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In my ongoing quest for ‘healthy’ cake I recently adapted an existing muffin recipe to use up some of the many windfall apples I get from my mum-in-law at this time of year. Knocking up a batch of these is a great thing to do on a gloomy autumn afternoon, and they’re so easy kids can have a go at them too!

To make 12 muffins you will need…

275g plain flour (wholemeal if you like)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

150g golden caster sugar

225g chopped apple

75ml sunflower or rapeseed oil

175ml apple juice

2 medium eggs

50g raisins

 

Pre-heat your oven to 190ºC/gas 5.

Place 12 large paper cases in your muffin tin.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Mix the wet ingredients together in a jug.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones.

Mix lightly until the flour has disappeared, but the mixture is still a bit lumpy.

Fold in the apple and raisins.

Divide the mixture between the paper cases.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until well-risen and a bit crusty.

Enjoy – these are perfect with coffee!

Soup, glorious soooop! I must admit I do get a bit obsessed with soup when the weather turns cold. If something stands still long enough in our house at this time of year I’ll probably have it souped by lunchtime. Homemade soup is a cheap, delicious, nutritious meal and a great way to get at least two of your five a day in a bowl. Plus recent research has suggested that soup is more filling than solid food and a drink of water, which is good news if you’re trying to lose a bit of weight.

Many people think making soup is difficult and messy, but all you really need is a biggish pan and a hand blender. If you don’t have a hand blender put one on your Christmas list now – brilliant for making soup in the winter and smoothies in the summer! There are so many fab seasonal veggies around at the moment it seems a shame not to take advantage of them with a bit of soupage.

 Last weekend at the supermarket I put the following in my trolley, all on special offer: parsnips, leeks, beetroot, butternut squash and sweet potato. Then I looked at them, thought “Not even I can eat that much soup in a week” and put half of them back! I kept the leeks and the squash. On Sunday we had a free-range roast chicken dinner and, not wanting to waste a bit of the bird, I made stock with the carcass on Monday. To the stock I added the chopped up leeks, a couple of cubed potatoes (skin on), some bits of leftover chicken meat, a clove of garlic and some dried mixed herbs. I boiled this til the veg was soft then attacked it with the blender. Voilà, chicken and leek soup – nothing difficult about that! You can add more or less water depending on how thick or thin you like your soup, and use a good quality stock cube if you don’t have a leftover chicken.

 If there aren’t enough of you in the house to eat all the soup at once it freezes really well. If you freeze individual portions in small Tupperware containers you can just pop one in the microwave whenever you need a quick lunch or supper, or take it to work with you. If you don’t have a microwave at work invest in a wide-necked flask – when you think how much you’d pay for a measly portion of soup from a town centre takeaway you’ll save a fortune in the long run!

This week I’ve also made my favourite butternut squash and lentil soup. Preparing squashes and pumpkins can be a devil of a job, and I think this puts a lot of people off using them. The easy way to deal with them is to saw them into halves or quarters (depending on size), brush with olive oil and roast them in a hot oven until soft. Then when they’ve cooled the peel should come off really easily and you’re left with the cooked flesh to use in your recipe – if you can resist eating it just as it is, delicious! Adding beans or pulses to soups gives them a protein boost and makes them so filling you don’t even need bread.

 Basically when making soup you can just add whatever flavours take your fancy. Of course there are classic combinations such as carrot and coriander, but it’s a great opportunity to get creative in the kitchen and experiment a bit! Try adding a blob of curry paste to parsnip soup; the combination of flavours in this is amazing, and it’s brilliant for a Halloween or Bonfire Night party. If you don’t feel inspired there are countless soup recipes available online, just have a Google and see.

So keep yourself warm and healthy this winter with some fab seasonal soups. Do let me know if you have any favourite recipes of your own, I’m always on the lookout for new ones! Must go now, I have a huge pumpkin to carve. Have a happy Halloween and make soup tomorrow!

A pumpkin isn’t just for Halloween!

National Baking Week – what a fantastic excuse to write about cake! Not that I really need one. I love cake, me. I used to say I only went running to remain wine and cake neutral; but as I don’t drink nearly as much wine as I used to (due, in fact, to the running) it’s mostly all about the cake these days. I’m not really tempted by chocolate bars the way many people are, but put a cake in front of me and I’ll eat it, no questions asked. The only sportspeople who eat more cake than runners are cyclists, who in my experience are absolute cake monsters, often deliberately planning rides around tea rooms! (Note to self – do more cycling.)

Of course I don’t eat cake every day, but in my opinion, life without cake would be… well, not exactly miserable, but certainly missing an important avenue of pleasure. And The Great British Bake-Off has turned baking into the new rock ‘n’ roll, hasn’t it? It’s cool to bake! However, it’s a sad fact of life that if you eat too much cake you will a) be forced to buy ever-bigger clothes as the years go by until you have to be winched out of the house and/or b) not be able to run as fast as if you didn’t eat lots of cake. This being the case, I’m always on the lookout for what I call ‘healthy cake’ recipes. Now, I know these recipes aren’t really that healthy – they invariably involve sugar, for a start – but they are certainly more healthy than most standard cake recipes. And definitely better for you than shop-bought cake.

