Spelt & Chia Hot Cross Buns (vegan, wheat free & refined sugar free)

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So it’s 5pm on Easter Sunday which means two things: a) I’m in a slow cooked lamb/scalloped potato/cheesecake/rocky road/chocolate tart-induced coma and literally typing this post through one half-opened eye; and b) it’s definitely a tad late to be posting a hot cross bun recipe. That said, ‘a tad late’ is how I go about life in general, and this recipe is too good to wait until next April to post. Besides, who doesn’t love a fresh-outta-the-oven hot cross bun at any time of year? If it’s acceptable nowadays to eat HCB’s in the three months leading up to Easter, it should be acceptable to enjoy them for a few (or many) months after Easter, too.

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Spelt flour has become my best baking friend over the past few years. I try not to eat too much gluten in general, but when I do it’s usually in the form of spelt or oats. Spelt is technically a sub-species of wheat and thus is not suitable for those with coeliac or severe gluten sensitivities, but it’s significantly lower in gluten than normal wheat so most people who are sensitive to wheat find that they can digest spelt better without feeling heavy and bloated. It’s also high in vitamins and minerals and has a nutty flavour that I just love. The lower level of gluten (and thus protein) in spelt means less elasticity, so baked goods turn out more dense and textural, as opposed to light and fluffy with normal wheat. Being the born carb fiend that I am, I find dense, bready textures more satisfying than fluffy textures, so this suits me perfectly. Gimme something to sink my teeth into!

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These hot X babies do contain a little more sugar (coconut sugar & dried fruit) than my usual recipes, but I really wanted them to taste and feel as close to the real thing as possible. They’ve got just the right balance of sugar and spice and they’ll fill your home with the most beautiful aroma. The smell of bread baking in the oven is magic on its own – add notes of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and orange, and you’re on a whole new level of heaven.

I think the key to getting these buns right is ensuring that the dough gets its full 2 hours of rising time in a warm, draught-free area. I don’t really know whether the rising time or the warm environment is more crucial, but the two together resulted in a far better bun texture than the first time I attempted this recipe when  I only gave the dough 1 1/2 hours to rise in a cool kitchen.

Spelt & Chia Hot Cross Buns 

Makes 9 buns.

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups wholegrain spelt flour
  • 1 tbs chia seeds
  • 7g instant dried yeast
  • 2 tsp dried ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp dried ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 cup dried unsweetened cranberries
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • Zest of 1 orange (or 1/2 if you don’t want the orange to be pronounced)
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut sugar
  • 1 cup milk of choice (I use Pureharvest Cocoquench coconut-rice milk)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbs melted coconut oil
  • 1 tbs pure maple syrup, to glaze
  • 40g dark chocolate of choice, for the crosses

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180*C. Line a small square cake tin (20cm x 20cm) with parchment paper.
  2. In a small saucepan, stir the milk and coconut sugar over medium-low heat until the milk is warm and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and add the vanilla and coconut oil.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the spelt flour, chia seeds, yeast and dried spices. Wake a well and pour in the milk mixture. Mix with a spoon until just combined, then add in the dried fruit, zest and salt. Use your hands to combine fully and form into a dough with the dried fruit and zest dispersed throughout.
  4. Lightly flour a clean bench space or a kneading mat with a little spelt flour. Knead the dough for 7 minutes.
  5. Oil the original mixing bowl with a little coconut oil, place the dough back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap (to trap heat in). Place a tea towel over the bowl (to keep light out). Leave in a warm, draught free space for 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size (it’s imperative that the dough doubles, and I strongly recommend leaving it for the full 2 hours regardless). My house was quite cool when I was making these, so I found that the best place to leave the bowl was on a stool right in front of the heated oven.
  6. After the dough has risen, knead for another 3 minutes. Divide the dough into 9 equal portions and roll into rough balls. Place the buns into the prepared cake tin and bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Brush the buns with pure maple syrup to glaze. Allow the buns to cool before piping crosses with melted dark choc (see notes).
  8. Serve the only way you ever should: toasted, warm, smothered with organic salted butter (or almond butter) and with your favourite cuppa. Bliss. (Please note that you may want to remove the chocolate cross before toasting the buns!)
  9. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 2 weeks.

Notes

  • If you’re highly sensitive to fructose, adjust the amount of dried fruit to suit you tolerance levels.  You could try omitting the currants and raisins using 1/4 – 1/2 cup dried cranberries, or leave the fruit out altogether if necessary.
  • I used normal organic dairy dark choc for the crosses because I knew it would set and photograph better, but otherwise I’d use vegan dark choc.
  • Make a fuss-free piping bag by spooning the melted choc into a snap-lock bag and snip the corner.Healthy Spelt and chia hot cross bunsimageimage

Honestly Healthy Muesli Bars (fruit free, fructose friendly & dairy free)

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that 98% of packaged muesli bars on the market are not at all healthy.
Despite their efforts to market themselves as wholesome snacks, most muesli bars on the market are loaded with nasties. And those nasties aren’t necessarily always the usual suspects, either. Sure, if you’re into reading labels, you’re probably used to avoiding unpronounceable chem-lab names and numbers which translate into artificial preservatives, sweeteners and other additivies. And sure, you might do a quick scan of the sugar content. But how much notice do you pay to where all that sugar is coming from? The majority of muesli/snack bars out there are loaded with added sugar, whether it’s straight-up refined (white/brown sugar, golden syrup), unrefined like in the ‘healthier’ varieties (honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, coconut sugar/nectar, rice malt syrup etc.), or sneakily disguised as being the most ‘natural’ sugar sources of all: dried/raw fruit and fruit juice concentrates.

As I write this, I’m analysing the labels of 2 different muesli bar boxes I found in my pantry. They’re by a popular ‘real food’ supermarket brand, marketed and believed to be truly healthy. Yes, most of the ingredients are whole, and one thing I’ll give them is how transparent they are about the ingredients they use, but they’re still out of touch with the anti-added sugar movement. Either that, or they know most people will read “honey” or “apple juice concentrate” and think that it must be healthy.
One of said muesli bars contains 6 DIFFERENT SOURCES OF SUGAR: cranberries, sugar, glucose, honey, rice syrup and apple. The other contains 5 sources: glucose, honey, sugar, cranberries and sultanas.
SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR…

Of course, if you don’t have fructose malabsorption, then finding a healthy packaged snack is less of an ordeal because there’s a whole heap of health bars on the shelves of health food stores and even supermarkets now. The problem for someone like me is that all those ‘refined sugar free’ and ‘raw’ bars and bliss balls usually scream one thing: FRUCTOSE. They’re pumped with agave (which is 70-90% fructose), dates, and dried fruit. And dried fruit is practically just concentrated fructose. So, without being too controversial, I’d argue that 90% of those raw food bars and bliss balls aren’t that great for you anyway, whether you can digest them or not. Most of them are glorified lollies with a little extra fibre and protein, disguised in rustic packaging with words like ‘raw vegan’ and ‘no added sugar’ sprawled across them. No added sugar? OF COURSE THEY DON’T CONTAIN ADDED SUGAR! They don’t need to add sugar on top of all the syrup and fruit, because if they did, those bars would be distastefully sweet.
Like I always say, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
And regardless of how ‘natural’ the sugar source is, if it’s as sweet as a lolly, it probably isn’t that good for you.

I’m pretty sure that you get my point by now: most muesli bars are unhealthy, and even the semi-healthy ones are often packed with fructose and are thus out-of-bounds for those who cannot digest excess fructose. I should quickly note that fructose friendly snack bars do exist, but I’m yet to come across one that ticks all four boxes: it’s gotta be honestly healthy, fructose friendly, filling, and YUMMY! All the ones I’ve tried lack in an area or two.

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These Honestly Healthy Fruit-Free Muesli Bars are super easy to whip up and the recipe is very forgiving. If you don’t have a particular ingredient, don’t stress, just use something else that’s similar in density (except maybe for the oats and eggs, you’ll need those!), being mindful of wet to dry ratios. This is a great base recipe, so feel free to mix things up! Try adding things like goji berries (dark choc-coated gojis would be delicious for a more decadent treat), cacao nibs, or a little unsweetened dried fruit, like cranberries or raisins. While this recipe is relatively high in protein, you could even incorporate your favourite CLEAN protein powder into the mix, to make it a great post-workout snack.
When divided into 24 pieces, each serving contains just 3g of sugar, which is equivalent to 2 large strawberries. These bars are super filling so you can be sure they’ll tie you over to your next meal. They’re also high in fibre, healthy fats, protein and antioxidants, and relatively low carb, making them a perfect snack any time of day.
Keep them in an airtight container away from direct sunlight for up to a week. I also like to keep a little container of them in my car’s glove box  (in cooler weather), and one wrapped up in my handbag to ensure that I’m prepared for a snack attack no matter where I am.

