Rich Vegan Christmas cake

It may seem a little to start food planning but there are a couple of essentials that benefit from being prepared in advance. So here’s your first Sensitive Foodie recipe for the 2018 Foodie Advent Calendar – a deliciously moist vegan Christmas cake.

In fact, tradition would say that it’s already a week late for some things. Last Sunday was ‘Stir it up Sunday’, the final one before the start of advent. This is the day the fruit gets soaked and prepared for fruity Christmas pudding and cake with everyone in the family taking turns at giving it a stir and making a wish for the coming year.

Even though it’s a week late, there’s still no reason why you still can’t make your cake. Without eggs and butter, this recipe takes much less time and effort to make as there’s no creaming and whipping needed. I would recommend you include the soaking time as this makes the dried fruit plump and juicy, adding extra moisture and flavour.

I like my Christmas cake a little boozy, but not so it overpowers the flavour. So in this version, I soak the fruit in a strong cup of chai tea so it adds extra spice, then add a little brandy before baking. Then from now on I will ‘feed’ it a little extra every week until it’s iced. If you don’t have chai tea, don’t rush out and buy a whole box (unless you want to – it’s rather lovely!). Use Earl Grey if you have it, or just simple black tea.

This recipe is dairy-free, egg-free, and has nut and gluten-free options so it covers most food intolerances and is well-suited for a whole-food plant-based diet. You could also omit the coconut sugar if you need to avoid any added sugar, as the dried fruit already provides a big hit of sweetness.

So if you need to make a cake, why not give this one a go? Keep it cool and wrapped up, ready for decorating nearer the big day. Do let me know how you get on.

Rich Vegan Christmas cake 
600g mixed dried fruit
200ml tea brewed with 2 teabags -chai or alternatives
250g wholemeal or gluten free self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
50g coconut sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
100g chopped mixed nuts (optional)
2 tablespoons brandy
You will also need a 23cm round or square loose-bottomed cake tin

Tip the dried mixed fruit into a large bowl and pour the strong tea over the top. Leave to stand over night or up to 24 hours to allow the fruit to swell and absorb the tea.

The next day, pre-heat the oven to 170ºC. Grease the cake tin and line the sides and bottom with baking paper.

In a separate bowl to the fruit, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and spices together. Add the dried fruit, nuts and brandy and stir well to combine – it should come together as a firm but not too dry mix. Spoon into the prepared cake tin, spread out and tap on the worktop to make sure there are no air bubbles in the wrong place. Cut another round piece of baking paper with a small hole in the middle, and place on top of the cake mix. This stop the top of the cake becoming too brown.

Place the tin in the oven and bake for 1 hour 20 minutes. Check the cake after 1 hour to make sure it’s firming up well, and take the top baking paper off if its looking too pale. Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Leave it to rest until completely cold then wrap it up in clean greaseproof paper and tin foil. Store in a cool, dark place. 

If you want to add more brandy, do this on a weekly basis. Unwrap the cake, prick a few holes in the top and carefully drizzle 2 tablespoons of brandy over it. Then wrap it all back up again and repeat the following week until you want to ice it.

Lunchtime creamy mashed beans

Do you get stuck thinking of things to have for lunch to take to work or college, or even at home? If you’re lucky enough to have access to a canteen or take-away that has whole-food plant-based options that’s great. But it can become an expensive habit.  And whilst hummus is a wonderful thing, it’s fair to say that not everyone wants to eat it every day for lunch!

This creamy bean recipe is super tasty and versatile too. You can eat it as a stand alone salad, pack it into a wrap or sandwich as a filling or use to top a baked potato. I’ve even served it in crunchy lettuce leaves for a buffet lunch, as you can see in the photo below.

The mix of raw veggies give it a satisfying crunch. The beans are filling and absorb the flavours well. They also help create the creamy texture alongside the gorgeous dairy-free tofu mayo.

Apart from the versatility in uses, you can also easily adapt the ingredients in case of food intolerances or dislikes, or just to mix it up. I’ve used celery, peppers and red onion, but you could use spring onion, cucumber, courgette, sweetcorn, carrot or any other finely chopped veg you like. And with the mayo you could add in fresh herbs like coriander or chives to create delicious fresh flavours.

And of course the other thing that can be varied is the bean. I’ve used cannelloni beans, but chickpeas or butter beans would work well too. One base recipe, many options!

The mayo is super easy to make and will keep in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. It’s also perfect for anyone with a nut allergy or who has to eat nut free for some reason. Make sure you use soft or silken tofu rather than a firmer one, otherwise it won’t blend well to create the creamy texture. If you cannot tolerate fresh garlic, then leave it out, but it does give a little extra flavour. And the extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil provides that final creamy embellish, as well as some wonderfully helpful anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, making it a great option for anyone following a low saturated fat programme like OMS.

So if you want a lunch time alternative, why not give this a go? Do let me know how you get on, and what flavour combinations work for you.

Creamy mashed beans mix
400g tin white beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 red onion, finely diced
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
1/2 yellow pepper, finely diced
1 medium stick celery, finely diced
For the mayo:
100g silken tofu, drained
1 small clove garlic, mashed
1/2 teaspoon french mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or hempseed oil
salt and pepper to taste

Make the mayo by placing the tofu, garlic, mustard and lemon juice into a small blender bowl and blend until smooth. Add the oil and seasoning and blitz again. Taste and add more mustard, lemon, oil or seasoning as needed. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.

Place the drained beans into a medium-sized bowl and roughly mash. You want them broken up but retain a little texture. Add the finely chopped vegetables then stir in enough mayo to cover – don’t add too much if you’re using it for sandwiches otherwise it will ooze out! Check the flavour, add more seasoning if needed and either use straight away or cover and keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.
 

