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’”

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.

Raw salted caramel cheesecake

I’ve never had a dairy-based salted caramel cheesecake – I was dairy free before salted caramel was a bit thing! But if it takes anything as good as this, then I can see what the fuss is about.

This lovely alternative is a delight, and can be eaten in the safe knowledge that all the ingredients are whole food and plant based, and therefore good for your body as well as your tastebuds. The caramel is rich and deep, not too sweet, but definitely hits the sugar receptors. This sweetness comes from the dates – and there’s a lot of them in this recipe! So I am never going to claim this is a low calorie number (it is dessert after all!), but it is packed full of fibre and nutritional benefits – minerals like iron and zinc, phytonutrients that are particularly good for gut health and a reasonable smattering of B vitamins. The type of fibre contained in dates also help keep beneficial bacteria happy; a happy gut = a happy body!

You may notice that I use Himalayan salt in the recipe – that’s my preference, but feel free to use whatever type you like or have in the house at the time. Don’t decide you can’t make this if you’re missing the salt I’ve specified, that would be too sad!

There’s lots of claims and counter claims on the internet about the benefits or otherwise of Himalayan salt. Having read around the subject, I’ve decided in favour of the pink salt as it is less refined and contains slightly more natural balance of sodium chloride with other trace minerals. As for the claims about energy levels, health benefits and potential elemental toxins, that’s for everyone to decide for themselves (I do, however, have my Himalayan salt lamp next to the modem in the house – it looks pretty in the hall and if it helps manage EMF in the house, why not?).

Back to the recipe. There are a lot of stages in this cheesecake, but each stage doesn’t take too long so don’t be overwhelmed. It really needs making the day before, but you can always make it a few hours before hand and pop it in the freezer if needed. Or prepare in advance and freeze, ready to pull out when you have the need for a salted caramel cheesecake! I would advise leaving the chocolate layer off if you are planning on freezing, and adding it just at the end once it’s defrosted with the decorations. Or you can omit the chocolate layer altogether, it will still taste wonderfully delicious and indulgent. Enjoy!

Raw salted caramel cheesecake (serves 10)

For the base:
140g oats (gluten free if needed)
80g ground flaxseed
130g dessicated coconut
240g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
good pinch of Himalayan salt

For the caramel:
180g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
60-80ml water or dairy free milk
4 tablespoons of almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt

For the cheesecake layer:
260g cashew nuts (soaked for at least 2 hours)
80g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
125ml coconut milk (the thick part is best)
good pinch of Himalayan salt

For the chocolate topping:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3-4 tablespoons maple syrup
2-3 tablespoons raw cacao powder
To decorate:
Frozen black/red currents, freeze dried strawberries

You will need a 23cm springform cake tin.

Unless you are using super sticky and expensive Medjool dates, you will probably need to soak your dates in hot water for 10 minutes or so to make them easier to blend. Weigh out the dates for each component in separate bowls and soak them whilst you’re getting everything else ready. Don’t forget to drain them before you start!

For the base layer: Place all the ingredients into the food processor and blitz until combined and sticky. Add a little of the date soaking water if it doesn’t come together, but not too much as you don’t want it too wet. Press the dough into the base of the springform cake tin and up the sides slightly using your hands. Try to spread it out equally and firmly. Place the tin in the fridge to chill whilst you make the next layers. Remember to clean the processor bowl before moving on!

For the caramel: Place all the ingredients into the food processor and blend until a thick, creamy caramel is formed. Check the flavour and add a little more salt if needed – remember this is salted caramel so you need to use more than feels normal. Pour out into a bowl and try not to eat it all whilst you make the next layer!

For the cheesecake: Wash the food processor bowl again then add all the ingredients for this layer and blend together until thick and creamy. This may take a few minutes, depending on how long you have soaked the cashew nuts for. Carry on until the mix is smooth and not grainy (means you have to keep tasting it!)

To construct, remove the tin with the base from the fridge. Pour in the caramel to cover the bottom equally, then cover it with the cheesecake mix. Grab a thin spoon or chopstick and gently swirl it around in the mix to slightly combine the two levels – you should see a little caramel swirl appear on the top. Place in the fridge to set for at least 6 hours, or cover and pop in the freezer.

