Blackberry, Lemon, Yoghurt & Almond Streusel Muffins

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In my attempts to bake a healthier muffin, I have sacrificed so many lovely ingredients to the kitchen gods. An array of beautiful flours, the ripest fruits, different sweeteners, fragrant vanilla – they have all gone into creating some of the most unappetising muffins around. Generally dense, bland little numbers which you might only enjoy if truly committed to matyring yourself for “health food”.

And “health food” is such a loaded phrase, with such narrow parameters and misguided implications. I have not been trying to turn what is essentially cake into a “health food” but rather make it a bit more nutritious. Swapping out white flour for wholemeal, saturated fat for monounsaturated, using the sweetness of fruit with its vitamins and fibre – but still a pleasure to eat. I am soooo happy to say that the below recipe is a winner and saves me from throwing out any future dud muffins.

We used blackberries because they were surprisingly cheap – other berries (fresh or frozen) or ripe pear would go just as nicely.  Almonds could be replaced with walnuts or pecans and you could play around with the flours. When pears are plentiful, I would like to try swapping in some chestnut flour and adding pecans to the crumble.

I have played around a LOT with how much (or rather, how little) sugar I can use in this recipe without rendering the results bland or tough. The amount below seems to be the minimum required to make the muffin muffiny…  

Each small muffin has 10g added sugar from the maple syrup. The WHO recommends we limit our added sugar intake to less than 10%, ideally 5% of our daily diet. This translates to 25g sugar for adults and 12g sugar for young children.

Blackberry, Lemon, Yoghurt & Almond Streusel Muffins (makes 6 cupcake sized)

1 large egg
50g olive oil
80g maple syrup
120g yoghurt, plain (low-fat or full-fat)
½ lemon, finely grated zest of
150g wholemeal spelt flour
4g baking powder
Pinch bicarbonate soda
Pinch salt
125g blackberries

20g oats
20g finely chopped walnuts or almonds
20g wholemeal spelt flour
15g olive oil
20g maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 200’C and line 6-hole cupcake tin with liners or baking paper. Whisk the egg, oil, syrup, yoghurt and lemon zest together. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate soda and salt together. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and just barely mix, maybe just 2-3 turns of the spoon. Don’t over mix muffins! Add the berries and gently finish mixing until the flour is just incorporated into the wet batter. Divide the batter between the 6 liners.

Combine the streusel ingredients all together and sprinkle over the muffins.         Bake at 200c x 15 mins.

buckwheat and quinoa granola

GranolaBowl

I prefer variations on a porridge theme for breakfast in winter. But as variety is so important,  I like to have a jar of this delicious granola on hand. This batch is a crunchy mix of buckwheat, quinoa flakes, nuts and seeds, sweetened with pureed dates and enriched with some tahini. As with all my recipes, most of the ingredients can be swapped for tastes you might prefer or half-packets of things you wish to use up.
GranolaBfast

buckwheat & quinoa granola

  • 300g buckwheat, raw
  • 150g quinoa flakes
  • 100g pepitas
  • 150g nuts (I used a mix of walnuts and brazil nuts)
  • 100g dates
  • 75g water
  • 25g olive oil
  • 25g tahini (or a mild nut butter)
  • pinch each of salt and cinnamon

Mix the buckwheat, quinoa, seeds and nuts together. Add the salt and cinnamon. Process the dates, water, olive oil and tahini until smooth. Add 1/3 of the dry mix to the processor and pulse a couple of times until roughly incorporated. Empty the date mix from the processor onto the remaining dry mix and stir until entirely mixed through. Distribute over 2 baking trays and bake in a 150’C oven for 30-40 minutes until golden and toasted. Allow to cool completely.

Kitchen tips: we like this granola with yoghurt and fruit and it is sweet enough for us. If you have a sweeter tooth, you could always add a dash of honey or maple syrup to the date puree.

road trip recovery nachos

nachos

I am living in post-holiday denial. Our bags are unpacked, the washing is done, the fridge has been replenished.  But I am still humming the holiday rhythm of lazy coffees, lunches with a view and no housework. A reality check tomorrow is inevitable. Until then, we shall have nachos and chocolate ice cream for dinner and pretend we have spent the day by the beach.

