Creamy leek and mushrooms bakes

One of the things I really missed when I changed to a dairy-free, whole food way of eating was creamy sauces, especially the type used for pie. At first, I didn’t know how to create that sumptuous richness and depth without using a whole load of dairy or fats.

After lots of trial and error, I have to say this is my favourite – a delicious leek and mushroom creamy sauce made with a combination of soaked cashew nuts and silken tofu that gives the right balance of lightness and creaminess. And the white wine helps as well!

One of the difficulties with food intolerances is that one recipe doesn’t always work for everyone. I strive to make my recipes flexible for everyone, so if you’re nut-free, just use all tofu, if you are soy-free, just use all nut but add more water. If you are yeast-free, then I’m sorry the wine is out – replace the fluid with a good quality vegetable stock instead. If you are nightshade free, try celeriac slices on top instead. And if you don’t like mushroom, or leek, then use your veggies of choice. Sorted!

This may seem like there’s lots to do, but time-wise this will take you about 40 minutes in total, so why not give it a go and indulge in some super-tasty creaminess for dinner this week? Enjoy.

Creamy leek and mushroom bakes (serves 3-4)
3 medim sized potatoes, washed, skin on
2 good sized leeks, washed and sliced
250g mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
100ml white wine (make sure it’s vegan if you are dairy/egg/fish free)
100g tofu
50g cashew nuts, soaked for a couple of hours
salt and pepper

First cut the potatoes in half, place in a pan of boiling water and cook until you can just about put a knife through them. Drain and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle, cut into thin slices.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, then heat a couple of tablespoons of water or a teaspoon of olive oil in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the leeks for 3-4 minutes until they start to soften and brown slightly. Add the mushrooms and garlic, and cook for a few minutes until the juices flow out the mushrooms. Stir in the thyme and pour over the wine. Let this simmer for a couple of minutes.

Drain the soaked cashew nuts and place in a blender with just enough water to cover and the tofu. Blend to smooth then pour into the pan and stir to combine. The sauce will thicken as it heats through. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the sauce starts the stick to the side of the pan, turn off the heat and pour into one large serving dish or 3 individual ones. Cover with the potato slices, making a pattern if you so wish. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned on top. Serve with a selection of green vegetables.


Top tips for a healthy start to the year

It’s day two of the New Year. How are your resolutions going? You may be of the opinion it’s not worth making any as they are doomed to fail, right? Wrong! Apparently, new research suggests that 44% of people manage to stick with their resolutions six months into the year. That may not seem a lot, but as the previously generally accepted statistic is that only 8% stick to their good intentions, with many failing within the first 24 hours, that’s a major breakthrough!

A top New Year’s resolution is to eat more healthily, whether to lose weight or for a health problem. Membership for slimming groups and gyms rocket at this time of the year – great for their business plans, maybe not so good for their clientele in the long term. According to one research programme, 84% of dieters with a well known dieting club were return customers over a 5 year period (ie only 16% successfully kept their weight off over 5 years).

Diets for weight loss tend to be viewed as a short-term venture; many people slip back into their old ways of eating, only to pile the pounds back on at a scarily rapid rate. Real success comes from changing life-long habits, and (I believe most importantly) from eating delicious food that satisfies and cares for the body.

Before I discovered my food intolerances and changed to a whole-food plant-based way of eating, I was forever ‘on a diet’. Now I don’t have to be, as it turns out that the foods I used to love and crave, were also the ones that contributed to my weight gain. Dairy and yeast turn up in so many different food products; once I cut them out and started eating more fresh produce and wholegrains, the weight just naturally came off, and whilst there is a little fluctuation now and then, I generally stay the same. It’s a great side effect to have – along with reducing my risk for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health problems! And plant-based eating is also a positive way to manage my autoimmune condition.

That’s not to say the journey has been easy – my transition to a whole food plant-based diet took some time. You only have to look back on some of my earlier blog posts to see how my recipes have changed! There’s also been some major changes over the last five years in the acceptability and availability of plant-based food, which is amazing and makes life much easier. But these changes also include an increase in vegan processed food; junk food is not going to get you healthy, no matter where it’s sourced.

So if you’re starting out on making some healthy choices for the new year, here’s a few questions to ask yourself so you can succeed and keep your resolution intact. Tomorrow, I will post my top 5 tips for eating well and helping you reach your goal. If you want to know more, or think I can help you keep your resolutions this year, then why not comment below or send me a message on the contact page here.

