Carrot and Coconut Muffins

carrot and coconut muffinsI hope you don’t mind but this post will be a bit of a quickie. You see, I need to go and pack. And these tender little beauties are going in the hand luggage.

Some of you reading this may  be packing too, Perhaps you are jetting off to some island to laze around and sip rum punch, or maybe you and your family will be threading your way through the queues in some exciting theme park. I however am packing to go to London. Not to shop (although I will definitely squeeze a bit of that in) or go to the theatre. No, I am down to attend my second Food Blogger Connect, and I am SO excited. Last year I was scared-excited. This year I am just excited-excited. Which is the same thing, but with less nervous sweating. Not a good mental image in a food blog, but I like to tell the truth.

Any of you who were kindly reading me last October may recall a rather long post reviewing my weekend at FBC. It was beyond my rather pedestrian imagination. And this year promises to be even better. To wit, we are getting to press the flesh with Mr American in Paris himself, the wonderful David Lebovitz. There is the chance of winning a 15 minute one-to-one chat with David about how to improve one’s blog. Which sounds terrifying but probably a game-changer for the lucky winner.

Another highlight will be seeing fellow FBC alumni Ren Behan and Karen Burns-Booth on the podium sharing a panel discussion with Sarah Cook of BBC Good Food magazine on how to get published in magazines (I will be taking  furious notes: Why didn’t I do shorthand!). I adore these bloggers as people and as wonderfully good examples of how to run a compelling, must-read blog. And of course, there will be -ahem – serious and academically-rigourous attention paid to the art of eating. I have lost count of the number of folks and companies lined up to help us expand our waistlines. But I am especially looking forward to sampling from Ren’s pop-up Polish Kitchen. Her website is already making me want to book a second holiday to Krakow.

So, the muffins. Which I will sneak into my miniscule Easyjet handluggage, along with a little tub of my butternut squash and almond dip and some homemade pitta chips. Anything to avoid getting hungry enough to buy one of the airline’s extortionate ‘snack packs’ (full of cr*p and more cr*p). I just hope my little healthy snack pack doesn’t get confiscated!

By the time you read this I will have said goodbye to friends old and new and be on my way to meet Mr A for his birthday lunch. Another London food adventure awaits! Back up the stairs to add another pair of stretchy trousers to the bag…

What foods do you pack to avoid airline/train/service station ‘food’? carrot and coconut muffins

Carrot and Coconut Muffins

This is a riff on an old recipe of mine, Carrot and Marmalade Cake

This is an easy and delicious way of making a sweet treat healthy. Perfect for trips, picnics, brownbags and handbags. I make this recipe as muffins mostly, but it happens to make a fine ‘plain’ cake too. The decoration is all on the inside…

NB. Trade the coconut for plump raisins or, what the heck, put them both in.

100g self-raising flour*
125g wholemeal self-raising flour*
1 ½ tsp baking powder
100ml (3 ½ oz) rapeseed or coconut oil
100g coconut palm sugar OR other raw sugar, whizzed in food processor
2 eggs OR vegan egg replacer (such as Orgran)
200g carrots, finely grated
1 ripe banana, peeled and thoroughly mashed
50ml fresh orange juice (one orange), plus zest if liked (I do)
4 heaped tbsp best quality dark/tawny Seville orange marmalade (the nippier the better, IMO)

50g desiccated coconut, plus extra for sprinkling on top

*If you don’t have self-raising flour, just add an extra one and one-quarter teaspoon of baking powder (total) to the flour mixture.

Oil a 12-hole muffin tin (I tend to make them smaller and use an extra 6). You could also line the holes with squares of baking paper (so they look like the muffins you get in coffee shops) or regular muffin tin liners. Preheat your oven to 180C/350F.

Sift together the flours with the baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Stir in any bran that remains in the sieve from the wholemeal flour.

