December 21, 2011

Vegan mahalo mud pie courtesy of Chef Chloe

I found this enticing pie at Chef Chloe's website, who bakes scrumptious vegan recipes without compromising on any flavour. An ambassador for vegan cooking, Chloe doesn't just believe vegan living is better for you, she has proven vegan cooking can be incredibly tasty too. Winning a cupcake competition, beating those cooking with old-fashioned butter and eggs, Chloe proved critics wrong.

In an interview with The New York Times, Chloe said, “I think right now veganism is portrayed as that horrible stereotype of hippie food that doesn’t taste good and that’s bland. I wanted to break through with a different image, that vegan food can taste exciting.

Well this recipe for a decadent mud pie certainly looks exciting. Bake this for your friends and family and they will certainly be saying 'Mahalo!' - thank you in Hawaiian :)

Mahalo Mud Pie


Cookie Crust
* 2 cups chocolate wafer cookies
* ¼ cup vegan margarine or refined coconut oil, melted

Coffee Ice Cream
(OR buy 2 pints of dairy-free coffee ice cream)

1. 2 cups coconut milk, mixed well before measuring
2. 2 cups almond milk
3. ¼ cup instant espresso powder
4. 1 cup agave
5. 1/8 teaspoon salt
6. ½ teaspoon xanthan gum
7. 2 tablespoons canola oil

Coconut Whipped Cream
* 1 (14-ounce) can of coconut milk – not “lite”, chilled (preferably Thai Kitchen brand or 365 Whole Foods brand)
* 2/3 cup powdered sugar

Chocolate Sauce
* ½ cup soy, almond, or rice milk
* 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
* 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (dairy-free)
* 2 teaspoons canola oil

* ½ cup chopped almonds, toasted

To make the Cookie Crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch pie pan.

Pulse the cookies in a food processor until a fine crumb has formed. Add the melted margarine and pulse until incorporated. Press evenly and firmly into the prepared pie pan, spreading the crumbs ¾ up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool then freeze.

To make the Coffee Ice Cream

In a medium saucepot over low heat, whisk together the coconut milk, almond milk, and espresso powder until espresso dissolves and mixture is combined. Blend the espresso mixture with agave, salt, xanthan gum and canola oil until combined. Refrigerate until chilled, then run through the ice cream machine according to machine directions.

To make the Coconut Whipped Cream

Chill the bowl and whisk of a stand mixer in the freezer for about 30 minutes. If they are not very cold, the cream will not whip properly. Skim the solidified coconut cream off the chilled coconut milk and transfer the solids to the bowl of a stand mixer. Do not include any of the coconut water, even if you have to leave behind a little margin of coconut cream (even a little bit of coconut water can harm your results).

Add the powdered sugar and whip for a few minutes until the mixture begins to stiffen and turn into whipped cream. Work quickly so everything stays cold. Chill whipped cream in a covered container in the refrigerator. It should firm up even more as it sits in the refrigerator for the next few hours or overnight.

To make the Chocolate Sauce

In a small saucepot over medium heat, whisk nondairy milk and espresso powder until combined. Turn the heat to low and mix in chocolate chips until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in oil. This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, but it will need to be reheated before each use.

To assemble the Mud Pie

Spread the ice cream evenly in the chilled piecrust. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refreeze until solid. Note that letting the pie sit out at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving will make it easier to slice. Slice the pie and top with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and almonds.

To agave or not to agave?

All About Agave

Guest Blog by Christina Pirello taken from Alicia Silverstone's website 'The Kind Life'

To agave or not to agave; that is the question. It seems that everything today creates scandal and confusion…our food, our politics, our neighborhoods, how we exercise and now even our sweeteners, natural and otherwise.

A relative newcomer to the culinary world (but not the world) is agave nectar, processed from the agave cactus. It became quite popular with the raw foods community because it is processed at low heat, but in reality, about 30 degrees higher than most raw foodists would deem acceptable, but let’s let that go for the moment.

It seemed that this low glycemic sweetener was destined to be the next big thing in healthy cooking. Deliciously sweet, naturally processed, gluten-free, delicate enough for most recipes, it had it all. Or did it?

Some facts about agave: agave plants are crushed and the sap is collected in tanks. It’s heated to about 140º F for about 36 hours to concentrate the sap into syrup and develop the sweetness. See, the main carbohydrate in agave is a complex form of fructose, one of which is insulin. I know; I know, too science-y. Anyhow, the sap is not very sweet, so when the agave sap is heated, the complex form of fructose is hydrolyzed and then filtered to obtain the desired sweet flavor, from the dark to the lighter, milder amber. In short, the complex fructosans are being broken down into fructose.

