Experimentation: banana, date and maple syrup loaf

As you may have surmised, I’m being tempted by the ‘sweet poison’ movement. Not totally swayed, but intrigued. Personally, I think that everything in moderation is good. But having said that, I am a total sweet tooth and so, in an attempt not to replicate that in my children and also as an attempt to not develop diabetes, I have been taking active steps to cut down on my processed sugar consumption.

At first, I thought the whole no sugar movement was unfathomable. Nothing sweet ever again? No way. But then I flicked through Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar’ cookbook at my friend’s place and realised that it’s not about eliminating everything sweet from your life, but rather about replacing the high fructose, processed sugars with stuff that… um… is not (processed, that is).

So with that in mind, I share with you my latest creation. Someone else may have designed this recipe elsewhere, but I haven’t seen it. I say this because I recently read an outraged food blogger talking about how their recipes had been ‘stolen’ (posted without credit) by other bloggers. (You’ll notice that I tend to attribute my inspiration and sources, must be the academic coming out). My friend Resa was telling me the other day about a ‘life loaf’, which is basically a type of seedy, fruity, nutty bread filled with lots of good stuff and no bad stuff. I really like the idea of it but, when I looked in my cupboard, realised that I wasn’t in a position to attempt it. However, we did have a big box of medjool dates and some very ripe bananas, so I went from there. Apologies in advance but I can’t post pictures right now, but things should be good shortly…

Banana, date and maple loaf

You will need:

1 overflowing cup of dates, chopped coarsely

1 cup water

90 g butter, margarine or (probably but I haven’t tried it) coconut oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 eggs

1 3/4 cups self-raising flour, sifted (as usual, I used gluten-free flour)

2 ripe bananas, mashed

1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Line a loaf tin (I never bother with greasing it, cos I love that baking paper stuff)

2. In a medium saucepan, put dates and water. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring regularly, until they go thick and jam-like. I like to leave it at about the thickness of thick yoghurt (not too runny, but not toooo thick).

3. Stir in the butter. The dates are nice and hot, so it should melt pretty quickly. Stir it well. Let it cool for a little while.

4. Working quickly, add the maple syrup. Then add the eggs and beat them in. If you go too slowly, they’ll start to cook. Not such a big bad deal but if you can make sure that they are spread through the date mix before that happens.

5. Stir in the flour and mashed bananas. The mix should be pretty thick by now, but not so the spoon will stand up in the mix. If it does, add about 1/4 cup of milk, or enough to make the mix like a fairly stiff cake batter. When I post my photos, you should get a sense of how you want it to look.

6. Pour it into the prepared tin and place in oven. Bake for about 60-70 minutes or until it’s lovely and brown. Please note that if you stick a skewer in to test the cake, it won’t come out perfectly clean; this is a pretty dense cake.

7. Eat it! It’s especially nice when it’s hot but if you cut it into fairly small pieces, it’s delicious when cold too.

As an aside, I thought my kids would turn their noses up at this – but they, and our neighbour’s kids, couldn’t get enough of it. I guess it was sweet enough!

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New babies, tricky toddlers, and hungry adults: Yummy scrummy muesli cookies…

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my parents in the ‘country’. I say ‘country’ and not country because they aren’t really anywhere really rural, but rather they live in a small town on the beach – but it’s hours (and hours… and hours, if you ask my kids) of driving away. Because it’s so far away, we only get down there a few times a year (it is hard to deal with seven hours of ‘how many minutes til we are at Nan’s?’ ‘I’m bored/tired/my legs are sore’ or general ‘waaaaaahhhhh’. This means that when we are there, I try to catch up with lots of people – even though I moved out of home over 20 years ago (gulp!), I still have friends in my home town; my siblings also all live nearby. This last visit, I was lucky to meet a brand new baby; he was actually 2 or 3 weeks old, but had been born a few weeks early, so it was near enough to brand new in my estimation. Of course, the Bubaloo doesn’t like me even touching other babies, so I just got to admire from afar, but the new one was delicious anyway. My youngest sister, TK, got a group of our friends with little ones together for a play (toddlers and preschoolers) and chitty chat (mums and dads) over morning tea.

One of the things with brand new babies is that they don’t sleep much – or at least, they don’t sleep much when they are meant to (like in the night) but then sleep lots when you want them awake. So mummies and daddies end up pretty tired, and therefore a pick-me-up is in order. If you’re breastfeeding, like TK, the new mum and I, the challenge is finding something that’s going to do the trick and give you a little energy boost, without being terribly bad for you or the baby. While coke or coffee might help with the energy spurt for mum, the same energy boost isn’t great for baby. I’m not sure about other breastfeeding mums but I have found that, when I’m nursing, I have a ridiculous sweet tooth, even more than at other times. As sugar isn’t really that great for you, I try to find other ways to satisfy the sugar craving without having a ton of the white stuff. That’s where these cookies come in.

This recipe is a true adaptation of one in a Woman’s Weekly cookbook. Many things have been substituted – I’ve included the original ingredients in parentheses in case you prefer that – as I was trying to ensure that it was low sugar, nut free, and that they would use everyday ingredients that I could find in my mum’s pantry. Since we got home, I’ve made them about once a week; they never last very long. As soon as my partner sees them, his eyes light up and he chomps down about six of them without drawing breath. I hope you find them as good as he does!

