‘Healthy Starts Here’

An interview with Mairlyn Smith about her cookbook Healthy Starts Here! (Whitecap, 2012), with recipes for Triple-Chocolate Brownie Cookies, Quinoa Tabbouleh and Jambalaya.

PHOTO: Whitecap Books; Triple-Chocolate Brownie Cookies from Healthy Starts Here by Mairlyn Smith
 
Laura Brehaut/Postmedia News
Originally published on March 2, 2012; canada.com
 
PUBLISHED IN PRINT:
The Vancouver Sun: March 14, 2012; page D1
The Province (Vancouver): March 9, 2012; page B12
If you’ve been searching for a healthy and delicious version of the two-bite brownie, look no further. Mairlyn Smith, PHEc, cookbook author, teacher and Second City comedy troupe alumna, has done the legwork for you. “I’ve been working on a two-bite brownie since they came out and never got it. And then one of those divine moments where you run out of sugar and you go, ‘What am I going to use?’ I used a little bit of honey and I think that’s what changed it,” she said. Smith’s Triple-Chocolate Brownie Cookies pack all the chocolaty punch of the original but with heart-healthy canola oil, natural cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and dark chocolate. Using natural cocoa powder is key, “It hasn’t been alkalized and so as a result the flavinols are mostly intact. When they alkalize, or when they Dutch cocoa powder, they destroy 2/3 of the flavinols,” Smith said. “If you’re eating cocoa, thinking you’re doing all kinds of good things for your heart, you’re not doing as much as you would if you bought natural cocoa powder.”
 
This recipe is one of more than 140 that are included in Smith’s book Healthy Starts Here! (Whitecap, 2011). Each chapter in the book is dedicated to a superfood such as berries and chocolate, or group of such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower). Smith is a believer in healthy food tasting not just good but “fabulous.” Her passion for seasonal and local eating comes through in the categorization of the book – each recipe is labelled by season and also by whether or not it’s ‘Kid Friendly.’ Smith tested her recipes on a range of children, with different dietary comfort levels. Some of the children struggled to eat anything other than chicken nuggets, others were vegetarians, and some were easy-going eaters. If the majority of the kids enjoyed the dish, it got the ‘Kid Friendly’ label.
 
Smith included recipe analysis and diabetes food choice values alongside each recipe in the book – using a unique system for her nutrient breakdowns. “There are a lot of computer programs that you can get that have the nutrition breakdowns. From what I know, and from the people that I know that do this, they’re all American,” Smith said. Hers is the only Canadian cookbook she knows of that uses only Canadian products in the nutrient breakdowns. She bought popular brands that are widely available in Canadian stores and used the nutrition information from the labels in her analysis.
 
Smith is passionate about food education and informed food choices. The painstaking process she undertook compiling the nutrient breakdowns for her recipes is indicative of this. Smith credits her awareness of healthy eating to her father’s heart disease diagnosis when she was 15 years-old growing up in Vancouver, BC. “When I went to UBC and took foods and nutrition, it was to find a way to make my dad healthier or live longer,” Smith said. “When I get emails where people say, ‘Thank you for helping me change my life and change my family’s lives,’ it’s huge to me because I wanted to make a difference. It started with my dad but it has really spilled out.” Smith’s dad recently celebrated his 89th birthday. “You can change your life. He’s had 39 years since he was 50 to have fun with us and share his life with us. What a great gift,” Smith added, “I would like other people to change their lives so that they can spend their time with the people that love them. It sounds kumbaya–y but I really do believe it.”
 
As a former school teacher, Smith is trying to educate readers, “I think the obstacle for me was to try to make this funny and entertaining enough that you would be willing to go to the grocery store and pick [unusual foods] out,” Smith says. “The background in Second City helps because come on, nutrition is boring. And I love nutrition.”
 
TRIPLE-CHOCOLATE BROWNIE COOKIES
Excerpted from Healthy Starts Here! by Mairlyn Smith (Whitecap, 2011).
 
3/4 cup (185 mL) packed dark brown sugar
6 tbsp (90 mL) canola oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) honey
1 omega-3 egg
2 tsp (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (125 mL) natural cocoa powder
3/4 cup (185 mL) whole wheat flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) cocoa nibs
1/4 cup (60 mL) chocolate chips with at least 60% cocoa mass or chocolate chunks with at least 70% cocoa mass
2 tbsp (30 mL) wheat germ
1/4 tsp (1 mL) baking soda
 
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Beat together the brown sugar, oil, honey, egg, and vanilla in a medium bowl using electric beaters until the batter is creamy, about 3 minutes.
3. Beat in the cocoa powder gently. Warning: turn those beaters to full throttle and you’ll be a cocoa-covered mess in seconds. Start beating on low speed, then increase the speed once the cocoa has been incorporated. Beat for 1 minute.
4. Stir together the flour, cocoa nibs, chocolate chips, wheat germ, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Add the flour mixture to the cocoa mixture, and blend until well mixed, about 1 minute. The batter will be really sticky.
5. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoonfuls (10 mL), or use a mini-scoop, onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing the cookies about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Bake until the outside of the cookies is crunchy looking and they have puffed up, 8 to 10 minutes. Don’t overbake these morsels. There aren’t a lot of things that taste worse than burnt chocolate; okay, I can name three, but that’s for another day. My oven bakes these perfectly in exactly 9 minutes.
6. Let the cookies cool slightly on the baking sheet before removing them and letting them cool completely on a wire rack. (Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 2 months.)
 
Makes 32 cookies (using 2 tsp / 10 mL mini-scoop)
One serving = 2 cookies
 
Per serving: 154 calories , 8.2 g total fat , 1.9 g saturated fat , 0 g trans fat, 24 mg sodium, 19 g carbohydrate , 2 g fibre, 12.3 g sugars, 2 g protein
 
Diabetes Food Choice Values Per serving: 1 Carbohydrate , 1 1/2 Fat
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