A chocolatey coffee warming smoothie for the morning

Something you may not know about me, I eat really healthily a lot of the time. I drink green smoothies with my children when they come home from school. I regularly fast. This is to mitigate when I do eat sugar, butter and flour made into cake and cookie form. But since I got into nutrition in a major way in 2002 even the crap I eat is pretty good. I think what you put into your body is really important.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and I’m not here to sound super worthy cos I don’t want anyone to visit my blog and feel bad about themselves. I know all about that, too.

Anyway. However much I may like green smoothies, there is no way on God’s earth I am eating one first thing in the morning, in winter. It just all feels too cold and unfriendly. I never feel hungry first thing in the morning, and yet sometimes I must leave the house for a full day of knitting words together into meaningful sentences. And I can’t do that on an empty head. Sometimes I need something nutritious, quick, easy to go down and that, even if it doesn’t fill me up til lunch (few things do), I will know that I’ve had some nutrition that morning.

I got this recipe from Dale Pinnnock’s Healthy Everyday book. I haven’t really made much else from it, but my interest in the book piqued when I read this recipe and it involved both chocolate and coffee. I thought, here is a my kinda book, a man who understands that to be healthy you don’t need to be eating cardboard.

I have adapted it slightly to suit my selfish needs and despite the milk making it ‘cold’, it somehow manages to be warming at the same time.

(no picture yet but there will be soon)

225ml almond milk (this is what I use but oat milk should work well too)

1 banana

1 heaped tablespoon of raw cacao – this is my favourite bit and I really do put a heaped tablespoon in. It’s worth buying raw cacao in bulk as it works out cheaper than really high quality cocoa from the supermarket and it’s much better for you.

2 heaped tablespoons of oats

4 almonds

1 teaspoon of raw honey or maple syrup

1 shot of espresso

a quarter of teaspoon of cayenne pepper (essential!)

You just put the whole lot into a blender (I use a Nutribullet) and whizz up until really smooth and drink it. YUM.

 

Making a tasty biscuit as good as it can be

Since I’ve had children, I do try my best to change cake/biscuit recipes so I take down the amount of sugar and I try to ramp up the amount of wholemeal flour etc. I’ve made my own choccy lollies with high cocoa content chocolate and pumpkin/sunflower seeds. I’ve cut down the sugar, and sneaked wholemeal flour into a famous Nigella Lawson chocolate loaf. But I know how far to push it. My children start to refuse biscuits and cakes if they go the Gwynnie side of worthy.

Hugh F-W’s Ten Minute Cookies have been our standard biscuit recipe for years now. But over these years, I’ve experimented with taking down the sugar and today, I made them with a third of the flour made up of ground up oats (I whizzed them in a very powerful blender with a mill attachment, I’m sure something similar would work, too). Nobody noticed any difference. They were still delicious. A tiny bit chewy. More substantial. I really liked them. If you’ve never made these biscuits before you may want to start with the original, and work your own way down the sugar scale. Or you may want to jump right in. The original recipe plus amendments, is here.

I think these biscuits are as good as they can be, whilst still being a bit bad. And I think that’s a good thing.

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Roast sea bass, with lovely potatoes and vegetables, all done in one tray

This is a deceptive recipe, taken from the BBC Good Food magazine last year. Deceptive because, despite the relatively simplicity of ingredients, everything mixes together to produce something rather good, rather, as my friend Linda would hate me to say, lovely.

(She is not keen on the word lovely, and now, every time I use it, I think of her and the disdain she must hold me in for not thinking of something better, but, to me, when you need to say something is lovely there is no better word.)

Anyway. The price of seabass doesn’t make this a cheap dish*; nevertheless, what you get is something very tasty and that needs very little further accompaniment, save for some green vegtables. So it’s not the world’s most expensive dish, either, and, I would suggest, you can make this for an alternative to a ‘big roast’ for someone who doesn’t eat meat, or is gluten free, and they wouldn’t feel in any way cheated.

You can, and I have, substituted sea bass for cod – as you can see in my picture where there is a mix of the two – but the bass has the edge here in delicate flavour.

This recipe is for two, but you can double or treble it at will.

