Monday, May 16, 2016

A Dairy-free Birthday Treat

Every year, on my birthday I bake a cake. Not this year, although I went back to dairy this year I decided to give myself the time to work on something else that I have been craving - Almond Butter cups!

As I mentioned in a previous post, we recently took an amazing trip to Vegas! It was wonderful to be in Vegas but also to be in the states again. There were so many things I had missed from my time living there. There were also so many new things that I wanted to try. When you follow various food blogs you get to see some of the delicious new things people are loving in America and around the world. Since my time living in the US, it seems that healthy eating has become much more prevalent and, with it, a whole bunch of exciting new healthy products. One of the things that had tempted me was the Justin's products and particularly his heathy peanut butter cups. However when I went to get some I saw that he included sea salt, which is something that I don't eat. So I disappointedly walked away =(

(It's an unfortunate belief that sea salt is more fancy or healthy than normal salt and therefore many healthy food companies include sea salt in an attempt to appeal to the healthier customer, however it ignores those that cannot take it)

However I never gave up on the idea of a healthy nut butter cup, and preferably my favourite nut butter - Almond! So for this birthday I decided to dedicate my baking time to chocolate work.

Almond Butter Cups

240g Dark Chocolate Chips
100g Almond Butter
50g Almonds, toasted and ground
1-2 tbsp Agave Nectar
1 tbsp Coconut Oil
1 tsp Salt

I used some of my delicious 70% + dark chocolate. I melted down two thirds of it and then added the final third to bring down the temperature and temper the chocolate. Then I poured them into my mini-cupcake cases

For the almond butter centre I mixed store bought almond butter with more toasted ground almonds to thicken it, coconut oil for smoothness, salt in enhance the flavour and a tiny bit of agave nectar for sweetness. I then made little balls and pushed it into the hardened chocolate cases

From there I froze the cups to cool everything and facilitate the covers hardening. Then poured on the bottoms from the tempered chocolate.And then I simply let them hardened et voila...

As you can possibly see, the bases are not completely flat. This is due to the container having a raised lip. However I appreciate the thick bases as it's a nice chunk of chocolate to balance the almond butter.

As you can also see I left some lovely chunks of almond, but this is obviously optional! So now I have my dream treats and I will definitely be making these again, even if they leave a little bit of clean up.....

I would highly highly recommend making these. They are incredibly delicious, vegan, healthy and full of goodness. The best part is that it lasts so much longer than cake. I ate one of these while I typed this tonight and there is still plenty more =)

Monday, May 9, 2016

A week without dairy

So this week I decided to do something different. I am going to try a full week without dairy products and blogging the whole thing. So why go dairy free? Well there are lots of different reasons for different people; some ethical, some health based and some even just for taste. I have decided to explore the world of dairy free products for a number of reasons. I have been drinking lactose free for years. Not because of any digestive discomfort, thank goodness but because members of my little family breath easier sans lactose. Several other members of my family also pursue a dairy free life. There is a Vegan and a vegetarian that avoids milk and another member who takes some milk but tells everyone that milk may cause serious illness. So dairy free milks have been around in my world in various ways. But until now I haven't explored the possibility of being completely dairy free myself. However, over the last little while I have been reading lots about food and diet for health. A lot of people have suggested that most or many people are allergic to either gluten or dairy or both and everything else. I don't know how much I believe these claims but I am willing to give it a try and see how I would get on being dairy-free for a week. Also you'll have to excuse the photo quality as most of them will be taken on the fly Anyway here we go......

Day 1 -

I did some significant research online as to which dairy free milk I should buy and then hit my local organic supermarket. In the end I settled on two; hemp and almond. I had previously had a bad experience with another brand of almond milk and so had my reservations about trying it but this one contained only almonds and water so I figured it might be safe.

Day 2 -

This is a day where I work a long day 9.30 til 8pm. Well some people might consider that a normal day, but I think it's pretty long. As I'm out all day the only time when I consume any dairy on a Tuesday is at breakfast. This morning I had almond milk in my shredded wheat and it tasted fine actually. I found that this almond milk has a very mild taste and therefore the main taste is of the shredded wheat.

Lunch and Dinner consisted or mostly salad and therefore it was quite easy.

(Note added on Friday - Only today did I realize that I messed up on Tuesday. When I work I tend to bring an Eat Natural Bar with me for a snack and my favourite is the apricot and yoghurt. On this day I happily ate my snack without even thinking)

Day 3 -

Almond milk porridge for breakfast. I found this really delicious! It's actually much creamer than porridge with cow's milk and I find myself considering whether I should always make my porridge with almond milk?!

3pm - This morning was really busy. I had two meetings and then an appointment after lunch. However at 3pm I get home and have to study and do thesis work. By 3.30pm I'm lagging already and I feel like I need caffeine. This is actually really unusual for me, I haven't drunk caffeine in almost 4 years, so a caffeine kick is not something I often crave. I decide that it's time for decaf tea (decaf contains some caffeine I realize, but for me it's almost more about tricking my brain into thinking I had caffeine at times like these).

So, it's my first dairy free cup of tea. This was something that I had anticipated and therefore I had researched what type of dairy free milk I should use. Again, having had previous negative experiences with almond milk (separation) I found an alternative. A pro-vegan website I found advocated for Hemp milk in black tea, so I purchased the Hemp milk specifically for this occasion. The honest truth is that if I can't find a dairy free way to enjoy my decaf Yorkshire tea then this is not happening long-term folks!

I boiled my kettle, stewed my tea bag and then added my hemp milk. The first thing I notice is that the tea is not changing colour in the way I would expect and it seems to take much more hemp milk than dairy milk. And then, just like that, the milk separates!

