Courgette compendium

One of the outcomes of lockdown for us is we have had time to create new raised beds to start growing our own veggies. This is actually the third time we’ve done this (we kept moving!) and these ones are by far the best. For a start, we have much more space (oh boy do we have space!) rather than squeezing them into a small corner of a small garden as before. That’s not to say that growing veggies in a small space is not worth it. It definitely is. We also spent more time researching and learning how to grow in tandem with nature. Less impact, more output.

This end bed isn’t finished yet – a good place to deposit grass cuttings.

Not that I can really take much credit for our lovely new beds! My hubby spent more time and energy researching and building them. After much debate he chose to use a technique called hugelkultur. A centuries old technique from Germany and Easter Europe, it uses garden debris as the source of nutrients needed for new plants to grow. It’s basically a big compost heap!

We wanted to build up a structure to our beds, so we used wood to create an outline and dug down a little into the soil, taking off the grass layer and a little more. This gave a large area that needed filling – fortunately we have a lot of garden debris to use! A few logs on the base were covered with more tree cuttings, then grass cuttings, stuff from the compost bins, more grass, some sand, then the top grass layer we cut out, the soil dug out and finally finished with some bought organic compost (as we wanted to use them now). We buried so much! Covered up, the debris will break down, releasing nutrients into the soil providing nourishment for our fresh produce. Well that was the plan – we were not too sure how well it would work year one…..

Beans and squash going rampant!

I am pleased to say, so far so good! The squash in particular are going crazy and the beans are prolific. And the courgettes that were planted rather late are just beginning to flourish. So much so, I see a glut coming in a few weeks time!

Courgettes are funny vegetables. I love them now, but used to hate them as a kid. Their high water content can make them tricky to cook. In soups and stews they have the potential to make them too watery, fritters and veggie cakes too wet and steamed they can go from firm to a horrid mush in the blink of an eye. But on a good day, with the right treatment, they are a delight.

Nutrition wise, courgettes are excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium and phytonutrients like betacarotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. You’ll also find a reasonable does of B vitamins, manganese and vitamin K (which is in the news at the moment relating to the Covid 19 virus). Vitamin C and phytonutrients play an antioxidant role in the body, quashing damaging free radicals. Betacarotene, zeaxanthin and lutein all support eye health which is good to know if you are at risk of macular degeneration or other age-related eye conditions. Potassium is important for good blood pressure control and is a key player in cell health. It’s easily lost once food is processed, so eating courgettes raw or lightly cooked can really support your health. If you’re interested in how to manage your blood pressure or health issues with food, we discuss this in much more detail in my online course.

If you are heading into a glut of courgettes – lucky you! There’s so much you can make with them. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make summer soups. This courgette and cumin soup is particularly tasty
  • Add them to pasta sauces, veggie chillis, stir fries, fajitas or risotto. This red rice risotto works well with courgettes.
  • Stuff them! One of the recipes on my Eat Well Live Well course is a gorgeous aduki bean stuffed courgette boat (another good reason to take the course 😉 )
  • It’s getting a bit retro now, but use them to make courgetti. Here’s a BBC Food article about what to do.
  • If you squeeze out excess water, courgettes make tasty fritters and veggie cakes.
  • sweet courgette loaf

    Make cake! Oh yes, courgettes provide moisture and nutrients to cake – it’s a great way to get courgette haters on board! Try this easy courgette loaf cake.

I’ll be experimenting with more recipes over the next few months by the looks of it, so no doubt you’ll see more ideas on the blog soon as we work our way through them. What are your favourite courgette recipes? I’d love to know.

As for our veg garden, it has a lot of room for development. I can see many more beds being built over the next couple of years as we learn more about growing our own food in a way that supports and sustains our local ecosystem. We’re not aiming for self-sufficiency, but being plant-based we certainly hope to grow more than we buy. Let’s see what happens!

Chocolate and banana muffins

One of the positive things about the Covid 19 lockdown is that more people are getting in the kitchen and cooking. It may be due to an increase in free time or a  lack of access to shopping options. But I would like to think – and hope that – it’s down to a sudden awareness that food is really important to health and to wealth and that giving it the attention it deserves is a key way forward in staying well. Mind you, I’ve always been an optimist….! Continue reading “Chocolate and banana muffins”

Chocolate cupcakes with sweet potato frosting

Easter is associated with many things – the life of Jesus and the religious festival, Spring, chicks and, of course, chocolate! Chocolate eggs became a thing in the early 19th century, first made in France and Germany and then by Cadbury’s in the UK.