For the chocolate topping and decoration: Melt the coconut oil so it is liquid. In another bowl, mix the cacao and maple syrup together – it takes a little hard stirring to get them to combine. Add the coconut oil and stir well. Taste. If too thick or not sweet enough, add more maple syrup. If too thin or not chocolatey enough, add more cacao powder. Pour the chocolate sauce over the top, spread out equally to the edges, decorate with scattered berries and freeze-dried strawberries and return to the fridge to set.

To serve, release the clip on the side of the cake tin and very carefully push the cheesecake up and away from the sides. Leave on the base of the tin to serve (it’s safer!). Cut into slices with a sharp knife. Decorate each serving with an extra sprinkle of freeze dried strawberries or fresh berries. Enjoy!

 

 

Summer crumble comfort

Some may call us brave, others foolish, but we have just been away on holiday for two weeks, leaving our teens at home to fend for themselves. It’s not the first time we’ve done it, but certainly the longest. And with great relief, they managed just fine – the house was still standing, no difficult to explain holes in the wall or dangling radiators (it’s happened before!) and pretty tidy too – how wonderful!

The only thing that needed immediate attention turned out to be the freezer – the door had been left open a bit so it was over-iced and a couple of things had started to defrost. No big problem that’s for sure, especially when those two items were a container of cakes and a bag of rhubarb – they just needed to be eaten :).

The biggest issue about being home turned out to be the weather! Not that it had been perfect in the Alps, but I had got used to a large amount of very hot sun, and now suddenly it was grey, dull and definitely wet, enough to put the damper on anyone’s holiday spirits. Comfort food was needed and that bag of rhubarb was begging to be made into a crumble. As it is still summer, no matter what the view out the window may say, I wanted to add a suitable seasonal element and the tub of gorgeously sweet strawberries I’d picked up hit the spot. Some may say that rhubarb and strawberry are an odd combination for a crumble, but they go together perfectly as the sweetness of the glorious strawberries means you need less sugar to soften the tart rhubarb, just as long as the strawberries are properly grown and flavoursome. I wouldn’t make this with insipid out-of-season watery berries that’s for sure.

Crumble is a fantastic dessert – easy to make and (nearly) everyone enjoys it. Traditionally though, it’s not the best for those who need to eat dairy or gluten free, or for anyone looking to lose weight due to the large added sugar content. Fortunately, it’s easy to give it a make over! I use a mixture of (gluten free if necessary) oats and gluten free flour for the topping with a smidge of coconut sugar to help with the crunch. Cinnamon aids with sugar absorption and so a teaspoon added into the topping not only benefits the body, but tastes amazing too.

Both rhubarb and strawberry are fabulous nutrition wise, packed full of anti-oxidants, phytonutrients and various vitamins. Strawberries are an amazing source of vitamin C in particular.

So why not give this a go – everyone will agree on the flavour, the only debate will be custard, ice cream or cream to top it (dairy free of course!).

Rhubarb and strawberry crumble

4-5 stalks of rhubarb150g strawberries
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
2 tablespoons water
85g oats (gluten free if needed)
70g plain flour (wholemeal/gluten free)
2 heaped tablespoons dairy free spread (Pure/Vitalite etc)
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Chop the rhubarb into chunks, slice the strawberries in half (if big) and place in a medium sized oven-proof dish with the coconut sugar and water. Ensure everything is mixed well together.
Mix the oats, flour, coconut sugar and cinnamon together, add the dairy free spread and rub in using your finger tips until it’s blended in and small chunks stick together (you can do this in a food processor if you don’t want crumble mix up your nails!). Sprinkle over the top of the prepared fruit and pop in the oven for 20 minutes or so until the fruit bubbles up a bit and the top is lightly browned and firm.
Leave to rest for a few minutes then serve with whichever accompaniment you choose. Enjoy!

Chocolate rethink – then try this tart!

Easter has many meanings. There’s the religious one, naturally. Or the start of spring and new life. Or – for many – chocolate! It’s estimated that 80 million chocolate Easter eggs are sold per year, and that’s in the UK alone.