Fructose Friendly Muesli Bars

Makes 24 snack squares (or 12 large bars).
Dietary info: fructose friendly, low FODMAP, wheat free (contains spelt), dairy free, refined sugar free, soy free.
Contains gluten (oats & spelt), eggs and tree nuts.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup  unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 1 cup mixed seeds (pepitas & sunflower kernels)
  • 1/2 cup raw nuts (almonds & pecans), roughly chopped
  • 1 tbs chia seeds
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon (depending on how much you like cinnamon)
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp ground dried ginger
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan sea salt
  • 3 eggs (organic & free range, if possible)
  • 1/4 cup sweetener (I used half/half pure maple and rice malt syrup)
  • 1/4 cup natural nut butter (I used peanut)
  • 2 tbs melted coconut oil
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbs water
  • Stevia, to taste

Optional: cacao nibs, 3 tbs dried fruit (raisins, sultanas or cranberries), protein powder

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180’C and line a slice tray or square cake tin with baking paper.
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. At this point I also added 1/2 tsp of concentrated stevia extract powder (see notes).
  3. In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the remaining wet ingredients. Add wet mixture to dry mixture and combine well.
  4. Press firmly into prepared slice/cake tin and sprinkle the top with some extra pepitas and coconut, if desired. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until firm and golden brown (as pictured).
  5. Remove from oven and allow to sit in tin for 10 minutes. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack for a few hours. Use a sharp knife to remove the edges of the slice. Cut slice into desired pieces, and store in an airtight container away from direct sunlight for up to a week.

Notes:

  • As always, the amount of stevia you use will depend on what type of stevia you have. If it’s concentrated powder or liquid, you’ll only need a tiny bit. If it’s granulated, you can use a lot more because concentrated pure stevia is 8 times sweeter than granulated stevia. Those with FM will only be able to use concentrated stevia anyway, as granulated varieties contain fillers to increase their volume, such as inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides, which we cannot digest.
  • Some individuals with FM might be more sensitive to nuts and needs than others. If this applies to you, reduce the amounts. However, the amounts I have used should be pretty safe, especially when the recipe is divided into 24 servings.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

Don’t serve this to Nonna: Turkey Spag Bowl (Low FODMAP, fructose friendly, GF + DF)

Lately I’ve been getting lots of requests to post more dinner-y recipes, and it made me realise that I never share my favourite dinner meals. Why not, you might ask? Why wouldn’t I share some of the recipes I eat most often? The answer is pathetic, really: I’ve either been eating the meal for so long that the prospect of writing about it bores me to tears, or it’s dark at dinner time in mid-year Australia and ain’t nobody got the skills to photograph food under artificial lighting. Or at least I don’t…

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But it recently occurred to me that you guys couldn’t care less whether I post a recipe that I’ve been cooking for 2 years or 2 days. It’s going to be a new recipe for you regardless, right? Sometimes people just need REAL life food – hearty home style meals that can be whipped up for one, or for two, or for a whole family to enjoy.

You guys need dishes that are just as nutrish and delish as they are easy and cheap to make.

I’m also aware that my wonderful FM readers (love you) are desperately seeking fructose friendly and low FODMAP meals that don’t solely consist of steamed veg and a slab of meat. BOOO-RING. So from now on I plan to bombard you with options.
Here’s the first one: Turkey Spag Bowl.

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It’s no secret that the ole spag bowl gets a bad nutritional rap.
Especially when served at restaurants, the classic Italian recipe is heavy on the not-so healthy stuff like beef mince (often very fatty), oil and/or butter, salt, cheese, refined carbs (from pasta), and sometimes even cream. And aside from the tomatoes, it’s very light on veggies.
What’s more, if you’ve got fructose malabsorption, it’s completely out of bounds because a) it’s full of onion and garlic and b) you can’t eat wheat, so there goes the pasta.

I know it’s a staple for millions of people around the world, but I’ve never actually been a huge fan of traditional spaghetti bolognese. Truth be told, I’ve always found it a little boring. The flavours and textures are just too same-same for me. But, like most normal people, my parents and siblings love their spag bowl. Unfortunately for them, Mum stopped cooking it –along with many other family favourites– for a while when I first developed FM.

 Being the ever-accommodating and eager to please woman that she is, my fabulous mama came up with a spag bowl rendition that ticks all the boxes of Lincoln Dinner Criteria: it’s wholesome, nutritionally balanced, fructose free, FODMAP friendly, fills the boys up, and tastes GREAT! It has to be said that she’s becoming an expert at de-fructosing recipes, and her Turkey Spag Bowl is a testimony to this. On that note, I can’t wait to share her Sri Lankan Chicken Curry recipe with you soon!

No, this recipe doesn’t retain much of the traditional spaghetti bolognese’s integrity (hello turkey, veggies and brown rice spaghetti), and yes, a true Italian chef would probably spit it back out at me. But I don’t care. My aim in posting this recipe is to share with you a homestyle recipe that’s wholesome, hearty, cheap, easy, and fructose-friendly.
Just please don’t serve it to Nonna.

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Low FODMAP Turkey Spag Bowl

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1kg turkey mince
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 large eggplant, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 cup semi sun-dried tomatoes*, cut into halves or quarters
  • 1 red capsicum, diced
  • 1 green capsicum, diced
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes (no added sugar or preservatives)
  • 3/4 cup salt reduced tomato paste* (see notes for fructose info.)
  • 1.5 tbs dried oregano
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 large handful fresh basil, leaves torn
  • 8 spring onions, chopped (green part only for low FODMAP)
  • Oil of choice (I use garlic-infused for flavour, but coconut is one of the more stable oils)
  • Himalayan sea salt & cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 packet brown rice noodles for gluten free, or spelt spaghetti (optional – see notes)
  • To serve: fresh basil leaves, shaved parmesan (optional, omit for dairy free/paleo)

Method

  1. Heat a generous splash of garlic-infused olive oil (or other chosen oil) in a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Sautee all the fresh veggies and sun-dried tomatoes, stirring for around 7 minutes or until the veggies have softened. Remove veggies from pot and transfer to a heat-safe bowl.
  3. Heat another splash of oil and add the turkey mince to the pot. Cook the mince until browned (around 8 minutes) and use a wooden spoon to break it up.
  4. Add the veggies to the pot along with the tomato paste, stock, basil and dried oregano. Season with Himalayan salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for a minimum of 40 minutes. If I have time, I leave it for an hour or longer. The longer you leave it (within reason – you don’t to overcook the meat!), the richer and thicker it will get and the deeper the flavour will be.
  5. Serve with one ladle’s worth of brown rice noodles or spelt spaghetti if using, and garnish with extra torn basil and shaved parmesan. For a paleo or lower carb version, use the bolognese to stuff into roasted eggplants (see recipe below).

Notes

  • You will notice this recipe uses quite a lot of tomato paste, which is where the dish gets a lot of its flavour. According to Dr. Sue Shepherd’s low FODMAP diet guidelines, people on a strict low FODMAP diet shouldn’t exceed 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste in one sitting because although fresh tomatoes are safe, paste is concentrated. I’ve never had an issue with tomato paste, but some people might. Use less if you’re unsure of your tolerance, and add more fresh and dried herbs for flavour.

