Christmas Pudding Cakes

When Vegan Life launched in September, I don’t know if anyone anticipated just how well the magazine would be received. It was such a hit that it won this year’s VegfestUK Awards for best publication, and that accolade was purely based on the first issue!

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Issue 2, and was especially excited that it would be the Christmas edition. When it arrived, I was hoping to savour it over a few days but alas, once I got started I couldn’t put it down.

Vegan Life Issue 2 300

Just like the first issue, this one is packed with articles that I found both inspiring and thought-provoking. One feature in particular that caught my eye was the debate on whether vegans should feed pets meat. This is one issue that I’ve been struggling to get my head round. The Vegan Life article prompted a lively debate amongst my Twitter friends. I think I’ve finally decided my stance, but it’s a very tricky issue, and definitely one that people need to decide for themselves ;o)

I’m looking forward to trying all the recipes in Issue 2, but the one that immediately grabbed my attention was the Christmas Pudding Cakes by Harriet Emily. I love Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake, but I’ve never had a Christmas Pudding Cake before! I was intrigued to see how it would turn out. I had a quick scan down the recipe and it didn’t look too tricky at all.

Vegan Life Issue 2 - Christmas Pudding Cakes

The recipe is gluten free, cane sugar free, dairy free, egg free and soy free, so it ticks lots of allergy friendly boxes. It does include almonds, but I’m sure these could be subbed to make it nut free too.

The recipe uses two of my favourite ingredients – coconut sugar and coconut butter. I tend to buy these online as they’re not always available in my local health food shop. If you’re not so fussed about making these cakes super healthy, then I’m pretty confident you could sub them with cane sugar and non dairy spread. The recipe also calls for millet flour which I couldn’t find locally, so I used buckwheat flour instead. It worked absolutely fine. I’m sure you could use regular whole wheat flour too if you didn’t need to make it gluten free.

And the verdict?
I was so happy with the way the cakes turned out. They were moist and flavourful, plus they made the house smell amazing while they baked! They were a huge hit with the family. Hubbie has already requested another batch, and Lil’ L said they were absolutely delicious (and this is someone that usually avoids dried fruits!)

Hubbie preferred his pudding cake straight up with no toppings, while Lil’ L and I enjoyed it drizzled in salted caramel. We used the Considerit Special Edition Salted Caramel from November’s The Vegan Kind Box, but Harriet Emily also shared a recipe for home-made salted caramel, which looks super easy to make.

Christmas Pudding Cake

The treats certainly live up to their name. I really can’t decide whether they are a cake or a pudding. Definitely somewhere in between. They’re baked in ramekins, so you could serve them straight out of the oven, more like a pudding …

Christmas Pudding Cake

Or you could pop them out of the ramekins and serve them like cake. I did find that the portions were a little on the large side. While hubbie easily devoured a whole cake, I couldn’t manage a whole one by myself (and believe me I tried). Next time I make them, I’ll try baking six instead of five and see how the size compares.

Christmas Pudding Cake

I did make a few tweaks to the recipe. I subbed a couple of ingredients that I didn’t have on hand, and adjusted the spice quantities (I used ¼ tsp nutmeg instead of 1 tsp as I find the flavour of nutmeg really strong, plus I omitted the allspice as I didn’t have any). I also reduced the baking temperature from 200C to 180C and the baking time from 40 to 30 minutes. They came out perfect, so I’m guessing the recipe is pretty flexible.

Big thank you to Harriet Emily for sharing her fab recipe If you’re interested in vegan, sugar free and gluten free cooking, definitely go check out her blog. I can’t wait to try her Chocolate Caramel Tarts. They look amazing!


Products used in this recipe (UK sources)

Biona Organic Coconut Sugar
Tiana Organic Coconut Butter (Aroma Free)
Clarks Original Maple Syrup
Doves Farm Wholemeal Buckwheat Flour (this does contain traces of gluten so use Doves Gluten Free Buckwheat Flour or Millet Flour for a 100% GF option)

In Vegan Life, Harriet Emily also shares a recipe for Caramel Sauce, which uses coconut sugar as its base. I’ll update this post once I’ve had a chance to try it (sadly I’ve run out of coconut sugar, but it’s on order).

I also have two caramel recipes by The Vegan 8 bookmarked, both of which I’d love to try with these Christmas pudding cakes. The first one – Caramel Sauce – has melted coconut butter as its base, and the second one – Salted Caramel – is made with sweet potato and coconut milk! It sounds weird but it’s received rave reviews so I’m excited to try it!

