Banana bread loaf

I’m so happy to say I’ve been getting some wonderful feedback from people who have read my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie. As well as gaining some useful insight from the first half (which covers loads of information about health, food and plant-based eating), they’re loving the recipes.

It seems that my simple banana bread recipe is a particular favourite. I’m not surprised as it’s really easy and super yummy. It’s also the one that gets raved about whenever I make it for an event or shared lunch. Continue reading “Banana bread loaf”

Strawberry and chocolate ‘cheesecake’

I’ve always been a bit partial to a slice of deliciously creamy cheesecake. Before I went dairy-free and plant-based my favourites were the ones you could buy frozen (I never tried to make my own!). Super-sweet crunchy biscuit base, thick and creamy filling then finished with a colourful layer of blackcurrants or strawberries, coated with more sugar of course. It hit all the pleasure buttons in one go!

When I went dairy-free, cheesecake was off the menu until I discovered the raw version – not quite so super-sweet but still delicious. I loved experimenting with different flavours – there are two amazing ones in my new book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie that are a winner every time. Continue reading “Strawberry and chocolate ‘cheesecake’”

Healthy oat and flaxseed cookies

The last few weeks have been so busy, getting the last bits of my new book finalised. It’s very exciting – I have 250 copies of Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie currently being printed and hopefully being delivered tomorrow. I’m at the Horsham Vegan Festival on Saturday (click here for details) where I’ll be giving a talk and selling my book for the first time! If you’re in the area, do pop by and say hi.

In the meantime, there’s still some baking going on (if nothing else it’s therapy to being on the computer for hours on end!). And as its half term, I thought you might like something simple to do with the kids, especially if you’ve run out of ideas that don’t cost money, as school holidays can be such an expensive time.

I used to love baking with my children when they were young, but it had to be simple otherwise 1) they would run out of patience and 2) the kitchen would turn into a baking bomb-site! And sometimes is was wise not to do highly sugar-laden cookies otherwise it would send them a bit bonkers – not ideal on a wet February day!

These cookies are super easy to make and contain no refined sugar, the sweetness coming from the ripe banana and dried fruit. If they are not sweet enough for your family’s taste-buds, add a little maple syrup. I’ve used raisins and almonds in my recipe, but there’s lots of alternatives like cranberries, pecan nuts, peanuts or chocolate drops (dairy-free of course!).

These can be made strictly gluten-free if that’s important to you by using gluten-free oats. And there’s loads of lovely fibre here from both the oats and the flaxseed to keep your gut bacteria happy. The flaxseed also provides health omega 3 fatty acids which help boost brain power and reduce inflammation in the body. Yay!

Of course, you don’ have to be a child to enjoy these! Just a lover of cookies! Perfect for lunch-boxes and snacks, you could even get away with eating them for breakfast. And as they are fully plant-based and low in fat, they are suitable for many specialist health programmes like Overcoming MS and reversing diabetes and heart disease.

I hope you give these a go. If you do, let me know how you get on. And if you can come to Horsham on Saturday – see you there! If not, I’ll be posting details on how to buy my book very soon.

Healthy oat and flaxseed cookies

Quick and tasty oat based cookies with no added sugar but lots of yummy flavour.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Snack
Keyword: cookies, dairy free, gluten free, no added sugar, plant based
Servings: 10 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
  • 100 grams oats gluten free if needed
  • 50 grams ground flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 30 grams raisins
  • 30 grams sliced almonds
  • 3 tablespoons dairy-free milk

Instructions

  • Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper or a silicon mat. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan). 
  • Hunt out 10 good almond flakes and put to one side for decoration. Roughly chop the remaining almonds
  • Place the ripe banana in a bowl and mash it until soft and smooth. Add the oats, ground flaxseed, salt, cinnamon, raisins and almonds to the banana and mix well to combine. Pour in the dairy-free milk and stir to form a thick dough. Leave it to settle for 5 minutes. If the dough is really dry, add a little more dairy-free milk but take care not to make it soggy.
  • Split the dough into 10 equal sections. Roll each one into a ball, place on the baking sheet and flatten with your hand until it’s approximately 2cm thick. Repeat with the remaining sections. 
  • Press a sliced almond into the top then place the tray in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn over and bake for another 10 until firm and lightly browned. 
  • Remove from the oven and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. That’s if they don’t all get eaten at once!

