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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.

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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

Butter bean pasta sauce

This is a super quick pasta sauce you can whip up in the time it takes for the pasta to cook, and using tinned beans means no cooking!

The amount of milk is an approximate measure; it depends on how much the beans soak up. If you let the sauce stand before using it, the beans will continue sucking up the milk and the sauce will become drier. Trust your own judgement as to how much milk to add.

You can easily make as much or as little sauce as you want, either using just a couple of tablespoons of beans to make one serving or using the whole tin and freezing the leftover sauce. Why not experiment using other different types of tinned beans?

BUTTER BEAN PASTA SAUCE

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 0 mins πŸ™‚
Makes about 300ml of sauce
Freezable

1 tin butter beans (approx. 400g), rinsed and drained
Approx. 1/4 cup of milk
Pinch of salt (optional)
To serve: 1 tbsp grated parmesan

Put the rinsed and drained butter beans in a small food processor. Add about half of the milk (and salt if using) and blend until smooth. Check the consistency , adding more milk and blending again as necessary.

Mix through cooked pasta and sprinkle generously with grated parmesan.

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

Possibly the best brownies (adult recipe)

My hubby is a fantastic cook. For the first few years we lived together he did most of the cooking and I was very happy about that! He’s very good at coming up with great meals day after day whereas I’ve always struggled.

Our routine now is that I cook during the week and he takes over at the weekend. Usually at the weekend we catch up with friends and often eat out which suits hubby just fine! When he does cook now, unfortunately there’s not a lot of passion, rather he’s cooking for necessity.

I really miss his passionate cooking so when he asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday I requested a dinner cooked by him. And a chocolate cake! Hubby doesn’t like chocolate so I never make anything chocolately even for guests. Surprisingly it was the chocolate cake request that made him nervous and unsure – he’d never made anything chocolatey before!

Sunday dinner was fabulous. A starter of various salami and cheeses followed by langoustines flamed in whisky sauce with potato cakes, quails’ egg tempura and wilted spinach (this took him much longer to prepare than the recipe stated but it was superb!) and triple-chocolate brownies to finish with. I felt thoroughly spoilt… and full!

The brownies are full of chocolatey goodness, in fact I don’t think you could squeeze in any more chocolate. Hubby said they were very easy to make with clear and precise instructions. Maybe encourage your partner to make them for you as they’re so easy πŸ˜‰

Hubby used a loaf tin instead of the square square tin (I wouldn’t have guessed) and lined not just the bottom but all the sides with baking paper so there was no chance of sticking. He also had to cook it quite a bit longer than the recipe said (about 15 minutes longer); just keep doing the wobble test!

POSSIBLY THE BEST BROWNIES

Prep and cook time: 1 hour
Makes 16 squares or 32 triangles
Keeps in an airtight container for up to two weeks
Freezable (up to a month)

185g unsalted butter, cut into smallish cubes
185g best dark chocolate (not cooking chocolate!), broken into small pieces
85g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
50g white chocolate
50g milk chocolate
3 large eggs
275g golden caster sugar

Put the butter and dark chocolate into a medium bowl. Fill a small saucepan about a quarter full with hot water, then sit the bowl on top so it rests on the rim of the pan, not touching the water. Put over a low heat until the butter and chocolate have melted, stirring occasionally to mix them. Now remove the bowl from the pan. Alternatively, you can cover the bowl loosely with cling film and put in the microwave for 2 minutes on high. Leave the melted mixture to cool to room temperature.

While the chocolate is cooling, position a shelf in the middle of your oven and turn the oven on to fan 160C/conventional 180C/gas 4. Line the bottom and sides of a shallow 20cm square tin (or similar sized loaf tin) with baking paper, leaving the paper overhanging on all sides.

Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a medium bowl, making sure you don’t have any lumps.

