Self saucing chocolate pudding you can feel good about … well, at least not so guilty ….

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It is my belief that the desire for pudding comes in direct correlation with the decrease in temperature. The days have gone from 44 to 24 degrees here so it’s time to let you in on a pudding recipe that ticks all the boxes – delicious, warm, gooey and chocolatey with a luscious sauce that forms magically under the cake. It also happens to be reduced in sugar, easily adapted to be gluten free or vegan and has the benefits of maca, cacao, flax and almond meal.

Saucy chocolate pudding 

* see below for details of products that can make things less complicated ūüôā

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup gluten free flour (you could also use wheat, spelt or coconut flour here)
1/2 cup almond meal     *
2 heaped tablespoons of flax meal      *
4 tablespoons cacao powder (you can use cocoa powder here)     *
4 tablespoons maca powder      *
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs (or 1/2 cup apple sauce)
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (or your milk of choice)

Sauce ingredients
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons white or coconut sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease a 20x20cm baking dish.

Mix together sugar, flour, almond meal, flax meal, cacao, maca, baking powder and salt.
Add eggs (or apple sauce), vanilla and milk and stir until combined.
Pour into baking dish and smooth surface with the back of a spoon or spatula.

For the sauce mix together sugars and cocoa powder and sprinkle over cake batter. Gently pour the boiling water over the top – it will look weird, don’t worry it will all come together beautifully.

Bake for 30mins.

* To make things easier I buy Power Super Foods Maca and Cacao Smoothie blend from the local health food/organic store. You can use this in baking, smoothies, to make hot chocolate as well as replacing the maca and cacao powders above with the equivalent amount of this product.

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*this flax and almond baking meal is available in the health food aisle of supermarkets and is a healthy and more cost effective way to include flax and almond meals into your baking. You can replace the flax and almond meal above with equivalent amount of this blend.

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Tahini biscuits…

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My eldest daughter Zoe has an obsession with tahini. She loves it in all it’s forms. I’ve been making tahini salad dressing, black tahini banana bread and now I’ve whipped up a batch of tahini biscuits.

Tahini is the paste of ground sesame seeds. It has a lovely nutty taste and is a fantastic source of calcium.

If you’re looking for a refined sugar free, gluten free, vegan and delicious biscuit to have with your afternoon cup of tea I urge you to give these a go.

Tahini Biscuits 

90mls maple syrup
90mls treacle (you could use honey, molasses or golden syrup here)
90mls tahini
zest of an orange
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups oat flour (this can be made by processing rolled oats in a food processor until your get a flour consistency. Alternatively, you could use plain or GF flour instead)
150g almond meal
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds or flaked almonds for dipping

How to..

With an electric or stand mixer blend together maple syrup, treacle, tahini, orange zest and vanilla. Beat for a few minutes until well mixed and fluffy.
Mix in oat flour and bicarb soda.

Roll into teaspoon size balls and roll in seeds or almonds. Flatten slightly and place on baking tray. Refrigerate for 30 mins.

Heat oven to 180 degrees. Bake biscuits for 10-15 mins.
Cool on trays.

Low iron and why you are so darn tired all the time …

“Iron – one of the essential trace elements of life on earth. Formed deep within stars then scattered across space by collapsed supernovas which spew their contents right across the universe. Iron is secreted in our soils, hiding in our glaciers, floating in our oceans and carried in our blood” Ann Jones

I was amazed by this incredibly poetic description of how iron comes to us. So many of us have experienced times of low iron. So how does it happen and what can we do about it ?

Blended green smoothie with ingredients on wooden table

 

There are lots of reasons why you may be low in iron :

* Dietary insufficiency
* Blood loss from disease, trauma, menstruation
* Times of increased need e.g. recovery from injury, pregnancy, post birth, exercise
* Drug mugging – some medication make it hard for you to absorb iron. These include antibiotics, acid blocking medications, osteoporosis treatments, thyroid supplements.
* Lack of necessary digestive enzymes and cofactors needed for absorption
* Too much calcium or phosphorus

Iron is needed for many functions but the main one is for regenerating and rebuilding red blood cells. RBC’s use haemoglobin to carry oxygen around the body. Insufficient iron leads to low RBC count and means that the heart and lungs have to work much harder to ensure that oxygen is getting where it’s needed. Apart from blood production and oxygen transport iron is also needed for healthy levels of enzymes which control many cell functions and for healthy immune responses.

