Fruity, Wholemeal, Rather Healthy Muffins

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Do you ever just crave something a bit “sweet” to go with your morning coffee or afternoon tea?

Because I do, quite often actually. Especially when I’m at work and the coffee van (yes we have a special van that delivers coffee straight to our door, be jealous) comes around. When I’m waiting out there for my usual skinny latte, I can help but ogle the delicious croissants and slices of banana bread on display. Seriously, banana bread and coffee = the best combination.

Or when I’m at my computer working on projects at home, and it’s that time of the afternoon when I want my coffee hit… and whilst waiting for the water to boil, that tin of biscuits in the cupboard or that packet of blueberry scones that someone decided to pick up whilst at the shops looks ever so tempting.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a treat once in a while. I do like my coffee and cake on a special occasion. But if you make it a frequent thing, the calories (and the sugar!) adds up. Plus, a sweet treat with my morning or afternoon cuppa generally leaves my energy levels all over the place. Not good, when I need to focus on my work.

The other day, I happened upon some healthy recipe magazines from a few years back, that were gathering dust on my bookshelf. It had been forever since I’d read them, so I thought I’d pick one up and have a flip through, with the hope that I might possibly stumble across a magical recipe that will make me be skinny for ever and ever no matter how much of it I eat, or perhaps just something that’s healthy and simple to make.

I did end up finding the latter. I found a recipe for healthy muffins, and when I saw that it didn’t contain cane sugar it was instantly added to my to-bake list and then successfully crossed off later that afternoon. These muffins are sweetened only by fruit. Though the recipe called for two apples, I decided to substitute one of them for some frozen raspberries; I also threw in some pistachios and chopped dates. I used olive oil, as well, because that’s all I had but you can probably use whatever oil tickles your fancy.

These make an excellent accompaniment to morning or afternoon tea. They’re filling, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, and contain a good dose of delicious fruit. I think the fact that the apples are cooked beforehand makes them nice and soft and brings out their flavor. The muffins are quite moist (don’t you just love the word “moist”?) and should last for a good few days, particularly if refrigerated. Enjoy!

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Fruity Wholemeal Muffins
(adapted from Healthy Food Guide magazine)

2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 apple, peeled and diced
1/3 cup frozen raspberries (or any fruit of your choosing)
1 medium banana, mashed
¼ cup chopped dates
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ cups wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a pinch of salt
¼ cup pistachios (or other nut of your choosing)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.

Combine orange juice, apple, raspberries and banana in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are softened. Set aside to cool.

Sift the flour (return the husks to the bowl), cinnamon, salt and baking powder into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the egg and oil. Add the egg mixture and the fruit mixture, along with the nuts, to the flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared paper cases and bake for about 20 minutes, until a skewer inserted through the centre of one of the muffins comes out clean. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.

Depending on how large you make each muffin, you make have enough batter left over to make another half a batch. I managed to make about 17 small-ish muffins, but you can make larger ones and less of them if you wish.

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Date, Cocoa & Chia Balls

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Since I’m going to be talking about one of my “healthy” recipes in this post, I was going to begin this post with a statement like, “I’m a bit of a health-freak” or something along those lines.

But that would be a lie, at least most of the time.

I ain’t no gym junkie. I do go to the gym, but I mostly spend the time huffing and puffing away on whatever machines I feel like that day whilst daydreaming about all the nice clothes I can wear if I keep up my exercise routine ‘til bikini season rolls around, and at the end I’m like, “Yes! I burned 400 calories! That’s like, a whole slice of cake! Go me!” Then I go home and eat a whole slice of cake. No, I’m joking, that’s just gross.

I do like to eat healthily though – I may not live solely on kale smoothies and quinoa, but I like making healthy choices when it comes to what I shove in my cake-hole (or quinoa-hole… that sounds kinda weird, though, I don’t think I’ll use that saying anymore)

But cooking and baking is my weakness. I like to make sweets to share with my friends and family – cake, cookies, that kind of thing – but often what I bake ends up on my own plate too, negating the whole “being a health-freak” thing. Yet I love to bake, and I love to bake often. Dilemma.

