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’”

Raw salted caramel cheesecake

I’ve never had a dairy-based salted caramel cheesecake – I was dairy free before salted caramel was a bit thing! But if it takes anything as good as this, then I can see what the fuss is about.

This lovely alternative is a delight, and can be eaten in the safe knowledge that all the ingredients are whole food and plant based, and therefore good for your body as well as your tastebuds. The caramel is rich and deep, not too sweet, but definitely hits the sugar receptors. This sweetness comes from the dates – and there’s a lot of them in this recipe! So I am never going to claim this is a low calorie number (it is dessert after all!), but it is packed full of fibre and nutritional benefits – minerals like iron and zinc, phytonutrients that are particularly good for gut health and a reasonable smattering of B vitamins. The type of fibre contained in dates also help keep beneficial bacteria happy; a happy gut = a happy body!

You may notice that I use Himalayan salt in the recipe – that’s my preference, but feel free to use whatever type you like or have in the house at the time. Don’t decide you can’t make this if you’re missing the salt I’ve specified, that would be too sad!

There’s lots of claims and counter claims on the internet about the benefits or otherwise of Himalayan salt. Having read around the subject, I’ve decided in favour of the pink salt as it is less refined and contains slightly more natural balance of sodium chloride with other trace minerals. As for the claims about energy levels, health benefits and potential elemental toxins, that’s for everyone to decide for themselves (I do, however, have my Himalayan salt lamp next to the modem in the house – it looks pretty in the hall and if it helps manage EMF in the house, why not?).

Back to the recipe. There are a lot of stages in this cheesecake, but each stage doesn’t take too long so don’t be overwhelmed. It really needs making the day before, but you can always make it a few hours before hand and pop it in the freezer if needed. Or prepare in advance and freeze, ready to pull out when you have the need for a salted caramel cheesecake! I would advise leaving the chocolate layer off if you are planning on freezing, and adding it just at the end once it’s defrosted with the decorations. Or you can omit the chocolate layer altogether, it will still taste wonderfully delicious and indulgent. Enjoy!

Raw salted caramel cheesecake (serves 10)

For the base:
140g oats (gluten free if needed)
80g ground flaxseed
130g dessicated coconut
240g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
good pinch of Himalayan salt

For the caramel:
180g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
60-80ml water or dairy free milk
4 tablespoons of almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt

For the cheesecake layer:
260g cashew nuts (soaked for at least 2 hours)
80g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
125ml coconut milk (the thick part is best)
good pinch of Himalayan salt

For the chocolate topping:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3-4 tablespoons maple syrup
2-3 tablespoons raw cacao powder
To decorate:
Frozen black/red currents, freeze dried strawberries

You will need a 23cm springform cake tin.

Unless you are using super sticky and expensive Medjool dates, you will probably need to soak your dates in hot water for 10 minutes or so to make them easier to blend. Weigh out the dates for each component in separate bowls and soak them whilst you’re getting everything else ready. Don’t forget to drain them before you start!

For the base layer: Place all the ingredients into the food processor and blitz until combined and sticky. Add a little of the date soaking water if it doesn’t come together, but not too much as you don’t want it too wet. Press the dough into the base of the springform cake tin and up the sides slightly using your hands. Try to spread it out equally and firmly. Place the tin in the fridge to chill whilst you make the next layers. Remember to clean the processor bowl before moving on!

For the caramel: Place all the ingredients into the food processor and blend until a thick, creamy caramel is formed. Check the flavour and add a little more salt if needed – remember this is salted caramel so you need to use more than feels normal. Pour out into a bowl and try not to eat it all whilst you make the next layer!

For the cheesecake: Wash the food processor bowl again then add all the ingredients for this layer and blend together until thick and creamy. This may take a few minutes, depending on how long you have soaked the cashew nuts for. Carry on until the mix is smooth and not grainy (means you have to keep tasting it!)

To construct, remove the tin with the base from the fridge. Pour in the caramel to cover the bottom equally, then cover it with the cheesecake mix. Grab a thin spoon or chopstick and gently swirl it around in the mix to slightly combine the two levels – you should see a little caramel swirl appear on the top. Place in the fridge to set for at least 6 hours, or cover and pop in the freezer.

