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Dairy-free one-ingredient strawberry ice cream

Since discovering how easy it is to make banana ice cream by simply blending frozen banana until it becomes creamy, I’ve wanted to try other fruit flavours. However, living in the UK doesn’t usually lend itself to eating much summery food. But this glorious summer, yes!

Banana is the perfect fruit to use in a one-ingredient ice cream because it’s naturally creamy and high in sugar. Strawberries on the other hand have a high water content (that’s why frozen strawberries become mushy after defrosting) so can easily produce an icy consistency when blended. But I thought I’d give strawberry ice cream a go seeing as it’s Nicholas’ favourite ice cream flavour.

sugar-free strawberry ice cream

The frozen strawberries blend at a very similar speed to frozen banana and you need to regularly scrape down the sides of the bowl. The result using strawberries was definitely less creamy with a texture of ice cream verging on icy sorbetto. It was sweet enough for both Nicholas and me, but hubby (being Italian and therefore believing strawberries are never sweet enough on their own!) wasn’t so sure. If you’re not sure either, you could add a little honey, agave nectar or icing sugar while you’re blending.

I’ve since read adding a handful of frozen banana slices to the frozen strawberries adds creaminess and sweetness without taking away from the berry flavour. That’s definitely something I’ll try next time.

Like the banana version, it’s easier to blend the pieces of frozen fruit if they’ve been left to defrost for a couple of minutes. If the resulting ‘soft serve’ texture is too soft for you, put the blended mix into the freezer for 15 minutes or so for it to firm up.

If there’s any leftover ice cream, put it into a freezer-safe container for another day (letting it defrost for a couple of minutes and then reblending it before eating, or mush it up with the back of a spoon if you’re lazy like me). I’ve also poured leftovers into ice lolly moulds (sometimes also adding a layer of plain yogurt).

There are lots of other fruit I want to try this with. Jamie Oliver does a similar thing with mango in his 30-Minute Meals although he also adds yogurt, honey and lime juice.

DAIRY-FREE ONE-INGREDIENT STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM

Preparation time is cutting up the strawberries, waiting for them to freeze and then blending them.
A 300-400g punnet of strawberries makes about 4 adult servings.

Cut your strawberries into quarters (or halves if they’re small) and lay them on a tray covered with baking paper. Put in the freezer for a few hours until frozen. If you’re not going to use them immediately, put them in a bag after they’re frozen and keep in the freezer.

Put your frozen strawberry pieces into a food processor. Blend and blend, scraping down the sides, until it becomes creamy (about 5 mins). Don’t worry if you think it’s not going to get creamy, just be patient and keep blending.

Variations:

  • add a handful of sliced frozen banana for a creamier texture
  • freeze a variety of berries, not just strawberries
  • add a little honey, agave nectar or icing sugar for extra sweetness
  • add a little rose water as you’re blending

Other uses:

  • pour leftovers into ice lolly moulds, alternating with layers of plain yogurt

What fruits would you love to try making into healthier ice cream?

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Dairy-free banana bread

I didn’t realise how much I used bananas in cooking until I started writing this blog! There’s banana muffinsbanana teething biscuits, banana chips, banana icecream, banana pikelets, banana and butternut squash loaf, and they’re also my ‘secret’ sweetener in my sugar-free flapjacks. And these are just the recipes I’ve blogged!

Banana is commonly one of the first solid foods a baby experiences, and I think I probably just tried different things with them as Nicholas always loves them.  I also pretty much constantly have some very ripe ones in the freezer waiting to be turned into something yummy.

I’ve tried many banana bread recipes over the years with varying degrees of success. Most of the time I prefer mine to be light and fluffy like a sponge, rather than heavy and moist. And while I adore cream cheese frosting, for me this banana bread is much better without it distracting your taste buds. It also means I feel less guilt when eating it for breakfast.

dairy-free banana bread

Banana bread recipes are quite similar overall with a different tweak here and there. My recipe isn’t anything new, but it’s evolved from combining recipes I’ve come across and experimenting until I was happy.

One thing you might want to experiment with is the texture of the mashed banana. Some cooks puree it with a blender while others leave it quite chunky. Supposedly pureeing it gives a richer banana flavour to the finished product. I mash my bananas with a fork, but mash about half of them until they’re very smooth and the remainder I only mash a little so you find the occasional chunk in the finished bread.