Yum Scrum Muesli Cookies

You will need:

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup gluten-free plain flour (you can use any sort of flour you have)

1/3 cup caster sugar (the original recipe uses 1 cup)

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 cup sultanas or mixed dried fruit (or dried cranberries)

2/3 cup shredded coconut (I used this in place of most of the sugar)

1/3 cup finely chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup pepitas / pumpkin seeds (or slivered almonds)

125g butter

2 tbsp pure maple syrup (or golden syrup)

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 150C. Line oven trays with baking paper.

2. Combine oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, dried fruit, coconut and pepitas in a large bowl.

3. Melt butter with maple syrup over low heat. In a small cup, combine bicarb soda and boiling water, then add to the butter mix. It will go a little bubbly. Next stir this into the dry ingredients (it should still be warm).

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4. Roll tablespoons of mixture into balls (don’t be too fussy about making them perfect), place on trays about 5 cm apart and flatten slightly with your fingers.

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5. Bake for about 20 minutes. Let cool on trays before you eat them – if you try to eat them while they are warm, they’ll just fall apart in your hands (trust me on this!)

Then let Mr Kookaburra watch you all gobble them up 😉Image

Seasonal pizza topping: fig and caramelised onion

Sometimes it’s nice to do things a bit differently! This weekend, I used the last of the figs and put them on a pizza. The result? Sweet bursts of flavour! An experimental success. To make them, I used the pizza bases from my January post and topped it as follows:

1 large onion, sliced finely and fried slowly until it became caramelised
5 (or more) figs, trimmed and cut into quarters
Sprig of rosemary
A good handful of mozzarella, grated

Note: this is for a half batch of pizza. You may need to double the quantities here if you are using a full batch of pizza dough

First, you make the pizza base and roll it out
Next, spread the onion out over the base
Place the fig pieces all over the base, then sprinkle with the rosemary (leaves removed from stem)
Lastly, sprinkle cheese over the top.
Cook in a hot oven (~220c) for 15-20 mins or until browned

Enjoy!

PS. You’ll notice that I did a half-half pizza. Good way to keep everyone smiling!

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An embarrassment of riches: figs and cooking from the garden part 1

Our garden has exploded! After a fairly wet winter and spring, then a long hot summer, we are experiencing almost ideal conditions for growing all sorts of yummy things. Back in January, I wrote about the bird-plum battles; that hasn’t (thus far) been replicated with the figs, olives, persimmons, tomatoes, feijoas or strawberries, all of which are ripening about now. So I plan to post a couple of recipes over the next few days as I try to grapple with such abundance.

First up is figs. Little warm pouches of sweet deliciousness, they are perfect picked straight off the tree and eaten. But there are only so many figs any one person can eat – and the other three in my house are non-fig-eaters (though bubaloo can sometimes be tempted to take a nibble). I have been accosting colleagues, students, friends, neighbours, childcarers and random people on the street and cafes, trying to offload kilograms of figs. They also work as currency: I successfully traded a little bag of figs for a cup of chai last week!

I’m therefore also trying all sorts of recipes using figs. They are actually super easy to do things with, and pretty versatile. Here are two sweet options.

Balsamic thyme poached figs

You will need:
10 or so figs, with any yucky bits trimmed off (really, you can do it with as many figs as you like)
A few tablespoons of sugar, honey or other sweetener
About 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups water
Sprig of thyme (it’s also nice if you swap this for a cinnamon stick)

1. Place all ingredients in a large, deep frypan. Bring liquid to the boil.
2. Turn down to medium heat and cook, covered, for 10 minutes or so. Then remove lid and turn down to a simmer. Stir gently from time to time. When the liquid is fairly thick (however you like it), its ready.
3. Serve on pancakes, with muesli or cereal, with cream or icecream, or however you like it.

Delicious fig jam

You will need:
1 kg figs, trimmed and chopped roughly
500grams castor sugar
Peel of one lemon, pared into big strips
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick

1. Place all ingredients in a large pan, stir well, and sit overnight at room temperature.
2. Place over medium-high heat and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. When it starts bubbling, turn the heat down to low and let it bubble until the mix reduces and thickens.
3. When it has gotten pretty thick, so you have about 1.5 litres of jam, test for ‘setting point’ by putting a spoonful of jam on a saucer, then sticking the saucer in the fridge for 10 mins or til it’s cool. Run your finger through the jam. If it stays in two parts, the jam is ready to bottle. Do this while the jam is hot.
4. a note on bottling: I bought a preserving kit last week which didn’t require me to sterilise the bottles. If you have a kit like this, follow the instructions! Mine was brand ‘Quattro stagioni’ made by bormioli rocco. But if you are using recycled jars (I usually do this but had run out), prepare the jars as follows. It’s best to do this while the jam cooks. Wash jars in hot soapy water; rinse in hot water. Place in a large saucepan filled with hot water; bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars from the water and place on a tea towel-lined baking tray in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Fill while jars are hot and seal.

We had our jam with easy cream scones. To make these, you need 2 cups self-raising flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tbsp icing sugar, which you sift together into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and add 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup yoghurt or cream. Mix till a smooth dough forms, then lightly knead on a floured bench. Roll out to about 2.5 cm thick and cut into squares or rounds. Place on a baking tray and brush with milk. In an oven preheated to 200C, bake for 12-15 minutes of til brown. Serve with jam and cream. Too good!!!

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