Friday, 22 April 2011

Chocolate Easter nests

The only time of the year I can get my kids to eat all bran is at Easter – no you didn’t misread!! Most children seem to follow the universal law that if you cover it in chocolate they will eat it! I’m the kind of person that likes to take full advantage of this anomaly – all for the greater good you understand.
These little nests are a great chance to get kids eating some healthy stuff that they might not usually go for. I made these for my nieces and nephews last Easter and some family members gazed on in disbelief that I had managed to sneak some of the good stuff into the festive celebrations!

The nests are so easy that they don’t really qualify for recipe status. They are really a version of their plainer sugar laden cousin, the rice crispy bun.

You can really mix and match this as you go along.
The basics are:
 150g dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa)
All bran cereal (sugar free if possible)
A mixture of dried fruit and nuts, i.e. raisins, sultanas, apricots, dates, figs, cranberries, walnuts, pecans, Brazils, cashew nuts, desiccated coconut (unsweetened)

Break up the chocolate and melt in a bowl over a pot of simmering water.
Once it is melted throw in handfuls of chopped fruit and nuts and all bran until coated well in the chocolate.
You can add as much or as little as you like but it’s nice to get a good balance between chocolate and other ingredients. This year I went for sultanas, cranberries, and pecan nuts.
Line 6 small bowls with tin foil and spoon the mixture into the bottom of the bowls making sure it is evenly spread on the bottom (this helps the nest to stay intact), push the excess up the sides of the bowl to form the nest shapes. Chill for a few hours until set. Remove from the tinfoil and pop in a few mini chocolate eggs. (If I could have got away with mini clementines in there instead, oh believe me I would have!)

Monday, 11 April 2011

Raw chocolate, orange & cinnamon mousse tart

This has got to be one of my all-time favourite desserts! It is based on a delicious mixture of fruits and nuts.It is sugar free (only naturally occurring sugars from the fruit), wheat / gluten free and dairy free so suitable for a wide range of diets. Even if you ate this for breakfast it would be 100 times healthier than the ‘standard’ cereal and toast breakfast! With Easter just around the corner you can enjoy this beautiful indulgence – completely guilt free!

I recently had the great pleasure of cooking a meal for ‘The international Celtic Women’s Ass’ while they were touring around Ireland. I made this tart and it was well received. This one’s for you Mary – enjoy!

1 large orange, zest and juice
1 cup pitted dried dates
1 cup cashew nuts (raw – not roasted, unsalted)
1 tsp. cinnamon

*Soak the dates in orange juice for ½ - 1 hour (this softens them and infuses them with a lovely orange flavour)
Strain the dates, keeping the juice.
Place the dates in a food processor and blitz until roughly chopped.
Add the nuts, cinnamon and ¾ of the zest. Blitz again until combined but still a little course, you want something similar to a cheesecake base rather than a puree. Add a few drops of the orange juice, but only just enough to bind the mixture.
Spread this mix in a sandwich tin or similar (I use silicon one as it comes out really easily when cut). Press down with back of a fork to make an even base. Put in the fridge until needed.

Mousse topping:
1 cup dates, soaked in very hot water ½ - 1 hour (*you can soak the 2 lots of dates, separately i.e. 1 lot in juice and 1 lot in water, at the same time to cut down on waiting)
1 large or 2 small avocados, (must be fully ripe)
1 banana
2 Tbsp. raw cacao powder (if you don’t have this you can use unsweetened cocoa powder)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Orange juice saved from soaking 1st lot of dates
Left over orange zest to garnish

Strain dates, discard soak water. Place in a food processer and blitz until as smooth as possible. You may have to stop and scrap down the bowl once or twice. (You can add a drop or 2 of juice to loosen mixture.)
Peel and dice avocado and banana and add to the processor with the cacao / cocoa and vanilla extract.
Add a little reserved orange juice. Blend well until you have a nice smooth puree. Add a little more juice if the mixture seems too thick but be careful not to make it too thin. You want a mousse like consistency.
Spread this mixture evenly over the base and refrigerate until needed.

Note: I find if you pop the tart in the freezer for an hour or so to firm up it is easier to cut into portions.
This amount makes 8 small portions but it is very rich so you only need a little!
Garnish with the reserved orange zest. I love to serve this with fresh raspberries when in season, or mixed frozen berries (thawed) or for real decadence with homemade coconut, mint & choc chip (and spinach!) ice cream – see my smoothie recipe for details.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Coconut, mint & spinach smoothie

This recipe is for my friend Sheila. She makes smoothies for her kids for breakfast but was looking for something different to try – she came to the right place!
This is a terrific smoothie to get your kids into eating spinach – I KID YOU NOT! The combination of green and mint is usually associated with mint choc ice cream and I say if you can take advantage of that association go with it!!

2 / 3 apples, juiced (freshly juiced is best but if you don’t have access to a juicer you could use bought unsweetened pressed apple juice instead- about 200ml)
1 400g tin coconut milk
1 handful of spinach (washed and large stalks removed)
1 avocado, de- stoned and peeled
1 banana, peeled
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 tsp. spirulana powder (optional)
6 – 10 fresh mint leaves, depending on strength (start with 6 med leaves & check flavour, you can always add more)
1 tbsp. honey (optional)
A large handful of ice

Juice apples, put juice and everything else in a blender and blend until totally smooth. If it is too thick you can add a little more juice to get your preferred consistency. Serve with a sprig of mint.

Note: If you have any leftover it makes great ice lollies.

I was feeling a bit decadent over the weekend – we had friends over for dinner, I made the smoothie, threw in a handful of dark choc chips (min 70% cocoa) and then put the mix into an ice cream maker for half an hour. There was empty plates all round – always a good sign! Some of the kids even came back for seconds – Happy days!!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Carrot, Lentil & ginger soup

This is a wonderfully warming, substantial soup for a chilly spring day.
Lentils are a great low fat source of protein, they also nourish the kidneys. Ginger has soothing antiseptic properties that help the body deal with external cold.

Serves 4-6
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 med onions, roughly diced
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. turmeric (this spice has wonderful anti-cancer properties – I stick it into as much as I can!)
1 tsp. garam masala
2 Tbsp. fresh mixed herbs or 2 tsps. dried
4 large carrots, peeled (if not organic) and roughly diced
2 handfuls of red lentils, washed well (put in a sieve and rinse a couple of times)
2 large tsps. Vegetable stock powder (I use low salt marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon)
Enough boiling water to cover veg by 1” – 2”
Freshly ground black pepper

 Put oil, onion, garlic, ginger, spices, herbs, and carrots in a large pot on a high heat. As soon as it starts to sizzle, turn down the heat as low as possible and put on a tight fitting lid. Allow to ‘sweat’ for 10 -15 mins. Make sure not to lift the lid as the moisture from the steaming veg stops them from sticking to the pot and brings out all the beautiful flavours.  Shake gently a few times.  I think this is one off the most important steps to making a flavourful soup. (The other being good quality stock).
Add lentils and stock powder to pot and stir well. Cover with boiling water from the kettle. If the lentils soak up too much water you can add a bit as you go along. Season with black pepper.
Cook gently for 20 mins, stirring occasionally until veg and lentils are cooked.
Blend until smooth; adjust the consistency with more water if soup is too thick.
Garnish with a swirl of soya cream or natural yogurt and some chopped parsley or coriander.