Based on my own research, I am not as in love with agave as I was in the beginning. I believe that it’s more processed than I originally thought and in that processing some of the vital nutrients that made it healthy for us are lost.

It is marketed as being low-glycemic and therefore safe for diabetics. Well, I say “Not so fast” on that one. Not only is the whole glycemic index misinterpreted and mis-used, but agave is considered low-glycemic because of its high concentration of fructose as compared to glucose (only about 10%). My concern is that this ratio of 90%/10% is not natural. Even high fructose corn syrup only contains about 55% fructose and we consider that to be the Darth Vader of food because of its high concentration of fructose.

And the big deal about fructose? Ay, ay, ay! While fructose naturally occurs in fruits and veggies, it is in small concentrations, so the liver can handle its metabolism. But when concentrated like it is in agave and high fructose corn syrup, an added burden is placed on the liver. Glucose, our body’s desired fuel is metabolized by every cell, while fructose is not. It has to be metabolized by the liver, which can lead to fatty deposits showing up in this most overworked gland. And since it’s metabolized by the liver, it is more likely to contribute to weight gain than other natural sweeteners.

Some studies also show that fructose can be indirectly linked to the inhibition of collagen and elastin production in the body, resulting in skin that is not so firm.

And finally, this form of hydrolyzed fructose contains no enzymes, vitamins or minerals, so like sugar; it can rob the body of these nutrients in order to assimilate itself for use.

Now that I front-loaded the bad news, there is good news about agave. First and most important, its high fructose concentration is where its similarity to high fructose corn syrup ends. Agave is natural, while HFCS was invented, making agave superior in quality.

Agave’s low glycemic index does make it an okay sweetener to use in small quantities. Its molecular structure allows it to provide sweetness without a ‘sugar rush’ and resulting crash…and no blood sugar spike. And it does make great tequila, so it can’t be all bad. (Kidding…)

Look, I have always found agave to be too sweet in taste, so I did not use it much in my cooking. But I have found it to be a nice alternative for people looking for a more intense sweet without sugar and a gluten-free option for natural sweetening.

Do I think you should throw out your agave and cower in fear? Nope. But I do think that I will stick with my old reliable brown rice syrup, which I have used with great success in both cooking and health for more than 25 years. After processing, brown rice syrup remains 50% complex carbohydrate, 45% maltose and 5% glucose. This strong polysaccharide structure allows brown rice syrup to be used by the body more efficiently and is less likely to store as fat. And it digests more slowly so you are less likely to crave more and more sweet taste and binge. You will be satisfied with less. And in most cases, it also is gluten-free, so read the labels before you buy if that is a concern.

Now that’s not to say you can use it without reservation. With about 70-75 calories in a tablespoon, brown rice syrup, like all sweeteners is calorically dense (about 60 in a tablespoon of white sugar) and can pack on the pounds if not used wisely. So while a better choice than white sugar, because it’s a polysaccharide, like all sweeteners, brown rice syrup is a treat, not a staple of life, as much as we would like that to be our truth. If it becomes a staple of life, you will have the waistline to prove it!

But…back to the topic at hand. Is agave healthy as a natural sweetener? In small amounts, I would say it’s okay, not the best, but okay. Is it healthier than HFCS? Yes, because it’s natural, not invented. Is it healthier than artificial sweeteners? Heck, yes, for so many reasons. Are there other options? Yup, from xlyitol to stevia, healthy, natural, low in calories. If you like them, go for it. And it’s vegan, as is rice syrup, so it ain’t all bad news. And as our modern food supply goes, you could do a lot worse than agave nectar.

I prefer (and will likely always prefer) brown rice syrup as my primary sweetener for baking, sauces, puddings and all things sweet.

So relax and enjoy the sweetness of life…

So what do I think?

After lots of reading, I think I still agree with the professionals, it does sound like agave syrup touted as the new super food to replace sugar really was hype. As my previous post on agave explained, the syrup is high in fructose, which for people with sensitive digestive systems, can wreak havoc on your insides. Like any sugar, it really should be used in moderation, plain and simple.

December 19, 2011

Reduced-fat peanut butter cookies

Although the batter for these biscuits is soft and crumbly, once baked, these cookies are robust and crunchy. Boasting a peanut butter flavour for those who love the spread yet mild enough to not offend those who don't, these cookies are a hit with one and all - excuse the pun.

The dough is straight forward to make and requires few ingredients. It is important to refridgerate the dough once rolled as the mixture will be impossible to handle when warm and sticky.

Shape the golden dough into any shape you like or make an assortment like I did. Adorn with white pearl baubles, chocolate chips, almonds or ice when cookies are baked and cooled.