Turkey Bolognese Stuffed Eggplants

Ingredients:

  • 4 large eggplants to serve 8 people, or 1/2 eggplant per person.
  • Turkey Bolognese recipe (above)
  • Fresh basil leaves, to serve
  • Shaved parmean, so serve (optional, omit for dairy free/paleo)
  • Oil of choice (I use coconut)
  • Himalayan sea salt

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200’C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. Use a fork to prick the eggplant/s several times. Place on prepared tray and lightly spray all over with oil. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until tender.
  3. If you made the bolognese in advance, reheat however much of it you’re using (about 1-1.5 cups per person would be a suitable portion).
  4. Cut the eggplant/s in half length-ways. Use a spoon to scoop out some of the flesh from each half, leaving a 1cm boarder. Chop the scooped out flesh. Sprinkle a little Himalayan sea salt over the eggplant halves.
  5. Mix the chopped eggplant through the heated Turkey Bolognese. Spoon mixture into eggplant halves and sprinkle shaved parmesan over the top, if using. Return eggplants to the oven for 10 minutes, or until all heated through. Serve with fresh basil leaves, as pictured below.
Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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My Trolley: The Ultimate Shopping List for a Healthy Kitchen

More and more often I’m getting asked what my typical shopping list looks like,
so I thought I’d share it with you!

imageAll the ingredients below are things that I either purchase on a regular basis (like fresh produce), or staples which only need to be bought occasionally (such as spices and grains). As we all know, healthy, fresh and/or organic foods can be quite expensive. I don’t always have every single thing on this list at home at the one time, so please don’t be shocked by the abundance of items below. The main point of this post is to show you the kinds of things you should be filling your trolley with. The more you fill your trolley and stock your kitchen with good stuff, the less room (and money!) you’ll have for bad stuff.

The list below constitutes 90% of what’s in my fridge and pantry. I still live at home with my family, and by no means is my kitchen 100% clean in the nutritional sense. If you were to come over, you’d be sure to find a tub of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer (my absolute weakness), bacon and chorizo in the fridge, and a packet of biccies in the pantry. To provide an accurate depiction of what my diet mainly consists of, I have only included the ingredients I consume regularly. Anything else is labelled as an ‘extra’.

Just as often as I’m asked what I buy, I also get asked where I buy it. The answer is everywhere – farmers markets, supermarkets (there’s a Super Coles right near my house), local grocers, organic grocers, health food stores and even online. Much to the dismay of small health food store and grocery owners, almost everything I mention below can be found in a supermarket. Even some of the more foreign superfoods can be found in the health food aisle of Coles these days, whereas a year ago I would have had to go to a specialty health store. The same goes for the variety of organic fresh produce; it pains me to admit that, more often than not, Coles has a bigger and cheaper variety of organic goods than my local grocers. Still, I prefer to support local farmers and businesses.

In cases where brands or specific products are mentioned, please note this is simply because I prefer them for their particular taste and quality, relative to price; by no means am I paid to endorse ANY of the following items or their brands.

Another important thing to note is that unless stated otherwise/marked with an asterisk (*), all the below ingredients are fructose-friendly and low FODMAP to suit my food intolerance (fructose malabsorption). As a result, this list does not contain particular foods which are still healthy for digestively normal people  –foods I always ate prior to developing the intolerance and which are still eaten by the rest my family –but ones I can no longer digest properly (such as apples, mango, pear, watermelon, kale, red and brown onion, garlic, mushies, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and other legumes etc.). If you don’t have fructose malabsorption or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), I highly recommend you incorporate said ingredients into your daily diet because they possess wonderful nutritional benefits for those who can digest them.

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FRESH

 When it comes to fruit and veg, my family tries to eat as organically, seasonally and locally as possible for health and environmental reasons, but in reality, only 50-70% of the fruit and veg we buy is organic. I’m lucky enough to have a large veggie patch at home, so a lot of our seasonal produce comes from there, too. Eating organically is not feasible for everyone, but there are certain non-organic foods that have been found to obtain a higher pesticide residue than others and are thus more important to eat organically if possible. These include spinach, lettuce, celery, cucumber, zucchini, capsicum (sweet bell peppers), chili peppers, cherry tomatoes, white potatoes, apples*, peaches*, imported nectarines*, grapes and berries. If you cannot always buy these foods organically, make sure you wash them thoroughly before eating them.

Then there’s the flip-side: although buying organically is great for supporting local farmers and promoting a toxin-free environment, if you’re looking from an artificial pesticide and fertilizer perspective, there are certain foods which seem to remain fairly clean from such chemicals. These include onion*, sweet corn, sweet potato, eggplant, avocado, cabbage*, kiwi fruit, pineapple, mango*, papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon*, grapefruit.
*contain excess fructose or fructans (not suitable for those on a low-FODMAP diet).

VEGGIES

Baby spinach
Bok choy
Chinese broccoli
Broccoli* (fructan – I only eat small amounts at a time)
Green beans
Cos lettuce
Tomatoes (truss and cherry)
Capsicum
Zucchini
Eggplant
Cucumber
Celery* (polyol apparently, but it doesn’t seem to affect me)
Carrot
Beetroot* (contains some FODMAPS. I stick to small amounts.)
Sweet potato
Kent/Jap pumpkin
Avocado* (polyol – I have built myself up to tolerate avocado)
Spring onion
Chives
Ginger

FRUIT

Banana
Blueberries and raspberries (fresh or frozen, depending on season and price)
Strawberries
Kiwi fruit
Passionfruit
Pineapple
Orange
Mandarin
Lemon
Lime

HERBS
We grow all our own herbs, but these are the ones I’d buy if I couldn’t grow them.
Unlike larger veg and fruit, growing your own herbs is super easy and takes up very little space. It’ll also save you a lot of cash!

Basil
Parsley
Coriander
Mint
Rosemary
Curry leaves

Extras: sage, dill, thyme, oregano

MEAT, FISH & POULTRY
I’m personally not a huge red meat eater (I probably only eat it once a week or less), so most of my protein comes from chicken, fish and eggs.

Eggs (always organic free range)
Chicken breast (preferably organic & free range)
Roast/BBQ Chicken (skin & excess fat removed & used in salads, wraps etc.)
Turkey
Salmon fillets
Smoked salmon
White fish
Lean beef (preferably organic & grass-fed)
Pork (rarely)
Lamb (rarely)

DAIRY
I try not to eat much cow’s dairy, but I don’t cut it out completely because I enjoy small amounts of it with certain meals too much.

Full fat natural & Greek-style yoghurt (I love five:am brand)
Danish or Persian feta
Goats feta/curd (Meredith Dairy is my absolute favourite)
Full fat butter (absolutely NO margarine in my house! I usually use avocado instead of butter, anyway)

MILK ALTERNATIVES

Coconut-brown rice milk (Pure Harvest’s Coco Quench brand)
Unsweetened oat milk (Pure Harvest)

FROZEN

Blueberries
Raspberries
Bananas
Stir-fry veg (pre-chopped, so no matter what, I always have some veg to turn to)
Prawns

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IN THE PANTRY

GRAINS & CEREALS

Quinoa (white and red)
Brown rice
Rolled oats (traditional)
Food for Health Fibre Cleanse Muesli (Bought from Coles. I usually always make my own muesli and granola, but it’s good to have a box on hand for convenience so I don’t reach for my brother’s Crunchy Nut Clusters [which I’m very partial to!])

Extras: brown rice noodles, brown rice pasta,
spelt pasta*, polenta, Celebrate Health Mexican quinoa, Celebrate Health Lemon & Thyme quinoa

PACKAGED
BREADS & WRAPS:

Gluten free & organic Old Time Bakery wraps (not so good as a wrap, but great as a healthy pizza base for quick lunch/dinner)
100% spelt wraps*
Healthybake brand breads: oat, spelt & pharoah loaves (Healthybake can be purchased from many health food stores such as GoVita, as well as selected grocers)
Ancient Grains brand breads: oat & spelt loaves (Can be purchased from some supermarkets, health food stores & selected grocers)

SNACKS:
Dr Karg Seeded Spelt crispbread (can be purchased from health food stores and selected grocers)
Corn thins
Brown rice cakes
Cobs natural popcorn
Buckwheat crispbread (Orgran brand)
Brown rice-seaweed crackers (Eat Rite brand)
Mary’s Gone Crackers ‘superseed’ crackers
Rice paper rounds (to make rice paper rolls – found in ‘Asian’ section of supermarkets)
Goji-berries

OTHER:
Puffed rice crisps (Lotus brand)
Plain activated buckinis (Loving Earth brand)
Dried shredded/flaked coconut (Eco brand)

Extra: nori (seaweed sheets for sushi & adding to salads), carob powder (Lotus), psyllium husk, maca powder (Loving Earth), Slippery Elm bark powder

CANNED

Corn kernels (no added sugar)
Crushed/chopped tomatoes
Pure coconut milk (full fat & unsweetened)
Tinned tuna (controversial for a few reasons, I know, but its convenience suits my lifestyle and I just love tuna. I try to not eat it too often, and always opt for more ethical brands)

FLOUR SUBSTITUTES

Buckwheat flour
Brown rice flour (I make my own by blending brown rice in the Thermomix)
Oat flour (I make my own by blending oats in the Thermomix)
Wholemeal spelt flour*
Almond meal* (I make my own by blending almonds in the Thermomix)

Extras: quinoa flour, coconut flour*

*spelt: some individuals who react to fructans might not be able to tolerate large amounts of spelt. I don’t seem to have any issues with it.
* almonds: I use almond and other nut meals sparingly because I cannot tolerate tree nuts in large amounts.
* Coconut flour: dried coconut is fructan-containing. I can only tolerate small amounts.

