Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Buckwheat granola (or cereal to us English folks!)

In the old days when my children ate cereal I would diligently read the side of the box - who wouldn't be reassured to find such a long list of vitamins and minerals in just one product, that children actually enjoy eating?  However there is now debate about whether the body can actually absorb any of these synthetic vitamins.  There is concern that the 'extrusion' process used to make cereal not only removes nutrients from the grain but also denatures them making them toxic to the body.  Manufacturers also need to add a lot of sugar and salt to create something palatable. Plus from a common sense point of view, anything with a shelf-life as long as cereal is not going to offer the body much nutritionally.   

However there is a good reason why cereal manufacturers make a fortune selling us overpriced rubbish and that is because in a busy household being able to fling something into a bowl for breakfast is bit of a lifesaver.   So I was determined to find a cereal or granola that we could have as back up when porridge, never mind pancakes, just really is too much of a stretch. I also wanted an option that didn’t include oats for people who cannot tolerate them.  The answer – buckwheat granola!

This cereal is nutritionally speaking 'the bomb'. The mix of buckwheat, nuts, seeds, honey and coconut oil offers a wide range of vitamins and minerals (calcium, vitamin E, B vitamins, iron, copper, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron to name a few!) as well as being high in healthy fats and fibre.  The linseed (or flaxseed as it can be known) is also known to be soothing for the digestional tract. 

Because the buckwheat groats are crunchy and subtle tasting they are a great base for any combination of ingredients so feel free to change the nuts and seeds to suit preference.  As a  'pseudo-grain' buckwheat is also suitable for those on grain free or gluten free diets (however it is not used in GAPS or SCD diets).

This cereal works well with yoghurt or even just fruit so it is a good option for people with a dairy intolerance. 

As a happy accident I also discovered that if you make the mixture thick enough it will also work as a flapjack that can be sliced and eaten on the go!  (It is so tasty it seems a shame to just have it at breakfast so I will regularly snaffle a few pieces as a snack or throw it in the lunch boxes for pudding if I have ran out of baked goods) 

If you prefer to have a 'loose' cereal (granola generally is chunks of ingredients 'glued' together with sticky stuff like dates, linseed and honey) you can adapt as below. 

The cereal can be made either in a dehydrator, which will mean it is a ‘raw granola’, or baked in an oven.  If you are diligent about soaking and dehydrating your grains, nuts and seeds then this can be done in advance - please see my guide to timings at the bottom.

This cereal will keep for a few weeks in a sealed container - I usually store mine in the fridge.

There is a lot of weighing out to be done but you will end up with at least three big jars of granola - and it is worth it I promise! 


300g buckwheat groats
60g coconut chips
120g almonds, chopped (or almond slivers)
120g pecan, chopped (or walnuts)
50g sesame seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
50g sunflower seeds
100g raisins or sultanas
50g apricots, chopped (can be replaced by raisins, apricots) 
1 heaped tbsp. of coconut oil
1 tbsp. cinnamon (optional) 

To create the sticky 'paste'
2 tbsp. honey
140g dates
50g linseeds


In an ideal world the linseeds and dates would be soaked in advance but they can be done at the same time as everything else if need be! 

1. Soak the linseeds in 150g (ideally filtered) water.  This can be done the day before and left in a covered bowl or on the day with warm water.  The linseeds will change and the mixture will become more viscous (bit like jelly or frogspawn!)
2. Soak the dates in 150ml of warm water to soften.
3. Chop the nuts into small pieces.  (Pecans and walnuts can be crushed by hand) 
4. Measure out all the dry ingredients into a bowl and stir thoroughly.
5. Pour the dates (including their soaking water) along with the coconut oil and honey into a processor and blend to a paste.
6. Stir the date paste into the ingredients
7. Stir the linseeds (including water) into the ingredients

If you are using an oven:
You may need two large trays. 
Pre-heat the oven to 180C / 160C fan/Gas Mark 4.  Line the trays with greaseproof paper and press the mixture down to produce a firm layer of granola around 1 cm thick. Bake for 15-20 minutes then remove from the oven and either flip or stir around so that the top doesn't get burnt.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes until crunchy, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.

If you are using a dehydrator:
Line the dehydrator with baking paper and press mixture down to produce a firm layer of granola around 1 cm thick.  Dehydrate at 8 hours at 40F / 105C.  The mixture will then be solid enough for you to (carefully) remove paper) and place back in dehydrator for another 4-6 hours until the mixture is totally dry.  If you prepare to dehydrate over night, remove the paper in the morning and give the granola a couple of hours to dry out totally before removing. 

If you wish to soak the ingredients ahead of time.

1. Place all the nuts together in a large bowl, cover with filtered water (allowing at least one inch of water on the top) and cover.  Leave for 8-12 hrs.).  Drain and rinse
2. Place all the seeds together in a bowl and cover with filtered water.  Leave for 4-6 hours. (You could prep your linseed at the same time) 

3. Either dry the nuts and seeds as per your normal method and store in jars until you are ready to make the cereal or follow the recipe above but increase the time in the dehydrator, by another 12 hours to ensure the nuts and seeds are properly dried.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Best prices for organic and grass fed meat

I was raised in the countryside and my dad worked on a farm.  His attitude was if you ate meat you should understand how the animal lived (and died).  However it is easy in the age of supermarkets to divorce ourselves from this.  Certainly a few years ago I would have opted for chicken breasts instead of a chicken, unsure of how to deal with a whole bird and not having a clue what to do with the carcass. I would have bought ready prepped stewing steak from Sainsbury's rather than brave going into a butchers and ordering cheek, oxtail or ribs!