In a separate large bowl, whisk the eggs with electric beaters or stand mixer until light and fluffy, then whisk in the oil and sugar until thickened and leaves a trail when the beater is lifted. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Fold the wet mixture into the flour until the flour just disappears, and no more. Mixing any more may give you a tough muffin. Which sounds like an insult, or perhaps a strange compliment: “She’s one tough muffin!”

Fill each muffin hole evenly and bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes, or until well-risen and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. If you want to add coconut to the top, do this about halfway through the baking so as not to burn the delicate coconut, but just give it a lovely toasty tinge of gold. Let the muffins cool in the tin on a wire rack and eat immediately. Or store for a few days in an airtight container. You could always go a bit fancy and extra-sweet by spreading over your favourite cream cheese frosting, or one such as this vegan one from; or a classic cream cheese one from I like to keep them ‘plain’ for my nutrition classes and serve with fresh fruit.

Makes 12-18 muffins or two small cakes (I don’t think this would be as good if made as a big fat cake).

As usual, I am sending this over to Mark at Javelin Warrior’s Cookin’ W/Luv Made With Love Mondays. I got lucky as last week his theme was mango, but as this week’s is basil I am glad his themes are optional. I am not sticking basil in these!carrot and coconut muffinscarrot and coconut muffinscarrot and coconut muffinscarrot and coconut muffins
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Carrot and Marmalade Cake

As many of you know, I am originally from Florida. Lived there 24 years in fact. Twenty-four largely sun-soaked, carefree years. But now I call Edinburgh, the beautiful capital of Scotland, home. Although I miss my family and friends, the year-round, bathwater-temperature climate, and the cheap and abundant seafood, I truly love my adopted city. I love the warm, but appropriately cautious people (you would be as cautious if your ancestors endured a similar border-raiding history); the vibrant cultural scene; the handsome nuanced buildings, often in gardens I used to think only existed in movies; and the wealth of nutritious and delicious produce – from brambles to venison. I have even grown to, if not love,  at least appreciate the certifiably crazy weather. Florida merely has a climate, punctuated by thunderstorms and the occasional hurricane, but no real weather to speak of – or seasons.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, whenever I meet someone new – a British person – the conversation often goes something like this: “You’re not from around here. Where are you from?”   Me: “Florida, but I’ve lived here over 20 years.”   Them: “Good God!…Why?” Then I get an opportunity to let said person see this beautiful, green and pleasant land through my eyes. Admittedly it’s rainy, blowy and a bit parky (cold), but if we had great weather everyone would want to live here. I’m sure there would have to be some kind of quota system to visit our tiny loch and mountain-dotted country. I don’t do Florida down, but I like to remind folk of how much we have here. They probably still think I am a bit bonkers though.

But one thing we don’t have here, and that I miss very much, is citrus. Good old Florida citrus: tangelos, grapefruits, minneolas, limes, lemons, pomelos, uglis, tangerines, mandarins, satsumas and even the little, fairly useless kumquat.  Continue reading

Hint of Mint Cocoa Brownies and Sour Cherry and Pistachio Chocolate Bark

After my wee panic about lack of preparations for our family Christmas, I am pleased to report that I have tackled most of the food shopping. I have even made a modest stab on the food making front, too. Presents aren’t wrapped but I do have a few dishes tucked into the freezer. So, now that I have just finished with all my ‘Maggie’s cooking’,  I am counting on the exceptionally organised and calm Miss R to help me with the remaining tasks. This includes how to make three pomegranates, a bag of red Brussels sprouts tops, chillies and other random produce into a festive centrepiece without it looking like I forgot to tidy up after myself. Kirsty Allsop I am not.  Continue reading

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

Peach, Honey and Lavender Tart

People who aren’t on Twitter often deride it as merely a vehicle for transmitting useless everyday minutiae. I won’t deny that use of Twitter; I myself have been known to snap and tweet ‘interesting’ pictures of ‘novel’ breakfast ideas and of my hens eating pasta (thank you if you have retweeted any of them). But the reason I use Twitter is to connect with like-minded health and food folk, sharing ideas and recipes, links to research papers and yes, images. It is near-miraculous to me that I can have a real time simultaneous conversation with a surgeon in Canada and a chef from South Africa. This has happened, and it blows my mind.

