On those days

The month of February always makes me think about our concept of love and yes it has everything to do with the fact that Cupid has painted the town red.

Growing up I used to have a very unhealthy attitude towards Valentine’s Day (something I out grew over the years when I began to understand consumerism). My Mum and Dad were really cute, some years they would send my sister and I presents, so we wouldn’t feel left out. Even though I now laugh about those horrifying rejections of past Valentines, they weren’t always so funny.

Because essentially that’s what it’s about isn’t it? Not feeling rejected, feeling left out or unaccepted, but people don’t just feel that way on Valentine’s Day, it just gets horribly heightened on February the 14th.

Like everyone, I struggle on days, my insecurities get the best of me, I wasn’t always good at overcoming those feelings. It’s so easy to love ourselves when we feel fabulous, learning to love myself on the days I don’t, is something I am still working with.

I wanted to share this with you because we are all in the same boat, I don’t want anyone to feel alone and unloved on any day of the year. It’s really hard, it is a very painful feeling and it isn’t easy to always love yourself. So let’s just own that, let’s say, it isn’t easy but I am still going to do it. I don’t have a magic formula, but developing a strong sense of self-value is the most important thing we can do for ourselves.

A sweet treat always helps, so on one of those days, I bake, because I find it really therapeutic! I love a red velvet cupcake and I finally adapted my favourite Hummingbird recipe for a cleaner eat and here it is!

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(Makes 6)

1/3 cup of coconut oil
1 cup of coconut sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup beetroot purée (just boil a beetroot until soft and then blend it)
1/8 cup cacao powder
1tsp vanilla essence
1 cup of buckwheat flour
1/2tsp salt
120ml almond milk with 1tbsp of Apple cider vinegar stirred into it
1/2tsp bicarbonate soda
1tbsp White wine vinegar

To serve: a batch of your favourite frosting, I love blitzing a cup of soaked cashews with 1/4 cup goats cheese, 1tbsp of agave and 1/4 cup of water.

Preheat oven to 350F and line a cupcake tin with six cases.

With an electric mixer, whip the coconut oil, sugar and egg together.

Combine the betroot, cacao and vanilla essence in to a paste and mix well with the coconut oil, sugar and egg.

Mix the flour with salt and fold half of it into the wet ingredients. Add half the almond milk, stir and then add the rest of the flour and fold in with the remaining milk.

Add the bicarbonate soda and vinegar and stir into the batter. Pour the batter into the cupcake cases and bake for 20-25 minutes until they are sponge like to touch.

Once cool, ice them with your frosting and they are ready to be devoured!

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Hugs for cockles

At the end of a cold day, I adore recipes that can be served in a bowl, enjoyed from a comforting corner of my couch and eaten with the simplicity of a spoon.

This kind of hearty food not only warms, but also hugs your cockles, it soothes away the day and leaves you feeling replete and nourished. This baked casserole is nostalgic of many things, the pot pie Tanya and I would eat at Butlers, the vegetable and cheese sauce bake from my childhood and the depth of flavour from leeks in a soup. Yet, it is none of those things.

This casserole is one of my rare moments where a first stab at a healthy makeover doesn’t completely backfire. It’s easily made friendly for vegans by omitting the chicken and using puy lentils and perhaps trying out nutritional yeast in place of Parmesan. I love eating this on it’s own, but the hubby loves to have a crusty bread roll on standby to gather some of that renegade liquid every now and again.

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Serves 4-6

1tbsp coconut oil
2 leeks, with the green part removed and finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 chicken breasts, cut into small strips (or if you are making a vegan version use 11/2 cups of slightly puy lentils*)
1tsp Herbes de Provence
1/4tsp nutmeg
1/4tsp black pepper
A little ground Himalayan salt
Pinch of red chilli flakes
3 cups of mushrooms
1 and 3/4 cups of sweetcorn
One broccoli crown, cut into florets
1 can of coconut milk
1tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1 vegetable bouillon cube (I use Go Bio Organic)
1/2 cup of quinoa flakes
1tbsp Parmesan (I actually found some made with flaxseed oil, if you can get that amazing otherwise don’t worry)

*If you are using puy lentils, bring to a boil and simmer until they are slightly undercooked. Use them in place of the chicken below.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix the Parmesan and quinoa flakes together and set aside.

Heat oil on a medium heat in a pan, once the oil is ready, throw the leeks and garlic in. Sauté until leeks have softened.

Add chicken (or lentils), mushrooms, herbs, nutmeg, pepper, salt and chilli flakes and sauté until the mushrooms begin to sweat.

Add the sweet corn, broccoli, coconut milk, and nutritional yeast and crumble the stock cube into the pan. Bring contents to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until the liquid has thickened slightly.

Pour the casserole mixture into a dish and top with the quinoa and Parmesan mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes until it is bubbling.

