Easy Chocolate Banana Cake (free from wheat & dairy)

Choc banana cake

Anyone who has been reading this blog recently will know that I’m on a bit of a health kick at the moment and trying to be relatively virtuous – avoiding refined sugar and carbs where possible. I have had hardly any bread, lots of salads with protein rich ingredients for lunches and dinners and the odd potato. But what I miss is my sweet treats. I have a very sweet tooth and I do like my cakes and pastries but they are most definitely off the agenda right now. With this in mind I decided to look into baking an alternative version of a cake – one with no flour or sugar added (other than the sugar from the fruit).

My go to free-from guru on all things healthy like this is the lovely Mummy Tries who is currently on a very strict ‘GAPS’ diet – see her blog Mummy Tries Gaps for more info on this. I know she has lots of recipes over there so I searched under ‘banana’ (I had a couple of over-ripe ones going spare) and came up with the following recipe:

Ingredients:

50g Cocoa Powder
50g ground almonds
2 eggs
2 tbsp coconut oil and extra for greasing (I wasn’t really aware of coconut oil before this but I’ve read up on it now and bought some – it has the most fab health benefits and is probably the best type of fat there is with all sorts of uses)
80ml coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 medium size ripe bananas

Method:

Mixing the batter

Into the oven

Chocolatey slab

Preheat oven to 175C/Gas 4 and grease loaf tin with some coconut oil.

Put all ingredients together in a bowl and whisk up (I just stirred with a wooden spoon).

Pour ingredients into tin and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. This is what the original recipe says but I have a dodgy old gas oven and I found it took the best part of 40 minutes to get the cake to firm up in the middle (fortunately it didn’t burn though!).

I have been enjoying this cake with a drizzle of my Sainsburys Taste the Difference Mexican Orange Blossom Honey, or a side helping of strawberries and it really is a tasty treat! I also had a fair bit of coconut milk left over and I’ve used it to make an orange and coconut smoothie and a strawberry, banana and coconut milkshake as well as trying it as an alternative to cow’s milk in tea. It was quite refreshing and different. Loving all this coconut!

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Health kick: smoothies, juices and scenic cycle rides

Yesterday I put a little bit of theory into motion. On Monday night I ordered a lot of fruit and veggies and after dropping the kids off in their respective Tuesday places, I went home and broke out the old smoothie making machine. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going for to begin with so I grabbed a left over half avocado, handful of strawberries, handful of blueberries, big bundle of fresh baby spinach leaves and whizzed it all up with some coconut water. I forgot to take a piccie – it looked a bit murky to be honest – but it tasted nice and the avocado really did lend a creaminess to it. Then I thought I’d try one of Katrina’s (aka Mrs Cool Bananas‘) juice recipes. I altered the amounts a bit and used 2 carrots, one orange and a slice of root ginger with some more coconut water. Unfortunately I don’t have a juicer so after I’d whizzed it up I put it through a sieve. It was still a bit bitty though, and I’m not 100% sold on the flavour but maybe I just didn’t get the balance quite right.

Carrot, orange and ginger

Later on I decided that it would be the day that I would finally break out my new bike so I duly dug it out from under a load of crap essential gardening equipment in the shed*, loaded it up into the back of my car and drove it over to Alice Holt Forest in Hampshire. There are lots of cycle routes to choose from there but I found myself on a 20 minute loop, going round twice and only being defeated by one steep hill which I gave up and walked the bike up.

cycle Alice Holt

(Alice Holt cycle trail but not my bike  – picture from http://www.walkandcycle.co.uk)

Later on I made my third smoothie of the day. This time I thought I’d go classic smoothie so I used 1 frozen banana, a handful of blueberries, two nice ripe nectarines and a big dollop of natural yogurt. This one was very sweet and tasty bberry nectarine smoothieut I’m not sure if I should be laying off this kind of thing with all the sweet fruit…

For dinner I made myself a jacket potato with a yummy topping I concocted which involves frying off some leeks and button mushrooms then adding some half fat Philadelphia with garlic and herbs – yum!

