Healthy Strawberry, Coconut & Nutella Muffins

I love experimenting with my baking and what better day to do so then Sunday!! Last night I had trouble sleeping so instead I thought about variousways to improve my muffin making skills. I really want to crIMG_3914eate a muffin recipe that produces light, fluffy, delicious cupcakes with as little of the bad stuff as possible! Anyway I started thinking about muffins that I like to eat that fit that category and of course you have your regular muffin mix but then theres also the friand, which is light and fluffy and predominately uses almond meal and egg whites instead of flour! Now I’ve made muffins with an almond meal and flour combination as my dry ingredients and that was pretty tasty but I hate wasting the yellow bit of the egg! So i decided to sort of combine the two recipes so that I didn’t waste anything at all. I’m also trying to avoid using too much refined sugar and friands tend to use quite a bit of icing sugar so that would need to be changed. What I needed, I thought, was a whipped egg white, to give the muffin its sense of light, airy-ness and a more natural sweetener such as honey or maple syrup to give a little sweetness. I also decided to incorporate coconut to replace some of the flour, adding another layer of flavour and texture whilst healthy-ifying the muffins just a little bit more! The other essential component of experimental baking is using whats already available in your fridge or pantry and at the moment we have an abundance of beautiful, plump strawberries that would be the perfect addition to my muffins!

So off I went, adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I must add that when I experiment I tend not to use measures (or I don’t really remember them) but what I ended up with made 6 beautiful, moist strawberry muffins with a cheeky Nutella dollop centre!! Sooo yummy and now my house smells amazing! So heres what I did:

1. Separate two eggs, keeping the egg whites in one bowl and the yolks in another.

2. Add to the bowl with the yolks, 1 cup of self raising flour, sifted (could use gf flour or wholemeal flour), 1/4 cup shredded coconut, 2Tbs maple syrup (or honey), a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla essence. Mix together to form a smooth consistency. You may need to add a dash of milk (or water if you want it dairy free) to loosen the mixture. I used about 1/4 cup soy milk.

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3. In your other bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites to form stiff peaks. Then fold this mix into your flour/coconut mixture, being mindful not to knock the air out of it. Have a little taste and make sure its to your liking. Remember that the strawberries will add quite a bit of sweetness naturally so this mix shouldn’t be overly sweet.

4. Line your muffin tins and divide the mixture between 6 cases. Then slice up your strawberries and press down into each muffin. The strawberries should be covered by the mixture. Add a small dollop of nutella (optional) and try to press this down into the mixture also. Finally, top with a strawberry slice for beautiful presentation.

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5. Bake in a preheated oven (200 degrees C) for about 15-17mins or until a skewer comes out of the centre cleanly.

6. Allow to cool and sift generously with icing sugar and then enjoy!

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Enjoy and Happy Baking!!

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El Bulli Spanish Tapas

Earlier this week my family and I celebrated my graduation from Uni at Randwick’s El Bulli Spanish Tapas! I was really excited as I’ve wanted to dine here for ages but, because of its location (which is a bit far from where I live) its often been forgotten! Luckily though, mum suggested it and I am so glad that she did!

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When we arrived we walked into a dimly lit room, furnished with wooden style benches and a quaint little bar. It was warm and cosy (totally the opposite of the weather outside!) and the staff were very friendly and welcoming. The seated us at a window table, sort of like a nook, where one side of the seating was a long bench filled with comfortable cushions and furnishings. Right from the outset, the restaurant smelt fantastic so I couldn’t wait to start eating! My family and I have been to a couple of Spanish Tapas style restaurants, so our rule is always to try to order a couple of different dishes each time that we go and with the menu presented to us we were spoilt for choice. Personally, I love Spanish tapas style food, in fact I would love to cook it one night for my family, although I’m not quite sure about the logistics of it for five people, but still, that would be a great night! So as a result we’ve only ever really eaten Tapas at a restaurant, which is a shame because it can be quite expensive. I will say that while the meals at El Bulli weren’t cheap, the food was fantastic!

We started off with some Sangria (of course!) and then ordered a selection of tapas dishes to share. Our first dish to arrive was the Pinchitos de Pollo ($16.50) which are essentially chicken skewers. These were beautiful though, moist perfectly cooked chicken skewered and marinated in chimichurri (a herby, green marinade common in Spanish cooking) before being grilled and drizzled with lemon and a light mayonnaise. Perfect little portions of tasty-ness!