Creamy leek and mushrooms bakes

One of the things I really missed when I changed to a dairy-free, whole food way of eating was creamy sauces, especially the type used for pie. At first, I didn’t know how to create that sumptuous richness and depth without using a whole load of dairy or fats.

After lots of trial and error, I have to say this is my favourite – a delicious leek and mushroom creamy sauce made with a combination of soaked cashew nuts and silken tofu that gives the right balance of lightness and creaminess. And the white wine helps as well!

One of the difficulties with food intolerances is that one recipe doesn’t always work for everyone. I strive to make my recipes flexible for everyone, so if you’re nut-free, just use all tofu, if you are soy-free, just use all nut but add more water. If you are yeast-free, then I’m sorry the wine is out – replace the fluid with a good quality vegetable stock instead. If you are nightshade free, try celeriac slices on top instead. And if you don’t like mushroom, or leek, then use your veggies of choice. Sorted!

This may seem like there’s lots to do, but time-wise this will take you about 40 minutes in total, so why not give it a go and indulge in some super-tasty creaminess for dinner this week? Enjoy.

Creamy leek and mushroom bakes (serves 3-4)
3 medim sized potatoes, washed, skin on
2 good sized leeks, washed and sliced
250g mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
100ml white wine (make sure it’s vegan if you are dairy/egg/fish free)
100g tofu
50g cashew nuts, soaked for a couple of hours
salt and pepper

First cut the potatoes in half, place in a pan of boiling water and cook until you can just about put a knife through them. Drain and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle, cut into thin slices.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, then heat a couple of tablespoons of water or a teaspoon of olive oil in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the leeks for 3-4 minutes until they start to soften and brown slightly. Add the mushrooms and garlic, and cook for a few minutes until the juices flow out the mushrooms. Stir in the thyme and pour over the wine. Let this simmer for a couple of minutes.

Drain the soaked cashew nuts and place in a blender with just enough water to cover and the tofu. Blend to smooth then pour into the pan and stir to combine. The sauce will thicken as it heats through. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the sauce starts the stick to the side of the pan, turn off the heat and pour into one large serving dish or 3 individual ones. Cover with the potato slices, making a pattern if you so wish. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned on top. Serve with a selection of green vegetables.

 

Banana and blueberry muffins

Summer may have arrived, but it’s tipping down with rain outside. Thank goodness half term has finished and the children have gone back to school. Not that it affects our house, as both my kids are young adults now, but I remember well the nightmare that is a rainy day in school holidays – how to keep small people entertained without breaking the bank!

On rainy mornings like today, baking always came to the rescue. Out came the plastic mixing bowls, doddery old weighing scales and the go-to children’s recipe book, the pages sticky and crusty from previous cake escapades, along with whatever ingredients we could find in the cupboard. Despite the often heated debates about what to make, it usually came down to muffins or cupcakes – quick, easy and fun to decorate later on (more diversionary tactics!).

I would often try and sneak in some fresh fruit or vegetable (like carrot) into their muffins; if children are involved in making the food, they’re often more keen to try it. Not only do you get more vitamins and phytonutrients into them, but less refined sugar is needed due to the natural sweetness from the fresh produce. Bananas are great in muffins as they also act as a binding agent, replacing the role of eggs in vegan baking. They do need to be really ripe though so you can mash them easily. This used to be a problem in our house as all the bananas would disappear from the fruit bowl. We discovered who was the main culprit when my daughter went to university – suddenly there were always over-ripe bananas perfect for baking.

Adding blueberries is another nutrient bonus. These tasty little berries are packed full of vitamins and phytonutrients and rightly carry the title of ‘superfood’. Unfortunately, the UK blueberry season is very short; some supermarket-sold blueberries have travelled a long way, so always check before you buy if you don’t want to pile on food miles. Freezing berries in season is always a good solution so you have some on hand. If you want to know more about why blueberries are so super, check out this information-packed article https://www.cookingdetective.com/blueberry-benefits-20-science-backed-health-benefits-of-blueberries/

These muffins are quick and easy to make, perfect for small people to make on a rainy day, or for anyone on any day! They can be made gluten free, soya free and nut free if needed, and being dairy and egg free, are perfect for vegans or anyone after a more plant based way of eating. And, most importantly, they are super tasty. They will bring a little sunshine to any day, no matter how wet it is outside.

Banana and blueberry muffins (makes 12)

300g wholemeal or gluten free self-raising flour
50g oats (gluten free if needed)
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
90g coconut sugar
300ml dairy free milk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or lemon juice
2 medium over-ripe bananas mashed
75ml olive oil
100g fresh blueberries
For the topping:
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1 tablespoon oats
pinch of cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Grab muffin trays and line with papers if you use them. Measure out the dairy free milk into a jug and add the vinegar or lemon juice (if you can’t tolerate vinegar) and leave to curdle slightly.

Measure out the flour, oats, baking powder, coconut sugar, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix well. Mash the banana in another bowl trying to get rid of as many lumps as possible. Stir in the oil and dairy free milk and whisk together until well combined.

Pour the wet mix into the dry and combine quickly – do not over mix, a few lumps are ok. Stir in the blueberries then pour spoonfuls into the prepared muffin tins, dividing the mix out equally into 12. Sprinkle a little of the topping over each muffin. Tap the tins on the worktop before popping in the oven. Bake for 16 minutes then check to see how they’re doing. The muffins should be risen, but still soft and bouncy to the touch. Use a cocktail stick to check they are baked on the inside – if the stick is coated with some mix, pop back in the oven for a couple more minutes, but don’t over cook.

Leave the muffins to cool in the tray for 5 minutes or so, then transfer onto a rack to cool fully. Store in an air-tight container. Keep for 3 days (if they don’t get eaten up). Can be frozen. Enjoy!