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

Gettin’ my Twix Fix: “Twix” Cookie Bar Slice

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There’s only one confectionery I love more than Kinder Surprises (I still receive a giant Kinder Surprise egg every Easter from the Easter Bunny AKA mum), and that’s Twix bars. There’s something about the shortbread biscuit base, gooey caramel filling and creamy chocolate blanket combo that makes my heart sing.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, however you choose to look at it), I’ve been able to reduce my once several-weekly Twix consumption to a moderated treat here and there, but that doesn’t mean I stop wanting my Twix Fix several times a week.

In the past, I’ve always shied away from creating healthified sweets that called for ‘caramel’, simply because in the ever-ominous healthy dessert world, ‘caramel’ is synonymous with a heck load of dates (and therefore excess fructose). To my delight, I recently discovered how caramel-y the combination of almond butter, pure maple syrup and coconut oil is, thanks to the lovely Ashley from Blissful Basil, whose Twix bar recipe was the inspiration behind this one. I have tweaked the recipe to suit my tastes and to reduce the relative maple syrup content and FODMAP load.

You will notice that this recipe does seem a little energy dense  – there’s a lot of coconut oil, almond butter and maple. But this is one of those recipes that should be treated as a treat, and that means portion control. Good news is that because it’s so decadent and rich, you only need a little piece, and therefore the recipe yields lots of serves. However stopping at one piece is difficult.

Note for those with FrucMal/IBS: although this recipe contains no excess fructose, it does contain a few FODMAPs (coconut flour and almond butter). I’ve eaten several bars in a row to test my tolerance (at least I told myself that was the purpose of the binge) and I didn’t have any upsets, but depending on your own sensitivity to these ingredients, you may need to be more careful.

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Vegan “Twix” Cookie Bars

Ingredients 

Biscuit base:

  • 2 + 1/4 cups rolled (not instant) oats, processed in a high-powered processor until a fine flour is formed
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tbs pure maple syrup
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Caramel filling:

  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 tsp fine sea salt

Chocolate topping:

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao (more or less depending on how dark/bitter you like it)
  • 1-2 tbs pure maple syrup
  • Pinch fine sea salt

Method 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180*C and line a tart/slice pan (approx 20cm x 30cm) with baking paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oat flour, coconut flour, coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla. Press the mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Use a fork to poke 10 holes in the base. Bake for 18 minutes or until the colour is becoming golden. Do not wait for it to brown, as it will be overcooked and dry. Remove from the oven. It should still be a little soft and will harden as it cools. Allow to cool completely in the pan.
  3. To make the caramel filling, place the almond butter, maple, coconut oil and salt in a saucepan and lightly whisk over medium heat until all ingredients are melted and combined. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temp.
  4. Pour the caramel filling over the cooled biscuit base and freeze for 30 minutes to set the caramel.
  5. To make the chocolate layer, place the coconut oil, cacao and maple in a saucepan and stir over low heat until the ingredients have completely melted together. Pour the chocolate over the caramel layer, smoothing with the back of a spoon. Return the slice to the freezer for another 20 minutes to set the chocolate layer.
  6. Remove the slice from the tray/pan. Transfer to a chopping board and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting into squares or bars. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week. It probably freezes quite well, although I’ve never needed to try it because it gets demolished so quickly in my household. If you do happen to freeze it, please let me know how it goes!

Happy Nourishing! 
Ax

 

Christmas in a mouthful: Gingerbread Granola (low FODMAP & refined sugar free )

Yep, I’m one of those people…

One of those people who still, even at 22 years of age, puts milk, cookies and carrots out for Santa and his reindeer and wakes up to an overflowing human-size stocking on Christmas Morning. For me, tinsel-adorned traffic lights signify that it’s time to start blasting Michael Buble’s 2011 Christmas album in my car, and that CD doesn’t come off rotation until mid-January. I find excuses to go driving late at night just so I can “ooh” and “ahh” at the fairy light exhibitions in Melbourne’s backstreets. Even the tackiest light displays send ripples of sweet nostalgia through me.

Maintaining our childhood Christmas fantasies, even when we’re far too old to do so, is kind of a big deal to my family. It is, after all, the most wonderful time of the year…

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How could I not be at ease with the world when the most wonderful day of the year is only one shy week away, the early Summer sun is shining outside, I’ve just spent the afternoon decorating the tree and wrapping presents, and my oven is exhaling the most delightful notes of ginger, cinnamon and maple?

