Saturday, 5 January 2013

Banana based heaven!

There are few things in life that make me happy; a good book with a huge cup of something hot, music playing whenever possible, cuddles and banana bread.

Yep, I worship the loaf shaped cake of goodness. It brings back memories of cooking in Australia with my Nana when I was little, sitting in the lounge, my tummy rumbling as the rich smell filled her little place and waiting til I could have that first slice with ice cold milk. Over years I have used and tried many recipes, and some have worked better than others. With my diabetes and such, I found many used so much sugar, which, with ripe bananas is just too much for me. As time went on, my tastes changed as well. I have always been able to taste bicarbonate of soda in things, and when it is too overwhelming, I wrinkle my nose up and abandon what I'm eating. A lot of American recipes for banana break use bicarb, but I prefer to just use baking powder to add the lightness to mine. Many also add things such as chocolate chips, or walnuts, both excellent additions, but they are exactly that, an addition. I like nothing to interfere with the pure caramelly banana taste in my breads, especially as I often use them as a breakfast food when I make a batch.
The best recipe in a book I have found has to be from The Hummingbird Bakery, but seeing as I'm determined to be a healthier girl, I couldn't leave it be. Made with melted butter and more sugar than I like, I decided I needed to adapt it, so I did...
I started with the sugar content. The original recipe uses 270g soft brown sugar; now this is all well and good but not great for blood sugar spikes. After some umming and ahhing, I pulled the Tate & Lyle, light at heart from my cupboard and opted for this instead. A blend of sugar and stevia, it reduces the amount used by half and the sweetness isn't affected by the stevia in the blend, nor by the reduced amount of sugar used.
Next was the bananas. When I cook with bananas, the blacker they are the better they taste in cakes. I actually freeze my bananas when they start getting too squishy for my liking, these makes them all brown and full of taste when defrosted and mashed. I then removed the bicarbonate and instead of using white flour, I opted for a soft brown plain flour. I often use a 50/50 blend of brown and white in these type of heavier based cakes.
The amount of cinnamon and ginger used in the Hummingbird recipe is delicious, but again for me, hides what the cake is about, so I removed the ginger and halved the cinnamon so it has a hint.
Lastly came the fat. Now, the eggs are left as they are, but I decided the butter was too much on my waistband, so out came the apple puree. Yep, the base of many a recipe for me. Using an unsweetened apple puree is a FANTASTIC fat substitute in baking, I suggest you give it a whirl. And this was the result ;

 Banana Bread

  • 120g Tate & lyle brown light at heart mix (I reckon you could use 70g soft brown and 50g of stevia blended if you wanted to try your own mix)
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g peeled bananas, mashed.
  • 280g plain flour ( I used a soft brown flour, but a 50/50 mix of white and brown would be wonderful)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 120g apple puree
  1. Preheat your oven to to 170C / 325F / Gas Mark 3. Grease a 23x13cm loaf tin and dust with flour. Silicone loaf tins work best with this and don't require greasing or flouring so saving some work
  2. Put the sugar and eggs in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat until blended. Add and then beat in the mashed bananas.
  3. Add the flour, and cinnamon to the banana mix and throughly combine until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the egg mixture. Add the Baking powder to the apple puree, stir and quickly mix into the the rest of the cake.
  4. Pour into prepared loaf pan, level out and bake for 60-80 mins, checking the centre to see when the cake is done. It will also start to pull away from the sides which is a great indication is it ready.
  5. Remove and leave to stand in it;s tin for 30 mins before tipping onto a rack and cooling. 
This cake actually gets better with age, so when cooled wrap in foil and try to resist for a day. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year...

Fresh Approach. Yep, like many, I always start the new year full of vim and vigour and good intentions on how I'm going to improve my diet and such. Is this year any different? Well, no. Not really at least. This year does differ though. 2012 for me wasn't a fantastic year, this is partly why every blog I write got neglected. I had health woes, family woes, personal woes. Woes coming out of my ears.

