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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.

Courgette (zucchini) soup

Yes, another soup recipe! Since returning to the cold weather of the UK I’ve been making soup at least once a week. It really is (for me anyway) an easy way of getting more vegetables into Nicholas’ diet. We’ve even sometimes been having a small mug of soup for an afternoon snack (often with a straw just for fun!).

Making soup is generally quick, only requiring a bit of chopping, a bit of stirring, usually followed by some blending. Then it’s ready and waiting in the fridge for the next few days. Any leftovers go in the freezer for another day.

As with all cooking, the fresher your ingredients the better the end taste will be. And with soup, although stock made from a stock cube (preferably low-salt if cooking for little ones) is absolutely fine, if you use a better quality stock (either bought or homemade) you will taste the difference.

You don’t need great knife skills when making blended soups. However, the smaller you chop the vegetables (especially the potatoes), the quicker they’ll take to cook.

courgette (zucchini) soup

COURGETTE (ZUCCHINI) SOUP

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15-20 mins
Makes 4 adult servings
Freezable

2 large or 3 medium-sized courgettes (zucchini), diced
1 onion, diced
1 medium-sized potato, diced
1 tbsp olive oil (or butter)
500ml hot vegetable or chicken stock
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pot over a medium heat. Add the courgettes, onion and potato, and sauté for 5 minutes without letting the vegetables brown (turn the heat down if they do start to brown).

Pour in the stock, bring to the boil then turn the heat down to low and simmer until the vegetables are soft (about 10 minutes if you’ve diced them into small pieces).

Remove from the heat and purée until smooth. Add salt and pepper if needed.

To make it more special, serve with a dollop of yoghurt or cream and a sprinkling of chives.

Leftover chicken soup (family recipe)

Do you ever roast a chicken, then the next day you scratch your head wondering what you can do with the leftovers apart from chicken sandwiches? Well here’s something filling and warming to try, that will feed the whole family. It would also work really well with leftover turkey.

I used onion, carrot, courgette/zucchini and peas in my soup, but you could easily put in other vegetables (it’s actually a great way to use up those last few vegetables that you’re not sure what to do with at the end of the week). And remember, taking a little bit more time to chop the vegetables into smaller pieces, will shorten the cooking time.

leftover chicken soup

If serving to a baby, don’t season after pureeing. You can either serve them just the pureed vegetable soup, or add some chicken and peas to their portion and puree again.

Nicholas likes searching for the chicken and peas in this soup, and I’ll often add some cooked pasta just to his for him to discover. Adding pasta is also a way to make the soup last for a couple of meals.

If you have a toddler who’s fussy about eating vegetables, puree the vegetables they’re less keen on and keep the ones they do like whole. Or you can puree all of it to hide lots of vegetables!

LEFTOVER CHICKEN SOUP

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 20-25 mins
Serves 4 adults
Freezable

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly diced
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large courgette/zucchini, chopped
1 tbsp dried sage
1 litre chicken stock
200g leftover chicken, skin removed and diced
150g frozen peas
salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large pot over a med heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 mins until they’re starting to soften.

Add the carrots, courgette, sage and stock. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 10-15 mins until the carrots are cooked.

Remove from the heat and puree the soup until smooth. Season to taste.

Put the soup back on the heat, and add the chicken and peas. Simmer for 5 mins and serve.

Variations:

  • add some cooked pasta to make the soup more filling and to go further
  • use leftover turkey instead of chicken
  • use other vegetables such as potato, leek, butternut squash, frozen corn, etc.

Soft butternut squash cakes

I’ve been more focused on toddler-friendly meals lately, natural since Nicholas is getting bigger, but I don’t want to stop experimenting with recipes that are also good for your smaller little ones.

These little vegetable cakes are very soft inside so great for babies without teeth. They are a simpler (and slightly quicker) version of my Butternut Squash and Chickpea Cakes, which are easily adapted to feed the whole family.

I made some medium and small-sized ones, but because of their softness the small ones (about 4cm in diameter) are easier for small fingers to hold and also easier to flip over when you’re cooking them.

If you’re making these for toddlers you can add some seasoning and also some spice (I used a teaspoon each of paprika and cumin for a warming spicy flavour). If you’re introducing a little spice to your munchkin, start with 1/2 teaspoon each of spices.

Use your preferred method of cooking the butternut squash, remembering that the quicker you cook it, the more nutrients remain. For toddlers you can leave the peel on as it will get chopped up in the food processor when you combine it with the other ingredients.

This recipe makes a large batch of cakes – perfect to have in the freezer for days you don’t feel like cooking.

