Thursday, 31 January 2013

We Should Cocoa - the Sugar Free Round-up

As January comes to a close and some of us have kept to our resolutions, I am particularly pleased to see so many creative and delicious ideas for chocolate recipes without beet or cane sugar - 27 in total. It was a good opportunity for some to go raw as well as sugar free; many now argue that raw foods are better for our health and we should include more in our diets. Dates were the main sweetening agent of choice, they are particularly good as they also add bulk. Making brown food substances look attractive is really quite an art, but everyone seems to have pulled it off successfully. I was pleased to find that many found this month's theme a real challenge, after all, I don't want to lose my status as bad cop all together.

Jen of Blue Kitchen Bakes is hosting We Should Cocoa next month, so do look out for February's ingredient on her blog tomorrow.

Jill of Lapin d'Or and More kicks things off with perhaps not quite such a healthy offering, although I would imagine meat eaters would find it a jolly delicious one. Her inspiration for this chocolate, stilton and bacon toasted sandwich came from Paul A Young's Adventures in Chocolate.

I was so pleased with these raw chocolate truffles that I shall be making them again and again. The main constituents are Medjool dates, cashew nuts and cocoa, but these had a few other ingredients thrown in to make them additionally nutritious.

Over at Elizabeth's Kitchen, things got interesting - pony poo anyone? Designed to give a natural and nutritious boost after visiting the gym, these baked post-workout protein bites did the trick. Pony poo notwithstanding, both Elizabeth and her children found them to be very tasty. And what's inspired these trips to the gym? She's training to be a lifeboat volunteer.

A chocolate detox drink sounds like a bit of a contradiction, but Sarah of Maison Cupcake has invented just such a wonder. Her shrink mummy shake has me off to the shops later to buy some bananas, not something you see that often in this household.

Brownies, being one of my many weaknesses, I was thrilled to discover that Suelle of Mainly Baking managed to get some in to this challenge. Who would have thought you could have a sugar-free brownie? Well Suelle did for one. She reports that these date and maple brownies are light and cake-like, but also moist and tasty.

Our first non-brown photograph brings us more raw truffles from Ruth of Makey-Cakey. These chocolate, date and pistachio truffles were a goodbye offering to her work colleagues as she started a new job earlier this month. I do love pistachios and rolling the truffles in green nuts makes them look really pretty. Congratulations Ruth and good luck.

Made with dried pineapple rings from St Lucia and coconut flakes, this "super healthy" pineapple, coconut and chocolate ripple frozen yogurt looks to be pure delight. Claire of Under the Blue Gum Tree whilst not being completely overwhelmed with the whole sugar-free thing, thought this "wasn't bad at all".

Our third raw chocolate entry is from Jen of Blue Kitchen Bakes. She won a raw chocolate making kit at Christmas and used some of the chocolate to top her raw vegan cookies. These raw chocolate, oat and currant cookies have been cleverly pressed into stars. I've not come across raw cookies before so I will now have to try some for myself. Sweet Freedom, made from carob, apples and grapes is the sweetener used here.

With a baby who's just learnt to walk and two young boys, food for energy is just what is needed in the CityHippyFarmGirl household. Luckily these chocolate agave energy balls pack a punch and sound quite delicious. These are sweetened with agave and honey, although Brydie states agave can be substituted for the honey.

Corina of Searching for Spice was inspired by the sugar-free theme to have a go at using cocoa in a savoury recipe. Her Mexican chicken stew turned out to be a complete success - hooray.

Now this banana, spelt and pecan loaf, may, er, have a little white chocolate drizzled on the top, which isn't strictly sugar free, but Laura of How to Cook Good Food assures me, it's very good without it. It sounds like a very nice loaf indeed and is sweetened with honey.

Sweetened with a mixture of maple syrup and orchard syrup, these vaguely healthy sticky choc-toffee puddings sound truly scrumptious. Gill of Tales of Pigling Bland thought they had a hint of fruitiness from the orchard syrup, which luckily she seemed to approve of.

Snowy of Cookbooks Galore has used pureed dates as a sweetener in the past, so was happy to try out this recipe for chocolate date muffins when she came across it. The consensus seems to be that dates act as a good sweetener as they are very sweet, the taste doesn't overwhelm and they are healthy too.

And here's another We Should Cocoa host who has sneaked a bit of chocolate in! The excuse that Natalie of The HungryHinny gave was that the Pony needs his treats for work and wouldn't eat it without chocolate. Well what can you do? These wheat, dairy and (almost) sugar free chocolate oat bars look wonderful. Sweetened with honey and with peanut butter as one of the ingredients, I'm sure they tasted delicious too.

