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.

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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.

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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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sticky fig, raspberry and chia jam

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I don’t remember when I first discovered chia jam. It must’ve been at least two years ago, possibly via Angela’s beautiful blog, Oh She Glows. Regardless of inspiration, chia jam is a godsend to those who enjoy sweet fruit spreads on buttered toast, scones or puddings. It’s a healthy way to enjoy a thick, glossy jam fix whilst avoiding a ton of refined sugar.

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The chia jam below was the product of a trip to my local market for milk and spelt flour. Whilst walking to the dairy cabinet, I passed a tray of slightly battered figs, the remnants of autumn’s bounty. I dropped a few into a paper bag, contemplating pies and frangipane tarts as I gathered my milk and headed to the check-out.

One hour later, I was eating a buttered scone sandwich with a glossy helping of sticky fig and chia jam.

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As you might have gathered, this recipe is quick and easy to prepare; far removed from the marmalade days of my English youth. Within half an hour, fresh or frozen fruit transforms into a thick, fragrant pool of jammy deliciousness, just begging to be slathered across fresh, crusty bread.

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If you’re unfamiliar with chia seeds, their flavour is best described as ‘nutty’ with a pleasant textural ‘pop’. However, within a sweet fruit jam the flavour itself only mildly discernible.

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Most noteworthy is the fact that these sticky seeds provide a healthy whack of omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants and calcium with every mouthful. Definitely a worthy topping for steel-cut oats, thick Greek yoghurt, quinoa porridge… anything, really.

With this type of jam, it’s acceptable to form a habit.

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Sticky Fig, Raspberry and Chia Jam

Makes about 1 cup (250ml)

  • 3/4 cup quartered fresh figs (about 6)
  • 1/4 cup raspberries
  • 2 tbsp pure maple or agave syrup
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

Bring the figs, maple syrup and 1/2 cup water to the boil over medium heat. Add the vanilla bean, cover and reduce temperature to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until the fruit has softened and started to break down. Mash a little with a fork, then pour in the chia seeds (add the other 1/4 cup water if the fluid has reduced too much).

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Cook, uncovered, for another 5-10 minutes or until the chia seeds have swelled and the mixture has reached a jammy consistency. Remove from the heat and pour into a sterilized jar or airtight container.

*I haven’t attempted to properly can this jam due to lack of sugar as a preservative, though most recipes suggest it can be stored for up to 7 days in the refrigerator (possibly longer in the freezer).

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apricot, coconut and cacao nib treats

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A couple of months ago, I purchased a rather large packet of organic cacao nibs from Loving Earth. Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll realize that I’m a big fan of this Melbourne-based company, mostly due to their fair-trade, sustainable philosophy, the high quality of their products and… well, the fact that they make healthy food taste delicious (not everyone can do that!).

Anyway, back to the cacao nibs. Upon bringing the package home, I opened it excitedly and placed a piece in my mouth, chewing slowly and thoughtfully. The nibs are hard, coarse like an almond shell, crunchy and bittersweet with rich undertones of dark chocolate and coffee. On the whole, they’re quite pleasant for something that resembles cracked tree bark. I ate another piece before closing the packet and storing it on a shelf next to one litre of coconut oil. Sadly, there it stayed… neglected and largely untouched for the next two months (other than the odd occasion when I’d sprinkle some cacao nibs into my morning breakfast bowl).

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So, let’s fast forward to earlier this week. After nibbling on some more cacao nibs, I decided that it was about time I knuckled down to create something delicious from this package of nutritional wonderment. I began trawling the internet, unearthing inspiration from recipes such as Kate Olsson’s Pumpkin and Cacao Nib loaves, Elizabeth’s Paleo Cookie Balls  Alanna’s  Snowballs and Sara Forte’s Peanut Butter Bites. If you follow the recipe links, you’ll see that each of these recipes is delicious in its own right. However, as the humidity of the morning set in, my fingers continued to search the net for something easy, nutritious and raw (I still can’t bear to use the oven in this weather). Enter Jo Whitton’s date and walnut stuffed, chocolatey Bliss Balls.

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Now, prior to this week, I’d never even heard of a bliss ball. However, after some further research I’ve discovered that there are over six million mentions of bliss balls on the world wide web. Six million (I must’ve been living in a hole). After investigating a few, I’ve decided that the definition of a ‘bliss ball’ is simply a sweet snack ball made from wholesome, raw ingredients (usually various dried fruits, seeds and nuts) with additional spices, sweetening agents (agave, honey, maple syrup), occasional starchy ingredients, cocoa and healthy fats. These ingredients are then either ground or pounded down into a sticky, rollable mixture that’s used to create bite-sized balls.

