Raw chocolate brownies

One of the main themes threading through my courses and workshop is the importance of eating a rainbow every day – a fresh produce based one not a skittles one (as on that rather surreal advert)! People are sometimes surprised when I include brown on the rainbow, but in the world of powerful, colourful phytonutrients, brown is good, especially when it comes in the form of chocolate.

Before you jump for joy, that’s not all types of chocolate, sorry! For the more chocolate, or cacao, is refined and processed, the more it loses its magical properties and can end up as harmer not healer. Raw, unrefined cacao powder is packed with a group of helpful phytonutrients called polyphenols. There’s been a lot of research recently about this group as they appear in many of our favourite ‘treats’ like coffee and red wine, and supplement companies are researching the best ways to capture their magic and put it in pill form. I still believe the best way of getting them is through eating a wide range of wonderful, fresh plants (but then I would!).

It’s the flavanols in cacao which are particularly good, working together as a team. It appears they have some anti-inflammatory effects, soothing the body which can only be good in our hectic, stressful lives. Flavanols also improve blood flow, are good for heart health and possibly for brain health too, for better blood flow in the brain means more oxygen and nutrients get delivered and harmful by-products whisked away more rapidly before they can get up to mischief.

Heat reduces the beneficial flavanol content by up to 60%; cocoa powder is heated and refined as are most chocolate products. Adding sugar, refined fats and dairy products changes it again, each step making it less helpful. But it also tends to make it more palatable, and a sugar/fat combo hits our pleasure centres, which is why a chocolate bar tastes so good!

Raw cacao powder can be quite bitter; these chocolate brownies solves that problem by mixing it with dates and nuts, making it super rich and delicious instead. And because there’s no baking involved, the cacao keeps its nutritional properties, and gains a few more along the way from the other ingredients. I love it when cake is a health food!

A word of warning – these chocolate brownies are not cheap to make nor low in calories, but because they are so dense and packed with fibre, they’re incredibly filling and you can only manage a small amount at a time. They also freeze well, so you can make a batch and pop some away for another day. If you don’t have any cacao nibs, feel free to leave them out. They add texture and a little extra chocolatiness, but are not essential.

So if you feel like indulging in some chocolate loveliness, why not give these a go? Your body and your tastebuds will be delighted! And don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Raw chocolate brownies

Deliciously rich chocolate brownies, raw and packed full of amazing nutrients.
Prep Time10 mins
Chilling time2 hrs
Total Time10 mins
Keyword: chocolate, dairy free, plantbased, raw, vegan
Servings: 12

Ingredients

  • 300 grams dates soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
  • 110 grams hazelnuts
  • 140 grams almonds
  • 60 grams cacao powder
  • 2 tablespoons cacao nibs
  • pinch salt

For the topping:

  • 30 grams cacao powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • handful chopped nuts, desiccated coconut or freeze-dried raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon cacao nibs optional

Instructions

  • Drain the dates but keep the soaking water. Line a small square baking tin with non-stick baking paper.
  • Place the nuts into a food processor and blitz them to a course powder. Tip out into a bowl then add the soaked dates to the processor and blend them to a thick paste. Return the nuts to the processor along with the cacao powder and salt. Blend until the mix comes together into a ball – you may need to add a little of the date soaking water if it’s too dry. Remove the dough from the processor bowl and mix the cacao nibs into the dough by hand.
  • Press the mix into the base of the prepared baking tin – you may not cover the whole base, so work from one side and fill as much of it as you want, depending on how deep you want your brownies to be. Pop the tin the fridge whilst you make the topping.
  • Mix the cacao powder, vanilla essence and maple syrup together in a bowl to form a thick paste. Check the flavour and add extra cacao or syrup if needed. Grab the brownie tin from the fridge, pour the mix over the top and spread it out equally to cover. Sprinkle chopped nuts, desiccated coconut, freeze-dried raspberries or cacao nibs over the top to decorate, then return the tray to the fridge to set for two hours.
  • To serve, remove the tray from the fridge, lift out the brownies by the baking paper and cut into 12 equal squares. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge.

