Thursday, 28 February 2013

CHocolate & Quinoa muffins with butternut squash or sweet potato - great for kids parties!

For the origins of this recipe, and my thoughts on which version is best, see my post about the taste test. There is also a beetroot version of this cake (divine, one particularly for chocolate devotees) here.

This recipe would be a great choice for a children's party, suitable from first birthdays onwards. Its a lovely chocolate flavour, not too rich, with lots of healthy ingredients. Plus, there's little here to trouble most kids' allergies or food issues: no egg, no soy, no dairy, no nuts, no refined sugars. Not bad!

Chocolate and quinoa muffins, with either sweet potatoes or butternut squash


Set oven to 180 C
  • about 1 1/2 cups roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 1/2  tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (about 1/3 cup uncooked)
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt or seagreens*
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup rapeseed oil or melted dairy free spread
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk (or almond or rice milk)
1. When roasting the vegetables, cut them into 1 inch squares, toss in oil and roast uncovered for about 30-40 minutes at about 180C until soft when pierced with a fork. Don't let them get too crispy. Set aside to cool.
2.  If using uncooked quinoa, place it in a pan and cover by at least 2 inches with hot water. Bring to the boil and cook at an enthusiastic simmer for 10-15 minutes until the quinoa is soft and the individual seeds have turned opaque and the white section is starting to come away. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside to dry out (important not to use wet).
3. Place roasted vegetables, syrup and vanilla in food processor and pulse to mix,  then process on high for a couple of minutes until very smooth. 
4..  Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a bowl.  Add quinoa, vegetable puree and coconut milk to mixture and stir to combine.
5.  Add in oil or melted spread and stir well with a spoon.
6.  Line cupcake tin with paper cups or grease with oil spray and fill 3/4 of the way full with batter.
Bake at 180 C for 16-19 minutes (this amount makes 22 small-medium cupcakes). Top should be firm to light touch.  Let cool for 15 minutes.
* What are Seagreens? They are a finely ground combination of seaweeds which can be used widely in cooking. They are an excellent source of iodine, which is very important to the body and can be hard to get adequately as a non-meat and dairy eater. Seagreens have slightly nutty and salty flavour and can be used instead of salt so long as the salt isn't having a chemical effect (as in bread making). I chuck it in anything and everything, but especially baking as I love making traditionally treat-type food more healthy.

This recipe is shared at Allergy-Free Wednesday at Laura's Gluten Free Pantry

Chocolate Muffins - the Sweet potato vs Butternut Squash experiment (with an oil vs spread twist)!

I love my beetroot and chocolate muffins, especially since I started putting quinoa in them to feel that bit more virtuous about eating prodigious amounts of cake.

However, this winter I have been a little frustrated at not being able to always get beetroot and therefore not getting my muffins! It's my fault for not always remembering to buy it at the weekly market, but it's very annoying that even in the height of the beetroot season my local supermarket does not stock this lovely vegetable. It also got me thinking about what I would do when it wasn't in season.

So I decided to have a little experiment and selflessly eat many muffins in the name of deciding on a decent alternative. I also wanted to try using rapeseed oil rather than sunflower spread as on a plant based diet you need to be careful to keep your omega 6's (lots in sunflower oil, less in rapeseed oil) in balance with your omega 3's (easily swamped by omega 6's).

The two most obvious candidates to replace beetroot are butternut squash and sweet potato. Neither fulfill the 'homegrown' ideal but are at least pretty much always available. And once roasted, they are both lovely and sweet and easy to puree. I made a half batch of muffins with each, and in both batches I used an equivalent amount of rapeseed oil to replace the melted sunflower spread.


And....?

Both muffins were thoroughly tested by myself, my husband and my 20 month old son. We all agreed (ok, maybe not my boy - his language skills aren't quite at that level yet) that we couldn't detect much difference at all. Husband slightly preferred the sweet potato, and I slightly preferred the butternut squash. All three of us have happily have eaten both. The oil made no detectable difference, the muffins seemed exactly the same in texture.

What about the beetroot comparison...?

