Peanut butter and date protein bars (with a bit of chocolate on top)

These came about after a desire to find something in the supermarket that was, basically, just dates and a nut butter. Because that is something I crave post-workout. I also wanted something which was as delicious as the protein bars that my ex-trainer used to get me which used to be so tasty I daren’t look at the ingredients, but they were also so filling that, with a glass of water (you should always drink a glass of water with protein bars) they’d often see me onto the next meal.

Then one day, I saw that Donna Hay published a recipe for something called peanut butter choco-coconut protein bars and I adapted them. I now make these regularly and eat them post work out, or if I haven’t got time for a meal (which is rare but does sometimes happen) or if I just fancy a little treat during the week when I try to really watch what I eat (one has to be realistic and these hit the I need a treat button without making me feel like I’ve fallen into the abyss of unhealthy eating). They also don’t make me crash, blood sugar wise and I would now, honestly, have these over pretty much any chocolate bar.

You can experiment with the amount of protein powder you put in – I did and I put more in than Hay originally suggested. But if you do that, I recommend you do so in 10g increments.

This is what you need:

260g fresh Medjool dates. You can use others but these really do make the best bars. If you use dried dates, rehydrate them in boiling water for half an hour before use, then drain them.

25g raw cacao powder

100g salted peanuts and 40g of unsalted, raw, cashews (or use half and half, depends on how big you want the salted peanut hit to be). You can of course use 140g of any nut you want, roasted or raw. A few extra nuts if you want to chop and sprinkle on top

Two tablespoons of peanut butter (or any nut butter)

50g desiccated coconut

35g unflavoured protein powder (I use an organic whey protein powder)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

45g cacao nibs

150g dark chocolate, melted

What you need

You can make this in a round cake tin – about 8/9″ would be ideal. I make it in my square cake tin which is 20cm. You might prefer the bars thicker but I like them like this. 20cm square is about as big as you want to go, any bigger and you’ll struggle to have enough chocolate to coat all the top – it just covers it as it is, but is still plenty, if you see what I mean.

Whatever tin you use, line with baking parchment.

Place everything except the cacao nibs and the dark chocolate (which you need to melt, for the topping) in a food processor and blitz til it’s all amalgamated – about one or two minutes. Right at the end, add the cacao nibs and blitz a couple more times.

Press this mixture into your prepared cake tin. Put it in the fridge for at least 30 mins.

Then you melt the chocolate either in the microwave or in a bain marie arrangement, and spread over the top. Add some chopped peanuts (or whatever nuts you are using) on the top if you like. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. As I said, in my 20cm square tin it’s just enough to cover. You don’t really want to up the chocolate, as then it becomes all about the chocolate and turns this from an interesting, not totally nutritionally devoid treat into something else…

Refrigerate until you need them, which will be soon. Cut into whatever shape you like. I do long thin bars, little squares or if I want to pack it in my bag for a meal replacement (which I would only do in emergencies) or a good snack later, I cut it into a bar shape and take it in my bag wrapped in foil and then eat it feeling really smug and happy.

They keep for at least a week in my house and have never been around longer than that.

 

Cacao, banana and walnut bars: good for breakfast or post work out.

To my mind, no-one does ‘healthy but delicious snacks’ better than Donna Hay. I’m really not interested in mixing together linseeds and dates and other such stuff if the result is something you might have found in a health food shop circa 1974.

What I love about Hay and her recipes, is that there are no really contrived ingredients, no-one is pretending they are a substitute for broccoli, but if you want something a bit better than a sugar-laden cereal bar, she comes up with the goods.

I adapted these because I just didn’t agree with the number of dates she originally put in (200g) and although I think I have a sweet tooth, it’s evidently not that sweet.

Anyway. I cut these into squares. They freeze brilliantly. They are tasty and nutritious and the sugar hit from the dates and bananas is balanced by the cashews.  I eat them when I want something a bit chocolatey and quick and they have also served as an emergency lunch – with a green smoothie – when I’ve had no time and had to go straight to an interview. I know this makes me sound really virtuous and you know what? I am during the week. At the weekend I can eat whatever I damn well please.

