Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Delicious and healthy-ish Chia, Banana and Chocolate Muffins

I will begin by stating that baking and I are not a good mix. We are terrible together. Which is one of the reasons why I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after tasting these muffins which I (thankfully) successfully baked. With my own, bake-useless hands. Delicious - seriously so. They even bounced on the floor as opposed to my normal muffin attempts which just dented the floor when they fell. Success indeed.

I got the recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks - Chrissy Freer's Supergrains. As I have mentioned in past posts, I am on a mission to lift my family's diet to ultra-healthy levels and so I thought I would give it a go. I was a little hesitant - I assumed the recipes would be a bit meh (bland, tasteless, dull) but thankfully, I was completely wrong. Chrissy's recipes are not only ridiculously healthy but in my house, they are kid and husband friendly - the marker of true success.

This recipe can be tweaked to make it that little bit more healthy. Use wholemeal flour instead of normal flour - gluten-free if you have a gluten intolerance.  You can use fine brown sugar instead of caster sugar and you can always leave out the chocolate but seriously, why would you? Everyone deserves a bit of naughtiness every now and then. 

The chia seeds are fabulous in this recipe - they're a bit like poppy seeds but in my opinion, better. The reason? Apart from being delicious, they also happen to have the highest plant content of Omega 3 fatty acids and are very high in fibre. Throw in the fact that they are gluten-free and you have the triple whammy.

So treat yourself and enjoy Chrissy Freer's delicious Chia, Banana and Chocolate Muffins.

Preparation time: Approx 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes


2 cups (300g) self-raising flour
2 tablespoons of black chia seeds (yum)
1/2 cup (45g) of dessicated coconut
2/3 cup (150g) caster sugar
1 cup (240g) of mashed bananas
100g of melted and cooled unsalted butter
1/2 cup (125ml) milk
2/3 cup milk chocolate 'bits'
* I always try and use as many organic products as possible. Our local supermarkets have a great range of organic 'basics'. 

The 'How To'

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F).
Brush a muffin tin (12 hole) with melted butter to grease or line with paper cases.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the chia seeds, sugar and coconut. Mix with a wooden spoon before adding the melted butter, banana, and milk. Stir to combine but don't over-mix. If you have any chocolate bits left after no doubt nibbling on them along the way, pop them in and carefully fold into the mixture.

Divide the mixture into the muffin holes and bake for 20 minutes. Lick the spoon and the bowl. 

As tempting as it will be to stuff one straight into your mouth, set aside for 5 minutes to cool and then pop them onto a wire rack. 


Monday, May 20, 2013

My Faux Pho - Vietnamese Chicken Meatball & Noodle Soup

There's nothing like a delicious soup to warm the cockles of one's heart on a cold, wintry day. Pour in the garlic and ginger and you have an immunity-boosting bowl of goodness - as is the case with this fabulous version of Vietnam's much-loved pho (from Real Living Magazine).
My family can't get enough of this soup - so much so that I have to make double the recipe in order to satisfy their hunger pangs. Whilst not a gluten free recipe per se, you can swap the noodles for gluten-free ones and do the same with the stock. The rest is all natural goodness - you seriously can't go wrong. Unless of course you are a vegetarian - chicken mince balls probably don't rate too highly on your list of must have food. But that's ok because the chicken can be replaced with tofu if you so desire. 
There are a lot of ingredients but rest assured, you will be making this again so the ingredients won't sit in your pantry without ever getting used again.
So let's get stuck into it - I dare you not to like this one....
1 tbsp of vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 long red chilli, sliced finely (- my kids aren't into chilli so I add it in later)
1 bunch coriander, stems and leaves separated, both finely chopped
3 tsp finely grated ginger
4 cups chicken stock (you can get gluten-free stock)
3 cups water
2 star anise
1 tbsp finely grated palm sugar
1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
500g chicken mince
4 spring onions, chopped
Ground white pepper and salt
125g vermicelli noodles or udon noodles
1 bunch choy sum, gai larn or pak choy, cut into 10cm lengths - I use baby spinach leaves...easier to eat and delicious
125g bean sprouts
Handful mint leaves/ coriander or thai basil, to serve
The 'How to'
Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, chilli, coriander stems and 2 tsp ginger and cook for 2 mins until fragrant. The aroma is just divine - I'd go as far as saying hypnotic. Add the stock, water, star anise, palm sugar, soy sauce and 1 tbsp fish sauce. Bring to a simmer to infuse flavours. I let it simmer for approximately 2 hours to ensure the herbs and spices completely release their goodness into the broth but if you are pressed for time, 30 minutes should do it.