Some may like their biscuits with less crunch, but these are not as rich as traditional cookies, and don't give you that sickly sweet feeling.

Peanut-butter Cookies

1/2 cup of organic smooth peanut butter
60 grams of butter
1/2 cup of caster sugar
1/4 cup of organic maple syrup
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1 cup of plain flour
Baking paper
Baubles, chocolate chips or natural almonds to decorate

Beat the peanut butter, butter, caster sugar, egg and vanilla essence until pale and creamy. Sift in the plain flour and bicarb of soda and mix until a soft dough forms.

Place the dough between two sheets of baking paper and using a rolling pin, roll into a flat sheet. Place onto a baking tray and refridgerate for at least 30 minutes.

Once cold, take out of fridge and peel off a layer of the baking paper. Cut out shapes and place on two baking trays, layered with baking paper. If using decorations, make sure to press them firmly into the dough.

Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) for 12 - 14 minutes until browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

December 18, 2011

Celebrity gym wear inspiration

Kim Kardashian
Nothing kills my motivation more to get my butt to the gym than a dismal work out wardrobe. The first thing you must do when getting fit is investing in some decent exercise clothes. Staple pieces are stretchy pants in flattering cuts (in Australia, the only brand I have found to make these is Lorna Jane), a selection of sports bras that are well covered and supported, long singlets and a trusty jacket to throw on when you make your entry and exits.

Lorna Jane workout wear

Don't forget to also take with you:
* a pretty gym towel (Missoni make gorgeous prints)
* an eco water bottle
* plenty of hair ties or headband
* a supportive pair of trainers
* a glamourous pair of sunnies
* a light powdered make up, bronzer and lip gloss to touch up
* dry shampoo, antiseptic wipes and deodourant to freshen up.

Hilary Duff

Some may roll their eyes at my glamourous approach to my styling choices for working out but it truly makes me feel better. Many women I talk to feel self conscious about going to the gym for reasons of appearance - and while it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks - it's about how you feel about yourself. After a few visits, I guarantee your confidence will lift.

Nicole Richie

If I ever need a little inspiration, I look to see what celebs are wearing on their way to the gym. Like most girls, I love shopping and buying a new work out wear piece will be reason enough to get me to the gym. Can't say it makes me want to run any harder on the treadmill... but hey, one step at a time.

Kourtney Kardashian

A note about novelty cake tins

I made a vanilla and cherry cake a few weeks ago in this gorgeous butterfly tin I bought online at Peter's of Kensington. I didn't ice it the cake because it came out so beautifully, I didn't want to impede on the elaborate design. I served the cake at an afternoon tea for my mum and her friends. I did dust with icing sugar before serving. You can serve with an accompaniment of organic yogurt.

To make the cake, I used a basic low-fat vanilla cake mix (Betty Crocker makes the best premixes) and added 1/2 cup of chopped red glace cherries and fresh vanilla extract. Delicious!

Nigella also loves her kitsch cake accessories, and whilst I was watching her Christmas Kitchen program, she whipped out another favourite. She reveals her pretty as a picture Vanilla Cake in this video, just in time for Christmas. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

My favourite weekend - noosa exploring

Noosa is a heavenly place in Queensland, only two hours' drive from my home in Brisbane. I have spent many summers (and winters) in this glorious beach town, which has aromatic bushlands, stunning clear beaches and a plethora of amazing restaurants. The gorgeous scenery creates the ideal backdrop for hiking or walking on sand, timber walkways or rocky inclines. One of my favourite paths is the traditional walk from Hastings Street at Main Beach up towards the Noosa National Park and travelling the five kilometres to Hell's Gate, an amazing lookout point over the never-ending azure ocean.

Along the track, find coves to stop at and explore, sitting on rock tops to watch the ocean lap in and out. Whenever you need some healing time, or a breather from your everyday life, this is the perfect place to escape.

Really good rum balls

My fiancé made rum balls on the weekend, which is one of his favourite treats of the holiday season. I think most men would agree that rum balls are a necessary part of the Christmas banquet. These snow-topped beauties qualify as a skinny sweet - they are low in fat - but very addictive!

Jarrod's Rum Balls

1 packet of Arnott's arrowroot biscuits
3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
1 can low-fat sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon natural vanilla essence
2 tablespoons of Bundaberg rum
2/3 cup of organic sultanans
dessicated coconut

Crush the biscuits in either a food processor or by hand. We put the biscuits in a sealed glad bag and bash with a rolling pin to crush. Quite theraputic. You can then roll over the crushed biscuits to create finer crumbs. Pour biscuit pieces into a large bowl. Sift in the cocoa powder and stir in the sultanas. Add the can of condensed milk, vanilla essence and rum. Mix together until well combined. Cover the bowl with glad wrap and refridgerate until cold and able to handle.

