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 : )

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

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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

Decadent Vegan Brownie Bites

I have to admit that I was feeling quite sorry for myself last week. It’s been a rough winter for colds and bugs in our house and my little guy was still battling a nagging cough, my husband plunked his extensive upcoming travel schedule in front of me for my (insert eye roll and loud sigh here) perusal, I was plotting out the kids spring activities on the calendar and it was not looking pretty AND I just finished probably the most heartbreakingly beautiful book I’ve read in ages and sobbed my way through the last 20 pages (The Fault In our Stars…in case you want to join me at the tissue box). There was only one thing to do – make something chocolatey. And fast!

These little brownie gems are the perfect size for a small indulgence. They are rich, fudgey and decadent without being full eggs, butter and unhealthy fats. Don’t get me wrong – they are definitely not health food but they are much healthier than your average store-bought brownie and they’re gluten-free to boot. And heck sometimes we all need a little treat!

The smell of chocolate wafted through the house and the whole family could barely wait for them to cool before we all tucked in to one or two of these little brownies. Mmmmm…chocolate. Things are definitely looking up!

Vegan Brownie Bites (adapted from BabyCakes, Erin McKenna)

brownie on plate

1 ¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour
2 tbsp arrowroot powder
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup organic cane sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp xanthum gum
1 tsp salt
½ cup melted coconut oil (plus more for greasing muffin tins)
½ cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 tbsp pure vanilla extract
½ cup hot water
1 cup vegan chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325. Lightly grease mini muffin tins with coconut oil.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, arrowroot, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, xanthum gum and salt with a wire whisk to remove any lumps.

Add the applesauce, oil, vanilla and hot water and stir with a wooden spoon until the batter is smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins until they are 2/3 full.

brownie in pan

Bake on the center rack for 12-14 minutes – rotating the pans 180 degrees halfway through to ensure even baking. Allow the  brownies to cook in the pans until ready to serve. Enjoy!

(P.S. my daughter just made the blue rainbow cupcake plate at Crock-A-Doodle and wanted to show it off. Cute eh?)

brownie 1

Vegan No-Bake Chocolate Caramels

If I am going to indulge in something sweet (and this of course happens on a daily basis) I think my favourite treat on the planet is caramel. This is a tricky one being a vegan and a health nut because most of the truly yummy caramel is made with loads of butter, corn syrup, sugar and cream.

Over the years I’ve tried a number of recipes for “vegan caramel” only to come up short and be left craving a good old-fashioned Turtle or Rolo.

So you can imagine my delight when I came upon this brilliant Vegan Rolo recipe from fellow blogger Angela Liddon over at Oh She Glows. These little gems are vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, super easy to make and best of all they are delicious!

I always (and I mean always) have a batch of these in the freezer for when one of my many sugar cravings hits and they never fail to satisfy my sweet tooth. And the kids love them too – I ask them if they want a chocolate caramel, don’t tell them what’s in them and watch them gobble them down. I just don’t let them have too many because these little babies are mostly for mom!

I’ve made a few minor modifications but the credit for these delectable treats belongs to Oh She Glows. You can check out her awesome site and the original recipe here.

Vegan No Bake Caramels (adapted from Angela Liddon, OhSheGlows.com)
Makes 18-24 caramels

12 organic medjool dates (make sure they are fresh and soft)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tbsp agave nectar
½ tbsp organic cold-pressed coconut oil (plus 1 tsp for use in chocolate)
Pinch of fine sea salt
½ tbsp organic peanut butter (or sunflower butter in case of nut allergies)
1 cup semi-sweet or dark vegan chocolate chips (you can use regular dark or semi-sweet chocolate if you prefer)

Combine dates, vanilla, agave, 1 tbsp coconut oil, salt and peanut butter in your food processor and pulse until the mixture comes together into a sticky ball. You may have to scrape down the sides to help the ball come together. Put the ball into the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier to work with.

rolos in processorrolos in bowl

Melt the chocolate and 1 tsp of coconut oil in a small saucepan on low heat on the stove top. Line a plate with parchment paper. Remove the caramel ball from the freezer and using your fingers pinch pieces off and roll into smaller balls – approx the size of a cherry.

uncoated rolos

Working quickly, dip each ball into the chocolate to coat using a spoon to save your fingers and place on the parchment lined plate. Once finished – put the plate in the freezer for 20 minutest to ½ an hour to let the balls harden. When they have hardened you can store them in a glass freezer-safe container. They are best eaten cold straight from the freezer.

coated rolosfreezer rolos

I like these chocolate caramels plain but you could doll them up by rolling them in finely chopped nuts, coconut, cinnamon or cacao powder after you dip them in chocolate for a completely different taste experience. Trust me these are wonderful and addictive. Enjoy!