Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos (vegan, onion & garlic free)

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Let’s be honest, who are you if one of your favourite things to eat in the entire world isn’t nachos?
One thing that’s certainly booming in Melbourne at the moment is modern Mexican cuisine. Gone are the days of soggy fried taco shells bursting with MSG-laden seasoned ground beef, lack lustre guar (um, where’s my coriander?!) and cloudy fish bowls filled with sugar syrup, ghastly colour dyes and cheap tequila. Under-cheesed nachos were awesome in 2004 when we didn’t know any better, but with all these new restaurants boasting affordable and outrageously tasty menu offerings with funky interiors and vibes to boot, tacky Tex-Mex joints just aren’t cutting it anymore.

Of course, if you have an irritable tummy, you’ll more than likely be frightened of Mexican food, as Mexican is synonymous with onion, garlic and black beans. However, the list of restaurants I’ve compiled below are all ones that I’ve found to be quite accommodating. As long as you’re willing to pass up a few obvious options (I hate you, pre-made guac), it is possible to find something that’s tummy friendly, tasty AND relatively healthy on all the below menus!

Here’s a list of some of my favourite modern Mexican joints around Melbourne:

Mamasita – CBD
Touche Hombre – CBD (home of the best corn on the cob you’ll ever sink your teeth into)
The Black Toro – Glen Waverly
Fonda – CBD, Hawthorn, Richmond & Windsor

Because of all the different vegetables, herbs and spices that characterise the cuisine, Mexican is actually very easy to health-ify. Having said that, I couldn’t be bothered inventing a dehydrated corn chip, so here’s my healthy take on modern nachos, using sweet potato chips instead! Since my recipe is FODMAP/fructose conscious, it doesn’t include beans, but feel free to add them if you can eat them!

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Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos (Vegan)

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

Low FODMAP Mexican Spice Mix (makes approx. 2.5 tbs):

  • 1 tbs cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Guac:

  • 2 large avocados*, lightly mashed
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 6 spring onions (green part only), chopped
  • Generous sprinkle of ‘Low FODMAP Mexican Spice Mix’ (above^)

Nachos:

  • 2 large sweet potatoes**, washed, peeled and sliced thinly into 3mm-thick rounds
  • 1 packet Celebrate Health Mexican Quinoa (available from the health food aisle of most leading supermarkets in Aus)
  • 1 red capsicum, chopped
  • 1 tin corn kernels (no added salt or sugar)
  • 1 small handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped, to serve
  • 3 spring onions (green part only), chopped, to serve
  • 1 red chilli, seeds removed and sliced, to serve (optional)
  • Lime wedges, to serve

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 220*C and line 2 large trays with baking paper.
  2. Prepare the spice mix by combining all ingredients. Set aside.
  3. To make the sweet potato chips, spread the sliced potato in an even layer on the prepared baking trays. Spray lightly with coconut oil spray and sprinkle with the spice mix. Bake the chips for 20 minutes, then flip the chips, give another light spray of oil and another sprinkle of spices, then return to the oven for a further 15-20 mins or until the rounds are beginning to resemble chips (refer to the images). Remove form oven and set aside. You may also wish to swap the position of the trays half way through to ensure even baking.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the Celebrate Health Mexican Quinoa according to packet instructions and set aside.
  5. Heat a little coconut oil in a frypan over medium-low heat. Sautee the capsicum, corn and a sprinkle of the spice mix until the capsicum is slightly tender and the corn kernels are beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from heat and set aside.
  6. To make the guac, combine all ingredients and season with sea salt.
  7. On a large flat serving dish or board, assemble the nachos by starting with the sweet potato chips on the bottom, then piling on the quinoa, capsicum, corn and guac. Garnish with coriander, spring onions, sliced chilli, lime wedges and a light sprinkle of the spice mix.

Notes: 
*Avocado contains sorbitol. Monash currently recommends that people highly sensitive to polyols should stick to 1/8th.
** Sweet potato contains mannitol. Monash currently recommends that people highly sensitive to polyols should stick to 1/2 cup.

