Banana and coconut bread (dairy-free; vegan)

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Banana and coconut bread. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Summer has been slow to start here in central Scotland but it’s getting warmer at last, and we’ve had a beautiful blue sky day here today. With the increase in temperature, I find it becomes difficult to keep fruit a room temperature and resort to putting things in the fridge which inevitably means loss of flavour. Bananas really don’t keep for very long before they over-ripen and I prefer to eat them a little on the under-ripe side so I seldom want to eat them over the summer months. If the skin turns too yellow and brown-speckled then I know the texture is not going to be to my liking and the banana is destined for the baking bowl or a smoothie.

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Iced and coconut sprinkled. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

This week’s recipe is my turn-to bake for using up over-ripe bananas. Easy to make, it improves with keeping, and also freezes well. I call it “bread” because it has a lower fat content than a cake recipe, although I usually serve it with an icing on top. Uniced, it is delicious spread with your favourite margarine or nut butter. If you have a glut of ripe bananas, peel them and pop them in a freezer bag. They keep in the freezer for several months and, once defrosted, will be easy to mash up and add to cake mixes in the future.

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Just one slice. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I found this lovely old loaf tin in a bric-a-brac sale recently. It’s been well used but I like the design on the metal-work. Lined with a paper tin liner, it bakes up a treat and has got many more years of baking life in it I’m sure.

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My new/old loaf tin. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

For the bread, I use a combination of coconut-based ingredients: yogurt, sugar and oil, but it works just as well using a plain dairy-free yogurt or a light soft brown sugar, and your favourite plant-based margarine or butter if you prefer things less nutty. I also use wholemeal spelt flour but traditional wheat flour would be fine too. Add some chocolate chips or chopped dried fruit for extra sweetness.

I have been working on a gluten-free version using coconut flour but I haven’t been able to get the right combination of other flours to give a moist crumb – coconut flour has a tendency to absorb a lot of moisture and can give bakes a dry texture. I’ll publish an update when I achieve something I’m happy with, so watch this space.

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Ripe bananas and coconut products. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Ingredients

Serves: 8

  • 2-3 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (you need about 250g mashed banana for good flavour and texture)
  • 100g dairy-free coconut yogurt
  • 100ml dairy-free milk
  • 200g wholemeal spelt flour
  • 15g baking powder
  • 50g solid coconut oil
  • 100g coconut sugar

For the icing:

  • 125g icing sugar
  • ¼ tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 30g toasted raw coconut chips, to decorate
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C fan oven, gas 3. Line a 1kg loaf tin. Mix the banana with the yogurt and milk.
  2. Put the flour in a bowl and sift the baking powder on top. Mix well then rub in the coconut oil and stir in the sugar.
  3. Make a well in the centre and stir in the banana mixture to make a smooth, thick cake batter. Spoon into the loaf tin, smooth the top and bake for about 1 hour until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

    Banana_and_coconut_bread_mix_before_and_after_baking
    Before and after baking. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. When cold, wrap and store for 24 hours before serving for better flavour and texture. To ice, sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Mix in 3-4 tsp warm water and the vanilla to make  smooth spreadable icing. Spread over the top of the loaf and sprinkle coconut chips.

    A_slice_of_iced_home-made_banana_and_coconut_bread
    Ready for the eating. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Sweet potato, spinach and coconut stew (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Sweet potato, spinach and coconut stew. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A deliciously fragrant and comforting recipe for you this week. An old favourite of mine which works just as well with potatoes if you’re not a fan of the sweet variety. It makes a good side dish, but I usually serve it as a main course, spooned over rice.

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Preparing sweet potatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The stew is very easy to make. You can change the proportions of the individual spices to suit your taste. The overall flavour is reminiscent of a green Thai curry without the lemongrass or lime leaves. I’m not a huge chilli fan, I like a hint of heat rather than a major blast, so you may want to increase the chilli-factor for more of a spicy kick. If you have fresh green chillies, grind them up in the spice paste as an alternative to using the dried flakes.