This year isn't really starting on the highest of notes for me. On 14th I'm to have surgery, so will either bore myself and others to death blogging rubbish; neglect the blogs again or hopefully find a healthy balance.
So, what is important to me on a diet and nutritional front in 2013?
  • The right balance of fibre. Now, fibre is important for everyone, but for me and other sufferers of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, fibre is a funny beast. Fibre for us isn't as easy to digest, due to the nature of our condition, our gut doesn't have the strength to cope with too much fibre goodness. And I like fibre based food. Fibre for me comes from such things as my fruit and veg, and Wholegrain, seeded bread. If you are a calorie counter, Seeded breads and such often make you hide as the calorie amount seems high. For me, who has been a lover of the GI based diet for a while, Whole grain and seeded bread is wonderful. Your body, doesn't break down the seeds enough to absorb the levels of fat and such, but the slow releasing energy is perfect to stave off hinger attacks and keep your blood sugars on a smoother even keel. Need a fibre boost? Dried fruit. Always.
  • Protein. Mass protein is a major thing for me this year. Protein plays a major role in healing, and it has been said that a protein favoured breakfast, staves off hunger for longer.  I, sadly, do not get on with protein shakes. There is something about the texture of them that make me grimace, and I dont think there are many I haven't tried. So, I'm upping the things I love, Eggs for breakfast, seafood rich dishes and oodles of turkey and chicken, a healthy dose of venison too. My freezer always has soya/edamame beans bagged up ready, as they are a a wonderful source of protein. If you don't eat meat, then seeds are a great source, as are nuts but avoid the coated/salted varieties. Protein is a wonderful beast as it also lowers the GI of food, but always take into consideration the fat content of food as dairy may be high in protein, but often comes high in fat too.

  • Carbohydrates. All these diets that say avoid them, I laugh in their general direction! It's not about avoiding them, it's about eating the right kinds. As I mentioned earlier, I am a lover of the Glycaemic Index diets. You can find many guides available on the internet and in books. Also available as a free download is this guide, to carb counting.   It is aimed at diabetics but honestly, for a balanced diet and some advice, it is suitable for everyone. People see carbs as the enemy, but they play such an important role in keeping you fit and healthy. Always try and include slow acting carbohydrates with each meal. This includes things such as pearl barley; a fantastic addition to soups and stews, peas, beans and lentils; bulk out those soups again, add to salads and use in all sorts of dishes. Just tell yourself, starchy carbs are the way forward.
  • Changes and additions; Always reach for the rice? Sick of the sight of spuds? Try the wonders of quinoa, bulgar wheat and spelt based pastas. These fill me up and keep me sated and happy, plus variety is always nice. There is such a huge choice of things out there, why not spice it all up a little. You never know, you just might like it.
Honestly? I'm not going for fads, I'm not interested in being skinny or trying the latest thing. I just like my diets balanced. I'm an 80/20 girl, if I want that slice of cheesecake, I'm gonna have it.

Now, where's my spoon..

Sunday, 23 September 2012


I like Autumn. There I said it. I love the change of the leaves, as they turn a beautiful red and gold, the conkers all mahogany and shiny. The change of foods from salads to wholesome soups and hearty stews. And pumpkins. I bloody love pumpkins. Not just to carve and make look awesome at Halloween, no, I love to eat them! Roasted and baked, added to soups. And for baking. My mum is Australian, and when I was little, my nan made loads of pumpkin scones and pumpkin fruit cake whenever we went to visit. The sweetness of them adds a special little something extra, and ever since I have always looked forward to pumpkin season.

I have found two recipes I want to share with you today, from the old Golden Wattle cookbook. In Australia, these were given when you reached secondary school, and you learnt the basics and so much more from them. In 2008, I was given my late Great Uncle's copy, which must be 70 years old now at least. I cherish it so much, and turn to it for so many things.

Note: Australian cooking cup measures are pretty much the same size as a plastic kids tumbler, like the colourful ones you find for kids and picnics. You can buy them online too.

