Dark chocolate fruit and almond bark

So it is the season of giving, but it is also the season of spending. I am a big advocate of crafting and hand-making as much as I can. I love nothing more than creating a delicious recipe or upscaling a piece of furniture myself. You get it exactly how you want it and at a fraction of the price. As well as it being a season for giving to family and close friends, you often find yourself gifting for colleagues and neighbors and these token gestures of goodwill soon add up. (And that’s if you can even think of what to gift!) This dark chocolate and fruit bark is so easy to prepare, so versatile and so cost-effective, yet tastes decadent. It also has the benefit of being homemade, which people always appreciate. You can adapt it to suit any palette and any chocolate preferences. Time to get creative (but without breaking the bank!)

Macros per portion (based on 20 servings): 75kcal; 8.7g carbs, 3.8g fat, 0.9g protein

Ingredients

  • 200g good quality dark chocolate (I used Trader Joe’s Belgian dark chocolate)
  • 170g almonds
  • 60g raisins
  • 50g dried cherries
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

Method

  1. Roughly chop the almonds and set aside.
  2. Break up the chocolate into a medium, microwave safe bowl and microwave for 45 seconds.
  3. Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir the chocolate thoroughly. Note: it is very easy to burn chocolate in the microwave. Chocolate deceptively holds its shape and a few seconds too long can ruin a whole bowl of chocolate. Instead of microwaving, you can melt it over a pan of boiling water on the stove top. If you decide to use milk or white chocolate instead of dark, please be aware that these chocolates are much harder to work with due to their lower cocoa solids.
  4. Return the bowl to the microwave and continue to melt the chocolate in 20 second intervals, stirring thoroughly after each burst in the microwave. The heat from the chocolate will continue to melt it, even after it has been removed from the microwave.
  5. Once the chocolate has melted, stir in the roughly chopped almonds, cherries, raisins and almond extract until they are all combined.
  6. Place a sheet of baking paper in a small baking tin and pour the chocolate mixture on top. The chocolate mixture should be glossy rather than dull (dull indicates it may be burnt).
  7. Transfer to the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to cool and harden.
  8. Remove from the refrigerator and break into segments.
  9. Place in festive bags to gift or display on a fancy plate to accompany festive drinks and coffees at the end of a get together!

The options for this are endless. For a cereal lover, why not add in crushed cornflakes? You could sub the fruit for crushed candy canes and peppermint extract to create another seasonal favorite.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

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Three Ingredient 16kcal Cranberry Sauce

I am not normally one for fruity sauces with savory meals, but there is something about the sharp tang of cranberries that really appeals to me. It has become a staple of our Christmas Day lunch to accompany the roast turkey and veggies, but, I probably prefer it more teamed with melted Brie, turkey and arugula on a crusty, seeded roll. At this time of year, cranberry sauce can be found in abundance at the supermarkets, but they are often high in refined sugar and sporting a very suspicious texture. This cranberry sauce is neither. It maintains the sharp zing of the cranberries with just enough sweetness to stop you making those tart faces! It also has a texture of a homemade jam or purée and can equally be enjoyed as a topping to ice-creams and other sweet dishes. It is so simple to make and can be stored, refrigerated for about 2 weeks.

Macros per portion (based on 15 servings): 16kcal; 4.2g carbs, 0g fat, 0.1g protein

Ingredients

  • 12oz bag of fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 4 fl oz fresh orange juice
  • 4 fl oz water
  • 15 single serve packets (15 tsp) granulated sweetener of choice

Method

  1. In a small saucepan, bring the water and orange juice to the boil.
  2. Turn the heat down to medium, add in the sweetener and stir thoroughly.
  3. Pour in the cranberries carefully and stir.
  4. Cook the cranberries until most of them burst (this is personal preference, depending on whether you want a smooth or chunky sauce. The more cranberries that burst, the smoother your sauce will be). You will need to monitor the sauce and stir frequently to avoid it sticking. Cooking time is approximately 10 minutes.
  5. Reduce the heat and cook for a further 5 minutes, to allow the sauce to begin to thicken.
  6. Turn off the heat and allow to cool completely before transferring to a dish and refrigerating. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.
  7. Enjoy on Christmas Day, in sandwiches…or even as a tart topper to a dessert!

