Rich, chewy wholemeal dark chocolate brownies

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Brownies usually aren’t my thing, but I had to make morning tea for work tomorrow and decided that chocolate decadence was going to be the only suitable option to get us all through the day. I searched for a while to find the right recipe that had some good ingredients in it, and not just copious amounts of white sugar, flour and butter. I found a recipe (original here: http://www.passionateaboutbaking.com/2012/12/baking-wholewheat-dark-chocolate-brownies-one-bowl-whole-grain-and-delicious.html) and decided to base my brownies on that, adding a few of my own twists to make it slightly healthier still. The end result was blissful chocolatey goodness. The outside crust is crunchy and light, while the inside is soft and chewy. I’ve eaten four already, so needless to say I’m now a brownie convert! I’ll definitely be baking these again and will no doubt divert from the recipe slightly. Some awesome additions would be macadamia nuts or slivered almonds, toasted coconut, sour cherries, fresh raspberries, blueberries, mashed banana, glacé ginger or chopped dates.

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Ingredients:
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more)
3 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
6 tbsp dark brown sugar (raw sugar or normal brown sugar is also fine)
8 tbsp wholemeal plain flour
100g dark chocolate chips

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius. Grease and line a 20cm square tin.
2. Put dark chocolate and oils in a bowl and microwave for a minute or so until melted.
3. Whisk sugar into chocolate mix. Add baking powder, salt and eggs and whisk.
4. Add flour to mix and whisk until combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
5. Spoon mixture into tin and cook for 18-22 minutes or until middle is set.
6. Let brownie completely cool in tin before removing and cutting into 16 squares.

Thick, hot chocolate custard (gluten free, vegan option)

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Chocolate – need I say more?!

This recipe came about one evening when I was craving something hot and chocolatey…but not cake or biscuits. I decided to experiment and came up with this recipe. It’s amazing, even if I do say so myself. I love custard and love chocolate – so what better than chocolate custard. It actually reminds me of an Italian Hot Chocolate I had when on a trip to Brisbane. I’ve never found a hot chocolate since that comes close – this recipe is the closest I’ve got!

As this recipe has no eggs so can easily be adapted to become a vegan recipe – just substitute the cow milk with soy, rice, almond or coconut milk.

choc pots

Ingredients:

– 100g bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa or more)

– 2 tsp cornflour

– 2 tbsp cocoa powder

– 2 tbsp sugar (or substitute maple or agave syrup or stevia)

– 2 cups milk of choice (I used 2% fat milk)

Method:

– Add chocolate to saucepan with 4 tbsp of milk. Heat until chocolate has melted. Whisk in remaining ingredients and cook over low heat until thick and creamy.

Best served in a teacup topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Enjoy!

The perfect roast chicken – every time

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I love cooking a roast chicken – or any roast for that matter – especially with homemade gravy. I get a little perplexed that a lot of people my age are completely ignorant when it comes to proper gravy. Gravox or powdered gravy isn’t gravy. It’s gross. Plus, after you’ve put in hours of care to make the perfect roast why wouldn’t you put all those delicious pan juices to good use?! I think a roast chicken is one of the easiest things in the world to make, and this method ensures that the meat stays super tender and juicy every single time. Yes, I’ve cooked probably close to a hundred chickens like this (or so it feels) and I’ve never had one turn out anything but perfect. So all you young people who can’t make gravy – here is your chance. It’s easy. It’s delicious. You’ll never eat any other kind of gravy other than home made again. Promise!

I often cook this recipe on a weekend and can get about 8 portions from a whole chicken. I usually freeze the leftover shredded meat in single-serve portions in zip-lock bags…this way I have shredded roast chicken on hand for other recipes or leftovers.

Ingredients:

Roast chicken:

– 1 large raw chicken (about 2kg)

– 1 cup chicken stock

– 2 medium brown onions

– Olive oil

– Salt & pepper to taste

– 8 sprigs of rosemary

– 4 – 5 cloves garlic

– vegetables to serve

Gravy:

2 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp butter or fat skimmed off top of roasting juices

Roasting juices

Hot water

Method:

Chicken:

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.

2. Wash chicken in cold water (to remove any juices/bits that stick in package). Make sure you thoroughly wash the inside cavity.

