Chilli sweetcorn baked polenta

Here’s my next instalment of ‘what to do with lots of sweetcorn and courgettes at the end of a good summer?’ series. This dish is focused on sweetcorn, and is a double corn recipe using both fresh off the kernels with dried and ground corn.

Polenta

Polenta is one of those products that can delight or dismay, depending on how it’s cooked and the texture. I had never really tried it until I went along to an Italian cooking demo whilst living in India. Yes, you read that right! It might sound a bit random, but there was a great Italian restaurant (called Toscano) in the mall next to our housing compound, run by two French brothers. I know you’d expect them to be Italian, but hey, in that’s how things roll in the awesome global mix that is Bangalore! It was a bit of an expat retreat serving familiar European dishes with an Indian kick (i.e.; lots of chilli) and pizzas that kept the kids more than happy.

As it turned out, I couldn’t actually eat the finished polenta dish they were demonstrating as it contained breadcrumbs, which was a shame but avoiding deep fried food is never a bad thing really. But what I did learn was how to prepare it from scratch and how to maximise flavour without overloading it with butter and cheese, perfect for the dairy free diner.

The top bit of advise, as always, was the simplest – keep tasting until you get it right, and use good quality ingredients. I’ve since lost the recipe demonstrated that day, but I was so glad to see how to make it, plus I gained valuable tips on what to do, and not do, in cooking demos!

I used to get quite confused about the difference between polenta and the ground maize used for Mexican dishes and featuring on mainly American recipe sites. Basically, polenta is ground cornmeal, just slightly more coarse with less of the healthy outer grain removed, so theoretically should contain more fibre and nutrients, but modern processing methods may make that assumption defunct! In the US, it’s often frowned upon as some cornmeal is made from genetically modified corn, plus different coloured corn contains less nutrients. If you want to know more, check out this article to help make things clearer http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-cornmeal-and-polenta-word-of-mouth-211404

The good thing about polenta is that it’s gluten free, so useful if you need to be careful, and still has a useful amount of fibre to help transit the sugar content through. It can be used as a base for other dishes like cakes, bread or crunchy coatings, as well as just made up in it’s own right.

The nutrition in this dish really comes from the fresh corn kernels – those bright yellow buttons are packed with phytonutrients that are good for the eyes and contain anti-oxidants, as well as a load of insoluble fibre that the friendly bacteria in your gut just love to munch on. I used this as an accompaniment to a courgette based chilli dish and they complimented each other perfectly, but you could serve it with a fresh salsa, avocado dip or fresh summer green salad – any rainbow dish will do, for lunch, dinner or a snack. So why not give this a try and let the sun shine from your plate!

Baked chilli polenta

Baked sweetcorn chilli polenta
2 cobs of sweetcorn
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g polenta
750ml vegetable stock
1 heaped teaspoon ground oregano/Italian herbs
1 red chilli finely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed chilli
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc. Grab a 23x30cm baking tin, grease and line with baking paper.
Next, cut the corn off the cobs. Heat a dash of olive oil in a medium sized pan and sauté the corn for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time so it doesn’t stick. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the polenta and cook for a minute, stirring continually. Slowly pour in the stock, stirring constantly with the heat on low so that it steadily thickens without sticking to the pan. You need to get rid of all the lumps. It’s ready when the texture is smoother and no longer grainy. This takes about 10 minutes or so – be patient and have a cup of tea to hand to keep you going! It should become really thick, but not so thick you can’t move it around, so add a little more stock if needed, but don’t go mad otherwise the mix will be too loose. When you’re happy with the texture, stir in the herbs, chill, baking powder and nutritional yeast if you’re using. Season with salt and pepper and mix really well to make sure everything is combined. Taste and add more flavour as needed. Your could stir in a little extra virgin olive oil as well at this point but it’s not essential.

Spoon the mix out into the prepared baking tin and smooth down the top so it’s equally spread out – a bit tricky as it’s so sticky. With the recommended size tin, it should be about 5cm thick. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until a dark golden crust has formed. Remove from the oven, rest in the tray for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire cooling rack to firm up. Once it’s cool enough to handle and set, peel off the baking paper and cut into shapes. If it needs warming up, pop back in the oven to warm though for a few minutes and serve. Enjoy!