NUTS & SEEDS (all raw)

pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
sunflower seeds
flax seeds
chia seeds*
sesame seeds
pinenuts
almonds*
pecans
macadamias*
walnuts*
cashews*
LSA meal (ground linseed [flax seeds], sunflower seeds & almonds)

*most nuts and seeds contain moderate amounts of fructan, some much more than others.  Now that I’ve built my tolerance up more, I stick to small portions at a time (the equivalent to a small handful). Cashews and macadamias seem to stir me up more than the others.

SPREADS

Natural peanut butter (I love good ol’ Sanitarium)
Almond butter*
Tahini (I use Mayver’s brand)

Extras: Mayver’s cacao-peanut butter spread, Mayver’s coconut-peanut butter spread, Mayver’s Energy spread (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, chia seeds, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, cashews and spirulina), pumpkin seed spread

OILS

EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
Cold-pressed coconut oil
Macadamia nut oil
Garlic-infused EVOO
Sesame oil

Extras: flaxseed oil, grapeseed oil, raw cacao butter

SWEETENERS

Rice malt syrup (I use Pure Harvest brand)
Pure organic maple syrup (various brands from supermarkets. Health food/organic stores will try to rip you off BIG TIME for the same brands – don’t pay more than $8!)
Coconut sugar (Loving Earth)
Glucose syrup (for those with FructMal ONLY! Not ideal, but I’ll have a few teaspoons of this if I’ve accidentally eaten something I might react to. The glucose helps to carry the excess fructose molecules across the small intestinal wall, thus facilitating absorption. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do!)

SEASONINGS, DRESSINGS & NATURAL FLAVOURINGS

Bragg’s apple cider vinegar
Tamari (gluten free soy sauce)
White wine vinegar
Balsamic vinegar
Bragg’s All Purpose Seasoning
Pure vanilla extract
Raw cacao powder
Himalayan pink rock salt

Extras: pure coconut essence, pure orange essence,  rose water, vanilla beans, natural vanilla powder

DRIED HERBS & SPICES
(all grounded unless specified otherwise)

Oregano leaves
Mixed herbs
Rosemary leaves
Curry leaves
Bay leaves
Coriander seeds
Cinnamon
Cardamom
Nutmeg
Ginger
Paprika
Cayenne pepper
chili powder
Cumin
Garam Masala
Sumac
Saffron
Turmeric
Black pepper

TREATS

Pana chocolate (the ones not sweetened with agave)
Loving Earth chocolate (coconut mylk)
Alter Eco dark chocolate (I LOVE the one with puffed quinoa!)
Dark-choc coated goji berries
Coyo ice cream

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Toasted Almond, Coconut & Chocolate Granola

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Granola is just one of those foods that makes me salivate.

The
 warm flavours, the sweetness, the wonderful texture and, of course, that irresistible crunch. It just gets me every time.

I think I was in year 7 when my mum first brought home the newest addition to the Kellogg’s breakfast cereal range, Crunchy Nut Clusters. Those peanut and ‘honey’ (sugar, molasses and vegetable oil) coated cornflakes teamed with deliciously crunchy clusters of oats, puffed wheat and coconut (and yep, more sugar, molasses and vegetable oil) became not only my brekkie bowl filler, but also my mid-morning, afternoon and pre-bedtime snack by the handful. I had every right to go through four boxes of this golden blessedness a week because Crunchy Nut Clusters were clearly less sugary than the Froot Loops and Frosty Flakes many of my friends still ate, and they were made with healthy ingredients like corn, oats, honey and nuts. I was so on my way to getting healthy and losing all my puppy fat quickly, all while eating something so damn tasty. YEAH!

Much to my horror, the so-called puppy fat not only stuck around, but started to soar. Thankfully, I slowly grew older and wiser. I learned that just because something is manufactured from a vegetable, that does not necessarily make it healthy (but what do you mean vegetable oil and High Fructose Corn Syrup aren’t good for you?!)  and I began reading labels (why doesn’t the front of the box mention anything about the cereal being covered in sugar, molasses and oil as well as honey?!)

It took a while, but I started to become aware of marketing gimmicks and misleading advertising. After a year, my beloved Crunchy Nut Clusters were replaced by Sultana Bran Crunch after a year. Ah, the ignorance. Still, it was a move in the right direction, and at least I wasn’t eating Honey Joys disguised as a breakfast cereal anymore.

For those of you who are more or less like me, buying packaged granola poses two main problems:

  1. Mainstream granola brands packed with different forms of sugar, preservatives and other additives and provide little to no nutritional value.
  2. They’re very rarely fructose-friendly: pre-packaged granola always contains either loads of honey, dried fruit or both, which makes them indigestible for my fellow fructose malabsorbers. Even the ‘healthier’ granola alternatives available at health food stores are made with with high-fructose sweeteners like agave and dried fruit.

I’ve been avoiding pre-packaged granola and toasted muesli for several years now. The thought of sweet, crunchy clusters of puffed grain heaven still excites me, but I’ve never come across one that’s healthy enough to eat regularly. And so, I’m more of an egg gal these days.

The other week, however, my love for granola was reignited. I was in the cereal aisle of Coles, looking at Carman’s muesli for my sister when I saw them. Carman’s Crunchy Clusters with Honey Roasted Nuts. I was immediately taken back to my mornings in early high school when I’d eat two bowls of candied greatness and drink the leftover pool of sweet milk afterward. My salivary glands started going mental as I viewed the large oaty clumps and golden roasted nuts through the heart-shaped plastic window on the box. I threw the box into my trolley without giving it a second thought or reading any labels. My sister just had to try it. Not me, my sister. I was getting it for my sister.

I ripped open the box the second I got home and started shovelling handfuls of the stuff into my mouth as if it were popcorn. Everything about the granola was lip-smacking. The wording on the box was spot on: I absolutely did “adore these crunchy muesli clusters with almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, buzzing with trickles of honey and a hint of vanilla!” The granola was also “fruit free, Low GI, high in fibre and full of wholegrain goodness”. It all sounded too good to be true. I soon realised it was, but it was all too late. After my snacking straight from the box for three days, the box was empty. I don’t think my sister ever got to touch it. I read the label more closely just before I threw the box into the recycling. I was shocked.

Carman’s is usually one of the more wholesome and cleaner cereal brands available at supermarkets. They usually sweeten their products with a little honey instead of sugar, and while this makes their products unsuitable for most FructMal sufferers, at least it’s better than nearly all other cereal boxes for most people. This is why I was shocked when I read the Carman’s Crunchy Clusters ingredients list. After the oats and nuts, raw sugar comes in as the third ingredient, making it even more predominant than supposed primary ingredients like puffed rice and pepitas! And that’s before the honey is added. That’s a lot of added sugar! I did some quick calculations and became aware that I’d consumed just shy of 70g of added sugar over a few days from the granola aloneThat’s nearly EIGHTEEN teaspoons of added sugar, which equates to almost NINE teaspoons of pure fructose! No bloody wonder why it tasted so good. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Carman’s would rightfully argue that you’re not supposed to eat the entire box over just a few sittings, hence their “serves 11” guideline. I would argue that if you make something taste that freaking awesome, you’re asking people to eat the entire box over a single sitting.

Healthy or not, I’d gotten a taste for granola again. I tried so hard to forget about it, but we all know that telling ourselves not to crave something usually leads us to craving it all the more. The human psyche is a treacherous beast. To crush my cravings once and for all, I came up with this scrumptious granola recipe, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. My Toasted Almond, Coconut and Chocolate Granola has all that wonderful crunch, so much full-bodied flavour and just the right amount of fructose-friendly sweetness. If Coco Pops and Crunchy Nut Clusters decided to have a lovechild and it were born healthy, this would be it.

