Squidgy Pumpkin Spice Cookies

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Pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin. Just perfect pumpkin. Bulbous and bright and carroty orange, the emblem of autumn and the vegetable you Americans have a somewhat obsessive yet endearing affection for. They are pretty amazing – the archetypal seasonal food – so I just had to create something with their tangerine tissue. And these delightfully spongy pumpkin spice cookies deserve a place amongst all those pumpkin pies and pumpkin breads and pumpkin cakes, if I’m allowed to make such a self-promoting claim.

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There’s something of an incongruity surrounding pumpkins – on the one hand they’re a wonderful symbol of seasonal produce promoted by a worldwide Hallows’ eve tradition, and yet they’re also (as a direct result of this quirky age-old tradition) one of the most wasted vegetables on the planet. This just doesn’t seem right at all, so what better way to remedy the injustice than to encourage people to eat pumpkins? By all means carve out your scary faces for some spooky fun, but eat pumpkins and squashes too. Eat and gobble and swallow to your stomach’s content. They’re too delicious to chuck into landfill and they’re growing in abundance right now – guaranteed somewhere nearby, so get on out there and source a glowing orange globe in some local soil.

And here’s some inspiration for you – simple, spicy and sweet. With no trace of refined sugar, gluten or dairy. In short; local, seasonal, sustainable wee beauties. These cookies will be all the tastier if you chop up a Hokkaido pumpkin (or butternut or any member of the pumpkin/squash family!) and give it a steam or roast, but canned pumpkin puree works a (trick-or)treat too.

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Makes about 20 cookies:

  • 425g/1 can of pumpkin puree (unsweetened)
  • 120g/1 cup oats
  • 100g/½ cup chestnut flour (if you don’t have any use brown rice flour)
  • 60g/½ cup ground almonds
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4-6 tablespoons agave syrup (or maple syrup or raw local honey), depending on how sweet you like it
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of sea salt

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If using a pumpkin or squash from scratch; peel it, scoop out the seeds and chop up the flesh into chunks. Place these in a steamer and steam for about 20 minutes, or until they’re really tender and mushy.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Place the oats in a blender or food processor and whizz up into a flour. Pour this into a large mixing bowl along with the chestnut flour, ground almonds, all the spices, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt. Mix well and set aside.

Measure out 425g/1 cup of pumpkin puree and place this in a food processor. Melt the coconut oil in a pan on a medium heat then pour this into the pumpkin puree along with the agave syrup. Blend until they’re all well combined.

Add a third of the wet pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine, repeating twice more until all the pumpkin’s stirred in to form a dough. Line a large baking tray with parchment and lightly grease with a little coconut oil. Scoop out about a tablespoon’s worth of dough and place on the parchment, repeating until you’ve used it all up. Then, using your fingers, gently squash and smooth the balls of dough into round or oval cookie shapes.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the edges are firm and they’ve turned a lovely orangey golden brown. Remove from the oven and let them cool for 2 minutes on the baking tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Then munch away!

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Gooseberry Wisecake

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I almost feel sorry for gooseberries. It seems like they’ve been forgotten about whilst the western world obsesses over other berries like strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Granted gooseberries aren’t quite as sweet and juicy as those just mentioned, but they have a charming sour-sweetness and their own distinctive flavour. They’re also one of the easiest things to grow – the little fruity balls for this cheesecake came from four bushes we have in our garden which produce hundreds of gooseberries year after year with almost no human effort required, save for the odd pruning. They’re little local wonders.

Picked gooseberries

Gooseberries are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium, and they offer variety which is vital in any diet. Their season is from July to August, and I steadily stripped our bushes over the past few weeks whilst thinking of an interesting way to make use of them. The only pudding anyone’s probably ever heard of that features gooseberries is gooseberry fool – a mouse-syllabub type thing which has that wartime vibe and is overloaded with cream and refined sugar. So I thought I’d swing the dial the other way and create a modern ‘cheesecake’ that’s vegan, gluten free and refined sugar free. Or, as another way of looking at it, create something smart for our bodies which also tastes divine. And this really does; the biscuity base crumbling into the thick gooseberry mouse-cream (amazingly like cream cheese but with no cows involved) in a really satisfying way.

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It would be mad not to make use of the array of late summer berries available to us all, and if you can’t get your hands on any gooseberries you can try any other berry such as blackcurrants, redcurrants or blackberries. Go berry wild!