Disgusting!! Clearly I had been misled! I abandon the hemp milk and boil the kettle again. This time I turn to the almond milk. And to my great surprise it works, kind of!

Tea without dairy 2.0

As you can see there are a few unappetising lumps of almond floating on top and, as I drank it, a film of white stuff formed across the top. So visually it's not the best but the taste is absolutely lovely. Does it taste like tea with dairy milk? No, it's a lot more watery. However the strong tea flavour dominates and has the desired affect on my afternoon slump so all-in-all I'm happy and the experiment continues!

Day 4 -
Today I was studying from home for most of the day. I found this a little difficult because for me a stay of study starts the same every time; breakfast, gym, shower, and then sitting down to work with the first cup of tea of the day! I love this cup of tea, it brings a beautiful sweetness to the start of my study and helps encourage me to sit down at the ball and chain, I mean laptop ;) I returned to the almond milk tea which I am finding more and more delicious but as the container gets more used the number of unappetizing lumps increases, maybe I'm not shaking it enough?!

Day 5 -
Today I was working and that made things easier. However then I met my Mum and sister for dinner and I'll have to be honest, I slipped up slightly. We went to an absolutely delicious place near Hackney with piles and piles of gorgeous salads and scrumptious tapas plates. I did quite well during the meal but then came dessert! Now I actually hadn't planned on having dessert but when my Mum suggested sharing a brownie, well how could I refuse?! It was only on the way home that I emerged from the trance that overcame me when the brownie approached the table with a giant ball of ice-cream on top. So yes, I ate dairy but I was under the influence of some serious chocolate hyponosis. I forgave myself and renewed my efforts!!

Day 6 -
Today I ate out for EVERY meal - read so much more difficult! We enjoyed a fantastic breakfast at the Wolesley! That place is truly gorgeous! Luckily they were willing to make me an almond decaf latte (despite none-of those things being on the menu,) I felt like quite the diva order off the menu but it was a perfect latte and I was very happy! Lunch was a falafel wrap with hummus, so no issue there. Dinner was in another fantastic restaurant, this time a french place in central london. And thankfully there were plenty of dairy free options. Now, I will admit that I buttered my bread, so not completley without sin but it was 99% dairy free day so I was pleased. Also I saw Kevin McCloud in the flesh which was awesome!

Day 7 -
After all the fun of Friday and Saturday I spent this day at home resting and recuperating while trying and failing to study (thank you 26 degree weather). However I firmly stuck to the dairy free diet. With almond milk on my cereal and then a lot of salad and water all day!

So that was my week! I will admit that there were slip ups but I think that with any diet change there are going to be slip ups and how we recover post slip up is more important in my belief. So each time I noted my mistake and got back on the bandwagon. Tomorrow I can go back to milk but if I'm totally honest, I have a bunch of almond milk now and I think I may well keep having it in my cereal.

Would I go dairy free full time? This is a big question for me. I am currently considering a longer period of dairy free life to see how that goes; maybe a month. I like the idea in some ways and hate the idea with equal measure. I respect those that live a vegan or dairy free lifestyle and it's possible that I may join you for a while but right now I can't make any commitments

Monday, May 2, 2016

Taking care of yourself

I haven't posted in a few weeks and I have been thinking about the blog and meaning to post each week but it has been so intensely busy with doctorate stuff that every time I came to write it seems that my attitude is mostly stressed or negative and honestly that's just not the side of me that I post on here. That's not to say that this is not the real me but TVandCookies is a place for the happier, more relaxed side of life and I guess doctoral stress is just about the antithesis of that, well for me anyway.

With all the increased stress around the place it's all to easy to fall into patterns of over-working, or more often-than-not underworking while over stressing. During all of this self-care seems to fall by the wayside. There are so many demands on us these days and far too often I find myself running around meeting everyone else's needs and completely ignoring my own.  Can you get these pages to me by....? We can meet on....? You will make that appointment, right? You know the demands, they come from every direction. Meanwhile the little voice that tells me what I need gets quiter and quieter until it's on mute.

Unfortunately it can't stay that way for long, without issues. So this week I have been trying to listen to that little voice and give myself what I need; rest, exercise, sleep, healthy food and most importantly nutritious treats. Balance my friends is the key to life and I believe this completely!

So these Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are my latest attempt at getting that delicious american bakery taste, and they are close, so close. They are morish, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and definitely a comfort food worth having. I have been enjoying them with a lovely cup of tea and a couple of minutes of me time (read watching Bake-off; Creme de la creme ;).

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

115g/ Half cup of Butter
146g/2/3 Cup pack brown sugar
67g/1/3 Cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1tsp baking soda +2 tsp hot water
128g/1 cup Bread Flour
85g/ 1 cup Old fashioned oats
85g/ 1 cup quick oats
75g/ 1/2 cup sultanas or raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp all spice
1 tsp black treacle (optional)

1. Beat together the butter and sugar until smooth

2. Add the eggs and vanilla and alternate in part of the flour

3. In a small bowl add the hot water to the baking soda, then add to the dough and beat

4. Add the spices and treacle and beat

5. Now add the oats and the sultanas or raisins and beat to combine.

6. Chill the dough for 30 minutes in the fridge

7. Preheat the oven to 180'.

8. Scoop out balls of dough and space well apart on a lined baking sheet.

9. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet.

10. Then enjoy a taste of home baked goodness and a few minutes of only listening to your needs.

I hope you enjoyed the post. This coming week I will be doing something a bit different. I will be trying a week without dairy. As part of this I will be tweeting daily and adding to a post each day that will go up next Monday. Wish me luck.....

So.........that went well......but I'm back with a bang!

At the start of the year I said that I would try to post more regularly and......yeah....that didn't happen =/ Finishing this doctorat...