Mongrel Chilli

Years ago, an online acquaintance from Texas gave me her recipe for some of the best chilli I’ve ever had. I’ve since lost both the acquaintance and the recipe, and spend my days searching to recreate this amazing celebration of spiciness.

What I remember most of this unicorn of a recipe is that it had black beer, coffee, whiskey and cocoa in it. It was dark, complex, dramatic and extremely impressive It also had red kidney beans and beef, tomatoes and – rather obviously – fresh chillies, ground cayenne and a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes. It was HOT. It also made the most insanely delectable chilli dogs ever.

Over the years, I’ve tried others – some good, some great, and some downright awful. It’s become obvious that I simply had to make my own recipe based on what I could remember of T’s chilli, and the good bits of other recipes – hence the name. Here, I’ve swapped the very delicious red kidney beans for inky black beans, which changes the flavour profile quite a bit, but not for the worse. I’ve decided they’re completely interchangeable here. Perhaps half and half would be an option? I’ll have to try it one day. I also used chuck steak here, but I feel the original recipe might have called for mince. The steak, however, falls apart after 4 hours of stewing, and lets the beans shine the ingredient that holds it all together – I don’t think kidney beans could do that quite so well.

This mongrel of a recipe easily feeds 8 – and still provide leftovers. Luckily, it freezes beautifully. I served this with cabbage and potato buns, and have plans to make burritos with them next Thursday night, which is crazy night in this household. Even after this second meal, I’ll suspect we will have have leftovers (I’ve portioned my frozen chilli so that none goes to waste). It makes a lot, but we don’t really eat it by the bowlful. Those who do, will obviously not be eating quite so much frozen leftover chilli.


2tbs oil,

1 onion, diced

3 red chillies, finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic

2tsp ground cumin

2tsp ground coriander

1tsp dried chilli flakes

750g chuck steak, cubed

80ml whiskey

330ml stout or black beer

375g dried black beans (no need to soak)

1/2 tsp cayenne

2tsp cocoa

1 shot espresso

750ml beef stock

400g diced tinned tomatoes

2tbs maple syrup or treacle

salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 160C.
  2. Heat 1tbs oil in a large cast iron pot (with a tight lid) over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, and add onion, garlic and chillies. Sweat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant. Stir in cumin, coriander and chilli flakes.
  3.  Increase heat to medium-high, add the extra oil, tumble in the steak and stir to brown.
  4.  Add the whiskey, and when this has stopped frothing, the beer. Stir to combine.
  5. Pour in the dried black beans, then the stock, tomatoes, espresso, cayenne, cocoa and maple syrup. Give it all a good stir, season, and bring to the boil.
  6. Transfer to the oven, and cook for 4 hours, checking periodically to ensure that it hasn’t dried out. If it’s looking a little parched, top it up with a half cup or so of water, stir, and place back in the oven.




Pear and Pomegranate Chutney

I’ve been sick for a full week, and I’m so over taking it easy that I’m seriously considering running around the block just to take a rest from resting. But I’m slowly getting better (until I get excited, do something stupid like go to work, then end up back at square one!), so I’ve been looking for ways to entertain myself while being drowsy, disracted, and grumpy. Cookbooks to the rescue!

While I was flipping through my veritable library of Nigella Lawson cookbooks, her pear and passionfruit chutney recipe jumped out of me. I love just about any excuse to slow cook onions into jammy messes, and cooking chutneys, preserves and sauces is my jam (so to speak), and that page got post-it noted to an inch of its life. After dragging myself past the kitchen for something completely unrelated (and probably medicated), and the fruit bowl housing a couple of slightly long in the tooth buerre bosc pears, the fate of my afternoon was sealed. I was making chutney, come hell or high water.