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Jo’s bliss ball recipe contains a delicious mix of ground cacao nibs, walnuts, fresh dates and rapadura sugar, prepared with a Thermomixes (these appliances are taking over the world, I tell you!). That leads me to a small personal statement: I am a teeny bit against Thermomixes. Predominantly because I believe that they, and similar appliances, may eventually ‘de-skill’ this next generation of potential cooks. I’ve always valued back-to-basics cooking, traditional kitchen skills and generational methods that take time and energy. There’s nothing better than pounding ingredients with a mortar and pestle for a curry paste, kneading dough on a floured bench top and practicing knife skills you hope to master. I want my children to learn the therapeutic and creative benefits of cooking, using their hands, heart and mind as opposed to a machine).

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Now, let me clarify something. I’m not suggesting we live like neanderthals in a squalid cave, gutting fish with a blunt knife. I definitely appreciate technology, particularly as most of us (particularly working parents) are so time-poor these days. Bench top appliances are a wonderful privilege of the industrial age, as are fridges, washing machines and electric or gas ovens. When balanced with traditional skills, they’re a time-saving and valuable addition to a busy kitchen. In fact, I used a food processor in my version of bliss balls, quite similarly to how Jo used her Thermomix in her recipe. However, in my case, the ‘time-saving’ element was… uh… minimal. Mostly because I own a very small stick blender with a chopper bowl attachment.

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Ah, my little blender. It’s a few years old, has a chipped stainless steel blade and a whirr that’s worse than a hammer drill. My husband hates it; he thinks that it’s going to make both of us deaf before our time. In fact, he once snapped some industrial ear muffs onto my head when I was making a batch of pesto… I didn’t even hear him creep up behind me. Funny, but… well, not. I now spend half of my time grinding things in a giant mortar and pestle, which is both wonderfully therapeutic and annoyingly slow. I’d love to receive any recommendations for a reliable, robust food processor that won’t break the bank. Please.

Anyway, moving on to the recipe below. What you’ll find is my version of ‘bliss balls’, using organic dried apricots, raw walnuts, chia seeds, activated buckwheat and cacao nibs. All of this delicious nutrition is then combined with a large dollop of coconut and chocolate goodness before being rolled into balls and drenched in dessicated coconut. Uh, yes, if you’re wondering… they’re still healthy. The Loving Earth coconut chocolate butter I used contains raw coconut oil, organic ground cacao, raw agave and sea salt. That’s it. So delicious.

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As I’m now at risk of sounding like a Loving Earth promoter, let me just clarify. I am not, in any way, affiliated with Loving Earth, I don’t receive products for free, I don’t get discounts or any other benefits. These views are entirely my own; I just like giving credit to companies that steward the earth lightly, responsibly and ethically, without compromise. That’s it, simple.

Anyway, on to my version of ‘bliss balls’. I hope you enjoy them.

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Apricot, Coconut and Cacao Nib Treats

Makes about 20 balls

  • 180g organic dried apricots
  • 100g raw walnuts
  • 3 tbsp organic coconut chocolate butter (substitute 2 tbsp organic coconut oil/butter + 1/2 tbsp raw, ground cacao nibs/organic cocoa + 1 tsp agave syrup, to sweeten)
  • 2 tbsp activated buckwheat
  • 2 tbsp whole raw cacao nibs
  • 1 tbsp black chia seeds
  • dessicated coconut, for rolling

Coarsely chop your apricots and walnuts. Reserve 2 tbsp of each, then place the rest into the bowl of a medium food processor. Process until fine. Add in your coconut chocolate butter (or equivalent) then pulse briefly until thoroughly combined, sticky and glossy.

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Remove mixture from the food processor and place in a large bowl. Add in the reserved apricots and walnuts, buckwheat, cacao nibs and chia seeds. Mix well until the additional ingredients are thoroughly combined with the chocolate base mixture.

If you find that the coconut oil separates slightly from the mixture (creating a layer of oil on the top) don’t worry, as this will be left behind when you form the mixture into balls. The coconut oil will also solidify when refrigerated, so the balls will firm up nicely.

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Shape 1 tbsp of the mixture at a time into a firm ball, then roll in dessicated coconut. Place onto a plate or lined baking tray. Repeat with the remaining mixture and coconut, then place the balls into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before serving.

ballThese balls will keep, refrigerated, for 2-3 weeks. Don’t be tempted to leave them out of the fridge unless you live in a cool climate – coconut oil liquefies at around 76-78 degrees f (24-26 degrees C).