SOFT BUTTERNUT SQUASH CAKES

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes about 40 mini cakes (or 26 medium cakes)
Freezable

Approx. 400g cooked butternut squash
1 medium courgette (zucchini), coursely grated
1 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup plain flour
Drizzle of olive oil or cooking spray

For toddler version also:
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper

Put the butternut squash into a food processor and blend until smooth. If you’ve left the skin on, check that it’s broken up into small pieces.

Add the grated courgette, chickpeas, egg yolk and flour. Blend until combined (the mixture will be quite runny almost like a pancake mixture).

If making for a toddler, add the paprika, cumin and season to taste.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a med-low heat, spray with cooking spray or use a drizzle of olive oil.

Drop small spoonfuls of mixture into the pan (don’t overcrowd the pan to make turning them easier), flipping them after a few minutes when they’re golden brown and cooking the other side. Repeat with the remaining mixture.

Leave to cool a little (they’ll firm up a bit as they get cooler). Serve with yogurt to dip them into.

Variations:

  • Use sweet potato instead of butternut squash
  • For toddlers, try some different spices such as ground coriander
  • Add some fresh coriander to the mixture

What other soft foods do you like to make for your little ones, especially when they don’t yet have teeth?

Blueberry pancakes (sugar-free)

Hubby and I are following the Dukan diet to lose the spare tyres that have appeared over the years helped by us loving food and really not liking exercise. So far it’s working well and hasn’t been too hard to follow (you have foods you can eat, and you can eat as much as you like of them, and foods you can’t eat). You also have to eat oatbran and it’s easier to eat this in the morning (it also keeps your tummy full until lunchtime). I make Dukan’s galettes which always smell divine because of the cinnamon and vanilla I put in, but they taste very similar to cardboard!

Nicholas sees us eating our galettes and, of course, wants some too. For the moment he doesn’t realise that his galettes are usually banana pikelets or apple pikelets. My stocks in the freezer of these were running low so I thought I’d try a new flavour – blueberry.

I’m calling these pancakes, probably mini pancakes are a better description, because I left the blueberries whole and therefore made them thicker to surround the berries. Whether you call them pancakes, mini pancakes, pikelets, drop scones or dropped scones, make them, they’re yummy!

BLUEBERRY PANCAKES

Prep time: 5-10 mins
Cook time: 10-15 mins
Makes about 10 mini pancakes
Freezable

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
100g blueberries
1 tbsp honey
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
Small piece of butter, melted, to grease the pan

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon into a medium- sized bowl.

Add the honey and egg then gradually pour in the milk mixing until you have a fairly thick batter (you might not need to use all the milk).

Gently mix in the blueberries.

Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and brush with melted butter. Use a tablespoon to drop spoonfuls of mixture into the pan. Cook in batches, turning when bubbles appear on the surface (1-2 mins). Cook the other side until golden brown (about 1 min). Lift out and cover with a clean tea towel to keep warm.

Variations:

  • Use nutmeg or ginger instead of cinnamon
  • Add vanilla essence for more sweetness

Tip: Wipe your pan clean with a piece of paper towel after each batch and then brush with some more melted butter.

Spinach muffins

Yes, you read correctly, spinach muffins. And they’re sweet. I’ll let you have a minute to get your head around that.

Still can’t imagine what they’d taste like? Don’t worry, neither could I when I came across the recipe by Weelicious. I’m still on my mission to get more vegetables into Nicholas, so I thought I’d continue my attack from a sweet angle too.

I’ve made two batches of these now, modifying the original recipe both times. Honestly, they’re a strange taste sensation and I certainly won’t be waking up any time soon thinking ‘Mmmm, I fancy a spinach muffin.’ But I made them for Nicholas not me.

Reading the numerous comments for the original recipe, many people who’ve made them say you can’t taste the spinach and that they taste like plain vanilla muffins. For me the spinach taste is strong, and its metallic flavour in combination with the vanilla is probably what confuses my taste buds. But I made them for Nicholas not me.

The original recipe has applesauce and sugar. I replaced the sugar with honey to be healthier (I honestly can’t see the point in packing a muffin with spinach goodness if you then add sugar, sorry). I also left out the salt, as just reading that in the ingredient list made my taste buds apprehensive, and again why add it to your munchkin’s food if you probably don’t need to (after tasting them I think adding the salt would make the clash between sweet and savoury too much).

For my second batch I also left out the baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) as I really don’t like the taste of it in muffins. It didn’t affect the texture and the taste was better. Yes, for me, but I made them for Nicholas not me!