Luckily there are loads of cake recipes you can make with a bit of vegetable oil rather than a lot of butter. So, my general rules of thumb regarding cake* are:

  • Make it yourself, then at least you know what’s gone into it (e.g. no nasty trans fats etc).
  • Avoid recipes that begin ‘cream the butter and sugar together…’
  • Don’t put cream in/on them – makes them a million times more fattening!
  • Try not to look at the Yorkshire Curd Tarts when you walk past bakers’ windows because you know how weak-willed you are when it comes to those don’t you Angela? Hmm?!

So, in order that we can all embrace National Baking Week without becoming too chubby in the process, here are a couple of my favourite ‘healthy cake’ recipes. I hope you enjoy them – let me know if you try them. Living well doesn’t have to mean living without pleasure!

Blueberry and Banana Muffins

These are very low in fat and a great way to use up overripe bananas. My cyclist husband gets them in his lunchbox a lot! 

225g plain flour

100g golden caster sugar

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp cinnamon

2 large bananas

125ml milk (dairy or soya)

1 large egg

2 tblsp vegetable oil

2 tsp lemon juice

200g blueberries

Preheat the oven to 200/Gas 6.

Place 12 muffin cases in a muffin tray.

Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon.

Mash the bananas.

Mix together the milk, egg, oil and lemon juice.

Add the banana and wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix well.

Fold in the blueberries.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cases and bake in centre of oven for 20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Mary Berry’s Carrot Cake

This is my absolute favourite, and it’s so easy to make. Plus it has carrot, banana and nuts in it, so it must be healthy! The original recipe is for one big cake, but I’ve also made it into twelve muffins. I leave it to your conscience as to whether you add cream cheese frosting… 

225g self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

150g light muscovado sugar

50g chopped walnuts

100g grated carrot

2 ripe bananas, mashed

2 large eggs

150ml vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 180/Gas 4 if making one big cake or 200/Gas 6 if making muffins.

Spray a 20cm (8”) round cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.

Measure all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together well.

How’s that for an easy method?!

Turn into the tin and bake for about 50-60 minutes until well-risen.

Leave in the tin for a few minutes, then remove and cool on a wire rack.

* Unless it’s your birthday, in which case all bets are off!

That sounds like a not very creative advertising strapline doesn’t it? But British Egg Week seems as good a time as any to blow the nutritional trumpet for eggs, a food I think we often take for granted or overlook. Many people seem to think that eggs are either fattening or bad for you, or both, but nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s put both of those rumours to bed right now, because eggs are fab!

Firstly, eggs are not fattening. A medium egg has less than 100 calories and is very low in fat. A couple of boiled or poached eggs with some wholemeal toast makes a really filling breakfast or lunch. They’re also really good for you, full of B vitamins and essential amino acids, amongst other nutrients. I wouldn’t buy battery eggs myself for ethical reasons, but free-range are much more nutritious anyway, organic free-range even better.

 So please don’t feel you have to avoid eggs – they’ve just had poor PR people over recent years! There are loads of great egg recipes on the British Egg Information Service website, and here’s one of my favourites too, for a French pudding called Far Breton. In our house this is always known as Sleepy Pie, as when my husband once ordered it on holiday in France the restaurant owner said “You’ll sleep well after eating that!”. It’s a kind of fruity-eggy-custard thing that goes quite firm once it’s cooled down. The recipe traditionally uses plums or prunes, but I’ve also made it with blueberries and raspberries, or those bags of frozen forest fruit mixture that you can buy in supermarkets. It’s super-easy to make, but good enough to serve up if you have people for dinner too – bonus!

Far Breton (Sleepy Pie)

Plums, halved and stoned (or no-soak prunes)

120g plain flour

1 pint whole milk

100g caster sugar

2 eggs, beaten

Spray a large, shallow baking dish with oil.

Spread fruit evenly in the bottom.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas 4).

Sift flour into a bowl and make a well.

Add milk gradually, mixing into the flour with a whisk.

Add sugar and eggs – stir to make a smooth batter.

Pour batter over the fruit.

Bake for around 1 ¼ hours until browned on top.

Serve at room temperature, cut into squares – with cream or crème fraiche if you’re feeling naughty.

Enjoy!

I’ve been so busy recently that I haven’t had time to write a proper blog post for a while, so to make up for it here’s a really quick low fat cake recipe that you might like to try this weekend. It’s so easy even kids could have a go at it with some oven supervision – and it’s also a great way to use up bananas that are a bit past their best!

Low Fat Banana Cake

220g plain flour

1½ tsp baking powder

150g sugar (I like Billingtons unrefined Demerara for this)

1 tsp mixed spice

2 medium eggs

125ml vegetable oil (pref rapeseed or sunflower)

2 medium bananas, mashed

Preheat oven to 160C/Gas 2½. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs, oil and bananas. Mix well and pour into a greased loaf tin. Sprinkle the top with a bit more sugar and bake for around an hour (depends on your oven and tin – test with a skewer to see when it’s done). Simples! I guess you could add some dried fruit to this if you like, but I think it’s sweet enough as it is.

Enjoy!