“Fudged” Brownies

I am not kidding when I say “fudged.” These beauties may have the texture of a fudge brownie but have the potent health benefits of dates, the antioxidant properties of cacao and healing buckwheat. I have been on a mission to make the perfect healthy brownie, moist, rich and chewy. While I am still not quite there, these creations along the way are a far cry from a botch job. In fact, the whole endeavour has been so mouthwatering, I am quite happy to keep trying.

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3/4 cup warm water
8 Medjool dates
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup cacao
2 eggs, beaten (or vegan alternate)
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2tsp baking powder
1/8tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a tin (I used a loaf tin).

Soften dates in half a cup of the warm water, then pulse in a chopper in the liquid until smooth and set aside.

To make your “fudge” melt the sugar and coconut oil in 1/4 cup of water on the lowest heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Add cacao and dates and mix well and let it cool.

When the fudge has cooled, mix in the eggs so you get a smooth and glossy mixture.

Mix flour, baking powder and cinnamon and fold into the “fudge.” Pour into tin and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Banana “Nutella” Brownies

It feels like it has taken me forever to figure out a good brownie recipe. Happy to say I finally have one which I am proud to put my name to. I love this one because it’s gloriously moist and isn’t full of empty calories.

I enjoy sweet treats and am by no means averse to them, I love a Hummingbird cupcake more than anyone and far be it from me to mess with perfection, their recipes are amazing. When I have my chef’s hat on in the kitchen, I love the idea of a dessert having some nutrients too so use things like cacao, buckwheat flour and good fats to boost my personal creations.

Coconut sugar, maple syrup and honey are still sugars, it doesn’t mean I can eat them all the time, but if I am going to have sugar, I opt for these over the white stuff because they are just as good in a recipe if not better. Growing up, we rarely ate white flour on a daily basis, so it’s not really something I will ever miss. Baking with buckwheat is something I have finally got the hang of and it is now one of my favourite flours, as are teff and kamut and coconut oil is so much more divine than butter. I love spreading it on toast with a pinch of Himalayan salt.

It makes me deliciously happy when I’m eating a sweet treat that will nourish my body. The only thing I won’t compromise on is taste, which is why I am finally able to share a brownie recipe. Hope you find them just as good.

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1 heaping tbsp coconut oil
3/4 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup cacao powder
1tbsp hazelnut butter
2 eggs (or vegan equivalent)
2 incredibly ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup light buckwheat flour
1tsp baking powder
1/8tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a tin.

Mix flour, baking powder and cinnamon and set aside.

In a sauce pan on a low heat, melt the coconut oil, then add sugar and water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Next add the cacao and hazelnut butter and mix until you have a smooth and glossy chocolate mixture. Leave to cool slightly.

Beat the eggs well and add the bananas. Add the chocolate mixture, one spoon at a time and stir in until it has all been used. Add your dry ingredient mix and fold, everything should be nicely combined.

Pour into a tin and bake for 35-40 minutes (you might have to alter this according to the size of your tin).

Serve when they have cooled with a dusting of cacao powder.

The Fallen Banana

The sight of this yellow skinned fruit crossing over to darker shades can only mean one thing, banana bread.

This has always been a favourite of mine. Recently though, my friends and I have all gone a little bit nuts for the stuff ever since a cottage trip a few months ago. No one managed to get through all the bananas we bought, so Wendy decided to make bread and muffins out of them when we got home. Ahmed and I were picking up some of our things from her place when the first batch of bread had just finished baking. Saad brought it down to us, in foil, too warm to touch for too long from the freshness of it. Once we got to the safe veil of our car, we devoured it, all of it and with no shame whatsoever.

Assembling these ingredients is quite easy in our house. I have a sneaking suspicion that Ahmed purposely doesn’t eat the bananas so there is no alternative but this. There’s always some buckwheat flour left over from bread making, good quality vanilla essence is a must and eggs are always at home in abundance. For a vegan version of this, you fantastic home chefs will probably be able to revise this recipe according to your own means by substituting the eggs.

Wendy told me the trick is to wait, patience is a key virtue in this recipe, wait until the bananas are on the brink of decomposing (my advice is tread carefully, it’s a thin line). I think I got it just right with mine this time, so opted for two. While waiting for the bananas may take time, the recipe itself is super quick. Feel free to add your favourite additions, nuts, cacao chips and what not. I have discovered that the smell of freshly baked banana bread drifting through your home on a perfect fall Sunday is quite amazing.

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Makes one loaf.

Heaping 1tbsp coconut oil, melted
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten
1tsp vanilla essence
2 mashed bananas
2 scant cups light buckwheat flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tsp baking power
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375F and grease your loaf tin.

Beat oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla thoroughly, literally until your arm is crying. Add mashed bananas and stir well.

Combine dry ingredients.

Pour half the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir. When half of it is folded in, add the rest of the wet mixture and fold together until you have smooth batter.

Pour into the tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. Serve when ready and slightly cool.