Courgette loaf – sweet not savoury

I read an article recently in which a ‘celebrity baker’ scoffed at those who include fruit and vegetables as a key ingredient in their cake. Well, I have to disagree, even though I’m not a professional baker! Some of my favourite bakes include a good helping of veg – sweet potato chocolate brownies, carrot cake and my new favourite, courgette loaf. They may have a different consistency to your traditional baked cake (watching Great British Bake Off, I’m in awe of their delicate crumb!), but I like a sweet treat that’s gooey, substantial and full of goodness, so veg in cake is just fine by me.

So as part of my mini-series on what to do with the mass of courgette around at the moment, here’s a great little cake to try for afternoon tea. Well, it’s more of a loaf, similar to banana bread than a Victoria Sponge, but nevertheless it’s still cake in my book! It is dense, but in a sticky, satisfactory way, reminiscent of bread pudding but a million times lighter!

The benefit of using veg or fruit in baking is added moisture; the potential problem with courgette is that they are 95% water, which could make your cake a soggy, heavy disaster. To prevent this, just squeeze some excess water out of the courgettes once they’re grated. You could do this through a clean tea towel, but it’s a bit messy and you can end up spending ages picking up bits of courgette from odd places (or maybe that’s just me….?). An easy way is to pack it into a measuring cup or small pot and press it down so the water rises to the top and then drain that off, holding your hand over the top. Don’t take off too much though, otherwise your cake will suffer.

This cake really is super healthy – it’s dairy free, can be gluten free, plant based, contains minimal refined sugar and is packed full of lovely nutrients and fibre. On top of that, it is also refined oil free, the apple sauce replacing the oil in this instance. Not that fat is bad, far from it, but refined oils such as sunflower or vegetable oils take their toll on our cellular health and so should be minimised as much as possible. To add a little fat into the mix, pop in some chopped walnuts or pecans – the flavour, texture and nutritional value will be happy if you do!

The downside of cutting out refined products in this cake is shelf life – oil and sugar act as preservatives, so best keep this loaf in the fridge and use it up within 3 days. Mind you, once you taste it, that won’t be a problem! Enjoy.

Yummy courgette loaf cake
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons water
240g wholemeal/spelt/gluten free flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 medium courgette, grated (small)
100g coconut sugar (or other minimally refined brown sugar)
160g apple sauce
10mls lemon juice
50g raisins and/or chopped walnuts
Place the ground flaxseed and water into a bowl and mix well. Put to one side to thicken – this is your flaxseed ‘egg’.
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc. Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line with baking paper.
Place the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into another bowl and mix well together. Add the sugar, lemon juice and apple sauce to the flaxseed mixture and stir well, then add the courgette and stir again. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and quickly combine together – don’t over mix. Stir in the raisins and nuts (if using) and pour into the prepared loaf tin. Tap the tin on the worktop to level and stop the raising agent working too quickly, then pop in the oven.

Bake for 25 mins then check – the loaf should be slightly risen and lightly browned on top. Stick a skewer or cocktail stick into the cake – if it comes out coated with mixture, pop back into the oven for another few minutes until done. Remove from the oven, leave to cool for 10 minutes or so, then tip out onto a cooling rack, carefully peel off the baking paper and let it cool completely.

Sweetcorn and courgette fritters

Sweet corn and courgettes are right in season at the moment, and it’s a bumper crop. I love sweetcorn. Ripened during the long sunny (hopefully!) summer days, fresh corn is so sweet and succulent it’s a joy to eat. Sometime it can be hard to buy unprepared cobs in the supermarket, so I like to get my sweetcorn elsewhere – farmers markets or shops, greengrocer or veg box schemes are all good sources of cobs still covered in their husks. That way you get to unwrap them, revealing the vibrant yellow kernels voluptuously packed in tight, clinging to the side of the cob, ready and waiting to be eaten.

Courgettes are prolific this time of the year, especially if you manage to beat the slugs and snails to grown them yourself, or if you get a veg box delivered. Although they tend to be available most of the year, I prefer them at this time as they tend to be less watery and more flavoursome. Not that I used to like them – whether it’s my tastebuds that have changed, or it’s the courgettes, but I used to find them bitter and quite unpleasant. That all changed when I went on honeymoon to Egypt (a few years ago now!). The hotel’s restaurant always had a buffet style service, and courgettes were served in a huge vat, just lightly cooked with nothing added. It wasn’t just the cooking that was light – the courgette skins were a really pale green, almost white, as if they had been bleached by the searing dessert sun. And maybe the sun also altered the flavour, as these had all the courgette taste, but none of the bitterness. Suddenly I was a courgette fan.