Pumpkin scones 
  • 2oz butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup cold mashed pumpkin
  • 2 cups Self Raising Flour
  1. Heat oven to 220c (200 for a fan oven). Grease and cover a baking tray in Greaseproof paper
  2. Cream together your butter and sugar. Add an egg and beat well.
  3. Stir in the pumpkin.
  4. Sift in the flour, combine well.
  5. Using a tablespoon, drop mixture onto tray, spacing well.
  6. Bake in over for 15-20 mins.
To me, these are more like rock cakes, as they have no solid shape. Enjoy warm or cold, with lashings of butter. Try and resist them, I dare you.

Pumpkin Fruit Cake
  • 250g Butter
  • 250g Soft Brown Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 500g Mixed Dried Fruits
  • 500g Cold Mashed Pumpkin 
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of Nutmeg, Ginger and Cinnamon
  • 260g Self Raising flour (add more if it looks too sloppy) and a pinch of salt
  • 1 Dessert spoon Golden Syrup 
  • Milk if needed.
  1. Preheat oven to180c. Grease and line a square cake tin.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar
  3. Add eggs, one at a time and beat well
  4. Add the fruit, spices and pumpkin, stir through
  5. Sift in the flour and salt, making sure the mix is well combined.
  6. Add the golden syrup, and if too stiff, add milk til mix is a drop consistency
  7. Pour into tin and level out.
  8. Place in preheated oven and bake for 90 mins.
It was a running thing in my family, that the cake was best when the middle sank, leaving it gooey and heavy. If the cake turned out perfect, many pouted. It is a great cake to have in the house, and always hard to turn away from, the pumpkin isn't really noticeable on it's own, it adds to the sweetness and squishiness of the cake.

So, two of my favourite things to do with pumpkin. Go on, give it a whirl.. 

Friday, 31 August 2012

Gluten Free Brownies

If there is one thing I am an expert at, it's going AWOL. For this, I apologise!

Anyway, today I did a mass baking session. I'm off to a birthday tomorrow and really wanted to make some of my brownies. I remembered a discussion with the birthday girl about Gluten Free cakes, so looked up various Gluten Free brownie recipes, to find one that I felt sat well with me. I'm a fussy little thing, and at times I love a really straight forward recipe. I looked about an came across the Annabel Karmel site. Now, I know this name as the lovely lady is linked to cooking aimed at little ones, but I have now learnt, her Brownie recipe is DIVINE! It is so rich and chocolatey, that I tweaked it slightly, and it is still amazing.
The Original is here
I recommend having a browse, whether you have kids or not. I think it;ll be a site I'll be looking at for ideas in the future.

Now, my tweaked recipe.
100g plain chocolate, cut into chunks
100g milk chocolate, cut into chunks
200 g (7 oz) butter, cut into 1 cm (1/2 in) chunks 
3 large eggs
175 g (6 oz) light muscovado sugar
110 g (4 oz) gluten-free plain  flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
a pinch of salt
200g  mixed chocolate, chopped (I also love those bags of buttons, and now there are caramel and cappuccino ones available in supermarkets, they add a little extra)

  • Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5.
  •  Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until melted.  Alternatively, put the chocolate and butter into a suitable bowl, microwave for 1 minute, stir then microwave in 10-second blasts until melted. Allow to cool slightly.
  • Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and frothy.Gently mix in the chocolate and then sift  together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and a large pinch of salt, folding it into the mix with a metal spoon.  Fold in the white-chocolate chunks.
  • Line a 28 cm x 20 cm (14 in x 8 in) cake tin with baking parchment, with the parchment coming up the sides of the tin. I found that a 8.5 in x 8.5in square silicone case was perfect. A light spray with oil and it was the perfect piece of equipment to use! Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 20–25 minutes, until a crust has formed but there is some give underneath when pressed. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and allow to cool thoroughly in the tin.  Don’t worry, it will sink and crack a little.
  • Remove from the tin and cut into squares before serving. 
I got my Gluten Free items from Tesco, and when browsing the aisle I noticed Dr Oetker has brought out a 6 sachet pack of Gluten Free Baking powder, which for people like me is brilliant! Each sachet equals a teaspoon and being individually wrapped, means it won't go off so easily as it's not something in my everyday repertoire.These brownies are truly amazing. Dense, rich and moreish! I managed to get 16 out my batch, but bitesized ones will easily get you 20 or so.