Questions to think about:

  1. Is this the right time of year to make major changes? The beginning of January is not always the best time to ‘go on a diet’. It’s cold, wet and dark for a start, not ideal particularly if you are planning to try juice or raw food plan (not that I’m keen on them any time of the year!). Personally, my New Years resolutions start on 6th January as it’s my birthday on 5th and am more than likely to eat out and enjoy a glass of something bubbly! So there’s no point in starting something before then. Recognise challenges and limitations and be ready for them. That’s not an excuse not to take action at all, though. It’s about being aware and making constructive choices. One of the benefits of eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that you are eating amazingly healthy food all year round, so there’s no real need for a new healthy regime anyway!
  2. Are you an all or nothing person? Know yourself. Some people can only set out with strict parameters and an all-in attitude, whilst others think they should be that way but are more suited to gradual changes. Be honest with yourself and find what works for you. This is a new way of eating and living, not a short-term project. Recognise your personality tendencies and work with them, not against them.
  3. What’s your ‘why’? This is most important. Whether you are making changes to deal with a food intolerance, a health or weight problem, to help the environment or animal welfare, or just because ‘going vegan’ is the in thing to do, you need to know your goal to get you through the tricky times. It doesn’t have to be high brow – my initial aim for going plant-based was to deal with my yeast intolerance so I could drink wine again! It may seem superficial, but it helped when temptation loomed.
  4. What support do you need to achieve your goal? If you’re diving in to a plant-based way, campaigns like Veganuary may be your inspiration, or you may find a favourite blog or cookery book, follow a Youtuber or Instagrammer. Then there’s courses and groups you can join (like my Eat Well course!). Most importantly, you need the support from the people around you, your family and friends. That’s why you need to know your why, so you can explain it to them and get them behind you.
  5. Are you prepared for obstacles? This links back to your why, but it’s also a practical issue. Despite the increase in interest in a more plant-based way of eating, it is still seen as being a fad, unsustainable or even dangerous to health (depending on which commercial interest is being challenged). It can be hard to find something quick to snack on when you’re out and about. Medical professionals may not be aware of the benefits. Family members may see it as a slight on them if you won’t eat the meal they’ve prepared for you, even if you’ve told them it will make you ill. Food is a contentious issue! Then theres your own internal obstacles, negative self-talk or deep-seated cravings that nag and tell you that just one cream bun won’t hurt. Obstacles will appear, particularly when you don’t expect them, and sometimes you may lapse. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you do. Just notice what happened and try to act differently next time. You may even find that eating something you’re trying to avoid doesn’t actually feel so good – that’s your body telling you it prefers the good stuff. It knows best, trust me.


Tomato and roasted aubergine baked gnocchi

It’s been unseasonably wet and cold here in the UK – summer seems to have gone elsewhere and we’ve been fast forwarded to autumn. Fighting the urge to put the heating on, it seemed a good idea to turn to some comfort food, using one of my favourite seasonal veggies, aubergine (eggplant).

I am a big fan of aubergine for both flavour (or rather it’s ability to absorb it) and texture – I love how the flesh goes all gooey and soft when cooked but the skin stays firm. It’s packed full of nutritional goodies like  B vitamins and manganese, but more importantly it’s purple! That means glorious phytonutrients that act as anti-oxidants and support cell processes to keep us healthy. One specific one, nasunin, is thought to help protect the fats found in cell membranes from being damaged; this is particularly important in the brain, so aubergine really is brain food!

Two fat bulbous aubergines arrived in the veg box this week; my daughter is also finally home for the summer, so of course I’m smothering her in mummy-love via her stomach! So this dish is perfect as it contains many of her favourite things – gnocchi, aubergine and cashew cheese.

If you’ve not made cashew cheese sauce before, then it’s really worth it! We have given up buying dairy free cheese as, to be honest, they generally taste unpleasant and are packed full of altered fats and flavourings – not good for anyone with food intolerances as you just can’t tell what is in there! This recipe does contain nutritional yeast, although it can be omitted if you cannot tolerate it. As yeast is one of my food intolerances, this is quite a new (and welcome) introduction to my diet. Even though it contains inactive yeast, I can only tolerate a little from time to time, but that is progress! It adds a lovely cheesy flavour and acts as a source of vitamin B12 which can be lacking at times in a plant based diet. If you do omit it, just add a bit more salt to enhance the flavour.

This dish really hit the spot; it’s rich, it has depth and just ticks all the boxes for comfort. It also contains surprising few ingredients for the flavour – the richness comes from roasting the aubergine and garlic, as well as adding a little tamari (use coconut amines if you cannot tolerate soy). I confess I am yet to perfect the art of making home made gnocchi – mine turns into tough, heavy lumps – so I used shop bought. Make sure you check that it’s dairy free, as many brands add in milk powder, and doesn’t contain a huge long list of additives. There are some good gluten free ones around too in the supermarket, but again make sure they are completely plant based.