There’s quite a bit of banana in this recipe, but you can easily get away with less; even two smallish bananas would work fine (you want at least 175g of it unpeeled).

DAIRY-FREE BANANA BREAD

Prep time: 10-15 mins
Cook time: 40-45 mins
Freezable

175g self-raising flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
175g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 medium bananas, mashed
50g walnuts (or pecans), chopped

Preheat the oven to 160C. Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Whisk the sugar, eggs and oil together at a medium speed using a handheld beater or in an electric mixer. Whisk for a few minutes until it’s pale and fluffy.

Sift in the flour and baking powder, add the mashed banana, and mix until combined using a low speed. Gently stir through the walnuts.

Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Variations:

  • Make individual muffins instead of a loaf (easier to freeze if you’re not going to eat all of it)
  • Dust with icing sugar
  • Top with cream cheese frosting for a more decadent loaf

dairy-free banana breadI’m linking up this recipe to the One Ingredient Challenge hosted by Franglais Kitchen and How to Cook Good Food. Why not enter your own banana recipe and join the linky party? Read the rules here.

Banana and butternut squash loaf

One of the last things I did before running out the door before our holidays (amazingly the first time I wasn’t running like a lunatic due to being so late) was to throw the remaining (very ripe) bananas in the freezer. It gave me a (silly) sense of pride to know we weren’t wasting them. It’s the little things after all!

While we were away I came across an unusual recipe for banana bread from Simon Rimmer with the added ingredient of butternut squash. I’m always looking for different ways to use up bananas and this recipe definitely piqued my interest.

I made some changes to the original recipe. I reduced the sugar and used chopped walnuts instead of pecans. I also reduced the amount of nuts as hubby isn’t a huge fan and it seemed an excessive amount also for me too. The original recipe is topped with a cream cheese icing which would work wonderfully, but I wanted to keep my loaf dairy-free and simple so just drizzled the cooked loaf with honey. It also means I feel no guilt eating it for breakfast 😉

The end result is a lovely dense and very moist cake with a subtle taste of banana. If anyone guessed this cake has a vegetable ingredient, I’m certain they’d never guess butternut squash. Another way to sneak some veg into your children’s diets perhaps? And if you have any pureed butternut squash in the freezer leftover from your munchkin’s earlier weaning days, I can’t think of a better way to use it.

BANANA AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH LOAF

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 50-60 mins
Makes 1 loaf
Freezable

120g sugar
1 egg
150ml vegetable oil
2 bananas, mashed
225g butternut squash, cooked and mashed
275g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
50g walnut pieces
drizzle of honey to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a loaf tin with baking paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg and vegetable oil. Fold in the mashed banana and butternut squash.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Fold this dry flour mixture into the wet banana mixture. Stir through the walnuts.

Pour into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until golden brown on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool.

Drizzle honey over the top of the loaf before serving.

Variations:

  • add sultanas or raisins for added sweetness
  • omit the walnuts if putting into a child’s lunchbox

Tip: If you have the time, it’s much better to peel your bananas before freezing them, as peeling a frozen or defrosted banana takes some skill. Just peel, throw in a ziploc bag and freeze.

French toast soldiers (sugar-free)

Breakfast. I’m never that creative with my own so I guess it’s logical that I struggle to be creative with Nicholas’. Mashed banana and yogurt has been our staple since his early days of weaning. He still eats it about three times a week, it never fails (he starts chanting ‘nana!, nana!’ as soon as I pick up a banana), and I can prepare it while still half asleep. But regardless of whether or not he gets bored of it, I get bored preparing it and also feel guilty that I should be giving him more of a variety of food to start the day.

In the early months of weaning I did grated apple, grated pear, grated apple and pear (!), and baby porridge. I don’t know why I never thought of French toast then. Slightly crispy on the outside, and lovely and soft inside, it’s certainly something a baby can tackle with their super strong gums, and a great baby-led weaning food. It’s also a nice way to introduce baby to other flavours like cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.