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Toasted Almond, Coconut and Chocolate Granola

Serves 12 (1/2 cup servings)
Dietary Information:
wheat free, vegan-friendly, refined sugar free, dairy free, fructose-friendly, low FODMAP. Contains gluten (Oats – see notes for GF alternative) and nuts.

Ingredients

Muesli mixture:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded/flaked coconut
  • 1 cup puffed brown rice or rice crisps (I use 1/2 cup of each for varied textures)
  • 1 cup activated plain buckinis (activated buckwheat. I used Loving Earth brand)
  • 1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup of your favourite raw nuts, roughly chopped (I use a combination of almonds, walnuts, pecans and macadamias)
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs (optional – If you’re not a fan of cacao nibs, don’t use them because their flavour can be quite dominating)

Chocolate mixture:

  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 15-20 drops liquid stevia, or to taste
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbs pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao powder
  • 1/4 tsp  Himalayan sea salt

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 150*C and grease a large baking tray with a little coconut oil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all “muesli mixture” ingredients, except the shredded coconut.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt the coconut oil over medium-low heat. Add the maple syrup, cacao and cinnamon and stir until all combined. Bring to the boil and remove from heat. Add the vanilla and salt and stir until the liquid is fully incorporated. Sweeten further with stevia to taste, if needed.
  4. Pour the chocolate mixture over the dry muesli mixture and stir gently until all dry ingredients are evenly coated. There should be enough ‘wet’ mixture to completely cover the muesli.
  5. Spread mixture evenly over the greased tray. Bake in oven for 15 minutes, then remove and stir. Add the dried coconut and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. The granola will continue to crisp up after you take it out of the oven, so don’t worry if it’s still a little wet or soft.
  6. Allow to cool completely before transferring to air-tight containers or large glass jars. The granola will remain fresh for 1-2 weeks if stored in a cool place, away from sunlight.
Notes and serving suggestions: 
  • For an indulgent weekend treat or breakfast entertaining, serve with cinnamon-grilled banana, organic full-fat or coconut yoghurt, fresh berries and a large drizzle of chocolate ‘sauce’, as pictured. To make the grilled banana, simply cut a large ripe banana length-ways, sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon and place under an oven grill. Grill until the natural sugars in the banana start to caramelise and bubble. Remove immediately and serve while still hot. To make the ‘sauce’, combine 1 tsp natural smooth peanut butter, 1 tsp raw cacao powder, 1 tsp melted coconut oil and a few drops of liquid stevia.
  • Use the granola to make a layered Chia Pudding Parfait, another quick, easy and effective breakfast entertaining idea.
  • For a nourishing breakfast, serve with organic full fat or coconut yoghurt, your choice of milk (I love Pure Harvest’s coconut-rice milk) and fresh strawberries.
  • Serve on top of healthy banana ‘ice cream’ (frozen banana blended with a little natural peanut butter) for a great post-workout meal or snack.
  • Portion into little snap-lock bags for a super tasty and nourishing trail mix to nibble on between meals and satisfy late-arvo chocolate cravings.
  • For a gluten-free version, simply replace the oats with 1 cup extra puffed brown rice or rice crisps, 1/2 cup extra shredded coconut and 1/2 cup extra plain buckinis.
Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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Spice up your low FODMAP life: healthified Chicken & Prawn Curry Laksa

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WARNING: do NOT pick your nose within 12 hours of trying this recipe. You’ll regret it. And don’t let curiosity do you in now that I’ve warned you, either. I’ve already told you, you’ll regret it. 

I’m feeling seriously proud right now, like pride-bordering-on-undiluted-arrogance proud. I’ve recreated one of my favourite dishes of all time, one which I thought I’d never be able to eat again, and I’ve made it FODMAP friendly.
Oh, curry laksa…

According to Wikipedia, laksa is a spicy noodle soup which comes from the Peranakan culture, a fusion of Chinese and Malay elements found in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Curry laksa (or just ‘laksa’, as we know it) uses coconut milk in addition to stock to give it a beautiful curry-like richness. Before I became as health-conscious as I am today, I was a regular at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, where a lovely Malay man makes the best laksa in the world (huge call, I know, but I’ve never had better). That little man’s aromatic bowl of laksa heaven is still one of the most mouthgasm-inducing things I’ve ever experienced. I’m seriously salivating just thinking about it as I write this, and I only just ate lunch.IMG_1765IMG_1767

These days, I steer clear of laksa and store-bought laksa pastes for a few reasons:

  1. Fact: all laksas are full of onion and garlic. Brown/Spanish (purple) onion and garlic are two of the main components of any curry paste, especially laksa paste. The abundance of onion in these pastes makes them totally intolerable for people with fructose malabsorption. In addition, the curry soup typically contains stock, and nearly all stocks are made with onion and garlic.
  2. Restaurant and hawker-style laksas often contain substantial amount of added sugar.
  3. Traditional laksas served at restaurants are covered in fried shallots, which are both unhealthy and high FODMAP.
  4. Store-bought laksa pastes are full of nutritionless crap: refined sugar, vegetable oil and/or palm oil, salt, artificial flavours, preservatives, thickeners, stabilisers, and other nasty fillers.

Healthifying and low FODMAP-ifying (how’s that for good English?) curry laksa was easier, but more time consuming than I expected. It was a fun challenge swapping typical ingredients for healthier and “safe” ones, but I found myself in the kitchen for many more hours than I care to admit. Don’t let that put you off though; writing recipes is a far more arduous task than following them, especially when you’re the world’s biggest procrastinator, re-thinking every milligram and milliliter of each ingredient, wondering if and how each element will work and at which point it should be added. It’ll take you a quarter of the time it took me. IMG_1771IMG_1764

The key to getting Asian flavours right is finding the perfect balance between its three distinct taste components: spicy (mostly chilli), sweet (usually palm sugar or brown sugar) and salty (fish sauce and salt).
You need sweetness to soften the blow of that spice, and salt to enhance the flavour of each ingredient. Too much or too little of any one component and you’ve got a disaster. To create a healthy, low FODMAP version of curry laksa soup, I used spring onion (the green part) instead of regular onion to form the base of my paste, and garlic-infused olive oil to replace both the vegetable oil and fresh garlic that all traditional laksas call for. I used a little coconut sugar instead of brown sugar to get the sweetness balance right, and added lots of vibrant veggies to up the nutritional value of the meal. Admittedly, I did use a little fish sauce –which contains added sugar and salt– because it’s hard to achieve an authentic quality without it. In the scheme of the recipe, the amount used is minuscule, so that’s how I justify its use. Always opt for good quality fish sauce with as least sugar as possible.

The recipe does call for rice noodles, and while I rarely eat refined rice products, I’m willing to make an exception in the name of Curry Laksa. Don’t get me wrong, rice noodles aren’t at all terrible for you, but they’re just not particularly good for your health, either. They’re one of those “empty” calorie foods, meaning they don’t provide anywhere near the amount of nutritional value as they do calories. The great thing about rice noodles (such as vermicelli or pad thai noodles) is that a little goes a long way. Unlike traditional laksas which are comprised primarily of noodles (either rice or egg noodles), you only need a very small portion of noodles in my recipe because it’s so packed with other nutrient-dense foods which will fill your belly up. Remember that balance is everything when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle; moderation is key. So when you do really want rice noodles, have them! Just don’t make them the main component of your meal. Pack your dish with veggies and quality protein, and you’ll find yourself only needing a tiny amount of the not-so-good stuff.IMG_1766 IMG_1768 IMG_1772

In terms of cost, the below looks like a hell of a lot of ingredients. I already had most of the items at home, such as the spices, coconut milk, coconut sugar, cashews and fresh ginger, because they’re staple ingredients in my kitchen. My family and I recently started a big veggie patch, so I was super excited to use our own homegrown –and as organic as it gets– cucumber, beans, spring onion, coriander and mint for this recipe. Needless to say, a mega expensive Woolies trip wasn’t necessary.