Sunday, 25 March 2012

Food Loves

Today is more of a round up of recently found and rediscovered loves.
Yesterday, along with some amazing friends I attended the Vitality show in London. A day of pampering, beauty, healthy bits and shopping. Good old shopping!

Contrary to what I have put on here, I am actually trying to lose weight, and also improve my diet. Now, like all people I have my vices. Chocolate being one. Nothing will stop me and my chocolate, but there are some healthy things that can carb my craving. one being these: Nakd Cocoa Mint Bars Made from raw ingredients, these not only give your chocolate hit, taste great and are moreish, they also give you 1 of your 5 a day. I mean, how can you say no? They do various cocoa based ones and loads of others including the delicious Berry Delight, Cashew Cookie and Apple Pie. Most supermarkets stock them these days, as well as Holland & Barratts. I love these things. Nakd also do raisins flavoured with natural fruit juices and such. The lime ones are a must try!

Another love of mine, is dairy. Sadly, whenever I get a cold or whatever, milk is one of my biggest causes of feeling even more congested. I've tried soya milk, oat milk, rice milk and hated them all. Yesterday I tried  Coconut milk. Kara Dairy Free Coconut Milk to be precise. It is so light and refeshing, and the chocolate one reminds me of bounty bars. What is not to love about this?! at 27cals per 100ml on the original, I'm pretty happy to reduce my milk intake again.I have found it everywhere, except Morrisons, so it is easily found in the supermarkets.

I was also introduced to Dark Chocolate Dreams whilst fleetingly visiting Whole Foods in Kensington. I love peanut butter, I can eat it with a spoon, like I can nutella.  This pretty much combines both. Think reeces pieces in a spread. How is this healthy? Well, it has no refined sugars added, the sweetness comes from evaporated cane juice. And it has nuts ::grins:: It is available online and at the Whole Food markets in the UK. I recommend giving it a go.

What's your favourite snack bars and why? Recommend me things to try :)

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Meaty goodness.

so, todays post is about meat.. Actually, pork to be fair. I like pork, it's a decent meat which is pretty versatile and quite often, I am in my element when sat with a lovely plate of gammon or a pork roast. Let's start with the gammon.

I'm going to admit, right out this is NOT my idea, but comes from the Kitchen Goddess, that is Nigella. I love boiled ham/gammon. To me it is pure comfort, especially when done as it is served with a mustard sauce my nan used to makem but sometimes, you want something extra, and this is where Nigella comes in..