Cover an oven tray with foil and sprinkle with a layer of dessicated coconut. Take rum ball mixture out of the fridge and begin scooping a tablespoon of the mixture to roll with your hands into a ball. Toss the ball into the coconut to coat and place on a plate or into a container. Repeat until all the mixture has dissapeared.

Makes 25 rum balls (depending on how big you end up making them!). Jarrod makes extra large rum balls because he likes them this way.... go figure!

Keep in the fridge or freezer.

Lemon and passionfruit butter: the perfect home-made gift

Creamy and zesty, this lemon and passionfruit butter is irresistable, and makes the ordinary piece of toast a complete Christmas treat. Easy to make, this sweet butter is a great gift for loved ones.

Lemon butter can also be used for many desserts, making filling for tartlets or topping for a luxurious pavlova.

Lemon and Passionfruit Butter
4 eggs
3/4 cup of caster sugar
100 grams of butter
juice and zest of 4 small lemons
juice and pulp of 2 small passionfruit

Simmer water in a saucepan that will fit over a ceramic bowl. If you cook the lemon butter directly on the heat, the eggs can scramble. Put all ingredients into the bowl and place on top of the saucepan to let the steam slowly heat the mixture. Stir occasionally while the mixture melts and thickens into custard (this takes about 5 - 7 minutes). Once thickened, take the mixture off the heat and place in the fridge to cool.

Once cold, spoon into two large steralised jars (or four small jars). Seal and adorn with Christmas festivities like ribbons and stickers. Keep refrigerated.

How to make strawberry and vanilla jam

The perfect personal gift for Christmas is luxurious home-made jam. This recipe is easy to follow and makes a sticky runny jam, which is perfect for spooning over toast or serving with some skinny scones. The vanilla pod adds a special touch.

Strawberry and Vanilla Jam

500 grams strawberries (roughly chopped)
500 grams white sugar
2 tablespoons of jam setta
1 vanilla pod
1/2 cup of lemon juice

Heat strawberries, sugar, jam setta and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds into the jam mixture. Add the remaining vanilla pod for extra flavour.

Bring ingredients to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally until the fruit is soft and the mixture thickens.

Steralise 4 small jars or 2 large jars. This can be done simply by washing in the dishwasher or by hand with hot water and a little detergent. Be careful not to break the glass through hot water, making sure you introduce the hot water slowly to the jars if washing by hand.

When the jam is ready, pour into the jars and seal immediately. Wait until cool before adding finishing touches. I added jam lids with twine.

December 14, 2011

Low-fat gluten-free eggnog cupcakes

These gluten-free cupcakes are moist and decadently spicy, packed with the warming Christmas taste of eggnog. Boozy and spiced with nutmeg, the drippy sweet icing will entice everyone to have a try. Perfect to serve at an adults only Christmas party.

If you don't require gluten free, use a traditional plain flour blend.

Skinny eggnog cupcakes (gluten-free)

1 ½ cups of gluten-free plain flour
2 large eggs
60 grams of butter (room temperature)
¾ cup of sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
¾ cup of lactose free skim milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
2 tablespoons of Jamaican rum
Pinch of nutmeg

150 grams of low-fat cream cheese
1 tablespoon of rum
½ cup of icing sugar
1 teaspoon of hot water
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Line cupcake tin with 12 patty pans (it’s a nice idea to use Christmas colours or patterns). Sift flour, baking powder and soda, and nutmeg into a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add one egg to the butter and sugar mixture, while beating. Add ½ of the flour mixture and mix until combined, then add the other egg. Beat the milk, rum and vanilla essence in a small jug or bowl and pour into the mixture. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Spoon a tablespoon of the mixture into each patty pan or until or 12 pans are filled evenly. Bake for 25 minutes until golden and risen. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
To make icing, beat the cream cheese, icing sugar, hot water and rum until creamy. Ice each cupcake and sprinkle with a mix of cinnamon and sugar.

To add decorations, try gold or silver baubles. Mini gingerbreads, which you can buy at the supermarket, are also a nice touch.

December 12, 2011

Seasonal fruit salad with lime

Summer if the perfect time of year for fruit, especially berries and stone fruits. Blackberries, strawberries, blueberries and rasberries are all is season at this time of the year. Other great choices are grapes, melons, oranges, mangoes, peaches and plums.

Whenever you need a quick snack, grab a piece of fruit before you reach for anything else. Whip up a fruit salad for breakfast or a delicious dessert.