One of my resolutions this year is to stick to my one day of fasting a week. However, I know lots have other dieting resolutions. One diet I have not heard of until Mari of the Nutty Tart bought my attention to it, is the Paleo Diet. From what I can gather, this seems to be going back to the diet of our ancestors (sort of) and cutting out refined foods, starch and sugars. Anyway, as Mari put it herself, she went caveman this month and baked the Paleo diet chocolate cake - lucky cavemen I say!

Of all the energy bars, truffles and bites that have been baked for We Should Cocoa this month, I don't think any of them have been so prettily packaged as Janice's chocolate cherry energy bars. She admits herself she was a little put off at the idea of sugar free, but thankfully persisted and these delicious bars may now be making a regular appearance on the Farmersgirl Kitchen breakfast table.

Spring cleaning got off to an early start over at Corner Cottage Bakery - a clean up of spices. To use up her spare spices, Hannah created a tasty looking chocolate version of the Egyptian spice mix dukkah - cocoa dukkah.

Elizabeth from The Law Student's Cookbook had a first attempt at chocolate mousse using stevia, but wasn't happy with it. She then opted to try cocoa in her first ever savoury dish. Thankfully, her cocoa and curry rubbed chicken worked much better.

Over at Caroline Makes, things weren't going quite so well. A possible overdose of cocoa in this Mexican chicken in mole sauce might account for Caroline's dislike of the dish. In the spirit of all things Mexican, she consoled herself with a margarita which was much more to her liking.

Chicken has proven to be a firm favourite this month, so much so that Dom of couldn't resist putting his famous thighs on show again. For those not yet familiar with Dom's thighs you may (or may not) want to head over to his exuberant blog Belleau Kitchen. Apple butter chicken thighs with cocoa nibs may not be my thing, but despite the little bit of cheating that went on, I can imagine how that would be if it was tempeh or even halloumi that was treated this way - mmmm.

Luckily, after all this savoury excitment, Mel of Sharky Oven Gloves is giving us some sweet delights in the form of peanut butter and cocoa nibbed cookies massively sweetened by honey. Challenged she might have been, but what a delightful bake has come out of it.

Well take a look at these carrot & coconut muffins with chocolate topping from The Golden Pear. It's not just any old chocolate topping and it's something I'm now very keen to try. The muffins are gluten and dairy free, being made with coconut oil and flour respectively and sweetened with honey. The topping is luxuriously and unusually made with avocado and again sweetened with honey.

There is something about the word nectar which just conjures up something completely sublime. Linzi from Lancashire Food had my mouth watering straight away just from the title of her agave nectar chocolate cake.

Quinoa is one of my favourite grains (although it's not strictly a grain). I've cooked with the flour before, but these quinoa cookie cakes from Nutritious Deliciousness are interestingly baked with the whole grain and thus a new concept to me. The sweetener used here was coconut sugar, which is meant to have a lower glycemic index than cane sugar, honey and agave.

Energy balls have got to top this month's list for popularity. Helen of Fuss Free Flavours used her new dehydrator to make these chocolate, orange, date and seed energy balls. The inclusion of apricots and peanut butter has got me itching to have another go at making some myself.

Honey cake is one of my favourite things and this honey cake not only has chocolate in, but look deliciously gooey and brownie like. Chocolate honey traybake from Utterly Scrummy Food for Families.

Now how about this brilliant recipe from Lucy The KitchenMaid? It's perhaps not a recipe we would want to tuck into, but cocoa bean husks are an excellent ingredient for the garden which can produce lots of lovely things to eat. What I'm wondering is, do the vegetables end up tasting of chocolate - now wouldn't that be something?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Spelt, Rye and Berry Cookies and a Cocoa Comparison

Biscuit recipes are my new obsession, especially easy biscuit recipes. I've always liked biscuits of course, but when it comes to baking, cake has always taken precedence over biscuits and cookies. I suspect being given Biscuit by Miranda Gore Browne as a birthday present last year has something to do with it. A whole book dedicated to biscuits puts a different spin on things. It stayed at the top of my pile of bedside reading for a long time. Despite this, I've only made one recipe from the book: blackcurrant and white chocolate biscuits - until now that is. We were off to spend the afternoon with friends and biscuits being quick and portable were an ideal bake to take along. To fit in with my supposed Healthy January, I went to Miranda's Almost Healthy Biscuits section of the book for inspiration. I got no further than the very first recipe, Super Berry Heroes - excellent, some healthy goji berries and blueberries to give a much needed nutrient boost would be my berries of choice. Not only did these contain an interesting flour mix of spelt and rye, but also included cocoa.

I was recently sent a jolly red pot of Food Thoughts fairtrade, organic cocoa powder to try out and I was very keen to do so. Green & Black's being fairtrade and organic is my go to cocoa, but it's always nice to have some choice. As soon as I saw the organic status was certified by the Soil Association, I felt reassured as they and Demeter are the only certifying bodies I really trust. Fairtrade is really the only way to go - cocoa is a luxury and the people that grow it should be properly recompensed for their efforts. This cocoa comes from the Dominican Republic.

