Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Refined Sugar Free, Vegan Easter Treats!

Easter is approaching, and it's that time of year when the shops are full of sugary, dairy filled chocolates- so what's a Mama to do? Well, the good news is that chocolate can be delicious and healthy too! (in moderation of course!) Cacao contains many important nutrients including magnesium which is important for heart health, and is packed with antioxidants too.

Of course we're talking chocolate in it's pure form, before the added sugar and the dairy and the emulsifiers and the rest of the stuff you get in regular chocolate bars. Good quality dark chocolate is the one to look out for, raw or roasted and preferably cane sugar free. The question that I get asked a lot is, what is the difference between raw cacao and cocoa, and does it need to be raw to get health benefits?

I've been a fan of raw chocolate for a long time now, and it has become quite a trend these days! While it is a sure thing that it has a higher level of nutrients and antioxidants that the roasted cocoa bean, it is also true that roasted cocoa still packs a huge punch when it comes to antioxidant levels (though try to choose one that hasn't been dutch processed, as this extra processing step, reduces the antioxidants further). Some people (my daughter included) tend to notice that raw cacao has an effect on them more than the roasted kind, so I think it is down to personal choice which you use, so go have fun and experiment with them!

A couple of weeks ago I had a blast teaching some pupils from our local school how to make super healthy Easter treats at the beautiful Dorchester Show Home! We made crispy cakes and raw chocolate eggs filled with peanut butter. I was a little nervous, as many children are so used to the milky kind of chocolate, I wasn't sure how they'd like this pure raw dark kind, but I needn't have worried, the chocolates were a great success! So much in fact, that I wanted to share the recipes with you in time to make them for Easter!

Easter chocolate crispy cakes
Makes 12

These crispy cakes taste just like the traditional favourite, only they are dairy and refined sugar free!

100g dark chocolate*
1 tbsp virgin coconut oil
¼ cup agave or maple syrup
1 cup sugar free cornflakes (I use Dove's Farm)
1 cup plain rice puffs
½ cup dessicated coconut

*I like plamil (found in Holland and Barrett), which is sweetened with xylitol

Break up the chocolate, and add to a pyrex bowl with the coconut oil and agave/maple syrup. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and melt together, stirring frequently. While melting, add the cornflakes, rice puffs and dessicated coconut to a bowl. Pour the melted chocolate mixture over, and stir well to make sure everything is coated in the chocolate.

Spoon the mixture into cup cases, and pop in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours!

Raw chocolate mini eggs

Making raw chocolates is easy. The raw cacao powder is packed with nutrients and being refined sugar free, these chocolates are good for you as well as delicious!

100g cacao butter
5-6 tbsp raw cacao powder
4-6 tbsp agave syrup, maple syrup or coconut syrup
Seeds of half a vanilla pod
2 tbsp unsweetened peanut butter, mixed with ½ tbsp agave syrup

Cut any large pieces of cacao butter up (to make it easier to melt), and add them to a pyrex bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and whisk until melted. Split the vanilla pod in half, and scrape the seeds out with the back of a knife. Add the vanilla seeds to the cacao butter along with the agave syrup and cacao powder. Whisk well until evenly mixed and no lumps! Fill the chocolate moulds with half of the melted chocolate. Add a quarter of a teaspoon of the peanut mixture to each, and then top with more melted chocolate to cover. Set in the fridge for a couple of hours, or in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Photo credit Dorchester Living 2015.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Rich and tasty raw chocolate 'Cheescake'

If I had a pound for every time somebody asked me what on earth I ate, or asked 'how could vegan food, without refined sugar actually taste good?', I'd be a super rich lady!

Part of why I blog is to set the record straight, to show people just how amazing vegan and refined sugar free foods really are, and how it really doesn't mean missing out. From homemade cakes and scones to creamy caramel chocolates, fresh pancakes with maple syrup or steaming mugs of hot chocolate, we enjoy all sorts of sweet treats at home! I do believe these foods should be treats, not really everyday foods, but of course we indulge every once in a while. I encourage everybody to explore the tasty vegan and refined sugar free alternatives that are out there; you'll be surprised how tasty and decadent the results can be.

Take this rich and creamy 'cheesecake' for example. I know technically its not a cheesecake- it has no cheese- but it does mimic the taste and texture of one and for want of a better name, I'm sticking with cheesecake! This dessert is vegan, gluten free, refined sugar free and raw so is pretty impressive on the health front (for a pudding anyways) but lacks nothing on the flavour department I promise. 

With Easter just around the corner (and it is all about the chocolate!) this is the perfect dessert to serve at a family gathering; and I bet, if you didn't say anything, they'd never know it was vegan or refined sugar free!