The meatballs
Place the chicken mince, 2 spring onions, handful of chopped coriander leaves, white pepper, salt, remaining ginger and fish sauce into mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Really get int here with your hands and get all the ingredients evenly spread throughout the mince. Divide and roll mixture into 20 or so little balls. 

Back to the soup
Increase heat to high, drop meatballs into the soup and cook for 3 mins until almost cooked. Add the noodles and green vegetables, then cook for a further 2 mins until noodles and vegies are tender and meatballs are fully cooked. As I mentioned above, I use baby spinach so I pop that in at the end just as I am about to serve so it doesn't wilt too much.

And that's it! It's ready to go once you have topped it with the bean sprouts, herbs and remaining spring onions. 

Let me at it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Butter Chicken - sort of

(Image courtesy of Real Living Magazine. Photography by Katie Quinn Davies - a fabulous photographer and food stylist - www.whatkatieate.com)
This recipe (from Real Living) is a touch indulgent. Creamy and buttery, it's definitely one for the colder weather and when counting calories isn't on the top of your list of priorities. It's naughty but oh so nice. 
Whilst it's not a real butter chicken in that it isn't a curry per se, it's equally as tasty thanks to the gorgeous blend of spices. The smell it emanates whilst cooking draws the whole family to the kitchen and the drooling begins. 
I try and go for the healthy options wherever possible which means I serve this one up with brown rice. I also try and stick as many vegetables I can into a dish - especially with the lead up to cold and flu season so I steam broccoli, chop it up and mix through the rice. Speaking of cold and flu season, there's nothing like garlic - and lots of it - to boost your immune system so most of my dishes in the lead up to winter are practically swimming in the stuff. Delicious. 
I have never been to India - the closest I ever got was being mistaken for a Bollywood actress called 'Holly' whilst in Malaysia. But it is definitely on my bucket list. One day.
60g of butter
1½ tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
750g chicken - you can use thighs but I use breast or tenderloins
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp chilli powder (optional - based on personal taste)
½ tsp ground cumin 
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
3 tsp garam masala 
1¾ cups tomato passata 
⅓ cup cream
1½ tbsp sugar
½ cup Greek yoghurt
Sea salt & white pepper 
Handful coriander leaves                                                                             Naan bread or poppadoms - you can buy both in the Indian food section of the supermarket
Steamed rice - basmati or brown rice for a healthier option. 

The 'How To'

Heat butter and oil in saucepan, over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook for 5 mins. It will start smelling divine and probably start attracting family members into the kitchen. Add chicken and cook for 3 mins. 

Add garlic, chilli powder, cumin, coriander, ginger and garam masala to saucepan. Stir to coat chicken with spices. Cook for 2 mins. If you thought it smelt good before adding the spices, then you won't know what hit you once the spices are in.

Add passata, cream and sugar to chicken pan and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 10 mins until chicken is cooked through. Remove butter chicken from heat and stir through yoghurt. Season to taste. 

Serve Spoon into serving bowls and garnish with coriander. You could also add some chopped up pistachios to add to the texture and flavour. Serve with rice and naan bread/ poppadoms. I dare you not to lick your plate.....

Monday, May 13, 2013

Roast Lamb and Couscous/ Quinoa Salad on Pita Bread

cooked my first roast when I was well into my 30s. I come from a South American background and grew up on asados (the most insanely delicious bbqs in existance) and stews. As a kid, I used to listen to school friends talk about their Sunday roasts and I would turn green with envy (I would also get very envious as I watched them open their lunchboxes and pull out their devon and tomato sauce sandwiches. We didn't do devon.)

