Christmas canapés

If you’re hosting drinks or having a party this Christmas period, you may be wondering what to have for nibbles. There’s lots of different snacks to buy, but when you have food sensitivities or are following a whole-food plant-based diet this can be a real minefield due to the additives and extra ingredients you want or need to avoid. This is particularly pertinent if you are dairy or gluten free, as either or both of these pop up everywhere in snack food.

So for day 11 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, here are 9 recipes already here on the blog that might just help you out.  



Savoury Welsh cakes Not just for St David’s day after all! Make up the dough, then use a smaller cookie cutter to create bite-sized Welsh cakes. Top with a little dairy-free boursin (below)  and a sprinkle of chives to jazz them up, and look pretty too. 

Baba ganoush I love rich, smoky baba ganoush. This goes really well with the sesame coated chickpea dippers featured on day 9 

Creamy mashed beans Lunchbox filling gone posh! Grab some super crispy lettuce leaves and fill with a couple of spoonfuls of the creamy mashed beans. Top with finely chopped parsley and you have an interesting canapé in your hand.

Dairy-free ‘boursin’ Not exactly like the real thing, but a very tasty creamy dip with cheese-like properties. Make it super thick and use it to top Welsh cakes or fill trimmed celery sticks. 

Lentil and walnut paté Grab some mini oatcakes or rice cakes and top with this delicious savoury paté. Garnish with some chives to make them look pretty.

Beetroot hummus Why serve normal plain hummus when you can make it pink? 

Pumpkin dip If hummus is too mainstream, try this pumpkin dip instead. Infused with warming spices, it’s so delicious you might not want to share it with your guests!

Baked onion bhajis. Make mini bhajis and serve with mango chutney or a dairy-free yoghurt dip on the side. Not only do they taste delicious, there’s no greasy fingers afterwards as they’re baked not fried.

Farinata. I always make this when I’m catering for a buffet, partly because it’s quick and easy, but you can use whatever mix of flavours you want. Leek and pea work well, as does red pepper and sun-dried tomatoes. Use a larger rectangle tin so it’s thinner, then cut into bite-sized pieces when cold. 



Raw chocolate brownie bites

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raw chocolate brownie bites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chickpea dippers

Christmas is a time for buffet lunches and snacking, or at least that’s what seems to happen. My family seem to get through a lot of breadsticks at this time of year. But for sensitive eaters, that may not be such a good thing. Day 9 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar is a great alternative to bread sticks, perfect for dipping in hummus, flavoursome dips or just nibbling by themselves.

Rather oddly, breadsticks are one of the things I really miss. Once I discovered my sensitivity to yeast, anything bread-related was out the question. Not only that, but many contain some form of dairy so the were doubly banned.

Crudities are obviously the healthiest thing to dip – fresh, crunchy veggies that add flavour and extra nutrients, but sometimes you just want something a little more firm, yet stodgy. These chickpea dippers hit the spot.

Chickpea flour is one of those wonder ingredients that makes life eating a plant-based diet so much easier. It’s also gluten-free, so perfect if you have a gluten intolerance. Apart from being packed full of plant-based protein, fibre and a whole host of nutrients, it has a useful stickiness when combined with water. In this case, it helps to create a soft dough with very little effort. But be warned – add too much and it ends up a sticky nightmare and you have to start again. So approach with great care.

Once baked, these dippers have a lovely savoury flavour; the sesame seeds on the top add an extra level of flavour. If you are sensitive to sesame, you don’t have to miss out. Use a neutral nut butter like cashew or even some olive oil. 

This recipe makes a modest 14-16 dippers. If you are catering for larger numbers, then just double or even quadruple the amounts and bake in batches. And add extra herbs and spices if you want to mix the flavour up.

I hope you give these a go. They are rather delicious and seriously moreish. Let me know how you get on.

