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”

Vegan marzipan

Back on day 1 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, I brought you my version of a whole-food, low added sugar Christmas cake. Mine has been hidden away, a little extra brandy added every week to make it extra moist and boozy. Now it’s time for the next stage. So for day 22, I bring you my version of marzipan – a low sugar, gluten-free, egg-free almond paste.

There’s not getting away from the fact that this a very different to marzipan you buy in the shops. It’s not smooth, delicate or yellow! It is however super tasty and easy to make. It is rather soft though, and not so easy to roll out. But if you’re happy using your hands instead of a rolling pin, it’s super simple to use as it’s pliable and really forgiving. As the dough is so soft, it’s a good idea to make a few days before you plan to ice the cake to give it a little time to dry out.

Before I go on, I feel it’s important to discuss the elephant in the room – how to ice a Christmas cake using whole-food ingredients. After all, icing is pure sugar, and icing sugar at that, the most refined you can get. To be honest, I have no alternative to offer. A Christmas cake should be white – it’s snow after all. There are recipes for brown sugar icing, but I feel it makes a cake look more like dirty slush rather than fresh virgin snow! Sometimes on special occasions, you have to make a compromise.

So I use ready-roll icing, add it to the cake to make it look lovely. Then when presented with a slice, I decide if I want to eat it or not. Since eating a whole-food plant-based diet my taste-buds have changed so much that icing really is too sweet for me now and I tend to peel it off and just enjoy the rest of the cake. Maybe one day I’ll find a good alternative, but for now, that’s the best I can come up with!

Right, now that’s been dealt with, back to the marzipan. Recipes usually call for a large amount of sugar, but I feel that ground almonds have a natural sweetness of their own, so have only added a small amount of coconut sugar. To replace the eggs, I have used ground flaxseed. As well as working as a binding agent, this adds a little extra plant-based omega 3 fatty acids, an extra healthy bonus hidden away.

Once you have made the dough, the natural oils will start coming out; this is what makes it difficult to roll out. So just grab chunks of the marzipan, flatten it in your hands then stick to the cake, pressing it into place. Once you’ve covered it completely, smooth the joins to make it look seamless and all will be well.

One last thing, I used a little warm marmalade to help keep the marzipan stuck to the sides of the cake, a preventative measure rather than an absolute necessity. I figure it’s best to stick it in place now rather then risk it sliding off when it’s dried.

The amounts in the recipe is enough for a thin coating for a 20cm round cake as per the recipe here. If you give this a try, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Vegan marzipan

  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 50g coconut sugar or 2 tablespoons maple syrup (makes a lighter marzipan)
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade (optional)

Mix the ground flaxseed and water together in a small bowl and put to one side. In a large bowl, add the ground almonds and coconut sugar and mix together. Pour in the flaxseed mix and almond essence and bring together, first with a spoon and then your hands to form a soft, kneadable dough. Leave to settle for 10 minutes.

Cut the dough in half. Use one half to cover the top; break in half, flatten one half in the palm of your hand then place over the top of the cake. Spread it out with your hands, pinching together any breaks and patching where needed. Repeat to cover the remainder of the top.

Whilst you are covering the top, gently heat the marmalade so it’s easily spreadable. Use a pastry brush to spread it over the side of the cake. Break the remaining half of marzipan into small balls. Flatten each one in the palm of your hand into rough rectangles and apply to the side of the cake. Pinch any joins together and patch where necessary. Finally, smooth the top edges to make it seamless.

Transfer to a serving plate, cover loosely with foil and leave in a cool place to dry for 2 days if possible before icing.

Rich Vegan Christmas cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple and oat muffins

Muffins were in the news earlier this year following a report that outed many shop-bought versions as being the less-than healthy option they might appear to be (click here for the link). Some blueberry ones tested didn’t have anything close to a real blueberry in them, just some synthetic sugar replacement. Plus lots of refined sugar and oils. That’s definitely not a healthy muffin!

These muffins on the other hand are on the complete other end of the scale. Being a whole-food plant-based version, they contain no refined oils, eggs or sugar but do have wholegrain and oats plus lots of healthy fibre and phytonutrients. Perfect for a breakfast on-the-go, mid-morning snack, lunch box treat or to fuel some exercise. Or you could just eat them because they taste delicious!

The key difference with these muffins to those made with lots of oil and sugar is the texture. Apple puree replaces the oil and it’s heavy. This makes it more difficult for the baking agents to elicit a light fluffy rise, resulting in a dense and somewhat heavy muffin. Pick it up and you know that muffin is going to be good for you!

Apple also replaces much of the normal added sugar; eating apples do not need to be sweetened and cook down into a good puree. The ones I made for the photos used some puree I had in the freezer from my own prolific apple tree, so maybe they tasted even better for being home grown! The combination of apple and cinnamon not only tastes amazing but does magic tricks in your body. Cooked apple is a wonderful pre-biotic, feeding the friendly bacteria that live in the gut – they love it! And cinnamon helps the body to absorb sugar from the bloodstream into the cells, promoting healthy blood sugar metabolism.