Well, this is just me as I have definitely eaten many more of the beetroot muffins than my husband...but I would say that the new versions didn't have quite the same depth of chocolately flavour. The pairing of beetroot with chocolate is a divine one, as the beetroot noticeably enhances the chocolate. Having said that, from the way he has stuffed these new muffins down without hesitation, my boy prefers the new versions. I think the beetroot ones are a little rich for him.



So, final thoughts...?

I would happily eat any of the versions, and confidently give them to other people as they are all lovely chocolate cakes in their own rights. I was really pleased with how successful the oil substitution was.  The best thing though was my boy's reaction. With the healthy oil, the quinoa and the vegetables, these are pretty healthy muffins and great for getting good calories into little tummies! This would also make a great cake choice for a children's party.

I have posted the recipe for both varieties here.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Meal Planning Monday (25 February 2013)

When I looked in the fridge this morning I was astonished to see quite a bit of food. I didn't think I'd done that much cooking recently, but there were pots of leftovers all over the place. The next two days are easily taken care of.

It got me thinking, too, about what the contents of our fridge said about what we'd been up to. Eccentric thought, perhaps. I might be guilty of being a little brain dead today and that's about all I was capable of! Still, let's play it out shall we?

Leftover 1: soup. Vegetable & lentil. Cooked yesterday so our little boy could have a nutritious and delicious supper. Quite tasty, but he didn't eat it. Typical.

Leftover 2: bean chilli. Very tasty but not actually hot at all on account of the boy being off chilli right now as I couldn't be doing with cooking two different meals on Saturday. Still, everyone enjoyed it, though it did make one too many rice based meals in a row which always make my husband twitchy. He's a potato man really. Preferably two types in one meal, which I never do, so he's permanently disappointed.

Leftover 3: dhal. I'm never really happy unless there is some kind of curry leftover in the fridge. It's a comfort thing, since it makes a grand meal any time of day. Yesterday I even had curry for brunch. I must do that more often.

Leftover 4 & 5: roasted butternut squash and sweet potato. Leftovers from an experiment I am conducting to see whether chocolate muffins made with either of those vegetables can match chocolate muffins made with beetroot, which I can't always get in these wastelands of vegetable-ness.  Said muffins are now tucked away in a box and I will publish the results of this exciting experiment in the next couple of days.

Leftover 6: mushroom risotto. Smaller amount than expected due to us and the friends we had round to dinner being utter pigs in clover with this delicious dish. A happy dinner all round.

Now, what did that achieve? Not a lot really but I found it quite amusing.

So, once we've motored our way through those leftovers here's the plant-based plan for the rest of the week.

Bean & Sausage Casserole
Using our newly discovered homemade vegan sausages 
(tweeking recipe before I post it)

Potato, mushroom & spinach curry with (more) dhal & (more) rice

Bolognese
I didn't get round to this last week so my freezer is still sadly bare

Flapjack
(I'll be pushing the boat out and trying to make it without butter. Really, yes!)

Doesn't seem like much, but those leftovers will go a long way. There'll probably be more soup and sandwiches.

For a looksy at what other people are eating this week, head over to At Home with Mrs B or if you are Stateside, go to I'm an Organizing Junkie 

Monday, 18 February 2013

Chocolate, quinoa & beetroot muffins - dairy and egg free

These muffins are a variation on these Chocolate and Beetroot muffins, slightly altered to deliver a nice shot of protein. They are dairy free, egg free and low in sugar having only some maple syrup in them. Perfect for children and adults, anyone on a plant-based diet or if you just fancy a guilt-free chocolate cake (and who wouldn't want one of those!).

And they taste delicious! Surely this is about as good as chocolate cake can get?