You need

225g cashews, raw (although might try them anon roasted)

120g dessicated coconut

300g ripe bananas (about three)

150g fresh dates, pitted

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

35g raw cacao powder

half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

2 tablespoons of cacao nibs

50g chopped walnuts

Method

Oven to 180C. Line a square 20cm tin with baking parchment.

Place everything, save for the walnuts and the cacao nibs, into a food processor and blitz the buggery out of it – Hay recommends 5 minutes I can’t remember how long I did it for. At the end, add half the cacao nibs and pulse a few times.

Shove the mixture into the tin, pressing down with your hands or the back of a spoon and sprinkle on top the remaining cacao nibs and chopped walnuts.

Cook for 25 minutes or thereabouts. Cool, the refrigerate and cut into required shape. Keeps for about a week in the fridge but as I said, I keep half, freeze half and they froze beautifully.

Pork and prawn noodle stirfry with lots of veg

This dish is a rare thing in our house, something which is healthy and which everyone likes. Granted, my youngest picks out the prawns, but otherwise we all eat this and it’s insane the amount of veg we seem to consume without complaining.

You can make this with any sort of noodle – cooked separately and added at the latter stages. If you use soba – which I do, sometimes – cook them carefully and rinse in cold water before adding, as otherwise they stick together. I do have ‘straight to wok’ noodles in the cupboard for this dish as it makes the whole thing ludicruously easy. Other than the chopping – which you could do in advance.

It’s adapted from a Delicious magazine recipe. I add more veg and omit the chillies.

You’ll need

Two teaspoons of olive oil

300g of free range, good pork mince

Three quarters of a teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder

Two and a half teaspoons of curry powder

180g (I confess here I just tend to add whatever the packet contains) prawns – if raw cook them for a bit longer, until pink. If already cooked add at the end as stipulated.

About 150g carrots which I julienne, but you can slice thinly

(a red chilli if you want to use it)

300g or thereabouts of ready cooked or straight to wok noodles

250g pak choi or other green veg – I find very thinly sliced button hole kale is really good here

2 courgettes, julienned or thinly sliced

Four spring onions, sliced thinly

One and a half tablespoons of soy sauce

This is what you do

Have everything ready for one and don’t make the mistake I did first time round…

Heat the oil in a wok on high, cook the pork mince for about 2-3 minutes, until browned. Now turn the heat down and add the spices, stir fry and cook for a couple more minutes.

Now add the veg in the order it takes to cook. So I add the green veg first, cook for a couple of minutes with the prawns if raw, then the carrots, courgettes and finally the prawns if they are already cooked. (Add the chilli here if you are using it, it should be thinly sliced.) Stir fry everything for a minute or two.

Then add the ready cooked noodles with two tablespons of water and the spring onions and just before you serve  – which is immediately – you add the soy sauce.

This feeds four big eaters, slightly more if you are more restrained about it.

 

Prune and dark chocolate brownies

I saw this recipe in my Donna Hay Fresh and Light magazine, which costs me a staggering £9.50 from Selfridges but is, to my mind, worth every penny as each edition yields more recipes than many recipe books which cost double that.

But I saw it and shunned it as I’m not overly a fan of brownies – too sweet for me usually. But due to a rather terrifying health scare a few weeks ago (I had tests and everything is not only fine but I am actually in really good health yay!) I’ve overhauled the way I eat which was long overdue because although I have always eaten with health in mind, I’ve I’m also greedy and at times lazy. So I’ve gone back to planning what I eat (this has always worked really well for me) and maximise nutrients. And it not only shows in the way I feel, but I’ve lost weight and body fat, whilst augmenting my muscle mass (I do big weights twice a week).