Now, I didn’t have enough pears to follow Nigella exactly, or any demerara sugar or passionfruit whatsoever, and I got excited and added an extra onion and ginger, so this is really pretty loosely inspired by that wonderful culinary hero of mine. Not only is the colour totally different, I kept mine chunkier, too. I have no idea what Nigella’s chutney tastes like, but I can attest that it inspires a mean spin-off. I was kicking myself for my impulsiveness the whole time, assuming that I’d just wasted a bunch of ingredients, but after 45 minutes of simmering away, I was  rewarded with a dark, sticky, complex and spiced-but-not-spicy pool of deliciousness. And that’s just what it tastes like today – Nigella suggests waiting a month to really develop the flavours. A whole month – that’s cruelty!

Makes 500ml(ish). I didn’t measure it, but it perfectly fit into two small jars from Ikea that hold about a cup each.

Also, apologies for the weird amounts – I was haphazard today but did think to write down what I did!


2 small onions, diced

5 small buerre bosc pears, peeled and roughly chopped

1/3 cup + 1 tbs brown sugar

100g pomegranate arils  (I unashamedly used frozen)

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

2tbs minced ginger

Pepper to taste (2 or 3 good cracks should do it).


  1. Combine all ingredients into a medium sized saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat slightly, and allow to simmer away for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally so that nothing catches. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. After 40 minutes of simmering the chutney, bring a pot of water large enough to hold your jars to a rapid boil. Carefully insert jars and lids, and boil for 10 minutes to sterilise. Very, very carefully, use a pair of tongs to remove the jars and place on a cooling rack.
  3. Ladle the chutney into the jars and seal immediately. Keep, unopened, for up to a year (hahaha) and consume within a month of opening (also, hahaha).




Spicy Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

I’ve mentioned before that I’ll never make it as a vegetarian, and certainly would fail miserably as a vegan. I’d give myself until my second meal until I slipped up on something minor (like the time I put sprinkles on vegan cupcakes for a vegan family member – luckily, I caught myself just in time to decorate the second half with berries), and just give up altogether.

In saying that, I’m playing around with vegetarian lunches a lot – not for any real ethical or health benefits (although I do recognise that there are both, and the hipster hiding inside me tempts to say that’s the case!), but because there are so many delicious options. I still don’t see myself giving up animal products for more than a few hours, but I’m REALLY digging meat free meals more and more these days.

I’ve had Nigella Lawson’s book Simply Nigella since it came out. I’m not sure if I’m the only one who does this, but when I get a new cookbook, I read it cover to cover, then attack it with post-it notes to indicate what recipes I want to cook, and ideas on how to make them my own. Yes, I’m a little crazy, and it’s hereditary, because even at 7 years old, my daughter does the same thing. How Nigella’s recipe for warm spiced cauliflower and chickpea salad with pomegranate seeds wasn’t instantly post-it-ed is a mystery, but the page flicked over while I was looking for her chilli recipe for later in the week, and I haven’t been able to think of anything else since.

As always, I’ve made the recipe a little more calorie-conscious, and to suit my taste preferences. I also skipped some olive oil, because 3 tablespoons was it was just too much – I like extra virgin olive oil as much as the next foodie, but I have my limits, both for taste and caloric intake. I also switched the parsley that Nigella recommends for my beloved baby spinach, and used sambal oelek instead of harissa. The results were phenomenal, and I’m so looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Serves 2-3, at 312 calories for a third.


1 small head of cauliflower

1tbs olive oil

1/2 tsp allspice

1tsp cumin seeds

400g can chickpeas, drained

2 tomatoes, chopped

1tbs sambal oelek

60g baby spinach

75g pomegranate arils


  1. preheat oven to 220C.
  2. Cut cauliflower into medium sized florets.
  3. Combine oil and spices in a large bowl. Add cauliflower and mix to coat. Tip onto a baking tray and keep bowl aside, uncleaned. Bake cauliflower for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, add the chickpeas and tomatoes to the oily bowl, and mix to coat. Add sambal oelek and stir to combine well.
  5. When cauliflower is ready, remove tray from oven, and tip the chickpeas and tomatoes over the cauliflower. Return to oven for another 15 minutes.
  6. Lay the roasted vegetables over a bed of baby spinach. Scatter pomegranate seeds over the top and serve.

Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins

While I do take a healthy diet and lifestyle very, very seriously, I’ve long said that the secret to my success is that I haven’t cut anything out, I’ve just cut it down.  Sugar, fat, carbs, white food, alcohol, bagels, cake – you name it, I’ve almost certainly eaten it since starting  my fitness journey nearly 18 months ago. It’s all about balance, and making sensible choices in terms of portion size and what else you eat that day. Conscious, mindful eating. That’s my boring trick.

Today, I was expecting anywhere between 1 and 12 people in my house today, with no idea what time anyone would be over. I wanted something delicious, fun to make, and flexible to cook/store, that my kids and I could bake in the middle of a heatwave. These muffins were just the ticket. Part muffin, part cheesecake, and 100% delicious, we had as much fun making them as we did eating them. And when only 2 people ended up dropping by, I simply froze the extra (non-frosted) cakes, so we now have emergency cake. PLEASE tell me I’m not the only person who feels far more comfortable in life knowing that there is emergency cake stashed in the freezer!

This recipe is very closely adpated from, however, by making 20 smaller muffins instead of 12 jumbos, I cut the calories to a much more palatable 297 calories, proving once again that you can have your cake and eat it too!  They’re pretty sweet – I don’t think I could have eaten a jumbo muffin anyway – these the perfect treat size. For me, any way.It’d make a perfectly respectable whole cake, too, provided you used a rather large tin – with four eggs in there, the rise is considerable. I’d hazard a guess that the cream is pretty optional in the icing, and will skip it next time (and there will be a next time!), although it wasn’t ruining anything by being there.

Makes 20



125g butter

1.5 cups caster sugar

250g cream cheese

1tsp vanilla

4 eggs

250g strawberries, diced

cheesecake frosting

150g cream cheese

1/2 cup thickened cream

3/4 icing sugar (the original recipe calls for 1/3, but I found it was too runny and tasted far too much of cream)

1/2 tsp vanilla

10 strawberries, hulled and halved



  1. Preheat oven to 180°C and line muffin tins with patty pans.
  2. Beat cream cheese and butter until combined. Add sugar and beat until pale and creamy.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, and beat after each egg until fully incorporated.
  4. Add vanilla and mix.
  5. Add flour and gently combine. Fold through strawberries.
  6. Spoon mixture into cases until 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes.
  7. When cooked, remove pans from oven and allow cakes to cool for 10 minutes in the pans. Transfer to rack to cool completely.
  8. While muffins are baking,  combine all icing ingredients and beat thoroughly until thick and fully incorporated. Rest in fridge until ready to use.
  9. When muffins are cool, pipe or spread the icing over the muffin and top with a slice of strawberry. (my kids ate the strawberries on me while I was still using them – any other berry works just as well!)



Sweet Chilli Chicken and Haloumi Salad

Ahhh, cheese. It’s always there for me. I don’t eat a lot of it anymore, but you can bet your sweet Aunt Betty that when I do, I savour every second of it. And maybe moan just a little bit into it. Also, it tends to be consumed within a salad, because salad is simply The Best Meal Ever, especially when cheese is included.

For reasons utterly beyond me, I haven’t made this salad in over a year, nor did I ever think to blog about it. Which is stupid, because it’s delicious, healthy, quick and easy when you’re battling an Australian Summer with no aircon (I know, right?!), and filling. By rights, I should be making this every week. I certainly wouldn’t mind. However, I had a craving for haloumi today (and yesterday, and the day before that, and basically for the last decade or sothat haloumi has been in my life…), and was so annoyed with myself to realise I never wrote down the recipe. What I DID the do last time I made it, luckily, was log the ingredients into the recipe builder in My Fitness Pal, so I did have something to go by. I mean, it’s by no means difficult or schmancy, but I do find chronicling recipes inspires me when it’s a week before Christmas (or school report season, or just run of the mill busy) and my dinner give-a-crap has broken. Besides, I’ve been so slack with this blog lately, and I think it is the kind of recipe that deserves a little online love. And it’s only 400 calories for a generous serve, so you can have some guilt-free cheese love – a novel idea if you’re anything like me!