Chocolate, quinoa and beetroot muffins

Set oven to 180 C
  • about 1 cup cooked beetroot (roasted or steamed)
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 1/2  tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (about 1/3 cup uncooked)
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt or seagreens*
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup melted dairy free spread
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk (or almond or rice milk)
1.  If steaming the beetroot, scrub them then lightly peel any rough skin. Cut off top and bottom.  Cut into cubes and set  in steamer or placed in a metal colander on top of pot filled with about 4-5 inches of water covered on med high heat.  Beetroot should not touch the water.  Steam for about 30-45 minutes.  Pieces should be soft when pierced with a fork.  Set aside to cool completely.  This step can be done the day before.
1a. If roasting the beetroot, scrub them then lightly peel any rough skin. Cut off top and bottom and quarter. Toss in oil (I use rapeseed or olive oil) and put into a roasting pan, cover with foil and roast for about 40 minutes at about 180C until soft when pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool completely.
2.  If using uncooked quinoa, place it in a pan and cover by at least 2 inches with hot water. Bring to the boil and cook at an enthusiastic simmer for 10-15 minutes until the quinoa is soft and the individual seeds have turned opaque and the white section is starting to come away. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside to dry out.
3. Place cooked beetroot, syrup and vanilla in food processor and pulse to mix,  then process on high for a couple of minutes until very smooth. 
4..  Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a bowl.  Add quinoa, beetroot and coconut milk to mixture and stir to combine.
5.  Add in melted spread and stir well with a spoon.
6.  Line cupcake tin with paper cups or grease with oil spray and fill 3/4 of the way full with batter.
Bake at 180 C for 16-19  minutes. (11 minutes for mini cupcakes). Top should be firm to light touch.  Let cool for 15 minutes.

* What are Seagreens? They are a finely ground combination of seaweeds which can be used widely in cooking. They are an excellent source of iodine, which is very important to the body and can be hard to get adequately as a non-meat and dairy eater. Seagreens have slightly nutty and salty flavour and can be used instead of salt so long as the salt isn't having a chemical effect (as in bread making). I chuck it in anything and everything, but especially baking as I love making traditionally treat-type food more healthy.

Meal Planning Monday (18 February 2013)

This week, milestones are on my mind. On Tuesday I had an MRI scan on the arm where I had a bone tumour removed two and a half years ago, with clear results. This leaves me scan free for the next 18 months which is lovely and the clear results are a big relief.

The day itself was difficult as the scan meant I couldn't breastfeed for 24 hours. It turns out breastfeeding is still massively important to my little boy and he was very distressed, and of course didn't understand why all of a sudden he couldn't feed. Sometimes, 24 hours is a very long time.

This week also sees a milestone for my best friend, whose twin girls have just turned one. They say the hardest year with twins is the first one, and it's certainly been a challenge. I miss living close to her but we work hard at keeping in daily contact and sharing the little details of our lives despite the distance. Good friends are to be celebrated, like good news, especially if your time together is fleeting.

None of that has much to do with food let alone meal planning, but posting about the coming week in food is making me reflective! This week's meal plan is simpler than it maybe looks. Lots of greens, lots of root veg, and a big batch of (hopefully nicer than the last batch) bolognese sauce for the freezer. My freezer is pretty bare and needs so loving attention to stock it back up. I feel like experimenting a little as well (spurred on by my new flapjack variation) hence the mango muffins plan...and my new Meal Planning Monday logo (still deciding if I like it)!


Slow cooked vegetable soup
For lunches, along with sandwiches

Root vegetable and green lentil stew, served with mixed greens and bread
Pepped up with a few dried mushrooms, a splash of wine and some sage

Vegan Sausages, with mash and greens and mushroom gravy
I'm having a go at homemade ones using vital wheat gluten to give them some bite

Roast dinner
Nut and quinoa roast, roasted root veg, greens, Yorkshire puds and gravy

Mushroom pie
If I can get a good deal on nice mushrooms at the market

Spaghetti Bolognese
Too many lentils last time, I need to pin down my recipe and concentrate!

Almond Smoothie
I have a challenge to fulfill, but more on that later!

Mango and quinoa muffins
The boy has rejected my tinned mango so it needs using up

Not had any for far too long and am pining...

What do you think? I might even make a first attempt at my plan to adapt my chocolate avocado pudding recipe into an even healthier super-pudding for baby and toddler plant eaters who need lots of healthy calories, vitamins and minerals. I like a good challenge!

For a looksy at what other people are eating this week, head over to At Home with Mrs B or if you are Stateside, go to I'm an Organizing Junkie 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Toddler friendly no added sugar flapjack with added vegetables!

