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.

Spelt Vanilla Coffee Cookies with Pistachios & White Choc Chips

CoffeeVanillaCookies1So I had this random dream not too long ago. In the dream, my friend and I were going to see a movie. We took our seats in the cinema, and I told her to wait right there while I bought some snacks. I went down to the snack bar and had a look at my choices.

There was a small packet of popcorn (I don’t know why it came in a packet) that cost $11. This made me angrier than it should have – I was absolutely infuriated with the injustice! Eleven freaking dollars for a tiny packet of popcorn that’s not even hot or buttered! There was also a packet of some generic-brand lollies that was the same size as the popcorn packet, but this was only $3. Even though they looked really gross and unappetizing I bought that one because it was cheaper. And then a whole bunch of other really random and nonsensical things took place because, well, you know how dreams are.

But anyway, the point I’m trying to make is, movie food is expensive! Even in my dreams I cannot escape from the totally outrageous prices. I think it’s because for some reason, most people can’t watch a movie without eating. For me it’s also commonly a case of, “If we eat dinner beforehand we’ll be late for the movie, therefore we will eat popcorn for dinner.” And then you see almost-full buckets of popcorn just left behind in the cinema. What a waste – of both money and popcorn!

Sure, you could just buy snacks at the grocery store beforehand (assuming you have time, you’re not lazy, and it’s still open) but here’s another option that lets you get creative and ensures that your house will smell delicious upon your return – bake a bunch of cookies at home and smuggle them into the cinema!

And that’s the story behind how these cookies came to be. It was one of those winter afternoons where I was longing to fill my house with the scent of freshly-baked cookies. Of course, I wanted to share them rather than have them sitting in my pantry and tempting me all weekend, so I toted them off to the cinema and saved approximately ten thousand dollars on movie snacks.

So now let’s talk about the cookies themselves! I wanted to use up a few little odds and ends in my pantry and make these cookies a bit “different” (in a good way, hopefully). The cookies themselves are flavoured with vanilla essence as well as some vanilla-infused instant coffee for a double hit of vanilla goodness. The sweetness of the vanilla balanced out the strong coffee flavor which was quite nice. Then it was time to think about mix-ins! I threw in a packet of white choc chips because normal choc-chip cookies are too mainstream (also because I didn’t have any milk/dark choc chips) and half a container of pistachios. Might as well get creative and put them to good use instead of letting them sit around and go to waste!

Also, because I’ve been really into Spelt flour lately, I used that in place of regular flour. I like to think that this made them a little bit healthier, and would justify the fact that a couple of those cookies, along with a handful of popcorn, was essentially my dinner that night. Not that I’d promote cookies as a healthy alternative to dinner on a regular basis. You’ve got to eat your vegetables, people!

Here’s the recipe. If you don’t have vanilla-flavoured instant coffee (I used Moccona brand) then just regular coffee will work just fine.

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Spelt Vanilla Coffee Cookies with Pistachios & White Choc Chips

90g butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon vanilla-infused instant coffee dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
½ cup self-raising flour
½ cup spelt flour
½ tsp of salt
¾ cup white choc chips
¼ cup pistachios

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease and line two baking trays.

Beat the butter, vanilla extract, dissolved coffee and sugars with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Sift in the flours and salt and stir in the choc-chips and pistachios.

Drop heaped teaspoons of the dough onto the prepared baking trays, leaving ample space between each cookie (about 2-3cm) so they can spread.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until slightly browned. Leave to set on the trays for 5-10 minutes or until firm, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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.

Banana, Walnut & Date Muffins with Coconut Sugar

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Ever made a promise to yourself but ended up not keeping it?

I have! Loads of times! Here are three I made and broke this month:

1. Make a new post on Sneaky Pudding at least once a week.

Nope, last post was on January 1st. I’m pretty sure that was more than a week ago.

2. Make some sort of celebratory cake in honour of Sneaky Pudding’s first birthday.

Again, nope. My blog actually turned one year old a couple of weeks ago, and I told myself I would whip up a pretty, nicely-decorated cake to share on my blog, but life got in the way as per usual.

3. Be a healthy person and don’t lick the leftover batter off the spoon before you put it in the wash.

That one was going well (probably because I haven’t been doing much baking this month) until last night when I baked those muffins that you’re about to read about. Seriously, those calories do count, I should stop pretending that they don’t! :P

So yeah, that’s my life story. Now let’s get on to the recipe.

See, we’re going for a holiday soon and we had a whole bunch of bananas just chilling in the fruit bowl. If they could talk, I’m sure they’d say, “Heh heh, we’re just gonna hang out here ‘til you get back and then we’ll be all brown and gross and make the whole house smell like banana.” Seriously, who wants to come home to that? So I figured, hey, why not transform some of those pesky bananas into a batch of Banana, Walnut & Date Muffins to share around? The whole batch was consumed by family and friends in under 24 hours – so, yes, it was a brilliant way to show those bananas who’s boss.

Oh, and this is my second recipe with coconut sugar. I know what you’re thinking (yes, I read minds) – “Again with the coconut sugar! What is with this girl and coconut sugar?” Seriously, try some! If you can’t find it though, substitute the same amount with light brown sugar, firmly packed.

What I like about these muffins is the fact that they are not overly sweet, but have very subtle caramel-y flavor thanks to the coconut sugar, which works nicely with the dates. Enjoy!

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Banana, Walnut & Date Muffins with Coconut Sugar

2 cups of self-raising flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup coconut sugar
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup dates, chopped
125g butter, melted
1 ¼ cup mashed banana
½ cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease a 12-hole muffin tin, plus 6 holes of another muffin tin, with margarine.

Sift the flour and spices in a large mixing bowl, then sift in the coconut sugar and mix to combine.

Combine the eggs and milk in a smaller bowl. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg/milk mixture followed by the mashed banana and melted butter (make sure the butter has cooled slightly). Gently fold together until just combined, then stir through the walnuts and dates. Do not overmix the batter!

Distribute the batter evenly amongst the holes of the muffin tins. Bake for 20-25 minutes (I did one tin at a time, but you can do both at once depending on how spacious your oven is). The muffins are cooked if the edges are slightly browned, they spring back lightly when touched and a skewer inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool muffins in the tin for a few minutes before carefully removing, and leave to cool completely on a cooling rack. Makes 18 muffins.