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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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 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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