Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sticky Date Muffins for my mum

Sticky date muffins © www.foodbabylife.com

So today would have been my mum's 64th birthday and it also marks 7 years to the day since her funeral. With each anniversary I think maybe it will get a little easier ... but it never does. I had some fun with my boys today but I was also snappy and exhausted and tears were always just under the surface.

Mum and I didn't always see eye to eye, especially when I was a teenager but she was always my confidante, the one person in the world I could guarantee would be on my side. She would literally drop everything if I needed her. That's what mums are for right?

I have loved baking since I was little and mum and I spent many hours in the kitchen together. I think she was relieved though when I got older and wanted to take over more of the cooking duties as I don't she really enjoyed it all that much. She loved tasting everything I baked and she would have loved these sticky date muffins which I made today in her memory. They are pure comfort food, like a big warm hug, and I was comforted enjoying them with my boys this afternoon.

"Life has to end" she said. "Love doesn't."
-Mitch Albom

Sticky Date Muffins 

250g dried pitted dates
400mls water
2 tbs brandy
1 tbs bicarb soda
100g butter
1/2 cup rice malt syrup
1 ts vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
2 ts cinnamon
2 ts dried ginger
3 eggs
250g white spelt flour, sifted with 3 ts baking powder
6 extra dates, split in half

Line a 12 cup muffin tray and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, place the dates, water and brandy. Bring to the simmer for 5 minutes then add the bicarb and stir well. It will foam and froth up. Add the orange zest and vanilla then remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

In a stand mixer or a large bowl with electric beaters, cream the butter and add the syrup a splodge at a time, until well incorporated.

Next add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Fold through half the flour together with the cinnamon and ginger, then half the cooled date mixture and repeat with the remainder.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tray and top each with half a dried date.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and springing back in the middle (mine were done at 18 mins but it depends on your oven so check once they start to smell amazing). Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the tray before turning out. Enjoy warm for dessert with ice-cream (if you're not dairy free) or at room temperature with a cup of tea or coffee for afternoon tea.

Makes 12. Suitable to freeze.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Apricot Chicken

Apricot Chicken © www.foodbabylife.com

When I was growing up, apricot chicken was one of my favourite dinners. There's just something so delicious about that combination of sweet and savoury.

Last week on Better Homes and Gardens, Fast Ed did a series of 'kid-friendly' dishes which included apricot chicken and I realised my kids have never tried it. This is an updated version of the one I would have had growing up, which almost certainly would have included a packet of french onion soup mix!

The boys actually love watching BHG with me. Oscar really likes the gardening and pet segments, Charlie likes the building and of course we all love the cooking. So when we saw this recipe and the boys wanted to try it, of course we had to.

I copied it down directly from the show but you can view the video with the recipe here. It doesn't give all the exact quantities so I have included what I used below. The recipe said to use a rice and quinoa blend which I have seen around but never tried. As it was on special this week we got a bag and it was great. Really filling and much more interesting and nutritious than regular rice.

Fast Ed's Apricot Chicken
Serves 6

3 tbs butter
2 leeks, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1kg chicken thigh fillets, cut into 2cm pieces
1/4 cup flour
1 x 400ml tin apricot nectar
400ml chicken stock
1 x tin apricot halves
salt and pepper to taste
fresh chives
rice and quinoa to serve

Melt 1 tbs of the butter in a large pan over medium-high heat and saute the leeks until they are starting to soften. Add the crushed garlic and cook together until the leeks are tender and collapsed. Remove from the pan.

Dust the chicken pieces in flour and set aside. Cook your rice or quinoa using your preferred method and keep warm until ready to serve.

Add another 1 tbs of butter to the pan and fry off the chicken in 2 batches until it is well browned. Use the remaining 1 tbs of butter for the second batch of chicken pieces. Return the leek mixture and all the chicken to the pan and pour in the apricot nectar and chicken stock. Stir well and simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has reduced and thickened a little. Check for seasoning and sprinkle in some fresh chopped chives just before serving.

In a separate non-stick pan over medium-high heat, place the apricot halves in, cut side down, and fry until golden brown. Remove and keep warm.

Serve the apricot chicken with rice or quinoa and the fried apricot halves.

The taste test ... we loved this! My 1yo and 6yo went absolutely nuts for it and wanted seconds and then thirds. This is definitely going into our rotation of meals.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Saffron and Cardamom Sweet Buns (SRC)

St Lucia Saffron and Cardamom Buns © www.foodbabylife.com

It's Secret Recipe Club time! We are now officially halfway through the year, can you believe it??

This month for SRC I was assigned the fabulous Lavender and Lovage by Karen. Karen is truly living the dream, dividing her time between the UK and the South West of France where she runs her own cookery school! I've long had a love-affair with France, learning the language in high school and enjoying a 3 month homestay with a family in Brittany when I was 17. So as you can imagine I had a great time on Karen's blog this month, reveling in some truly delicious food and stunning photography.

