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?

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?

Butternut squash macaroni cheese

This culinary experiment was brought to you by the woman who saw a picture of a healthy butternut squash based macaroni recipe but did not want to trek to the supermarket for any specific ingredients.So basically a lazy but healthy recipe without much washing up. Winner.

Basically much as we all love creamy or cheesy pasta sauces, they are more something to be enjoyed once in a while. However, pasta is cheap and fills you up for a long time and unless you have dietary reasons for avoiding gluten isn’t a food you necessarily need to avoid. In addition, if you really are watching the calories you’ll be please to know, when cooked down the texture of butternut squash goes lovely and creamy. You’ll be pleased to also note that my very hungry 6ft3 caterpillar found this filling enough after a workout; so its great for those who are watching their weight but do have a larger appetite.

To make enough macaroni for 3 servings you will need:

250g dried macaroni pasta

1 vegetable stock cube

Boiling water

150g butternut squash (frozen chunks are our new mealtime saviour)

50g sweet potato

1 red onion

1 clove of garlic

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

2 large tomatoes or 7 cherry tomatoes (chopped)

25g smoked cheddar (if you follow a vegan diet you could substitute with vegalife, or even try topping with breadcrumbs or chopped nuts)

Slice the onion and crush the garlic. Heat until soft. Add your sweet potato and squash and heat until the edges have started to soften and come away. Add your stock cube, salt, pepper, marjoram and enough water to more than cover everything. Allow the stock cube to dissolve into the water then add the macaroni and tomatoes. Top up the water if it doesn’t cover the pasta by 1/2 an inch.

Boil the pasta in the stock, stirring to make sure that nothing sticks. Keep topping up the water as needed. Once the macaroni is cooked use your spoon/spatula to squash the squash (heh heh heh), tomatoes and sweet potato. Spoon the pasta into a heat proof dish. Grate over your cheese and put under the grill (or in the oven at 200°C) until the cheese begins to crisp. (If using nuts wait until the nuts brown nicely).

This can be served as a side dish or as a main meal. It is entirely up to you.

Spinach, goats cheese and pine nut cannelloni

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If you want a recipe to cram about half a kilogram of spinach into your vegetable hating significant other, child or just somebody who is ridiculously picky about vegetables this might be a winner. Spinach has got so many wonderful anti inflammatory properties its nice that its so easily incorporated into a meal.

Anyway, I know pasta and gluten containing products have a bit of a bad reputation for being less healthy, or too heavy; but I did not find this recipe too stodgy. I remained nicely satisfied all evening. Which I think is the purpose of pasta, in moderation it fills you up and stops you creeping to the fridge for a mid evening snack. I admit I was pretty liberal with my cheese adding (I am a dyed in the wool cheese lover) but I used goats cheese and buffalo mozzarella which I find a bit easier to digest.

(As a side note if you do have coeliac disease or a wheat allergy and you do fancy trying this, I suggest you try layering the spinach and tomato with these lasagne sheets I looked up for you that are gluten free. I can be a gem sometimes)

Anyway, you might have noticed I do often cook with meat, but I am trying to incorporate more vegetarian meals into our diet. Unfortunately this is made slightly more difficult by the fact I am pretty intolerant to a lot of pulses (cry). I don’t particularly like my lentils to be served with a side of agonising stomach cramps etc. Anyway, back to the vegetarian meals; I feel if I can keep making vegetables more exciting I might be able to convince D of the merit of Meat Free Mondays….

To make enough cannelloni to feed 3 (or 2 if your male type person is feeling particularly peckish upon waking up from a night shift) you will need:

Approx 9 cannelloni tubes (you might need more or less depending upon how much filling you get)

About 400g frozen spinach (the water will evaporate)

1 glass white wine

fresh rosemary

1 small onion

1 large clove garlic

salt and pepper

vegetable oil

100g pine nuts

100g soft goats cheese

100g mozzarella

500g passata

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Peel and slice your onion and crush your garlic. Fry over a gentle heat until soft. Add your pine nuts and lightly toast before adding your rosemary, wine, spinach, salt and pepper.

Heat until all of the spinach has loosened and is cooked through. Add your goats cheese and stir until it is fully dispersed.

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Set aside the spinach to cool slightly. Using a teaspoon and your fingers stuff your uncooked cannelloni. If any Italian people want to correct me on how to do this in an authentic way please add a comment! Anyway I was obviously feeling pretty jaunty when I did my food shopping as you can see from the cannelloni I purchased.

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If you have any pine nuts leftover from your pasta stuffing endeavours never fear. Just set them aside for use as topping. (There’s no point wasting them).

Cover your pasta with cold passata. Dot over your mozzarella at random and sprinkle over your pine nuts and a little more rosemary. Season with more salt and pepper as desired. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the pasta is cooked.

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I can always tell when D particularly likes a meal as he is always up for seconds.

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This might take a little longer to make than most midweek meals but I can assure you the extra effort was well worth it.

Blue cheese and hazelnut stuffed mushrooms

I’ve mentioned before that like most couples, when one of us eats out the one who’s still at home tends to eat what the other is indifferent to (or dislikes). When D is left to his own devices he likes hotdogs, I usually have prawns or mushrooms. So last Friday night I decided to have a vegetarian meal for once.

To make your mushrooms and their stuffing you will need

2 portobello mushrooms

30g blue cheese (I used Harrogate blue)

10g butter (softened)

1 clove garlic

Salt and pepper

20g chopped hazelnuts

(This one goes out to all you mushroom lovers out there!)

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Remove the stalks from your mushrooms and wash them. Mash together the cheese, butter, garlic and hazelnuts. Top the mushrooms with this and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked through. I had mine with toast, but this would go well with most things.

DSC_0076DSC_0080Sometimes we all need to eat something delicious when we have a solitary meal.

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Tortellini, rosemary and goats cheese soup

I always associate soups with Autumn and winter weather. I just cannot fathom the idea of eating something like leek and tomato soup on a warm day. However this soup has a light fresh flavour and takes about 20 minutes so you won’t be sweating over a hot stove for too long. The tortellini make this a hearty meal – so this is perfect after a busy day. Tortellini is often served as quite a stodgy meal in the UK (although I ate it with just butter in Italy and it was a starter there). However, this is a slightly lighter take on a quick and easy favourite and you will find you eat far less pasta than usual.

To make this soup you will need:

1 pack fresh tortellini (with the filling your your choice)

300ml chicken stock or vegetable stock

2 spring onions cut into slices

2 peppers cut into small pieces (or 1/4 bag frozen peppers)

3-4 frozen spinach brickettes or 2 large handfuls of spinach

1/2 a courgette

About 10g butter

About 50g soft goats cheese

1 sprig fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper

Serves 3

Fry your spring onions, along with your peppers and frozen spinach in the butter until the spinach has defrosted. Add extra butter while cooking if required (If using fresh spinach add this when the tortellini is added). Pour over your stock and add your rosemary and allow this to start simmering. Use a potato peeler to make thin slices of courgette (can you tell this is my new food obsession?) and add to the stock. Taste and season with salt and pepper as required.

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To this add your tortellini and simmer over a higher heat until the pasta is cooked (about 5 minutes). Once the pasta has cooked turn off the heat and gently stir in your goats cheese so a few blobs of the cheese remain.

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This soup also keeps really well for some souper leftovers!

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