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A Recipe: Plant-Based Banana Chocolate Muffins (Gluten-Free)

These muffins may look plain on the outside, but there’s a decadent rich chocolatey centre hiding inconspicuously inside each one. Because chocolate makes everything better, don’t you think?!

They’re great for people with allergies, being vegan and dairy-free, paleo-friendly and gluten-free. They are also full of nutritional goodness; rather than flour and dairy they’re packed with bananas, almonds and flax seeds. Bananas are packed with potassium, magnesium and manganese, and B vitamins including B6 and folate. Almonds are a great source of magnesium, calcium and zinc (as well as many other minerals) and are also high in vitamin E. Flax seeds are super high in omega-3s, B vitamins and minerals including magnesium and selenium.

Did I mention that they’re super tasty too?

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Recipe: Chocolate Surprise Banana Muffins

Makes 10 muffins.

Ingredients

3 bananas (about 300g)
1/4 cup nut milk (I use cashew nut milk – you can make it yourself; it’s super simple)
2 tbsp maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener)
50g macadamia oil (or other high quality flavourless oil)
175g ground almonds
30g ground flax seeds
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp chia seeds

For the chocolate filling:
30g macadamia oil
20g cacao powder
20g maple syrup

What To Do

Preheat your oven to 170ºC.

Blend bananas, maple syrup, cashew nut milk and oil together until smooth. Add the ground almonds, ground flaxseeds and baking powder and mix well.

Put the 1 tbsp chia seeds in a bowl and add 3 tbsp water, stirring well. Leave for 10 minutes or so until the chia has formed a gel.

Separate 1/4 of the cake mixure and place in a separate bowl. If you want to be accurate, use scales. Otherwise guesswork is fine! Stir the chia gel into the larger cake mix portion.

To the 1/4 mixture in the separate bowl add 20g cacao powder, 20g maple syrup and 30g oil and stir until combined.

Put a heaped dessertspoon of cake mix into 10 muffin cases. You should be left with a small amount of cake mix. Using a teaspoon, make a well in the centre of each muffin.

Divide the chocolate mix between the 10 muffins, carefully filling the well in the centre using a teaspoon.

Top each muffin with a thin layer of the remaining cake mix, using a spoon to seal the gaps. You shouldn’t be able to see any of the chocolate mix.
pic12premuffin1 premuffin2 premuffin3 premuffin4 premuffin6Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 25 minutes until golden.

Enjoy!

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Tips:

  • I used chia seeds to help bind them together as these muffins don’t contain egg. Flax seeds and bananas are also great binders though, so if you can’t find chia seeds just leave this step out.
  • If you think the assembly sounds like too much hassle, don’t stress. Just fill the cake cases with half of the plain mix, add a spoonful of the chocolate one and then top with remaining plain mix. They might not look quite so neat but they’ll still taste amazing!

Ethical Chocolate

When we gave up plastic, it was a massive relief that we could still buy chocolate. Plastic-free bars of chocolate wrapped in foil and paper were our salvation. I’ve tried making my own, messing around with cocoa butter and cacao powder but I just can’t make something that I like anywhere near as much as the stuff I can buy.

Once we started down the plastic-free path I became a lot more aware of the additives, preservatives and other nasties in food, and slowly made the switch to the whole foods approach to eating. I now make most things from scratch, but I can’t make everything, and I want the things that I do buy to be as healthy as possible. For this reason I’m making the switch from milk to dark chocolate, and we stopped buying any chocolate made by Cadbury’s at the start of the year – have you looked at the ingredients list on those bars?!

Now we’ve made a commitment to go one step further. I firmly believe that every time we spend our money we are voting – for the kind of businesses we want to support and for the kind of products we see on the shelves – and these choices define our futures. So we’ve made a commitment to only buy chocolate that is organic and fair trade.

This seems like an obvious choice. But here in Australia, the confectionery aisle is dominated by Cadburys and Lindt, both of which are massive global companies. In the UK, it is much easier to support smaller ethical chocolate brands as they are more readily available. The bigger stores seem to offer so much choice, although it is often only a small handful of different brands, and the choice is actually between which additives (cunningly disguised as flavours) we prefer. Faced with so much “choice” it is easier to opt for whatever brand is on special offer. This is where the big companies (who can afford to sponsor promotions) win and the small guys lose out. We do it without even thinking.

Well, now we’ve started thinking.

We want to support fair trade because it pays a fair price to farmers, and supports ethical and sustainable practices. Child slave labour, exploitation and trafficking are issues linked to the cocoa industry, and supporting fair trade is one way to protest this. The international fair trade logo is something to look out for, but it is worth remembering that suppliers have to pay to receive certification, and smaller companies may not be affiliated due to the costs involved whilst still having fair trade policies – and if they do, they’ll be telling you on their packaging or website!

