Good for You Choc-Peanut Butter Smoothie

I whizzed this smoothie up yesterday morning, on account of waking up with a strong craving for chocolate! It’s deceptively nutritious, but it tastes pretty decadent and lush. (On a side note, isn’t ‘lush’ a great word?! My Welsh friend Aled used to say it all the time, so consequently it takes me back to my sandwich making days in England). The spinach is a sneaky addition, but I guarantee that you won’t taste it. It is easily disguised by the rich chocolatey flavour that makes this smoothie dessert-worthy …

Be sure to invest in cacao (as opposed to cocoa) for this recipe (and for all your chocolate needs, for that matter). Made from cold pressing unroasted cocoa beans, cacao is less processed and therefore more nutritionally intact. Also ensure that you choose a good quality peanut butter that is unsalted, made from 100% peanuts, and contains no added sugars, oils or salt.

Not a fan of peanut butter? Try substituting almond butter or tahini (essentially ‘sesame seed butter’) instead. I’ve used medjool dates, which are lovely and plump with a rich caramel flavour. If you are going to use other dried dates, you may need to give them a bit of a soak to soften them. Any other natural sweetener will work well in place of the dates. Maple syrup in particular would be a tasty addition…

Healthy Peanut Butter and Chocolate Smoothie

Good for You Choc-Peanut Butter Smoothie
Makes 1 medium or 2 half (but rich!) glasses

Ingredients
1 ripe banana chopped (fresh or frozen)
2 medjool dates, pitted and chopped (or 1-2 tablespoons of natural sweetener (honey, maple syrup, rice malt syrup etc))
2 tablespoons of cacao powder (I tend to buy this brand)
1 tablespoon of unsalted peanut butter (this one is in my fridge at the moment)
Handful of spinach leaves, washed
1 cup (250mL) milk (cow’s milk, or your choice of dairy-free nut milk, rice milk etc)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (a better choice than ‘vanilla essence’)

Optional Ingredients, to Serve
Cacao nibs
Crushed nuts

Directions
1. Add banana, dates, cacao, peanut butter, spinach and half the milk to blender. Mix to combine.
2. Add remaining milk, the vanilla, and blend.
3. Taste, and adjust as necessary (add more sweetener, more milk etc).

To Serve
Pour smoothie into one or two glasses, over ice. Sprinkle with cacao nibs (for an extra chocolate hit) and/or crushed nuts. Voila, chocolate for breakfast!

Homemade Coconut Milk, Buttermilk, Ricotta and Cream Cheese

For a long time, I never realised how simple certain milks and cheeses were to make at home. I would often be caught out when recipes called for ‘one cup of buttermilk’ or ‘two tablespoons of ricotta’. Damn! I would mutter, dragging myself down to the shops. Other times when I just couldn’t summon the energy to race out and buy what the recipe called for, I risked throwing the whole thing out of whack by replacing said ingredient with (often questionable) substitutes.

Luckily, my eyes have now been opened to the ease with which some of these awesome ingredients – coconut milk, buttermilk, cream cheese and ricotta – can be whipped up at home. These recipes are easy, economical and best of all, you know exactly what is going into your product. If this last point is important to you, I recommend always using high quality ingredients to start with. This includes filtered water, good quality sea salt, milk, and yoghurt, and unsweetened preservative-free coconut flakes.

Homemade Coconut Milk and Buttermilk

Homemade Coconut Milk
Adapted from this recipe, by Tropical Traditions.
Makes 1.5 cups (approx 375mL)

Ingredients
1 cup coconut flakes (approx 70gm). Preferably unsweetened & preservative free e.g this brand
2 cups hot water (not boiling). Preferably filtered.

Directions
1. Add coconut flakes to blender. Pour in water and allow flakes to soak for 2 minutes.
2. Blend for 2 minutes.
3. Pour mixture through a straining cloth (muslin cloth, cheesecloth, a (clean!) thin tea towel, or an un-used chux cloth) and into a bowl.
4. Squeeze cloth well to extract all coconut milk.