* Our shed could be used to teach school children about all the potential hazards you might find around the home, the hightlight being a cannister with some petrol in (for the lawnmower) lying around on a loose bit of carpet in a wooden structure…

Day 2

Back to work. Gloomy, drizzly day. I started the day by munching on a handful of Tyrells delicious sweet and salty popcorn – then I lost all self control and hoovered up about half a pack before actually reading the small print and discovering that this in no way constitutes a diet food! Ah well, its gone now. So, having had the oblig coffee (one small sugar) and banana for ‘early brek’ I then laid off all but decaf tea til lunch when I had a salad of mixed peppery leaves, cherry tomatoes and cucumber with a few slices of plain cold chicken and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. An apple afterwards and I actually felt a lot fuller and more satisfied than I thought I would with no carbs (but that could be something to do with inhaling a tonne of popcorn earlier?).

I am obviously addicted to my little lunchtime jaunt to Costa but today I’ve managed a skinny latte with no sugar (although I countered this with 2 pieces of Lindt dark mint chocolate :-/).

As you can see, I’m not really an all or nothing type person – I hate strict diets – I’d prefer to have a few tempered treats (maybe not the popcorn, but the balsamic dressing which I love and the dark chocolate – a little goes a long way to satisfying my sweet tooth!).

When I got home from work I attempted another smoothie combo – a handful of curly kale, a handful of blueberries, a peeled and cored apple, about a thumb sized piece of peeled and sliced root ginger, a few fresh mint leaves and some coconut water. JJ helped me whizz it up but refused to try it whilst EJ was quite happy to try it but didn’t want too much! It wasn’t too bad but I think it would have been nicer as a juice rather than a smoothie – the pulpiness was a bit offputting!

As today’s exercise I wasn’t sure what I was going to be able to do. The hubster was home and I had wanted to attempt a local cycle ride after putting the munchkins to bed but discovered that he had already committed to a session with our local running club between 7 and 8.30pm so instead I took the bike out earlier and fortunately got the very best of the sunshine whilst hubster was out running later in a torrential thunderstorm! I found a little trail down by the River Blackwater which was actually really quite pretty, a natural wildlife habitat. I came out the other end, through a few local streets and home in 20 minutes flat! I’d also walked ten minutes to my pick up point after work (rather than being picked up right outside the door).

For dinner I cooked a tuna steak by first gently frying off some crushed garlic with a tbsp of balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper, then removing that from the pan and cooking the tuna in the same pan for five minutes on one side and 3-4 minutes on the other. The balsamic dressing then gets poured over the top. I had this with a salad of leaves, plum tomatoes and 1/4 of an avocado and a tbsp of brown rice.

Tuna steak with balsamic dressing

So all in all small steps, and somewhat faltering, but hopefully heading in the right direction.

 

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Chicken and sweetcorn burgers with courgette and apple

chicken and sweetcorn burgers

Last week I decided enough was enough and I needed to get my children’s diets back on track a little bit with something a bit healthy and which would include some veggies that they would actually eat happily! I’ve made Annabel Karmel’s Chicken and Apple Balls before in the past, so when I came across this recipe on the Sainsburys Little Ones web site and noticed the similarities I thought it was worth a go. The kids love finger food and these burgers could almost be described as a meal in a burger as they have chicken, breadcrumbs, courgette and apple in them, all bound together with an egg. I swapped out the grated carrot from the Sainsburys recipe with grated apple as I know my four year old will object to too many obvious ingredients that he can examine in any given foodstuff and also, I had a couple of half gnawed apples from the two of them which needed using up!

It was definitely a good recipe for using bits up as I also had some bread starting to get a bit stale and that was perfect blitzed up for the breadcrumbs. I ended up using about three slices blitzed, which was quite a bit more than the recipe stated, but I think the apple just made the mixture so wet that it needed something to firm it up a bit more. In the event they came out just fine. I served them up with broccoli and carrots on the side although normal people could just pop a bit of salad in a roll (my kids won’t go near anything even resembling the dreaded ‘salad’!).