Chickpea dippers (makes 14-16)

  • 150g chickpea/gram flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons fresh coriander/parsley (optional)
  • 4-5 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Sift the chickpea flour and baking powder into a bowl and add the salt. Stir together well to combine. Add the tahini and rub in with your finger tips to create a breadcrumb-like texture. Add the fresh finely chopped herbs if you are using.

Add 4 tablespoons of water. Stir in with a spoon at first, then use you hands as it starts to come together to form a stiff dough.Knead for a couple of minutes to makes sure everything is well combined and coming together. If it’s too dry, add a little more water but be very careful. This dough goes from being too dry to too wet very quickly! Leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Place a silicon mat or piece of baking paper on the worktop. Sprinkle a little chickpea flour on it, then place the dough in the middle. Sprinkle some more flour on the top, then roll out to a rectangle approx 1 cm thick. 

Transfer the dough to a non-stick baking sheet by turning the silicon mat over the sheet and carefully peeling the mat away. Lightly dampen the dough surface with water and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top. Mark out 14-16 sticks with a knife then bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until firm and golden. 

Remove from the oven, transfer to a cooking rack and leave to cool completely. Finally, carefully cut the chickpea dippers out following the marked lines and trim the edges. Keep in an air-tight container for up to 5 days.

Stuffed nut roast

It’s day 8 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, into the second week already. I hope you are enjoying the posts and feeling inspired to try something new this Christmas period.

If you’re new to whole-food plant-based eating you may be wondering what in the world you are going to eat for the big event – Christmas dinner. There are various pre-prepared and fake meat options available to buy, but to be honest none of them taste quite as good, or are quite as cheap, as making your own.

If you want to try something different, Christmas chestnut tartlets are really delicious. But if you want to stick to something more mainstream, then nut roast is your answer. I already have a simple nut roast on the blog from a few years ago. This one today is a slightly different take on that; still simple and definitely delicious.

Now you may have noticed that I’m not one for using things that come in a packet. Having food sensitivities means that most products are not an option. Rather surprisingly, stuffing is one that I can eat, or at least some brands are ok. And I’ve never quite worked out how to make my own that tastes right, so it’s good to have something to fall back on.

Most standard stuffing mixes like Paxo contain wheat, so if you are intolerant to wheat or gluten, it’s be to go for specific gluten-free options like Mrs Crimbles. Also, if you avoid fats like palm oil, then beware of some supermarket brands as they tend to be on the ingredients list. Again, Mrs Crimbles might be the option here as there’s no added refined oils.

Even so, any stuffing mix is not exactly packed with lovely nutrients – most of them have been lost in the processing. But if you’re anything like me, the rest of the meal is a rainbow array of veggies and whole ingredients.  A small amount of stuffing wont’s cause too much harm in the big scheme of things (unless that’s all you eat – then there’s other problems!).

What the stuffing does add is additional flavour and texture, breaking up the nut roast a bit and just making it a bit more interesting and festive. Bake it long enough for the oils in the nuts to help create a lovely crust on the outside whilst remaining soft on the inside. I’ve found that this nut roast goes down well with non-veggie family and friends which is a big plus. 

So if you’re planning on serving a nut roast this Christmas, why not give this one a go? And if you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Stuffed nut roast (serves 6)

  • 200g mixed nuts (I used brazil, cashew and almond)
  • 170g pack stuffing mix (gluten-free if needed)
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 medium leek, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs
  • 2 tablespoon tamari or 1 teaspoon marmite
  • 50g oats (gluten-free if needed)
  • salt and pepper

Place the nuts in a food processor and grind so the nuts are finely chopped. Try to avoid over-grinding to a powder as you want a little texture without big chunks of nut. Make up the stuffing mix with the correct amount of  boiling water stated on the box. Do not add any oil or dairy-free spread. Mix well and leave to one side to firm up.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the base of a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the onion, leek and carrot with the bay leaf for 10 minutes with the lid on to retain the moisture. Stir regularly to makes sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Add a little more water and drop in the garlic and mixed herbs. Stir well and cook for another minute.

