Sugar-Free Apple Flapjacks

Sugar-Free Apple Flapjacks

I was hunting recipes the other day. I needed something sweet, but without sugar or other sweeteners because of my Lenten fast from such things. This is usually all well and good (I’m not having any cravings or anything) except for that moment in the month which all women have because of hormones. My friend and I went on a hunt and we found this…It’s really good. Really good. And smells fantastic while you cook it.
Ingredients – I think we made about a dozen with this…
• 3 apples, cored and chopped – we used Bramleys
• 100% pressed apple juice – enough to cover the apple pieces in a saucepan. Half a litre, maybe…
• 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon – meh. Just sprinkle as much as you like in.
• 2cm piece fresh root ginger, grated – or more, if you like ginger.
• 250g whole rolled oats
• 30g sunflower seeds – we skipped these. We used more raisins instead…
• 160g raisins
Preparation method
Oven: 180C/Gas 4; decent sized lined greased tin.

Slice and core the apple , but leave the skin on for a good source of pectin. Place the apples in a pan with the juice and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 25 to 30 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Puree in a food processor or with a hand-held mixer. We didn’t find this necessary. If the apple is properly stewed it should be nice and mushy anyway, in which case smoosh it a bit more with the wooden spoon you were stirring it with and it’ll be fine.
Stir the grated ginger, cinnamon, oats, sunflower seeds and raisins into the apple puree and mix well, then tip it into the tin and spread out evenly.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until firm and golden brown. Cool slightly, cut into wedges then leave the flapjacks to cool completely in the tin. Or, if like us you can’t wait that long, give it about 15 minutes (enough time to finish the washing up and stick the kettle on), scoop some out into a bowl (it’ll fall apart) and add some yogurt/sour cream/double cream/ice cream/whatever and enjoy!
Substitution
Other healthy alternatives include swapping the raisins for dried cranberries. Or when making the puree swap the apples for prunes.

Chilli Chocolate

Chilli Chocolate

So. Having made some really dark chocolate – think like 80% and higher – and having had it taste-tested by various people, the suggestion was put forward for it to be flavoured with chilli. Now, ok, this isn’t an original idea – apparently chilli is one of the flavours the Aztecs etc. used – but it’s still an idea with merit.
I’m currently still sort of basking in the glow of having managed to make edible chocolate. It’s a first for me. I’m impressed by the intensity of the flavour, given that there’s maybe a quarter of a pint or more of double cream in it. OK, there’s not much else, just cacao liquor and butter and vanilla essence, but still. There’s nothing milky about this chocolate. And it seems to snap cleanly too, which is odd because I don’t think I tempered it.
But anyway. The chilli chocolate idea takes hold. Since I’m still just experimenting at this stage, I figure I won’t lose anything by just melting the plain chocolate down and adding a decent sprinkling of the mild chilli powder currently in the cupboard. So that’s what I do. I know, complicated, right?
Once melted and stirred to mix in the powder properly, it gets poured into moulds and set in the fridge.
And then I build pyramids with them…

Cheese Biscuits

Cheese Biscuits

You know, I’m not entirely sure what it is, but I’m getting a funny sort of feeling about this Lent…It goes along these lines, this feeling: I’m not allowed anything sweet so I must substitute the sugary stuff I normally eat. I shall substitute this sugar with…wait for it…CHEESE! I may have to branch my experimentation out further to fully embrace a sugar-free existence.
I’m not saying, by the way, that cheese is bad. Of course not. I love cheese, especially a good, strong cheddar (I particularly like the Snowdonia Cheeses…). I’m just saying that I might be limiting myself by not trying other ingredients for cakes and biscuits…
Having said all this, for my first foray into savoury biscuits, I’m starting with this nice simple cheese biscuit recipe. Mostly because it involves a whole three ingredients: butter, flour, and cheese. The actual recipe I found called for Parmesan, but meh. I have a nice cheddar in the fridge that’ll do.
So you will need: 150g of plain flour; 120g of butter; 130g of grated cheese.
Basically, rub it into a good dough, leave to chill for at least an hour, roll out and cut shapes, then bake at 180C for 15 minutes or so, et voila! Cheese biscuits. I suppose you should let them cool before consuming, washed down with a nice cuppa…
And yup, these are Hallowe’en shapes…It was that or stars…These are way more cool…

There Be Dragons…!

There Be Dragons...!

I’ve always liked dragons; dragons are awesome. There’s something so wonderfully graceful and elegant about the fire-breathing winged lizards. And they’re nearly always beautiful jewel colours. You don’t often find a pastel pink dragon sleeping on (probably) her stash of silver. Not even the dragon in Shrek was a pastel colour.
My dragon, whom I have named Fáfnir, came about because I felt that the black coffee table was, frankly, boring and required livening up. Fáfnir is the dragon from the Saga of the Volsungs/Nibelungenlied/Wagner’s Ring Cycle who steals the Rhine-gold which causes lots of problems. So I gathered poster paints and glitter glues and paint brushes, found a picture of a dragon which I could copy and drew a dragon on the table top. Then I settled down to listen to Radio 4 as I painted. Fáfnir has been varnished to help protect him from the dangers and rigours of life and one day, I plan to cover him with a glass pane. Just don’t steal any of his treasure-hoard! Don’t even try…

