Healthy is a namby pamby word. What is that all about? These muffins are healthy, but totally accidentally, because you’d never think so. I am healthy (because I say so), but am eating trifle straight out of the bowl as I write this.
So now we’re just arguing over semantics. Let’s not argue.
I joined a gym when I first moved to London and the next day I used my break clause to quit that same gym. It smelt, and quite frankly, I thought the money could be better spent.
So I made a deal with myself. I would always walk up and down the escalators at tube stations and then we (‘we’ being me and my alter ego) could use the spare money to go on more holidays! Yay! Total win-win.
For those of you who also think gyms smell, this recipe might come in handy. It might be because it’s made with water instead of butter, but at 120 calories, it’s a great snack. It’s healthy.
How is it still healthy with three different types of cheese? Because I say so.
So let’s not argue, let’s do this instead:
Take a cup of baby spinach and 100 grams of feta
Show the spinach who’s boss. Chop it good.
Put the rest of your ingredients in a bowl. Not too fancy. Just chuck it all in.
Spoon in to your trusty muffin tin. Top with parmesan.
1 cup water
2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
100 grams low-fat feta cheese, crumbled or cut into 1cm cubes
1 cup of finely chopped baby spinach
2/3 cup low-fat grated cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, to top muffins
Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease a 12 cup muffin tin or line with patty cases and spray with cooking oil.
Mix all ingredients together except parmesan. It will be very solid.
Spoon into prepared muffin tins and sprinkle with parmesan
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until muffins are golden. Makes 12.
Healthy? 120 calories. So yea.
Gluten free? Swap out the flour for a GF alternative and these work well.
Storage: They freeze well, otherwise best eaten within a couple of days. Store in an airtight container.
Source: modified from the Muffin Bible spinach and feta muffins.
It’s time for a how-to post, meet my test subject, banana and chocolate chip muffins!
I’ve had a bit of feedback that ‘fold in all other ingredients’ isn’t that helpful if you haven’t been cooking much. So it’s time for a step-by-step guide. I’m going to use banana and chocolate chip muffins as the example because it’s a pretty normal recipe with the usual mix-dry-ingredients-add-wet-and-fold instructions.
I think I take for granted cooking basics. I was lucky, in my house while I was a young’n’ cooking, I could always ask my mum for clarification.
10 year old me: Hey mum, the recipe says cream the butter and sugar together*, what does that mean? Mum: Oh, no one actually does that darling. Just melt the butter and put it straight in.
Priceless motherly advice. Especially as her ‘it’ll be fine’ philosophy taught me not to be daunted by fancy-pants recipes. Not that I tend to make too many of them anyway.
*please note that although sometimes creaming butter and sugar is a grand old waste of time, for some recipes, like chocolate chip cookies, it makes them fluffier and is worth the effort. Just soften the butter on defrost in the microwave (but don’t let it melt!) and use electric beaters to beat the sugar and butter together until it’s pale in colour and fluffy, or work your arm muscles and do it yourself with a wooden spoon. Both will work.
This post will soon be followed by a basic muffin recipe you can adapt. But for now, let’s talk banana and chocolate chip.
Preheat oven to 180 C. In other words, turn the oven on when you start preparing your muffins.
Prepare a 12 cup muffin tin – either spray the tin with oil spray, or rub paper towel in some margarine or butter and grease each muffin cup. If using patty pans, spray lightly with olive oil.
Place flour and caster sugar (your dry ingredients) in a bowl and mix together. Form a bit of a well in the middle.
In a medium bowl or jug, mix up all your wet ingredients. If there is butter, melt it. Hold off on the chocolate chips.
Pour wet ingredients into the well you have just formed.
Then add your chocolate chips, make sure you eat a couple to check they’re OK.
Then, using a large wooden spoon, in a single action, run the spoon around the side, then along the base of the bowl. Now fold the mixture over onto itself.
The point of this is to combine the ingredients without knocking the air out of it. Air keeps it fluffy. Fold until the ingredients are JUST combined. It’s OK if there is still a bit of flour not mixed through. Muffins are supposed to be rough, and if you over mix, they get chewy and tough. Just give it a go, but if you want further instructions, then you can always watch an American girl called Casey on You Tube stirring some egg whites into a chocolatey thingy to get the technique down.
Spoon your mixture in to your prepared muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes, turning the tin around half way through the cooking time so they cook evenly. I should add here that this recipe makes about 12 small muffins, or 10 better sized ones.
