(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!

Pretzels

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This recipe is a variation on the soft pretzels made at a little European style bakery not far from where I used to live. I did an assignment on food production in Year 11 at school – on pretzels. The bakers were generous to let me join them to watch and learn so Dad and I went along at 4:30 or so in the morning one Saturday and learnt the art of Bavarian pretzel making. This recipe is the modified-okay-to-bake-in-the-kitchen-at-home version and results, not in dark shiny pretzels exactly like the shop (this would require a much more alkaline ‘bath’ instead of the vinegar used here), but in a yummy, doughy, slightly salty treat great for lunches or snacks. I did a little tiny bit of researching – apparently early pretzels were modeled with scraps of dough into treats that mimicked the folded arms of a child praying. I’d have to find out whether my sources are accurate but it is certainly a cute story. These pretzels are certainly worth being thankful for – hope you enjoy them!

Ingredients
500g Bakers Flour
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp table salt
2 tsp active dry yeast
3 tsp butter
3 ½ tsp gluten flour
300mL warm water

Wash
500mL water
500mL vinegar
¼ cup rock salt

1.     Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
2.     Rub the butter through the dry ingredients till it is dispersed.
3.     Gradually add the water into the dry ingredients, mixing till combined.
4.     Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth and regular.
5.     Divide into 8 segments.
6.     Take one segment, roll it out into a flat circle about 2 mm thick. Then roll the circle into a sausage shape (the cross section would be a spiral). Roll the sausage into a long rope that is thicker in the middle.
7.     Twist the ends together then fold the twisted section into the loop formed and place the ends on the opposite side of the loop – the thickest part of the dough rope.
8. Combine the water, vinegar and salt to make the wash and dip the pretzel into it.
9. Place on a greased oven tray, slash the thick part of the pretzel and sprinkle with salt.
10. Bake at 180oC for about 20 minutes, turning the trays after the pretzels have begun to colour so they are brown all over.
11. Serve and enjoy that day.

… with many thanks to Arthur and Billy, without whose generosity this recipe and post would not have been possible!