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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Midweek dinner: Chinese chicken omelette

We’re coming out of a bout of gastro at our place (is it distasteful to mention that when I’m writing about food? If so, apologies); well, the bubaloo had it and the rest of us fasted in unrealised anticipation. At the same time, the heat wave is continuing, with no end forecast for over a week. When these factors come together on a busy Wednesday evening, finding something for dinner can be challenging. So I turned to an old favourite, Chinese chicken omelette with some wilted vegies on the side. It’s lovely with chicken but that can be replaced by prawns, mushrooms or whatever you feel like.

But first, a bit of reminiscence… When I was doing my phd, there was nothing I liked more than, after a long day in the library or on my computer, hitting the cheap little Asian restaurants in the city. This usually meant Vietnamese pho or today’s recipe. I could walk in, order, and it would be ready within 3 minutes. What more could a tired gal want?

When I finished my studies and had kids, going into the city for quick cheap meals seemed like too much effort; I moved universities and suburbs. So I learned how to make it myself; the pho is still a memory but the omelette gets whipped up from time to time. If you don’t like the idea of this, but like eggs, be adventurous and give it a go – you may be pleasantly surprised!

Chinese chicken omelette

Serves 2-3

You will need:
6 small or 4 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
1.5 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
Sprinkle of pepper
1 cup shredded cooked chicken (left over BBQ chicken is ideal)
2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tbsp coriander, chopped
Olive oil
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1.5 tbsp sesame oil

1 cup rice and 1.5 cups water: use together to cook rice using the absorption method (or use a rice cooker!).

1. Beat eggs until combined. Add pepper, soy sauce, most of the spring onions and most of the coriander, leaving a little for garnish. Using a fork, beat together well.
2. Place olive oil in frypan and heat. When it’s hot, pour in egg mix. As the edges become cooked, use a fork to draw the cooked edges toward the middle of the pan and swirl the uncooked egg mix to cover the base if the pan.
3. Sprinkle shredded chicken over the top. Repeat the process to draw the uncooked egg towards the middle until the egg is mostly cooked. When it reaches this point, use an egg flip to fold the omelette in half.
4. Use the egg flip to cut the omelette into parts (one per person), then put it on rice on a plate.
5. In a small bowl, combine sesame oil and oyster sauce. Spoon this over the omelette and garnish with extra coriander. The sauce is really great, so don’t omit it!

wilted vegies
In a heated frypan, add a small amount of olive oil. Add whatever vegetables you like: I used mushroom, rocket, crushed garlic, broccoli and coriander. Stir to cook. If it needs more moisture, add a few tbsp water. When vegies are nearly cooked, stir in 1 tbsp soy sauce and some pepper. Cook for 2 mins then serve.

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What’s in a name? Egg pie (quiche)

My eldest child loves pies. Party pies in particular, but he can generally be tempted by any pie. Quiche, he’s not so keen on. I remember, growing up, that my (boy) cousin used to always sing a country song about how real men don’t eat quiche. Maybe it’s all in the name, ‘quiche’.

Names are important, they attract or repel us. Food names in particular have the capacity for coercion. ‘Jus’ sounds much sexier than ‘gravy’, which you get at the local takeaway joint or at Nana’s (or at my place 😉 . Similarly, ‘salmon’ evokes images of a pinkish orange, juicy, luscious fish, but it’s also a simple, white fleshed fish that you can catch off the Victorian coastline. So, what you call something influences perceptions of it.

Which brings me back to quiche. When I renamed it to ‘egg pie’, a light suddenly went on in h’s eyes. ‘Pie? Can I have some for dinner?’ Ya see what I mean?

The great thing about quiche aka egg pie (QaEP) is that you can customise it however you like. Here I have given you a recipe that could even be considered a frittata as it doesn’t have a crust (I don’t eat wheat and the aim of this is quick/simple/easy, which homemade pastry is not so much). If you want a crust, just line your pan with a sheet of puff pastry before you pour the egg mix in.

Some ways you might wish to adapt this are listed below. But enjoy my QaEP!

QaEP

You will need:
8 eggs
1/2 cup milk
Pepper
Salt (if you must 😉
A good handful of rocket or spinach leaves
Three or four sprigs of mixed herbs, removed from the woody stems (adjust to taste)
1 cup grated cheese
1/2 punnet (or so) cherry tomatoes (I used half a bowl of mixed little tomatoes from the garden), some of which could be cut up

1. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and seasoning til it’s well combined.
2. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.
3. Pour into a lined 20cm cake tin.
4. Put into an oven preheated to 180C.
5. Bake for 20-25 mins or until the QaEP is cooked through. If you shake the tin, it should wobble a bit but this will be all together, as a whole (ie not ripples!). It should also be nice and brown.
6. Serve with salad / sauce / vegies (depending on who is eating it!)

