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Posts Tagged ‘Healthy’

A Cocoa Carrot Cake

Firstly, sorry for the woeful lack of posts this past week. I have an excuse though: some sort of throat virus that attacks anonymously but leaves its trace for several long, protracted days. Moving from the bed, much less blogging, was completely out of the question for the past few days but the good news is, apart from a nasty sinus headache (any tips for clearing that one up? I’ve tried every pill going and none of them seem to touch it) I’m back to 65/70% recovery and so I present to you a post that I started on Monday before I fell ill….(oh and I will get back to each one of you who commented or stumbled me…very soon!!).

I don’t know many people who dislike Carrot Cake. I prefer it everytime over chocolate cake. Perhaps it’s the always exciting spiciness of the cinnamon and cloves or is it the rich cream cheese icing (I always say I  love a bit of cake with my icing). Or is it the slightly perverse thrill at putting a vegetable into a cake?
carrot-cake-31

I suppose it could be the fact that Carrot Cake was once lauded as healthy. For sure it is missing the butter element but that cream cheese topping is about as calorific as it comes although there must be healthier options for the icing. I just don’t want to know about them.

For me, I enjoy the relentless moistness of the cake, the fact that it lasts forever in the cake tin (providing you don’t eat it first) and that tang of cream cheese followed by the spiciness of the cake when you take your first bite.  Oh, and it is really easy to make. In fact, it was the first cake I ever made, in Domestic Science class (that’s cookery to you and me), when I was about 10 years old. It is my favourite type of cake mixture, pour and stir. No creaming necessary. There is that annoyingly prolonged time spent grating carrots but if you have a food processor that element is despatched post haste too.

carrot-cake-21This recipe is slightly different, because, what with this being a chocolate blog and all, it uses Cocoa Powder. The flavour is not overpowered by the cocoa but simply enhanced and given extra depth. The original recipe used (from the Divine Heavenly Chocolate Recipes cookbook) used Cocoa Powder in the Icing too but I omitted that because I love the white, fluffy purity of the original cream cheese icing. I have given both options here in case you want to go all out cocoa mad though.

They're not real carrots - they're coconut!

They not real carrots- they're coconut!

For the Cake:

3 Large Free Range Eggs

175g Caster Sugar

200ml Sunflower Oil

250g Grated Carrot

200g Plain Flour

3 Tablespoons Good Quality Cocoa Powder

1 Tsp Cinnamon

1 Tsp Ground Ginger

1 Tbsp Baking Powder

125g Walnut Pieces (optional)

For the Icing

100g Soft Unsalted Butter

100g Cream Cheese

300g Sieved Icing Sugar

5 Tablespoons Sieved Cocoa Powder (optional)

METHOD:
Preheat oven to 180c.

Line and grease two 8″ Round Sandwich Tins.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl until light and frothy. Gradually beat in the oil. A hands free or electric hand whisk is by far the quickest method here.

Stir in the grated carrots.

In a separate bowl, sieve together the Flour, Baking Powder, Spices and Cocoa Powder and stir into the carrot/egg/sugar/oil mixture.

Fold in nuts if using.

Pour evenly into the two prepared sandwich tins and bake for about 25 minutes or until soft to the touch. A skewer may not come out completely clean as carrot cake is always supposed to be very moist.

Leave to cool in the tins and then turn out. Once completely cool, cover and fill with the following icing:

To make the icing, mix together all the ingredients until a thick but spreadable and very creamy icing emerges.

You can decorate with chopped walnuts if you like, or some coconut carrots that, implausibly, my Mum had in her bread bin!

Enjoy!

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“What’s that? A healthy Chocolate Cake?” I hear you gasp. Well, yes and no. It has no butter in it, so you’re already losing the fat element. It has banana, of course, which we all know is really good for you (high in potassium which is great for regulating blood pressure and the function of the heart, not to mention they’re incredibly soothing if you suffer from mouth ulcers), and it has Malt Extract. Whilst this may seem like an extravagance, Malt Extract not only tastes fantastic but it is a useful daily supplement due to it’s abundance of Vitamin B. And it habanana-cake-3s the most amazing affinity with chocolate (It is also a slow digesting sweetner which is better for people with issues with sugar. But mostly, it just tastes fantastic. Fans of Maltesers/Malt Balls will be nodding in vociferous encouragment). A further incentive for buying some Malt Extract: if added to bread dough, it gives a wonderful flavour.