If you don’t have at least half of the below items at home, you could be looking at one nasty supermarket receipt. So, while I highly recommend using all the below ingredients to achieve beautiful depth of flavour and a laksa that actually tastes like laksa (not to mention the nutritional benefits the ingredients deliver), you might need to cater the shopping list to your budget. If there’s one thing you buy, it should be the spices. Spices are my secret weapon – I never make a meal without them. Not only do they contain potent antioxidants and cancer-fighting properties, packing a variety of spices into your meals will give your skin a radiance no moisturiser can buy, and you’ll notice your immune system picking up. What’s more, one $3 jar will last you from months to even years, so an A-Z range of spices is a totally justifiable investment. Another recommendation I can make is growing your own fresh herbs. You don’t need a large veggie patch or even a garden bed to grow them. All you need is a few pots, soil and an area that is well sun-lit. It’s cheaper than buying a bunch of herbs every time you need them, and there’s something so gratifying about making meals out of your own organically grown produce. Not to mention they taste better!IMG_1760

My Low FODMAP Laksa Paste
(makes approx 1.5 cups)

Ingredients:

1 large bunch spring onion (green part only), chopped
2 tbs chopped FRESH ginger
2 fresh lemongrass stalks, chopped (only use the bottom thirds – that’s where all the flavour is!)
2 birds eye chillies (birds eye chillies are the small ones and they’re HOT. If you prefer milder dishes, only use one)
1/3 cup cashews (if you’re particularly sensitive to cashews, use peanuts instead)
Roots from 1 bunch coriander, chopped (reserve leaves for serving laksa)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 tsp shrimp paste (READ the ingredients! The more shrimp, the better. I used ‘Trachang’ brand from Woolies)**
1.5 tsp each ground turmeric, ground coriander & ground cumin
1/2 tsp each ground cardamom & sweet paprika
3 cloves
1/2 tsp Himalayan sea salt
2 tbs garlic-infused EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil), plus extra

Method:

Add all ingredients to a high-powered food processor. Blend until a paste forms, scraping the sides of the bowl down with a spatula as needed. If the mixture is not coming together properly, add tiny amounts of garlic-infused EVOO until a paste forms. Transfer to a jar or small airtight container and cover with 2 tbs EVOO to seal in flavour. Store in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze for a few months.
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Low FODMAP Chicken & Prawn Curry Laksa

Serves 8
Dietary Info: Wheat free, dairy free, fructose friendly, low FODMAP. Contains nuts.

Ingredients:

1 cup of my low FODMAP laksa paste (if you’re using a pre-made laksa paste, you’ll probably still need 1 cup)
300g rice noodles (I used pad thai stick noodles because I love the width and texture. You could also use rice vermicelli)
2x 400g cans coconut milk (I use organic and full fat)
1L chicken stock*
600g green (uncooked) prawns, tails left on**
1.2kg skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2cm chunks**
2 punnets (400g) cherry tomatoes, halved
350g green beans, ends chopped
1 very large capsicum, or 2 small, sliced into strips
juice of 1 lime
2 tbs coconut sugar
1/8 cup fish sauce (a variety that’s low in added sugar & salt, if possible)**
1 large handful fresh coriander leaves, to serve
1 large handful fresh mint leaves, to serve
1 cucumber, sliced into thin sticks, to serve
2 cups bean sprouts, to serve
coconut oil

Method:
  1. Place the noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes or until the noodles are cooked. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat a little coconut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Fry the paste for 5 minutes, or until it becomes fragrant.
  3. Add the coconut sugar and fish sauce. Fry for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the coconut milk and stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Season with lime juice.
  5. Add the chicken, capsicum and tomatoes. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the chicken is almost cooked through.
  6. Add the prawns and beans, and cook for 3 minutes or until the prawns are just opaque and the beans are slightly tender but still crisp. Remove from heat. The prawns will continue to cook in the heat of the soup.
  7. Divide noodles among bowls. Use a slotted spoon to retrieve chicken, prawns and vegetables from the soup and divide evenly among bowls. Spoon desired amount of soup over the top. Serve with fresh cucumber sticks, coriander, bean sprouts and mint.

* Unless I’m making my own onion-free stock, I always use Massel’s chicken or beef stock cubes. They’re the only onion and garlic free stock I’ve come across, and although they’re not totally clean, they used in sparing amounts and they sure make life easier for those with sensitivities to onion and garlic. The packet recommends that you use one stock cube for each cup of water, but I like to roughly halve this to minimise the sodium levels, depending on what I’m making. I believe the Massel’s vegetable cubes still contain garlic, hence why I only use chicken or beef.
** For a vegetarian or vegan version, simply omit the shrimp paste from the paste recipe, and omit the prawns, chicken, chicken stock and fish sauce from the soup. Use organic firm tofu (you may want to cook it first, then add it for a few mins toward the end to soak up flavours), vegetable stock and season with Himalayan sea salt to make up for the fish sauce.

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Happy Nourishing!
Ax

Shhh! Don’ tell them it’s raw vegan: Banana & Coconut Cream Tart with a Coco-Nutty Chocolate Crust

IMG_0729Even the jolliest of Christmas bellies will never know that this tart is healthy, let alone raw vegan…

Nothing makes my mouth water like the thought of 1pm on Christmas Day. Each year’s Chrissy spread seems to get more momentous than the last, as the demand for Donna Hay magazine-worthy food grows, and my efforts in the kitchen move further from a helping hand and closer towards a zealous control freak.

Whatever the elaborate new additions are, I’ll never go past my family’s festive classics: Mum’s turkey with pistachio & cranberry stuffing, fig and maple-glazed ham, gourmet cheese boards and her sweet fried noodle and bok choy salad; Dad’s succulent lamb, herby roast veggies; and seafood platters; Nanna’s famous plumb pudding and Christmas Cake with all the dolloping trimmings; Aunty Kate’s choccie mouse and her Best-In-The-World-Meringues with Peppermint Crisp and raspberries.
These dishes are always served with bittersweet nostalgia and a whole lot of calorific Christmas cheer as all bona fide festive feeds should be.

But how do you do it, without overdoing it? Most unfortunately for us Aussies, December brings to us an itching issue: festive season coincides with bikini season. Because my exercise regime has been so restricted all year due to a perpetual injury, I’ll admit this problem has been playing on my mind. When all the Chrissy and New Years mayhem is over, I can’t as simply run, box and grapevine* the excess pudding** and vodka off as I could last year.

*The ‘Grapevine’ is the term used by indoor aerobics-enthusiasts to describe a particular move
** I’ve developed fructose malabsorption since then.There will be no pudding. But I can smash meringues, so that’s alright.

While I might not be able to exert as much control as I’d like over my family’s Christmas lunch, I had more luck with my girlfriends this year. And they were 100% on-board. Late each December, my best girlfriends and I try to catch up for one last ‘Soul Sistah’s’ dinner for the year. This year, instead of going out for our Christmas dinner, we decided to do have a picnic. We also decided that it should be somewhat healthy, anticipating that the fortnight ahead certainly won’t be. The spread was wonderful: we feasted on Christmas ham and turkey, a range of fresh salads (mine included spinach, cos and herbs picked from my veggie patch), raw veggie sticks with yummy cashew dips, ginger and strawberry punch, fruit platters and a raw tart which I whipped up in a last-minute frenzy, but actually turned out pretty awesome. So, I thought I’d share it with you. It’s sweet without being sickly, rich without being heavy and oozes festive decadence without being unhealthy. The fact that it tastes unhealthy makes it even more appealing – your pav-and-whipped-cream-loving fam will never know it’s healthy, let alone raw vegan. This tart amakes a great addition to the usual Chrissy spread, because it means you have something delicious to turn to when the pudding and brandy custard come out. Plus it looks pretty with a pop of fruity colour, which never hurts… IMG_0722IMG_0721IMG_0723 IMG_0728 IMG_0724 IMG_0725 IMG_0720IMG_0727 IMG_0714 IMG_0726

Banana & Coconut Cream Tart with a Coco-nutty Chocolate Crust

Dietary/allergen information: free from wheat, gluten, grains, dairy, soy, egg and animal products. Fructose-friendly. Contains nuts and some FODMAPs (cashews, almonds & dried coconut. If you can’t tolerate a large quantity of nuts in the one sitting or at all, please avoid this recipe).

