Monday, 30 September 2013

2013 Goal Review (Q3)



I have no idea how we're already two thirds of the way through the year already. Where has 2013 gone?

Artistic goals - half-finished projects to complete

Two novels half-finished:

I've been doing a lot of plotting and planning around these (and one other. Shh, don't tell anyone), but haven't got so far as finishing anything yet. I'm still optimistic for getting one done by the end of the year.

A book of cookie recipes to finish:

Oh, dear. Can someone just remind me to hit 'publish' on this project, please...?

An incomplete crochet jacket:

This still needs finishing. At the moment it's sitting in a box, so I keep forgetting about it.

Avoid starting anything new until the above are finished:

I might have accidentally signed up for an archery course. It was only one evening a week for six weeks, though, so it hardly counts... right? Well, apart from the fact that now I want to practice archery, as well as the Turkish, and all the other things... okay, perhaps this goal hasn't been a resounding success, but just think how much I might have taken on if I hadn't aimed to reduce my new commitments...

Health goals

Learn to run at least 5k:

I went running! In fact I've been a few times, and am more or less able to run 5k now (on a good day). Hopefully I'll manage to keep this up despite the onset of winter, and I'd like to get to the stage where I can more reliably manage a longer distance.

Keep my asthma under control:

I'm still taking my inhalers; at my last check-up the doctor even suggested I could try cutting back on the amounts, although I'm not quite sure about that at the moment. I've felt the running has been pushing my lungs, but I'm sure that can only be good for me in the long term.

Keep doing the physio exercises for my back & knees:

I'm not managing to do this quite as often as I would like, but I'm still keeping up reasonably well. I'm trying to find a good way of tracking my progress and keeping myself in line, but I haven't got a reliable system in place yet.

Cookery goals

My foodie goal for the year is to make something new every week. At the end of March I was up to 12, and by the mid-way point I was ahead of myself at 36. I've now raced past 52. I would have happily counted my unsuccessful marshmallow experiment towards my goal, even though I didn't get it right - not because I need it to make up the numbers (obviously) but because I think it's in keeping with the spirit of the challenge. Here's what I've added in this quarter:
  1. Chocolate mousse pots
  2. Marlborough buns
  3. Halloumi salad
  4. Vietnamese noodle soup
  5. Vietnamese spring rolls
  6. Chocolate lime cups
  7. Chelsea buns
  8. Cranberry gin
  9. Lebanese flatbread
  10. Orange & olive oil cake
  11. Blackberry & vanilla jam
  12. Coffee & walnut brownies
  13. Mexican macaroni cheese
  14. Cranberry & walnut blondies
  15. Blackberry & blueberry streusel cake
Reading goals

Reduce my TBR pile:

I haven't specifically read any more of the books I'd designated as part of this challenge, this quarter. I have been making good progress on some others which weren't on the list, though (including a few more recent purchases).

Reread some old favourites:

I reread Redwall, one of my childhood favourites. I'm not sure I loved it enough as an adult to go back and reread the whole series (and there are new ones which have been published since I was a kid), but it was nice to rediscover one of the books that introduced me to the fantasy genre.

Be more disciplined about NetGalley:

This is still going well, and I'm consistently keeping my number of outstanding reviews below ten (which seems a reasonable figure, considering how many books I'm usually reading at one time, and how long it takes to write up a review).

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Raspberry Jam (with natural pectin)



Raspberry Jam

I've been having great fun experimenting with different flavours of jam recently. Raspberry jam is one of my favourites, so of course that was high on my list to make myself.

Although we were given three raspberry canes earlier this year, the shock of being transplanted meant we didn't get a huge harvest - and the twenty or thirty berries that we picked went straight from cane to mouth. So I wasn't able to make home-grown jam this year, and had to settle for punnets from the supermarket instead.

This jam has a beautiful raspberry colour, and it's bursting with summer flavour. I love it with the seeds in, but if you wanted a smooth jelly you could strain the fruit after cooking, but before adding the sugar.  I prefer to add some apple for a natural source of pectin, rather than using sachets of pectin or expensive "jam making" sugar.

