Perfect vegan chocolate cake

Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or have to follow dairy and egg free diets I have you covered. I think at a push you could even make this nut free if you substituted the coconut oil for soya based spread.

If you are none of those things never fear D and I both loved this cake, the cake tends to crack on the surface but the rise is really good and it is really rich. D and I are not vegetarian or vegan but we are cake lovers and also probably what is now classed as flexitarian.

This is a very much simplified Nigella Lawson recipe based on what I already had in. However it turned out really well considering I forgot to buy sugar and had to use an old pack of demerara sugar I had in the back of my cupboard.

To make a rather large cake you will need:

225 g plain flour

1½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp salt

1½ teaspoons instant espresso powder

75 g cocoa powder

300 g demerara sugar

375 mL hot water

75 g coconut oil ( about 90ml)

1½ teaspoons cider vinegar

To decorate

Dairy free chocolate spread

2 squares dark chocolate

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 20cm cake tin (one with a catch to release or a moveable base) with baking parchment. In a large bowl mix together the flour, espresso powder, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

In a second bowl (or large jug) melt your coconut oil into your water along with the sugar and cider vinegar. Pour this into the bowl with the dry ingredients and beat together using a hand whisk. Pour the cake mix into the cake tin and bake for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out pretty clean and the cake mix has come away from side. Set aside to cool.

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While the cake is still warm melt the chocolate spread. Prick the cake with a few holes and use a knife to make a thin layer. Grate over the dark chocolate.

Serve warm or cold. This cake will stay fresh when kept in an air tight container if it lasts that long.

Smoothie Ideas

D and I are on a bit of a health kick at the moment and when we are eating healthier I tend to have smoothies a lot for breakfast. I broke my blender making smoothies and now I have a shiny new smoothie maker. I know they’re notorious for being sugary but you can make them less so but adding spinach and using fresh fruit instead of using ready made smoothies. Also in my defence I find that eating fruit earlier on in the day prevents me from craving sweet things made from refined sugars later in the day and it puts me in a happier, more energetic mood and my skin looks better. Generally we try and eat mostly vegetarian and pescatarian meals now so maybe it just fits in with these meals?

I nearly always thicken my smoothies by adding a banana. I also add oats or a nut butter to make it filling enough to see me through until lunch. Then I will add frozen fruit such as mango, blueberries or raspberries or the frozen fruit mixes designed to make smoothies with (like the banana and strawberry mix). Sometimes I use up fruit that isn’t quite at is best (minimise food waste when you can) and I also like to add frozen spinach. It is packed with all sort of nutrients and also because it has anti inflammatory properties so I find it really helpful with stomach pain or aching muscles. I switch between making smoothies with unsweetened almond milk, coconut milk or sometimes normal milk depending on what I have in. (Sometimes I have coconut water too).

I don’t think there is much of a recipe for what is essentially squashed fruit whizzed up in a blender, these are just some ideas to inspire. Maybe I’m just obsessed with fruit?

Fill n’ Flip Pan Review – Cheesecake brownie cake

I admit I am a sucker for a baking gadget or novelty baking tin. As such I was delighted to try a Fill n Flip Pan from the Love Cooking Company. I keep seeing all of these beautiful cakes with a deep layer of filling so I was keen to try a recipe for myself. For my first attempt I tried a brownie recipe – heavier cake recipes tend to work better in more unusual shaped tins. (Also, who doesn’t love cheesecake brownies?)

I know my cake isn’t the most well decorated masterpiece but I always like to think my baking is pretty rustic. Dane actually made a point to tell me how much he liked his cake and it was pretty popular when I took it into work – I think the deep fill means you can add contrasting flavours and really experiment with your baking. I found the cake tins so easy to use and my two cake pieces fit together really well. The tins themselves are incredibly well made. Although you need to grease them to make them non stick, the cakes come out really easily which I suppose is exactly what you want from a cake tin.

To make your cheesecake brownie you will need:

For the cake

4 eggs

315g soft brown sugar

125g cornflour

250g dark chocolate

150g butter

35g cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

Cake release spray or extra butter for greasing

For the filling

280g light cream cheese

50g icing sugar

1 vanilla pod or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon seedless raspberry jam

 

Grease your cake tins. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Beat your eggs and sugar together until fluffy and leaves a trail on top of the mixture. Use a sieve to add in your flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Melt your chocolate and butter together and slowly fold into the batter.