3. Pat down with paper towel to dry and stuff the inside cavity with rosemary and garlic.

4. Chop onions into 1cm thick slabs and lay in a roasting dish.

5. Rub whole bird with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

6. Lay chicken BREAST SIDE DOWN on the layer of onions and pour in the chicken stock.

7. Place roasting dish in oven and cook for required time, turning the chicken over halfway through – so the chicken is now the right way up. (Cooking time – I allow 30 mins/500g – seems to work out every time as long as you allow enough resting time once cooked).

8. Once chicken is cooked remove from tray and rest BREAST SIDE DOWN – this allows all the juices to run into the breast, making it super moist and juicy – and covered in foil. Rest for approximately half an hour prior to serving.

Gravy

9. Tip all roasting tray juices into a tall mug/bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. You’ll be able to see all the fat sitting on top of the juices. Skim fat off top and discard (I usually place some paper towel into a bowl and tip the fat in there and then put in bin – much better than tipping it down the sink!).

10. Heat pan on stove top and add butter/roasting fat. Add flour and cook for 1 minute.

11. Add remaining roasting juices to flour mix and whisk until smooth. Cook on low for 5-8 minutes, adding water until you get the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve – serve roasted chicken with preferred vegetables and top with gravy.

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Roasted pumpkin and sweet potato soup

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I never really used to think much of soup…don’t get me wrong, it’s nice and all, but I’d much prefer to eat something else – like pasta or potatoes. My parents have always made delicious soups over the years…Dad’s Ham Hock, Chorizo & White Bean soup is still a favourite, or Mum’s Mulligatawny! In the last few years I’ve learned to appreciate a good soup, probably because one of the only ways to survive winter in this place is to load up on as much hearty food as possible. Plus you generally don’t use much kitchen equipment or time to prep/cook soup…and leftovers are the best for lunch! Soup also freezes really well, so you can always have a stockpile for an instant hot meal.

Soup is one of those things that you can make with pretty much whatever you have in your fridge/pantry. I love throwing a heap of veggies into a roasting tray to caramelise and turn golden brown before tossing the whole lot into a pot with some stock and herbs/spices. Cook for 10-15 minutes and then blitz until smooth. How easy is that, right?!

Ingredients:

– 500g Jap/Kent pumpkin

-1 medium sweet potato

– 2 brown onions

– 5 cloves garlic

– 1/4 head of cauliflower

– 2 tsp curry powder

– 1 tsp cumin powder

– 1 tsp ground coriander seeds

– 4 tbsp olive oil

– 1 litre stock (chicken or vegetable)

– Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1. Preheat oven 180 degrees Celcius.

2. Peel and cut in to cubes the pumpkin, sweet potato and onion. Place in roasting dish/tray, drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and salt & pepper and roast until golden brown and caramelised (about 40-60 minutes)

veg for roasting

3. Heat large pot on stove top. Add remaining oil and fry cauliflower until soft. Add garlic, curry powder and spices and cook until aromatic. Add roasted vegetables and stock and cook for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables go mushy.

4. Use a stick blender (or regular blender – you’ll have to do it in batches this way) to blitz soup until smooth.

5. Serve with a large dollop of sour cream or Greek yoghurt and a sprinkle of fresh coriander.

soup

Healthy fruit & oat muffins

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I love rolled oats…I have them for breakfast every morning and use them regularly in my baking. I’ll sometimes even cook up porridge for dessert in winter time…it’s warm, comforting and way healthier than pudding or cake. Having them cooked/prepared the same way every day can get a little boring though, so finding new ways of using oats is always awesome. I found a recipe for an apple peanut butter oat slice and decided to alter the recipe slightly and add some extra ingredients. (The original recipe is here: http://happyhealthymama.com/2012/11/apple-peanut-butter-snack-bars.html )

These are packed full of both fresh and dried fruit, and are moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside. I think you could vary the recipe in many ways and they would still turn out pretty well. The original recipe cooked them in a lamington tin and then cut up once cooked – I think making them in muffin tins is way easier, and they’re a little crumbly, so this seems to hold them together well. They’re super easy to mix up and don’t take long to cook. I made a batch of 12 and I’ve already eaten 2, so I don’t think they’ll last long!!

Oat fruit muffins

Healthy fruit & oat muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup dried fruit (I used sultanas, dried cranberries and diced dried apricots)

1 apple, cored and grated (leave the skin on!)

