Friday, January 29, 2010

Healthy Brownies!

The brownies we serve where I work are 270 Calories per brownie. I didn't even look at the rest of the nutritional info: they're full of sugar, etc. So, Mike and I set out to make our own healthy brownies, based on a recipe from Tosca Reno's The Eat-Clean Diet: for Men, which I highly recommend, but caution that her dessert recipes are still pretty naughty. The adapted recipe, below, takes out most of the naughty and replaces it with ingredients that are mostly or completely healthy.

Black Brownies:
1 cup (8 oz) espresso
1/2 cup cold-pressed, unrefined virgin coconut oil
1 1/2 cups Ideal no-calorie sweetener
3/4 cup cocoa powder (100% cacao)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.
  2. Melt jar of coconut oil in microwave for 45 seconds (remember to remove the metal lid!, and careful, as the coconut oil jar will be hot when you take it out of the microwave)
  3. Add cocoa powder to espresso and mix until the cocoa is dissolved. Mix this with the 1/2 cup coconut oil. Don't worry about the rest of your jar, it will solidify as it cools, and as you are stirring the cocoa-espresso-coconut oil, the coconut oil will float to the top
  4. Slowly stir the Ideal into the mixture, stirring until it dissolves
  5. Add eggs and mix until just combined
  6. Fold flour into the mixture until just combined. Don't overdo it!
  7. Pour the batter into mini-muffin cups, filling them almost entirely, and bake for 20-25 minutes. Check with a toothpick, and when it comes out cleanly, they are done.
This is enough to make 24 mini-muffins, and 2 minis are a serving. Abbreviated nutritional info:
Per brownie: 67 calories, 5 g fat, 10 g carb, 0 sugar, 37 mg sodium, 2 g protein
Per serving: 134 calories, 11 g fat, 20 g carb, 0 sugar, 74 mg sodium, 3 g protein

A few things to note:
  • Coconut oil, consumed in moderation, is intensely healthy and actually encourages your body to shed fat--most of the fat in the muffins is from the coconut oil, so as long as you keep yourself to one serving alongside a meal providing a decent amount of protein, it's all good fat that keeps your body running without clogging your arteries. :-)
  • Straight cocoa: same story as the coconut oil with regard to fat. The small amount of fat naturally occurring in cocoa is actually good for you, as long as you don't sit around pouring cocoa down your throat all day. Tempting, I know. I nearly dove straight into the cup of espresso and cocoa powder once I had it mixed. Seriously, Mike had to stop me.
  • The muffins will come out coal-black. Do not be alarmed, that's how they are supposed to look.
  • Pop them out of the tray and onto a plate right away, so they don't steam and get soggy. We used silicon mini-muffin trays to make this easier.
Substitutions you can make and/or suggested brands:
  • Brew yourself some really strong coffee if you don't have easy access to espresso--grind it fine, and use 2 tablespoons of coffee per 6 oz of water (double the recommended dose) and you'll get a similar effect.
  • For the coconut oil, we use Spectrum Naturals' Organic, Expeller-pressed, Unrefined Virgin Coconut Oil. It's very important to get the Unrefined--you get a much better quality product that way.
  • If the coconut oil is too rich for your blood, try using the same amount of SmartBalance Omega "buttery spread". This will effect your nutritional data slightly, but still be better than other margarine or -heavens forbid- real butter.
  • In place of the Ideal sweetener, you can use Sucanat or raw sugar, but be aware that this is the biggest possible source of additional calories!
  • For the cocoa powder, we just used Hershey's Special Dark 100% Cacao. So. Freaking. Good.
  • We used good ol' brown eggs from the grocery store, but you can also use egg substitute and save even more calories. We didn't realize we were out until we were actually making the batter, otherwise that's what we would have done, too...
  • Bob's Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
  • Meijer Organics extra virgin olive oil cooking spray
My final word of advice: beware. These brownies are so damn good that you may catch yourself wanting to plant your face directly in the middle of the plate and snuffle until they are all gone. This, of course, defeats the purpose. Limit yourself to two at a time. You'll enjoy them more the longer they last, anyway.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Tamír Triad by Lynn Flewelling

I know I said some time back that my next review would be for The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, but Lynn Flewelling captured my attention before I was able to finish TTW, which has been sitting on my nightstand waiting for a couple of months now. Instead, I have been engrossed in reading and listening to Ms. Flewelling's Tamír Triad, consisting of The Bone Doll's Twin, Hidden Warrior, and The Oracle's Queen, and a whole lot of genius. This trilogy is a companion to the Nightrunners series, which I will address in a separate post.

Set in the Kingdom of Skala some 600 years before the first book of Nightrunners, our story opens with the wizard Iya and her apprentice Arkoniel traveling to the Oracle at Afra, a holy site dedicated to the god of the moon, of madness, and patron of wizards, Illior. Centuries before, the Oracle prophesied that only a Queen could rule Skala, or great tragedies would befall the kingdom. Queen Agnalain, however, was mad, and when she died, her son Erius took the throne, suggesting that the prophecy "So long as a daughter of Thelátimos' line..." applied only to the immediate descendants of Thelátimos (the last King), and intending to start a new dynasty of Kings instead of Queens. The country, however, has fallen to plague, famine, and drought, and their ancient enemies in Plenimar across the sea are stirring toward invasion.

Knowing that these events will bring unrest, Erius has begun arranging the deaths of all of the female children born into the royal line, thus assuring that his son, Korin, will succeed the throne. The only known surviving woman in the line is Erius's younger sister, Ariani (who would have been Queen under the proper succession), and Iya is told by the Oracle that Ariani will bear two children, but one Queen. In answer, Iya gains assistance from a hill-witch to hide the inevitable girl-child from the King in the most secure way possible: to give her the form of her twin brother, who must be killed in the process.

A small mistake lets the spirit of the boy take hold, which traps it, binding him to his sister, living unknowingly in his form. Prince Tobin is raised as a boy, not knowing the truth of his (her) existence until much later. Not only is the story utterly engrossing and beautifully written, but with the haunting of Tobin's dead twin, there is the eerie ghost story tied into the mix. Additionally, there is the underlying theme, as Ms. Flewelling puts it in her introduction to the audio recording, of gender identity and gender roles, and their slippery and often mutable nature. This is the story of the boy who is really a girl, the Prince who will be the greatest Queen in Skalan history, and an interesting take on the nature of the soul and the self.

Some of the fun here is that whether you read Nightrunners or Tamír first, you'll have an "aha" moment either way. (What is the bowl? What about Círna and Rhíminee? What the heck is an Orëska?) More importantly, you'll have a great time reading this fabulous adventure. Pick up The Bone Doll's Twin at the store for $7.99, or on audio through iTunes for $21.95--the audio versions are provided by and are absolutely excellent! Either way, you won't be disappointed. You will immediately want the other two books. Trust me.