Pour into the cake tins and bake for about 30 minutes until a skewer comes out of the thickest past of the cake clean. Remove from the cake tins and set aside to cool.

To make the filling beat together the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla. Spread a thin layer of jam onto the bottom layer of the cake. Add the cream cheese filling into the inner hole of the cake. Press together the two lake layers. Serve to anybody who deserves a treat (including yourself).

Thank you to Love Cooking for sending me such an amazing produce. I will definitely be using this again in further baking ventures.

The Fill n Flip Pan is available here.

I was sent the Fill n Flip Pan to review but all opinions are my own.

Healthy Eating on a Budget

This post is a long time coming and I am surprised I have not written it sooner, especially given its a bit part of my weekly food shopping mantra. Healthy eating has an often unfair reputation as being expensive. It can be but then again I think its pretty expensive if you regularly eat takeaways or buy ready meals. Although from the outset cooking from scratch can feel expensive, once you have your store cupboard ingredients you’re pretty much good to go.

I am aware most people who like cooking are pretty good at these, but this post is for those wanting to change their lifestyle but feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Your freezer is your friend. I’ve been surprised by the frozen vegetables you can buy now (I keep thinking of growing up in the 90s when it was peas, carrots and corn). Frozen fish and fruit is also really useful to have in as it means you only have to defrost what you need and it tends to be cheaper to buy.
  2. You don’t have to completely steer clear of food trends but be aware  that it does make your food shop more expensive. Be realistic. Can you justify spending the money on something you might not like, especially if you are prone to buying something, trying it once and then ignoring it while it takes up valuable cupboard space.
  3. Look at your protein alternatives and embrace vegetarian and vegan food. Quorn is our new household favourite. (Can I just say here the people who make Quorn should take a bow, it has improved so much). Not only is it generally lower in fat, it works out as less expensive too. Think about having beans and pulses and adding nuts or eggs to stir fries.
  4. Get your dried fruit from the baking aisle. Seriously, its cheaper buying the bigger packs from here than getting it from the fruit aisle.
  5. Buy your fruit and veg by weight where you can. Again, this stops you spending more than you need on vegetable that you might not finish and not only does it reduce food waste but you spend less.
  6. Plan your meals. Whether this is a vague plan of what you’ll eat or more detailed. Being aware of what you will eat on what night prevents you from buying more than necessary.
  7. Buy yourself some snacks. There will be some days where its just too long between meals. If you buy yourself stuff that you like it’ll prevent you overeating as you’ll feel satisfied. Plus buying more at once can work out cheaper unless you eat an entire multipack of crisps in one sitting (and that my friend is a lot of salt).
  8. Try new recipes. How are you going to enjoy your new healthy lifestyle if you don’t embrace the magic of variety?

Have you got any tips to enjoy healthy eating on a budget?

Tearoute

Autumn is well and truly underway and what better time to fully embrace the wonderful drink that is tea than on a cold evening in November. When the lovely people at Tearoute offered me a change to try their tea I jumped at the chance. Tearoute is a mail order tea service with a Greek twist. They use Mediterranean sourced ingredients in a wide range of tea blends that are so fragrant they smell incredible.

I got send some Rooibos Abyssinia which had chocolately notes and was pleasantly spicy. I became obsessed with it the week I had a really bad cold as it sorted my scratchy throat and blocked nose right out. Which is funny because on the website rooibos is described as being something that improves headaches, asthma and allergies.

In addition, the fact you can see the leaves and spices in the blends is really something and having larger tea leaves really enhances the flavour of the tea and improves the overall clarity of the flavour.

I can’t wait to try more from this range and I think it would be the perfect Christmas gift for tea lovers of the world wishing to try something a little different.

For more information about the range of Tearoute products visit here. I promise you tea time will never be quite the same again.

Check yourself this Movember

14 November may be a little late to start growing a moustache to raise money for Movember. Its also probably futile for approximately half of the population. However, Movember is an extremely worthy cause. The charity aims to prevent early death in younger males by 25% by 2030 by raising money for testicular cancer, prostate cancer and mental health and suicide prevention.

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The lovely people at Heck Sausages contacted me to ask me to write a post about their Check campaign where proceeds from each pack of their Chicken Italia Chipolatas goes towards the charity. As well as tasting brilliant (and being low fat and gluten free to boot) the staff at Heck started to raise money as one of their staff members Jamie has recently undergone treatment for testicular cancer. Read the full story here. Heck have also renamed themselves Check for the entire month of November to raise awareness for self checking of men. They also aim to raise around £25000 for the charity so don’t forget that the more sausages you eat the more money that goes to charity (talk about win win).