This is definitely a multi-tasking recipe – the gnocchi, roasting and sauce making can all go on at the same time so it doesn’t take all day to make! The recipe serves 3 good portions, just double if you’re cooking for more, or want left-overs – and you will because it’s just so tasty! Enjoy – and don’t forget to let me know how you get on!

Tomato and roasted aubergine gnocchi with cashew cheese sauce (serves 3)

1 large aubergine, cut into small chunks
1 clove of garlic
dash of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1 tablespoon tamari (or coconut amines)
500g gnocchi
For the cashew cheese sauce
80g/1/2 cup cashew nuts, soaked for minimum 1 hour
125ml/1/2 cup water
2 heaped tablespoon nutritional yeast
Himalayan salt
white pepper

Bring a large saucepan full of water to the boil, add the gnocchi and bring back to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes until it’s bobbing at the top of the pan, then drain well and transfer to a baking dish.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Cut the top off the bulb of garlic and peel off some, but not all of the outer layers. Place the chopped aubergine into a baking tin with the garlic bulb in the middle. Drizzle over a dash of olive oil, or water if preferred, and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the aubergine is soft and gooey. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

Whilst the aubergine is cooking, heat a few tablespoons of water in the bottom of a saucepan and sauté the onion for a few minutes until it starts to soften – do not let it burn. Add more water if needed. Pour in the tomatoes, herbs, tamari and tomato puree, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer with the lid off (this allows some of the fluid to evaporate and concentrates the flavour). Once the aubergine is roasted, add it to the pan. Careful cut the roasted bulb of garlic open and squeeze a few of the squidgy cloves into the sauce – I used four cloves to really enrich the flavour. Save any left over in the fridge for another recipe. Leave the sauce to simmer for a few more minutes whilst you prepare the cheese sauce.

Drain the soaked cashew nuts and place them in the bowl of a small blender. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz until smooth. Add more seasoning, nutritional yeast or water as need to get the flavour and a good pouring consistency.

Pour the tomato sauce over the gnocchi and stir carefully to combine. Spoon the cashew cheese sauce over the top and bake in the oven for 15 minutes until everything is piping hot and the sauce starts to brown. Serve with a green salad and a big smile!

Learning and teaching enthusiastically

When I started eating a dairy and yeast free diet 7 years ago, it was really tough! For a start, trying to get my family and friends to stop fretting about my food choices was hard, and cooking food that kept everyone happy was a challenge. I was starting from scratch with many recipes, trying to work out how to adapt them successfully (there were more than a few failures, that’s for sure!). And as for eating out, well that was like being in an episode of Fawlty Towers at time, without the canned laughter and funny bits.

Then just to make it even more complicated, we moved to India, where many of the ‘free from’ itemswe relied on were not available, and finally going mainly plant based, which really freaked some people out. Never knowingly normal!

I’ve learnt a lot on my food journey, and continue to learn all the time, and indeed still making changes – you may have noticed more gluten free recipes appearing recently. There’s been a few mistakes, some frustration and the odd tantrum (whose, I’m not saying!). But I don’t regret it, and I don’t even miss my old favourite foods any more, as I have loads of new favourites instead, that don’t leave me unwell or in pain. Plus there’s so many ‘side-benefits’ to eating a whole food plant based diet, like glowing skin and hair, and effortless weight loss. There’s continual discovery and experimentation going on in my kitchen, less cookery rules to follow and a budding array of new restaurants and cafes to visit, as suddenly eating plant based is ‘in’.

One of the things I love about my journey, is sharing the benefits with other people so they can start their own healthy food adventure, only with less hiccups – that is why I created my Eat Well, Live Well course. Packed full of the valuable information, short cuts and tips I have learnt over the last few years, I just love seeing others become enthused and enjoying the changes in their own lives, or someone close to them. And because it’s not just about learning information, but enjoyment too, Ialways include a full lunch (or supper) as part of each session, and provide a full recipe folder of over 60 dishes to follow. In fact, one recent participant only cooks from my folder, which is quite a compliment.

Covering diverse subjects like nutrition 101, social norms, how to bake amazing cakes and gut bacteria, the Eat Well, Live Well course is a 5 week spring board into never looking at food the same way again. The next cohort starts this week in Hove on Thursday 9th June, so time is short to get on board before the summer break – email me if you want to join us If you can’t come along and join the fun this time, there’ll be other opportunities, including an on-line version that should be available from September. Exciting times!