It's alright, I haven't gone mad with the title: this is flapjack cranked up to the next level. Just as lovely, but that bit more virtuous. If you've already tried my Orange & Date no added sugar Flapjack you'll see it's virtually the same recipe, just with a different spice and some added veg.

You may ask why vegetables in flapjack, which after all is a treat food and not an essential. Fair question.

A few months ago I set myself a personal challenge: to make our food work as hard as possible for our bodies and our health, without losing out on the taste or even the satisfaction of eating treat foods.

I have come to believe that it is a bit bonkers to eat things we know harm us, when they are not essential or even always all that satisfying to eat. We all go bonkers from time to time, me included (I found a white chocolate snowman in my rucksack last night someone had given me for the boy and let's just say, it didn't last long, dairy or no dairy) and my husband's weakness will always be the all day breakfast when we're out and about.

This is why I am teaching myself to bake without refined sugars and weaning us onto the healthier fats. Its an ongoing project and will probably never be completely finished, but its an increasing passion of mine. So, enough waffle, here's the recipe.


Orange & Date no added sugar Flapjack with Carrot & Spinach

Ingredients

150g stoned dates, chopped fine
5 tbsp orange juice
zest of 1/2 medium orange
150g dairy free butter / spread
100g raisins or sultanas
225g porridge oats
1/2 tsp mixed spice
75g grated carrot
60g finely chopped spinach

Preheat the oven to 170 C fan ovens or 180 C for conventional ovens.

Line and grease or oil a 10 inch round cake tin, or similarly sized tin.

Pour the orange juice over the dates and add the orange zest. Stir well to coat the dates and then leave to steep for at least 1/2 hour if you have time, even a few minutes is good though. Once steeped, mash the dates as much as possible (I use a fork or you could try a hand blender) until you have a lumpy sticky mixture (many of the dates won't mash but that's fine).

Melt the butter / spread in a saucepan and add the date mixture and raisins / sultanas. Heat gently until it is all combined.

Add the oats, mixed spice, carrots and spinach and mix. If it looks a little dry, add a bit more melted butter but it shouldn't need it. Turn into your prepared tin. A 10 inch round loose bottomed cake tin (or equivalent square one) would be perfect. Lightly press down the mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned on top. Cut into 12-16 squares (depending on the size you want) and leave in the tin until fully cooled or it will break apart.

Taste tested and approved by 20 month old and 43 year old boys. Enjoy and feel good!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Taking Slummy Mummy to a new low

I actually mistyped the title of this post the first time around, but on consideration think I should have left it as it was: Slumpy Mummy. Oh yes, that's me.

I have never been one for fine tuning my appearance. If I manage to remember all my clothes I chalk it up as an achievement. Motherhood is not to blame for this as I have been this way for time immemorial, but it certainly hasn't helped. It turns out that having to get the child and myself ready to go out, while helpful husband is sitting in the car with the engine on, is beyond my meagre organisational capabilities.

Yesterday was a prime example. I'd actually done quite well. There were nappies, water, coat and a hat for the child. Money in my wallet. Dogs let out and their pretensions to joining us on our trip nicely squashed. I'd not been able to locate any shoes that fitted the child but wellies were a great last minute find.

I settled into the car to only mild irritated tutting from the husband (who had no legs to stand on since he installed the child in the car without noticing he had no shoes on). We roared off to our wonderful holiday day trip out (otherwise known as the only play barn in the area).

It was only when we were half way there that I looked down and realised I was wearing the manigan. In a panic, I scanned the car to find a suitable alternative, the play barn being frigidly cold at all times, but there was nothing beyond a scarf. This would come in handy but couldn't by any stretch of the imagination replace the manigan for warmth.

For those of you who don't know, a manigan is a cardigan for men. Stylish, hip and trendy at times, but our manigan is a breed in its own league. The manigan to beat all manigans.

I wear it because it is warm and our stove-heated flat is cold in these winter mornings. What my husband's excuse is I don't know, but the garment has achieved cult status in our house. It's awful. It's grey, bobbly and shapeless. It has nasty big plastic buttons on it. It never gets washed often enough. I frequently button it up wrong and fail to notice. We spot manigans when we are out near clothes shops, but none have so far replaced the dreadfulness that is our family manigan.

