Lunchbox safe: nut, dairy, gluten and sugar free muesli bars – which are delicious too!!

Mr Incredible just got the following text message:

Cooked these. They’re awesome and may not be any left when you get home…. shall I save you one??

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Made with banana as a binder and whatever you have in the cupboard, these muesli bars are incredibly versatile and super duper delicious. In fact, with the fruity undercurrent and chewy texture they remind me a little of the roll-ups I had as a kid. They’re also super easy to make – no electronic equipment required except for the oven. I’ve passed this recipe on to friends who “don’t bake” as they’re really that simple and satisfying.

Thanks to a friend for sharing this incredible idea – we make these almost daily at the moment and each batch is always gobbled up faster than I can believe. I’ve adapted the recipe from Eat Your Greens.

Pick and mix Banana Muesli Bars

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • optional 1 tsp vanilla / honey / maple syrup
  • * 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • * 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • * 1/3 cup sultanas
  • * 1/4 cup dried blueberries
  • * 1/2 cup pepitas
  • 3 mashed bananas (to the puree stage)

* These ingredients are interchangeable with what you have in your cupboard – if your school allows nuts you can also add chopped almonds, cashews, walnuts etc.. You also don’t need exact measurements – again, just use what you have and ensure that there’s enough banana to cover the ingredients. To be honest, now I’ve made them so many times I’m not even measuring the ingredients out!

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C (fan-forced oven 180 for non fan-forced).
  2. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-by-9-inch square pan (I use a silicone pan so this isn’t needed)
  3. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients
  4. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with a fork until they resemble a puree and add the vanilla / honey / maple syrup to this if you want to use it (I find it’s sweet enough without)
  5. Pour the bananas over the oat mixture and stir until all the dry ingredients are evenly moist.
  6. Press mixture evenly and firmly into the bottom of the pan.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until firm and lightly browned on the edges.
  8. Cut up and place on a cooling rack (they hold quite a lot of moisture so a cooling rack is better than cooling in the pan or on a plate).

 

Cooking notes:

  • You can store them in an airtight container for a couple days, but I recommend wrapping them individually and freezing them in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months if you don’t think you’ll eat them that quickly.
  • Mine were quite thin, If you wanted them thicker like a commercial muesli bar, you might need to add more ingredients and another banana to cover the mix. Try it as it is the first time though – then get your confidence up and experiment.
  • The chia seeds also help to bind the mixture – if you leave these out it might not work as well.
  • These are super easy to make with kids!
  • The more I make these the more I take short cuts and still have success. I now mash the bananas in a bowl first, then just top all the dry ingredients on top and mix it together – less washing and works just as well.

Edible, Cookable Play Dough : Wholemeal spiced cookies

It’s school holidays here. It doesn’t affect our little family much except for one thing, the parks are SO much more crowded. Big kids having a wonderful play can be a bit daunting for Adventure Girl and Dash so we tend to avoid our usual haunts and either go to BIG open spaces to ride bikes, the beach, or make more fun at home. We’re making fun at home today with my version of play dough. The cookable, tasty kind that I can bring out at various times during the week for little hands to hold, roll, squish, shape and cut. We then bake them and have the most delicious snacks. The recipe I adapted these from calls for sugar, I leave this out entirely but do add maple syrup in replacement for molasses. Without the egg it’s edible in a raw form and could possibly be made with GF flour, although I haven’t tried this. I should though, Mr Incredible always comes home to a house smelling of cinnamon and ginger and feels quite left out that he can’t share in the treats!

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Wholemeal Spiced Cookies

Adapted from http://wholesomekids.com.au/spelt-and-chia-ginger-cookies-nut-freeegg-free/

Ingredients

  • 300g wholemeal flour
  • 150g butter
  • 50g maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds + 3tbsp water
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4tsp bicarb soda
  • pinch salt

Method

  1. Combine chia seeds and water in a small cup and let sit for 5 minutes to gel.
  2. While this is happening, in a food processor cream butter and maple syrup
  3. Combine all ingredients, including chia gel, in the food processor and mix well till a nice dough ball forms
  4. Cover dough a refrigerate for half an hour to make it easier to handle while rolling.
  5. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  6. Roll dough out to a thickness of roughly 4-5mm and cut desired shapes, transferring onto a baking paper lined tray.
  7. Cook in the oven for 12-15minutes, still should be slightly “cushiony” when ready, and will crisp up as they cool.

Cooking Notes

  • On occasion I’m so focused on cooking with the kids and forget to do step one separately and instead add the flour in the first step… don’t worry if you do this! It will still work out fine 🙂
  • The dough can be portioned out over a few days. Don’t feel like you need to use it all at once, just break off what you want to use for a moment of play and keep the rest chilled until the next day.
  • These are egg free, nut free and can be made to be gluten free.