Comforting mushroom and lentil stew

The snow may have gone, but it’s still definitely winter! Whilst my husband sends me pictures of brilliant blue skies and crisp white snow from his skiing holiday, I sit here looking at a dull grey February day, the type where you wonder if it’s ever really going to get light.

There are signs of spring though – I snapped these brave little snowdrops yesterday outside a friends house – and I’ve notice the daffodil leaves beginning to sprout. All hopeful signs of better weather to come.

In the meantime, comfort food is needed! Something to warm, sustain and give you a little hug on the inside. This deliciously quick mushroom and lentil stew should hit the spot. Packed full of rainbow veggies, it tastes wonderful and provides a whole range of helpful anti-oxidants and nutrients that help support the immune system. Not only that, but it contains a range of fibre that helps keep helpful gut microbiome happy too. That’s important, as this time of year can be hard for people suffering from depression and low mood. Recent research from the Gut Project suggests that the make-up of gut bacteria and psychological health are directly connected. So the food we eat really can make a difference to how we feel.

I’ve used tinned lentils for this recipe, purely to save time. If you want to cook your own, feel free to do so, just add extra water and give yourself more time. Using tinned makes this a quick plant-based and gluten-free mid-week supper when time is short. This also freezes well, so get ahead of the game and double the amount, keeping half aside to freeze for another day.

I’ve added a little balsamic vinegar to the recipe. This is optional, to add a little extra flavour. If you cannot tolerate vinegar, then try a little tamari or even vegan Worcesteshire sauce, but take care not to overdo it, as they are strong flavours that easily dominate.

I hope you enjoy this recipe; it certainly hit the comfort food spots for me! Let me know what you think if you make it – don’t forget you can now print it out now I’m using the WP recipe maker plug in. I hope it makes it more user friendly. And remember, winter always turns to spring!

Comforting mushroom and lentil stew

Quick and tasty, this is a perfect mid-week plant-based dish. Serve on pasta or baked potatoes (it’s particularly good with sweet potato) and a seasonal green like broccoli or kale.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time30 mins
Keyword: comfort food, dairy free, dinner, gluten free, plant based, vegan
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, red or white diced
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 1 large celery stick diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 fat clove garlic finely chopped
  • 200 grams mushrooms sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or Italian herbs
  • 400 grams tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 400 grams tinned cooked lentils rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Heat 2 tablespoons water in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Stir frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan – add a little more water if it does
  • Add the garlic and sliced mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes, then pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and add the herbs. Stir well, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the tinned lentils and balsamic vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove the bay leaf and serve.

Nutty caramel apple slice

I was invited to dinner at a friends house recently, and was asked to bring dessert, something I am always happy to do! As I’m out in Portugal at the moment, I don’t have all my usual kitchen gadgets with me though, so couldn’t go down the raw dessert route, my usual dinner party option.

Thinking about it for a while, I remembered a recipe I posted a few years ago (5 1/2 years to be exact!) called “Simply delicious apple caramel slice‘. As I hadn’t made it for a while, I had to look it up and was somewhat surprised by the ingredients list. It may have been delicious, but I couldn’t count it as whole-food or healthy; it was definitely time to update it.

One of the differences now is that if I want something containing caramel, I use dates as the key ingredient rather than refined sugar and dairy-free spread. Of course it still contains a high sugar content, but it’s unrefined and is still packed with healthy fibre, good for blood sugar control and gut health. Dates also have some magnesium, vitamin B6 and potassium hidden inside as well as a collection of phytonutrients called polyphenols that can help reduce inflammation in the body. As they are super sweet, they really do make a great sugar replacement.

The other key ingredient in the original recipe that needed updating was the fat used. Since starting the Overcoming MS programme, I’ve excluded dairy-free spreads from my diet. Dietary fats are a key issue for people with MS as well as other chronic health problems. Dairy-free spreads are made with vegetable oils, but they go through a complex processing that alters the structure of the oils; this makes them solid rather than liquid. In this unnatural form, they can create more inflammation in the body , amongst other things as it tries to work out whether its friend or foe.

