chia puddings with spiced apple butter + buckwheat crunch

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Whilst putting together my recipe index the other day, it became apparent that I’ve written very few recipes containing chia seeds. Rather strange, considering that both chia and flax are staple elements in my household pantry.

Granted, there’s already a recipe for sticky fig and raspberry chia jam on the site alongside a crunchy honey chia muesli slice. But although I’ve referred to chia seeds as an egg replacer in many recent recipes, there’s been nothing ‘distinctively chia’ for the past two years.

Let’s consider that rectified.

chia

Today’s recipe is a creamy, crunchy, incredibly delicious chia breakfast treat that could easily double as a healthy dessert. It was inspired by the wonderful David and Luise (of Green Kitchen Stories fame) who posted their own recipe for chia parfaits with apple crunch in late 2015.

Seeing as I’ve been cooking my way through a glut of delicious apples from my mother’s backyard tree, I figured I could make something even more apple-y to eat with a creamy chia pudding, preferably with buckwheat (my other recent obsession). Despite initial dreams of stewed apples (with lots of cinnamon and raisins), my thoughts turned to apple sauce which naturally led to apple butter. Because, butter (of course).

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If you’re not familiar with apple butter, it’s not ‘butter’ in the traditional dairy sense. It’s more of a super-concentrated apple sauce, slow-cooked over low heat until the puree becomes thick and caramelised. In North America, apple butter traditionally contains a fair whack of brown sugar, however my dreams were for a golden-hued refined sugar free spiced apple butter, full of homegrown apple goodness and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Could it be done? Yep, pretty easily, in fact. I’d go as far as saying it could be made completely sugar free (as in, without any maple syrup or other sweetener) if you’ve got a batch of beautifully fragrant, slightly soft winter apples with sweet yellow flesh.

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For the purpose of this exercise, I’ve added two tablespoons of maple syrup to my batch of apple butter which added a beautiful mellow sweetness. However, if you’ve got a batch of tart green apples, I’d probably add a little more (it’s all common sense, ya know*).

*Bear in mind that sugar has traditionally been used as a preserving agent in jams and jellies, so if you’re making any type of preserve without refined sugar you can expect a reduced shelf life and/or darkening of the fruit over time. I’ve written further notes on sterilisation and storage below, if you’re making a large batch of apple butter.

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So, onto the recipe(s). Yeah, I know there are lots of words. However, I want to start by saying that these recipes are easy, really easy. Each one only takes a few minutes to throw together, then it’s just a matter of being patient (in terms of the apple butter) and completing some last minute assembly (the fun part). If you’ve got a slow-cooker, you can even put the apples on overnight and blend the mixture in the morning (I haven’t tried this, but if Michelle says you can, I believe her!). Just simmer the puree down slightly whilst you jump in the shower and then voila, breakfast is served!

Either way, all of the prep will be worth it when you’re sitting down with a cup of lemon scented chia, creamy yoghurt and caramelised apple butter. I’ve suggested the addition of fresh apple for extra crunch and tang (get some Granny Smiths or a similarly acid green apple if you can, the sour crunch goes so well with the sweet, subtly spiced apple butter) alongside the earthy buckwheat crunch, smooth pudding and a touch of maple syrup.

It’s so, so good.
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chia puddings with spiced apple butter and buckwheat crunch

I’m being Captain Obvious here, but this is more of a concept than a strict recipe of quantities. Make the chia pudding, then play around with whatever additions or subtractions you like. No time to make apple butter? Use some nut butter, chia jam, pureed raspberries or banana soft serve. No buckwheat crunch? Add some toasted coconut or your favourite breakfast muesli. No yoghurt? Skim the cream off the top of a can of coconut milk and mix through some vanilla. It’ll be delicious either way.

Makes 6 serves

  • 1 batch of simple chia pudding (recipe below)
  • 300-400g full fat yoghurt (I used natural dairy yoghurt however coconut yoghurt would work wonderfully)
  • buckwheat crunch (recipe below)
  • spiced apple butter (recipe below)
  • 2 fresh apples, sliced thinly (I used one crunchy acidic green apple and one sweet red apple for aesthetics and flavour. Just toss the slices in lemon juice to prevent browning)
  • a little honey or maple syrup, to drizzle
  • optional: other fresh fruit, for layering – I used jammy fresh figs because we had some and one small banana sliced into coins (hidden between the layers)

Place a few spoonfuls of chia pudding in the bottom of 6 small glasses. Add in some banana coins (if using), a few dollops of apple butter (I used about 2 tbsp per glass) followed by a few spoonfuls of yogurt. Repeat the layers, finishing with a pile of buckwheat crunch and the sliced fresh apple. If you’re feeling it, drizzle over a little honey, rice bran syrup or maple syrup to serve.

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simple chia pudding

The recipe below makes 6 serves of layered chia pudding for today’s recipe, however I’d reduce that to 4 serves if you’re eating the chia pudding on its own. Make as much or as little as you like, the basic ratio per person is 2 tbsp chia seeds and half a metric cup (125mL) of milk (plant based or dairy, your choice). Got that? Basic ratio: 1 metric cup (250mL) of any milk to 4 tbsp chia seeds.

  • 2 cups unsweetened milk (I use soy, coconut or almond milk) plus extra, to serve
  • 1/2 cup (8 tbsp) white or black chia seeds
  • optional: 1-3 tablespoons of sweetener (maple syrup, rice malt syrup or honey) to taste.
  • finely grated zest from 1/2 lemon, added last minute before serving

Mix the chia seeds, milk and sweetener (if using – my preference is for 1 tbsp maple syrup) together in a large bowl. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until the chia starts absorbing the liquid, then mix again. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place into the fridge for at least 4 hours (or preferably overnight). If you can, I’d recommend mixing every hour to prevent clumps forming. If the mix seems to be getting too thick (e.g. if the seeds have absorbed all available liquid), drizzle in a little more milk to loosen.

Before serving, add the fresh lemon zest, drizzle in a little more fresh milk and stir well.  Your finished mix should be adhesive and creamy, not gluey (add more milk if it seems very congealed). Layer as specified below. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days.

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spiced apple butter

Use winter apples that have grown a little softer and sweeter for the best quality refined sugar free apple butter. If you prefer a sweeter, more traditional apple butter, feel free to substitute 1/4- 1/2 cup brown sugar or coconut sugar for the maple syrup (add the sugar during the initial cooking stage with the water and salt). For maximum nutrition, you can leave the peels on the apples (after cooking, they should easily blend down in the food processor) however I like to remove the peels for reduced bitterness. They also make a delicious cook’s snack, either raw or dehydrated into apple peel crisps.

Makes approx 2 cups cooked apple butter

  • 900g (2 pounds) assorted apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • sea salt
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup or rice malt syrup
  • 1/2 tsp chai spice mix, mixed spice or cinnamon (this produces a mildly spiced apple butter, add 1 tsp if you like discernible spice)
  • 1 tsp organic vanilla essence (optional)

Combine the apples, water and a good pinch of salt in a large pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, partially cover and cook until the apples are soft (about 20 minutes).

Remove from the heat and transfer to a food processor bowl. Blend (in batches, if required) until smooth. *I blend my apples whilst they’re still hot, ensuring the processor lid is firmly in place (I cover the lid with a tea towel and hold it down during the blending process). However for maximum safety, I’d suggest that you allow the apples to cool first. 

