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?

bowl

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.

pot

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.

balls

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.

inside

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.

pb22

baked falafel with coconut raita. and january heat

plate

It’s quiet; a still and mild Saturday afternoon. A halcyon breeze floats through the window, softly scented with warm eucalyptus. Quite a change from the week-that-was – when temperatures reached over 46 degrees C (115 degrees f). Today feels positively balmy.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably read my complaints about this January’s blistering heat wave. Monday afternoon felt like a billowing sauna, extraordinarily hot and thick with the scent of roasting vegetation. Whilst venturing out at lunchtime, hot bitumen melted the sole off my sandal. What a way to start the new year.

Another victim of the recent heat is our three-and-a-half year old MacBook Pro. The once reliable beast appears to have died in a flash of heat and blinking white (even following this advice didn’t help). On Thursday, we consulted a bearded, self-confessed ‘geek’ wearing Rip Curl shorts (paradox much?). $160 and ten minutes later, temporary optimism melted into bitter disappointment as we were instructed to ‘…take it to the Apple Store’.

And so we did, only to be given an appointment for next Tuesday. Sad face.

tahini

Life without a laptop is rather inefficient. I’ve been using my phone and iPad, but neither is optimal for writing or reading blog posts. My kindly husband has now loaned me his desktop PC for the afternoon, however I’m quite aware that this is holding up his own personal work (and more importantly, his progress in The Wolf Among Us).

I’m typing as quickly as possible, my gaze flicking back and forth between his giant dual monitors like a tennis spectator. As someone who is as much a geek as I am an emo (read: not at all), I feel like I’m stuck in the temperate cockpit of some tiny, artistic aircraft with floorboards for wings. The screens are wallpapered with digital paintings, gently peppered with art files and music downloads. All very Aaron. None of my foodie files are here, neither are my individual PhotoShop settings.

Another sad face.

table

Anyway, that’s enough negativity for one day. Let’s focus on the positives of January; shiny orange positives in the form of sticky mangoes, blushed apricots and juicy nectarines. Summer has brought fruit galore, coloured jewels that are ripe for the picking. I’ve mostly been eating them cold, sliced into salads or piled upon thick coconut yoghurt, though a recent glut from the market may be turned into apricot compote (perhaps by the sun if I leave a pot on the balcony!).

Another January upside is the fact that glorious warm weather is perfect for lighter meals. Salads, quinoa sushi, raw vegetables and blackened corn slathered in chilli lime butter. I’ve also been relishing cocktails crowned with piles of ice, perfect for balmy evenings spent with a good book.

mojito lucynisaac

Over the past week, my book of choice has been Green Kitchen Travels, a beautiful volume of recipes and stories both penned and photographed by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl (the talented husband and wife team behind vegetarian blog Green Kitchen Stories). After purchasing the book several months ago in London, it’s taken me a little while to start cooking from it – so far our table has been blessed with avocado and kiwi paletas, chocolate bean chilli and vibrant raspberry chia jam, all of which have been relished with keen eyes and sticky fingers.

Last Thursday, my mother and I decided to spend an impromptu evening drinking elderflower mojitos joined by Aaron, my beautiful (vegetarian) friend Lucy and her son Isaac. It took me three seconds to decide to make baked falafel from the original volume by David and Luise published in 2013.

Over the course of the evening, we drank from ice-cold glasses, slurped on healthy popsicles and drew elephants upon computer paper. We ate these crisp, nutty falafel balls in crisp cabbage leaves (san choy bau style) alongside baked pesto mushrooms with guacamole, smoky baba ghanouj (recipe here) and fresh turkish bread.

closeup2

If you’ve made the original recipe from The Green Kitchen, you’ll notice that I’ve switched up a few ingredients whilst adding a ‘chilling period’ for the falafel mix (which is specific to warmer regions). I’ve also omitted the cashew nut dressing in favour of a lavish spoonful of nut butter and fragrant coconut raita. Experiment as you like – I can assure you that the original version is just as blissful, as would a simple adornment of Greek yoghurt or garlicky hummus.

Here’s to a beautiful, healthy 2015 for all of us (and my computer).

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Baked Falafel with Coconut Raita and Tomato Chilli Salsa

Adapted from The Green Kitchen by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl (aka Green Kitchen Stories)

Falafel:

  • 1 cup (loosely packed) washed mint and parsley leaves
  • 200g (about 2 cups) unsalted nuts (I used pistachios, cashews and walnuts)
  • 400g chickpeas, cooked or canned
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 small red (Spanish) onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (substitute coconut oil if desired)
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp buckwheat flour (substitute oat or wheat flour if desired)
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Line a large baking tray (about 35x25cm) with baking paper, then set aside.

Blend the herbs in a food processor until coarsely chopped (about 30 seconds). Add the nuts and pulse until combined. Add the rest of the falafel ingredients and blend for 1-2 minutes or until well combined with a little residual texture (stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary).

Remove the falafel mixture from the food processor and place into a large bowl. Scoop slightly heaped tablespoonfuls of the mixture into your hands and roll to form about 24 small falafel. Place on your prepared baking tray, then push down lightly with your fingers to flatten slightly. Depending upon your climate, refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up a little.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees f). Drizzle the falafel with a little olive oil, then bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Turn after 10 minutes to get a uniform brown colour. Allow to cool slightly before assembling your falafel wraps.

falafelbowl

Coconut Raita:

  • 225mL (1 cup) chilled coconut cream (substitute natural dairy yoghurt or soy yoghurt if desired)
  • small handful of mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • small piece of finely chopped green chilli (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Place all ingredients into a medium-sized bowl, stir together and refrigerate for 30 minutes before using. Leftover raita is amazing with curries or dolloped over fresh green leaves with chickpeas, chopped grape tomatoes and toasted sunflower seeds.

salsa

Tomato Chilli Salsa

  • 3 large, ripe tomatoes or 250g mixed cherry tomatoes, finely diced (leave the seeds in)
  • 1/2 long red chilli, finely chopped (de-seed if you’d like less heat)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small red (Spanish) onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine everything in a medium bowl, mix well and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to intensify the flavours.

closeup aerial

To serve:

  • 1 green cabbage or iceberg lettuce, core removed, leaves washed and dried
  • toasted sunflower seeds
  • soft green herbs (coriander, mint, parsley), leaves picked
  • gently warmed nut butter (cashew butter, pepita butter or tahini) to dollop
  • lemon wedges

I served these falafel pre-assembled in little cabbage cups however you can wrap them up in iceberg lettuce for a crispy alternative… or leave everything in small bowls on the table for people to help themselves.

For a more traditional meal, serve the falafel in warmed pitas doused in plenty of nut butter, raita and salsa. They’ll be delicious either way.

isaac1 closeup3

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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