Last year, Debs Leonard was crowned the winner of the innocent dairy-free cook off with her winning recipe of Caribbean cauliflower ocean cakes. The vegan food blogger won a special cooking course for two at Ballymaloe Cookery School, courtesy of innocent Ireland.
Now, as this year’s competition kicks off, she shares advice for those who want to participate, including dairy-free cooking tips for creating nutritious, filling meals for the whole family.
Debs enjoys cooking with innocent’s range as the brand shares many of her same ideals, helping create delicious dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan meals. The company prides itself in its strive towards sustainability and promoting a more healthy lifestyle for all.
If you’d like to enter the innocent dairy-free cook off, follow the three simple steps listed below before April 15.
Debs Leonard’s winning tips
What sort of stuff do you love cooking the most?
“Honestly, I would cook anything as my favourite place is the kitchen. With that said, I am known for my spicy curries and anything baked with heaps of chocolate.”
What do you like about cooking with dairy free products?
“Myself, my husband and two of my three children are vegan (and my son who isn’t vegan is allergic to dairy) so cooking with dairy-free products is ideal for us. Part of my cooking journey was to show people how easy it is to bake and cook with plant-based alternatives, without compromising on taste and flavour. I have made rich chocolate ganache cakes, birthday cakes, gluten-free muffins, cupcakes, delicious frosting – all with dairy-free products. I also love the challenge of creating something known to use dairy or eggs and making it taste amazing without.”
Who do you usually cook with/for at home?
“At home, the kitchen is my domain. It is my happy place, and I am always cooking up a storm. All my children are highly-active adults that are always hungry, so I practically live in the kitchen. I love it though. If there’s a family birthday afoot, I am the go-to baker. I also bake birthday cakes for family, friends, neighbours, and anyone else I know in need of a tasty treat. Before Covid, I would cook feasts for extended family sometimes catering to 20 people. I really miss our family get-togethers.”
What have you been up to since winning the cook off last year?
“I had hoped to open a market stall last year, however Covid and lockdown happened so I didn’t get the chance to get it off the ground. I still have everything needed to get going when the country opens again. In the meantime, I have been concentrating on recipe creating and writing. I have a couple of journals and notebooks stuffed with all my recipe creations.
“More recently, I have been typing it all out, testing and retesting my creations with the goal of completing a cookbook. I have started work on it and hope to have my first draft ready by the summer. My vision is to share with others how easy it is to feed an active family on a plant-based diet without breaking the bank or going hungry (LOL). Furthermore, the purpose is to show my plant-based journey and love of food, flavours and, most of all, spices. I believe cooking with love feeds the soul and that is what I am about.”
Go with the flow, do not panic, and enjoy every moment
Any helpful tips for people wanting to get involved in the cook off this year?
“My biggest tip is cook what you know and love. Initially, I had baked a chocolate cake for the competition entry. On the competition day, I switched lanes. I had been working hard on veganising an old St. Lucian family fish cake recipe. It was a huge risk, while everyone else in the competition was baking, I was frying up cauliflower, marinated in seaweed water and spices and deep fried in a batter made with innocent’s coconut milk. The risk paid off big time. So, I implore anyone taking part to take a risk; it is their biggest moment to shine and show off their culinary skills. Go with the flow, do not panic, and enjoy every moment.”
Any other advice about the competition, dairy-free drinks, or cooking in general?
“Honestly, I would and will encourage anyone who can to get involved! It was one of my defining moments and the highlight of my 2020. I used that win to give me steam to continue with my food journey, not to mention buoying my confidence, and I loved every moment.
“When it comes to cooking with dairy-free drinks the sky’s the limit. Different drinks lend their flavour to different recipes. I love making savoury batters using coconut milk and it is also the base for my coconut sweet bread. Almond milk is another great one for sweet breads, and it’s excellent for making bechamel sauces, white sauce or white wine sauce, which I use in my creamy pasta sauces and lasagnes. It’s brilliant in cupcakes or any kind of cake for that matter.
“Oat milk is brilliant for making quick pancakes and baked breakfast oats. For plant-based buttermilk, add a tbsp of distilled white vinegar to the dairy-free almond drink, let it curdle a bit, then pop in a couple of tablespoons of melted plant butter. It works a treat in soda breads and other recipes requiring traditional buttermilk. Also, I have used coconut milk in my curries, satay sauces and soups; it’s so flavoursome. Do not get caught up in thinking it is difficult, the opposite is true; baking and cooking with dairy-free alternatives is just as exciting. I only wish I could do it all over again, I enjoyed it so much.”
Everyone is encouraged to enter the innocent dairy-free cook off (no cooking experience necessary). The competition runs until April 15 and the winner will be announced by wellness influencer and cook off judge Rozanna Purcell on April 16.