Return to the cooking pot with the lemon juice, spice mix, maple syrup and vanilla. At this stage, you have two options:

  1. oven method: ensure the mix is in an oven-safe pot. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated oven (at 120 degrees C/ 250 degrees F)  for 3-4 hours until reduced, thickened and caramelised. Stir every 30 – 40 minutes.
  2. stove-top method: return the mixture to the stove-top. Loosely cover the pot with the lid, allowing a vent for the steam to escape. Cook, on the lowest heat possible, for 4-6 hours until thickened and caramelised, stirring regularly to ensure the bottom doesn’t burn (I stirred it at least every 10-15 minutes whilst completing other kitchen tasks).

See points for assembling your chia pudding below… and use any leftover apple caramel to top oatmeal, toast or yoghurt. So good.

Cooks note: if you’d like to store your apple caramel, transfer it into a sterilised glass jar whilst hot and place the lid on immediately. Process in a hot water bath (this just allows the lid to ‘seal’ for safe storage, however some feel you can get away with skipping this final step!). I’ve kept sugar free preserves for up to six months in a cool, dark place after using this method. Otherwise, store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or freeze for 3 months.

crunch

buckwheat crunch

Use any leftover crunch as a granola (because essentially, that’s what this is) with your favourite milk, as a smoothie topping or just as a healthy transportable snack.

  • 1-2 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats*
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pepitas/pumpkin seeds/coconut if you like
  • 1 tbsp sweetener (maple syrup, rice malt syrup, honey)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon, to taste
  • pinch of sea salt
  • optional: dash of vanilla

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the buckwheat, nuts and cinnamon. Pour over 1 tbsp coconut oil, your chosen sweetener and vanilla (if using) with a pinch of sea salt. Mix well, ensuring the dry ingredients are well-coated (drizzle in a little more coconut oil if your mix is a little dry).

Pour the mixture over your prepared baking tray (don’t worry if there are are few clumps, this will actually add to the ‘crunch’ when you assemble your puddings).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, mixing half way through the cooking time. The buckwheat crunch will be ‘done’ when the mixture is dry, golden and fragrant. Store in an airtight container or glass jar (the mixture should keep in a cool, dry place for a few months if you decide to make a large batch).

*You can find whole raw buckwheat (groats) at health food shops and good grocery stores. Raw buckwheat should appear very pale green rather than dark brown (the latter version is called ‘kasha’ which has been toasted; for this recipe you require the raw version of buckwheat as you’ll be toasting it yourself).

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buckwheat apple zucchini bread

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that my mother has an apple tree at the rear of her garden. It’s an espalier of sorts, trained to grow parallel to the back fence of her city apartment’s courtyard. Despite the confines of a garden bed, it produces a beautiful glut of organic fruit every year; plump, knobbly and subtly sweet under a crisp green skin.

Funnily enough, my mother purchased the plant with the intention of growing a Manjimup ‘Pink Lady‘, a tribute to John Cripps and our home state. However, the green apples never developed their trademark blush of pink and we figure the variety is a ‘Golden Delicious’ with nursery mislabelling.

Whatever the variety, it always feels like a privilege to participate in the growth and harvest of homegrown fruit each year. When I was at home, I used to regularly mulch, water and thin out the apple blossoms, but these days my job mostly consists of picking the high-growing fruit. And eating them, of course.

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So back to the annual apple harvest: this time each year, I start jotting down ideas for making buttery pies and glossy tarte tatins. Occasionally I’ll follow through, but more often than not the apples become crisp salads, coleslaws and the occasional moist apple cake with cream.

This year was no different. After a few weeks of waiting for this year’s apples, I had a list of potential recipes including a rustic galette and sugar-dusted jalousie. But after squirrelling them home, I ate one, dipping the crisp, juicy wedges dipped into homemade cinnamon almond butter. Accompanied by a mug of rooibos tea, there didn’t seem to be need for much else.

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Since that first day, I’ve done a little more ‘proper cooking’ with the apple harvest. I’ve sliced one into julienne, tossing it into a salad with radishes, soft herbs and mustard vinaigrette. I also stewed one for breakfast with some soft local figs and a vanilla pod, adorning it with thick coconut cream (skimmed from the top of a chilled can of coconut milk) and toasted walnuts.

Today, I made this gluten-free loaf full of buckwheat and ground almonds, gently mixed with some grated apples, mashed bananas and a zucchini that was languishing in the vegetable crisper. It tastes glorious; dense, moist and incredibly filling due to the inclusion of buckwheat protein, almond meal and pounded flax. I’ve eaten two doorstop slices at various points in the day, both toasted under the grill until browned before being topped with melted Nuttelex. They’ve accelerated my Monday happiness ten-fold.

So I’m making a bold statement: if you have a tendency towards three-thirty-itis or the dreaded lunchtime ‘hangry‘ face, this loaf is for you. Buckwheat zucchini bread, healing workplace relationships since 2016.

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This buckwheat loaf is completely gluten-free, egg-free, vegan and refined sugar free, though you can easily sub rice malt syrup for honey and flaxseed for an egg or two if you fancy. The latter seems to even qualify as a ‘paleo’ loaf (buckwheat = pseudograin according to paleo authorities) though as a non-paleo eater, feel free to argue the point.

Next on my apple recipe list: some sort of shaved apple salad with blue cheese, walnuts, watercress and a sticky pomegranate dressing (I made my own pomegranate molasses this morning, using this recipe by Sarah Hobbs). Perhaps served with these delicious crackers and a poached egg for Aaron.

If I don’t eat all the apples with almond butter first. Watch this space.

outoftheoven

Buckwheat Apple Zucchini Bread

Makes 1 loaf

  • 1.5 cups organic buckwheat flour
  • 1.5 cups almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk, however you can sub dairy, oat, soy or rice milk here)
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed (equivalent to 1 cup mashed fruit)
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 large or 2 medium apples, cored (I used Golden Delicious)
  • 1/4 cup rice bran syrup (substitute maple syrup or coconut nectar)
  • 3 tbsp flaxseed flakes (pounded flax; you can also use ground flaxseed)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • optional: add in some raisins or toasted walnuts if you feel like it!

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f). Line a 4 cup loaf tin with baking paper, then set aside.

Using the grater attachment on your food processor, finely grate the zucchini and apples with all the skins intact (you should end up with about 1.5 cups of grated zucchini and apple together). Add in the mashed banana and pulse again until well-combined (the mix should still have some texture and flecks of green from the zucchini and apple skins).

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Tip into a medium bowl and mix in the milk, vanilla bean paste, rice bran syrup and flax. Set aside for 5-10 minutes for the flax to thicken the mix (as an egg substitute).

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Sift the buckwheat flour into a large bowl. Add in the almond meal, cinnamon and baking powder. Make a well in the centre, then tip in the wet ingredients. Mix well and spoon into your prepared loaf tin.

Tap the tin on a sturdy surface to expel any bubbles, then transfer to your preheated oven to bake.

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Bake for 50-60 minutes or until your loaf is well risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

This loaf is beautiful served thickly sliced and toasted with dairy butter or Nuttelex. I would also attempt it with mashed avocado (due to that miraculous sweet-savoury lean that avocado has) or toasted til brown with a dollop of mascarpone (or ricotta), runny honey and a smattering of toasted almonds.