I thought it would be fun to do a taste test with the three cocoas I happened to have in the house: Food Thoughts, Green & Blacks and Bournville. As well as the obvious colour differences, they were all quite distinctive in taste. Bournville is a very pale powder with a sweetish taste, but is rather insipid and lacks character. Green & Black's is very dark, robust and bitter. Food Thoughts is midway between the other two in terms of colour but has a richer chocolate taste than either. However, in terms of packaging, Bournville gets the brownie points. The Bournville pot is about 3/4 of the size of the Food Thoughts one and yet they both contain 125g - when waste is such a big issue for us, over packaging is unnecessary and undesirable.

We are a household of regular cocoa drinkers, but make it with no sugar, mostly water and just a dash of milk. I was interested to compare this with our usual Green & Blacks.  In addition to the colour difference, we immediately noticed it had a more refined taste. It was smoother and less bitter and we really liked it.

This is how I made

Blueberry, Goji Berry, Spelt & Rye Cookies

  • Creamed 120g salted butter with 100g vanilla (golden caster) sugar and 85g muscovado sugar until soft and pale.
  • Beat in 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and one duck egg.
  • Sieved in 60g wholemeal spelt flour and 80g rye flour, together with 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder and 1 tbsp cocoa powder (Food Thoughts).
  • Added 85g rolled oats.
  • Grated in 1/8 tsp nutmeg and mixed together.
  • Stirred in 40g goji berries and 50g dried wild blueberries.
  • Rolled teaspoonfuls of mixture between my hands to make about 30 walnut sized balls.
  • Placed well apart on lined baking trays and baked at 180C for 13 minutes.
  • Left to cool for a couple of minutes, then transferred to a wire rack to cool completely.
In CT's expert opinion, these biscuits were "rather good". Crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside with lots of texture. The cocoa added to the general flavour without being obviously chocolatey, which was absolutely fine. The spicy nutmeg flavour permeates the whole biscuit in a rather delightful way. Although there was no ginger present, they reminded us both of gingerbread in its best form.

Food Thoughts Cocoa is available at Sainsbury's and retails at £2.20

Friday, 25 January 2013

Bread & Butter Chocolate Pudding

Just before my January healthy eating resolve dissolved, I was sent some sachets of Truvia to use. The sachets come in 1/3 of a teaspoon and are really designed for use in cups of tea or coffee. One sachet is equivalent to a teaspoon of sugar. There has been a re-emergence of interest in stevia recently which is the main constituent of Truvia. Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a plant which tastes incredibly sweet, but has zero calories, making it quite tempting as a sugar substitute. It does have a bit of an acquired taste, but in all its years of use, no negative effects have yet been proven. You can find more about Truvia here.

Anyway, I don't like sweet drinks so had no interest in using it in my cup of tea. Instead I had some left over bread I thought would lend itself very nicely to a bread and butter pudding. It's been years since I made this very British pudding - I have no idea why I've waited this long because it's a really good one. I also had some lovely fairtrade chocolate to finish off, so I included that along with the bread.

Sugar Free Bread and Butter Chocolate Pudding Recipe (almost!)

This is what I did to feed 4:
  • Buttered a small Pyrex casserole dish.
  • Cut 14 slices of a large white baguette - about 1 cm thick.
  • Spread each slice with butter.
  • Laid 7 slices at the bottom of the dish.
  • Chopped 60g of dark chocolate (TraidCraft 72%) and scattered half over the bread slices.
  • Layered the remaining bread over the top and scattered on the remaining chocolate.
  • Whisked 2 eggs well with 200ml milk, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 3 level teaspoons of Truvia.
  • Poured this over the bread and left to soak for 15 minutes.
  • Baked in the middle of the oven at 180C for 25 minutes.
This turned out even better than I was hoping; I had been concerned that the chocolate on the top would burn, but no, it melted beautifully. The top was crisp and buttery and the bottom was smooth and custardy. The chocolate gave it an added richness that turned it from an everyday pudding (as if I made puddings every day) into a special event. We ate it warm whilst the chocolate was still melted and it felt truly decadent, but really wasn't. The Truvia gave just the right level of sweetness, but had an aftertaste which is not unpleasant, but takes some getting used to if you are unfamiliar with it. Greedy souls that we are, CT and I consumed the whole thing in one sitting. It was soooo worth it. At least we knew the sugar count was low!

I am submitting this to Calendar cakes, a monthly blogging event hosted by Laura Loves Cakes and Dolly Bakes. The theme this month is for a healthy New Year, New You so I hope this virtually sugar free pudding fits the bill.