Ingredients (serves 10)

Tart shell:

  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 1 cup unsweetened dried coconut (I used Loving Earth’s shredded coconut)
  • 2 tbs flax seeds (optional)
  • 7 tbs raw cacao powder (I used Eco brand)
  • 2 tbs vanilla extract
  • 5 tbs pure organic maple syrup (for a strictly raw version, use rice malt syrup)
  • Cold-pressed coconut oil, melted
  • Stevia

Tart Filling:

  • 2 large ripe bananas
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1 cup dried coconut
  • 2/3 – 3/4 cup full-fat coconut cream
  • 4 tbs pure organic maple syrup
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract
  • liquid stevia

Fresh berries, cherries**, figs**, pomegranate seeds** and mint leaves, to serve.

Method:

  1. To make the tart crust, whiz all dry ingredients in a high-powered processor until it forms a rough crumb.
  2. Add the vanilla and maple syrup and process until combined.
  3. Add coconut oil, tablespoon at a time, until the ingredients all come together and form a mouldable, sticky ‘dough’. I used roughly 12 tbs. Taste mixture and add stevia until you reach your desired sweetness.
  4. Remove from processor and press evenly into a tart tin.  Make sure you press very firmly, packing the mixture in tightly around the base and up the sides. I trimmed the excess sides with a sharp knife and place in the freezer  while you make the filling.
  5. To make the filling, process all filling ingredients (except one banana – only use one), until a thick, smooth consistency forms. Taste and adjust sweetness with liquid stevia.
  6. Remove the tart tin from the freezer and allow to stand for 5 mins. Carefully remove the tart shell from the tin and place on a large plate.
  7. Slice the second banana thinly and arrange on the base of the tart shell. Dollop filling over the banana to fill the tart shell. Store in refrigerator until 30 mins before serving*. Top with fresh berries, cherries**, quartered figs**, pomegranate seeds** and mint leaves upon serving. Will store in the fridge for up to 4 days (see notes below).

*Because of the banana, the filling will begin to brown within four hours of making it. This tart is thus best made the day of serving if entertaining. The ‘brownness’ doesn’t affect the flavour of the cream, so leftovers are fine kept in the fridge
**Fruits contain excess fructose, and should only be consumed in small amounts by those with fructose malabsorption.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

Fudgey Sweet Potato Chocolate Brownies (gluten free & low fructose)

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I first posted this recipe well over two years ago, and the truth is that I’ve never been totally thrilled with it. It was always just “alright” (seconded by my family), and I’ve been too butt-lazy to improve it. Until last weekend, that is, when I had a sudden craving for sweet potato choccie brownies. As it turns out, all the recipe needed was zero banana to get rid of the too-wet-issue, a little coconut flour (I was too scared to use it a few years ago) to mop up any excess moisture and a bit more cacao. Easy peasy.

Even some of the most culinarily curious people screw up their noses and purse their lips when they hear “sweet potato chocolate brownies”, so I was really nervous when I took the brownies to work for colleagues to try the other day. The nerves quickly subsided when one of my young male colleagues took a bite and excitedly pronounced, “that shit is off its d***!”
Boo yah. Success!

This recipe calls for mashed sweet potato, but please don’t be mistaken: I learnt the hard way that not all sweet-taty-is created equal, especially when it’s going into a brownie. The first time I attempted these brownies circa 2013, I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the potato to roast, so I boiled the bejeezuz out of it until it was mashable. The flavour of the brownies was great, but the texture was more sad, soggy cake than fudgey brownie, and the only people who enjoy soggy cake are trifle fans. I am not a trifle fan.
Moral of that little ramble? ROAST YOUR SWEET POTATO!!!

Now, as content as I am with this recipe, please don’t expect these brownies to resemble your mum’s best chocolate brownie recipe too closely. After all, it’s the combination of brown sugar, butter and processed flour that gives brownies their characteristic chewy outer crust and fudgey centre, so if you remind yourself that this recipe is a wholesome and far healthier version, I’m sure you’ll love it.
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Fudgey Sweet Potato Chocolate Brownies

Gluten free, grain free, Paleo, low fructose.
Contains egg and a small amount of FODMAPs (almond meal & coconut flour)

Makes 16 squares, or 8 bars (let’s be honest – you’ll eat two squares at a time anyway).

Ingredients:

  • 1 large sweet potato (to yield 370g roasted sweet potato flesh)
  • 3 organic eggs
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3 tbs melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup natural nut butter (I use almond)
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tbs raw cacao powder
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 2 tbs coconut flour
  • 1/3 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (optional), roughly chopped
  • 3 tbs dark choc chips (optional – they add a little refined sugar)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200*C. Wash and dry the sweet potato. Prick all over with a knife, place on a lined baking tray lined and roast until very tender, approximately one hour. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 185*C.
  2. Cut a slit down the length of the sweet potato and scoop out 370g of flesh (try to not get any skin). In a large bowl, mash the sweet potato until no large lumps are left. Set aside to cool for half an hour.
  3. Line a 20cm square cake tin with baking paper. In a bowl, combine the eggs, oil, maple syrup, nut butter and vanilla and whisk until fully combined.  Add to the mashed sweet potato and whisk vigorously until the mixture is as lump-free as possible.
  4. In another bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (except the choc chips, if using).
  5. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, folding gently until fully combined.
  6. Pour the batter into prepared tin and smooth the top over with the back of your spoon. Scatter over the choc chips, if using.
  7. Bake in the oven for 35-40 mins, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean, but not totally dry as you want the brownies to be fudgey.
  8. Allow to stand for 15 minutes before removing from the tray and cutting into desired portions.
  9. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 4 days.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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A smashed avo recipe that doesn’t taste like regurgitated avocado…

This post comes with a proceed-with-caution warning: my inner food snob is about to unleash. If you didn’t already know that I’m a  food snob, you’re about to. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in food, cooking, health, wellness or all of the above anyway, so you’ve probably got a wee bit of food snob in you as well. And if you don’t, then I’m going to sound like a total brat. But that’s ok because I feel that my brattiness is well-justified, as all brats do.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m the world’s greatest cook – not by any means. I stuff up recipes and make hideous meals all the time – I just don’t take pictures or blog about them. And given that I’ve only been cooking properly for the past two to three years (before that, all I cared about was eating), my culinary opinion doesn’t come with much authority. But I’ll never hesitate to offer it anyway…

I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with restaurants’ efforts when it comes to the most basic dishes. I believe that anyone and everyone paying for food has the right to be a food snob. If I were charging people real money for my food in a commercial landscape, everything about the entire experience would have to be pretty great: the presentation, the service, the ambiance and, most importantly, the food. I couldn’t live with myself otherwise. When eating out, which is probably far too often mind you, I always ask myself this: “Could I have easily made something that tastes and looks better than this?” If the answer is yes, then I’m not happy. Isn’t the whole point of “eating out” to relish in the pleasure of eating something you don’t have the ability, time or inclination to produce yourself? I’m sick of going to pretentious restaurants with snooty waiting staff and prices to match, then being totally underwhelmed by the food and leaving knowing I could have whipped up something a whole lot better myself for a fraction of the price.

I could ramble on with a thousand examples, but you’d probably never return to my blog again. So I’ll share one grievance that’s becoming more and more frequent, and less and less well-tolerated: down-right crappy breakfasts. Melbourne prides itself on its top-notch brekkies, and competitive trendy cafe-filled areas such as Richmond, Hawthorn and Collingwood even more so. So when you take regular trips to Urban Spoon’s top-rated Melbourne brunch joints and the breakfast menus display prices that equal those of standard restaurants’ dinners (20-30 bucks), it’s your right as a generously paying customer to expect a pretty shit-hot breakfast. Yes, I made a punny.

But when the waiter takes 20 minutes to ask if you’d like something to drink, then the chef is less than accommodating of your food intolerances, insisting that “no menu items can be altered or cooked without garlic and onion” and you’re left with poached-eggs-and-your-choice-of-sides for the gazillionth time since you developed this crappy intolerance, then you’re getting pretty annoyed. Then, when your family receives their delectable Spanish baked eggs and gourmet breakfast burgers, you’re thinking: those $12 poached eggs better be hot and cooked medium, that $9 side of smoked trout or salmon wouldn’t want to taste like a fish market smells at 4pm, those grilled tomatoes better be all juicy and herby (and not be covered in minced garlic so you don’t have to send them back), that spelt sourdough should not be soggy, the sauteed spinach shouldn’t leave the rest of your plate swimming in oil and, for heaven’s sake, that $7 “smashed avocado” better not taste like the chef chewed up an avocado and spat it out on your plate…

Far too often lately, I’ve been served a cold plate of under or over-done poached eggs, overly fishy fish, tasteless tomatoes, soggy bread, super oily spinach and what I now coin ‘regurgitated avocado’. A lover of fresh, whole produce, I believe that basic is best – real food sings for itself. You don’t need complex cooking methods and a million ingredients to make food taste wonderful. A little always goes a long way in the kitchen, but a little love is still needed to give any dish pizzazz, even if it is only breakfast. And why should breakfast be less delicious than any other meal?! When you’re paying premium price for food, or any price for that matter, you have the right to expect to get what you pay for. 