300g of red skinned potatoes. Important, the flavour of the potatoes is a valuable scaffold to this dish. Wash and dry the potatoes, you don’t peel them, and then slice them very thinly (don’t be a wuss, you don’t need a mandoline) into rounds.

1 red pepper cut into slices

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 rosemary sprig, you’re meant to remove the leaves and chop finely. I go into the garden, pick two or three sprigs and shove them in. This does, however, mean that when I made this recently, my youngest asked why I’d put the Christmas tree in the dinner.

2 sea bass fillets

25g pitted black olives, sliced or halved

half a lemon, thinly sliced

basil leaves to scatter (don’t fret if you don’t have them, the dish can survive without)

You need a large baking dish. Note that if you are making this for lots of people, you need lots of oven capacity, and more than one baking tray, as it’s important you space out the potatoes so they crisp up. This doesn’t mean each and every slice needs its own zone, but they shouldn’t be crammed together – gently overlapping is what you’re aiming for. The more crammed together they are, the less the moisture can evaporate and the soggier the potatoes will be. You want something that’s crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and for this to happen the potatoes need space, man.

Oven to 180C.

Lay the sliced potatoes onto the baking tray with the pepper slices. Drizzle over one tablespoon of the oil and scatter over the rosemary, add a pinch of salt and a good grinding (snigger) of pepper. Toss everything together, rearrange so that they take up the maximum amount of tray space and aren’t all bunched together and roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Turn over half way through. If the edges aren’t brown, give it a bit longer than 25 mins.

Then, arrange the fish fillets on top of the potatoes, scatter over the olives, and place lemon slices on each fillet. Drizzle the fish with the remaining oil.

Roast for a further 7-8 minutes and you’re done.

*Waitrose sells frozen farmed seabass fillets for £4.39 for two (at time of going to press).

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Pancetta, thyme and chestnut pappardelle

This is a delicious, easy, stand-by meal. The ingredients all have at least a week’s life-span (the majority a lot longer) so you can get them in, and when you want to eat something delicious but fast, you can.

I use fresh pasta for this. Dried pasta has a lower glycaemic index, but there is no greater lie in all the world, than the cooking times advertised on the front of dried pasta packets.

Although chestnuts make it festive, you could cook this at any time of year and if you were to do some prep before hand (not that you really need to) you’d have this on your plate in minutes. It’s a great thing to throw together for friends who you weren’t expecting to stay to lunch/dinner, or when you fancy something really flavoursome and delicate. It’s so much better than you think it’s going to be.

Adapted from Delicious magazine.

Serves 4 for moderate appetites, two if you’re greedy pigs.

Ingredients

300g fresh pappardelle pasta – fret not you can also use tagliatelle or spaghetti or really, let’s face it, any pasta. But pappardelle is a great shape for this recipe. And using fresh just makes the whole thing faster and easier.

1 tablespoon of olive oil (not virgin)

1 onion, finely chopped

200g ready cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped

A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves taken off the woody stems

100g thinly sliced bacon, not too much fat on

a garlic clove, finely chopped

200g frozen petit pois. Make sure they are petit pois and not normal peas and you cook from frozen

a jar of 20cl Isigny Creme Fraiche  any other creme fraiche would do but I really love this one and the glass jars make great little storage pots, not least, they perfectly hold one cupcake.

Method

If you are using dried pasta, put it on to cook now because we know those cooking times are all damned lies. If using fresh pasta, don’t put it on yet but have a pan of water boiling away in the background.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (at the end everything will end up in it) and fry the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the bacon strips and fry for 5 mins, then add the garlic, chestnuts, petits pois and thyme.

(Put the fresh pasta on to boil for the 3-4 minutes it needs.)

Fry for a further 3-4 minutes. Drain the pasta then stir the creme fraiche through the stuff in the frying pan and finally add the pasta. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

 

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Perfect trousers, not just for Christmas

It isn’t madly often I can recommend trousers but here is why these are good:

They come in various colours. I like this choice even though, of course, I stick to black and navy. (I may tip toe into taupe in the new year, who knows, I do live in the country now.)

