I can afford. Look for one made with extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil rather than sunflower oil, and fresh garlic (not the powdered version), make sure it contains tahini and opt for organic if it’s within your price margin. Even in India I managed to buy hummus, it had lumps of black olives in and on first encounter I thought it had gone off, and it wasn’t that great but we all need that fix. And when in Greece, don’t expect to find any because hummus is most definitely not Greek. Fava will be your hero item on the menu, and a very good one too.

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Every time I make a batch, it lasts easily for a week in the fridge, but is usually licked clean within a few days. I also tend to change the type of bean and added flavours each time to keep things a bit new and exciting. If you want a traditional hummus, swap the butter beans for chickpeas and omit the Rosemary adding around 1/2 heaped teaspoon of ground cumin instead.

I had just used the food processor to make some roasted macadamia nut butter, so instead of washing the bowl I left some around the sides, stuck all the hummus ingredients on top and added another dollop for good measure. It made it even creamier than usual with a nice toasty flavour from the nuts. Of course they are expensive ingredients so feel free to use tahini, light or dark to your preference.

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Butter bean, macadamia and rosemary hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 tin or carton of butterbeans
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • 3 heaped tbsp macadamia nut butter (or tahini)
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • pinch of ground cumin
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Drain the butterbeans and rinse well, tip into a food processor along with all the other ingredients.
  2. Add a BIG pinch of salt
  3. Whizz up until it forms a paste and is completely smooth. Taste for seasoning then drizzle in cold water to thin the hummus out. Transfer to a bowl or Tupperware and serve.

 

May your hummus problems be for forever resolved, when you get it right it really does taste better than shop bought. Next time try mixing up the flavours, a swirl of harissa there, some turmeric and curry powder here, lemon zest and finely chopped coriander, pureed beetroot and some finely chopped dill, or some roasted carrots and cumin seeds. Hummus is such a great source of fibre from the beans, healthy fats, calcium from the tahini and antibacterial properties from the raw garlic. A real deal SUPERFOOD.

(Disclaimer, superfoods is just a selling ploy used by brands and supermarkets, hummus isn’t scientifically proven to be a superfood, it’s not going to bring you back from the dead or anything. However it is a food and it tastes pretty super so…).

 

Much love and happy dipping

X

Beet tahini balls

When I was little, toast or cereal was the only thing on the cards for breakfast. Well thinking about it, it was almost always a big bowl of cereal. Toast was one of those things that sounded great beforehand, crisped and bronzed, slathered well with salted butter and a thin slick of ruby jam, BUT in reality a soggy piece of white loaf spread with flora and overly sweet strawberry jam. Nah never did it for me.

So bowl of cereal it was to break the fast. My eyes always shone at the sight of some Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, Shreddies, Rice Krispies or come winter warm Shredded Wheat or Weetabix with a sliced up banana. Now my mum was always a Sugar Puffs gal. If you’re new to the British cereal aisle, you’ll find them under the name of Honey Monster Puffs, a puffed wheat sweetened with sugar and honey. IN FACT, looking at the nutritional breakdown on the packet, containing 5 types of sugar, there are certainly better options out there.

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(On tasting these bars, my mum remarked how they are similar to Sugar Puffs, I’m hoping on a much more wholesome scale, but I will definitely take that as a good thing.)

Between me and my mum we’re both BIG fans of a good muesli bar (I’m not including my dad here because it’s near impossible to tempt him with a healthier treat, he’s only down for proper brownies and chocolate). I’ve attempted many in the past, and it really is hard to find a good one. Some granola bars are just way too dry, other ‘no-bake’ muesli bars too crumbly and fall apart, some using way too many dried dates or a big glug of maple syrup. I always return to the Muesli Bar from Green Kitchen Stories (on their desserts apps), they keep really well in the freezer and transport without turning into a mass of crumbs. If you fancy a baked bar, this Feelgood flapjack is lovely, just on the right side of sweetness, dipped into a cup of milk, crumbled on top of some yogurt or spread liberally with nut butter. Totally satisfying and moreish.