It wasn't until I moved in with my then boyfriend-now-husband that I managed to build up the courage to try baking a roast. It seriously turned me into a nervous wreck - was it burning/ cooked/ still moving/ edible? It was all in all a very unpleasant experience. 

But I have matured (in more ways than one - and not always like a fine wine, unfortunately) and I have moved on to successfully baking roasts. Here's a recipe I found in a House and Garden magazine. It's a great one for a weekend lunch - fresh, light and healthy. Obviously not one for my vegetarian friends but I promise to start sharing some meat-free meal ideas soon. Enjoy!

Serves : quite a few
Cooking time: a long time - about 4-ish hours (maths was never my forte)


Couscous or quinoa (for a gluten-free option)
1kg lamb shoulder, boned, rolled and tied
5 tomatoes - can be cored roma tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
8 small round pita breads
2 cucumbers - I find that lebanese ones are sweeter and less bitter
2/3 cup (100g) black olives
200g fetta cheese, crumbled
1 red onion, finely sliced 
2 tbsp fresh oregano
1/2 cup (or more) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup (125ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp good-quality red wine vinegar

How to:
Preheat oven to 200C (180C if fan forced). Place lamb on a roasting tray and season well with salt and pepper. Place the tomatoes on a roasting tray and season with salt and pepper. Cook lamb and tomatoes at the same time but remember to remove the tomatoes after about 15 minutes unless you like the taste of charcoal - my family were almost subjected to burnt tomatoes. Almost.

Continue roasting the lamb for another 30 minutes. Remove lamb, wrap the entire tray tightly with foil and return to oven. Make sure you reduce the oven temperature to 150C (130C fan) - let it roast for another two hours. Apparently, by this stage, you will be able to push your finger through the meat. And burn it to shreds no doubt. I just stuck a knife in it. When ready , remove from oven and let it sit for approximately 30 minutes. Pull/ cut lamb into bite-size pieces. Yum.


Prepare a cup of couscous or quinoa as per packet instructions. Chop up the cucumber and mix with couscous/ quinoa, fetta, olives, sliced red onions, oregano and parsley. You can choose to throw in the lamb at this point or serve it separately. Drizzle with oil and vinegar and Bob's your uncle (or Jose in my case).

Serve with pita bread and watch everyone have fun as they make a complete mess of themselves. Provecho!

Italian Sausage & Bean Stew

Winter food is great, isn't it? I love it - the hearty, slow-cooked stews, the delicious soups and crispy roasts are the reason I love the cooler weather. That and the fact that chunky jumpers and big coats can hide my over-indulgence in the aforementioned delicacies.

I made a decision to try and get as many legumes into our diet as possible this winter. Not an easy task considering my daughters are convinced that the sole purpose of legumes are to give you wind and hence, they aren't interested. 

But  I have started to turn them...slowly but surely. I've worked out it's all about the flavours accompanying them. In today's recipe, the tomatoes and sausages steal the beans' thunder - which is a perfect disguise for the little balls of goodness as far as my girls are concerned. 

I found this recipe in the August 2010 edition of Australian Good Food. It's quick and easy and full of winter goodness. My girls love it - which is saying a lot. Hope you do too.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

320g of Italian style sausages (other types of sausages work well - the Italian are just more flavorsome)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
2 garlic gloves chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
2 x 400g cans cherry tomatoes
2 x 400g cans of borlotti beans (cannellini beans, butter beans and chickpeas work just as well)
200g green beans, trimmed and halved

The fun bit

1. Squeeze the sausage meat from the casings and roll into walnut-sized meatballs. 
2. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan on high. Pop the meatballs into the pan and brown them all over. Remove from pan and keep warm.
3. Reduce the heat to medium - add the garlic, onion, chilli flakes and fennel seeds and cook for approximately 5 minutes or until the onion has softened. Throw in the tomatoes and two cups of water and bring to the boil. Pop in the borlotti beans and meatballs and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the green beans and cook for another 5 minutes or until meatballs are fully cooked. 

