Friday, 31 January 2014

Cake for breakfast - Orange Pecan Muffins

It's muffin time. Well technically, it's almond milk hot chocolate with a cheeky shot of Cointreau time, after a week at work that has left me reeling slightly, and seeing spreadsheet imprints when I close my eyes. However… it is time to post a really good muffin recipe. Now as you read it, I grant you, it sounds unconventional, but have faith, it works and tastes amazing. And it's healthy enough that you can eat them for breakfast without feeling guilty, which is good. Starting the day off with cake is great, but starting the day off with an overshadowing feeling of food guilt, not so much. So make these, eat one for breakfast and do a happy dance. Or of course they're good at cuppa time too - or for pud. Don't let my cake-for-breakfast proclivities sway you!

This is another recipe made using Natural Balance Foods nakd bars - of the Pecan Pie variety this time - which they sent me to experiment with. If you can't get hold of them, use some dates and pecans instead.

My final word of introduction is one of re-assurance. Really, really, honestly and truly (and my fingers aren't crossed behind my back) even though whole mandarins are used, peel and all, boiling them removes all of the bitterness. Honestly. This isn't one of these 'kale crisps are just as satisfying as regular crisps' health food claims (or even worse - vegan cheese that 'melts just like real cheese' - but I've ranted about that before, so will avoid that tangent) that are fairly tenuous if not downright dishonest. It's just a fact of baking alchemy.

Orange Pecan Muffins (makes 12 muffins)
  • 2 medium sized mandarin oranges
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 4 tbsp cold water
  • 250g ground almonds
  • 1tsp gluten free baking powder
  • 100g rapadura / succanat or other dry sugar
  • 2x nakd pecan pie bars (or 30g dates and 30g pecans chopped)
  • 120g non-dairy yoghurt (plus more to serve if you like)
Give the outer skin of the mandarins a good scrub to get rid of any residue, then put in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain off the water, re-cover with cold water and repeat. After another 20 minutes simmering, drain and allow the mandarins to cool for 10 minutes. 
In the mean time preheat the oven to 160C and line a 12 hole cupcake tin with paper cases.
Next whisk together the ground flaxseed and cold water in a small bowl and leave to allow the flax gel to form.
Once cooled a little leave the peel on the mandarins and cut into chunks (removing any pips you find), then blend to a pulp with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Transfer the orange pulp to a large mixing bowl.
Chop the pecan pie nakd bars into small pieces and add to the orange mixture along with all of the other remaining ingredients, then stir well to combine.
Divide the mixture easily between the cases - you can fill them fairly full - they won't rise too much.
Bake for around 30-35 minutes until golden brown on top and lightly set.
Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then lift out carefully onto a wire rack. The muffins will firm up as they cool.
These will keep perfectly in a tin for 3-4 days as the ground almonds will prevent them from drying out."

The good news is that these will keep perfectly in a tin for 3-4 days, as the ground almonds prevent them from drying out.

They are delicious unadorned with a cuppa (or for breakfast - see above!). They're also fab warmed and served with a dollop more of yoghurt of your choosing as a pudding. And if you've got a special occasion to celebrate, they'd also work well slathered with icing and sprinkles. The world needs more sprinkles.

You can also find this recipe (and plenty of other healthy, tasty treats and nutritional information) on the Natural Balance website community pages.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Random Recipes #36 - New year, new (to me) book

My second last-minute post this week - tonight it is my Random Recipes submission.

This monthly cooking challenge is hosted at Belleau Kitchen, and the theme for January is New Year, New Book - to randomly select one of the cookbooks we received at Christmas, and then to randomly select a recipe a recipe from within that!

I was given one new cookbook - a retro copy of "Cooking the Scandinavian Way" by Elna Adlerbert. So the book selection was easy!

I opened the book at a random page and so Baked Mackerel With Leeks was chosen. Here's the recipe - although I halved it since there were only the 3 of us, and Mini-M is only little.

Here's what the finished dish looks like straight out of the oven - the mackerel well hidden under plenty of leeks and onions. Mini-M left all of her leeks. The conversation went…

Mini-M: "I left these vegetable bits at the side"
Me: "OK - they are leeks. Did you not like them"
Mini-M: (very honestly) "I didn't try them. I could just see that I didn't like them"
Me - speaking: "Ok, well it's really good to try things - maybe next time you might try some"
Me - thinking: "Fair point - I hated leeks as a kid. Still not a huge fan. Pretty much only eating mine to set a good example!"

