Low sugar flapjacks

As a rule, flapjacks are awesome. I’ve loved these super sweet bakes since being at school – my best friend’s mum made delicious flapjacks and she always had a big chunk in her lunchbox that she would kindly share with me. Bliss point was hit every time with that enticing sugar and fat combo (golden syrup and butter!).

These days, flapjacks remain enticing but are rarely suitable for a whole-food plant based way of eating, particular for specific health-related diets like the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) programme. A wolf in sheep’s clothing (or the plant equivalent!), traditional flapjacks may appear to be the healthy option (with all those healthy oats) but the high refined sugar and large amount of butter or refined oils means it’s far from good for many people.

I’ve tried a few times to make my own dairy free, lower sugar flapjacks; this one is the best. It’s still super sweet, but the sugar comes in the form of coconut sugar and maple syrup, so less refined but still rich and enticing. I’ve used olive oil for the fat, plus a little ground flaxseed to help the mix stick together (and offer some extra anti-inflammatory omega 3). If you are gluten-free, then it’s easy to substitute gluten-free oats and flour. It’s a wonderful sweet treat, easy to make, and perfect for lunch boxes or after-school snacks.

So next time the need for a flapjack hits you, try this recipe instead for a healthier but still satisfying treat.

Low-sugar flapjacks (makes 9-12 square depending on how big you want them)
120ml olive oil
100g coconut sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
180g plain wholemeal/gluten free flour
150 oats/gluten free oats
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
100g raisins

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Line a 20x20cm baking tin with greaseproof paper.

Place the flour, oats, ground flaxseed, baking powder and salt together in a bowl and mix well. In another bowl, add the oil, coconut sugar, maple syrup and vanilla essence. Whisk well to combine. Pour the wet mix into the dry and stir together then add the raisins and stir again. The mix may feel a bit wet and stick together, but don’t panic. Tip the mix into the prepared tin and press down firmly into the bottom and corners, spreading it out equally to get a flat top.

Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until the top starts to brown. Do not over-bake. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Cut into squares, then leave to cool in the tin. Once completely cool, tip out onto a board and finish cutting into squares. Then try not to eat them all at once!

 

 

Banana and blueberry muffins

Summer may have arrived, but it’s tipping down with rain outside. Thank goodness half term has finished and the children have gone back to school. Not that it affects our house, as both my kids are young adults now, but I remember well the nightmare that is a rainy day in school holidays – how to keep small people entertained without breaking the bank!

On rainy mornings like today, baking always came to the rescue. Out came the plastic mixing bowls, doddery old weighing scales and the go-to children’s recipe book, the pages sticky and crusty from previous cake escapades, along with whatever ingredients we could find in the cupboard. Despite the often heated debates about what to make, it usually came down to muffins or cupcakes – quick, easy and fun to decorate later on (more diversionary tactics!).

I would often try and sneak in some fresh fruit or vegetable (like carrot) into their muffins; if children are involved in making the food, they’re often more keen to try it. Not only do you get more vitamins and phytonutrients into them, but less refined sugar is needed due to the natural sweetness from the fresh produce. Bananas are great in muffins as they also act as a binding agent, replacing the role of eggs in vegan baking. They do need to be really ripe though so you can mash them easily. This used to be a problem in our house as all the bananas would disappear from the fruit bowl. We discovered who was the main culprit when my daughter went to university – suddenly there were always over-ripe bananas perfect for baking.

Adding blueberries is another nutrient bonus. These tasty little berries are packed full of vitamins and phytonutrients and rightly carry the title of ‘superfood’. Unfortunately, the UK blueberry season is very short; some supermarket-sold blueberries have travelled a long way, so always check before you buy if you don’t want to pile on food miles. Freezing berries in season is always a good solution so you have some on hand. If you want to know more about why blueberries are so super, check out this information-packed article https://www.cookingdetective.com/blueberry-benefits-20-science-backed-health-benefits-of-blueberries/

These muffins are quick and easy to make, perfect for small people to make on a rainy day, or for anyone on any day! They can be made gluten free, soya free and nut free if needed, and being dairy and egg free, are perfect for vegans or anyone after a more plant based way of eating. And, most importantly, they are super tasty. They will bring a little sunshine to any day, no matter how wet it is outside.