Eggs have been part of a spring festival way before Christianity used them to symbolise the resurrection. Used to represent rebirth or awakening, eggs appeared in pagan, Egyptian and Hindu mythology and have long been given as spring gifts, often beautifully decorated.

So chocolate and eggs are synonymous with this time of year. But what if you can’t or don’t eat either of these? Dairy-free and vegan chocolate is widely available so that’s not an issue for many people. However, if you follow a particular dietary programme for health like Overcoming MS then chocolate in its hard form is out due to the high level of saturated fat. So what to do (apart from sulk?) – make cake!

These chocolate cupcakes contain lots of cocoa or cacao powder which doesn’t have the added cocoa butter (which is where the fat is). It does contain all the lovely phytonutrients though, especially if you used raw cacao rather than cocoa. The frosting is a tasty and healthy alternative to heavy butter icing, and as it includes sweet potato you also get all those extra phytonutrients too. Which makes these cupcakes even better and so you can eat loads……well maybe not, but you get the super tasty chocolate hit as well as goodness, so that can’t be a bad thing!

I made these cakes and frosting on my live Facebook cooking session this week; here is the recording in case you missed it and fancied a watch. Plus the full recipe is below with all the ingredients and method. I hope you enjoy them – please let me know how you get on.

Wishing you a very Happy Easter.

Chocolate cupcakes with sweet potato chocolate frosting

Super tasty, easy to bake cakes with a low fat but delicious frosting alternative.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Cooking sweet potato 20 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Course Dessert
Servings 12 cakes

Ingredients
  

  • 1 medium sweet potato baked in its skin or steamed
  • 225 grams self-raising four wholemeal or gluten free
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 75 grams cocoa or cacao powder
  • pinch salt
  • 370 ml soya milk or other dairy-free milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice or cider vinegar
  • 80 ml olive oil
  • 120 grams coconut sugar or very dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

for the frosting

  • sweet potato prepped as above
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup or other liquid sweetener
  • 3-4 tablespoons cacao or cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • fresh or freeze-dried raspberries to decorate optional

Instructions
 

  • Before you make the cake, bake the sweet potato in its skin or steam. This can be done the day before and kept in the fridge.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas4. Line a muffin tin with wrappers.
  • Add the lemon juice to the soya milk and leave to curdle for a few minutes.
  • Place the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt together in a large bowl and mix well to combine.
  • In a separate bowl add the coconut sugar, oil and vanilla essence. Pour in the curdled soya milk and mix well to combine.
  • Pour the wet mix into the dry and quickly stir to combine - do not overmix and try to be ilght-handed but thorough. This should only take 10-12 seconds. Time is of the essence to get the raising agents to work iin the oven.
  • Quickly distribute the mix out into the prepared tin. Once the mix has all gone, tap the tin on the worktop and place in the oven. Bake for 18-20 minutes - the cakes are ready when risen and firm but bouncy on top. Test with a tooth pick - if it comes out clean they're ready.
  • Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack. Once cooled, they can be frozen for another time or decorated with the frosting.

To make the frosting

  • Place the cooked sweet potato, maply syrup, cocoa powder and vanilla essence into a small blender and whizz for a few seconds to combine. Test the flavour and add more syrup or cocoa as needed and blend again
  • Spread the mix over the top of the cakes and decorate with raspberries if desired. Keep in the fridge and eat within 3-4 days
Keyword chocolate cake,, Easter,, low fat, plant-based diet, vegan cake

Yule log

I hope you’ve found my Sensitive Foodie guide to Christmas helpful and you are all ready for the big day. There’s a huge range of recipes in it to help you enjoy your whole-food plant-based Christmas eating, but there is one key thing we make every year that’s not on that list yet. So as my present to you, here’s the recipe for my daughters favourite seasonal treat – yule log.

To be honest, this is one of my more complicated recipes, but if you are used to baking then hopefully you won’t find it too difficult. And if you’re not a free-from baking aficionado, then do still give this a go as to be honest, if I can do it, anyone can!