What to do when craving a toasted teacake!

I’ve been eating a plant based whole food diet for a few years now; before that I was dairy and yeast free. It was challenging at first, especially when my mind kept telling me I really needed to eat cakes and cheese, or anything processed and refined!

Refined sugars and fat are pretty addictive, particularly when put together. Think sugar and cream. If you eat them separately, you can only manage a small amount – the sugar sticks to your mouth, the cream is bland but sickly. Put together and chilled, you get ice cream. Eating loads of that is no problem! Our bodies are programmed to want sugar and fat as in the distant past, they were hard to come by and humans had to stock up to get through long, hard winters.

These days, we have an over abundance of food, so there’s no need for our bodies to stockpile. But we still do; the explosion in obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health problems in the last few decades is the consequence. Evolution of our brain and body has not caught up with the revolution in the food industry. And refined foods such as ready meals or junk food are packed full of fat and sugar, so your brain tells you to go back for more (clever food scientists!).

Over time, my body has detoxed itself from the junk and the cravings have pretty much subsided. I no longer sigh heavily if someone makes a cheese sandwich, or have to sniff a gorgeously cream laden chocolate pudding. I do, of course, indulge on occasion, enjoying a beautifully light dairy free cake or two from time to time, but I don’t get that urge to keep eating it, which is a relief for my waistline and my health!

Occasionally, though, a random craving does appear out of the blue. Recently, it was for toasted teacakes.

I have no idea what triggered it, but one day I suddenly recalled eating delicious hot buttered toasted teacakes at my in-laws hotel in Devon. We had been out for a brisk walk on the coast and came back freezing cold. Sneaking into the kitchen for a hot chocolate, we found a new pack of teacakes so popped one into the toaster. The aroma soon spread through into the bar, and suddenly guests started to order them too. The pack was soon empty. That gorgeous cinnamon and raisin aroma was just too good to resist.

Once this memory had popped in my mind, all I could think about was toasted teacakes, but being dairy and yeast free, there’s none I can buy. So after searching for a recipe, I made an alternative – a cinnamon and raisin loaf. Each slice can be toasted and covered in non-dairy spread (if desired) and tastes rather marvellous. Of course, I’ve made it as healthy as possible, with wholewheat flour and only a small amount of unrefined coconut sugar. And when toasting, those gorgeous aromas are released, so be warned, others will want some too!

Cinnamon and raisin loaf (adapted from ‘A Bit of the Good Stuff’ recipe)
400g light wholemeal self raising flour (I used Marriages Organic Light Wholemeal)
or gluten free self raising
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
300mls dairy free milk
squeeze lemon juice
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
good pinch nutmeg
150g raisins
4 tablespoons of coconut sugar
Preheat the oven to 200oC. Lightly grease a 2lb loaf tin. Pour the non-dairy milk into a bowl and squeeze in the lemon. Put to one side (this helps it curdle slightly).
Place the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into a bowl and mix together. Add the coconut sugar and raisins and mix again. Pour in most of the milk and stir to create a sticky dough. Add the remaining milk if needed. Place the dough into the tin, and tap on the work top to release the air bubbles. Smooth the top level and place in the oven. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, then check to see if it is cooked by inserting a cocktail stick into the cake – if it come out clean, it’s done. If not, cook for a few more minutes until it’s done (it could take up to 45 minutes in total, depending on your oven). Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Tip out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
When you are ready, cut slices and pop in the toaster. Let those enticing aromas hit your nostrils and enjoy it piping hot and delicious!

Fast food my style – quick hotpot recipe

Some weeks are just so busy that there just doesn’t seem to be time to fit everything in, including writing blog posts, so this is going to be short and sweet!
Time is a real issue in so many peoples lives, trying to juggle work, home, families and hopefully fun.

Lack of time is often the reason people give for relying on processed ready meals or takeaways. And I’m no purist; the odd takeaway is great. But regularly relying on fast food carries not only a financial cost, but a huge health cost too.

Having to avoid dairy and yeast means, for me, that I cannot rely on processed foods as basically one or the other of these allergens appear in some form. So my food sensitivities have actually been a great blessing, as they have enabled me to make better choices, and eat real, nourishing food.  I’m also fortunate that I really love cooking, but there are times when I just don’t have much time to spend in the kitchen.

That’s where planning ahead comes in. Working shifts, every week for me is different. So thinking about what is happening each week, who is where and needs feeding when can get a little complex, but with the right planning I can usually ensure that the whole family gets a whole, nourishing meal every day, even when I’m not there.