Banana and blueberry muffins (makes 12)

300g wholemeal or gluten free self-raising flour
50g oats (gluten free if needed)
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
90g coconut sugar
300ml dairy free milk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or lemon juice
2 medium over-ripe bananas mashed
75ml olive oil
100g fresh blueberries
For the topping:
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1 tablespoon oats
pinch of cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Grab muffin trays and line with papers if you use them. Measure out the dairy free milk into a jug and add the vinegar or lemon juice (if you can’t tolerate vinegar) and leave to curdle slightly.

Measure out the flour, oats, baking powder, coconut sugar, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix well. Mash the banana in another bowl trying to get rid of as many lumps as possible. Stir in the oil and dairy free milk and whisk together until well combined.

Pour the wet mix into the dry and combine quickly – do not over mix, a few lumps are ok. Stir in the blueberries then pour spoonfuls into the prepared muffin tins, dividing the mix out equally into 12. Sprinkle a little of the topping over each muffin. Tap the tins on the worktop before popping in the oven. Bake for 16 minutes then check to see how they’re doing. The muffins should be risen, but still soft and bouncy to the touch. Use a cocktail stick to check they are baked on the inside – if the stick is coated with some mix, pop back in the oven for a couple more minutes, but don’t over cook.

Leave the muffins to cool in the tray for 5 minutes or so, then transfer onto a rack to cool fully. Store in an air-tight container. Keep for 3 days (if they don’t get eaten up). Can be frozen. Enjoy!

 

Chia up with jam

My son recently declared “I just love jam”. It made us all laugh as we hadn’t actually been talking about jam at the time, it was just a random statement that came from nowhere. Of course!

Mind you, he does have a point. I particularly like a rustic homemade conserve jam-packed (excuse the pun!) with ripe fruit. Of course, the problem with jam is it’s high sugar content, the key ingredient for preserving the fruit. Once a jar is open, how to resist eating it all at once?

According to food trend pundits, ‘low sugar’ is going to be a key feature in 2017. Eating a mainly whole food plant based diet, my sugar tends to come in it’s natural form; I try to avoid highly refined sugars partly because of the strain it puts on the body, but mainly because I seem to be particularly susceptible to sugar lows if I eat anything with high levels of the white stuff. I become more ‘panicgry’ than ‘hangry”, not a pleasant experience!

And being the beginning of the year with many people resolving to eat better and/or lose weight, I figured some healthy ‘jam’ would be just the thing to keep the spirits up.

If you haven’t come across chia seeds yet, then this is a good recipe to start with as it’s so simple. Chia seeds are tiny nutrient dense seeds that are a fabulous source of healthy omega 3 fatty acids, protein, fibre and and other nutrients like manganese, magnesium and various vitamins. You only need a small amount as they swell in fluid, softening and releasing all the goodness hidden within. This swelling thickens up the fruit purée, creating the jammy consistency you want in a fruit conserve. Chia seed jam works best with berries as they contain their own seeds – apricot jam might look a bit odd with lots of swollen seeds in it.

I like to use frozen mixed berries for my jam, but raspberries by themselves are also lovely. And that’s it, no sweetener or other flavours. This can make it a bit tart, but you can really taste the real fruit flavour.

Once made, you can use it wherever you would use jam; on porridge, toast, rice pudding, ice cream, yoghurt (all dairy free versions of course!), in cake fillings, on meringues, scones or rice cakes – on whatever you like really!

Of course, the thing to bear in mind is that without the added sugar, chia jam doesn’t have the same
shelf life as a normal jar. It keeps fresh in the fridge for 5 days or so, that’s if a resident jam lover doesn’t finish it all in one go.

So give this a go; one of my key rules of eating well is never to feel deprived. So it you’re on a New Year health kick, this will definitely hit the jam spot!

Chia seed jam
150g frozen berries of choice ***
1 1/2 tablespoons chia seeds
30-45ml water
Place the frozen fruit into a saucepan, add the water and simmer until fully defrosted and soft. Mash any remaining whole fruit into a pulp. Add a little more water if needed, Stir in the chia seeds, simmer for a minute, then turn off the heat. Leave to cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a small bowl to cool completely. Once cool, it
should be thick and gloopy. Transfer to the fridge, or eat straight away. Enjoy!

** In the summer, if you have a glut of fresh berries, make up a big batch of jam then divide into portions and freeze to use when berries are not in season.