The Sensitive Foodie Guide to Christmas Cooking

It's December, and I now feel it's ok to start talking about Christmas. I always love this time of year; I'm particularly fond of all the seasonal treats! However, when you're a sensitive eater, whether because of food intolerances or health problems, it can be difficult to fully indulge.

That's why last year I ran my Countdown to Christmas, an advent calendar of delicious seasonal recipes; all whole-food, plant-based and adaptable to be gluten-free and nut-free (except for the nut loaf - sorry!). It covered soups and salads, mains and sides. And of course lots of sweet treats!

As these recipes are scattered over the blog, I've collated them into this guide so you can easily find the one (or two) you're looking for. And to make life even easier, I'm pinning this to the top of the blog until 26th December so you don't have to go rummaging for it. Christmas sensitive eating made easy!

Oh, and if there's something you love to eat at Christmas that's not included, do let me know so I can include them in the future.

Christmas biscotti
Christmas biscotti
Roasted squash, red onion and Brussel sprouts
Roasted squash, red onion and Brussel sprouts
Mince pies
Mince pies
Stuffed nut loaf
Stuffed nut loaf
merry-christmas-2953721_1920

Spicy Indian pancakes

It only seems like a few weeks since I wrote my last pancake post for Shrove Tuesday, and yet here we are again. How time flies!

Last years post shared my top tips for achieving perfect plant-based pancakes – click here to check it out. This year I thought I’d give you something a little different, inspired by my time in India. They’re dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free plus wonderfully tasty – suitable for everyone! Continue reading “Spicy Indian pancakes”

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
  • 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.

Plant-based Welsh cakes for St Davids Day

It’s 1st March, St David’s Day. Not that I have any connections to Wales apart from a few fabulous holidays. But I do love Welsh cakes.

Made traditionally, Welsh cakes contain dairy (butter and milk) and eggs, so not so good for those who eat dairy or egg free. Fortunately, the recipe is simple to adapt, and easy to make. Dairy-free margarine makes a good butter substitute, and olive oil works well too for those who want to avoid altered fats or follow special diets. I’ve also used wholewheat flour and brown sugar, cutting down on refined ingredients.

Unlike scones, Welsh cakes are cooked on a griddle or heavy-based frying pan. Not that they are fried, just cooked gently on a low heat until lightly browned. They need to be quite thin so they cook through. You could at this point toss in caster sugar, as is traditional, but I’ve not done this to cut down on the sugar content – they still taste delicious. These are great to make with kids, especially on snow days like today (so much for 1st March being the beginning of Spring!).

Whilst making the sweet Welsh cakes, I started thinking about how they could be made into a savoury option. Leeks are the national symbol of Wales (apparently St David told his soldiers to wear a leek on their caps to distinguish them from the enemy), and so it only seemed right that they should feature in a savoury Welsh cake. I also added a little mustard and sage to complement the leeks. They taste great. They can be eaten warm with a little flaxseed oil, pickle or dairy-free cheese for lunch, or instead of a dumpling or potatoes to go with a simple vegetable stew.

Once made they can be stored in an air-tight tin for up to 4 days, or popped in the freezer and defrosted a few at a time. I really love both versions – see what you think. And enjoy a little bit of Welsh legacy, with a sensitive foodie twist!

Sweet Welsh cakes (makes 10)
225g plain wholemeal flour or gluten free flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
50g coconut sugar
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
grated lemon peel
60g dairy-free spread or 60ml olive oil
50g raisins, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes and drained
5 tablespoons dairy-free milk

Sift the flour into a bowl with the baking powder, spices, coconut sugar and salt. Add the grated lemon peel. Stir well to combine. Rub in the dairy-free spread or olive oil to form breadcrumbs, then stir in the raisins. Finally, add the dairy-free milk and bring together into a soft dough using your hands. Knead gently for a minute, then form into a round and place on a silicon mat. Roll out to about 1cm thick and cut out 7cm diameter rounds.

Pr-heat a heavy non-stick saucepan or griddle pan and cook on a low heat for 5 minutes or so on either side until lightly brown and firm. Eat warm straight away or keep for later – rewarm them in the toaster or on the pan. Taste great with a dollop of jam if you’re feeling decadent!

Savoury leek Welsh cakes (makes 8)
225g wholemeal flour/gluten free flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 leek, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon mustard
60mls olive oil
5 tablespoons dairy-free milk

Heat a small frying pan and sauté the leek for a few minutes until soft and lightly browned. Turn off the the heat and leave to cool. Sift the flour into a bowl with the baking powder, salt and dried sage. Add the leek and stir well to combine. Pour in the olive oil and mustard and mix together to form breadcrumb-like mixture. Finally, add the dairy-free milk and bring together into a soft dough. Knead gently for a minute then form into a round and place on a silicon baking mat. Roll out, cut and cook as above in the sweet recipe.

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!

 

 

Fabulous flaxseeds

It's no surprise to anyone who follows my blog that cake features high on my list of favourite things! When I first went dairy free, I still used eggs in my recipes but this changed once I turned to eating a plant based diet. The question was, how to still make good cake when it was both dairy and egg free?

I soon discovered there are many different alternatives which yield awesomely delicious results. Many of my recipes actually don't need a direct egg replacement, but when required, a flax egg comes to the rescue.

A flax egg is very simple to make, so don't be put off if a recipe asks for one. Just mix one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and leave to thicken for 5 minutes or so. You will end up with a thick, gloopy mix, similar to a whisked egg. It doesn't look that appetising, but you won't notice it once added to your recipe.