If you have any leftover, the stew makes a good soup the next day. Just blend it up in a food processor with stock or more coconut milk. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

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Spice paste ingredients. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 teasp each of coriander and mustard seeds
  • 1 small red onion or shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3cm piece root ginger
  • Dried chilli flakes, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 400ml canned coconut milk
  • 650g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3cm thick chunky pieces
  • 225g prepared spinach
  • 1 teasp salt
  • A small bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  1. Remove the green casing from the cardamom pods and put the seeds in a pestle and mortar along with the coriander and mustard seeds. Lightly crush them, then toast them in a small frying pan, over a medium heat, for 2-3 minutes until fragrant and lightly toasted but not brown. Leave to cool.
  2. Peel and roughly chop the onion, garlic and ginger and place in a food processor or blender. Add 1 tbsp. oil and the toasted spices and chilli flakes to taste. Blend for a few seconds to make a paste.

    Toasting_spice_seeds_in_a_small_frying_pan_and_blending_ingredients_to_make_a_spice_paste
    Toasting spices and making a spice paste. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a large, deep-sided frying pan or wok and gently fry the paste for about 5 minutes until softened but not browned. Pour over the coconut milk, bring to the boil, and stir in the sweet potato pieces. Bring back to the boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about an hour until tender.
  4. Add the spinach in batches, stirring well to make sure it gets completely coated in the coconut liquor. Add the salt, cover and continue to cook gently for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until then spinach is wilted and the sauce is thick.
    3_steps_to_cooking_sweet_potato_and_spinach_stew
    The 3 stages of stew. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

     

  5. To serve, sprinkle the stew with a generous amount of chopped, fresh coriander, and extra chilli if liked. Serve immediately,  spooned over rice.

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    Sweet potato stew, ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Pick-me-up dark chocolate granola bars (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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The perfect pick-me-up. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Out of the tin and ready for slicing. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s that time of year when the weather turns a bit dull, the nights draw in fast, and it begins to feel a bit chilly. For me, it’s time for a pick-me-up. My standby on these occasions is always some kind of melted chocolate-based mix; it’s easy to put together, requires no baking, and keeps for several days in the fridge.

The recipe is the perfect way to use up all the bits of seeds, fruit and nuts you have in the fridge or cupboard. I usually end up with a different combination of flavours every time I make this recipe. If you prefer, simply half the quantities, pack the mixture into an 18cm square tin and cut into 12 portions instead.

Makes: 24 chunky pieces

Ingredients

  • 500g 90% cocoa solids, dairy-free chocolate
  • 100g coconut oil
  • 60g golden syrup
  • 200g gluten-free, vegan granola
  • 75g crisp rice cereal
  • 100g pumpkin seeds
  • 75g shredded coconut + extra to decorate
  • 400g chopped dried, glacé and candied fruit such as pineapple, cherries, orange peel, golden sultanas, etc.
  • 100g dairy-free, vegan white “chocolate”
  1. Line a 20 x 30cm cake tin with baking parchment or cling film. Break up the 90% cocoa chocolate into pieces and place in a heatproof bowl with the coconut oil and golden syrup. Stand the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and leave to melt. Remove from the water, stir well and cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Mix in all the remaining ingredients except the white chocolate. Stir well until everything is coated, then pack into the prepared tin, pressing down well with the back of a spoon. Cool for at least an hour or until firm.
  3. Carefully remove from the tin and peel away the lining parchment or cling film. Place on a board. Use a large bladed knife to cut into strips and then chunks – the mixture is quite firm to slice.Line a large tray or board with baking parchment and arrange a few pieces on top. Melt the white chocolate as above and then drizzle over each piece. Sprinkle with shredded coconut if like. Leave in a cool place for several minutes to set before serving. Decorate the remaining pieces in the same way. Enjoy!

    Ready_to_serve_dark_chocolate_granola_ars
    Drizzled, sprinkled and ready to eat. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Chocolate tart (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Chocolate tart. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Only a few days ago, in my last post, I had the feeling that spring was on its way. But only one day later, down came the snow once again. In fact, as I go to post this piece, it’s very white outside.  At times of despair, a “cheer-me-up” pudding is called for to help me get through the rest of this dreary month, and what comes to mind most naturally? Chocolate, of course!

