Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grain-free chocolate cake with espresso buttercream frosting

This is not a health post...



See?

Although this rich, chocolatey cake is grain-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free and processed frankenfoods-free - it still probably isn't a dessert you could eat for breakfast and feel fueled and invigorated for the day, like my Grain Free Spiced Pear and Apple Pie. But I am convinced it is THE perfect dessert.

Am I the only one who can find buttercream frosting sickeningly sweet and impossible to eat much of? I get so irritated when I eat it as I always feel like the mounds of icing sugar completely overpower the subtleness of the butter (which is probably the idea when using cheap, factory farmed butter or worse - margarine). I made sure this frosting was different - still satiny and smooth but with a rich and almost caramelly sweetness that compliments the butter, rather than competing with it. I've perfected the base recipe over the years and am always very happy with how this one turns out. It is incredibly rich, chocolately, and satisfying!

I said it wasn't a health post, but I can't resist telling you just a LITTLE about the ingredients we're using in this cake...

Almonds are loaded with calcium, magnesium, and several essential amino acids. They are a great snack for balancing blood sugar and when they have been soaked prior to use, are also incredibly easy to digest. Using them instead of grains is a great choice for anyone with grain or gluten sensitivities, candida, or gut dysbiosis as we discussed in my Paleo Pancakes recipe (which I made this morning topped with pomegranate seeds and grass-fed double cream - divine!)

Raw cacao is another high source of magnesium, which some say is why women crave chocolate during menstruation - magnesium is needed for effective muscle relaxation, and the cramping of the smooth muscles around the uterus can be extremely painful for some women. It is also high in antioxidants and a very warming, invigorating food to include in the diet in small amounts. I often start the day with a bitter spiced chocolate and almond-milk smoothie, which is the perfect kick-start for my sluggish kapha in the morning!

The berries I used for garnish are also a beautiful source of antioxidants and of course, vitamin C. I also used only natural sweeteners for a good mineral profile and a better blood-sugar response in the body. The grass-fed butter I used for the icing is loaded with vitamins A and K. Vitamin A is also called the "Beauty Vitamin" for its crucial role in developing beautiful symetrical features of the fetus in utero, and is essential for good immunity, cellular health, and good vision among many other things. Vitamin K is important for blood clotting and forming strong bones, along with calcium, vitamin D, and boron (among other nutrients - our bodies are anything but simple!).

And the coffee is... well. Delicious. Let it go.

The grain-free chocolate almond cake base is moist, dense, and very rich. The espresso, cinnamon and buttercream frosting is velvety, incredibly flavoursome and doesn't have the overbearing sweetness I often find so off-putting about traditional buttercreams. The tartness of the berries cut through the heaviness of this cake perfectly, and provide a beautiful depth of flavour to the dish. I made this cake for my boyfriend's birthday last year and everyone absolutely adored it! It really is the perfect dessert.

Here's what you need to do to get this into your face...

Ingredients:


Chocolate almond cake:

½ cup raw cacao powder, sifted
1/3 – ½ cup hot water
25 grams butter (plus extra for greasing cake tin)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup almond meal
¼ cup rapadura or sucanet, sifted*
¼ cup coconut sugar, sifted*
2 Tbs maple syrup*
pinch sea salt
3 x large pastured eggs, separated 
*You can use any combination of sweeteners you like, I find this combination gives the cake a rich caramel tone and beautiful texture.

Espresso buttercream frosting:

200 grams butter, room temperature
1 shot espresso (don't use instant coffee. I'll know.)
½ cup sifted coconut sugar
seeds scraped from 2 inches of vanilla bean
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 Tbs raw milk

Method:


  • Preheat the oven to 180C, and grease a springform cake tin of about 22cm. Custom-cut parchment/baking paper would work even better than greasing!
  • Mix raw cacao powder, water, butter and cinnamon in a large bowl until combined, then add the almond meal, rapadura, coconut sugar, maple syrup, sea salt and three egg yolks and mix well.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the 3 egg whites until light and fluffy, but not quite with stiff peaks – usually about 1 minute.
  • Gently fold the egg white mixture into the cacao and almond mixture, being careful not to let too much of the air out of the egg whites.
  • Pour the mixture into the greased or lined cake tin and place in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  • Let the cake cool for at least another 40 minutes before attempting to remove it from the pan, and another 40 minutes (or better yet, overnight) before frosting it.
  • For the frosting, combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat for 2-3 minutes until mixture is smooth and almost silky.
  • Spread the frosting generously over the cake, and decorate with seasonal berries.