Blackberry jamAre you interested in learning to make your own jam? Or just looking for more yummy recipes with jam as an ingredient? Click here for jam-making tips and a collection of related recipes.

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry Jam Recipe
Makes 2x 1lb jars

400g (14oz) raspberries
half a large cooking apple
4tbsp (¼cup) water
1tbsp lemon juice
400g sugar
  1. Sterilise your jam jars, for example by part-filling clean jars with water and standing them in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes, or running them through a dishwasher cycle.
  2. Put a small plate in the freezer.
  3. Wash the raspberries, and grate the apple (including the skin, but not the core) with a fine grater.
  4. Boil the raspberries and apple for 5 minutes in a mixture of water and lemon juice.
  5. Add the sugar, and stir until dissolved.
  6. Increase the heat, and boil vigorously until setting point is reached. You want to get to 104°C (220°F) on a sugar thermometer, then check the set by dropping a little jam onto the frozen plate. If the texture of the cold jam is gelatinous, then it's ready; if it's liquid, keep boiling. It took me 20-30 minutes per batch to reach this stage.
  7. Decant the jam into the sterilized jars, and top with waxed paper before sealing.


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Cranberry, Walnut & Chocolate Blondies



Cranberry & Walnut Blondies

I'm a huge fan of the gorgeous, gooey texture of a good brownie. I'll confess that when I first heard of blondies, I was puzzled. Why would you want to take a perfectly wonderful thing like a brownie and then remove the chocolate? When I actually tried one, though, I was won over to the idea.

The most common additions to blondies seem to be white chocolate, toffee, and nuts... in keeping with the "blonde" theme, I guess. I was feeling less traditional, and I wanted a less sweet, more grown-up combination of flavours when I made these.

I got the idea of adding walnuts from this recipe for chewy chunky blondies, and cranberries just seemed like the perfect addition to the mix. Of course, I also had to include some chocolate, but I went for dark chocolate chips with 70% cocoa.

Cranberry & Walnut Blondies

Cranberry & Walnut Blondies

Cranberry, Walnut & Chocolate Blondies
Makes 12 large or 48 bite-sized blondies

250g (1½ cups) soft brown sugar
135g (½ cup) white granulated sugar
250g (2 US sticks) butter
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla essence
330g (2 cups) plain flour
1½tsp baking powder
50g (½ cup) walnuts
140g (1 cup) cranberries
190g (1 cup) dark chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F).
  2. Line a large (9x13in), deep baking pan with greaseproof paper.
  3. Cream the butter together with the sugars (if your butter is straight from the fridge, you might want to soften it with 10-20 seconds in the microwave).
  4. Beat in the eggs and vanilla essence.
  5. Fold the flour and baking powder into the mixture.
  6. Roughly chop the walnuts.
  7. Stir the nuts, cranberries and chocolate chips into the batter.
  8. Spoon the batter into the baking pan (mine was too thick to pour!) and smooth the top with a spatula.
  9. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean and the top is starting to crack.
  10. Cool in the tin for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
  11. Slice when cold.


Monday, 23 September 2013

Veggie Breakfast Burritos



I was introduced to the idea of the breakfast burrito when we ate at Cafe 18 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Naturally, since Pennsylvania is quite a long way from home, I wanted to learn to make these for myself.

My first attempt at recreating this recipe wasn't terribly successful - I made way too much filling, I didn't know how to roll burritos, and the mixture didn't feel like quite the right balance of ingredients. I did, however, make notes on what I thought might work better. And thanks to a tip from the wonderful Rosaria that I should use warm and slightly damp tortillas, I even had an idea how to stop them breaking up when I rolled them.

My second attempt was far more successful; I made four, and we ate them all up in no time. Next time around I'm going to do loads more and freeze batches. Since you need to heat them in the microwave (or oven) anyway to warm through all the ingredients, it wouldn't be hard to reheat them from frozen, and it would make this much more convenient for a quick breakfast. (I'll update this post with my freezing & defrosting instructions once I've tested it out.)

