Sunday, 21 September 2014

Sunshine Muffins

I'm a creature of habit and I like routine. My Saturday morning routine may seem a little mundane but it is actually something I enjoy immensely; A class at the gym, a visit to the fruit and veg market, cleaning the house (...with some good tunes pumpin!) and a fridge cleanout and subsequent cookup. Just recently, this routine has stretched to include baking muffins, thereby rekindling my passion and love for baking scrumptious things. It's so satisfying to fill the house with that "freshly baked" aroma and to have some homemade delicacies to take as an offering when visiting family in the afternoons. Simple pleasures.

Thanks to a lemon tree laden with fruit, lemon and poppyseed muffins have featured in my kitchen for the past 3 weeks. Whilst the lemony goodness of said muffins was a real hit, this week signaled the need for something new. Hence I created these "Sunshine Muffins," named so thanks to their sunflower seeds, the tropical feel of the orange and the addictive sunshine which beamed through the window as I baked up this storm.

Sunshine Muffins 
Makes 16 small muffins (though it could make 12 slightly larger muffins)

1.5 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup plain natural yoghurt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup sunflower seeds 
Rind of 1 orange, finely grated

Juice of 2 oranges
4 thin orange slices, quartered

1. Preheat over to 170 degrees Celsius. Grease or line a 12 hole muffin tray.
2. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and eggs until pale and smooth (about 2 minutes). Beat in the yoghurt, followed by the olive oil.
4. Add the flour mixture and beat until well combined. Stir in the orange rind, orange juice and sunflower seeds and mix well.
5. Spoon the batter into muffins cases and top each muffin with a quartered orange slice. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
6. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling. Enjoy!

Sunshine Muffins (please excuse the poor quality photo.... they were snapped up quickly!)

What's good about this recipe? Well for one, the delectably moist texture, made possible by the olive oil and yoghurt. Soft, airy and melt-in-your-mouth worthy. This is in contrast to the crunch of the sunflower seeds for a bit of variety. Secondly, the combination of both orange juice and orange rind give a vibrant, fresh zing to these muffins which does transport you to a warm tropical paradise (well, in your mind at least). Nutritionally, using olive oil rather than butter provides heart-healthy fats whilst the addition of the natural yoghurt offers a dose of protein, calcium and electrolytes. Vitamin C is also in abundance thanks to the orange juice, whilst fibre and vitamin E are supplied by the sunflower seeds.

Nutrition Information: Per Serve (1 muffin): 760 kilojoules energy, 3.8g protein, 9g total fat, 1.4g saturated fat, 21g carbohydrate, 11g sugar, 0.7g fibre, 244mg sodium, 43mg calcium.

I hope these muffins bring a little ray of sunshine into your day! Enjoy.

- Em xx

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Healthy Apricot Delight

My sister is my best friend. She's pretty awesome, I'm not gonna lie. The trouble is, we're in a distance-relationship. Laura (my sister) lives in the Melbourne 'burbs, studying hard at university and working crazy hours to make it all possible. And me? I'm still a country girl, working full time sharing my nutrition knowledge with the good folk of the Latrobe Valley. Two and a bit hours away from my bestie.

I don't like to think of Laura being all alone, so far from home. I send letters and the odd parcel her way so she can get a friendly surprise when she (eventually) checks her mailbox. Recently, I sent a little parcel containing odds and sods which had made me think of her. A bag of Apricot Delight was one of them. It reminded me of our childhood and rare occasions when we were allowed to choose treats from the lolly shop to gobble down while watching a movie. Apricot Delight would feature more often than not.

