[This post is part of an ongoing series of interviews with cookbook authors, bloggers, women entrepreneurs and home chefs whose work I enjoy and admire. If you've got someone in mind you'd like me to approach for an interview, please shoot me an email at rickiATrickihellerDOTcom, or leave a comment here and let me know! And now, enjoy today's installment!]
Leanne Vogel is the massively popular food blogger, holistic nutritionist, recipe creator and creative mind behind Healthful Pursuit, a blog devoted to helping you “embrace your true self and live authentically.” Leanne has been there, learning how to eat healthier, struggling with disordered eating in the past–and, as a holistic nutritionist, she knows very well what foods heal or harm our bodies. She also has an incredible knack for coming up with fabulous, beautiful, nourishing food!
I first encountered Leanne’s blog several years ago, and was struck by how closely our food philosophies are aligned despite the differences in our diets (vegan vs omnivore). It might be that we both attended the same nutrition school, or that we both are on similar journeys away from an unhealthy relationship with food toward one where food is a joy in life, without “restrictions.” Nobody does “deliciously grain-free” like Leanne!
I asked Leanne a few questions about her diet and her new ebook, Christmas Dessert Freedom, filled with healthy treats that are all paleo, vegan, and grain-free. And lucky me–I got to try out the Cocoa Caramel Bars and am sharing them with you here today! But first, let’s hear a bit from Leanne herself!
1. You eat a very “clean” diet. What are some of the key foods you’ve removed from your diet, and why have you removed them?
None of the foods that I’ve removed from my life have been forced. The changes to my eating style weren’t adjustments that I made overnight, or an action that I pressured myself into.
I’ve spent years connecting with myself on a deeper level – meditating before and after I eat, asking my body what it wants and trying not to be too hard on myself when things don’t go “as planned”. Keeping this light energy about me has helped me figure out that my body does better without dairy, refined sugars, gluten, grains, heavy amounts of beans, and nightshades.
2. What’s your favorite dessert? Is there a dessert you haven’t made “healthy” yet, but would like to?
When I meet new people and tell them about my eating style, 9 times out of 10 they respond with something like, “Wow, that sucks! I bet you miss *insert crazy dessert here*” to which I say, “Nope, doesn’t suck at all, actually. I made that dessert gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free and AWESOMELY healthy last weekend”
My favourite would have to be this 5-minute Apple Quinoa Flake Bake.
3. This is your second dessert book. What was your inspiration for making this book about desserts as well, rather than converting other (non-dessert) classic holiday recipes this time round?
I like surprising people – in proving that eating healthy (whether it be gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, grain-free, whatever) doesn’t have to feel like a death sentence.
I find that desserts hold a special place in many peoples’ hearts. Life is better when there’s a little something sweet at the end of the day. I have created a way to live that honours my body and nourishes my soul. I eat ice cream and cake and pudding… and feel good about it. And now, I want to share that same freedom with the world!
4. What’s your favorite ingredient for baking grain-free, and why?
I am in love with quinoa flakes and cooked quinoa. The flakes act like oats and the precooked quinoa can be added to things like cookies, muffins and cakes for added protein. Every time I eat quinoa, it makes my body sooo happy!
5. What is the most important tip you can give to people who’ve just transitioned to a grain-free diet?
I always encourage my clients to be kind to themselves throughout an eating style transition. The changes you’re making are for a reason – for your health, for your future. I find keeping your reason in mind throughout the journey helps to keep a positive mind and inspired heart.
PS: these grain-free protein cakes will help, too.
Thanks so much, Leanne! It’s been great learning a bit more about your journey and food choices.
And after browsing through Christmas Dessert Freedom, I must admit that I am totally impressed–and hungry! Every single recipe, from the shortbreads to the tiramisu to the no-bake snowballs looks terrific.
These grain-free, refined sugar-free, vegan Cocoa Caramel bars are only one of the many desserts in Christmas Dessert Freedom. As they were chilling, the HH kept asking when he could finally try one. I cut them into small squares (25 instead of the 16 recommended in the recipe) and gave him one to try.
Here’s how it went down:
He took a bit and remarked, “Wow, these are really good.” (Score!).
Biting into Bar Number Two: “They’re really rich tasting, actually.” [Smacking lips]: “But you know, they’re not overly sweet, so not cloying like some desserts. Yeah, you can just keep eating them. . . “. Well, I was thinking he might do just that. . .
Biting into Bar Number Three: “Wow, these are kinda addictive!” Luckily, I cut them as small as I did (so three bars were really equivalent to just one). He stopped at three. . . that day.
But I do love it when I encounter a recipe that fits my dietary parameters so perfectly. . . and is as good as anything I’d make myself! (And Leanne, the HH thanks you, too).
Cocoa Caramel Bars
reprinted with permission from Christmas Dessert Freedom ebook by Leanne Vogel
Give the gift of dairy-free caramel this season with a batch of these super-indulgent dessert
bars. Chocolate, caramel… you can’t go wrong! [Ricki's note: I adapted the recipe to reduce the sweetener even further, and used almond butter since nuts aren't a problem for me. My adaptations are added in square brackets.]
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup (40 g) cocoa powder
1/4 cup (60 ml) coconut nectar
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 cup (80 g) finely shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup (60 g) hulled hemp seeds
1 cup (240 ml) tahini or natural sunflower seed butter [I used natural almond butter]
1/2 cup (120 ml) coconut nectar [I used 1/3 cup or 80 ml and added about 15 drops pure liquid stevia]
1 Tbsp (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 ounce (28 g) semi-sweet dairy-free chocolate [I used unsweetened carob chips and melted them with 1 tsp/5 ml coconut oil. They worked great!]
Line a 8×8 pan with parchment paper across both sides for easy lifting. Set aside.
For the bottom layer, add coconut oil to a large bowl. Slowly drop in cacao powder, whisking as you go. When all is added and clumps are gone, add coconut nectar and vanilla. Whisk until incorporated. Add shredded coconut and hemp seeds. Mix with a spoon, or your hands, until everything is covered in chocolate. Press mixture evenly into prepared pan and transfer to the freezer to cool.
Then, prepare the caramel layer by adding the tahini, coconut nectar and vanilla to a saucepan and heating on low heat for 1-2 minutes, just until incorporated. You do not want the mix to boil, just get it hot and continue to stir until the mixture begins to hold together slightly. Remove the pan from the freezer; top the base with caramel and even out with a spoon. Place back in the freezer.
To prepare the top layer, add water to a large saucepan, cover and bring to a boil. Add chocolate to a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over top of the saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Keep the bowl over top of the saucepan until all chocolate is melted, about 5 minutes. Once melted, take
the out bars from the freezer, and drizzle the melted chocolate over top. Cover pan and freeze for at least 2 hours.
Makes 16 bars. May be frozen (I defrosted mine, covered, overnight in the refrigerator).
Suitable for: ACD Stage 3 and beyond, refined sugar-free, gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, egg free, soy-free, nut free (Leanne’s version), vegan.
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