Cook’s note: I’ve also made this bread successfully without zucchini, just 4 bananas and 1 reasonably large apple. As long as you’ve got around 2.5 cups of mashed/pureed fruit and vegetables you’ll be fine. I’d love to know if you come up with any adaptations!

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chocolate nut butter truffles

tray1It’s late afternoon on a very warm Saturday in Perth. I’m curled up on the couch in comfy slacks, tapping on blackened keys whilst being continuously nudged by the wet nose of Loki. He’s a little bit sick of my passion for writing this week. It’s detracted my attention from his quick brown paws and beckoning eyes on multiple occasions. He’s taken to alternate strategies for attention, like dropping things off the back of the couch onto my head, keyboard or the timber-clad kitchen floor. I become easily engrossed when I write, so… let’s just say I’ve learned certain things the hard way. Like the level of attention required when holding hot tea.

Anyway, the intention of this post was not to continue rambling about Loki (though he did visit the vet yesterday and I did trim his wispy grandpa beard). Rather, I just want to share in a sentimental fashion about life, the universe and everything that’s been significant over the past couple of weeks.

Including peanut butter, because… well, peanut butter. You get me, right?

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If you’re a regular reader of the Mess, you’d be aware that I’ve been in a bit of a funk over the past twelve months. Certain events led to maudlin thoughts and general pessimism which in turn informed some melancholic narratives. Well, enough is enough. It’s a new year and I’m done with subjugation and general inertia. There’s something beautiful happening in my consciousness which is inextricably linked to mindfulness and positivity.

Yep, I said it. Positivity as a cognitive strategy. I should probably have forewarned you of the cliched #inspo territory but it works, people, particularly when mixed with gratefulness and acceptance (that’s when the mindfulness comes in). I’m letting myself embrace each moment for its individual benefits, discomfort and impermanence. The cloud is finally lifting.

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In reflection, these realisations are rather comical, seeing as I’m a social worker by formal training. I’m used to dialogues of self care, impermanence and resilience on a daily basis. For other people, not me, akin to a plumber who never fixes his own dripping tap (due to post-work fatigue, lack of impetus, general excuses and probably a touch of laziness).

I’m therefore claiming this bojon period (thanks Alanna!) as a time to transition theory to practice. I’m excited. Life is good.

And you know what? So am I.

ing2mix dough

So, back to the recipe below. Let’s call them ‘little balls of happiness’ (‘nut butter’ somehow translates into ‘happy’ for me) to be shared with the best of friends. In past decades, I would have made these with just peanut butter and a pile of powdered sugar (as per the original peanut butter ball) however both age and wisdom have inspired the reinvention of this much-loved treat.

This incarnation contains just 100% natural nut butter, powdered peanut butter (see my notes below regarding PB2 nutrition vs. peanut flour), maple syrup and non-dairy dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt (the use of Bahen & Co cracked coffee bar also contributes the crunch of a bitter coffee bean here and there). Mixed nut butters also contribute added nutrition from calcium-rich tahini, omega-3 rich pure-state Super Spread and protein-rich peanut butter.

I was even going to go as far as using raw chocolate (such as the coating on my salted tahini date caramel slice) instead of melted dark chocolate but, well… it’s a little less stable in the summer heat.

And I’m intending on sharing these happy treats far and wide.

tray2Chocolate Nut Butter Truffles

Makes 28

Filling:

  • 1 cup 100% natural nut butter (I used a mixture of Mayver’s crunchy peanut butter, hulled tahini and Original Super Spread)
  • 2 tbsp dark roast peanut flour or powdered peanut butter* (I used PB2), plus a little extra if required
  • 3-4 tbsp pure maple syrup, to taste
  • pinch of sea salt flakes
  • water, if required (for correct consistency)

Coating:

  • 200g good-quality dark chocolate (I used 75g Bahen & Co cracked coffee for a touch of depth mixed with 125g plain 70% cocoa non-dairy dark chocolate)
  • flaked sea salt, to sprinkle (optional)

In a medium bowl, mix together the nut butters and maple syrup until well combined. Taste and add a little sea salt if desired. Sprinkle in the powdered peanut butter, then mix until you have a smooth ‘dough’. Here’s where you need to use your instincts: the mix should be soft and cohesive (see image below), not dry or crumbly (if you experience the latter then add a few drops of water and mix again). If your mix is too wet, oily and/or sticky, sprinkle in a little more powdered peanut butter and mix again.

doughball

When the mix reaches the right consistency, roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and place onto a lined baking tray. Refrigerate or freeze for 15-20 minutes.

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Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl (preferably glass) over a pot of gently simmering water until smooth and glossy. Remove from the heat and place on a stable surface. Using two forks, drop each frozen ball of nut butter dough into the melted chocolate mixture, roll until evenly coated, then pick up, allowing excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl (I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to this process, however if you’d like perfectly glossy truffles invest in a truffle dipper or follow this Saveur tutorial). Carefully place back onto your cold lined baking tray. Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt (optional).

Carefully return the baking tray to the refrigerator until the truffles have set.

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pb2

*Powdered peanut butter (in this case, PB2) is basically peanut flour (peanuts that have been pressed/defatted to remove most of the oil content) with additional salt and sugar. It’s a processed, imported product with added refined sugar so it goes against three of my key principles of eating (whole foods, refined sugar free, locally produced and/or grown) but for some reason I was curious enough to purchase it.

It’s not terrible; it’s still relatively low in sugar (1.0g per 2 tbsp serving as opposed to average 3.0g for traditional peanut butter), has no trans fats (much better than Jif or Skippy, which contain hydrogenated soybean and palm oils – basically trans fats – and emulsifiers) and reports being non-GMO (see Bell Plantation’s FAQ’s).  It’s a little grainy and dry when mixed with water (as per the suggestion for reconstituted peanut butter) but works well as an agent to soak up natural nut oils (such as in the recipe above) and/or to mix into baked goods and sauces.

If you’ve got peanut flour on hand, I’d totally recommend using it as an alternative to the PB2 in this recipe. However, use of either powdered peanut butter or peanut flour will work similarly to create a dough-ish consistency with increased protein and peanut butter flavour. It’s useful to note that traditional buckeye candy and peanut butter truffles use a hell of a lot of powdered sugar to the same effect (somewhere between 2-3 cups per cup of peanut butter) so whether you use peanut flour or powdered peanut butter with the natural sweetener, you’re still winning.

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salted tahini date caramel slice

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It’s been a couple of years since I first discovered date caramel, initially as a filling for some sort of decadent raw truffle at a friend’s dinner party. Since that day, I’ve mostly thought about date caramel rather than making it, for the simple reason that… well, I’d probably eat the whole batch. Straight from the mixing bowl, with sticky fingers and a caramel-smudged grin.

It’s that delicious, particularly with the addition of smooth nut butter and crunchy sea salt flakes. Dangerously addictive.

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But despite the best of intentions, it’s been that kind of week. I’ve had frazzled nerves and an exhausted brain that hasn’t wanted to sleep. Trips to the gym didn’t work (it’s usually a massive stress reliever for me) and neither did the odd glass of wine. Finally, when I did achieve some semblance of normality, this happened.

