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Baked vegetable bites

These vegetable bites are really a variation of my zucchini (courgette) bites, with more veg thrown in! They’re great for using up vegetables lurking in your fridge (you can really use almost anything), and leftover bites can go into tomorrow’s lunchboxes or frozen for another day.

baked vegetable bitesSince coming up with our leftover veggie pops (or ‘cheesy lollipops’ as Nicholas calls them), I often put food on sticks. If you have a fussy eater, I would definitely try putting food they don’t particularly like on sticks.

For littler ones, especially those doing baby-led weaning, these bites are the perfect size for little fingers to pick up and feed themselves.

The bites are baked rather than fried, which not only means they’re healthier but you can throw them in the oven and forget about them for a while instead of standing in front of a frying pan turning them over. Sometimes before baking them I roll the balls into some extra breadcrumbs so they end up with a thin crunchy coating.

Don’t worry too much about exact quantities. If the mixture is too wet to shape into balls, just add some more breadcrumbs; if it’s too dry, add a little bit more beaten egg.

baked vegetable bites 2BAKED VEGETABLE BITES

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15-18 mins
Makes about 16 bites
Freezable

1 medium-large zucchini/courgette, finely grated and squeezed
1 medium carrot, finely grated
1 handful spinach, finely shredded
1 egg
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
Pinch of salt (optional)
Extra dry breadcrumbs for coating (optional)

Heat oven to 200C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Put all the ingredients into a medium-sized bowl and mix until combined.

Shape into small balls (adding some more breadcrumbs if the mixture is too wet). Roll balls in the extra breadcrumbs if using.

Place on the lined baking tray and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden brown.

 

Kale Crisps

I’ve wanted to try making kale crisps for a while as they’ve intrigued me. When a large bunch of kale popped into my weekly delivered veg box, it was time to try them.

I think for a lot of people kale crisps don’t sound particularly appetising. And the first taste is a little odd, but… then I couldn’t stop eating them! Hubby was rather dubious, but… then he couldn’t stop eating them! And Nicholas tucked into them too!

Vegetable crisps

Such a brilliant way to get some more green veg into your and your little ones’ diets, and kale is considered to be one of the healthiest vegetables around. Kale crisps are also super easy to make.

Some recipes suggest putting the torn up leaves into a bag with the olive oil and salt, and either shaking or massaging to cover the leaves. I tried this the first time I made them, but found the salt didn’t spread very well meaning I ended up with some VERY salty crisps and some without any salt. If you’re not using salt at all, the bag method works well to limit the amount of oil, but otherwise I would just drizzle the oil and sprinkle over the salt once the kale is on the oven trays. Be careful about adding too much salt as they can very easily become too salty (you can always add more salt after they’ve cooked).

KALE CRISPS

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 5-10 mins

1 bunch of kale, washed and patted dry
Approx. 1 tbsp olive oil
Salt (optional)

Preheat your oven to 170C and line two oven trays with baking paper.

Tear the leaves off the thick stalks and chop or tear into pieces about 5-7cm in size.

Spread the torn leaves in a single layer over the oven trays.

Lightly drizzle the leaves with olive oil and very lightly sprinkle with salt (if using).

Bake for 5-10 minutes, keeping a close eye on them, until the edges have just started to go brown.

Variations:

  • for kale crisps with a kick, sprinkle with chili powder before baking;
  • for zesty crisps, as soon as you take the crisps from the oven, grated over some lemon zest;
  • for cheesy crisps, sprinkle over some grated parmesan before baking;
  • sprinkle over some sesame seeds after baking.

Tip: if your kale browns too quickly, try baking them at 150C for 20-25 minutes.

Baked Tortilla Santa Crisps

Baked tortilla crisps or chips are a healthy and very easy snack to make, and something your little ones can help you make.

I was inspired to make these Christmas-themed crisps after seeing Grace’s snowflake tortilla crisps on Eats Amazing.

We added some tomato puree to make our Santas jollier, but they’re just as yummy without it. For adults you could add some red by sprinkling on some chili powder, paprika or cayenne pepper.

