Recipe Revamping: Peppermint Brownies

“Holiday indulgences….”

So often, people will tell me that they’re fine with the “regular, other time of the year” desserts they eat having no sugar and being low fat and healthy but that when the holidays roll around, that seems somehow “wrong”.

I hear you.

Holidays seem like the one time when you’re allowed to indulge, and when you look at the calender, there are no less than half a dozen events in two weeks, all of which expect you to bring something holiday-ish and decadent to share.

My thoughts are that, yes, it is okay to loosen up a bit on the “health” of your holiday desserts, but at the same time, I will argue that you don’t have to necessarily add back all the sugar and fat for something to be indulgent.

Recently, someone share a recipe for peppermint brownies with me. It called for 1 1/2 cups of butter, 1 1/2 pound of chocolate, 5 eggs, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup all purpose flour, 2 tsp peppermint extract, and six candy canes.

As you an imagine, I immediately tried to figure out if there was a way to revamp this recipe so that it would be at least a smidgeon less unhealthy and still decadently delicious. To do so, I reduced the butter by a third and replaced it with vegan butter. I reduced the chocolate to 20 oz and substituted Enjoy Life’s allergy friendly dark chocolate chips. I removed one egg, and since there was sugar in the chocolate, I reduced the sugar by three-quarters and swapped out monk fruit sweetener for the sugar. I reduced the flour by 1/4 cup and substituted a combination of cassava and garbanzo bean flours which are grain free flours. I then reduced the candy canes to four and used special brown rice syrup peppermint candy sticks instead of candy canes.

The result was a very tasty brownie which folks can feel comfortable sharing for the holidays.

Peppermint Brownies:

Ingredients:

1 cup vegan soy free butter

Two 10 oz packages Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips (divided: one pkg plus one cup; remaining chips)

4 eggs

1/2 cup golden monk fruit sweetener or coconut sugar

1/2 cup cassava flour

1/4 cup garbanzo bean flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp pure peppermint extract

4 peppermint sticks (you can use regular if you can’t find the brown syrup version)

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a microwave or over a double boiler, melt one 10 oz bag plus one cup of chocolate chips from the second bag with the vegan butter. Stir until smooth and let it sit to cool while doing the next step.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs with the monk fruit sugar until thick and blended.
  4. Slowly whisk in the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and blend well.
  5. Stir together the flours and salt and then stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until all the flour mixture is well mixed into the chocolate mixture.
  6. Melt the remaining chips, mix until smooth and add the peppermint extract.
  7. Spread the chocolate batter evenly into the prepared pan. Drop spoonfuls of the peppermint chocolate onto the batter and swirl the drops into the batter.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes. While the brownies are doing their initial bake, crush the peppermint sticks. I just put them into a heavy bag and whack them with my rolling pin. Works very well. You can find a more refined approach if you prefer.
  9. Remove the brownies from the oven, sprinkle the crushed peppermint pieces evenly over the top, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  10. Remove brownies from the oven and allow them to cool completely before cutting them into bite size pieces and enjoying.

Healthy Habits: Triple Chocolate Avocado Brownies

“You’d have to do the impossible….”

As a child my father told me that I could do anything I set my mind to, and I believed him. His words served me well as I grew, helping me to succeed at things folks were quick to say I could not, to endure difficult situations I felt ill-equipped to handle, and to learn how do things I might not have otherwise tried.

I did learn that simply setting one’s mind isn’t always enough, of course, but at the end of the day, having confidence that you can achieve does tend to open up possibilities which are closed to folks who don’t even make the attempt.

So, when a friend who is allergic to wheat, dairy, soy, rice, apples, nuts, peanuts, coconut, flax seed, eggs, and bananas told me she hadn’t had a brownie in 15 years, I took up the challenge. How could I not? What did it matter that I couldn’t use any of the usual substitutions for traditional ingredients in brownies? I was determined to make a brownie my friend could eat.

My friend wasn’t convinced I could make a brownie from “nothing” as she said, and especially not one that would taste like a brownie, but it helped that she wasn’t allergic to avocados and that she wanted a fudgy brownie as opposed to a cakey or chewy one.