Ah, heck. I think it’s time for cake.

nectarI don’t often desire cake. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that my sweet tooth left many years ago with my milk teeth and teenage demeanour. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a soft spot for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate (largely due to childhood associations and sentimentality) however, upon eating it’s tooth-achingly sweet. Despite the glass-and-a-half slogan, it’s also got little nutrition to speak of (you need to eat an entire 200g to get that calcium, darn it).

Give me a hunk of protein-rich cheese any day. Even better, some smoked roasted almonds.

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Anyway, I’m digressing (mmm, cheese): let’s talk cake.

On the occasions when I bake, I usually lean towards bitter cacao or a fruit-driven puddings made with rice malt or maple syrup. Yes, there’s an element of sugar, but additional nutrients result in a lower glycemic index and more benefits for my mind and body.

A good example of this is my previous recipe for sweet potato brownies with raw cacao and rice malt syrup. They’re completely delicious, refined sugar free and naturally nourishing with just the right amount of natural sweetness. However, it’s presently mid-summer. Even evenings are warm and sticky, so I’m gravitating towards refrigerator treats such as today’s recipe: salted tahini date caramel slice with glossy bitter cacao and a chewy oat and walnut base.

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As far as sweet treats go, this slice strikes a pretty good balance between deliciousness and nutrition. It’s full of dietary fibre, iron, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals from the dates alongside plant protein and good fats (monounsaturated, omega 3, good cholesterol) from the nuts, cacao and coconut oil.

It tastes deliciously rich without being overpoweringly sweet. Definitely a winner in my book.

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cacao

In terms of honest dialogue, this slice isn’t nutritionally perfect. I’m not going to shout ‘…it’s guilt free!‘ from the rooftop in my yoga gear. Both dates and coconut nectar contribute a reasonable dose of fructose* to this recipe which, in real terms, is just a form of sugar. And any sugar, in excess (whether that be in the form of fructose, sucrose, glucose, lactose or maltose) is still bad for your body and mind.

However, let’s talk about small amounts. A couple of tahini-stuffed dates, a Honeycrisp apple, a square or two of dark chocolate or a coconut banana smoothie. They’re okay, right? I definitely think so, unless you have a medical condition specifying otherwise (e.g. diabetes, fructose malabsorption; that’s an entirely different story).

For what it’s worth, I’m of the opinion that some natural sugar in the form of whole foods (such as dried or fresh fruits, carbohydrates and dairy products) is both acceptable and beneficial in a balanced, predominantly unrefined diet. The body needs fuel, particularly if you’re combining this diet with regular physical activity.

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So, where to next? I’m not about to tell you that ten pieces of this salted caramel thing are beneficial with one session of sweaty cardio, but if you want a small sweet treat, go for it. Eat. Eat with a sticky smile on your face.

Be thankful. Moderation is the key.

*If you want to read more about fructose, metabolism and energy, take a look here and here (or even better, consult a qualified dietitian or nutritionist on the issue). 

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Salted Tahini Date Caramel Slice

Makes approximately 18 squares

This slice is ridiculously easy to make. It involves a fair bit of food processing but otherwise contains no complexity. Don’t fret if your raw chocolate cracks after setting (this happens 99% of the time. Just heat your knife, breathe and try again). Just embrace the imperfections and how good that gosh-darn-salted-date-caramel tastes. 

Base:

  • 1 cup organic, raw rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw walnuts (or almonds, whichever you prefer)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates
  • a few drops of hot water, as required

Tahini date caramel:

  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates, about 11 dates
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp almond butter or tahini
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • fine sea salt, to taste (I added around 1/4 tsp)

Raw chocolate:

  • 6 tbsp raw cacao
  • 2 tsp carob powder
  • 4-6 tbsp coconut nectar or rice malt syrup (to taste, I add as little as possible, a slightly bitter chocolate layer works perfectly with the date caramel)
  • 1 cup melted coconut oil or cacao butter (my coconut oil was liquid at room temperature, being summer in Australia, but melt it on low heat in a saucepan first if necessary)

Blend the oats and nuts together in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add in the dates and a little pinch of salt, pulsing again until well mixed and cohesive. If your mix is looking a little dry, add in a few drops of hot water and process until the mixture comes together. Press into an 18x27cm greased and lined tin.

Soak dates in the hot water for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking water for later. Puree all the filling ingredients except the sea salt in a food processor, streaming in a little of the soaking water until you obtain a creamy consistency (add as little water as possible – too much and the filling won’t set properly. I added about 2 tbsp worth of soaking liquid). Add a little sea salt, pulse and taste, adjusting the level of ‘saltiness’ to your preference. Spread over the prepared base, then refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before preparing the raw chocolate topping.

Blend all of the raw chocolate ingredients together in a food processor, pulsing for at least 30 seconds to ensure the coconut oil is emulsified. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary. Remove slice from refrigerator and immediately pour over the chocolate mixture, tilting the tray to ensure even distribution (try not to touch the chocolate layer or you’ll probably end up with splotches of separated coconut oil rather than a smooth, glossy layer). Return to the refrigerator for 10 minutes to chill.

After 10 minutes, score the chocolate into 18 pieces (this will make it much easier to cut without cracks later). When the chocolate layer is completely set, cut through with a heated knife. Keep refrigerated or frozen (this is also amazing straight from the freezer!) in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

*Medjool dates are larger and softer than traditional dried dates, with a more complex caramel-y flavour. However, they’re also a bit more expensive than the regular packaged supermarket dates (which are usually the Empress or Deglet Noor varieties, click here for more info). If you’re trying to save cash, I’d recommend splashing out on Medjool dates for the salted caramel layer whilst using traditional dates for the oat and nut base. Please note: I soaked and drained all of the dates that I used in the recipe above (separate to and including those specified in the salted caramel layer) as mine were a little dry. However, if you have extra soft and moist dates, feel free to skip the soaking. Just ensure you have a little hot water on hand to stream into the food processor if your mixture/s aren’t the correct consistency.

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the life changing loaf. and authenticity

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It’s been a strange couple of months around these parts. Quiet, slightly uncertain, full of questions surrounding my future income, Worker’s Compensation, options and priorities. Weeks of diversion from my normal routine have resulted in extra time for sleep, walks with the dog, therapeutic cardio sessions and some dismal left-handed kitchen experiments (read more about my injury here). ‘Right hand dominant’ is an understatement.

Thankfully, the worst part is now over. I’ve commenced a ‘return to work program’ and I’m no longer the victim of bad daytime television. My application for Worker’s Compensation was thankfully approved and I’ve been fitted with what my therapist calls ‘sexy nighttime apparel’, aka a custom overnight wrist splint. I’m also strapping my wrist with Rock Tape so that I can complete some light upper limb work at the gym, which feels great after weeks of low activity. I’ve recommenced some independent cooking, though Aaron (my ‘sous chef’ – thanks baby) is still available for weight bearing or manual kitchen tasks as required.

I’m healing, my body is doing what it’s supposed to do, life is returning to some sort of balance. I’m thankful.

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I’ve still had fun in the kitchen during my weeks off. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’d be aware that I’ve been doing a lot of recent experimentation with vegan cuisine, particularly salads and healthy treats. This has been a natural response to my growing interest in plant based nutrition and whole foods whilst also doubling as a cost-saving measure (my preferred dairy brands aren’t cheap and neither is ethical, sustainable meat, so we avoided both whilst my income was awry).