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Baked Brussel Sprouts Festive Omlette

Brussel sprouts. You either love them or you hate them. They remind me of being part of the Christmas dinner as a child, and looking back now, I am not too sure why they were there?! They always came in huge packs and you always had to put a few on your plate – and they were always the one aspect of Christmas dinner that remained on its own serving plate for leftovers! Needless to say, they were not something that any of my family readily enjoyed, but, year after year, they showed up at the table! Instead of boiling them whole, I find panfrying shavings makes these vegetables entirely different and incredibly tasty!

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Macros per portion (based on 2 servings): 184kcal; 26p, 18c, 0f

Ingredients

  • 350g brussel sprouts, roughly chopped
  • 200g plum/cherry tomatoes
  • handful of fresh cilantro
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder

Method

  1. Heat a large non-stick pan over a medium heat.
  2. Add in the brussel sprouts and saute for approximately 10 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure all of them soften.
  3. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the brussel sprouts, enabling the liquid from the tomatoes to help soften the brussel sprouts further. Cook for a further 2 – 3 minutes.
  4. Add in the cilantro, black pepper, cumin, chili powder and egg whites. Cook until the omlette is cooked underneath (you will be able to tell when the edges become crispy and start to come away from the pan).
  5. Transfer the omlette to the oven and turn on the broil setting. Cook for about 3 minutes – until the top of the omlette is slightly golden and the omlette is cooked all the way through.
  6. Enjoy hot, but equally as good reheated. I ate mine with sardines, but would also be delicious with chestnuts, salsa and crusty bread.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Life through the Eyes of an Upholder: My Takeaways from ‘The Four Tendencies’ by Gretchen Rubin

I have been interested in human behaviour, body language and the implicit nature of communication for as long as I can remember. My parents often tell me that as a toddler, I was happy just to watch and observe a room of adults. Still, now, I often take a back seat in large group settings and observe the dynamics. As I have matured and gained more life experience, I try to ‘do’ things with my observations – I seek answers; reasons why people behave as they do. I also use these experiences to model my reactions to scenarios. I can only attribute the more proactive approach as a way of trying to assimilate to the American culture. Emigrating is more than simply moving your physical presence and belongings, it is an adjustment to a whole new way of going about life. The Floridian population conduct conversations and social situations in a drastically different way to the UK, so learning how to both respond and behave in a group is like starting from a scribble (not quite scratch, there are some definite foundations there!)

I think I am quite good at reading people and modifying the way I communicate in order to appease a wide variety of audiences. I studied Communication at university and found the subject matter fascinating. It made me a lot more self-reflective and also a lot more understanding of humankind. And when the series ‘Lie to Me’ aired, well, that was a dream come true!

There is so much material out there on emotional intelligence and personalities, and rightly so, as both shape everything we do. In my enthusiasm for human behaviours, I sought out podcasts I could listen to in the morning when getting ready for work and on my commutes. It was then that I discovered ‘Happier’ by Gretchen Rubin. I have listened to every episode since I discovered the podcast about a year ago. Gretchen and her sister have a lovely relationship and they discuss a multitude of topics in an easy to understand, light-hearted fashion. On the podcast, they constantly refer to the ‘four tendencies’ – a framework developed by Gretchen Rubin which characterizes people into four groups, based on how they respond to both inner and outer expectations. The way in which Gretchen relates situations on the podcast to characteristics of each tendency had me thirsty for more, so when her book ‘The Four Tendencies’ was released, I had to read it. I loved it – it is the kind of book that you can ‘dip in and out’ of – selecting chapters at a time, and it is also the kind of book that you read cover to cover, place on your bookshelf (the cover happens to be very pretty too) and then constantly re-read snippets when life situations happen!

