Spicy Avocado Brownies

IMG_0634Happy Cinco de Mayo! Avocado, chocolate, cayenne… sounds a lot like Mexico doesn’t it? Believe it or not, this combination also makes the perfect clean brownie. No refined sugar. No gluten. No grain. No dairy. No added oil. I swear they were more moist than any other brownie I’ve had! They are so delicious and rich they would fool any adult and child alike. These brownies are packed with antioxidants, fibre, protein and good-for-you fats… oh and they taste like heaven. Its all thanks to their secret ingredient… avocado. Yes I said it, avocado in brownies. Avocado gives these brownies a fudgy texture that makes your tastebuds very happy, while keeping you glowing. With the addition of cacao, dark chocolate and vanilla, you would never know avo was in there.

In light of Cinco de Mayo I had to add a little spice (my favourite). But… no Franks Red Hot this time (sigh). Cayenne or chipotle pepper are what you want to add here. Chipotle and/or cayenne adds a perfect back note of heat that comes on slowly. After you take your first bite and swallow… thats when it will hit you. Much like coffee, spice really helps to bring out the flavour of chocolate. Feel free to leave this ingredient out, but for Cinco de Mayo… I think you need to have a little in there.

I know you guys are all going to fall in love these brownies. Whether you make them for Cinco de Mayo or just for a special chocolatey treat, you really don’t need to feel any guilt here. After you have this once, you will feel no need to ever eat those boring ol’ refined filled brownies AGAIN! Magnesium, fiber, protein and essentials vitamins make these brownies superfood powerhouses! Wooohoo! Hope you all have a wonderful holiday!
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ps. Giving advance warning that the batter is beyond addictive. There is raw egg in it so don’t eat a lot. (Even though I did.. whoops)

Ingredients:

• 2 very ripe avocados
• 1/2 cup cacao
• 1/2 cup mexican chocolate or 70% chocolate (I like Purelife allergy friendly variety)
• 1/2 cup almond flour
• 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
• 3 eggs
• 1 tbsp flax
• 3 tbsp almond milk
• 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
• 1/2 tsp sea or himalayan salt
• 1 tsp gluten free baking powder
• 1/2 tsp chipotle or cayenne pepper (or to taste)
• 1/2 tsp paprika (for garnish,can omit)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Using an electric mixer (I did it by hand, but if you don’t want to get too tired use a mixer), whip the eggs, flax, almond milk and the maple syrup until fluffy.

2. Melt the chocolate chips using a double boiler or in a microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between (chocolate can burn easily).

3. With the mixer on low, add the melted chocolate and cacao.

4. Using a spatula, mix in the almond meal, baking powder, salt, cayenne and vanilla extract.

5. Using a blender or food processor, mix avocado until very smooth.

6. Fold the avocado into the batter.

7. Pour into an 8×8 parchment lined baking pan for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

8. Sprinkle paprika for garnish (can omit this step).

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Maple Cinnamon Roasted Almond Butter

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I can eat nut butters with a spoon, fork, hand, cracker… just about anything. Seriously, if you guys want your kids to eat more vegetables, its amazing what a little almond, sunflower seed or peanut butter can do to a boring carrot or celery stick. Add some dates, raisins or honey and you have a dessert that includes vegetables! Happy parents! Happy kids! Wahoo!

Some of you might be wondering why I talk about kids often. No, I don’t have children… but I do work in an elementary school. I have become a little mesmerized by what parents are sending in their kids lunch boxes. Not to say feeding a child is easy. A black seed, a creamy texture, a boring color are just a few complaints I hear from kids about why they “can’t” eat their lunch that day. After a long day at work, packing your child’s lunch is the last thing any parent feels like doing. Plus, you get questions, requests and complaints that could make your head spin. Thus comes in the packaged cookies, gummies and a few carrot sticks for good measure.

Don’t get me wrong. A kid deserves to be a kid. No child should live their life without ever trying a Kit Kat. When it comes to school however, kids need fuel. Theres no way around it… food fuels the brain. We wonder why kids these days have trouble concentrating. I suggest before we start prescribing medications we take a look at what kids are eating everyday. Lucky Charms for breakfast (has whole grains… must be healthy right? Mac and cheese for lunch followed by pizza for dinner. Brain food is lacking. Parents have to consider the sugar crashes, dairy pains and lack of protein lows. I have been doing lots of my own research on this topic everyday with the children in my classes and in observing and speaking with parents. I hope to find ways to make feeding and educating children more accessible and simple. Future project in the works! I am so passionate about this and I want to help parents and teachers any way I can!

So back to the nut butter…this maple cinnamon roasted almond butter is unreal. While those nuts were grinding in the food processor, I thought that this was maybe a little too much work when I can buy perfectly made almond butter in a jar. But I have to say, this combination of cinnamon and maple syrup was truly addictive. I had some on gluten free crackers and then eventually just took the spoon straight to the jar. With just a little bit of patience, you will save a couple bucks (nut butter can be really expensive).Furthermore, flavoured nut butters have lots of added oils and refined sugars. I will be working on some more flavour combinations in the future, but for now this is perfect to top on my porridge, toast, chia pudding, banana etc… Bon Appetit!
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Ingredients:

• 2 cups almonds
• 3 tbsp maple syrup
• 1 tbsp cinnamon
• pinch of sea salt

Directions:

1. Preheat oven at 350. Spread almonds on a cookie sheet and dry roast in the oven on 350 for 10-15 minutes.
2. Place almonds in food processor and process for 10 minutes.
3. Add maple syrup, cinnamon and salt and process for another 5-10 minutes until the oils are released and the butter is creamy.
4. Store in an air tight container or jar.