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Following this, the Patatas Bravas ($12.50) arrived, with soft, pillowy potato quarters fried to give them a crispy outside, before being cooked in a rich and spicy tomato sauce. Yum Yum! We also shared the Empanadillas ($17.50)  (a personal favourite of mine) which are a deep fried puff pastry filled with mince, herbs and egg! Seriously crispy pastry filled with the most beautifully seasoned and flavoured mince, I could have eaten these all day!

One of the evenings specials was the Zucchini Flowers which were stuffed with a ricotta filling before being lightly battered and deep fried! I love zucchini flowers, and my boyfriend (whose never tried them before) devoured these ones! So crispy on the outside and stuffed to the brim with rich, creamy ricotta. The flowers were plump and fresh and had so much beautiful flavour to them!

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Now if that wasn’t enough, we then ordered a seafood Paella ($29.50) for one to share, which was divine! Perfectly cooked rice with a rich tomato and saffron flavour topped with flavoursome choritzo, chicken and fresh seafood including huge King Prawns, Octopus, Mussels and Clams! It never ceases to amaze me with just how much flavour some people can pack into such a little rice dish! Seriously good and highly highly recommended!

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The highlight dish for me though was one that I had almost told mum not to bother with; Zarzuela ($33.50) a dish I don’t think I’ve ever seen at a Spanish restaurant before, but have heard of in cooking shows. Essentially, it is a seafood soup or broth but wow, I really don’t think I have ever tasted something so unbelievably flavoursome before. There were so many layers of flavours, salty, sweet, spicy and of course seafoody. It was all perfectly balanced and a perfect dish for such cold cold weather. I would highly highly recommend this dish, plus it was huge!! Even my dad loved this one, and he hates spicy food! The broth itself also had a light tomato flavour and just the right amount of spice to hit the back of your throat, but not overpower the soft flavours of the seafood. Now thats a dish I would love to learn how to make.

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We had hoped to order dessert (Churros) but at almost $17 per serve we decided to go to the Italian restaurant around the corner instead, which was a shame as churros would have been delish! Overall, we had a wonderful evening and the food was fantastic! It’s a shame they don’t have a set menu so that you could try more options (for a slightly cheaper price) but hey I’m not complaining, the food was phenomenal! If your ever in Randwick (or Surry Hills as theres another one there) then make sure you stop by!! You won’t regret it! Yum!!

Check out their website here….

 

Best Ever Waffles

ImageWaffles + Winter = a perfect night in!!

I’ve recently rediscovered a new affinity with waffles and I mean, what’s not to love, soft pillowy cushions of dough drizzled with sweet maple syrup and then dunked into rich chocolate or smothered in vanilla ice cream….oh boy I’m salivating again! I often find though, that when I order waffles from a restaurant or dessert cafe that the waffles themselves are really heavy and doughy, often not quite cooked through in the centre, which for me is super disappointing, especially when waffles are a very once in a while kind of treat (you cant waste a treat on a poorly cooked waffle). So as a result I had just conceded myself to the fact that there were no more waffles for me. But wait, I hear you ask, why can’t you just make some yourself? And right you are! I could make them for myself however I don’t own a waffle iron/press/thingy and I feel that buying one could be rather dangerous to my waistline! This weekend though, my good friend Jamie Oliver revolutionised the way I thought about cooking waffles, suggesting (and showing) that you can actually make them in a griddle pan!! YES!! great success! So after watching the episode (and not writing down the recipe) I found myself following a fan page version of the same recipe.

Essentially, Jamie makes a beautiful fluffy dough, pours it into a hot griddle pan before flipping out a perfectly cooked giant waffle which he then slices into soldiers to be dipped later into hot chocolate. Easy, I thought and on Saturday night I promised my sister that a killer dessert would be served at our girls night in! I was honestly so so excited about the prospect of eating waffles that I pretty much skipped the dinner part of our meal in order to save room for what I imagined were going to be THE BEST WAFFLES EVER!! And finally the time came to get ontomaking them. I decided to halve the mixture as it was just the two of us and diligently followed the fan-page recipe. The final step of said recipe required me to add 1 Tablespoon of bicarb soda, which I thought was quite a lot considering the quantities of the other ingredients. My doubt however, was quelled when the author added something along the lines of “yes I know this seems a lot but i double checked it and a whole Tablespoon is required”. Ok, I thought, that must be right. I let the mixture rest then cooked away before serving what looked like the best waffle I have ever seen. By this stage, I was like a kid at Christmas, filled with so much excitement! This was going to be great! I made melted chocolate pots, scooped ice cream, drizzled maple syrup and cinnamon sugar all over the waffle soldiers before we sat down to eat! Eat your heart out Max Brenner, I thought as I took my first bite….and then I spat it out!