It hasn’t been difficult; in fact, it’s been delicious and edifying. However, my ‘online profile’ (a strange concept to me, however I’m referring to this blog alongside my Twitter account, Instagram and facebook) has become a little confused as a result, so I’ve felt a growing need to formally clarify things on here. I hope that’s ok.

So, before I start: I’ve spent a lot of time dwelling on my nutritional standpoint over the past week. A lot of time. I’ve revised the content of this post about twenty times as I tend to overthink things, so if you’re not remotely interested in my nutritional standpoint (and philosophical musings) skip on to the recipe. Secondly, I am very aware that my Instagram and Twitter followers aren’t necessarily blog followers and vice versa, so you may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. I probably devote needless intellectual energy into thoughts of personal authenticity, but if I’m going to maintain an online presence I want to be accountable for it.

cocodishA lot can be misconstrued when scrolling through those little filtered boxes (yes, I know that they can be rectangles now but stay with me) on social media. They portray only a small part of a person’s varied, flawed and messy existence (usually the bits with good lighting and a timber backdrop), including my own. It causes me personal conflict, as I don’t want my social media accounts to be filled with images of burned grilled cheese under fluorescent lights. However, I equally dislike the idea that impressionable young people would stumble upon my account and view me as a ‘clean eating’, virtuous ‘fitspiration’ freak who demonizes animal protein and wakes with a passion to brew her own kombucha.

Here’s the (honest) deal: I don’t like labels. I care about my body but sometimes I’m lazy. I’m not an ethical vegan, a dietitian, a nutritionist or any sort of authority on physical health. I like beer (I have confessed this on many occasions, but just in case you’re uncertain), red wine, kale and oatmeal. I both hate and love cardio. I attempt to make good choices, but I don’t eat righteous food for every meal. There are many who do, and they have my respect. But I’m not one of them.

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Continuing with the theme of authenticity, I’ve written the notes below as an attempt to clarify my nutritional values for both myself and those within my network. It’s as free of hashtags, buzz words and media filtration as I can make it.

Again, I have no qualifications in dietetics or nutrition, so please visit your General Practitioner, a certified nutritionist or a dietitian (such as the beautiful Heidi, when she concludes maternity leave!) if you’d like any advice suited to your individual needs.

  •  In majority, I consume wholefoods (unprocessed and non-GMO, organic* if possible) and a vegetable-heavy diet (edit 06/2016: I previously termed this a ‘mostly plant based’ diet, however that’s caused some confusion with a vegan lifestyle. I’m referring to the terminology used in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food). However, I’m not entirely vegetarian nor vegan. I don’t eat much meat these days but when I do, I feel strongly about buying ethical, sustainable meat or fish from people who care about their animals.
  • I enjoy plant milks, creamy avocado and cashew cheeses but I also wholeheartedly support the inclusion of goats cheese, dairy milk, cultured butter and yoghurt in my diet (both for health benefits and enjoyment). I’m not really an eater of eggs (not that I’m philosophically against it, I just don’t really like them) but I purchase free-range eggs if/when required.
  • I’m resistive to extreme diets, fads and buzz words on social media. Though I’m not a dietitian, I believe that science has given us a solid basis for appreciating the benefits of a varied diet including some forms of cooked food, carbohydrates for energy and healthy fats in moderation (cholesterol is still bad, people). Crank nutritional information is rife within both social media platforms and the internet in general, as are extremist views from activists, so please, please seek professional dietary advice rather than excessively consuming the next ‘superfood’ (coconut oil is NOT a spiritual elixir. Whilst I do consume it in small amounts alongside other fats, I would go as far as saying that it cannot solve all of your dental problems, it will not cure you of high cholesterol, it should not replace all other fats in your diet. People talk complete rubbish).
  • I believe that dietary rigidity and categorization can lead to unhealthy thought patterns and disordered eating (speaking personally from my teen years, dietary rigidity can also act as a guise for disordered eating) whilst robbing an individual of the pleasure of social eating. I’m not saying that it’s not good to follow healthy dietary principles most of the time, but if it gets to the point where you feel guilty about eating a piece of chocolate (or you’re avoiding social events because there may not be ‘appropriate food’) then something’s out of whack. If a friend of mine serves me a lamb shank at a dinner party, I eat it (maybe not all of it, but at least some). Same goes for an occasional piece of cake or a fried donut made with refined sugar. I understand that some people may disagree on this point (and I’m not referring to those of you with medical issues such as coeliac disease or diabetes where compromise cannot occur) however I’m a person who demonstrates love and generosity through the preparation and offering of food, and I want to validate reciprocity in this area. This doesn’t mean that I abandon my personal food ethics and nutritional standpoint. An otherwise healthy human body will not be broken by a cheese and prosciutto pizza and a glass of wine at the weekend (and I don’t choose my friends by their nutritional preference).
  • *On the topic of unprocessed, non-GMO, organic, free-range: we’re not rich by any means, so this also affects my food choices. I buy a ton of vegetables and they’re not always organic as we just can’t afford it. I’ve recently been trying to keep my organic purchases to the the ‘dirty dozen‘ (produce that usually contains the most pesticides) whilst purchasing regular non-organic produce for the ‘clean fifteen‘ (products that generally contain the least amount of pesticides). I believe that a diet rich in vegetables, even if they’re non-organic, is preferable to a diet that lacks plants. Alternately, if I can’t find good dairy or meat from sustainable, ethical sources, I’d rather eat plant based sources of calcium and protein. I vote with my hip pocket (Aussies, click the following links to find some information on sustainable living and ethical meat suppliers) and my heart.
  • To sum things up, I’m just trying to cook, eat and live as responsibly as I can. I value and respect animals, but also want to value, love and respect my fellow humans. I want to enjoy food as well as nourishing my body. I don’t want to beat myself up if I feel like dairy milk chocolate or cultured butter on a piece of sourdough. I want to remain honest, true to my own conscience and principles. To be the best version of myself, not someone else.

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Oh, and one last thing. I eat messy food. Simple food. Ugly food. I eat mushroom burgers with aioli running down my chin. I sometimes eat in monochrome (usually brown; oats and tahini with mashed banana ain’t pretty) from chipped IKEA crockery whilst wearing the daggiest of trackpants. I’m massively imperfect and it keeps me humble.

You’re probably always known it, but I’m glad we’re straight.

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That brings me to this super simple loaf of seeded goodness from My New Roots. It didn’t exactly change my life but it it’s good, oh it’s good. And so is Sarah, the nutritionist who created it.  She’s authentic. And that resonates with me.

The Life Changing Loaf of Bread

Adapted from this recipe from Sarah Britton, My New Roots

  • 1 cup (135g) sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup rolled flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats
  • 1 1/2 cups (145g) rolled oats
  • 4 tbsp psyllium husks
  • 1 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt flakes
  • 1 tbsp rice malt syrup (brown rice syrup)
  • 3 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, set aside. Whisk together the water, coconut oil and rice bran syrup until the syrup is completely dissolved.

Pour over the dry ingredients, mix well until everything is completely soaked. The dough should be adhesive but still ‘mixable’ (add a couple more teaspoons of water if it is too thick). Pour into a silicone loaf pan (silicone will make it much easier to turn out your bread; however, I successfully used a rigid loaf tin greased with extra coconut oil, plus a little baking paper to line the bottom) and smooth the top with a spoon or spatula. Set aside at room temperature to ferment for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. When the dough is ready, it should retain its shape when you pull the sides of the loaf pan away from it.

