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 : )

Advertisements

Vegan Apple Crisp

I have noticed that my 12-year-old son has been eating a lot more food lately. He seems to constantly be hungry and often comes home from school and tucks in to a pile of food and then is ready to eat again at dinner. AND he told me that I’m not packing enough food for his lunch – it must be a growth spurt! My husband reassures me that this is part and parcel of raising a pre-teen boy and he reminisced about how he and his older brother would come home from school as teenagers and devour foot-long hotdogs, sandwiches and frozen pizzas and then whip up a dessert of apples, brown sugar, oatmeal and mounds of butter in the microwave to top things off. And that was all before dinner!

I want to make sure that my children are eating as much healthy food as possible when they are at home (hotdogs- yuck!) so I try to keep fruits, veggies and nuts on hand for snacking. I also talk to them about food and the best choices for getting filling and nutritious protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

But that chat with my hubby got me thinking about a hearty dessert. So I set about veganizing his apple crisp recipe to retain the flavor, decrease the sugar and eliminate the butter (and skip the microwave). This apple crisp is filling, warm, gooey and comforting. I recommend eating it soon after it comes out of the oven and is still warm – perhaps with a scoop of vanilla coconut or almond milk ice cream. Just be quick – a growing boy might devour it before you even get a taste!

Vegan Apple Crisp (adapted from Vegan Lunch Box, Jennifer McCann)

apple crisp 1

1/2 cup golden brown sugar
2/3 cup spelt flour (plus 2 tbsp. for tossing with apples)
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
6 tbsp. melted coconut oil (plus a bit more for greasing the pan)
8-10 apples, peeled and sliced thin
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp. maple sugar

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 9 x 9 square cake pan with coconut oil.

To make the topping – mix brown sugar, flour, oats, nuts, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a medium bowl. Add the coconut oil and mix well until combined. Set aside.

Toss the sliced apples together with the lemon juice, maple sugar and 2 tbsp. of oat flour. Put the apples on the bottom of the cake pan.

Top evenly with the topping.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the apples are cooked and softened and the topping is golden brown.

Enjoy!

apple crisp 2

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.

Monster Cookies

These cookies are the delicious result of a few failed baking experiments of late. I have been trying my hand at vegan substitutions in some of my favourite recipes and I’ve made some real clunkers. Here are a just a few of the things I’ve learned:

1. Coconut oil as a straight butter replacement may make your berry muffins gummy and thin – yuck!

monster cookie 1

2. Apple sauce in place of eggs in a traditional chewy cookie recipe may result in cookies as thin and as full of holes as lace – weird!

monster cookie 2

3. Even the dog will turn his nose up at pancakes made with soy milk and ground white chia seeds – not good!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But I am nothing if not determined and baking is my very favourite thing to do. So I forged on, whisk in hand and I eventually turned out a healthy, yummy and kid-friendly cookie that is packed with nutrient dense foods and actually resembles a bakery-worthy dessert.

I called them “Monster Cookies” because of the amount of goodness I was able to pack into these babies – spelt flour, freshly ground almond meal, oats, pumpkin seeds, nuts, dried fruit, flax meal and chocolate.

Unfortunately because of the nuts these are not school-friendly but they do make an awesome after-school snack. They are chewy, crunchy and chocolatey. Mmmmmm…who could ask for anything more from a cookie?

And yes (in case you were wondering)- even the dog liked them!

Monster Cookies

monster 3

3/4 cup of light spelt flour
1/4 cup arrowroot starch
1/4 cup almond meal (I ground raw almonds in my coffee grinder)
1 cup oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp xanthum gum
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips (try Enjoy Life brand)
3 tbsp. of ground flax meal + 12 tbsp. water (flax eggs)
1/2 cup Earth Balance vegan margarine or organic butter, melted
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup maple sugar
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add seeds, cranberries, nuts, raisins and chocolate chips and toss until covered in flour mixture.

Mix the flax and water and let sit for 5 minutes to get goopy.

Whisk together the margarine and oil. Add flax eggs and whisk for 1-2 minutes until thickened. Add maple sugar and agave and stir to combine.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until well combined.

Drop spoonfuls of batter onto the parchment (approx. 1 tbsp. size) leaving space in between each cookie (I was able to put 12 on a regular sized baking sheet). Bake for 12 minutes.

Enjoy!

Spelt Chocolate Chip Muffins with Date Puree

I don’t think I ever knowingly ate a date until I was in my 30’s (sorry if this is untrue mom but I really don’t remember ever eating one). And now I think it’s safe to say that I eat them pretty much every day.

spelt muffin date pic

Dates are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and fiber and super sweeteners for baking, a great caramel substitute, a delicious smoothie addition and add just the perfect amount of sugary flavouring to a coffee-free latte. They are also a great snack for a sweet-tooth like myself and can keep chocolate cravings at bay at least half of the time.

I recently stumbled upon a yummy recipe for date puree that makes the perfect addition to a nutrient-dense muffin. And the most amazing thing about these muffins is that they have absolutely no added refined sugar. None! The homemade date puree provides the sweetness – with a little chocolate thrown in for good measure.

These are not gluten-free but I did use light spelt flour in place of regular flour. Spelt is a distant cousin to wheat that boasts an impressive 7,000 year history and is therefore considered an ancient grain. Dr. Andrew Weil states:

Spelt requires less fertilizer, and is more resistant to disease and pests than other forms of wheat thanks to its tough outer hull. Spelt provides a broader range of nutrients than other members of the wheat family; it’s high in manganese, vitamin B2, niacin, thiamin and copper

– Because spelt contains less gluten and is more easily digestible than wheat, many people with wheat sensitivities or allergies find that they are able to tolerate it. However, because spelt is a wheat relative containing a moderate amount of gluten, it is always unsuitable for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, and sometimes even for those with wheat intolerance.

spelt muffin spelt pic

These muffins are delicious but quite dense so they are perfect for a hearty mid-morning or afternoon snack. FYI- I also brought them along in the car for my Dancing Girls and they all loved them!

Chocolate Chip Spelt Muffins (adapted from Refresh, Ruth Tal)

Date Puree:

spelt muffin date puree 2
2 1/2 cups medjool dates, pitted
2 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and cook on low heat for approx. 30 minutes.

spelt muffin date puree

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cooled, place in a food processor or blender and puree. Store in the fridge.

Muffins:

spelt muffins
2 cups unsweetened organic soymilk
1 1/3 cups canola oil
2 cups Date Puree
1 cup chocolate chips
6 cups spelt flour
4 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt

Coconut oil for greasing muffin tins

Preheat oven to 325. Lightly oil 2 regular sized muffin trays with coconut oil.

Stir together the milk, oil, date puree and vanilla.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Add wet ingredients to dry and combine to form a smooth batter.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Bake for 20 minutes. Let muffins cool in the pans before removing from trays. Enjoy!