To Serve
Refrigerate your coconut milk and use it in cooking, baking and tea/coffee. What to do with the leftover coconut flesh? Add it to your baked goods or try making coconut flour!

Homemade Buttermilk
Makes 1 cup (250mL)

Ingredients
1 cup (250mL) good quality milk (whole milk or semi-skimmed work best)
1 tablespoon lemon juice (white vinegar or ACV will also work)

Directions
1. Add your acid (lemon juice or vinegar) to a bowl (I use a 500mL measuring jug).
2. Pour in the milk, and whisk with a fork to combine.
3. Let buttermilk rest at room temperature for 10 minutes before use.

To Serve
If not using immediately, store buttermilk in the fridge. Use in pancakes, scones or as recipe directs – it plays a role in making baked goods airy and light.

Homemade Cream Cheese with Lemon

Homemade Cream Cheese
Makes 2/3 cup (+ 1/3 cup of whey)

Ingredients
250gm (approx 1 cup) good quality whole milk yoghurt, natural and unsweetened. My favourites are this Greek yoghurt, and this one.

Directions
1. Scoop yoghurt into a straining cloth (muslin cloth, cheesecloth, a (clean!) thin tea towel, or an un-used chux cloth) and suspend it over a bowl. I like to tie my cloth to a wooden spoon, and prop the ends of the spoon between two tall jars. The idea is for the liquid (whey) to separate from the rest of the yoghurt by dripping into the bowl.
2. Leave yoghurt to strain for 12 hours. You can leave it for longer (up to 24 hours) but note that this will produce a thicker, less moist cream cheese. During the cooler months, I tend to strain my yoghurt overnight on the bench at room temperature, but you can also let it strain in the fridge.

To Serve
After 12 hours, check to see if you are happy with the consistency of the cream cheese. If not, leave it to strain for longer. Store cream cheese in the fridge and use it as a spread on bread and vegetables, mixed with herbs as a dip, or sweetened for baking. Whatever you do, don’t throw out your whey! Freeze or refrigerate it, and use it to make mayonnaise, sauerkraute, or add it to your smoothies for extra protein.

Homemade Ricotta

Homemade Ricotta
Adapted from this recipe, by Not Quite Nigella.
Makes 1/3 cup. *Note: double or triple the recipe to get a higher yield.

Ingredients
500mL (2 cups) good quality whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt (preferably sea salt)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions
1. In a saucepan, add milk and salt and gently heat until it is almost boiling (but not quite). Keep a close eye on it to ensure it does not boil and overflow.
2. Remove milk from the heat, and stir in lemon juice.
3. Allow mixture to rest for 10 minutes.
4. Pour mixture through a straining cloth (muslin cloth, cheesecloth, a (clean!) thin tea towel, or an un-used chux cloth) and into a bowl (I’ve been known to use pegs to secure my cloth over the top of the bowl). The liquid whey will drip into the bowl beneath, and the curdles – the ricotta – will remain in the cloth.
5. Allow ricotta to strain for at least 30 minutes, or until desired consistency is achieved.

To Serve
Store ricotta in the fridge and use it as a spread on bread or pancakes, in pasta dishes, to make falafel (recipe coming soon!), or sweetened for baking. Whatever you do, don’t throw out your whey! Freeze or refrigerate it, and use it to make mayonnaise, sauerkraute, or add it to your smoothies for extra protein.

Best of luck – if you give any of these recipes a shot I’d love to know how you go!

Soundly sleeping

While I’m not normally one to brag, I’ve always been a superb sleeper. Truly. I can sleep up a storm (or right through one, for that matter). There are plenty of attributes that I’m lacking in; remembering people’s names, using a can opener, and especially geography (shudder), but a good night of snoozing just ain’t one of them.

Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself”. True Mr Wilde, very true. So today I thought I would share with you a few of my favourite tricks to getting a good night’s sleep. We all know the generic advice – get at least 8 hours rest, ensure your room is dark, don’t use smartphones/laptops before bed etc. So I’ll skip over these (although they are solid tips, worth remembering). Instead, these 5 suggestions come from my 26 years of (mostly) deep-sleeping experience. I very much hope they come in handy!

1. Put clean sheets on your bed. Obviously, this isn’t an everyday option. But while we’re on the subject, you may want to ask yourself if you wash your sheets regularly enough? Greasy hair, body sweat and dust particles can all contribute to making your sheets less enticing. Typically, I change mine once a week, but I’ll also take into account important, stressful and/or exciting events. I’ll always sleep on fresh sheets the night before an exam, or anything else that may keep me awake at night. Looks like I’m not the only person that does this: a 2012 US National Sleep Foundation survey found that 71% people report sleeping better on clean sheets. Better put a load on!

2. Show lavender the love it deserves. Lavender and sleep go together like strawberries and cream. Great alone, but stronger together. Many studies have suggested that the scent of lavender eases anxiety and insomnia, and promotes slow-wave sleep (ie deep slumber). Some research has found that the aroma of this flowering plant can both assist people in falling asleep quicker, and enjoying a better quality of sleep. That being said, you don’t need to drop $2,000 on an Italian mattress with microcapsules that diffuse a lavender scent (yep, it exists). I like to spritz a linen mist containing lavender oil onto my freshly made bed. You can also try having a pre-sleep scented bath, dabbing essential oil on your wrists, setting up a diffuser in your bedroom, or dabbing some lavender oil onto a tissue and tucking it under your pillow.

Snoozing on the Couch

3. Drift off with a story. Two years ago while travelling through Europe with friends, I found myself sleepless in Scotland. After several days of insomnia and fatigue, I found a solution. Kostas, back home in England, would Skype me on my phone, and read me a story until I fell asleep. For reasons I can’t explain, it was incredibly effective. Focusing on a comforting voice telling a story that you are not overly invested in (we got through Sherlock Homes and Crime & Punishment!) allows you to relax and switch off. Listening to audio books will have the same effect. Try loaning some CDs from your local library, or downloading them on your smartphone. Tip: Choose an old favourite so that you won’t be tempted to stay awake and hear the story unfold.

4. Slip on some socks. A super simple tip, wearing socks may help you snooze better. Unsure of the science behind this, I did a bit of looking around and found that Swiss researchers are onto the same thing. It appears that having warm extremities allows for greater blood flow due to vessel dilation, aiding in the redistribution of blood in the body, which better enables sleep.

5. Sleep down the other end of the bed! This one I really can’t explain, but it works 95% of the time for me. As a very last resort when I just can’t sleep (I don’t want to jinx it!), I grab my pillow and blanket and relocate to the other end of the bed. Weird…yes, but effective!

So there you have it…5 ideas for the next time you can’t drift off at night. Have any suggestions of your own? Please share, I’d love to know!

Traditional Hummus

Ah hummus…I could talk about it all day! But, seeing as the joy of hummus lies in its simplicity, I’ll pay my respects to this chickpea dip by keeping it simple. Basic. Delicious.

Because that’s what homemade hummus is all about. Staple ingredients, easy ingredients. Things that most of the time, you’ll already have in your pantry. Not on board the tahini train yet? It’s time to get yourself a ticket, my friend. Tahini is such an amazing ingredient, and its versatility alone earns it a prime spot in the corner of my fridge. Aside from making hummus, I use it as a base ingredient in salad dressing, yoghurt sauce, walnut cookies, the occasional smoothie, and banana and coconut bites. Next up, tahini icecream. I’m pretty sure it will be tasty, because how could it not be? Tahini makes (almost) everything better.

It wasn’t until I lived in England that my love affair with hummus really began. Sitting in a small Lebanese cafe in Bayswater, London, scooping up smooth garlicky hummus with freshly baked flat bread hot from the oven, was like nothing I had experienced back home.