Culturally, it seems that Easter is an excuse to gorge on the brown stuff with impunity. This seems to go hand in hand with Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. Chocolate is number one on the list of items that people give up for Lent, in remembrance of the time Jesus spent in the wilderness.  However, many non-religious people also participate in the process too, and I wonder if that is more of a control issue rather than a spiritual one – chocolate can be so moreish and addictive!

It’s estimated that it takes 21 days to change a habit; when you exclude a food item from your diet, it takes about this length of time for your tastebuds to change too (see this old blog post for more tastebud info http://foodiesensitive.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/tastebud-tales.html). In this time, your body also changes the way is responds. Most chocolate is packed full of sugar and fat, which is why we love it so much! But if we take time to listen to our bodies and take note to how it reacts to different foods, you’ll probably notice a difference to how you feel without a shed load of chocolate every day. When you start eating it again, especially after 40 days, your body will react differently, and often can make you feel quite unwell. The odd thing is, that’s probably how you felt before the exclusion period, but hadn’t recognised it as a bad feeling, just a normal one. It’s amazing what our bodies deal with as ‘normal’.

Now don’t be aghast and think that I’m declaring you shouldn’t eat chocolate – I wouldn’t dare! And as recent research suggests, in certain forms and small amounts, cocoa is actually pretty good for us. Not only does it have iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc, minerals that help keeps the body functioning well, but it’s also packed full of helpful antioxidants, sterols and flavonoids that can help blood pressure regulation, reduce cholesterol and potentially increase blood flow in the brain and prevent cognitive decline – I’m all for some of that!To me, the issue is type and amount of chocolate. All the benefits of cocoa come with dark or raw chocolate. Milk chocolate is miles less effective and carries loads of sugar and fats which lead to weight gain, amongst other problems. Cheap chocolate bars only contain about 10% cocoa; the rest is made up of dairy products, sugar and oils, often hydrogenated (this changes the chemical structure and is toxic to us). And that fat and sugar combo is what makes us want to go back for more, as it triggers the pleasure centres in the brain, and boy those centres just love to be satisfied!

I’m really not keen on dark chocolate, so when I went dairy free it meant going without. Fortunately, I’ve never been that fussed, so it wasn’t really an issue. But now there are so many dairy free alternatives on the market, it’s easy to have a little chocolate indulgence every now and then. I buy my dairy free chocolate from Plamil (www.plamilfoods.co.uk) – great flavour and minimal additives. And there’s something utterly decadent about buying a 7.5kg box of chocolate drops…….not all for me, honest! I use it for desserts at my supper clubs.

So if you overindulged over the weekend and are feeling rather sluggish and sick, have a listen to what your body is trying to tell you, and maybe have a rethink about your chocolate habits. Then when you’ve recovered, try this gorgeously yummy and healthy chocolate and coconut tart – it not only tastes good, but will make you feel good too!

Chocolate and coconut tart
Base:
1 cup hazelnuts
1 cup of dates, soaked for 10 minutes
50g cocoa powder
Filling:
400g tin coconut milk
1/4 cup (60ml) dairy free milk
**1/4 cup cornflour (or see below for alternative)
pinch of salt
1 cup dairy free chocolate
Topping:
Toasted coconut flakes/freeze dried strawberries/raspberries

First of all, make the base. Drain the dates and place in a food processor with the hazelnuts and cocoa powder. Blitz until everything is chopped up and well combined – add a little of the date water if you need to help it stick together. Spoon out into a loose bottomed round cake tin and press down firmly so the base sticks together, covering the bottom of the tin. Pop in the freezer whilst you make the filling.

Mix the cornflour and dairy free milk together in a small bowl and put to one side. Heat the coconut milk in a small pan. When it is warm but not boiling, add the dairy free chocolate and salt and stir until melted and smooth (a couple of minutes). Slowly pour in the cornflour mix and continue to stir until it thickens, approximately 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.

Remove the base from the freezer and pour in the filling. Place in the fridge to firm up for about 8 hours or leave overnight (if you’re short of time, pop in the freezer for a few hours but keep an eye on it). To serve, sprinkle toasted coconut flakes over the top, and enjoy!

** Update 30th June 2017. In case you don’t want to use cornflour, or you find the texture a bit cloying, then use agar agar powder instead. For the recipe above, you will need 1 teaspoon of agar agar powder or 2 teaspoons of agar flakes. Personally, I always use the powder as it dissolves more easily and doesn’t alter the texture of the dish, which can be a problem with flakes. 