Furthermore, the cake uses unrefined Demerara Sugar which is a slightly more natural sugar and gives a wonderful caramel-like taste to anything it touches. The chocolate element is a low-sugar cocoa. I used Green and Blacks Organic Cocoa Powder which has a richer taste than say Cadburys Cocoa Powder (although Cadburys powder has a milk chocolate taste which some people may prefer). This dark as coal dust Cocoa has rich, almost smoky taste, deeply chocolately and definitely for the grown ups.
The icing is also a healthier option, just water, icing sugar and more cocoa powder. None of that sticky, unctuous butter icing for this cake. Water Icing always reminds me of my Grandmother who used to ice her Fairy Cakes with it. Most bakeries over here still use it on their iced buns, Belgian Buns etc. It is a much more economical option too.

monkey1Anyway, a cake that tastes this moist, this chocolately and this banana-ry doesn’t need any other fripperies.
And because it is so simple to make – literally a pour and stir cake – children interested in cooking would also have lots of fun joining in, mashing the banana and getting all gooped up from the malt and syrup. You could even convert this into little cupcakes instead and if you’re feeling really artistic, make some marzipan bananas!

So, if you fancy making a healthy, slightly lower-fat than usual chocolate banana cake, here’s the recipe:

CHOCO-BANANA CAKE
Ingredients:
CAKE
2 Bananas, mashed well
225g Self-Raising Flour OR 225g Plain Flour with 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
3 Tablespoons Good Quality Cocoa Powder, preferably organic
115g Light Muscovado Sugar
2 Tablespoons Malt Extract
2 Tablespoons Golden Syrup (or Corn Syrup)
2 Eggs
4 Tablespoons Skimmed Milk
4 Tablespoons Sunflower Oil or similar non-flavoured vegetable oil
ICING:
6oz Icing Sugar, sifted
5 Teaspoons Cocoa Powder, sifted
Warm water to mix
METHOD:

banana-cake
Grease and line an 8″ Deep Cake Tin.
Preheat oven to 160c.
Sift the flour and cocoa into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar, making sure they are well combined.
Make a well in the middle and add all the other cake ingredients. Stir well to combine and pour into your prepared cake tin.
Bake for between 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your oven. A palate knife should come out mostly clean but will still have a little sticky cake crumb sticking to it. This is a moist cake.
Leave to cool on a rack.
Once cool, you can make the icing.
Sieve together the icing sugar and cocoa then, using a fork, whisk in a tablespoon of water at a time, until it forms a thick, dark, glossy paste.
Spread over the top of the cake. Decorate as you wish, with some sliced bananas if you are planning to eat it all the same day or some marzipan fruits.

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To make chocolate healthy pretty much means to  lose what we love most about it: cream, full fat milk, sugar.  What this loosely translates as is chocolate in its most natural form: pods, nibs, cocoa butter, unprocessed cocoa. However, I am always up for a challenge, and having sourced some Cacao Nibs on an unnamed online auction site,  I set to work.

Raw. Like Cacao.

Raw. Like Cacao.