As I was using up left over bread and chocolate (not sure that one counts really, as I never find it difficult to use chocolate) I'm entering this into Credit Crunch Munch which you can find out about with hosts Fab Food for All and Fuss Free Flavours.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Chilli and Chocolate Mincemeat Slice

When it came to the Winter Solstice bonfire party a friend was hosting last year, I knew exactly what I wanted to bring along. I'd spotted this fabulous mincemeat slice recipe over at How to Cook Good Food the previous week and thought it would be just the sort of filling treat to keep us warm on a cold and damp winter's night. They would be especially warming as I wanted to use the chilli and chocolate mincemeat I'd made a couple of weeks earlier.

This is how I made them:
  • Creamed 190g unsalted butter with 175g dark muscovado sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Sieved in 180g wholemeal spelt flour and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda.
  • Added 100g rolled oats and stirred to combine - with difficulty as the mixture was quite dry.
  • Put just over half the mixture into a 9'' square mould and pressed it flat to cover the mould. I realised at this point that I didn't really have enough mixture to do this in such a large container (although I did increase Laura's quantities very slightly). Next time I will increase the quantities further.
  • Spooned in a jar of mincemeat - about 300g to cover the base.
  • Added a small egg to the last part of the dough mixture to make it go a little further and spread more easily.
  • Spread this on top of the mincemeat.
  • Baked at 170C for 30 minutes.
  • Allowed to cool, dusted with icing sugar, then cut into 16 slices.
The slices were a great success and something I may now be baking with monotonous regularity. Even CT, not a lover of mincemeat, enjoyed his slice. They were indeed just right for the evening, as we did get rather chilly and damp; the rain decided to descend just as the bonfire was lit. It was a magical scene however, with lanterns set amongst the trees as though we had surprised a gathering of the local piskies. Maybe they weren't too happy to have their secret revealed; when I went to check my camera, no pictures were to be found. Bowls of steaming soup, hunks of bread and fine company kept us in good cheer and we had a lovely evening.

What mincemeat recipes would you recommend?

I'm submitting this to Bookmarked Recipes hosted by Jac over at Tinned Tomatoes.

I'm also submitting this to Made with Love Mondays, the weekly made from scratch event over at Javelin Warrior's Cookin w/ Luv.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Christmas Hampers, Food Gifts & Nibbles

This post featuring foodie gifts may seem a little late, or even very premature, but the Christmas festivities are never over for us until my mother has had her Christmas dinner, featuring a locally reared free range goose and something special for me. Sometimes this happens on Christmas Day, sometimes on New Year's Eve, which is her birthday and sometimes it's later. For Christmas 2012, we were all away on a big family gathering at one of my aunts near Cambridge. My mother decided to extend her stay for a couple of weeks so has not had a chance to have her dinner until today.

Usually, it is my prerogative to bring along a dessert to complement my mother's famous Christmas pudding (the only one CT will eat). However, this year, she has that already sorted so I am bringing the pre-dinner nibbles instead. As well as various nuts, I have marinated some olives, originating from a friend's place in Liguria, with olive oil and oregano.

I've also made some of Nigella's Parmesan shortbreads that look so very tempting on the BBC food site, but look completely different here. Luckily, they taste wonderfully naughty and I've found it very difficult to keep CT at bay and save the majority to take with me today. One of the guests is gluten sensitive, so although these are not completely gluten free, I made them with half gluten free flour and half wholemeal spelt, so the gluten level is very low. Spelt flour can often be tolerated when standard wheat flour cannot. In making the mix, I found it was far too dry, perhaps because these flours absorb more liquid than plain white wheat flour. I ended up adding the white of the egg as well as the yolk and a tablespoon of water. When I cut the rounds (43 in total), they flattened out into rectangles and ended up looking like mini slices of toast I thought - quite cute really.

As these are a Nigella special I am entering them into Forever Nigella, a monthly blog event from Maison Cupcake. This month is being hosted by Recipe Junkie and the Attack of the Custard Creams and the theme is Food to Cherish Your Loved Ones. Making these virtually gluten free is a loving touch I reckon and they will also be shared out lovingly amongst our friends.

So what were in my Christmas hampers in 2012?

Fig, Apple and Pomegranate Jam
Chilli & Chocolate Mincemeat
Chewy Apricot & White Chocolate Cookies
Cinnamon & Honey Christmas Stars
Rosemary Chocolate Truffles
Cookies in a Jar
Ginger Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies
Mincemeat Buns
Chocolate Spoons & Dinosaurs
Peppermint Bark - yet to be posted
Almond and Cinnamon Balls from Belleau Kitchen
Mincemeat Slices - yet to be posted
Chocolate Coated Caramel Brazils
Chocolate Crackles - yet to be posted
Breton Butter Biscuits
Vanilla Extract
Lemon Marmalade


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