(almost) Nut free Muesli Bars

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I guess the reality is that ‘back to school’ baking doesn’t really stop after the first week back. Everyone – kids, husbands, wives, mums and dads, workers everywhere – everyone needs good food week-in-week-out to keep them going. Those who plan and pack lunches week after week seeking to nourish and care for their family (or friends) perform a labour of love. I love the premise of the blog Dinner: a Love Story, but after watching my mum in the kitchen late at night (or early in the morning) for years, I know the same is true of packed lunches. Preparing food thoughtfully is always costly – and always worthwhile. Of course it is important to allow exceptions and to compromise at times of extreme busyness and exhaustion, but the choice to carefully prepare and cook healthy, nourishing food is one worth making as often as possible. So, here we are, back to school, week 2 underway and I’ve tweaked Angela Liddon’s Feel Good Hearty Granola Bars for lunches this week. Working with kids (or feeding them), it is important to try and avoid using nuts in snacks because of food allergies so I’ve tried to base this one mostly on seeds, grains and dried fruit instead. I imagine that they would work with other mixtures of seeds and dried fruit if you wanted to get creative – I probably will in time! If you chose to use gluten free oats then they would also suit Coeliac sufferers and others who need to follow a gluten free diet. They fill a crack, are quite tasty and very healthy – hope you enjoy them too!

Ingredients:
1.5 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 medium/large bananas)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup dates, finely chopped
1/4 cup dried cherries, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups sunflower, pepita and pinenut mix
3/4 cup buckwheat groats
1/4 cup roasted sesame seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 1750oC and line a 24x30cm shallow baking tray with baking paper.
2. Process the oats in a food processor till they become coarse and textured. Mash the banana and vanilla through the rough oat ‘flour’.
3. Chop the dates and cherries and stir these with the rest of the seeds, buckwheat and cinnamon into the banana-oat mixture. Mix till the ingredients are combined and the seeds and fruit are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
4. Spread the mixture into the baking tray evenly so that it all cooks uniformly.
5. Bake for 23-27 minutes until firm and just golden around the edge. Allow to cool in the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
6. Once the mixture is cool slice into bars – I got about 21 bars (7 rows by 3 columns).
7. Pack lunch!

‘Back to school’ baking

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With school well and truly started for the year I thought I would quickly post this muffin recipe. Now I’m a little closer to home again, my go to book for muffin recipes is my mum’s copy of Diana Linfoot’s Muffin Magic – this is my variation on her Banana muffins recipe (p15). I love baking a batch of snacks and then squirrelling them away into the freezer for the moment when a packed lunch needs an extra special something or there is an emergency breakfast crisis. There they are, waiting only to be defrosted – just like magic! Terrible puns aside, the recipe worked really well – hope it might meet someone else’s packed school lunch snack needs!

Ingredients:
125g butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
3 medium bananas (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup coco
1/2 cup oat bran
1/3 cup white chocolate
1/3 cup pecans (+ a few extras to decorate)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200oC.
2. Line the muffin pans with baking paper or muffin liners.
3. Blend the butter and sugar together before adding in the bananas and egg.
4. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix till just combined.
5. Transfer mixture to muffin pans and top each muffin with a half pecan.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes or till cooked through and golden.
7. Enjoy as a snack straight away or freeze to use in lunch boxes thorough the week!

Custard … love in a bowl

Engagement party

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This is the custard my Mum makes. It is a variation on my grandmother’s recipe that Dad altered (adding more sugar mostly I think!). Custard is not one of my favourite foods, but I enjoyed licking the dregs out of the saucepan when Mum cooked it. Unlike me; however, my brothers do like custard and I think that perhaps, stewed green apples and custard is my Mum’s unspoken way of reminding Jonno that she loves him. The egg beaters used in our home to make this recipe were special too, my grandfather’s fitting and turning business made the gears and spindles (and perhaps other small components) used in Swift Whip beaters and so these were the brand of beaters that we had a in our kitchen drawers. This particular batch was made for a loved one with a sore mouth (goodbye wisdom teeth) as one of an array of ‘mushy’ foods that have been cooked and consumed in our little kitchen over the last weekend. The second photo features a flavour variation; banana with cinnamon and brown sugar – a soft way to get fruit into a convalescing body! Hope that you might enjoy cooking and sharing this custard – or at the very least, licking the bowl after the cooking!

Ingredients:
1.2 lt milk
4 eggs
50g corn flower
120g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Method:
1. Put the milk in a big saucepan, gently heat (careful not to boil it, this will overcook the custard and make it more likely to be lumpy or curdled).
2. Combine all other ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and beat to combine (old-fashioned egg beaters are great for this, a whisk will suffice though!).
3. Pour the combined egg mixture into the milk and keep stirring till the custard thickens and coats the back of your wooden spoon.

Rosie’s Mum’s Banana Cake

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… is what the pink recipe card written in my dad’s writing reads. It is originally my grandma’s recipe that I’ve enjoyed playing with the sugar and butter levels, swapping the flour (substituting oats, using wholemeal etc.*) and adding more bananas. It is great for lunch boxes and also good for breakfast with yoghurt and fruit … or toasted. Below is the safest version that should produce reliably good Banana Bread each time.

Ingredients:
30g butter (2 tablespoons)
3/4 cup sugar (or 1 cup; half stevia, half sugar works quite well too)
1 egg
1 1/2 cups plain flour*
4 medium-large mashed bananas (if you are using little Carnarvon ones … sometimes you will need almost double)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C, line a loaf tin with baking paper.
2. Find a large mixing bowl, add the (soft) butter and sugar. Beat till combined. It will not ‘cream’ as there is not very much butter in the recipe.
2. Add the egg and continue beating till it is combined with other ingredients.
3. Add the bananas and beat till smooth.
4. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder, mix gently to start so the flour does not ‘puff’ out of the bowl. Ensure the ingredients are well combined.
5. Add the milk, beat till it has been mixed in.
6. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes or till done when a skewer has been used to test the thickest section.
7. Either enjoy straight away or freeze for later (sliced or whole, both work well).