Notes

Don’t forget you can swap the raisins and almonds for any dried fruit, nut or seed of choice, or use dairy-free chocolate drops.

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.

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.

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.

Nut butter pastry

It’s day 18 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar – only a week until Christmas! It’s also my son’s birthday, so I will be whipping a chocolate birthday cake for him – all plant-based of course.

Back on day 6, I shared my recipe for mincemeat. Full of unrefined sugars and no added fats, it still tastes, and works, like traditional mincemeat, just slightly healthier.

But of course, mincemeat by itself is no good. It can be used in various recipes, but the key one for this time of year just has to be mince pies. The challenge is what pastry to use?

If you are not managing a health problem, then it is easy – buy ready-made pastry! Brands like Just-rol are dairy-free, using various vegetable fats instead of butter (just make sure you don’t buy an all-butter pastry by mistake!). There are gluten-free alternatives available now too, including one by Just-rol which is also vegan. But they do use palm oil, so if you are trying to avoid that then this might not be the option for you.

You can make pastry at home using Trex, a vegetable fat with similar properties and looks like lard. Similar effects on your body too! This also contains palm oil. It does however make great pastry, so the choice is yours.

None of these options work for me. Following the OMS (Overcoming MS) programme means avoiding products containing saturated fats like palm oil and coconut oil. So I make my own pastry. In the past I’ve used olive oil; it works but it’s a little bland. Christmas is a time of rich, luxurious flavours; nut butter does the job really well, especially pecan nut butter.

You may not have seen pecan nut butter on the supermarket shelves. That’s probably because they are more expensive than other nuts. I bought a jar from an artisan market stall and hid it in the cupboard as it was too much for general usage! You can make your own by lightly toasting a few handfuls and popping them into a high-speed blender or food processor. It takes a little while as you have to keep stopping the machine and scrapping it off the sides to blend again, but once the oils are releases it all comes together beautifully.  

I use the minimal amount of pecan nut butter as a fat replacement as possible. Partly because of the expense, but mainly because it is super rich and I don’t want it to dominate as a flavour over the mince meat. It’s not essential to use pecan nut butter. It will work with almond or cashew nut; I would avoid peanut butter though. And if you are nut-free, then try it with sunflower seed butter instead. 

This pastry comes together as any pastry would, but it bakes a little firmer and is somewhat solid. So please don’t expect to get a light and fluffy casing for your mince pies. It does however taste delicious. Plus, when it’s hard to find a pastry to eat, it somehow tastes even better! It also works just as well with gluten free flour, just make sure there’s a little xanthum gum in the mix to help it stay together.

So if you are struggling to find a pastry to meet your needs, or just fancy trying something a little different, then why not give this a go? If you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Pecan nut butter pastry mince pies (makes 7-8)

  • 125g wholemeal or gluten free flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (optional but good)
  • 2 tablespoons pecan nut butter (or chosen alternative)
  • 5 tablespoons cold water
  • mincemeat to fill

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the coconut sugar. Add the pecan nut butter and lightly rub in with your finger tips until it’s incorporated and has a bread-crumb like texture.

Pour in 4 1/2 tablespoons of the water and bring together with your hands to form a soft dough. Add the final drops of water if required. Knead gently to make sure everything is well combined, then place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Roll the dough out on a silicon mat or sheet of greaseproof paper and cut out circles to fit whatever baking tin you’re using to make your mince pies. Place in the baking tray inserts and fill with mincemeat. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut out enough lids to top. Brush with soya milk and place on top of each of the pie bases. Press gently to seal and repeat until everything is used up. Cut a small hole in the centre of the pastry lids to let the steam escape and brush with a little more soya milk. 

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the tray and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool. 

Gingerbread

It is Gingerbread House Day today, so of course the recipe for day 12 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar is gingerbread.

This recipe ticks most of the boxes when it comes to ‘free from’ baking. It’s dairy-free, egg-free and works brilliantly with gluten-free flour. It does have added sugar though in the form of coconut sugar. Whilst this is the least refined type, it still may not suit you if you are sugar-free. The raw gingerbread balls from day 7 may be better for you. I have tried baking that mix too with mixed results! It makes a gingery biscuit, just not gingerbread.

