Monday, 20 April 2015

Apricot and Muesli Bliss Balls

This week autumn has well and truly arrived with gale force winds and driving rains. Unfortunately the wild weather has arrived at the same time as my holiday week but on the bright side I am lucky to be staying inside whilst the rain pours down outside!

I've just finished my second placement which was my community nutrition/public health placement. I was placed at a not-for-profit charity that aims to promote healthy eating in schools. They do great work including helping canteens to have healthy menus and implementing fruit and veg programs in schools. Indeed the food environment in schools these days has come a long way! I had a fantastic time on placement - I was lucky to do quite a bit of hands-on work, I got to work at a couple of school canteens, and I learnt a lot about the challenges of implementing public health policy.

I made a cardboard cash register - harder than I thought!

Of course, as usual, Mr Duckie and I had our fair share of emergency and drama. A few posts ago I wrote about the breakdown of our old car Jeeves during my first placement. That was a pretty big scare, so what else could happen right?

We were shown what could in fact happen on only the second day of my placement. That morning, Mr Duckie was having a shower and I needed to duck into the bathroom to grab something. As I pushed open the door I thought, why does the door knob feel funny? I kept jiggling the door knob and it felt stiff and unmoveable. Then, for goodness knows what reason, I decided to close the door. Big mistake, as lo and behold, I had locked us into the bathroom.

I had never been in this situation before. My brain took some time to adjust to the situation. The reality took some time to sink in, as I thought that perhaps if I shook the door knob hard enough, it would move. Then I thought I could break the door down. When I realised we were stuck, hysteria started to take hold. Luckily Mr Duckie stayed calm and he tried to figure out a solution.

Luckily the bathroom had windows, albeit very small windows. So I was sent forth to climb out of the window and get help. With a bit of a leg-up from Mr Duckie, I managed to get out, with a few scratches on the way. Now the next challenge - the fence to the front garden was too high for me to climb, as were the fences to the neighbours on both sides. Luckily I found a way to get into my back door neighbour's garden and eventually I got through and knocked on her door!

Give as a gift to those who have been good help!
My back door neighbour, whom I had never met before, turned out to be a very kind and generous lady who was more than willing to help. She helped me to call a locksmith and so eventually we managed to get back into the house and open up the bathroom door. What a relief!

Anyway, in times of unexpected dramas, something sweet is always good to help give an energy boost. Whilst I was on placement, I looked up a number of healthy sweet treat recipes to pass on to schools and parents, and I became quite familiar with the concept of bliss balls!

These balls are very easy to make and only use a few basic ingredients, pretty much just dried apricots, muesli and sesame seeds. Whilst many bliss ball recipes contain nuts, this recipe is nut-free, so can safely be taken to school. They also smell amazing whilst cooking from all the lovely spices added in!

Hope you enjoy this recipe! I'm off to my food service placement next so we shall see what happens then!

Apricot and muesli bliss balls

Adapted from

100g dried apricots
3/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
60g sesame seeds
3 cups natural (untoasted) nut-free muesli

1. Combine apricots, water, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom in a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes or until apricots soften. Uncover and set aside until cool.
2. Place sesame seeds in a pan and toss over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until golden. Place into a bowl to cool down and set aside.
3. Place muesli in bowl of food processor and process until finely chopped. Add apricot mixture and process until a stiff dough forms - you may need to add a bit of extra warm water. Transfer to a bowl.
4. Use teaspoonfuls of mixture to roll into small bowls. Roll in toasted sesame seeds. Place in fridge to firm up a bit then serve.

Makes approx. 30 balls

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Chocolate Caramel Easter Cake

Hello there! Hope you all had a great Easter break! Easter celebrations here in the Duckie household were, naturally, happily full of food!

Easter marks the end of Lent and the end of Lenten fasting. Which for us means celebrating with meat and chocolate!