Some variations:
Caramelised onions / leeks
Leftover roast meat / vegies
Smoked salmon
Ham (as per quiche Lorraine)

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Saturday n breakfast! Quick crepes

There are certain foods that can be had at any time of the day- morning, noon, or night. Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes savoury. Sometimes it depends on where you are (I’m big on the influence of context). After years of loving Nasi Lemak (rice, curry, and condiments) for lunch or dinner at our local curry place, I was awed by the fact you can have it for breakfast, yes breakfast!, in Malaysia. Too good. I went curry-crazy that trip 😉

But I digress… An even more special category of foods includes those that can be eaten any time of day, regardless of context, and can be savoury or sweet. Pancakes, crepes and pikelets fall into this category – and are so simple to make. Here I share my basic pancake batter with you. Want crepes? Add more milk. Want pikelets? More flour. Fritters? Add grated or finely cut vegetables (eg zucchini, corn), cheese (feta is nice), herbs… Whatever you fancy. Flip em out of the pan onto a plate and eat them before they cool!

An out and about suggestion: once you’ve poured your batter into the pan (small disks), sprinkle over some sultanas. When the bubbles appear, flip the pancake til it’s cooked, then take the lot down to the playground for morning tea!

Basic Pancakes
You will need:
1 cup self-raising flour or 1 c plain flour + 1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
1 cup milk (vary depending on what you are hoping to make: pancakes, crepes or pikelets)

1. Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix well.
2. Tip into a jug.
3. Over low-medium heat, heat a frypan. Add a small tsp butter or a spray of oil. Non stick pans don’t really need anything.
4. Pour in the desired amount of batter then lift the pan by the handle, moving the batter around until you have the ideal shape.
5. When bubbles appear on the batter surface and break, it’s time to flip your pancake.
6. Give the second side enough cooking time to brown, then lift into plate. Repeat til the batter has gone.

Sweet topping ideas: lemon and sugar, jam, Nutella, golden or maple syrup, strawberries, any combination of these

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Sometimes a bit of care is needed: sponge cake

As you’ve no doubt guessed, I’m a bit of a haphazard cook. I like to measure things using coffee mugs and cutlery out of the drawer, and I like to play fast and loose with recipes. The temptation to leave it alone is beyond me; I can’t help but substitute things, change proportions (especially sugar, which I usually halve) or simply add extras. This has usually worked out in my favour, but sometimes I’ve come across a dish that I love but that is too complicated, fiddly or simply too temperamental to fiddle with. Sponge cake (I guess they are like a Victorian sponge cake) is definitely one of those. (You can read more about them here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sponge_cake)

Growing up, my mum’s aunty Ruby used to make the most delicious sponge cakes for any occasion. Birthdays… Aunty Ruby made a sponge. Engagement parties… Aunty Ruby made a sponge. Afternoon tea… You guessed it, a sponge. Unfortunately, she passed away two years ago and so her sponge cakes are now just a (very) fond memory. It wasn’t just the cake itself, although that was perfect and light. She just seemed to get the balance of cream, fruit and jam perfect. I’m still yet to get the balance of the toppings right, but after many failed attempts, where my sponge cake ended up the thickness of a pikelet, I finally hit the jackpot with the cake part a few years back.

Sponges are cantankerous things to make: it’s all about keeping them airy and light, so a heavy hand is an absolute no-no. They also require a combination of technology (to beat the eggs) and good old elbow grease (just a touch) to get it right. It’s hard, but in making your sponge, if you think it’s not quite mixed enough, it’s probably best to call it perfect! This recipe featured in the Epicure section of the Age newspaper some years back; it’s attributed to the Country Women’s Association, but it doesn’t feature in their cookbook. I think this tells me about the idiosyncratic nature of the sponge: everyone has their own variation. But I love this one. I don’t dare play with the proportions because of my previous pikelet efforts… (Touching wood) it hasn’t failed me yet, and today my sister made it for the first time… she said it’s perfect! The most imperfect thing about a sponge? They don’t last long enough!

Never fail sponge (from the CWA Victoria ladies)

You will need:

4 eggs, separated

pinch of salt

3/4 cup castor sugar

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup cornflour (we use gluten-free because of a wheat intolerance, but it works equally well with wheaten cornflour)

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 large (heaped) tbsp custard powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1. Preheat oven to 175C. Grease well two 20cm round or square sandwich tins. Aluminum tins are recommended by the CWA for sponges…

2. Beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add castor sugar (while beaters are still going). Beat until still peaks form, and the mix is looking very thick.

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3. Using a metal spoon, gently fold in the egg yolks and vanilla. Don’t mix it too much, just til the yolks are broken and they are just blended in.

4. Twice sift the dry ingredients together, and then gently fold through the egg mix. Again, use a metal spoon and don’t mix too much – just until it is combined. You need to keep as much air in the mix as possible.

5. Turn into the well-greased sandwich tins – you should get enough for two tins, but you could make one big cake that you slice in half (some people prefer to do that). It rises a fair bit. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the sides of the cake have shrunk a little from the sides of the tin.

6. Turn out to cool, then fill with cream and fruit. Enjoy!!!

Here is one I made on the weekend for my 86 year old neighbour’s birthday…

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My sister’s much more beautiful effort!

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