Old-fashioned Fresh Apple Cake

I’ve just realised that it’s been almost two months since I posted something sweet. I know, what was I thinking: man cannot live by tofu alone. It’s not even as if we never have anything sweet and I have to expend great brainpower coming up with a recipe. For example, the last sweet thing I ate was on Saturday. As it was only three ingredients – none of which I had anything to do with making –  it probably doesn’t count as a recipe. But it was scrummy, & obviously easy, so I will share it with you: Rachel’s Organic Greek-style Coconut Yogurt topped with blueberries and a crushed Nairn’s Ginger Oatcake (thanks to Yvonne Mc for that genius idea).

Irritatingly, and as is not infrequently the case, a little smidge of yogurt was left in the cardboard pot BY SOMEONE WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS, so that when I was wanting a sneaky snack – a la Nigella and her dressing-gown fridge forays –  the yogurt to oatcake ratio was not the most satisfying. One teaspoon does not a snack make. Note to all would-be smidge leavers: either scrape out that last wee bit or chuck it in the bin – don’t get your mother’s hopes up. I’ve since gotten over the disappointment, can you tell?  Continue reading

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Apple and Oat Bars

“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul,” Jean Cocteau

A short post this week, but with a recipe that warmly invites Autumn into the kitchen. If you have an apple tree go out and gather any windfalls; give them a scrub and a chop. You are now one step closer to a house saturated with the comfort-blanket aroma of Autumn spices: like a Glade candle, but nicer – and more edible. Continue reading

Beetroot Zinger Juice

beetroot zinger juice in glass

Juicing is a subject close to my heart. Many of the people I advise and teach at the Maggies Cancer Caring Centre are going through chemotherapy when they come to the Centre. Most want to do everything they can to eat well through treatment. Evidence shows that those who are well-nourished tolerate treatment better and reduce their risk of infection. But sometimes this is very difficult to do. Because almost all chemotherapy drugs  affect taste, appetite and digestion at least somewhat, doctors and dietitians advise those affected to eat what they feel like eating and what they can taste and digest well. This is also what we advise. But I always encourage those who cannot tolerate raw fruits and vegetables to juice them. That way they can get the nutritional benefit without filling up on bulky lower calorie foods or deal with the effects raw produce can have on a weakened digestive system.

So why not just buy fresh juice from the supermarket? Well, supermarket juices – even ones labelled as fresh and in the chiller cabinet –  are always pasteurised, usually twice. This can lessen and even destroy some of the very compounds that we want from fresh juice. Sure, I drink store-bought juice occasionally but I don’t expect it to do much for me, other than be convenient and taste nice. Tomato juice is the only juice whose main nutrients are enhanced with processing.

In my opinion, homemade, freshly pressed juices are like liquid supplements, but without any of the downsides associated with supplementing while on cancer treatment (many immune-boosting supplements have potential to interfere with treatment effectiveness). People who juice during treatment may find that it helps a bit with energy, and they feel that even if their diet isn’t as they would like at the moment,  juicing helps to cover the nutritional bases.  Once the symptoms subside whole foods are once again on the menu.

During nutrition sessions I offer this juice and it always elicits oohs and ahhs because of the colour, which is a deep garnet and quite creamy looking. When asked what they think is in the juice only occasionally does beetroot get a mention. I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad thing. Suppose it depends on what you think of beetroot. Happily, participants always ask for the recipe. Although I use it in my cancer nutrition classes it is a juice for anyone, ill or well. It’s my family’s favourite juice and mine too, despite the pink-stained fingers. We drink it because we like it. A friend of mine even swears by this juice as a homework stimulant for her boys. Drink it at the first sign of a cold or if you know that something’s going around. Seems to work for us. I could go on and on about juicing (yes, even more than I already have) but I’ll let you see for yourself. Now, get that dust-covered juicer out of the garage, or from under the spare bed, and get juicing.

Science Bit: Known for its blood-purifying properties, beetroot also has a fantastic disease-fighting profile at its most basic level: it enhances the manufacture of white blood cells, stimulates red blood cell production and improves supply of oxygen to cells. This last point is very interesting because a small but well-conducted 2009 UK study demonstrated beetroot’s capacity to boost muscle stamina, probably because of the abundance of naturally occurring nitrates. This may have implications for athletes as well as ordinary folk going about their daily business. I wouldn’t advise consuming the half-litre a day amount achieved in the study (potential side effects include hives – unpleasant) beat) as we can benefit from drinking much smaller amounts, including lowered blood pressure. And don’t be alarmed if your urine or stool is pinkish or red. Many people are sensitive to the betalain and oxalic acid in beets and will experience ‘beetruria’, which looks scary but is completely harmless.

