Dark Chocolate Cherry Granola

Does anyone else get really annoyed by traffic and delays? I just can't stand them. It's weird. I'm generally a pretty patient person, I take life pretty easily and barely find myself rushing to get somewhere. But there's something about traffic and delays that simply ticks me off. If I'm going to be stuck in traffic for hours, I'd rather get out of the car and walk for the same amount of time. Sounds silly, I know. But being stuck in one place - can't handle it. As long as I'm moving, I'm happy.
And don't get me started on flight delays. Especially the kind where they make you board the plane only to tell you that you'll be departing in X hours. In case you haven't already guessed, this is exactly what happened to me this morning. Thankfully, I was surrounded by my fam, which made the aimless (but not really) waiting much more bearable.

Mini rant of the day done and dusted. Moving on the the food. And not just anything - CHOCOLATE! I hope you all had your share of chocolate goodness on Easter, whether you celebrate or not, because chocolate is never a bad idea. I had a pain au chocolate, chocolate chip swirl, chocolate Easter eggs, hot chocolate, chocolate cake and chocolate mousse. FYI, that's just half the sugar I had on Easter day - the rest included tiramisu, stroopwafels and a few tidbits more. #sugaraddict and #noshame
On the theme of chocolate, I present to you dark chocolate cherry granola - an idea presented to me by my sister. This is a major shocker, by the way. She likes most of the things I bake, but rarely every requests me to make something specific (other than this banana bread and these orange chocolate scones). We always make our own granola at home, but it's a cinnamon vanilla variety chock full of nuts and seeds (hopefully I'll be posting a recipe soon!). She steers clear of nuts and seeds, and hence definitely doesn't touch the granola.

But chocolate and cherries? That she was more-than-willing to try. And who am I to say no to a baking request? I based the recipe off my traditional variety, but made a few adjustments to make it work for this one.

What did it yield? A rich, chocolately, barely sweet, clustery granola filled with dark chocolate chunks and dried cherries. Chocolate for breakfast? Why not! It's wonderful with milk, fruit yogurt, on smoothie bowls or simply by the fistful. Try it. You'll regret it if you don't!
3 cups whole rolled oats
pinch of salt
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup dark chocolate chunks
*feel free to up the quantities of cherries and chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 155 C. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the oats, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon.

Add the honey and coconut oil and mix well. The mixture will be sticky.

Spread the oat mixture on the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes. During the last 5-10 minutes of baking, watch carefully as each oven has its own quirks and you don't want to end up with burnt granola! Likewise, you may need to keep it for a little longer. Your house will smell like the most delicious chocolate cake is baking.

Remove from oven and let cool completely. The oats will still be soft when you pull them out, but will crisp up in a matter of 10 minutes!

Once completely cooled, stir in the cherries and chocolate chunks.

Store in an airtight container. It will stay fresh for up to 3 weeks, but trust me, it won't last that long! Enjoy!


Classic Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Life tip of the day. If something's going well, there's no need to revamp it. Looking for improvements is always great, but don't go and rewrite it if it works!
Why am I expressing this today, you ask? Other than the fact that it is so true, it's because this is the tale of this banana bread. It's often recipes like this one that I tend to overlook because I've been making it for almost ten years now. Every time I make this banana bread, it's delicious, never goes wrong and yet I felt it too commonplace to share simply because I make it so often and have been doing so for so long... But then last evening after a fresh batch came out of the oven, beautifully crusted on the outside and gorgeously fluffy and steamy inside, I realized that it was time I post a recipe. Dare I say, it just may be my family's favorite recipe. It's made every week at home and despite all the other exciting (or I hope!) treats I whip up, this is always the first to go. 

The main culprit: my sister. She's head-over-heels obsessed with this banana bread with chocolate chips. Read: the chocolate chips are essential. Not optional. 
If the rest of us had it our way, we'd definitely throw in a handful of chopped, toasted walnuts. The nuttiness and crunch is irreplaceable. But (if you've read another post or few) you'd know that the sis and nuts don't get along too well. So I restrain. You won't miss them, but equally, feel free to throw in a few if you so wish!

While this is baking, I can assure that you'll be not-so-patiently waiting by your oven until it's ready. It smells absolutely delightful with a fragrant sweetness of banana and undertones of dark chocolate. Is there anything better? I think not.

Also, another quick tip for the day. I'm usually one to avoid the end slices of loaf cakes and head straight for a large center slice, but with this one, I strongly urge you to fight over the end slices. The sweet crust just can't be beat. 

So come on, grab those ripe bananas on your countertop, take fifteen minutes out of your day and get baking!

PS. The sun is shining so brightly this morning in London - it makes me one happy gal!

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup baby oats
pinch of salt 
3/4 cup unrefined sugar
3 tbsp coconut oil (softened) + 3 tbsp coconut oil (melted), divided
2 eggs
3 ripe-overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp milk
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 170 C. Line a loaf baking pan with with baking paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together softened coconut oil and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs and beat again until light and well combined. Stir in the mashed bananas, vanilla and melted coconut oil.

Sift in the flour and salt. Add the oats. Lightly mix all ingredients until just combined.

In a mug, add the baking soda to the milk and add this to the batter.

Gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the top is well-risen, golden brown, crusty and a toothpick inserted comes out just clean.

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool further.

Cut yourself a thick (end!) slice and enjoy!


Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookie Bars

Aaaand the chocolate chip cookie theme is back. I'm not sure if it ever left...