Thanks to Once a Month Mom, I discovered you can freeze French toast after you make it (saves you throwing away the unused egg mixture), make it into kabobs, and, more surprisingly, you can hide vegetables in it (she adds butternut squash puree!). I haven’t tried adding vegetables, but I have tried adding some mashed banana and also applesauce to the mixture before dunking the bread and these additions both work well.

You can dunk your soldiers in applesauce or a warm berry compote, drizzle with golden syrup or maple syrup, or serve them with fruit on the side (raw or stewed). Nicholas seems to like them as I do – plain with a drizzle of honey.

FRENCH TOAST SOLDIERS (SUGAR-FREE)

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 5 mins
Makes 1 toddler serving
Freezable

1 slice of bread, cut into 4 or 5 ‘soldiers’
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg
1 tsp honey (optional)
a couple of drops of vanilla essence (optional)
1 tsp butter

In a bowl large enough for your ‘soldiers’ to lie down in, lightly beat the egg, milk, and cinnamon or nutmeg (and honey and vanilla, if using).

Lay your ‘soldiers’ in the eggy mixture and let them soak on both sides while you heat the butter in a small frying pan over a med-low heat.

Fry the bread for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown.

Variations:

  • add mashed banana or applesauce (or even pureed butternut squash or sweet potato!) to the mixture before dunking
  • use cute cookie cutters to make different shapes of ‘soldiers’ to surprise your little one

Banana chips

Bananas. What baby or toddler doesn’t love them? Well I’m sure there must be some who don’t, but on the whole they’re probably one of the favourite fruits of little ones. Firm enough to hold, yet easy to eat even without teeth. The only time bananas aren’t any good is if your munchkin is constipated (but they’re great if things need firming up!).

One of Nicholas’ favourite snacks are banana chips. I buy the ones that are as natural as possible, making sure they haven’t been coated in sugar or fried, but when I came across Sweet Road’s recipe, I knew I had to try making them!

This is yet another way to use up very ripe bananas (remember the riper they are, the sweeter they’ll be). And while the cooking time is long (you’re using your oven as a dehydrator), you can leave them to do their drying and go do something else.

The only issue with this recipe is that you really have to try it a few times to understand what temperature and timing your oven needs to produce your desired level of crispiness. Ovens unfortunately do differ from each other in terms of temperature. Nicholas prefers the chewy banana chips so I have been trying to achieve a nice balance of chewiness and crispness.

An important point to add: if you make your chips chewy rather than completely crisp, tear them up into pieces before giving them to your little one to avoid any possibility of choking.

The results of my first two tries:

1. Oven 80C, cooked for 1 hr 45 mins

  • I cut the banana too thin (about 3mm thick) so they were very difficult to take off the baking paper even when they were cool. I should have read Jaime’s original recipe more closely!
  • I lay the banana slices on baking paper on a baking tray.
  • The chips were too soft and sticky, the underside being softer than the top.

2. Oven 95C, cooked 1 hr 30 mins then turned each banana slice over and cooked for another 30mins

  • I cut the banana following the original recipe’s suggestion (about 5mm thick) and was much happier with the result.
  • I lay the banana slices on baking paper on a baking tray.
  • Turning them helped crisp both top and bottom, but they were still too soft for my liking, sticking too easily to each other when put in a container.

After my third try I was happy with the results, and I’ll be sticking to this method (below) from now on. A slightly higher temperature, but the main difference is that I don’t put the banana slices on a baking tray, but put the baking paper directly onto the oven’s wire shelf. The edges become crispy while the middle is chewy yet firm. The surface is drier than the previous tries and so they don’t stick to each other when stored. Looking at the last packet of chewy banana I bought at the supermarket, one of the ingredients is rice flour which I’m assuming isn’t used in the cooking stage but tossed through at the end to keep them from sticking – perhaps something else to try if they ever last that long in the container.

Perhaps I’ll experiment some more in the future using a lower temperature and a much longer cooking time, as probably my method is less dehydrating and more cooking the banana slices.

Anyway, the verdict from Nicholas? He liked all of them… a lot!

SLIGHTLY CHEWY BANANA CHIPS

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 2 hrs (no need to check during this time)
Makes about 60 chips

2 ripe bananas
1/2 lemon, squeezed

Take out one of your oven’s wire shelves and lay a piece of baking paper over it. Preheat the oven to 100C.