The recipe instruction should be amended like this – heat the coconut milk in a small pan. Once warm but not boiling, stir in the dairy free chocolate and pinch of salt. Stir well. Once the chocolate has melted, sprinkle the agar powder on the top and bring to a low simmer. Carefully stir in the powder with a small whisk and continue to stir gently for a few minutes until the mix starts to coat and stick to the whisk head. Simmer for another minute, then turn off the heat and leave to cool, stirring regularly to prevent chocolatey clumps forming. Pour into the base and continue as per original recipe. 

 

Easy dairy free chocolate mousse

As a child, I was never that bothered about chocolate. Not that I didn’t like it (there can’t be many than don’t) but my pocket money would go on sweets and candies rather than chocolate treats.  Fortunately, I’ve never been plagued by chocolate cravings like many I know, but I do appreciate there are moments when only chocolate will do!

Once I became dairy free, my chocolate intake dropped to almost nil, as I only really like milk chocolate, and the only dairy free alternatives I found were carob bars. I tried it once. And only once!

Fortunately, there are more and more dairy free chocolate alternatives around.  There were so many free samples on offer at last year’s Vegefest, I can say I was truly chocolate-stuffed by the end of the day. And many of these are now available in supermarkets, which does make life rather easy.

One chocolate dessert I’ve always had a passion for, though, is chocolate mousse. Decadently rich yet beautifully light and airy, its a pudding that you can savour teaspoon after teaspoonful. Not good for your hips, but a delight on your tongue and worth the extra workout the next day!! Recently, I had a sudden urge for a chocolate mousse so decided to find a dairy free version – and I have to say this works so much better than I could have hoped.

It’s really quick and easy and tastes stunningly chocolaty. As tofu is used to replace the double cream element, it’s much healthier too as it’s low in saturated fat, although go easy on the agave syrup as this sweetener will rack up the refined sugar content some what. Although marketed as a healthy alternative to refined sugar, agave is just as processed and can even have a higher sugar content than the nasty high-fructose corn syrup that’s added to so many processed cakes and pastries. Mind you, this IS a chocolate pudding, so has to have a little devilish nastiness to it!!

Dairy free chocolate mousse
350g silken tofu
170g dairy free chocolate
3/4 tablespoon agave syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
fresh berries/berry coulis to serve
First, melt the chocolate in a clean bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool slightly. Meanwhile, drain and dry the tofu and puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add the melted chocolate, agave syrup, vanilla essence and salt and blend again until smooth and well m
ixed. Spoon out into four individual ramekin dishes and chill in the fridge for 1 – 2 hours or until set. Serve with whole fresh berries or a berry coulis and enjoy your divine chocolate treat!

Amazing Banoffee Pie – part 2

Slightly later than planned, here is the second half of the banoffee pie recipe – and you’ll see it was worth waiting for!

This raw banoffee pie does contain a lot of dates, and a good helping of nuts. Some may put some off by this as both are renowned for being high in calories – dates with sugar and nuts with fat. Whilst this is true, not all calories are equal. A whole nut contains much more than just fat, and a whole date is more than just sugar. We are so used to having refined products in recipes, such as granulated sugar or oil that we forget about where these ingredients come from.

The great thing about eating a whole food plant based diet is that the recipes include everything you find in a fruit, vegetable, pulse or cereal. If dates are refined to produce some form of glucose or fructose syrup, that’s all you will get. But a whole date is packed full of complex carbohydrates, so it takes some time for it to be broken down into fructose and glucose (which your body needs for as it’s base energy source) rather than provide one immediate sugar rush. Alongside the sugars, dates are also packed full of potassium, essential for all cell processes, magnesium, vitamin A, phytonutrients and anti-oxidants and fibre. Fibre is essential in our diets to help maintain a healthy gut as well as clear out all the excess waste that builds up, including unhealthy fats and cholesterol. Dates fill you up – refined carbs and sugar don’t.

The same goes with nuts. Walnuts for example are one of the few plant foods that contain omega 3 essential fatty acids which are proven to promote healthy hearts, brains and protect against certain forms of cancer. Walnuts also contain vitamin E and other antioxidants as well as minerals such as manganese and iron. And don’t forget the fibre!