Flaxseed, otherwise known as linseed, is a tiny powerhouse of plant based nutrients; if you haven't yet discovered these seeds, then you really might want to! Packed full of super healthy essential omega 3 fatty acids, flaxseeds are also a fabulous source of complete plant protein, minerals like manganese and magnesium as well as some of the B vitamins and phytonutrients called lignans that act as anti-oxidants and help to balance hormones. On top of that is the fibre; packed with soluble and insoluble fibre, flaxseeds not only keep you regular but also feed friendly gut bacteria (a pre-biotic), so promoting gut health. All that fibre also helps to steady blood sugar levels and fills you up too. So much goodness in one little seed! But a word of warning - if you are not used to a high fibre diet, then go easy to start off with and have a little at a time, building up slowly otherwise your gut might get a bit overwhelmed!

To get the nutritional benefits, flaxseed need to be ground as the tough outer coating is too much for our digestive systems to crack into properly. You can buy it ready ground, but many products are quite expensive, and once ground the seeds start to lose some of their nutritional powers. So it's much better to grind your own in small batches, then keep them in the fridge ready for use. You will need a coffee grinder or high-speed blender for this - an average food processor just isn't up to the job! I do a small batch at a time in my NutriBlend and store them in an old jam jar.

So what else can you use flaxseed in apart from cake? Lots of things - here's a few suggestions:

  • in raw snacks and cakes
  • sprinkled on breakfast cereals
  • on yoghurt
  • added to a crumble topping
  • as a binder for pastry
  • added to smoothies
  • thicken soups or stews
  • in homemade bread or crackers

Flaxseed oil also has some amazing nutritional uses, but that's a blog post for another day! In the meantime, why not grab some flaxseed the next time you're shopping and add it into your daily diet. Let me know how you get on!

 

 

Pumpkin pancakes

Pancake Day, or rather Shrove Tuesday, is coming up, the last day before the beginning of Lent and the start of the lead up to Easter. I’ve written about this before in this blog post:   http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/buckwheat-pancakes-for-pancake-day/

I’ve never been that keen on traditional pancakes, even when I’ve managed to give them the Sensitive Foodie makeover! But I do like thick and spongy American style pancakes. The problem is they are often packed with dairy and refined sugar and oil. So these pumpkin pancakes are a real winner as they not only taste great and have a lovely soft fluffy texture, but they’re also full of whole foods and are dairy free and gluten free too.

As a parent, I know it can be hard to get your kids to eat vegetables at times; a contentious issue that can create family stress, especially if your child just refuses to eat the food you have prepared for them. Using vegetables like pumpkin in popular kids foods like pancakes is therefore a win win situation. The pancakes taste great; sweet and fluffy and a choice of toppings helps them be creative in the kitchen. Win for them. Super healthy ingredients like pumpkin (packed fully of betacarotene and other helpful phytonutrients as well as natural fibre and vitamins and minerals), buckwheat and cinnamon mean that you know they are getting powerful nutrients that are good for them – a win for you.

If you think it’s a bit odd using pumpkin in pancakes, it’s actually really useful as it takes on a couple of roles. One is it’s natural sweetness reduces the amount of sugar you need to add in to the recipe – complex sugars always win over refined. On top of that, pumpkin can be used to replace eggs in a lot of egg free and vegan baking, as it acts as a binding agent, one of the major roles eggs play in baking.  Practical and healthy all in one.

I’ve noticed that a lot of American recipes with pumpkin use canned pumpkin in their list of ingredients. Whilst I’m sure you can buy it in the UK, the only time I’ve ever seen it were some exceedingly expensive tins on the self in the local expat supermarket whilst we were living in India!  If you do find canned pumpkin, make sure there’s no added sugar (it really doesn’t need it). For me though, the key thing about buying tinned pumpkin puree is that much of the vital nutrients and anti-oxidants are lost in processing. So even if I saw it on the shelf, I would always make may own to ensure it’s as fresh as possible. And it’s so easy – for these pancakes, I peeled half a butternut squash and chopped it into chunks, then steamed it for 10 minutes or so until soft. Once cool, it got popped in the fridge ready to be mashed to a pulp for these pancakes. There’s even some chunks left over, so they’ll get added to a rainbow salad later on today.

So, for Pancake Day this year, why not make a new tradition and try these gorgeous pumpkin pancakes? And of course, you don’t have to keep them for one day a year! Once you’ve tried these out, I’m sure they’ll become a firm favourite throughout the year.

Pumpkin Pancakes (makes 12 smallish pancakes)
300ml soya or other dairy free milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice or cider vinegar
95g pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 tablespoons maple syrup or coconut sugar
160g buckwheat flour (or flour of choice)
1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten free if needed)
pinch of Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of mace or nutmeg
toppings of choice (blueberries, maple syrup, banana etc)

Pour the dairy free milk into a bowl and add the lemon juice or vinegar to make it curdle, creating a non-dairy buttermilk. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in another bowl and mix well. Then pour the pumpkin puree, oil, vanilla essence and maple syrup into the dairy free buttermilk and whisk well to combine. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, whisk again and ensure all the ingredients are mixed well then leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Heat a crepe pan or a light frying pan to a medium heat. Pour two tablespoons of mix onto the pan and spread slightly. Cook on one side for a few minutes until bubbles appear, turn with a fish slice then cook the other side until lightly browned and firm to the touch. Turn out onto a warmed plate and repeat the process until all the mix is used up.  Serve warm with topping of choice.