This is a simple recipe with only a few ingredients. I don’t usually buy out of season fruit, but I made an exception this week and bought some rather delicious looking strawberries. Best of all, they tasted pretty good too. Of course you can top your dessert with any fruit you fancy, or simply leave it plain. I also added a sprinkle of my favourite toasted raw coconut flakes on top, just before serving. Depending on your chocolate taste-buds, use however much of the darker variety you prefer. Enjoy!

Serves: 8-10

  • 140g plain gluten-free, dairy-free granola, finely crushed
  • 50g coconut oil
  • 200ml canned coconut milk
  • 200g dairy free plain chocolate
  • 100g 90% cocoa extra dark chocolate
  • 1 to 2 tsp good quality vanilla bean paste
  • Fresh fruit and toasted coconut, optional, to serve
  1. Grease and line an 18cm spring-form cake tin. Put the granola in a bowl. Melt the coconut oil and mix into the granola until well incorporated.
  2. Press into the bottom of the tin using the back of a spoon and chill whilst preparing the chocolate layer.
  3. Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan. Break up the chocolate and add to the pan. Place over a very low heat, and stir occasionally until melted. Cool for 10 minutes, stir in vanilla paste to taste and then pour over the granola base. Leave to cool, and then chill for about an hour until firm.
  4. Carefully release from the tin. Peel away the lining paper and transfer to a serving plate. Top with fruit and coconut if using.
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Finished with a coconut topping. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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One slice is never enough. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Nian Gao – sticky rice cake for Chinese New Year (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Happy Chinese New Year! Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I discovered this sweet treat for the first time last year. The texture is soft and gelatinous, a bit like Turkish Delight. It is teeth-janglingly sweet, so a little goes a long way, but the rich, treacly flavour is strangely addictive. I dare you to try it.

To achieve the right texture, you do need to use the right ingredients, so you may need to make a trip to a Chinese supermarket or research online suppliers. However, good news: there are only four ingredients, and one of those is water! You must use glutinous rice – a fine white powder, full of starch (and don’t worry, no gluten!) – I have tried this with ordinary rice flour and the texture was grainy and quite solid. The brown sugar you use is up to you; the depth of colour and flavour  of the finished cake will depend on how dark the sugar is. This year, I used coconut sugar and the result is, as you see above, very dark, glossy and treacly. The only other ingredient is coconut milk, and I use the canned variety.

Once cooked and cooled, Nian Gao is traditionally cut into slices, dipped in egg and pan-fried until lightly golden all over. It is served with red and gold decorations for luck. I’m not an egg lover, so I don’t do the frying part; I eat the cake about an hour after cooking, just as it is. Lovely.

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Glutinous rice flour. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Other than the ingredients, you just need a couple of tins or dishes, lined with baking parchment, to cook the mixture in, and a steamer for cooking.

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Lined 10cm diameter tins for Nian Gao. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes 2 x 10cm cakes (serves 3-4)

  • 100g brown sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 100ml canned coconut milk
  • 100g glutinous rice flour
  1. Line 2 x 10cm tins or dishes with circles of baking parchment – you will need to crease the paper to make it sit snuggly inside. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan, and heat, stirring, until dissolved. Raise the heat and simmer for 5 minutes until lightly syrupy. Cool for 10 minutes then stir in the coconut milk.
  2. Bring a steamer to the boil, or you can use a saucepan of water fitted with a steaming compartment. Reduce the water to a simmer.
  3. Sift the rice flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Gradually pour and whisk in the sugary milk, until well blended, and the mixture resembles a smooth pancake batter.
  4. Divide the batter between the 2 tins or dishes, and arrange in the steamer. Cover loosely with a sheet of baking parchment and then put the lid on top. Leave to cook in the steam for 30 minutes until firm and glossy, like set, thick custard.

    How_to_make_Nian_Gao
    Preparation and cooking Nian Gao. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

5. Remove the cakes from the steamer and leave to cool for 10 minutes, then take out of the tins and place on a wire rack to cool. If you’re going to present the cakes, you might like to leave them in the parchment and tie with red ribbon. A flake of gold leaf on top gives the perfect finishing touch.