 

I grilled the burgers off on my George Foreman grill (which I love!), just brushed with a little light olive oil, so this was a pretty healthy recipe all round and the boys seemed to enjoy them – result!

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

Half a courgette peeled and grated
Small appled peeled cored & grated
2 large chicken breasts minced
2-3 slices of bread blitzed into breadcrumbs
A couple of handfuls of sweetcorn (to taste)
1 egg (lightly beaten)

Squeeze any excess juice from the courgette and apple and add to the chicken, breadcrumbs, sweetcorn and egg and squish up together with your hands until all combined.

Form into patties of whatever size preferred, I made ten smallish burgers which was great as it means two burgers each for the boys, so 2.5 meals (I froze 6 burgers for another day).

Cook the burgers – either grill or fry or even BBQ I guess! – making sure that they are cooked right through.
Add to rolls, salad, with chips or just extra veggies on the side. Et Voila!

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Simple Fare #TastyTuesdays #CreativeChallenge

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I’m so happy to be able to say that I have finally got around to trying my hand at this very easy crusty bread recipe which I got the idea for from the lovely Mel over at Le Coin De Mel (who in turn found the recipe on another blog!). Mel’s version was a lovely round free form loaf and I loved the idea of that but I decided that it would be more practical for my family’s needs to bake it in a loaf tin (the boys are a sucker for baked beans on toast!).

I have to admit that I too was sceptical about the liklihood of anything edible, let alone delicious, coming from something with just three ingredients plus water, but it really works, is the perfect vehicle for other flavours, and is so quick and easy (which is ideal for me as I’m a bit lazy at the best of times!). My grandma always used to bake batches of bread on a regular basis and it seemed like a right old faff with a million ingredients (including black treacle!) and hours of rising and proving and bashing and folding and whacking! Admittedly it was very tasty bread (and my Dad took on the recipe and now bakes regularly as he became addicted to it and couldn’t bear the idea of living without it!) but in my opinion it was just too much hassle!

I have also knocked up one of my quick and delicious slow cook beef casseroles which I’m hoping we can dip and mop the bread in for our dinner!

For the casserole I tend to buy a Sainsburys stew pack of veg which includes about three carrots, a small swede, a parsnip and an onion all for just £1.20! Once you factor in the cost of the meat (and I’m very picky with my meat as I can’t stand gristle and find it can put me off an entire meal if my teeth unexpectedly bounce off a bit!) you’re looking at a meal which will stretch to four children’s portions and three adult portions all for about £8 (but if you were prepared to go for cheaper cuts of meat then obviously even cheaper!).

I soften the onion in some olive oil, then add the chopped steak pieces and toss everything in a little plain flour in the pan. Once the meat is browned I chuck in all the other veg, (plus today I’ve added some whole button mushrooms although I know I’ll be the only member of the family to eat them!) and pour in a good glug of red wine, a carton of tomato passata, some oregano and basil plus pepper and two Kallo beef stock cubes. Bring the liquid level up over the solid ingredients by topping with water, bring to the boil and then simmer away slowly on the lowest heat available for the following 4-5 hours. So simple.

For the bread you will need:

3oog plain flour
150g self raising flour
1/2 tsp yeast (easy bake/fast action)
1 1/2 tsp salt
350ml water

Just mix all the dry ingredients in a 2l bowl, then add the water and mix for a couple of minutes with a spoon or spatula. Cover your bowl with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for 12-24 hours. when ready to cook bread, preheat oven to gas 8 (230C/450F).
Using a spatula drop the sticky dough onto a floured surface, shape it into a ball and roll it in the flour so it gets covered all over.
Place your cooking dish (Mel suggested something like a Le Crueset dish with a lid) or loaf tin into the oven to warm for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, and making sure the dough is nicely covered in flour, transfer it to the cooking dish or tin (no grease needed but extra flour if worried about sticking).
Cook for 30 minutes with lid on or foil if in a loaf tin, and then a further 15 minutes uncovered, then transfer to a cooling rack.