You'll want to pick firm sausages that aren't going to collapse when you chop them; this is a nice contrast of texture with the soft vegetables. I think it could also work really well to include a few chunks of fresh tomato, and maybe some herbs.

Breakfast Burrito

Veggie Breakfast Burritos
Makes 4

2tbsp sunflower oil
6 chestnut mushrooms
1 red onion
1 sweet red pepper
1 cooked potato (about 1 cup; I used a leftover baked potato, but boiled/steamed would also be fine)
2 vegetarian sausages (I used Quorn)
4 eggs
100g cheese
4 large tortilla wraps

  1. Chop the mushrooms, onion, pepper, and potato into small piece (about 1cm cubes)
  2. Heat 2tsp of the oil in a large frying pan, and fry the vegetables until soft.
  3. Heat another teaspoon of oil, fry the sausages according to the packet instructions, then set aside.
  4. Add the remaining oil to the pan, bring up to temperature, and add the eggs. Scramble lightly as they cook.
  5. Chop the cooled sausages into chunks, and grate the cheese.
  6. Gently warm the tortillas - a few seconds in the microwave should do it.
  7. Divide the ingredients equally between the four tortillas.
  8. Arrange the filling in a line down the middle of the tortilla, leaving 4-5cm clear at each end of the line, then fold one edge of the tortilla along the length of the filling. Turn in the two adjacent edges, then continue to roll in the direction of your first fold. (There's a really simple video demo which helped me figure it out, so if I haven't explained this well, you could do worse than check this out.)
  9. Finally, when you're ready to eat them, microwave the burritos to reheat the fillings. I found about 1 minute was perfect to warm them from the fridge (with a 900W microwave).


Friday, 20 September 2013

Microwave Jam Sponge - Pudding in 10 Minutes



Sometimes you want a traditional, comforting pud... well, the nights are drawing in! And there's nothing like lashings of custard to warm you up of an evening. Sometimes, though, you only realise dessert is needed after you've already finished cooking for the night.

You can be eating this sponge within ten minutes of thinking of it, which makes it perfect for sudden dessert cravings. Because it's cooked in the microwave, in under 5 minutes, you don't have to preheat the oven or hang around waiting for it to cook. And since the fruit component is actually jam, it doesn't require any ingredients I wouldn't usually have in my pantry.

If you're feeling the need for chocolate, just add a tablespoon of cocoa powder along with the flour (and you could try replacing the jam with nutella, although jam and chocolate works pretty well, too).

Blackberry jamAre you interested in learning to make your own jam? Or just looking for more yummy recipes with jam as an ingredient? Click here for jam-making tips and a collection of related recipes.

Jam sponge

Quick & Easy Jam Sponge
Serves 2

50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) caster sugar
1 medium egg
½tsp vanilla essence
50g (2oz) self-raising flour
2-3tbsp jam (this time I used homemade blackberry jam)
  1. Cream together the butter and sugar in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Add the vanilla essence and beat in the egg.
  3. Fold the flour into the mixture.
  4. Place the jam in the base of a microwaveable bowl.
  5. top with sponge mixture
  6. microwave for about 3-5 minutes, until the sponge is springy and set (it took 4 mins in my 900W microwave)
  7. Serve immediately, with custard or a scoop of ice-cream.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Coffee & Walnut Brownies



Coffee & walnut brownies

I'm picky about my coffee. I love to chill out in coffee shops, and all sorts of factors go into defining the perfect café (atmosphere and cake are near the top of the list, obviously), but all else being equal there are some brands of coffee that will make me turn towards one café over another.

Puro is one that I'm particularly fond of, being both fairtrade and great tasting. When they offered to send me a hamper of samples to try at home, I naturally jumped at the chance. I've loved their coffee for a while, but I've never seen packets in the shops so I didn't know it was available in retail sizes - however they do have an online shop, where I expect I'll be stocking up in future.