2 ripe bananas, mashed

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter (or any nut butter of choice)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius. Grease a 12 cup muffin tin.

2. Add oats, dried fruit, grated apple, cinnamon and vanilla to a large mixing bowl.

3. Heat the peanut butter and honey in the microwave for 40 seconds and add to oat mix. Add banana and egg and stir until combined. Spoon mixture into muffin tin and bake for 15-20 minutes or until tops and edges are golden brown. Cool for half an hour before running a butter knife around the edge of each muffin to remove from tin.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Can be frozen and reheated in the microwave.

Serves 12.

You could always use less oats and substitute other ingredients like desiccated/shredded coconut, quinoa (cooked or puffed), chopped nuts, sunflower seeds etc or add LSA mix, flaxseed or chia seeds.

You can add whatever dried fruit you like – it would be delicious with dates, figs, prunes, currents, raisins or dried apple. I think you could also use other fruits in this dish – try pear instead of the apple, add cherries, chopped peach, apricot or plum. You could always add some extra antioxidants by adding dark chocolate chips…because antioxidants are important!!

Get experimental – there are a million possibilities – just have a go!

Let me know if you make these and any variations you try – I’l be interested to see what other people come up with! 🙂

Vegetarian taco zucchini boats (gluten free, vegan option available)

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I’m one of those people who starts to think about what I’m going to have for dinner at breakfast time. I drove my mother mad when I was a young kid, asking her at breakfast before school every morning what we were having for dinner. Cooking isn’t my mum’s favourite thing to do – far from it in fact…so needless to say I caused a whole lot of undue stress every morning with this simple question.

So yesterday I was racking my brain all day with what ingredients I had available in the fridge/cupboard, and what I was going to do with them. I’d seen several recipes for zucchini boats on Pinterest – so decided to experiment a little bit and make my own version. I had only intended on eating one half of my zucchini and save the other half for lunch the next day – but I couldn’t not eat it – it was truly that delicious. This was super easy to cook, minimal effort, cheap ingredients, and most importantly was amazingly tasty. Try it – you won’t regret it!!

zucchini boats

Ingredients:

– 2 medium zucchini

– 1 x 400g tin lentils (I used brown lentils)

-1 medium brown onion, diced

– 1 large carrot, grated

– 5 cloves garlic, chopped finely

– 1 small hot chilli – seeds removed, chopped finely

– 2 tbsp tomato paste

– 1 tbsp olive oil

– 1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes

-1 teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander seeds, turmeric and smoked paprika

– salt and pepper to taste

– 1/2 cup tasty cheese (use hummus if you are making the vegan version)

– sour cream and fresh lime wedges to serve (leave out sour cream if vegan)
Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.

2. Add olive oil to a saucepan and cook onion until soft. Add garlic, chilli, spices and salt & pepper and cook until aromatic. Add carrot and lentils and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add diced tomatoes and cook mixture for 10 minutes.

3. Cut zucchini in half lengthways and scoop out seeds and some flesh to make ‘boats’. Place boats onto a baking tray and fill with lentil taco mix. Top with cheese (or hummus for vegan version) and cook in the oven for about half an hour or until the cheese is melted and zucchini is tender.

4. Serve with a wedge of fresh lime and dollop of sour cream.

Serves 4.

Optional extras:

You could also add guacamole or a fresh salsa to serve with this.

Guacamole:

Mash 1 avocado, juice of half a lime, 1/2 clove of garlic – finely chopped, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper or chilli powder, and salt and pepper to taste.

Salsa:

Mix 1 small cucumber – diced, 2 medium tomatoes – diced, 1/4 red onion or 3 spring onions – diced, 1 tbsp olive oil, juice 1/2 lime and salt and pepper to taste.

Celeste & Toby’s wedding flowers

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In early April 2013 I was privileged enough to be a bridesmaid for my gorgeous sister’s wedding.

The bride looked amazing, the groom so handsome, and the whole day was a fairytale…the perfect day! It was a beautiful thing to see two people so madly in love with each other commit to each other for the rest of their lives

As I am a florist by trade I was lucky enough to get to arrange the flowers for the wedding. Celeste had picked out flowers and colours, and had sent me a picture of what she wanted. It was then up to me to put the blooms and foliage together to re-create the picture and give her the flowers of her dreams. The bouquets and cake topper were made up of lime green cymbidium orchids, miniature arum lilies, lime green roses and camellia foliage, and the buttonholes and corsages were made of a single orchid with some camellia leaves.