Stir in the chopped nuts, tamari or marmite and oats. Mix well, adding a little water if needed to help combine. Simmer for 5 minutes or so, stirring frequently so the mix doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper and turn off the heat.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Lightly grease a 2lb loaf tin with olive oil. Spoon half the nut mixture into the base of the tin, pressing down well in the corners. Spread the stuffing mix over the top then finish off with the remaining nut mix. Make sure you spread out each layer well to get a good spread. Place the tin in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and it feels firm to the touch.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes. Slide a knife around the outside of the nut roast to loosen it from the tin and carefully turn the tin over onto a chopping board. Tap the bottom of the tin and ease out the loaf. Leave to cool for another couple of minutes then cut into slices and serve.





Raw gingerbread balls

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

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

Energy balls are great, especially if you have a sweet tooth as they hit the spot with sweetness but are free from shedloads of refined sugar. That’s not to say they’re sugar free, far from it! But the sugar is still bound up with the fibre in the whole foods plus there’s lots of extra fibre in the oats. This means the sugar is released slowly so it doesn’t give you a sugar rush, followed by a sugar low. This is much less stressful for your body and suitable for everyone; if you’re gluten-free, then gluten-free oats work really well too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raw gingerbread balls (makes 18 )  

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

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

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

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


Vegan mincemeat

It’s day 6 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar and it’s time to make some mincemeat. Now, you may throw your hands up in the air in despair – what’s wrong with using shop-bought mincemeat for goodness sake? Nothing, unless you are a sensitive eater! It’s the things that are added in that could prove to be a problem.

Traditionally mincemeat is made with suet, a form of fat taken from beef or mutton. It’s highly saturated and useful for making pastry, puddings and holding mincemeat together. Vegetable suet looks similar to animal-based but is is usually made from a highly saturated fat like palm oil and works well as a direct substitute. Indeed, I used to use it for making pastry when I first went plant-based, but stopped once I moved towards a whole-food way of eating and had to change my fat intake following my MS diagnosis. Another thing to bear in mind is that suet contain wheat and therefore gluten. You can buy gluten-free suet, but if you don’t need it, why bother?

Most shop-bought mincemeats and many recipes for making it at home include a shed-load of sugar. I never used to question that, but if you think about it, dried fruit is already super-sweet, so why add more? Once answer could be for the preserving effects of sugar; mincemeat is often made in advance so the flavours can develop. Sugar helps to stop it going mouldy. But mincemeat utilises other natural preservatives like lemon juice and alcohol, so it shouldn’t be a problem. But to be on the safe side, I keep mine in the fridge once made.

The other benefit of making your own mincemeat is that you can personalise it, so that if you have an intolerance to one thing, like oranges for example, you can leave it out and still enjoy a mince pie or two. You can leave the brandy out if you either don’t drink or like alcohol, just replace it with some more orange juice.

Whilst there is still a lot of sugar in this recipe just from the presence of the dried fruit, there are some positives as well. Firstly, the dried fruit and apple still have their lovely healthy fibre; friendly gut bacteria particularly enjoy dining on cooked apple. The cinnamon helps manage blood sugar levels and the citrus contain antioxidants that can help support your body.

This recipe won’t fill huge amounts of jars; if you are catering for a large number or just love eating it, then double or even quadruple the amounts. It doesn’t take long to make either, which is good news when there’s lots of pre-Christmas prep to do. Plus the house will be filled with lovely seasonal aromas to get you in the festive spirit.  A warning though; as there is not much to bind the mix together, the texture will be looser than traditional mincemeat, so be prepared to make a bit of a mess in the kitchen. Also, try and make a couple of days before you want it so that the flavours ping.

I hope you give this recipe a go. If you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on. Spoiler alert – there’ll be a recipe coming up soon using it!