For the chocolate topping and decoration: Melt the coconut oil so it is liquid. In another bowl, mix the cacao and maple syrup together – it takes a little hard stirring to get them to combine. Add the coconut oil and stir well. Taste. If too thick or not sweet enough, add more maple syrup. If too thin or not chocolatey enough, add more cacao powder. Pour the chocolate sauce over the top, spread out equally to the edges, decorate with scattered berries and freeze-dried strawberries and return to the fridge to set.

To serve, release the clip on the side of the cake tin and very carefully push the cheesecake up and away from the sides. Leave on the base of the tin to serve (it’s safer!). Cut into slices with a sharp knife. Decorate each serving with an extra sprinkle of freeze dried strawberries or fresh berries. Enjoy!



Easy dairy free chocolate mousse

As a child, I was never that bothered about chocolate. Not that I didn’t like it (there can’t be many than don’t) but my pocket money would go on sweets and candies rather than chocolate treats.  Fortunately, I’ve never been plagued by chocolate cravings like many I know, but I do appreciate there are moments when only chocolate will do!

Once I became dairy free, my chocolate intake dropped to almost nil, as I only really like milk chocolate, and the only dairy free alternatives I found were carob bars. I tried it once. And only once!

Fortunately, there are more and more dairy free chocolate alternatives around.  There were so many free samples on offer at last year’s Vegefest, I can say I was truly chocolate-stuffed by the end of the day. And many of these are now available in supermarkets, which does make life rather easy.

One chocolate dessert I’ve always had a passion for, though, is chocolate mousse. Decadently rich yet beautifully light and airy, its a pudding that you can savour teaspoon after teaspoonful. Not good for your hips, but a delight on your tongue and worth the extra workout the next day!! Recently, I had a sudden urge for a chocolate mousse so decided to find a dairy free version – and I have to say this works so much better than I could have hoped.

It’s really quick and easy and tastes stunningly chocolaty. As tofu is used to replace the double cream element, it’s much healthier too as it’s low in saturated fat, although go easy on the agave syrup as this sweetener will rack up the refined sugar content some what. Although marketed as a healthy alternative to refined sugar, agave is just as processed and can even have a higher sugar content than the nasty high-fructose corn syrup that’s added to so many processed cakes and pastries. Mind you, this IS a chocolate pudding, so has to have a little devilish nastiness to it!!

Dairy free chocolate mousse
350g silken tofu
170g dairy free chocolate
3/4 tablespoon agave syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
fresh berries/berry coulis to serve
First, melt the chocolate in a clean bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool slightly. Meanwhile, drain and dry the tofu and puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add the melted chocolate, agave syrup, vanilla essence and salt and blend again until smooth and well m
ixed. Spoon out into four individual ramekin dishes and chill in the fridge for 1 – 2 hours or until set. Serve with whole fresh berries or a berry coulis and enjoy your divine chocolate treat!

Amazing Banoffee Pie – part 2

Slightly later than planned, here is the second half of the banoffee pie recipe – and you’ll see it was worth waiting for!

This raw banoffee pie does contain a lot of dates, and a good helping of nuts. Some may put some off by this as both are renowned for being high in calories – dates with sugar and nuts with fat. Whilst this is true, not all calories are equal. A whole nut contains much more than just fat, and a whole date is more than just sugar. We are so used to having refined products in recipes, such as granulated sugar or oil that we forget about where these ingredients come from.

The great thing about eating a whole food plant based diet is that the recipes include everything you find in a fruit, vegetable, pulse or cereal. If dates are refined to produce some form of glucose or fructose syrup, that’s all you will get. But a whole date is packed full of complex carbohydrates, so it takes some time for it to be broken down into fructose and glucose (which your body needs for as it’s base energy source) rather than provide one immediate sugar rush. Alongside the sugars, dates are also packed full of potassium, essential for all cell processes, magnesium, vitamin A, phytonutrients and anti-oxidants and fibre. Fibre is essential in our diets to help maintain a healthy gut as well as clear out all the excess waste that builds up, including unhealthy fats and cholesterol. Dates fill you up – refined carbs and sugar don’t.

