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Frozen fruit pops

Frozen fruit pops

Summer has come and gone in the UK. It wasn’t a bad one at all this year, in fact I got a tan during a British summer for the first time! However I’d be lying if I said I was anything but ecstatic that we’re finally away on holiday enjoying a very hot sun on a wonderful beach.

During our summer at home, Nicholas and I got into a regular habit of going to a park a little way from home that’s much bigger than our neighbourhood ones. For warm days its paddling pool was perfect. Our ritual was paddling pool followed by a lie in the sun, moving to the large sand pit followed by all the other playground attractions. Then we’d go find the ice cream man and have a run round the park before coming home.

Of course a British summer wouldn’t be a British summer without some rain, and not just a summer shower but days of torrential rain! (I wrote my cheeky views of the summer in the UK here.)  When we couldn’t go outside and enjoy an ice lolly, we’d improvise a picnic inside and eat frozen fruit pops to make the day sunnier.

There really is nothing simpler than frozen fruit pops. Well you could just throw some fruit pieces into the freezer, but then you’d be missing the fun aspect of the stick. Why does putting food on a stick much it so much better?!?

You need plastic cake pop sticks or wooden ice lolly sticks. Don’t use wooden skewers as these can be dangerous for little ones and they’re not as easy to hold on to.

Next chop up some fruit into bite-sized pieces. We used strawberries and grapes. You can also use banana, watermelon (cut in chunks or balls), raspberries, blueberries and mango.

Thread your fruit onto the sticks, put on a freezer-proof plate or tray and put into the freezer for at least 2 hours. Once they’re frozen you can keep them all together in a freezer bag.

A healthy fun treat for summer days, or when you’re wishing for the return of summer days.

What were your favourite things to do together this summer?

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Refined sugar-free Easter nests

Nicholas’ preschool has had an Easter display up for a couple of weeks now so Nicholas is already getting excited. We had lots of fun making these simple nests together and even more fun eating the eggs that unfortunately wouldn’t fit in the nests!

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The nests are based on a recipe all Australians know. Honey Joys were pretty much a prerequisite at birthday parties when I was growing up and now they give me a wonderful feeling of nostalgia.

The standard Honey Joy recipe uses butter, sugar and honey, which are melted together and then stirred through cornflakes. I wanted to make a slightly healthier version, and so replaced the sugar and honey with Sweet Freedom (a natural sweetener made from 100% fruit). You could also use agave nectar, or even honey (as you’re still cutting out the original refined sugar). The end result is just as sugary sweet as I remember but with fewer calories. And I believe that means you can eat more of them!

I’ve also successfully made a dairy-free version of these, using a dairy-free spread instead of the butter. They turned out just slightly softer than using butter, but otherwise I was very happy with the result.

Sweet Freedom nests

SUGAR-FREE EASTER NESTS

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Makes about 12 nests

45g butter or dairy-free spread
2 tbsp Sweet Freedom (or agave nectar or honey)
2 cups cornflakes
Some small chocolate eggs

Preheat oven to 150C and line a cupcake tray with paper cases.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and Sweet Freedom over a low heat until the butter is frothing a little (if using a dairy-free spread, just melt as it won’t froth).

While you’re waiting, put the cornflakes into a medium-sized bowl.

Pour the melted sweetened butter over the cornflakes and quickly mix to combine.

Spoon the cornflake mixture into the cupcake cases, making nest shapes by leaving a hollow in the centre of each.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Cool a little and while the nests are still sticky, push in some small chocolate eggs.

Cool completely.

Sugar-free goji berry pancakes

nu3, the European nutrition experts, have just launched in the UK. Their online store has a huge range of products, including products that are exclusive to them, all to help us lead healthier lives. You can also get advice from their team of health specialists.

The company started only 5 years ago in Germany and have very quickly grown. Now we can also enjoy their huge range of health products.

As part of their UK launch, nu3 challenged me to come up with a recipe using their goji berries. Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, grow in China and are used in traditional Chinese medicine. They’re considered a superfood by many because they’re high in nutrients and antioxidents.

nu3 not only sell the dried berries, but also goji juice, goji capsules and chocolate covered goji berries. You can eat the dried goji berries simply as they are or easily pop them into smoothies or muesli and also even scatter them over salad. I experimented with adding them to cooking and I came up with some yummy pancakes.

nu3My regular readers will know I’m a big fan of fluffy pancakes so I used self-raising flour to make these pancakes lovely and light. To complement the healthy goji berries I used mainly wholemeal self-raising flour, and sweetened them with honey and very ripe banana rather than sugar (the riper the banana the better as it will be sweeter).

I felt very healthy eating them and figured I was allowed an extra drizzle of golden syrup over the top because of all the healthy ingredients inside! And Nicholas loved them too.

SUGAR-FREE GOJI BERRY PANCAKES

Prep time: 5-10 mins (plus overnight soaking time for the goji berries)
Cook time: 10-15 mins
Makes about 10 pancakes
Freezable

50g goji berries, covered in water and soaked overnight
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour (I used 1 cup of wholemeal and 1/2 cup of white self-raising flour)
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp honey
1 egg, beaten
1 very ripe banana, mashed
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, egg and mashed banana then gradually pour in the milk mixing until you have a fairly thick batter (you might not need to use all the milk).

Drain the goji berries and gently mix them through the batter.

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.

Sugar-free peanut and date bites

While I’m not a vegan (and never could be), I like following people who are on Instagram for healthy food inspiration, especially trying to come up with different healthier snacks for Nicholas. One of my favourite vegan Instagrammers is the lovely Two Minute Vegan (@twominutevegan).