My home has been diffused with the smell of freshly baked sugar cookies and gingerbread, except it’s not sugar cookies, nor is it gingerbread; It’s my Gingerbread Granola. And it’s a winner. I’ve already eaten a third of the tray, it’s that good (oops).

Slightly sweet and slightly spicy, this Gingerbread Granola recipe is a gorgeous marriage of cinnamon, ginger, pecans and coconut. It’s sweetened just enough with maple syrup, and subtle pops of lemon and dried cranberries bring all the flavours together. Like any good granola should, it offers that perfect crunch and crispiness before it melts in your mouth.

Gingerbread for breakfast? YES PLEASE!

However you use this granola is entirely up to you; pair a generous handful with your favourite nut milk and berries for a wholesome fuss-free brekky, sprinkle it over smoothie bowls, banana ‘ice cream’, or whiz it through smoothies to amp up their flavour, thickness and nutritional content. It’s also great to snack on as is, but try to portion it out so that you don’t go overboard (If only I could take my own advice – hopefully you’ve got a little more self-discipline than I do!)

For something a bit spesh, try layering the granola with stewed oranges or other fruit and your favourite yoghurt (coconut or full fat) in individual glasses  – the perfect Christmas Parfait for brunch entertaining! I can’t wait to serve these to my family on Christmas Morning while we rummage through our stockings…

And if you’ve really got your loved ones in mind, make lovely homemade gifts by filling up jam jars with the granola and tying festive ribbon and gift tags on them. Everyone loves homemade edible treats! I also added gingerbread babies (as pictured, available at Coles) to the jars for an extra gingerbread-y touch – not exactly clean, but hey, it’s CHRISTMAS!

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Slightly sweet and slightly spicy, this Gingerbread Granola recipe is a gorgeous marriage of cinnamon, ginger, pecans and coconut. It’s sweetened just enough with maple syrup, and subtle pops of lemon and dried cranberries bring all the flavours together. As any good granola should, it offers that perfect crunch and crispiness before it melts in your mouth.

This recipe is very forgiving, so feel free to mix it up. So long as you’re mindful of dry to wet ratios, you can pretty much throw in whatever you’ve got on hand!

Gingerbread Granola

Dietary info: Vegan, wheat free, dairy free, egg free, refined sugar free (see notes), low FODMAP (lessen nut & coconut quantities to further reduce FODMAPs), fructose-friendly (omit dried cranberries to lessen fructose load). For a gluten free version, simply replace the rolled oats with a mix of other suitable cereals, such as activated buckinis, puffed quinoa, puffed corn, rice flakes or more rice crisps. For a grain free version, replace most of the oats and rice crisps with buckinis and increase the nut, seed & dried coconut content (if FODMAPs are not an issue for you).

Ingredients

Dry:

  • 3 cups rolled oats (sub in activated buckinis for gluten free or Paleo)
  • 1 cup rice crispies/puffed rice
  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups raw nuts of choice, roughly chopped (I used mostly pecans and almonds, but macadamias and walnuts would also be great)
  • 1/2 cup seeds of choice (I used pepitas and sunflower kernels)
  • 2 tbs coconut sugar
  • 3/4 tsp finely ground Himalayan sea salt
  • 1 tbs ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries (unsweetened if possible, omit for strictly fructose friendly – see notes)

Wet:

  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup (you could also use rice malt syrup)
  • 1 tbs lemon juice

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 160*C and lightly grease a large baking tray (I use cold pressed coconut oil spray, available at Coles).
  2. In a large bowl, combine all the ‘dry’ ingredients except the dried coconut and cranberries.
  3. Add the ‘wet’ ingredients, gently folding with a large wooden spoon until the dry mixture is evenly coated. If you taste the raw mixture at this point, you may notice that it tastes quite tangy and leaves a strange feeling in the back of your mouth. DO NOT FRET! That’s just the uncooked ginger, and the resulting flavour once it’s cooked will be gorgeous. It might also seem a little too sweet, but most of this sweetness cooks out in the baking process too.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from oven, add the dried coocnut and give the tray a good mix to ensure the granola cooks evenly. Return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly browned.
  5. Remove from the oven and mix through dried cranberries. The granola will continue to cook and crisp up after you’ve taken it out of the oven, so don’t worry if it’s a little soft or wet. Allow to cool completely before transferring to airtight containers or glass jars. The granola will keep for 1-2 weeks if stored in a cool place away from direct sunlight.