Muffins are done when either one, or all of these things apply:
1. you give it a poke with your finger and it bounces back instead of indents
2. it is golden on top
3. you stick a skewer or sharp knife in it and it comes back clean. By clean, it means no raw looking dough. A bit of melted chocolate chip doesn’t apply.
As a general rule, if you think muffins are done, give them another 2-5 minutes. Anywhere before burning point is OK in my books. Note that with biscuits, the opposite applies, if you think they need two more minutes, pull them out there and then. Over cooked biscuits are only good for lobbying at siblings, whereas soft chewy biscuits are an art form.
Using tongs, remove the muffins from your pan and move to a rack to cool. This is important otherwise the muffins steam themselves in their little cups and go soggy. If you haven’t used patty pans and they’re a bit stuck, try giving the muffins a gentle twist, then use a knife to leverage one side out before grabbing it with your tongs.
Allow muffins to cool completely before putting in an airtight container, or yet again, they’ll steam themselves straight to soggy-ville.
These muffins are especially fun served sliced, with banana and whipped cream inside. Faaancy.
Healthy? 185 calories if you make 12
Gluten free: I’ve used GF flour and these work well, though slightly crumbly. Could do with an extra egg white if converting.
Storage: In an airtight container, or freeze well.
I went ahead and made you all a vegetable bake for dinner. But then I got real hungry so had to eat it. It was so good. The best vegetable bake ever. You would have loved it. I know how you love vegetable bake. You might have to make you own dinner now. Sorry. My bad.
You see, I saw all these lovely vegetables sitting in my fridge draw.
And I thought, we should do this! We should eat more vegetables!
But then I thought, bacon is tasty, we should put that in too.
So I did. And then I remembered that binding ingredients were probably necessary lest we just sit down to bacon and grated veggies. So I found some good healthy binding things. And now you should make it too.
And you know what? It’s healthy! Double bonus.
Preparation time: 20 minutes preparation, 50 minutes in the oven.
4 rashes of shortcut rindless bacon, diced
½ onion, diced
1 ½ cups grated zucchinis (courgettes) – about 2 medium zucchinis
1 cup grated carrot – about 1 large carrot
200 gram tin of whole corn kernels, drained
¾ cup of lite cheese, grated (80 grams)
1 cup flour/rice flour/gluten-free bread crumbed
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs lightly beaten
¼ cup skim milk
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
Preheat oven to 180 C. Lightly grease a 20cm round cake tin/loaf tin/whatever you’ve got, or line with grease proof paper.
Fry the bacon and onion in a saucepan until bacon is cooked to your liking (I like mine very crispy).
Combine all other ingredients together in a large bowl, and add bacon and onion.
Pour into prepared tin. Bake for 50 minutes or until a knife comes out clean, is golden on top and bounces back to touch. Cut and serve! Nice with a bean salad. Lovely cold as a picnic snack too.
Healthy? Look at all those lovely vegetables! It’s about 320 calories a serve. 250 without the bacon (booo).
Gluten free? This is very adaptable. I’ve made this with gluten free flour, crumbed up gluten free bread (while travelling and short on supplies) and wholemeal flour. All work well.
Storage: I usually eat this over two nights, it keeps well overnight, and is great to make the night before a picnic too. I’ve never frozen it, let me know how it goes if you do.
A word of warning, this is the second time I’ve tried to write this up. The first time I started, got very hungry, left for the kitchen and never came back. This time I’ve come armed with tea, cookies and jam on toast to help me through (for, surprise, surprise there is no chocolate caramel slice left in the house).
To get yours to look like the picture, double the amount of chocolate topping outlined below. It was an accident as I was originally halving the recipe, but it turned out to be a fabulous mistake. I also used leftover easter eggs chocolate, which worked really well.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup brown sugar
115 grams butter, melted
1/3 cup golden syrup
115 grams butter, melted
2 x 400g cans sweetened condensed milk
Ingredients: Chocolate Topping (I doubled this)
170 grams dark chocolate
3 teaspoons olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (350F).
2. Place the flour, coconut, sugar, and butter in a bowl and mix. It should be crumbly, but sticking together.
3. Press the mixture into a rectangular 20x30cm (ish) baking tin that has been lined with baking paper. I also sprayed the baking paper with olive oil spray for good measure. Press the mixture in really well to give yourself a good base for cutting later.
4. Bake for around 15-18 minutes (until browned).
Method: Caramel Filling
1. Place the golden syrup, butter and condensed milk in a saucepan over low heat and stir for 7 minutes, or until it has thickened slightly.
2. Pour over the cooked base.
3. Bake for 20 minutes (check after 15), or until the caramel is golden. The caramel can bubble up a little with the cooking, but it will settle upon cooling and will be covered with chocolate.