Now this recipe from Golubka Kitchen has been on my radar for quite a while now. Remember Rice Krispies Squares? The Rice Krispie snack glued together by a mass of marshmallows, this is slightly reminiscent of them. Gloriously magenta in colour, they use blended cooked beetroot to lend a slight earthiness as well as the mega hue. Oats and puffed brown rice make them more sustaining as a snack, and tahini and hazelnut butter lend a richness as well as a good dose of plant based protein. I added a handful of raisins for chewy nuggets, another of sunflower and pumpkin seeds for crunch and some cacao nibs for that 4pm much needed cacao hit.

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Note: The bars are best kept in the freezer and will keep there for a good few months, just take them out a few minutes before serving to soften. I have eaten some straight out the freezer but at room temperature is the best way to enjoy them. They are sticky and gooey and everything you want in a little snack bar. If you’re feeling fancy, drizzle with a little dark chocolate or some raw chocolate, i just rolled mine in whizzed up coconut flakes. The choice is yours.

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Beet Tahini Balls

Ingredients

  • 1 small beetroot, cooked (I roasted mine whole in its skin in foil, then peeled. However use vacuum packed if you can’t get fresh beets)
  • 1/2 cup soft dates, pitted
  • 1-2 tbsp plant based milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups wholegrain puffs (I used brown rice, try buckwheat, quinoa)
  • 1/2 cup tahini (try to use a brand such as Meridian, its much thicker)
  • 2 tbsp other nut butter (I used hazelnut sunflower seed butter but anything else will work)
  • Handful cacao nibs
  • Handful sunflower seeds
  • Handful pumpkin seeds
  • Handful raisins
  • Large handful of desiccated coconut or coconut flakes

 

Method

  1. Make sure the beet is peeled, then chop up and put in the food processor with the dates, 1 tbsp of milk, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Whizz up to form a smooth paste, and add more milk if it is struggling and still lumpy.
  2. Tip into a large mixing bowl and add all the other ingredients except the desiccated coconut.
  3. Mix well to form a sticky mixture, if it’s too wet add another handful of oats or if i’ts too dry add a little more milk. It needs to come together in one big clump.
  4. Form into little rounded mounds, akin to a coconut macaroon. I find this easier by wetting my hands with water first. Sprinkle the coconut out on a plate and roll the balls in the coconut until evenly covered.
  5. Place on a few plates in the freezer for at least an hour to set, then transfer to a Tupperware where they will keep in the freezer for a few months.

I hope these will brighten up your snacking or on-the-hoof breakfasts.

With love

X

 

Soup for the soul

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Rummaging through the fridge I found a lump of cheese, wrapped tightly in clingfilm (thank GOD, think of the odour) yellowing on the edges and blue tufts sprouting up in many patches. I thought to myself, “I don’t remember this blue cheese, I know we have a Stilton but that’s with all the other cheeses in a paper bag”. Then it clicked, yep it’s that Peakland White Stilton that I brought home from work as I dropped a huge chunk on the floor.          

.It wasn’t intentional.

I am that person. I’m not wasting it, there’s always a home for dropped sausage rolls, ciabattas and Peakland White Stilton Cheese. << What I’ve collected so far and I’m sure the list will grow longer.

A cheese that’s supposed to be a creamy soft white in colour is mild in flavour with a slight pepperiness you would get from a mature Blue cheese. It was destined to be made into a soup.

However the little bacteria suckers beat me, they’ve been feasting on it for a good while now…I’m going to leave them to it.

 

So here’s a quick and easy soup recipe to use up some cheese leftovers. I’m sure we all have a fridge full at his time of year, when you can’t bear the sight of any more cheese and crackers or cheese and a slither of Christmas cake. I’ve used Cropwell Bishop Stilton, but any blue cheese would work really well. For example, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Harrogate blue, Yorkshire blue, I could go on and on (I do work in a deli with cheese!!) or even that white Stilton that was waiting rather too patiently. Just be sure to taste before you serve as some blues are much stronger so you might need less, and others are creamier and less piquant.

At this time of year, a soup is on the lunch menu weekly, preferably served with a slice of warm-in-the-centre sourdough from my local bakery and a big smattering of butter, or some rye toast (I like Biona rye), possibly a smear of hummus, perhaps even baked sweet potato wedges dipped in hummus. It makes the perfect satisfying lunch and you can rest in peace knowing there was a good amount of veggies thrown in the mix. I added a few large handfuls of spinach as I wanted to UP the veg quota, if you’d rather stick to the traditional, leave out the spinach all together and possibly use two heads of cauliflower, or to go along with the green thing use broccoli instead. Just make sure to add in those stalks, this is frugal feeding at its finest.