Fresh fruit salad

Ingredients (serves 4)

* 600g pineapple, peeled, chopped
* 800g rockmelon, chopped
* 800g seedless watermelon, chopped
* 250g strawberries, hulled, quartered
* 200g seedless green grapes
* 200g seedless red grapes
* 4 passionfruit, halved
* 1 tablespoon lime juice

Place pineapple, rockmelon, watermelon, strawberries, grapes, passionfruit pulp and lime juice in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Toss to combine. Serve.

Fruit salad is best eaten the day it's made otherwise it will become soggy and the fruit will lose its sweetness.

December 11, 2011

Rachel Bilson's skinny tips

In the March edition of Madison, Rachel Bilson gave a few tips on how to dress for your body type. Being so petite, Rachel understands that lengthening your siloutte is key to looking more slender. Rachel says a pair of nude heels is 'the best trick' as they give you a few inches more leg.

The former OC cutie doesn't play into Hollywood drama and doesn't take her beauty and fitness routine too seriously. She wears what she likes with light make up and natural hair.

When friends stop by, she prefers to do her own cooking to entertain. Loving baking, she credits her skills to her Italian mother. Her favourite is an orange coffee cake.

Orange Coffee Cake - recipe by Paula Deen


* 2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for pan
* 1 (16.3-ounce) can refrigerated biscuits
* 1/4 cup minced walnuts
* 1/3 cup granulated sugar
* 2 teaspoons orange zest


* 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
* 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
* 2 tablespoons orange juice, or more as necessary


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan.

Separate the biscuit dough into 8 biscuits. Place 1 biscuit in the center of the pan. Cut the remaining biscuits in half, forming 14 half-circles. Arrange the pieces around the center biscuit with cut sides facing in the same direction. Brush melted butter over the tops of the biscuits.

In a small bowl, combine the walnuts, granulated sugar, and orange zest. Mix well and sprinkle over biscuits. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine confectioners' sugar, cream cheese, and orange juice. Blend until smooth adding more orange juice, if needed, to thin. Drizzle glaze over the warm coffee cake and serve.

Skinny tea-party chocolate cake

Nothing beats a big slice of chocolate cake, eaten with a dainty fork while curled up on the sofa watching your favourite reality tv show. Of course, cake and couch sitting can be a diet disaster combination but if you whip up this light and beautiful chocolate cake, you won't have to feel so guilty! I like to call it my skinny tea-party cake because of the dainty jam layer and the light sponge texture of the cake.

This post will teach you how to make a gorgeous chocolate cake fit for entertaining or enjoying solo. Dress up with edible glitter, baubles or flowers if you are baking for a party.

Light Chocolate Cake
2 tbsp of cocoa powder
6 fresh dates with seed removed
50 grams of dark chocolate (80%)
1 cup of self-raising flour
½ cup of caster sugar
1 tsp of baking powder
1 egg (room temperature)
½ cup of milk of your choice (room temperature)
3 tbsps of vegetable oil

For filling:
Sugar-free strawberry jam

For icing:
½ packet of low-fat cream cheese
¼ cup of icing sugar
2 tbsps of cocoa powder
Sliced strawberries
20g of dark chocolate


Chop the dates and chocolate, and pour over hot water until just covered. Sift flour, baking powder and cocoa powder together. Blend the chocolate, dates and water until smooth. Beat the egg, milk and oil with an electric mixer. Gradually add sugar until combined. Add the chocolate and date mixture and mix. Fold in dry ingredients until combined, but try not to overmix.

Oil a cake tin and put baking paper on the base. Put the cake mix into the tin and bake for 30 minutes in a moderately hot oven at 180 degrees. Turn onto a wire rack to cool.

When the cake in completely cool, carefully cut the cake in half using a bread knife. Using a plate and large spatula, flip the top layer onto the separate plate. Heat the jam in the microwave until warmed and spread over the top of the bottom layer. Using the spatula, take the plate with the other side of the cake and carefully tip on top of the jam layer.

Using an electric mixer, whip cream cheese, cocoa and icing sugar until soft and blended. Ice the cake and top with sliced strawberries and grated dark chocolate. I also think hundreds' and thousands' look super cute.

December 09, 2011

Indulgent tea

Herbal tea not only offers many health benefits, it is virtuosly sugar-free and the perfect skinny treat. All day long, I religiously sip my favourite herbal teas of green, camomile and ginger.

Since I have become so in love with my tea habit, I decided to investigate the best tea on the market. For the most sumptious indulgent tea combinations, you cannot exceed Tea Forté. This luxury brand of tea has irristable flavours like lemon sorbetti, cucumber mint, white pear and ginger, cherry cosmo, kiwi lime ginger, and lychee coconut. Amazing.