As my kids get older, I feel it’s important that they learn to feed themselves well, so sometimes they have to do it; my role is to ensure they have the right produce to hand and a reminder note of what they need to do!

I’ve found that one pot meals and stews have become a really important feature of our weekday meals – quick, simple and easy to reheat. You can also make it hearty and filling, essential for my growing giant-boy teenager! This particular hotpot is inspired by a couple of Jamie Oliver recipes. Roasting the sweet potato intensifies the flavour and enhances the texture; using passata creates a deeper, richer flavour in a relatively short period of time. This may not be as quick as one of Jamie’s 15 minute meals (can you ever really cook one of his recipes in 15 minutes anyway?) but it can all be done and dusted in 30 minutes.

This dish is highly nutritious and positively bursting with fibre, which is essential for health; not only a healthy gut but a healthy heart too. To make it even more heart healthy, sprinkle some ground flaxseed at the end to add some essential omega 3 fatty acid. The sweet potato and beans are filling in themselves, but if you need to fill hungry tummies, then serve with rice, or even wholemeal pitta bread. And don’t forget to add some green veg on the side too!

Red bean and roasted sweet potato hotpot
2 large or 3 medium sweet potatoes
olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 green pepper chopped
1 red pepper chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 packet passata/400g tin tomatoes
1 400g tin kidney beans
chilli flakes
salt and pepper
First, heat the oven to 180oC. Peel and chop the sweet potatoes into medium sized chunks. Lightly grease a baking tin, pop the sweet potato chunks on it and roast in the oven until they start to brown slightly and feel soft to touch – about 15 minutes. In the mean time, heat a little olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic for a minute but don’t let it burn. Add the peppers, thyme and chilli flakes and sauté for a couple more minutes. Pour in the passata and mix well. Bring to boiling point then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until the peppers are soft. Add the beans. By now the sweet potato should be cooked, so take out the oven and add to the pot, stirring well. Simmer for another 5 minutes until the flavours have perfused, season to taste and serve. Simple, tasty and whole!

Chickpeas once more – in a bread!

The internet is a wonderful thing – quick access to information about any topic under the sun. Sometimes it’s prudent to be careful and question where this information is coming from, particularly controversial points of view; for recipes though it’s like having one massive cookery book at your finger tips with so much variety, abounding inspiration is available at every moment.

I can spend hours browsing websites and blogs, googling random ingredients and following a path of ingenuity and creativity. There’s so many different options on offer, I tend to forget where I’ve been, and take ages finding that fascinating fact or idea that’s tantalising the edge of my subconscious. Now I try to bookmark everything that I want to return to; that list is getting pretty long and unmanageable!

Recently I found an article featuring marvellous things to do with chickpeas (that old obsession returns once more!); this led me to a recipe for ‘Eggy Breakfast Bread’, a chickpea based bread, similar to cornbread but sweet Made with chickpea flour, it looked great, but I’m not so keen on sweet bread, so decided to omit the sugar and add in some savoury flavours.

I have to say, not only is it incredibly easy, the flavour and texture is fabulous. And totally moreish! Not being able to eat bread other than wraps and the occasional soda bread (home made version) due to my yeast intolerance, it was exciting to create something that was so tasty and felt so right in the mouth.

This recipe calls for flaxseed. If you’ve not come across it before, you’re missing out. Nutritionally it’s a brilliant plant source of omega 3, absolutely packed full of fibre, lignans (anti-oxidant phytonutrients) and other anti-oxidants. When mixed with water, flaxseed swells and can be used as an egg replacement in plant based cooking. When you see how it swells in a cup with a little water, you realise how it’s going to swell in your gut. So it’s not only good for healthy bowels, it will  help you stay full for longer if you’re trying to lose weight.  Adding it to cereal in the morning is a wise thing to do!

Here is my savoury version of this bread. The herbs and spices can be played around with to create different flavours. I’m planning on experimenting with pesto (dairy free of course!) by omitting some of the oil and adding the equivalent pesto. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Savoury chickpea bread
1 cup/140g chickpea flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 cup/240ml of dairy free milk
1 teaspoon fennel seeds or spice/herbs/seed of choice
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Black pepper
Pre heat oven to 180oC and lightly grease a round metal pie tin or line a square baking tin.

Combine flaxseed with all the wet ingredients and whisk together really well. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining dry ingredients together, then pour the wet into the dry and stir until well mixed.Pour batter into prepared tin and bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until firm and slightly browned on top. Remove from oven and leave to cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes. Cut into triangles in the tin before removing.Best eaten warm, it’s still delicious cold – that’s if you can leave it to get cold before gobbling it up!