Buen provecho, amigos! 
Ax

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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

 

Healthy Choc Chip Cookies (or cookie dough for the rebels)

“They say we should all be eating more raw foods.
That’s all I needed to hear to whip up another batch of cookie dough.”

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In hindsight, I can’t believe I’ve never tried to come up with a healthy choc chip cookie recipe before. It might be because when I’m really craving choc chip cookies, only a real choc chip cookie (and I’m talkin’ Mrs. Fields’ crispy-around-the-edges-n-super-chewy-n-gooey-in-the-middle) will satisfy the gnawing Cookie Monster within.

Have I ever mentioned that my 18th birthday cake was a giant double-layer Mrs Fields choc chip cookie? Probably not, because it was 5 years ago. Anyway, I was secretly elated when the ‘cake’ was cut and all my guests were too focused on their ridiculous dance moves to care for anything edible but jelly shots. Guess what 200 leftover servings of utter deliciousness meant? Weeks and weeks of cookies for me! My younger brother quickly caught on to the fact, so I hid the giant red box under my bed.

Needless to say, I’m glad my cookie-hoarding day are over.
I still love cookies and everything to do with them: cookies and cream ice cream, cookie dough, cookie dough in ice cream – you name it (it’s quite plausible that I love cookie dough more than I love actual cookies themselves).
However, if I allowed myself a cookie each and every time I felt like one, I’d be well on my way to Type II diabetes. So here’s a way to have your cookie and eat it, too!

If you’re someone who loves cookies that have a slight crispness on the outside and are soft and crumbly on the inside, then you will love this recipe. However, if you prefer those Mrs Fields-esque cookies I keep harping on about (crispy on the outside and super chewy on the inside), you might need a little more convincing. Like all healthy baking of sweets, there’s only so much you can achieve without that wonderful amalgamation of butter, sugar and flour! Still, taking into consideration that these cookies are butter free, refined flour free and refined sugar free (depending on which choc chips you use), I’m pretty darn happy with them! They’ve also won a big tick of approval from my Dad which, by his traditional-sugar-and-fat-loving standards, means a lot. I always say that if a recipe fools the boys, it’ll fool the world.

I really shouldn’t be condoning this, but I’m just saying, if you’re as terrible at the waiting game as I am, you won’t be able to go without tasting the dough. And when you do, you’ll wish you hadn’t. See the 11 cookies in the photo above? Yeah well that’s all that came out of the oven, and the original recipe should make around 16-18. Told you I love cookie dough.
What’s salmonella?

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The testing of this recipe wasn’t exactly seamless. Is baking ever seamless? I’m doubtful.
The first time around, I left the coconut oil to reach smoke point unattended on the stove  (do not ever, ever do this) and it melted every plastic appliance in its wake as I frantically hurled it into the sink (please don’t ever do this, either). During this frazzled episode,  l also forgot to refrigerate the dough before baking and the cookies turned out more like sad, dilapidated muffins than cookies – too cakey and crumbly for my liking (take note: chilling the dough is essential!). During the second attempt, I somehow managed to knock a cup of melted –and hot, but not quite smoke point-hot– coconut oil all over the kitchen bench and onto our very porous floor tiles. Mum was not impressed when she got home to discover “white fat” all over the cupboards and in the Thermomix blades. Oops.

Third time lucky, hey?

Healthy Choc Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup oat flour (see method)
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 1 tsp baking/bi-carb soda (NOT baking powder)
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan sea salt
  • 1 large organic egg
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tbs pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dark choc chips (as dark as possible. You could also use an organic dark chocolate bar chopped into tiny chunks), plus extra.