Notes:

  • A few of you fructose malabsorbers may be wondering why there’s dried cranberries in this recipe. Well, there’s two reasons: firstly, from a fructose sensitivity perspective, unless you’re in the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet, you should be able to incorporate small amounts of moderate-to-high FODMAP foods into your diet; And secondly, from a general health perspective, I try to limit my intake of dried fruit (AKA concentrated sugar/fructose) as much as possible, however, I couldn’t be a bigger advocate of “everything in moderation”, and a few cranberries in your granola ain’t gonna kill you. Plus, they really bring this recipe together and, well, it’s CHRISTMAS! Convinced?
  • While we’re on the sugar note, you may notice that this recipe contains a little more sugar than my usual recipes do (1/3 cup pure maple syrup + 2 tbs coconut sugar). In my opinion, this recipe is too yum not to follow, so I recommend sticking to it and serving it with unsweetened nut milk and low-sugar fruits like berries. However, if you really must be extra sugar-conscious, simply cut out the coconut sugar and lessen the maple to 1/4 cup. You may wish to add some powdered stevia to taste at the end to bring the sweetness up a notch, but be careful not to overdo it.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

Summer Smoothie Series: Super Icey & Chai Spicy Banana Smoothie

Smoothies are to summer what porridge is to winter, and as the weather warms up in Australia, I like my brekkies to cool down…

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You might have gathered by now that I’m obsessed with all things chai. Like any chai-enthusiast, nothing encompasses those gorgeous Indian masala aromatics quite like the ole chai latte does (yep, that heavenly hot milky drink made with sickly sweet powder or syrup. Pure refined sugary delight).
However, since learning a few years back that refined sugar, preservatives, additives, fillers and artificial flavours are terrible for my health and waistline, I’ve given my beloved weekly McCafe indulgence the flick.

Depending on the type of milk and chai flavouring used, the average cafes style small chai latte contains anywhere between 20-40 grams of sugar (5-10 teaspoons), with the majority weighing in at around the 32g mark! That’s a hell of a lot of sugar to waste on one small drink.

These days, I flavour anything and everything I can with my own chai spice mix. Instead of harming my health like my chai latte habit did, the real spice mix delivers a whole heap of goodness and just as much flavour. Chai spices, when used in their real and pure form, are packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals and boast cancer-prevention properties. Such spices are also great for immune function, hormone balancing (thus PMS symptom relief), gut health, bloating reduction, metabolism firing and energy boosting.

My chai spice mix uses nothing but pure ground cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. More traditional recipes call for white pepper, which you could also try. I use this mix to transform simple porridge, pancakes, muffins, granola, banana ‘ice cream’ and smoothies into gorgeous chai flavoured treats. I love how adding so much flavour to a recipe with these spices also boosts its nutritional value – win/win!

Since chai just wouldn’t be chai-like without a particular sweetness to complement and balance those spices, you can add a little natural sweetener such as rice malt syrup or pure maple to recipes.

Chai Spice Mix

Makes around 6 tbs. of chai mix

  • 2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2.5 tbsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 tbsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 tsp. allspice
  • 2 tsp. ground nutmeg

Combine all the spices together and store in an airtight glass jar or container.

Super Icey and Chai Spicey Banana Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 1 1/2 frozen ripe banana
  • 1 cup milk of choice
  • 2 heaped teaspoons chai spice mix (or to taste, recipe above)
  • 1 tbs natural almond butter
  • 4 ice cubes plus extra, to serve

Method: Add all ingredients to a blender and process on high for one minute or until thick and creamy. Pour into a glass over ice and sprinkle cinnamon over the top. Slurp away.

Notes:

  • If you need a more substantial breakfast or post workout smoothie, adding 1 tbs chia seeds delivers a great source of natural protein, fibre, omega-3, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • I use a Thermomix, and while blending for so long in such a high-power blender might sound excessive, I find that frozen banana needs at least one minute to thicken  the rest of the ingredients up and make it silky smooth.