Lovely served with crusty bread. I serve it with brown rice - the girls love it and the rice absorbs the sauce beautifully. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Spinach, pine nut and fetta gozleme

We are very spoilt in our neighbourhood. We have one of Sydney's best-known Saturday markets at the local school. Clothing, jewellery, music - it's all there in abundance as are the colourful locals and visitors that swarm the area every weekend. And then there's the amazing variety of food - the Turkish Gozleme stand is a favourite.

I never thought I would be using the words home-made and gozleme together but yes, last week, I subjected my family to a trial run of a recipe I had found in an old Real Living magazine (my favourite 'lifestyle' magazine). It tasted fabulous and thankfully, the family agreed. 

This recipe contains gluten. I'm not sure how well the dough would work out if you replaced the regular flour with gluten-free flour but it might be worth a try. 
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes


2 1/2 cups of plain flour
1 tsp of salt
1/3 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup of water
2 tbsp of pine nuts
A pinch of ground nutmeg
2 green onions finely sliced
150g of baby spinach leaves
150g Danish feta - crumbled
1 1/2 cups of mozzarella
Cracked black pepper
Oil spray - olive or or vegetable
Lemon wedges and a leafy green salad to serve

The 'How to'

1. Making the dough 
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the oil and water stir to combine. Turn the mixture on to a flat surface and knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. This can take anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes depending on your kneading skills and muscles. Place dough in a clean bowl and cover with a cloth. Ignore it for about 10 minutes.

2. Making the delicious filling
Pop the pine nuts in a frying pan and toast for a few minutes until they are golden brown and then remove from heat. Keep an eye on them...they start tanning relatively quickly. I had to do a second batch after I walked off and let the first burn. That would be the story of my cooking life...

Pop the nuts into a clean bowl along with the spinach, nutmeg, green onions, feta and mozzarella. Add salt and pepper to taste - remembering that feta can be quite salty so maybe hold back on the salt a little. Or maybe not - depends on your taste.

3. Back to the dough
I must admit I was shocked when I starting rolling out the dough. Baking and flour-related meals have never been my forte so I was most surprised to discover that my dough had indeed been a success.

Divide the dough into four pieces and roll each piece out to form a 30cm circle - about the same size as a tortilla. Place half of the spinach filling in the centre of two dough circles - leave about a 1 1/2cm border around the edges. Top with the remaining two dough circles, flatten and press the edges together to seal.

4. Cooking the goodness
Spray a frying pan with the oil (use two frying pans at once to cut back on cooking time if you can). Carefully place** the gozleme onto the pans and cook on each side for about 5 minutes - I cooked mine for a little longer to get it nice and brown. Don't forget to spray the pan when you flip them over to avoid them sticking.

** My dough was very soft so I sprayed the pan, put on the first circle, then stuffing and covered with the second piece - all done whilst it sat in the pan. Just be carefully so as to not burn yourself (as I did) if you choose this method.

The gozlemes are ready to enjoy - serve up with a gorgeous green salad and some lemon wedges. Yum.

A little introduction...

I like simple things and I like things that are not-so-simple, simplified. Especially when it comes to cooking and odd jobs around the house.
As many of you would know, I am addicted to house porn. I buy it by the bucket-load and I can never bring myself to throw any of the magazines away. Not only do I get to salivate over gorgeous homes with gorgeous decor and home-wares,  I also get to drool over the delicious recipes hidden towards the back. They are good. Really good. And simple.
I have been ripping countless of these recipes out of my magazines for years and collecting them in piles -piles of delicious meals just waiting to be flicked through and tasted. 

I have so many hard-working and busy friends who dread that time of the day where they need to think about what it is they’ll be putting on the table that night, and the following night and the one after that. It’s never-ending and coming up with new and healthy alternatives day-in, day-out wears thin almost immediately. Which is where Simple Sonia hopes to step in - shortlisting some fabulous recipes that have been tested by friends and family and have proven to be a success. 

But Simple Sonia won’t stop at recipes -there will be much, much more to pore over. My magazines have taught me well over the years and I can’t wait to share it all with you.