Served up toddler style - with tomatoes and celery, a piece of sun-dried tomato and onion scone - on a princess plate with pink cutlery.

Served up for the adults… it would appear that the only difference is the boring plate and cutlery!

Huge credit has to go to Mr E, for taking up the fish gauntlet just before going out, and ending up at the cinema smelling distinctly mackerel-y, after I suddenly baulked at the last minute at the thought of beheading them.

And a special mention to Mini-M who very carefully carried the said mackerel around the supermarket in their paper bag, after we got them from the fish counter, talking to them and cuddling them, and asking if she could look at them, then being so excited about having fish for tea. It was going to be her 'happy thing' to share at nursery yesterday morning, until 3 fire engines with sirens and flashing lights drove past on the walk there and eclipsed the mackerel on the toddler scale of cool!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Daring Bakers January 2014 - Baumkuchen

A very quick post - it's getting late, another early weekday morning beckons tomorrow, and I've realised at the last minute yet again that it's Daring Bakers challenge posting day today. Considering I did actually make the challenge this time, I thought I really should share!

Blog Checking Lines:
The January 2014 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Francijn of "Koken in de Brouweij". She challenged us all to bake layered cakes in the tradition of Baumkuchen (tree cake) and Schichttorte (layered cake).

You can find an informative background and step-by-step recipe here on the Daring Kitchen website.

I halved the recipe, and instead of using apricot jam to glaze the cake before pouring on the chocolate coating, I used apple and lavender jelly. I have to confess that whilst baking, I was slightly distracted and mixed up the caster and icing sugar - using the wrong one at the wrong point in the recipe, but it didn't seem too critical - phew!

I baked it in a 1lb loaf tin, and got about 7 layers before I ran out of space, although I had enough mixture left for another 2 or 3 layers. I also tried to go for an ombre effect, adding a couple more drops of pink food colouring each time, although it only became apparent in the latter few layers. A rainbow version would be amazing!

In order to make it dairy free I just switched the butter for non-dairy sunflower margarine, and used non-dairy chocolate to cover it. I'm blaming that for the horrendous bloom it got - since it isn't proper chocolate (I didn't want to use really dark stuff because Mini-M was excited by the layers and wanted to try it, but doesn't really like chocolate), it doesn't melt or temper quite like you'd imagine! Still has a chocolate-y taste though :-)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Coconut Marshmallow Crispie Slice for Treat Petite

I'm starting off the new year full of blogging enthusiasm and good intentions about joining in some more of the monthly blog challenges out there. Perhaps not every month, but where I can from time to time, and when the themes fit into our meal plans or activities.

And I couldn't not join in with the Treat Petite challenge, organised jointly by Cakeyboi and The Baking Explorer, since the theme this month is Free From.

I've come up with a sticky rice crispy treat that is gluten and dairy free - and of course delicious. Instead of butter I've used coconut oil, with the 'sticky' provided by melted marshmallows and peanut butter.

I made this in bulk for a youth group event, so this recipe does serve a crowd. I cut it into 48 small pieces, and made it in a roasting tin. Unless you're similarly feeding the masses, I'd half it!

Coconut Marshmallow Crispie Slice (48 small pieces in a large roasting tray)

  • 100g coconut oil
  • 400g marshmallows
  • 200g smooth peanut butter
  • 100g sultanas
  • 100g desiccated coconut
  • 100g puffed rice
  • Non-dairy margarine for greasing the tin

Grease a large roasting tin really really well - line with parchment if you want to make extra sure, as this is very sticky stuff!
Put the coconut oil in a very large saucepan (I used my pressure cook pan without the lid) and melt it over a low heat.
Add the peanut butter and marshmallows and continue to heat, stirring constantly, until the marshmallows are completely melted.
Stir in the rice bubbles, coconut and sultanas as quickly as you can - it will start setting in the pan.
Scrape the mixture into the pan and spread out. A good tip, if you've found it has set too quickly to spread, is to cover it with another sheet of parchment and press out to fill the tin to the edges, then peel the parchment back off.
Allow to cool completely, then cut into slices.
Store in an airtight tin - this will keep for several days.

This is a really good dairy-free substitution for your typical melted butter/marshmallow/toffee tray bake. The peanut butter and coconut give it loads more flavour and substance than just using marshmallows.

