Tag Archives: almonds

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.

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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.

 

 

 

Bee Wilson’s almond waffles

Last year, just after my father died, I made two “grief purchases”. In that sort of ‘fuck it, you only live once’ way one can be after a loved one dies, I didn’t go through my usual checks and balances of ‘do I need this? Is it worth it? Will it earn its keep in the cupboard/on the work surface’. But I didn’t buy an Aston Martin. I bought a waffle maker.

My eldest has always loved waffles. When we used to walk through Whiteley’s department store, on the way to see my mum and dad, on the ground floor there was (still is) a kinda shop/stall which sells, amongst other things, waffles. These waffles are served crowned with squirty cream, chocolate sauce and….Smarties. [We have a Nestle embargo in our house so the Smarties are a very rare treat.]

So imagine my disappointment – which I tried to contain – when I bought a waffle maker, made waffles and my daughter said she wasn’t that keen on them. Not on my waffles anyway (this has happened many times before and I really should be used to it).

But my waffle maker was a top of the range model and I started to panic slightly, I hid it in the cupboard and there I thought it would stay until this January when the fabulous food writer Bee Wilson wrote a recipe for almond waffles in the Guardian.

I made it, they were delicious and this is how we have made waffles ever since. I need to tell you that once I forgot the eggs and although the waffles that were produced were smaller, they tasted like some sort of amazing waffle/doughnut hybrid which I still think about of a morning when I am making these wondering whether I should accidentally forget the eggs again.

Anyway, I love that they have almonds in them, thus lowering the hit on your blood sugar levels. We have these every week now. You can make the mixture the night before (I throw everything into my food mixer), keep it in the fridge and then they are only marginally more work than toast.

I have altered Bee’s original recipe to include a bit of wholemeal flour (20g to 80g of white, plain), as she says on the original recipe, she has also made them using gluten free flour, entirely successfully. We serve ours with yoghurt and chopped up fruit and the merest lacing of maple syrup.

 

 

Sonia’s Swiss crescent biscuits

Growing up, my mum made friends with a woman called Sonia, who worked in the dry cleaner’s kinda opposite our flats. The dry cleaning would be wrapped in this lovely navy blue paper, the like of which we seemed to have at home for years afterwards (I guess she gave us some).

We didn’t have a car, growing up, but we used to go out with Sonia and her husband, who drove a red VW Beetle. We would go to the airport and watch the planes take off, in the days when this was still possible. We also went to Windsor castle. I loved our trips out as they were the only car-trips out we had as children. (This isn’t meant to sound sad, we went to Italy a lot and I had a great childhood.)

I have a picture, of us at Windsor castle, me with a right sulk on (I peed on my mum’s lap on the way home, I think I might have done it on purpose, the shame), wearing a very flash red coat and a rabbit fur hat, Sonia and my mum looking really glamorous, but in a totally nonchalant way.

One of the things Sonia used to bring with her were these amazing little hazelnut crescent biscuits. She would have them, layer upon greaseproof-paper layer, in a tin, and as you opened the tin, the smell of them – they were coated with vanilla sugar – would hit you. They were not like any biscuits we could buy, or that my mum made.

Because they were so occasional, they were especially delicious. Sonia also used to bring  a flask of coffee, which I would drink (I was an early caffeine drinker).

When I was seven, my mum and dad opened up a coffee shop on London’s Bayswater Road. I started making cakes and biscuits for my dad’s shop. I started baking. I tried to recreate Sonia’s biscuits but I never could. For some reason I didn’t dare ask her for the recipe, or perhaps I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to make them less special.

Occasionally, these days, I will go to my mum and dad’s house, and Sonia will have been, bringing with her a box of her special biscuits. And just opening the lid of the biscuit tin (she always brings them in a biscuit tin) will transport me back to being a very little girl, sitting in a red VW Beetle, watching planes taking off, treading that fine line between showing my appreciation for her biscuits and eating a fair few, but not toppling over into greed. It’s still a line I struggle with balancing on.