No added sugar or fat mincemeat 
2 medium sized eating apples
400g mixed dried fruit
50g sliced almonds
1 orange, juice and grated rind
1 lemon, juice and grated rind
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons brandy (optional)
You will also need a clean, sterilised jar

Wash, core and chop the apples. Place in a medium sized pan with all the other ingredients, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the fluid has been absorbed and the apple is cooked and mushy.

Stir well to combine, taste and add more spices if needed. Leave to cool then transfer to the prepared jar. Put on the lid, leave to cool completely then store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. That’s it!


Roasted squash and barley soup

Day 5 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar and it’s a gorgeously warming soup recipe. Perfect for chilly winter days, its comforting and restorative after the stresses and strains of Christmas shopping. Packed full of nourishing rainbow veggies, it is ‘souper’ filling with a large dose of fibre from the barley.

Barley is one of those grains more likely to be found in processed foods than eaten as an every-day grain. Overshadowed by rice and wheat, it actually has a surprising amount of beneficial properties. It’s also fairly cheap unlike other more trendy pseudo-grains like quinoa and buckwheat. The downside for sensitive eaters is it does contain gluten so if you follow a gluten-free diet it has to be avoided.

If you can tolerate barley, it’s definitely worth adding to your repertoire of foods. Containing both soluble and insoluble fibre, it’s can help look after your gut health by aiding good digestion and providing sustenance for the beneficial bacteria hidden deep away in the microbiome. And in a time of over-indulgence, it’s a good idea to take extra care of the microbiome, particularly when seasonal viruses are rife.

As with all grains, it’s best to use wholegrain rather than refined. Pearl barley has been polished, effectively removing some of the beneficial fibre and nutrients. In the UK, look for pot barley; it may take a little longer to cook, but your body will love you for it. Soaking reduces the cooking time; it also helps to remove enzymes that may prevent all the nutrients from being released, so worth doing if you think ahead.

Apart from fibre, barley contains a whole range of nutrients including magnesium and chromium and special compounds called lignans that have been associated with reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. Maybe now you can see how this soup really is souper!

If you can’t tolerate gluten in any form, swap the barley for wholegrain rice, buckwheat or millet. It will have a different texture, but still taste delicious.

Let me know if you give this a go; you don’t have to add the pumpkin sprinkle for the top by the way, but it’s lovely if you do.

Roasted squash and barley soup (serves 4-6)
1 medium butternut squash
1 red onion
1 medium leek
1 medium stick celery
1 fat clove garlic
1 litre vegetable stock
100g barley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper
To garnish:
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon fresh sage
salt to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Wash the outside of the squash, chop into chunks and remove the seeds. Cut the onion into quarters. Place both on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until soft and lightly caramelised.

Tip the barley into a large non-stick frying pan and toast for a few minutes until the aromas are released. Remove from the heat.

Heat a small amount of the stock in the bottom of a saucepan and add the leek and celery. Sauté for a couple of minutes until they start to soften then add the garlic. Add three quarters of the toasted barley, mix well then add 750ml of the stock, the sage and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. 

The squash will be ready so remove from the oven, cut off any tough bits of skin. Keep a third of the squash to one side and add the remainder to the pan with the onion and simmer for another 15 minutes or so until everything is soft. Remove from the heat, blend until smooth then return to the heat and add the remaining barley and stock.

Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Finally add the remaining squash, cook for another 10 minutes and it is ready to serve.

To make the pumpkin sprinkle, place the ingredients in the small bowl of a blender and pulse until it has a breadcrumb texture. 

Serve the soup in a large bowl with a glug of flaxseed oil and pumpkin sprinkle on top. 


5 brilliant gadgets for Christmas

When you start cooking from scratch and creating new plant-based recipes, it’s handy to have some time-saving devices to hand. After all, there can be a lots of chopping, grating and blending involved!  I have a selection of kitchen gadgets, some are more useful than others, some are extras rather than essentials.