Anyway I shunned them but then was fancying a weekend chocolatey treat and decided to try them and I was not disappointed. Now I know that this isn’t a recipe which magically transforms broccoli into brownies, and I know that prunes are very high in sugar. I know all this but prunes have more nutrients than mere sugar and here’s the thing. These are delicious in their own right. My eldest doesn’t like them but my youngest adores them and my partner – who hates brownies – had one and declared it “the best chocolate thing I’ve tasted in a long time”.

So these are still an occasional treat (I only eat stuff like this at the weekend now) but they’re delicious and gluten free.

The brownies

255g prunes, take the stones out

50g of dark chocolate, melted (Hay asks for 70% but I use these chocolate chips for nearly all my cooking now and they are delicious)

60 ml of light olive oil

80ml maple syrup

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

80g ground almonds

25g cocoa powder (I use raw organic, no idea if it’s better but it makes me feel better looking at the packet)

2 eggs

The chocolate ganache

80g dark chocolate

60ml of cream (Hay says to use coconut milk but I used cream as that’s what I had, you could use milk)

 

Pre heat the oven to 180C. You need a 20cm square baking tin, preferably with a removal bottom, if not make sure the baking paper you line it with comes up the sides so you can carefully lift it out later. If you scrunch up the baking paper first it sits in the tin more easily.

Take 170g of the prunes and put them in a jug, cover with boiling water for about ten minutes. I scissor cut the remaining prunes into small pieces and put in a small bowl for later (don’t forget them!) or you could of course chop them with a knife on a board.

Drain the prunes (discard the water) and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients for the brownies and whizz up with a hand held blender (or you could put in a food processor, I did as I was told). When done, scatter in and mix in the prune pieces. Put the mixture in the tin and cook for 25-30 minutes. The middle should be firm when pressed but you do want them a bit squidgy.

They will be very soft, so keep in the tin and when cold gently take out. Make the ganache by very gently heating the chocolate and cream in a small pan (I would never usually melt chocolate like this, I’d use a bain marie set up, but I was hungry and it was fine). Spread over the top. If you can, wait a while before slicing up and eating. Store in the fridge where they do harden up.

IMG_7999

I have no idea how long these last as they were practically all gone in 24 hours.

Note: the main image is the brownies a day later, after being taken out of the fridge, the image in the text is of them first iced and sliced – with some missing for, ahem, testing purposes.

 

 

 

Strawberry cheesecake ice cream (no ice cream machine necessary)

I do love a cheesecake and, in these days of heat and dust, am preferring to take my food in liquid, or frozen form. This recipe then, was timely. It’s originally from Waitrose magazine but I’ve adapted it slightly.

If you don’t like cheesecake you won’t like this but if you do, prepare thyself for a treat. This is exquisite just a few hours after freezing, when it’s still soft but starting to hold its form. But it keeps for a good few weeks in the freezer, just let it warm a little before scooping.

You’ll need

200g strawberries

1 tablespoon of icing sugar

A good squeeze of lemon juice – approx 1 tablespoon

250g cream cheese

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

397g can condensed milk (note: it’s possible to buy own brand, Waitrose as one example does it, do try to avoid Nestle products)

450ml whipping cream

100g Lotus Biscoff biscuits, roughly crushed (other types will also do)

What you do

Whizz up the hulled strawberries with the icing sugar and the lemon juice, and set aside.

Separately whisk (I do it in my food mixer) the cream cheese until soft, then add the vanilla extract and finally the whipping cream. Whisk for a few minutes until soft peaks form and hold.

Get a suitable container which can go in the freezer (this makes about 2L I think), pour in half the ‘creamy’ mixture, then add half the strawberry mixture and mix around. You don’t want to mix it so much that it starts to resemble strawberry ice cream – you want a ripple. But avoid having great rivers of ripple. I did this the first time; you can see it in the picture, just a bit too much ripple, I mixed it a tad more second time round and it was better. It’s not wrong to have thick ripple, but the ripple part has a higher water content so is more icy in the mixture, which is more noticeable when the cream cheese/cream part is so utterly pillowy. Scatter over half the biscuits. Repeat for the next layer.