More information on Puro's social and ecological policies is available on their YouTube channel, where you can learn about their purchase of extensive rainforest tracts, their huge solar installations, or tree planting activities. Meanwhile, you'll just have to take my word for it about the taste, at least until you can pop into one of the many coffee shops serving their blends (they supply all National Trust cafés, amongst others).

Puro coffee hamper

As much as I love drinking coffee, I think I might love baking with it even more. I made these lush coffee and walnut brownies using Puro's Fuerte blend, a dark and rich roast which has enough body to stand out even when paired with pure dark chocolate. This was also my favourite for drinking, as I do like a robust flavour.

I've had a go-to chocolate brownie recipe for some time now, but instead of adapting that recipe, I decided to go with a vegan variant for today. When it comes to making coffee cakes, the advantage of many vegan cake recipes is that they already contain water as an ingredient - making it simple to substitute coffee for water in a way you just can't do with egg-based recipes. And since I also have several vegan and lactose-intolerant friends, I'm always looking to expand my vegan repertoire. These brownies may be slightly less gooey than my regular recipe, but they definitely have that distinctive fudgey brownie texture.

Coffee & walnut brownies

Coffee & Walnut Brownies
Makes 15 squares

250ml (1 cup) strong coffee
150g dark chocolate
150g (5oz) walnuts
250g (9oz) plain flour
350g (12oz) light muscovado sugar
50g (2oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
1tsp baking powder
½tsp salt
250ml sunflower oil (or other neutral-flavoured oil)
½tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), and line a large (9x13in), deep baking tin with greaseproof paper.
  2. Brew the coffee (I used 2tbsp of dark roast coffee grounds in a single-cup cafetiere), and set aside to cool.
  3. Melt the chocolate over a bain marie.
  4. Roughly chop the walnuts.
  5. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  6. Add the cooled coffee, oil, and vanilla to the bowl. Stir until there are no dry lumps remaining.
  7. Fold in the walnuts and the melted chocolate. It won't be easy to see when the chocolate is well distributed throughout the already rich brown batter, so give it a few extra stirs for luck.
  8. Pour the batter into the baking tin, and smooth the surface with a spatula.
  9. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  10. Cool on a wire rack before cutting into squares.


Monday, 16 September 2013

Energy Bars Unwrapped: The Ultimate Review Round-Up




IntroductionFruit BarsCereal BarsProtein Bars

Energy bars

I've always found energy bars a very useful kind of product. I have a tendency to slump suddenly and without warning if I forget to eat, and I can go from "slightly flagging" to "irritable and no use to anyone" in a heartbeat, so it's always been important to me to have an emergency bite to eat. I also find them invaluable for travel: whether it's a short city break or a month-long trip filled with hiking and camping, there's a spot in my case marked out for a few handy snacks. In all of these cases I need something that's ready to eat, tastes great, and won't easily be crushed beyond recognition in the bottom of my handbag. It's easy enough to make your own raw fruit & nut bars in the kitchen, but not when you're away from home - and sometimes you just want someone else to do the work for you.

As with any of these things, you never really know what's in the packet until you open it, so I thought it might be useful to take the wrappers off a range of different bars and compare what's inside.
If you spend enough time staring at energy bars, you start to realise that they can be split into a few common types. There are the compressed fruit bars (usually heavy on the dates), the cereal style (often packed with oats or puffed rice), and then there are protein-enriched bars which might taste as though they belong in either of the other categories or something quite different.

The market in the UK has been expanding hugely over the past few years, and there's now a much broader range of flavours available across all of these categories. I divided my product reviews along these lines, because otherwise this was going to be a very long page. (See them here: fruit barscereal barsprotein bars.)

Recently, I've also started thinking about the sports nutrition angle. For an emergency pick-me-up, any source of a few calories will do, though obviously I have a preference for natural ingredients and a minimum of added sugar and oil. But for serious exercise, you need to be a bit more deliberate, especially when it comes to getting extra protein. This prompted me to look more deeply into the different products available, and how they relate to one another in terms of health benefits.