Well, it’s not necessarily the biggest dilemma ever… because lately I’ve developed a fondness for cooking/baking/assembling guilt-free indulgences.

I decided to experiment a little in the kitchen the other day, and came up with a recipe for these delicious little balls of fun! Date, Cocoa and Chia Balls. No butter, no sugar, but lots of deliciousness!

The recipe is still kind of in the beta stage. Basically, I chopped up a bunch of dates and chucked them in the blender with the other ingredients, but I found that nothing was happening to the dates except for being shaken madly about in the blender… so I added more water to help them blend. It worked, but it made the mixture quite soft. They were fine once I rolled them into balls, coated them in Chia Seeds and put them in the fridge overnight, though I would have liked them a bit more chewy. I honestly didn’t regulate the amount of extra water I poured in there, but I guesstimated 1/3 cup when I wrote down the recipe… maybe a bit less would be better?

Why not try the recipe out yourself and have a bit of a play with the proportions? It’s a no-bake recipe, so you needn’t worry about the whole “Baking is a science and you need the exact measurements of everything” deal. You could also roll them in something else like desiccated coconut or cocoa powder if you’re not fond of using Chia Seeds.

Also, a word of warning: These taste a bit like brownies. Brownies are addictive. Therefore, you might possibly find these addictive. But they’re healthy, so it’s okay, right? Right?

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Date, Cocoa and Chia Seeds Balls

1 ½ cups dried dates, pitted, chopped
6 tablespoons quick-cooking oats
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant coffee (I used Moccona Hazelnut infusions, but you can use whatever tickles your fancy) dissolved in about 1/3 cup of hot water (if you’re not a coffee fan, just use the water on its own)
A pinch of salt
Approx. half a cup Chia Seeds

Place all the ingredients except the Chia Seeds in a blender or food processor. Blend to a fairly smooth paste, adding extra water if necessary.

Roll heaped teaspoons of the mixture into balls (it might be a bit sticky… I recommend rinsing your hands before doing this, it makes it easier to handle) and roll in the Chia Seeds to coat. Place the completed balls onto a lined baking tray, and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Oat Bars

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Muesli bars: the go-to snack when you’re on the go. They’re pretty healthy, right? Packed with oats and dried fruit? Well, kind of. I guess. But, I mean, have you ever looked at the ingredients list? I guess it depends on the brand, but most muesli bars I’ve seen are full of sugar and all manner of other things that make it seem less and less like a healthy snack.

Added to that, I find that muesli bars don’t really make me any less hungry. If anything, chowing down on a muesli bar will just make me even more peckish and have me demanding the nearest passer-by to whip up a three-course feast for me. So, in my case at least, they are not worth the sugar and calories.

This is what spurred me to try and concoct my own, homemade muesli bar in the comfort of my very own kitchen!

I threw in some rolled oats (because what’s a muesli bar without oats), some peanut butter and some manuka honey, to make it hold together. Then for extra nutrients and flavor I added some raisins, chia seeds and a dash of cinnamon. After mixing it all together I pressed it into the bottom of a square casserole dish and popped it in the fridge overnight.

So, um, a word of warning if you ever decide to make these. They are highly addictive. Every time I happened to walk past the kitchen, I’d see them just chillaxin’ in that plastic container on the table. I think the fact that they weren’t particularly solid, but actually rather crumbly, made it easier for me to just keep grabbing tiny little pieces without the guilt of “Oh, I just ate a whole slice!” Which certainly isn’t a good thing, because even though they’re healthier than something like a cookie or muffin, too much of a good thing can’t be good. So I think I’ll need to address that by making the bars less crumbly. Or maybe just work on my self-control. :P

The flavour of them, however, was delicious; so peanut-buttery! I am a huge fan of peanut butter so maybe this is why they were so irresistible. The cool thing about these is that you can pretty much just throw in anything; next time I make them, I plan to throw in some extra seeds and some dried blueberries… and perhaps adjust the balance of the ingredients so they hold together a bit better. More honey, perhaps? Or less oats? I guess it’s back to the kitchen for me; time for some experimentation! Here’s the recipe ; maybe you guys can do some experimenting of your own as well.