4. Refrigerate until the slice is cold – about two to three hours.
1. Place the chocolate and oil in a saucepan over low heat and stir until melted.
2. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
3. Spread over the slice.
4. Refrigerate until firm.
5. Cut with a heated knife.
Cut in to 2cm squares, this makes 36.
Don’t: Melt the butter in the microwave on a high heat. It exploded everywhere and then you have to put more in your jug to make up for the stuff all over the microwave. Not to mention clean the microwave.
And really don’t: stick your finger in the hot caramel. Not that I’d know….
Healthy? Really? Do you really have to ask if? I’ll tell you what, I will write it very small, and then you don’t have to read it unless you magnify the page, for ignorance is bliss. Like this slice. Calorie count: 150 a slice (which really isn’t that bad anyway).
Gluten free? The base is not. The GF recipes I have seen just substitute the flour with GF flour, but I haven’t tried it. With all the butter and sugar, I think it would be fine and bind well enough. Or, you could do something like:
GF alternate for base
170 grams digestive type GF biscuits from the supermarket, crushed
60 grams butter, melted
Combine the digestive biscuits and butter together. Press firmly into the base of the tin. No need to cook it for this method. Then just add the caramel sauce on top and keep going as above.
Storage: In an airtight container.
Source: Modified from Donna Hay “Modern Classics book 2: Cookies, Biscuits + Slices, Small Cakes, Desserts, Hot Puddings, Pies + Tarts” pp. 16-17.
I love granola bars. I ate a bucket load when I first moved to London because Starbucks has awesome granola bars and free wifi. Handy for the hungry, unemployed traveller.
Then, once I was employed I went to a local café and asked for a granola bar and was looked at like I had two heads. Turns out that there is a lot of international debacle about what is a flapjack and what is a granola bar.
Call them what you like, they’re awesome oaty-fruity-nutty goodness. I’ve eaten a lot, but I like Starbucks ones the best. I tried to recreate them – there is a Starbucks recipe on line, don’t be fooled, it’s NOTHING like the in-store version – and after three tries I’ve come up with this recipe.
70 grams butter
2 teaspoons of vanilla essence
300 grams honey/golden syrup or 150 grams of each. You can add more for extra moistness
1/2 cup oat bran (not the cereal, this is found with the oats in the supermarket)
2 cups of oats
50 grams sunflower seeds (1/4 cup)
50 grams pumpkin seeds (1/4 cup)
90 grams almonds (about 1 cup, or mix it up with half-half hazelnuts and almonds)
200 grams dried fruit (I used glazed apricots, coconut, dates, sultanas)
Dash of cinnamon and ginger
2 spoonful of peanut butter
Preheat oven to 180 C and grease a 18cm square tin.
Melt butter, vanilla essence and honey/syrup in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over a low heat.
Mix everything else together in a large bowl.
Pour hot butter mix into bowl, stir well.
Spoon into prepared tin and bake for around 20 minutes, until golden on top.
Once pulled out of the over, flatten mix with rolling pin to pack the mixture tightly, if not packed well enough it won’t stick together. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then cut up while still warm.
The flattening of the mix with the rolling pin/tin/bottle (I found a cider bottle worked well) is key here. There are two ways to make flapjacks, I’ve tried both and find the below method (which doesn’t get baked) produces a slightly chewer, firmer bar. But the above is more like Starbucks and my preference. Take your pick and let me know.
Alternate method Same recipe. Preheat oven to 180. Mix together oats, oat bran, seeds and nuts. Mix ingredients thoroughly and place on a tray lined with baking paper. Toast this mixture in the oven for approximately 8 minutes tossing the mixture every 2 minutes so it doesn’t burn.
Meanwhile melt butter, vanilla essence and honey/syrup in a saucepan, simmer on low heat. When the oat mixture is done toasting, place in bowl and add hot butter mixture. Mix and transfer to a baking tray. Then, place wax paper or baking paper over the mixture and press down to pack the mixture down tightly. If not pressed down tightly enough it won’t stick together. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then cut up. Leave in pan to cool completely.
Healthy? Cut into about 20 or 24 squares you’re looking at about 180 calories a square. But it’s dependent on what fruit and nut you use.
Gluten free? Yep. Just use the GF oats. If you can’t find GF oatbran, substituting normal oats, or quick oats will work fine.
Storage: In an airtight container. No eggs means it’ll last for ages.
Don’t: Just add more fruit and nut because it’s yummy. Been there, done that, had it all fall apart on me.