Butternut Squash and Black Bean Tagliatelle

butternut squash pastaThis simple pasta, black bean and butternut squash dish is something that I have been making off and on for over 25 years. I’m not sure where I first got the idea, but as it has stood the test of time I thought I might share it. There is little skill involved, just a willingness to chop a few things, roast one or two and toss them together. No sauces, no tricky timings – it is pretty easy. And really rather nice, as things involving pasta tend to be. Continue reading

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Chocolate Frosting with a Whole Food Twist

chocolate-black-bean-frostingIt is not very often that I go a bit crazy with my own cooking. Like most cooks and food bloggers I will make stuff, serve it, write about it, but gosh don’t I get embarrassed when people like it. Do you do that too?

It is not that we aren’t grateful for adulation – not at all, please don’t stop – but we can be a bit awkward and weirdly shy. My schtick is that I hem and haw and say something like “oh, it doesn’t have enough salt in it,” or “it was in the oven about five minutes too long” (that was yesterday’s rebuttal to the lemon polenta cake I brought to a class). To some this may smack of false modesty, but I am sure that the majority of the time most of us praise-rebuffers are not fishing for compliments: we genuinely don’t think our offering is worthy of special mention. We’ve made it, we hope it is edible. End of.

But for today and today only, I will retract my inner self-critic and say that I really quite like this frosting AND I will smile politely and say “thank you very much” to anyone who likes it too. I’m quite chuffed with it because, to my knowledge, it is original and, crucially, tastes pretty much like chocolate frosting should taste – creamy, chocolatey, lickable. And the whole food twist? Black beans. Yup, black beans.chocolate-black-bean-frosting

Some of you will have made avocado frosting – and that’s really tasty stuff – but recently while cooking some black beans up for a savoury dish I just thought, why not? Why not indeed. They are awesome in black bean brownies (I’ll post my own version soon), so why wouldn’t they be good in something else in the chocolate-cocoa canon?

I knew it would need a wee help with the texture – a bit ‘floury’ on its own – so I added a little peanut butter (although cashew would be even better as it is milder). Melted good quality chocolate in place of the nut butter would be divine, but I wanted to see how ‘pure’ I could get it. I was totally shocked that I didn’t have to immediately stick it in the bin (we have no dog). None of it made it into the bin. My very truthful family helped out with the ‘cleaning up’. If they hadn’t given their thumbs up – or rather fingers in – I would’ve gone no further with this cranky idea.

If you dare to make this up do have more patience than have I: blend the heck out of the frosting. I blended as best as my tiny attention span would allow, but dark flecks are visible. The bold among you could pass them off as chocolate chips (?). Maybe pushing the beans through a sieve or food mill would be even better. You would also be more patient with the spreading and decorating.

It IS a bit nutty, and I wouldn’t recommend whacking it on anything too healthy (date-sweetened oat & chia cookies need not apply), but I think it would be a fun frosting on homemade chocolate cake, fairy cakes, anything with a nut or coffee flavour in need of frosting, even a dip for fresh fruit (it was nice with banana slices). I frosted up chocolate and beetroot muffins for a few nutrition groups and no one guessed the surprise healthy ingredient. The closest anyone got was avocado. Good guess. My next go with this will be to add malt syrup for a Horlick’s/Ovaltine vibe. That might be pushing it…

What weird stuff have you concocted lately?

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Last year: Spinach and Walnut Dip (Spinach Pkhali)

Two years ago: Kale-Berry Smoothie

Unusual? Yes. A pretty good doppelganger for the real thing? I think so. If you have had black bean brownies (my recipe soon) you will know that somehow this ingredient works with chocolate and cocoa. I’ve just taken it in a slightly different direction: on top.

This black bean frosting was taste-tested on over 30 people: all thought it was chocolate frosting. With ingredients mainly of the store cupboard variety I hope you try it and give your verdict. Spread it on a decadent cake for a kind of calorie and fat balancing act, or do what we do and use it on my beetroot chocolate cake/muffins.

The following is just a guide – start with these amounts, blend, taste and adjust as you like. Makes enough to spread on one small cake or 9 muffins.

60g (slightly heaped 1/3 cup) cooked and rinsed black beans or adzuki beans

1 ½ tbsp cocoa or cacao powder

1 very heaped tbsp smooth nut butter (cashew would be mildest but I used peanut butter with good results)

2 tbsp (+) runny acacia honey or maple syrup

Pinch of fine salt

¼ tsp vanilla powder or paste (extract is to strong here – you taste the alcohol)

Enough warm water to get a smooth frosting (I used about 1 teaspoon)

METHOD: Pop everything into a blender and blend like mad. Keeps for four days, refrigerated in a covered container.