It really couldn’t be easier than that and I absolutely love it when its possible to cook something which comes out quite impressive without ever really getting your hands dirty! (I know that’s not the attitude but we all lead busy lives after all!!)

Post Script:

Since making this bread last week I have had another attempt at it:

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As you can see I have managed to produce a very different looking loaf! This time round I opted for freshly bought strong white flour (as opposed to plain and self raising that had been sitting in my cupboard for some time) and I put some poppy seeds on top too. I also used some sea salt this time. I probably left the dough for a few hours longer before cooking also. The result was a tastier loaf which I am happier with (it also meant not having to mix and measure two different kinds of flour). It got a big thumbs up from the boys too!

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Creative Challenge

Toffee Apple Muffins #TastyTuesdays #Recipe of the week

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Before my 18 month old, EJ, was born in July 2012 I had a window of opportunity to do a bit of baking at a time when my then two year old was still taking lunchtime naps. I knew that I wanted to do something quick and easy and quickly discovered that muffins would be ideal for the purpose. I tried out several different kinds at the time but I think these toffee apple ones were my favourites. I served them up as a dessert at a barbeque (I know most people think Barbeque = Meat but my philosophy is, where there’s a main meal [of any kind] there should always be some sort of dessert too!). They went down very well!

I also took some of these in for my work colleagues on another occasion and lets just say there weren’t any left over!

350g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground mixed spice
240g golden caster sugar
2-3 dessert apples peeled, cored and finely chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
120ml vegetable oil
100 ml milk
150g soft toffees, chopped (I used Sainsburys Mini fudge chunks from the bakery aisle which were perfect)

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases. Sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a large bowl and stir in the sugar. Make a well in the dry ingredients.

2 Add the chopped apples, eggs, oil and milk in the middle of the well, and fold the mixture together with a large metal spoon, using as few strokes as possible. Don’t worry if the mixture is lumpy, the trick behind the lightest muffins is not to overwork the batter. At this point I also stir through a decent amount of the fudge pieces.

3 Fill the paper cases with the mixture, then sprinkle over the some more fudge pieces for decoration. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the muffins are well risen and golden.

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Coffee Attitude Adjustment #ThriftyThursday

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Well this is new! I’m linking up to #ThriftyThursday over at Cold Tea and Smelly Nappies which is a fun way to share some tips and ideas on how to live a bit more frugally and save some money.

The picture above shows my new(ish) Starbucks cup on the go. I was talked into buying it by the amazing persuasive powers of the Starbucks ‘youves’ who assured me that it was a bargain at £6.50 (a third off!) and I would “make my money back” by using it instead of their paper cups when I came in for my skinny lattes from that point on (you get 25p off if you use your own cup).

I should explain that, since returning to work from my maternity with EJ, I have become a bit of a coffee shop addict, treating myself to expensive lattes four mornings a week as some sort of self-imposed ‘reward’ for putting up with all the exhausting madness of motherhood the rest of the time. Once upon a time I was obsessed with my finances and listed every purchase meticulously in a notebook adapted for the purpose. Since having children this has long ago fallen by the wayside and my unrelenting coffee habit has taken me to a personal nadir financially – pretty much bleeding money from my modest part time income leaving a trail of Guatamalan coffee grinds in its wake.

I am hoping to reduce my working hours even further come April so I’ve taken the initiative to actually use my pretty new cup and have now successfully introduced a whole new coffee experience. OK so I’ve treated myself to a small tin of Nescafe Azera:

nescafe azera

which, whilst not the cheapest at £3.29 (but currently reduced to £2 in Tesco!) is still a whole lot cheaper than the £40 or so I’ve been spending on coffee in the average month *hangs head in shame*…

I am quite fussy so I’ve got my own Demerera sugar and I boil up some hot milk to add before I leave for work in the mornings (the microwave is just too too noisy and I do hate waking JJ and having to reason with him about why Mummy has to go to work – Money I say, Money!) and its actually very enjoyable and incredibly satisfying to know that I’m clawing back some kind of control over finances which have been washing down Costa’s nearest drain with the leftover dregs.

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