Over the last few years I have moved back towards  'nose to tail' eating - it makes sense financially and nutritionally and cheaper cuts are often more flavoursome.  Beef cheek, neck of lamb and oxtail are all fantastic when slow-cooked.   I am still learning to love offal - I can't bear the smell of kidneys and I am not brave enough to introduce heart but I am becoming a fan of liver, especially chicken liver pate.

How an animal is treated and what it eats is not just an ethical question.  Undoubtedly grass-fed, well hung and organic meat tastes better.  Organic meat means the animals have not been fed GM food.  Grass fed animals also will have a higher ratio of omega 3's (which is naturally present in grass and seaweed).  

However there is no doubt that this type of meat is more expensive and can be trickier to source. Local butchers are often a good source of less intensively reared meat but may not offer organic or free range and its not always possible to get to a farmer's market.  Some supermarkets such as Sainsburys and Ocado have an okay organic selection and I am not adverse to buying the odd thing there but I think if I am paying top whack (and they may well charge more than going direct!) I might as well buy it from a farm so it hasn't been sitting in plastic under the supermarket lights.   Also, whilst supermarkets will offer the ubiqitous mince, joints and bacon they normally don't offer the cheaper cuts such as beef brisket, cheek, oxtail, livers, wings or bones for stock which allow money to go further.  An added bonus is that if you buy direct the farmer will make the profit, not the supermarket.

We did find we needed to buy a second freezer so that we could order in bulk (as well as make meals up in advance) but this is cost effective in the long run as it allows us to make the most of special offers or minimum orders.  

I tend to use different suppliers depending on what cuts of meat I need but I decided to spend a few hours comparing prices on my regular purchases (including favourites with small children such as chicken, sausages and mince). I also wanted to know what speciality products different suppliers can offer (including liver, bones for stock etc).   

My husband raises his eyebrows at this kind of research as he thinks I am OCD but when you are ordering meat in large quantities it is worth shopping around. So hopefully this will save you guys a couple of hours of your life! 

The suppliers I am comparing are:

Graig Farm  (Organic and  free range meat ) 
Abel and Cole  (Organic and free range meat) 
Green Pasture Farms (free range) 
Devon Rose (free Range)

Here are some more specialised products that are not offered by every supplier: 

Organic chicken carcasses, lamb and beef bones 
If you are making stock and soup then its unlikely you will be able to manage using just the bones from existing meals.   I would try to buy organic as there is evidence any toxins from the animal would be stored in the bones and there is not a great deal of difference in price.  
Chicken carcasses are available from Graig Farm (£2.62 a carcass) and Abel and Cole (£2.25 a carcass). A kilo of chicken carcasses or bones is £3.98 from Eversfield
Stock bones are also available from Graig Farm for £3.48 a kilo 

Beef dripping
We use this extensively in cooking as it remains stable at high heat so good for chips, fish-bites, coated chicken, casseroles, etc. I have only ever managed to source grass fed.  Devon Rose have it at £1.45 for 200g, Green Pasture Farms at £3 for 400g and Roaming Rooster also sell it through shops and online.   

Chicken livers
Fantastic as a quick meal or for making pate.  Always buy organic liver to avoid toxins that may be stored in this part of the animal's body.  You can get these from Graig Farm for £3.09 for approx 225g or Eversfield for £4.94 for 500g.

Nitrate free bacon
Ocado sell Laverstoke park nitrate free bacon but it is an eye watering £30.10 a kilo meaning around £5-£6 a pack.  Devon Rose offer a wide variety of free-range nitrate free bacon at a lower price of 14.50 a kilo (around £2.90 for a pack) 

All meat sausages
I am not a fan of 'gluten free' sausages from supermarkets as they often have nasty fillers, sugars etc.  Even gluten free ones sold online can contain ingredients that are a struggle for people sensitive to grains. I look for sausages labelled all meat or 'SCD compliant'.  Graig Farm offer Boerwurst and a classic pork sausage for £3.74 and £3.42 respectively (225g).  Devon Rose have a good range of SCD compliant sausages starting at £3.83 for 400g.  Eversfield offer sausages with just vegetable flakes but I need to check this out further before recommending. 

Cooking chorizo (milk free)
I found this by accident at Riverford and at £4.95 for 300g its a pricey product but well worth it if you have a favourite recipe that demands Chorizo and you want to avoid the low quality products offered at supermarkets that will also contain milk. 

Game and duck
All the suppliers can offer wild game.  Graig Farm offer additive free duck and Abel and Cole have a very reasonable Wild Rabbit at £5.99 ( although I think I would have to gloss over the origin of that meat with the 8 year old!)

Price comparison chart 

Bear in mind prices can always change but this should give you an idea of who offers what at what price.  For each product I have highlighted the cheapest supplier.  If there is a choice of weights I have gone with the one most suited to a family of 3/4.   (Excuse the formatting but I have lost the will to live trying to do this on a blogger platform!!)

Beef silverside 
Whole chicken
Chicken wings
Chicken thighs
Pork mince
Beef mince
Lamb  mince 

Graig Farm
 £12.89 (1.5 kg )
(a kilo)
  £12.80 (800g)
 £5.64 (450g)
 £8.54 (450g)

 £13.98 (1kg)
 £14.54 (1.7 kg)
(a kilo)
(with drumsticks)(550g)

 £9.42 (a kilo)
 £9.48 (a kilo)
(a kilo)
(1 kg)


Abel and Cole
(1.4 kg) 
(a kilo) 

£6.25 (400g)


Green Pasture Farms


£2.50 (220g)
Graig Farm
£11.21 (1.5 kg)
 £6.29 (800g)

Abel and Cole
£8.99 (1.5kg)
(a kilo) 

 £5.25 (650g)
£4.49 (500g)
Devon Rose
 £4.17 (400g)

£4.13 (400g)
£5.12 (300g)