All in all the flowers looked AMAZING – and the colours against her dress were lovely – she looked absolutely STUNNING!

Celeste flowersBridal bouquet

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cake topperCake topper

Delicious & easy apple crumble with vegan custard (gluten free, lactose free)

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I love warm comfort food and in winter after dinner I usually want something hearty, a little bit sweet, and healthy for dessert. This recipe was concocted one evening when I realised I didn’t have anything to put on top of my apple crumble. Don’t get me wrong – you can eat it by itself and it’s delicious, but I like to have a custard, cream or ice-cream on top to add a bit of decadence. In my state of panic once I realised I had none of the above options, I decided to make a coconut milk custard (because I didn’t have any eggs, custard powder or milk to make a regular custard) to go with my dessert…and it was AMAZING!!! Super easy, can be made in the microwave – and best of all it’s delicious AND healthy…not to mention gluten and dairy free!!

Apple crumble:

Ingredients:

3 medium granny smith apples – peeled, cored and diced

3 tbsp sultanas

2 tbsp dark brown sugar (could substitute stevia, maple, agave, honey etc)

3 tbsp water

2 tsp cinnamon

3/4 cup flour (gluten free if required. Can use wholemeal flour too!)

1/4 cup desiccated coconut

1/4 cup flaked almonds

3 tbsp coconut oil (if you’re not vegan and too worried about calories use normal butter!)

Method:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Mix apples, 1 tbsp sugar, water, 1 tsp cinnamon and sultanas in a microwave/oven safe dish (I do this whole crumble recipe in 1 dish to save on washing up later). Cover with lid and microwave on HIGH for 5 minutes. Meanwhile in a separate bowl rubflour and oil/butter together with your fingertips until you get the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add coconut, almonds and remaining sugar and cinnamon and mix to combine. Once apples are cooked sprinkle crumble mix on top and bake for 20 minutes or until top is golden brown and crunchy.

Coconut custard:

Ingredients:

1 400g tin coconut milk

2 tsp cornflour

1 tbsp water

1 tbsp dark brown sugar (or any other sweetener substitute)

Method:

Put can of coconut milk in freezer for half an hour (this separates the coconut water from the milk) and then tip the creamy milk into a bowl, leaving the watery part out. Add cornflour to water and mix until dissolved. Pour the flour/water mix into creamy coconut milk and add sweetener. Microwave on HIGH for 2-3 minutes (depending on the wattage of your microwave) stirring/whisking every 30-40 seconds. The mix should thicken and be the consistency of a pouring custard.

Serve with apple crumble (or anything else that requires custard!) and enjoy!

Serves 4.

Crumble and custard

The finished product – so yum!

Curly hair care

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Anyone who knows me knows that I have insanely curly hair for a white woman! You would describe my hair as tight ringlets, and I’ve seen very few people with similar hair to mine who are not of African descent! It tends to be drier than my straight-haired counterparts, and the ends lighten in colour when my hair dries out. I do NOT use any kind of heat styling on my hair, and usually load it with leave in conditioner to keep it soft and from drying out. I only wash my hair about once a week with shampoo/conditioner, as I find that doing it any more frequently makes it drier (and frizzier) still.

hairNot the best photo – but it gives you an idea of how curly my hair is!

All my life I’ve used truckloads of products in my hair to reduce frizz and try (TRY!) to keep it under relative control. I think I’ve tried just about every leave in conditioner, anti-frizz putty, gel, serum, cream – whatever you want to call it – and have never had really satisfying results. I have always washed my hair with normal shampoo/conditioner and dried my hair with a towel after getting out of the shower. It concerns me how many chemicals/unnatural ingredients are seeping into my scalp/skin when using so much commercial product in my hair, and I definitely prefer to use natural methods and ingredients where possible in my daily beauty routine.

Recently I stumbled upon a post about the No Shampoo/Conditioner method for washing hair (find original post here – http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-8953/diy-this-baking-soda-shampoo-saved-my-hair.html). I was completely skeptical at first – how could your hair be clean and washed and feel soft after using the ingredients they suggested?! Well, I was keen to try the method and give it a good couple of weeks to really see if it made a difference in my hair.

