Vegan Beetroot Cake

Want a very easy, fluffy, delicious and VEGAN cake recipe? try this one! I found the recipe on an Italian blog this morning and had to try it. I was really impressed with the outcome, so here it is..

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·INGREDIENTS·
→ 2 medium beets, raw
→ 2 bananas
→ 1/3 cup (90 gr) brown sugar
→ 1/3 cup (40 gr) cacao powder
→ 1 2/3 cup (200 gr) all purpose flour
→ 1/2 cup (100 gr) sunflower, canola or other vegetable oil
→ 1 tsp (5 gr) baking powder
→ 1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
→ 1/3 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat your oven to 180° celsius.
Cook your beets in boiling water until a knife can easily slice through. Peel the beets and blend them with the bananas.
Mix together the sugar, cacao powder, oil, vanilla, nuts and the banana/beet mixture.
Add the flour and baking powder, and mix from the bottom up until all is combined, without over-mixing.
Grease and flour a round baking pan (ca. 20 cm) and add your cake mix. Bake for 30-40 min (test with a toothpick!).
Enjoy as is or warm with a nice scoop of coconut ice cream!

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Maca green smoothie

DSC_1989One of the foods I brought back from Peru was this white-yellowish powder called Maca. Maca is a root native to Peru and Bolivia, it grows in the Andean mountains and is gaining more and more “popularity” as a superfood, also known as “peruvian gingseng”. It is mostly found in powder form, and the average consumption suggested is 1-2 teaspoons a day, preferably in the morning.

DSC_1980Maca has several health benefits and is used for different reasons:

  1. VITAMINS/MINERALS: it is a strong source of iron, calcium and potassium. Maca is also a great source of riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin E and vitamin A. With a high degree of flavonoids, maca is also a powerful anti-oxidant.
  2. SEXUAL FUNCTION, FERTILITY: Maca has long been used to promote sexual function of both men and women. It’s thought to boost libido and increase endurance. It has also been used to balance the hormones and increase fertility.
  3. ENERGY: both mental and physical, that’s why it is recommended to take it in the morning.
  4. MENSTRUAL ISSUES /MENOPAUSE: it is known to help balance women’s hormones and menstrual issues.

To use Maca, just mix it with water or other liquid, or add it to your porridge, or like me in this case, use it in your smoothie.

·INGREDIENTS· (for 1 serving)
→2 cups chopped kale or spinach
→1 banana
→1 tablespoon maca powder
→1 tablespoon chia seeds + garnish
→1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
→juice of 1/2 lemon
→1 piece of ginger, grated or chopped
→2 tablespoon protein powder (optional)
→1 cup of water or milk + couple ice cubes

Blend everything in your blender until creamy. You can add more water if you prefer your smoothie more liquid. Top with some chia seeds and enjoy! Perfect as your breakfast smoothie or post workout snack!

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Travel & Food diaries from PERU

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4th generation farmer of native potatoes preservation

I just came back from a 3-week trip in Peru – partly as a study trip with my university, partly on my own. Peru is an amazing country, one of the top biodiversity countries in the world. It has 70 % of the planet’s microclimates, meaning that there are tons of different ecosystems (11 to be precise) creating different environments. In other words, this means there are lots and lots of varieties of species in the food kingdom.
Peru can be divided into three parts: the coast, the mountains (Andes) and the Amazonia; I was lucky to visit all three of these week by week. Lima is the capital and it is huge! It reminded me of southern California in a way, because it is overlooking the ocean, there are tons of surfers, tons of hipster, healthy organic cafes. Just the vibe there made me nostalgic of “home”.
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The first week I was in Tarapoto, a small-ish town in the north-east part of Peru, right on the border with the Amazonian forest that continues till Bolivia. I was there with 4 other friends and we did lots of outdoor activities. We went trekking through rivers, saw
waterfalls, visited cacao and chocolate producers, explored lagoons, ate tons of plantains and much more. The weather was very hot and humid (30-35 celsius), so lots of mosquito spray is required there. We noticed a lot of natural medicine centers and retreats and we visited an Ayahuaska one as well (very common there, people hallucinate on this drink made out of the plant and is considered a natural remedy for many mental and physical issues. It has been used forever, but in the past years has become “trendy” for westerners too that will travel to these countries to use it).

After spending a week in the hot Amazonia we traveled to Lima and met up with the rest of the group (we were 15 in total, students plus our tutor). Lima has become a big Foodie city and high-cuisine gastronomy has become popular in the last 25 years. Today many of the top 50 best world restaurants are in Lima. Probably the most famous one is Central by chef is Virgilio Martinez, but there are so many more. There has been a big Japanese immigration in the last century so there are tons of fusions between the two cuisines. Lots of ceviche places to eat also.
Below are some of the places we visited in Lima:

MAIDO: we had the tatsing menu; it’s a fusion between Japanese and Peruvian cuisine. It’s in the top 50 best world restaurants.