A word of warning – because these muffins contain no oil, they have a habit of sticking to the muffin paper, although oddly only on the day they are baked (which is also the day they taste the best, fresh out of the oven). This is frustrating, especially if you want to dive in and end up consuming more fibre than you anticipated by nibbling on wrapper! One way around this is to skip using the cases and bake directly into a well-greased non-stick muffin tin. If you’re not too worried about have extra oil, you could add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the mix. I just know the one I eat the day I make them will require some paper nibbling and just enjoy them as they are!

So if you are looking for a tasty muffin that’s filling, full of healthy nutrients and ticks all the ‘good’ boxes, then try a batch of these. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Oat and apple muffins (makes 12)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
200mls non-dairy milk (preferably soya)
Squeeze of lemon or ½ teaspoon cider vinegar
220g unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
80ml maple syrup
200g oats (gluten free if needed)
200g wholemeal or gluten free self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch salt
1 medium/large eating apple, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon coconut sugar to top (optional)

Mix the flaxseed and water together in a small bowl and leave to one side to thicken – this makes a flax-egg. Whisk the dairy-free milk and lemon or vinegar together in a bowl and leave to stand for a few minutes. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line muffin tins with 12 muffin wrappers or grease non-stick muffin tins with a little oil.

Mix the applesauce, maple syrup, vanilla and flaxseed egg with the milk and whisk together well. Place the flour, oats, baking powder, salt and spices to a large bowl and mix to combine. Pour in the wet ingredients into the dry and mix together quickly. Do not over mix. Quickly fold in the chopped apple.

Spoon out mix into muffin cases, filling each one just under the rim. Tap the tin than place in the oven and bake for 17-19 minutes.

Once firm and lightly browned on top, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooking rack. Sprinkle a little extra ground cinnamon on the top if so desired and leave to cool completely.

 

Raw Christmas cake balls

It’s only a week until Christmas Day! I love this time of year, particularly the food! We’re having our main meal on Christmas Eve this year to be able to get everyone together. As well as ensuring quality family time, it also means the big day itself is much more relaxed and we can have two days of eating ‘Boxing Day food’ – baked potatoes, leftovers and cake!

For anyone following a plant-based diet, whether because of food intolerances, health reasons or personal choice, Christmas can be a challenging time, particularly when temptation is everywhere. Over the last few years, I’ve managed to adapt most foods to be dairy-free and fairly whole-food, although some things are more challenging than others, especially if it involves pastry and you can’t rely on a handy packet of the ready-made stuff! If you are struggling to find good and tasty substitutes, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites over the next couple of days – an early Christmas gift for you all!

First of all, Christmas cake. I have made a traditional cake, or sort of! It’s dairy free, fully plant-based and doesn’t even have any oil in it. It is incredibly sweet though, even though it only has a small amount of coconut sugar in it,  so not one for the ‘healthy’ category. But these raw Christmas cake balls can claim that sparkly crown (as long as you don’t eat the whole lot at once). Packed full of whole fats and sugars in the form of nuts and dried fruits, the seasonal spices add that unmistakable flavour so that it really is a little bit of Christmas in a ball. They are also super easy and quick to make, and make a great home-made gift.

So, if you are a Christmas cake lover but need something a little different, or want to make something special for a sensitive eater, then these tasty little balls could just be the thing for you. Enjoy!

Raw Christmas cake balls (makes approx 12 depending on size)
80g almonds
80g pecan nuts
75g dried dates
160g dried mixed fruit (currents, raisin, dried peel etc)
1 tablespoon cranberry juice
1 tablespoon cacao powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
pinch nutmeg
4 tablespoons desiccated coconut

If your dates are really dry, soak then in some warm water for a few minutes and drain. Place the nuts, dates, dried fruit and cranberry juice into the bowl of a food processor and blitz a couple of times to break down. Add the cacao powder and spices, then blend until everything is broken down and well combined, sticking together. Add a little more cranberry juice if it’s too dry but don’t make it wet.

Sprinkle the desiccated coconut onto a plate. Take a small spoonful of mix (about 20g) and roll into a ball with your hands, then roll in the coconut to cover. Put to one side and repeat until all the mix is used up. Keeps in an air-tight container for up to seven days. Can be frozen.

Low sugar flapjacks

As a rule, flapjacks are awesome. I’ve loved these super sweet bakes since being at school – my best friend’s mum made delicious flapjacks and she always had a big chunk in her lunchbox that she would kindly share with me. Bliss point was hit every time with that enticing sugar and fat combo (golden syrup and butter!).

These days, flapjacks remain enticing but are rarely suitable for a whole-food plant based way of eating, particular for specific health-related diets like the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) programme. A wolf in sheep’s clothing (or the plant equivalent!), traditional flapjacks may appear to be the healthy option (with all those healthy oats) but the high refined sugar and large amount of butter or refined oils means it’s far from good for many people.

