Remember my friend Leila? Well, she’s out done herself yet again. Really building a case to not like her huh? But it’s impossible because she’s awesome.
Leila is always taking my recipes and sending me pictures of how she has made them vegan. I love this and it always fascinates me. I asked Leila if she’d be interested in taking one of my recipes and making it vegan to share here. She gladly accepted and I’m so glad she did.
When Leila sent me the recipe and I looked it over. My first thought was, “This is going to suck”.
I was expecting to have to go to some hippy ladies house over in Brooklyn to get some special root or see some weird ingredient that I would have to Google because I never heard of such a thing. Nope.
Not only were these weird things not in there. Things that I would expect it to make it a cake weren’t in there. Well then, how could it be a cake? Again, this is going to suck.
I have full faith in Leila but I was expecting this cake to taste “vegan”. You know what I’m sayin’?
My apologies to Leila. This cake blew my mind. It was light, moist, had an amazing structure and texture and was absolutely delicious. I can’t say enough about it. It will make you a believer in vegan pastries.
I have visited a couple vegan pastry shops or had vegan options at bakeries. They all tasted how you would expect a vegan baked good to taste. Leila’s Hennessy Pineapple Upside Down Cake will change your mind.
I’m thankful in life to call Leila a friend and I hope you guys get to know her better by visiting her at Vida Salveo.
Over the summer we collaborated and I came up with a Healthier Version of Banana Bread and Leila made it vegan. She probably also made it better. After witnessing and tasting her amazing talent, I had some questions for her as well.
We met while working at The Ritz Carlton. You were a server in the fine dining restaurant surrounded by the best food and wine. When did the vegan lifestyle begin and why?
First off, at The Ritz Carlton, I was never officially a server. I started as a Hostess and writing the menus with the Chef de Cuisine. I also helped the Executive Chef’s assistant also with writing menus and private dining tasting events. I discovered then, a passion for food. I started learning more about the importance of good, quality foods. During a holiday season, when the restaurant was extremely busy, we were short staffed (flu season…) and since I knew the menu, I jumped into the food runner role. I knew the dishes inside and out! On occasions I helped the server’s but was never really one. One of the Chefs de Cuisine that I had the opportunity to work with was vegetarian. It was a way for him to improve his diabetes. I was a vegetarian during part of my college years (more for a moral stand) so I was aware of some of the benefits but working in the kitchens I tried EVERYTHING. In June 2005, Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl and we were able to serve some of the VIP’s for the event. One of the VIP’s and his staff were vegan. This was a more extreme approach to me. That was my thought at the time. However, they were so energetic and seemed so healthy that it increased my curiosity. Although it was not until years later that I completely made the change to a plant-based diet, those were most certainly formative experiences.
Has vegan and vegetarian baking and cooking been a lot of trial and error or do you have any formal training?
While living in Jacksonville and working at The Ritz Carlton, I did enroll at a local community college and took culinary and food management courses. No matter the job I do, I do my best and I wanted to be prepared and qualified to contribute to my job. But that training was not specific for plant based. On the contrary. What it did was give me the confidence to try and experiment in the kitchen. And truly that is what this journey has been. Lots of reading, watching documentaries, trying different book recipes and now just experimenting myself with the knowledge I’ve gained.
Do you feel people resist lifestyle changes? How do you feel we can change this and open their minds?
I absolutely believe there is resistance to lifestyle changes. We as humans tend to be so habitual. Unfortunately, most of those habits are not always the best ones we should be practicing. Part of it is tradition. I grew up in Puerto Rico where a pork is roasted around the Christmas celebrations. Even some songs are themed around that. I remember a good friend from Colombia and her first comment to me – Is that even possible for us Latinos? Wait till you visit Puerto Rico, that will be the real test! And a test it was. I have also learned that the best way to influence someone and open their minds is through educating by example. I don’t force people to eat certain ways. I respect them. I make the healthiest choice regardless of the restaurant (vegan or not). And sometimes it is not completely plant based but I weigh my options. Sharing meals is a great time to spend time with people. I want others to know that a piece of meat does not make it better.
What are some little things we can do to make a difference in our eating habits?
Increase our daily water intake and eat a serving of fruit and vegetable daily. That is a great start!
I have my reservations about this beyond meat movement. What are your thoughts?