Method

  1. Melt the coconut oil and set aside to cool slightly.
  2. To make the oat flour, place approx. 90g traditional oats in a high-powered food processor and process until a fine flour forms. Using a spoon, measure out a cup of the oat flour. Be careful not to pack the flour in too tightly (hence using a spoon), or the cookies will turn out dry.
  3. In a bowl, combine the oat flour, spelt flour, baking soda and salt.
  4. In a smaller bowl, lightly whisk the egg, coconut oil, coconut sugar and vanilla until combined. Add to the flour mixture and stir gently until just combined.
  5. Fold through the choc chips until just combined.
  6. Place a large piece of plastic wrap on your bench, spoon the cookie dough onto the film (it will be quite runny) and wrap the dough up. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  7. Preheat the oven to 180’C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  8. Remove the dough from the fridge and give it a feel. If it feels too firm to easily break bits off, allow it to soften at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. It’s ready to use when it’s quite firm, but bits can easily be broken off it.
  9. Break tablespoon size bits off the dough, form into rough balls and place on the tray. Repeat until approx. 15 cookies have been formed (depending on how much dough you ate!). Press down on each cookie to flatten only slightly. Press extra choc chips into the tops of the cookies, if desired.
  10. Place onto the middle oven rack and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges. They should still be light in the middle (the cookies in the top photo were cooked a minute too long).
  11. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 3 minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Of course, these cookies are delicious warm, but bear in mind that they will be a little crumbly until they cool completely.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

 

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Lemon & Raspberry Oat Balls

It would be ill-mannered of me to start this post without first apologising for my serious illustration of MIA over the past few months. It’s a crappy excuse I know, but life’s demands have been getting the better of me. Life before full time Uni, work commitments and several ongoing projects allowed for much more time in the kitchen, but I’ve been feeling very guilty lately so I’m going to make a huuuuuge effort to post more regularly from now on!

What better way to butter you up than with a pretty little sweet treat?
My website is definitely calling out for more quick and tasty on-the-go snack recipes, so I thought I’d go down the ‘bliss balls’ road, only these ones don’t contain dates and are almost fructose free. The coconut and almond give these balls a velvety creaminess, which is lovely with the tartness of the lemon and raspberry. They’re perfect to munch on in between meals, with a cuppa, or when those after-dinner sweet cravings strike!

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Lemon & Raspberry Oat Balls

Ingredients
Makes approx. 10 balls

  • 1 cup oat flour (made from approx. 100g rolled oats – see method)
  • 1/2 cup almond meal/flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut plus extra, to roll.
  • 1/8 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 cup thawed frozen raspberries
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbs rice malt syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Method

  1. In a high-power processor, process the rolled oats until a fine flour forms. Around 100g oats should yield 1 cup of oat flour.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until the mixture is smooth and well combined. It should be very soft (they set quite hard in the fridge), but not dry or wet. Add more oat flour/coconut oil if necessary.
  3. Roll into balls using your hands, then roll in desiccated coconut, cacao or crushed macadamias. I rolled some of mine in crushed goji berries and bee pollen, but the plain coconut ones are my fave! Allow to set in the fridge for at least an hour before eating.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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Lemon and Coconut Slice

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In primary school, vary rarely would I leave our after-school trips to the local bakery without a lemon slice in hand. My irrepressible love continued into the early years of high school where I’d make a batch most weekends, using half of the sweetened condensed milk for the biscuit base and drinking the rest straight from the tin…

Still to this day, I’ll never knock back a little nibble on a traditional Lemon Slice in all its delectably sweet, lemony, melt-in-your-mouth biscuity glory, but it’s great to know that I can enjoy a full slice of my healthified version without the guilt or sugar slump afterwards. This Lemon and Coconut Slice recipe tastes unbelievably close to the real deal, and has all those familiar characteristics: just enough sweet, perfectly lemony with a base so buttery (sans butter or biscuits) that it melts in your mouth. I can’t wait for you to try it!

Like all my recipes, it’s very adaptable to suit your taste buds, dietary requirements or what’s in your pantry. Just use similar ingredients to those you can’t/don’t have, and you should end up with a fairly similar result.