Serves 4


1tbs olive oil

500g chicken breast, diced

3tbs sweet chilli sauce

1tbs lemon juice

2-3 second spray oil

1 tsp minced garlic

1tsp minced ginger

180g haloumi, sliced

60g baby spinach (or leaves of your choice)

2 truss tomatoes, cut into large chunks

100g sugar snap peas

100g snow peas

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced


  1. Combine oil, sweet chilli sauce and lemon juice in a small jug. Pour over chicken in a glass bowl, mix thoroughly and let to sit for an hour or so.
  2. Place tomatoes and spinach into a large salad bowl and toss to combine.
  3. Heat pan and add garlic, ginger, chicken and mushrooms. Cook, stirring, until chicken is cooked through. Add to spinach and tomatoes.
  4. Cook haloumi for 1-2 minuted until golden brown. Add to salad.
  5. Blanch peas and asparagus. When completely cool, add to salad. Toss well and serve with a little additional sweet chilli sauce.



Haloumi and Sweet Potato Noodle Salad

I’ve been on a real vegetable kick lately. Even veggies I hated as a child/teen (zucchini, I’m looking at you!) are being devoured at an alarming rate, and I’m happier than a pig in mud as I hunt down leafy recipes that will keep us all satisfied and healthy. It’s times like this I’m extremely glad that the kids will eat pretty much anything I put in front of them!

I found this recipe for haloumi and sweet potato noodles weeks ago, and despite the fact that it combines two of my greatest loves – vegetables and cheese – I promptly forgot about it. So when I found it again today while searching my My Fitness Pal recipe database, I knew lunch was sorted! At 266 calories per serve, it makes a great light lunch, with a bread roll or serving of meat not being outside the realm of reasonable additions.

As always, I adapted this to my own liking – I didn’t particularly fancy the idea of sprinkling paprika on the haloumi to “make it taste like bacon”, and I stupidly forgot to buy a lemon. But the result was still spectacular, with bowls licked clean and requests for seconds.

Serves 4 (light meal)


500g sweet potato, spiralised (or store-bought sweet potato noodles)

Spray oil

180g haloumi

1 bunch broccolini, sliced

1tsp minced garlic

1tbs lemon juice

200g cherry tomatoes

Pepper, to serve

Extra lemon juice, to serve.



  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Place tomatoes on a baking tray lined with baking paper sprayed with oil, and roast for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, steam sweet potato noodles in steamer for 8 minutes, until just tender (or in microwave for 4 minutes – be careful not to overcook this way). Drain.
  3. While tomatoes and potatoes are cooking, heat a little oil in a large fry pan over medium low. Add garlic and lemon, and cook for one minute. Add broccolini and 2 tablespoons water, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes until tender and starting to char a little. Remove from pan and cover to keep warm.
  4. Cook haloumi for one minute per side, until browned and softened.
  5. Add vegetables back to pan, toss to combine well. Add extra lemon and season generously with pepper.



Parmesan and vegetable muffins

I’ve posted a veggie muffin recipe before, and to be honest, this one isn’t terribly different. However, they are different enough to know that these are my favourite of the two, and for that reason, I didn’t want to a) lose the recipe I’d adapted from Dr Joanna McMillan, or b) hold out on these awesome cheesy bites of deliciousness.

I’ve been cooking from McMillan’s Get Lean Stay Lean book quite a bit – I really like her no bullshit approach to nutrition. There are no fussy, made up rules… just simple common sense: more plant-based food, lean meats, watch the sugars and saturated fats, and do some exercise. Simple. Just the way I like it. I’ll be posting my adaptations of a few of her recipes in the future – they’ve all been delicious and nutritious.