The same goes with nuts. Walnuts for example are one of the few plant foods that contain omega 3 essential fatty acids which are proven to promote healthy hearts, brains and protect against certain forms of cancer. Walnuts also contain vitamin E and other antioxidants as well as minerals such as manganese and iron. And don’t forget the fibre!

This is why eat foods whole – or in this case starting them off whole and chopping them up without taking anything away – promotes health and vitality.

So now I’ve finished my little soap-box moment, here’s the rest of the recipe. First the base.
Pie Base
1 cup cashew nuts
1 cup walnuts
1 cup pitted dates (plus a few extra if needed)
pinch of salt
Place the nuts and salt in a food processor and blitz until they resemble bread crumbs. Add the dates and process until you have a sticky dough. If your dates are a bit dry, you will  need more to produce the right stick. Take a bit out of the processor and press together with your fingers – if it sticks in a lump, it’s ready. Take the dough out and press firmly into a loose bottomed flan tin – 18-20 cms wide. You need to press hard and try to make it equal. Put it in the freezer for an hour or so.

Now is the time to make your caramel if you haven’t already. Recipes for the raw caramel and whipped coconut cream are here

Putting it all together
1 pie base
1 portion of raw caramel
1 portion of whipped coconut cream
3-4 bananas
lemon juice
cocoa powder
Take your pie base out of the freezer and spoon on the caramel layer. Put back in the fridge for a while whilst you whip up your coconut cream. Slice the bananas. Put half of the bananas into the cream and cover the rest with a little lemon juice to prevent discolouration. Take the base out of the fridge, spoon on the banana cream, scatter the remaining banana on top and sprinkle lightly with cocoa powder. Eat immediately, or pop back in the fridge until you’re ready (otherwise your cream will lose it’s structure). And there you have it. Be amazed by the flavours and enjoy – remember it’s good for you too!!!

Amazing Banoffee Pie – raw and dairy free! Part one.

I love pudding. It’s no secret. I have a sweet tooth that loves to be satisfied. Unfortunately, most traditional puddings and desserts are packed full of dairy – dollops of butter, lashings of cream and of course bundles of fat and calories to go with it!! It’s not a wonder that when I finally banished dairy from my diet, I lost weight without trying!

So  now I am on a continual quest to find puddings that I can eat – dairy free and delicious of course – without falling back onto too many fake alternatives which are often packed full of chemicals and nasties that I really don’t want to consume. I want real food in my pudding. I do want to have my cake and to eat it!

One of my favourite puddings of all time is Banoffee Pie. I’m not sure if it’s the deep rich caramel flavour or the sumptuous cream and banana mix which makes it so tantalising on the tongue – or maybe all the flavours together is the key. Banoffee Pie is a Sussex creation, first found on the menu of the Hungry Monk back in the 1970s, and being a Sussex girl, it’s only right that I should indulge and support our local cuisine. But that combination of caramel made from condensed milk and the thick creamy topping means that, sadly, my banoffee pie days are over.

Or so I thought until my lovely husband, knowing how much I miss my scrumptious puds, found a recipe for, and made me, Raw Banoffee Pie. What a man!! Made from whole foods, no added sugars at all – and it tastes absolutely wonderful.

As a dish, it’s not too complicated to make, but has a few component parts, so this recipe is being split into two posts (what a tease!!) but if you can’t wait, then check out the whole thing on this wonderful site
So this dish has three component parts – the crust, the caramel and the cream. Each one can be used to  make other yummy dishes, hence why I want to break them down for ease of reference. Today, I’m focusing on the caramel and the cream. Next time the base and bringing the whole recipe together. It doesn’t take up loads of time, just needs a little planning ahead.

The raw caramel is amazing, and is one of the things I demonstrated at my first Sensitive Foodie cooking demo the other week. It went down really well, and we have all be devising other uses for it ever since!! The coconut cream is so easy and absolutely gorgeous and can definitely be used as whipped cream for other puddings. It tastes gorgeous and it’s hard not to eat it all straight from the bowl.