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Makes 1 cheesecake (6-8 servings)

For the base:

  • ½ cup/70 g oats
  • ½ cup/90g brown rice flour
  • ⅔ cup/70 g ground almonds
  • 8 dates
  • 2 teaspoons raw honey/agave nectar/maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla powder or extract

For the gooseberry cream:

  • 2 cups gooseberries
  • ½ cup/90g cashews
  • ½ cup/90g almonds (soaked for at least 3 hours)
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1-3 teaspoons of raw honey (depending on how sweet you like it)

For the topping:

  • A large handful of fresh gooseberries

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Preheat the oven to 170°C. Starting with the base, place the oats into a food processor and blend until they’ve broken down into a rough flour. Then add all the remaining base ingredients and blend until a biscuity dough forms. Grease a flan dish with coconut oil and then press in the dough mixture, smoothing it down with the back of a spoon, making sure it rises up the sides and dips down in the middle in a curve. Place this in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes until it starts to turn a golden brown and has firmed up.

While the base is cooking making the gooseberry cream. Clean out your food processor and add the cashews and almonds along with the water and blend for about 5 minutes until the nuts have broken down and are starting to turn into a creamy consistency. At this point add in the gooseberries, coconut oil and honey and blend for another couple of minutes to make the most amazingly naturally pink, thick gooseberry cream.

Remove the base from the oven and allow to cool for at least 5-10 minutes before scooping the gooseberry cream on top and smoothing it down into the curve until the whole tart’s filled. Finally, place the fresh gooseberries (or any other berries!) over the top as a garnish and serve immediately. If not all gobbled straight away this will keep in the fridge for at least 3 or 4 days.

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Almond Butter & Maca Energy Bites

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Almond butter (and I know I am not alone here) is something of an obsession for me. I just absolutely love it. Since I was little I’ve always adored peanut butter because that was the only nut butter available or that I’d come across, but since I tried almond butter last year (Meridian’s is the best – no added sugar and just pure almonds) it trumped peanut butter, and I still tend to gorge on it. The base for these energy bites is almond butter, along with a few raw almonds, walnuts, dates and maca.

Although almonds aren’t in season here in Britain at the moment, I make sure I use almonds which have come from Spain, where they are currently seasonal and so they also haven’t had to travel too far (Meridian states that their organic almonds are grown in Spain, which is fab). Almonds are packed with slow releasing energy, and they’re also rich in vitamins and minerals such as potassium and magnesium, both of which help maintain healthy bones and teeth. The addition of walnuts to these little snacks is also great because they are still in season in the UK – so these nutty balls are fresh, seasonal heaven.

The mix of creamy almond butter, almonds, walnuts, dates and ground flax seeds gives these bites so much flavour, and you just know you’re giving your body a health and energy kick because almost all the ingredients are raw. In health cafes maca is often offered as a drink alternative to coffee, because of its naturally invigorating and revitalizing effects, so it gives these balls that little bit extra for an afternoon pick-me-up or a morning boost. Even better, maca has a unique spiciness and subtle sweetness which is so delicious. These little titans of energy really are so easy to whip up – it’s great to make a quick batch at the weekend ready for the trials of the week ahead.

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Makes between 12-15 balls:

  • 4 tablespoons of almond butter
  • ⅓ cup of almonds (50g)
  • ⅓ cup of walnuts (45g)
  • 10 dates (80g)
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds
  • 3 teaspoons of maca
  • 3 tablespoons of jumbo oats
  • 2 teaspoons of coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons of water
  • Sea salt

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Simply place the raw almonds, walnuts, ground flaxseeds, oats and maca in a food processor and blend until the nuts are broken down into fine pieces and it starts to resemble a flour (though not totally ground).

After that, add the almond butter, dates, coconut oil, water and a good grinding of sea salt before blending once more until the mixture has all come together and is starting to stick into one big ball of dough.

Scoop out a small amount of the mixture and roll around in your palms to make smooth balls. Store them in the fridge, or if you’re restrained and don’t think you’ll eat them within a week, place them in the freezer. Nibble (or pop into your mouth in one) and enjoy!