The beauty of avocados is that they can substitute for eggs and the fat as one item so both eggs and butter could be substituted for in the traditional brownie recipe. Most nontraditional recipes would then use a dairy free milk but my friend is allergic to most versions. I opted to use water but I needed the water to be thick. Using unsweetened chocolate as part of my flavoring added the thickness I needed to the water. Then, I only needed to refine the chocolate-ly taste by adding unsweetened special dark cocoa powder, Enjoy life mini chocolate chips, and cinnamon.

I tried the brownies out on a group before taking them to my friend, and the reviews were positive, and one person commented, “The whole piece tastes like the inside of a brownie, which is the best part!”

When I took a pan to my friend, she couldn’t believe I had done it – made a brownie she could eat. I, of course, had trusted that once again my father’s words would be true!

Triple Chocolate Avocado Brownies

Ingredients:

1 cup mashed ripe avocado (usually two avocados)

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1 cup boiling water

2 tsp vanilla

1 cup agave

2 cups gluten free flour blend (I used King Arthur’s whole grain version)

3/4 cup Hershey special dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 11 x 15 pan with parchment paper.
  2. Mash the avocado in a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Place the unsweetened chocolate into a measuring cup or bowl which can sustain heat and pour the boiling water over it. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the liquid is slightly thick.
  4. Add the chocolate water mixture to the avocados, along with the vanilla and agave.
  5. In a smaller bowl, mix the flour with the unsweetened cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until moistened.
  7. Add the chocolate chips and stir until the batter is well mixed.
  8. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until the brownies are slightly puffed and just a slight indent remains in the center when you touch it.
  9. Allow the brownies to cool in the pan on top of a cooling rack.
  10. Remove the brownies from the pan by lifting the parchment paper, and slice the brownies into squares to enjoy.

Food Allergies and Store Bought Products

website brownies

“It’s not fair.”

My son is at that age – you know the one – where everything is “unfair”.  If he doesn’t get what he wants, “It’s unfair.”  If things don’t go as planned, “It’s unfair.” If his older sisters get to do something he’s too young to do, “It’s unfair.”  If people around him have something he doesn’t, “It’s unfair.”

And unfortunately for him, “it’s unfair” that he doesn’t have very sympathetic parents or older sisters.

“Sorry, life’s not always fair, kiddo,” is what he gets from his father.

“Life’s not fair; get used to it,” is what his oldest sister says.

“I learned life isn’t fair; you need to learn it, too,” is what his other sister tells him.

And from his mother, the poor child gets, “Where in the world did you ever get the notion that life is supposed to be fair?  No matter what they tell you in school, life is not about fairness.  It’d be nice if it was, but it’s not.  So, get over it.”

Ideally, we’d live in a world that is “fair”, meaning that all the rules would be consistent without any universal partialities and obstacles to life.  It’s not the case, however, and quite frankly, I think “it’s unfair” that there are people like myself who are allergic to so many foods that it prevents us from being able to enjoy eating whatever we want when we want.

Just because it is unfair, though, doesn’t mean we have no options.  The question I get most frequently from folks is “What is out there for me to eat in terms of store bought items?”And the answer is “plenty”.

Just to name a few:

1.  Gluten Free Breads:  Udi’s, Kinnikinnick, Whole Foods, Rudi’s, Food for Life, EnerG, and Glutino all make breads which are you can choose from.  Try different brands.  Try different varieties of bread from the same company.  You may find that you like a variety of the brands.  You may find you only like one type of bread from one company.  You will, however, find something that you do like.  I can tell you that if you’re looking for a bread that tastes like a “regular” bread, that Rudi’s multigrain bread is one that even my children will eat.

2.  Dairy Free Yogurts:  Trader Joe’s, Silk, and So Delicious are actual dairy free yogurts that I’ve tried.  You have to be careful, because even yogurts that are “soy” still might have dairy in them, so for example, O’Soy yogurts are not dairy free, though they are “mostly” free of dairy.  But there are others besides the three above like Whole Soy and Co, Wildwood, Ricera, and Amande.  If you used to be a “regular” yogurt eater, you may have to try a bunch to find one that has the consistency and taste you like.  I prefer the So Delicious brands myself.

