Matcha Courgette Muffins

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Green muffins might look and sound a little strange but in truth they’re natural, healthy and packed with vegetables. Although courgettes aren’t quite yet in season in the UK the ones I used were grown in Spain, so they haven’t travelled too far from soil to chopping board. And they’re the secret to these moist, juicy cakes – giving them a soft density and squishiness which is delightful to bite into.

Matcha green tea has spiralled up into popularity in recent years, and for many good reasons. Unlike standard green tea you brew with a tea bag, matcha is the concentrated powder of the whole leaf, so matcha’s nutritional value far exceeds regular tea. It’s one of the richest sources of antioxidants, which have a whole host of benefits, one of which is fighting against the negative effects of UV radiation. Matcha is also brimming with chlorophyll (giving it that amazing green colour) which is a great detoxifier for the body. Furthermore, matcha contains the amino acid L-Theanine which can help us to relax (by the promotion of production of alpha waves in the brain) as well as boost energy levels, memory and concentration.

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Along with all of this, matcha green tea has a wonderful flavour which, in these muffins, is really complemented by the warm vanilla essence. You also get a slight tang of banana that adds a subtle sweetness to the agave nectar – so they’re totally refined sugar free. This makes them really versatile – you can enjoy them for breakfast or as an afternoon pick me up or even as pudding. They’re also gluten free and vegan, and the roasted pistachio crumb on top really gives them that edge.

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Makes 12 muffins:

  • 420g/1½ cups of shredded courgette (about 3 whole courgettes worth)
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 210g/1 cup of brown rice or buckwheat flour
  • 120g/½ cup of coconut flour
  • 1 tablespoon of matcha green tea powder
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed
  • 1 vanilla pod (or 1 teaspoon of ground vanilla powder)
  • 5 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 5 tablespoons of agave or maple syrup
  • 250ml of rice milk (or other plant-based milk of your choice)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 35g of raw pistachios

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Start by adding 5 tablespoons of water to the ground flaxseed and whisking together before setting aside to thicken. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Sieve the flours, matcha powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and stir until fully combined.

Place the coconut oil into a saucepan and set to a low heat so it melts. Once melted, add the agave syrup. Slice open your vanilla pod and scrape all the seeds into the pan as well. Give this a stir so it’s all mixed up and leave on a low heat for at least 5 minutes so the vanilla has a chance to infuse into the oil and syrup.

Mash the banana and place in a separate bowl to your dry ingredients. To this add the flaxseed and water mixture along with the oil and syrup mixture, the shredded courgette and rice milk. Stir it all up well and then add half to your dry ingredients. Mix until combined and then add the second half of the wet ingredients and do the same until you have a cake batter.

Spoon the batter into muffin cases, filling them almost to the top until you have 12 equal amounts. At this point, place the pistachios into a pestle and mortar and bash them up until they’re in small pieces and large crumbs. Sprinkle this evenly onto each of the muffins before placing them in the oven for about 20 minutes until they’ve risen and are starting to turn a little golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving and savouring!

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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!

Blackberry, Sunflower Seed & Chlorella Smoothie

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Blackberries are still in season in Britain, so I couldn’t resist creating another recipe with them. It’s amazing that they’ve been growing in hedges all round the countryside for almost a month and a half now, and whenever I go running with my loony little dog (happily named Bramble – sometimes I sneak her one of her namesakes) I always pause momentarily to pluck a few off.

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There’s nothing better than freshly picked fruit and vegetables – honestly. They’re full of flavour and nutritional goodness, their vitamin and mineral content as potent and nourishing as can possibly be. Compare this to vegetables and fruit you buy in the supermarket, which are almost always at least five days old, probably flown in from a country on the other side of the world, and so their beneficial nutrients will have deteriorated and been lost – if you’re lucky you’ll be getting about 40% of available nutrients and 40% of what your body actually needs. So the more local, seasonal and fresh fruit and vegetables you can eat the better.

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Smoothies are such a great way to wake up in the morning. They’re full of energy-giving goodness, and are so satisfying and delicious. Even better – they’re so easy to make, you just throw it all into a blender and you’re done, which is ideal for all of us who are on-the-go and need a quick brekky before we dash out of the door to start the day. A creamy smoothie is hard to beat, with the combination of banana, blackberries and cashew milk creating a thick, sweet consistency. However, by adding oat flakes, sunflower seeds and chlorella, this smoothie is given that extra health boost, making it a protein-filled superfood treat.

Chlorella really is one of the world’s most amazing foods – it’s a microscopic freshwater plant and is one of the most nutritionally dense foods in nature, containing key vitamins, macro-minerals, trace minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, proteins, nuleic acids and much more. It is 58% protein which is so great for vegetarians and vegans – I have to make sure I get enough protein in my diet and stirring chlorella into water or whizzing it into a smoothie is one of the best ways. Chlorella is also packed with readily bio-available chlorophyll and is an alkaline food which counters the over-acidity of all the processed food stocked on supermarket shelves. It does have a slightly funny, grassy flavour which many people don’t like but mixed into this smoothie you can barely taste it – promise!

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Serves 1:

  • 1 small banana
  • ½ cup of blackberries (either frozen or fresh – I’ve got loads frozen from my last picking spree)
  • ½ cup of cashew milk (look out for a post on the easiest way to make your own nut milks soon!)
  • 2 tablespoons of oats (porridge or jumbo)
  • 1½ tablespoons of sunflower seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of chlorella

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Simply peel the banana then place all of the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Then pour into a glass, pop in a straw if you like, and 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!