You've seen coconut, banana, almond/oat, almond/coconut, peanut butter and walnut. Adding to the repertoire are these oatmeal chocolate chunk (cookie) bars. We're branching out, hey?
In all honesty, cookies are always my fall back. Chocolate chip cookies, to be exact. They last long, which means there's no need to worry if we have an entire loaf of chocolate banana bread lying around as well because cookies and cakes/loaves are in two completely different categories! They're no-fuss, easy-to-eat and filled with lots of chocolate-y goodness!

These cookie bars have everything going for them - they're crunchy, oat-y, chewy, hearty, oozing with chocolate chunks. They definitely stand up to a hot cup of coffee/tea or a tall glass of cold milk. They're the perfect snack to satisfy those elevenzies (mid-morning 11 am cravings!) or the pick-me-ups we all need in the afternoon.

These bars are made with heart-healthy oats, brain-boosting coconut oil and antioxidant-rich dark chocolate chunks. Therefore, they're practically a health food. Which means it was ok that I ate more than three, right?

It's time to get cookie bar baking!

Makes 12 bars
1 cup whole rolled oats
3/4 cup plain flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup + 2 tsp unrefined sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil, softened
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 170 C. Line a rectangular, flat(ish) 9 x 13 inch baking tray/dish with baking paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking soda and salt. Add in the oats and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, beat together the sugar and coconut oil until creamy. Add in the egg and beat again. Finally, add the vanilla and yogurt and beat until light and smooth.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet the ingredients. Stir gently until a dough comes together.

Fold in the chocolate chunks.

In the prepared baking tray, press in the cookie mixture. Bake for 25 minutes and until crispy and golden brown on top.

Cool in the tray for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Slice into squares and serve. Enjoy!


Tahini Date Caramel Cups

So, as per norm, first day back from another term at uni and one of the first things I do other than indulge in lots of delicious home-cooked food is.... hit up the kitchen! Of course. What else did you expect? While browsing through foodie sites and recipes (as I do on the daily) a few weeks ago, I saw an idea for the most mind-blowing spin on homemade chocolate peanut butter cups - tahini cups filled with a gooey, ever-so-slightly-salty date filling! I knew I had to make them.

And so I did.
With just a few, simple, whole food ingredients and an upwards of thirty minutes, you can have these decadent yet healthy, sweet yet salty, nice yet naughty tahini date caramel cups.

I feel like lots of whole food recipes nowadays tout many date-based sauces, fillings or frostings as salted caramel, but in all honesty, I don't think it's fair to say they are the same. Now don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that people who do title their recipes as such are wrong in any way. It's just for me, given that I love dates so dearly, I'd much rather just say it as it is. That said, all it takes is a little bit of imagination to cross the bridge between a luscious date paste and buttery salted caramel.

Back to star of the show - the tahini date cups. These are simply a superfood snack, dessert, quick breakfast. Healthy fats, a boost of protein, natural sugars for energy and all the wonderful superfood-y benefits that come from the tahini (sesame) and dates. Tahini is extremely versatile and wonderful in both sweet and savory recipes. Tahini is rich in minerals, calcium (!), has lots of protein and is an amazing source of unsaturated (good) fat! Dates are nature's candy and just great for health and well-being.

These treats are vegan and can be raw if you make sure to use a raw tahini!

And as for the taste (the part that matters most because let's be real - if something doesn't taste great, then why eat it?)... Well these, they simply blew me out of the water! I was worried the tahini may be too bitter and contrast the rich sweetness of the dates too much or that the saltiness would get totally lost in the date mixture... but I couldn't have been more wrong. The subtle bitterness of tahini  with the slightest hints of maple undertones all wrapped around a chunky, chewy, perfectly balanced date filling is a combination simply to die for. The two components complement each other in such impeccable harmony that it's hard to describe.
There's only one (not-so) problem. These are so crazy addictive - it'll take so much willpower to stop at just one.

I hope I've convinced you by now, but either way, the only thing left to do is go make these. Now.

Makes 9 cups
2/3 cup light tahini*
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1-2 tsp pure maple syrup
1 cup pitted dates**
1/2 tsp sea salt

*Light not as in lower-calorie, but meaning tahini made from hulled sesame seeds. If you were to use the darker one, apart from a difference in appearance, the flavor of the tahini will be much more bitter and powerful. This recipe will be raw if you use raw tahini, as opposed to that made with roasted sesame seeds.
**If your dates have dried out or are quite hard, soak them in hot water for about 10 minutes.

Line a muffin tray with 8 paper or silicon muffin liners.

Blend (or stir-well) together the tahini, coconut oil and maple syrup.

Take about 1 tbsp of the tahini mixture and place in each prepared liner. Place in the freezer to harden.

In the meantime, blend together the dates and salt until a gooey paste is formed. Depending on your preference, you can make this as smooth or leave it as chunky as you like. I liked it somewhere in between.

Once the base tahini layer has hardened (~10 minutes), spoon a bit of the date mixture into each liner. Try to form as flat a layer as possible, but this can be quite tricky so don't worry too much! Work quickly so the base tahini layer doesn't melt.

Spoon the remaining tahini mixture over top of the date mixture (split between the 9 cups). Place back in freezer to harden.

Store in an airtight container in the freezer (NOT fridge, else the tahini layer will be too soft) for up to a week.

Enjoy (straight from the freezer)!