Signs of low iron :

* brittle or flaking nails
* cold hands and feet
* tongue soreness
* food cravings
* fatigue/lethargy/poor recovery/low motivation
* headaches
* shortness of breath
* lightheadedness
* palpitations/erratic heart rate
* poor immune function
* poor concentration
* depression, anxiety and panic
* muscle weakness and pale skin

Sources of iron include meat, dark leafy vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, blackstrap molasses, pumpkin and seeds, eggs.

Things needed to absorb iron efficiently – vitamin C, B12, folic acid, digestive enzymes and adequate stomach acid. Coffee, tea and wine can decrease your ability to absorb iron as can some medications (see above).

Blood tests :
An iron study of your blood is a snapshot of your current situation.
It is important to have good levels of serum iron and ferritin. The reference ranges on your blood test results are not always a good indicator of an adequate iron status. Read more here about pathology testing.

Depending on your level of deficiency, addressing low iron can take several months to correct and depends greatly on the quality and appropriateness of your supplement. There area number of herbal medicines which can increase red blood cell count and iron absorption making your supplementation much more effective. Anyone who has experienced constipation, nausea or other side effects of ‘off the supermarket shelf’ iron supplements can tell you how unpleasant it can be.

It’s worth speaking to someone who can identify the causes of your deficiency and the most effective, safe and side effect free iron sources for you.

 

 

 

Sticky, chewy date and nut bars …

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Looking for something to get you through the 3pm slump ? Look no further !
These easy to make, gluten free, vegan bars are just the thing. They come together in about 10 minutes and require no baking so are perfect when you’re baking on the run.

Sticky date and nut bars

1/2 cup honey, maple syrup or rice malt syrup
1/2 cup nut butter – this can be any nut butter or a combination. I like to use 1/2 peanut
and 1/2 almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats) – if you are gluten intolerant make sure your oats are GF
1 1/2 cups nuts – use what you like here – almonds, pecans, walnuts – if you have time toss them around in a frypan for a few minutes to toast them and bring out their flavour
2 cups dates, pitted
1/4 cup dark chocolate pieces chopped finely (optional)

Melt honey/syrup and nut butter together in a small saucepan over low heat. When melted remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Blitz dates in a food processor till it forms a paste. Don’t worry if there are still some lumps. Place date paste in a large bowl.
Place nuts in food processor and pulse till roughly chopped. Place in bowl with dates.
Add rolled oats and chocolate if using. Mix well. This is easiest done with clean hands.
Pour over butter/syrup mixture and mix well.

Line a slice pan with being paper and spoon in mixture. Top with another piece of baking paper and squash flat with hands or rolling pin till about 1 1/2 cm thick.

Chill in fridge or freezer till cold then slice into small bars. These are quite rich so small bars are best. Store in fridge or for longer term storage you can place in freezer and thaw as wanted.

Feel free to change the ingredients to suit your taste. Try replacing some nuts with seeds, dried fruit or rice puffs.

 

Anzac biscuits … vegan, GF and delicious…

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If you’re looking for something to have with a cup of tea you can’t go past Anzac biscuits.
This recipe has been adapted to suit vegans and those who are wheat intolerant without losing any of the traditional yumminess.

Chewy, wholesome, perfect for lunch boxes or to share around.

To up the nutritional content I’ve included some almond and flax meal and reduced the sugar. These are so easy to make and would be great way for kids to have a go at baking !

Recipe makes about 20 biscuits

1 cup rolled oats (check to make sure these are GF if intolerant)
1/4 cup flax seed meal
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 cup coconut sugar (or cane sugar if you don’t have this)
2/3 cup coconut flakes (or desiccated coconut)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts (optional)
1/4 cup maple, golden or rice malt syrup
125g butter or butter substitute eg Nuttelex, coconut butter
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Method

Mix together all dry ingredients and stir well to combine.
Melt butter and syrup in *medium sized saucepan over low heat. When butter has melted turn off heat and stir in bicarbonate of soda.

*The butter mixture will froth up and bubble to about double its size when the bicarbonate of soda is added so make sure your saucepan is able to hold this volume of liquid.

Roll together dessert spoon sized balls of mixture and place on baking trays allowing some room to spread during baking. Flatten slightly and bake at 170 degrees celsius for about 20 minutes till lightly browned.

 

Oxidative stress and inflammation and why you should be taking curcumin…..

 

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Everyone’s talking about turmeric and curcumin ! Here’s why it’s such a popular topic and incredibly powerful health promoter….

