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Homemade maple syrup hot chocolate

For the past couple of months I have been avoiding sugar for health reasons, even natural sugars (honey, fruit juices, maple syrup) as best as possible.  I am now able to eat smaller amount and I’m enjoying the adventure of trying out alternatives to previously enjoyed sweet treats.

One of my absolute favourite things is hot chocolate – I have long enjoyed a mug of Green’s & Black hot chocolate, and at the start of the year the luxurious treat of Montezuma’s hot chocolate, which is made with real shavings of chocolate.  But both of these, despite being great options to conventional hot chocolate mixtures, still contain sugar.

Homemade sugar free hot chocolate

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Kefir berry smoothie

So, my kefir making is going well – yey!  I haven’t killed it off!  I was worried that I wasn’t going to do well with it as it requires a little bit of love each day, but I actually enjoy taking care of it.

You might have seen my first post when I received my kefir grains in the post, well since then I’ve been nurturing each evening and this is what it looks like…

Kefir before straining

Each evening when I come to open my jar of grains and milk it looks something like the above.  I think because the weather has been so warm it’s been splitting more than normal, but I just ignore its looks and get on with it.

You might imagine that raw milk that’s been sat in a jar on the counter top for 24 hours would smell pretty rank – but it doesn’t.  I’ve even had some raw milk out on the side for a few days to make it sour (great for making soda bread I’ve read) and I was convinced there would be that terrible ‘gone-off’ milk smell I’m sure we’re all familiar with – but no, barely a smell at all, just a hint of sourness.

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Lemon cake with yoghurt drizzle

I have pretty much given up sugar in the past couple of months, I’d like to share more of my experience of cutting it out, but for now I wanted to share my first attempt at a sugar free sweet treat.

I found this nice sounding recipe for lemon bars and liked that it was simple and didn’t use a list of weird and wonderful ingredients.  Mr Rigg loves lemon drizzle cake and this sounded like it might make something pretty similar.  I’ve make cakes before with ground almonds and they usually come out moist – this lemon cake was no exception.

Moist lemon cake

Because there’s no raising ingredients, it’s pretty much the thickness of the batter you pour into your tin, but what it might not give in depth it provides in flavour and texture.

It’s sticky and moist and sweet, but with a lovely tangy lemon taste.  I even made a ‘drizzle’ to go over it, using raw yoghurt and maple syrup (as suggested in the original recipe) – however, the original looks more like whipped cream (I think this is because Greek yoghurt is very thick), whereas the raw yoghurt I used is much runnier.

If you’ve never experimented with natural sweeteners (like me!) then I would really recommend giving this recipe a try – you might be surprised how delicious it is.  It would make an excellent pudding served warm.

Lemon cake with no sugar

Lemon Cake

To begin with I preheated my oven to 180°C.

Firstly I placed my butter (1/2 cup) into a little saucepan on a low heat to melt it.  Once it was melted, I mixed in 1/4 cup of local honey and 1/4 cup of organic maple syrup, and a 1/4 tsp salt.

In a separate mixing bowl I beat together 2 eggs, 2 additional egg yolks, and the juice and zest from 1 lemon (our lemon was a jumbo one which made for a very lemony cake).

Then I added the melted butter and syrup into the egg mixture and gave it a good whisk.  Finally, I added 1/2 cup of organic whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup of ground almonds.  Mix that together and pour it into a baking tin I’d lined with greaseproof paper.  Bake it for about 30 minutes.

Finally, I made a yoghurt drizzle by mixing in a bit of maple syrup.  I found that you don’t want this yoghurt to be really sweet as the tartness of the yoghurt is perfect against the lemony cake.  We ate ours warm with a tiny bit of lemon zest to make it look pretty.

I wanted to add that just because I’ve given up sugar (as in the white stuff, and its counterparts) I’ve not gone made on the natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, fruit juices etc.  I have been cutting it all out as far as possible, just having a tiny amount in dark chocolate, honey, and watered down apple juice.  This lemon cake was primarily to satiate Mr Rigg’s love of sweet treats and I have only eaten the tiniest of pieces.