First, the caramel. Made from whole dates and vanilla, the flavour is influenced by two things – the type of dates used and time. Richer dates, like medjool, produce a deeper caramel flavour. I’ve used these and Halawi dates and the flavour is lighter with the Halawi. Still gorgeous though! The texture is also slightly smoother with the medjool dates. As for time, the flavours mature over a few days, so if you can, make this caramel and keep it in a pot at the back of the fridge where no-one will find it (otherwise they will eat it!!) for a few days before you want to use it. If you can’t, don’t worry, your caramel will still be good, just not quite as deep as it might be. Finally, I use vanilla paste rather than vanilla essence, just because I found it produces a better flavour. If you only have essence, then use it, but check your flavour as you may need to add a bit more.

Raw caramel
3 cups pitted dates
1 cup of almond milk (or other non-dairy milk – not soya milk)
1 tsp vanilla paste
a pinch of salt (be careful!)
Place your dates into a food processor and blend until all mushed up. Add 3/4 of the milk, vanilla and a tiny pinch of salt and blend until smooth. Add more milk to get a thick, creamy texture, as needed. It will take about 5 minutes on a medium speed. Taste and add more vanilla or salt to balance the flavour (the salt counterbalances the sweetness. It’s needed but its easy to add too much!). Once you’re happy with the flavour, stop eating it or you’ll have to make more, put in a pot and hide!

Whipped coconut cream
1 tin of full fat coconut cream
vanilla essence
pinch of salt (optional)
This is where you have to plan ahead for sure. To be able to whip your cream, you need cold coconut milk, so pop it in the fridge to chill over night. When you open the tin, most of it will be of a creamy, thick consistency. Carefully scrap out all the thick stuff and put in a bowl. There may be a little thin coconut water left at the bottom – keep separate and use for another recipe. I’d actually had my tin in the fridge for a week (never got around to using it when I’d planned to) and the whole tin was solid. Perfect for whipping. Then all you need to do is add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence to the coconut and whisk until you have a smooth cream. It takes about one minute with an electric hand whisk. Taste and add more vanilla essence if you need to and a tiny pinch of salt if you feel it’s required. It really does taste like whipped cream!! The cream needs using pretty quickly, so if you’re not ready to use it there and then, pop the bowl in the fridge so it keeps it shape (the fat in coconut changes consistency with temperature).
So there you have it – two components of the pie that can be used elsewhere. Earlier I started discussing banana splits and chocolate sundaes with my daughter…….watch this space! And the rest of the banoffee pie recipe will come next time!

Dairy free panna cotta? Don’t mind if I do!!

The last couple of months has been so busy, there’s been no time to blog. Luckily I’ve still managed to find time to potter and experiment in the kitchen, so lots more postings to come soon (if I get more organised!).

When I get talking to friends and acquaintances about my diet choice, I usually get exclamations of horror or sympathy, and the same recurring question – “whatever do you eat?”. For me, eating a dairy free, mainly plant based diet is exciting and liberating, one big adventure in the kitchen. It’s not limiting, but expanding (my repertoire not my waistline!) and with a little imagination and creativity, it’s not too hard to produce delicious, satisfying dishes, that some how become choices rather than alternatives.

Anyone who has read any of my other posts should be able to recognise by now that I have a sweet tooth. I love puddings, but traditionally they do not like me as most are packed full of butter, cream or dairy of some sort. Eating out, puddings are usually off the menu, unless we are in a specialist restaurant like the amazing Terre a Terre in Brighton, when I can gorge until my hearts content. But at home, my kitchen can become like a mad scientists laboratory, with some pretty interesting (and hopefully tasty) results!

A while back, I had a craving for panna cotta, that gorgeously creamy, wobbly Italian dessert that just melts in your mouth. I really didn’t think that a pudding packed with cream, sugar and gelatin could be made dairy free, vegetarian and still beautifully tasty – but it can! In fact, it’s so delicate and light, that I think it’s actually better than the original (or maybe I’m just a bit biased!).  And when it comes to food sensitivities or healthy diets, panna cotta (the alternative) is the ultimate in free-from dessert – dairy, egg, gluten and even sugar free, suitable for vegans too.

Panna cotta is often on restaurant menus, so I’d always believed it was a tricky number – actually it’s really quick and simple. I’ve made this a number of times now, including for a dinner party, and it’s never let me down.

I’ve just included the necessities for a simple vanilla panna cotta. I usually serve this with a raspberry coulis, basically because I love the contrast of sharp, bitty raspberries with the sweet, smooth cream. To make it uber healthy, the sugar can be replaced by a fruit puree, like mango or strawberry, but stir it in at the end before pouring it into the moulds.

Vanilla panna cotta
375mls almond milk *
60g caster sugar
250 mls dairy free cream (I use Oatly)
1 1/2 tablespoons agar**
vanilla essence/paste/seeds
Place the almond milk and sugar in a saucepan and sprinkle the agar over the top. Gently heat the mixture but do not stir until it’s boiling (this is hard to resist!!). Reduce the heat, simmer and stir gently until all the agar and sugar has dissolved (about 5 minutes but may take longer). Take off the heat, stir in the dairy free cream and vanilla then pour into moulds. This fills 4 good sized round moulds, or small ramekin dishes. Leave to cool slightly for a few minutes, then place in the fridge to set. The panna cotta will be set in a couple of hours, but the longer you leave them, the firmer they will be. Serve as it is, or with a fruit coulis of your choice.
It really is that easy – give it a go and see what flavours you can create.
* you can use any dairy free milk, but I prefer almond for this as it has a good texture and is already slightly sweet. Soya milk is too pungent for a delicate pud.
** agar is a traditional Japanese gelling agent made from seaweed. It sets really well but operates differently to gelatin. It’s really important to follow the instructions very carefully. Of course, if you wish to use gelatin, then do so – sprinkle 2 1/4 teaspoons over the milk and leave it to ‘bloom’ for a few minutes. Stir in the sugar and warm gently for a minute until the sugar and gelatin has dissolved. Do not boil. Turn off the heat, add the other ingredients and continue as per the main recipe.

Frangipane vegan style

There is a fabulous, award winning vegetarian restaurant in Brighton, UK – Terre a Terre – that serves the most gorgeous food; a perfect treat for my daughter and me. Not used to having a wide choice when we go out to restuarants, the first time we went it took a while to order as we were both flummoxed by the range of food on offer. The drinks are pretty special too – rhubarb gin and tonic is heavenly!

So often desserts are a no no for me, even in a vegetarian restaurant, as dairy products are usually one of the key ingrediants. I was seriously excited at Terre a Terre to find there was a proper vegan pudding on the menu, and not a dull fruit salad in sight. “Frangipane sizzle dates with mint tea granita and lemon and mint pomegranite gazpacho.” It made my mouth water just reading it; the taste was incredible with a mixture of sweet and sour flavours popping on my tongue and the ice cold granita refreshing after the intensely sweet warm dates and frangipane.

The memory of that dessert has been haunting me over the last few months – I just had to try and recreate it. Normally, frangipane is made of butter, eggs, sugar, ground almonds and flour, not good for people with food allergies of all types. Whilst this is a no go for anyone with a nut allergy, the recipe I found is pretty much free from most other problem ingrediants. Cornflour in theory should be gluten free, but always check the labels as sometimes wheat or wheat products are added. Bleaching agents are sometimes added in Indian cornflour too, so chose a reputable brand.

Vegan Frangipane
60g dairy free spread
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/4 cups ground almonds
3 tablespoons cornflour
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 drops of almond essence
2 tablespoons non-dairy milk
Mix the caster sugar, ground almonds, cornflour and salt together in a bowl and rub in the dairy free spread. Add vanilla extract and almond essence. The mixture should be quite dry and crumbly.
Add the non-dairy milk and combine to make a stiff paste.
That’s it!

I attempted to reproduce the gorgeous date and frangipane dessert but without all the necessary accompaniments it didn’t have the same taste sensation. It was good, but not that good nor yet ready to share! There was frangipane mixture left over, and not wanting to waste it and always looking for a pudding treat, I decided to try and make pear and frangipane tarts. I made a sweet pastry using the recipe already posted on this blog, adding in a little caster sugar and baked it blind at 180oC for 10 minutes or so until the pastry became a little firmer. I then filled the case half full with the frangipane mix and topped it with slices of tinned pears – cheating I know but fresh pears are hard to come by, and hard to eat! Popping the tarts back in to the oven to bake for another 15 minutes, they were ready.  Finished off with a little sprinkle of icing sugar, I have to say they were really good. Not bad for a vegan, free from treat!