I cannot ever seem to stick to a recipe – for these muffins, I swapped her suggestion of natural yoghurt for high-protein cottage cheese because I forgot to buy the former, and I’m NEVER without the latter, ditched the oats and lessened the flour and oil. The result was a moist, cheese-flavoured (although not cheesy-textured) muffin that makes for a great pre-workout snack, a mid-morning pick me up, or a light lunch, for only 117 calories per muffin. Also wonderful: they freeze like an absolute dream, so you can stash them in the freezer, grab one before you leave work, and either nuke it for 30 seconds or let it defrost. Too easy!


1 medium carrot, grated

1 medium-large zucchini, grated

40g sundried tomatoes, finely chopped

60 gram grated parmesan cheese

1.5 cups wholemeal flour

2 large eggs

180g cottage cheese

140ml milk

1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 180C and prepare a muffin tin with paper cases
2.Combine zucchini, carrot, tomatoes and parmesan in a large bowl. Mix well to coat the vegetables – this will stop them clumping.
3.  Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, milk and olive oil until mostly smooth.
4. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Add the cottage cheese mixture and stir just enough to combine – do not overmix.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
6. Remove from oven, allow to cool in tin for 5 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and eat warm, at room temperature for up to 2 days, or wrap individually and freeze.



Quick Thick Chicken Mulligatawny

Mulligatawny – it’s super fun to say, super fun to cook, and super fun to eat. As a soup fiend, it was only a matter of time before this spicy, sweet, and utterly delicious soup made its way onto my blog, and frankly, I’m surprised it took quite so long.

Like all my favourite meals, this one ticks all the boxes – it’s healthy, tasty, cheap, quick, and everyone in the family will eat it (although I did add more yoghurt to Miss 7’s, as it is a bit spicy). And a bowl of the stuff is only 350 calories, which, considering how very filling it is, isn’t very much at all. It’s really just a winner. Also, is it just me, or does any one else find that the more complex a flavour profile, the more filling it is? Maybe it’s just me!

Serves 5 (generously)


1tsp olive oil

1 tsp minced garlic

1tsp minced ginger

1 large celery stick

1 onion

2tbs curry powder

1tsp ground cinnamon

2tbs tomato paste

5 cups chicken stock

400g skinless chicken thigh fillets

2/3 cups rice

300g pumpkin, diced

2 red apples, cored and cut into 4cm chunks

5 scant tablespoons Icelandic or Greek yoghurt (I much prefer Icelandic)

4tsp mango chutney


  1. Heat oil over low heat in a large, deep saucepan or stockpot. Add garlic, ginger, onion and celery, and cook for 5 minutes, or until softened and very lightly coloured.
  2. Add cinnamon, curry and tomato paste, and stir for 30 seconds.
  3. Add stock, cover, and bring to the boil.
  4. Lower heat to simmer. Add thigh fillets and poach (still covered) for 5 minutes.
  5. Remove chicken and add rice, pumpkin and apple. Cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, cube or use two forks to shred chicken.
  7. Add chicken back to the soup, and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until chicken and rice are both fully cooked.
  8. Ladle mulligatawny into bowls. Top with yoghurt and chutney to serve.



Mushroom and Bacon Barley Risotto

This is a big call, but barley is my new favourite food. While I’m sure I did, I don’t really remember eating it as a child… in fact, I was well into my twenties before I even recognised it as anything other than one of the ingredients my dad put into this weird, green soup he used to make that nobody in the family was ever game enough to try. However, since the day I first bought it for a non-green, non sludge-looking soup, I’ve been an evangelical convert. I just adore the chewy nuttiness that adds so much texture and body to all manners of dishes. I almost peed myself with excitement when I realised you could make a risotto out of it!