I’ve given the recipe sharing a break for a couple of weeks but this week I would like to include this unusual sweet over at Mark of Javelin Warrior’s Cookin’ W/ Luv Made With Love Mondays, and to Heather for her Sweet Wednesday Link Party. Please go and visit their great sites for ideas and more.

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Japanese-style Butternut Squash and Black Bean Tacos + Highlights from FBC2012

japanese butternut squash tacos
“Food: the unifying language of the world”

quote from Sumayya Jamil, speaking at Food Blogger Connect, London 2012

Last Friday saw me quite literally stumbling onto the 7.15 Edinburgh-London train. I am not the most co-ordinated of people (I can fall off a pair of flipflops), but my flawed proprioception couldn’t be blamed on this occasion. As I attempted to board the train a sudden shift in the ever-present wind blew hair into my eyes, and I had a heart-pounding, and nearly electrifying, experience as my foot slipped between the step up and the clearly marked walkway. Still clutching my bags and cup of tea I just managed to lurch forward into the carriage, my body tingling with adrenalin that you get from a proper near-miss. Yowz.

The reason I mention this seemingly random incident is that I also experienced the same all-body tingle later that day. But not due to clumsiness or wind-whipped hair. When I pushed through the imposing blue doors  into a sea of people at Food Blogger Connect I had that overwhelming ‘new girl’ feeling. You know,  the heart-pumping  anxiety you get when you walk into a room where everyone seems to know each other and you only have one shot at making a decent impression? I was that girl, but with fictional spots, greasy hair and a selection of slide rules and leaky pens poking out of my pocket. Yup, that nervous. Continue reading

Very Veggie Black Bean Chilli with Southern Cornbread

Like a lot of you, the past few weeks have been quite busy for me. During the summer months projects, commitments and even ideas are somehow allowed to drift along on a warm breeze of school holiday-enforced hiatus. But come September the metaphorical whip is well and truly cracked. Many of you are by now up to your eyes with summer-interrupted deadlines and the daily scurry between work, family and after-school activities – and all points in-between. Maybe like me you are also vowing to shoehorn in a little extra exercise, or add in a ‘self-improving’ evening class. Time is not elastic, but we do our best to strain at the laws of physics nonetheless. I participate, therefore I am.

My additional soupcon of activity this week was giving several nutrition workshops at the 22nd annual Scottish Conference of Cancer Support Groups (SCCSG). To be completely honest with you I was not wholeheartedly looking forward to it. I am used to my cosy number with the Maggies Centres: making food and discussing nutrition and cancer in the comfort of small groups. And my ‘target’ audience is clear: for the most part those going through treatment and their carers. The SCCSG audience was going to be hugely mixed and much larger and less intimate than my usual 6-8 person groups. And in a hotel conference space, not among the architectural nuances, squashy sofas and natural light of the Maggies’ Centres. You are right, I am spoiled.

But, as is often the case with my fears, they were completely misplaced. This truly amazing conference sees delegates from all over Scotland gathering annually to update their research knowledge, share ideas, discuss common concerns and generally share and discuss ideas for helping those affected by cancer. All of the groups provide a vital service that just isn’t possible within the confines of the NHS. Every single person I met volunteers their time and skills to help others. In other words, good people. Inspiring people. Selfless people. And they wanted to listen to me. Wow. Continue reading

Brazilian-style Black Bean Salad

Today I have been busy preparing the lunch that will round off tomorrow’s nutrition session at the Edinburgh Maggie’s Centre. Although I really enjoy facilitating the sessions, I also love to prepare the food. I love the rhythm of trawling around the local shops, picking up and sniffing the produce (sometimes indulging in a sneaky squeeze), chatting to the merchants and shop assistants, and just generally taking my time getting the best of the day’s offerings. Sometimes I make do with just a supermarket (boring but expedient), but I also try and get to the lushly fronted greengrocers’ shops in nearby Stockbridge, stopping by Armstrong’s for immaculate, fresh fish for our dinner. As a special treat (or if I am under-budget)I head to Earthy Market in Newington for the most sumptuous whole foods displays in Edinburgh: baskets of amazing breads (seaweed sourdough is Miss R’s favourite), a Welsh dresser full of pulses, seeds and grains, shelves of every ingredient you can think of for the well-stocked pantry, and captivatingly gorgeous wooden crates of best-of-season fruits and vegetables from nearby Phantassie Organic Farm and other quality suppliers. But, if I am honest, I am also there for the cafe. Can’t recommend it highly enough (and neither can the reviewers). Not only is the daily-changing menu a testament to fine seasonal cafe fare, it is presented so lovingly and at a price that puts lesser-quality cafes and restaurants to shame. Please go if you live even vaguely nearby. You can also buy top-notch local vegetables, herbs and decorative plants to plant your own personal oasis of useful beauty. If you go on my recommendation, tell them food to glow  sent you.

Continue reading