July 23, 2013

Sugar-free Fruity Nutty Balls

July was supposed to be the month I cut out sugar - or at least tried to cut out sugar.  It started well.  I stopped having sugar in my tea and coffee, I resisted all urges to eat cake and sweets, I made stewed apples with Greek yogurt when I wanted something sweet.  I even baked an apple tart with no sugar - it didn't taste very good.  But then it hit - my birthday.  How could I not eat cake?!  In the last week my will to refrain from sugar passed, and I ate sweets.  And it was gooooooodd...

It got me thinking about these so called diets, which to me is when someone cuts out a food group/s for periods of time.  They never work because you know when the diet is over you will get to eat those foods again, so what's really going to change?  I've always been a firm believer in eating well as a lifestyle. Reducing my sugar intake is something I'm going to have to do slowly, and is something I've been consciously doing for a while.  For example, whenever I bake a recipe that calls for one cup of sugar, I'll halve it, or replace it with honey.  I won't make things that are heavily sugar based (except for marshmallows cos they are amaze-balls).  My tolerance for sugar has dropped as well - these days I find things too sweet.

I'm my efforts to not buy another bag of Mars bars and eat them all, I wanted to make a healthy snack that was good for me and involved NO SUGAR.  

These babies, they have no sugar, no gluten, no dairy, and no egg.  And, they're yummy!  Feel free to mix it up and use your favourite dried fruits or nuts (except keep the dates of course).  And if you can, try to use stuff already in your pantry, as these can get a little expensive if you have to go and buy everything!  When I made these, I only had to buy the apricots and cashews, everything else was randomly in my pantry.

150g dried dates
1/2 cup water
100g dried apricots, roughly chopped
100g cashews, roughly chopped
100g pistachios, roughly chopped
3/4 cup of shredded of flaked coconut (desiccated coconut tends to be too fine)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon flax seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 160C.  Line a tray with baking paper.

In a small saucepan, add the dates and water, and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until they are soft and the water has been absorbed.  Use a wooden spoon to mash the dates up a little, then place the mix into a food processor and blend til smooth.  You might need to add a little more water to loosen it should the mix be too thick.  It should be the consistency of baby food.

In a large bowl, add all the chopped fruit, nuts and seeds (all other ingredients!), then add the pureed date and mix well so it's all evenly incorporated.

Take a tablespoon of the mix, and using you hands, mould it into a ball, a bit smaller than a golf ball.  Place it on the baking tray.  When all balls are on the tray, place in the oven and cook for 20 - 30 minutes.  20 will give you chewy balls, 30 will produce a more crunchy ball (sorry, so many balls!)

Makes 30 balls.

Last ball reference, I promise.  Did I mention the nuts though?

July 1, 2013

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cupcakes

I'm not an emotional eater.  When I'm sad, I tend lose my appetite. When I'm stressed, I don't eat at all.  Lately though I've been a bit down, so I've been craving everything I shouldn't be eating - chocolate, cakes, lollies etc.  It's not been good.  In response to this over-indulgance I have decided to give up sugar during July.  It's day one, so I really don't know how long it will last.  I also have 9 cupcakes on my kitchen counter that need to be eaten. Dammit. I will freeze them, then eat them all in August!  Mwahahaha..

In the last couple of weeks I've been cooking quite a bit, but none of it amazing enough that I felt the need to share.  I've done two test trials of home-made marshmallows, that when I nail I will share with you.  I made these lemon and poppyseed cupcakes which were delicious, but I failed TWO lots of icing (I have no idea how it happened!), so didn't want to photograph them.  I also made a ciambella (Italian olive oil cake) which I over-cooked, plus a few others dishes.  

I wanted to make the lemon and poppyseed ones again because they were so yummy, even without an icing.  Once I started eating them it hit me that a simple lemon glaze would have been perfect!  So here we are...

Also, something I haven't shared yet.. my new KitchenAid!  I have wanted one of these for so long, that when the opportunity came up recently to get one, I jumped on it.

It was a bit of a shock the first time I used it at the power it had, and I had to keep an eye on my icing so I didn't over beat it.  I over beat it.  It split.  I learnt my lesson.

125g butter, room temperature
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Lemon Glaze
1/2 cup icing sugar
Juice of half a lemon
Dash of milk

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line a cupcake tin with paper cases.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time and vanilla extract and continue beating.  Add the lemon juice and zest and beat for a further minute.  Add the flour, baking powder, salt, milk, and poppy seeds, and slowly mix until all ingredients are incorporated.

Spoon the mixture into the cases, then place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when tested.

Allow cupcakes to cool before icing.

To make the icing, stir the icing sugar with the lemon juice, and add a little milk to thin it out. It should be runny, but also thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.

Slowly spoon over the icing, trying to cover as much of the cake as possible.  It will run straight down the cake, so take it slow.

Australian cupcake cases tend to be larger than American ones, so for me this mix made 10.

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