Which is a good thing, as they are packed full of super nutritious goodies like vitamin C and potassium as well as fibre, and of course lots of water. They are really useful veg to have around as they can be used in a whole range of dishes, either as a base ingredient or the main star.

But no matter how much I love both sweetcorn and courgettes, when there’s a lot of them about at the same time, it can be a challenge to find new ideas to use them. So to help out, I’m going to do a few extra posts over the next few days with some ideas for you to try.

The first are these gorgeous sweetcorn and courgette fritters. Now fritters are not usually on the menu at home as traditionally they contain milk, eggs and are fried in loads of butter or oil. But after a little playing around, this recipe still deserves the title of fritter even though it’s dairy free, gluten free, plant based and baked so oil free too. The good news is that they taste amazing, and are gulped down in a flash at home – phew! Great for a light lunch served with a zingy dip or served up with different vegetables or salads to make a more substantial main meal.

To make these fritters beautifully caramelised without frying, I use a silicon baking mat instead of an oiled baking tin or pan frying. Whole healthy fats are really good for us, but refined oils are not as their altered molecular structure can be harmful to our bodies, and cooking oil at high temperatures affects that structure even more. The silicon baking sheets cook everything really well and still gives a gorgeously browned outside, plus nothing sticks – very clever! It’s an essential item in my kitchen cupboard now and would highly recommend them.

So if you fancy ‘frittering’ away a little time, give these a go and see what you think. There are loads of flavour combinations you could use – let me know if you try something new.

Baked sweetcorn and courgette fritters (makes 12)

1 large cob of corn, cooked
1 medium courgette, grated
3-4 spring onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons chickpea (gram/besan) flour
1 tablespoon polenta
1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten free if needed)
90mls dairy free milk
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Place a silicon baking mat onto a large cookie tray. Place the grated courgette into a sieve and press out some of the fluid (not too much as it will contribute towards the total fluid content). Place the squeezed courgette, sweetcorn, spring onion, garlic and chilli into a bowl, mix well and put to one side. In another bowl, mix the gram flour, polenta, seasoning, baking powder and ground flaxseed together. Pour in the dairy free milk and whisk together to form a batter. Leave for a few minutes to allow the flaxseed to swell and absorb some of the liquid.

Tip the veggie mix into the batter and mix well until everything is combined and holding together well on a spoon (i.e. not too runny). If your mix is a bit thick, add some more dairy free milk, if it’s too runny, add a little more chickpea flour. Let the mix sit for a minute or two.

Dollop a heaped spoonful of mix onto the prepared baking tray and spread out a little with the back of the spoon. Repeat until the mix is used up. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or so until the top has set. Flip the fritter over and cook for another 10 minutes until the base is browned. Serve with freshly made chunky cucumber guacamole (link here soon).

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.

Of course, crumble is an all year dessert, just use whatever fruit that happens to be in season – apple is still a traditional favourite! Although pear and raspberry is close behind. Alternatively, if fresh is not possible then look for bags of frozen fruit and use one of those – it’s a fabulous way of getting a berry hit in the middle of winter!

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 rhubarb
150g 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  or 2 tablespoons of nut butter of choice (eg: almond, cashew nut)
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 or nut butter 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!

Holiday season!

Summer is here and we’re off on our hols! We booked our trip some time ago after checking out things like weather, accommodation and things to do. There’s also one more thing we have to check out – food options.

Having food allergies or sensitivities, or choosing to eat a plant based diet for health or ethical reasons, eating away from home can prove to be challenging at times. Eating out, particularly overseas, has the potential to be stressful when you should be relaxing. And if you accidently eat something that you shouldn’t, you could end up feeling unwell – or worse – during your time away.

I started eating a plant based diet for health reasons whilst actually living overseas, and had many opportunities to travel to different countries. At first, I found it really difficult to find things to eat – simple sandwiches are not even an option for me. Over time, I developed various strategies to make sure I found some good grub without making myself ill; fortunately, increasing awareness is making it easier to be able to have a great time without the worry.

So if you are off on your travels but are worried about your food, here are my top tips for happy holidays.

Do your research. You can spend hours and hours searching for the perfect hotel, apartment or yurt, comparing prices for flights and checking out the best beaches. So add eating options onto your list of things to check. There are some great websites to help – www.happycow.net is a great resource if you’re looking for vegan or vegetarian food (they have an app too) and www.canieathere.co.uk helps you check out restaurants closer to home if you have food allergies or sensitivities (the US version is www.canieatthere.com). Trip Advisor has filter options so you can search for a gluten free restaurant or vegan hotel. Lonely Planet or Time Out have really helpful guides too.

Be prepared. If you know there are certain things you eat but may have difficulty finding, add them to your packing. As I don’t eat bread, I always carry rice cakes or oatcakes with me so that I know that breakfasts or snacks will be ok. If you are flying short haul, don’t expect to find anything you can eat on the plane, so take your own snacks with you. Fortunately, in the UK, most larger airports have some takeaway options at their flight-side kiosks. Don’t expect that at other locations though (she says from bitter experience!). Most long haul carries provide meals for dietary requirements but need booking in advance, so don’t forget! The advantage to ordering a special meal is that you tend to get served first, but always check the label to make sure you have the right meal.

Don’t be afraid to ask. For many people, it’s difficult to ask, or ‘make a fuss’ about what to order, especially if you are with people who don’t have the same problem or get embarrassed easily! But I have found that most places worth going to are more than happy to answer queries and to find a dish that’s right for you. Fortunately, many restaurants and cafes have their menus on line, so you can check them out before hand. If you’re not sure if you can eat there, call them up and ask – I’ve been really surprised quite how accommodating places can be, as long as you ask nicely of course!  Naturally, language can be a real problem overseas; although English is spoken in so many places, you can’t expect it. If you want to eat purely plant based then download this vegan passport to help you communicate your needs – http://issuu.com/vegan_society/docs/vegan_passport_2010or check out this website to help you find translation cards for food allergies http://travelstore.glutenfreepassport.com/collections/dining-translation-cards

What’s local? Some of the best plant based food I’ve eaten has been local specialities, so don’t be afraid to try new dishes, particularly if you’re visiting more exotic countries. I discovered some amazing plant based dishes whilst living in South India, which are both tasty and healthy, rich and spicy Chakalaka in Cape Town and the most amazingly beautiful Mediterranean grilled vegetable platter in Croatia, the flavours developed by the sun. Try out local fruits and vegetables too, especially ones that are difficult to get hold of at home, as they taste so much better freshly picked.

Specialist holidays.If you feel it just won’t be a holiday if you don’t get the right food, then why not try out a specialist holiday company? Or look to go for a spa holiday or yoga retreat? I even saw an advert for a vegetarian yoga cruise along the Danube recently; there are lots of options out there. In fact, we’re planning a Sensitive Foodie Kitchen escape where you can eat, learn and relax at the same time – maybe that’s the holiday the ticks all the boxes?

So there you have it. With a bit of research and planning, and a willingness to think creatively, you can still have an amazingly happy and healthy holiday. Enjoy!

Chocolate refrigerator chunks – dairy free of course

There are times when only chocolate will do. But when you’re eating dairy free, you can’t just grab the first bar you find. Then if you’re eating gluten free and want to cut out the junk and eat more whole food, then things get even more complicated. By the time you actually find something that meets the criteria and hits the spot, life has moved on and you don’t really want it anymore! Which is great for the waistline, but frustrating for the tastebuds! Or worse, you succumb and eat something that makes you feel dreadful.

There are more and more dairy free chocolate brands available to buy, usually in the supermarket free from section or a health food shop, but they can be expensive and you don’t really know what’s in them.

You could make you’re own chocolate of course – something that I do want to do. I even have a friend who teaches it, but still haven’t made it to a class. Fortunately, I have an easy solution to chocolate bar frustration that’s really quick to make and tastes amazing – chocolate refrigerator chunks.

The recipe of these came together after I was bought a solid chocolate ‘cake bar’ from a healthy food stall – a long, mars bar sized chunk filled with nuts and dried fruit. Having not consumed a decent chocolate bar for a number of years, it was quite a revelation, but so rich and filling that I couldn’t finish it all, despite a seriously concerted effort. Having made great changes to the way I eat, it really was just too much for me – shocking!

Whenever I munch my way through a new food or dish, I’m always analysing it’s make up and trying to decide how to recreate it myself. Realising that this would be simple, I grabbed the dairy free chocolate drops and got to work.

The actual content of the bar is totally up to you – whatever combination of dried fruit, nuts or seeds you like. These little goodies bring in the healthy bit by introducing fabulous fibre as well as an assortment of essential fatty acids, minerals and phytonutrients. You could even add puffed rice or buckwheat, or some gluten free granola to give it another dimension.
So why not give this a go and create your own individualised chocolate chunk that just hits the spot!

Chocolate refrigerator chunks
250g dairy free chocolate
2 tablespoons coconut oil
250g of chopped nuts, seeds and dried fruit
(my favourite combo is pecan, raisin, cranberry, pumpkin and flaxseed)
Pop the dairy free chocolate and coconut oil in a medium sized bowl. Place it over a small pan of simmering water and stir whilst it melts to combine. Remove from the heat and stir in the nuts, seeds and fruit combo you’ve chosen – mix well.
Tip the mix into a prepared tin (*see below), cover with a freezer bag and place in the freezer for a couple of hours to set hard. Remove from the freezer, tip out of the tin onto a board and chop into chunks (careful of your fingers though as it’s pretty hard). Place chunks into a pot and leave in the fridge until you’re ready to eat them (if you manage not to eat them all during the chopping process). Enjoy!
*I have found that disposable flan dishes are the best mould to use, and as it’s easy to remove when frozen, you can reuse them a number of times. If you don’t have any, just line any tin with foil to help you remove it later – don’t use cling film though, unless you want it as part of your chocolate chunk

All about 1847 – the restaurant not the year!

Having decided to have a business based around food, I spend a lot of time cooking, whether experimenting on the family in the kitchen or preparing dishes for my course participants or supper club attendees. Now don’t get me wrong, I do love it, but I also really enjoy someone else doing the cooking every now and then and having an evening out.

stuffed aubergine rolls
stuffed aubergine rolls

When you have to be careful with certain ingredients though, eating out can become a little challenging at times, depending where you are. More and more chain restaurants like Zizzi and Los Iguanas have cottoned on (which is great if you live near one) and provide dairy free, gluten free and vegan options for their more sensitive guests, but the choice is limited, so can get a little repetitive if you want to eat out regularly. Now that may sound a little picky, and to be honest I’m just grateful to be able to eat something that I know won’t make me ill! But sometimes it is nice to have more of a choice. Fortunately, living so close to Brighton, there is a veritable array of cafes and restaurants to chose from, serving up (mainly) delicious and innovative creations. The only dilemma then is choosing where to go and what to have, which when you’ve got used to such limited choice can be a little overwhelming at first!

pakoras
Fragrant pakoras

1847 opened up in North Road in Brighton last year, right in the heart of the ever popular North Laines. It is part of a chain – there’s 4 locations now – and is light and modern inside. We booked quite early for a Saturday night as we had an event to go to after, but it was still pretty busy, so booking is definitely advised.What I love about restaurants like 1847 is that because they are dedicated to vegetarian or vegan food, the menu features vaiety, creativity and a real understanding of how plant based flavours combine, often in innovative ways. The menu clearly marked which were vegan and there were also gluten free options – a real bonus for the sensitive diner! The only one who struggled a little in choice was my hubby – aubergine was a big feature in the the vegan options and he’s not a fan, but he was happy with some deliciously lightly spiced pakoras to start followed by ‘fish’ and chips’ on a sweet pea puree – the presentation was so precise it was almost a shame he had to eat it!

Our friends tried the stuffed aubergine roll to start, which was also so pretty, followed by celeriac gratin made with local cheese – obviously not for the dairy free diner, but the construction was awesome and they declared it delicious . I opted for their ‘Surf and Turf’ option, a huge aubergine steak that was crisp on the outside and unctuously gooey on the inside, with a herb ‘butter’. The surf was sea vegetables, which I have to say didn’t really do it for me, but it was a clever idea.

Even though we were pretty stuffed, the dessert menu had options, so had to be tried. I had heard the vegan gluten free chocolate brownies were awesome, and I can confirm that rumour is true – my friend chose them and then we had to help her clear the plate as it’s a huge portion! Don’t order one for yourself unless you are seriously hungry. The vegan creme brûlée was also a big hit, and beautifully presented. Mine however, the trifle, was quite a disappointment as it promised much and delivered little. My mistake; curiosity and a childhood love of trifle tempted me but I should have had the brownies!

chocolate brownies
Amazing chocolate brownies

So all in all, we had a great experience at 1847 – fabulous gins, great food (mostly), super company (provide your own!) and all finished in time to go and enjoy the rest of our evening with happy tummies, but a slightly lighter wallet! I’m sure we’ll be back again some time soon – those brownies are calling!

Learning and teaching enthusiastically

When I started eating a dairy and yeast free diet 7 years ago, it was really tough! For a start, trying to get my family and friends to stop fretting about my food choices was hard, and cooking food that kept everyone happy was a challenge. I was starting from scratch with many recipes, trying to work out how to adapt them successfully (there were more than a few failures, that’s for sure!). And as for eating out, well that was like being in an episode of Fawlty Towers at time, without the canned laughter and funny bits.

Then just to make it even more complicated, we moved to India, where many of the ‘free from’ itemswe relied on were not available, and finally going mainly plant based, which really freaked some people out. Never knowingly normal!

I’ve learnt a lot on my food journey, and continue to learn all the time, and indeed still making changes – you may have noticed more gluten free recipes appearing recently. There’s been a few mistakes, some frustration and the odd tantrum (whose, I’m not saying!). But I don’t regret it, and I don’t even miss my old favourite foods any more, as I have loads of new favourites instead, that don’t leave me unwell or in pain. Plus there’s so many ‘side-benefits’ to eating a whole food plant based diet, like glowing skin and hair, and effortless weight loss. There’s continual discovery and experimentation going on in my kitchen, less cookery rules to follow and a budding array of new restaurants and cafes to visit, as suddenly eating plant based is ‘in’.

One of the things I love about my journey, is sharing the benefits with other people so they can start their own healthy food adventure, only with less hiccups – that is why I created my Eat Well, Live Well course. Packed full of the valuable information, short cuts and tips I have learnt over the last few years, I just love seeing others become enthused and enjoying the changes in their own lives, or someone close to them. And because it’s not just about learning information, but enjoyment too, Ialways include a full lunch (or supper) as part of each session, and provide a full recipe folder of over 60 dishes to follow. In fact, one recent participant only cooks from my folder, which is quite a compliment.

Covering diverse subjects like nutrition 101, social norms, how to bake amazing cakes and gut bacteria, the Eat Well, Live Well course is a 5 week spring board into never looking at food the same way again. The next cohort starts this week in Hove on Thursday 9th June, so time is short to get on board before the summer break – email me if you want to join us karen@thesensitivefoodietichen.com. If you can’t come along and join the fun this time, there’ll be other opportunities, including an on-line version that should be available from September. Exciting times!

Chia-up – breakfast cheer

Getting a good breakfast can be a challenge at times, especially if you’re short of time or have run out of inspiration. It’s easy to get stuck in the same routine, grab the nearest empty calorie cereal or, worse, have nothing at all.

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day – your body has been fasting over night and needs good fuel to get it going again. And it doesn’t have to be boring, even though cereals and toast sometimes seems like the only things to have. When you’re eating a dairy or gluten free diet, you do need to get a bit imaginative at times.

There’s loads of different things on offer to power you up for the day – just because you don’t have time for a full English (or it’s veggie equivalent!) doesn’t mean you have to miss out.

Planning the morning meal is as important as any other during the day, so keep ahead of the game, and if mornings are a rush, prepare it the night before.

This chia breakfast bowl is one of the recipes that features in my Eat Well, Live Well course, a five week foray into the world of eating a whole food plant based diet. It’s so simple to make, tastes fabulous and is packed full of amazing nutrients and fibre that will keep you going all the way to lunch. Because of it’s high fibre content and lack of refined sugar, you won’t get that sugar dip mid-morning.

Chia seeds are part of the ‘in crowd’ at the moment. But rather than just another nutrition fad, these tiny little black seeds really are worth the hype. Just a couple of tablespoons gives you 5g of protein, 11g of fibre and are a great source of plant based omega 3 fatty acids. There’s also fabulous amounts of calcium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous, plus zinc and vitamins B1, 2 and 3. Not only that, there are loads of anti-oxidants that help munch up free radicals that damage our bodies and contribute towards the ageing process.

