Unjunk Food

In many ways I would consider myself a hedonist. If you’re having a party – I’ll be there. If you want to stay up late talking or dancing or playing euchre until the wee hours, I’ll stick it out. If you are opening a bottle of wine- I’ll certainly have a glass. And if you want to order dessert – I’m always a sure bet to share with you. I love to have fun and making time to enjoy life is high up on my priority list.

When it comes time for a food treat, my pleasure-seeking brain will often gravitate towards something rich and sweet and junky. I consider myself a pretty good baker but sometimes nothing beats a pack of store-bought peanut butter cups, a handful of M & M’s or a Snickers bar. Every so often when I am checking out at the pharmacy or perusing the tabloids at the grocery store, I will give into temptation and throw a chocolate bar discretely in with my purchases. “Oh that’s just a treat for the kids” I’ll say to the cashier…. but we both know I’ll have that thing devoured before I even drive out of the parking lot.

junk food 3

Have you ever really looked at the ingredients on the wrappers of some of those decadent confections? There are some downright scary things like “partially hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors, chemical preservatives and refined sugar” that I’m not so sure I should be regularly putting into my body or the bodies of my children.

Which is why I was downright giddy with excitement when I found out about Unreal Candy. Although it’s only available for sale in the United States right now (I’ve already petitioned them to come to Canada so send them an email or tweet if you want to help move things along), this stuff is definitely worth a run across the border! The company was started by a young boy named Nicky who was determined to create candy that tasted great without all of the artificial ingredients. After an extensive search, Nicky and his parents found a master chef in Spain who brought together a team of chefs from across Europe to take up the challenge.

They began their journey by deciding what they’d leave out of the reinvented candy: corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and GMOs. They also set a goal to reduce sugar by 50% per serving… They decided that the key ingredients had to be responsibly sourced, thereby supporting farming communities and preventing the destruction of rainforests.  
In place of the junk, they added more of the good stuff, like more cacao, real caramel, and peanuts. They also added more protein and fiber from real food, so that each candy has a low glycemic index.

I have had the pleasure of sampling the Unreal creations and let me tell you – they are really really good! Candy coated chocolates, chocolate & caramel & nougat bars, peanut butter cups, chocolate & peanuts in a candy shell and chocolate & caramel & nougat & peanut bars. Absolutely delicious!

unreal

Now I know darn well that given the nature of these products, there are people who will say that this isn’t really a good alternative or a healthy choice. And I’ll admit that I admire those of you who can be content with a crispy apple or a single wafer of dark chocolate when a sweet craving hits – I am truly in awe of your will power. But I know that being realistic, this “unjunk” food is a much better choice for me and my family when it comes time for a treat. Which is why this girl will occasionally be enjoying some Unreal Candy…. and because the odd hit of chocolate will keep me on top of my late-night euchre game : )

Healthy Holiday Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Although it’s not officially winter yet, the temperatures here in south-western Ontario are mighty chilly! I am still cranking out Green Smoothies every morning but to be honest- a cold drink just doesn’t cut it when the thermometer reads -10 C.

Yes I could race to my favourite coffee joint to warm myself up but lately I’ve been using my Vitamix to whip up my own hot drink that is just as satisfying and infinitely healthier. It’s chock full of antioxidants, magnesium, protein, iron and healthy fats and is minus the refined sugar and artificial ingredients that I’d get from my regular latte. And it tastes amazing!