Nicholas has eaten them but without gusto, however he hasn’t been completely well this week. We’re going to the joint first birthday party of Nicholas’ best friend at the weekend. It’s a party with all the babies from his antenatal group, so I will go armed with my spinach muffins and see how they go down with a pack of one-year-olds.

SPINACH MUFFINS

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes 12 small muffins
Freezable

1 cup fresh spinach, packed tightly
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (apple puree)
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Extra vegetable oil, for greasing muffin tin

Preheat oven to 175C and grease your muffin tin with a little vegetable oil.

Put the spinach, applesauce, egg, vanilla, honey and vegetable oil in a food processor, and puree until the spinach has broken up into small pieces and the mixture has combined.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a medium-sized bowl.

Pour the spinach mixture into a large bowl and carefully fold in the flour mixture, mixing just enough to combine the ingredients (mixing too much will make your muffins heavy).

Divide your mixture evenly between the 12 muffin holes.

Bake for 12-15 mins until a skewer comes out clean.

Spinach lasagne

Nicholas is a big meat eater (not surprising if you know his parents!). He usually happily shares his food when asked, but if it happens to be some meat he’s particularly enjoying, then he’s more likely to shovel everything into his mouth as quickly as possible then gesture with his hands it’s all gone (what a shame!).

During our holidays it was easy to feed him meat, but less easy to get him to eat a good amount of vegetables. And with the nice weather at the weekend, we had two days of barbecues at friends’ with Nicholas happily devouring hamburgers and chorizo sausages. Vegetables? Not interested mummy, more MEAT.

So my objective for this week was to get as many vegies in him as possible!

My vegetarian lasagne is just a simplified lasagne that’s not too time-consuming to prepare or cook. Looking for a dish small enough to fit just one sheet of lasagna, I had the brainwave of using a loaf tin and mine was the perfect size. Any ovenproof dish would be fine though.

I used spinach, yellow pepper (capsicum), mushrooms and onion in my vegetable layer to pack in lots of nutrients (and don’t you just love the bright yellow and green colours?). You can use pretty much whatever vegetables you like or have on hand.

I remember my first attempts as a uni student making lasagne… not great. I didn’t understand the concept of the dry pasta sheets needing moisture to soften and cook. I thought the edges I didn’t cover with sauce would get nice and crunchy. Well they did, but they were also raw! It’s not rocket science, just make sure when you’re spooning the sauce over the pasta that the sheet is completely covered.

SPINACH LASAGNA

Prep time: 30-35 mins
Cook time: 20-25 mins
Makes 4 toddler servings (or 2 toddler servings & 1 adult serving)
Freezable

1/2 onion, diced
100g mushrooms, chopped
1 small yellow pepper (capsicum), diced
75g fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 tsp olive oil
50g butter
2 tbsp plain flour
2 cups milk
A pinch of salt (optional)
A pinch of nutmeg
3 uncooked lasagna sheets
100g mozzarella di bufala (or any fresh mozzarella)
A handful of grated parmesan

Heat your oven to 220C.

In a medium frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 mins.

Add the mushrooms and pepper. Cover the pan and turn the heat down a little to med-low. Cook until the onion is transparent and the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally.

Add the spinach and stir until it just starts to wilt. Take the pan off the heat.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a med-low heat. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon for 1 minute (this cooks the flour to avoid having a raw flour taste in your sauce).

Add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the flour paste and use a whisk to stir to get rid of any lumps immediately. Turn the heat up to medium and gradually whisk in the rest of the milk. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens to a runny custard consistency (not too thick), making sure it doesn’t boil.

Take the white sauce off the heat and add a pinch of salt (if using) and a good pinch of nutmeg. Mix and taste, adding more salt and/or nutmeg if necessary.

In a loaf tin, big enough to hold one lasagna sheet, spoon a few tablespoons of sauce into the bottom (just enough to cover it). Place a sheet of lasagna on top. Cover with half of the vegetable ‘sauce’ and then about one third of the remaining white sauce (making sure the pasta sheet is completely covered). Pull apart one third of the mozzarella into chunks with your fingers and sprinkle it over.

Add another layer of pasta, vegetables, white sauce and mozzarella.

Finish with the third sheet of pasta, top with the last of the white sauce, the remaining mozzarella and sprinkle over the parmesan.

Cook for 20-25 mins until the top is lovely and golden and the pasta is cooked (a knife or skewer will easily pierce through from the top to the bottom). If the top is getting too golden, cover with foil and continue cooking.

Variations:

  • use any combination of vegetables in the vegetable sauce
  • add long slices of lightly fried courgette (zucchini) or aubergine (egg plant) under your vegetable sauce
  • use dollops of ricotta instead of the mozzarella