Lemon and Coconut Slice

Ingredients Biscuit base:

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut*
  • 1/2 cup raw pecans*
  • 1/4 cup buckwheat groats
  • 1 tbs linseeds (or any other seeds)
  • 2.5 tbs pure maple syrup
  • 4 tbs melted coconut oil (or 2tbs each coconut oil & almond/macadamia oil)
  • Generous pinch of Himalayan sea salt

Lemon cream topping:

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews*
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut*
  • 1/3 cup + 2tbs coconut cream
  • 1.5 tbs pure maple syrup
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1/2 – 1 lemon (depending on how lemony you like it)

Method

  1. Line a slice tray with baking paper. Please note, the quantities above yield enough to fill half a normal slice tray (4 full sized bars or 8 small squares). If you want to make a full sized slice recipe –and fill the tin– simply double the ingredients.
  2. To make the biscuit base, use a high-powered processor to process the buckwheat groats, seeds, pecans and salt until a fine crumb forms. Add the oats and coconut and blitz again (I like my oats a little chunky, but you can blend for longer to make a fine crumb). Add the oil and maple syrup and process until it all comes together and is sticky. You may need to scrape the bowl/jug down a few times to fully incorporate all the ingredients. Press firmly into the prepared slice tin (see images for thickness) and place in the freezer to set while you make the topping.
  3. To make the lemon topping, process the cashews, coconut and lemon rind until a super-fine crumb forms, taking care not to over-process into butter. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth and creamy.
  4. Remove the base from the freezer and top with the lemon cream, using the back of a dessert spoon to smooth. Top with extra shredded coconut and allow to set in the fridge for an hour or so.
  5. Once set, cut into 4 large bars or 8 squares. I would say one square is a good sized portion for a snack.

Notes:

  • The quantities above yield enough to fill half a normal slice tray (4 full sized bars or 8 small squares). If you want to make a full sized slice recipe –and fill the tin– simply double the ingredients.
  • If you like your slice extra lemony, try adding zest of 1/2 lemon to the biscuit base.
  • For a gluten free version, replace the oats with buckwheat groats or gluten free oats (depending what your stance on GF oats is).
  • Ingredients marked with an asterisk* are higher in FODMAPs than the others. As such, this recipe is relatively low in FODMAPs, but it is not FODMAP free. Modify the quantities to suit your tolerance levels.

Happy Nourishing! Ax

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Jolly Christmas Cheer and the Ultimate Summer Salad: Maple-roasted Pumpkin & Chicken Salad with Strawberries & Caramelised Macadamias

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Synonymous with all things indulgent, the Silly Season is a time for feeding the soul…

We find ourselves kicking back more, getting outdoors more and filling our social calendars with BBQs, parties and beachside gatherings. Any excuse to get together with friends and family over beautiful food and one too many drinks will do.
So yes, between all the Christmas, New Year and summertime (for us Aussies) festivities, it’s almost impossible to stay as disciplined with your diet as you normally would. It feels like you’re perpetually surrounded by a sea of lip-smacking food, and it somehow seems more justified to pick at anything and everything just because “it’s the festive season!”.

The most important thing is to not be too hard on yourself.
I choose to look at it this way: if you can’t loosen up and treat yourself at this time of year, then when the hell can you?! That pretty pavlova wasn’t just put there to take photos of. You are supposed to enjoy this time of year and everything it has to offer. With that said, while I might loosen my belt (literally) and pick at more desserts, cheese boards and processed snacks than I usually would, this doesn’t mean that all my other healthful habits go down the drain. I certainly don’t want to miss out on yummy food, but I also know that going totally overboard will leave me with nothing but a heavy guilty conscience and five extra kilos. As with any time of year, maintaining balance is important. Some things I do to achieve this balance include staying hydrated at all times, opting for vodka, lime and soda over sugar alcoholic drinks, filling up on veggies and quality protein at meals so that I don’t have a bottomless pit when it comes to dessert, chewing my food slowly so I enjoy each mouthful, drinking green smoothies each day to leave less room for unhealthy and processed snacks, taking long walks and swimming whenever I can. I try to be as mindful as possible, while enjoying myself all the while.

It’s easy(ish) to stay in control of what goes into your mouth when you’re at home, but not so much when your plate is at the hands of someone else – you naturally feel pressured to eat everything that’s being served up to you, and unless your family and friends are squeaky clean raw vegans (which mine certainly are not), chances are you’re going to be faced with an array of not-so-healthy temptations. To combat this, I make a big, bright salad like this one whenever I’m asked to bring a plate of food to a gathering, so there’s always something delicious and healthy for me to fill up on and I won’t be as likely devour my weight’s worth of double brie, cabana and cheesecake.

