Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Healthy Snack Quest part 2: Almost Raw Brownie Blondies by Delish Knowledge

Oh my readers, my blog has been living up to its name the last couple of weeks, and I pretty much am insane. Even cooking isn't helping. I've been feeling so mentally exhausted in the evenings that I haven't had the wherewithal to compile a lot of words into something worth reading, and I'll be honest with you, I feel like that tonight too. I'm sorry to begin on a downer; it gets better from here, I promise. Because the recipe I'm going to bring to your attention today... well, I can't actually think of a fantastic enough description!

I came upon this recipe on an awesome website I've stumbled upon and forgotten about a couple of times since setting up the blog, but this time, I'm not going to stumble away but keep my step firmly implanted in it. It's called foodgawker.com. An unusual but certainly not easily forgettable name. One is also able to gawk at craft, homes, style and weddings, if one desires! I have yet to explore these other options, though the wedding one is certainly not on the list, as I have the most wonderful Husb andbody could wish for, and we're not planning a second wedding! Interiors however, I could look at all day long, so I will be checking that section out at some point. It was on this website, once I'd set up an account (which is entirely free, by the way) that I came upon this recipe, and so enticing was it that I had to make it the very next day.

As with my previous Healthy Snack Quest, I really wanted to involve the Tonjus. They did reasonably well last time, and we hadn't baked for quite a while. Oh dear. This time was not comparable with the last. It descended into a screaming debacle: who was going to stand on the stool, which is quite large for both of them to stand on at once, as it happens, whilst helping add the ingredients to the food processor and engage in the never-ending-fun job of turning the knob thereon. So unfortunately, my progress shots are rather non-existant. I have a couple of out of focus ingredients shots, but nothing showing the making process, and, more importantly, nothing to show the icing being made, which I tinkered with as I didn't want to use actual chocolate and sugar. You'll have to rely on my memory if you want to modify the icing as well; details below.

Can you believe this is the best ingredients shot I got, and the only one until after I'd actually mixed the ingredients and put them in the tin?

Ha! I've just realised I've been going on and on about this recipe and I haven't even given the link for it yet. Not good practise! You can find it here. As usual when I'm going through an online recipe, I ask you to link back to the original site for an ingredients list and method. What I will tell you is that you need a food processor to make these; I can't really think of a alternative way of making them without the use of one. The recipe is split in half, so one could make only the brownie layer if one wanted, which is what I was originally intending to do and which is why the photograph above shows only the brownie and not the icing ingredients. I was enticed by Alex, the author's, description of frosted brownies, however;

"Do you frost your brownies? I never knew that was a thing until I started eating my friend Paige’s brownies. Hers are some of the best: chocolate chips in the batter and a thick layer of chocolate frosting on top. The problem with trying frosted brownies just once? You always want frosted brownies."

So I was thinking and deliberating as I was making and decided to try and create my own chocolate frosting but to make it a little less decadent and a little more healthy. It definitely worked, and I was really pleased. Thank goodness this recipe is so simple that I really don't have any extra tips to share for the blondie brownie part. However, my dates were not particularly soft, so I definitely wished I'd followed Alex's advice of soaking them in hot water for 15 minutes before blitzing them, because my final mixture did not hold together too well. I had recently bought a large and inexpensive bag of dates from Home Bargains, one of those incredible places which sells everything known to man at a fraction of supermarket cost. The pack of dates was bargainous, but not the usual soft and squidgy Halawi dates I buy in Tesco, therefore I was unprepared for their hardness. It certainly didn't affect the taste, but I did wonder if my processor could take it as it shook around on the kitchen worktop! So soak your dates people!

Here are the ingredients for the frosting I made. Luckily you can see the consistency from the photo, but that is self intuitive anyway; just make it as thick as you like it!

1 tbsp coconut oil
About 70ml almond milk
50-75g raw cacao
1 tbsp icing sugar
Drop of vanilla essence
Small pinch of salt


Put the almond milk and coconut oil in a small saucepan and heat until the coconut oil has melted. Put the raw cacao into a medium sized bowl and add a small amount of the melted milk and oil until a medium-runny consistency is reached. Add the icing sugar and vanilla essence and mix. Add more of the milk and oil mix to acheive desired consistency, and if you like it less bitter, add more icing sugar, or a little more cacao if necessary. I used just enough icing sugar to take away the bitterness of the cacao but so as not to make it that sweet. Empty out onto the chilled brownie blondie base and spread with a pallette knife or similar. If you didn't want to use any sugar at all, a drop of honey ar agave nectar might stem the bitterness, but that's just an idea, I haven't tried it myself.

Next came the moment of truth for my poor, crumbly brownie base. I knew it would be a little tricky to cut as it would most likely break up into a million little pieces. Fortunately, it hardened just sufficiently in the fridge to remain intact enough to transfer the slices into a box for storing back in the fridge until they are all eaten.

