Best Ever Granola

So here’s the thing about breakfast cereals: I do not like them. At all. Not one little bit. Why? Well. They taste awful. Very little nutrition. And really not all that good for you either. In fact with most breakfast cereals all you can really taste is the sugar. (And cardboard?) In my mind, the worst, unhealthiest breakfast you can think of is still better than most ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. But – and if you are a time-strapped-working-parent this is a very very significant but – oh but the convenience of it! You open a box, pour a portion out into a bowl, add milk/ yoghurt, and within 30 seconds you’ve got breakfast on the table. But – yup another but – my point is this need not be and either/or proposition. In one word – GRANOLA. Yup. Make it at home and you get to control exactly what goes in, so you can make it as healthy or as naughty as you want knowing that even the naughtiest granola you make at home is going to be only a gazillion times better than your boxed cereals. Win-win, I say.

(I like my granola crunchy and not too sweet, but you can up the sweetness by adding an extra dash of honey if thats what rocks your boat.)

So, here we go.

Ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil.

3-4 tablespoons of agave nectar.

2-3 tablespoons of honey.

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

300g rolled oats.

125g of mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and linseed).

100g of nuts (I used pecans this time, but you could used chopped almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashew – or even a mixture of some or all of these).

50g of desiccated coconut.

100g of dried fruit (I don’t really like dried fruit in this, but it can be done and works quite well. You could use dried berries, sultanas, raisins, apricots, whatever tickles your fancy.)

 

Method:

This is the easiest thing to make. In the Universe. Really. All you need to do is pre-heat your oven to 150C, which is 130C with fan, prepare two baking sheets/trays, and find yourself a big mixing bowl. Into the bowl add the oil, agave nectar, honey and vanilla, and mix. Tip in all the other ingredients, except the coconut. Give everything a good strong stir or five.

Now pour the granola mix onto the two trays and spread it out into an even layer. Into the oven for about 20-25 minutes. At this point get your trays out, mix in the coconut and dried fruit, and put them back in for another 15-20 minutes. Get out of the oven and let it cool before having a taste. Oh well, at least try.

Once completely cooled, you can store this is an airtight container for up to a month. (Though I admit I’ll be shocked if it lasts that long in your kitchen. In mine its all gone in a week, at the most :).) Absolutely fantastic with cold milk, over yoghurt, or on its own. Breakfast on the table in 30 seconds. And with good carbs, good fats and protein, fabulously good for you. Yay.

So. What have we learnt today? The best breakfast cereal is the one you make at home. Yes? Good.

Walnut Bread

So what if I told about a recipe for walnut bread — yummy, beautiful, moist walnut bread, dotted with chocolate chips even — that uses no butter, and no processed/ refined sugars? Hmm? Well. Prepare to be amazed. This is just the thing for winter afternoons. Make yourself a steaming hot cup of cocoa. Cut yourself a generous slice of this beautiful walnut bread, smother it with full fat butter, sit back and tuck in. I promise you, whatever it is that you are struggling with right now, this will make it better :).

Lets get started!

Ingredients:

75g of unrefined brown sugar.

175g of honey, or agave nectar (I went half and half).

200ml of whole milk (you could use almond milk and turn this into a lacto-free recipe).

50g of chocolate chips – optional (but lets face it, chocolate chips make everything better).

50g of roughly chopped walnuts.

225g of self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon of baking powder.

1 egg, beaten.

Method:

The first thing you want to do is preheat your oven to 180C, which is 160C with fan. And grease and line a standard loaf tin with baking paper.

Next up, get yourself a pan and pour in the milk, sugar, honey/agave nectar, and heat gently till all the sugar has dissolved. You will need to let it cool quite a bit before getting on to the next step.

Now get a large mixing bowl and put your flour, baking powder, walnuts and chocolate chips in. To this add the cooled syrup. And then the egg. Mix everything together really well, till you have a smooth mixture.

Pour this into your tin, sprinkle some more walnuts on top, and in it goes, in to your preheated oven for about an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean. Once done, let it cool in the tin for about 10 mins, and then turn out on to a cooling rack.