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Cauliflower and Stilton soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp ghee or rapeseed oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large head of cauliflower (substitute broccoli or use a mixture of the two)
  • Around 500ml-750ml of vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few large handfuls of spinach
  • 50g Stilton (or any other blue cheese)

 

Method

  1. Finely dice the onion and cook in the ghee in a large pan until softened. Up to 10 minutes.
  2. Whilst the onion is cooking, chop the cauliflower into florets and chop the stalk into small chunks.
  3. Before the 10 minutes is up, add the stalks to soften for a few minutes.
  4. Put the cauliflower florets in the pan and stir around then pour in the stock, start with 500ml you can add more later if it needs it. There’s nothing worse than thin soup.
  5. Bring to the boil then reduce to a low simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes with the lid ajar, until the cauliflower is soft and cooked through.
  6. Turn off the heat, add the spinach to the pan give it a good stir around and pop the lid on for a few minutes to let it wilt.
  7. Crumble the Stilton into the soup.
  8. Using either a stick blender or an upright blender (the latter will make a smoother soup, I used my Nutribullet in a couple of batches) blend until completely smooth adding extra stock/boiling water if necessary, until its at a consistency you like.
  9. Reheat slowly on the hob, stirring to prevent sticking on the bottom and serve in bowls with extra black pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Oh and some bread for dipping is obligatory.
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Clean bowls all round

Keep warm this winter, take a flask of soup to keep the shivers at bay.

Much love

X

You’re sweet enough as you are

We’ve ran out of mincemeat. That’s it. The official ending of Christmas.

I made a mini (silent) vow to myself in the Christmas run up that I would try to eat as many mince pies as possible to satisfy my hunger for the boozy tarts until next year.

Now post-December I believe my attempt was rather feeble. Probably only reached a grand total of 10, or maybe it’s 20…I’m not too sure. Next year I will have to step up my game.

I suppose as a blog trying to promote a healthier lifestyle you may think that I am totally contradicting myself. Mince pies containing sugar, butter, pastry, alcohol and dried fruits aren’t exactly going to help maintain your figure but for one month of the year we wear so many layers to protect from the cold, that extra bit of padding will be hardly noticeable.

That’s what I tell myself anyway.

So here’s to January, mince pie free but in desperate need for a sweet treat that really ain’t that sweet. Well, in fact it contains no added sugar at all, unrefined, refined or otherwise.

That’s more like it.

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I really do love baking, and there are so many ‘sugar free’ recipes out there. However these recipes typically replace the full amount of sugar that you would find in a normal cake with an equal amount of ‘unrefined sugar’, such as maple syrup, coconut sugar and agave nectar. If you’ve ever ventured into a health food shop you will know all too well that these substitutes will leave a large gaping hole in your pocket. Aside from the price tag, they will still cause the same addictive sugar rush we get from bog standard caster sugar.

^^This is the issue I have. A ‘so-called’ healthier cake never tastes as good as a proper one. You may be munching on your vegan, sugar free, gluten free cupcake saying how amazing it tastes, how light and airy it is…but let’s be frank, it ain’t. Now on the odd occasion give me a proper slice of Victoria sponge, some Bakewell tart and I’ll be on cloud 9 but not desperate for another piece as just the one wasn’t completely satisfying.

I’m on a mission to find baking recipes full of wholesome ingredients, which don’t pretend to be a healthified version of our favourites, taste amazing and contain as little added sugar, or none at all, as possible.

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One thing I like to do if baking a NORMAL recipe is reduce the amount of sugar by 1/3, it doesn’t affect the taste and it is the most amount of sugar you can take away without affecting the overall bake and texture. So that 200g of sugar in your sponge, try reducing it to 130g, your taste buds will gradually get used to flavours less saccharine and start to appreciate others nuances such as the toastiness of nuts, a hint of vanilla, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg or that little bit of salt on your choc chip cookie.

So this past week I’ve had a couple of bananas gradually darkening, way past an enjoyable eating stage, in my fruit bowl. There’s only one answer for that. Of course. BANANA BREAD! Perhaps one of my favourite cakes, sliced into a thick chunk, occasionally toasted but always (OK sometimes peanut butter sneaks in there instead) with a thick blanket of organic salted butter.