Laura informed me she had been so thrilled to find said Apricot Delight in her mailbox that she munched her way through the entire 250g packet in one sitting. To this, Laura quickly added "but it's OK, it's fruit right? It's healthy." Now, big sister (that's me), being a dietitian and all, knew this clearly was not the case, and I did then feel somewhat guilty for misleading her. You see, take a look at the ingredients list on a packet of commercial Apricot Delight. It will look something like this: Ingredients: Apricots 50%, Sugar, Glucose Syrup (Derived from Corn), Vegetable Oil, Acidity Regulator: (330), Emulsifier (Soya Lecithin), Corn Starch, Natural Colour: (160b), Natural Flavour, Preservative: (220). This means that merely HALF a packet of commercial Apricot Delight is actually apricot, leaving the other half full of preservatives, colours and flavourings. Hhmm... it doesn't seem so tasty now, does it? So, because my sister is my best friend and I want her to eat yummy things and remain healthy, I developed the following simple recipe for Healthy Apricot Delight:

Healthy Apricot Delight 
 Makes about 35 pieces, depending on how you cut them 

250g dried Turkish apricots
500ml boiling water
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
2 tablespoons Melrose organic unrefined coconut oil
1/4 cup dessicated coconut, extra

1. Place the apricots in a large bowl and cover with boiling water to soften. (I left mine for ~3 hours whilst I went out a did stuff. Stuff like booking a trip away with my wonderful sister. And heading to the shops to buy coconut oil. And visiting Nana especially so I could borrow her food processor for step 2. You know, important stuff).

The apricots looking nice and soft and plump after a long soaking.

2. When the apricots are softened, drain and blend in a food processor until they are finely chopped.

 Apricots all blitzed up courtesy of Nana's food processor. I know what I want for Christmas!

3. Transfer chopped apricots back into the large bowl and add the dessicated coconut and coconut oil. Mix well.
Triple treat: apricots, coconut and coconut oil. 
4. Transfer mixture into a baking tray lined with baking paper and spread out at about 2cm thickness.

 Ready to chill.

5. Cover tray with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight.
6. Slice mixture into small rectangles (about 1x2cm), roll in extra coconut.

7. Finally, enjoy!

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Nutrition Information: Per serve (30g or 3 pieces): Energy 407kj, Protein 1.1g, Total fat 5.8g, Saturated fat 5.3g, Carbohydrates 9.5g, Sugars 8.6g, Dietary fibre 2.5g, Sodium 8.5mg.

I hope you enjoy this all natural, preservative-free version of this old classic. Please let me know below if this recipe is a hit with you!

- Em xx

Friday, 5 September 2014

Trekking towards Summit Nutrition

When I'm in need of inspiration, I need look no further than my beautiful parents. To me, my Mum and Dad are pretty darn amazing. They have worked themselves to the bone establishing and running their own business for 17 years whilst simultaneously raising my sister and I (tough gig, that one!). My parents have certainly instilled into me the meaning and importance of hard work and determination.

When they're not working, you'll find my parents at the footy or rugby, in the great outdoors, or most likely in the gym. (Hhhmmm, maybe that's where I get it from.....). Dad's always trying something new in the gym, pushing a little harder and going a little further. A jog outside turned into a 5km run, then a 10km run. Then next thing you know he's planning the year around various half marathons. Similarly, a touristy climb up Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka lead to climbing Mt Kinabalu in Borneo. Still yearning for more, Dad pulled out the big guns this year and took on Mt Kilimanjaro. "Mt Whaaaat?," you may asking. Mt Kilimanjaro, located in Africa, is the world's tallest free standing mountain at 5895 metres or 19 341 foot tall. Technically speaking, it is not a mountain at all, but a dormant volcano. No small feat, that's for sure. However I am extremely proud to say that Dad did conquer Mt Kilimanjaro!! In honour of Father's Day this weekend, this blog is all about Dad and his Kilimanjaro adventure. He shares some of his memories, including the food he ate, below:

"Before leaving for Tanzania, I did a lot of research, some of which included the food available on the trek. My reasoning was simple; I had prepared physically and mentally for the challenge, but what if something simple like an aversion to the food caused me to fail?? Thankfully my research told me I had nothing to worry about, and I soon found for myself that was the case. Our trip was organised by a local Tanzanian group called Kilizone. I spent some time talking to our head guide John Lyimo about the food. John himself was a chef /cook, who had worked his way up the chain over twenty years. After doing some 300 summits himself, he had a very good knowledge of what  foods were available, necessary, nutritious and healthy. He, his fellow senior guides, the camp cooks, local suppliers and Kilizone management  got together on a regular basis to discuss these matters. It was surprising to learn that EVERYTHING we ate over the 8 days on the mountain was carried there by porters! No shops, no cold storage depot, no freezers - it was all carried in. This meant we got fresh food each day, including locally grown fruit such as mango, pineapple, bananas and avocado, which were abundant. 
The very first day started with a boxed lunch of chicken, fruit, juice, cake and biscuits. Upon arriving at camp that afternoon, we were greeted with popcorn, tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
The evening meal always started with soup and bread; it was very good soup too! The main meals were either meat or chicken and sometimes with rice or pasta. There were also vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potato (a curious white variety), carrot and aubergine. The meals were always tasty, flavoursome and plentiful. Dessert was usually fruit, or sometimes pancakes with jam and honey. 

Breakfast was always porridge or chocolate flavoured millet. The porridge was way more popular than the millet! Eggs, sausages, toast and tea, coffee and hot chocolate were also available. On top of the provided meals, I also snacked on trail mix (aptly named in this case!), energy bars, fruit purloined from breakfast, lollies, and chocolate bars.

One guide always ate with us, which we all thought was very nice, but it turned out it was for a reason...he watched who was and who was not eating! Higher altitude dulls your appetite and sometimes you really have to force yourself to eat; no food = no energy, no energy = no summit.  There were two occasions I had to force myself to eat; one after a particularly grueling 9.5 hours on the trail which left me windburnt, sunburnt and tired. Dinner was really hard to get down that night. I was about to refuse, due to gagging just trying to get it down, but I persevered, took my time and thankfully managed to keep it down. I struggled to eat again on Summit morning, but accepted the eggs and graciously turned down the sausages, knowing they would otherwise repeat on me for the next 12 hours! 

On top of the food, liquid was critically important. We needed to drink 3-5 litres per day. I carried 3 litres of water with me and made it a point to drink it all, on top of tea coffee, even if it meant peeing every 45 minutes! At one stage I even stopped to drink water from a stream coming straight off the mountain - nothing like it! The guides explained that particularly above 4000 mtrs they liked us to drink coffee for it's stimulatory effect, which got your heart going, your blood circlulating and supposedly got your oxygen levels up (!?) In any case, it was good African coffee!

Looking back, it seems all we did was eat and drink! It was all for a good reason; 8 of the 10 trekkers in the group made the summit, fuelled by good diet. We spent 6.5 days ascending from 1500 metres to 5895 metres, and merely 1.5 days coming down again, covering approximately 80 to 100 kms. Despite the sumptuous feasts on the mountain, I lost 2kg on the journey. 

A fabulous celebratory meal was prepared for us at the bottom. Extremely tasty rice, savoury chicken, a myriad of side dishes, and a lovely spicy tomato relish, all washed down with Kilimanjaro beer and some champagne.....we had earned it!"

Dad at the Mt Kilimanjaro summit with "Summit Buddies" Bryce (left) and Ashley (right).

Thanks Dad! Congratulations on summiting Mt Kilimanjaro and living to tell the tale! I knew you would make it, especially after watching you prepare meticulously for months and months. You are incredible! Thank you for sharing the culinary tales of Mt Kilimanjaro. I wouldn't mind trying the white sweet potato myself, with a side of that spicy tomato relish too! I also think the chocolate millet may need to be recreated for #wednesdaybreakfastclub, it sounds quite decadent! It's great to have you home safe and sound. Good luck preparing for Everest Base Camp!!!!!