Nut butter pastry

It’s day 18 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar – only a week until Christmas! It’s also my son’s birthday, so I will be whipping a chocolate birthday cake for him – all plant-based of course.

Back on day 6, I shared my recipe for mincemeat. Full of unrefined sugars and no added fats, it still tastes, and works, like traditional mincemeat, just slightly healthier.

But of course, mincemeat by itself is no good. It can be used in various recipes, but the key one for this time of year just has to be mince pies. The challenge is what pastry to use?

If you are not managing a health problem, then it is easy – buy ready-made pastry! Brands like Just-rol are dairy-free, using various vegetable fats instead of butter (just make sure you don’t buy an all-butter pastry by mistake!). There are gluten-free alternatives available now too, including one by Just-rol which is also vegan. But they do use palm oil, so if you are trying to avoid that then this might not be the option for you.

You can make pastry at home using Trex, a vegetable fat with similar properties and looks like lard. Similar effects on your body too! This also contains palm oil. It does however make great pastry, so the choice is yours.

None of these options work for me. Following the OMS (Overcoming MS) programme means avoiding products containing saturated fats like palm oil and coconut oil. So I make my own pastry. In the past I’ve used olive oil; it works but it’s a little bland. Christmas is a time of rich, luxurious flavours; nut butter does the job really well, especially pecan nut butter.

You may not have seen pecan nut butter on the supermarket shelves. That’s probably because they are more expensive than other nuts. I bought a jar from an artisan market stall and hid it in the cupboard as it was too much for general usage! You can make your own by lightly toasting a few handfuls and popping them into a high-speed blender or food processor. It takes a little while as you have to keep stopping the machine and scrapping it off the sides to blend again, but once the oils are releases it all comes together beautifully.  

I use the minimal amount of pecan nut butter as a fat replacement as possible. Partly because of the expense, but mainly because it is super rich and I don’t want it to dominate as a flavour over the mince meat. It’s not essential to use pecan nut butter. It will work with almond or cashew nut; I would avoid peanut butter though. And if you are nut-free, then try it with sunflower seed butter instead. 

This pastry comes together as any pastry would, but it bakes a little firmer and is somewhat solid. So please don’t expect to get a light and fluffy casing for your mince pies. It does however taste delicious. Plus, when it’s hard to find a pastry to eat, it somehow tastes even better! It also works just as well with gluten free flour, just make sure there’s a little xanthum gum in the mix to help it stay together.

So if you are struggling to find a pastry to meet your needs, or just fancy trying something a little different, then why not give this a go? If you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Pecan nut butter pastry mince pies (makes 7-8)

  • 125g wholemeal or gluten free flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (optional but good)
  • 2 tablespoons pecan nut butter (or chosen alternative)
  • 5 tablespoons cold water
  • mincemeat to fill

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the coconut sugar. Add the pecan nut butter and lightly rub in with your finger tips until it’s incorporated and has a bread-crumb like texture.

Pour in 4 1/2 tablespoons of the water and bring together with your hands to form a soft dough. Add the final drops of water if required. Knead gently to make sure everything is well combined, then place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Roll the dough out on a silicon mat or sheet of greaseproof paper and cut out circles to fit whatever baking tin you’re using to make your mince pies. Place in the baking tray inserts and fill with mincemeat. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut out enough lids to top. Brush with soya milk and place on top of each of the pie bases. Press gently to seal and repeat until everything is used up. Cut a small hole in the centre of the pastry lids to let the steam escape and brush with a little more soya milk. 

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the tray and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool. 

Lentil and buckwheat bake

Just in case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m all about eating amazingly tasty food that just so happens to be good for the body too. Just as well, as I use the food I eat to keep myself healthy, and keep my multiple sclerosis under control.

Near the end of last year, I took on the role of Ambassador for the OMS programme, setting up and running a support group for people living in my county (Sussex). OMS stands for Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis. It’s a seven step, research-based programme that empowers people with MS to manage their condition with diet and lifestyle, as well as medication if needed. Food is a major part of the programme; the research indicates that a mainly whole-food plant-based diet is the way to go, which is why I wanted to get involved, as that’s my thing! This programme has had a fabulous impact on people’s lives, but it can be challenging, so being an Ambassador means that I can help give support to others nearby, and it also helps me too.

Yesterday we had our latest meet up. Everyone brings an OMS-friendly dish to share. We had a veritable feast, including three different cakes (I of course had to try them all). I had been pondering for a few days about what to take, but then remembered a recipe I had made years ago for my then boyfriend (who is my now husband!). This was in early days of veggie cooking, and I remember it was a bit too hard-core for him. He’d never heard of buckwheat and wasn’t very impressed with my ‘hippie’ offering. The recipe has been improved and refined since then so I decided to see how it went down with the OMS group. Fortunately, everyone loved it, and wanted the recipe, hence this blog post.

Buckwheat benefits from being soaked if you have time, in order to remove some of the phytic acid that can make it less digestible for some people. Phytic acid is a naturally occurring enzyme found in grains, seeds, pulses and nuts that prevents the produce from growing until the conditions are right. This is good for storage, not so good if you struggle to absorb nutrients due to poor gut health. Different foods have different amounts. Cooking often removes most of it; soaking beforehand also helps too – if you remember! Sometimes even an hour in some warm water will help. If you do that with buckwheat, you’ll see the drained water contains a cloudy gloop. That’s the phytic acid making an exit. If you don’t have time, don’t worry too much – the buckwheat gets a good boiling before being baked.

This dish takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes in total to make, so might seem a bit too much like hard work. Don’t be put off though as it can be eaten hot or cold, and freezes really well, perfect to grab for a packed lunch or quick evening meal. Play around with the flavours to fit your tastes. I like the addition of a few chilli flakes to give it a bit extra pizzazz.