Did you get Vegan Life Issue 2? If so I’d love to know what you thought of it. Have you tried any of the recipes yet?

 

Dairy Free / Vegan Advent Calendars – Top Picks for 2014

Once again, Christmas has sneaked up on me. I thought I’d misheard someone this morning when they said it was 5½ weeks until the big day. Seriously, how did that happen? I really need to get myself organised, make some lists, start thinking about gifts and festive foods. However, first things first… we need to get some advent calendars. Preferably one each, and definitely chocolate calendars. What a wonderful excuse to have to eat chocolate every day for a whole month 😉

There seems to be more choice than ever this year of dairy-free / vegan calendars and especially calendars designed for children, which is really lovely to see. These calendars use rice milk instead of dairy, and are suitable for any milk chocolate lovers.

Whether you’re a milk or dark chocolate lover though, I have a wonderful selection for calendars for you. Here are my top picks for 2014…

For the Milk Chocolate Lovers

Moo Free Organic Dairy Free Advent Calendar
This award winning calendar is made in the Moo Free dairy free UK factory, and is filled with organic, fair-trade, dairy free rice milk chocolate. A full list of UK and worldwide high street and online stockists can be found here. It’s great to see that Moo Free has made it all the way across the globe to Australia and New Zealand!

120g / RRP £4.75

Moo Free Advent Calendar 2014

Holland & Barrett Dairy Free Alternative to Milk Chocolate Advent Calendar
These calendars are filled with organic, fair-trade, dairy free rice milk chocolate and come in two different cute designs, one blue and one pink.

125g / £3.99 (currently buy one get one half price)

Holland & Barrett Dairy Free Advent Calendar blue

Plamil Organic Fairtrade Milky Dairy Free Advent Calendar
This fun, brightly coloured dairy free milk chocolate advent calendar is made in the Plamil factory which never uses dairy, gluten or nuts. It’s available to buy directly from Plamil. You can get 10% off your first order by entering the code FIR14 at checkout.

125g Price: £4.95

Plamil Dairy Free Advent Calendar

Tesco & Sainsbury’s ‘Free From’ Calendars
It is really encouraging to see that UK supermarkets have started selling ‘Free From’ calendars made with rice milk. Hopefully more will follow suit in the future. So far I’ve spotted dairy free calendars in Sainsbury’s (72g / £2.69) and Tesco (72g / £3.25. Currently on a ‘3 for 2’ offer until 23/11/14)

Tesco Free from advent calendar

For the Dark Chocolate Lovers

And for the dark chocolate lovers, I have two beautiful high quality advent calendars.

Montezuma’s Organic and Vegan Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar
This calendar is filled with 240g of Montezuma’s organic house blended chocolate. New for 2014, each window has a picture behind it! It’s available from the Montezuma’s high street shops  and online.

240g / £9.99

Montezumas-Christmas-Advent-Calender

Hotel Chocolat Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar
This high quality, super stylish calendar is filled with 24 Christmas sculptures, including reindeer, snowmen, penguins and enchanted Christmas trees, cast in smooth 70% dark chocolate. It’s available from Hotel Chocolat shops or you can order online. If you’d like to send the calendar as a gift, a personalised message card can be included for free when ordered online. Use the code VNOV10 at the checkout to receive 10% off (expires 23/11/14)

125g / £12.50

Hotel Chocolat Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar Collage

 

Have you bought your advent calendar yet? If so, do you tend to go for a chocolate calendar or do you prefer the more traditional wooden or cardboard ones?

 

Christmas 2013 Holiday Highlights

As of today, the Christmas holidays are officially over in our house. For me and the boys, the holidays have been total bliss. All the usual busyness of daily life stopped in our house and we enjoyed two weeks of ‘down-time’ together

Like many parts of the world, we’ve been experiencing freaky weather patterns these past few weeks, including frequent spells of torrential rain and gail force winds. Our local meadows (pictured in my top banner) transformed into a big lake.

Bathampton Meadows Flooded Christmas 2013

On Christmas Eve, we awoke to find our garden completely submerged under water. The water levels were the highest that we’ve ever seen them before, reaching the top of Lil’ L’s slide. While the water did eventually drain away, as soon as we had more heavy rain, the garden flooded again.  Fortunately, our house is on higher land, so there’s no risk of it flooding.

Flooded Garden Christmas 2013

For Christmas Day, we headed over to my mum’s in Dorset. We were having such a nice time that we ended up staying five days!

Christmas 2013

We played games, watched films, and went on some lovely walks with the dogs. Father Christmas brought Lil’ L a laser gun set, and he and M had lots of fun and laughs running round the house and forest shooting each other (boys eh?)