I can’t put my improved hair condition and nearly non-existent frizz down to the No-Shampoo method alone…but I can say that it has hugely contributed to my hair condition drastically improving! My hair at the roots feels soft and well conditioned, the ends of my hair are no longer dry, and my hair is actually starting to grow (although seeing just how much is hard – curls just keep springing back up!).

There are 4 things that I’m doing differently – and I can say that it’s these things that have made the difference.

1. Weekly coconut oil hair masks – just massage small amounts of coconut oil (raw, unprocessed. organic) into your scalp and then work it down to the ends of your hair. Put on a shower cap (I improvise with cling wrap if I don’t have a shower cap!) and leave for an hour or so. Usually I do this on a Saturday while I’m doing washing, bread making, cleaning etc. Rinse out oil with shampoo/conditioner mix.

2. Washing with natural shampoo/conditioner – For shampoo mix 1 part bicarb soda to 3 parts water (I like to make up a big batch of both mixtures and keep them in drink/squeeze bottles in the shower) and for conditioner mix 1 part Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) to 4 parts water. Start with the bicarb mix – pour it on your hair into the roots and massage your scalp for a minute or so. Rinse thoroughly. Repeat with the ACV mixture and leave on hair for a minute or two before rinsing. This process can feel a little strange at first – especially because there is no lather when you shampoo.

3. Dry hair with old t-shirt rather than a towel – the towel texture catches on hair and gives you frizz. Using an old t-shirt or tank top (cotton is good) instead greatly reduces this problem.

4. More oil – I always rub a small amount of coconut oil into my hair after washing, focusing mainly on the ends. I find this helps to reduce the amount of other products I have to use in my hair to keep it semi-tame!

 

The baking soda mix removes product build up without stripping your hair of natural oils, and the ACV conditions and makes hair shiny. (It’s even better if you can rinse the ACV mix out with cold water – living in cold Canberra means that I don’t often do this step in winter).

These small changes have really made a massive difference to the condition of my hair, and I’d recommend anyone with curly/wavy hair to try this method. I’ll note that it took a couple of weeks for my hair and scalp to adjust to this method of cleaning, but now I never get oily or dry hair and it’s a whole lot less frizzy. It’s also nice to know that I’m not bombarding my body/system with chemicals or unnatural products. It’s also a much cheaper option than regular shampoo/conditioner, and you know exactly what’s going on/in your skin!

 

Marinade recipes – Chinese 5 spice, Thai satay & Italian herb

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As posted earlier, I got super busy on the weekend and made a heap of marinated meats for dinners. This means that I can go to the freezer and know that there is a tasty meal just waiting to be cooked with minimum effort required.

I made 3 different marinades which are amazing on the usual meats like chicken, pork, beef, lamb – but could also be used on seafood, tofu or vegetables too. Get creative and imaginative – it’s all about trying to infuse as much flavour as possible into the food!

Chinese 5 spice marinade:

Ingredients:

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 thumb-size piece ginger, finely chopped

1 hot chilli, finely chopped

4 tbsp tomato sauce/ketchup

4 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp honey

1 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder

2 tbsp dry sherry, Chinese cooking wine (optional)

Method:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix.

Chinese 5 spice marinade

Thai satay marinade/sauce:

This can be used as a marinade but also as a sauce for satay dishes – so make lots as it freezes well.

Ingredients:

1/2 tin coconut milk

2 tbsp fish sauce

Juice of 1 lime

1 hot chilli

3 cloves garlic

1 thumb-size piece ginger

1 thumb-size piece galangal (I couldn’t get fresh galangal but found a pickled version at my local Asian Grocer)

Stems and roots of 1 bunch coriander/cilantro (save the leaves to add to soup)

2 tbsp palm or brown sugar

Method:

Place all ingredients in blender or food processor and blitz until smooth.

Thai satay marinade

Italian Herb marinade:

Ingredients:

1/2 bunch fresh basil

1/4 bunch fresh parsley

3 cloves garlic

3 tbsp parmesan cheese

salt and pepper

Method:

Place all ingredients into a blender/food processor and blitz until combined.

italian herb marinade