Healthy Vegan Brownies

Dairy-free, egg-free, and gluten-free, with no added refined sugar and no added oil… is it possible? And will they taste good? Yes!

One of my favourite things to bake are vegan brownies. They’re my go-to dish for potlucks, birthdays, and any other occasion and always a hit, since they are relatively healthy for a dessert (no added butter, no added oil) and taste good. But in my never ending quest to come up with an even healthier version, suitable for those with various dietary restrictions, I recently decided to try to make these gluten-free and also skip the refined sugar. In my opinion, baking is an art and a science, and once you start removing regular flour and eggs, all sorts of funny things can happen along the way. So I was quite pleased when my first attempt at making these gluten-free and refined-sugar-free turned out and I ended up with something that actually tasted good!

Wet Ingredients

1 cup unsweetened organic applesauce
1/4 cup real maple syrup (the good stuff)
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients

3/4 cup almond meal/flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill; those with nut allergies will need to substitute another type of flour, but I like this for the added protein)
1/4 cup tapioca flour (but you could use quinoa flour or whatever you have on hand)
1/2 cup cocoa (I prefer Camino brand, which is organic and fair-trade)
1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal (organic if you can)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (*see note below)

For the chocolate chips, have a lot of options. My preference is to use the Camino brand organic, fair-trade bittersweet 71% cocoa chocolate chips. Alternatively, you can add 1/2 cup of good quality dark chocolate shavings. Again, I recommend good quality chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. Just check labels to ensure you’re not adding any chips with dairy if you’re making them vegan.

First, preheat your oven to 350F and pull out an 8×8 baking pan. All you need to do is add all the wet ingredients into a small bowl and mix well. Then, in a separate bowl, mix together all dry ingredients. Add the wet mix to the dry into just blended and pop it into the oven right away. Bake about 20 minutes or until just set.

Let them cool before trying to cut them. They have a pretty soft texture, so while I’m sure you’ll be tempted to try some right away, it’s a good idea to wait so they don’t fall apart. Then enjoy (without feeling guilty–look at those ingredients!) and share with your friends and family. Don’t tell them they’re healthy brownies until after they eat them!


#McEwanAllAccess 4.0

Last Monday, I was one of 20 fortunate foodies to be invited to #McEwanAllAccess 4.0 at One Restaurant in the Hazelton Hotel in Toronto. Hosted by Chef Mark McEwan and Michelle Jobin, this was an exclusive invite-only opportunity to “eat, meet and tweet” with fellow food lovers and Chef McEwan himself. Being a big fan of Chef McEwan’s restaurants and cooking style, I jumped at the opportunity to attend!

Chef McEwan operates four restaurants in Toronto, each of which has a reputation for excellence, innovation and quality ingredients; these include One, North 44, Bymark, and Fabbrica. He also runs a high-end grocery store, McEwan, in the Shops at Don Mills (one of my favourite places to shop!) and is opening a new shop in the TD Centre in April 2015. He is perhaps most widely known to Canadians, however, as the Head Judge on Top Chef Canada.

As soon as I arrived, Chef McEwan was there greeting us and making us feel welcome. There were special cocktails available for us, but instead I chose a glass of one of the featured wines (which got re-filled throughout the evening), Pinot Noir from Stoneleigh Vineyards – an excellent start to the evening.

McEwanAA2 McEwanAA

Shortly after arriving, we were treated to an assortment of delicious bite-sized offerings, including:

  • Pork Belly Steamed Buns, Pickled Carrot Slaw, Yuzu Aioli, Coriander
  • Blue Crab and Avocado Spoons, Red Onion Marmalade, Sesame Seeds, Celery
  • Crispy Shrimp Tacos, Red Pepper Jam, Pickled Shallots, Ginger Aioli
  • Deviled Quail Eggs, Sturgeon Caviar, Chives, Sweet Pickled Shallot
  • Steak Tartare, Arugula and Pickled Shallot, Black Truffle
  • Truffled Arancini, Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil, 15 year old Balsamic
  • Mushroom Risotto, Shaved Truffles
  • Butter Poached Lobster
  • Mini-Cheesecakes and Assorted Mini Doughnuts

BrandingAndBuzzing_McEwanAllAccess_1 BrandingAndBuzzing_McEwanAllAccess_9 BrandingAndBuzzing_McEwanAllAccess_34 BrandingAndBuzzing_McEwanAllAccess_14

All I can say is wow… each and every bite was balanced, packed full of flavour, and straight out delicious! I was amazed that one could get such flavour consistently in every single bite. I suppose that’s why Chef McEwan’s restaurants have such a great reputation and have stood the test of time. Trying to choose a favourite among all of the delicious bites is next to impossible, but if I had to choose, I might pick the pork belly buns, crispy shrimp tacos and butter poached lobster. Fortunately, I managed to get seconds (or thirds) of each of these! Sorry, I didn’t get any photos of the delicious lobster. In fact, due to the dim lighting in the lounge, it was hard to get any decent shots at all, so photo credits for all of the great photos in this blog go to Jeffrey Chan courtesy of The McEwan Group.

BrandingAndBuzzing_McEwanAllAccess_16

Chef McEwan circulated throughout the evening, taking time to chat with all of his guests, while we enjoyed the delicious food and compared notes on the food scene in Toronto. Before the evening was over, we were served mini assorted cheesecake bites and an assortment of warm doughnuts.

McEwan3 BrandingAndBuzzing_McEwanAllAccess_29

BrandingAndBuzzing_McEwanAllAccess_25 mcewan4

Chef McEwan then sat down and personally signed copies of his book “Great Food at Home” and thanked everybody for coming. We all went home with a loot bag, which included a bottle of Stoneleigh Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. All in all, a fantastic evening of great food, drink and conversation. If you ever get a chance to check out One Restaurant, I highly recommend it.

