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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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!