Minestrone soup with ravioli

Life is running along quickly and already I’m begining to feel like I’m behind with sharing what we’ve been up to lately and more details on our trip to France.  I spent last night at Aspen B&B in Herefordshire and ate what can only be described as the best breakfast ever – Rob and Sally who run the B&B and passionate about ‘real food’ and so the breakfast is exquisitely sourced and prepared, plus if you want to talk food then this is somewhere you should book a stay.

What I wanted to share is a delicious meal we cooked last week, a simple vegetable minestrone with ricotta filled ravioli.  We have followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe from his Jamies Does… book which was lovely, but I had spotted this fancy sounding smoky minestrone with tortellini and basil pesto.

My way of cooking is often looking at an image of a plate of food, or reading a recipe, then making my version of it how I would like to make it.  So I never follow recipes like this very strictly.  We didn’t have bacon or pancetta in the house so I just skipped that, so really ours wasn’t a smoky minestrone, but it was damn delicious.

Minestrone soup with ravioli

I softened chopped onion and garlic, then added finely chopped celery, carrots and potato and let it cook a few minutes.  I also added some finely chopped red pepper that we had lying around in the fridge.  Next I added about a litre of stock (half homemade chicken stock we had left over and half organic Kallo veg stock), and about 5 or 6 vine tomatoes that I’d roughly chopped and a glug of passatta – this was instead of the tinned tomatoes.  I also omitted the chickpeas because I didn’t have any.

I brought this to the boil then let it simmer until the veg was pretty much tender.  I added two small finely chopped courgettes and gave it a few minutes, before adding the ricotta and spinach ravioli (bought I’m afraid, one day I’ll be able to claim I made it myself…oneday…) and some podded broad beans.  The final vegetable I added was finely sliced rainbow chard (rather than kale).

I seasoned with some salt (we are still using up a delicious pot of greyish salt brought back from France) to taste and ate mine with a large dollop of my favourite raw basil pesto.  Mr Rigg had his as it was.  The simplicity of ingredients seemed to create this incredibly delicate but flavourful taste – one of the best things I’ve made and eaten for a while.

Minestrone soup with raw basil pesto

Millet porridge

This morning I have attempted to make millet porridge using millet flakes and rice milk with a hint of vanilla.  I searched the internet to try and find out how to use the flakes to make porridge as most recipes I came across used the whole millet grain.  There wasn’t a lot of information but it seemed to suggest double the amount of milk/water to millet flakes, so I took the suck-it-and-see approach.

It took quite a while to bubble away – I’d read 15-20 minutes, but for my little pan for one I was worried about burning it dry.  Anyway, after adding a few more sloshes of the rice milk and a tiny drizzle of agave syrup for a little extra sweetness I gave up stirring and poured it into a bowl.

Millet porridge

It looks ok, although it reminds me of wallpaper paste.  It has a slightly bitter note in the middle of tasting which then disappears.  The texture I imagine is a bit like eating wallpaper paste, but then again I have no idea if I’ve cooked it correctly.  I’m not sure I’m a convert, but as my breakfast’s recently have consisted of a small carton of chocolate rice milk I thought I should attempt at some other breakfasts on this new way of eating I’m following.

I must say, the new way, which I will share more about one of these days, is doing wonders for me – body and skin – so I can’t diss it.  Anyone else make millet porridge with millet flakes?  Any tips or advice would be much appreciated as I now have a bag of the stuff!  Perhaps I’ll try quinoa next time as I know I already like it.

Oh, and as promised – I came across this picture of a mummy partridge and her babies that my parents took on my camera when I was staying with them last weekend – so cute!!

Baby partridges

Broad beans, peas and crispy ham on bread

Ok, so I’m trying really hard to get our French trip written up, but there’s so much I want to share that I’m still working on it when I have the time.  It will come, I promise.  With it very damp and grey outside (and on Midsummer!) I wanted to share our cheerful, warm, sunny evening meal last night which we made and ate on our allotment.

This is by far my favourite thing to do at the moment – cook and eat at the allotment.  I wish moments like that would never end.  We wanted to recreate a meal we made in France, which was broad beans and beans tossed with crispy ham and loaded onto slithers of fresh bread.

Broad beans and peas

I adore the repetitive but satisfying business of podding peas and broad beans – some might find it mind numbingly boring, but I love it.  After they’d all been podded, we blanched them in a pan of boiling water over the camping stove and then quickly cooled them down was cold water.  Next I spent ages more slipping the broad beans out of their silvery green coats.