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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

Easy as Pie: Chocolate, Orange & Almond Tart with a Coconutty Crust (gluten free + fructose friendly)

I’m not an expert on people (as much as I like to think I am), and I’m certainly no expert at baking, but I do know two things:
1. People find making desserts intimidating, especially when a recipe involves several elements like a crust, layered fillings, a topping, sauce, etc., etc.
2. Desserts can be very time consuming; Ain’t nobody got a spare 6-hours floating around in their day to devote to souffle-perfecting or tempering chocolate.
The ultimate conclusion?
Desserts that look half appealing are a pain in the ass to make.
But I want to prove to you that they don’t always have to be…

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My chocolate, orange & almond tart might look a little fancy, but it couldn’t be simpler. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s idiot proof, but don’t quote me on that. The coconut crust only calls for a few basic ingredients, and the filling can be prepped in a couple of simple steps while the crust turns crust-like in the oven. Then, it’s just a matter of pouring the filling over the crust and throwing it in the fridge for a few hours ’til it’s set. All the preparation can be achieved in half an hour –give or take a few minutes– and the filling only takes 1-2 hours to set in the fridge. In fact, the closer to that 1-hour mark you eat it, the better it is because the crust and almonds will still be crispy. Because of the moisture in the fridge, these will soften more as time goes by. Still yummy, but the texture won’t be as good.

But first, a few notes…

People either love or hate coconut. The crust of this tart is 95% dried coconut and the filling is mostly coconut cream. So, if you’re not a HUGE coconut fan, please don’t bother making this recipe. That’s like asking me to enjoy sushi covered in wassabi; it doesn’t matter how amazing that sushi is, once wassabi touches it, it tastes like poison to me.

Secondly, as you would already be aware, I don’t usually include ingredients which contain added/refined sugar in my recipes. However, you will notice that this recipe uses dark chocolate which, of course, means sugar. My justification? Everything in… yep, you read it before I even said it: moderation. I used Lindt 80% as it only contains about 10g of sugar in the whole 100g block which, when distributed throughout the recipe, equates to less than a gram of sugar per serving from the chocolate which is a negligible amount.

Now, readers who don’t need to worry about fructose of FODMAPs are welcome to stop reading now, unless, of course, you’re interested in our awful intolerances.
In terms of  the fructose and FODMAP content, you will see that this recipe includes two known moderately fructan-containing ingredients in relatively large amounts: dried coconut and almonds. According to the guidelines of Sue Shepherd’s low FODMAP diet, those on the strict plan should limit their intake of dried coconut to 1/4 cup per sitting, and almonds to about 10 per sitting. If this tart is divided into at least 10 segments (which is should be anyway), there is less than these amounts per servings. Individuals who aren’t on a diet as strict and who are trying to build up their tolerance should be able to tolerate more than these amounts anyway, providing their OVERALL FODMAP consumption isn’t already high that day, as it will add to the load/accumulation and could cause a reaction.

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Chocolate, Orange & Almond Tart with a Coconut Crust

Dietary info: Gluten free, low FODMAP (see notes above), low fructose (see notes above). Contains egg, nuts and dairy (use vegan chocolate for dairy free).

Ingredients

Crust:

  • 3.5 cups (or 200g) unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbs melted coconut oil
  • 2 tbs rice malt syrup

Filling:

  • 1 cup (100g) slithered almonds (can also use half almonds and half pecans), chopped roughly and toasted until golden brown
  • 1 tsp finely grated orange rind
  • 1 cup (250mL) full-fat coconut cream
  • 100g 70-85% dark chocolate (I used Lindt 80% because it only has around 10g sugar in the whole block. For dairy free, you could also use a vegan block such as Loving Earth)
  • 1 tbs pure maple syrup
  • Orange oil (see notes for alternative)
  • Pinch Himalayan sea salt
  • Liquid stevia, to taste

To serve:

  • Fresh orange slices
  • Fresh Strawberries, sliced
  • Orange rind, finely grated

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 175’C and lightly grease a 20cm non-stick tart/flan tin (with a loose base) with coconut oil. Good quality tins should not need greasing, but I like to be safe. Nothing ruins a tart more than a crust that sticks to the tin!
  2. Place the shredded coconut, egg whites, rice malt syrup and melted coconut oil in a large bowl. Use your hands to squeeze and fully combine. The mixture should be sticky and form a loose dough. Press the dough VERY firmly into the base and up the sides of the tart tin. It’s important to get the crust thick enough so it will maintain form, but not so thick that not all of it cooks properly. If you think you’ve got too much, discard some of it or flatten it into small discs and bake until browned to make healthy macaroons-style biccies with! Bake the crust in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  3. In the meantime, place the toasted slithered almonds in a small bowl with the orange zest and use your fingers to evenly massage the zest through the almonds. Set aside.
  4. When the crust only has 5 minutes of baking time left, finely chop the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. Bring the coconut cream to a boil in a saucepan. Pour boiling coconut cream over the chocolate and whisk until fully combined.
  5. Add the maple syrup, sea salt and 5-10 drops of orange oil, depending on how orangey you like it. Taste and add orange oil and liquid stevia as needed. If you’re after a deeper chocolate flavour, add a teaspoon or so of raw cacao powder.
  6. When the tart crust is ready, cover its base with the toasted slithered almonds. Then carefully pour the coconut/chocolate mixture evenly over the top. Place in the fridge to set for 1-2 hours (the coconut crust and toasted almonds will begin to lose their awesome crispiness after 2 hours, so I’d serve it as close to then as possible).
  7. Serve with fresh orange segments, sliced strawberries, shaved dark chocolate and a sprinkle of grated orange rind.