Raw chocolate 'cheesecake'
Makes one 15cm cheesecake

For the base
80g ground almonds
8 medjool dates

For the filling
200g cashew nuts, soaked overnight and drained
1 small, ripe avocado or banana
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sugar free vanilla extract
80ml maple syrup
100ml melted extra virgin coconut oil
80ml almond milk
pinch of sea salt
2 heaped tbsp raw cacao powder or cocoa powder

To make the base, blitz together the almonds and dates in a food processor until the mix starts to come together as a dough. You can test if it is ready by squeezing some of the mix between your fingers; if it sticks together it is ready.
Tip the mix out into a 15cm diameter loose bottom (or spring form) deep cake tin and press down evenly to create the crust.

Next make the filling. Add all the filling ingredients to a blender and blend until creamy and smooth. This will take a few minutes and requires stopping the blender several times to scrape down the sides to be sure to get all the lumps out. The finished result should be smooth and creamy like a very thick custard.

When it's smooth enough, pour the filling over the base. Gently tap the tin to level out the top and place the cheesecake in the fridge to set overnight. When it is set, carefully remove from the tin and garnish with grated chocolate for an impressive finish!

All photos copyright of Chris Mullineux 2015

Monday, 16 March 2015

Minty Pea Choc Chip Smoothie

Tomorrow is St Patrick's Day, and at this time of year bloggers rejoice as they post their green culinary delights! It's a wonderful time to get creative, but sometimes it can all get a bit out of hand... My hubby is American and St Patrick's day is widely celebrated over there. He once told me how he and his best buddy dyed his Mum's kitchen green with food dye while creating a St Patricks day feast. The food they were colouring was pasta with hot dogs, I really cannot imagine what they were thinking!

So, assuming like me, you think the idea of green coloured pasta is a bit gross, I am presenting you with an alternative that I think that you'll love! This green smoothie is not like any other green smoothie out there. Mainly because it contains frozen peas! Nearly everyone has frozen peas in their freezer, and they make a surprisingly tasty smoothie when combined with zingy fresh mint and crunchy cacao nibs. Peas and mint were literally made to go together, there is nothing new about this combo- think hot peas with fresh garden mint- but I hope I am presenting a vibrant new way to enjoy this match made in heaven.

Using frozen peas straight from the freezer brings a nice icy chill to the smoothie, which when combined with ripe avocado becomes creamy and dreamy, just like mint choc chip ice cream. The peas are naturally sweet and protein packed, which makes for a great post workout smoothie, without having to rely on processed  protein powders. The sweetness of the peas, dates and coconut water is balanced with the bitter cacao nibs and the mint, making for a perfectly balanced taste. This recipe works best with fresh mint, but I have also tried it with an unsweetend peppermint extract which was super delicious too.

But first, a word of caution. Before you all rush to throw frozen peas into your blender, it is worth pointing out that some brands of frozen peas state that they should not be eaten frozen, but must be cooked before use. I have tried to think of a possible explanation for this, but I really can't! Peas can definitely be eaten raw, and I see no reason why this warning should appear on certain brands, other than maybe it is something to do with the manufacturing process? As I do not know the reason, I cannot ask you guys to ignore it. I buy organic frozen garden peas, and they have no warning on the pack, and I have used these in smoothies for years, so look out for an organic brand and check the pack. If your brand does have a warning on it, then it's probably a good idea to look for a different one for this recipe.

I have added Spirulina to the mix as it improves the green colour, adds extra vitamins and minerals (including B1, B2, B3, B6, calcium and iron) and a little more protein punch to the smoothie. I also find that when I include spirulina it gives me an amazing energy boost! If you love the taste of spirulina, feel free to up the amount to a teaspoon. If you don't like the taste of Spirulina, try replacing it with wheatgrass powder, or even leaving it out altogether. The smoothie will most definitely still be green.

The Spirulina that I am using today is organic and available from Indigo herbs. It is one of a collection of yummy ingredients that they sent me to review and get creative with! The products I received as part of their vitality pack were; organic Spirulina powder, organic raw banana powder, acai berry powder, organic wheatgrass powder beetroot powder and supercleanse tea. To see how I used the banana, acai berry and beetroot powder, check out my delicious raw rainbow cake recipe!

As with all the other products that I have tried from Indigo Herbs, the Spirulina is of a really great quality. It is darker than other brands I have tried and the taste is not too overpowering, although I find you still only need a small amount. To buy this organic spirulina powder, check out this link!