So for baking things like cookies and crumbles, I tend to use alternatives like nut butter. It is more expensive, so I use less of it, plus it gives a deeper, richer flavour. And because it’s just ground nuts, it includes the fibre and more of the nutrients. Mind you, it does also include a high fat content too, so a large slice is of this dessert not going to help if you’re trying to lose weight. Having said that, because of the high fibre content from the nuts, oats, dates and flour, this dessert is REALLY filling, so it’s difficult to eat too much in one go anyway.

Of course, you can stick with dairy-free butter if you so choose – I’ve cut the amount required from the original recipe, so it will still make it slightly healthier, just not quite as high on the whole-food rating scale!

If you want to see the original recipe, click here to check it out. Otherwise, why not have a go at this updated version. You may notice I have a new way of displaying recipes to make it more user friendly. You can also print it out now too to save sticky fingers on your iPad! I hope this is helpful – do let me know how you get on.

Nutty caramel apple slice

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Dessert
Keyword: dairy free, plant based, vegan

Ingredients

For the caramel

  • 280 grams dates
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 250 mls almond or oat milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the base

  • 270 grams wholemeal or gluten free flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 100 grams coconut sugar
  • 150 grams oats
  • pinch salt
  • 170 grams almond butter dairy free butter choice
  • 5-7 tablespoons reserved date water

For the filling

  • 3 medium apples
  • 50 grams walnuts

Instructions

  • To make the caramel: soak the dates in hot water for 10 minutes to let them soften, then drain, reserving the soaking liquid.
  • Place the drained dates in a food processor bowl or blender jar. Add the vanilla essence, dairy free milk and salt and blend until smooth. NB: if you want salted caramel, add a little more salt at this stage.

To make the base:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC. Line a 33x22cm baking tin or dish with grease-proof paper.
  • Place the flour, baking powder, coconut sugar, oats and salt in a large bowl and mix together well with a spoon. Add the almond or butter alternative of choice and rub in with your finger tips to make a sticky breadcrumb-like mixture. Add 5 tablespoons of the reserved date water and bring together into a soft dough. If the mix is too dry, add a little more date water with care – you don’t want it too wet.
  • Cut off 1/3 of the dough and put to one side. Press the remaining dough into the base of the prepared dish or tin, spreading it out as evenly as possible. Pop in the oven to bake for 10 minutes

To prepare the filling and finish off:

  • Wash the apples, cut into quarter then cut into thin slices. Slice the walnuts. When the base is ready, remove from the oven and spoon 1/3 of the caramel over the top, spreading it out to cover. Arrange the apple slices on top, layering them to get a good covering, then scatter on the walnuts. Pour the remaining caramel over the top and spread out then finally drop pieces of the remain dough on top, roughly covering the apple and caramel filling.
  • Place back in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the apples soft when pricked with a knife. Remove from the oven, leave to settle for 5 minutes then serve. Goes well with cinnamon ice cream or dairy-free cream.

Fabulous fibre

Have you noticed how fibre has suddenly appeared in the news again? That’s food-related fibre, not the high-speed broad band type! A large meta-analysis of research studies published in The Lancet last week concluded that a diet high in complex fibre and whole-foods could prevent the development of many chronic health problems. It concluded their study provided a ‘causal link’ between a low fibre diet and poor health (read more here).

The world of food and health is complex and fickle. The fact that fibre is good for health has been known for a long time, but gets conveniently forgotten when more popular diets come along, like low-carb/high fat, or ketogenic programmes. There’s a lot of confusion about the carbohydrate element of foods with many people automatically associating ‘carbs’ with sugar. And it’s true, refined sugar isn’t good for us, but complex, unadulterated carbohydrates are.

As anyone who has participated in my Eat Well Live Well course will know, I’m a big fan of fibre. And one of the benefits of eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that it is packed full of lovely complex fibres that the body just loves. And rather than worrying about how much you should consume, it’s just part and parcel of every meal – as long as you eat a wide range of whole plant foods that is.

So why might you not get enough fibre in your diet?

  1. Only food from plants contain fibre, so if you eat mainly meat, dairy and eggs you’ll be missing out on fibre.
  2. Refined cereals and grains loose their healthy complex fibre, so if you eat white bread, pasta or rice, processed breakfast cereals or ready meals, you’ll be losing all the lovely complex fibre.
  3. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain fibre too, so if you don’t hit your 5 portions a day (like 70% of the UK population), you’ll be missing out on fibre.