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Peanut Butter Oat Bars

1 cup Rolled Oats
1 tbsp Manuka Honey
2 tbsp Chia Seeds
½ cup Peanut Butter
¼ cup Raisins
½ tsp Cinnamon

Melt the peanut butter in a Microwave (I had mine on Medium and melted it in 30-second intervals until quite runny) and combine it with the honey, chia, oats, raisins and cinnamon in a mixing bowl, and mix until well-combined.

Line a square dish with baking paper. Pour the mixture in and press it down very firmly. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight, then slice into squares or bars with a knife and enjoy!

Ricotta, Pear & Walnut Ice Cream

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Ice cream. Doesn’t that conjure up sweet, nostalgic summertime memories? Sitting on the hot sand at the beach, after a delightful seaside romp, your hair dripping with salty seawater as you slurp up your Cornetto ice cream cone, without a care in the world except perhaps trying to finish it before it melts. Or perhaps you’re reminiscing about heading to the gelato bar with your sweetheart and ordering a cup to share with one scoop of your favourite flavor, 1 scoop of theirs because that’s just so darn adorable, you guys! Awww! :3

Anyway. The point is, ice cream is one of the things that makes summer awesome (or, for me, one of the things that makes it bearable).
Recently (by which I mean, the other week when I wrote this post), the weather hasn’t been particularly summery – which I’m actually incredibly pleased about! The skies are grey with clouds, it’s chilly enough to wear pants, and it even rained yesterday! It’s all nice and cozy inside and cold out there and I love it!

The thing is, though, I have a perfectly good ice cream maker just sitting around waiting to be of use, and I was planning to fire it up on a hot summery day. But then I thought, “Who cares? Let’s make ice cream anyway.” Ice cream doesn’t wait for anyone.

This ice cream is a bit special. Want to know why? Because it’s healthy (sort of)! There’s no heavy cream in it. No sugar. None of those things. It’s made with yummy, calcium-packed Ricotta cheese, and sweetened only with honey and pureed roasted pears. So it’s a dessert you can feel good about!<p)
The original recipe called for low-fat Ricotta and skim milk, but I used full-fat because I wanted it to be a little bit richer (I was making it as dessert for my family, and I wanted them to actually like it). Also, fun fact: I’m not really a fan of low-fat dairy products, except low-fat milk. But with things like cheese or yoghurt, I prefer to experience the full flavor of it and only have a little bit, rather than eating a larger amount of the low-fat stuff which I find doesn’t taste that good and isn’t satisfying, leaving me prone to further snackage later on when I get hungry again.

This ice-cream is really great, though. The combination of the Ricotta and the orange rind/juice gives it a delicious tart, tangy flavor, almost like a frozen cheesecake, and the honey and roasted pears sweeten it perfectly. Enjoy!

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Ricotta, Pear & Walnut Ice Cream
(adapted from 500 ice creams)

3 ripe pears
2 teaspoons cinnamon
5 tablespoons honey
250g ricotta cheese
120 mL full cream milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
zest and juice of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Peel and core the pears, and chop them into quarters. Arrange the pears in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with the honey and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for about 10 minutes, until softer and slightly brown. Remove from the oven, and chill in the fridge.

When cold, remove the pears and juice from the fridge, and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth (if you wish, you may place it in a blender to get it even smoother). Combine this mixture with the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.
Pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker and churn until thicker and more frozen. Once churned, transfer the ice cream to a freezer container and place in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm up.