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The waffles had a horrible chemical-like taste to them and while the texture was by far, the best waffle texture I have ever experienced, they just tasted horrid! I was so disappointed! They looked perfect, smelt great, were cooked perfectly, had a lightness and fluffy-ness to them….but were just plain gross. Never before had Jamie Oliver failed me in such a way. I was actually a little devastated.  I am very very sad to say that I couldn’t eat mine and lethargically threw them out. My sister (who has a stomach of steel) ate all of hers, all the while telling me they tasted gross and after some more research discovered that the recipe that I had followed had a typo…I was only supposed to use a teaspoon NOT a tablespoon as instructed!

Needless to say, I have learnt my lesson; number 1, follow your cooking instincts . If you think its wrong then it probably is. And number 2, don’t follow fan recipe pages unless you read all of the feed to get feedback from other bakers.

Aside from all of that though, I’d highly recommend using the correct version of Jamie’s recipe (which I later found online!). The results are honestly so good when done correctly. Perfect, fluffy waffles with a crisp outside and a light, well-cooked centre. Hopefully, you’s taste better then mine (which I’m sure they will because lets face it, Jamie is a genius in my eyes). Serve them with melted chocolate to dip and some vanilla ice cream and you cant go wrong!

You can find the original recipe here:

Serves 4:

What you’ll need:

  • 2 free-range eggs

  • 300 ml milk

  • 225 g self-raising flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 100 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

What to do:

1. Crack the eggs into a bowl, add the milk and whisk to combine. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt then whisk until fully combined. Add the cooled melted butter and gradually stir it through the mixture. It’s important not to stir the mixture any more after this or your waffles may be tough. Leave to rest for about 20mins so that it begins to form air bubbles throughout. It looks a little like a bread dough at this stage.

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2. Place your griddle pan over a high heat, add some butter/spray with non-stick spray and pour in the waffle batter, spreading it around to fill the pan using a spatula. Jamie suggests that you could also make smaller waffles, if you prefer – just do 2 at a time.

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3. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook the waffles for around 6 minutes, or until lightly golden on the bottom. Flip over and continue to cook for around 6 minutes, until golden and cooked through.

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4. Turn out onto a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut into soldiers, or whatever shape you like. Serve with fruit, melted chocolate or ice cream and drizzle with maple syrup.

Enjoy and Happy Baking!!

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Brown Rice sort-of Seafood Paella

ImageEven though I love baking sweet treats I do spend the most part of my week cooking and eating as healthily as I possibly can. I often try to use recipes that are not so healthy and modify them to make them even better. This can often be tricky as I’m still trying to convince my parents that dinner can still taste great without potato!! But for the most part, they are pretty willing to try whatever strange concoctions I come up with (their pretty great!). So a couple of weeks ago I decided to try a healthy spin on one of my family favourite dishes, Paella. Now Paella in and of itself is pretty good on the health-scale but I of course wanted to see if I could go one better and make it with brown rice instead of a short grain (dad wasn’t too keen and couldn’t understand why I yet again had to change something that I know works perfectly well!) So off to the shops we went, purchasing some beautiful prawns, mussels, squid tubes and choritzo sausage! And then the cooking began. In true Mia style, I’ve researched a whole lot of recipes, putting together all of the best bits and overall I’m really happy with the base recipe. It seems long and fiddly but in reality its just got a few (maybe more then a few) easy steps, that, when put together have a beautiful flavour true to Spanish food.