So what does fibre do for us? Lots, as it turns out. I go into more details in my new book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie (out next month!), but in a nutshell it:

  1. Improves gut motility – ie: make you poo!
  2. Removes excess bile, fats and toxic waste
  3. Fills you up
  4. Releases nutrients slowly
  5. Looks after the friendly bacteria living in your gut.

As more is learnt about the importance of gut health, this last one is really key. Bacteria living deep down in the large intestine dine out on the insoluble fibre found in complex carbohydrates that we can’t digest ourselves, and then puts it to good use, carrying out functions we have outsourced and can no longer do ourselves. Gut health is connected to many health challenges, including food sensitivities and autoimmune conditions, hence my personal love of all things fibre!

So how do you get more fibre in your diet? It’s easy – eat more plants! And a wide variety of them too. Add beans to soups and stews, more veggies to dishes. Ditch the processed breakfast cereals and opt for wholegrain or oats. Swap to wholegrain pasta, rice and bread. Or just focus on eating amazing plant foods throughout the day and then you don’t have to worry where your fibre is coming from.

A word of warning though, if you’re not used to eating lots of lovely fibre, or have IBS or something similar, take care! Fibre makes you fart. And if your gut is not happy, a sudden overload of high fibre foods could find you trumpeting at inappropriate moments or doubled up in pain. So think about gradually increasing the amount of whole foods over a few days rather than all at once – you, and anyone around you, will appreciate it!

If you’re not sure how to start eating more fibre, check out the recipes on my blog. Made with whole plant foods, they’re all packed with fibre in various forms. And if you’re interested in finding out more, my book is a good place to start. Look out for more information about publication date, or sign up to my book mailing list. You’ll get the lowdown before anyone else, plus special launch information and offers. Just click here.

Beany ‘cheesy’ pasta bake

How’s 2019 treating you so far? You may be sticking with a determination to lose weight, or trying out Veganuary or similar plant-based eating programme. It could be you’ve started training for a marathon or half marathon (yay go for it!) or been stuck in bed with one of the nasty winter bugs going around and just want some comfort food.

Good news – todays recipe will hit the spot with all of these situations, and more – like you just want something super tasty for dinner!

One of the wonderful things about eating whole-foods is the focus is not on one nutritional element – the protein, fat or carbohydrate content. Rather, it’s on how all  the constituent elements work together as a team and provide the right balance of nutrients for over all health. With no refined products, this dish is full of lovely fibre, making it filling, satisfying and something your gut will just love. Because, as researchers are discovering, gut health is key to overall health, including weight management, mental wellness plus prevention and management of chronic health problems.

So although this dish contains pasta, it doesn’t make it the devil incarnate as some ‘low-carb’ enthusiasts might declare. Wholegrains retain more of the original beneficial elements like complex carbohydrates that feed friendly gut bacteria, slow release energy to power your body’s processes and even proteins, minerals and, in some forms, essential fatty acids. If you have a gluten sensitivity, then rather than wheat-based pasta, choose brown rice or other gluten-free options (but take care it’s not too refined).

If you’re trying plant-based for the first time, I’m sure you’ve already been asked ‘where do you get your protein from?’. Beans are a fantastic source of plant-based protein. But because whole-foods have more than one macronutrient, they also contain complex fibre and other nutrients too. Nuts are another great protein source, as well as fats, as is tofu. So there’s plenty here, no chance of missing out.

On top of all that, this recipe is full of delicious vegetables, packed with minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients. All these nutrients support the body right at cellular level, maintaining your internal equilibrium but also helping you to heal and then stay well. So if you’ve been feeling a bit under the weather or you’re training hard, these nutrients will work together to help you feel great.

Ultimately, though, the key thing about this dish is that it tastes absolutely delicious. And after all, isn’t that really what we get out of eating? It is for me! There’s no joy in eating dull, bland food no matter how ‘good’ it’s supposed to be. Whole plant foods retain their wonderful flavours, so even if you’re restricted in some way, ‘on a diet’, have food intolerances, a health problem or training for an event, you never have to miss out on taste!