So, here’s my take on ‘smashed avocado’: it’s super tasty, quick and easy and calls for minimal ingredients with a whole lotta taste. It can be used to add some spunk (and a bunch of nutritional benefits) to any breakfast, and it’s great as a spread, salad topping, guacamole or even a healthy dip alternative. I served mine on organic spelt sourdough with poached eggs and smoked salmon. Nourishing, simple, cheap and, most importantly, YUMMO!
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Simple Avo & Bulgarian Feta Smash

Serves 3 as a side
Ingredients:

  • 1 large ripe avocado*, skin and pip removed.
  • 40g Bulgarian feta (you could also use Danish feta, or Goats for dairy-free)
  • Juice of 1/4 – 1/2 lemon (to taste)
  • 1 small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 2 large spring (green) onions, chopped (green part only for those with FructMal), or 2 tbs chopped chives
  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Himalayan pink sea salt, to taste

Method:

  1. In a small bowl, mash avocado and half the feta with a fork. Don’t worry about getting it totally smooth – the chunkier, the better.
  2. Add the juice, coriander and green onion and stir to combine. Add the pepper and salt to taste & add more lemon juice if needed. The lemon juice will also delay the avocado’s natural browning process (handy side tip: you can use fresh lemon juice to prevent sliced fruits like banana and apple from going brown, too!).
  3. Add the rest of the feta and stir until just combined. Use immediately. Leftovers will keep covered in the fridge for the rest of the day, but will begin to brown after a few hours.

*I’ve recently started introducing more avocado into my diet. At the beginning of this year, I couldn’t tolerate more than a spoonful. I can now tolerate much more. If you’ve got FructMal and you’re not sure of your tolerance to avocado, just be careful. As always, tolerance to FODMAPs varies greatly from individual to individual and the best way to ensure a happy gut is to test your own tolerance.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

It’s my birthday, I’ll eat (an entire) cake if I want to.

IMG_4487So I’ve been MIA lately (sorry about that), but I do have a very viable excuse: 21st Birthday celebrations. I’ve gotta be honest, though: it’s not really my birthday. I actually turned 21 back in July, but with over fifty close friends exploring abroad and a home in the midst of renovations and landscaping at the time, it made perfect sense to hold off celebrating until later in the year when all my pals would be home and my house would be party-ready. Just a quick side note: for anyone who’s planning a milestone birthday party in future, birthdays and parties in close proximity to one another are totally overrated. I highly recommend having your party 4-6 months after your actual birthday – it literally feels like you have two birthdays in the one year!

Anyway, I had the most incredible time laughing, dancing and going bonkers until the wee hours of Sunday with over 200 brilliant people. I almost slipped ‘memorable’ in there with ‘incredible’, but I’d be lying because the entire night is a monumental blur. A monumentally glorious blur, but a blur nonetheless. I do, however,  remember that the night went far too quickly as all eagerly-anticipated celebrations do, and I also remember that the night was absolutely perfect in every way. I’d give almost anything to relive those hours on the dance floor again. On the contrary, Sunday’s whopping hangover is something I’m happy to farewell. It’s Thursday as I write this, and I still haven’t recovered fully. Nor has my digestive system…

Sunday and Monday, I ate birthday cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Technically speaking, I didn’t eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but rather with breakfast, lunch and dinner, with numerous candy bar leftovers (hello, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and white chocolate raspberry bullets!) in between. My family couldn’t believe my bizarre lack on self-control as I scoffed my two-tiered moist-white-chocolate-mudcake-with-strawberry-swirl by the handful. I usually turn down one slice of cake — opting for a mouthful of someone else’s instead– let alone eating three kilos of the stuff over two days. The thing is that I wasn’t even trying to control myself. I didn’t want to. If I can’t eat every delicious ounce of refined, fat-forming and fructose-fueled food under the sun during my 21st birthday celebrations, then when the hell will I?! It’s my birthday, I’ll eat whatever, whenever and however much I want to.

Come Monday night, I was feeling thoroughly flat. I hadn’t eaten a full days’ serving of vegetables in three or four days. My daily three litres of water came in the form of vodka and champagne punch. I’d been forgetting to take my vitamin supplements and my excitement I hadn’t had a decent sleep in weeks. AND I’d been shoveling FODMAPs and fructose into my gob like nobody’s business (can you imagine how mortified I was when I receieved the 20 kilos of candy I ordered for my candy bar, only to realise that 90% of it was sweetened with the only thing worse than pure fructose itself: HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP?!?!?!?!?!). I’m almost ashamed to say that this did not stop me. Almost…

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Refined food has an evilly addictive nature, and I’ve got an awfully addictive personality, so it took a lot to quell the devil in my head who was telling me just one more chunk of white mud cake wasn’t going to kill me. My abdominal cramps and impertinent gastrointestinal symptoms suggested otherwise. I told myself enough was enough. I needed serious nutrients, but lacked the motivation to move, let alone cook. So I did a quick brainstorm and whipped up a perfectly healthy and positively delicious Summer dinner in 25 minutes. I cheated a little bit, but my family couldn’t tell, and neither will yours!

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This meal is jam-packed with A-grade quality proteins and complete amino acids, complex carbohydrates, antioxidants, minerals, a range of vitamins and essential fats including the amazing benefits omega-3. I started eating salmon at the start of last year, I haven’t looked back since. My eczema and dermatitis have improved ten-fold since incorporating essential fatty acids into my daily diet. I eat one large salmon fillet once a week, and small amounts of raw and smoked salmon throughout the week.

Crispy-Skinned Salmon with Lemon, Thyme & Mint Quinoa

Serves 5
Ingredients:

  • 5 boneless salmon fillets, skin on (200g each, wild if possible)
  • 2 Packets Celebrate Health Lemon & Thyme Quinoa
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken/vegetable stock
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Leaves from 2 large rosemary sprigs, chopped
  • 2 large handfuls baby spinach leaves, torn
  • 1 small handful fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tbs fresh thyme leaves (optional)
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 200g green beans
  • 1/2 cup flaked almonds, lightly roasted
  • Juice and grated rind of 1/2 small lemon
  • EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
  • Sea salt flakes

Method: 

  1. Place quinoa, stock and water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to the boil (uncovered). Reduce heat to low and cover, allowing the grains to absorb the liquid for 15 minutes. Remove from heat when all the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy.
  2. In the meantime, place salmon, skin-side up, on a large plate. Drizzle skin with EVOO, sprinkle skin and sides with chopped rosemary leaves and rub a little sea salt flakes into the skin. Heat a non-stick fry-pan over medium-high heat. Place the salmon fillets skin-side down on the pan (if it’s hot enough, it should sizzle and spit, but not burn). Cook for around 4 minutes until the skin is crisp. Flip, then cook for a further 4 minutes on the other side. Remove from heat and cover with foil. Move quickly, as the the salmon will continue to cook. Cooking times will always vary depending on the thickness of the fillet, but this will generally ensure a medium-rare centre that flakes away and melts in your mouth. I love my salmon a little pinker in the middle, as pictured. Adjust cooking times to suit how rare or well-done you like yours.
  3. Transfer the quinoa to a mixing bowl and toss through torn mint leaves, thyme leaves, spinach, avocado and a little grated lemon rind. Drizzle with a little EVOO.
  4. Arrange green beans on plates (I served mine raw for textural and nutritional purposes –not because I was just feeling lazy, of course 😉 — but you could lightly sautée them in a tiny bit garlic-infused EVOO if you wish). Top beans with quinoa salad and salmon fillets. Drizzle each plate with a little lemon juice and sprinkle roasted flaked almonds on top. Bog in.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax