Recipe Review: Brownies!

It’s the post I’ve been talking about/mentioning since the end of January. It’s FINALLY time for my brownie review!

But before I get to that, I have to write a little about my Jensen Beach vacation (I know, I’m such a tease).

It was fantastic. I’m from Upstate New York, and shortly before my mom and I left for our trip, we got 18″ of snow dumped on us. So, we were incredibly happy that our flight didn’t get canceled, and that we were able to enjoy 80 degree sunny days for a whole week.

This is the view from the balcony. I love the sound of the ocean!

This is the view from the balcony of our condo. I love the sound of the ocean!

We went to the Brevard Zoo, and were able to kayak around the giraffes, and later feed them.

We went to the Brevard Zoo, and were able to kayak around the giraffes, and later feed them.

Heathcote Botanical Garden has one of the largest Bonsai Tree collections in the country - over 100 of them!

Heathcote Botanical Garden has one of the largest Bonsai Tree collections in the country – over 100 of them!

We also went to a flea market, a wine tasting, saw a movie, and, of course, went to the beach every day. But now I miss the sun. Two more months…?

Okay, on to the brownies! I made four different brownie recipes within a week. Thank goodness I had friends and family to help me eat them! These are not ranked in favorite order, but in baking order.

Brownie #1: Grass Fed Girl’s Fat Bomb Coconut Brownies.

Ingredient list: cocoa, eggs, sweetener choice (maple syrup/honey/birch xylitol/stevia powder extract), coconut oil, canned coconut milk, vanilla extract, almond flour, baking soda, shredded coconut, and chopped walnuts.

My adjustments: I chose to use honey as my sweetener, and did not add in the walnuts.

These brownies were the perfect middle-of-the-road, Goldilocks brownie: not too fudgy, not too cake-y…they were “just right” and nicely balanced. I loved the texture the shredded coconut added, but if you want it a little smoother you could try putting the coconut in a food processor to make a more finely-shredded coconut. I also loved that I didn’t need to have a huge piece to satisfy my sweet tooth. And due to the satiety factor of the fat from all the coconut, I rarely found myself going back to eat more than the amount I allowed myself each day.

Brownie #2: tigpaleo’s Avocado Brownies.

Ingredient list: unsweetened chocolate melted in coconut oil, avocados, honey, eggs, cocoa powder, vanilla, coconut flour, baking soda, and a little salt.

My adjustments: I was out of honey, so I had to sub in coconut sugar.

I don’t think my sugar substitution affected the flavor at all – the brownies were plenty sweet for me. Then again, I love dark chocolate and prefer it over milk chocolate, so you might need to play around with the sweetness if you aren’t a dark chocolate fan. And no worries – these brownies will NOT taste like avocados! These brownies were the perfect cake-y brownie – somewhat light and airy, but sturdy like a typical brownie. So if you love your brownies with a cake-like texture, these are the ones to bake (out of the ones I’ve tried, anyway). For me, I like my brownies to be fudgy, so while I liked this one the least, it was still very tasty.

Brownie #3: Living Nutrition’s Triple Chocolate No-Bake Brownies.

Ingredient list: for the brownie – walnuts, cocoa, sea salt, medjool dates, liquid stevia; for the ganache – cocoa powder, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla extract and a little sea salt

My adjustments: I didn’t have stevia, so I just left it out…it’s been a while, but I don’t think I replaced it with anything. I find dates are sweet enough on their own, and the maple syrup in the ganache helped on the sweetness level. I’d say taste the batter before you add in any sweetener – you might not need any!

Oh. My. God. These are one of the fudgiest brownies I’ve ever had. And the ganache adds a lovely chocolately layer to the brownie. I had a very hard time eating only one, so these need to be carefully controlled. These were relatively quick to make Out of all the brownies, I was the most sad when these were all gone.

Brownie #4: Primal Palate’s Grain-Free Fudgy Brownie with Dairy-Free Fluffy Chocolate Frosting.

Ingredient list: brownie – dark chocolate, unsalted butter, vanilla extract, egg, chestnut flour, sea salt, baking powder, coconut sugar; frosting – coconut cream, enjoy life chocolate chips, vanilla extract

My adjustments: This recipe had a lot of unique ingredients to me, but I love trying new things. I got the chestnut flour online, as well as the corn-free baking powder. But I hear it’s pretty easy to make your own chestnut flour if you have a strong enough food processor. I happened to have a can of coconut cream concentrate, but if you don’t, just chill a can of coconut milk in the fridge and then only use the creamy part – not the water. I love the Enjoy Life brand of dairy-free and soy-free chocolate, but I’m having a difficult time finding it in dark chocolate. So I used the milk chocolate chips for the frosting. I also didn’t use the recipe’s recommended brand of dark chocolate since it was too expensive for me to get at the time. I either used Green & Black or Ghirardelli.

This brownie was similar to the Fat Bomb Brownies in texture – not too fudgy, and not too cake-y. But they certainly weren’t fudgy like the No-Bake Brownies were, and I feel they were a little dense. The chestnut flour added a unique flavor – not a bad one at all, just different. I’m more used to baking with other nut flours like almond and coconut, so I was aware of a different flavor than the typical grain-free brownie. But like I said, it wasn’t a bad “different” taste at all, so I look forward to using chestnut flour again. If you want a brownie that can be topped with paleo ice cream without getting soggy, I would think this recipe would work nicely.

Now, I’m not usually a fan of frosting on brownies, but the frosting really helped balance the dense-ness of the brownie. Due to user error I couldn’t make the frosting as fluffy as the picture on the recipe page, but the taste was so awesome it is in my top three list of paleo frostings. I had a lot of it left over after spreading it on the brownie, so I stuck it back in the fridge and it firmed up to a mousse-like consistency. I am not ashamed to admit that I ate the rest of the bowl of frosting by itself the next day. It was that good.

And the winner is…

For best fudgy brownie: Triple Chocolate No-Bake!

For best cake-like brownie: Avocado Brownies!

For best “regular” brownie: Fat Bomb Brownie!

For best brownie with frosting: Grain-Free Fudgy Brownie! (I know, kinda lame category…but it had to win something.)

Out of all of them, I will make the Triple Chocolate No-Bakes and the Fat Bomb Brownies again. I will also make the frosting that went with the Grain-Free Fudgy Brownie again, and use it as a cake frosting.

Questions for the readers: What kind of brownie do you like? Is there a “paleo” brownie recipe you’ve tried that you love?

Coming up in future posts: I’m exploring with/creating an Asian honey mustard glaze or spice (haven’t decided which yet), I just cooked a whole chicken in my slow cooker that turned out AMAZING and want to share it with all of you, and I want to do another “Let’s Talk About” post, either about dairy, soy, or vegetable oils. Until next time!


Review: The 21 Day Sugar Detox

Happy Friday!

This week beat me up. On Monday, I had an interview for a job that was 90% perfect for me. I didn’t get the job. And while I know I’ll someday find a job that plays to more of my strengths than this job did, it put me off my groove for the rest of the week.

But it’s the weekend. Time to recharge. One week until my trip to Florida, and I’m so excited!

Tonight, I’d like to share with you my experiences with the 21 Day Sugar Detox. I’ll review the book and program and share my new awareness of sugar.

Why The 21 Day Sugar Detox?

I’ve done a couple Whole 30 and have had positive experiences, but I felt like I was still having major sugar issues, especially after the holidays. I’m not sure how I first heard about the program… I’m sure it was from one of the many blogs I follow. But it made a lot of sense to me – cut out sugar and sugar triggers for 21 days, then reintroduce foods one at a time to see how the body reacts. I read the sample pages and liked what I read.

The Program

One thing I love most about this program is how it can work for everyone. The program is broken into three levels: level 1 is for anyone who follows the Standard American Diet – full of refined grains and fat-free foods. Level 2 is for anyone who follows a gluten-free diet. Level 3 is for anyone who already follows a grain-free, paleo or primal diet. Of course, you can do any level you want regardless of current diet, but level 1 is the most lenient and 3 is the most strict. There are also modifications for those who are pescetarian, pregnant or nursing, lead highly active lives, or are diagnosed with an autoimmune condition.

Food List

For all levels: no refined carbs, no processed food, no soy, limited non-sugary fruits
Level 1: Certain gluten-free grains allowed, some legumes, some full-fat dairy
Level 2: No grains, no legumes, some full-fat dairy
Level 3: Excludes all grains and dairy.

Sounds like a lot of “no” foods, but all levels include tons of veggies, protein from meat, fish and eggs, some nuts, fats/oils, and more. There was plenty to eat! Each level has it all spelled out in the book.

The Book

Diane Sanfilippo writes in a style that is informative, understandable, and caring. She starts off describing why sugar can be a problem, and for me it was a checklist of so many things I had been experiencing:

sugar cravings – paleo treats and bananas
spikes and dips in energy levels throughout day – I was back to wanting a nap around 3pm…something that only started after Thanksgiving
tired upon waking – I had been blaming it on seasonal affective disorder
trying to burn body fat – it just wasn’t coming off!
meals leaving you unsatisfied, hungry and snacking every 2-3 hours – yes, and I suspected part of it was due to all the paleo treats I had baked

Diane then gives a brief description of the program before she gives some scientific background on sugar and carbohydrates. I seriously wish she could have been my science teacher because she made the science easy to understand while keeping me interested. She describes good carbs vs bad, nutrient density, how the body digests carbs and stores glucose, and more. It’s one of my favorite resources for just the science chapter, but the whole book is great.

Then the book discusses the levels, how to prepare for the detox, handy food lists, dining out guides, food swap list…it’s a whole bunch of useful resources, and many of these guides are on the website for free.

Another favorite part of the book is how Diane spells everything out. She gives you a meal plan and all the recipes. That’s 21 days – three meals and a snack, every day, for 21 days. She even has a roadmap for the detox – a day-to-day description of what you might feel and advice to get through the rough times. Diane is your friend throughout this whole journey, guiding you to success.

And it’s more than just eating the “right” things – it’s becoming aware of our relationship with food. So if there’s a day where things don’t go so well, there’s no need to start back at day 1. Learn from what happened, and continue on. I love that concept.

The Community

The 21 Day Detox Facebook page is very active, and so is the forum. It is an amazing comfort to know that anything physically or emotionally you experience during this journey, others are experiencing it too! I definitely came down with detox flu for the first three days, and then on day 5 I just couldn’t stop eating. I was eating all 21dsd foods, but I would need to eat every few hours…I was just insatiable. I felt like I was eating two days worth of food one day. I went on the forum, and there was a thread on day 5 hunger. It was normal for some people to be that hungry! What a relief.

Most groups begin on the first Monday of every month, but there are people on a variety of days on all different levels supporting each other. It’s a wonderful community.

Oh goodness, I almost forgot about Pinterest! Recipes are being posted all the time by the 21DSD team and by many other paleo bloggers. Just search “21DSD” and you’ll finds lots of yumminess. Yes, yumminess is a word, even if my computer doesn’t recognize it.

My Experience

I’ve already mentioned my first five day, so I’ll skip that here. My birthday was on Day 10, and by then I felt pretty good, so the rest was smooth sailing. I do remember being antsy on Day 20 for it to just be over, but I think that was my desire for brownies. 

The first thing that I noticed improving was my sleep. I slept so well I started dreaming again. I woke up feeling refreshed. I had energy to make it through a krav maga class without feeling drained afterward. That wad awesome. I also noticed my taste buds changing. By the end, granny smith apples and green-tipped bananas were deliciously sweet without setting off sugar cravings. And the recipes from the book were delicious! My favorites were: Green Apple Breakfast Sausage, Tomato-Basil Quiche with Bacon and Spinach, and Ginger-Garlic Beef and Broccoli. I loosely followed the meal plan in the book, because most of what I already cooked was 21dsd compliant.

Cutting back on bananas and sweet potatoes was trickier than I thought it would be. I could only have one banana a day, and I was used to sometimes having two…occasionally three. I love bananas (they’re full of potassium)! Sweet potatoes were only allowed for me on days I did krav maga for the energy modification. I didn’t have a sweet potato until day 11 or so, and it was seriously the mist delicious sweet potato I’ve ever had.

On Day 21, pants that had felt tight before the detox felt lose. Not sure how much weight I lost because I don’t weigh myself that often, and I neglected to use my body tape measure before I started. But hey, pants fitting better, food tasting better, sleeping better and living with more energy – all after only 21 days? I’ll take it!

After Day 21, I tried so much to take Diane’s advice and introduce only one food at a time. I wanted brownies – I didn’t get any for my birthday. And that was fine. I had some cheese – and that was fine, too.

But then I had the idea to make FOUR different kinds of brownies (partly for the blog, and partly because I really wanted to try different recipes), and go out for all-you-can-eat sushi, and then there was Superbowl and wonderful meatballs made with gluten-free breadcrumbs…

And I learned:
– When I have too much sugar (like, more than 20 grams at a time) it will perk me up for about 10 minutes and then I’ll be sluggish, and sometimes will get a headache afterward.
– This whole week I’ve been exhausted. I blame sugar for a lot of it.
– Strawberries are a trigger. I had made the SB&J Burgers from Well Fed 2 – so amazing – and before I knew it, I had eaten all four burgers. That was a pound of meat!
– I can’t do any grains anymore, except maybe rice. Sushi was fine…at least I didn’t notice any adverse reaction. But the gluten-free breadcrumbs definitely did not agree with me. Good to know, but kind of annoying.
– I’ve been without brownies since Monday, and I’m incredibly aware of the sugar cravings that I now have.
– Cheese, while doesn’t create any sugar cravings, does create a bit of belly bloat. Not yet sure if it’s all cheese or just cream cheese and the bagged shredded cheese that has extra chemicals in it to prevent caking. I think the goat cheese is fine, but hard to tell now because I reintroduced everything at once. DON’T do that.
– Preparation is crucial to success. When I’m not prepared with good food, I’ll find quick food, which is not always good.

So, starting Sunday I’m doing a mini detox. I don’t want to restrict myself too much on vacation – I want some tropical alcoholic drinks while in Florida. But for the 6 days I hope to get these cravings back under control. (The lack of brownies will help!)

Overall, my experience with The 21Day Sugar Detox has been wonderfully positive. I love the new awareness I have, and when prepared I can make better food choices.

Speaking of brownies, my next post will be a review of those four different “paleo” brownie recipe. Stay tuned!