So if you fancy a tasty, versatile, thoroughly fibre and plant protein packed meal, this lentil and buckwheat bake is for you. If you would like to know more about the OMS programme, or discover your nearest OMS group, check out their website here.

Lentil and buckwheat bake (makes 9-12 slices depending on how you cut them)

100g buckwheat groats***
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 small bay leaves
1 medium-sized tomato, chopped
175g red lentils
1 tablespoon Italian herbs
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon tamari
800ml water or vegetable stock
pinch of dried chilli flakes
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
salt and pepper

Heat a medium-sized non-stick frying pan and toast the buckwheat groats for 5 minutes or so until they release a nutty aroma and start to brown slightly. Turn off the heat and tip out onto a plate to stop any further toasting.

Grab a medium-sized saucepan and heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom. When bubbling, add the onion, carrot and bay leaf. Sauté for 5 minutes over a medium heat until both start to soften. Stir frequently and don’t let the onion stick to the bottom of the pan – add a little more water if needed. Add the chopped tomato, herbs and tamari and cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the red lentils and toasted buckwheat. Mix together well and cook for a minute, so the flavours start to absorb into the lentils. Carefully pour in the water or vegetable stock, bring to the boil, pop on the lid and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the fluid has been absorbed and the mix is thick and gloopy. You  may need to remove the lid for the last 5 minutes to evaporate the last bit of water.

Whilst the mix is simmering, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and line a square baking tray or dish with baking paper.

Once the mix is thick and gloopy, turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves and stir in the chilli flakes, nutritional yeast and season with salt and pepper. Check the flavour and add more seasoning if needed. Spoon the mix into the prepared baking tin – you may wish to sprinkle a few more chilli flakes over the top if you like a little kick. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and leave to settle for 10 minutes or so before cutting – if it’s too hot the mix will fall apart when you cut it.

Using the baking paper, transfer the bake onto a board and cut into 9 – 12 slices (depending on how big you like them). Can be served hot or cold, keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days and freezes well.

*** Soak for 1 hour or over night if needed. Rinse well and pat dry on some kitchen roll before toasting. You will need to toast for about 10 minutes.

 

Rewarding work

I’ve been shortlisted in the category of Inspiring Business Parent in a national award that celebrates flexible working. I’m very excited. And honoured. And more than a little surprised! But mostly I’m delighted as it shows that even when challenges and difficulties appear to knock you off course, wonderful things can come from it.

This particular award is focused on parents and working; still today there are challenges for mums (and dads) to combine work and family needs, an issue that is slow to be resolved despite on-going efforts to change attitudes and working practices. Similar challenges are faced by many other groups, including disabled, or less abled people who have much to offer but need flexibility that traditional working environments find hard to offer. So when you are a mum and a parent and less abled or restricted by health problems in some way, it just gets even harder.

My career of choice was always nursing; I was one of those people who did it because I loved it, a bit of a stereotype I guess! Human beings are fascinating, the human body the most incredible piece of technology you will ever find. Working in intensive care gave me a deep respect for everything that happens inside and outside the body to keep us functioning well. And an awareness of how easy it is to mess it all up!

When I discovered that my food intolerances were making me feel ill, it was my respect for the human body that made me do something about it. I didn’t want to feel that way, and I didn’t want to take medication to treat my migraines that could cause further damage elsewhere. So I chose food; and it worked! Removing the offending foods – dairy and yeast – started the healing process, discovering the benefits of a whole food plant based diet continued it. Little did I know at the time that these migraines were most probably the first signs of autoimmune disease, and that the actions I took then helped dampen down the inflammation and subsequent damage.

Making changes to the way you eat is hard. I started my blog The Sensitive Foodie to share my new discoveries with others in a similar situation, then I started running workshops and cooking demos; at the time, this was not mainstream at all. How things have changed over the last few years! Showing others how to make changes that helped gave me real encouragement, something I definitely needed when I was suddenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative neurological condition. There had been signs, and I had already given up my job working in ITU as I could not cope with the long shifts, the harsh lighting and the stress of working in a critical care environment. It also didn’t help that I kept dropping things!

Fortunately I had lots of support at the time to help, particularly my lovely family and friends, as well as my Buddhist practice. Two things stand out – my wonderful husband who agreed to provide the financial support so I didn’t have the pressure of making loads of money from my fledgling business, and the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis programme that uses food as a basis for healing. It was reassuring to know I was already following a research-backed way of healing, that had kept me well for some time, and continues to do so today.

So now, my work keeps me well – through the food and by being able to work flexibly and pace myself day to day. I am fortunate to be in this position, and I now help others in a similar situation make the changes they need to keep well by being an Ambassador for the OMS programme (click here to find out more about OMS) as well as running my Eat Well Live Well courses, giving talks and working with people on a one to one basis.

Interest in the food we eat, health and the environment is growing. I love running my courses and sharing the wonderful world of whole-food plant-based eating, sharing my enthusiasm and passion and seeing that growing in others, making it easy for them to eat well without being a slave to the kitchen. They take that home with them, share it with their own families and friends, and make a choice to be well. That’s a pretty awesome feeling, knowing something positive has come out of something that’s been hard. I may not be able to work as a nurse any more, but it’s good to know I can still help people, and hopefully prevent them from needing that care in the first place.

I’ll find out on 6th February if I’m a finalist for the awards, so I wait with finger crossed to see. I’m sure there are lots of inspiring parents out there who deserve recognition; it’s so great there are organisations like mumandworking and NatWest that are willing to give it.

To find out more about my next course starting on 5th February, click here.

To find out more about The Mumandworkingawards, Sponsored by NatWest, click here

 

 

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!