It is no secret that I am a major chocolate fan (you have been reading this blog right?) so I was incredibly excited about trying the nibs. I had read such wonderful things about their health properties but more importantly (to me anyway), their taste!
When they did turn up, I opened the packaging and deeply inhaled the rich, earthy smell, more redolent of purest cocoa powder than chocolate bars. The nibs themselves resemble tiny wood chips and their texture is not far off wood either (not that I am a secret wood nibbler though). Taste wise they are much like a very high cocoa content chocolate: the flavour doesn’t come through straight away, but gets stronger as it melts and the taste lingers on your tongue. There is a slight smokiness to the nibs and they leave a not too unpleasant bitter taste in the mouth.
In this most purest of form, they are apparently a great aphrodisiac, one of the greatest sources of anti-oxidants and are supposedly good for boosting your mood. I can’t vouch too much for any of these claims but what I can wholeheartedly confirm is their intensely delicious taste when cooked or mixed with a natural sweetener.
In preparation for the experiment, I bought a book called Naked Chocolate written by superfood junkies, David Woolfe and Shazzie (no surname), who take every opportunity to extole the virtues of cacao nibs, blue sea algae and all manner of revolting sounding ‘foods’. Whilst I don’t buy into their hippy ethos of pure living through the consumption of raw foods, I am, if nothing else, always up for trying new and unusual ingredients. Generally I would not use the recipes listed in their book; for one, most of the ingredients are not your usual store cupboard staples (Optimum Source Chlorella, anyone?) and therefore they are extremely limiting, but I also enjoy trying to utilise unusual ingredients into ‘normal’ recipes such as cookies, or even chilli. I think it’s important as a cook to familiarise yourself with recherche ingredients, and to use them in everyday recipes is the best way of achieving this familiarity.
The truffles are an adaptation of a recipe taken from the Naked Chocolate book. In fact, an amalgamation of two recipes: their truffle recipe and their chocolate sauce recipe which forms the base of many other recipes.
I made the sauce several nights ago, being not entirely sure what I was going to do with it. I was planning on making a tart or maybe some muffins but eschewed those in favour of truffles. Also, truffles exude an air of luxury, something we could do with during these lean times!
As I mentioned, they are made using a simple combination of nibs, vanilla, dates (which add natural sweetness and moistness) and sesame seeds (which add texture and give longevity to the truffles) and take no longer than five minutes from start to finish, unlike dairy truffles, which are made with fresh cream and have to chill in the fridge before you can form them. Therefore, it is feasible that you can be sitting down, bowl of truffles on your lap, watching reruns of Millennium before the craving has barely kicked in. I like this kind of cooking!
I admit that I felt a pang of dubiousness when I read the ingredients; would these taste like some mealy-mouthed, flavourless vegan substitute for rich, dairy truffles? Far from it. Whilst the texture is unlike that of creamy truffles, these have a grainy bite that is not at all unpleasant. They feel and taste substantial, and the pure caffeine in the nibs gives you a great sense of well-being. They are an instant good mood hit. The sesame seeds add a nutty flavour that is particularly tasty, and, when rolled in some deep, dark cocoa powder, they really taste sensational.
Remember though that I still had some of the chocolate sauce leftover in the fridge (we scooped some of it out with our fingers every time we visited the fridge) and because I had deep concerns about the dry texture of the truffles, I added what was left of the sauce to the final mixture. I am not certain that the final recipe required this so I am just going to give you the basic four ingredient recipe. However, if you find that the truffle mixture is a little too dry, or not sweet enough, I would suggest adding a drizzle of Agave Syrup or honey and a few drops of unflavoured vegetable oil. Remember that the nibs have no additives so may well need some lubricant.
CACAO NIB TRUFFLESmakes 12-14 depending on size
Ingredients:
Half Cup Cacao Nibs
Half Cup Sesame Seeds
Half Cup Dates
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Some Agave Syrup or Honey to taste
Few drops of Vegetable Oil
Cocoa Powder, Sesame seeds, icing sugar for rolling
METHOD:
In a coffee grinder, blend the nibs and sesame seeds until they form a dry, crumbly mixture. It will not be smooth, rather it will be quite pleasantly textured.
In a blender, whizz up the dates until finely processed. Depending on the age of the dates (mine were old and dried out that they resembled boot leather), they may take longer to process.
Add the nib/sesame seed mixture and process until combined.
Taste for sweetness and add some agave or honey. Process and taste again. If the mixture is still very dry (which it shouldn’t be at this point), you can add a little of the vegetable oil.
Pour the mixture out into a dish and press down with the back of a wooden spoon to form a firm block.
You can now form the mixture into small balls, the size of walnuts, and roll them into some cocoa powder or sesame seeds, depending on your preference.
Options: You could add some rum or kirsch to mixture, omitting the Vanilla Extract, or swap the dates for dried figs or perhaps glace cherries. You could also add some chopped preserved ginger or roll the truffles in some chopped pistachios or hazelnuts.
This recipe comes with a warning: these truffles are seriously delicious!

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Winter is drawing rapidly closer – the clocks are due to fall back and it will soon be dark when I leave work – my desire to cook good wholesome food seems to be an all time high. I am so excited about the impending winter events, Halloween (celebrated by the ancient Celts as part of the Samhain festival and which indicated the end of the year and thus the onset of Winter), Bonfire Night, Thanksgiving and finally Christmas and New Years, that I have already started planning menus for all of them.  I have an urge to cook for large crowds, yet I am very rarely given the opportunity unless we visit my husband’s family in the US.
The winter months seem like the perfect time to be overly generous with your food (you should be anyway, but when it’s cold, it seems like we need extra nuturing), and if it doesn’t all get eaten in a sub-zero body-protecting frenzy, we have leftovers instead.