Market Day Inspiration: Carrot and Cashew Dip

Each week we visit our amazing local markets. I buy most of our fruit and veg from one of the stalls, and while it’s not organic it’s all chemical free produce. The best thing is that, along with being affordable, it tastes like food should. Carrots taste richer and sweeter, apples are amazing and quite frankly, we’ve never eaten as many mushrooms in our lives. When food is seasonal, picked very recently and sold by the grower (so you can ask questions about how best to cook, store and utilise it) it is at its best.

Last week, I wandered by one of the other stalls and found “juicing carrots” for $2/kilo… not bad for organic carrots that were perfectly edible but just a little odd looking. I bought them for juicing but decided to try something different as Dash’s vegetable intake has recently left much to be desired. As we all eat the same food in our household (except for Mr Incredible’s wheat free) I don’t cook anything special for the kids… Adventure Girl knows she won’t get dessert (yogurt or a gold kiwi-fruit which she loves) if she doesn’t eat all her food but Dash is a lot more choosy as well as being younger – he still gets dessert regardless!  With this in mind I created the following dip, which, I am pleased to report Dash devoured for afternoon tea AND dinner, along with roast pumpkin bites and cauliflower mash with some marinated chicken.

IMG_6304.JPGCarrot and Cashew Dip

An original recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 carrots
  • A handful of cashews
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of cumin
  • A Tbsp Olive Oil

Method

  1. Cut and steam carrots until soft (but don’t over cook)
  2. Blend all ingredients
  3. If too soft add more cashews and if too thick add cooking water or olive oil.

 

Oatcakes : better than rice crackers any day

In our search to cut more wheat out of our lives (while the kids and I can eat it fine, it’s less to buy if we all eat the same thing. And no, I haven’t decided if I want to read Grain Brain!). Sadly, rice crackers have become an all too familiar trade off in our household as we’ve compromised a wheat free diet with accessible snacks. Thankfully, I discovered how easy oatcakes are to make and how delicious they can be, especially when you include the satisfying crunch of seeds in the mixture. As an added bonus, they’re super easy to make and quite fun for the kids to help with… there’s no egg in the dough/batter so sneaky munching of the raw ingredients by Adventure Girl and Dash is ok.

Oatcakes.jpgI’ve been  a fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall ever since my mother and I watched The River Cottage on telly before he/it became famous (i.e the late ’90s!). I loved the idea of a smallholding that, with the help of neighbours and surrounding people, can be self-sufficient… I guess it’s community-sufficiency. Grow what you can, swap/sell what you have too much of and all help each other out. A romantic ideal that grabbed me from a young age and still does. Within his book, River Cottage Everyday, this recipe, along with many other gems, is found… true confession though… when Mr Incredible went to eat them today there was only one left! The rest may have been consumed by me even though I really did make them for him 🙂

BILL’S RONA OATCAKES

Ingredients

  • 300gr Oats : 150gr blended to oatmeal and 150gr blended to porridge oats (or 150r of each)
  • 1/2 tsp sea/Himalayan salt
  • A few twists of freshly ground pepper
  • A small handful of seeds (I like pumpkin or sunflower)
  • 75mL extra virgin olive oil
  • 150mL boiling water

Method

  1. Heat oven to 180 degrees C
  2. Mix all the dried ingredients together in a bowl and make a well in the centre
  3. Pour the oil in the well and stir
  4. Pour in the water to bind it into a firm dough
  5. Work the dough quickly and if too watery add more oatmeal
  6. Shape the dough into a ball and rest it for a couple of minutes
  7. Roll out the dough on a non-stick surface until about 5mm thick.
  8. Cut into rounds and place onto a baking tray
  9. Combine and work the remaining dough to roll it out again and repeat the process until all the dough is gone. Try not to work the dough too much though as the more you handle it the crumblier it will become
  10. Bake for 20min and then turn the cakes over and bake for another 10 minutes.
  11. Leave to cool on a wire rack and enjoy! (I love to eat these with cheese and pickles)

Cooking notes

  • The oatcakes will keep for a week in an airtight container.

 

 

 

 

Cooking for Kids : The River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook

In Australia the recommendation for when babies are to start solids is to start purees at 4 months and solid foods at 6 months. How to do this though can be a minefield, especially for first time parents like us. For some though, when to transition to a full “solid” diet can be the most difficult part. As an example, I was recently involved in a market research group where some of the parents where still feeding their one year olds pureed foods out of “pouches” bought from the supermarket for the majority of meals. For me though, while I started by pushing banana through a sieve and finely processing sweet potato for Adventure Girl, I soon realised that this wasn’t the direction we wanted to take. Simply, and honestly, I was too lazy to do it all myself, didn’t want to use pouches and wondered if there was another way. In my  research for alternatives, I came across the practice of Baby Led Weaning which encourages not feeding your children purees and instead, holding off until your child is 6 months and at that stage introducing solid food. I’m no expert but this has been the best thing for us as a family and this is the direction we’ve taken with Dash as well.