The other day, I saw Sonia and I plucked up the courage to ask her for the recipe. I don’t know why it’s taken me four decades to do so. Amazingly she had it written down (none of that “oh I do it from memory”) and she gave it to me, and, here it is:

250g plain flour

200 butter, unsalted, fridge cold

100g ground hazelnuts (I buy the chopped, toasted version and then grind them, it really makes a difference, but you can use pre-gound hazelnuts or almonds, but it won’t be *quite* as good as if you toast and grind them yourself)

80g icing sugar

5g vanilla sugar (Sonia says you can buy these in little packets but I leave this out and just add a tablespoon of vanilla essence)

Pinch of salt

Caster sugar for after (vanilla sugar if you have it)

In a food processor, pulse the butter and flour until like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, salt and nuts and then pulse until it comes together in clumps. Don’t over mix. It will work out I promise. Of course you can do this all by hand, but I’m lazy.

If you’ve made it in a processor take it out now and, by hand, bring the mixture together. Chill for 20/30 mins.

Preheat oven to 190C

Take small bits and roll into crescent shapes. I weigh each one to make sure I don’t end up with tiny/huge biscuits, roll into sausage shapes and taper the ends, curve into crescents. If you’re interested, I do them so mine weigh about 21g in raw dough.

Put on a parchment lined trays and cook for 10 mins. Cool and then coat in vanilla caster sugar if you have it, (I put a vanilla pod in a jar of normal caster sugar and just keep it there for, like, ever) normal caster sugar if you don’t.

Then don’t eat four whilst you’re writing a blog post, because that will make you feel really, really sick.

Store in a biscuit tin, each layer interleaved with greaseproof paper.

(Sonia calls these traditional Vienna biscuits but as she’s from Switzerland, I call them Sonia’s Swiss crescent biscuits.)

Making your own almond milk

Although we all eat everything in this house, we do also try to mix things up a bit. In smoothies, especially green ones, I stay away from dairy, but often want something a bit more luxurious than water.

Enter almond milk. You can buy almond milk, of course, and we do, but it tends to be full of stuff I don’t recognise and it contains just 2% almonds. So we make our own when possible and it’s really easy, nutritious and super tasty but not, I should add, cheaper than buying ready made. I like to use this in iced coffee (even though the base is dairy) to add a lovely nutty dimension to the finished drink.

Anyway, this is what you do:

Get 250g almonds, skin on and put them in a container that will fit in the fridge, cover with water and leave overnight. When you are ready to make the almond milk, drain the almonds, give them a rinse then put them in a powerful blender with 700-800ml of clean fresh water and blend up until all mushed up – it takes about 30 seconds.

Take out this sludge and place it on a muslin, in a sieve, over a bowl. Let it drain and then gather up the muslin and give the nuts a squeeze to get the most out. What comes out is almond milk (and you can use this method to make hazelnut, cashew etc milk too) – store it in a big jar/bottle in the fridge and it will keep for a few days (probably up to a week but I’ve never kept it that long). Stir it up before you use it and if you like, you can add a bit of vanilla extract to it for an extra bit of flavour.

The nut residue you have left in the muslin can be used in bread, biscuits, soup, smoothies, porridge or ice cream. If you don’t use it straight away put it in the fridge for a day or two or even freeze it to use later. Whatever you do don’t throw it away!

My breakfast smoothie

Seriously, like we need another picture of a green smoothie. But, nevertheless, here is mine.

But I wanted to share this because I think it’s so nice, it’s healthy but it’s not so scary that it alienates perfectly ordinary people, like me and you. I absolutely love it and will either have it first thing (after my mad Italian woman habit of lemon and psyllium husks in hot water), or after I’ve had a ‘proper’ breakfast and at about 11am. Depending on what time I have it I will vary the ingredients. I don’t add spinach if it’s too early because WTF am I turning into? But. My big discovery is frozen spinach. The one you get chopped up in ‘pods’. This way you don’t have bags of fresh spinach going off in the salad drawer (yuk) mocking you; it’s always fresh, and adds a nice cold element to the smoothie.

There are three key ingredients, to my mind, to make this smoothie really nice and friendly. And those are the almond butter, the cinnamon (who would have thought I’d become obsessed with cinnamon?) and the dates which must be those lovely expensive medjool dates. I buy mine from the market and £3 worth last me, easily, all week. I would probably also add banana as a must have. Remember that if you don’t fancy a whole banana, you can freeze it, chopped up in pieces, in a box in the freezer to add to subsequent smoothies.