So why not give this one a go this week? To help you get more from the recipes, you’ll notice I’ve changed the format so you can adjust number of servings or print it out – no more sticky fingers on the iPad screen. Hope it works well for you! Don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Print Recipe
Beany 'cheesy' pasta bake
Course Main Dish
Servings
hungry people
Ingredients
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 sticks celery diced
  • 2 small carrots diced
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 1 clove garlic finely diced
  • 4 medium mushrooms chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 4 florets broccoli chopped
  • 400 grams tin borlotti beans rinsed and drained
  • 150 grams whole-wheat pasta or gluten free alternative
  • salt and pepper
For the sauce
  • 75 grams cashew nuts soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
  • 100 grams silken tofu
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 clove crushed garlic (optional)
Course Main Dish
Servings
hungry people
Ingredients
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 sticks celery diced
  • 2 small carrots diced
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 1 clove garlic finely diced
  • 4 medium mushrooms chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 4 florets broccoli chopped
  • 400 grams tin borlotti beans rinsed and drained
  • 150 grams whole-wheat pasta or gluten free alternative
  • salt and pepper
For the sauce
  • 75 grams cashew nuts soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
  • 100 grams silken tofu
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 clove crushed garlic (optional)
Instructions
For the pasta and beany sauce
  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the dried whole-wheat pasta. Pop on the lid, turn down the heat and cook on a gentle boil for 20 minutes until al dente. Turn off the heat, leave to rest in the pan for a couple of minutes then drain and keep warm in the pan until the beany sauce is ready.
  2. To make the beany sauce, heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a large non-stick pan and sauté the onion, celery, carrots and red pepper until soft, around 5 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook for another couple of minutes.
  3. Mix the tomato puree with 50ml of water. Add the oregano, chilli flakes and diluted tomato puree to the pan and stir well. Simmer for 5 minutes on a low heat then add the chopped broccoli florets and beans along with a little salt and pepper. Continue to cook on a low heat for up to 10 minutes until all the veggies are cooked and soft.
  4. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the pan and stir well to ensure its all covered with the beany sauce.
For the 'cheesy' sauce
  1. Drain the cashews and place in a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Add enough water to cover then blend until smooth. Add more water if it's too thick. Taste and add more flavourings as needed.
To finish off
  1. Pre-heat the grill to high. Tip the pasta beany sauce into a large serving dish. Pour the cheesy sauce over the top - there will be a lot but that's ok as you want it to create a good layer. Place under the grill for 5 minutes to brown, then remove and serve straight away - a green salad on the side will finish it off perfectly!

Simple New Year changes that have a big impact

Wow, it’s the last day of 2018! What a busy year it’s been. How’s it been for you? For me, there’s been some amazing experiences, incredible changes and smattering of challenges and obstacles. A pretty standard year all in all!

So now it’s time to start thinking about the new year ahead. Have you thought about your New Year’s resolutions, or what you would like to achieve over the next 12 months? For many, January is a time for ‘going on a diet’ and ‘getting fit’. Both great goals to have, but more often than not the enthusiasm starts to wane after just a couple of weeks. Or it might be that you are planning on going plant-based, either by joining a campaign like Veganuary or following your own ideas. This works really well for anyone who is an ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of person. But it’s not for everyone.

I actually think that early January is not a good time of year to make major changes. For a start, the weather is cold and the whole month can seem rather dull and miserable after the colourful build up to Christmas. Going on a diet has connotations of missing out or deprivation. The cold weather outside naturally drives us towards warming comfort foods rather than salad. Plus the ‘hang-over’ from all the Christmas and New Year excitement and celebrations takes a while to pass.

It’s because of this that I never run my Eat Well Live Well course until the end of January or beginning of February – that’s the time when you’re fully recovered from the festive fun and truly ready to make some positive, lasting changes.

Now that’s not to say that being a bingeing coach potato is a good idea! If you want to ease yourself into a positive health change or just want to make some easy changes, here are 5 simple changes to make that will have a big impact.