I am often asked which ones I recommend, so as Day 4 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar, I thought it might be useful to give you some suggestions. After all, Santa might as well bring you something you are going to use! There’s a full range of prices too, depending on how much you want to splash out. Just to let you know, the photos linked to Amazon are connected to my affiliate account. This means if you order them with the link, I get a little commission. You can of course choose to buy them wherever you like!

If you have a favourite gadget I haven’t included, do let me know what it is.

1) Hand blender and small grinding pot. You may be surprised to see this at the top of my list, but it’s the most frequently used gadget in my cupboard! I have a Bosch one that has lasted me well. I love this kit because it’s:

  • Perfect for blending soups when I’m too hungry to wait for it to cool down to use the blender
  • Comes with a blender jug to whizz up mayos or sauces
  • The grinding pot is perfectly sized for making pestos and chopping small amounts of veggies
  • Comes with lids to keep things in the fridge so you don’t need to waste plastic
  • Doesn’t need much storage space
  • Is pretty cheap for so many functions

2) Food processor. When I first started eating a whole-food plant-based diet I had an old Kenwood food processor, a wedding present that had been abandoned to the back of the cupboard collecting dust. It certainly started earning it’s keep though and chopped, blended and grated on a daily basis until it finally refused to work no more! Needing to upgrade, I went for durability (and Mother-in-Law’s recommendation) and invested in a Magimix. It was a good decision.

I like the Magimix because:

  • It is powerful so can deal with anything you throw at it. The power used varies according to what you put in it as well – clever stuff!
  • It has multiple functions – chopping, blending, whisking, slicing and grating.
  • There are 3 bowl sizes to choose from for different roles and different overall machine sizes so you can buy one with a smaller capacity if you are cooking for less people
  • It comes in easy to clean finishes
  • The customer service is excellent and the guarantee worth having
  • It looks lovely on the worktop.

There are a couple of down sides as well.

  • It’s very heavy so not so practical to move in and out of cupboards
  • The accessory holder takes up space in the cupboard (although it’s very neat)
  • It is more expensive than other brands on the market, but not excessively so for the quality of product.

3) Silicon baking mat. The cheapest gadget on this list, and the only none electrical item. It may not seem like the sexist gadget but once you have one you’ll wonder how you managed without!

When you’re cooking without oil, or making pastry without fat or gluten, a silicon baking mat makes all the difference. Of course you can always use baking paper, but I prefer to have a non-disposable item for less environmental impact.

These mats are durable and fold away into a drawer. They do need washing well if you are cooking with strong odours. Plus I would suggest using a scent-free washing up liquid otherwise it can take on some of the aromas which may not go so well with your cookies!

4) Soup maker. Now full disclosure here – I don’t actually have one of these. But there have been a flurry of these being bought by people who have done my Eat Well Live Well course that maybe Santa might like to bring me one this year!

Soup features a lot in my course, and my upcoming book (which is not out until February otherwise it would be on this list 😉 ). It’s so automatic for me now that it doesn’t take long to chop, pop in a pan and cook up. But if you’re new to it, or have little time to spend in the kitchen, this soup maker could be the answer. You just add the ingredients, press the button and it does the business.

Word of warning – the chopping bit is quite loud so don’t disappear and do something else then wonder if someone is trying to break into the kitchen! It cooks at a temperature that keeps the nutrients intact too. The full-sized ones make 6 portions, so you may have some left over for another day. If that’s too big, there is a small one on the market too.

There are other brands than this Morphy Richards one, but this is the one highly recommended by my group, so I’m trusting their judgement.

5) Thermomix. This is a big ticket item, but could be the ultimate gadget you’ve been looking for. Again, full disclosure – I don’t have one of these as I love spending time in the kitchen. However, if you are short on time, or just don’t enjoy the process, this machine gives you the opportunity to cook healthy, fresh food without being a slave to the oven. The people I know who have bought one swear by it.