Enjoy, foxes! x

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mediterranean fried sardines with olives and winter veg

This dish is one of the most simple, fresh, and flavourful things I have created in a long time...


The Sicilian girl in me was craving a simple Italian seafood dish on the weekend that would provide nourishment in the cold yet a freshness reminiscent of warmer weather. Mediterranean Fried Sardines with Olives and Winter Veg is what I came up with. Naturally, sweet potato and coriander are not 100% Italian, but hey, neither am I.

In an effort to up my Omega-3 fatty acids without upping my mercury levels, I have been eating lots of small, freshwater fish like sardines and mackerel lately. These fish are seriously tasty - and with the addition of their tiny, easily digested bones - are also an excellent source of Calcium. We all know how important calcium is for bone health, but did you know that a deficiency in calcium can also cause hypertension (high blood pressure)? Calcium is implicated in may reactions in the body, including the sending of nerve impulses, and is a vital component for good health. Blood calcium levels are so important, in fact, that a delicate feedback system in our bodies will actually break down bone if our blood calcium levels even drop slightly. This is called 'bone demineralisation, and can lead to osteoarthritis.

Sicilian green olives are a fantastic source of natural Omega-6 fatty acids, which have gotten a bad rap lately due to our over-ingestion of this fat in the form of processed vegetable oils and the diseased meat of malnourished feed-lot animals. Omega-6 in excess can cause many health issues, from inflammation to atherosclerosis to cardio-vascular disease... It is however an essential fatty acid and small quantities are needed in the diet. Olives are a beautiful, natural source of Oleic Acid, an Omega-6 fatty acid.

I have used lots of red, yellow and orange vegetables in this dish for the caratenoids and Vitamin C. I have steamed some of the vegetables and roasted others, however steaming is the best way to retain the water soluble vitamins in these veggies.

Lemon zest has also proven to be very high in Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant and scavenger of free radicals in the body. Capsicum or 'peppers' are one of the highest known sources of Vitamin C also, making this dish fantastically uplifting and detoxifying.

We discussed coriander in my Warming Carrot, Coconut and Ginger Soup post, however I'd like to add here that it is also a powerful chelator of heavy metals in the system, making it an important ingredient for anyone regularly exposed to heavy metals to enjoy (read: all of you).

This delicious, Italian-inspired recipe is perfect for winter not only because of its nutrient profile, but because it is just delicious. It's really, really good you guys. So if you love fresh, simple Italian meals, read on.

This recipe serves two hungry people, and takes 20-30 minutes.

Let's get down to it.

Ingredients:


8-10 raw sardine fillets (4-5 fish - certainly NOT tinned)
1 yellow capsicum
1 red capsicum
1 cup heirloom or cherry tomatoes
1 red or spanish onion
1 small sweet potato
2 handfuls green beans, capped and halved if very long
1 generous handful of coriander
Peel of 1/4 of a lemon
Juice of half a lemon
1 generous handful of green Sicilian olives
Plenty of organic, extra virgin olive oil
Himalayan salt

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 190C degrees. Chop your capsicum into rough chunks and red onion into rough wedges. Place on a baking tray with heirloom tomatoes (I used a flat cookie sheet for faster cooking) and coat generously with extra virgin olive oil and Himalayan salt. Place in the hot oven and allow to roast for 20 minutes. I like some bite to remain in my vegetables, but if you want them more tender, roast for 30 minutes instead.

2. Set up your steamer. Once the water is boiling and the vegetables in the oven are ten minutes away from completion, place the thickly sliced sweet potato into the steamer and douse generously in salt. 

3. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan until hot. At this point, the sweet potato should be two minutes away from completion, and the green beans can be added to the steamer. Fry the sardines for 30 seconds - one minute on each side and remove from the pan.

4. Arrange all ingredients on a plate, top with match-stick sliced lemon zest, olives, coriander, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.


Enjoy! xx

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Warming carrot, coconut, and ginger soup

It is very important to consciously change the diet with the seasons. And you may as well make it delicious while you're at it.



When Weston A Price studied healthy indigenous populations around the world, he discovered that all traditional cultures with radiant health learned to eat with the seasons, and change their diets according to the evolving needs of their bodies in relation to external changes. Many cultures upped their probiotic intake in winter in the form of fermented dairy and vegetables (such as kefir and sauerkraut) to ignite digestive fire and aid in the breakdown of complex foods such as red meat. Many also increased their caloric intake - of fats especially - to raise their basal metabolic rate and increase their resting body temperature to promote the movement of energy in the body.