Like Gretchen herself, I am without doubt an upholder – someone who meets both inner and outer expectations. I knew this before I read the book, but upon finishing it, some of my quirks and habits I can now wholly attribute to being an upholder! Here are five “Aha, I am an upholder moments!”:

  1. When people ask me ‘how do you stay motivated?’ Anyone who knows me in person and/or follows my blog, knows I am highly self-motivated. I don’t need external encouragement to complete tasks and I competed in two bodybuilding competitions this year. In fact, I even wrote a blogpost entitled ‘Seek Discipline, Not Motivation’. For me, being disciplined is easy, it isn’t something that I have to really consider or plan for. Reading the Four Tendencies book made me realize that although I may struggle to advise people on how I stay motivated (because I just do), it also made me stop and think and understand that being motivated is a very difficult task for someone else. It made me understand that I need to be more sympathetic to those individuals.
  2. I struggle to watch TV, but can watch a movie at the cinema. People despair that I am never able to discuss what has been aired on TV – I have the attention span of a gnat. I multi-task, I daydream, I surf the Internet on my phone – all the while using the TV as background noise. However, when it comes to the cinema, I can sit and watch an entire film without feeling distracted. Reading Gretchen’s book made me realize that this is the upholder in me – because the rules in the cinema are not to use your phone or talk loudly, I follow them. Having no distractions enables me to enjoy and concentrate throughout the entire film!
  3. I schedule all my time. Work time. Gym time. Sleep time. Casual time. All is scheduled. I have to-do lists at work, different notepads signify different priorities. I have a set workout plan and know exactly what exercises as well as what order, repetitions and weight I will lift before I enter the gym. I have a set time that I have to have my eyes closed by. I plan my weekends. And if anyone saw my notes section on my phone, they would see a multitude of lists, tracking all aspects of my life! As Gretchen pointed out in her book, it does mean that I can be somewhat inflexible. I do struggle with changes in routine, particularly ‘loose plans’. A tentative day out with a venue, but no times or rough idea of how the day will pan out is something which leaves me feeling extremely anxious. Understanding that this is part of ‘me’ was reassuring, but it is also something I am working on. I don’t want to be known as being rigid and an inconvenience to other people’s spontaneity!
  4. I struggle when I make a mistake or something isn’t perfect. I know I am reliable. In fact, being reliable and organized are two traits I both pride myself on and two traits that anyone would describe me would say I am. So when I make a mistake, or, even worse, when I make a mistake and it is pointed out to me, I find it devastating. A small remark about a mistake can reside with me for days, I take it as a personal criticism; an attack on my personality. Gretchen’s book made me reflect that very few people are intentionally malicious and that the best way of dealing proactively with this is to inform people of how that comment made me feel. Although some people will undoubtedly say that it is a severe over-reaction, it will initiate a conversation that could help alleviate this consequence in the future.
  5. I want to do everything myself. I don’t trust that lots of people will accomplish things to the same standard as me and I really struggle with relinquishing control and delegating. This extends beyond delegating work tasks (which I do have a hard time with!) For example, I refuse to let most people spot me in the gym as I think that they will end up doing the rep for me. Recently I have started asking certain people in the gym to spot me as I know testing one rep maxes without a spot is dangerous! Moreover, I know that it would make me very cautious and unable to execute the prescribed lift (I can’t fail a lift can I, I’m an upholder!)

As with any good book about metacognition or human behaviour, reading ‘The Four Tendencies’ made me very self-reflective and it enabled me to apply principles to some of my extreme quirks. I love that I am an upholder, but I also acknowledge that I couldn’t be much more of an upholder if I tried. With that brings the drawbacks of being an upholder, so here is my written commitment to work on those. Maybe one day I will have a day where zero is planned. And maybe one day a rebel will follow all the rules…

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Roasted Chestnut, Mushroom and Ham Pasta Sauce

Roasted chestnuts. Can you beat that festive smell? The very thought of roasted chestnuts brings a smile to my face; it conjurs up childhood memories of being all bundled up in a scarf, gloves and hat and walking the Christmas market with a hot chocolate. Although it is still pumpkin season, I am a huge Christmas lover and any excuse to start the festive season, I am all for it! Mushrooms don’t make for the most aesthetic of meals, but this sauce is so tasty and is perfect with pasta – the pasta I have used below is butternut squash zuchette pasta from Trader Joes.