Roasted Parsnip, Butter Bean & Almond Soup

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I’ve never been much of a soup person. Other people always go on about how great it is, how easy to make and how delicious it can be. Maybe it’s because I used to eat those Covent Garden soups from the supermarket which are bulked out with butter and cream – and that’s all they taste of to me. Soup from the supermarket, especially Tesco own or even Sainsbury’s own, just doesn’t cut it one bit. And they all seem to have funny, artificial, unidentifiable ingredients, just like almost everything else on the shelves. I’m also really not a fan of boiled vegetables or watery soup (keep broth away from me) – for me it has to be thick, creamy and tasty to the max.

And that’s exactly what this parsnip soup is. Roasting the parsnips really brings out their flavour, adding a nuttiness which you don’t get if you simply boil, and then the combination of butter beans, almonds and almond milk gives it a creamy (with not one drop of cream in sight) and hearty dimension. Including butter beans and almonds means this soup is brimming with protein, which again is what I think many vegetarian soups lack. Even better, it’s root vegetable time in Britain and parsnips are 100% in season. As well as being in season, they’re a great source of both soluble and insoluble fibre, and many minerals and vitamins such as manganese and vitamin K, and they contain many poly-acetylene antioxidants which have anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties.

This soup really does taste great, boosted by the garlic and spices – it’s a far cry from watery broth or buttery mush. And, it is super easy to make and is so warming on these ever deepening wintery days, so I really hope you whip it up and tuck in.

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Serves 6:

  • 3 large parsnips
  • 1 cup/240g of butter beans (either 1 can’s worth or soaked overnight and simmered for 2 hours with a couple of garlic cloves and bay leaves)
  • ½ cup/120g of blanched almonds (soaked overnight)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 450ml of unsweetened almond milk
  • 550ml of vegetable stock
  • 1½ teaspoons of turmeric
  • 1½ teaspoons of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon of chilli flakes
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

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Preheat your oven to 190°C. Peel the parsnips and chop into large hunks before placing on a baking tray. Sprinkle over some olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and then stir around to make sure all the pieces are coated before placing in the oven for about 45 minutes, turning them at least twice to make sure they roast evenly.

While the parsnip is roasting, peel and chop the garlic cloves into small discs. Add the tablespoon of olive oil to a pan and place on a medium heat, waiting for the oil to get hot before adding the garlic. Let it cook gently for a minute or so and then add the cumin seeds, ½ teaspoon of turmeric and ½ teaspoon of paprika. Stir in the spices so they have a chance to lightly fry and then remove from the heat.

Drain the blanched almonds then place in a food processor along with a very small amount of water. Blend until they’ve broken down into a smooth paste before adding the butter beans. Blend again until smooth. Once the parsnips are a nice golden brown all over, remove from the oven and place in a blender along with the blended butter beans and blanched almonds, fried garlic and spices, almond milk, vegetable stock, chilli flakes, the remaining 1 teaspoon of turmeric and paprika and a good grinding of salt and pepper and then blend until smooth. If you like your soup nice and thick it should be a good consistency but if you want it a bit thinner then add a little water until you get the thickness you want. If serving straight away pour into bowls, otherwise reheat when ready and enjoy!

Apple Purée, Cinnamon & Nut Granola

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Homemade granola trumps shop-bought granola in every single possible way. The taste, the crunch, the nuttiness. You can throw in whatever you like and it isn’t stuffed with refined sugar or synthetic honey or palm oil or preservatives such as sulphur dioxide. In the past when I took a bite of Tesco own granola or even brands such as Jordan’s or Dorset Cereals, I was always overwhelmed by how sugary it tasted. You can literally feel the granules of sugar melting on your tongue, going all over your teeth and straight down into your body. Which is really not good in any way.

I was trying to think up a new granola recipe with a seasonal element and my mind immediately jumped to apples, since they’re in season and full of their own subtle fruity sweetness. I love having stewed apple for pudding so I thought why not try baking it with oats and see what happens. The result is super and makes a delicious, fruity, crunchy yet squishy granola which I think you’re all going to love. It’s so easy to throw together (despite what looks like a long ingredient list!) and if you haven’t got the time to peel, core, chop and stew some apples then you can simply use apple sauce. And, even better, it’s probably one of the healthiest and most nutrient dense granolas out there.