In Ayurveda, it is said that Vata and Kapha can easily become aggravated in winter. Vata imbalance symptoms are numerous, but given that it is the dosha governed by air and ether, some that you may experience in winter are dry skin, dry and painful joints, increased pain in general, localised numbness, cold hands and feet, and a dryness of the eyes and mucous membranes. If your Kapha gets aggravated in winter, it is easy for you to succumb to cold, wet conditions such as chest infections, sluggish digestion, sinus infections, weight gain, skin congestion and a continually runny nose.

While one set of symptoms are 'dry' and the other 'wet', both share the common quality of cold, so it is easy to see how these symptoms can become aggravated in the wintertime. If you do tend to have an increase in either of these qualities during the colder months, it is extremely important to consume warming foods that promote hydrochloric acid production in the stomach and ignite 'agni' or digestive fire. With less fresh produce historically available in winter, it is particularly important to take extra care to invigorate digestion in the colder months using a variety of medicinal and culinary herbs and preparations.

Ginger is a fantastically warming spice and can increase peripheral circulation as well as aid in the digestion of dense meals. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect, which is important in times of cold when the joints can become dry and inflamed. 

Cumin is considered 'tri-doshic' in Ayurveda, which means that it is balancing and soothing to all three dosha's - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. It is also known to ignite 'agni' or digestive fire, which is very important in winter. Cumin is generally invigorating, and helps the body to flush toxins, which can become stagnant in the system in colder months. This winter stagnation is why many traditional cultures used the bitters of early spring (such as dandelion) in conjunction with a brief fast to cleanse the body of the toxic build-up and to reinvigorate the system.

Vitamin A is extremely important throughout winter as it is a fantastic promoter of immunity and also an excellent blood purifier. The vitamin A found in carrots (and all plant sources) is not true vitamin A and actually a caratenoid (beta-carotene in the case of carrots). The healthy gut is able to convert beta-carotene to true vitamin A, however if there is any kind of gut dysbiosis or amino-acid deficiency, this conversion often does not take place and the caratenoids are not utilised. For this reason, it is important to include plenty of true vitamin A in the diet alongside the caratenoids, particularly in winter. True vitamin A is only found in animal products, and is richest in egg yolks and liver.

Coconut is generally considered to be cooling and even aggravating to Kapha, so if you feel your kapha is already aggravated then perhaps leave out the additional coconut cream for garnish of this recipe (as I would). Although its "cool and wet" properties have led many to believe that coconut cannot be consumed by kapha-types, coconut oil has actually been shown to raise metabolism and assist in thyroid function, making it an important part of the kapha diet in moderation. It is also a very helpful oil for the other doshas as it can pacify pitta and provide the necessary comfort and oileation for vata.

Coriander is generally considered to be mildly cooling, however it is a fantastic remedy for colds and flues so should not be avoided in winter. Also, it tends to flourish and be in season in winter and so I believe this is probably a good time to eat it, in spite of its cooling properties. Nature does not make mistakes!

I probably don't need to explain why chili is warming - I think everyone has experienced its effects! As with many of the warming spices, it is very anti-inflammatory and can soothe joint pain which can become unbearable for some in winter.

Garlic and eschallots are wonderful for the respiratory system and should be used generously throughout winter to prevent coughs and upper respiratory infections.

Bone broth. Ok. Anyone who knows me knows that I am mad about bone broth. It is absolutely life-giving and loaded with many minerals that it are very difficult to find in adequate amounts from other dietary sources, such as iodine. It is also loaded with collagen, elastin, and glucosamine which help to rebuild our own connective tissue and can be extremely soothing for dry, aching or inflamed joints. It is also rich in gelatin - particularly if the animal's heads or feet are added - which is a fabulous digestive tonic and draws enzymes towards itself, making it a wonderful aid to digestion and necessary for anyone with depleted hydrochloric acid production in the stomach. Gelatin also coats the lining of the stomach, making it a vital healing tool for those with leaky-gut syndrome. It is considered that a good broth can "raise the dead". It is very easy to make and simply involves bringing bones, vegetables and vinegar to the boil in enough water to cover them, skimming the scum from the surface, and then adding some woody herbs and allowing to simmer on very low heat for anywhere from 12-36 hours. Then you simply strain and allow to cool before refrigerating.

I think I have rambled for long enough about the nutritional merits of this dish... hopefully you can appreciate why this recipe is the perfect warming winter recipe - both grounding and uplifting at the same time. The liberal use of broth in this soup makes for a smooth, creamy texture and the fact that the carrots are roasted adds a beautiful richness to the soup that you simply couldn't achieve with boiled or steamed carrots. The heating spices add a wonderful aromatic quality to this dish and the coconut contributes to the subtle sweetness imparted by the carrots. This really is one of my favourite winter soups, incredible simple and seriously tasty.