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Macros per portion (based on 3 servings): 115kcal; 10g protein; 15g carbs, 1g fat

Ingredients

  • 150g mushrooms, sliced
  • 15 roasted chestnuts, peeled
  • 150ml unsweetened almond milk
  • 5 slices of ham
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp sage

Method

  1. In a small, non-stick pan, saute the mushrooms over a medium heat until they begin to soften. Add the rosemary and sage and cook for a couple more minutes, until soft throughout. Leave to cool.
  2. Roughly chop the ham and chestnuts.
  3. Add the ham and chestnuts to a blender along with the almond milk and mushrooms. Blend until smooth.
  4. Transfer the sauce to a small saucepan and cook over a medium/low heat until piping hot.
  5. Serve with pasta, ham, additional chestnuts and veggies for a festive dish!

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

150 Calorie Banana Oatmeal Muffins

Bananas have a very limited shelf life in my opinion, I like to eat them when they are barely yellow and as soon as they have brown spots, I turn my nose up! But, ripe bananas make the perfect basis for baking. As bananas ripen, they become sweeter, meaning that you can often use less (or in this case), no added refined sugars! This muffin recipe would be a perfect breakfast alongside some Greek yoghurt and a good cup of coffee. And at 150 calories, you can’t really go wrong…

Macros per muffin (based on 12 servings): 156kcal; 5.6g protein, 23.3g carbs, 5.1g fat

Ingredients 

  • 250g (approximately two medium) overripe bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 170g all purpose/plain flour
  • 60g old fashioned oats
  • 85g crunchy almond butter (can substitute for peanut butter or for a smooth consistency nut butter)
  • 85g 0% fat Greek yoghurt
  • 5ml (1tsp) vanilla essence
  • 125ml unsweetened almond milk
  • 45g honey
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 350f and line a muffin pan with 12 muffin cases.
  2. Roughly chop up the banana and add to a large bowl.
  3. Measure out the remainder of the ingredients into the bowl.
  4. Using a handheld whisk (or Kitchenaid) whisk the ingredients together on a low speed. Ensure all the mixture is combined, but don’t over whisk as it will break down the ‘crunch’ of the oats.
  5. Spoon out the mixture into the 12 cases – you can fill to the top as the muffins don’t rise too much and have quite a dense texture.
  6. Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 18 – 22 minutes. Take out when the top is slightly golden and a knife will come out clean.
  7. Enjoy warm with Greek yoghurt and sugar free syrup for a higher protein breakfast or enjoy after a savory meal for a 150kcal sweet treat.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Fiery Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

Hands up, I admit it, two years of living in the States and I am all about the pumpkin hype. Most pumpkin flavored things that crop up here are actually fairly sweet, but pumpkin on its own, is actually very savory. It has a great color and texture and this recipe brings out all the warm, cosy feelings that autumn should bring! I have eaten it with chicken and whole grain spaghetti, and I have also sautéed it with Miracle Noodle rice and egg whites. The sauce is quite strong in flavor so is probably too overpowering for fish, but it would also make a great basis for a soup too! Happy pumpkin season! 

Macros per portion (based on 4 servings): 76kcal; 3.1g protein, 14.1g carbs, 1.4g fat

Ingredients

  • 1 can pumpkin (approximately 425g)
  • 1 bag of spinach (approximately 250g)
  • 65g red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 cup (240ml) unsweetened original almond milk

Method

  1. In a large, non-stick pan, fry the onion over a medium heat until it softens.
  2. Add the spinach gradually (a large handful at a time), stirring until it wilts and there is room for more. Be careful to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
  3. Add the pumpkin, almond milk, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and stir until combined.
  4. Turn up the heat until the sauce starts to bubble and add more almond milk (or water) if the sauce is too thick.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes (I find this allows the spices to really ‘knit together’ well).
  6. Serve over chicken, veggies and pasta for a hearty, autumnal meal.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x