Cola Ham 
  • 2 kg gammon, mild cure
  • 1 onions, peeled and halved
  • 2-4 litres of cola
For the glaze
  • 1 handfuls cloves
  • 1 tbsp black treacle
  • 2 tsp English mustard powder
  • 2 tbsp demerara sugar
  1. I find now that mild-cure gammon doesn't need soaking. If you know that you're dealing with a salty piece, then put it in a pan covered with cold water, bring to the boil then tip into a colander in the sink and start from here; otherwise, put the gammon in a pan, skin side down if it fits like that, add the onion then pour over the cola, til the majority of the joint is immersed in cola
  2. Bring to the boil, reduce to a good simmer, put the lid on, though not tightly, and cook for just under 2 1/2 hours. If your joint is larger or smaller work out timing by reckoning on an hour a kilo altogether, remembering that it's going to get a quick blast in the oven later. But do take into account that if the gammon's been in the fridge right up to the moment you cook it, you will have to give a good 15 or so minutes' extra so that the interior is properly cooked. 
  3. . Meanwhile preheat oven to 240°C/gas 9. 
  4. When the ham's had its time (and ham it is now it's cooked, though it's true that Americans call it ham from its uncooked state) take it out of the pan but do not throw away the cooking liquid. Let the ham cool a little for ease of handling. (Indeed you can let it cool completely then finish off the cooking at some later stage if you want). 
  5. Remove skin, leaving a thin layer of fat. Score the fat with a sharp knife to make fairly large diamond shapes, and stud each diamond with a clove. Then carefully spread the treacle over the bark-budded skin taking care not to dislodge the cloves. Then gently pat the mustard and sugar onto the sticky fat. 
  6. Cook, in a foil lined roasting tin for approximately 10 minutes or till the glaze is burnished and bubbly. 
  7. Should you want to do the braising stage in advance and then let the ham cool, clove and glaze it and give it 30-40 minutes, from room temperature, at 180°C/gas 4, turning up the heat towards the end if you think it needs it.
I love decent slices of this, served with fresh bread, chutney and salad. Pure heaven also, when served with mash!

Now, the other day I tried my hand at slow roasted pulled pork. Everytime I've seen it, my mouth has watered and it was something I knew I had to try! I looked at various recipes to get rough ideas, then trotted down the kitchen and made my own

Chipotle Pulled Pork
  • 1.5kg Pork joint, belly would work best, but I used a rolled joint
  • 1 tsp Mild Chilli Powder
  • 1tsp Paprika
  • 1tsp Ground Ginger
  • 2 tsp Chipotle paste. This stuff is amazing!
  • 3 Tablespoons soft brown sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons White Wine Vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons Sunflower oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  1. Rinse your pork joint, I mean really wash that baby down. Pat dry and place in a decent roasting tin. I actually used an earthenware dish, as it was deep and the joint fitted perfectly.
  2. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a processer and blitz to a paste. Mine was slightly lumpy due to the onion but never fear, it still works. Season lightly
  3. Coat the joint, covering every small nook and cranny you can find, I rubbed it into the crevices and gaps.
  4. Leave to marinade, ideally overnight, in a cool dry place, lightly covered with foil. 
  5. Preheat oven to a lovely low temp of 140c (fan) which is about gas Mark 1. Add a cup of water to the pork and place in the oven for 6 hours, checking every hour or so and turning it every 2. Feel free to top up the paste and water if it looks dry or you are worried it will stick.
  6. Crank up the heat to 180 and roast it skin side up for another 15 to 20 minutes to get the skin crispy. When it’s done, let it rest 15 minutes before shredding, 2 forks should do the job with pure ease.
     Stir the juices through and serve!

    I served mine with home made coleslaw and chips. Utter heaven!

    So there you go, 2 wonderful piggy based dishes. Enjoy!!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Starting with a bang

Happy New Year!!

So, 2012 is finally here. It seems that the new year always makes people start afresh, loaded with resolutions and good intentions to improve themselves on the previous year. To a degree, this includes me. In the past few years I have shifted 3 stone, and I feel great for it, but honestly, I still have a way to go. So, I started my new plan on  new years eve. Yep, the second most indulgent day of the year, and I was being put through my paces with a kettle bell session. You see, the nutrition side of things I don't really struggle with. Cardio? Nope, not an issue even though I am dreading it a little as it has been a while since I put myself through is all. My issue is quite simply, toning. I've tried all manner of things, but to no avail, so I thought I'd call a good friend and ask him his opinion on kettle bells and toning. So, I found myself at his on Saturday, swinging the kettle bell and talking over what it is I would like to achieve. Two days later, I can still feel the workout in my muscles, so I know I actually managed to do something, but with time I should find it less achy and see results when blended with a balanced diet and other forms of exercise too.

So, what does 2012 mean to me health wise? easy!
  • Continue to lose weight, slowly and sensibly
  • Keep exericse going at least 3 times a week
  • Try more foods, expland palate and meal ideas
  • Enjoy it!