  1. Eat more. Ha, bet you didn’t expect that one first! If you’ve pigged out over the last week, this might not sound like a good thing. But I don’t mean eat more of everything. Just eat more fresh fruit and vegetables every day, some raw, some cooked. An incredible 75% of the UK population still don’t hit the 5-a-day target (click here for statistics) so if you are one of them, now’s your chance to go for it. But don’t stop at 5. As fresh fruit and vegetables are packed full of amazing nutrients and phytonutrients that support our bodies right at cellular level, 10 portions a day is much nearer to what we should be aiming for. Your body will love you for it and you’ll soon start feeling the benefits. Plus if you fill up on the fresh stuff, there’s less room for the junk!

2) Go brown. White flour, pasta and rice have all their wonderful nutrients stripped away and all you’re left with is the starchy endosperm that rapidly gets broken down into simple sugars. It’s calories and not much else. Wholegrains on the other hand retain their fabulous fibre, essential oils and protein as well as other nutrients. They’re more filling and your helpful friendly bacteria love them. If you want to give it a try but don’t think your family will be on board with it, don’t tell them! Just change one at a time and see if they notice (sneaky but effective 😉 )

3) Eat real. Have you explored the label on processed foods recently, even ‘healthy’, and specifically ‘free-from’ items? Do you recognise half the ingredients? Many of the common items bought contain a cacophony of refined ingredients or lab-made chemicals. Even ‘natural’ ones are not quite as natural as you might think. Hundreds of new chemicals are passed as safe for human consumption every year, but most have not been tested over long periods of time (for accumulation) or in combination with other chemicals. A report last year highlighted that 51% of the food consumed in the UK is now ‘ultra-processed‘. That’s far away from the original ingredient, if it even had one. Our bodies take time to recognise and respond to these chemicals. They much prefer things simple and natural. So next time you go to buy something, ask yourself “Is this real?”. If not, put it back on the shelf and find something else to put in your basket.

4) Eat a rainbow. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about this before, but it’s so important, I’m saying it again! Plant foods all contain magical tiny chemicals that help support the body in a multitude of ways. We evolved foraging off the land and consumed whatever the land provided, much of which was colourful and attractive to the eye. Try to make a conscience decision to eat red, orange, yellow, green, blue/purple, brown and white produce every day.

5) Eat variety. As well as eating different colours, we evolved eating a wide variety of food items – basically whatever was found. Variety is key to our gut health, to look after our magical microbiome. The modern western diet tends to offer four main food sources – meat, dairy, soya and wheat – as 90% of the food eaten. Our ancestors are known to have eaten about 130 sources. Whilst that may be hard to achieve, try to avoid eating the same things day in, day out. Make a conscience effort to try new things too. Your gut will love you for it!

That’s it – more, brown, real, rainbow variety and you’re set for a healthy 2019! If you need any recipe ideas, then have a browse through the recipe index on the menu above. There’s loads to try, all of which will help you achieve these 5 easy steps. If you haven’t already subscribed to the blog, why not do that now and get new recipes directly to your inbox?

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year.

Last day of Advent

It’s Christmas Eve, and day 24 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, the last instalment for this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts over the last 3 weeks or so and that they have helped make your plant-based Christmas a little easier!

As it’s Christmas Eve, I’m gifting you an early present – access to 5 of the recipes coming up in my new book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie. I’m so excited as it’s been a long-held ambition to be a published author. Out in February 2019, my dream is coming true!

More than just a plant-based cookery book, Eat Well, Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie is an accessible guide to understanding the connection between the food we eat, our health and the wider world around us. I explore our amazing bodies and how they prefer to live like Baby Bear – just right. It’s packed full of loads of fascinating facts, useful information and my tried and tested top tips.

Of course there are delicious recipes too – over 100 of them. Easy to follow and full of deliciousness there will be something to please even the fussiest of veggie eaters!

As valued readers of my blog, I’m giving you opportunity to have a sneak-peak of 5 recipes and exclusive access to pre-launch offers. Just sign up to my special book mailing list and you will can try out the recipes straight away, just in time for Christmas (in case you haven’t got anything else to do 😉 ).

Sign up now!

