Sugar-free Treats – MUCH nicer than you’d think…

Crocus close-up

After the excesses of the Easter weekend and all that chocolate, cake and family get-togethers, maybe it’s time to think about getting back on the straight and narrow?!

Whilst I’m not specifically seeking to cut down on sugar or lose weight, there’s no way of avoiding the fact that sugar has become public enemy No. 1 in the dietary stakes, far outstripping butter and eggs as previous contenders for the title! It may well change again, but I’m only too well aware that eating too much refined sugar can play havoc with your digestive system, to say nothing of your teeth. Cooking most of my food from scratch, I don’t usually fall prey to the hidden sugars that are in much mass-produced food, but I have to confess that I do have a sweet tooth and I love my cakes and puddings.

With that in mind, I’ve recently been experimenting with a number of sugar-free recipes and have been pleasantly surprised by the results. It would certainly be no hardship to have to forego sugar if the alternative was to exist on these! Many sugar-free recipes are based on honey, which is a bit of a disadvantage for me as I can’t stand the stuff – but with a little adaptation, it’s possible to use agave nectar or maple syrup instead, I find. All three recipes are gluten-free too, which is an added boon if you regularly have gluten-intolerant visitors, as I do.

My food mantra is, as ever, everything in moderation – but if you fancy a change and are looking to cut back on your sugar intake, you might want to experiment with these very tempting treats:

The first is a recipe that appeared in a little healthy eating booklet that came free with the Telegraph in the austere month of January. It’s by the “Medicinal Chef”, Dale Pinnock, although I’ve adapted it slightly to suit what I had available. I guarantee that it not only looks pretty, but tastes divine – and not at all earnestly healthy!

FRIDGE FRUIT & NUT BARS

Fridge fruit & nut bars
8 tbsp mixed seeds (I used golden flax, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, pine nuts and poppy, but use any combination of whatever you have to hand!)
2 handfuls goji berries
1 handful pitted dates
1 tbsp chopped nuts (cashews, walnuts, brazils – your choice!)
1 tbsp dried fruit (I used dried cranberries or apricots)
4 tbsp cocoa powder (original recipe says cacao powder, but I didn’t have it, so cocoa worked fine)
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tbsp coconut oil

Topping: 1 tbsp goji berries, 1 tbsp chopped nuts, 1 tbsp dried apricots, chopped

Place the seeds, goji berries, dates, nuts, dried fruit, cocoa/cacao powder, coconut and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until you create a coarse mixture. Melt the coconut oil in a pan over a gentle heat – this will not take long! Pour over the seed and nut mixture in the food processor and process at full speed until combined to form a thick paste. Add more fruit here if you think it looks too runny – everyone’s hands are a different size! However, it will thicken as it sets…

Line a 7” square cake tin with foil and turn the mixture into the tin, pressing down evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle over the topping ingredients and press down firmly with the spatula.

Place in the fridge to set for at least three hours. Cut into 12 pieces and enjoy!

My second recipe was inspired by a colleague on the Foodie Translators Facebook group and is equally sublime: raspberries, dark chocolate and pistachios: what’s not to like? This one definitely does need to be kept in the fridge if you use frozen raspberries as opposed to freeze-dried, but is no less delicious for that and still keeps a fair time – if given the chance! The original recipe is from Fitter Foods, here: https://www.fitterfood.com/recipe/dark-chocolate-raspberry-pistachio-refrigerator-cake/

DARK CHOCOLATE, RASPBERRY AND PISTACHIO BARS

Chocolate, raspberry and pistachio bars

50g pistachios (shelled)
50g pecans, halved
50g desiccated coconut
300g 50-70% dark chocolate
100g butter
50g maple syrup
2 tbsp cacao nibs
75g frozen raspberries (or to taste – this is far more than the original recipe above says, but I can’t resist raspberries – and it was delicious too!)

Line a baking tray, 10” x 6” with foil.
Pre-heat the oven to 150°C/gas 2.
Place the nuts and coconut on a baking tray in the oven to roast, keeping an eye on them. It should only take 10-15 minutes; remove from the oven when golden and allow to cool.
Place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir until both have melted. Stir in the maple syrup.