A few weeks back she came up with a great idea for a two-ingredient healthy snack bar using just dates and peanuts. I just had to try it!

veganBlending up the dates into a sticky purée produces a wonderfully sweet caramel-like flavour in the finished bites and a seemingly naughty chewy texture. They really do taste like a sugary treat rather than a healthy snack.

The original recipe has a layer of peanuts on the bottom as well as on the top which works well if you’re cutting them into bars, but I just put peanuts on top. Even after cooking they’re quite squidgy, so it’s better to cut them into smaller pieces to avoid a sticky mess particularly with little ones.

Because of their squidgy soft texture, I think this recipe would also be great as pop-in-the-mouth balls, rolled in crushed peanuts before baking.

You really must try making these addictive bites!

SUGAR-FREE PEANUT AND DATE BITES

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 10 mins plus 30 mins in the fridge to harden
Makes 16 squares
Keeps in the fridge for a couple of days

1 1/2 cups unsalted peanuts
1 1/2 cups dates, roughly chopped

Heat your oven to 175C and line a square baking tin (mine is 20cm x 20cm) with baking paper.

Put 1 cup of the peanuts in a food processor and grind until they’re fairly evenly broken up into small pieces.

Add the chopped dates and blend while pouring in two tablespoons of water. Keep adding a little water until you have a thick paste (similar in consistency to a thick peanut butter).

Spread the date and peanut mixture into your prepared tin using the back of a spoon (wet it if the mixture keeps sticking to it). Sprinkle over the remaining 1/2 cup of peanuts and press them in.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Put the bites, still in the tin, in the fridge to harden (at least half an hour) then cut into squares.

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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?

Baked porridge slice (sugar-free)

I still make Nicholas baby oat cakes now and then for breakfast to avoid always eating the same thing. I love that you can whip them up in no time and can easily vary the flavours by adding different fruit. But I also wanted to try making something ahead of time that could also work well as an afternoon snack. I came up with a baked porridge slice.

The slice is sugar-free and, like the baby oat cakes, very easy to make. Make it ahead of time and heat it up for breakfast or have a slice cold for a snack. It would be a nice next food step for babies who happily eat banana porridge and who are moving on to finger foods.

The pumpkin and sunflower seeds add a nice crunch as well as extra nutrition, but you can easily leave them out.

Baked porridge sliceBAKED PORRIDGE SLICE

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 25-30 mins
Makes 8-10 slices
Keeps for a couple of days in an airtight container

1 cup porridge oats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tbsp applesauce / apple puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 banana, sliced

Preheat the oven to 175C and line a loaf tin with baking paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine all the ingredients apart from the banana and mix well.

Pour the porridge mixture into the loaf tin and spread out evenly. Place the banana slices on top of the mixture.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is golden brown and the slice is coming away from the edges of the tin.

Cool before cutting into slices.

Sugar-free Anzac biscuits

Tomorrow (25th of April) is ANZAC Day. The word ‘ANZAC’ (an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) was coined during WW1 to refer to the Aussie and Kiwi troops in Egypt. More than 10,000 of them lost their lives during the campaign to capture Gallipoli in Turkey, which saw them landing on the penisula on the 25th of April 1915. Now ANZAC Day not only remembers these WW1 soldiers but all the Australian and New Zealand men and women who have served and died in wars.

Anzac biscuits came about supposedly when the soldiers’ loved ones wanted to send them something nutritious from home. They had to send something that could withstand a couple of months travel without refrigeration and use ingredients that were readily available during the war. The traditional Anzac biscuit of rolled oats, sugar, plain flour, coconut, butter, golden syrup or treacle, bi-carbonate of soda and boiling water was born.

sugar-free Anzac biscuits

If you would like to make the traditional Anzac biscuit there are many recipes online, including this one on the ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee website and also here (with a choice of crisp or chewy biscuits).

I experimented to make a sugar-free, more toddler-friendly version. Instead of the sugar and golden syrup (or treacle in some recipes), I used honey and applesauce (unsweetened pureed apple). The texture with these two substitutions produces a biscuit with a soft chewy centre, but you can make them less chewy by flattening out the biscuits as much as possible before cooking them.

They went down very well with Nicholas (he’s had them as snacks and also for breakfast, and they survive dunking in milk very well). Hubby, who usually doesn’t like my sugar-free experiments, has happily eaten them without complaint, while I’ve also scoffed a few feeling a lot less guilty than if they were packed with sugar.

This would be a great recipe to try making with your munchkins, but because of the honey it’s advised not to give these biscuits to little ones under 12 months old. It’s also a recipe that’s easy to halve if you don’t want to make so many biscuits.

SUGAR-FREE ANZAC BISCUITS

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15-20 mins
Makes about 30 biscuits

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
125g butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup applesauce / apple puree
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp boiling water

Preheat the oven to 160C and line two oven trays with baking paper.

Gently melt the butter with the honey either in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Let cool.

Combine the rolled oats, plain flour and coconut.

Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the boiling water and add it to the cooled butter mixture.

Stir the butter and bicarbonate of soda mixture into the dry ingredients, add the applesauce or puree and mix until combined.

Place teaspoonfuls of the mixture (it’s normal that it’s quite runny) onto your prepared trays and flattened the mixture out (the thicker the biscuit the softer and more chewier the centre will be). Unlike traditional Anzac biscuits, these won’t spread any more during cooking.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove carefully from the trays (they’ll still be quite soft) to cool on a wire rack.

Other uses:

  • Use the biscuits as the base for individual unbaked cheesecakes: place a whole biscuit in the bottom of a muffin tin (lined with a paper case to get it out more easily), top with your preferred cheesecake mix and refrigerate.
  • Use broken up biscuits as a crumble topping for cooked fruit.

I’m linking this recipe to the AlphaBakes monthly challenge (this month it’s the letter ‘A’) jointly hosted by Ros from The More than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes.
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