AMAZ : by chef Pedro Schiaffino. He made a huge research on indigenous Amazonian communities; he uses these ingredients, buying them directly from these people. He met with us and we did a workshop and tasting of different products (it was amazing), and later had dinner.

PAN DE LA CHOLA: it’s a bakery with incredible sourdough products and other.
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-Markets: SURRILLO, MIRAFLORES, BIOFERAS (organic)

LA MAR : we were doing a ceviche tour that day and this was one of the stops, it is owned by famous chef Gaston Acurio. Another stop was at “Al Toke Pez“, a much more casual place but the food was incredible and the chef serves more sustainable fish.

The last week we traveled to the south in the Andes. We went to Urubamba, Ollantaybambo, Maras, Moray, Machu Picchu, Cusco. The altitude there is very high (we reached 4’500 meters one day) and so it was physically hard the first few days, but then your body sort of gets used to it. The scenery was incredible! so beautiful. We saw tons of alpacas and llamas, farmers growing corn, wheat, barley, fava beans, tarwi (a legume) and tons of POTATOES. In the highest mountains the people can only grow potatoes, and every altitude has a different ecosystem so there are more than two thousand varieties of native potatoes growing there. We ate in the farmer’s family’s homes and we were always well greeted. In the mountains they eat lots of meat and their economy is based on textile making (using the wool from llamas, alpacas and sheep) and potatoes. We also visited a brewery, organic farms, a distillery for pisco (the traditional liquor), salt flats, and we saw the technique of Pachamanca (cooking in direct contact with hot stones).
There were tons of Inca remains to visit (other than Machu Picchu, which personally I think is over rated, it has become a huge turist attraction) and we learned a lot about the way they lived and farmed (it is full of stone terraces and irrigation systems).
The people in the Andes speak Quechua (the original language before the Spanish conquered Peru) and live a very simple and humble life.

We got to know so many new foods (especially fruits) and I brought home lots of different food products…like maca, quinoa, chia seeds, pure cacao mass, chocolate, beans, cocoa leaves and chili sauces. I will experiment in the next few days with them.

Traveling is such an amazing and educational experience:  you get to know how other people in the world live their life and, at the same time, you become more conscious and appreciative of Your life. I can’t wait for my next destination and traveling adventure. 
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Chocolate Truffles (aka Energy Balls)

DSC_1882These truffles / Energy Balls are the bomb!! They are the perfect pick-me upper snack, or sweet tooth craving. So good and you don’t have to feel guilty eating them because they are super HEALTHY. No added sugar, full of minerals and vitamins from the dates, cacao and almonds, and all while being a great energy and mood boost.
I was in England last week visiting some middle and high schools, and the teachers were telling me how much chocolate the kids eat, they are completely addicted! There are lots of options for eating cacao products without all the added sugar and other processed ingredients, this is a great option, especially for kids/teens that need to keep their concentration high during the day.

I made a batch this morning and gave some to a friend as a late birthday gift – it made her very happy 🙂

This is a basic recipe, the coatings can be switched and changed to your personal taste.

·INGREDIENTS· (for 35 balls)
→15 medjool dates, pitted
→1 1/4 cup Almonds (100 gr)
→1 cup shredded coconut flakes (100 gr)
→1/4 cup cacao powder
→3 tbsp coconut oil
→1 tsp cinnamon
→pinch of chili (optional)

For Coating (optional):
→cacao powder, coconut flour/flakes, orange zest
turmeric and chili powder

In a food processor combine all the ingredients and mix well until a ball forms (couple of minutes). With your hands, take a small amount of mixture and form the balls, the size really depends on how you prefer to enjoy them. Place in the fridge while you prepare the coatings.
Mix the coating ingredients in small bowls and then roll the balls in them: cacao powder, coconut flour, and orange zest turmeric, chili powder   just cacao powder 
You can create different combinations to your liking (i.e. cardamom, ginger; crushed red peppercorns; hemp seeds)
Store in the fridge and enjoy within 2 weeks.

Hazelnut butter with a twist

DSC_1837Nut butters….yummm! Once you try them you get fixed on them! On the market today you can pretty much find nut or seed butters of any kind..not only tahini, almond or peanut butter, but hazelnut, cashew, sunflower etc. They are so good and full of protein and good fats, so versatile, eaten on toast (for breakfast like in the picture below!), on fruit or added in smoothies for an extra protein boost, or straight out of the jar!
Nut butters tend to be on the pricey side, so making them at home is another good reason to try it. You just need a good blender and you’re set.
They make a great gift, too. In fact, I’m thinking of making tons of jars of different butters to give as christmas gifts this year.