 

Oxidative stress is a state where there are insufficient antioxidants to neutralise free radicals. Free radicals are a natural by-product of cellular function in the body which, left unchecked, can damage cells or create abnormal cells like cancer. Antioxidants act to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Some antioxidants are made in the body but most come from the food we eat.

A good balance between free radicals and antioxidants leads to a healthy ‚Äėredox state‚Äô for cells. Too high or too low levels of ‚Äėredox balance‚Äô affects the efficiency of our cells and can lead to problems like premature aging, cell damage and dysfunction, cancer, heart disease, dementia and arthritis.

Antioxidants are our front line protection against cell damage, they improve general health outcomes and boost immune function

Inflammation is often thought to be a totally negative thing but in fact is incredibly important. It helps the body fight foreign invaders and also has a role in repairing damage. Without inflammation, pathogens like bacteria could progress unchecked making us very sick indeed.

Although acute inflammation is beneficial in protecting us such as when we are injured, it can become a major problem when it is chronic and inappropriately affecting our body’s own tissues.

Long term, low level inflammation plays a major role in almost every chronic Western disease. This includes heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer‚Äôs and various ¬†conditions such as arthritis, IBS, Crohn’s disease, asthma, dermatitis etc.¬†Sources of antioxidants that help fight chronic inflammation play a vital role in preventing and treating these diseases.

 

Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory. Clinical trials have shown that it matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, has none of the nasty side effects and has the benefit of a number of other health promoting properties.

Curcumin is also a source of antioxidants and not only protects our cells from free radical damage but also boosts our bodies levels of antioxidant enzymes.

Curcumin has beneficial effects on several factors known to play a role in heart disease. It improves the function of the endothelium which has positive impacts on blood pressure and blood clotting reducing risks for cardiovascular events such as stroke and heart disease.

Other important benefits include management and reduction of arthritis symptoms, cancer treatment and prevention (through the modulating of cell damage, division and proliferation), treating depression by increasing BDNF which is vital to the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine

Curcumin is the active beneficial compound found in turmeric. The spice turmeric only provides about 3% curcuma by weight so it’s virtually impossible to receive a therapeutic dose through diet alone.

Curcumin, when taken as a supplement, is most effective when combined with a good quality fat source and pepper. Swallowing a few whole peppercorns when you take your curcumin will hugely increase its absorption.

 

Others  antioxidant supplements include :

Glutathione
Vitamin C and E
Alpha lipoic acid
CoQ10
Resveratrol
Carotenoids found in bright coloured fruit and vegetable.

 

Dietary sources :

Bright and dark fruit and veg ‚Äď orange fruit and veg, berries, kiwi fruit, dark grapes, dark green leafy vegetables
Nuts
Tea ‚Äď black and green
Whole grains

If you’re looking for ways to include more turmeric into your diet why not try this favourite of mine – Tofu and Chickpea Curry¬†

 

Prevention is better than cure !  Ways to reduce oxidative stress

Eat a low sugar diet
Exercise
Keep stress at a healthy level
Get enough sleep
Avoid smoking and alcohol
Minimise exposure to toxins ‚Äď environmental and food sources, drugs

Darcy’s excellent dinner … power bowl magic

Is there anything better than when you’re sitting around reading the Saturday paper in front of the fire and your utterly lovely daughter says “I’ve made a bit of dinner, want some ?’

The answer, hell yes please.

This is what came my way two minutes later ….

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Super yummy, healthy, nourishing.  The beauty of this kind of meal is that you can use whatever you have at hand and zing it up with her crazy good dressing.

In this version we had brown jasmine rice, steamed sweet potato rounds and spinach, fresh julienned carrots, seared tofu and thinly sliced nori. The nori really makes a difference so make sure you include it !

Darcy’s Power Bowl Sauce

2 tablespoons white miso paste
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon tahini (we used black tahini but white is fine too)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

Mix it all together with a whisk and pour over your choice of yummy things.

 

 

Amazing Vegan Pavlova. This is not a drill…

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Do you have a sweet tooth ? Crave a bit of pavlova every now and then ? Well do I have the recipe for you. This delicious mess of aquafaba meringue, creaminess and tart fruits is sure to have you swooning.

This pavlova is vegan and tastes amazing. Not just ‘that’s good for a vegan pav kind of amazing’ but truly delicious. ¬†It’s got all the necessary elements – crunchy meringue, your choice of creamy goodness ( I used a soy based whipped cream) and tart yummy berries and passionfruit.