Texture is important with gingerbread. You want a crunch crack when you break it with a softer inside. That comes from the fat and sugar combo. When it comes to eating a whole-food plant-based diet, getting an unrefined fat source is challenging. That is why for this recipe there are three options stated.

If you are ok eating refined fats, then dairy-free spread like Pure work just fine. But if not, then a neutral nut butter like cashew is an excellent alternative. And if you are nut-free, then tahini (sesame seed paste) is your option. They all work well. The flavour is slightly different, but I think the cashew nut butter creates a lovely deep rich flavour. Unfortunately cashew nut butter is also quite expensive to buy, but with these three options you can find something that works for you.

A word of warning when making up the mix – be very careful with how much water you add. You want to create a soft dough. It can however go from too dry to a wet soggy mess that you can’t do anything with in a very short period of time. 

So on Gingerbread House Day, why not use this recipe to create your own house at home? Or you could just cut out Christmas cookie shaped ones and enjoy them as they are, no building required. Do let me know how you get on.

Gingerbread

  • 250g whole-wheat or gluten free flour (with ½ teaspoon xanthum gum if none in mix)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2-3 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 70g butter alternative – dairy-free spread, cashew butter, tahini etc
  • 100g coconut sugar
  • 80-100ml hot water
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Grab 2 baking trays and cover with greaseproof paper. 

Place the flour, baking powder, spices and salt in a bowl and mix together well to combine. In another bowl, beat the butter alternative and 50g of coconut sugar and the maple syrup together until it’s well combined and creamy.  Place the remaining coconut sugar in another bowl and pour in 80ml hot water. Stir together then pour into the ‘butter’ mixture. Stir well to combine.

Add the flour and mix in with a metal spoon. The mix should come together to form a soft dough. If it’s too wet, add a little more flour, if it’s too dry add some extra water. Don’t make too soft or it’s difficult to roll and cut.

Cut the dough in half. Cover the worktop well with flour and roll out one section to 1/2 cm thick. Cut out the shape you require with cutters or template and transfer to the prepared baking trays. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Place the trays the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and leave to cool on a rack. Decorate as desired, or just eat plain as they are.

Raw chocolate brownie bites

It seems that you, dear readers, have a sweet tooth. Whenever I post a recipe for cake or dessert, I get lots more website visits than a savoury day. So I think this recipe on day 10 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar will please you greatly.

These raw chocolate brownie bites hit all the spots when it comes to a sweet treat. They are satisfyingly sweet but not sickly, need a little chewing but won’t clog up your mouth and have a wonderful mix of soft and crunchy textures. They are also incredibly filling, so no matter how much of a chocaholic you may be, it’s hard to eat too many (or at least that’s what I find!). 

What’s even better is that these raw chocolate brownie bites are packed full of wonderful fibre and nutrients, thus making dessert a health food. It’s a win-win all round.

Cacao nibs are chocolate in its purest form. Basically they’re chopped cocoa beans that have been dried and fermented. No sugar or fat of any form have been added, so they provide an intense chocolatey flavour that is different to a normal chocolate bar. This minimal processing means that all the wonderful nutrients and phytonutrients are retained including good amounts of minerals like magnesium and iron, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and anti-oxidants. Although cacao nibs are more expensive to buy, you don’t need much so a little goes a long way.

Dairy-free, gluten-free and completely plant-based, it’s amazing how something so healthy can taste so good! You can cut these brownies into 12 larger pieces, but I prefer to make smaller squares. For some reason it feels more indulgent because I can have more than one…..or maybe that’s just me. Once made, these can be kept in the fridge for up to 7 days, but realistically speaking that’s unlikely to happen as they are just too good.

So if you fancy making a little treat over the Christmas period (or any time of the year really), then why not give these a go? Let me know how you get on – and enjoy!

Raw chocolate brownie bites

  • 250g dates
  • 110g walnuts or hazelnuts
  • 140 almonds
  • 60g cacao powder
  • 2 tablespoons raw cacao nibs
  • pinch of salt
  • 30g cacao powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • handful of chopped walnuts or hazelnuts
  • sprinkle cacao nibs and/or freeze-dried raspberries

Soak the dates in warm water for a minimum of 10 minutes to soften. Drain but keep the soaking water. Line a small square dish or tin with baking paper.