Being the middle of Winter here I was drawn to some hearty and traditional dishes like her Provence Beef Casserole and Chicken, Sausage and Vegetable Hotpot, and I have bookmarked her Victorian Epiphany Tart with 9 different types of jams and preserves to make at Christmas time. I was also really tempted by her Cauliflower Pizza Crust as it is the nicest looking version that I've seen.

In the end though I simply couldn't go past her Saffron and Cardamom sweet buns, which are baked in Sweden (and Scandinavia) to celebrate St Lucy's day and the Winter Solstice on the 13th December. Now before you wonder why I would choose to make this recipe when it is nowhere near December, it actually makes perfect sense: here in Australia our Winter Solstice is in June and this year it coincidentally falls today on reveal day (at 2.39am to be exact!).

Clearly it was meant to be!

I baked these just yesterday and it was a perfect Winter weekend baking project as they take a few hours to make. If you've made any sort of bread you would have no problems making these. And just look at that gorgeous sunny colour! The saffron was a real splurge - my tiny 1 gram container cost $11!! but I didn't use all of it and now need to think of something suitably special to make with what's left.

shaping Saffron and Cardamom Buns © www.foodbabylife.com

And the verdict? We LOVED these! So delicious, not too sweet and with that beautiful fragrance from the saffron and cardamom. My 6yo declared that I was 'a chef and should work in a bakery.' High praise indeed. In all seriousness these were sensational and I will definitely be baking them again, although perhaps saving them for the festive season as they are a bit of a luxury.

St Lucia Saffron and Cardamom Buns © www.foodbabylife.com

Lussakatter - St Lucia Saffron and Cardamom Sweet Buns
Recipe from Lavender and Lovage

300mls milk (I used rice milk)
1 ts saffron threads
500g strong white bread flour
7g sachet dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
100g golden caster sugar
10 cardamom pods (seeds removed and crushed in a mortar and pestle)
75g butter, melted
1 large free-range egg
1 small free-range egg (extra, for the glaze)
24 raisins

Grease 2 large baking sheets and set aside. Place the saffron threads and the milk in a small pot and warm gently over low heat. Remove from the heat and cool to tepid.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and cardamom seeds. Make a well in the middle and add the saffron milk, beaten egg and melted butter.

Stir together before turning it out onto a floured surface and kneading for 10 to 15 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Grease the bowl you already used before returning the dough, covering it with a clean tea towel and leaving it to prove in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.

Knock the dough back and turn out onto a floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Take each piece in turn and roll it out into a long sausage shape before twisting it tightly into an ‘S’ shape.

Place the shaped dough onto the prepared trays, cover with a tea towel and leave them to prove in a warm place for approximately 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C / 400 degrees F during this time.

Once risen, brush the tops with the extra beaten egg and then push a raisin into the middle of the scroll on each end – 2 raisins per bun (see photos).

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until dark golden brown and sound hollow when tapped from underneath.

Cool on a wire rack before serving. Best eaten the same day.

Makes 12 buns.

Thank you Karen for a truly special recipe and a wonderful month!
 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fudgy (almost) Grain-free Chocolate Brownies

Fudgy Grain-free Chocolate Brownies © www.foodbabylife.com

I have been on the search for the perfect 'healthy' brownie for more than a year now. I've tried literally dozens of recipes, and a few of them have actually been pretty good like this Healthier Chocolate Brownie.

But I still hadn't found one I was completely happy with in terms of both taste and ingredients. Until now. This brownie recipe comes from Eat Drink Paleo where Irena describes them as the brownies that blew her away. And now that I've made them I completely agree!

Now my husband would say that the best part of a brownie is the crispy edges but I actually prefer the fudgy middle and that's what these brownies deliver unlike so many others.

My kids loved these and they disappeared so quickly I barely had a chance to take a photo. They had no idea there was sweet potato in them, and you certainly can't taste it, but that must be what makes the texture so fudgy and delicious.

The only change I made was to use rice malt syrup instead of honey. This makes them fructose free but no longer paleo as rice is obviously a grain, hence the (almost) grain-free of the title!

These would make a fabulous dessert served with berries and coconut cream or dairy-free ice-cream but we had them simply dusted with extra cacao powder.

The original recipe said to bake for 25-30 minutes but this made my first batch too dry so second time around I baked for just 20 minutes and they were perfect.

Fudgy (almost) Grain-free Chocolate Brownies 
Slightly adapted from Eat Drink Paleo

1 medium sweet potato (approx 2-3 cups grated)
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup rice malt syrup
2 ts vanilla extract
1/2 cup raw cacao powder
1 ts baking powder
1 ts bicarbonate of soda
2 1/2 tbs coconut flour

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C / 160 degrees fan-forced. Grease and line an 8 inch square baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, place the sweet potato, eggs, vanilla, syrup and coconut oil and mix together until well combined. Next stir through the cacao, baking powder and bicarb soda, and then add the coconut flour mixing until only just combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tray and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before carefully removing from the tin. Serve dusted with extra cacao powder and some berries.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Vegie-loaded Spaghetti Bologanise


I can't believe that in 7 years blogging I've never even considered posting my spaghetti bolognaise recipe before. I mean everyone and their mum has the best recipe out there, can you really improve on perfection? I changed my mind though as there has been a theme in my baking and cooking lately of surprise ingredients and hidden veggies and thought it might be interesting to others.