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Notes:

  • This recipe is highly adaptable, as you may have guessed from the multitude of bliss ball variations out there! Feel free to substitute any of the fruits, nuts and seeds stated for other complimentary varieties. One of my favourite substitutions is to swap the dried apricots for Medjool dates and the walnuts for pecans… just make sure that you keep the total quantities of dry and moist ingredients roughly the same, or the mixture won’t produce results of the same consistency.
  • Cacao nibs are high in magnesium and antioxidants, whilst also containing trace elements of beta-carotene, amino acids (protein), Omega-3’s (essential fatty acids), calcium, zinc, iron, copper and sulphur. They’re great to eat alone as a crunchy snack or you can stuff them into Turkish apricots or Medjool dates for a nutritious and delicious sweet treat. They’re also quite adaptable as a more nutritious replacement for chocolate chips in all of your favourite recipes.
  • For some extra nutritional information on coconut oil, please see my Lime and Burnt Sugar Meringue Tart post. There are also some interesting links to articles exploring the long-term benefit of coconut oil consumption.
  • If you’d like to try Living Earth products and live in Australia, like I do, you may find this list of stockists useful. However, there are plenty of other companies that sell cacao nibs… just try to make sure that the product you’re buying is single origin, organically grown and fair trade. Preferably criollo amazonico cacao, an heirloom variety that’s currently being replanted in Peru.

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morning thoughts

brekkycloseGood morning beautiful people. Just a very quick post this morning to apologise for the recent changes in layout, menus and user-friendliness here at Laura’s Mess. I’ve been experimenting, in the hope that I’ll find something perfectly fitting to my individual blog, but alas… at present I’m settling with the best of many not-quite-right options. I think this is the point where I let out a big sigh whilst lamenting my inadequate knowledge of HTML. It’s ridiculously complicated, and I’ve concluded that I have no hope of actually designing my own web page. I’ve spent a few hours learning the basics via HTML Dog and I still feel like my knowledge represents a pea in a giant communal pan of paella.

Anyway, moving on. To make this post remotely food-related, I’ve added in a few pictures of my first breakfast. By ‘first’, I mean that I’m actually going out for breakfast this morning at the civilized time of 9.00am. Being me, I was too hungry to wait, so straight to my default ‘yoghurt mess’.

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This little concoction has become my go-to combination for breakfasts, snacks and mid-afternoon energy boosts. It contains natural yoghurt (my favourite brands are currently Gippsland Natural Organic Yoghurt and Mundella Natural Greek Yoghurt), berries (I love strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and redcurrants), chopped raw almonds, white Chia seeds, chopped Medjool dates and puffed Amaranth. I sometimes add in some wholegrain oats or quinoa seeds if I’m extra hungry. I’ve already talked about the nutritional benefits of many of these ingredients in previous posts (for instance, take a look at Honey Chia Muesli Slice or my Banana Bread recipes for information on Chia seeds and quinoa), so all I’m going to say this morning is that it’s wonderful that something so delicious can actually be good for you.

To end, I’m just going to add in the most recent photo we’ve taken of our little bean-birds. These days, they actually have no resemblance to beans whatsoever – they’re miniature versions of fully grown Willie Wagtails – and their fat little bodies are having trouble fitting into their tiny nest. Their poor parents have now been relegated to nearby tree branches, but I don’t think they mind. They’re too busy trying to fight off neighbourhood cats, pigeons and unsuspecting apartment dwellers.

beanstacklsI love these beautiful little creatures. I’ll be sad to eventually see them go. As always, thanks for reading, and I promise that next time I’ll have a complete recipe for you!

honey chia muesli slice. and homemade nut butter

In approximately three months, I’m going to wake up, wipe the drool from my cheek and look in the mirror at my 29 year old face. Twenty nine. That makes me feel ridiculously old, even though I know that in the bigger scheme of things it’s just a number. In fact, it’s no more significant than the mileage on your car… oh wait, maybe that’s a bad example. Ahem, let me correct myself: I’m not yet 30. And in my still-28-year-old brain, that is good.