This Maple-roasted Pumpkin and Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Macadamias is fab – I can’t wait to share it with you. But first, here are some snaps from Chrissy Day, all taken on my iPhone because although Santa very generously gave me a Canon EOS 700D SLR so I can start doing real food photography, I’m not quite ready to move from the comfort zone of my iPhone 5 just yet.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I had a ball preparing festive treats all day (and night) long on Christmas Eve…

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I first made this salad around two months ago, and it’s already become my go-to staple of the season. It’s simple and has enough substance to serve to your family any day of the week, but it’s also a little fancy, making it the perfect dish for entertaining. Casual indulgence, if you like. Donning just the right amounts of sweet, sour and savoury, this salad will have your taste buds singing and your belly satisfied. Like any salad, this recipe is very forgiving, so feel free to play around with it. If you’re after a vegetarian dish or light side salad, simply leave the chicken out. This salad is wonderful when the roasted veggies and chicken are warm, however, it’s just as delicious cold, so don’t worry about being meticulous with timing everything. Leftovers make for a perfect lunch the next day!

Full bellies and happy hearts all round…

Maple-roasted Pumpkin, Sweet Potato & Chicken Salad with Strawberries & Caramelised Macadamias

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

  • 1/2 roast chicken, skin removed & flesh shredded (omit for vegetarian)
  • 1/4 Jap/Kent pumpkin, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
  • 1 large sweet potato (approx. 700g), washed, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
  • 1/2 cup macadamias, chopped roughly into halves
  • 2 tbs + 2 tsp pure maple syrup
  • 1.5 tbs oil (olive, coconut or macadamia)
  • 200g baby leaf salad mix
  • 100g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 punnet (approx. 200g) strawberries, sliced
  • 1/2 cup spring onion, chopped (green part only)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tbs pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • Small handful each fresh basil and parsley (flat-leaf), roughly chopped
  • 100g goat’s curd or Danish feta, to serve (omit for dairy free)
  • EVOO, to serve
  • Balsamic vinegar, to serve (optional)
  • Himalayan sea salt, to taste

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 170*C and line a tray with baking paper. In a small bowl, coat the macadamias with 2 tsp maple syrup. Pour onto the baking paper and place in the oven for 10 minutes or until golden and caramelised. Remove and set aside to cool completely. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
  2. Turn the oven up to 200*C and line a tray with baking paper. In a large bowl, coat the pumpkin and sweet potato chunks with 2 tbs maple syrup, 1.5 tbs olive oil, oregano and salt. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, turning half way through. For the last 5 minutes of baking, add the pepitas to the tray. As always, cooking times will vary from oven to oven and depending on the size you’ve cut your veg. Use my photos as a reference to determine if the veggies are ‘done’ or not. This salad works best when the veggies are a little on the ‘under’ side – quite soft in the middle and caramelised and chewy around the edges. Don’t let them crisp up too much as the caremelisation will dry out!
  3. While the veggies are roasting, arrange the salad leaves in a servings bowl or platter. Drizzle leaves with a little olive oil and a small amount of balsamic vinegar, if using (the balsamic goes perfectly with the strawberries and feta, but be sure to only use a tiny bit otherwise the salad will be too sweet!).
  4. When the veggies are ready, top the salad mix with the spring onion, fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, roasted veg, chicken, feta, macadamias and pepitas. Just before servings, finish with a tiny sprinkle of EVOO. Enjoy!

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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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

The first of many mornings at Combi + a Pumpkin, Feta & Chive Loaf

Why don’t you loaf me?
Tell me, baby,
Why don’t you knead me?

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I’m excited for two reasons:
1. Food puns are the best puns^^^
2. I’ve just returned home from my European Summer adventure, which is a harrowing fact in itself, but at least it means I can get reacquainted with glorious Melbourne cuisine again, and finally get my ass back in the kitchen.