These would be great for Christmas parties as well as popping into lunchboxes. You can eat them on their own or use them to scoop up dip or salsa (we also like to dip them in soup!).

Christmas

BAKED TORTILLA SANTA CRISPS

Prep time: 5-10 mins
Cook time 5-7 mins

Tortilla wraps
Tomato puree

Preheat your oven to 200C.

Cut out shapes from the tortillas and lay them in a single layer on non-stick oven trays. Using the back of a teaspoon, smear on a little tomato puree for Santa’s hat and jacket.

Bake for 5-7 minutes (keeping a close watch after 5 minutes) until the edges are starting to brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool and crisp up more.

ChristmasWhat Christmas shapes would your munchkins love to eat?

Gingerbread

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without gingerbread. Whether it’s gingerbread men, a gingerbread house or other gingerbread shapes, the mix of spices and the smell of it baking makes me feel all warm and Christmas-y!

Making gingerbread with your little ones is a wonderful activity to do (and not just at Christmas time). It’s easy to make, immense fun to make shapes out of and cooks quickly so you can start decorating sooner.

If you’re cooking with toddlers, you could make the dough yourself beforehand (the dough keeps in the fridge easily for a day) and get your munchkin involved from the ‘cutting out shapes’ stage. Older kids can help make the dough from scratch and while it’s chilling in the fridge, they can start choosing cookie cutters and think about how they’ll decorate them.

Gingerbread keeps wonderfully (in an airtight container) for a couple of weeks. It’s also a lovely present your kids can make and then give to friends and family. We’ve just finished decorating some Christmas trees to give to the staff at Nicholas’ preschool.

Gingerbread Christmas treesThis recipe has been the only one I’ve used to make gingerbread for the last few years. It’s slightly adapted from a Waitrose recipe. If I remember correctly, I just reduced the amount of bicarbonate of soda, as I really don’t like it when I can taste it in the finished product. There’s still enough of it though to puff up the gingerbread a little.

To make cleaning up easier, I like to roll the gingerbread on a piece of baking paper rather than on a floured surface, with a piece of plastic wrap on the top so the rolling pin stays clean too. This also means that your gingerbread won’t accidently stick to your work surface.

Christmas

GINGERBREAD

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 9 mins
Makes about 30 medium-sized biscuits

125g unsalted butter
100g dark muscovado sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
325g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 190C. Line at least two baking trays with baking paper.

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir in the melted ingredients to make a stiff dough. Shape into a ball and refrigerate for 10 mins (if you’re not going to cook your gingerbread immediately, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge).

Roll out onto a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 3-5mm. Cut out shapes and place on your lined baking trays. Bake for 9 minutes until golden brown.

Leave on a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.

Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Tip: before measuring out your golden syrup, rub a drop of oil over the spoon; the syrup will easily slide off.

What sweets are your favourite for decorating gingerbread?

Cute Lunches: Taco Monster

Happy Halloween everyone! While I made this snack for Halloween, monster-loving little ones would love it at any time of the year.

Halloween bentoI carefully drew eyes and a nose on a taco shell (I definitely need to work on drawing scary features!) then filled it with ham, cheese and baby leaf spinach. I cut teeth from a slice of cheddar and tucked some of them under the filling and stuck the others, using dots of mayonnaise, to the top of the taco shell (serve before they have a chance to fall off!). As a treat, Nicholas also had some ghost crisps.

How are you and your family celebrating Halloween?

Chewy chai cookies

There’s something wonderfully comforting about oatmeal cookies, especially ones with soft chewy centres. We regularly make variations of our chewy oaty biscuits, which Nicholas likes to both make and eat, but I wanted to try making some with the warm and lightly spiced flavour of my beloved vanilla chai tea.

While these are not the healthiest snack, I’ve reduced the sugar content quite a bit (by a third!) so you can feel less guilty eating them. If you prefer sweeter cookies you can also add a handful of raisins or sultanas to the cookie dough.

Oatmeal oaty biscuits

If you can’t get hold of vanilla chai teabags, look at my tip below the recipe for recreating the flavours with spices you probably already have in your cupboard.

I make these quite small (they’re about 5cm in diameter after cooking), so you can indulge with less guilt. The recipe is easily doubled though if you prefer to make bigger ones.

CHEWY CHAI COOKIES

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 10-12 mins
Makes 12 small cookies

60g butter, chopped
1 tbsp honey or agave nectar
75g (1/2 cup) rolled oats
50g (1/2 cup) plain flour
50g (1/4 cup) soft brown sugar
2 vanilla chai tea bags (leaves only)

Preheat your oven to 160C and line an oven tray with baking paper.

Gently melt the butter and honey (or agave nectar) either in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Leave to cool.

Mix the oats, flour, sugar and tea leaves together in a medium-sized bowl.

Pour in the cooled melted butter and honey, and mix until combined.

Roll the mixture into small balls and place well apart on the prepared tray. Press down with the back of an oiled spoon to flatten them slightly.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until just starting to turn brown, flattening them again with the back of an oiled spoon after about 5 mins of cooking. (If you prefer crunchy cookies, cook them for a few minutes longer until turned golden brown.)

Leave the cookies to cool on the tray for 5 mins to firm up before transferring them to a wire rack to completely cool.

Variations:

  • Use a dairy-free margarine instead of the butter to make dairy-free cookies;
  • Add a handful of dried fruit such as raisins, chopped dried apricot, dried apple or dried strawberries;
  • Add chocolate chips to the mixture or drizzle the baked cookies with melted chocolate;
  • Add flaked almonds.

Tip: instead of using the vanilla chai tea leaves, make your own chai spice mix by combining 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground allspice, a pinch of ground cloves and a pinch of freshly ground pepper. Also add 1/2 tsp vanilla essence to your cookie dough.

AlphaBakes Logo

I’m linking this recipe to the AlphaBakes monthly challenge (this month it’s the letter ‘C’) jointly hosted by Caroline from Caroline Makes and Ros from The More than Occasional Baker (and I’m quietly very proud of achieving a triple letter ‘C’ this time ;))

Savoury courgette and pine nut muffins

I’ve found muffins are a great way to get some extra vegetables into Nicholas’ diet. He can help me make them (which usually results in him eating more of them), they’re an easy-to-eat finger food (and very easy to pop into a lunchbox) and so wonderfully adaptable (you can pretty much throw in anything you have in the fridge!).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s courgette and pine nut muffins intrigued me when I came across them. He makes the point that these flavour combinations work well in a pasta dish and also work in a muffin, which makes my mind wander to other pasta flavours to experiment with in a muffin form. I was also curious to discover if the addition of some oats was noticeable in the end muffin (no, although I used normal-sized porridge oats rather than his suggested jumbo oats).

Amazingly for me I didn’t make any changes to Hugh’s original recipe. After tasting them I did wonder about leaving the sultanas out next time, but they do add a lovely burst of sweetness to the other savoury ingredients which I think little people (as well as big people) will like. The added texture of toasted pine nuts also works very well. I’ll be making them exactly the same from now on! Oh and I can confirm that they freeze well.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

SAVOURY COURGETTE/ZUCCHINI AND PINE NUT MUFFINS

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 18 mins
Makes 12
Freezable

200g plain flour
40g jumbo oats
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1-2 tsp flaky sea salt (depending on how salty your parmesan is – you can easily leave this out for toddlers)
A few grinds of black pepper
8 large basil leaves, shredded
60g parmesan, coarsely grated, plus another 20g or so to sprinkle on the top
2 eggs
250g whole milk yoghurt
4 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
200g courgette/zucchini, coarsely grated
40g pine nuts, toasted
40g sultanas

Heat the oven to 200C and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, bicarb, salt, pepper, basil and parmesan.

In a separate smaller bowl (or jug), whisk together the eggs, yoghurt and oil, pour this over the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until roughly combined – don’t overmix.

Add the courgette/zucchini, pine nuts and sultanas, and stir until just evenly distributed.

Spoon or scoop (using an ice cream scoop) the batter into the muffin tin and sprinkle over the rest of the parmesan.

Bake for about 18 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Leave them to cool in the tin for a couple of minutes to firm up before transferring them to a cooling rack.

What other yummy pasta flavours do you think would work well in a muffin?