Anyway, on a more positive note there are plenty of great things about getting older. For me, they mostly center around relationships, self-awareness, a distinct lack of pimples and… well, the fact that I’ve finally gained enough life experience to be classified as ‘wisdom’. Though I’m definitely not a sage, there are some deeper realizations that have penetrated my subconscious:

  • Freckles are good. For the first time in my life, I’ve completely abandoned all efforts to erase the evident dappling across my nose and cheeks. It’s hard, but I’m accepting the position that I don’t have to look like a magazine model to be beautiful, as with uniqueness comes a beauty distinct from all others. Plus, if God the Master Artist put the blotches on the canvas, they’re automatically good, right?
  • Limitations are real. The human body and mind get tired. They need rest, not coffee. And every now and then there will be something that, no matter how hard you try, you’ll be unable to achieve. And that, my friends, is okay.
  • You can’t please everyone. There’s no point trying, as you’ll just get tired and burn yourself up like a strand of hair in a candle flame. You’ll probably smell just as bad, too.
  • We are not immortal. The body has a limited ability to self-repair. Some things that break cannot be organically fixed, such as eardrums, rotator cuffs, eyes and natural teeth. So, to avoid hobbling, gummy smiles and future surgery I’m engaging my responsible self. You should too.
  • Fat does happen. For a very long time I was blessed with the ability to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, whilst remaining as thin as a rail. In fact, I hated being thin. Stupid me. I no longer have that luxury and at the ripe old age of 28, I’m finally taking a sensible interest in nutrition and exercise. And you know what? It’s been fun.

Okay, so I’m probably pushing it with the bullet points. And I’ve glossed over enough deep issues in one paragraph to stimulate the immediate ingestion of a Tim Tam in most people. But… well, don’t. Because I’m going to spend the rest of this post telling you about a metabolism boosting snack that’s not only just as delicious, but also one hundred times better for your heart and waistline. It’s packed full of nutrient-rich nuts, chia seeds, oats and toasted quinoa, lightly wrapped in homemade honey almond butter. Interested? Well, read on. Then keep reading, as I’ve compiled enough nutritional information about nuts, seeds and metabolism in this post to sink a ship (full of very healthy people, should they have applied what they’d learnt).

Honey Chia Muesli Slice

Makes around 24 pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups wholegrain rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup white royal quinoa
  • 1/2 cup pepitas
  • 1/4 cup white or black chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup whole almonds
  • 1 cup dried fruit (I use raisins, chopped dates & chopped apricots)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup honey or agave syrup (probably add a little less agave initially, then adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 cup natural nut butter (see recipe below)
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f). Line a square baking pan (about 8 inch/20cm) with greaseproof paper and set aside.

Combine the oats, nuts and seeds. Tip them onto a baking tray, spreading them out evenly before toasting them for 15 minutes in your preheated oven. Meanwhile, combine your honey, nut butter, salt, cinnamon and vanilla in a medium sauce pan over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When smooth & well combined, remove from heat & allow to cool slightly.

When your oat mixture is pale golden, transfer it to a large bowl and add your dried fruit alongside the nut butter mixture, stirring to incorporate. The mixture should be adhesive (sticking together in clumps); if it appears to still be quite separate, add in a little extra nut butter. Once at your desired consistency, spread the mixture in the prepared lined pan, using the back of a wooden spoon or bottom of a measuring cup to press the mixture together firmly. Ensure that it has a smooth, even surface with no cracks.

Bake your slice for 30 minutes or until the surface is golden and crisp round the edges. Remove from the oven and allow the to cool completely in the pan.

To serve: When cool, remove from the tin and lift onto a cutting board. Using a large sharp knife, cut the sheet into one-inch wide bars. Next, cut the series of bars in half, lengthwise. Store in an airtight container.

Notes:
  •  Feel free to substitute any dried fruits, nuts or grains into the above recipe, as long as the total fruit/nut content equals around 3 1/2 cups.
  • If you don’t have natural nut butter, feel free to substitute with store-bought nut butter (preferably low salt, low sugar). Macro wholefoods make a pretty delicious natural almond butter, cashew butter, organic peanut butter and unhulled tahini that you can buy online or from your local Woolworths supermarket.
  • You can also substitute 50g melted dairy butter, or about 1/4-1/2 cup applesauce for the nut butter, reducing the amount of honey or agave to accommodate the natural sweetness of the apples. If you use applesauce, please also be aware that your bars will be soft and chewy due to the increased moisture content.
  • Make sure you let the bars cool completely in the tin before cutting them, as they’ll be soft and fracture when straight out of the oven.
Homemade Nut Butter
Makes about 1 cup
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted unsalted nuts
  • A couple of pinches of salt to taste
  • Raw honey to taste
  • Pure nut oil (macadamia or walnut oil work well)

Place your nuts into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse, then grind until the nuts until the mix starts to form a coarse paste around the blade. Scrape down the sides of your food processor bowl, then process again until the mix starts to become smooth and creamy. If necessary, add a couple of splashes of nut oil to aid the process (start sparingly, as you can always add more oil but trying to save oily nut butter is… well, almost impossible).