Notes:

  • If you don’t have any orange oil, you can use 1-2 tsp of finely grated orange zest instead, but the flavour might not distribute as evenly.

Happy Nourshing!
Ax

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A healthy twist on a calorific classic: Banana Bread

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Banana bread is one of THE dreamiest nostalgic foods…

When that ever-familar aroma of toasted and buttered banana bread fills your kitchen, you know you’re home. When I was younger, I’d often barge through the front door after school, throw 4 thick slices of Brumby’s banana bread in the toaster before I’d even put my bag down, smother them with so much butter that it would pool on top and drip down my chin as I took each bite. I remember finding comfort in the justification that something that tasted as good as cake could be as healthy as bread. Ha!

I may have since come to my senses, but my senses don’t fail me: the second I smell fresh banana bread, or better still, warm and buttered fresh banana bread, my salivary glands quite literally go bananas. I know I’m not alone here.

Instead of the classic recipe’s refined wheat flour, my banana bread calls for spelt flour. Although spelt is technically related to wheat and there’s a lot of debate out there as to which grain is more nutritious, the gluten is spelt is more fragile and susceptible to chemical and mechanical breakdown in the body, making it significantly easier to digest for many people.

Without all the butter, refined sugar and flour, my healthified version might not be Brumby’s worthy, but I promise you that it still manages to celebrate all the things we love about the classic: that buttery melt-in-your-mouth texture, the comforting flavour of ripe banana and just the right amount of sweetness to bring it all together. Yum.

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Brilliantly Healthy Banana Bread

Serves 14

Dietary info: Wheat free, dairy free, refined-sugar free, fructose-friendly, contains some fructans (see notes), gluten (spelt), nuts (almonds) and egg.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups mashed over ripe banana (approx. 4 medium-large bananas)
  • 3 large organic free range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup macadamia nut oil
  • 1 tbs pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbs pure maple syrup
  • 1.5 cups wholemeal spelt flour*
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut*
  • 1/2 cup almond meal*
  • 3 tbs chia seeds
  • 1.25  tsp baking powder (aluminium free)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • generous pinch Himalayan sea salt
  • To top batter with before baking: 1 large banana cut lengthways, 3 tbs pecans*, 2 tbs good quality dark choc chips (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160*C and generously grease a loaf tin (my tin is approx. 11cm x 26cm)
  2. In one bowl, combine the mashed banana, beaten eggs, macadamia oil, vanilla and maple syrup.
  3. In another bowl, combine the spelt flour, coconut, chia seeds, almond meal, spices and salt. Create a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour banana mixture into it. Gently fold the ingredients until just fully combined. Be very careful not to over mix.
  4. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared loaf tin and smooth out lightly with the back of a large spoon if needed. Top with halved banana, pecans, dark chic chips and a drizzle of maple syrup. Bake for around 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, but still moist (don’t wait until the skewer comes out completely dry because the loaf is supposed to be moist throughout!). Cooking times will vary from oven to oven. If the top begins to brown too much while cooking, cover with a little bit of foil.
  5. Remove from the oven, allow to stand in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
  6. For a snack, serve on its own or toasted with a little organic butter or your favourite nut butter and a little drizzle of maple syrup. For a fuss-free brekky, serve warm with organic yoghurt/coconut yoghurt and berries. For something a little more indulgent, serve toasted with organic butter, some choc chips and a drizzle of maple syrup – a sure winner among the boys!