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As well as oats (an excellent source of fibre and slow-burning energy) and apple, it’s brimming with pecans, almonds and walnuts, all of which give a great protein boost for first thing in the morning, as well as minerals such as iron and magnesium. On top of that, the pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flaxseeds not only enhance the protein content of the granola further but are a great source of the really good, healthy fats omega 3 and omega 6 which our bodies need and love. The cinnamon gives that yummy hint of spice which is the perfect partner for apple and the blackstrap molasses add a further fruity flavour and a little bit of extra sweetness. Blackstrap molasses is actually the by-product of the process of making refined sugar from the sugar cane plant and consequently contains all of the vitamins and minerals which white sugar lacks. It’s highly nutritious, containing healthy amounts of copper, iron, calcium and magnesium. It’s so great for vegetarians and vegans who often have trouble getting iron into their diet (I certainly do), but the combination of blackstrap with the nuts, seeds and currants makes this granola an iron-filled feast.

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Makes two large containers of granola:

  • 2 large cooking apples (or 3 medium sized) or 450g/1½ cups of apple sauce
  • ⅓ cup of water
  • 1 cup of rolled oats
  • 1 cup of jumbo oats
  • ½ cup of walnuts
  • ½ cup of pecans
  • ½ cup of almonds
  • ½ cup of pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup of sunflower seeds
  • ⅓ cup of flaxseeds
  • ⅓ cup of flaked almonds
  • 3 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 3 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil
  • 3 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses
  • ½ cup of currants or raisins
  • 2 tablespoons of yacon syrup/raw honey/maple syrup (optional – for sweeter tooths)

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Preheat your oven to 175°C. If making the apple purée from scratch, peel, core and slice the apples into small sized chunks and place in a fairly large saucepan along with the water. Put this on the hob at a medium heat, watching it until the water starts to boil. At this point put the lid on and reduce to a low heat to allow the apples to stew for about 15-20 minutes, checking them every five minutes and giving them a quick stir.

While the apples are cooking, place the oats in a large mixing bowl. Add half the walnuts to a pestle and mortar and give them a good bash until they’ve broken up into small pieces. Pour them into the mixing bowl with the oats before breaking up the other half in the pestle and mortar. Do the same to the pecans and whole almonds, and then add the flaked almonds and all the seeds to the mix. Give it a stir around and then add the cinnamon, mixed spice and ginger before stirring once more.

When the apple has stewed down into a purée, add your 3 tablespoons of coconut oil and blackstrap molasses so they melt nicely down into it too, giving it a stir so it’s all mixed well. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a minute or two before pouring it into the granola mixture along with the 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil and the currants. Using a large spoon, stir the whole mixture up so all the oats, nuts and seeds are well and coated with the apple, oil and blackstrap (if you like your granola on the sweeter side add the yacon syrup, honey or maple syrup at this point too).

Line a large baking tray with a sheet of baking paper and then pour on the granola mix, spreading it evenly across and squashing down gently. Place this in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how brown and crispy you like it. Every 10 minutes or so take it out and give it a little stir to make sure it toasts evenly and none of it burns, and you get good sized nuggets of granola not one massive piece. When you’ve reached the desired crunchiness, remove from the oven, allow to cool and then store in an airtight container so it stays crispy and fresh for days, weeks or even months (depending on how fast you gobble it down) to come.

The Easiest Nut Milk

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I’ve never liked cow’s milk. My mother used to make my brothers drink glasses of the stuff when we were little, but for some reason (I’m not sure why) she never made me. Dairy has just never seemed to sit well in my body, never seemed to do me much good. For years I used to have rice milk on my cereal, which is delicious, but fairly sugary, if only made up of natural sugars from rice. I still have it sometimes, along with unsweetened soya milk, which is great as it has a fair bit of protein in it, but it can be tricky to find a soya milk that is literally just soya beans and water, without added sugar or things like monopotassium phosphate or gellan gum. The latter is supposedly a ‘stabiliser’ – something to artifically make all the ingredients blend and stick evenly together to make sure it ‘looks’ nice for consumers.

The best kind of milk, hands down, is nut milk. Almond milk is probably my favourite, but hazelnut milk and cashew milk are also scrumptious. When you take a sip and get that faintly sweet, nutty taste, it’s divine, especially splashed over porridge. But like soya milk most of the ones you find in supermarkets have those mysterious added ingredients which aren’t actually food, and most people have no idea what they are or stop to question them or what they might be doing to their bodies. Just the way food companies and corporations like Alpro and Tesco like it.