The other morning, I was brunching with a few girlfriends at popular Elwood health foodie hangout, Combi. If you reside in Melbourne, Combi is absolutely worth a visit, by the way. Their styling is impeccable and they offer a truly healthful menu including cold pressed juices, organic fair trade coffee, Acai bowls, chia pudding, superfood smoothies, homemade nut mylks (which are now unsweetened because they stopped using dates! Win!), on-tap kombucha and an abundance of raw savoury dishes. However, if you’re intolerant to fructose or have IBS, I suggest you steer clear of their spectacular snacks and sweets cabinet, because everything’s made with dates and/or agave

*angry constipated-like expression and frustrated tear*

But what impresses me more than their menu and quirky styling is the integrity upon which their business is built. Combi aren’t just trying to appeal to health foodies, pro-green hippies or indie jar-food fad seekers. Rather, their objective is to deliver a true earth to table experience by working closely with growers, producers and suppliers to bring organic, seasonal, sustainable and ethical meals and beverages to the public. It could be for this reason that sometimes –and I’ve only been once so I can’t be sure until I’ve been several times– it seemed that the flavour of some of our menu choices (smoothies and chia pudding) was slightly lacking. Local, organic produce is sometimes not as appealing to the taste buds as mass-farmed produce that’s been cultivated under industrial conditions. For example, sometimes my homegrown strawberries are no where near as juicy, sweet or flavoursome as the ones I buy from Coles that have been mass-farmed using pesticides, herbicides and who knows what else. And sometimes they are just as good.

However, the nutrient-rich and chemical free soil in which the organic ones are grown means they’re far more nutritious. Unless Combi are going to pump their meals with sweeteners or artificial enhancers (which provide no nutrient value), it’s no wonder that the flavours of the meals which rely solely on organic fruit and veg don’t absolutely “WOW” you all the time. Organic produce is REAL, and thus less predictable in flavour. I’d rather consume something knowing every ingredient in there is thoughtful and serves a purpose to my body, rather than thrown in there to satisfy my sugar-hungry tastebuds.

While it’s no secret that I love eating out for breakfast, just like any bona fide Melbournian does, the bread situation is an ongoing frustration. Steering clear of wheat means passing on the regular seed-packed or brown options, and more often than not, the gluten free options are white, totally refined and pumped with more crap than any wheat-based bread could be. And yes, I could just opt for no bread, but I’ve never understood how people cut the fluffy stuff out.

WHAT DO YOU MOP UP YOUR EGG YOLK WITH,?! WHAT DO YOU DIP IN YOUR SOUP?!

A life without bread? If I could fathom it, I’d probably be Paleo. But I cannot. Which is why I was super excited when I came across Combi’s ‘gluten free sprouted bread’, made from fermented sprouted grains (gut-healing health for those with intolerances or bloated bellies!), fresh veg, herbs, cold-pressed coconut oil, and all cultured in coconut kefir. And yep, all intolerance-friendly.

So, as I sipped on my ‘Berry Beloved’ smoothie and chowed down my smashed avo on sprouted toast (the smashed avo with feta, lemon and mint is spot-on, by the way), something occurred to me: I’ve never made my own savoury bread before. I’m still (very slowly) getting back into the swing of things and trying to transition back into real life, so I wasn’t about to go experimenting with fermenting sprouted grains or culturing things with kefir. That all seemed a bit much. So I asked myself, “what would the perfect savoury bread consist of?” It has to be healthy, filling, fructose-friendly, have a great texture and taste great. I’ve always loved savoury sconnes, namely cheese and chive, so I thought about how I could take those flavours and use them in a healthy loaf. I also thought pumpkin would be a great addition in terms of flavour, texture and nutritional value. Luckily for my jet-lagged, grumpy bum self, the recipe worked the first time around.

If there’s one thing I love more than a food pun, it’s a food fluke.