Cooking at the allotment

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Green soup with edible flowers

We have spent the last week away in the Perigord/Dordogne region of France and had a lovely time, eating lots of good food and visiting a market every day to buy ingredients – I’ll be sharing photos as soon as I can set aside some time to pull them together.

Green soup with edible flowers

Last night we had soup for dinner, which I don’t often think is ‘enough’ to make an evening meal, which is silly really because we always enjoy it and never go hungry.  I made up a soup, knowing that I wanted a big hit of green vegetables, so I gently fried a red onion, two small bulbs of fennel, a couple of garlic cloves and then added chopped courgette.

Green soup with edible flowers

Once this had cooked a little I added 1 litre of vegetable stock and simmered before adding some peas.  Finally I added shredded spring greens and mint from the garden, then blitzed the whole thing before it went from that vibrant green to sludgy green.  We ate it sprinkled with a little finely sliced mint, a blob of herby garlic cheese and decorated with some edible flowers, and a sliced of toasted homemade bread drizzled with olive oil.

marmite grilled cheese crumpets

Why didn’t I ever try these before???  They are one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in a long time, perhaps even ever!  A little while back I did a post asking you how you eat your crumpets, and a couple of people mentioned grilling cheese or marmite and cheese on top of them – to be honest, I thought the idea of a savoury crumpet sounded a bit weird.

marmite grilled cheese crumpets

But today, with not much else around and pretty bored at the idea of eating crumpets with golden syrup on for lunch, I thought it was about time I gave them a go.  I toasted my crumpets first – I am a bit particular about how I toast my crumpets, on my toaster I put them in on setting 6 first, then toast them again on setting 2 but on the bagel setting so only the tops get another toasting.

marmite grilled cheese crumpets

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I mentioned in my previous post that we’d made a birthday cake for my parents, who both celebrate their birthday’s during January.  This is it.  I am pretty proud of this cake, I usually seem to have all kinds of disasters when it comes to cake making or they are disappointing.  Not this one however.

After these first few weeks back at work after the Christmas break, Mr Rigg and I, like most of the population I imagine, are exhausted.  We didn’t want to make a complicated birthday cake, so opted for this simple chocolate cake recipe.  My dad had requested a chocolate cake with fresh cream, so that’s what they got.

We also made the chocolate butter icing from the chocolate cake recipe, but just half of it.  In the centre we put freshly whipped cream, and a good layer of it too!  On the top we spread the chocolate butter icing, which was actually a brilliant recipe as it was dark and chocolately, rather than overly sweet or buttery.

I had this vision in my head of topping the cake with crushed Crunchie bar and crumbled chocolate Flakes.  We also picked up a big bag of Maltesers as I suddenly imagined them around the edge like a border.  Anyway, I am pleased to say the cake looked exactly how I imagined it, and my parents we delighted.

My only regret?  Sending them home with the majority of it.

crumpets with golden syrup

I am almost living off crumpets at the moment for breakfast and tea breaks – with this howling gale and rain crumpets seem to fill the right cosyness hole inside me.  I have been perfecting the art of toasting my crumpets just how I like them – a long session in the toaster to begin with, then a shorter session on the bagel setting just to crisp the top.

Some friends of ours (the same ones who suggested topping cheese on toast with chilli con carne) said they eat their crumpets with Marmite – a topping I’d never considered for a crumpet, thinking it only a carrier of sweet goodness.  Anyway, Mr Rigg like his with butter and jam, I’ve grown up with butter and golden syrup, and it got me thinking how other people like their crumpets.

crumpets with golden syrup

Do you like them really toasted and crisp on top, or soft and wobbly still?  Do you like lashings of salty butter or none at all?  Do you put so much of your chosen topping that it seeps all the way through and makes a puddle on the plate (this is my preferred method – otherwise why bother!)?  Do you have them sweet or savoury or both ways depending on how you’re feeling?  And have you tried Jamie Oliver’s version where he soaks them in beaten egg to make a crumpet version of eggy bread?

I’d love to know!  I have tried crumpets with homemade quince jelly, but I feel I need to expand from simply loads of butter and golden syrup, although it will still always be my favourite.

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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