Taste, then add salt and honey as required. Process again until the mixture reaches the consistency you like. I prefer a bit of texture to remain as you can see in the photograph, but if you prefer yours smooth, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. Do a final taste test, then pulse one final time. Store your nut butter in sterilized jars in the fridge (see notes) for up to two weeks.

Notes:
  • As there are no preservatives you will need to keep this nut butter in the fridge to prevent the natural oils from going rancid. Prior to eating, leave it out of the fridge for 15 minutes or so, or place a couple of tablespoons on a plate and microwave it on low for 20 seconds.
  • You can use the recipe above to make any nut butter, just make sure that your nuts are toasted prior to processing for maximum flavour and colour. My favourites are honey peanut butter, spiced cashew butter (with honey, some organic cinnamon & cardamom pods crushed to a fine ground) and chocolate hazelnut butter (add in grated dark chocolate for an instant grown-up version of nutella… delicious).

Some facts about nuts, seeds & metabolism (and fat)*:

Various people I know seem to think that if they drop their total caloric intake for the day as low as possible (eg. by skipping meals or eating plain lettuce) they will automatically lose weight. This is not essentially true, and in fact, it can cause the metabolism to slow down by sending the body into ‘starvation mode’ (this basically means that your body will burn food slower, and potentially store it as fat just in case the next meal never arrives. Clever body, huh? But not helpful for losing weight).

A more sensible option is to adjust your diet as follows:

  • Choose foods that are rich in essential nutrients to a total of the recommended caloric intake for your gender and size, whilst also factoring in your activity level (sedentary, light activity or very active).
  • Even if you’re aiming to lose weight, don’t drop your total caloric intake lower than 1,000 per day (this will avoid putting your body into ‘starvation mode’ whilst also ensuring that your brain and organs get enough essential energy. Weight loss diets recommend an intake of around 1,200 calories per day).
  • Split your planned food for the day into lots of small meals, rather than three large ones. This keeps your metabolism alert and constantly working, boosting your digestive process whilst also stabilizing blood sugar levels to fuel muscles and organs.
  • Choosing foods that are naturally harder for the body to digest naturally means that the body will use up more energy in the digestion process. This in turn increases the metabolic rate, boosting your metabolism.
  • Foods in this category include those rich in protein and fibre, such as chicken, fish, egg whites, leafy green vegetables, wholegrains, oats, nuts and seeds. Many of these foods also have a low glycaemic index whilst being rich in essential vitamins, minerals and fats.

So… more about nuts and seeds. You may have noticed that I’ve been sneaking them into every recipe possible in either their raw form or toasted to golden, crunchy perfection. They’re slowly multiplying in every corner of the kitchen; the state of my pantry is ridiculous. All you have to do is open the door and some variety of embryonic plant will hit you in the face.

So why the obsession? Well, a big factor is that they’re just darn delicious… buttery, crunchy, and full of savoury goodness. The secondary major benefit is that they’re incredibly good for you, with health benefits as follows:

  • Protein: both nuts and seeds are a rich source of plant protein, containing on average 18.9g of protein per 100g.
  • High in good fats: meaning the mono- and polyunsaturated varieties alongside protective flavonoids, all of which are essential for managing inflammation, maintaining normal cell structure and lowering risks of heart disease
  • High in energy: this basically means that they have lots of calories. Yes, too many calories without activity can lead to weight gain, but otherwise, calories can be a good thing. They help to fuel the brain and muscles, whilst complementary plant protein assists with the building of lean muscle mass.
  • Manages hunger: almonds and sunflower seeds are active in the suppression of ghrelin, the hormone that tells you you’re hungry.  Basically, this means you’ll be satisfied for longer.
  • Minerals: nuts contain magnesium, zinc, calcium and phosphorus needed for bone development, immunity and energy production, alongside essential B vitamins and vitamin E for healthy skin.

In terms of obsessions, I’d say that this is probably one of my healthier ones to date. In comparison to my previous (ok, current) addictions such as chocolate and ice cream I’m getting a lot more nutritional benefit and lasting energy in every bite.

That’s definitely a worthy reason to be squirreling away honey chia bars, muesli and raw almonds in my desk drawer, right? I’m gonna say a big, healthy yes.

Above: organic white, red and black royal quinoa. Amazingly good for you, and darn delicious.

*Please note (get ready for an anal disclaimer): I am neither a dietitian or a nutritionist. All of the nutritional information included in this post has been shared in good faith with reference to various books and websites such as Livestrong and Metabolism Boosters. For good results, a solid diet must be combined with regular exercise (no, not walking from the sofa to the fridge and back). If you have any individual health or dietary concerns, please consult your local General Practitioner or a qualified dietitian.

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