I have to admit I found myself wishing there had been a few pieces spare for Mr E and myself, but it's probably best for the January diets that there wasn't, and instead it went to a bunch of enthusiastic teenagers burning off loads of energy!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Maple Bacon and Stout Jam

This year we've made a LOT of jam. I say we, since Mr E was fully involved in the jam making process - be it sterilising, stirring, boiling, labelling, peeling, coring, chopping etc. At one point I think there were about 60 jars of it in our spare room, most of which were subsequently given as Christmas gifts.

How many jam recipe are there on my blog - very few - likewise chutney. Whilst this is called jam, it is probably almost a chutney. So I shall being to redress the lack of preserve recipes with this one.

I made a single jar of this jam as part of Mr E's Christmas present. I was intrigued by the concept, but slightly sceptical whether or not it would work - and it did - deliciously. 

My plan had been to use a bottle of Mr E's homebrew stout, however he was a bit nervous of the quality, since he wasn't in the dark as to what I was planning for it, so instead he bought me a bottle of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. I found some cinnamon maple cure bacon, and used that to give extra flavour, but you could just use regular bacon and add some spice yourself.

My inspiration came from The Beeroness - her recipe for Beer and Bacon Jam to be specific. Honestly, there are so many amazing recipes for cooking with beer on her site - beer inspiration!

So without further ado, here is my take:

Maple Bacon & Stout Jam (makes 1x 400g jar)
  • 240g maple cure bacon
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled but left whole
  • 1 cup of stout (that's 1x 330ml bottle, with a little left to sup as you go!)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
Heat the oil in a medium pan. 
Chop the bacon into pieces and fry over a medium heat until browned. 
Finely chop the onion, then add to the pan with the garlic clove. 
Sautee for a few more minutes until the onion is softened. 
Add the beer, vinegar, sugar and syrup and simmer for around half an hour.
Remove from the heat, take out the garlic clove and blitz with a hand blender to a chunky texture.
Return to the heat and continue to simmer until syrupy and thickened, then pour into a clean, warm, sterilised jar.
Seal and allow to cool, then keep in the fridge, where it will keep for around a month.

So how does it taste - sweet, savour, beer-y, bacon-y and very tasty based on the speed at which the jar disappeared! It has been sampled in a variety of foils, including (but not limited to)… straight from the spoon, on toast, on potato scones, on cheese and crackers, and controversially - on a bacon sandwich!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Move over Nigella & Delia!

There's a new TV chef in town. OK that's possibly a slight exaggeration, but give Mini-M a few years…

Crispy Peanut Butter Cookies
She cracks me up with she talks about baking and cooking. Sometimes it is so specific, and her understanding and vocabulary of all things culinary never fails to amaze me. That said, I'm not sure the video clips exactly do that element justice, however they are funny.

For her Christmas, Mini-M was given her own first recipe book - the Usborne Children's Book of Baking. For a couple of nights we had to read it as her bedtime story, and she wants to make them all.

Since she's not one to drop an idea, after numerous gentle reminders to her slightly less keen parents (since baking with Mini-M often involves having to clean up unexpected kitchen collateral) we agreed that she could make them all if she really wanted, but we'd do it one at a time and it might take us a long time! After some careful consideration (of the pictures in the book by her, and of the contents of the kitchen cupboard by me) we settled on the "Crunchy Peanut Cookies".

I've modified the recipe a bit to make it dairy free and to halve the quantity but still use 1 whole egg, so they're not exactly true to the original - but the same principle!

Here's her pre-baking chat - she's making it up based on the pictures at this point since reading is still a while off!

Crispy Peanut Butter Cookies (makes about 10-12 depending on size)
  • 1 egg
  • 40g dairy free margarine
  • 100g self raising flour
  • 50g crunchy peanut butter
  • 50g sugar (I used rapadura which is unrefined evaporated cane sugar)
  • pinch baking powder
  • 50g rice crispies
Preheat the oven to 180C (170C fan) and grease a baking sheet.
Cream together the sugar and margarine, then add the peanut butter and egg and beat well.
Add the flour and baking powder and mix until combined.
Put the crispies in a small bowl.
Drop teaspoons of the mixture into the bowl and roll gently to coat in the crispies, then put on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes until browned.
Cool on a wire rack.

A quick photo how-to…

Showcasing the ingredients
3 done... 
Sticky fingers 
There will end up being rice crispies EVERYWHERE 
Ideally whilst they are in the oven, stomp around the kitchen in oversize hillwalking boots
And voila - job done! Mini-M gives them 31 out of 10
The last word (or words - she has a few) of course go to chef Mini-M, who does seem quite convinced that she was making scones…:

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Not exactly less is more!