Oprah said 'If you are a tea lover, this is as good as it gets.' Try sipping out of gorgeous Wedgewood tea cups or scour an antique store for floral mugs.

frankie's french toast muffins

The combination of French toast and Frankie magazine makes me feel very happy indeed! French toast is somewhat my speciality breakfast and I love that you can never ruin French toast, the dish carries much less pressure than 'whipping up' (for anyone who has tried this, it just isn't that simple) batch of pancakes.

What is so special about French toast is that you can create a very delicious treat for breakfast with nothing more than egg and bread, and it manages to feel so indulgent. The experience can make a regular old Tuesday morning feel like a relaxed Sunday brunch.

Trust the folk at Frankie to notify me of the important revelation of French toast muffins. I am intrigued to translate this breakfast flavour into muffin form and whilst I have heard of French toast cupcakes before, I've never attempted them.

Frankie has borrowed this recipe from Sprinkles Bakes blog, and I am borrowing it from them, with a few amendments of my own to skinnify the recipe.

French Toast Muffins

* 2 cups all purpose flour
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 1/2 tsp. baking soda
* 2 tsp. baking powder
* 2 tsp. powdered cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
* 2 eggs
* 1 1/2 cups reduced fat buttermilk or low-fat soy
* 60 grams of butter, melted
Sugar-free maple syrup
Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Line cupcake pan with papers, set aside.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk/soy, egg and melted butter.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture.Stir until just incorporated. Do not over-mix!

Fill cupcake liners 1/2 full. Bake for 10-15 minutes,(check at 10 minutes. Muffins are done when a toothpick comes out clean.

Poke holes in the muffin tops and gently spoon over one or two tablespoons of sugar-free maple syrup onto each cake. Dust with icing sugar.

Passionfruit and walnut biscotti

Biscotti is a great skinny sweet because it doesn't contain butter or oil, is cut into small pieces for portion control and satisfys sugar cravings. I used what I had in the pantry to make this flavour combination but you can really let your creativity (and pantry supplies) determine what type of biscotti you want to bake.

Some good combinations to try are:
* Cranberry and pistacio
* White chocolate and macadamia nut
* Dark chocolate and candied ginger
* Shredded coconut and dried apricot

Remember to cut any dried fruit into small pieces to blend evenly through the biscotti and to not interfere with slicing the biscotti into pieces. You won't need to roast any of the nuts or buy nuts without the skins on them, all this will add flavour and nuts will roast while you bake the treat.

My recipe is as follows, but use these as the base for creating any combination you wish.

Passionfruit and walnut biscotti


* 2 eggs
* 1 cup of caster sugar
* 2 cups of plain flour
* 1 teaspoon of baking powder
* juice of 2 small passionfruits or 1 large passionfruit
* zest of 1 lemon
* 50 grams of walnut, chopped
* 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence


Beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, passionfruit and lemon zest until pale and creamy. Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and add the walnuts. Fold these ingredients until the mixture comes together to form a soft dough. Lightly knead the dough and seperate into 2 pieces.

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees and line a large baking tray with baking paper. Roll each piece of dough into logs roughly 30 cm long and 5 cm wide. Place onto the tray with space between each piece and bake for 20 - 25 minutes until lightly browned.

Remove baked dough and let completely cool (takes about 30 minutes). Use a serated knife to cut logs into pieces. Lay these back onto the oven tray and bake for another 10 minutes or until all pieces are golden. Turn biscotti and bake the other side until also lightly toasted.

Store in a airtight container; will keep for 10 - 14 days if stored correctly.

December 07, 2011

Fancy ice cubes

Berry Ice Cubes

This is an easy way to fancy up any drink.

Ingredients (hardly complex!):

* mixed berries
* filtered water

Fill up an ice cube tray with water
Drop a berry into each compartment in the tray
Freeze and add berry cubes to water, lemonade or punch.

Try a myriad of fruits, including grapes, chunks of kiwi fruit or passionfruit ice cubes (omit the water for these).

I also like rose petals or baby rose blooms frozen in cubes. I found baby rose blooms at a speciality store near my house, I will take a picture and add it to this post on the weekend. If you buy rose petal to use, make sure they are organic as they won't have pesticide spray on them.

December 06, 2011


Roses and vodka combined? Well I think that certainly equates to the ultimate feminine cocktail.

Rose Martini


* Ice
* 3 ounces vodka
* 1 ounce rose syrup
* Dash of Angostura bitters
* Organic rose petals

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the vodka, rose syrup and bitters and shake well. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with rose petals.