Lil L in Verwood Forest Christmas 2013

Using the weather tracking tool on our mobiles, we were able to time our walks to avoid the worst of the rain. Most days were dark and cloudy, but Boxing Day was exceptionally bright and dry, so we headed to Bournemouth.

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_1

It was utterly glorious!

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_4

We took a long walk along the promenade, played with the dogs on the beach, had coffees on the pier, and played the tuppence slot machines in the arcade.

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_2

I find it so invigorating by the sea this time of year. It’s great for clearing the old cobwebs away!

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_3

Love these colourful beach huts on Bournemouth promenade!

Beach Huts at Bournemouth

Food-wise, by far the best meal of the holidays was the Christmas dinner. My mum made the nut and lentil roast on Christmas Eve so, on Christmas day, we simply needed to prepare the veggies and gravy. Lil’ L said it was the best Christmas dinner he’s ever had! He even tried the Brussel sprouts and, though not keen on them on their own, he loved them mashed in ‘Bubble and Squeak’ (which we served on Boxing Day with the Chestnut and Mushroom Jalousie).

And thank you SO much for all your lovely comments about the Cranberry Glazed Red Lentil and Cashew Nut Loaf recipe. I was over the moon to hear how much you liked it!

I admit I’ve eaten far too much these past couple of weeks but I’m not worried about it. This week I’ll get back into my usual eating and exercising habits and, by the end of the month, I’m sure I’ll back back to my usual weight.  For me, this month is all about quick prep, low cost, tasty, healthy meals. I’ve got some really easy recipes to share with you, plus some awesome giveaways.

Time for me to officially bid farewell to 2013 and embrace the New Year.

Here’s wishing you all a very happy 2014 xx

Winter Solstice 2013 at Glastonbury

This year, the Winter Solstice happened to fall on a Saturday, so we took the opportunity to head to one of our favourite landmarks – Glastonbury Tor – to watch the sun set. It was a close call as the sun was already on its way down as we drove into the town.

With no time to spare, we headed straight up to the Tor…

Walking up to Glastonbury Tor

And we made it just in the nick of time!

Glastonbury Tor 400

For days, we’d been experiencing torrential rains and gail force winds here in the South West, and it had rained for most of Saturday too. However, just as the sun was setting on the Winter Solstice, the rain stopped, the clouds disappeared and we experienced the most beautiful sun set. It truly was a magical moment

Winter Solstice at Glastonbury 2013 1

As soon as the sun was down, the clouds came over and the heavy rain returned!!

We carefully made our way down from the Tor, trying not to get blown over in the gail force winds! Back in the town, we stopped for a warming drink and a quick browse in the The Speaking Tree before it closed. All three of us came away with a beautiful book…. mind you, it’s very hard to come away empty handed from that shop!  As we made our way back to the car, we stopped to admire all the amazing window displays.

Glastonbury Shops

Glastonbury Shops - December

Glastonbury Shops - December 5

Glastonbury Shops - December 2

Glastonbury Shops - December 3

Glastonbury Shops - December 4

I loved that little hedgehog!

Well, it’s Christmas Eve now and I still have a few more things to finish off, including Christmas cards and decorating the Christmas Cake, but I’m nearly there!  M and Lil’ L have the next two weeks off, and I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time with them. This will be my last blog post for a while, as I’m going to ‘unplug’ for the holidays to give the family my full attention 😉

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
I look forward to catching up with you in 2014 xx

 

How to Take the Stress Out of Christmas Dinner

There are many constants that come with the Christmas season, most of which include the positive, holiday spirit-inducing traditions that we enjoy with our loved ones every year. But this season can also leave us feeling a little overwhelmed. In this post, Jemima gave us some great tips on how we can avoid stress in the lead up to Christmas.

In my experience, one of the biggest stresses this time of year is cooking the family’s Christmas dinner… especially if you’re in charge of making the entire meal!

Christmas dinner table

But fret not, because there are steps you can take ahead of time to make sure your dinner is a success and reduce any possible stress that comes with it. As outlined by the Stress Management Society, there are plenty of ways to create a relaxing environment in the home, especially during the holidays. Some of the more dinner-related suggestions are to make sure you plan ahead, and to create a calming atmosphere with laid-back music and relaxing aromas. This month, I’ve been listening to lots of London Grammar and James Blake, and making great use of my aromatherapy oil burners and scented candles. All of which have helped to keep me relaxed whilst I’ve been beavering away in the kitchen.