McEwan2 BrandingAndBuzzing_McEwanAllAccess_43 

Thanks to The McEwan Group, Chef Mark McEwan, Branding and Buzzing, and Michelle Jobin for a memorable experience!

If you enjoy my posts, please follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter.


The Greet Beet: A Refreshing Choice on Campus!

GreenBeet4

When you consider the usual boring fast food outlets and cafeteria style food you get at most campus eateries, it was a refreshing change to find out about The Green Beet, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant at the University of Toronto, St. George Campus.

Located in the Gerstein Science Library on King’s College Circle, The Green Beet focuses on local and sustainable food, and offers salads, sandwiches, and soups, as well as entrees and baked goods. I had the vegetable biryani along with a slice of apple-beet loaf, both of which were pretty good.

Healthy but delicious snacks offered at the cash include offerings from The Good Bean, Kind Bars, Sweets from the Earth and more. You’ll also find freshly brewed sustainable Marley Coffee if you need some caffeine to get you through the afternoon.

All in all, a very decent choice for a quick lunch on campus!

GreenBeet2 GreenBeet1

Review also on Zomato


Now that’s Fresh!

I am a relatively recent convert to the joys of good vegan food, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that it took me until 2014 to learn about Fresh Restaurants, which have been around since 1999. I have since visited both their Spadina and Eglinton locations a few times and have always left with a smile on my face and stomach satisfied. Even though I am always tempted to try something new, perhaps one of their delicious sounding fresh bowls or salads, I seem to always order one of their vegan burgers. But no wonder, these made-from-scratch almond and grain burgers are delicious. And this is coming from a life-long hamburger aficionado! These are vegan burgers that even a carniverous diner would like and I certainly got no complaints from my hamburger-obsessed son.
The Grilled Tofu Tacos also looked great (I didn’t get to try them – yet) but I can personally vouch for the BBQ Burger and Picnic Burger. And when you visit, don’t miss their amazing Quinoa Onion Rings — a must try!! Sorry, I ate these before I could snap a photo 😉

Tacos Picnic Burger

I’m sure to be a regular at Fresh in the coming months/years as I work my way through the rest of their menu. Note that holders of the Toronto Vegetarian Card get a 15% discount on take-out orders.

P.S. If you have room for dessert, note that Fresh offers vegan treats from Sweets From the Earth. I suggest the carrot cake, where the first ingredient is organic carrots – rather than sugar or flour. The serving is big enough for two to share!

Review also posted on Zomato


Veggielicious

veggielicious-logo

Toronto foodies are very familiar with the popular Summerlicious and Winterlicious but today I learned there’s a new kid on the block: Veggielicious! (Thanks for the tip Laura). Coordinated by the Toronto Vegetarian Association, Veggielicious is an annual plant-based celebration of all-things vegetarian and little did I know, but this is the 4th year it has been around. A list of participants are available on the website but include some great places such as Doug’s Public Kitchen, The Beet, Magic Oven, Yam Chops and several others. Check it out! You’ll find them on Twitter @TorontoVeg or find them on Facebook /VeggieliciousTO. Veggielicious runs from November 14-30, 2014.


Vegan Pumpkin Treats

I am a fan of anything pumpkin and exploring vegan baking and healthy recipes in general, so when I came across a couple of recent posts for vegan pumpkin treats, I immediately bookmarked them to try out when I had a chance. And that chance came yesterday when I attempted making pumpkin butter for the first time, along with pumpkin oatmeal squares. Both are vegan recipes, created by Angela Liddon, author of Oh She Glows.

First up was home made pumpkin butter. It’s actually pretty easy, and doesn’t actually have any butter in it, despite the name. I heard about this recipe of Angela’s about a month ago on Twitter via a post for the Little Black Pearls blog, and the visuals of the delicious looking pumpkin butter drew me in. After about an hour from start to finish, here’s my final product:

???????????????????????????????

One went to my Mom, and one for me! Next up were the Pumpkin Oatmeal Anytime Squares. They were super easy to make. These are not only vegan, but gluten-free and oil-free:

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

The recipe is available here. They have both almond flour and pecan pieces in them, so you’ll get some protein to balance things out, but you could adapt the recipe if there are people with nut allergies in your family. My only tip is to wait until they are completely cooled to try to lift them out of the pan, or else you may find they crumble easily rather than come out in nice squares!

Finally, add some of the pumpkin butter and a few more pecan pieces on top, and you have yourself an absolutely delicious and relatively healthy breakfast or snack!

???????????????????????????????

Check out the Oh She Glows cookbook – it’s full of great plant-based recipes!


Great Post on Halloween Candy

candy

As a kid, Halloween was one of my favourite holidays, with the lure of free bags full of candy and chocolate. When else would your parents let me indulge in so many sweet treats? As an adult who tries to be health conscious, I understand those who encourage parents not to give out traditional Halloween treats but instead give out healthy snacks, crayons, or some other form of non-sugary snack. Yes, I typically post about healthy eating, but I’ve got to say, I totally agree with this fantastic post from Abby Langer, a Toronto-based dietician: “Stop Ruining Your Kids’ Fun – Let Them East Halloween Candy” as recently published on the Huffington Post. Everything in moderation. I believe as long as you model healthy eating habits and nourish your children with healthier (i.e. real) food most of the time, an occasional splurge such as Halloween is fine and will provide your kids with a lifetime of happy memories. After all, who among us doesn’t indulge in a sweet treat from time to time? Check out Abby’s article – it’s very well written and worth a few minutes of your day to read!

Note: Please consider peanut-free chocolates and/or have a few small non-food treats on hand for those kids who do suffer from severe allergies! Or check out the Teal Pumpkin Project which is raising awareness of food allergies.