This yule log uses aquafaba, the brine left over from cooked chickpeas. Make sure you choose an unsalted version; for this recipes you will need two 400g tins. There’s lots of recipes you can make with chickpeas though so they won’t go to waste. When whisked, aquafaba reacts in the same way as egg white and so works well for the soft pliable sponge needed for yule log,  perfect if you are vegan or intolerant to egg.

You can use gluten free flour for this recipe, but make sure it has xanthum gum in the mix. This helps to stop the cake from falling apart, although to be honest with you, it is extremely difficult to stop this sponge from breaking when made gluten free. But never fear, as it’s going to be covered in lovely frosting, and unless you’re entering it into a baking competition, no-one will be too worried if it doesn’t have a perfect curl inside (and if they do, they can go and find their own yule log to eat!).

My chocolate frosting is perfect for anyone following special programmes like Overcoming MS which omit saturated fats and dairy. Admittedly it’s not as sweet as most chocolate frostings, but still taste delicious and complements the super sweet sponge. And it allows yule log to be back on the menu, which in my book is a really good thing!

Finally, if you want to go all out with the Christmas flavours, add a layer of chestnut puree on the inside of your yule log along with a layer of the chocolate frosting. But if you don’t happen to have any to hand, then don’t worry as it tastes fabulous with or without.

I hope you get a chance to make this lovely yule log. If you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on. I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

 

Yule log

A delicious yule log recipe that is plant-based, lower in refined oils and sugar and can be made gluten-free if needed. Tastes so good that everyone will love it!
Course Dessert

Ingredients
  

  • 3 tablespoons soya milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 240 ml aquafaba (the brine from a tin of chickpeas)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 150 grams coconut sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 170 grams whole-wheat self-raising flour or gluten-free self-raising flour mix
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (ensure GF if needed)
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar

Sweet potato or avocado chocolate frosting

  • 1 medium sweet potato baked in its skin, cooled and peeled
  • or
  • 1 medium ripe avocado peeled and destoned
  • 2-4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa or raw cacao powder

To finish

  • 185 grams pack chestnut puree optional
  • 2 tablespoons soya milk
  • icing sugar to dust for decoration

Instructions
 

  • Lightly grease a swiss roll tin and cover with baking paper.
  • Add a little lemon juice to the soya milk and leave to thicken and curdle
  • Pour the aquafaba into a large bowl and whisk until thick and stiff. Add the cream of tartar and whisk again, then gradually pour in the coconut sugar whisking all the time. Finally add the vanilla essence and soured soya milk, whisk again to keep thick and light.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  • Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a separate bowl. Mix well to ensure everything is combined
  • Carefully pour the flour mix into the aquafaba mix, quickly and lightly folding it in. Try to keep as much of the air present as possible. It will become thick.
  • Quickly spoon out onto the prepared baking tray and lightly spread out to evenly cover – don’t press it down though. Tap on the work top a couple of times.
  • Place the tray in the oven and bake for 8 minutes. 
  • Place a clean tea towel on the work top and cover it with a clean piece of baking paper. Sprinkle the caster sugar over the paper. 
  • Check the cake -if the sponge is firm but springy, it’s ready. If it’s still a little wet, return to the oven for another couple of minutes but do not overbake.
  • Remove the tin from the oven. Carefully turn the cake out onto the prepared baking paper. Peel away the paper from the top, then roll up in the new baking paper lengthways. Transfer to a cooling rack and leave to cool. 
  • Make the chocolate frosting by placing the prepared sweet potato or avocado, maple syrup and cocoa/cacao powder into the bowl of a small food processor. Whizz until the mix is well combined and smooth. Taste and add more maple syrup or cocoa as needed for taste and/or texture.
  • Place the chestnut puree in a bowl and loosen slightly with the soya milk so it is spreadable.
  • Once fully cool, unroll. It may crack and break a little, but don’t worry!
  • Spread 1/3 of the sweet potato icing over the cake and the chestnut puree if using. Carefully roll up lengthways. 
  • Cover the outside with the remaining sweet potato cream, creating a wood effect with a fork. 
  • Transfer to a serving plate or board. Sprinkle icing sugar over the top if using and leave to set in the fridge before serving
Keyword Christmas, gluten free, OMS friendly, plant based, vegan

Vanilla Oat Ice Cream

Today (23rd July) may be the day that the UK holds its collective breath as we wait to find out the name of the new Prime Minister, but in the US, it's National Vanilla Ice Cream Day. So to raise your spirits and focus on something much more tasty, I thought I'd share this delicious vanilla oat ice cream recipe. Because ice cream always makes things better!