Freeze. Eat.

A comforting dish of meatballs and polenta

What am I doing, writing this on one of the hottest days of the year? But English weather is so variable that you may need this in a couple of days. You can, of course, eat this when it’s hot, and we do. But it is particularly comforting on a day when you need succour – be it due to weather or weariness. I can’t over play how delicious this is, and how easy if you make it in stages – which I do.

I have also been meaning to write this up for some years, ever since I saw the Chiappa sisters make this on TV. (I have since adapted it slightly.)

After reading about a brilliant piece about the nitrates in our meat, written by the excellent Bee Wilson I realised that I had become really lazy about making meatballs and burgers. Which is shocking given my heritage.

My mother has never ever bought shop bought burgers or meatballs. And although she now allows herself the luxury of buying ready-minced meat, she also – until fairly recently – used to mince all the meat herself. It was the only way she could be absolutely sure of the cut of the meat used for mince.

My mother is a goat farmer’s daughter and when I was growing up and went shopping with her, she would tell the butcher not only exactly how she liked her meat cut, but where off the animal she wanted it cut and he utterly bowed to her expertise – she not only did this in butcher shops but she also used to do it in Sainsbury’s. Sainsbury’s – back then – used to have a phone over the chilled meat counter and you could ring up and speak to the butcher in the back (oh for those days!). She would pick up the receiver and he would recognise her voice and he would say “coming out Mrs Barbieri” and he would come out and meet her where the back of the shop met the shop floor, where the big plastic curtains were – and she would say, in her heavily accented voice, exactly how he was to cut the meat for our dinner. I used to baulk slightly at the time it all took, but even then, I would be awed at her expertise and the way he listened to her. And this was a time when not everyone did listen, because speaking in accented English – some thought – marked you out as stupid.

You see how far I’ve come, blithely slinging ready made meatballs and burgers into my trolley. All be them from Waitrose and free range and organic etc.

So now I make my own, thanks in no small part to Bee’s piece, in bulk. And I freeze them in vacuum packs. And of a morning when no-one can decide what to eat that night, or be bothered to shop, it is with high levels of smugness that I can then pull them out of the freezer to defrost.

Shall we get on with the recipe?

You can make much of this in advance and bring it all together at time of eating. This is what I do. Note I make double of the sauce and meatballs and freeze for another time. As the recipe stands it makes enough for four modest eaters. You have to make the polenta at the time of eating.

The sauce

2 red peppers, de-seeded, chopped

4 ish tomatoes, of medium size, quartered

3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled (less or more if you hate/love it) – leave whole.

A few sprigs of thyme

Salt, pepper, olive oil

Heat oven to 180C. Put the two chopped peppers, the four quartered tomatoes and the 3-4 whole cloves of garlic in a bowl. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the top and about two tablespoons of olive oil and mix all together, then put on a baking tray and cook for about 20 minutes. I find this is massively variable as sometimes the veg puts out a lot of water, but you’re looking for the veg to be soft and a bit golden in parts.

When done, let cool slightly and then blend to a thick sauce in a blender. Don’t worry about the skin of the peppers, you don’t need to take it off. You can use immediately or keep it in the fridge for a couple of days (or freeze the whole lot). Heat up before using.

The meatballs (or, for another time, burgers)

This is a fantastic recipe, generally, for meatballs (polpette) or burgers and it’s the only one I now use. It makes a very well flavoured meatball/burger, but I do sometimes leave out the parmesan (or put less in) and the fennel seeds if I want something just really simple and plain. I would, however, urge you to make the proper version for this dish however as the polenta doesn’t have as much parmesan in it as some recipes.

I do have a bit of an important note which is – put all the ingredients in a food mixer and pulse together until smooth. Sharp eyed readers will know I do this with my meatloaf, because – if I know what’s in it – I do really prefer a very smooth ground burger/sausage/etc.