I’ve tried a few times to make my own dairy free, lower sugar flapjacks; this one is the best. It’s still super sweet, but the sugar comes in the form of coconut sugar and maple syrup, so less refined but still rich and enticing. I’ve used olive oil for the fat, plus a little ground flaxseed to help the mix stick together (and offer some extra anti-inflammatory omega 3). If you are gluten-free, then it’s easy to substitute gluten-free oats and flour. It’s a wonderful sweet treat, easy to make, and perfect for lunch boxes or after-school snacks.

So next time the need for a flapjack hits you, try this recipe instead for a healthier but still satisfying treat.

Low-sugar flapjacks (makes 9-12 square depending on how big you want them)
120ml olive oil
100g coconut sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
180g plain wholemeal/gluten free flour
150 oats/gluten free oats
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
100g raisins

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Line a 20x20cm baking tin with greaseproof paper.

Place the flour, oats, ground flaxseed, baking powder and salt together in a bowl and mix well. In another bowl, add the oil, coconut sugar, maple syrup and vanilla essence. Whisk well to combine. Pour the wet mix into the dry and stir together then add the raisins and stir again. The mix may feel a bit wet and stick together, but don’t panic. Tip the mix into the prepared tin and press down firmly into the bottom and corners, spreading it out equally to get a flat top.

Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until the top starts to brown. Do not over-bake. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Cut into squares, then leave to cool in the tin. Once completely cool, tip out onto a board and finish cutting into squares. Then try not to eat them all at once!

 

 

Raspberry and almond cake

The soft fruit has been amazing this summer. Everything seems to have been ripe for picking earlier than normal too, so the season of home grown fruit has been long and luscious! That is apart from my own raspberry canes that seem to be taking their time to produce anything.

Berries are high on my list of favourite foods. In the past, it would be hard for me to decide whether strawberries or raspberries would come out on top. Strawberry flavoured anything was always my choice as a child, even over chocolate. And when the fruit was in season, I took any opportunity to cram those beautifully sweet, juicy berries into my eager mouth. Today, strawberries are available nearly all year round, which is great, but they no longer taste like the berries of my childhood. Mainly grown under cover, often requiring extra chemicals, they can be watery and drab. Home-grown strawberries still hit the mark, but there’s all too few to satisfy, once the weather, the slugs and the birds have been involved!

So raspberries are now my soft fruit of choice. Sweet and sharp at the same time, their flavour holds true. Homegrown are still the best in my mind, particularly as supermarkets charge a high premium and use a large amount of plastic packaging. The great thing is they freeze really well and so can be accessible all year round.

Bright red berries are packed full of vitamins and helpful phytonutrients so that not only do they taste amazing, our bodies love them too. In particular, the flavonoids in raspberries are thought to help reduce inflammation in the body that can lead to heart disease as well as help improve memory. They are also packed with anti-oxidants, those wonderful pac-man like substances that help mop up nasty free radicals circulating in the blood and have a high amount of fibre so can help with gut health as well as slow release of sugars.

You many have noticed that I tend to add fruit to cakes. This is partly because I love fruit, but also the natural sweetness helps reduce the need for additional refined sugar as well as adds in extra fibre and all these nutritional goodies. Cake as a ‘health food’ – what could be better than that?

Almonds are another key ingredient that not only taste good, but will provide your body with wonderful nutrients like magnesium and vitamin E as well as healthy fats and fibre. In fact there’s much to say about this amazing nut – that’s another blog post!

This cake is a perfect summer recipe; because you can use frozen raspberries, you can now bring a bit of summer into your kitchen at any time of the year! It’s soft and so tasty, and works well with gluten free flour or wholemeal. And of course as it’s dairy free and egg free, it’s good for your vegan friends or those with food intolerances  (apart from nuts – sorry nut allergy people!). If you want to make it look more beautiful, drizzle some stripes of simple icing mixed with a little almond essence over the top. Not only does it look good, but creates a flavour reminiscent of Bakewell Tart.

So give this a go and enjoy a sunny summer’s afternoon any time of the year. Do let me know how you get on!

Raspberry and almond cake (makes 8 good slices)
150g wholemeal or gluten free self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
100g coconut sugar (or other sugar of choice)
200ml almond milk
70ml olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
100g raspberries (fresh or frozen – the berries keep their shape better if frozen)
25g flaked almonds

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 18cm round cake tin or a 2lb loaf tin.

Measure the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt into one bowl. Mix the coconut sugar, almond milk, olive oil and vanilla essence in another. Keep the raspberries and flaked almonds to one side for now. Pour the wet mix into the dry and mix quickly but carefully. Once everything is roughly combined, pour half the mix into the prepared cake tin, sprinkle the raspberries over the top then fill with the remaining mix. Make sure all the the raspberries are covered with the mix, sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top and place in the oven for 35 minutes.

Check the cake – it should be risen slightly and lightly browned on top. Check with a skewer to see if it is cooked through – if some mix sticks to the skewer, place back in the oven for a few more minutes. Once you’re happy it’s cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then tip out onto a cooling rack. Decorate as above if you wish when fully cool, or just tuck in as it is. Enjoy!