With a large sharp knife, chop the white chocolate and milk chocolate into chunks on a board. The slabs of chocolate will be quite hard, so the safest way to do this is to hold the knife over the chocolate and press the tip down on the board, then bring the rest of the blade down across the chocolate. Keep on doing this, moving the knife across the chocolate to chop it into pieces, then turn the board round 90 degrees and again work across the chocolate so you end up with rough squares.

Break the eggs into a large bowl and tip in the caster sugar. With an electric mixer on maximum speed, whisk the eggs and sugar until they look thick and creamy, like a milk shake. This can take 3-8 minutes, depending on how powerful your mixer is, so don’t lose heart. You’ll know it’s ready when the mixture becomes really pale and about double its original volume. Another check is to turn off the mixer, lift out the beaters and wiggle them from side to side. If the mixture that runs off the beaters leaves a trail on the surface of the mixture in the bowl for a second or two, you’re there.

Pour the cooled chocolate mixture over the eggy mousse, then gently fold together with a rubber spatula. Plunge the spatula in at one side, take it underneath and bring it up the opposite side and in again at the middle. Continue going under and over in a figure of eight, moving the bowl round after each folding so you can get at it from all sides, until the two mixtures are one and the colour is a mottled dark brown. The idea is to marry them without knocking out the air, so be as gentle and slow as you like – you don’t want to undo all the good whisking work you did before.

Hold the sieve over the bowl of eggy chocolate mixture and resift the cocoa and flour mixture, shaking the sieve from side to side, to cover the top evenly. Gently fold in this powder using the same figure of eight action as before. The mixture will look dry and dusty at first, but keep going very gently and patiently and it will end up looking gungy and fudgy. Stop just before you feel you should, as you don’t want to overdo this mixing. Finally, stir in the white and milk chocolate chunks until they’re dotted throughout. Now you can let the oven take over.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, scraping every bit out of the bowl with the spatula. Gently ease the mixture into the corners of the tin and paddle the spatula from side to side across the top to level it. Put in the oven and set your timer for 25 minutes. When the buzzer goes, open the oven, pull the shelf out a bit and gently shake the tin. If the brownie wobbles in the middle, it’s not quite done, so slide it back in and check again in another 5 minutes. When it’s cooked the top will have a shiny, papery crust and the sides will be just beginning to come away from the tin. Take out of the oven.

Leave it in the tin until completely cold, then lift out the brownie using the edges of baking paper. Cut into quarters, then cut each quarter into four squares and finally into triangles. Enjoy their fabulous rich chocolately goodness!

Sugar-free carrot loaf

I don’t know about you, but when 4 o’clock comes around my tummy starts feeling empty. Nicholas is usually napping and I’m ready to sit down, have a coffee and not think of mummy things for a little while. Then my mind wanders to thinking about what chocolate we have in the house!Β  So looking for something healthier for me that could also be a healthier sweet snack or breakfast option for Nicholas, I thought I’d try adapting this Foodista recipe for breakfast carrot muffins.

I used wholemeal flour and used my apple sauce instead of sugar to be healthier. I also substituted the butter with vegetable oil, upped the carrot, added some sultanas and vanilla for extra sweetness, and some spice (cinnamon and nutmeg). I was very happy with the result – a dense moist loaf. Next time I’ll try adding some walnut pieces for some crunch.

This recipe works well both as a loaf or as muffins. Spread with some butter to be indulgent!

SUGAR-FREE CARROT LOAF

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 1 hr
Makes 1 loaf
Freezable

2 cups wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup grated carrot (packed in as tight as you can!)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup sultanas


Preheat your oven to 180C. Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Mix together all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg) in a medium-sized bowl.

To the grated carrot mix in the wet ingredients (apple sauce, beaten egg, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla).

Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix fairly quickly to combine. Stir through the raisins and sultanas.

Pour into the loaf tin and cook for 50-60 mins until golden on top and cooked when tested with a skewer.

Variations:

  • add some chopped walnuts
  • add some powdered ginger or cardamom for some extra warm spice
  • make as muffins

Tip: if you have a food processor, check if you have a grating attachment to make preparing the carrot faster and easier.