The freshest and most nutritious nut milk you can drink is (as with everything) the homemade from scratch kind. And when you make it at home, you know it’s literally nuts and water. When I have the time, I soak nuts overnight and then blend them with water before straining out the milk through a cheesecloth. But a lot of us in this 21st century world don’t have the time, especially first thing in the morning, or else we forget to soak the nuts the night before or often feel lazy. I’m guilty of all those things. That’s why a couple of weeks ago, I had a light bulb moment.

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I adore nut butters, forever spreading them on rye bread or rice cakes or just licking them straight off a spoon. Like nut milks I try to make them as often as possible but most of the time I live off nut butters bought from my local health food shop. I always either get Meridian or Carley’s. Carley’s is so great as they supply raw white almond butter, so it’s full of nutrients, having not been heated and lost some of its goodness. You can’t beat the creaminess of Meridian nut butters though. Either way, they’re both fantastic as they are literally just nuts, completely natural and with no added ingredients. You may be surprised that almost all shop bought peanut butters have added palm oil – for some reason (even the Whole Earth brand which purports to be sustainable and environmentally friendly) the people making peanut butter feel the need to take the natural peanut oil out and put palm oil in. Which just seems totally crazy to me.

But the crucial point here is that you can use these nut butters to make nut milks. Simply by scooping a couple of teaspoons of the butter out and then whizzing it up with water. Done in under a minute and voilà! You’ve got nut milk. And, especially if you use raw nut butter, you have a natural, delicious, nutrient-rich, protein-dense, sugar free milk to enjoy and gulp down whenever you like.

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Makes one small jug of nut milk:

  • 2 teaspoons of nut butter (almond, cashew, hazelnut or a mix)
  • 1 cup of water

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Place the nut butter and water in a blender (or, even easier, in a container for using with a hand blender) and blend for 10 seconds. Pour the mix out into a jug or bottle and seal, and store in the fridge. Most importantly – enjoy!

Chestnut Pancakes

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The best thing about Christmas markets is chestnuts roasted on a smoky barbecue, holding the warm paper bag of them in your hand as you carefully peel their charred skins off to reveal the soft nut inside, which you then pop into your mouth. Now, obviously it’s a little early for Christmas talk, but the wait until December for chestnuts is a bit of a long one. Furthermore, it’s an unnecessary wait because chestnuts are in season now. Sweet chestnuts (not horse chestnuts – they’re poisonous) start falling from trees from September onwards, and they’re hard to miss, with their bright lime green, viciously prickly shells (a bit like a porcupine). I went out walking a few days ago and came across a chestnut tree with its nuts sprinkled around the trunk, spiking my palms as I gathered a few up.

Given all this, I just had to make something chestnutty. And these pancakes are chestnut heaven. Vegan, gluten free and refined sugar free, you really just don’t miss the milk, eggs or wheat. They’re both mushy and fluffy, and the combination of chestnut flour, chestnut purée, almond butter and banana is a creamy, autumnal treat. Chestnuts are low in fat (they’re largely made up of starch) whilst also being a good source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid and a rich source of fibre, with even more fibre per 100g than walnuts and pistachios. As well as this, chestnuts are rich in the B vitamin folic acid, which is required to synthesize DNA and repair DNA, and helps produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.

These pancakes are pretty good for you, tasty and so easy to make – you can whip them up in ten minutes for a delicious breakfast or an afternoon snack. They’re rich and nutty, without being overly sweet, which to me is ideal.

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Makes about 16 small pancakes/serves 2-3:

  • 130g/½ cup of chestnut flour
  • 3 tablespoons of chestnut purée
  • 1½ tablespoons of almond butter
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup of almond milk
  • ½ cup of water
  • 1½ teaspoons of baking powder (I like to use this)
  • Coconut oil for frying

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Simply mash the banana until there are no lumps left then place in a mixing bowl along with all the other ingredients and mix with a whisk until a batter forms. It should be fairly runny, but not too much.

Next place a large frying pan on a medium heat and add a teaspoon of coconut oil. Once the oil has melted and the pan is hot pour about two tablespoons of the batter into the pan to make one pancake. It should run out and form a circle. Wait about twenty to thirty seconds, until it starts bubbling a little and you can see it cooking around the edges. Then carefully slip a turning spatula underneath the pancake and flip it over, letting it cook for another twenty seconds.

Add a little more coconut oil to the pan and repeat this until all the batter is used up (I usually do two pancakes at a time). Then make a pancake stack, topping it with your favourite things – I recommend banana, raspberries, chestnut pieces, almond butter and raw honey – and serve!