This is why eat foods whole – or in this case starting them off whole and chopping them up without taking anything away – promotes health and vitality.

So now I’ve finished my little soap-box moment, here’s the rest of the recipe. First the base.
Pie Base
1 cup cashew nuts
1 cup walnuts
1 cup pitted dates (plus a few extra if needed)
pinch of salt
Place the nuts and salt in a food processor and blitz until they resemble bread crumbs. Add the dates and process until you have a sticky dough. If your dates are a bit dry, you will  need more to produce the right stick. Take a bit out of the processor and press together with your fingers – if it sticks in a lump, it’s ready. Take the dough out and press firmly into a loose bottomed flan tin – 18-20 cms wide. You need to press hard and try to make it equal. Put it in the freezer for an hour or so.

Now is the time to make your caramel if you haven’t already. Recipes for the raw caramel and whipped coconut cream are here http://foodiesensitive.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/amazing-banoffee-pie-raw-and-dairy-free.html

Putting it all together
1 pie base
1 portion of raw caramel
1 portion of whipped coconut cream
3-4 bananas
lemon juice
cocoa powder
Take your pie base out of the freezer and spoon on the caramel layer. Put back in the fridge for a while whilst you whip up your coconut cream. Slice the bananas. Put half of the bananas into the cream and cover the rest with a little lemon juice to prevent discolouration. Take the base out of the fridge, spoon on the banana cream, scatter the remaining banana on top and sprinkle lightly with cocoa powder. Eat immediately, or pop back in the fridge until you’re ready (otherwise your cream will lose it’s structure). And there you have it. Be amazed by the flavours and enjoy – remember it’s good for you too!!!

Amazing Banoffee Pie – raw and dairy free! Part one.

I love pudding. It’s no secret. I have a sweet tooth that loves to be satisfied. Unfortunately, most traditional puddings and desserts are packed full of dairy – dollops of butter, lashings of cream and of course bundles of fat and calories to go with it!! It’s not a wonder that when I finally banished dairy from my diet, I lost weight without trying!

So  now I am on a continual quest to find puddings that I can eat – dairy free and delicious of course – without falling back onto too many fake alternatives which are often packed full of chemicals and nasties that I really don’t want to consume. I want real food in my pudding. I do want to have my cake and to eat it!

One of my favourite puddings of all time is Banoffee Pie. I’m not sure if it’s the deep rich caramel flavour or the sumptuous cream and banana mix which makes it so tantalising on the tongue – or maybe all the flavours together is the key. Banoffee Pie is a Sussex creation, first found on the menu of the Hungry Monk back in the 1970s, and being a Sussex girl, it’s only right that I should indulge and support our local cuisine. But that combination of caramel made from condensed milk and the thick creamy topping means that, sadly, my banoffee pie days are over.

Or so I thought until my lovely husband, knowing how much I miss my scrumptious puds, found a recipe for, and made me, Raw Banoffee Pie. What a man!! Made from whole foods, no added sugars at all – and it tastes absolutely wonderful.

As a dish, it’s not too complicated to make, but has a few component parts, so this recipe is being split into two posts (what a tease!!) but if you can’t wait, then check out the whole thing on this wonderful site http://www.gluten-free-vegan-girl.com/2013/04/no-bake-vegan-banoffe-pie.html
So this dish has three component parts – the crust, the caramel and the cream. Each one can be used to  make other yummy dishes, hence why I want to break them down for ease of reference. Today, I’m focusing on the caramel and the cream. Next time the base and bringing the whole recipe together. It doesn’t take up loads of time, just needs a little planning ahead.

The raw caramel is amazing, and is one of the things I demonstrated at my first Sensitive Foodie cooking demo the other week. It went down really well, and we have all be devising other uses for it ever since!! The coconut cream is so easy and absolutely gorgeous and can definitely be used as whipped cream for other puddings. It tastes gorgeous and it’s hard not to eat it all straight from the bowl.