A quick search told me that the average egg meringue and dairy cream based pavlova has whopping 50 grams ¬†(10 teaspoons) of sugar per small serve. This generously sized version has less than 10 grams of sugar and that includes the meringue, the fructose in the fruit and the small amount in the cream. This is one pavlova you can actually have and not feel like you’re heading for an insulin spike or a sugar induced coma.

The meringue is from a previous post and is super easy to make (especially when you have a new Kitchenmaid mixer woohoo).

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This recipe made enough for about 30 palm sized meringues and a tray of about 50 small meringue kisses which store well in an airtight container for at least a couple of weeks. Recipe link here …Aquafaba Meringue Recipe

I used Soyatoo Soy Whip because it’s quick and easy and and I didn’t have a tin of coconut cream in the fridge to make coconut whipped cream. This stuff is great when you are in a hurry and has the added benefit of having a lot less fat content than cream and less wastage than great big bowls of whipped coconut cream.

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To assemble I put a meringue nest on a plate, topped it with some soy cream,added a handful of berries and some passionfruit. I also mashed some raspberries to make a kind of coulis to drizzle over the top. That’s it ! Nothing to it. Once you have the meringues on hand the whole thing comes together in minutes.

I got my husband to take one for a test drive and it was gone in record time with a second serving  following close behind. My vegan daughters are pretty darn excited too. I think this could become a family favourite.

If you are liking these recipes or are interested in vegan, gluten free, allergy friendly baking head on over to my Quirky Cake Facebook page and have a look around.

 

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Wedding carrot soup with coriander pesto

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About 14 years ago my eldest daughter Zoe changed schools. On her first day at her new primary school she met a girl called Sammy and from then on they were inseparable. She loved Sammy and so did I and since then I’ve always thought of her as one of my girls. Last weekend I had the honour of attending Sammy’s wedding to her lovely new husband and it was such a wonderful thing to see them so crazy happy together.

Sammy is one of those girls that you cant help but love – brave, beautiful, kind, creative and gentle. She’s a dreadlocked, musical, vegan, fun loving girl and it’s no wonder she has found someone who loves her so well.

After a walk down the aisle to Radiohead in her lacy gown (and Doc Martens) we headed for the party where the vegan food and great music kept coming. I was so taken with the super delicious carrot soup that I pulled up all my carrots and picked some coriander and now have a pot bubbling on the stove.

carrot        pesto

Carrot soup with coriander pesto 

1kg carrots
2 onions chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon curry paste
1 litre vegetable stock
pepper

Fry onions and garlic till soft. Adding curry paste and stir until fragrant. Add in chopped carrots, stock and pepper. Simmer for 30 – 40 mins until carrots are tender. Whiz in a blender till smooth.

Coriander pesto

A good handful of coriander – about 2 cups
1/2 cup roasted cashews
2 tablespoons each of sunflower and sesame seeds
1/2 clove garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Olive oil

Place all ingredients in blender and whiz till smooth adding enough olive oil to get the consistency you like.

 

Sticky, sweet, spicy tofu ….

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Last night I headed to the vegetable garden looking for inspiration. I came back with an armload of broccoli, spring onions, bok choy and kale. They looked like the perfect match for some tasty tofu. Here’s what transpired …

Sticky, Sweet, Spicy Tofu 

500g block of firm tofu – well drained and dried on paper towel or tea towel.

Marinade
3 tblsp soy sauce
1/2 – 1 tsp chili flakes
4 tblsp honey
2 tblsp oyster sauce ( you can get vegetarian oyster sauce if you’re a herbivore like me)
2 tblsp rice wine vinegar
1 tblsp sesame oil
lots of ground black pepper

Extras
1 tblsp honey
2 tblsp oyster sauce
3 teaspoons cornflower
Sesame seeds
Spring onions

Heat oven to 180 degrees.

In a large bowl mix together all of the marinade ingredients. Cut tofu into 2cm cubes and place into bowl with marinade. Leave to stand for 15 minutes.

Scoop tofu out of marinade and place on baking tray in a single layer. Keep leftover marinade ! Bake tofu for 15 minutes, turn and bake further 15 minutes until golden and slightly crisp. To the retained marinade add the cornflour and extra honey and oyster sauce and set aside as this will be used later.

Heat frypan and place baked tofu into this. Pour leftover marinade into the hot frypan with the tofu. Stir for about two minutes until sauce thickens and coats tofu. Move to serving plate and sprinkle with chopped spring onions and sesame seeds. Serve with rice and lots of green vegetables.