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees f). Bake for 20-30 minutes on a centre oven rack until the bread can be carefully turned out of the tin. Place upside down directly onto the oven rack and bake for another 30-40 minutes or until the base sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

Store in a well-sealed container for up to five days. It can also be successfully frozen; slice before freezing and defrost in the toaster as desired (this makes the best nutty, crunchy toast, top with smashed avocado and seeds, ricotta and honey or a bit of chia jam for a delicious treat).

broccoli and quinoa tabbouleh with harissa dressing

aerial Broccoli was ridiculously cheap at my local market this week. Beautiful, too – tight green florets, crisp stalks, fresh-cut stems dripping with moisture. So, as most seasonal eaters do, I squirreled a few heads into my shopping basket without further thought as to what I’d do with them. They went straight into the vegetable drawer.

Cue yesterday afternoon when, in search of an avocado, I rediscovered my cruciferous hoard. I decided to turn some of it into ‘dinner’ but had little enthusiasm for my default roasted broccoli with garlic. broccoli I decided upon a salad, with initial thoughts gravitating towards this pomegranate wonder from Green Kitchen Stories. However, as pomegranates were $5 each at the supermarket, the idea became slightly less appealing (whilst also quietly defeating my seasonal locavore principles).

That brings us to this gloriously spicy, crunchy, nutrient packed bowl of green deliciousness that I’ve loosely dubbed as ‘tabbouleh’ (hopefully the Levantines will forgive me). mix I’m sure that most of you would be familiar with traditional tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad packed with fragrant herbs, tomatoes, lemon juice, finely chopped onion and cracked wheat (known as burghul or ‘bulgur‘). I think I first came across it at a kebab stand as a young teenager, when I declined to have it applied to doner (my idea of ‘salad’ was iceberg lettuce and tomato).

I’ve since learned the error of my ways and enjoy tabbouleh in all its forms, both for nutritional and taste benefits. I’ve swapped out the bulgur for either quinoa or cous cous on a number of occasions and added a few crushed pistachios, however this is my first proper ‘reinvention’. harissa The base of this salad is a rough tumble of finely chopped broccoli and quinoa, with familiar herbs, onions and lemon drawing reference from tabbouleh. Crumbled feta adds creaminess whilst toasted almonds add a welcome crunch.

For me, the harissa dressing is the stuff of dreams: hot, smoky and slightly sweet from the addition of honey. I’d recommend that you taste and adjust your dressing to suit your personal heat tolerance.

I like to serve this salad on its own, with a big dollop of lemony hummus, for a complete lunch. For dinner, I’d push the boat out with some additional crispy falafel, pickled radishes, natural yoghurt and warmed flat bread. handbowl Broccoli and Quinoa Tabbouleh with Harissa Dressing Adapted from this recipe by BBC Food.

  • 100g quinoa, rinsed (I used black and red, but any colour will do)
  • 300g broccoli florets (don’t throw the stems away, take a look at these gorgeous ideas), very finely chopped or finely blitzed in a food processor
  • 4 spring onion stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, zested and halved*
  • 100g feta cheese (the creamy type, I use goats feta), crumbled
  • large bunch parsley, washed and finely chopped
  • small bunch mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 50g toasted almonds, roughly crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Dressing:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp harissa paste (maybe start with a little less, mix, taste and add as desired)
  • 1 tbsp raw honey
  • juice from 1/2 lemon (above*)

Add the quinoa to a medium saucepan with 1 1/4 cups of water. Bring to the boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add the broccoli and continue to cook until the quinoa is tender and the broccoli steamed until bright green (you may need to add a splash more water before replacing the lid, do not allow the pot to boil dry).

Tip the broccoli and quinoa mix into a large bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Mix, then set aside to cool slightly. When at room temperature, add the herbs, spring onions, lemon zest and a good amount of salt and pepper. Set aside whilst you make the dressing.

Add all of the dressing ingredients to a medium screw-top jar. Shake, then check the balance of flavours (add a little more honey if too hot, a little more lemon if too viscous, a little more harissa if the heat’s not enough for you). pour Pour over the quinoa mix, add the crumbled feta and almonds, then mix thoroughly. Taste and check for seasoning. Serves 4-6 as a side dish (though I would happily eat it all myself!).  bowl2

coconut cacao and buckwheat granola

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This morning, I woke to the dull patter of gentle autumn rain. Rather comforting, in fact, after many weeks of radiant heat. After crawling out of bed (and unearthing myself from Loki’s pile of toys) I rubbed my eyes and shuffled towards the kitchen, where Aaron was stacking a uniform pile of Weetbix in his breakfast bowl. After applying some honey, he doused the structure (I don’t use this word lightly; Aaron is a precision Weetbix stacker) in dairy milk before habitually migrating to the couch.

Crunching followed, with an occasional clink of metal against glazed stoneware. This is Aaron’s ritual. Today the rain provided a steady backing track.

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For me, breakfast is a little less predictable. In regular rotation are raw buckwheat with maca, sliced banana and almond milk (my new favourite is cold-pressed local almond milk from The Pure Press), filling overnight oats (this is my favourite recipe) and avocado toast (ALWAYS with chilli flakes and lemon oil) however I occasionally mix things up with granola or fruit toast with lashings of butter.

I adore breakfast. I’m one of those weirdos who falls asleep thinking of breakfast the next morning. Last night was no different. I wanted granola stuffed with walnuts and deep, dark cacao.

We didn’t have any.

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So, back to this morning’s turn of events. I stumbled into the kitchen, deliriously hungry and leaden with sleep. The absence of granola resulted in crumbled Weetbix with maca, toasted walnuts and cacao nibs, all swimming in creamy almond milk.

Half an hour later, I made a batch of toasted buckwheat granola mixed with warm cinnamon, organic walnuts, chocolatey cacao, coconut oil and raw honey that I snaffled on a recent trip to Melbourne, Victoria.

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SO GOOD.

I think today calls for a second breakfast.

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Coconut Cacao Buckwheat Granola

Adapted from Sarah Britton’s recipe from My New Roots

  • 2 cups (400g) raw buckwheat**
  • 1/2 cup (50g) organic rolled oats
  • 1 cup (75g) golden flax flakes
  • 2 cups (80g) coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup (35g) coconut sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (125g) walnuts
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup honey (I used Guildford Gold) or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp organic natural vanilla extract
  • generous pinch of flaked sea salt (equivalent to 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt)
  • 1/2 cup organic cacao powder (fair trade, if you can find it)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper, then set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, buckwheat, coconut flakes, flax flakes and coconut sugar. Roughly chop or crumble the walnuts (you still want some reasonable size chunks) and add them to the mix.

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In a small saucepan over low-medium heat, melt the coconut oil. Add the honey or maple syrup, vanilla, salt and cocoa powder. Whisk to combine until smooth.

Pour the cacao mixture over the dry ingredients and stir to coat evenly. Spread the mixture evenly over your prepared tray and press firmly with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the granola starts to become golden and fragrant. Remove from the oven and flip over clumps with a spatula (don’t worry if your granola isn’t clumping yet, it will start to stick together as it later cools). Return to the oven and cook for another ten minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes until evenly toasted* and fragrant.

Store your granola in an airtight jar or container in a cool, dry spot for up to six months (ha – like it would last that long!). You can also freeze granola, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or a (airtight) freezer bag.