Chef Tips

-Although it may seem that the thick paste will never ever turn into creamy butter… it will. You just need patience! You will see a little smoke coming from the processor… keep a close eye.

-I roasted my almonds prior to making the butter, but it isn’t necessary! It does give a nice toasty flavour though. I highly recommend.

-Adjust syrup/cinnamon to your taste. Add a bit at a time until it suits your taste buds. You are the chef!

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Spicy Black Bean Primavera

Photo 4-22-2014, 5 46 56 AMThere truly is nothing like fresh Italian pasta. Something about the combination of comforting starchy noodles and tasty fresh sauces makes all my troubles go away.  After traveling throughout Italy, I was so inspired by their use of simple ingredients. A little garlic, tomato and wine and you had one of the most delicious pastas you ever tasted.

So any home cook probably did the same thing as me.  The second I got home I went to my local grocery store and picked up what I thought was the same garlic, tomato, wine etc… Cooked everything the same way I had learned from nonna and voila! I had a meal that tasted like true… Italian…leather. Why didn’t it taste the same?  I added the same amounts, the same ingredients… was it me? Was it my stove? No… in fact it was those “same ingredients” that really weren’t the same at all.  A tomato grown in nonna’s backyard is not the same tomato you get at Publix, Provigo or even Whole Foods. I think that most North Americans are making pretty average tasting dishes in general because of one simple mistake. Sh*t ingredients.
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I really came to truly believe this after The Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten, bullied me enough through the TV to buy those good quality eggs, good quality olive oil, good quality vanilla etc…She always said “make sure its good quality.” I thought, oh olive oil is olive oil. Take it from me, it is not the case. Test it yourself and I promise you will end up coming to the same conclusion as I did. Listen, I know its hard…. you don’t want to go to the market, or spend so much extra on that expensive maple syrup when you can just get some Aunt Jemima.   But knowing where to stretch your dollar and where to spend a little more is the difference between a bland boring dinner, to one that tastes like you are eating at a winery in Tuscany. That is truly how Italians make their food taste unbelievably delicious. They aren’t putting red wine from the 7/11 or depanneur into their marinara. It isn’t 55 crazy expensive ingredients that you can’t pronounce or understand. They use simple, good quality ingredients and cook them right. They showcase the taste and quality of the ingredients themselves. I know its tempting to buy that 99 cent can of whole tomatoes but those San Marzano ones in the can for $4.99 is the epitome of the Olive Garden vs. Tuscany debate.  Heres my must-do list when making a fresh pasta at home.

CEG’s Must-do Italian

1. If making a tomato sauce, always buy San Marzano tomatoes from the can… not San Marzano type… just San Marzano.

2. Always add wines into your sauces that you would drink from a glass.

3. Fresh pasta (bought or homemade) can take your pasta to the next level. But boxed pastas are just fine!

4. Don’t use jarred or dried garlic/onion. Buy fresh. Cut fresh.

5. Invest in a good quality olive oil that tastes great to you. Most markets or speciality food stores will let you taste the olive oils. Bring your own Gfree crackers or bread and test it out! Plus they’ll give you the best information on which ones to cook with and which to only use on salads or as garnish.

6. Don’t forget the fresh herbs. Fresh basil can make the world of difference in any pasta dish. If you are making a heavier pasta, any fresh herb or green will lighten (and brighten) up the dish. (If you don’t have basil on hand, add a little fresh kale or arugula).

7. Boil your noodles in heavily salted water. The noodles absorb the water they are cooking in, so you want those noodles seasoned!Don’t use the expensive stuff here. Kosher salt is perfect!
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Now for the pasta recipe! This pasta is full of protein and healthy fats from the black beans and pine nuts. Feel free to add shrimp, chicken or ground turkey for a little meaty touch. But on its own it is truly satisfying and perfect for Meatless Mondays. If spice isn’t your thing, simply leave out the chilli flakes and hot sauce. Buon Appetito!

Ingredients:

• 1 package black bean noodles
• 1 can San Marzano tomatoes
• 1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
• 2 tbsp olive oil (divided)
• 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
• 1 small shallot (chopped)
• 2 zucchini (diced)
• 10 ounces of mushrooms (your favourite kind)
• 2 red peppers (julienned)
• 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
• a few dashes of hot sauce
• 1/4 cup red wine (I used a Cabernet Sauvignon)
• 2 sprigs fresh basil (chopped) or a bunch of fresh organic arugula
• 3 tbsp toasted pine nuts
• salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Chop all ingredients so they are ready to go! (separate them in bowls or on your cutting board).
2. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a deep skillet on medium heat.
3. Once the oil is hot, add the shallot and sautee until soft. Then add garlic and chilli flakes, salt and pepper and sautee for another 30 seconds.
4. Add canned tomatoes and crush with a wooden spoon or cut with kitchen scissors. Bring to a boil, then put heat to low. Add tomato paste and stir until combined. Let simmer until most of the water has evaporated (about 30 minutes).
5. While the sauce is simmering, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in another skillet on medium heat. Add olive oil and sautee for 30 seconds. Then add zucchini, peppers and mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook until tender and slightly brown.
6. Now its time to boil your pasta according to the directions on package or box. If you bought fresh pasta, then cook it in heavily salted water for 2-3 minutes.
7. Back to the sauce…after the sauce has thickened add the red wine. Stir and taste. Add hot sauce if you want more heat, and adjust salt and pepper seasoning if necessary.
8. Toast your pine nuts on medium heat in a dry pan until golden. Watch carefully or they will burn (5 minutes).
9. Add the vegetables to the pasta sauce, stir. Then add the noodles. Toss until well combined. Top with fresh basil or arugula and toasted pine nuts.
Photo 4-22-2014, 5 43 55 AM