The main benefits of this piece of kit are:

  • The machine does most of the work for you
  • It chops, sautés, braises, boils, stews, blends. You can even steam things on the top.
  • Variable cooking temperatures means you have control. Also, as it cooks at a lower temperature, it retains many of the lovely vitamins and phytonutrients that can be lost.
  • You can access a huge range of Thermomix recipes online – although still come back to my Foodie blog for inspiration!

You can’t buy Thermomix in the shops. Instead they are sold through independent consultants. That’s good as you can actually spend time learning about and experiencing the equipment before making the investment. Beatriz, the lady I know who sells Thermomix, will even come and cook a meal for you and some friends so you can see and taste just what it does. Click on her photo to go to her website or send her an email to


Crunchy Christmas biscotti

Day 3 of my Sensitive Foodie advent calendar, and it’s another sweet treat. Perfect for dunking in a hot coffee or dairy-free chocolate on a soggy or chilly winter’s day, these super crunchy biscotti are packed with seasonal spices and a satisfying crunch.

I have a friend who makes amazing biscotti, or rather cantuccini.  Being Italian, she follows a traditional recipe using eggs, lots of refined sugar, baked with passion and love. Cantuccini are made with almonds and are designed to dip in sweet wine rather than coffee, which sounds like a wonderful idea!

Biscotti means ‘twice baked’. This process of double baking is what makes these biscuits so crunchy and dipable. It does take a little more time than your normal cookie or biscuit, but it’s well worth the effort.

I’ve sat in my friend’s kitchen watching her make her gorgeous cantuccini, the wonderful aroma wafting in the air and wondered how to make them fully plant-based and less refined. After a few experiments, I’m very pleased with the outcome. They can be made gluten-free as well, which is good news for anyone avoiding gluten. They keep in an air-tight container for a few weeks, so you can make a big batch to tide you over the Christmas season.

There’s all sorts of flavour combinations you can use; to make these seasonal I’ve added some dried cranberries with the almonds as well as some all spice flavouring to bring in the Christmas taste. You could use cinnamon or cloves, or a combination – whatever you have to hand. If you’re feel like making some home-made gifts, you could bake a batch then pop them in pretty gift bags.
So why not give these a go and get ready for some seasonal dunking? Don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Almond, cranberry and spice biscotti (makes approx 26)
165ml dairy-free milk
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
75g coconut sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened apple sauce
4 tablespoons hempseed or olive oil
200g spelt flour/gluten free flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 – 1 teaspoon ground all spice
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1/2 teaspoon almond essence
85g almonds, sliced
65g dried cranberries

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Put a silicon baking sheet onto to tray, or line with baking paper.
Pour the dairy-free milk into a bowl and add the ground flaxseed, coconut sugar, apple sauce, hempseed oil, and almond essence. Whisk well to combine and then leave to thicken for a few minutes.

Place the flour, baking powder, all spice and salt into another bowl and stir to mix well. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir to combine – it’s a dry mix so hands will be needed to finally pull it all together. If it’s a little wet and soft, add some more flour so it doesn’t stick. Add the almonds and cranberries, working them into the dough with your fingers so none stick out the sides. This takes a couple of minutes to ensure everything is spread throughout the dough. Cut the dough in half.

Place one half onto the baking sheet and press out out into an oblong shape, pushing the edges and ends straight with your hands. It should be approximately 28×8 cms in size. Repeat with the other half of dough, then place the baking sheet in the oven for 25 minutes or until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray for about 30 minutes.

Once cool, cut into slices approximately 2cm thick; place each slice back onto the baking tray lying on it’s side. Pop back in the oven for 6 minutes, then remove, turn each slice over and pop back again for another 5 minutes. Remove one the slices are very firm to the touch and golden brown. Remove, leave to cool (they harden a bit more) and then keep in an air-tight tin if you don’t eat them all at once. Enjoy!