Supporting organic is one way to avoid additives and preservatives, which are not allowed in organic produce, whilst also supporting sustainable agricultural practices. It’s still worth checking the ingredients list to make sure the cocoa content is high, sugar content is low and there are no cheap fillers like oil that offer no nutritional benefits. Not all producers can afford certification, so for very small companies do your research and use your judgement.

Yes, organic and fairtrade chocolate costs more. Seriously though, how much are we talking? A 100g bar of Lindt costs $2.49 on special offer. Organic fairtrade chocolate may cost you $5. (For readers outside Australia, yes, the prices here are much higher than everywhere else!) Whilst that may be 100% more, in actual money we’re talking a couple of dollars. That extra couple of dollars is ensuring the farmer gets a fair wage. How much chocolate are you eating, anyways? Shouldn’t it be a treat, not a staple?!

Step away from the supermarkets, and there’s better choice. Our local independent grocery store has these to offer:

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Mmm…chocolate!

Green and Blacks was my favourite brand in the UK. Their Maya Gold bar was the first product in the UK to be labelled fairtrade, back in 1994, and I remember buying their chocolate when it was only available in health food stores. They actually sold out to Cadbury in 2005, however the original owner remains President and it still runs as a stand-alone business. Cadbury has since been sold to Kraft…so whilst it still has great eco credentials, it now lines the coffers of a multinational company.

Alter Eco is a company I only found out about a few months ago, although according to their website they’ve been around for a decade. Their headquarters are in the US. They seem committed to fairtrade and sustainability, but I don’t know much about them.

As for Oxfam, being a global not-for-profit organisation committed to poverty reduction, social equality and fair trade, they probably have the best credentials of all… except their chocolate is nowhere near as nice.

Of course, it would be much more sustainable to not buy chocolate at all, seeing as it all comes from across the oceans. I’m not ready for that yet. Small steps, eh?

Take one thing you do that’s not sustainable, and make it a bit more sustainable. And then move on to the next thing. And just keep going.

Recipe: Raw Chocolate Mousse (With a Secret Ingredient)

Chocolate mousse doesn’t have to be all about dairy products and refined sugar. You can actually make a much healthier alternative that tastes just as good – no, better! There’s a secret ingredient that gives it the creamy, smooth texture and is really good for you. Avocado!

I say secret, because it’s probably best that you don’t tell anyone eating it that you used avocado until afterwards, lest it put them off. People don’t always like to know that healthy green produce has sneaked into their dessert.

If you don’t like avocados, I promise you that you won’t even know it’s in there. The cacao completely masks the flavour, and by blending it the texture is altered too. (To my sister, who doesn’t like bananas or milk and whom I once many years ago persuaded to try a banana smoothie on the premise that it didn’t taste like bananas or milk…she was nearly sick…this time I ASSURE you that you’d never know.)

In fact, if you know someone who loves chocolate mousse but won’t eat avocados, don’t tell them what’s in it, make it for them and see if they notice. If they do, you’ll just have to eat it all yourself, which is hardly a hardship! (Obviously, if they’re allergic, it’s best you find another recipe!)

This is super simple to make, and tastes amazing. I made mine in my food processor but handheld blender should work, and if you’ve got the patience you could try mashing it all by hand with a fork, although I doubt it will be as smooth.

This makes enough for two people.

Avocado Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients:
1 large avocado
2 tbsp raw almond butter
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp raw cacao powder
2 tbsp melted coconut oil

Method:
Blend avocado, raw almond butter and maple syrup in a food processor until smooth. Add cacao powder and blend until incorporated. Add melted coconut oil and whizz briefly until combined.

Serve straightaway or store in a glass jar in the fridge for up to 3 days.

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Raw Chocolate Nut Butter Cups: A Recipe

These are my new favourite thing to make! They’re inspired by Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, except they’re made with real ingredients, not artificial ones, and of course they’re free from preservatives, additives and other nastiness.

I’ve been delaying writing this post whilst I try to perfect them, but I’ve decided I’m gonna share the recipe as it is. They’re pretty damn good as they are, but if I do make them even better I’ll be sure to let you know!

I’ve made my own chocolate from raw ingredients but if you don’t have these ingredients or aren’t fussed about making them raw or vegan you can use melted store-bought chocolate. I reckon you’d need about 1 1/2 cups, which I’d guess would be 250g. (If this number is waaaay out maybe someone could let me know in the comments and I’ll adjust the post!)