One of the greatest concerns with this form of feeding is choking. The best advice I ever read on this was from Baby Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. It said that the gagging reflex is entirely natural and something a parent doesn’t need to be concerned about. The trick is to know when it’s gagging and when it’s choking. To do this it’s simple: count to three. When your child is eating (yes, you really should be there with them!) if they start to gag/choke count to three, if they’re still doing it after the count of three THEN you intervene (watch this video from St John’s ambulance for more details on what to do if they choke). If they sort it out themselves, good work kid! And good work parent… I reckon it’s more stressful for us sometimes than them – I don’t think I’ll ever stop counting 1..2…3 if I see a child gagging.

9781408807569The premise of baby led weaning is that, from a young age, they and you eat the same things – not adults eating purees but kids getting to eat real food that hasn’t been processed already for them. The book that has helped us the most is The River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook. The recipes and knowledge within it enabled us to have the confidence to make this step and enjoy it. I’ve loaned it out to a few friends and each of them has gone on to purchase their own copy. It’s a great resource and one of our regularly used cookbooks. I can remember the first time I made the courgette [zucchini] polpettes and how Mr Incredible exclaimed that he couldn’t believe they were in a baby cookbook. The flavour, especially with the lemon zest and garlic, was great. We make them with quinoa rather than breadcrumbs but otherwise leave the recipe as it stands and I include it below as an encouraging “taster” for you to try, especially if you have young kids.

Courgette Polpettes [aka zucchini balls)

River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook, by Nikki Duffy

Author notes: These vegetarian ”meatballs” are inspired by a wonderful recipe from Italian food writer Ursula Ferrigno. Her original uses aubergines, but I really like this fresh-tasting zucchini version. You can easily double the quantities but you’ll probably need to cook the zucchini in batches.

Freezer-friendly: freeze the uncooked polpette. Defrost before baking.

For babies: these make nice finger food and will introduce your baby to lots of different flavours.

For grown-ups and older children: try adding a few toasted pine nuts to the mix.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp canola or olive oil
  • 500g zucchini, finely diced
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 generous tbsp grated parmesan, pecorino or other well-flavoured hard cheese
  • 1/2 ball of buffalo mozzarella (60-70g), diced
  • 50g breadcrumbs or cooked quinoa
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Oil a baking tray or line with a non-stick silicone liner.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and fry the zucchini for about 10 minutes, until tender and golden. Set aside to cool a little, then combine them with all the other ingredients to make a thick, sticky mixture. Season if you like (remember that the cheeses already contain salt).
  3. Take walnut-sized blobs of the mixture and roll into balls. Place on the baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, until golden.
  4. Serve hot, warm or cold, on their own or with pita bread and a tomato salad or sauce.
  5. Makes about 12.

 

Healthy snacks: The quickest, easiest, tastiest dairy, nut, egg and sugar free muffins ever!

The origin of this recipe is an old 1980’s school cookbook which I’ve modified it over time to be egg, dairy and sugar free – I’ve also added some wholemeal flour along with frozen berries. We make this recipe at least once a week and I’ll often get a nudge from Mr Incredible if we’re low on stock – it’s not a problem if we are though – they take less than 10 minutes to whip up (if you use egg instead of chia then they are even faster)!

It’s easy enough to revert the recipe back to having dairy and egg – just replace the oil with melted butter and the chia and water mix with an egg. Making it with chia and oil though has the added bonus that they’re always on hand if I run out of eggs or butter.

Ingredients

  • 3 very ripe large bananas (or 4 normal sized ones)
  • 1 tbs Chia seeds
  • 3 tbs water
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup of plain flour (alternatively 1 1/2 plain flour and no wholemeal)
  • ½ cup plain wholemeal flour
  • 1 tsp baking soada (bi-carb soda)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Frozen berries to taste (I use about 1 -2 cups) – if you scrimp on the berries though you won’t have enough batter for 12 muffins.

* if I’m making these for our family half of the recipe is usually topped up with some chopped chocolate / choc chips. This of course means that the rest of the muffins are no longer sugar free or dairy free, but Mr Incredible LOVES chocolate muffins!

Method

  1. Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (fan forced oven)
  2. Place chia seeds and water in a small container and leave sit for 5 minutes until they become gelatinous
  3. While the chia seeds are soaking, squeeze the bananas in their skins to start the mashing process, remove bananas from their skins and place them in a medium sized bowl. Continue to mash with a fork in the bowl
  4. Add oil and mix (this is the melted butter replacement)
  5. Add chia seeds and mix (these are the egg replacement)
  6. Add flours, baking powder and baking soda. Mix with a wooden spoon until mostly combined.
  7. Add frozen berries and finish mixing until all ingredients are combined
  8. * at this point you can either add the chocolate or not – or, as we do, dispense half the batter and then add the chocolate.
  9. Spoon batter into muffin trays (I use liners in the trays)
  10. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes (depending upon your oven you may need to get them out after 12).

Enjoy!

These will keep in the fridge for a week, although may become crumbly towards the end of their life due to the lack of sugar.