The fibre content of chia seeds is amazing – not only will it help keep you full for longer, it helps keep your gut happy, providing food for the friendly bacteria deep down that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients, but also keeps our guts a healthy and happy place. And the nutrient profile of these seeds is perfect for bone health – a clean source of protein and lots of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous, all essential to keep bones healthy and strong.

This chia breakfast bowl only takes a couple of minutes to make before you go to bed;  the chia seeds swell up in the milk overnight, so when you grab it in the morning, it’s all thick and gooey, and ready to get you going. There’s all sorts of toppings you can add – hemp seeds, fruit, coconut etc – or just eat it as it is. On the photo, I’ve added some ground hemp seeds with goji berries and passion fruit.

So think ahead, and have a chia-full day!

Chia seed breakfast bowl
1 small banana
2 tablespoons chia seeds
200ml dairy free milk of choice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Toppings: passion fruit, berries, mango, strawberries – whatever you enjoy really!

Mash the banana in the bottom of a bowl. Pour the chia seeds in then add the milk. Stir in the cinnamon, then place in the fridge overnight. Add your toppings of choice in the morning, and enjoy!

Purple power

Broccoli is definitely part of the ‘in’ crowd when it comes to superfood veg. Once only served as over-cooked mush (and sadly still is in some establishments), broccoli comes into its own when prepared and served with a little thought and attention. As much as I love those bright green tight florets, and eat them whenever I can, there’s a purple sibling that, in my mind, trumps green every time – the beautiful, delicate and seasonal purple sprouting broccoli (PSB).

Green broccoli by itself is pretty amazing, packed full of healthy nutrients like vitamins A, C and some B vitamins, as well as manganese, iron, various phytonutrients and of course fibre. The phytonutrients in broccoli are amazing at helping to support the body’s detoxification and one in particular helps eliminates the nasty leftovers out of the body. So it’s great ingredient to use for a body spring clean.

So what’s so good about the purple stuff? Simply put, it just is! PSB has all of the benefits of green – and more. A higher amount of nutrients like zinc and iron, more B vitamins and more fibre, as the stems and leaves are eaten as well as the florets. And it’s purple, and purple food is good!

Even with normal broccoli, I always eat as much of the stem as possible, saving the thick stalk to use in soups or stir fries. The stem is packed with fibre and nutrients so is just as important as the florets. And because the stems of PSB are so much thinner, they’re easier to eat. And the leaves of PSB – now they really are a winner as they are packed full of calcium, potassium and vitamin C, so great for your bones and immune system. In fact, PSB just has more antioxidants than it’s green counterpart, but needs care as they are also more readily lost in the cooking process.

It’s rare to find PSB in supermarkets, although I have noticed it a couple of times. I’ve tried to grow my own as it’s one of those veg that is so gorgeous picked and eaten within a short period of time, but the slugs love them too and my crop is woeful to say the least! Veg boxes are your best bet for fresh, good quality PSB.

We had a gorgeous bagful this week in our Riverford veg box and I couldn’t wait to dive in and munch it all up. I find the best way to prepare it to retain as many as the nutrient goodies as possible is to give it a quick wash, trim off the woody end and then slice up the the stalk so it’s thinner, then steam briefly or stir fry quickly. It’s beautiful deep flavour and colour is retained that way, along with the goodness.

I made this simple pasta dish and it was wolfed down – even the teenage boy who suddenly declared he doesn’t like broccoli (!) tucked in with gusto, so it’s confirmed teenage friendly. Keeping the PSB lightly cooked gives texture and flavour. If you can’t get your hands on any PSB, then of course use green – it’s still fabulous, even without the purple power!

Purples sprouting and walnut spaghetti
250g purple sprouting broccoli
1 onion, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper
50g walnuts, lightly toasted
extra virgin olive oil
spaghetti – wholewheat or gluten free
Start cooking your spaghetti as this will takes the longest. Once this is up and bubbling, prepare the PSB. Rinse under a running tap, trim any woody ends then slice the stalks up the centre to make thinner. Place in a steamer and steam for a couple of minutes – do not over cook as you’ll loose the nutrients. Meanwhile, sauté the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and steamed PSB and stir fry on a low heat for a few more minutes – add a little of the steaming water if the pan gets a bit dry so the garlic doesn’t burn. Season with salt and pepper. Add the PSB mix to the cooked spaghetti, and serve topped with the walnuts and a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.