Tag Archives: healthy eating

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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After the storm – healthy ways with leftovers

Pre-Christmas walk at Bewl

These early days in January, after the social whirl of Christmas and the New Year festivities, can be a bit of an anticlimax, especially if the weather persists in being wet and miserable, as it has in this little corner of Sussex – and I suspect across the country. I’m full of a cold too, doubtless not helped by the constant walks in sodden clothing through waterlogged fields and woods. At least we haven’t been flooded here, unlike wide swathes of the UK, but it certainly hasn’t been a time for sorting out the allotment, as I’d hoped.

After the torrent of visitors and social activities, it’s actually quite nice to get back to normal. I’ve taken the Christmas tree down today, early, I know, but I wanted to start the first working week of the New Year with cleared decks tomorrow – and the house feels much less cluttered and calmer as a result. The fridge, too, is slowly returning to normal after all the festive richness, lovely as it was. I’ve been enjoying the remains of a beautiful gammon joint the last few days in a spicy tomato and ham pasta sauce, a mellow squash, leek and ham risotto, homemade pizza and a delicious vegetable and ham gratin with a gluten-free Béchamel sauce made with rice flour and with crumbled oatcakes as a crunchy topping. Oh and my son and his fiancée took a chunk of the huge joint (thanks, Mr Waitrose!) home with them too.

Other leftovers clamouring to be used included a bag of cranberries and some smoked salmon. The cranberries have been turned into Bacon and Cranberry Pancakes (yum!) for a late breakfast on New Year’s Day and Cranberry Eton Mess for dessert tonight. The last of the smoked salmon, however, went into a refreshingly different pasta dish for last night’s supper; I didn’t fancy a creamy sauce after the excesses of the previous week, and so concocted this brassica-based dish from the contents of my fridge / allotment as a healthy antidote to all the rich food of the season. See what you think!

Kale, Smoked Salmon & Pine Nut Linguine – serves 1 Kale and salmon pasta

150g cavolo nero or kale

1 red onion, finely sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped

Handful pine nuts

50g smoked salmon, chopped

Olive oil

1 tsp sesame seeds

Sesame oil to finish

50-75g linguine (or pasta of your choice)

Seasoning

Grated Parmesan to garnish

Cook the sliced onion and chopped garlic in a slug of olive oil until starting to soften. Meanwhile, put the linguine on to cook as usual. Remove and discard any hard central stems from the kale or cavolo nero and finely chop the rest. Add to the pan with the pine nuts and cook for a further few minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, sprinkle in the sesame seeds and chopped smoked salmon, then add a swirl of sesame oil if the mixture looks remotely dry – this will ensure it blends unctuously with the pasta.

Drain the pasta and add to the pan. Serve topped with grated Parmesan and enjoy!

After thoroughly relishing this, I went on to read in two separate articles, one in yesterday’s Times, and the other in the February edition of Good Housekeeping, that kale is one of a number of super “sirtfoods” that contain sirtuins, helping to promote the so-called skinny gene and encourage a healthy diet, encouraging natural weight loss if that’s what takes your fancy. Others include virgin olive oil and red onions, so I had unknowingly created a super-healthy supper – no wonder it tasted so good! Coffee, dark chocolate and red wine are also sirtfoods – fascinating! While it may well turn out to be yet another food fad, anything so delicious has to be worth a try.

Now on to my cranberry extravaganza (not on the list of sirtfoods, unfortunately, but cranberries are up there with blueberries for their antioxidant properties). I love dried cranberries in cookies, tray bakes and in salads, for a different dimension, but I rarely use the fresh variety for anything other than Cranberry Relish. A friend, before Christmas, added them to an apple crumble along with mincemeat, where they gave a lovely zingy tang. These pancakes, from a cutting unearthed in my ancient recipe scrapbook, are quite a revelation too:

Bacon and Cranberry Pancakes – makes 16 Bacon and cranberry pancakes

4 rashers streaky bacon (or chopped ham if you have leftovers!)

175g plain flour

1 heaped tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 large eggs

150ml crème fraiche or soured cream

100ml milk

50-75g cranberries

Rapeseed oil to cook

Maple syrup or icing sugar to serve

Chop the bacon into small pieces (I use scissors) and fry in its own fat until golden and crispy.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs in another bowl with the crème fraiche or sour cream and milk, then stir into the dry ingredients and whisk with an electric whisk until you have a smooth batter. Stir the bacon and cranberries into the batter.

Heat the oil in the same frying pan and add small ladlefuls of the batter, four at a time, cooking for 2-3 mins each side until golden brown.

Keep warm whilst you make the rest.

Serve warm with maple syrup or butter and icing sugar.

Vegetarians can omit the bacon and just make cranberry pancakes, of course.

Any left-over (kept in the fridge if you use bacon or ham) are delicious toasted and served as above.

My final leftover recipe isn’t particularly healthy per se, because of the cream and sugar content, but my motto has always been “everything in moderation” – and this uses up the last of the cranberries nicely.

Cranberry Eton Mess cranberry eton mess

150ml double cream

150ml natural yogurt

200g cranberries

1 orange, zest and juice

3-4 tbsp Demerara sugar

Crumbled meringues

Cook the cranberries gently in the orange juice, zest and sugar until tender – 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool completely. Whip the double cream until soft peaks form, then fold in the natural yogurt, followed by the roughly broken meringues – I use homemade (left-over from a Christmas Pavlova), so hard to specify a quantity: just until there’s a fair proportion of meringue rubble compared to cream and yogurt! Finally gently fold in the cranberry compote to create a rippled effect. Chill before serving.