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Healthy Christmas Treats

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Based on the concept that cooking is a positive and productive creative medium through which to tackle the challenges of life, Cook First aims to empower people by teaching them to cook simple, nutritious, wholesome meals, while also minimising food wastage.

Spiced Apple & Pecan Tartlets (makes about 10)

These tartlets are a healthy yet delicious alternative to a mince pie; vegan and gluten-free, they are a simple combination of ground pecans, coconut oil, apples sweetened with maple syrup and delicately spiced with nutmeg & cinnamon.

Ingredients:

  • For the pie crust:
  • 1 ½ cups of pecans
  • ¼ cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/3 cup of coconut oil
  • Add a pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • ½ vanilla extract
  • For the filling:
  • 5 medium-sized eating (not cooking) apples
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp arrowroot powder
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup

Method:

1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F degrees.

2. While the oven is heating up, you can make the pie crust. In a food processor, blitz the pecans, desiccated coconut, salt, maple syrup and vanilla. Slowly add the coconut oil until you get the a mixture that starts to stick together – between breadcrumbs and a paste. With a spoon, scoop out the mixture and press about 1 tablespoon’s worth into the cupcake holes, pressing it with your fingers until it moulds all around the sides and base.

3. Grease a cupcake tray with coconut oil.

4. In a large bowl, mix the maple syrup, lemon juice, arrowroot, nutmeg, cinnamon & ginger.

5. Chop up the apples into 1cm chunks (skin on) and place them in a bowl with the maple syrup, lemon juice, arrowroot and spices. Then toss them around so they are well-coated in the spices, before popping them into you’re the tart cases.

6. Place on a middle shelf for about 15 minutes, until the crust starts to golden and the apples become soft. Keep checking the tarts.

7. Once cooked, remove from the oven and drizzle with a tiny bit more maple syrup – about 1 ½ tbsp divided between the 10 tarts. Leave to cool for about 5 minutes, then lift out and enjoy!

N.B. This recipe works best with a shallow cupcake/tart tray – you can use a muffin tray but the recipe will yield fewer tarts.

Raw Christmas Pudding Bites (makes about 20)

These are a wonderful guilt-free snack (apart from the dash of brandy) that can be whipped up in minutes. A simple, nutritious blend of nuts, dried fruit and spices, they make a wonderful healthy treat which will satisfy your Christmas Pudding cravings. They freeze beautifully too, so you can enjoy them well after the festive period is over.
Ingredients:
  • ½ cup of almonds
  • 1/2 cup of brazil nuts or walnuts
  • ½ pecans
  • zest of ½ an orange
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 1/2 mixed spice (ginger, star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon etc.)
  • 5 dried figs
  • 5 unsulphered dried apricots
  • 1 tbsp of agave nectar (or honey)
  • 1/3 cup sultanas
  • 6 medjool dates (pitted)
  • 1 tsp brandy (optional)
  • For the ‘marzipan’ icing:
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (to garnish)
  • 2 cups of blanched almonds (soaked overnight or for at least 4 hours)
  • 1-2 tbsp raw agave nectar (or runny honey)
  • ½ tsp arrowroot powder (to give it a glossy glaze)

Method:

1. Blitz all the ingredients together in a food processor until smooth. Taking a teaspoon, scoop out the mixture and roll into individual balls, one at a time, placing the finished ones on a plate to one side. Once completed, place in the fridge while you make the icing.

2. Drain the almonds and add into a food processor and blitz until they resemble breadcrumbs; then add the agave and arrowroot and continue to blitz until they become a smooth paste.

3. Take pea-sized amounts of the marzipan mixture and flatten with your hands, covering the pudding bites. Garnish with a cranberry and enjoy!

Chocolate, Orange & Chestnut Cake (serves 8)

This is a Christmas favourite of mine – being gluten, dairy and refined sugar-free, it makes a healthier yet still sumptuous alternative to Christmas cake. The combination of fragrant chestnut flour, raw cacao powder and whole oranges, as well as a little bit of fiery ginger, creates a wonderful festive dessert cake: the perfect finale to any Christmas supper.

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium-sized oranges
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 cup of chestnut flour
  • ½ cup raw cacao powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

Method:

1. Simmer in a pot of water, or microwave the oranges (un-pealed) until soft enough to slide a knife through. Drain the water and set to one side. When they have cooled, cut them in half, remove as many pips as you can manage, and then blitz the entire fruit in a blender – the pith and everything.

2. Preheat the oven to 190ºC and grease a 21cm / 8 inch springform tin. I recommend placing a circular sheet of baking paper in the base of the tin as it makes it much easier to remove the cake once cooked.

3. In a bowl, place the dry ingredients – ginger, chestnut flour, cocoa powder and baking powder.

4. Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a bowl, and then add the vanilla extract and – once cooled – the blended orange mixture. Next, stir in the dry ingredients and whisk until well combined.

5. Pour the batter into the greased tin and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out with a few crumbs on. This is a dense cake and isn’t supposed to rise much so don’t worry if it seems like a giant brownie.

6. Remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin. Once cooled, transfer to a plate, dust it with some cacao powder and garnish with candied oranges – and enjoy!

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