I suppose a lot of people assume banana bread is quite a healthy affair, considering it contains a portion of fruit right? Sorry but quite wrong. Banana bread tends to contain a hell of a lot of added sugar, even when the bananas are sweet enough as they are.

So here’s my favourite recipe which just uses the natural sweetness of the bananas with no added extras. It’s light and airy, not claggy like some banana breads can often be, spiced richly with cinnamon it sits well enough on your plate for breakfast as it does a 4pm slump snack. Try adding a handful of raisins and crushed walnuts to the batter for some more texture and an extra bit of added sweetness that feels a little more indulgent. I like it both ways.

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Banana bread

This banana bread contains no added sugar, is gluten and wheat free and can be made dairy free by substituting the butter with coconut oil. I made this one nut free using pumpkin and sunflower seeds in the batter and topping, however a handful of walnuts or pecans is always a welcome addition. Half a tablespoon of maple syrup can be added if you feel it won’t be sweet enough, but I think it is perfect without, especially if you add raisins to the batter.

Recipe adapted from Hemsley and Hemsley

Ingredients

  • 4 large very ripe bananas
  • 60g coconut flour
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp maple syrup (optional, I feel it’s fine without)
  • A handful of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (or crushed walnuts, pecans and some raisins, or perhaps even some dark chocolate chunks)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin with baking paper and set aside for later.
  2. Peel the bananas, and weigh out 350g. Reserve the leftover banana to slice up and decorate the top, or do as I did, save for later for on top of a slice of banana bread spread with peanut butter. Mash the weighed out banana until smooth.
  3. Whisk together, the coconut flour, salt, cinnamon and bicarb in a bowl.
  4. Crack the eggs into the mashed banana, whisk together and mix in the melted butter, vanilla extract, apple cider vinegar and extra maple syrup if you’re using it.
  5. Tip the dry ingredients into the banana-egg mixture and whisk until there are no lumps remaining.
  6. Add in a handful of seeds or your addins of choice and mix well.
  7. Pour into the tin, top with more seeds and bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Cover with foil if its browning too quickly.
  8. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack, then store in a Tupperware in the fridge. Or slice portions and freeze ready to stick in the toaster for a quick breakfast or snack.

NOTE: If you use sunflower seeds in the batter, as I did here, don’t be alarmed if you spy bright green flecks in your banana bread. The sunflower seeds react with the bicarbonate of soda and turn green. They’re completely harmless and taste no different, it will still be as delicious.

You stick the kettle on, I’ll bring the banana bread and butter. Deal?

With love and blissful moments

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An ode to Brussels (sprouts that is)

* NB. I was planning to post this before Christmas. But making fudge, nougat failures, cakes, puddings, stuffings and all things inbetween got in the way. So here it is anyway for those of you having a Christmas dinner round 2 (or perhaps 3, 4 or 5, we all have to get our fill!) *

#2 for the Christmas countdown

What is Christmas without them? The Marmite of the Christmas world. Love them or hate them, they have to make a feature at the festive table.

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Not too hard to guess
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Hello sprout friend

They’re in season from October to March, a true winter vegetable they are little hardy creatures. To pull through the snowy weather, night chills and complete lack of warmth we should pay them some more respect. No Ken Bruce, the sprouts shouldn’t be put on to boil in August. Nor should they require long arduous hours of cutting crosses in the bottom. Ignore all the myths, I’m going to give you the FACTS. How to make them the stars of the show because a sprout isn’t only for Christmas!!

Quick. Fast. Hot.

Not the review given by The Evening Standard for the next 50 Shades of Grey film, but three words you should remember for future reference when cooking your sprouts.

We have all been brought up with mushy sprouts found to grace every table at Christmas. Boiled to an inch of their short lived lives, leaving a whiff in their wake. Nutritionally there’s not much going for them by the time they reach your plate, but most importantly they taste pretty bad and soggy.

I want to cover the nutritional front first, but you wont even care when it comes to eating them, they will be that good. My crack Brussels?!?

Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable, think cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, pak choy, kale. A lot of our favourite greens tend to be cruciferous, meaning they have sulphur compounds in them. These phytonutrients are known as glucosinates and have a proven ability to fight cancer and disease. Pretty powerful stuff!