Special Diets

I've tried to determine whether each range is suitable for vegan, gluten-free, or nut-free diets. Take a look at the following table for a summary. These are based on ingredients, so if you have a serious allergy they might not be suitable due to manufacturing contamination - but in that case you're probably already accustomed to checking out everything you eat.


Disclaimers

Products were sampled during August 2013, and nutritional information was obtained from packaging at that time. Protein was calculated as 4 calories per gram. I'm a consumer, not a dietician, so these posts just represent the information I was able to gather for myself. However, I hope it might be useful to someone!

I wrote to a lot of companies to ask for samples of different flavours, in order to afford such a comprehensive overview, so some of these bars were provided to me by manufacturers and their PR companies. Opinions are my own.


IntroductionFruit BarsCereal BarsProtein Bars


Protein Bars Reviewed




IntroductionFruit BarsCereal BarsProtein Bars

I've somewhat arbitrarily defined 'high protein' bars as those ranges which derive more than 15% of calories from protein (calculated as 4 calories per gram of protein).

Clif bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
357 - 38115.7 - 16.8%

Chocolate Chip • White Chocolate Macadamia
Chocolate Almond Fudge • Crunchy Peanut Butter
 Blueberry Crisp • Oatmeal Raisin Walnut

Clif Bars are available in six different flavours (although a quick look at their UK and US websites tells me that the Americans get a LOT more choice at the moment!). At 68g they're one of the heaviest bars on the market, so they pack a calorific punch, and they're surprisingly sweet. I'd struggle to eat them as a snack if I wasn't expending a lot of energy, but I bet they'd be perfect for a walking holiday. I was impressed that even the chocolate varieties were vegan; the Chocolate Almond Fudge feels particularly indulgent.

Nakd crunch bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
436 - 45520.3 - 21.2%

Apple Crunch • Strawberry Crunch
Banana Crunch • Cocoa Crunch

The Nakd Crunch range is a spin-off from the already popular Nakd bars, and like the original range they are largely based on dates. The added crunch comes from protein-heavy soya crunchies, and the bars also contain cashew nuts and a small amount of other fruits to give each kind its own flavour. The Strawberry Crunch is probably my favourite, although I'm also a big fan of the Apple.

Pulsin' protein bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
431 - 45121.4 - 28.7%

Vanilla Chocolate Chip • Protein Sport
Maple & Peanut Protein

The Pulsin' Protein range has three flavours, of which I'm particularly enamoured of the Vanilla Choc Chip. This bar has a dense, fudge-like texture and a nutty taste (its first ingredient is almonds; others in the range are based on peanuts), and it isn't too sweet. This bar has a unique style which sets it apart from the other products on the market, and personally it's one of my favourites. I can also imagine it would be very efficient for travelling, as it packs a lot of energy into a small package, and would probably be quite impervious to getting squashed in a suitcase. They also have the highest proportion of protein.

Trek protein bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
300 - 35218.1 - 21.3%

Peanut & Oat • Mixed Berry • Cocoa Brownie

Trek Protein Bars are made from a mixture of dried fruit, oats, and added protein in the form of soya crisps. They're comparatively quite dry, so I find them hard to eat without a lot of water, but the taste is good and I think they'd travel well as they're quite dense.

Trek protein flapjack

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
433 - 47115.3 - 18.7%

Original Oat • Cocoa Coconut • Morning Berry
Oat Raisin • Cocoa Oat • Banana Bread

Trek Protein Flapjack is a flapjack first, health product later. Of course, the main ingredient is oats, but for added protein these are enriched with soya crunchies (the same, I presume, as those in the Nakd Crunch bars). Some flavours are topped with chocolate, which is very tasty but has a tendency to melt into a sticky mess on a warm day. They're all vegan.


IntroductionFruit BarsCereal BarsProtein Bars


Cereal Bars Reviewed




IntroductionFruit BarsCereal BarsProtein Bars

I'm using 'cereal bars' as a catch-all term for bars based on rice, oats, and even seeds. Generally, these are bound together with a mixture of sugar syrup and oil.