Add the frozen raspberries, nuts, coconut and cacao nibs.

Pour into the foil-lined tray and place in the fridge to set for at least 1 hour.
Slice into chunky bars to serve – I found it very crumbly, but this certainly doesn’t detract from the stupendous taste! Keep refrigerated.

My final recipe was based originally on a River Cottage recipe for an uncooked Fruity Fridge Flapjack: https://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/fruity-fridge-flapjacks. I’d fancied the recipe for a while, but when I made it for the first time, I was rather disappointed: it didn’t set, for one thing, even after the specified 23 hours in the fridge (!) and a token spell in the oven, and tasted rather virtuous and bland, even over-sweet (I’d used an equivalent quantity of agave nectar to the honey suggested in the recipe). My younger son, a committed foodie, refused point-blank to eat it, saying he much preferred my normal flapjack and blow the sugar and butter content – which wasn’t quite the point….! However, I thought it had potential and determined to experiment with some added oomph in the form of toasted coconut and cinnamon – and less agave nectar. This is the result – which I really rather enjoyed – see what you think! I’m not saying it can compete with White Chocolate Rocky Road Flapjack in the decadence stakes, but if it’s a healthy treat you’re after, this may well fit the bill.

JENGA FLAPJACK

Flapjack Jenga

    50g pitted dates
50g dried figs
1 banana, peeled (as ripe as you like)
50 ml agave nectar
2 tbsp coconut oil
150g oats
30g desiccated coconut, toasted
50g sultanas
50g dried apricots, finely chopped
1 tbsp hemp seeds
1 tbsp golden flax seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp sunflower seeds (or use seeds of your choice)
1 tsp cinnamon

 Line a 7” square shallow baking tin with foil.
Put the dates, figs, banana, agave nectar, cinnamon, coconut oil, (melted in the microwave if necessary) and 1 tablespoon water in a food processor and blitz to a thick purée.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, toasted coconut, sultanas, chopped apricots and seeds.
Stir in the puréed fruit mixture and mix well. The mixture should be quite stiff at this stage.
Tip the fruity oat mixture into the prepared tin and gently press it out as evenly as possible.
Put the tin in the fridge overnight to allow the flapjack to set, then turn out onto a board and slice into 12-14 long bars.

The perfect healthy mid-morning snack!

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Green roofs, sowing seeds – it must be Spring!

After a few days away, I’ve returned home to a garden that’s considerably drier than it has been in months and with a fair sprinkling of crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths brightening the horizon every which way you look. Thursday, my first day back, was also gloriously sunny, although the weekend, when I first had chance to get out in the garden, has been cold and overcast for the most part, with the sun finally deigning to shine this afternoon.

Daffodil tub against fence
Weather or no weather, it’s been great to get out and finally start on those Spring tasks: I mowed the lawn yesterday, which instantly makes the garden look a whole lot better. I’ve also planted up my latest project, a log store with a green roof, inspired by seeing a similar design for a wheelie bin store at the Hampton Court Flower Show last year.

Log store - unplanted

I explained to a carpenter friend what I wanted and after much head-scratching, he came up with the following very smart structure, with a hidden gutter and lined with roofing felt and three long flat trays for planting. I lined each tray with an old towel to act as the substrate and hopefully stop the drainage holes from clogging, then filled with a mix of equal parts John Innes No. 3 compost, grit sand and horticultural grit. Finally came my favourite part, the planting: lots of thymes, sedums, sempervivums, small bulbs, phlox, lithodora, saxifrage, geranium, erodium and a gorgeous deep red Primula Auricula. Looking forward to seeing how it does over the coming season! Dusk was falling as I took the final pictures, but I’m hoping for great things.

Log store planted - from front

Log store planted at dusk

Today saw me getting the propagator out from its winter storage in the garage and planting seeds, which always makes it feel like Spring has arrived. I sowed aubergines (Bonica, which were superb last year, and a mixed pack of Asian and European varieties, all different colours), Jalapeno chillis, Romano peppers, purple globe artichokes, parsley, basil, three kind of leeks, Lobelia Cambridge Blue and Achillea Summer Berries. Amazing to think how much fabulous produce will result from those tiny little seeds….

 

Propagator

Let the 2016 season commence!