Take a look at some of the potent superfood ingredients:

Raw Cacao Powder– not to be mistaken with the overprocessed “cocoa” that is often used for baking – raw cacao powder is the product of milling pure cacao beans at low temperatures. The result is a powerhouse chocolate powder that is loaded with antioxidants, magnesium and iron.

cacao powder

Raw Cacao Butter – these solid white chunks of butter are produced from the fat inside the cacao beans. But don’t forget that not all fats are created equally and the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from cacao butter are healthy and full of nutrients for our bodies. Cacao butter is an antioxidant, is good for lessening arthritic pain and is a mood enhancer. (I also used this stuff to make amazing chocolate-scented body butters).

giddy-cacao-butter-lg

Hemp Seeds– I love these tiny seeds because they are packed with plant-based protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, balance hormones, alleviate headaches and regulate blood pressure and cholesterol.

hemp seeds

Raw Cashews– Raw cashews are naturally high in beautifying oleic acid, which is also found in high amounts in extra virgin olive oil. They are also rich in magnesium and manganese, and are a good source of selenium and zinc.

cashews

I also throw in a couple of drops of Living Libations pure Peppermint essential oil (anti-inflammatory and soothes the tummy), raw organic dates (fiber and antioxidants), pure maple syrup (antioxidants, zinc and manganese), 2 capsules of Ortho Adapt Vegan (improves mental and physical performance) and 2 capsules of Now brand Vitamin C (immune boosting) to round out my drink.

Try subbing your morning coffee with this creamy, healthy and delicious Peppermint Hot Chocolate at least 1 day per week and I’m willing to bet you’ll find it warming and satisfying. I’ve even got my toddler drinking it by cooling it off with some almond milk and calling it a “candy cane hot chocolate.” Oh and I might have stuck a marshmallow or 2 on top of his drink just for good measure!

Peppermint Hot Chocolate
(makes enough for 2 big mugfuls)

cashew cream latte

1/4 cup raw organic cashews
1/4 cup hemp seeds
2 pitted medjool dates
1 tbsp. pure maple syrup (more or less depending on desired sweetness)
2 drops food-grade peppermint essential oil
2 heaping tbsp. of raw cacao powder
1-2 medium-sized chunks of cacao butter (approx. the size of a loonie)
2 capsules Ortho Adapt Vegan
2 capsules Vitamin C
4 cups of boiling water

Combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend for 1 minute. Pour into big mugs and enjoy!

Chocolate Fondue Fun

We recently had our good friends and their 4 children stay with us for the weekend. There were 11 of us in total and I really wanted to cook a homemade meal for everyone to enjoy. Coming up with a delicious plant-based dinner to please the entire crowd took some serious thinking and planning – but the dessert was an absolute no-brainer. It had to be chocolate fondue!

corbin

Doesn’t that adorable face just say it all?! I guarantee you this dessert will elicit loads of giggles, squeals of delight and gobs of chocolate on hands, clothes, the floor and all over faces. What fun! And hey – everyone will be eating a ton of fruit and soaking in antioxidants from the chocolate. It’s win-win.

You can get fancy and purchase a proper chocolate fondue set but I just melt my chocolate in a saucepan and then transfer it to a bowl, put it in the middle of a fruit platter, hand out some forks or wooden skewers and let the good times begin.

7 children and 4 adults – CHAOS. Lifeguarding the kids in the pool – STRESSFUL. Trying to reminisce about university days over the cacophony – TRICKY. Losing a euchre tournament to the guys yet again – FRUSTRATING. Sipping wine and watching chocolate drip down our smiling kid’s faces- PRICELESS.

Chocolate Fondue

fondue 6

1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips (vegan or regular)
1 tsp coconut oil
2 bananas, chopped
1 container or strawberries, washed and stems removed
1/4 pineapple, cut into chunks
3 apples, sliced
Optional: marshmallows, plain cookies or cake cut into cubes, pretzels, orange slices, grapes, kiwi – or anything you love dipped in chocolate!

Cut up fruit and other dipping items and lay them out on a large tray or platter.
Melt chocolate and coconut oil in a saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently.
Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Place in the middle of the fruit tray.
Hand out skewers or forks and enjoy!

Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

Now that I have mastered the skill of making my own almond butter, I am getting a bit obsessed with the stuff. It is just so darn creamy and delicious and it goes well on crackers, on banana or apple slices, on bread with jam and on a spoon straight out of the jar.

almond butter 3

As I was slurping a fresh batch off of my spatula recently, I had another brilliant idea – chocolate and almond butter together! Heavenly. I started dreaming about homemade peanut butter cups and this amazingly awesome recipe was born.