I like to eat this granola with almond milk or coconut yoghurt, piled high with fresh berries or sliced banana. It’s also AMAZING with a generous drizzle of thin peanut butter or tahini.

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Notes:

*The dark colour of the granola makes it hard to tell whether it’s cooked or not. Go by smell – you want a toasty, sweet smelling batch of granola (your nose should be able to tell you if it’s burning!). If you’re uncertain, taste one of the larger pieces of walnut or coconut (which will take the longest to toast). If it’s golden and toasty, the mix is done.

**You can find whole raw buckwheat (often referred to as buckwheat ‘groats’) at health food shops and good grocery stores. Raw buckwheat should appear very pale green rather than dark brown (the latter version is called ‘kasha’ which has been toasted; for this recipe you require the raw version of buckwheat as you’ll be toasting it yourself).

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spring pea, asparagus and strawberry salad

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For those of us heralding the arrival of autumn, today’s post might seem a little out of season. But trust me, there’s method to my madness: I’m guest-posting over at my friend Erin’s blog, The Speckled Palate, whilst she and her husband Winston enjoy precious time with their new baby girl!

Erin and Winston reside in Dallas, Texas, hence my reference to the pending arrival of spring (in technical terms, anyway… this forecast might say otherwise!). I can’t quite remember when we first struck up a friendship but over the last year or so, I’ve come to consider Erin as a dear blogging friend across-the-seas. She’s wonderfully creative, kind and nurturing and I know that she’s going to be the most incredible mother to ‘Lady Baby’ (as she’s known for now!).

Such exciting times.

strawberriesI’m including my original recipe below as part of the blog archive, but I’d encourage you to jump over to Erin’s blog post for a printable version (and more talk of how this Aussie blogger became friends with a big-hearted Texan photographer!).

You can also read more about Erin and her journey towards motherhood here and here.

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Back to peas and carrots strawberries.

The salad recipe below is more of a concept than an absolute instructional. Feel free to experiment with flavours and textures, harnessing the best fruit and vegetables that you can find. Add a little avocado for creamy goodness or some pea shoots if you can find nice ones at the market.

Swap the strawberries for juicy chunks of ripe peach, or add sauteed leeks or sweet onions as a beautiful accompaniment to the goats cheese.

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As per my notes, feel free to bulk out this recipe with some cooked and cooled quinoa for a more substantial dish. I’ve also added the almonds as an ‘option’ as… well, I’d like to say I was catering for nut-free people but to be honest, I just forgot about them (honestly, I can’t even blame baby brain!). If you do add the nuts, they’ll provide a gorgeously satisfying crunch.

Thanks Erin, for giving me the opportunity to share one of my favourite recipes with your readers. I’m sending you, Winston and (fur kid and big sister) Lucy lots of love from my apartment across the seas!

Oh, and talking about fur kids? I think we’ve got ourselves a little strawberry thief…

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Spring Pea, Asparagus and Strawberry Salad

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

  • 100g edamame beans, shelled (50g shelled weight)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 50g sugar snap peas, stringed
  • large handful of fresh greens (I used baby spinach and rainbow chard, however watercress or rocket would be lovely)
  • 100 – 150g strawberries, washed, trimmed and halved (leave a few small ones whole for garnish)
  • 100g fresh goats cheese (substitute feta), broken into chunks
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (from lemon below)
  • small handful of mint, washed and chopped (reserve a few leaves for garnish)
  • 50g slivered almonds, optional

For the dressing (combine all in a screw-top jar and shake*):

  • 2 tbsp cold-pressed sweet almond oil
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • juice from half a lemon
  • drizzle of honey or rice malt syrup, to taste
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

If using, scatter the slivered almonds over an oven tray and toast them at 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) for 8 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Blanch the asparagus spears in hot water for 2 minutes or until bright green. Refresh under cold water, drain and set aside.

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Slice the sugar snap peas into thin slivers on a diagonal. Place into a medium bowl with the shelled edamame and sliced strawberries. Pour over enough dressing to coat, then toss and adjust seasoning to taste.

Scatter the leafy greens over a serving platter. Lay the asparagus spears over the top and spoon over the pea and strawberry mix. Combine the goats cheese with the chopped mint, lemon zest and a little extra dressing. Gently mix, then spoon over the plated salad.

Scatter over the whole strawberries, remaining mint leaves and slivered almonds if desired.

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This salad is wonderful with seasoned grilled chicken, fish or pork on a warm spring day. You can also bulk it out with 1 cup of cooked quinoa and some flaxseeds for a wholesome vegetarian meal.

Notes: I mixed my salad dressing with just a tiny bit of honey to retain a ‘tangy contrast’ to the sweet, juicy strawberries. Don’t overdo the sweetness or you’ll throw out the balance of your salad. The ingredients listed above make more than enough dressing for this salad. Add just enough to coat the strawberry and pea mix with a little extra for the goats cheese and leaves. Don’t be tempted to pour over the remainder of the jar unless you’re adding cooked quinoa as suggested above (save it for another salad!).

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sweet potato and cacao brownies

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Now, let me just start this post by saying that I am a huge skeptic when it comes to ‘healthy’  versions of sweet treats such as mashed bean brownies, applesauce muffins and the like. I won’t touch them with a bargepole. Mostly as they taste quite horrible and, more importantly, because I love, consume and see the benefits of quality cultured butter consumption (I’ve even started making my own using this tutorial from the gorgeous Heidi Sze via Tucker. OBSESSED).

Case in point: last Sunday morning, I decided to make a batch of chewy, crackly brownies to bring as a contribution to our nephew’s birthday dinner that evening. Whilst I was rustling around in the refrigerator for my batch-churned Pepe Saya, Aaron chimed in: “…can you make healthy ones?”.

I immediately screwed up my nose. Healthy ones? For a THIRTEEN YEAR OLD? Uh, no. That’s not gonna go down well. But then my eye caught a bag of golden sweet potatoes, peacefully languishing in the vegetable drawer. An idea came to mind; a nutrient-filled, coconut drenched, cacao dusted idea.

Sweet potato brownies.

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After a little bit of internet research, I soon discovered that this idea wasn’t exactly new; in fact, a few hundred thousand million (or more) people have been baking these beauties since at least 2013. Most versions attest to be paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free and the like, and indeed they are – however, as someone who is fortunate enough to have no dietary restrictions, I just thought that they sounded delicious.

After inventing my own recipe, I did a little taste test prior to packing a plate for the nephew’s birthday party (I was still filled with flourishing seeds of doubt). A sliver revealed a moist, fudgy, supremely chocolatey brownie with a very faint shadow of sweet potato (mostly masked by smooth aftertastes of mild coconut, cacao and vanilla). I fell immediately in love and, after sharing a sliver with a very enthusiastic Aaron, my waning hope was sweetly restored.

We skipped off to the birthday party (cue glowing smiles of happiness).

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Now, in fear of habitually exceeding my blogger word allowance, I’ll cut out the niceties and head straight to the ‘kid verdict’ from our nephew’s birthday dinner. After the first few chews, these did not pass (I’m imagining Gandalf and the bridge of Khazad-dûm).

Possibly due to the vague aftertaste of coconut and sweet potato. Probably due to a childish unfamiliarity with healthy versions of sweet indulgences. Positively due to my enthusiastic cries of “They’re healthy!!” during the first few bites. Man, I’ve got a lot to learn about parenting.