Despite the occasional weekend in London, I was living in Oxford, sharing an old house with five other students. Two Greeks, one Australian, one German-Chinese, one American, and one Brit, our little expat kitchen was a hotpot of cooking cultures. We all shared the one fridge, and while there was often little room for basics like milk, you can bet that there was always hummus.

Come rain, hail or snow, we would bundle ourselves up with scarves, gloves and hats, hop on our bikes and ride the icy roads to the Wednesday farmers’ market in town. Sure, we picked up fresh fruit and vegetables too, but really, we did it for the hummus. £4 would get us a beautiful big tub of the stuff, from an old man who didn’t have a lot to say.

But it didn’t matter. Sometimes, it can all be said with homemade hummus.

Traditional Hummus without Garnish

This is my take on traditional hummus, featuring all the usual suspects (chickpeas, tahini, lemon, garlic & salt). But (and this is an important but), every time I make this recipe, I have to tweak it a little. A good hummus is a balanced hummus, and the overall flavour will depend on the ingredients you use. This means that your method will vary. Every time. Are you using hulled tahini (less bitter) or unhulled (more bitter)? Sea salt (yes!) or table salt? Meyer lemons (sweeter) or regular lemons (sour)? Use this recipe as a guide, but be sure to trust your tastebuds and adjust as necessary.

Note: For cooking the chickpeas, I use the method suggested in Jerusalem (my very favourite cookbook, check it out!).

Traditional Hummus
Makes approx. 2 cups

Ingredients
1 cup dried chickpeas (approx 200gm)
Water
1 tablespoon of whey, apple cider vinegar or lemon juice (optional)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
3 tablespoons tahini (a great source of calcium!)
3 medium garlic cloves crushed
3 – 6 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt (sea salt if possible)
1 teaspoon cumin (optional)

Optional Ingredients, to Serve
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Paprika
Fresh parsley

Directions
1. Beginning the night before, soak dried chickpeas in a large bowl with 3 cups of water. Optional: add 1 tablespoon of whey, apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. It is thought that this will make the cooked chickpeas easier to digest.
2. The following day, rinse and drain chickpeas well.
3. Place chickpeas in a large saucepan over high heat and add bicarb soda. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes.
4. Add 1.5 litres of water to the saucepan. Cover and bring to boil.
5. Once at the boil, reduce heat, and let chickpeas simmer uncovered until soft, constantly scooping off and discarding any foam or skins that float to the surface. Depending on your chickpeas, cooking can take anywhere between 15 and 40 minutes (I personally find around 20 minutes does the trick nicely). You’ll know that the chickpeas are ready when they can be easily smooshed between your thumb and your forefinger; but are not quite mushy.
6. Drain chickpeas well. You may wish to pick out additional skins at this point, but it is not mandatory.
7. Reserve 1 tablespoon of whole cooked chickpeas, for garnishing (optional).
8. Add cooked chickpeas to your food processor. If you don’t have one, a blender, stick blender, or potato masher (and strong arms!) may also work. Mix to form a paste.
9. Keep the food processor running while adding crushed garlic, and drizzling in tahini.
10. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and a little salt (let’s say approx. 1/8 teaspoon to start with). Mix to combine.
11. Add cumin (optional).
12. Taste, and continue to add a little lemon juice, and a little salt, until flavours are balanced. (You may find that you need anywhere between 1/4 teaspoon – 1 teaspoon of salt.)
13. Depending on how much lemon juice you add, your hummus may be quite thick (personally, I like it like this). Feel free to drizzle in a little ice cold water to produce a thinner hummus, but keep in mind that this will dilute the overall flavour, so you’ll want to taste and possibly adjust.

To Serve
Spoon hummus into a serving bowl, and let it rest at room temperature for at least half an hour before serving. If you are not planning on eating the hummus until later, store it in an airtight container in the fridge. To garnish, spoon on whole chickpeas, drizzle with olive oil, scatter with chopped parsley, and sprinkle with paprika. Serve with pita bread toasted in sea salt and olive oil, crunchy veggies, chicken, lamb or roasted mushrooms.