Mini-M is, unsurprisingly, keen to bake and decorate cakes. Although I'm obviously completely biased, I think for a 3 year old she's pretty good in the kitchen! However she's not yet grasped subtlety on the decoration front, and is very much of the more-is-more school of adornment.

Since I'm on a in-bed-with-a-hot-water-bottle-feeling-stuffed-up clearing out iPhoto sort of frame of mind (hence the unseasonal Christmas party food post earlier) I thought I'd stick up a few of her more recent artistic offerings.

I give you…

St Andrew's Day Cupcakes (balls of blue fondant squashed flat, with white writing icing)

A thank you cake: When she ran out of animals, she requested marshmallows and orange slices to fill in the remaining blank spaces. Then added glittery stars.

North Pole cupcakes with wafer snowflakes (and unfortunately yellow snow - a side effect of having to use dairy-free margarine!)

Wonky reindeer faces on mincemeat cupcakes

She's also a bit fan of candles. No specific occasion necessary (because every day is a celebration??!?!). So we had them in our flapjack.

Christmas party food in January - how very unseasonal!

Unseasonal it may be, but if I wait until the appropriate season swings round again, I will have no doubt lost the relevant photos, so you can consider this either as a 1 month late or 11 months early roundup of some easy festive party foods that were enjoyed by young and old this year.

Fruit Christmas Tree
This looks very impressive but is really easy - just don't underestimate the amount of cocktail sticks you will need! I used almost 2 full packs. Take 1 styrofoam/polystyrene craft cone. Cover it in tinfoil. Stick it onto your serving plate with some strategic blu-tack underneath. Chop up a variety of fruits and use them to cover the tree. My top tips learned during the process… stick the cocktail stick in to the tree first, then add the fruit, otherwise it gets very squished and the stick tends to end up poking out the other side of the fruit. And use the blueberries to fill in all the gaps at the end.

Mini date Christmas pudding truffles
I eyeballed the ingredients so don't have specific measurements, but I would guess starting with 1 cup dates, 2/3 cup whole skin on almonds and 1/3 cup rolled oats, plus 1 tbps ground flaxseeds would be about right. Chuck them in a food processor and blitz until they form a sticky mass. Add more oats if it is too sticky, and more dates if it is too dry. Roll into balls. Drizzle with melted dairy free white chocolate and sprinkle with chopped dried cranberries. Chill in the freezer or fridge before serving to firm up.

Donut snowmen faces
We had a revelation late last year - of the slightly unhealthy variety… Mr E, ever the optimist, asked at Greggs the bakers, and they checked their allergy book, and apparently their mini donuts are dairy free. I couldn't find any supermarket ones that were, but since we're in Edinburgh and there's a Greggs on every corner, they're never very difficult to find, if the need arises to make an army of mini snowmen faces! Roll the donuts in icing sugar to give a whiter coating, then mix up a small batch of water icing. Cut little wedges of carrot for the noses. We used fair free chocolate drops for the eyes. Dip the eyes/noses in a little dab of icing and stick them onto the donuts in whatever expression you see fit.

Pepper and pickled onion Santa hats
And lastly, these are super easy to make. You just need cocktail sticks, tiny pickled onions and mini-peppers. Cut a slice off the stalk end of each pepper to flatten. Pop a pickled onion onto a cocktail stick, then into the pepper. Job done. Mini-M was in charge of making these, and it was a perfect job for little hands.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Family Clay Time

I am writing this grumpily whilst feeling sorry for myself with a horrible cold. I'm tired, but every time I lie down my head gets so stuffed up, I end up sitting up again - which doesn't make for great sleeping potential… that and the fact that I still have the light on, and the laptop out!

Anyway, if anything can cheer me up, I figured it was probably a picture or two of Mini-M's long-haired clay penguin, made during the Christmas holidays.

Introducing the very rare "Long Haired Penguin" seen here in its slightly-too-enthusiastically-squeezed state
Seen in its natural habitat with it's friends: ladybird, long haired dragon, dinosaur and plastic reference penguin
Grandad A was persuaded to get some clay and the extruder out of the depths of the cellar, and so ensued a happy hour of rolling and squishing and squeezing for 3 generations!

A momentary pencil giraffe
Sporting bunches a la Topsy and Tim (well pretty much just topsy) 
3,2,1 Extruuuuuuuuuude
3 Generations deep in clay concentration!
There's not really a point or recipe, or instructions for this. Basically, kids like clay. Adults like clay. Playing with clay is fun :-) It's not that expensive (especially if you use someone else's clay hehe!). It's not nearly as messy as you think. I order you all to go and play with clay. Thanks for raiding the cellar Grandad A!