I’ve tried making these with brazil nut butter and almond butter, and I loved both, and next on my list is hazelnut butter. You can make your own nut butters for a fraction of the shop price if you have a food processor – find my instructions for making almond butter here.)

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Raw Chocolate Nut Butter Cups

This will make 12 (if using cucpcake-sized paper or silicone cases)

Prep time 20 minutes, chilling time 30 minutes: that means they are ready to eat in under an hour!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup coconut oil (100g)
35g cacao butter (about 3 tbsp when melted)
55g raw cacao powder (3/4 cup)
80ml maple syrup or agave nectar (1/3 cup)
2 tbsp maca powder (if you don’t have this add 2 tbsp extra cacao instead)

For the filling:

1/2 cup nut butter
1 tsp maple syrup or agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Method:

Melt the coconut oil and cacao butter in a bowl over a pan of steaming water.

Add maple syrup/agave and stir until combined.

Add cacao and maca and mix well.

Line a muffin or cucpcake tin with 12 paper cases. Spoon 1 dessertspoon in each of the paper/silicone cases. (This should use 1/3 of the mixture – keep the rest).

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Put the tray into the fridge to set (about 15 minutes).

Whilst the chocolate sets, make the filling. Mix 1/2 cup nut butter with the sweetener to form a dough.

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Divide the dough into 12 balls.

Take the tray out of the fridge. One at a time, roll a ball of dough and place on top of the chocolate in the cases, pressing down so the dough almost (but not quite) covers the chocolate. Repeat for all. (If you find the nut butter is sticky, put in the fridge for a few minutes to chill before pressing down).

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Take the remaining chocolate mix (if it has cooled and hardened, simply warm again as before to soften) and spoon two dessertspoons into each case. This should completely cover the dough centres.

If there is any chocolate left over, share amongst the cases.

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Pop back in the fridge to set. This will take another 15 minutes.

Before serving, top with ground sea salt or cacao nibs, or leave plain if you prefer.

Enjoy!

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These need to be kept in the fridge, in an airtight container so they don’t absorb all the other fridge smells.

Enjoy!

Recipe! Cacao Banana Smoothie

This smoothie is my current new favourite drink. I guess it’s more of a dessert than a drink, but it’s delicious, takes about 2 minutes to prepare and it is actually full of nutritious goodness!

Here’s just some of the great stuff that it contains. Raw cacao is massively high in antioxidants, and contains calcium, magnesium and iron. Bananas are high in potassium and also contain vitamin B6, magnesium and vitamin C. Cashews contain omega-6, iron, phosphorus and calcium. Flaxseeds are really high in omega-3  and also contain calcium, fibre and lignans.

You know those chocolate milkshakes that you buy in the supermarket? Well, rather than all this great stuff, they contain sugar, milk and other powders, modified starch, stabilisers and gums. How un-delicious does that sound?

Here’s a couple of examples. According to the frijj (UK) website, their chocolate milkshake, which they describe as a “chocolate lover’s dream”, consists of: Skimmed Milk (68%), Whole milk (22%), Sugar, Fat Reduced Cocoa Powder, Buttermilk Powder, Modified Maize Starch, Stabilisers (Carrageenan, Guar Gum).

Now I love chocolate, and I definitely don’t dream about those ingredients!

In Australia, the Kick Double Choc milkshake manufactured by Brownes is made up of: Milk, Sugar, Chocolate (1.7%), Flavours, Cocoa, Colours (150c, 155), Emulsifiers (Soy Lecithin, 471, 476), Vegetable Gums (407, 412).

Yuk!

So rather than consume that synthetic, nutritionally-devoid rubbish, try this instead!

Cacao Banana Smoothie Recipe

This is the recipe for one smoothie. But make two and share it with someone – they will appreciate it!

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashew milk (see how to make your own here – it’s dead easy)
1 tbsp raw cacao
1 small banana (or half a large one)
1 tbsp ground flaxseeds

(Optional – 1 dsp maca or mesquite powder)

Recipe:

Put the banana, cashew milk and cacao in a blender. Blend until combined.

Add the flaxseeds (and maca/mesquite powder if using) and whizz briefly to mix.

Top with some cacao nibs for some crunch!

And enjoy!

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Ingredients I love…Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a relatively new addition to my grocery cupboard. When I was growing up coconut oil (and coconut products in general) were considered unhealthy because of their high fat content, in particular their saturated fat content. (Avocados and coconuts are unique among fruit and vegetables for containing saturated fat.) Saturated fat has been linked to heat disease. However coconut oil is now becoming popular again as its properties and their benefits are more widely understood.