Or in any event *try* and let it cool before you do that thing we talked about earlier, you know with the cocoa and butter etc.

 

Best Ever Gingerbread Cake

What’s winter without a bit of ginger eh? And gingerbread. And gingerbread cake. Ahem. You see where I’m going with this. Ahem. So. Yes. Gingerbread cake. Fair to say I’ve tried quite a few recipes, adapted quite a few, but let’s just say I hadn’t stopped looking. Well. Until now. This recipe is absolutely fantastic. Dark, treacly,  very gingery, intense. And yet soft, with an incredibly light crumb, and almost too easy. If you like ginger in your baked good, then prepare to be delirious. And if all of this wasn’t enough this also keeps amazingly well for up to 4 days. In fact if anything, the taste actually improves. So bake on a Sunday and your teatime is pretty sorted for the week. You can even have friends over. This recipe is going to single handedly kick start your social life in the new year. What? Fine. I’m assuming too much. It’s only a cake. And your self control is clearly not as legendary as mine. Ahem.

Must say here that I found this recipe on the bbcgoodfood website (surprise surprise!).

Here we go then:

Ingredients:

250g of butter (softened)

250g of dark muscovado sugar

2 (generous) tablespoons of black treacle

375g of plain flour

5 teaspoons of ground ginger

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

2 eggs, beaten

3 pieces of stem ginger (crystallised/ from a jar – optional)

300ml of whole milk

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method:

First thing you want to do is grease and line two standard 7inch victoria sponge tins with baking paper and preheat your oven to 160C, which is about 140C with fan.

While your oven is getting ready gently heat your butter sugar and treacle in a pan, stirring until smooth. Let it cool a bit.

In a large mixing bowl mix together your flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground spices. To this add the treacly-sugar mixture, and mix thoroughly till well combined. To this add the stem ginger and eggs and mix some more.

Warm the milk, just a tiny bit, and add that to your mix and stir till everything is well blended. Your mixture will look a bit runny at this stage, but that’s nothing to worry about.

Pour into the prepared tins. In they go, into the oven, for about 30-35 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Once done, let them cool in the tins for about 10 mins, and then on a cooling rack till completely cool.

Awesome stuff, no?

 

 

 

Baked Banana Blueberry Date Oats

So I realise that I’m very very lucky in that I actually enjoy my work and don’t quite understand *monday blues*. In fact I quite love Mondays. And all the other days. My only gripe with working weekdays is that I don’t have enough time for a proper cooked breakfast. And if you know anything about me at all, you know that when I say proper cooked breakfast I mean porridge, of course. Oh and baked oatmeal. The real reason I love weekends? I can actually spend half an hour in the morning baking oats. Seriously. So here’s a Sunday morning ritual : pot of tea – loose leaf first flush Assam these days, get boy started on some warm golden milk and a homemade granola bar, and then bake oats. Oh yes.

This morning it was banana, blueberries, dates, almonds, and a splash of Agave nectar. So so beautiful.

Let’s get to it then:

Ingredients:

1 cup organic rolled oats. (You know how I feel about organic, unprocessed food by now. Yes? Good.)

2 small bananas. Sliced

2-3 dates. I used Mejdool – roughly chopped.

1 cup of blueberries – rinsed.

1/2 cup of rice milk. You could use almond milk, even regular milk.

11 almonds – roughly chopped.

1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon powder.

1 tablespoon of agave nectar (totally optional this).

Some boiling water.

Method:

So, first of all you need to pre-heat your oven to 190C, which is 170C with a fan. Then pour your oats into a bowl, cover with just enough boiling water and let them soak for about 10 minutes.

While the oats are doing their thing, prep all your other ingredients – fruits nuts etc. Then stir everything including the rice milk, agave nectar, and cinnamon powder into your oats.

Transfer to a baking dish. I like to put some banana slices on top just because it looks pretty :).

In it goes into your preheated oven for about 20 minutes, till it’s nice and golden on top.

And you’re done. So awesome this is. Baking fruits caramelises natural sugars so everything is sweeter, the flavours deeper. And in any case you know you’re winning when boy wants seconds. Oh yes.