My Pumpkin, Feta and Chive loaf is very straight forward and fuss-free. It has a hearty, dense texture and a wonderfully buttery flavour (sans butter), with pops of flair from the feta and herbs. Serve it toasted with your favourite nut butter (I love it with Mayver’s ‘Energy Spread’, made of peanuts, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds and spirulina), or with avo and poached eggs. It’s also got enough flavour and moistness to snack on as is (sorry, too tired to come up with a better synonym for ‘moistness’). It’s packed full of nutrients and fibre and, unlike regular breads, is relatively low-carb and high in protein.
So to all you carb-conscious creatures out there, now
you can have your bread and eat it, too.

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Pumpkin, Feta and Chive Loaf

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mashed Jap/Kent pumpkin (approx. 400g uncooked – see method)
  • 1.5 cups wholemeal spelt flour* (see notes for gluten free alternative)
  • 1 cup LSA meal (ground linseed, sunflower seed & almonds)*
  • 2 tsp baking powder (aluminium free, if possible)
  • 4 free range eggs, organic if possible, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup chopped chives
  • 150g Danish feta (it’s always better from the deli. Omit for dairy/lactose free)
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 tbs rice malt syrup (optional – this amount is tiny but you can omit to keep it sugar free. If you don’t mind the fructose, you can substitute for honey)
  • 3 tbs psyllium (available from the health food aisle of most supermarkets, as well as health food stores)
  • 1/2 tsp ground paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan sea salt
  • Fresh sage leaves or rosemary sprigs, plus a handful of pepitas (pumpkin seeds), to serve (these are optional, but the herbs on top infuse the loaf with their flavour as it bakes, and the pepitas add great texture!).

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180*C and line a loaf tin with baking paper.
  2. 400g uncooked and peeled pumpkin should yield 1 cup of mashed pumpkin. To make the mash, simply take 400g of peeled pumpkin and chop it into chunks. Steam chunks until soft, then mash until all clumps are removed. I’m all about short cuts, so if you’re feeling really lazy, you could always blend it. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the spelt flour, LSA, baking powder, paprika, psyllium and salt.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the beaten eggs, melted coconut oil and rice malt syrup. Tip: to avoid losing half the syrup to its tendency to stick to the bowl, pour in the coconut oil first and swirl it around the edges. This will stop it from sticking. Add to the dry mixture and combine well.
  5. Gently fold through the mashed pumpkin and chives until well combined.
  6. Crumble the feta into chunks, and fold through the dough very gently, careful not to over-mix as you’ll break the feta up too much. The loaf will taste best if there are little chunks of feta throughout it.
  7. Spoon evenly into prepared loaf tin and smooth over the top with the back of the spoon. Arrange the sage leaves/rosemary sprigs over the top of the dough, and sprinkle the pepitas. Using your fingers, apply a very light pressure to the garnishes to ensure that they stick.
  8. Bake for 35-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. I’ve provided such a time range because all ovens and ingredients vary. Mine took closer to 50 minutes, but that might be because I steamed my pumpkin for too long and it thus had a lot of water in it. Check it at the 35-minute mark, and take it from there.

Notes

  • For those with fructose malabsorption/IBS: the ingredients labelled with an asterisk (spelt and LSA) contain fructans, the almonds in the LSA more so than the spelt. I can tolerate large amounts of spelt, and some individuals have no issue with it at all, while others do. As with any potential irritant, test your own tolerance.
  • To make this loaf gluten free, leave out the spelt and use 2 cups of almond meal and 1/4 to 1/2 cup LSA instead. I can’t guarantee an absolute success because I haven’t tried it and it might not rise as well. You may need to use a little more mashed pumpkin to provide more moisture for all the nuts to soak up. Make sure you use gluten free baking powder, too. This alternative would not be wise for those with fructmal, as the almond content is too high.
Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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IQS-Inspired Macadamia ANZAC Biccies

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Growing up, Anzac biccies made by my Great-Aunty Joyce were my absolute fave.

I’d take three of those gems at a time and submerge them in a huge glass of milk (just long enough for the two to get acquainted, but not quite long enough for the biccie to go soggy), then suck the milk out of them before allowing the buttery, golden syrupy goodness to melt in my mouth.