Now it's time to try to go to sleep sitting up...

Thursday, 2 January 2014

A guilt free treat to start 2014

We're on day 2 of 2014, I go back to work tomorrow, and I'm fighting the festive cold. I've dosed up on manuka honey and clementines this evening, then heading to bed with a hot water bottle after I've posted this and hopefully that'll sort me out. At least I only have to work 1 day, then it's the weekend :o)

Here are a couple of delicious and guilt free recipes if you want a little treat that fits in with your New Year diet resolutions. Both drinks are free from refined sugar, dairy and wheat, and the smoothie packs an extra nutritional punch with chia and sesame seeds and banana making it great for breakfast. Each drink also contains half a Nakd Bar which is packed with dried fruit and nuts - delicious.

I used almond milk to make both drinks, but any type of milk would work - almond, hazelnut, oat, soya, rice, coconut (or cows milk if you can tolerate it) - they would all be delicious.

Nakd Gingerbread Latte (serves 1)
  • 1/2 a nakd Ginger Bread bar
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • pinch mixed spice
  • 1 tsp instant coffee of your choice
Using a liquidiser or hand blender, blitz the almond milk and nakd bar until smooth the strain through a tea strainer (unless you don't mind bits in your latte!).
Heat until just simmering, then stir in the coffee.
Dust with the mixed spice before serving.
Since it's the season of glitter and sparkle, I added a few edible stars.

The great thing about this is that the blended bar and the almond milk are naturally sweet so you even if you usually like your coffee sweetened, you may well find this is sweet enough as it is.

Nakd Almond Gingerbread Smoothie (serves 1)
  • 1/2 a nakd Ginger Bread bar
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 a medium banana
  • 1 tsp chia seeds (I used Fushi chia seeds)
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
Put all ingredients into a liquidiser or hand blender, then blend for 2-3 minutes until smooth.
Pour into a glass and enjoy - it's as simple as that.

And if you want to see more of my cooking adventures, head to the nakd website where each month the team will upload one of my scrummy dairy free vegan-friendly recipes :-)

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2013 - My favourite posts

Looking through my archives, it seems I wrote 100 posts last year. Goodness knows how many spelling mistakes they contain, or incomplete sentences that don't make sense. I tend not to ready my old posts that frequently, but every time I do, I am generally shamed by my writing. There's a resolution waiting to be made - more proof reading, and attempting to follow the conventions of good grammar a little more rigorously. And fewer exclamation marks (!).

Yesterday I posted the 10 most viewed posts on my blog during 2013. They were mainly all cakes, and only one or two were actually from 2013. It's hard to believe since it doesn't seem that long ago, but I've been writing this blog for 5 years, and 2014 will be year six. Craziness.

Today, I've chosen my 13 favourite posts from 2013. Things that I'm particularly proud of, or exceeded all taste expectations. There are still a fair few cakes in there - don't panic…

Gevulde Speculaas - dark dense with spices and marzipan
Dairy free coconut "cheddar" cheese. It melts! And grates! And doesn't taste horrible! If you've tried dairy free cheeses, you'll understand that the exclamation marks are entirely warranted here.
Chicken Ballotine - deboned, stuffed and tied - all my own work (thanks YouTube!)
A dairy free take on a traditional Swedish Princesstarta - it coincided with a perfect summers day and made a fantastic barbecue pudding
Squidgy Spiced Date and Fig Cake - gluten and dairy free and absolutely delicious  
No Cook Tomato and Almond Pasta Sauce - super easy, super satisfying
Rainbow Hello Kitty Cake for Mini-M's birthday. At 1am the night before I was beginning to wish I had chosen something that involved fewer miniature liquorice whiskers... 
Mr E's Birthday Cake - 30 individually iced After Eight faces = lots of decorating fun
Chard Pecan and Lime Pesto - tastes cheesy without any cheese in sight, this is so much more than the sum of its parts
Vegan chocolate orange cheesecake - the base is my favourite part - better than your average biscuit base!
Samoan Paifala - gorgeous coconut milk pastry filled with pineapple custard filling
Three Minute Mulled Plums - a great way to use up supermarket plums that never ripen
Sprouts are not just for Christmas - amazing every day, teamed with carrots, honey, hazelnuts and orange


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