First, the caramel. Made from whole dates and vanilla, the flavour is influenced by two things – the type of dates used and time. Richer dates, like medjool, produce a deeper caramel flavour. I’ve used these and Halawi dates and the flavour is lighter with the Halawi. Still gorgeous though! The texture is also slightly smoother with the medjool dates. As for time, the flavours mature over a few days, so if you can, make this caramel and keep it in a pot at the back of the fridge where no-one will find it (otherwise they will eat it!!) for a few days before you want to use it. If you can’t, don’t worry, your caramel will still be good, just not quite as deep as it might be. Finally, I use vanilla paste rather than vanilla essence, just because I found it produces a better flavour. If you only have essence, then use it, but check your flavour as you may need to add a bit more.

Raw caramel
3 cups pitted dates
1 cup of almond milk (or other non-dairy milk – not soya milk)
1 tsp vanilla paste
a pinch of salt (be careful!)
Place your dates into a food processor and blend until all mushed up. Add 3/4 of the milk, vanilla and a tiny pinch of salt and blend until smooth. Add more milk to get a thick, creamy texture, as needed. It will take about 5 minutes on a medium speed. Taste and add more vanilla or salt to balance the flavour (the salt counterbalances the sweetness. It’s needed but its easy to add too much!). Once you’re happy with the flavour, stop eating it or you’ll have to make more, put in a pot and hide!

Whipped coconut cream
1 tin of full fat coconut cream
vanilla essence
pinch of salt (optional)
This is where you have to plan ahead for sure. To be able to whip your cream, you need cold coconut milk, so pop it in the fridge to chill over night. When you open the tin, most of it will be of a creamy, thick consistency. Carefully scrap out all the thick stuff and put in a bowl. There may be a little thin coconut water left at the bottom – keep separate and use for another recipe. I’d actually had my tin in the fridge for a week (never got around to using it when I’d planned to) and the whole tin was solid. Perfect for whipping. Then all you need to do is add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence to the coconut and whisk until you have a smooth cream. It takes about one minute with an electric hand whisk. Taste and add more vanilla essence if you need to and a tiny pinch of salt if you feel it’s required. It really does taste like whipped cream!! The cream needs using pretty quickly, so if you’re not ready to use it there and then, pop the bowl in the fridge so it keeps it shape (the fat in coconut changes consistency with temperature).
So there you have it – two components of the pie that can be used elsewhere. Earlier I started discussing banana splits and chocolate sundaes with my daughter…….watch this space! And the rest of the banoffee pie recipe will come next time!


Dairy free panna cotta? Don’t mind if I do!!

The last couple of months has been so busy, there’s been no time to blog. Luckily I’ve still managed to find time to potter and experiment in the kitchen, so lots more postings to come soon (if I get more organised!).

When I get talking to friends and acquaintances about my diet choice, I usually get exclamations of horror or sympathy, and the same recurring question – “whatever do you eat?”. For me, eating a dairy free, mainly plant based diet is exciting and liberating, one big adventure in the kitchen. It’s not limiting, but expanding (my repertoire not my waistline!) and with a little imagination and creativity, it’s not too hard to produce delicious, satisfying dishes, that some how become choices rather than alternatives.

Anyone who has read any of my other posts should be able to recognise by now that I have a sweet tooth. I love puddings, but traditionally they do not like me as most are packed full of butter, cream or dairy of some sort. Eating out, puddings are usually off the menu, unless we are in a specialist restaurant like the amazing Terre a Terre in Brighton, when I can gorge until my hearts content. But at home, my kitchen can become like a mad scientists laboratory, with some pretty interesting (and hopefully tasty) results!

A while back, I had a craving for panna cotta, that gorgeously creamy, wobbly Italian dessert that just melts in your mouth. I really didn’t think that a pudding packed with cream, sugar and gelatin could be made dairy free, vegetarian and still beautifully tasty – but it can! In fact, it’s so delicate and light, that I think it’s actually better than the original (or maybe I’m just a bit biased!).  And when it comes to food sensitivities or healthy diets, panna cotta (the alternative) is the ultimate in free-from dessert – dairy, egg, gluten and even sugar free, suitable for vegans too.

Panna cotta is often on restaurant menus, so I’d always believed it was a tricky number – actually it’s really quick and simple. I’ve made this a number of times now, including for a dinner party, and it’s never let me down.