Now, this dish might not really scream “diet food”at first glance, but really, it’s the best kind. It looks, feels and tastes like comfort food, it’s delicious, it’s nutritious, and it’s incredibly filling. The original recipe (from Taste) indicates that it serves 4, but it easily served 6, and that was still a very generous portion… you definitely can make a meal of it, and for only 250 calories a serve (6 serves), I’d recommend doing just that! It also makes a fine side dish.

A little word to the wise: give yourself a little extra time to cook the barley, because it can depend on so many factors: your pan, your stove, the alignment of the planets and stars – it’s the luck of the draw, really. Just keep testing it until the barley is cooked, adding a quarter cup of water (it won’t water the flavour down, there’s plenty to spare!) as necessary.

serves 4-6


1tsp olive oil

1 leek (white part), halved lengthways and thinly sliced

1 tsp minced garlic

1tsp minced ginger

200g diced bacon

250g mushrooms, sliced

1 3/4 cups pearl barley

4 cups chicken stock

2 tbs grated parmesan cheese

1/4 cup fresh parsley


  1. Heat oil over medium-low heat in a cast iron pot or other heavy based saucepan. Add leek, ginger and garlic. Stir for 1 minute or until leek has softened but not coloured.
  2. Increase heat to medium-high. Add bacon and mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes until bacon is coloured and mushrooms are softened and oozing their liquid.
  3. Stir in barley and add stock. Cover and bring to the boil.
  4. Stir, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Barley will be tender, but not completely cooked.
  5. Remove lid. Simmer for 15 minutes or until barley is tender and liquid has absorbed. If the barley starts to stick to the bottom, or is dry but not cooked through, add water and stir. This can be repeated as necessary.
  6.  Remove from heat. Serve with parmesan and parsley.

Boozy Banana Bread

Alliteration is fun. You know what else is fun? Sneaky booze. And with this boozy banana bread, now we can have both!

Banana bread cops a lot of flack, and for good cause: it’s full of sugar, carbs and fat, and for some reason, we insist on calling it a bread when it is so bloody obviously a cake, which – equally inexplicably – makes it seem healthier than it really is. As such, until today, I hadn’t had a slice of banana bread in eleven months (sob), so that may account for some of the joy I experienced in eating this. However, a number of others have validated my stance that this banana bread, based on a recipe by  Smitten Kitchen  is the best banana bread I’ve ever made – and trust me, I’ve made a few!

While it will never pass as a health food, as far as banana breads go, a small slice of this isn’t too bad. The recipe yields 12 small slices at just 202 calories apiece, which makes for a perfect afternoon treat. I like to make it into 3 smaller loaves using an old mini-loaf pan that I’m pretty sure I accidentally stole from my mum when I moved out of home – I have no recollection of buying it, I don’t recall my mother ever using it when I was living at home, and it’s looked a little banged up ever since I discovered it one day in my kitchen cupboard, but I really love this thing.

Suspicious pan of mysterious origin to the rescue…

Besides, smaller loaves mean even more of the deliciously caramelised crust that makes a banana bread so delectably addictive! However, it also translates into a mighty fine regular loaf – you just need to add another 20-30 minutes to the baking time.

Experience shows that swirling a tablespoon of Nutella through the batter after pouring it into the pan/s doesn’t go astray. But if you’re watching your calories/sugar intake, rest assured that it is just as awesome without it.

Serves 12


3 overripe bananas
75 grams salted butter, cubed
3/4 brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla                                                                                                                                                                                      1 egg
1-2 tablespoons Jack Daniels American Honey (any whiskey or bourbon will do, but this is perfect for the job!)
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon                                                                                                                                                                            1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Mash bananas and butter in a large mixing bowl by hand or electric beaters, or in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle whip (which is how I do it).
  3. Add the sugar and beat on medium for one minute.
  4. Mix in egg, vanilla, whiskey, salt and spices.
  5. Gently mix in the flour until combined.
  6. Pour into a greased loaf pan. If using mini loaf pans, bake for 30 minutes. For a large loaf, bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean.
  7. Cool for 10 minutes while still in loaf pan. Remove from pan, cool further on a rack, and serve.