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Frankly, men are dreadful at self checking and even worse at speaking to the GP. Depending on where you live between a third and a half of men would not know what to look out for when checking their testicles and a similar proportion of women wouldn’t know how to check their partners testicles. Even more scarily 85% of men would be embarrassed to speak to their GP if they did notice a problem.

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Information about checking yourself or somebody your partner can be found here. Its worth being mindful that early diagnosis and treatment increases survival rates of testicular cancer and also prevents loss of both testicles in males.

I actually have an MSc in Cancer Biology and Therapy and one of the facts that will always stick with me is that despite cancer being more diagnosed in women worldwide, the survival rate in men is so much poorer. Men often won’t see their doctor until its too late, which I suppose ties in with suicide rates also being higher in men. Movember is a charity that aims to raise awareness of such issues and on top of that helps fund research into male related cancers. More effective male cancer treatment increases the quality of life of men of your boyfriend’s age, or your brother’s age or one of your friends. On top of that attempting to reduce the stigma of men talking about their feelings and speaking up about mental health issues also improves lives and helps people who are truly suffering see a light at the end of the tunnel.

While I identify as a feminist and I can speak for days about women’s rights and political issues I am also extremely vocal about equality and men’s quality of life. We should all try to support Movember and encourage more men to check themselves and seek help when needed whether it be through raising money for the charity by cultivating a moustache, donating to the charity or even eating rather a lot of sausages for a worthy cause.

For more information about the work Movember is doing please browse their website. It is absolutely fascinating looking at all the causes they are contributing to.

For more information about Heck sausages including stockists please visit their website.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

A few weeks ago D and I went on a jaunt to Amsterdam. I think its safe to say our 4 days in the city reflected its vibe really well. We stayed at the Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy, a design hotel that overlooks the waterfront. Within the hotel itself (which is a bit like a maze or like something from a film) there is a chance to explore various art installations dotted around the hotel. But I think given the short duration of our stay I will split the rest of this travel blog into sections.

Getting around: Amsterdam is famous for its cycling, however we actually ended up walking an awful lot so take comfy shoes! There is also a decent and relatively inexpensive tram network which makes the city pretty easy to get around. The train link to the airport is very reliable so getting to your hotel takes only a little bit of forward planning.

Culture: we visited the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. I really would recommend buying tickets for these in advance, particularly the Anne Frank House as they only let limited numbers of people in at once. The Van Gogh museum tells the story of his rather unusual and sad life and his artistic development through a collection of wonderful paintings. Something about being there and actually looking at the texture of the paintings as well as the actual paintings is probably pretty educational for artists of all experience levels. The Anne Frank museum was sad and uplifting all at once. Something about seeing the impact of the holocaust through the experience of 8 people rather than by reading statistics and other historical sources makes it easier to understand on a more personal level. The Anne Frank house has been restored to how it was when they were hiding there and while there are stark reminders of a family who were living in extreme difficulty, it tries to bring home a message of understanding others to try and prevent something on this scale happening again. Anne Frank was a rather wonderful writer and the museum definitely tries to encourage the view of her as a witty, clever but very real girl with her own faults rather that making her seem perfect.

We also had a trip to the Zoo (it was nice to be out in the sun after being inside a lot) and it provided a bit of light relief after being overwhelmed with culture and history. We also stopped by the Sex Museum (it was very cheap) which was as you’d expect. If you’re from Yorkshire and I say it was like the Yorvik Centre but with an 18 Certification you’d understand what I mean but it is extremely tongue in cheek.

Boat trips: you must go on a boat trip. This is a city with canals and you can see so much at a slower pace. There are also dinner cruise options if you’re feeling fancy.

Food and drink: The Netherlands are famous for bakeries and waffles (why do you think I went) and Amsterdam did not disappoint! Lovely cake, lovely stroopwafel. I cannot enthuse too much about it. It is also really inexpensive to eat out in restaurants and there are some amazing options for snacking and street food. Buy patates, you won’t regret it.

In terms of drinking and bars there is really something for most tastes and the atmosphere is really relaxed. Early evening drinking for the win!

Shopping: Amsterdam is amazing for shopping! Take full advantage (unless your debit card was frauded the week before like mine). Also not to be missed – trips to cheese shops, bakieries and the Bloomenmarket.

Where do you recommend we visit next?