Use as long a knife as you can to make your slices, and I would recommend a pallette knife for transferring the slices into a tub.

This is what I was left with after all my slices had been transferred. I just squidged it all together and put it in a little tupperware in the fridge with the big box. It didn't last long though. I kept going to the fridge and munching this little mixture as it is completely and utterly moreish, and it was gone by bedtime! I only wish I'd photographed the floor underneath the dining table after the boys' first serving. It was an absolute state, with crumbs everywhere!

So my verdict on this recipe? I will be very hard pressed to find anything so utterly scrumptious as this for a healthy snack. If you didn't know the ingredients, you'd think it was full of sugar and generic sweet baking ingredients. It is so wonderful how creation has foods that are as sweet as anything man can come up with, but that have been made to do us good. Eating something like this makes me less and less inclined to want to eat anything processed because it is so unnecessary when something healthy which will also stem a sweet craving is so easily accessible. So please make these incredible brownies immediately! You won't regret it, and neither will whoever is lucky enough to be fed them!

Have you baked or made anything super healthy yet deceptively sweet lately, or do you have a recipe you'd recommend for my healthy snack quest? Please share it here or on the Facebook page :)

xxx Sam

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Sweet and Sticky Chicken, Date and Sweet Potato Bake

Wow! I cannot believe it's been nine days since I last had an evening to sit down and write a blog post. Life has been happening over here, culminating, you could say, today, with the parent introduction to reception class at Big Tonju's school, which he'll start in September. I've found I've been too occupied with the busyness of running a household and entertaining my children, every second of every day, to even think about what a huge thing this is. I mean, he's in nursery already, it won't be that different will it? I hadn't reckoned on how I'd feel visiting the classrooms in which he'll be installed for a year from September. Suddenly it is very real, and the step from nursery to school feels tangible. God willing, it will really help him, and me, and make the times we do spend together more precious, because being a stay at home mum can take away a little joy, I find, from occasions in which a working mum would delight. I know this is primarily a food and cooking blog, but the premise is that of cooking for my family, and they do have real little (actually, big!) personalities. I also know that many of my readers are at a similar stage in life so will empathise. Any words of encouragement are very welcome!

With family in mind, I created this dish the other week as a way to encourage little (and big) people who maybe have an acrimonious relationship with their vegetables, to give them more of a chance. To show that the state of vegetables can be altered, that they can be combined with other flavours to enhance their own, without removing the inherent nature of the original veg. How anybody couldn't be seduced by a sweet potato is beyond me; that delicious, orange flesh which is full of promise of natural sweetness. Mashed, roasted, fried... it is a winner every time! So does it surprise you to know that sweet potato is a main ingredient in this recipe? Along with another deliciously sweet natural ingredient: dates. In fact, I must admit that this recipe is partially inspired by Ella's Sweet Potato Brownies recipe. I adored the combination of sweet potato and dates, and I added a little maple syrup to capitalise on it. Only a subtle amount, but perhaps enough to make a difference to a veggie hater.

I've had a few conversations recently with mums who really struggle to fit cooking into their lives. I've also heard mums say that they're trying to get their five year olds to start eating vegetables and to be more adventurous with their eating. It is certainly never too late to get your child to start eating healthily and adventurously, but sooner is definitely better. So out with the "children's meals" and serve them what you're having, even if that means they have what you had for dinner last night for their dinner tonight. Some meals taste even better after the flavours have been allowed to combine and settle against each other, particularly pies. I completely understand that many families are not physically able to eat together every night, or even any night, of the week. Husb has been home at the boys' bedtime every night for the last three weeks, and while I'm aware this will sound like a luxury to many, I've found it hard work because he's always here for dinner and it's been a sad dinner table for the boys and me.

So this recipe is dedicated to all the mums who are confused about cooking, unsure about trying new ingredients and generally don't know where to start. All the ingredients are really easy to source, and if you can't find coconut oil, just use olive oil (coconut oil is a flavour enhancer and an incredible oil to use for all types of cooking, but it is also expensive, and might not be easy to find in smaller supermarkets). It's also not necessary to add maple syrup to the sweet potato. It is certainly sufficiently sweet with just butter and seasoning, so please adjust this, and any other acpect of the recipe according to your own taste. The number of ingredients is also small. There are really only four main ingredients, the remainder you are likely to have in your kitchen cupboards already.

Ingredients (for two adults and two children)

2 chicken breasts
2 large sweet potatoes
Bag of baby leaf spinach
Halawi dates (or any other kind of dates you like)
1-2 tbsp maple syrup
1-2 cloves of garlic (according to taste) sliced with a knife
Whole nutmeg (or ground if you have that)
Coconut oil
Salt and pepper


Pre-heat oven to Fan 190C.
I'm going to be a bit over the top with obvious instructions in this recipe, to give as many pointers as possible for those who may find this all a bit daunting. Beginning with showing you how I like to cut sweet potatoes if they are going to be mashed following cooking.