Notes

  • To those on a low FODMAP diet:
    Ingredients marked with one asterisk (*) contain moderate amounts of FODMAPs. Each individual’s tolerance to these particular foods will vary, but unless you’re super sensitive or in the early stages of healing your gut, said ingredients in isolation shouldn’t cause a reaction if consumed in small amounts. However, because this banana bread contains a combination, it is possible that very sensitive individuals might not be able to tolerate a full serving of the bread (one 1.5cm thick slice).  If you find that you’re generally fine with these foods and you’re used to consuming similar things daily, then you should be fine with this recipe, especially if you limit yourself to one slice per sitting.  I can tolerate two slices now without worry, however two years ago I would have been pushing it and would have stuck to one. ALWAYS test your own tolerance! If spelt is a known issue for you in large amounts, try replacing half of it with buckwheat flour (but please remember that it will give a significantly different texture and flavour).  If you cannot tolerate spelt at all, you can play around with different low FODMAP flour combinations such as buckwheat flour, oat flour, rice flour etc. Other lower FODMAP swaps include ground flaxseed, peanut flour or carob powder instead of almond meal and carob powder instead of chia seeds. All the above will lend different textures and flavours and I have not tested any of them so if you do, I’d love to hear how you went!

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

Melbourne Cup Day: slug poo, gardening and a riverbank picnic

IMG_4303IMG_4306 In typical ‘me’ tradition, my Melbourne Cup Day (a Victorian public holiday for you non-Melbournians) was a lot more about food than horses. In previous years, I’ve always been enlivened with all things Spring Racing Carnival (all things bar the actual horse racing), but with a crazy work schedule, social events up to my neck and 21st party planning eating up any spare time, another expensive outfit, another pair of shoes, another cab fare and another day on the bubbly couldn’t have sounded less appealing. So instead I opted for a day spent out in the gorgeous Spring sunshine with my parents, planting our new veggie garden and fruit orchard, followed by a balmy evening feasting along the Yarra riverbank at Studley Park with my boyfriend.

Since this post isn’t dedicated to a specific recipe, I thought I’d use it as an opportunity to share my favourite green smoothie combinations with you. Like anything seen to be a fad, there’s a lot of ridicule surrounding green smoothies and green juices. My family stopped screwing up their faces after three or so months of me carrying them around the house, but my work colleagues still grimace at the sight of my daily dose of “slug poo”, as they’ve coined it.  I don’t care what green-smoothie-cynics say – I’ve been hooked on them since my first one, and I can confidently say that I’ll be drinking them daily for the rest of my life. Getting 5+ FULL servings of vegetables in a day, and ensuring that they’re mostly raw, can be a tough gig. Now I don’t know about you, but munching on a large mixing bowl full of nothing but spinach leaves, lettuce and celery sounds ghastly, not to mention time consuming. It’s for this reason that I swear by green smoothies: they help you to effortlessly and painlessly reach your 5+ veggie servings a day, and they can account for all your raw servings!

The truth is, slug poo tastes a whole lot better than it looks. In fact, so long  as you’ve got the right combinations happening, it’s perfectly refreshing and delicious. The thing I love most about green smoothies is how I feel physically healthier and rejuvenated with every single gulp. Whenever I’m feeling sluggish (pardon the pun) or not quite right, I can always rely on a green smoothie bursting with nutrients to reenergise me. What’s more, ever since I began incorporating green smoothies into my daily diet, my skin has a more consistent glow and my random bursts of dermatitis and eczema have stopped altogether.

As more and more health cafes and juice bars include green smoothies on their menus, I become more and more outraged at their prices. One day last week, I hadn’t had enough time to make my green smoothie in the morning, so I prowled the cafes of Melbourne’s CBD in search of one. I ended up at an organic health eatery in one of Melbourne’s most famous foodie alleys. Given my past experiences there, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the lack of customer service. Let’s just say that the snooty hipster waitresses there have “I don’t want to take your order and I’m way too cool for your mainstream corporate attire-wearing self” written all over their frown-wrinkled foreheads. Anyway, although I didn’t show it, I was taken aback by the $9.50 I was charged for the stingiest, most tasteless green smoothie I’ve ever had. It tasted like mouldy celery blended with muddy water. I was not impressed, and I remembered why I always make my own green smoothies: they actually taste good, they don’t cost me the earth, and I don’t walk away seething.