9Bar (sweet)

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
523 - 57610.9 - 14.0%

Original •  Peanut • Nutty • Flax
Fruity • Pumpkin • Organic

The 9Bar range is made of 30 - 60% seeds (the difference is made up with nuts in the nutty ranges), bound together with a little oil and sugar. The Peanut and Fruity bars are vegan; the rest of the current range contains honey. Most of the flavours in this range have a carob topping, which I was surprised to find I really enjoyed. I didn't much like carob when I was first introduced to it as a "chocolate substitute", but in its own right it's rather tasty, and the flavour works well with the seeds. They're not too sweet, which is also a bonus.

9Bar (savoury)

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
546 - 55314.3%

Sweet Chilli  • Anglesey Sea Salt • Cracked Black Pepper

The 9Bar Savoury range is the only savoury product I encountered on the whole of my energy bar quest, so I was particularly happy to discover them: sometimes, you just don't want any extra sugar. These vegan bars are 75-80% seeds, and the Sweet Chilli bar has loads of spices to ramp up the flavour. I can see these becoming a firm favourite of mine. They're quite high calorie, but they have a decent amount of protein, and loads of important micronutrients.

Eat Natural bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
408 - 4924.6 - 10.3%

Almonds, Sultanas & Hazelnuts
Cranberries, Macadamia Nuts & Dark Chocolate
Peanuts, Cranberries & Milk Chocolate
...plus 10 other flavours

You can almost read the ingredients of an Eat Natural bar by looking through the window of the packet: puffed rice, whole nuts, and chunks of fruit are the order of the day. The only down-side of this is that the reason everything is visible is that it's stuck together with syrup: they're all very sticky and sweet, with a correspondingly higher calorie count compared to similar bars. Several of the bars feature as much as 20% chocolate, which is delicious as a treat (the Cranberry, Macademia & Dark Chocolate is my favourite) but you wouldn't want to eat it every day. None of these bars are vegan - there's honey even in dark chocolate varieties, which is a shame.

Dorset Cereals bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
364 - 4594.5 - 7.4%

The Dorset Cereal Bars are a chewy cereal bar made with a mixture of oats, rice, and wheat flakes. My favourite flavour was the Blackcurrant, Cherry & Raspberry bar, which was packed with juicy, tangy fruit pieces, which offset the sweetness. Unfortunately this range isn't vegan, as the recipe contains butter (and in some cases honey).

Wild Trail bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
325 - 3326.2 - 6.8%

Cranberry • Raspberry  • Orange & Apricot • Cherry

Wild Trail Bars straddle the fence between cereal and fruit bars, as they consist of grains stuck together with a puree of dates and raisins. The manufacturers, however, have chosen to market them as a cereal bar and to emphasise the wholegrain content. My favourite was the Orange & Apricot flavour, which has a wonderful citrus taste.


IntroductionFruit BarsCereal BarsProtein Bars


Fruit Bars Reviewed




IntroductionFruit BarsCereal BarsProtein Bars

Fruit-based bars are generally based on dates, often with apricots or raisins. Added bulk and texture usually comes from ground nuts or oats. This seems to be one of the fastest-growing sections of the market, and there are dozens of flavours available from a number of popular brands, with new ones being launched all the time.

Beond bars

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
361 - 38011.6 - 12.6%

Blueberry • Apple Cinnamon • Acai Berry • Raw Choc

Beond Bars are an organic blend of dried fruits and almonds. I particularly loved the Blueberry flavour, which tastes as fresh and juicy as if you'd just picked the fruit from a bush yourself. The whole range is raw, vegan, and gluten free. As well as full-sized (35g) bars, Beond have also just launched a range of mini bars, at just 15g and under 60 calories, which are truly bite-sized. This seems like a really neat option to have available, and presently this is the only brand to offer a mini snack size.

Bounce ball

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
428.68.9 - 11.1%

Fudgie Walnut • Cashew & Pecan • Spirulina & Ginseng
(plus three non-veggie flavours)

Three of the current range of Bounce Balls are suitable for vegetarians & vegans; the inclusion of whey protein in the other varieties means they can't guarantee they're veggie. Bounce balls are packed with nuts, rice, oats, and seeds, all stuck together with fruit. They have a great texture, and the (inevitably slightly squashed!) ball shape makes them stand out.