And if you're wondering why I didn't provide a photo of me in said manigan I will just say this. My standards might be low, but not that low. As for the play barn, at least it was quiet and I could brazen it out without hip trendy mothers (who have nowhere else round here to take their precious ones on a wet Wednesday in February) shrinking from me in horror.

On the plus side, realising I was wearing the manigan took away any feelings of worry about the fact that I had yet again failed to brush my hair.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Turning a house into a home without spending a penny!

We finished the bulk of our flat renovations last summer but haven't had a chance before now to really start to make it a home, so it's been bare walls and much talked of shelving plans all autumn and winter. But my husband has taken advantage of our current two weeks holiday to nail some of those plans down (ha ha!) and I am loving the results!

We don't have any money to spend on the flat right now so we are using things we already own and can restyle.

Here, Kev has made an over-window shelving unit to make better use of a deep window recess. He has also fitted a computer table and shelving above so I can blog in comfort. All the picture frames have come from charity shops over the years.



The shelving is all made from floorboards we've taken up from various parts of the building and the computer table was an old kitchen table that had spent two years in someone's front garden and then another two in our not very watertight shed. It's scrubbed up very nicely!



Our lovely new bathroom has also had some attention. Some generous neighbours gave us some bathroom paint they didn't need and this time the shelving is leftover from flooring we laid in the pub some years ago (good solid oak). We already owned the big mirror and the little shaving mirror was a charity shop find.



More bathroom shelving is being manufactured as I type. It is amazingly satisfying to still be able to get our home in order while not spending any money. It also helps no end with tidying the place up...!

What projects have you been up to recently?

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Meal Planning Monday (4 February 2013)

Shockingly this is my first Meal Planning post of 2013! I must admit to have been a tad distracted so far this year, but I really need to get back on track with the meal planning so here we are.

So far my distractions have been pretty good, which is everything I hoped for after a rough year last year. Hubby has had a follow-up cholesterol test after two years and I am still dancing the fandango around the room because his cholesterol is down from a fear-inducing 7.3 to a very respectable 4.3! All hail to the plant based diet.

I have also been having fun with finances which is very unlike me (massive understatement). But thanks to a lovely new super-efficient accountant and me finally getting to grips with sites such as confused.com and moneysupermarket I have had a very satisfying prune of our finances, not to mention a socking great big tax refund.

Plus,we are on our annual two week shut down of the pub so we get our evenings to ourselves day after day! Such a luxury for us, as two weeks is not much to get in an entire year.

So, onto food. I have two themes this week. The first is exploring the darker reaches of my store cupboard to use up those things which have been hanging around for far too long. The second is a cookbook called the Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, which I haven't really tried out enough and feel the need to bond with.

As ever, all meals are meat and dairy free and (hopefully) delicious!

Mushroom, leek & quinoa pie
with mash and purple sprouting broccoli

Vegetable & bean cutlet

Red lentil & cauliflower curry 
with flat bread and rice

Mexican Bean soup

Mushroom & wild rice soup
got some wild rice on offer ages ago and never used it so here we are

Fragrant yellow split peas with carrots
(another store cupboard adventure...)
with flat bread and rice

Roast dinner with nut & quinoa loaf
new favourite thing to have with a roast, seriously good

To make my life a little less hectic and less kitchen orientated, I have instituted a 'always have a pot of soup available' rule. The standard is my slow cooked vegetable soup which we all love and I can easily add quinoa to if we want a protein boost. Makes a great snack, easy to put with sandwiches for a bigger lunch and a very happy meal since my boy (19 months old) says 'Hmmmm' with a big grin after every slurped mouthful!

We are also enjoying baking together at the moment. Recent hits which I will post soon include almond & quinoa muffins (excellent) and chocolate quinoa cookies (still need a bit of work). I also have a new variety of flapjack with added vegetables. Yes, really!

For a looksy at what other people are eating this week, head over to At Home with Mrs B or if you are Stateside, go to I'm an Organizing Junkie 

Enjoy your week and I'd love to hear your comments.