So, with Hallowe‘en pending and in true bloodthirsty mode, I have a bunch of baby beetroot lingering in the fridge, with which (witch?) to make Muffins.

Beetroot was charmingly referred to as Blood Turnip in the 19th Century so it seems like a perfect vegetable to prepare for All Hallows Eve.
I hope that some unsuspecting Trick or Treaters will come to the door that night so I can confront them with blood pink stained hands, half peeled beet clutched demonically in my fist, paring knife in the other.  When they yell “trick or treat” at me, I will say “Borscht or Candy?”
I had great fun peeling the beetroot. It is amazing to see this dull, deep red root vegetable transformed into a vibrant, ruby coloured gem (traditionally used as the colourant for pink lemonade – shattering my dreams, as I thought that some remote tropical land grew pink lemons) as you gently remove the soft outer skin. I didn’t wear gloves as recommended, and my fingers weren’t really stained too badly at all.

For the Beetroot Muffins, which sound like something from a Roald Dahl novel, the beets have to be roasted in the oven for about an hour and a half, skin on, wrapped in foil. With those snugly ensconced in the oven, I got on with making dinner.

The Romans thought of Beetroot as an aphrodisiac, but taking into consideration that it also has a highly effective laxative quality (Apicius devoted at least five recipes to using beetroot to relieve constipation), it’s probably not recommended for a romantic night in for the just the two of you.
These Beetroot Muffins, which are a glossy chocolate mauve colour and are rich enough to serve dusted with icing sugar and a swirl of whipped cream but are also sturdy enough to survive travelling in a lunchbox. The beetroot gives them a delicious moistness, meaning that they keep well in the cake tin (if they last that long!) and, more importantly, they are a tasty way of getting all of the beetroot’s nutrients into you.

However, because I’m entering this into the the eleventh edition of Muffin Monday, hosted by Cuisine Plurielle, I have decided to make it even more Autumnal, to tie in the with theme, Colors and Flavors of Autumn.

Whilst on their own, the muffins are richly chocolatey with a hidden depth (that’ll be the beets), I decided that a tangy fruit layer would work really well with the dark, dark chocolate, so I added a layer of freshly picked blackberries, of which there is a surfeit of along the roadside. And then I got to thinking, how am I going to use up those baby marshmallows that I bought for hot chocolate? So, I decided to throw a couple of them in the mixture too, plus stud the top of the muffins with them.  I suppose I was thinking campfire s’mores and picking wild fruit in the woods. Finally, I sprinkled the tops with some Cacao Nibs, mostly just because I had them but they do give them muffins a woody looking effect and add an unusual texture.

N.B. This recipe uses roasted beetroot, but you can buy it vacuum packed and ready cooked at the supermarket which saves quite a lot of time. Just be sure that it isn’t pickled!

BEETROOT MUFFINS Makes 12
Ingredients:
300g Beetroot Raw (to give about 250g cooked and peeled, see method) or 250g Vacuum Packed Ready Cooked Beetroot
75g Cocoa Powder (I use Green and Blacks because it has a wonderful dark, rich flavour)
180g Plain Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
250g Caster Sugar
3 Large Eggs
200ml Unflavoured Oil (such as corn oil or sunflower oil)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Handful of Blackberries and Mini Marshmallows (optional)

METHOD:
1) Preheat oven to 200c. Wrap your uncooked beetroot, unpeeled, in tin foil. Fit snugly in a roasting tin and roast in the oven for about an hour and half or until tender. If using ready cooked beetroot, skip this and go straight to step 2.
2) Meanwhile, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the caster sugar. Put to one side.
3) Once your beetroot is cooked, peel and chop into large chunks. Puree in your blender. Add the eggs, one at a time until blended.
4) Add the Vanilla Extract and Oil and blend until thoroughly mixed. The blender will now look Pepto-Bismal Pink.
5) Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in your hot pink beetroot mixture. Combine gently but do not overstir.
6) Pour into a lined muffin tin. If you want to add the blackberries and marshmallows, half fill the cases, sprinkle over some of the fruit and marshmallows, then cover over with more batter. Sprinkle some of the marshmallows on top. I added a sprinkling of Cacao Nibs which add a delicious crunch and look gorgeous.
7) Bake for 25-30 minutes at 180c or until springy to the touch.
The baked muffins will have a slight sheen to them but they will be cooked through.
Enjoy but in moderation and remembering Apicius’ five recipes…

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