Peel both potatoes and cut into approximately 1 1/2" slices

Cut each slice into quarters, as shown

Put in a saucepan and fill with water

This may be a step too far with the simplicity, but it really is an efficient way to cut each slice, and it also means the chunks are small so will take less time to soften. Put the saucepan on the hob, bring to the boil and simmer for around eight minutes until soft when poked with a sharp knife.

Once the sweet potatoes are on the hob, prepare the chicken.

Take one chicken breast, lay it on a chopping board and slice through it across its breadth to create a slice just less than half a centimetre thick. Repeat, continuing to make new slices until you've gone through the whole breast.

Continue with the second one...

...until both chicken breasts have been separated into many flat slices. Set aside.

Prepare the dates.

Taking a short, sharp knife, take a date and slice it lengthways down one side, open the flesh to remove the stone, then continue the cut so the date is cut in half vertically. Make a couple of horizontal slices to chop the date up into three pieces. Repeat until you have as many dates a you want to use. I used the whole box (ahem!) which was rather gluttonous, but we all love dates, and, you know, it's natural sugar and everything (just don't get Husb started on fructose and sucrose!)

Set aside.

Prepare the garlic spinach.

In a large pan, place a generous slab of butter and melt on a medium heat, taking care not to let it burn. Once melted, add the sliced garlic and fry reasonable gently until it is starting to go very slightly golden.

Add the spinach to the pan, probably a large handful at a time, along with four tablespoons of water, and cook on a medium heat until wilted, turning it constantly so it wilts evenly. Keep adding handfuls as soon a there is space in your pan, until the whole bag had been added.

Once wilted, grate over some nutmeg, or add a pinch of ready-grated nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

By this time, the sweet potatoes should be ready. If you find they were ready a little while ago, just turn off the heat and keep them standing in their water to keep warm until you're ready to give them your attention.

Gather together the drained sweet potato, maple syrup, butter and seasoning.

Add a knob of butter, 1 tbsp maple syrup and salt and pepper.

Mash with a potato masher and check the taste, adding more maple syrup, butter and seasoning to your taste. If you like, you can create an even smoother consisency by using a stick blender on the sweet potato.

Now it's time to assemble the dish.

Gather together the sweet potato, chicken breasts, spinach and dates, and an oven dish.

If you're using coconut oil, you can melt a tablespoonfull in a pan to drizzle over the top of the bake once assembled. This isn't entirely necessary however, as the oil can just be dotted over the top. Obviously, if you're using olive oil, ignore this step.

Put half the sweet potato mixture in the bottom of an oven dish, smoothing over the surface.

Split the pile of dates in half and sprinkle one half over the sweet potato.

Place half the sliced chicken over the dates, taking care to keep the better looking slices for the top layer!

Make a spinach layer using all the spinach mixture.

Add the remaining sweet potato and spread out evenly over the spinach layer.

Sprinkle over the remaining dates.

Arrange the remaining chicken slices over the dates and drizzle over the coconut oil (alternatively, dot it on or drizzle over olive oil) and season with salt and pepper.

Once assembled, place in the pre-heated oven for 45-50 minutes until the inner layer of chicken is cooked through.

Once cooked, the exposed dates will have nicely caramelised.

This meal is great served with a simple green vegetable; I used green beans which I steamed for the eight minutes before the bake was ready. Brocolli would also work well.

When ready, dish up and serve to your expectant family!

We really enjoyed this meal. The combination of flavours is delicious, and it is certainly reasonably healthy. Serving it with a green vegetable just adds a little refreshment to what is an inherently sweet main course, even without the maple syrup.

I know it looks like there are a lot of steps to this recipe, but really they are quick and can be carried out systematically so all the aspects are ready to bring together at the same time. I've used a lot of photos because I wanted to make it as clear as possible for inexperienced cooks, and specified the steps in such a way as to make the process feel as ordered and unconfused as possible.

Let me let you in on a secret. Your finished bake will look a lot more caramelised than mine does in the photos above, and that's because I totally underestimated the cooking time, got it out after 25 minutes and served one portion, only to find the middle layer of chicken hadn't even been touched! I had to patch it up and return it to the oven for double the expected time, so there's a confession for you! Obviously I had to use the original photos I took because it didn't look quite so... good... once I'd tried to reassemble it.

I really hope this dish might inspire someone who's daunted by cooking to step a tiny bit out of their comfort zone to try something a little different, but which hopefully their entire family will enjoy. I also hope I've made it clear enough to follow easily, so please let me know if you make it and how the instructions could be improved, or any additions or changes you make to the recipe.

Here's to trying something new!

xxx Sam
Cooking for Sanity