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!

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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.

Roasted Cobnut Banana Bread

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Banana bread has been one of my go-to things for years when I’m feeling like a bit of squidgy, gooey comfort food. I usually used a recipe which was literally just bananas, flour, eggs and a bit of spice if you wanted it – so great because it’s totally sugar free, with the only sweetness coming from the bananas themselves. But I thought it was time I experimented and made banana bread with a bit of panache and a unique flavour, and so came up with this roasted cobnut banana cake. And it really tastes divine, if I’m allowed to say so myself! What’s even better is that it’s vegan, gluten free and uses a seasonal, local, very English ingredient – cobnuts.

Cobnuts are very similar to hazelnuts and you can find cobnut trees over much of the countryside in Britain. Lots of cobnuts are grown and cultivated in Kent, so you might have heard the term Kentish cobnuts, which some greengrocers and supermarkets offer at this time of year. But you can pick cobnuts straight off the tree (if you beat the squirrels to them) and the best thing about picking them yourself is that they’re free. Wild food is something which seems to have been completely forgotten about in the modern western world – it’s as if people are afraid that if it doesn’t come from a supermarket it can’t be safe or edible. But that’s just not true at all. There’s an abundance of wild food out there for us to gorge on and enjoy, from berries and nuts to mushrooms, herbs and flowers.

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You can eat raw cobnuts but roasting them really brings out a delicious, toasted flavour. And by combining them with hazelnut oil, it turns this banana bread into something else. Both hazelnuts and cobnuts are packed with protein, and they’re very high in energy so they’re great for providing an energy boost either in the morning at breakfast or as a snack in the mid afternoon lull which many people suffer from. They’re also a rich source of vitamin E and a load of minerals such as manganese, potassium, iron and zinc. The last thing I’ll say about this banana bread is that it’s super easy to make, so there’s no reason not to like it.

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Makes one loaf:

  • 6 medium to large bananas (overly ripe is best)
  • 1 cup (150g) of brown rice flour
  • ½ cup (50g) of ground almonds
  • 3 tablespoons of hazelnut oil (if you don’t have any sunflower oil works too)
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • ½ cup of almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons of yacon syrup/date syrup (optional – I don’t feel the bread needs it but most people seem to have a sweeter tooth than me!)
  • A large handful of cracked and shelled cobnuts (if you can’t lay your hands on any use hazelnuts)

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Start by preheating your oven to 150°C. Then, crack and shell the cobnuts until you have enough to make a large handful. Simply lay these on a baking tray and roast for about 45 minutes, turning half way through to make sure they roast evenly.

While they’re roasting, mash the bananas and set aside. Then place the flour, ground almonds, hazelnut oil, coconut oil, almond milk, baking powder, cinnamon and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Mix this all together before adding half the squashed banana. Stir this in then add the other half and stir again to make a batter.

When the cobnuts are roasted, remove them from the oven and turn it up to 170°C. Place all the nuts in a pestle and mortar except about 3 for use later. Bash them up into small chunks and then add to the bread batter and stir in until everything’s combined.

Grease a loaf tin with coconut oil and then line the bottom with greaseproof paper before greasing that as well. Then pour in the mixture. At this point crush the 3 remaining cobnuts in the pestle and mortar and then scatter the pieces over the top of the mix.

Bake the bread in the oven for an hour or until a knife comes out clean. You may want to lay a piece of foil over the top about 45 minutes in to stop the top from burning. Finally, remove it from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes before slicing and enjoying!

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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!