I based these on the Peanut Butter Cups in Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet cookbook. I adore this book because it has tons of plant-based recipes that are relatively easy to make and taste great. I especially love Mom’s Granola, Black-Eyed Pea CroquettesRustic Pasta and Kim’s Red Radish Tabbouleh.

the kind diet

I got busy pulling together ingredients for this dessert and I quickly encountered a problem – no graham cracker crumbs. But I did have a new box of Barbara’s Original Puffins cereal and after I popped some into a large baggie and let the toddler at them with a meat tenderizer – I soon had my crumbs. And as an added bonus, the recipe was now wheat-free.

puffins

These decadent treats taste like old-school peanut butter cups made with crunchy peanut butter. You can whip them up in no time flat with store-bought almond butter if you don’t want to make your own. And yes they taste as good as they look. You can thank me later ; )

Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

cups 1

1/2 cup Earth Balance (or organic butter)
3/4 cup almond butter (homemade or raw organic)
3/4 cup Barbara’s Puffins cereal crumbs (whirred in the food processor or hammered in a baggie to make crumbs)
1/4 cup maple sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (Enjoy Life vegan or Cuisine Camino fair trade)
1/4 cup almond milk

Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in almond butter, puffin crumbs and maple sugar and mix well. Remove from heat and evenly distribute among the muffin cups.

Combine chocolate and milk in another saucepan and stir over medium/low heat until chocolate is melted. Spoon chocolate over peanut butter mixture.

Place in the fridge for at least an hour to set.

Enjoy!

cups 2

Homemade Easter Chocolates

Tis the season to throw open our windows (unless of course you live in Burlington, Ontario and then it’s still too darn cold), enjoy the tulip bulbs beginning to shoot through the soil (but hopefully not before our next frost or late season snowfall) and to  purchase our Easter Hams (well if you are a vegan that really doesn’t add up). But wait – there’s always chocolate right?! Yep – definitely chocolate.

easter 2

The inspiration for this recipe started when I picked up some cute little silicone daisy trays at the Bulk Barn and I was fondly remembering the homemade chocolates my mom used to make when my sister and I were kids. Just out of curiosity I decided to take a peek at what exactly those meltable chocolate wafers (that are often used to make chocolates) are made out of- and I was more than a little freaked out. This is the actual ingredient list for the Blue Chocolate Molding Wafers:

Sugar, hydrogenated palm kernel and cottonseed oils, nonfat dry milk powder, milk, glyceryl lacto esters of fatty acids, soy lecithin added as an emulsifier, artificial colour, salt, artificial flavour.

Yeesh! So I decided to make my own homemade chocolate and still retain the yumminess factor to celebrate this festive Easter season.

easter 3

Not to brag but these little chocolate flowers were tasty. Fudgier than store-bought chocolates but still melt-in-your mouth smooth and rich. And the best part is they are made with all-natural ingredients that won’t clog up our bodies or the bodies of our little bunnies with toxins and dyes. So this of course means you can be like me and eat at least 4 in one sitting with absolutely no guilt ; )

Happy Easter!

Homemade Easter Chocolates

chocolate 1

4 tbsp. coconut oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut cream (the thick cream on top when you open a can of full-fat coconut milk)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. raw cocoa powder
4-6 tbsp. raw agave nectar (depending on desired sweetness – you could also use maple syrup or liquid stevia if preferred)
Pinch of fine grade sea salt

Melt coconut oil over low heat. Add vanilla, coconut cream, cocoa, agave and salt. Stir to combine.

Spoon chocolate into *molds and place them in the freezer for 2 hours or overnight. Gently pop out and serve. Store in the freezer because they will melt at room temperature (I’m actually thinking one or two of these babies melted in a cup of non-dairy milk would also make a killer hot chocolate!)

Enjoy.

* Note: I used silicone molds for these chocolates and they worked well but I think paper cups or parchment paper would work too although there is a risk of the chocolate sticking to the paper.