3.  Almost everything free Chocolate:  Enjoy Life, Chocolate Gelt, Premium Chocolatiers, Amanda’s Own Confections, Divvies, and Sweet Williams are just a few companies that make chocolates which are dairy free, nut free, egg free, soy free, gluten free, and peanut free for those of us who have too many allergies to count.  I’m eternally grateful to all these companies!  I do tend to buy the Enjoy Life products, though, because their products are readily available in most grocery stores these days for reasonable prices (as compared to other brands like them, not as compared to “regular” chocolate).

4.  Store bought Cookies:  Lucy’s, Pamela’s, Kinnikinnick, Enjoy Life, Schars, Barbara’s, and Home Free are some companies that make “everything free” cookies.  I really like the Home Free double chocolate cookies and Pamela’s ginger cookies.  I tend to prefer a crisper cookie, though.  If you prefer a soft cookie, Enjoy Life makes those, but I personally find them rather pasty.  Mi-Del, Glutino, and Tate’s makes gluten free cookies which aren’t necessarily dairy, egg, or nut free.

5.  Dairy Free Gluten Free Pizza:  Amy’s Kitchen and Bold Organics makes dairy free and gluten free pizzas.  Tofutti’s makes a vegan pizza.  My favorite is Amy’s Kitchen rice crust dairy free pizza.  It tastes almost like “real” frozen pizza.

6.  Dairy Free “Milk” Products:  Earth Balance, Shedd’s, Olivio, Nutive, and Silk all make dairy free “butters”, “milks” and creamers whether it’s using soybeans, almonds, coconut, rice or other ingredients.  Daiya, Go Veggie, Toffuti, and Follow Your Heart make cheese which is actually dairy free.  You have to be careful, because as with the yogurts, a lot of the “shreds” do have casein in them even though they may not have “milk” in them.  So be sure to read labels if you find a brand that’s not one of the above.

7.  Non-dairy frozen desserts:  Rice Dreams, Luna and Larry’s, So Delicious, Tofutti, Double Rainbow, Almond Dream, and Purely Decadent all make “ice creams” which are dairy and/or gluten free and/or soy free.  Tofutti also makes “ice cream” sandwiches and other novelty desserts.  What’s great these days is that I can find most of these brands at grocery stores in our area!     

8.  Store bought canned/processed foods:  If you have food allergies, you’re a label reader. You have to be because your life is at stake.  If you go to http://www.eatallergyfree.com/index.html?c=Main.GetPreparedFoods though you can find a list of soups, snacks, crackers, cookies, etc… with specific notes about certain “regular” store bought foods which tend to be gluten, dairy, nut, egg, shellfish, etc… free.  While you don’t want to give up reading labels for yourself, it’s helpful to know where you can begin your search, though, for foods you can most likely eat from the store.

9. Cereals:  If you like a nice bowl of cereal in the morning that’s a brand you know, General Mills makes a gluten free Chex, Kellogg’s makes Rice Crispies, and Post makes Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles.  If you don’t mind trying other brands, Enjoy Life, Nature’s Path, Arrowhead Mills, Kashi, and Glutino all have some gluten free cereals.

Dairy Free Gluten Free Soy Free Brownies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Gluten Free flour mix

1/3 cup Hershey’s special dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp gluten free baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup Earth Balance Soy Free “butter” or coconut oil, melted and cooled

1/2 cup Agave or 1 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp gluten free vanilla

2 eggs or 2 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 6 tbsp water

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 7 x 11 pan with If You Care parchment paper.  (You can use an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9, too.  Just remember that it will affect the thickness and therefore, maybe your baking time.)

2.  Mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt well with a whisk until there are no clumps of the gluten free flour.

3.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Set aside.

4.  Mix the butter or coconut oil, agave or coconut sugar, vanilla, and eggs or flaxseed mixture. until well blended.

5.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet and combine until they are well mixed.

6.  Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  The brownies will be pulling away from the sides and mostly firm to the touch.