Sweet sentimentality…

I adapted this recipe from the lovely Sarah Wilkinson’s I Quit Sugar (IQS) website. These Anzac biccies are totally fructose free (yay!), calling for rice malt syrup instead of golden syrup or sugar, and they even taste like they’ve got golden syrup in them! Sarah’s recipe uses plain gluten free flour, but since gluten-free flour is quite refined, I replaced it with wholemeal spelt. I had to keep some Anzac tradition, so I’ve used butter in all its full-fat, dairy glory. I did consider trying a mix of coconut oil and macadamia oil instead, because I try to consume butter in small amounts, but I can’t see how a true Anzac biscuit could achieve that golden hue and distinct buttery flavour without, well, butter. You’re welcome to replace the butter with said oils, but I doubt you’d get that traditional ‘Anzac’ quality. Just to boost their yum-factor, these Anzacs have been jazzed up with macadamias. I also chopped up one of the many Loving Earth Luvju chocolates that I had left over from Easter last weekend*, and pressed chunks of it into half of the biscuits before I baked them (I used the Coconut Mylk flavour, which is sweetened with coconut nectar and thus contains a little fructose). Of course, the chocolate is optional, but isn’t it always? Chocolate or no chocolate, hmmm…

GIMME DAT CHOCOLATE!

These Anzacs aren’t quite as lip-smacking as Aunty Joyce’s, but they’re pretty darn good.

*By “leftover from Easter last weekend”, I’m not implying that I have lots of chocolate left over because I didn’t eat that much of it over Easter, although I wish this were the case. Rather, I mean that I totally overdosed on Haigh’s eggs, Kinder Surprises, Marvellous Creations, my Aunty Kate’s pav, the rocky road brownie slice I made “just for my family” (not me, of course!) and every other processed-crap-filled-thing I could get my hands on. So, the Loving Earth Luvjus are left over because last Sunday I told myself that ‘naughty’ chocolate was for Easter, and healthy chocolate was for later. Logic? There is none. Blame it on my chocolate-baby brain.

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IQS-Inspired Macadamia ANZAC Biccies

Dietary Info: Contains gluten (oats & spelt), dairy (butter) and nuts (macadamias). Fructose friendly/free (fructose free unless you use chocolate), low FODMAP (contains some FODMAPs: dried coconut & spelt flour), refined-sugar free. Ingredients

  • 125g unsalted butter (organic if possible)
  • 1/2 cup rice malt syrup (I use Pureharvest brand)
  • pinch Himalayan sea salt
  • 1.5 tsp bicarb-soda
  • 2 tbs boiling water
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 2/3 cup macadamias, roughly chopped
  • Optional: raw chocolate chopped into small chunks, such as Loving Earth Coconut Mylk Luvju

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 150’C and line 2 large trays with baking paper.
  2. Melt the butter and rice malt syrup in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until it begins to bubble. Remove from heat and add a pinch of salt. If you’re like me and froth over butter-sugar combos (like creamed butter and brown sugar while making a cake, oh my!), then this is the time to dip your pinky in and taste it. Don’t do what I did and wait until you’ve added the baking soda in the next step – it’s foul.
  3. Combine the bicarb-soda with the boiling water and add to the butter mixture.
  4. In another bowl, combine the oats, spelt flour, coconut and macadamias. Pour in the butter mixture and combine well.
  5. Take heaped teaspoons of the dough, roll into balls and place on the lined trays. Flatten slightly into a disk. Repeat until you have distributed amongst the 2 trays, leaving space in between each for spreading (and believe me, they spread!) The dough should make about 20 biscuits, unless you eat a gigantic handful of the raw dough like I did, in which case you’ll only end up with about 12. Oops.
  6. If using chocolate, press chunks into however many biscuits you wish.
  7. Place trays in the oven and bake for about  15-20 minutes, or until golden. The top tray might be ready a few minutes before the bottom – if this happens, remove the top tray and move the bottom tray into its spot.
  8. Like all good cookies, the biscuits will be very soft until they cool down. They should be slightly crunchy on the very outside and chewy in the middle. Allow to sit on trays for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. Now grab yourself a glass of nut milk, and dunk away.

Lest We Forget, Ax

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!