Ice cream is the perfect combination of sugar and fat that pings dopamine receptors in the brain and sets us off on a full pleasure experience. It's the balanced combination of fat and sugar that does it - the bliss point. Eating sugar by itself is not so good - it's all claggy and gums up your mouth. And cream is ok in small amounts but is pretty bland. Blend them together, change the temperature, add a little extra flavouring (in this case vanilla) and voilá - a taste sensation that we love to eat in large amounts. The 'need' for ice cream is an on-going narrative in the media - I discuss this more in my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie.

When I first changed to a dairy-free diet there was only one ice cream option available to buy - Swedish Glace. It was also very lovely; sadly it's since been bought by Walls and it's changed - I find it quite bland and the tub is nearly impossible to open without damaging your hand! Nowadays there are numerous dairy-free and vegan ice creams available to buy, most of which contain highly refined fats and sugars, or coconut, which is off the menu for those of us following the Overcoming MS programme or using a whole-food plant-based diet for reversing health conditions.

So what's a girl to do? This vanilla oat ice cream is a great alternative. It's thick, creamy and subtly sweet. It's also packed with fibre so even if your pleasure centre is screaming "more, give me more" your stomach will be saying "no way, I'm stuffed"!

If you've never made your own ice cream before, don't fret as it's super easy - as long as you have an ice cream maker. I've had one this Andrew James one for a few years now. It's not expensive and is easy to use - you just have to remember to freeze the bowl. I keep mine in a plastic bag in the freezer so it's ready for all ice cream emergencies. If you don't have a big freezer, you might not want to do that so be prepared to think ahead and freeze it as needed.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can make it by pouring the mix into a plastic container then freezing for hour, stirring, then freezing again. Do this 4 or 5 times and you should get a similar result - it's just time consuming and you have to remember to do it every hour!

Because this ice cream contains whole oats and dates it also contains a lot of fibre. So apart from filling you up as mentioned above, it also releases the natural sugars more slowly, which is better for blood sugar control. On top of that, the fibre in oats is good for gut health as well as heart health. And oats also contain healthy fats, as does almonds and cashews (if you are using it as cream). So this ice cream is good for the body as well as the taste buds - that really is something to celebrate!

If you think I've finally lost the plot with my whole-food plant-based ideas, don't dismiss this until you've tried it. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. And if you do make it, I'd love to hear what you think - and what flavour you would like to discover next.

Vanilla Oat Ice Cream

A super creamy ice cream low in fat, high in fibre with a delicously subtle vanilla flavour. A great alternative to shop-bought ice creams, especially if you are avoiding refined oils, coconut or soya.

  • 150 grams oats (gluten free if needed)
  • 100 grams dates (de-stoned)
  • 250 ml water
  • 400 ml dairy-free cream (almond, cashew or oat all work well)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • pinch Himalayan salt
  1. Before you start, make sure the bowl for your ice cream maker is frozen as per machine instructions. I keep mine in the freezer all the time in a plastic bag, ready for those ice cream moments!
  2. Place the oats, dates and water in a large bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to soak for one hour.
  3. Tip the soaked oat mix into a blender jug along with the dairy-free cream, vanilla extract and salt. Blend on high for 1 1/2 minutes until everything is well combined, thick and creamy.
  4. Prepare your ice cream maker and turn it on to churn. Give the oat cream mix one more whizz to pick up any fibre that may have settled on the bottom of the jug and pour it steadily into the ice cream maker (I always make a mess doing this!)
  5. Leave the ice cream maker to do it's magic. Once the ice cream is thick and the paddle stops churning, transfer the ice cream to a freezer-proof container and leave in the freezer for one hour, or until you're ready to serve.
  6. If the ice cream has been in the freezer for more than an hour, take it out 15 minutes before you want to serve it to soften slightly.

Banana bread loaf

I’m so happy to say I’ve been getting some wonderful feedback from people who have read my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie. As well as gaining some useful insight from the first half (which covers loads of information about health, food and plant-based eating), they’re loving the recipes.