Braw bar

 Calories per 100g  Calories from Protein 
322 - 3326.9 - 8.5%

Strawberry • Apple & Pear
Cocoa & Orange • Blackcurrant

Braw bars come in four bright, fruity flavours. Each contains about 60% fruit and 23% oats, with the remainder made up mostly of rice starch, almonds, and flax seeds for extra nutritional benefit. All the bars are vegan and gluten free. These are a little drier than most of the fruit-based bars, but they taste really fresh.

Frank bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
333 - 35213.1 - 13.3%

Blueberry & Chocolate • Strawberry & Chocolate
Orange & Chocolate • Oat & Chocolate
Double Chocolate

With a thick chocolate topping, Frank Bars feel more like eating a chocolate bar than a healthy fruit snack - but the vegan chocolate is actually based on coconut, and they're surprisingly high in protein. The ingredients include almost 50% dried fruit, with about 10% oats (except the Oat & Chocolate flavour, which naturally has more). I really love these bars, especially the Strawberry flavour, although the fact that they feel so indulgent means I wouldn't want to eat them every day.

Nakd bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
415 - 4507.2 - 10.6%

Pecan Pie • Ginger Bread • Cashew Cookie
Berry Delight • Rhubarb & Custard • Caffé Mocha
Cocoa Delight • Cocoa Orange • Cocoa Mint

Nakd bars are comprised of approximately half fruit (mostly dates) and half nuts. The ingredient list is proudly minimalist, and contains only things you might have in your kitchen cupboards. The whole range is vegan, raw, and gluten free, and there are loads of flavours to choose from. I particularly love the subtle kick of ginger in the Ginger Bread bar, and the Pecan Pie bar is another favourite.

Bliss Bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
365 - 3904.1 - 8.8%

Berry Bliss • Bliss Bar • Raw Choc Brownie
Energy Bomb • Energy Bomb Banana

Pulsin' Bars are packed with raw cocoa, as well as dates, nuts, and rice. They have a very dense texture, and an unusual range of flavours, which makes them quite different to other bars on the market.

Raw bar

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
405 - 4335.5 - 8.9%

Apricot & Almond • Date & Brazil

Raw Bars are another date-based bar. I loved the large chunks of nuts, both for the texture and the burst of distinctive flavour in each mouthful. At the moment there are only two varieties in this range, but given the number of different Energy Balls (see below) available from the same company, I'd be surprised if this didn't increase soon.

Raw balls

Calories per 100gCalories from Protein
309 - 4645.2 - 13.5%

Hemp Protein Balls • Fruity Coconut Balls
Spirulina Orange Balls • Zesty Lemon & Chia Balls
 Blissed Chocada Truffles

These Raw Energy Balls look more like elegant truffles than like an energy snack, and in their smart presentation boxes I don't think they'd survive well out and about! The range consists of date-based balls, with various added ingredients including nuts, coconut, cocoa, chia, hemp, and spirulina. As well as looking quite unlike most energy bars, they're also the least consistent range in terms of nutritional profile - furthering my impression that taste (and style!) was prioritised over nutrition. Unsurprisingly, the Hemp Protein Balls are the one with comparatively higher protein (at 13.5% this was definitely an outlier, although still not quite high enough to break through into my protein bars category). I particularly liked the citrus varieties, especially the Zesty Lemon; even if they're not the most practical, they are very yummy.


IntroductionFruit BarsCereal BarsProtein Bars


Friday, 13 September 2013

London Cake & Bake Show



Cake & Bake Show - London 2013

Today, I went down to London for the first day of the Cake & Bake Show. Filling the main hall at the Earls Court exhibition centre, this was the biggest food show I've been to. And, since it's devoted entirely to baking, I was prepared for it to also be far and away the sweetest. (Thankfully there were a few savoury stalls, too, because after a couple of hours of sugary samples I was desperate for a break.)