I later returned to our vehicle with a superficial smile and an almost-full plate of sweet potato brownies. Despite Aaron’s reassurance (ah, bless that man) I was crushed, kicking myself for not using my tried and tested brownie recipe (one of my very first novice posts on WordPress, still a fail-safe favourite in our house and others). You live and you learn.

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Anyway, it’s now been four days since I tasted the lingering bitterness of healthy baking defeat. I guess it was to be expected, but the buoyancy of imbued hope lingered high over my sea of doubts.

I’m probably not going to attempt healthy baking for children again unless they’re my own (whom, in my idealized, not-yet-a-parent mind are going to be raised on wholefoods and rice malt syrup). Or unless I coat each said item in melted dairy milk chocolate. Hm.

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After my story of failure, you’re possibly wondering why this recipe still made it to blog-post stage. Well, Aaron and I adore these little beauties. We’ve been devouring delicious slivers over the past few days with hot coffee or as an after-dinner treat, with reassurance that they’re choc-full of goodness.

I used milk chocolate chips for the version that I took to our nephew’s house (predominantly due to the kid factor – silly me) however future batches will be made with the substitution of either crunchy cacao nibs or 70% cocoa dark chocolate – the bitterness will do wonders in off-setting the mild taste of sweet potato.

Nope, they’re no crackle-topped, butter-filled brownies. They don’t ooze with melted chocolate. But they’re a marvelous staple to have in the fridge when you just want a fudgy chocolate fix without the regret. Just don’t tell the children that they’re healthy.

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Sweet Potato and Cacao Brownies

Makes 16 – 20 squares

  • 500g peeled, cubed sweet potato (I used gold, however the milder white sweet potato would work well)
  • 2 free-range eggs, whisked
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup rice malt syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract*
  • 3 tbsp coconut flour*
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped bar chocolate or chocolate chips* (optional, I’d recommend 70% dark chocolate)
  • pinch of sea salt flakes

Line a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) brownie pan with baking paper, then set aside.

Place the cubed sweet potato into a medium saucepan with just enough water to cover. Boil until tender, then leave to cool in the cooking liquid.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).

Pulse the cooked sweet potato in a blender with 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid for 30 seconds or until just smooth (don’t over-process your sweet potatoes, you don’t want a gluggy mess).

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Transfer into a large bowl and add the coconut oil, rice malt syrup and vanilla extract.

Once thoroughly combined, add in the whisked egg and your dry ingredients – the coconut flour, cacao, baking powder, a pinch of sea salt and the chocolate chips.

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Mix well, then spoon into the prepared brownie pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool, dust with some reserved cacao and slice into however many squares you like. Eat straight from the fridge, at room temperature or slightly heated with some cold dairy or coconut cream.

plated2

*Exchange the vanilla extract for hazelnut liqueur, sweet orange extract or a few drops of peppermint oil if you like. Substitute chocolate chips for a handful of cacao nibs to add crunch and extra nutrients. Substitute coconut flour for oat flour or buckwheat flour if you like; I’d probably just cut down a bit of the sweet potato cooking liquid due to the reduced absorbency of alternative flours.

P.S. I had a little collaborator attempting to eat the goods helping me with this brownie shoot. You might be able to spot him here:

lokifeet

cacao overnight oats + australian sun

cugood

It’s been just over a week since Aaron and I returned to the city of endless sunshine and eucalyptus trees. Despite initial apprehension, the Australian weather has been treating us kindly, with temperatures largely under 30 degrees C (86 degrees f).

Despite this fact, I’ve been struggling with the brightness and heat after four months of increasingly grey skies and chilly mornings. On the day that Aaron and I left London, we wore woollen hats and kicked autumn leaves whilst drinking hot mulled wine from paper cups.

pour

Today I’m dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, with bare feet and a scraggly ponytail. A glass of iced water sits on the coffee table in a dripping pool of condensation.

But it’s not all bad. Despite initial fatigue, jetlag and lack of internet (we are still awaiting a home broadband connection) we’ve spent many hours catching up on lost time with beautiful family and friends (and their adorable new puppies, eep! Say hi to Mooch below). I’ve rediscovered my balcony garden, planting rainbow chard, dark Tuscan kale and a glut of organic tomato seedlings.

sleeping paw

Cooler afternoons have been spent in our tiny, cramped but altogether beautiful kitchen kneading spelt pizza dough and making fragrant tomato passata. I’ve pounded basil for pesto and picked mulberries from a nearby churchyard (with permission, of course) for baked goods and fresh chia jam.

It’s been idyllic, really. All the things I’ve missed wrapped into a warm, fuzzy ball of eight days. I’d be happy for it to last forever but (understandably) four months of travelling has made a significant dent in our bank account. Cue our return to full-time work (with 6:00 am wake-ups, a million emails and 20 minute lunch breaks for me) next week. Sigh.

bowl mix

In preparation for our return to routine, I’ve been dabbling in healthy pre-prepared breakfasts, lunches and snacks over the past week. Transportable, nutritious deliciousness that can be shoved into an airtight container and snatched from the fridge as we rush out the door. First on the list were a million things in jars ranging from creamy nut butters to pesto, chia pudding and sauerkraut (from this recipe by my friend Graz) followed by healthy fruit slices and wrapped nut-and-seed bars.

In terms of breakfasts, I’m a big fan of homemade granola (I’m a sucker for this Christmas-y recipe from lovely Kate) but after reading this recipe from my beautiful dietitian friend Heidi, well… I had to make a batch. Before heading to bed last night, I folded the ingredients together, popped the bowl in the refrigerator and (as always) went to sleep with happy thoughts of breakfast.

cover

This morning, I awoke to a bowl of creamy, chocolatey overnight oats. Aaron and I topped our servings with tart raspberries, strawberries, toasted sunflower seeds, crunchy dried mulberries and plenty of sliced banana (Aaron doused his in extra milk because, well, that’s what he does) before happily tucking in. We’ve now decided to make one double batch per week (to be scooped into bowls or packed into transportable boxes) for health, deliciousness and convenience. It’s the perfect transportable breakfast for an active day.

bowlyelo

Now, in terms of the recipe – I’m not going to include it here as I don’t want to deprive you of a visit to Heidi’s beautiful blog, Apples Under My Bed. It’s one of my personal favourites, both for wholefood recipes and heartfelt, honest stories (the hashtag #wishwewereneighbours perfectly applies).

Heidi states in her recipe that the maca powder is an optional extra, however I was happy to include a large spoonful towards both mood and hormone regulation (post travel and cessation of, uh, certain medication). I’m still debating whether the investment is worth it, so if any of you have experienced any personal benefits (or detriments) from consuming maca, I’d appreciate your advice.

wood

As I finish this post, it’s just past six in the evening. The soft remants of daylight are slowly melting into an inky, cloud-streaked dusk. Aaron is sketching next to me, tiny templates of figures for a commissioned project. Light falls upon his face and as always, my heart melts.

We’ll soon be eating garlicky greens with smashed avocado, poached eggs, goats cheese and this seeded sourdough from Wild Bakery for dinner. I relish the simple things in life. Like oats for breakfast and home grown vegetables.

And the wet noses of puppies. Yep, I just went full circle.

nose

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