There is a lot of scientific studies that prove that a shift towards plant-based meals would have a huge impact on our health and our planet. There is no doubt about that. I appreciate that the movement has generated many plant-based substitutes for people to try and improve their health, but I wish the education part became the focus. Those pre-made frozen foods also have many preservatives that are not ideal for our bodies. Is it better than meat ones? I have no doubt. Are there better options? Absolutely!! It comes back again to educating the community. Mostly children. Expose them to fresh ingredients and understand there is a transition. Rome was not built in a day.
Health is such a broad topic. I know you’re a big believer in mental health being just as important. What are some things you do for your mental health? What are some things we could all do for our mental health as well?
Proper hydration, exercise and meditate. It is important of course to seek professional help when needed. Some mental disorders could be caused by a simple nutritional imbalance, others might need more attention, like any other medical conditions. For our bodies to stay at their best, they need proper hydration (water!), movement (exercise is the best medicine for the entire body) and meditation. By mediation I mean a few options – there are many types of meditation, prayer, reading, learning a new skill. Something that challenges your brain but also allows you to think and reflect. We are constantly on the defense in terms of information. Daily and easy access to news, to what everyone else is doing…we must be intentional about allowing our minds to rest too.
Anxiety, depression, doctor prescriptions, addiction is so overwhelming these days. Do you feel our physical and mental health play a big part in it?
I think it comes down to our lifestyles. We as a society are so used to fast movement without direction. Have you ever been walking somewhere and all of the sudden you even forgot where you were going? NO? Just me?! Ha! I have for sure and I have seen many too. Then we get to that point and look for the fastest and easiest way to fix the problem. Prescriptions. Science has been extremely helpful for many things and many areas but it should not be our first resource. Most medications have secondary effects that cause other conditions and some even addiction.
Raising two daughters how will you teach them and hope they remain on track to live a healthy life as they grow into young women?
Hope is all I have for their future. I like to say that I am raising independent adults not babies. I explain to them the importance of a healthy lifestyle in a cause and effect way. I want them to be able to think and make their own choices based on concrete information rather than just marketing. I am teaching them to question and analyze what is presented to them. To tell you the truth, it is not easy because it means they question EVERYTHING. But after all, it is the only way I can pass my knowledge and allow them to research on their own about what is healthy and what is not. I am exposing them to nutritious foods. Allowing their palates to taste different flavors and mostly walking the walk. The best way to teach someone is by example and exposure. For example, this holiday season we each drew a course for Christmas Eve dinner. The opportunity allowed each of the girls to look at recipe books, ask about recipes and ingredients and work based on their skills on recipes themselves. All these opportunities we provide in the hope that they create a strong foundation to remain on a healthy lifestyle as part of their habits.
Imagine what this world would be like if everyone in this world had the opportunity to be encouraged to be a unique human being?
Hennessy Vegan Upside Down Cake
Makes one 9×13 casserole pan
For the topping
500g. Pineapple, medium dice
For the Cake
1 3/4 cups (220g) All Purpose Flour
1 cup (200g) White Sugar
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Ground Flax Seed
3/4 cup (180ml) Unsweetened Almond Milk (You could use Soy Milk)
1/4 cup (60ml) Hennessy (or use fresh pineapple juice if not a Hennessy fan)
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/3 cup (80ml) Grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp White Vinegar
2 Tbsp Vegan Butter
-Melt the vegan butter and then pour it out into the bottom of the cake pan and spread it around so it lines the bottom evenly.
-cook first sugar (150g) until amber in color
-add your diced pineapple
-sugar will clump. It’s cool. It happens. Just continue to cook pineapple and sugar on medium-low heat until pineapple is tender and sugar has cooked out and no lumps. About 7-10 minutes.
-once there, pour your pineapple and sugar mix into the bottom of your casserole dish and set aside while you make the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
-sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add. The white sugar, baking soda, ground flax seed and salt and mix together.
-then add in the almond milk, Hennessy, vanilla, oil and vinegar and whisk together with a hand whisk until just combined.
-pour out over the pineapples pieces and smooth down with the back of a spoon.
-place into the oven and bake for 45 minutes
Check at 30 minutes. If it looks too brown, place foil over it and continue to bake
-let the cake cool for about 10 minutes before inverting it onto a plate or cake stand
Slice and enjoy. Buen Provecho! (Bon appetite!)
Note – Please use fresh pineapple! It makes a huge difference.
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