Normally, (when I use a short grain rice such as arborio) the dish takes about 35-40mins to make but knowing that I was using brown rice I allocated 45-50mins. Off I went, cooking away and the smells and flavours were fantastic (if I do say so myself). I added stock and stirred and tasted and still after almost 45mins the rice was no where near cooked. My family was getting hungry, moving closer and closer to the kitchen so I knew I had to hurry up but there was just no way to speed up the process! I knew that the seafood wouldn’t take very long at all to cook, so I didn’t want to add it until that rice was cooked through. So there I was faced with an ultimate dilemma, keep cooking the rice and have a hungry/angry family or just stick the seafood in and hope that it cooks at the same time as the seafood. I opted for the second option which in the end was not as bad as I had thought. The rice was just cooked through, with a slight firmness to it, while the seafood cooked through perfectly. I’d have to say that the flavours in this Paella were my best by far. Sadly though, (and probably because of the length of the grains of rice) the liquid did not absorb as should happen in a Paella and there was no crispy bottom. As opposed to a traditional Paella, the dish was more a Spanish rice with seafood and tomato sauce, maybe closer to a gumbo then a Paella. That being said, it was absolutely delicious and even my dad (whose not such a fan of brown rice) thought it was great!

So here’s my recipe, I’d recommend it for sure but just allow at least an hour for the rice to cook through and remember that it won’t be exactly like a traditional Paella. But that just goes to show that you can make Paella with brown rice! Alternatively, you can still use this recipe with arborio or spanish rice (I’ve even used sushi rice before and that works a treat!) and could make it with chicken instead of seafood. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family did!

What you need:

500g Green prawns, peeled

1 Squid tube, cut into rings

1kg Mussels, de-bearded and cleaned

2 sticks of choritzo

1 cup brown jasmine rice

1 onion, diced

1 capsicum

1 tin chopped tomato

1L chicken stock

Smoked Paprika

pinch saffron threads

handful frozen peas

chopped parsley

What I did:

1. First off, chargrill your capsicum over an open flame on your stovetop. I literally leave it sitting on the flame, turning occasionally until the whole thing is black and charred. To remove the skin, pop it straight into a plastic bag and tie a knot in the top. The steam will help to remove the skin and then (while its still in the bag rub it all over to remove it. Take the capsicum out of the bag, rinse under cold water and remove the seeds inside.

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2. Using a food processor, blend your capsicum and diced tomato to make a saucy/liquid,

3. Heat a splash of extra virgin olive oil in your Paella pan and add your diced onion, cooking to translucent but not brown. Then add your diced choritzo sausages and cook for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile heat up your stock in the microwave and add your saffron threads. leave them to “dissolve” and flavour. Add a good dash of paprika to your pan and cook out for 1-2mins, until it starts to give off a beautiful fragrant smell. Then add your brown rice, stirring to coat in the paprika. (I haven’t included a measurement here as its just to your taste).

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4. Finally, add the tomato/capsicum mixture from earlier and about half your stock, stirring it all to combine. Continue to stir your rice, adding more liquid as required for about 45mins (or until the rice is tender and just about cooked).

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5. At this stage, add half your seafood and stir it through, before adding the rest to decorate the top of the Paella. Once this is done, no more stirring, this will help to form a crisp bottom to the rice. Sprinkle with frozen peas and leave for 5 mins.

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6. Before serving, top the whole thing with lots of freshly chopped parsley and lemon wedges.

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Enjoy and Happy Baking!!

Chocolate Muffins with a Gooey Caramel Surprise

ImageLately I’ve been watching a lot of Masterchef so I decided to give myself an invention test challenge! My sister needed something sweet to take to a friends house and I knew that mum had bought an extra tin of condensed milk (it was on sale this week) so with that i decided something with caramel had to be done. My sisters friend also loves chocolate so I came up with Chocolate Muffins with a caramel centre. Now normally when I cook I tend to look at a variety of recipes and then put together the best components to make my own recipe, but on this occasion I decided to go completely blind just to challenge myself! And it turned out a treat! Beautiful light and fluffy muffins, filled with a rich sweet caramel centre! What more could you want!

I used what I knew about muffins as the basis for my chocolate cake mix (essentially; flour, milk, eggs, sugar, butter & cocao powder) and then used the recipe for caramel that I would normally make for caramel slice! Simple! I also wanted to give my bake a bit of trendy finesse, so instead of using paper muffin tins I decided to use baking paper squares pressed into my muffin tin.

Once the muffins were cooked and cooled I then cut a little hole in the centre, into which I then spooned my caramel mixture! Wow what a combination! I also re topped the hole with the cake that I had removed earlier and then put a nice big blob on top of the whole thing! Overall, I was really pleased and impressed with my bake, especially as it was one of the first times I really went without any guidance on my cooking (even though it was just muffins). I would highly recommend giving this recipe a go, and maybe even adding some salt to the caramel if your a fan of salted caramel like me. Another great reccomendation would be to heat the muffins slightly before eating them so that the caramel melts a little! mmm yum!

Hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!

What you’ll need:

2Tbs Cocoa Powder

1 Cup self raising flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

80g melted butter

1 cup milk

1 tin condensed milk

1Tbs butter

2Tbs golden syrup

What I did:

1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C. Sift your flour and cocoa powder, then add your sugar, egg, melted butter and milk. Mix on a low speed with an electric mixer until combined then turn up the speed for about 2mins until the mixture is light a fluffy.

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2. Lightly spray your muffin tin with non-stick spray then line with squares of baking paper (you could use pre-bought muffin cases). Divide the mixture between 6 muffins and then pop into the oven. They should take about 15mins but test with a skewer to ensure that they are fully cooked. Leave to cool completely.

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3. Meanwhile, add your condensed milk, butter and golden syrup to a saucepan and cook over a low heat. Remember to stir constantly so that it doesn’t burn or get stuck to the bottom. Continue until the caramel turns to a nice dark rick colour.

4. Allow the caramel to cool.

5. Using a sharp knife, cut a small hole into the top of each muffin, keeping the cut out piece of cake. Spoon or pipe your caramel into the hole and then re-top with the cake piece. Add a nice dollop of caramel to top the whole thing off!

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Enjoy and Happy Baking!!

Caramel Slice…its just too Nice!!

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Caramel Slice would definitely have to be a family favourite in my household. Actually, come to think of it, anything caramel is a favourite! So when my sister asked me to bake something for her works Biggest Morning Tea it was the first thing that came to mind. Here in Australia, families and business around the country host a Morning tea to raise funds for Cancer research, collecting donations for a great cause! I was so excited to be able to help contribute through something that I myself love to do.

I actually received this recipe off my best friend, who herself had got it off her grandma (grandma’s always know the secrets to great cooking!) and I’ve made it quite a few times! When I recieved a copy of it, it was handwritten in beautiful cursive writing, a perfect sign of a recipe that was certainly going to produce beautiful old fashioned baked goods! The last two times I’ve made it though, I have made a few slight changes and I think I’m finally happy with a recipe that is super easy and super tasty. What I love about this slice is that the base is soft and chewy while the caramel centre isn’t overly sweet. Using dark chocolate on top also helps to balance the whole thing out so I’d recommend staying away from milk chocolate. This recipe is also really great as its really quick to make and kids can get involved too. A perfect lunch box treat if I do say so myself..that is if any slices make it to your lunch box!!

So here it is, my version of a great classic, Caramel Slice (based on one I received from a beautiful friend and her wonderful family!!)

What you need:

1 Block Dark chocolate (200g)

For the Base:

1 Packet Arnotts Butter Snap Cookies

1/4 cup desiccated coconut

115g butter (melted)

For the Caramel:

1 tin condensed Milk

2 Tbs golden syrup

1 Tbs butter

What I did:

1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Then use a food processor to turn your butternut snap cookies into a fine crumb (if you don’t have one you can always do this by hand by putting your biscuits into a bag and hitting it with a rolling pin. It may just take a little longer). Then add your coconut and melted butter and pulse until the mixture looks like wet sand.

2. Line your baking tin with greaseproof paper and tip your crumb mixture into it. Using the back of a spoon, press the mixture firmly and evenly around the tin to form your base. Then pop it into the fridge (this part is very important as it prevents you getting biscuit crumbs in your caramel later! Trust me, don’t skip it!) 

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2. While your base is setting in the fridge, pour your condensed milk, butter and golden syrup into a saucepan and put onto a medium-low heat. Stir it continuously until it turns into a nice golden caramel colour. Its really really important that you don’t stop stirring this mixture as it will burn so easily and leave you with a caramel that has burnt bits in it. Also make sure you stir right to the edges of the pot so it doesn’t stick. This bit can take a while as you need to work with a low heat but stick with it. 

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3. Pour the caramel over your base and pop the whole thing into the oven for 10minutes.

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4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completly. Once cooled, melt your chocolate in a bowl over a simmering pot of water. Pour over the caramel and set the whole thing in the fridge (1hr) or freezer. Use a sharp knife to cut into squares before serving

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Enjoy and Happy Baking!!