I just recently spilled the beans to my cauliflower-hating husband that he's been happily chowing down on cauliflower rice without even noticing! I did feel a little guilty about that but honestly if he enjoyed it then most kids will. But that's a recipe for another day.

The basic secret to my bolognaise sauce is pureeing a whole heap of veggies until they are very fine and cooking it very slowly for maximum flavour. By fully incorporating the vegetables into the sauce there are no weird textures or bits for the kids to pick out. It is all just tomato saucy goodness!

To be honest this is easiest in the Thermomix as it chops, cooks and then purees all in the same pot (I will include those instructions later). However a food processor and stick blender will do the job as well. I always make a big batch. The recipe below makes 2 full dinners plus leftovers for our family of 5 easily. We always use half on the night is made and freeze the rest for later. One will be spaghetti bologanise and then the next will be lasagne.

The rest of the family loves spaghetti but I will often have my bolognaise sauce on a pile of roasted pumpkin and greens. Makes my tummy happier and I get even more veggies in one meal which is a good thing.

If you have fussy kids (or husbands!) give this one a go :)

Veggie-loaded Spaghetti Bolognaise
Recipe by me


1 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
2 zucchinis
2 red capsicums
1kg beef mince (or a beef/pork/veal blend)
1 x 750ml jar tomato passata
2 tbs olive oil
a big handful of fresh herbs (basil/oregano/parsley) roughly chopped or 1tbs dried Italian herb mix
1 heaped tbs homemade veggie stock paste
salt and pepper to taste

Using a food processor or by hand, grate the carrots, celery, zucchini and capsicums and then set aside.

Place a large pot over medium heat and add 1 tbs oil. Brown the mince and then remove it from the pan, draining the fat if you wish (I don't bother).

Add the remaining 1 tbs oil along with the chopped onion and garlic and saute until translucent.

Add the grated veggies, passata, stock and herbs and simmer for around 30 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked and it smells amazing.

Using a stick blender or food processor, blitz the sauce until it is completely smooth.

Return to the pot, add the browned mince, give it a good stir together and simmer for as long as you can (I usually do this step in the crockpot and allow it to cook on low for 4-6 hours) but even an hour would be good. Check for seasoning.

Serve with pasta or extra veggies.

Makes LOTS.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Winter Spice Biscuits

Winter Spice Biscuits © www.foodbabylife.com

After making these biscuits twice in as many days I have decided they must be worth sharing! I'm not sure if its just the cold weather but my boys have all been ravenous this past week and I've been searching for something tasty and healthy to fill them up.

Apart from warming soups and stews, my other favourite things to have in Winter are spices. With ginger, cinnamon, cloves and molasses these smell quite Christmassy to me but really why wait until Christmas to enjoy something so delicious!

My kids absolutely devoured these biscuits. They have a texture quite like brandy snaps - being thin, crisp and lacy around the edges and a little chewier in the middle. They are also gluten and dairy free (and virtually grain-free as well apart from the small amount of rice syrup) and very low in fructose.

Winter Spice Biscuits
Recipe by me

150g almond meal
25g chia seeds
20g molasses
50g rice malt syrup
50g coconut oil
1 ts vanilla extract
1 ts cinnamon
1 ts ginger
1/4 ts ground cloves
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Line 2 trays with baking paper and set aside.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until well mixed.

Roll mixture into balls and place onto prepared trays, allowing room to spread.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown (they will be very soft but will firm as they cool). Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the trays for 10 minutes before transferring onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes approx 18.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Simple Tomato Soup

Simple Tomato Soup © www.foodbabylife.com

Well Winter has well and truly arrived! I have shivered my way through today and actually haven't felt warm since I got out of bed this morning! My favourite thing about Winter (apart from the clothes - jeans, boots, scarves, jackets - I'm in heaven) is the food. Nothing warms up the house like having a soup simmering on the stove and some bread baking in the oven.

Tonight we had this really simple tomato soup with some focaccia. The simple things really are the best.

I've made this soup a few times and I always wish we had more. Next time I will make a double batch so I can enjoy it for a few days. Mr fussy 4yo had a tiny little taste and declared he didn't like it, but the fact he even tasted it is huge progress. The rest of us loved it, even my 19mth old who loves his focaccia stirred into the soup to get mushy!

Simple Tomato Soup

1/2 brown onion, roughly chopped
3 big cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2tbs extra virgin olive oil
1kg very ripe tomatoes, halved and core removed
1 tbs tomato paste
1tbs rice malt syrup
1 tbs veggie stock paste
pepper

Heat up the oil in a medium pot over medium heat, add the onion and garlic and saute for a few minutes or until they start to soften. Add the remainder of the ingredients and cook over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes completely collapse and the onion is soft. Use a stick blender to blitz until smooth. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste (I only ever need to add pepper as my homemade stock paste is salty enough).

Serves 4.