Finally, the last thing to do is thank you for being part of The Sensitive Foodie community and wish you all a very merry and tasty Christmas.

Wholegrain bread sauce

It’s day 23 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar and it’s only 2 days to go until the big day! Recipe-wise, we’re down to the nitty gritty, the little extras that complement the main dish of the day. Even though we’re not serving a roast meat, there is one condiment we will not be doing without – bread sauce.

Traditionally made with butter, milk and/or cream, it may seem an unlikely side to serve. But we all love it and it’s surprisingly easy to make dairy-free and even bread (and therefore gluten) free. There’s something delightful about clove infused gloop that just hits the Christmas spot!

There are so many milk alternatives to choose from that side of things is pretty easy. I use oat milk as it is still a little creamy; almond milk is another good option. To make it extra creamy, I add a little oat cream during the last bit of cooking – Oatley cream is great for this.

For the bread crumbs, I use wholemeal bread for the rest of the family. As I am yeast intolerant, that doesn’t work for me, so I keep a little of the infused milk to one side and make a small portion of bread sauce using brown rice crumbs. It tastes just as good, although the texture is slightly more grainy.

The only downside of making your own bread sauce is you need to ensure there’s adequate infusing time; the milk needs time to absorb the onion and clove flavours. A couple of hours is enough, more if possible. If you remember, do it the night before and then it’s super quick to bring it all together on Christmas Day.

My Advent Calendar is is nearly at it’s end – only 1 more post to go! Don’t forget to let me know how you’ve been getting on with the recipes.

Wholegrain or gluten free bread sauce

  • 500ml creamy dairy-free milk like Oatley or Almond Milk
  • 1 onion, peeled but left whole
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 black pepper corns
  • 100g wholemeal bread or brown rice crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons oat cream
  • salt to taste
  • flaxseed oil (optional)

Infuse the milk at least 2 hours before you want to make the bread sauce. Pour the dairy-free milk into a small saucepan. Stick the whole cloves into the side of the onion. Drop this into the milk along with the bay leaf and pepper corns. Slowly bring to the boil, simmer for a minute then turn off the heat and leave to infuse. If you are doing this the night before, transfer the milk and flavourings into a bowl and leave covered in a cool place.

Blitz the wholemeal bread into fine breadcrumbs. When you are ready to make the bread sauce, remove the clove-onion, bay leaf and pepper corns from the milk. Pour the milk back into a saucepan (if you have removed it) and place over a low heat. Add the breadcrumbs or rice crumbs and gently bring to a simmer, stirring regularly. The crumbs will swell and the mix thicken until it’s thick and gloopy. This may take up to 15 minutes.

Add the oat cream (if using) when it’s thick along with a little salt and stir well. Turn off the heat, transfer to a serving dish and place the onion and bay leaf back in the top until you’re ready to serve. Remove these and add a little flaxseed oil if using before serving.

Vegan marzipan

Back on day 1 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, I brought you my version of a whole-food, low added sugar Christmas cake. Mine has been hidden away, a little extra brandy added every week to make it extra moist and boozy. Now it’s time for the next stage. So for day 22, I bring you my version of marzipan – a low sugar, egg-free almond paste.

There’s not getting away from the fact that this a very different to marzipan you buy in the shops. It’s not smooth, delicate or yellow! It is however super tasty and easy to make. It is rather soft though, and not so easy to roll out. But if you’re happy using your hands instead of a rolling pin, it’s super simple to use as it’s pliable and really forgiving. As the dough is so soft, it’s a good idea to make a few days before you plan to ice the cake to give it a little time to dry out.

Before I go on, I feel it’s important to discuss the elephant in the room – how to ice a Christmas cake using whole-food ingredients. After all, icing is pure sugar, and icing sugar at that, the most refined you can get. To be honest, I have no alternative to offer. A Christmas cake should be white – it’s snow after all. There are recipes for brown sugar icing, but I feel it makes a cake look more like dirty slush rather than fresh virgin snow! Sometimes on special occasions, you have to make a compromise.