When something really strikes my fancy or eye I will email it to myself for reading properly later. Mr A is frequently chiding me on a messy inbox, full of ‘read this now’ emails from myself that I will neither read nor file. It is shameful how many research links remain unclicked and undigested. But one find I did act on is a tweet from baker, author and Guardian food writer, @dan_lepard. He recently tweeted a picture and link that just had to be tried. It drew me in with its close-up of glistening plums and peeking-through pastry. Trust me to favour an alluringly-photographed recipe over a print-heavy review of US adolescent obesity studies.  Oh the irony. Continue reading

Lemon Geranium Cake – for Kate

UK television and radio news and programmes are dominated by tomorrow’s planned nuptials between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Hard news journalists and gossip columnists alike are united in their desire to wring every scintilla of Royal press office-fed ‘news’ in the hope of a new twist on the Big Day. Syrian ambassador to the UK  is invited. Then disinvited. Are the bridesmaids wearing fascinators? A weird blend of the newsworthy and the out and out frothy. Everything I’ve heard makes me think William and Kate are as beautiful inside as out. But enough already with the 24/7 coverage. We don’t need yet another vox pop interview outside of Westminster  Abbey featuring a man wearing a knitted Union Jack teacosy for a  hat, clothed in a t-shirt stating ‘Diana Would Be Proud’ (I’m not making that up).  It’s hardly the happy couple’s fault but it’s got to the point where I am at this moment listening to an obscure station featuring 80s rock classics. So, with Bon Jovi angsting in the background I am elbow deep in flour, butter and leaves making a cake – for Kate. Couldn’t resist. The wedding coverage is so saturating that it has taken over the decision making section of my brain and commanded me to make a delicate, fragrant cake in honour of our equally delicate and fragrant soon-to-be princess. So, temporarily abandoning my healthy eating perch, I have a rather nice cake recipe fit for a future queen.  Continue reading

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine.” – Geronimo Piperni, quoted by Antonio Lavedán, Spanish army surgeon,1796

Chocolate is medicine for many people – mender of broken hearts, healer of disappointment, drug of choice.  But its universality makes it right for all occasions and situations. Whether it’s a Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut nibbled in front of the telly or a few squares of finest 85% single estate to round off a dinner party, chocolate is the everyman of foodstuffs. Or should that be ‘everywoman’?

It is undoubtedly women who have the closest relationship with chocolate. And the most fraught. For those of us females who enjoy at least the occasional square, or bar, chocolate is a prime source of guilty pleasure. More than the half bottle of red wine on a weekday evening, or the cadged cigarette at a girls’ night out, eating chocolate is something over which many feel at least a modicum of regret. A chap would just stand in the kitchen, peel away the wrapper and start chomping away. And, good for him. But many of us cannot adopt this healthily insouciant attitude. We may run companies, have our own bank accounts, do what we please, but eat an entire Galaxy bar without the slightest twinge? I think not.

When women are under emotional stress many reach for food. It soothes away internal tension and makes us feel safe. And what is the number one comfort food for Western women? Chocolate, of course.  American research shows that men, on the other hand, tend to reach for comfort foods when they are happy (?!).  So, women eat chocolate when they are upset and men eat it when they are happy. Because men don’t eat nearly as much chocolate as women, does that mean that both sexes are miserable most of the time? There is a flaw in this logic. I think women eat chocolate for both negative (stress) and positive reasons (pleasure), possibly even rebellious reasons, too.