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Before writing down the recipe, I would like to recommend this book by Nathan Runkle, founder of Mercy For Animals. It’s his biography, and talks about his journey of love and compassion for animals from his early teens till today. Mercy for Animals is a big non-profit organization in the States focusing on the overall improvement of animal welfare in the world. The book was very inspiring and reminded me of the many reasons I decided to take animal products off of my plate a long time ago. Highly suggest this (easy to read) book!

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·INGREDIENTS·
→2 cups of hazelnuts (raw or toasted)
→2 tbls coconut flakes
→2 tsp cocoa powder
→1 tsp cinnamon powder
→1 tsp brown sugar or maple syrup (optional)

In a blender start buzzing the nuts on low level, scraping down the sides frequently. Add the rest of ingredients and keep blending on a higher level. The final result should look creamy and smooth. The whole process takes between 5 and 10 minutes depending on your blender.
You can store it in a jar outside of the fridge for 2 weeks, or refrigerated and will last for longer.
Note: this is a variation of an ordinary hazelnut butter. You can make it like this or use just hazelnuts or add more ingredients to your liking.

 

Bitter foods & Puntarelle salad

DSC_1728This year I’m taking a great course on Botanics. Might be because of the teacher or because I’m fascinated by the subject, in any case I’m finding it really interesting. The past lessons we’ve been talking about the main Plant Families (Apiaceae, Brassicaceae, Leguminose, Rosaceae, Liliaceae and so on) and their characteristics, uses, health benefits. Also, we’ve been doing workshops on different types of foods, such as peppers or seeds (i.e. distinguish between 12 different varieties of peppers, taste them, describe them etc.). Another interesting part of the course is EthnoBotany: this is the study of the uses of certain plants in a particular area/region based on its traditional culture and knowledge; it answers the following questions: Why do those people eat those plants? How do they preserve/cook them? What cultural/social/religious meaning is represented by the plant? As part of the course, we need to do a group project interviewing a community (in Italy or abroad), getting to know what wild plants/herbs they use, foraging them and creating an Herbarium (collecting, drying the plants and creating a book).

Just yesterday in class, we talked about the Asteraceae plant family, also known as the sunflower or daisy family. It is one of the largest plant families, some examples of known plants are lettuces, radicchio, chicories, chamomile, tarragon, arugula, artichokes…
The common characteristic from a gastronomic point of view is that these plants are all very BITTER and considered extremely good for you.
DSC_1699The Mediterranean diet, up to the ’70s, was a very varied diet: during the summer months people would eat grown tomatoes, onions, peppers, celery and so on, but for the rest of the year (October – May) the population would feed themselves on wild bitter vegetables, just picked in the backyard or foraged nearby, nothing cultivated. After the ’70s the Mediterranean area was influenced by the arrival of industrial farming, greenhouses, mono-cultures, and so fewer and fewer wild crops, but only the same cultivated vegetables that you can nowadays find year-round. Because of this, people are forgetting about the importance of seasonality. It is so unnatural to buy fresh tomatoes or eggplants or zucchini in January, but yet the supermarkets keep selling them. Continue reading

Didactic Garden & Green Tomato Chutney

img_0635It’s been too long since my last blog post… Guilty!
I started my second year at UNISG and, like the beginning of last year, it’s been overwhelming: there’s been the SlowCheese fair which happens every two years here in Bra lasting 4 days with crazy amount of tourists and cheese producers from all over the world; I went to Tuscany for a week on a studytrip which was amazing (it was all based on geothermal and renewable energy); and as always the small town of Bra keeps us surprisingly busy 24/7.

This semester I have some really interesting classes that I love so far: Botanics, AgroEcology, History of wine, History of Diets and Geography of Products.  Lots of new students have arrived either undergraduates or new Masters. Lots of interesting cultures going on and I’m excited to meet many of them.
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My university has a big garden, called Didactic Garden, which grows most of the food they use in our cafeteria and many plots are used by the students for the Horticulture classes. Two days ago, the manager of the garden created an event on Facebook, called Autumn harvest, with the idea to come help them pick all the remaining veggies from the summer and clean up the garden in preparation of the winter. Since there were tons of unripe tomatoes, the idea was to make chutney with them.
The day started at 9 am, about 10 students showed up (yes, not that many), we started picking all the remaining veggies, which were bell peppers, eggplants, some ripe tomatoes, friggitelli (green Italian peppers), leafy greens such as swiss chard. Someone immediately took the harvest to our cafeteria which then prepared Gazpacho for us to enjoy during lunch. We then picked all the green tomatoes, and then cleaned up the plots, throwing all the plant remains on our compost pile, and spreading green manure on the plots in order to renew the nitrogen component of the soil and to have the plot ready to plant in for the upcoming spring.

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Continue reading