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.

The perfect roast potato

I’m not one for bragging, but I do know for sure that I make amazing roast potatoes. So for day 17 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, I’m giving you my top tips for getting perfectly crunchy crispy spuds without really making that much effort.

I honed my roast potato skills soon after I left home to do my nursing training. I always seemed to be on a diet – often that was Rosemary Conley’s Hip and Thigh Diet, a low fat programme. Looking back now, I realise that there was a lot missing from this way of eating, but then hind-sight is a wonderful thing. But it did introduce me to dry roast potatoes.

If you search how to cook roast potatoes, there are a multitude of opinions on what fat to use, and how much. Ranging from normal vegetable oil to expensive goose or duck fat, the aim of the fat is to create a crispy outside and a soft fluffy potato on the inside. Using large amounts of fat on a high oven heat means that large amounts of liquid fat gets absorbed into the potato, which then gets absorbed into you. This high heat can also damage fat structure, which is not good for your body.

I have been making roast potatoes without all this fat for so long that I find I don’t really enjoy them when we eat out purely because they often seem overcooked and all I can taste is the fat. Since I’ve been following a whole-food plant-based diet it seems even more of a problem as my taste-buds have completely changed. And for anyone who follows a special diet like the Overcoming MS programme, fat soaked potatoes are off the menu. 

Rather than the fat being key, for me it’s the potato, and how it is prepared before it goes into the oven. Most recipes suggest par boiling potatoes, but often this isn’t enough. You want the surface structure to be breaking down properly before going in the oven – this is what goes all crunchy once roasted. And you don’t need lots of fat to do it.

So here are my top tips. If you don’t already roast your spuds this way, why not give it a go this Christmas? And don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

  1. Use floury potatoes not waxy. Maris Piper or King Edwards are the best. Also try to by organic or more naturally grown ones. They taste better too.
  2. Don’t make them too big or too small. And try to keep them a similar size. I find medium-sized chunks work best.
  3. Boil the potatoes so they are properly cooked. Keep an eye on them though as you don’t want them to fall apart into mush. Boiling time will depend on the type of potato and how many you have in the pan. Once they’re beginning to be flaking on the outside and you can easily pierce them with a knife, turn off the heat.
  4. Drain as soon as the heat if off. Give them a good shake to clear away excess water and break the surface a bit more. If they are still a little soggy, pop them back in the pan on a low heat for a minute to dry off.
  5. Make sure the oven is pre-heated at 200ºC. Fan ovens work best, but electric and gas still produce good potatoes. I can’t comment on an AGA.
  6. Use a good, non-stick baking tray with no scratches. You can pre-heat it if you like, but I tend to forget so it’s not necessary.
  7. Tip the potatoes onto the baking tray and give it another shake. You can add a little oil now if you like. I tend to use a few squirts of an olive oil spray just to mist the top.
  8. Pop the tray in the oven and let the potatoes roast for 15 minutes, then remove the tray and turn the spuds. You will see a lovely golden crust forming when you turn. Move them around the tray if you need to if the outside ones are cooking faster than the inside ones. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until they are all crispy and brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and transfer to a hot dish. Serve straight away and enjoy that lovely crunch without the grease.

Empower yourself

I’m in the process of fulfilling one of my life’s ambitions – writing a book. It’s a huge and often overwhelming project – it’s certainly tested my commitment and drive on many occasions as I go on the emotional rollercoaster of self-doubt and belief. I’ve abandoned it at times, and yet still get pulled back in and over 100,000 words later, I’m still going!

The book – The Sensitive Foodie (of course!) explores the connection between food and health based on my experiences of dealing with food intolerances and autoimmune disease followed by a whole range of (mainly new) delicious whole-food plant-based recipes that I can’t wait for people to try. The recipes section was the easy part, and is all wrapped up. The first half has been more of a challenge as I’ve had to work out how to get all the ‘stuff’ in my head out into words that form some kind of sense. It’s made my brain work hard, which it doesn’t like to do!

What’s interesting is that the more I write, the more I realise the power of eating a whole-food plant-based diet. And the thing is, it’s not that difficult! Up until now, this way of eating has been on the fringe, but fortunately the tide is changing; a body of independent research is finally coming up with extensive proof and health professionals are beginning to open their mind to the power of plants. Excitingly, the first plant-based conference in London for doctors and other health professionals in March this year sold out, and reports suggest it was a great success. New evidence continues to support using a whole-food plant-based diet (often alongside existing medication) to help manage and improve a whole host of chronic health problems ranging from diabetes to heart disease to cancer to autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

One fabulous example of this is Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, the evidence-based diet and lifestyle programme that I follow that helps keep my MS under control. It’s a plan than can be applied to many health problems – super healthy and tasty food, adequate amounts of vitamin D, exercise, stress reduction through mindfulness or meditation and medication if needed. It’s premise is to do whatever it takes to stay well – that’s something that’s surprisingly hard for some people to get on board with! We’re so used to relying on medical professionals to be able to give a pill that will solve the problem. It’s so easy to become a ‘patient’ or a ‘sufferer’.

A change in mindset makes a huge difference; one way to persuade people is through their pocket. Companies like Kaiser Permente, a pre-paid health insurance provider in the US, are encouraging and supporting people to make life-style changes that will reduce the amount of health care services they will need to use, rewarding them with lower premiums.

Even without such financial incentives, it’s worth taking a look at how you feel about your health, whether you have a problem or not. It’s all about empowerment. Programmes like OMS pass the power back to you, the person with the problem. MS is my problem, and it’s up to me to do something about it; I refuse to be a victim but chose to empower myself to make the most of the situation. And get to eat fab food in the process – that can’t be bad! Today (30th May) is World MS Day, designed to raise awareness of the condition and the research being undertaken to find a cure for this currently incurable condition. It’s also a day to celebrate programmes like OMS that may not be a cure, but can go a long way to keep it under control. Check out www.overcomingmultiplesclerosis.org if you want to find out more.

There are many things in the modern world that conspire to make us feel pretty crap. But crap can be useful – lotus flowers feed off the crap at the bottom of the pond. The most beautiful blooms flourish from the dirtiest silt. If you have a health challenge, don’t let that overwhelm you, use it as a spur to make amazing changes to the way you eat and live, and you will flourish beautifully.