Our twisted relationship with this most pleasurable of substances probably has much to do with the Victorians. I know it is quite a leap from chocolate eating to our famously piano leg-covering antecedents, but bear with me. In the upper echelons of Victorian society women enjoying food was frowned upon. Like their seen and not heard children Victorian women lived in an era of seen, but not eating. Feminist philosopher Susan Bordo writes that, “women eating and demonstrating sensuous surrender to rich, exciting food was taboo”. It was socially unacceptable for any monied woman to show a desire for food or actively indulge in it. I suppose this was the beginning of the dangerous notion that you can never be too rich or too thin – the more you have the less you should be seen to desire it. This notion filtered though the classes and has yet to fade.

According to Bordo, modern females go against this taboo by seeking emotional satisfaction from what they eat. To my mind this clashes head on with the near-innate negativity we feel when we enjoy our food ‘too much’. For many women the line connecting so-called taboo foods with comfort is suffused with self-loathing. With its enjoyably high-fat, high-sugar content chocolate is top of the list of taboo foods, and presumably why it is seen as off-limits or subject to self-restriction.  When you deny yourself chocolate you are a ‘good girl’. But ours is a very natural desire: we are hard-wired to seek energy dense foods. It has only come about recently in our species’ history that we don’t actually need such foods to live.  Some may argue against this last sentence: Man cannot live by chocolate alone – but women sure can. – Anonymous.

The Science Bit: I don’t understand why so many “so called” chocolate lovers complain about the calories in chocolate, when all true chocoholics know that it is a vegetable. It comes from the cocoa bean, beans are veggies, ’nuff said. 
– Author Unknown

We now know that chocolate – at least the dark stuff – is actually very good for us. The way it used to be prepared was undoubtedly even more so. The cacao tree was first cultivated by the Mayans at least 3000 years ago although it was around earlier as a wild plant. The Mayans, and their successors the Toltec and the Aztecs, not only drank cocoa as a bitter ‘tea’ but also used the pods as currency and saw it as a gift from their God, Quetzacoatl. Can’t see beetroot getting the same treatment…Xocoatl, as drunk by the ancient peoples of Central America, was made by adding water, pepper and cinnamon to roasted and ground cacao beans. This mixture was heated and the resulting ‘butter’ that rose to the top was whipped up to a foamy liquid, which was drunk cold. In fact, the word chocolate actually refers to the sound made by the whisking: xoco, “noise” and atl, “water”. The conquering Spanish kept this same technique but replaced the aromatic spices with sugar.  Through this europeanisation chocolate attained the “divine” taste that we appreciate today, at least in Europe. In 1753, the father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, named the cacao tree Theobromoa cacao, which is Latin for “food of the gods”.  Who would argue with that?

Cacao beans themselves are a scary 50+ per cent fat. Although much of it is saturated, a goodly proportion (35%) is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid found namely in olive oil and known to be beneficial to the heart. Saturated stearic acid is only half-heartedly absorbed by the body, where it is partially transformed in the liver into more oleic acid. So, the potential downside is actually not too bad: the oleic acid has a neutralizing effect insofar as cholesterol is concerned. The fact that sugar is almost always added to dark chocolate somewhat dilutes the goodness but it still has a relatively low glycemic index score of 22 (under 50 is okay), compared to 115 for frozen tofu dessert and 88 for boiled potatoes. Hmm, which would you rather eat? And even though dark chocolate is always going to be a better bet than milk chocolate (because of milk fats, added vegetable fats and usually much more sugar per gram) both should only be eaten in moderation.

I am wanting to get on with sharing my recipe but the nutrition facts for chocolate are too interesting and important to ignore. I know I am not having to convince anyone to eat chocolate as I might a cauliflower or some lentils, but it is still reassuring to know that good quality chocolate doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure. Far from it.

The health benefits of this bitter pod boil down to their polyphenol content. Unbelievably a small square of dark chocolate has twice the amount of heart-protecting and cancer fighting polyphenols as a glass of finest cabernet sauvignon, and about as much as in a mug of properly brewed leaf green tea. Even well-made milk chocolate, derided as a poor relation, has some. Although there are numerous polyphenols in chocolate it is the catechins that are of most interest. This makes them actually quite similar to the very virtuous green tea. In fact, as recounted in the book Foods To Fight Cancer, the antioxidant activity of a cup of quality hot chocolate is five times greater than in black tea, three times that of green and twice as much as a glass of red wine.