So this is my basic smoothie:

One and a half medjool dates, two if you like

One banana, nice and ripe if possible

One teaspoon of cinnamon – don’t skimp on this

A big old tablespoon of almond butter

Handful of blueberries

200ml or so of almond milk or milk of your choice. I fill it up to the ‘max’ on my Nutribullet container. If you like a thicker smoothie add less, if you like it runnier add more etc.

You can blend it up now for a minute or so until smooth. But, if you want to ramp up the nutrient content you can add any, or all, of the following.

quarter of a teaspoon of spirulina

half a tablespoon of linseeds

big pinch of hemp seeds

1-2  tablespoons of oat flakes

some kefir if you culture it – I add two tablespoons

a pod of frozen spinach

The spirulina makes everything go really green. Don’t be scared. And you don’t have to add it if you don’t want to.

Just remember to blend until really smooth. I do it for about 30-45 seconds in my Nutribullet.

This fills you up for, ooh, maybe 30 minutes. Seriously it doesn’t fill me up for long in that ‘full up’ way. But I do feel REALLY good after drinking it. Until I pollute my body with a cappuccino. Sssh.

 

Date and ginger biscuits (gluten, refined sugar and dairy free)

I haven’t gone gluten, or dairy free. I am incredibly fortunate that I can, thus far at least, eat what I want. And I do. Last night I stuffed my face with cheesy Wotsits (I love a flourescent food stuff sometimes). Today, for the first time in eight years, I went into a supermarket and bought a loaf of white sliced and we had toasted sandwiches for Sunday lunch.

But generally, I do eat really well and also, I do like to try new things and double-also I like to have a little biscuit or something every day, and it kinda helps, now that I’m no longer 19 years old and seven stones, to think of my health ‘n’ stuff.

(Whilst I’m vaguely on the subject of healthy eating, has anyone else noticed that saying you’re on a ‘whole food plant based’ diet seems to have replaced saying “I’m vegan”? I’m not saying this recipe is vegan btw, because it’s not – it contains eggs – but I’ve noticed this phrase a lot lately..)

So I found these in Hugh F-W’s new book Light and Easy (which thus far I really like although have only tried a few things). They are choc-full of good-for-you ingredients, have no refined sugar, no dairy, no wheat, no gluten and although they absolutely won’t be to everyone’s taste, they are to mine and also my youngest loves them (incredibly). They are not overly spicy or gingery, and make a great little snack when you need a treat. But are also – thanks to the fibre and protein – rather satisfying and sustaining.

You need:

200g pitted dates

15g peeled ginger, roughly chopped

2 eggs

250g ground almonds (this is not a cheap biscuit recipe..)

a quarter of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

One and a half teaspoons of ground Chinese five-spice

Pinch of salt

Flaked almonds for topping if you so wish

What you do:

Oven to 170C. Baking parchment or magic carpet type sheet onto a baking sheet.

Put the dates and ginger into a food processor. Not a blender, but a processor (it’s sticky and if you put this in a blender I wouldn’t want to be you cleaning up afterwards). Whizz up for a couple of minutes until the mixture is really sticky and everything is evenly chopped up. This is also the time you realise you have bought unpitted dates as the processor will start making an awful sound and then start smoking.

When the mixture is all mixy, then you add the eggs and process again until you get a nice sloppy mixture – takes seconds really. Now add all the other ingredients and pulse for a few times until everything is, how can I put this? Mixed. You will have a very sticky dough. Either drop spoonfuls onto the tray or wet your hands slightly, roll into a ball and then flatten – which is what I do. I make mine about 5cm wide. They don’t really spread out so you can pack them fairly tight – but not touching – onto a baking tray. Top with flaked almonds if you so wish (this is my addition).

I bake mine for 15 minutes and this is plenty. Hugh says 20. They should be golden but not too dark and have a ‘slight give’ in the middle. I can lift my straight off the tray, with my hands, onto a wire rack to cool.

That’s it. Eat and feel virtuous.

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.