From a cancer perspective beetroot may be useful as it contains a high amount of manganese, which is needed for the formation of the potent anti-cancer cell protein, interferon. The deep red colour is due to another nutrient powerhouse – betanin, thought to help prevent both cancer and heart disease. And if that hasn’t convinced you to try this juice, it tastes darn nice too. Very refreshing, yet invigorating.

beetroot juice ingredientsBeetroot Zinger Juice

This is my recipe for beetroot juice but make it your own by mixing up the ingredients, so to speak: ditch the raspberries, or add celery, or orange. Whatever you have to hand that’s fresh and juiceable is fair game with juicing. The only real caveat is that beetroot shouldn’t make up more than one-quarter of your juice as it is so strong.

1 small or 1/2 medium raw beetroot, scrubbed and trimmed (the smaller the tastier)

2-3 large carrots, scrubbed and trimmed

1 apple and 1 pear – or two of either, scrubbed and cored

1/2 lime, peel removed (the oils in the peel make the juice bitter)

knob of fresh gingerroot – about the size of end-of-your-thumb

handful of frozen raspberries -use fresh if in season but the frozen ones make the juice creamy and luscious

What You Need: juicer (not a smoothie maker or blender); cutting board, sharp knife

Do as your juicer booklet says regarding any preparation of the fruit to fit your juicer’s ‘feed tube’. Once you have made the juice, blend the raspberries in with a hand blender, but if you don’t want the seeds or fibre push them through the juicer between the harder fruits/veg. Drink your juice as soon as possible but it will still be good – and good for you – up to 24 hours’ later if refrigerated and covered.        Serves 2

Extra Tidbit: If you can get beetroots with super-fresh leafy tops juice the tops as well – they are crammed full of a variety of free-radical scavenging carotenoids and other goodies. The tops are also tasty in a stir fry. Because the leaves also contain oxalic acid anyone prone to kidney stones or who has rheumatoid arthritis or gout should avoid eating the tops. If you want to know more about this fantastic but much maligned vegetable click here. If you want more juice ideas, click here.

Cardamom-scented Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

For years I have had a not-so-secret crush on cardamom.  Although I enjoy savouring the superlative pearl sugar-topped cardamom buns served at Edinburgh’s Peter’s Yard coffee house, I usually settle for a low-effort swirl of ground cardamom in my morning porridge. It’s not only me who rates this underused (at least in the UK and US) flavouring. In countries as polar opposite as Sweden and India, cardamom is a favoured spice. For those of you who haven’t tasted or smelled cardamom it can best be described as having a distinct sweet, perfumed fragrance that once sniffed is never forgotten. If you’ve ever visited markets in southern India or the Middle East you will no doubt have seen baskets of both the black and green pods nestled among bowls of cumin seeds, turmeric root and myriad forms of ginger. Its uses are surprisingly varied:  flavouring Arabic style coffee (pop a whole pod into coffee grounds before brewing), in Scandinavian breads and cakes and as a staple ingredient in traditional curries. I am so taken with this wrinkly pod that I feature it as the star of a pepper blend: 4 tbsp black peppercorns, 1 tbsp coriander seeds and the seeds from 10 green cardamom pods – and store it in a refillable pepper grinder. I have perhaps taken my cardamom obsession a bit far: for my birthday I received a bottle of Voyages d’Hermes which, when it’s been on the skin awhile, takes on cardamom and green tea notes. Delish!

cardamom pods in bowl

green cardamom pods

The Science Bit: Medicinally, practitioners of Chinese medicine prescribe cardamom for a plethora of digestive complaints, some of which are common while on chemotherapy – constipation, flatulence, gas and general stomach cramping. In Ayurvedic medicine it is seen as an important spice for balancing the three doshas (especially kapha), as well as being a warming digestive and lung stimulant. Reading in “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen” by Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson, I found out that Indian animal studies have demonstrated cardamom’s capacity to reduce inflammation, as well as protect against the growth of colon cancer cells.

rhubarb and apple with peel in background

Rhubarb, oats and apples are of course no slouches when it comes to health-giving assets. Anti-bacterial rhubarb is used in Chinese medicine for a variety of ailments, many to do with detoxification and ‘draining heat from the body’. In Western medicine it is perhaps best known for its high concentration of infection-fighting Vitamin C, for its capacity to reduce cholesterol and its action as a natural laxative. Those with gout or rheumatoid arthritis should perhaps not indulge in rhubarb as unfortunately it can aggravate these conditions. The health profile of oats is perhaps even higher as it is literally crammed with disease-checking nutrients, including avenanthramides (breaks down cholesterol and may help prevent colon cancer), blood sugar- and cholesterol-lowering beta glucan, many stress-busting B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc and filling fibre. All that and it makes a great breakfast.