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My all-time favourite green smoothies

A few things to note:

  • All recipes serve one large glass, or 2 small.
  • The first 2 recipes are great as breakfast meals, and the second two are great to drink in-between meals.
  • The coconut-rice milk used is Pureharvest’s Cocoquench coconut-rice milk.
  • While it’s true that you can pretty much throw whatever you want into a green smoothie, remember that green smoothies have the word “green” in them for one reason: they are supposed to be comprised mainly of veggies! To keep my sugar intake in check, I stick to using 1-2 full servings of fruit in my green smoothies (e.g. 1 medium banana or 1 cup berries = 1 serving fruit). If you’ve used a fair bit of fruit and are still struggling with the taste of the greens, try adding some liquid stevia to increase the sweetness without increasing the sugar.
  • There’s no doubt about it; the secret to a thick and silky green smoothie is BANANA! Of course, you can make your green smoothies without it (avocado is also a great thickener!), but if you’re after a lovely thick and smooth texture, you can’t go past the old ‘nana. Besides, bananas taste awesome and they mask any of the bitterness that the leafy greens may have – if you close your eyes, you’ll never know you’re drinking a salad.
  • A note on cucumber: I used to add cucumber to all my green smoothies, however, it’s been giving me bad indigestion and reflux lately so I’ve stopped. If it’s not problematic for you, then use it.
  • The amount of fruit, coconut water/milk and chia seeds I put in my smoothies always depends on whether I’m having it as a meal (i.e. for breakfast), or a snack between lunch and dinner. If it’s only a snack, I use less fruit (more berries than banana as they’re lower in sugar), and half a cup of coconut water/milk + 1/2 cup water.
  • Feel free to add in superfood extras like spirulina, Vital Greens, etc.
  • Green smoothies are always best enjoyed immediately. 8-hour old slug poo tastes pretty putrid, trust me…

To make:

Start by add liquids to the jug first, followed by frozen solids and then add the other ingredients on top. Process in a high-speed blender for 1-2 minutes, or until the consistency is smooth and silky. I find that even in a blender as powerful as my Thermomix, green smoothies really need at least a minute to break down all the fibrous greens and give you that silky smooth texture. If you don’t blend it for long enough, it will separate, or be stringy and chunky.

Green Piña Colada

  • 1 cup coconut-rice milk
  • 1 frozen banana (or 1/2 large)
  • 1 thick slice pineapple
  • 3 handfuls leafy greens (baby spinach leaves + cos + bok choy)
  • Small handful fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1 tbs chia seeds
  • 2-3 drops liquid stevia

Very Berry Breakfast Greens

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 cup berries (strawberries, blueberries & raspberries)
  • 3 handfuls leafy greens (baby spinach leaves + cos + bok choy)
  • 1 small handful fresh mint leaves
  • 1.5 tbs chia seeds
  • 1 heaped tsp freeze-dried acai berry powder (optional)
  • 2-3 drops liquid stevia

Ultimate Greens 1

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 thick slice frozen pineapple
  • 1-2 kiwis, peeled (I eat the skin separately. YES, I eat fury kiwi skin!)
  • 1 large handful baby spinach or bok choy
  • 1/3 cucumber
  • Small handful mint leaves
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 3 drops liquid stevia
  • Ice

Ultimate Greens 2

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 large handful spinach
  • 1 large handful cos lettuce
  • 1 large handful bok choy
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1/2 celery stalk
  • 1 small handful continental parsley
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 thumbnail-size piece fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp Spirulina
  • 4 drops liquid stevia
  • Ice

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Fragrant Roasted Veggie & Quinoa Salad

imageIMG_3636 IMG_3787Last Saturday was my favourite kind of Saturday; the air smelt like Summer and I spent the day walking my pup in the sunshine, wandering around Prahran Market and cooking.

Prahran market is any health foodie’s bliss, and its location — being just off the hustle and bustle of fashion heaven Chapel Street –makes it even more blissful for those who love fashion and food. I was in my element. I won’t lie, this market isn’t cheap. But, then again, it’s only expensive relative to supermarket produce that’s mass-produced and often genetically modified, and is laden with preservatives, herbicides, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Like many local markets, most of the produce at Prahran Market is organic, seasonal and farmed locally. Basically, you get what you pay for. Not only is organic produce free of all the nasty stuff, but it’s also far richer in the good stuff – organic fruit and veg provides far more vitamins, minerals and nutritional antioxidants because it’s grown in nutrient-rich soil and is harvested with care. It’s also for this reason that organic food looks more vibrant and tastes better. I believe wholeheartedly that your health is the best investment you can make, monetarily and otherwise. People often complain that organic and ‘health’ foods are unjustifiably expensive, but I personally look at it this way: it’s more worthwhile to spend money on nourishing the body I’m going to have until I die, rather than a dress I’m going to wear once or twice. That’s not to say I don’t put money into both. One is just more justifiable than the other…