You’ll need:

250g of really good pork mince (organic, free range, farm assured)

250g of same quality beef

100g of grated parmesan (I buy mine in bulk, grate it and freeze it grated)

1 clove of garlic if you like it

100g of breadcrumbs

2 eggs, medium sized

a handful of chopped parsley

1 teaspoon of ground up fennel seeds

half a teaspoon of salt

a good grinding of black pepper

Oil to fry.

So I basically bung all the ingredients, bar the oil, into my Magimix and pulse away until it’s all smooth. But if you want, just mix in a bowl with a wooden spoon.

You then shape into meatballs/burgers and either cook immediately or freeze/fridge until needed. They keep in the fridge for as long as the sell-by date is on the meat. I make the meatballs into walnut size and the burgers I have a burger press for and they are, I guess, quarter pounder size.

What I do with the meatballs is fry them gently, but then finish them off in the sauce when I’m reheating it. This stops them having a super hard crust which I don’t like. But if you fry them super gently they should be okay. About ten minutes frying should do it for the meatballs. 12 minutes for burgers.

For the polenta

200g of fast cook polenta – for the love of God don’t use any other kind.

A knob of butter

800ml of cold water

2 handfuls of grated parmesan

a pinch of salt if you really want (but I find the parmesan salty enough)

Put the 800ml of cold water, the 200g of polenta and the butter into a large pan and bring to the boil. When it comes to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for another minute. You do need to be present and whisking, but don’t be intimidated as the whole process takes minutes. As it simmers for that last minute and finishes its thickening, stir in the parmesan and salt if you want. Then it’s ready!

To serve, dollop spoonfuls of the polenta onto a plate, top with the hot sauce and the cooked meatballs. I serve with broccoli.

If you have any polenta left over, and no chickens to serve it to, then you can persuade it into a flat tin (it will get harder to handle as it cools), put in the fridge, then cut into finger shapes and shallow fry to make polenta chips.

But I have never done this.

I made burgers from this and served it in brioche buns made from this recipe (obvs leae out the chocolate chips) and they were, hands down, the best burgers I have ever eaten.

 

Chestnut marmalade muffins (gluten, wheat, dairy free but don’t let any of that put you off)

These are adapted from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe (from his book Light & Easy). The original calls for 75g coconut oil, which I just find too much, and 75g runny honey, which I’ve eased back on just ever so slightly. His recipe also says cook for 25 mins, but mine are done at 17.

It calls for chestnut flour – which isn’t cheap, nor madly readily available. But is delicious and so filling. Don’t be tempted to buy it in bulk, it doesn’t keep for very long.

And you really need an electric whisker unless your arms are super strong. If they are, all respect to you.

These are just so delicious though, and gluten-free if that’s important to you. I love anything to do with chestnuts as it reminds me of my Pa.

Note these make ten. I’ve been making these for a few years now and every time, with my 12-bun tray, it catches me out.

125g chestnut flour

A pinch of salt

2 teaspoons of baking powder

125g marmalade

2 large eggs

70g runny honey

half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

50g coconut oil, melted and cooled.

Pumpkin seeds to sprinkle.

 

Preheat the oven to 170. Line a muffin tin with…muffin cases

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.

In a food mixer with whisk attachment, put the eggs, honey and vanilla and whisk for, frankly, ages. But about eight minutes. Until the mixture is like a thick mousse and the beaters leave trails when you lift them out.

Now gently and slowly, with the mixer running, spoon in the flour mixture and when all is incorporated whisk again for a few minutes. The mixture will go down to a batter-type one. When done, trickle in the melted coconut oil with a tablespoon of water and whisk for half a minute more. Take off from the mixer and just with a spoon fold in the marmalade.

Spoon the batter into the TEN muffin cases. They won’t come up all the way, that’s how it should be, about 2/3 full. Sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds and bake for  about 20 mins – check after 15. They should be golden and bounce back when you touch them. Depends on your oven of course.