Also high in Vitamin C, A, K, Folate, Potassium, Fibre, just to name a few. All cruciferous vegetables are well worth adding to your diet, but Brussels sprouts in particular as they top the list for the highest concentration of glucosinates.

Now onto the cookery. You see the sprouts don’t require much of your time at all. Just 10 minutes in a piping hot oven will char them and soften them just nicely.

Or perhaps, try stir frying, deep frying(?!?) or even add them to your festive slaw. Slice really realllyyyyyy thinly and toss with the usual mix of carrot, cabbage, fennel, pepper and leave to soften in a sharp and zippy dressing.

Blooming marvellous.

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You’ll either find them in a net, loose in a bag or even on a stick!

Sprouts, like most other brassicas stand up to a good punch in the face of flavour. They pair really well with flavours from the east, ginger, soy/tamari, miso, spring onion, chilli. Also Moroccan flavours such as sumac, ras el hanout, dukkah, sesame, harissa, or just go traditional with lemon, herbs, butter and a good grinding of salt and pepper.

My favourite way of preparing sprouts has to be roasted, piled in a bowl with loads of other veggies like baked sweet potato, creamy avocado, hummus and a big pile of tangled rocket leaves- it makes the ULTIMATE winter bliss bowl.

 

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Tamari and coconut roasted sprouts

Ingredients

  • Coconut oil
  • Sprouts, as many as you’d like
  • Tamari
  • Lime

Method

  1. Turn the oven up to 220C, you want it hot so the little outer leaves burn slightly and get really crispy.
  2. Slice the bottoms off the sprouts and peel off any leaves if they’re a bit scabby
  3. Slice the larger ones in half, but leave smaller ones whole.
  4. In a ceramic or metal dish (big enough to fit all the sprouts in a single even layer) put a spoon of coconut oil in, around 1 tbsp should be good and put into the hot oven to melt.
  5. When the coconut oil is hot, take the dish out the oven and toss the sprouts in the hot oil. Shake over a good amount of tamari and pop back into the oven.
  6. Cook for around 10 minutes, when finished they should be tender but not mushy.
  7. Tip into a serving dish, squeeze over a bit of lime and serve whilst still hot. However they’re still as good cold.

 

Cranberry, cinnamon and ghee

Taking our favourite flavours from cranberry sauce, the tart but sweet cranberries contrast nicely with the slight bitterness of sprouts. Feel free to use coconut oil again instead of ghee, it tastes lovely but ghee has that rich butteriness and the golden colour is just too beautiful!

Ingredients

  • Sprouts
  • Ghee
  • Cinnamon
  • Dried cranberries

 

  1. Set the oven to 220C
  2. Put a spoon of ghee into a metal/ceramic dish and put into the oven to get hot.
  3. Wash the sprouts, chop off the ends, peel away any scraggly leaves and cut bigger ones in half.
  4. Take the dish out the oven toss the sprouts in the hot ghee, sprinkle over a little cinnamon and a good pinch of salt and pepper.
  5. Place in the oven for 10 minutes or until crispy and tender.
  6. Tip into a serving dish and mix with a handful of dried cranberries.

 

Lemon and parsley

Finally, a good zesty option that will go with almost anything. Make sure to use a nice quality rapeseed oil or something that has a high smoking point. Avoid extra virgin olive oil and leave that for drizzling at the end.

Ingredients

  • Sprouts
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Parsley
  • Lemon
  • Extra virgin olive oil (or more rapeseed oil) for drizzling

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 220C
  2. Put a glug of rapeseed oil in a baking dish/tin and leave to warm up in the oven.
  3. Prepare the sprouts as before, cutting any larger ones in half.
  4. Take the dish out the oven, tip in the sprouts sprinkle over salt and pepper and leave to roast in the oven for around 10 minutes.
  5. When cooked to your liking, take out the oven, finely zest some lemon over the top, sprinkle over some finely chopped parsley, squeeze over a little lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
  6. Serve in a bowl and dive in.

As there are so many delicious variations here’s a list of links from fellow bloggers and chefs and recipes that I am adding to my ‘to make’ list.

Give them a go, and do comment below telling me your favourite ways with sprouts!!

(And that is not in the bin!!!)

Much love, and festive wishes with a bottle of sherry on top

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