Cut your bananas into slices about 5mm thick and lay them on the baking paper. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the banana with the lemon juice (or you can just dip your fingers in the juice and rub the banana!).

Cook the banana for two hours (you don’t need to check or turn them or do anything else during this time).

Take them out of the oven and leave to cool on the baking paper. They’ll become firmer as they cool.

Store in an airtight container.

Spending so much time with banana slices (!) has made me appreciate their beauty. Look at their lovely pansy-like patterns!

Sugar-free banana muffins

I was very happy with my apple sauce efforts. Armed with the sauce, I headed back into the kitchen to use it in a recipe instead of sugar. As usual, staring me in the face were some rather ripe bananas so I thought I’d attempt to adapt one of my favourite muffin recipes.

If you don’t want to be bothered making apple sauce (but it only takes 20 minutes!), you can use caster sugar (150g) instead, although then these muffins won’t be sugar-free 😉

SUGAR-FREE BANANA MUFFINS

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 30-35 mins
Makes about 16 muffins
Freezable

3 ripe bananas
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
375g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
125ml vegetable oil
150ml milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan). Line muffin trays with paper cases.

Mash the bananas and then mix in the apple sauce.

Put the flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a medium bowl and mix.

In a separate smaller bowl or small jug, whisk together the oil, milk, egg and vanilla (if using). Pour into the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Add the banana and apple sauce and gently mix through the batter quickly.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared paper cases and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden on top and cooked when tested with a skewer.

Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.


Tip
: the ‘secret’ to muffins is mixing the batter just enough to combine the ingredients. Mix too much and you’ll have heavy stodgy muffins. I like to use a spatula. It makes me use bigger stirring movements (smaller ones would beat the mixture too much), and I can scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as I mix to avoid having unmixed flour hiding in the bottom.

So how did they turn out? The texture was exactly the same as using sugar. The taste, for me, isn’t super sweet but sweet enough, and Nicholas wolfed down one whole muffin as soon as they were cool enough to eat, so a success! Hubby’s verdict is that they’re nowhere as sweet as the ones you buy… 🙂

What would you try making using apple sauce instead of sugar?

Double-baked banana teething biscuits

Biscuits are my favourite thing to bake. They’re probably my favourite thing to eat as well. For a quick sugar fix with less guilt than a piece of cake, they can’t be beaten. I like them chewy, crumbly, crisp or gooey – I’m not picky! Usually the perfect accompaniment is a glass of milk, but for the famous Italian cantuccini that are rock hard you have to, just have to, dip them in a sweet dessert wine.

Cantuccini are extra hard from being baked twice. This technique is perfect to make teething rusks or biscuits for your dribbling munchkin to gnaw on.

I came across a recipe for twice-baked banana teething biscuits by Jennifer Cheung. This is my first try and it needs some adjusting. The second baking was too long in my oven and it coincided with Nicholas needing more attention so I didn’t check them. Although in the photo of the original recipe the biscuits look very dark, mine came out looking more burnt :(. Oh well, not everything works all the time. Next time I would bake them the second time for 20-30 minutes. However, Nicholas hasn’t minded them being overcooked.

I made half the mixture. First because the recipe looked as if it would make a large amount of biscuits (although you can freeze the biscuits) and second because I had one and a half very ripe bananas that needed using and they mashed up into exactly half of what the original recipe needed. I used a loaf pan rather than the slice tin suggested because of the smaller amount of mixture, but it rose a lot so next time I’d use a wider tin.

BANANA TEETHING BISCUITS

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 1hr 30 mins
Makes about 20
Freezable

1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 1/2 bananas)
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat oven to 180C and line a slice tin with baking paper.

Mix all of the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl until well combined.

Pour into prepared tin and bake for one hour.

Leave the oven door open to cool and drop the temperature to 150C.

Remove what now looks like a banana cake from the pan and cool a little. Slice into sticks (I found it easier to use a bread knife as my loaf was quite high) and lay the slices on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

Using a bread knife makes it easier to slice

After I took this photo I sliced some of the fatter biscuits in half

Bake for another 20-30 minutes.

What do you do when your little one is teething to help soothe their sore gums?

Update: my next attempt at these biscuits was much more successful… and also sugar-free!