Sleep to skinny & lavender honey tea

A solid sleep routine is paramount to skinny habits. Tiredness can promote overeating and poor food choices as your low energy will make you reach for sugar and calories to help get you through the day. Chronic sleep loss triggers hormones that can lower the "appetite control" hormone leptin. When leptin is not controlled in your body's normal manner, you will find yourself reaching for food all day but never feeling satisfied. If you are exhausted, you are also not going to feel like doing vigorous exercise, or moving much at all. How much sleep is enough? There are many different opinions on how much sleep is enough for an adult. Adequate rest is usually in the 7 -8 hour range. If you have had a few sleepless nights that week, you may need to 'catch up' on your sleeping and have 10+ hours if you get the chance.

What is affecting your sleeping routine? If home or work commitments are preventing you from getting essential rest, try to find the support you need to get as much sleep as possible. Remember, you can't function properly or take care of yourself without sleep. With young children, the chances of slipping into a broken sleep routine are likely. However, sleep when you can, even if you can squeeze in a 30 minute nap.

For many others, sleep can be lost through seemingly no reason at all. Lying awake in bed for hours is not only frustrating, but damaging to your mental health, and to your overall wellbeing. Insomnia is usually attributed to incessant worrying, which keeps you from falling into a deep slumber. Transient or short-term insomnia is typically caused by such things as stressful life events, jet lag, changes in sleeping environments, some acute medical illnesses and stimulant medications. Five percent of people will need treatment for more long-term sleeping disorders. See your doctor if your sleeping problem is prolonged and try not to worry about sleeping itself, which cruelly fuels the insomnia. When I can't sleep, I get up and make myself some tea. Try this recipe for a sleep-inducing brew.

Honey Lavender Tea


* 1 teaspoon fresh lavender flowers (or 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers)

* 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried mint)

* 1 teaspoon of manuka honey

* 1 cup boiling water

Brew tea in a teapot with strainer or a tea infuser for five minutes before serving.

December 05, 2011

Brownies made with raw cacao

I gave a twist to Melinda's Gluten-free brownie mix by adding some goji berry and coconut raw cacao and shredded coconut in replace of the normal chocolate chips. To reduce the fat content, I replaced the 6 tablespoons of butter required with a dash of vegetable oil and 1/4 cup of lactose-free reduced-fat milk.

Raw cacao is part of the antioxidant list of super foods. The raw chocolate is packed with vitamins and minerals in substantially large amounts. Raw cacao is rich in flavour, and without the added milk and sugar in most other chocolates, it may not taste like what you expect from chocolate. My mum had a nibble of my 'chocolate' and screw up her face. However, if you like dark chocolate, you will probably like raw cacao and it is a great addition to dessert recipes. I like the Conscious Chocolate range, which comes in flavours like Mint, Orange and Nuts. Organic and hand-made, you can tell the care taken in making these bars, which are vegan and very guilt free. Check the goods out at Cute packaging too.

The aroma of christmas

Scented Christmas candles are a must for this holiday season. They create the sweet aromas of Christmas without anyone needing to step into the kitchen.

My favourites are:
- The Body Shop in Candied Ginger or Cranberry
- Glasshouse candle in Night Before Christmas, triple scented in plum pudding flavours
- Yankee candles in Christmas Eve and Christmas cookies
- Jo Malone candle in Wild Fig and Cassis
- Dusk Temptation candles in Cinnamon Glazed Figs, Winter Nights, and Walnut and Maple Syrup Pancakes.

December 04, 2011

Nigella's christmas cheer and her star-topped mince pies

Now don't worry, I will have PLENTY of low-fat Christmas sweets and treats for you this holiday season, but to kick off the cheer, here is one of my favourite Christmas foods - the traditional mince pie. Many people are quick to write off the mince pie, full of fruit and spice, they don't have much to do with the 'mince' you may think of but are so much more special than that. I love mince pies because they are one of those tastes and flavours that you don't encounter at any other time of the year. They instantly bring on Christmas cheer.

Nigella is the queen of Christmas; she adores the season and embraces all facets of the holiday - from decorations, to mulled wine, kitchy treats and edible gifts. She is the go-to source for Christmas recipes and her star-topped mince pies are quite a treat. I made tiny baby versions, as I figured this made them automatically more skinny. They make a divine gift and are freezer friendly if you want to be nice and prepared for entertaining over the Christmas break. Just defrost them a few hours before serving or pop in the oven.

Follow Nigella's poetic instructions:

This is the way I make my mince pies, and there is no changing me or them: they are small, to be popped straight into the mouth in one go; the pastry is plain, the better to contrast with the rich, fruited filling; and they have not full casings but little stars as lids, which makes them look beautiful and taste flutteringly light.