What does all of this antioxidant activity do for us? Well, it helps to prevent cardiovascular disease by relaxing blood vessels, lowering blood cholesterol and blocking the formation of arterial plaques. And, to which many can attest, it is confirmed that chocolate actively reduces stress – by lowering cortisol levels. Interestingly, high levels of cortisol are linked with abdominal weight gain. Dark chocolate is good for your waistline: go figure.

Chocolate’s cancer-fighting credentials are only just being studied but are almost universally positive. What is known, at least in test tube and animal studies, is that the proanthocyanadins in cocoa can slow the development of certain cancers by cutting off tumour blood supply. It is also likely that these and other compounds may contribute on numerous levels to preventing cancer initiation – the stage when cells are exposed to a carcinogenic substance, triggering irreversible damage to cell DNA that is then copied. How amazing is it that there are foods such as chocolate that contribute not only to helping slow a tumour’s growth, but may actively nip it in the bud before it has an opportunity to grow. The power of food never ceases to amaze me.

Now to the recipe, also starring the potent cancer fighter, beetroot. See my “Beetroot Zinger” post for everything you wanted to know about beetroot but were afraid to ask.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake with Chocolate Icing

Probably the favourite food that I bring into the Maggie’s Centre on my Nutrition Workshop days is this, chocolate beetroot cake. Everyone seems to like it, and I guess get a weird kick out of finding out there is a heck of a lot of beetroot in something that tastes very much of chocolate. I usually make the participants try and guess the mystery ingredient: they never do. The beetroot makes the cake so incredibly moist and deepens the colour, but doesn’t add any particular flavour, just some extra nutrients and phytochemicals. Provoke a furious debate by trying this at home.

100g/3.5 oz cocoa powder

200g/7 oz refined spelt flour OR unbleached plain flour (or a combination)

2 tsps baking powder 

150g/5 oz muscovado sugar

300g/11 oz home-cooked beetroot*  (or use vacuum-sealed)

3 eggs

150 ml/5 oz rapeseed oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp dairy or soya milk

50g/1.8 oz dark chocolate, chopped (OR quality chocolate chips OR cocoa nibs)

Icing: 150g/5 oz dark chocolate and a few drops rosewater (optional, but makes it like a Turkish Delight!)

*If using raw beetroot: In a large pan of boiling water, boil the beetroots in their skins until tender when pierced with a knife, 40 minutes usually but older, larger beets may take longer. Let cool and rub away the skins with your fingers or the back of a teaspoon.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Butter and base-line a medium (20cm) cake tin. Sift the cocoa powder, flour and baking powder into a bowl; add the sugar and set aside. Puree or finely grate the beetroot (whether vacuum-sealed or cooked at home). The picture shows raw grated beetroot, but I usually use whizzed up cooked beetroot. In a large bowl, whisk together the beetroot, eggs, vanilla and oil. Fold in the remaining cake ingredients to just combine. You can do all of this in a food processor but it might not be as light. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack. To make the icing, heat the chocolate gently in a double boiler or microwave, mix and cool until spreadable. It makes enough to thinly cover the cake to within a centimetre or so from the edge: use more chocolate if you want a thicker or wider spread of chocolate. I often sprinkle over sugared rose petals (bought) if using the rosewater, otherwise I shave chocolate over the top and serve with berries.

Note 1.You can use grated raw beetroot if you like (it tastes very good), but add about 50 ml of milk.

Note 2. I usually make this as muffins, in which case oil muffin tin holes, and fill ¾ with batter (see bottom photo). Bake for 20 minutes until well-risen and starting to pull away from the tin. Makes 16 muffins (which freeze well without the icing).