Chocolate for the Crazy Lady

Chocolate for the Crazy Lady

That’s me, by the way. I’m crazy because giving up sugar means no chocolate, sweet cakes or biscuits, no sweets, no ice cream, no anything processed which contains sugar. It’s going to be difficult. I always find the first week of Lent easy; I’m focused on giving up whatever and being ‘good’. It’s easy. Especially if you overdose on whatever it is on Shrove Tuesday so you really can’t stomach it again for a while. It was easy giving up chocolate several years ago because I could substitute with sweets and other such things. Not so easy this year when I can’t even do that.
I’ve been a True Chocolate Lover (I don’t like the term ‘chocoholic’: been there, done that, broke the t-shirt) for years and years. There was a period when chocolate, especially Maltesers, formed a major part of my diet, for good or ill. It was about this time when I began making truffles, and collecting recipe books dedicated purely to chocolate. I’ve even attempted to make my own chocolate, roasting cacao beans to start from scratch. I was rarely successful.
In amongst my collection of recipe books, I have one full of raw food chocolate recipes. The couple I’ve tested were both successful, although rather too expensive for me to make a habit of them. They might, though, provide a useful basis for making sugar-free chocolate this Lent. I’m doing my best to avoid the other sweeteners (I’m a glutton for punishment, me), so I can’t use the xylitol, agave syrup or yacon syrup which the raw foodists substitute for sugar.
My first attempt at chocolate involves double cream, cacao liquor, and vanilla essence. Very bitter. It’s good for people who like really dark chocolate. My friend, who provides an independent sort of opinion, says it’s good (she likes chocolate to be as dark as possible), “kind of dusty”; it’s a bit crumbly. So I take it away, melt it down, add some cacao butter, pour it out and return it to the fridge. Result: much less ‘dusty’. Still bitter, good with yogurt. Still can’t eat much at once, which is probably a good thing.
My problem is mostly that my palate is tuned more to sweeter chocolates, so I struggle a little with the bitterness. But never mind, if I want chocolate before Easter, I’m going to have to get used to bitter chocolate. At least it’s not got the powdery, grainy feel and texture of the chocolate I used to make when I used cacao powder instead of liquor.

Cutting the Cloth

Cutting the Cloth

Making my own clothes has rekindled my love for the whole process of dress-making. I always have done, but since I haven’t had the time and have lacked the inspiration to do so for the last five or so years, it has taken a back seat, although I have watched some films and series with envy for the beautiful dresses, like in West Side Story, and High Society.
My home-town was built upon a wool economy. One of the main employers in the town was a fabric factory. The factory shop is still open for business today and it’s like an Aladdin’s cave of fabrics and sewing accessories. I love going into haberdasheries; it’s like going into an old book shop: they have their own distinctive smell and feel. The factory shop at home has a wonderful sort of stillness and quiet in it. I like going in just to look. I don’t need to have a project in mind to enjoy a wander around the stacks of silks and satins, the cottons and linens, fleeces and furs. I like trying to work out what I would do with the fabrics and the colours, deciding which would look good as a dress or skirt.
I have hopes for the green cotton and the simple pattern, which theoretically only takes a morning. I duly lay out my fabric. I’m quite impressed that I have space on my floor, if I move the furniture. I pin the pattern and cut the cloth. It takes longer than I expect, but don’t all these things? Sewing it all together is relatively quick and simple. As it’s only my first attempt, I choose not to worry about using any of the fancy stitches. Just a nice quick, simple straight stitch.
Pinning the bias tape takes even longer, although I’m quite pleased that I don’t run out of pins. But I can see that I probably will when I get to pinning the hem. I find I have minor problems keeping the stitches running straight, but it doesn’t cause any real issues. I just have ever so slightly wavy stitches, but never mind.
By the time I finish the dress, it’s several days later. Now, admittedly, the pattern didn’t allow for a lining, which I’ve added, but the simplicity of the pattern means that the lining didn’t add that much time to the making. But it’s still taken considerably longer than the morning that they reckoned. Besides which, reading the instructions, there’s one which says to allow 24 hours to allow the bias to set. So, if you’re following it exactly, it’ll still take longer than a morning, even if you are far more experienced than I am.

Fika with Frigga

Fika with Frigga

As it’s Friday, I thought I’d introduce you to the concept of ‘fika’. It’s a very nice sort of verb. It’s Swedish and essentially it means ‘to have coffee and cake’. Now, not being a coffee drinker, I skip that part of it and have tea instead, but I’ll happily have the cake, although not now. Not until I’ve found lots of lovely savoury recipes. I have, though, found a really rather good one with which to start Lent: Cheese and Bacon Cake, affectionately known as “cakon”.
Basically, as far as I can tell, it’s an English muffin recipe with what you’d put on the muffin in it. Breakfast in cake form, if you will. Next time, I shall boil a couple of eggs to chop up and mix into it. For a recipe which I found online, it’s surprisingly good, although I will admit to skipping over the two grated carrots and just adding more bacon and cheese. Who needs carrots when you can have cheese or bacon? Or both, which is just even better! (I’ll admit now that I think there are better meats and I could probably quite happily live without bacon. When I tried to be a vegetarian some years ago, it was steak which made me see the error of my ways.)
The recipe is very simple. The basic recipe is thus:
For a 9” cake, the oven needs to be at 180 degrees C.
Beat 3 eggs with 100ml of whole milk and 100ml of vegetable oil. Add 175g self-raising flour and 100g grated cheese. For cheese and bacon, add more cheese and bacon (you don’t need to cook it before adding it to the mixture), as much as you like. I used 200g of bacon and just over 200g of cheese in all. I sprinkled more cheese on top before baking it. Pop it into the oven for 40-45 minutes until it’s all golden brown (like little tigers) on top and bubbling nicely. Check it with a spike to make sure (the spike should come out clean if the cake is cooked).
Let it cool for a little bit before enjoying a slice with a well-earned cup of tea or coffee, whichever is your preference. It tastes fantastic still warm. And the recipe lends itself so admirably to experimentation. I think I might test it with cheese and steak…Have a play, see which combinations work!