 

Ridiculously Good Chocolate Cake

There’s chocolate cake, and there’s chocolate cake. And this one is only just the best chocolate cake in the world. I’m sure I’ve sung praises of BBCGoodFood before, oh but it is a most fantastic treasure trove. Ahem. What I’m trying to say is that, as you can imagine, I’ve only tried five hundred thousand different recipes to find a cake that’s awesome, easy and foolproof. And of course I found it. And of course it was in the bbcgoodfood magazine. (Every few months I’ll pick up a copy to cheer myself up. Another thing that’s foolproof.) Now this recipe is intended to be for some kind of a freaky-finger-Halloween cake, which, shall we say, didn’t speak to me at all. Ahem. But the basic cake recipe is such a winner. My go to chocolate cake recipe. And it turns out perfect, better than perfect — rises beautifully, has the most amazing crumb, is incredibly soft and moist — every single time.

So, here we go. Thank me later.

Ingredients — 

175 gms of unsalted butter, softened. Oh and a bit more for greasing etc.

225 gms of sugar. Caster sugar is better but hey I’ve put all sorts in there and it’s always worked.

3 eggs. Organic. Best. A bit on the large side.

1 teaspoon vanilla essence.

1 tablespoon of red food colour (optional. So you can turn this very easily into a red velvet. But be aware that you’ll have to use one of those gel/paste/industrial strength colours to get the deep red effect. If like me you decide to stick with natural colours, you’ll just get a deep reddish brown cake. So much the better if you ask me).

200 gms of plain flour.

50 gms of cocoa powder. (I *heart* Green&Black’s).

1 and 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda.

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.

1/4 teaspoon of salt.

150 gms of low fat natural yoghurt, loosened up with 2 tablespoons of milk.

 

For the Icing:

125 gms of unsalted butter, softened.

200 gms of icing sugar. (To be perfectly honest I don’t usually stick with hard and fast measurements for this. Keep tasting your icing as you add the sugar and stop when it tastes right. Yes? Good.)

2-4 tablespoons of cocoa powder.

Method —

Before you do anything else, turn your oven on and preheat it to 180C, which is 160C with the fan. Grease and line two cake tins (20 cm) with baking parchment.

That done, put your butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and get to work with a wooden spoon. Cream them together till nice and soft and fluffy. Of course you could go in with an electric mixer and make life easy for yourself. But I’m not allowed to do that — mama it’s too loud, and it’s better with a spoon anyway — Apparently.

Anyway. Beat in the vanilla. Next add the eggs, one at a time, mixing really well after each addition. And then the food colour, if you’re using it.

In another bowl mix all your dry ingredients — flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder.

Now, sift half of this on to your butter-sugar-egg mixture and gently fold it in. Then add half the thinned yoghurt and fold that in. Repeat with the rest of the flour. And yoghurt. That’s your cake batter all ready!

At this stage all you have to do is divide your batter equally between the two tins you’d prepared earlier. Use a rubber spatula (very recent convert to rubber spatulas but boy, they’re awesome) to scrape your mixing bowl and level the tops of your cakes.

Into the oven they go next, for about 25 mins. But you know how ovens are unpredictable. I suggest you let these bake for about 25 mins and then do a little skewer  test to see if they’re done. If not leave them in for another 5-7 mins and check again.

Once your cakes are done, take them out of the oven and leave them to cool in their tins for about 10 mins. Then turn them out on a cooling rack, and I know you’ll be tempted to either eat a bite or start on the icing, but don’t. Seriously. Wait till *completely* cool.

For the icing all you need to do is cream the butter, and add the sugar, a little at at time and beat together till smooth. Oh and the cocoa powder! Beat that in as well. Oh and  drop or two of vanilla essence if you want. Some people will ask you to sift the sugar and cocoa powder into the butter. I never do and the icing comes out perfectly smooth anyway.

So well done for waiting till the cakes are completely cool. Now take one of your cakes and put it on your serving plate, top down though. Take a big dollop of the icing and smooth it over the cake. Place the other cake on top. More icing on top and all around the cake as well. You can of course decorate your cake any which way you want. But, basically you done. Best chocolate cake ever.

 

Your’re welcome.