Tip: For maximum flavour, whip up your hummus the day before you plan on eating it, and don’t forget to always bring hummus to room temperature before eating!

Traditional Hummus Garnished

Tropical Green Smoothie on Table

To say that green smoothies have become ‘a bit of a thing’ lately would well and truly be an understatement, akin to declaring that Ryan Gosling is ‘not bad to look at’ or that hot chips ‘taste ok’. Many people love and praise the green smoothie, embracing it with vegetable-fuelled enthusiasm. Others sit firmly in the other camp, believing that greens can wait for dinnertime.

I get it. Adding vegetables to a smoothie that is predominately sweet in taste is kind of counterintuitive. Plus, blending greens down to a pulp isn’t really necessary. Vegetables served in their non-pulverised form add beauty, texture and flavour to a dish. It is a shame to try and jam your daily fix of greens into a high speed blender, and then slurp it up while you navigate peak hour traffic on your way to work. My preferred method of eating vegetables does not involve whizzing up smoothies.

But.

That being said, there is a time and a place for a well balanced green smoothie. Smoothies can make a great snack during a busy day, and while they shouldn’t act as regular meal substitutes, they can form a handy breakfast-on-the-run on the occasional frantic morning. My way of thinking is, if you’re going to make a smoothie, then why not add some veg?

Which brings me to today’s recipe. Whether you are a seasoned smoothie-connoisseur, or you are green (!) in smoothie making, this recipe should go down a treat. It contains a mere three ingredients. Four if you count water. Five if you want to be really pedantic and count pineapple and pineapple juice as two ingredients.

Green Smoothie and Book

A few notes on the ingredients I use. Firstly, frozen banana is excellent and I highly recommend keeping it in your freezer at all times. It makes an amazing snack when spread with tahini, and topped with toasted coconut. Always peel bananas before freezing (good luck doing it once frozen!), and to save time I recommend slicing to about 1cm thickness and layering the slices in containers, separated by baking paper. When you need to use them, they should just peel right off. Ensure that you only freeze ripe bananas, as green bananas do not have the same sweetness (deeming the tahini-banana-coconut combination rather bland).

Secondly, I would love to say that I went to the markets and purchased a lovely whole pineapple, but alas I did not. Today I resorted to using the canned variety. I have recently become interested in reducing my exposure to BPA, a chemical that is found in the lining of various food containers and packaging (tins, plastic containers etc). If you are also interested, you can read more here and here. I’ve found it easy to know which plastics contain BPA, and therefore avoid (hint: if there is a 7 in the triangle on the bottom of your plastic, it contains BPA). Canned goods though, I’m at a bit of a loss.

If you know of any brands doing tinned foods (pineapple, lentils etc) that are BPA free, I would love to know! I spent a good 15 minutes today standing in the canned goods aisle googling each brand, only to find out…very little. Nonetheless, I will look continue to look into it, and I will keep you in the loop! Now, let’s get back to this recipe…

Tropical Green Smoothie
Makes approx. 500mL, enough for 2 small glasses or 1 large

Ingredients
1 small frozen banana, sliced (approx 100gm)
2 fairly tightly packed cups of spinach (approx 90gm)
1/2 cup cold water (if you like to buy coconut water, use that here)
1/2 cup pineapple, chopped (approx 100gm)
2 tablespoons pineapple juice

Directions
1. Add frozen banana, half the spinach, and the water to the blender, and blend until smooth. As there is not much liquid, you may need to stop the blender a couple of times and use a spoon to mix the ingredients around, allowing them to properly blend.
2. Add the pineapple, pineapple juice and remaining spinach and blend until smooth.
3. Taste, and if you prefer it sweeter still, add additional pineapple juice or a little honey.

To Serve
Pour smoothie into 1 or 2 glasses, over ice. Simple!

Green Smoothie and Straw