It seems that my simple banana bread recipe is a particular favourite. I’m not surprised as it’s really easy and super yummy. It’s also the one that gets raved about whenever I make it for an event or shared lunch. Continue reading “Banana bread loaf”

Strawberry and chocolate ‘cheesecake’

I’ve always been a bit partial to a slice of deliciously creamy cheesecake. Before I went dairy-free and plant-based my favourites were the ones you could buy frozen (I never tried to make my own!). Super-sweet crunchy biscuit base, thick and creamy filling then finished with a colourful layer of blackcurrants or strawberries, coated with more sugar of course. It hit all the pleasure buttons in one go!

When I went dairy-free, cheesecake was off the menu until I discovered the raw version – not quite so super-sweet but still delicious. I loved experimenting with different flavours – there are two amazing ones in my new book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie that are a winner every time. Continue reading “Strawberry and chocolate ‘cheesecake’”

Healthy oat and flaxseed cookies

The last few weeks have been so busy, getting the last bits of my new book finalised. It’s very exciting – I have 250 copies of Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie currently being printed and hopefully being delivered tomorrow. I’m at the Horsham Vegan Festival on Saturday (click here for details) where I’ll be giving a talk and selling my book for the first time! If you’re in the area, do pop by and say hi.

In the meantime, there’s still some baking going on (if nothing else it’s therapy to being on the computer for hours on end!). And as its half term, I thought you might like something simple to do with the kids, especially if you’ve run out of ideas that don’t cost money, as school holidays can be such an expensive time.

I used to love baking with my children when they were young, but it had to be simple otherwise 1) they would run out of patience and 2) the kitchen would turn into a baking bomb-site! And sometimes is was wise not to do highly sugar-laden cookies otherwise it would send them a bit bonkers – not ideal on a wet February day!

These cookies are super easy to make and contain no refined sugar, the sweetness coming from the ripe banana and dried fruit. If they are not sweet enough for your family’s taste-buds, add a little maple syrup. I’ve used raisins and almonds in my recipe, but there’s lots of alternatives like cranberries, pecan nuts, peanuts or chocolate drops (dairy-free of course!).

These can be made strictly gluten-free if that’s important to you by using gluten-free oats. And there’s loads of lovely fibre here from both the oats and the flaxseed to keep your gut bacteria happy. The flaxseed also provides health omega 3 fatty acids which help boost brain power and reduce inflammation in the body. Yay!

Of course, you don’ have to be a child to enjoy these! Just a lover of cookies! Perfect for lunch-boxes and snacks, you could even get away with eating them for breakfast. And as they are fully plant-based and low in fat, they are suitable for many specialist health programmes like Overcoming MS and reversing diabetes and heart disease.

I hope you give these a go. If you do, let me know how you get on. And if you can come to Horsham on Saturday – see you there! If not, I’ll be posting details on how to buy my book very soon.

Healthy oat and flaxseed cookies

Quick and tasty oat based cookies with no added sugar but lots of yummy flavour.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Snack
Servings 10 cookies

Ingredients
  

  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
  • 100 grams oats gluten free if needed
  • 50 grams ground flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 30 grams raisins
  • 30 grams sliced almonds
  • 3 tablespoons dairy-free milk

Instructions
 

  • Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper or a silicon mat. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan). 
  • Hunt out 10 good almond flakes and put to one side for decoration. Roughly chop the remaining almonds
  • Place the ripe banana in a bowl and mash it until soft and smooth. Add the oats, ground flaxseed, salt, cinnamon, raisins and almonds to the banana and mix well to combine. Pour in the dairy-free milk and stir to form a thick dough. Leave it to settle for 5 minutes. If the dough is really dry, add a little more dairy-free milk but take care not to make it soggy.
  • Split the dough into 10 equal sections. Roll each one into a ball, place on the baking sheet and flatten with your hand until it’s approximately 2cm thick. Repeat with the remaining sections. 
  • Press a sliced almond into the top then place the tray in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn over and bake for another 10 until firm and lightly browned. 
  • Remove from the oven and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. That’s if they don’t all get eaten at once!

Notes

Don’t forget you can swap the raisins and almonds for any dried fruit, nut or seed of choice, or use dairy-free chocolate drops.
Keyword cookies, dairy free, gluten free, no added sugar, plant based