Minty Pea Choc Chip Smoothie
Serves 1-2
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 avocado
Handful of fresh mint leaves or 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1 tbsp hemp seeds
1 tbsp cacao nibs
250ml coconut water
60ml hemp or almond milk
4 medjool dates
1/4- 1/2 tsp spirulina powder

Simply blend all the ingredients together until you have a smooth, creamy finish! Finish with a sprinkle of cacao nibs if you desire.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mothers Day chocolate chip drop scones

When I was little my Mum often made drop scones for me which I absolutely loved! Also known as Scotch pancakes, they're smaller than the American style pancakes. Instead of being eaten covered in maple syrup, they were usually spread with butter and jam or very sticky golden syrup, so that they can be eaten like a crumpet (with your hands) rather than with a knife and fork.

As it's Mothers Day tomorrow, and these remind me of my Mum, I think these little drop scones are the perfect thing to make on Mother's Day. I'm sure any Mum would love to have these made for her for breakfast, me included (hint hint)!

Being married to an American, we have a huge love for maple syrup in our house, and I do like to serve these up American style. These little drop scones are made a little thicker, with added chocolate chips and a drizzle of Maple syrup, though I'm keeping them true to their original mini size; the perfect mix of traditional English and American.

For the chocolate chips, use a good quality dark chocolate that is preferably refined sugar free, we love Plamil which is sweetened with xylitol and found in Holland and Barrett. Just to make these little drop scones as virtuous as possible, they are made with a blend of wholesome gluten free flours which lend a delicious nutty taste, and of course they are vegan too!

Chocolate Chip Drop Scones
Makes 10-12

1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup teff flour
1 tbsp arrowroot
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of sea salt
1 tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
300ml oat milk
45g dark xylitol chocolate
Coconut oil for greasing the pan

Pre-heat your pan to a medium high temperature. The secret to good pancakes of any kind, is a nice hot pan! Let it heat up for a good 5 minutes, then prepare the batter.
Add all the dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl, add the lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and oat milk and whisk till smooth. You'll have a very thick and smooth batter.

Cut the chocolate into small chunks to make 'chips' and stir into the batter.

Take a little knob of coconut oil and add to he hot pan, swirling it round to coat. I use a ceramic pan and it makes amazing pancakes! Using a 1/4 measuring cup, scoop the batter, dropping it onto the pan. I can make 4 at a time, but it depends how big your pan is! Cook for around 3 minutes, until you see little bubbles appearing on the surface, flip them and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Serve with maple or coconut syrup for the perfect Mother's Day breakfast!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The ultimate vegan sushi bowl

Love sushi but don't have a whole lot of time to make it? Then sushi bows are the answer! These little bowls of rice and veggies are packed with flavour, take hardly any time to make and are super nutritious. We absolutely love making these and they have become a staple in our home.

You can pretty much top them with anything you like, both cooked and raw toppings work well. Baked sweet potato cubes are heavenly as a topping with avocado and spring onion, and the more colours you can add in there, the better. This recipe packs in lots of crispy and fresh raw veggies and some smoked tofu for a different texture, but you could substitute the tofu for cooked beans or chickpeas, or skip it all together and just load up the veg. Go and have fun with it!

Vegan sushi bowl
Serves 2

150g sushi rice (or use brown if you prefer)
1 tbsp brown rice vinegar
1/4 cucumber
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 small beetroot, peeled
1 spring onion
1/2 avocado
1/2 pack of smoked tofu, cubed*
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp tamari soy sauce
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 sheet of toasted nori

Cook the rice according to the instructions on the packet. When the rice is cooked, tip it out into a bowl, and add the brown rice vinegar, mixing well with a fork. Leave the rice to cool slightly while you prepare the veggies.

First, cut the cucumber, bell pepper, beetroot and spring onion into small dices or fine matchsticks. I like to use a mixture of both to create a fun variation in texture and look, but it's completely up to you, go with whatever your heart desires!

Next, scoop out the avocado flesh with a spoon and cut it into slices. Set this aside with the rest of the chopped veggies.

Cube your smoked tofu, and lightly sauté in a pan with a little olive oil if you like, to make it crispy. I often skip this step if I'm in a rush, it tastes great cold too and makes for a speedy lunch this way!

To make the sushi bowls, split the rice between two small bowls and divide the veggies and tofu equally over the rice. Finish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds (I like to use both black and white sesame seeds as they look pretty, but use whichever kind you have to hand) and the tamari and sesame oil. Lastly, take the sheet of toasted nori, and cut it into thin strips with a pair of scissors. Sprinkle this over the top, it looks pretty and it gives it that authentic sushi taste.

*We like Taifun smoked tofu with almond as its delicious straight from the pack, no need to cook!

Photographs copyright of Chris Mullineux 2015.