And when it comes to making a stress-free Christmas dinner, I personally suggest ditching the ‘typical’ Christmas dinner main course of oven-roasted turkey for something a little different. As I wrote recently, my mum introduced me to nut roasts when I was 12 years old—and I’ve enjoyed them as the centrepiece to my Christmas dinner ever since. My latest take on the recipe is to make it with a base of red lentils and cashews, which is then topped with a festive cranberry glaze.

Red Lentil and Cashew Nut Loaf with Cranberry Glaze

But the best thing about this dish, apart from the taste, is that you can make it up to three days ahead of time. You could even do it earlier than that and freeze it if you wanted, because it’ll keep for weeks that way. Preparing it in advance will also free up space in your oven because let’s face it, we’ve all struggled with trying to fit all the Christmas dinner components in there at once. But don’t let that lead you to believe that you need a bigger oven or that you need to spend more time swapping food in and out. As My Smart Buy points out, you can simply grab a new oven rack (or two) and you’ll be able to expedite your meal-preparation process.

With that in mind, all you’ll need to do on Christmas Day is get started on those veggies. You are obviously free to use whichever ones you like to accompany the nut roast, but my favourites are roasted potatoes, maple-glazed parsnips and carrots, and Brussels sprouts. This year, I might also try cooking some vegan Yorkshire puddings (from Viva!’s Mini Guide to a Veggie Christmas) and some herbed chestnut stuffing balls, so an additional oven rack will definitely come in useful!

In previous years, I’ve made the nut roast 1-2 days in advance, then on Christmas Day, I start preparing the veggies about 1.5 hours before I’m planning to serve the dinner.  Here’s how I usually prepare the roasted veggies…

While the veggies are roasting, I prepare the Brussel sprouts and gravy. I usually just boil the sprouts in a little salted water. Last year, I made the gravy from scratch but, this year, I’m going to use the Colman’s Instant Gravy Paste with Roasted Onion as it’s less hassle and has a great flavour!

When the roasted veggies are almost ready, I slice the nut roast and either heat it up in the microwave (covered with a plate to prevent it drying out), or pop it in the oven for a few minutes.

And that’s dinner sorted!

Now I just need to get on with the Christmas card writing, present wrapping, Christmas cake decorating and cracker making. With the assistance of one of Santa’s little helpers, I’m sure all tasks will be finished in good time and in good spirits 😉

What veggies are you planning to serve on Christmas Day? If you’ve got any lovely recipes, please do link up below xx

Disclaimer: This is a guest post that I wrote in collaboration with author, Dora Stevens.

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti (Vegan / Dairy-Free / Egg-Free)

It took me a while to pluck up the courage to trying baking biscotti. I always thought it would be a challenge to achieve the perfect, crunchy texture. However, as soon as I spotted the biscotti recipes in Isa and Terry’s Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, I knew it would all work out fine. This amazing little recipe book has never let me down yet.

Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

Baking biscotti is way easier than I ever imagined… even with the double bake aspect to it.  I love experimenting with different flavour and ingredient combinations for the biscotti.  The chocolate and almond version has especially been a hit with everyone that’s tried it 🙂

Almonds and Choc Chips

The recipe is based on Isa and Terry’s ‘Kitchen Sink Chocolate Biscotti’ recipe. The ingredient quantities are only given in cups, so I weighed them today for anyone that doesn’t use measuring cups (and that includes most of my friends and family!) Cups are readily available in the UK now so, if you do fancy trying more US/Canadian/Australian recipes, I highly recommend buying a set. You’ll find them in the larger supermarkets (like Asda-Wal-Mart and Tesco), kitchen shops, as well as Amazon.

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti (Vegan / Dairy-Free / Egg-Free) | Bit of the Good Stuff

Products used in this recipe
Aasani almonds, found on the world food aisle in Tesco
Tesco Chapatti Flour, found on the world food aisle
Tesco Organic Rapeseed Oil
Morrisons Dark Choc Chips

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti (Vegan / Dairy-free / Egg-free) | Bit of the Good Stuff

I’ve made lots of batches of biscotti this month. I don’t know why, but I always think of December as ‘biscotti month’!  I’ve really enjoyed sharing them with friends, family, my study group… and a homeless guy in Bath. His dog loved it too! (Don’t worry, it wasn’t the chocolate version 😉 )

I also made a batch today to give to Lil’ L’s teacher as a ‘thank you’ gift.

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti Holiday Gift | Bit of the Good Stuff

Do you like biscotti? If so, what’s your favourite flavour?

Have you ever tried making it at home? If you’ve got any great recipes, please do link up below x