This recipe serves four people.

What you will need:


4  large carrots (unpeeled - the majority of minerals are in the skin)
1 Tbs honey
1 tsp cumin
2-3 large eschallots
2 large cloves garlic
2 Tbs coconut oil
1 tsp hot chili powder
2 tsp freshly grated ginger (1 tsp cook with everything, one add right before blending so it is still fresh)
2 cups homemade chook bone broth (must be homemade)

Optional:


Coconut cream, to serve
Coriander, to serve

Method:


  • Chop the carrots into finger-sized pieces and roast in a 180C degree oven with the honey and cumin for 35-45 minutes or until they are tender but not overly soft.
  • Fry the eschallot, garlic, chili and 1 teaspoon of the ginger in the coconut oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Once the eschallots, garlic and spices are fragrant and translucent, add the carrots and allow them to be coated with the oil.
  • Add the bone broth and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
  • Turn off heat, add remaining ginger and blend with hand blender or in food processor.
  • Serve with additional coconut cream and coriander if desired.

Enjoy! xx


NB. I did not photograph my soup as I figured y'all knew what carrot soup looked like. The above is a stock photo but looks identical to this recipe :) x


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Paleo Pancakes



Many people have difficulty digesting grains and find that they need to eliminate them from the diet for a healing period (some say forever) in order to heal the gut and improve digestion. The GAPS, or "Gut and Psychology Syndrome" diet is fantastic for anyone who suspects they may have underlying gut issues, or anyone plagued with the various auto-immune conditions that ultimately begin in the gut such as psoriasis, eczema, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. The GAPS Protocol also addresses many neurological or mental issues caused by improperly digested proteins being absorbed into the blood and in some cases (such as with the morphine-compounds formed during the breakdown of gluten and casein) crossing the blood-brain barrier and eliciting a neurological and mental effect.

Do you get very sleepy after consuming a meal containing wheat or dairy? If so, you might want to consider gut repair, as it is very likely that you are not completely breaking down gluten (wheat protein) and casein (milk protein), and are absorbing them through the intestinal wall when they have degraded to gluteomorphine and casomorphine respectively (compounds with an opiate effect). The formation of opiates is a normal stage of gluten and casein digestion, but for those with a balanced gut, the proteins are further degraded and dismantled before they are absorbed and do not have an opiate effect. Having a 'leaky gut' that absorbs partially digested nutrients has enormous long-term health ramifications, and should be taken very seriously and addressed quickly.

For people who do not experience such severe symptoms, a regular break from grains or even simply a reduced grain intake can greatly reduce the impact of niggling autoimmune conditions as well as improve their moods, energy, and mental clarity.

I am definitely one of those people!

The problem is, many grain-based foods are just too damn delicious. Like pancakes. Complete deprivation of something that gives you joy is not good for the soul, and simply is not a long-term solution. The solution IS making some healthy, incredibly satiating (and I would argue more-tasty-than-usual) paleo pancakes!

These pancakes do not taste overly heavy, but you will notice you simply cannot put as many of these away as you could with regular, white-flour pancakes. The taste is rich, nutty, and sweet and the texture is moist due to the high fat content in the almonds and coconut oil. They are also surprisingly fluffy given the relative density of their ingredients. They tick all of the boxes - sweet, satisfying and seriously nutritious! There is no way around it, these are delicious and you simply have to make them.

Anyway... let's cut to the chase.


Here's what you'll need for two pancakes (enough for one person):


1/2 cup almond flour
2 Tbs coconut oil
1/4 cup buttermilk (you can use homemade almond milk if you are sensitive to dairy or on the GAPS introductory diet)
2 eggs
1 inch of scraped vanilla bean
1 teaspoon coconut sugar or a few drops of stevia
1 pinch of Himalayan salt
Extra coconut oil or ghee for frying


Method:

Gently melt the coconut oil for the pancakes and mix all ingredients together. Heat the remaining coconut oil or ghee in a medium-hot frying pan until very warm. Pour half of the batter into the frying pan and wait for small bubbles to start rising through the batter. At this point, flip the pancake with a spatula and fry until springy (usually only a minute or so). Repeat with the remaining batter and serve with raw butter, cream, nut butter, berries, maple syrup, honey, shredded coconut, or anything else that you enjoy with pancakes!


Boom.