In general, I try to adopt a strategy of seeing everything before buying anything - but even with smaller shows I often struggle to find my way back to the things I wanted to get. So although it seems like a good idea, this doesn't always work out for me in practice, and my guard slipped a couple of times as we wandered the aisles. (It's definitely a good strategy, though, if you're organised enough. A couple of times we came across very similar products from two or more different stalls, sometimes at a rather different price.)

There was a good mixture of stands featuring everything from pre-made baked goods to kitchen equipment, unusual ingredients, and decorating supplies. Brands ranged from behemoths like Lakeland and Sainsburys, down to tiny artisan bakers, and even Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital who were promoting their Bake It Better fundraising campaign.

I came away with a huge bag laden with samples and purchases - Bonne Maman jamSnowdonia cheeseHiggidy pies, assorted sprinkles and extracts, and quite a stack of recipe cards. I bought three chocolate transfer sheets, a kind of product I only learnt about very recently and am really excited to try. I also brought home a couple of brownies and cupcakes to share with Andy this evening; he wouldn't want to spend all day at a baking exhibition, but he certainly doesn't object to sharing my discoveries!

All in all, it was a great show, and the only reason I didn't buy more was because I already own pretty much all the bakeware and sugarcrafting kit you could hope to sell to me. You can find more information on this and forthcoming Cake & Bake Shows on their website.

Cake & Bake Show - London 2013
My press pass!

Cake & Bake Show - London 2013
Multicoloured meringues

Cake & Bake Show - London 2013
Most of the "Wedding Cakes of the Future" exhibits looked a little bit like wedding cakes of the present, but this toppled design was quite striking.

Cake & Bake Show - London 2013
You can never have too many sprinkles, right? These weren't the big jars.

Cake & Bake Show - London 2013
The rainbow of edible glitter was quite tempting.

Cake & Bake Show - London 2013
I was pleased to spot the Clandestine Cake Club stand, since I've been to the Gloucester club a couple of times. Unfortunately it was a bit too crowded to get a decent photo of the display, but that just goes to show how popular the club is these days!

Cake & Bake Show - London 2013
Tilting cakes seem to be all the rage - I loved these purple flowers.

Cake & Bake Show - London 2013
More yummy cupcakes - sadly it wasn't possible to sample them all!


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Montreal Museums & Miscellany



Montreal
Montreal's Olympic Park

We were in Montreal in January, the depths of winter. It was, frankly, too cold to spend much time outside: we went from Metro to patisserie to museum with as little fresh air as possible. Thankfully we were able to purchase a 3-day museum card, giving us entry to a wide variety of attractions - although it did involve a freezing trek from the tourist office to several museums, before we found anywhere that had one in stock.

The botanical gardens had an extensive outside parkland area which when we visited was smothered in snow - and complete with warnings against snowshoeing over what would in summer be beautiful displays of (presumably rather hardy) plants. But there was also an impressive series of glass houses, including a wonderful display of bonsai trees, some of which were over 100 years old.

Montreal

Montreal

Montreal

The beautiful Chateau Dufresne has a striking if somewhat bleak façade, but features luxurious and well-preserved interiors. We weren't really supposed to take photos inside, but I just couldn't resist a couple of shots (no flash, obviously).

Montreal

Montreal

Montreal

The Science Centre was a bit of a mixed bag - we were glad we hadn't paid for entry separately, as a lot of the exhibits seemed to be geared exclusively towards children, but we did have fun in the interactive music exhibit. The permanent collections are minimal, so I'd want to check out what was on before visiting again.

Montreal

As for the ecological museum, quite aside from the amazing geodesic dome around the building, this was a fantastic museum full of thought-provoking exhibits. Did you see my separate post about the recycled fashion exhibit? Other rooms included displays on pollution and climate change, and a water room - set up for kids but still great fun for adults. We were gutted to hear, though, that the museum might be about to close this year.

Montreal

Montreal

Montreal

Montreal

And finally, here are a few more snapshots from our meanderings around the city:

Montreal

Montreal

Montreal

Montreal


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