I’ve just included the necessities for a simple vanilla panna cotta. I usually serve this with a raspberry coulis, basically because I love the contrast of sharp, bitty raspberries with the sweet, smooth cream. To make it uber healthy, the sugar can be replaced by a fruit puree, like mango or strawberry, but stir it in at the end before pouring it into the moulds.

Vanilla panna cotta
375mls almond milk *
60g caster sugar
250 mls dairy free cream (I use Oatly)
1 1/2 tablespoons agar**
vanilla essence/paste/seeds
Place the almond milk and sugar in a saucepan and sprinkle the agar over the top. Gently heat the mixture but do not stir until it’s boiling (this is hard to resist!!). Reduce the heat, simmer and stir gently until all the agar and sugar has dissolved (about 5 minutes but may take longer). Take off the heat, stir in the dairy free cream and vanilla then pour into moulds. This fills 4 good sized round moulds, or small ramekin dishes. Leave to cool slightly for a few minutes, then place in the fridge to set. The panna cotta will be set in a couple of hours, but the longer you leave them, the firmer they will be. Serve as it is, or with a fruit coulis of your choice.
It really is that easy – give it a go and see what flavours you can create.
* you can use any dairy free milk, but I prefer almond for this as it has a good texture and is already slightly sweet. Soya milk is too pungent for a delicate pud.
** agar is a traditional Japanese gelling agent made from seaweed. It sets really well but operates differently to gelatin. It’s really important to follow the instructions very carefully. Of course, if you wish to use gelatin, then do so – sprinkle 2 1/4 teaspoons over the milk and leave it to ‘bloom’ for a few minutes. Stir in the sugar and warm gently for a minute until the sugar and gelatin has dissolved. Do not boil. Turn off the heat, add the other ingredients and continue as per the main recipe.

Frangipane vegan style

There is a fabulous, award winning vegetarian restaurant in Brighton, UK – Terre a Terre – that serves the most gorgeous food; a perfect treat for my daughter and me. Not used to having a wide choice when we go out to restuarants, the first time we went it took a while to order as we were both flummoxed by the range of food on offer. The drinks are pretty special too – rhubarb gin and tonic is heavenly!

So often desserts are a no no for me, even in a vegetarian restaurant, as dairy products are usually one of the key ingrediants. I was seriously excited at Terre a Terre to find there was a proper vegan pudding on the menu, and not a dull fruit salad in sight. “Frangipane sizzle dates with mint tea granita and lemon and mint pomegranite gazpacho.” It made my mouth water just reading it; the taste was incredible with a mixture of sweet and sour flavours popping on my tongue and the ice cold granita refreshing after the intensely sweet warm dates and frangipane.

The memory of that dessert has been haunting me over the last few months – I just had to try and recreate it. Normally, frangipane is made of butter, eggs, sugar, ground almonds and flour, not good for people with food allergies of all types. Whilst this is a no go for anyone with a nut allergy, the recipe I found is pretty much free from most other problem ingrediants. Cornflour in theory should be gluten free, but always check the labels as sometimes wheat or wheat products are added. Bleaching agents are sometimes added in Indian cornflour too, so chose a reputable brand.

Vegan Frangipane
60g dairy free spread
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/4 cups ground almonds
3 tablespoons cornflour
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 drops of almond essence
2 tablespoons non-dairy milk
Mix the caster sugar, ground almonds, cornflour and salt together in a bowl and rub in the dairy free spread. Add vanilla extract and almond essence. The mixture should be quite dry and crumbly.
Add the non-dairy milk and combine to make a stiff paste.
That’s it!

I attempted to reproduce the gorgeous date and frangipane dessert but without all the necessary accompaniments it didn’t have the same taste sensation. It was good, but not that good nor yet ready to share! There was frangipane mixture left over, and not wanting to waste it and always looking for a pudding treat, I decided to try and make pear and frangipane tarts. I made a sweet pastry using the recipe already posted on this blog, adding in a little caster sugar and baked it blind at 180oC for 10 minutes or so until the pastry became a little firmer. I then filled the case half full with the frangipane mix and topped it with slices of tinned pears – cheating I know but fresh pears are hard to come by, and hard to eat! Popping the tarts back in to the oven to bake for another 15 minutes, they were ready.  Finished off with a little sprinkle of icing sugar, I have to say they were really good. Not bad for a vegan, free from treat!