To mark this special occasion, I got up early on Saturday morning to prepare an Easter chocolate cake for our Easter feast that night. In the weeks leading up to Easter, I began my search for the perfect chocolate celebration cake. I eventually found a very yummy salted caramel chocolate cake recipe and when I saw it I knew that was going to be the one! I carefully prepared for the cake-making by doing a thorough search of my local supermarkets to find suitable Easter-themed chocolate items for decoration (and eating!).

Caramel oozing everywhere, creating a sticky mess!
Salted caramel, whilst being totally delicious, also always turns out to be extremely messy for me! This was only my second time dealing with caramel, but again I found that it managed to go absolutely everywhere! I filled the cake with the caramel mixture but somehow mine did not look thick and gooey like the one in the picture, but more saucy and runny. I realised the next day when I took out my caramel from the refrigerator that it wasn't chilled enough - so if yours is too runny make sure to put it in the fridge for a bit! Anyway, half an hour later, I found all the filling had oozed out! So we ended up putting the caramel on top of the cake as a sauce. I think I may have also overcooked the cake slightly but luckily no one else seemed to mind!

Here are some more pictures of the festivities! First, some mini beef burgers:

Some pigs in blankets (sensing a miniature foods theme here?)

And finally I had also prepared some cherry chocolate truffles the night before, but we were so full that these were barely touched! They did taste very nice the next day though ;)

Hope you've all had your share of yummy Easter chocolates and feasts too! I'm off to work my way through the rest of my Easter chocolate stash ;)

Chocolate Caramel Easter Cake

Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food

115g salted butter, plus extra for greasing
225g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
150ml milk
225g light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs separated
150ml sour cream
200g self-raising flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sea salt crystals
Chocolate bunnies and eggs, to decorate

For the caramel
450g caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
115g salted butter
125ml thickened cream
2 tbsp sour cream

For the chocolate ganache
225g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
250ml thickened cream
Dessertspoon sea salt crystals (or to taste)

1. First, make the caramel. Pour 100ml water into a large saucepan. Add the sugar and golden syrup, gently cook until melted, then turn up the heat a bit and cook until the caramel is a dark golden brown colour. Swirl the pan occasionally to prevent sticking but to not stir (add a few drops of lemon juice if any big crystals are forming). Turn off the heat and carefully whisk in the butter, cream, and sour cream - it will bubble up quite high. Whisk until smooth, then leave to cool slightly set (you may need to put the caramel in the fridge for a bit to make it thicken up). You can make this up to 3 days in advance and chill in the fridge - just gently reheat until soft enough to spread before assembling the cake.
2. For the cake, heat oven to 180 degrees. Grease a 23cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking parchment. Melt the chocolate, butter and milk in a large pan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, then beat in sugar and vanilla. Cool slightly.
3. Beat egg yolks and sour cream together, then mix into chocolate mixture, followed by the flour and baking powder.
4. Whisk egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff peaks form. Stir a third of the egg whites into the cake mix, then gently fold in the rest along with the sea salt.
5. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 40-50 mins until firm to touch. Leave to cool for 20 mins, then remove from tin and finish cooling on a wire rack.
6. For ganache: heat chocolate and cream together over a low heat until chocolate has melted. Pour into a bowl to cool.
7. To assemble: slice cooled cake in half horizontally. Sandwich together with some of your caramel - you may not need it all, but be generous in order to balance the bittersweet ganache topping. Spread ganache over the top of the cake and sprinkle with some sea salt crystals if you like. Decorate with bunnies and eggs.

Cherry Chocolate Truffles

Recipe adapted from

200g dark chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup thickened cream
2 tbsp brandy
20 glace cherries
1/4 cup cocoa powder

1. Combine chocolate and cream in a heatproof, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered on medium (50%) for 2-3 minutes, stirring every minute with a metal spoon, or until melted and smooth. Stir in brandy. Cover. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours or until firm.
2. Line a baking tray or plate with baking paper. Using 1 teaspoon of chocolate mixture at a time, roll into balls.
3. Flatten balls using palm of hand. Wrap discs around cherries and form into a ball. Place cocoa into a shallow dish. Roll balls in cocoa to coat. Place on prepared tray or plate. Refrigerate until firm.