By all means use good shop-bought mincemeat if you want, but I’m hoping you might give my new Cranberry-Studded Mincemeat a go (see p.189): it tastes both rich and boozy and fresh and fruity at the same time; and it makes for a slightly different mince pie, but in a welcome rather than challenging way.

With mince pies, I must have butter of some sort: I’ll take brandy butter (my mother’s), rum butter or a brown-sugar bourbon butter (see p.190 for butter recipes). Mince pies are to be savoured – not just as one of the last truly seasonal foods in England, but also as a home-grown culinary triumph, provoking one delighted Frenchman to exclaim in a letter, as quoted proudly by Agnes Jekyll in her Kitchen Essays: “ce que j’adore dans la cuisine anglaise ce sont vos petits mince-pi”.

Star-topped Mince Pies


* 240g plain flour
* 60g vegetable shortening, such as Trex
* 60g cold butter
* juice of 1 orange
* pinch of salt
* approx. 350g mincemeat
* icing sugar for dusting


1. Get out a tray of miniature tart tins, each indent 4.5cm in diameter, along with a 5.5cm fluted, round biscuit cutter and a 4cm star cutter.
2. Measure the flour into a shallow bowl or dish and, with a teaspoon, dollop little mounds of vegetable shortening into the bowl, add the butter, diced small, shake to cover it, then put in the freezer for 20 minutes. This is what will make the pastry so tender and flaky later.
3. Mix together the orange juice and salt in a separate, small bowl, cover and leave in the fridge to chill.
4. After the 20 minutes, empty the flour and fat into the bowl of your food processor and blitz until you’ve got a pale pile of porridge-like crumbs. Pour the salted juice down the funnel, pulsing until it looks as if the dough is about to cohere; you want to stop just before it does (even if some orange juice is left). If all your juice is used up and you need more liquid, add some iced water.
5. If you prefer to use a freestanding mixer to make the pastry, cut the fats into the flour with the flat paddle, leaving the bowl in the fridge to chill down for the 20-minute flour-and-fat-freezer session. Add liquid as above. I often find the pastry uses more liquid in the mixer than the processor.
6. Turn the mixture out of the processor or mixing bowl onto a pastry board or work surface and, using your hands, combine to a dough. Then form into 3 discs (you’ll need to make these in 3 batches, unless you’ve got enough tart tins to make all 36 pies at once).
7. Wrap each disc in clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7.
8. Roll out the discs, one at a time, as thinly as you can without exaggerating; in other words, you want a light pastry case, but one sturdy enough to support the dense mincemeat. This is easy-going dough, so you don’t have to pander to it: just get rolling and patch up as you need.
9. Out of each rolled-out disc cut out circles a little wider than the indentations in the tart tins; I use a fluted cookie cutter for this. Press these circles gently into the moulds and dollop in a scant teaspoon of mincemeat.
10. Then cut out your stars with your little star cutter – re-rolling the pastry as necessary – and place the tops lightly on the mincemeat.
11. Put in the oven and bake for 10–15 minutes: keep an eye on them as they really don’t take long and ovens do vary.
12. Remove from the oven, prising out the little pies straight away and letting the empty tin cool down before you start putting in the pastry for the next batch. Carry on until they’re all done.
13. Dust over some icing sugar by pushing it through a tea strainer, and serve the pies with one of the butters on p.190.

December 01, 2011

Be ready for your close up

Whatever the special occasion it is not just the hair, spray tan and shoes you need to think about. There are a few foods to avoid to make sure you keep yourself cool and calm, and looking your best.

Spicy hot foods and caffeine can activate your central nervous system to trigger sweat. These foods activate neurotransmitters, called acetylcholine and anything that stimulates these neurotransmitters can sometimes affect the glands that cause sweating.

Sorbitol, an artificial sweetener found in most diet products and sugar-free gum is difficult for your body to break down and can cause bloating and indigestion. Try a natural replacement, like frozen fruit such as grapes, strawberries or blueberries. Carbonated drinks contain carbon dioxide that makes your stomach expand so you look and feel bloated. Just drink water with a little lime or lemon. Also contributing to bloating are gassy vegetables, such as broccoli and beans. Keep these off your list a few days before your event.

Stick clear of high fat, greasy foods like pizza or rich cheese platters. These foods are hard for your body to break down and will leave you feeling sluggish and robbed of your hydration. Don't salt your food too heavily for the matter either, it makes you retain water and will leave your eyes puffy and your feet a little swollen.

Eat clean foods (oatmeal, almond milk, raw nuts, light salad and lean protein) a few days before and on the day of the event to not just look, but also to feel your best.