Place the nuts in a food processor and grind. Pour into a clean bowl, then blend the drained dates. Spoon out into a separate bowl.

Return the ground nuts to the processor and add the cacao powder and salt. Blitz to mix. With the processor running, add in handfuls of the blended dates until the mix sticks together (you may not need all of it, and don’t want it over wet or sticky). Tip the mix out into a bowl and mix in the cacao nibs with your hands.

Place the mix into the prepared dish and press down to flatten out equally across the bottom. Place in the fridge to set.

For the topping, mix cacao powder, vanilla essence and maple syrup together to form a thick paste. Add extra cacao or some of the date soaking liquid if too wet or dry. Take the base out of the fridge and spread the paste over the top. Decorate with chopped nuts and cacao nibs if desired and place back in the fridge to set for 2 hours or so.

Carefully remove the brownie from the dish and peel off the baking paper. Cut into small squares.

Raw gingerbread balls

Gingerbread is synonymous with Christmas, but sometimes it’s good to have something a bit different to the norm. So for day 7 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar, I bring you raw gingerbread balls.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a bit partial to a tasty energy ball. I’ve posted a few different ones over the years including yummy carrot cake balls and last years raw Christmas cake balls. 

Energy balls are great, especially if you have a sweet tooth as they hit the spot with sweetness but are free from shedloads of refined sugar. That’s not to say they’re sugar free, far from it! But the sugar is still bound up with the fibre in the whole foods so they give a slower, more sustained release. Much less stressful on your body and helps to avoid sugar lows.

I always see energy balls as a wonderful benefit of eating a whole-food plant-based diet. The flavours are intense and they’re just so enjoyable. But I know some people find them too much of a faff, or haven’t got the right equipment to make them. If that’s you, then let me introduce you to Charlotte of Frog Hollow Catering. 

I met Charlotte a few years ago through The Mumpreneurs Networking Club (MNC) and she then came along to my Eat Well Live Course. As with many trained chef, she had previously thought that rich, animal-based food was the best way of eating, until she had serious health problems. She discovered the benefits of eating whole, plant food and started to use her skills in a different way. She now has a fabulous business making energy bites and delicious raw cakes. And I mean delicious! 

Charlotte has a range of products you can check out on her website here, but if you want something super special for Christmas, she makes these gorgeous raw chocolate truffles that are dairy-free, vegan and contain no refined sugar, just lots of fabulous nutrients and deliciousness. Last order date before Christmas is 18th December, so don’t delay if you want some. Btw, I’m not on commission here, I just love what Charlotte does!

Right, back to the gingerbread balls. Ginger is an amazing ingredient to include in your cooking, particularly at this time of year with all the colds and viruses going around. It contains an array of phytonutrient compounds that help with all sorts of things including nausea and pain. It can also help support the immune system and reduce inflammation. 

Ginger can be a bit perky on the flavour side of things though; I certainly find it more fiery than other members of my family. One of the benefits of making your own gingerbread balls is that you can get the flavour to your own liking. I’ve set it at a moderate level, but if you prefer more of a ginger hit then feel free to increase the amount of ground ginger.

These balls do contain almonds; if you have to eat nut-free, replace them with sunflower seeds. The flavour will be slightly different, but still works really well. And don’t forget that if you are strictly gluten-free, please use gluten-free oats. 

I’ve coated some of these with sesame seeds; they’re not essential but add even more nutrients and make them slightly less sticky to pick up. Feel free to omit if you so desire.

These are also great fun to make with the kids as they can get their hands in and fully sticky. If you give them a go, let me know how you get on!

Raw gingerbread balls (makes 18 )  

  •  75g dates, stone removed 
  • 50g oats
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 50g raisins
  • 100g almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)                                                   

Soak the dates in hot water for 10 minutes if they are very dry, then drain, retaining the water. Place all the ingredients apart from the sesame seeds into a food processor and blend until combined and sticky. Add a little soaking water if it’s too dry to bind.

Take a heaped teaspoonful of the mix out and roll it into a ball in the palm of your hand. Roll in sesame seeds if using. Repeat the process until all the mix is used up.

These balls will keep in an air-tight container for up to 7 days, or can be frozen.