Nachos

  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1 red capsicum, chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • smoked paprika, to taste
  • 1tb chipotle in adobo sauce (don’t fret if you don’t have this)*
  • 1 tin chopped/crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tin kidney beans, drained, rinsed
  • 1 tin refried beans

Saute the onion in some olive oil until soft. Add the garlic, capsicum, celery and paprika and continue cooking until soft and fragrant. Add the adobo chilli sauce if you have it. Add the tinned tomatoes, fill the empty tin with water and add that too. Add the beans and stir well. Season to taste and cook while stirring over a simmer until it thickens slightly.

Serves 6 with whatever trimmings you like.

I like our nachos spooned over sweet potato chips, baked tortilla pieces or decent bought corn chips. A light scattering of cheese, melted, and topped with guacamole, home made tomato salsa and some thick yoghurt is perfect. The nacho mix freezes well and makes the easiest, quickest meal in a flash.

*tinned chipotles chilis come in a rich, smoky sauce. This adobo sauce has much less heat than the chili but still imparts the fantastic spiced, smoky flavour of the chipotle. I use half chopped chipotle and half sauce to give the heat and flavour I like but adjust this as you wish.

 

chocolate ice cream

icecream

I first made this “ice cream” years ago for children I used to babysit. It is simply frozen bananas blended to a creamy iced treat. When I began working as a chef, I used to use this recipe (and it is barely that) or a cashew ice cream to garnish vegan or dairy-free desserts.

Despite the humble ingredients, the finished product is very rich and one scoop is more than satisfying.

Chocolate Banana Ice Cream

  • 2 large bananas, sliced and frozen
  • 1-2 tablespoons cacao
  • 1 tb tahini or nut butter of your choice – optional
  • vanilla, cinnamon, chilli – optional and to your taste

Simply throw everything into a blender or processor and blend until smooth and creamy. Serves 4.

*I try to keep 2 or 3 sliced, frozen bananas in a zip-lock bag in the freezer. They are then ready to add to smoothies or blend into ice cream. In the photo, I have sprinkled some nuts and coconut – quite unnecessary garnishes and my ineffective attempt to make brown food look slightly better.

lovely buttermilk soda bread

sodabread

Soda bread is a lovely quick bread that can be mixed and popped in the oven in minutes. This recipe bows to the ingredients at hand and you can play around with the type of flour, the sweetener, the fat and any additions. The end result is a rustic loaf that pairs well with so many things. Smoked fish, cheeses of all varieties, leg ham, avocado or simply some excellent butter all raise this humble bread to glorious heights.

  • 2c buckwheat flour
  • 1 1/3c wholemeal spelt
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarb soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4c golden syrup (or rice malt syrup)
  • 1 egg
  • 250ml buttermilk*
  • 1/4c olive oil or melted butter
  • OPTIONAL: fennel seeds, raisins, rosemary, thyme, etc.

*or half yoghurt or creme fraiche or sour cream/half milk.

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add any optional extras. Make a well in the middle, add wet ingredients and mix. Knead lightly. I like to shape it into 2 loaves. Bake @ 170’C for 40 mins.

Shop your pantry: I have made this loaf using all sorts of flours. Less refined flours work best in terms of flavour and texture, I think, but use whatever you have at hand.

harissa yoghurt chicken & vegetable couscous

harissachick

The 2 nights per week that my husband is not at work allow me to take a bit longer in the kitchen. Sunday and Monday evenings are when I do my meal prep for the following week and make sure my fridge and freezer are stocked. I also like to to take a bit more time making dinner on these nights. Being able to create something in the kitchen is one of the things that keep me sane so I really look forward to these evenings.

Saying that, this baked chicken dish is not complicated and I threw it together with what was in my fridge and pantry. I made a richly-flavoured marinade with yoghurt, spices and roast red capsicum, poured it over some chicken thighs and baked them for 20 minutes while I made the vegetable couscous. I used the roast capsicum you can find in jars in the supermarket. I always have a jar of these in my fridge – they are an easy and welcome addition to many salads, couscous, tagines, etc.

We had this delicious dish with a spinach salad and you could also add some flatbread if you wished.

harissa yoghurt chicken

  • 1c yoghurt
  • 1 roast red capsicum, peeled, deseeded
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice (or finely diced preserved lemon)
  • 1.5tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • coriander, see note*
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2tb olive oil

Preheat your oven to 200’C. Puree the yoghurt, capsicum, spices, lemon and salt in a blender or processor until smooth. Heat the olive oil in a pan over med-high heat and cook the chicken thighs, skin down, until the skin is golden. Transfer them to a baking dish leaving any remaining oil and rendered chicken fat in the pan. Pour over the yoghurt marinade and place in the oven for 20 minutes. (It may seem like a lot of sauce but any excess is delicious poured over the couscous.)

Meanwhile, using the fat left in the pan, sauté some vegetables of your choosing until golden and cooked through. Season well. For 6 portions,  I used..

  • 1 capsicum, sliced
  • 1 small sweet potato, diced
  • 1 spanish onion, sliced
  • handful of mushrooms, sliced
  • handful of green beans
  • handful of pine nuts (flaked almonds would also work well)

Then add 1 c of couscous and 2 c of water or stock, place a lid on the pan (or foil securely) and leave to cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove the lid, stir well, replace the lid and turn off the heat. Allow to finish steaming for a couple of minutes then fluff with a fork. Add some chopped parsley, coriander or spinach and some diced fresh date or some raisins if you wish.

Make It Easy On Yourself: blend the yoghurt marinade and dice the vegetables for the couscous the day before. And remember to keep a jar of roast capsicum in the fridge!

*Note: I also added some coriander stalks I had left from a previous dish. You could add a teaspoon of ground coriander or leave the coriander out entirely.

gooey chocolate quinoa pudding

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Warm, soft-centred chocolate pudding is a luscious treat – especially on the grey, grizzly days we have been having this week. My husband makes a gorgeous chocolate pudding at every restaurant he works at and it is one of my favourite desserts. However, I don’t fancy consuming white flour and sugar just to tickle my fancy for pudding. I like to think that my sweet treats can support my nutritional health as well taste gorgeous. So this recipe uses cooked quinoa (yes, trust me!) in place of flour which makes this recipe one of my few gluten-free recipes made without nuts. The quinoa adds an earthy flavour which sits well with the rich cacao and hints of coffee, cinnamon and vanilla. As an added bonus, quinoa provides protein, fibre, iron and magnesium – so you can have your cake and eat it too. Deceptively rich, you would not guess that the pudding contains just over 2 teaspoons of sugar per serve.

I particularly like this mix poured over bananas and baked, although it is delicious made with soft, ripe pears. The bananas do add to this dessert’s comfort factor and, to gild the lily, marry well with a dark chocolate sauce.

chocolate quinoa pudding

  • 1/4c melted butter, olive oil or coconut oil
  • 1c cooked quinoa (from 1/3c raw)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3c rice malt syrup or maple syrup
  • 1/2c raw cacao powder
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp instant coffee or finely ground coffee (optional)
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarb soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 soft ripe pears, peeled, cored, quartered or 3 large bananas, sliced thickly

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Arrange your choice of fruit in a small, shallow oven-proof dish and pour over the pudding batter. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 175’C until the edges are cooked but the centre is still a little soft. Allow to cool slightly before serving with chocolate sauce or cream or both. Serves 8.

Notes: for a simple chocolate sauce, heat 1/2c cream and pour over 100g of chopped 70% chocolate. Stir until smooth.

tomato baked chicken thighs with gremolata stuffing

stuffing

This is one of those dishes that has you high-fiving yourself in the kitchen with how freakin’ delicious it is. A zesty stuffing inspired by the lemon and parsley of gremolata is rolled up in chicken thighs and prosciutto. Simple enough for a school night dinner but fancy enough to be dressed up for dinner with friends. The amount of stuffing specified below would also be glorious stuffed into a whole chicken and roasted with lemon and garlic.

 tomato baked chicken thighs with gremolata crumb stuffing

  • 6 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless, free range if possible
  • 6 rashers prosciutto or streaky bacon
  • 300g passata
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1/4c pine nuts
  • some thyme or sage
  • 1c breadcrumbs, fresh
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 lemon, zest of
  • small handful parsley, chopped
  • 100g goats cheese (I used goat feta)
  • small handful grated parmesan
  • olive oil
  • salt pepper

rawchickrolls

Firstly, make the stuffing. Over medium heat, sauté the onion, garlic and thyme or sage in some olive oil until cooked through and fragrant. Turn off the heat, add the breadcrumbs and stir well. Place into a bowl and add the lemon zest, parsley and egg. Mix well. Crumble the goat cheese through and season with salt and pepper.                             Take the chicken thighs and slightly flatten each one by either gently using a meat mallet or slicing and opening the thicker parts of the thigh. Place a rasher of bacon or prosciutto on your chopping board and put a flattened chicken thigh along it. Season lightly. Put 1/6th of the stuffing down the middle of the thigh and roll up. Repeat with the remaining chicken and stuffing. In a lightly oiled pan over medium heat, gently brown the tops of the chicken rolls and place snugly into a deep baking dish. Pour the passata over the chicken and place into the oven at 190’C. Bake for 20 mins, sprinkle a handful of grated parmesan over the top and bake for a further 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

bakedchickstuffedchick

We had this for dinner with a sharply-dressed green salad tossed through warmed cannelini beans and roast zucchini. Some creamy polenta or sweet potato mash would not be remiss with this delicious meal. There were 2 lovely little chicken rolls left and I served them cold and sliced over a roast vegetable and couscous salad.

Get Ahead: Prepare the chicken the day before and have it ready to pop into the oven for dinner.

 

mushroom barley risotto, roast tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella

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We have some absolutely gorgeous buffalo mozzarella in our fridge this week. The mozzarella comes from a local buffalo farm that we were lucky enough to visit recently. I was amazed at how social the buffalo were, congregating near us to say hello, and how graceful their gait.

This meal was born from a desire to showcase this lovely cheese without relying on my default dish of eggplant parmigiana. Pearl barley has a slight chewiness when cooked and is a delicious alternative to arborio rice. I encourage you to experiment with other additions to this risotto. Chorizo and tomato or bacon and pumpkin would be fantastic substitutions for the mushrooms.

mushroom barley risotto

  • splash of olive oil, knob of butter
  • 6 cloves garlic, diced
  • 6 sprigs of thyme, leaves of
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 doz button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1.5 litres stock of your choice (I used cold chicken stock)
  • 2c pearl barley
  • 2/3 c grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
  • a knob of butter
  • 2 balls buffalo mozzarella
  • 2 punnets cherry tomatoes, roasted
  • basil or parsley to serve

In a large pot, saute the onion, garlic and thyme leaves in the olive oil and butter until cooked through and fragrant. Add mushrooms, cook until golden brown. Add the pearl barley, stir through. Add the stock. Cook on a simmer for 15-20 minutes while stirring every now and then. When barley is soft and stock has reduced, remove the pot form the stove and stir through the parmesan and the second knob of butter. Add salt and pepper as desired. Serve, topped with extra parmesan, the roast tomatoes,herbs and torn mozzarella. Serves 6.

 

vanilla pears with baked nutty crumble

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After years of cooking in restaurants and crafting dishes of increasing complexity, I truly get the most pleasure now from recipes as simple as this crumble. A crumble is everything that is good about winter – warm, ripe fruit, a nutty crumble topping and the contrast of cold cream or ice cream.

pearscrumb

This crumble celebrates the natural sweetness of pears and the spiced topping is a mix of whatever nuts you may have in the cupboard. We had this for dessert a couple of nights ago and I have eaten it for breakfast since with some gorgeous Clevedon Valley buffalo milk yoghurt.

crumble

 

nutty pear crumble

  • 4-5 sweet, ripe pears, cored, diced (I used Buerre Bosc pears)
  • splash white wine
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 40g butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 2 tb (40ml) rice malt syrup or maple syrup
  • 1/4c almond meal
  • 1/4c oats (traditional or quick) or quinoa flakes
  • 1/4c coconut flour
  • 1/2c nuts (I used half pistachio, half pine nuts)
  • 1/4c pumpkin or sunflowers seeds
  • 1/4tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4t salt
  • 1/2 lemon, zest of

Place the diced pears in a saucepan and add a splash of wine and the vanilla. Cover with a lid and cook over medium heat until the wine starts to simmer. Remove the lid and continue cooking until wine has almost evaporated and the pears have softened. This should take only minutes. Pour into a baking dish. Cool to room temperature.

For the topping, place all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the mix comes together but some of the nuts and seeds are still in large pieces. Sprinkle the crumble evenly all over the pears and bake at 175’C for 20-25 mins until the topping is golden brown. Delicious served with good yoghurt, cream or ice cream. Serves 6.

Note: If you can’t find coconut flour, simply process some dried coconut until a fine powder. This recipe could also be made with apples but you may need to sweeten them if they are more tart than sweet. The topping is gluten free if using certified gluten free oats or quinoa flakes and would make lovely biscuits, I think.