Apples too are very cleansing; their pectin binds with cholesterol, toxins and heavy metals, escorting them out of the body. In the lab, apples inhibit cancer cell proliferation, decrease lipid oxidation, and lower cholesterol. They also contain a variety of phytochemicals, including quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid, all of which are strong antioxidants. Studies have shown that apples protect and optimise lung function. While storage doesn’t affect their anti-oxidant capacity it is thought that heat may diminish it. As apples are so commonly eaten they are potentially very beneficial to us. To find out more, click here. So, although this crumble is hopefully scrummy, eat raw apples to get the most from them. That said, all-important fibre remains helpfully intact.

crumble in bowl; fruit in dish

Enough science, let’s get on with the (healthy) stodge!

Cardamom-scented Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

We are smack in the middle of forced rhubarb season just now so I’ve been transforming the pink leggy beauties into crumble, chutney and jam. The crumble disappears in a trice but chutney and jam can of course be enjoyed for months to come. I’ll give an easy rhubarb and date chutney recipe later.

1 Bramley or similar cooking apple, peeled, cored and large diced/thick slice

2 dessert apples, peeled, cored and large diced/thick slice

900g/2 lb fresh rhubarb, washed and sliced into 4cm/1.5 in pieces

4 tbsp agave nectar OR 50g muscovado/dark brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cardamom, divided (from approximately 10 whole green pods*)

Crumble ingredients

75g/2.6oz skin-on almonds

75g/2.6oz walnuts

75g/3oz chilled butter, cut into small pieces

100g/3.6oz wholemeal self-raising flour

75g/2.6oz rolled oats or flaked barley, two tablespoons held aside

50g/1.75oz muscovado or dark brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Equipment You Will Need: cutting board; sharp knife; food processor; large mixing bowl; deep-ish rectangular or oval baking dish

What To Do: Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. In the large bowl toss together the fruit, sugar or agave nectar and half of the cardamom. Pour the fruit into the baking dish and set aside.

Next, start the crumble topping by putting the butter, flour, all but 2 tbsp oats, sugar, cinnamon and remaining cardamom in the food processor; pulse until you get what looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Add in the nuts and pulse until you get a mixture of chunky and fine bits of nut. Add the remaining oats and pulse twice for two seconds to just mix in the oats.rhubarb crumble ready to bake

Evenly sprinkle the crumble mixture over the fruit and press firmly down. You may be tempted to leave it all bumpy and rustic but it’s crisper if you take a firm hand to the crumble. Some of the nuts will stick up a bit anyway. Put the dish in the hot oven for about 40 minutes, or until the sticky pink rhubarb bubbles out from the sides. Leave it to cool for 15 minutes or so before serving up with vanilla-flecked custard or ice cream.

* Cardamom powder: Ground cardamom is quite expensive and hard to find in the UK. Make your own powder by purchasing a bottle or bag of green cardamom pods from your supermarket or specialty shop (those stocking Indian and Pakistani goods will be cheapest). Crack open the tough shells in a pestle and mortar or the end of a rolling pin, pick out the fragrant slightly sticky seeds and bash them fiercely in a pestle and mortar or in a clean coffee grinder. Use whole pods in Indian cooking (including spiced rice), removing them before serving.

Gluten-free note: You can easily make this gluten-free by either using gluten-free flour and gluten-free oats, or using barley flakes and blitzing to make flour and keeping the rest whole.


My friend Niki at unifiedspace is a fantastic amateur photographer and this is her photograph. Thanks Niki.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Ginger and Cinnamon

sweet-potato-and-apple-soupWhat a dismal, dispiriting day here in Scotland’s capital city. All I can hear is the constant sloppy smack of raindrops dripping from our oak tree onto our conservatory roof. Other than a paid-for ticket to somewhere equatorial the only thing for it is a big colourful bowl of soup. The brighter the better. Continue reading