This is how I like my Nian Gao, still slightly warm, cut up into small chunks, and served with fresh fruit. Happy Chinese New Year!

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My favourite way to serve Nian Gao, with fresh mango. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Baked coconut apples (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Late September harvest Lord Derby cooking apples. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It seems like a long time ago since I picked all these apples from the aged tree in my garden. I still have plenty, stored in a fridge in the back kitchen, and every now and then I bake something suitably fruity. My apple store makes the perfect “turn-to” choice when the fruit bowl is running low, and cooked apple is so very comforting when it’s cold outside.

This variety of cooking apple, Lord Derby, is not particularly tart or exceptionally flavoursome but it retains texture when cooked which makes it the perfect choice for baking. I have often eaten the smaller ones like a crisp eating apple and they taste rather like a Granny Smith.

My recipe this week is a very simple dessert which tastes as good warm as it does at room temperature. I often bake a batch to have for breakfast accompanied with coconut milk yogurt. Delish 🙂 Add ground cinnamon or cardamom for a more seasonal flavour. If you don’t like or can’t eat coconut, vegetable margarine (or butter) is fine to use, and replace the coconut flakes with your favourite nuts or seeds, or use dried cranberries for a fruitier alternative.

Makes 6 – 8 servings

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 750g cooking apples
  • 75g coconut oil, melted (if you are not dairy-free, unsalted butter works well)
  • 50g Demerara sugar
  • ½ – 1 tsp ground vanilla pod (use a clean, old pepper mill/grinder and put chopped up dry vanilla pods inside – it works so well ground over fruit for baking)
  • A handful of raw coconut flakes
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Line a large shallow baking dish with baking parchment. Pour the lemon juice into a mixing bowl and half fill with cold water.
  2. Peel and core the apples. Cut into thick wedges. Put the prepared apple wedges in the lemony water and mix well – this will help keep the apples from discolouring too much. Drain the apples and blot dry with absorbent kitchen paper.
  3. Arrange the apple wedges on the baking tray and brush all over with the coconut oil. Sprinkle with the sugar and vanilla.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway through. Sprinkle with coconut flakes and continue to bake for a further 20 minutes or until tender and lightly golden. Best served warm with the cooking juices spooned over.
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Steps to making baked coconut apples. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Freshly baked coconut apple wedges with vanilla. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Coconut granola (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Tray-baked homemade coconut granola. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Breakfast is the one meal of the day that I am more choosy about than any other. I rarely have the same thing 2 days running, and often can’t face breakfast at all. At present, I am alternating between gluten-free toast, fresh fruit and coconut yogurt, and my own recipe, granola.

I turned to making my own granola after finding most ready-made combinations either too sweet or so hard and dry that they were more tortuous to eat than enjoyable. This granola recipe is easy to make and is much tastier than anything I can buy, plus you can chop and change the flavourings to suit your taste and whatever you have in the cupboard. If you like dried fruit in your granola, it is better to stir it into to the tray of still warm, cooked ingredients once the tray is of the oven – this helps to keep the fruit soft and stops it drying out and hardening in the oven.

Makes 8 servings

  • 175g thick milled or jumbo oats
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 50g coconut sugar or light brown sugar
  • 50g flaked coconut
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil or sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (130°C fan oven, gas mark 2). Line a large baking tray with baking parchment.
  2. Put the oats, salt and sugar in a large bowl and toss in the coconut, coconut oil and vanilla paste. Mix well until well coated in oil.
  3. Spread the mixture evenly across the tray. Bake for 40 minutes, stirring 3 times during baking, for about 40 minutes, until lightly toasted. Leave to cool on the tray.
  4.  Transfer to a clean storage jar and seal well. Delicious served with coconut rice milk and fresh berry fruits or sliced banana.

If I have them, I often add pecan pieces, flaked almonds or pumpkin seeds for extra crunch.

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A favourite breakfast: homemade coconut granola. Image by Kathryn Hawkins