So I use ready-roll icing, add it to the cake to make it look lovely. Then when presented with a slice, I decide if I want to eat it or not. Since eating a whole-food plant-based diet my taste-buds have changed so much that icing really is too sweet for me now and I tend to peel it off and just enjoy the rest of the cake. Maybe one day I’ll find a good alternative, but for now, that’s the best I can come up with!

Right, now that’s been dealt with, back to the marzipan. Recipes usually call for a large amount of sugar, but I feel that ground almonds have a natural sweetness of their own, so have only added a small amount of coconut sugar. To replace the eggs, I have used ground flaxseed. As well as working as a binding agent, this adds a little extra plant-based omega 3 fatty acids, an extra healthy bonus hidden away.

Once you have made the dough, the natural oils will start coming out; this is what makes it difficult to roll out. So just grab chunks of the marzipan, flatten it in your hands then stick to the cake, pressing it into place. Once you’ve covered it completely, smooth the joins to make it look seamless and all will be well.

One last thing, I used a little warm marmalade to help keep the marzipan stuck to the sides of the cake, a preventative measure rather than an absolute necessity. I figure it’s best to stick it in place now rather then risk it sliding off when it’s dried.

The amounts in the recipe is enough for a thin coating for a 20cm round cake as per the recipe here. If you give this a try, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Vegan marzipan

  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 50g coconut sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade (optional)

Mix the ground flaxseed and water together in a small bowl and put to one side. In a large bowl, add the ground almonds and coconut sugar and mix together. Pour in the flaxseed mix and almond essence and bring together, first with a spoon and then your hands to form a soft, kneadable dough. Leave to settle for 10 minutes.

Cut the dough in half. Use one half to cover the top; break in half, flatten one half in the palm of your hand then place over the top of the cake. Spread it out with your hands, pinching together any breaks and patching where needed. Repeat to cover the remainder of the top.

Whilst you are covering the top, gently heat the marmalade so it’s easily spreadable. Use a pastry brush to spread it over the side of the cake. Break the remaining half of marzipan into small balls. Flatten each one in the palm of your hand into rough rectangles and apply to the side of the cake. Pinch any joins together and patch where necessary. Finally, smooth the top edges to make it seamless.

Transfer to a serving plate, cover loosely with foil and leave in a cool place to dry for 2 days if possible before icing.

Comforting yellow split pea soup

I’m always amazed by people who manage to be ready for Christmas way before the actual big day arrives. I used to be, but then when I was pregnant with my son he decided to arrive one week before Christmas, 4 weeks early and it’s all been chaotic ever since!

It’s easy to become frazzled in the busy run up, so for day 21 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, I give you a gorgeously warming and comforting yellow split pea soup.

This soup is packed full of healthy nutrients and healing spices, perfect to help keep the seasonal bugs at bay and soothe frayed nerves. Yellow peas are grown specifically for drying; their natural break in the middle allows them to be split than stored. In India they’re used for dal and traditionally in the UK for making pease pudding, something I remember being fed as a child but seems to have gone out of fashion.

Yellow split peas contain fabulous amount of fibre, perfect to promote gut health, a key part of our immune system. And it’s yellow, so another addition to rainbow phytonutrients that support the body’s metabolism. In fact, this soup is a cacophony of rainbow colours and flavours and will bring a little sunshine to a dull December day.

So why not take a moment to sit and enjoy the wonderful flavours and switch off from all the craziness going on around you. Your body and mind will love you for it, that I guarantee.

Comforting split yellow pea soup (serves 4-6)

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium leek, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 large celery stick, diced
  • 1 fat clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 100g yellow spilt peas]
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 800ml vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • flaxseed oil to serve (optional)

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water to a large saucepan and add the onion, leek, carrot and celery. Stir well and sauté for 5 minutes until the veg starts to soften. Add the garlic and tomato and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the spices and yellow split peas to the pan, stir well to combine and cook for a minute, then add the tinned tomatoes and stock. Stir well, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and pop on the lid. Simmer for 35 minutes or until the yellow split peas are soft and the veg is mushy. Turn off the heat and leave to cool for a minute.

Using a stick blender, blend the soup, but not completely to leave a little texture. Season with salt and pepper, and serve steaming hot in bowls with a glug of flaxseed oil if desired. Enjoy!