It’s worth noting that the coconut oil I’m talking about here is virgin cold-pressed. Virgin cold-pressed coconut oil is produced from fresh coconut meat, which is dried and then pressed to extract the oil, usually within hours of harvesting.

Oh, and one more thing before I begin my list. All things in moderation. Coconut oil might have some amazing properties and health benefits, but eating an entire jar in one sitting isn’t going to do you any favours! Limiting consumption to only a few tablespoons a day is recommended.

Six reasons why I love coconut oil

  1. It’s tasty…and better for you!

Let’s face it, things full of fat always taste much better, and coconut oil is composed of 92% saturated fat. But don’t panic! Not all saturated fats are equal. There are 34 different saturated fatty acids, and of the four found in coconut oil, lauric acid accounts for almost 50%. Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid, and medium-chain fatty acids are metabolised differently to other saturated fats.

Medium chain fatty acids tend to be used by the body to provide energy soon after they are consumed, rather than being stored as fat. If fatty acids are used this way they cannot contribute to weight gain. Lauric acid has a particularly high rate of oxidation compared to other fats, meaning it is burned off, making it a valuable source of energy.

  1. It has anti-microbial properties

Lauric acid has antibacterial properties, but can also be converted in the body into monolaurin (glycerol monolaurate), which has even greater anti-microbial properties. In lab tests both lauric acid and monolaurin have been demonstrated to be effective against viruses and pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and Salmonella (research here, here, here and here).

  1. It’s good for the heart

There are two types of cholesterol, LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) and HDL (‘good’ cholesterol). High levels of HDL are thought to protect against heart attacks and strokes (see reports here, here, here and here). The lauric acid in coconut oil greatly increases HDL cholesterol in the blood (analysis here) and decreases the total cholesterol to HDL ratio.

  1. It has a long shelf life

Because it is high in saturated fat, coconut oil is resistant to oxidation. (Oxidation is what makes oils rancid, breaking fatty acids down into aldehydes, ketones and alcohol.) Oils high in unsaturated fat are much less stable and prone to going rancid. Some particularly susceptible oils (such as flaxseed oil) will go rancid within weeks; coconut oil can last years. This is great if you’ve bought a jar because you needed 2 teaspoons for a recipe, as it will sit happily in the cupboard until you’re ready to use it again.

  1. It’s not just for eating

Coconut oil is also a great base for beauty products because it is solid at room temperature, has a long shelf life and is easily absorbed by the skin. If you want to make your own beauty products then coconut oil is an essential; I use coconut oil for making my own deodorant and toothpaste. It’s a key oil for making soap and also has great moisturising properties. The anti-bacterial properties of lauric acid have been shown to be effective in treating acne.

  1. It’s a great natural alternative to butter

Because it’s solid at room temperature (it melts at 25ºC) it’s great as a butter replacement in recipes for people who can’t/won’t eat dairy products, or want to cut down. Now I’m not a vegan but I am a fan of the raw vegan treat. Coconut oil is often found in such delights as a substitute for dairy products. What could be better than snacking on food that tastes delicious and is packed full of goodness? What, you don’t believe me that raw vegan treats taste delicious?! Try this recipe and see for yourself!

Raw chocolate

(This recipe is adapted from another recipe I found online – I used to link back to it bu as the link no longer works so it’s been removed.)

Ingredients:
170g coconut oil
110g raw almonds
60ml maple syrup (1/4 cup)
10 – 12 medjool dates
4 tbsp cacao powder

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Method:

Line a 20cm by 25cm tray with greaseproof paper.

Chop the dates finely using a knife. (Don’t attempt to do this in a food processor or you will end up with a big sticky lump attached to the blades)

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Chop the almonds in a food processor until they resemble small nibs, but not so fine that you get a powder. (If you don’t have a food processor then you could use a coffee grinder of chop by hand using a sharp knife)

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Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan on an extremely low heat until it is liquid (it will melt at 25ºC). Add the maple syrup and cacao to the pan and stir.

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Add the chopped dates and nuts and mix well.

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Pour into the lined tin, using a fork to make sure the fruit and nuts are distributed evenly.

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Place in the freezer (make sure the tray is flat) and leave for at least 30 mins until solid. Chop into squares and store in a container in the freezer. (You eat it straight from frozen.) If it doesn’t get eaten immediately, it will last for a month.

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Notes:

Maple syrup is not raw, as it is made from the heated and reduced sap of the maple tree. If you want a raw sweetener then replace the maple syrup with raw honey (which is not suitable for vegans) or raw agave nectar.

Raw cacao is preferable as it is higher in nutrients. If you cannot find it, then I recommend an organic product such as Green & Blacks cocoa powder. Don’t use Cadbury’s as it contains extra ‘flavours’!