They are slim fit, skinny I guess, without being unflattering. But you can tuck them into boots which I wear every day because, have I mentioned, I live in the country. I got these after seeing a picture of me wearing normal trousers with a wind behind me and realised I didn’t need that much fabric around my legs.

They have a gentle stretch which means you can eat over Christmas, still look good, but without feeling as if your trousers have given you gastric band surgery.

However, they have a proper waistband. This is terrifically important over any holiday season. Never wear elasticated trousers long term. And here‘s why.

They are not fucking hipsters. God I hate hipsters. I hate watching women pulling up their fucking hipster trousers because they are falling down. And that’s just me, watching my own reflection. Yet they are not so high waisted that they make you feel like you are in an ad for  incontinence pads. You know the ones.

They are the perfect waist-band height, I think

Anyway, I think they are optimum trousers for this winter. For Christmas, for beyond Christmas. They are corduroy, which I like, they are also apparently slightly thermal (‘heat tech’). I can’t say I have noticed, but I haven’t been cold. When I bought them they were on offer at half price, but sadly they’ve gone back up to £29.90 now.

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White chocolate and berry cheesecake

I’m mindful, at this time of year, of having lots of people to cater for at once, and also the value of being able to Do Things In Advance.

I made this at the weekend, for a lunch party at a friend’s house where I was asked to bring pudding. The value of this is that it feeds lots – easily 12*. It not only can, but has to be made in advance. It looks good, but can also be brought out after a meal, to sit on the table for many hours without spoiling and be picked at (‘I’ll just tidy it up’) as guests get drunker and drunker.

I didn’t have a tin big enough, so I made this in one large rectangular Mermaid tin and a smaller tart tin. But this cheesecake is so good that I think it’s worth buying the right size tin for it as I will be making it again.

A few notes:

I put in 300g of frozen mixed berries as that’s the packet I had, and didn’t see the point of keeping back a handful of berries.

Yes you do put the berries in frozen.

Do build the crust up to a good height at the sides, although this mixture didn’t (for me) rise up, there is a lot of it and if your sides aren’t high enough, you’ll be at a dam-bust situation.

It may be an idea to put the tin on a baking sheet to catch any drips – I didn’t have any but see my point just above.

It definitely took an hour in my oven, maybe a few minutes more.

That’s it. This is a good one to keep up your sleeve for party season and the other great thing about it is that * you can cut the slices as thin or thick as you want, so it could feasibly feed may, many more than the predicted dozen.

Here is the recipe.

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Prune and almond loaf

This is a magnificent bread recipe, adapted from the equally magnificent Donna Hay magazine that was out this summer.

It’s fantastic when you need something bready, fast, and it is SO delicious. No yeast or proving is necessary. And come on it’s got nuts and prunes in! Good for you..

I’m not going to pretend some of the ingredients are ‘store cupboard’ but aside from the buttermilk, nothing will go off quickly so if you get them in you’ll have something to rustle up over the Christmas period if you (gasp) run out of food, or even if you need to bring something to someone’s house as a little present.

This loaf, with some nice cheeses and a cheese humidor, would make an excellent gift for a cheese-loving friend. But it’s also good with pate.

Ingredients

125g plain flour (not bread flour)

125g wholemeal plain flour (not bread flour)

1.5 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda

half a teaspoon of salt

100g whole blanched almonds (not the end of the world if you have them with their skins on) – you could also, if you wanted to, use other nuts such as walnuts or hazelnuts.

85g pitted prunes, chopped up

40g maple syrup – this really adds something to it so try not to substitute it for something else

190g buttermilk

65ml of sweet sherry

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C. Lightly grease and flour a 2lb loaf tin. (I use this one.) Place the flours, bicarb, salt, almonds* and prunes into a bowl and mix up. Make a well in the middle and add the maple syrup, buttermilk and sherry. You will have a very sticky dough, slop it into the tin, whack it in the oven for about 35-40mins and that’s it. Leave to cool for five mins, turn it out, let it cool and then eat it with joy.

(*The astute amongst you may notice there are nuts on top of my loaf. This is what the original recipe stipulated – that you reserve half the nuts and scatter them atop the dough before it goes into the oven. I’m not sure I would do this again as some of the nuts got a bit too brown, but see how you feel/what sort of effect you want.)