I managed to fill the boot of my car with a whole heap of gorgeous organic goodies such purple carrots, wild baby carrots, sweet potato, a Woodfrog Bakery baguette, Loving Earth coconut sugar, pumpkin seed butter and quinoa, just to name a few. I even bought a bunch of these exquisite wild tulips which, as the proud cashier announced, were not grown hydroponically (in a water solution), but in real soil. How incredibly naive of me for assuming that all flowers are grown in the grounds of pretty meadows all these years…

When I got home, my mum asked what on earth I was going to do with it all, as she usually does. I decided to whip up a big quinoa dish to get me through the next week’s lunches. None of it made it past dinner – the entire thing got demolished by my family before I could get my tuppaware containers out of the cupboard.

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Fragrant Roasted Veggie + Quinoa Salad

Serves 5-6
Dietary info: wheat & gluten free, fructose friendly, low FODMAP, soy free. Contains nuts (almonds) & lactose (omit feta for dairy free).

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sweet potato, washed & peeled
  • 1/2 kent/jap pumpkin, washed & peeled
  • 1 large purple carrot (optional)
  • 2 cups white quinoa, rinsed thoroughly* (I often cheat and use two packets of Celebrate Health Lemon & Thyme Quinoa)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 large handfuls baby spinach
  • 1 bunch fresh chives, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh coriander
  • 1/4 cup roasted slivered almonds
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp garam masala (Indian spice mix – available from supermarkets & spice markets)
  • Pinch sweet paprika
  • Himalayan sea salt, to taste
  • 1 1/2 tbs EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1/2 tbs garlic-infused EVOO
  • 1/2 cup Danish or Persian Feta, crumbled

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200*C.
  2. Combine the ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika and garam masala.
  3. Chop pumpkin into 2cm chunks and sweet potato and carrot (if using) into 1cm chunks. The pumpkin is softer and therefore cooks twice as fast as sweet potato & carrot, but I’ve got better things to do with my time than fiddle with varied cooking times, so I just cut the pumpkin twice as large as the sweet potato & carrot.
  4. Throw pumpkin, sweet potato & carrot in  a large bowl with the garlic olive oil and 1/2 tbs of the EVOO (the rest will be used for the dressing). Use your hands to ensure that the veggies are evenly coated with the oil.
  5. Arrange veggies on a baking/roasting dish and sprinkle with half of the prepared spice mix. Also sprinkle with a little Himalayan salt.
  6. Bake veggies for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and turn to expose the less-cooked sides. Sprinkle with the remaining spice mix and some more paprika and salt if you wish. Return to the oven until they’re golden and cooked through – another 15-20 mins should do it. If they’re still a little under done, cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Cooking times will vary from oven to oven, and also depending on the size of the veggies.
  7. While the veggies are roasting, place the quinoa and stock in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, then turn right down and cover with a lid. Leave for 15 minutes to allow the grains to absorb the liquid. Once ready, use a fork to fluff it up and separate the grains. If you’re using Celebrate Health Lemon & Thyme Quinoa or another packaged recipe base, prepare the quinoa according to packet instructions, using stock instead if it calls for water. The quinoa is ready when its germ is exposed (a white little ring around the grain will appear). It should be soft but still have some resistance when chewed – sort of like the ‘al dente’ quinoa version of pasta! It should not be cluggy or porridge-like, but if it is, don’t bother starting from scratch – it’ll still taste good!
  8. In a large salad bowl, combine the quinoa, lemon juice (to taste), remaining EVOO, baby spinach, chives and coriander. At this stage, I threw in more of the spices to taste to make the quinoa itself more fragrant and flavourful. Top the quinoa with the roasted veggies, toasted almonds, feta and extra coriander. Finish with a little drizzle of EVOO and a squeeze of lemon juice. If I have some on hand at the time, I also love to top the salad with some of my Mum’s homegrown and home-pickled beetroot chunks. Since it’s full of sugar and not exactly clean, I only use a few tablespoons of it, but the sweetness really ties everything together and makes the flavours pop. Besides, I’ve never been able to pass up a beetroot and feta combo, anyway.

*Always rinse plain uncooked quinoa thoroughly prior to cooking, or you might end up with a very unpleasantly bitter result!

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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