Homemade Muesli Bars

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It won’t surprise you to learn that I spend a fair amount of my down time drooling over foodie blogs and web sites. Sometimes I read them properly; sometimes I just browse for recipes. The smitten kitchen, one of the most popular foodie sites on-line, is always worth a read. Turns out Deb and I have a few things in common. She is married with one child, a son. And her husband is also named Alex. On a recent post she admitted to asking, “What would Alex eat?” before deciding what to make.

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I decided that was worth a try, too. After all, I make a lot of cakes. Which is not terribly good for my waistline, because most of the time, I end up eating them for breakfast, or giving them away, because Alex doesn’t really get that excited. But whenever I make biscuits, shortbread or slice, he really does! Perhaps because he’s a grazer and cookies are snack-size. Or perhaps it’s because they’re more likely to include chocolate. Either way, it was time to set my culinary ambitions on lunchbox snacks.

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So I made these bars last week, and have been pleased to see them disappear into Alex’s bag every day before he leaves for work. Win! They’re kind of healthy, but on reflection, a lot of stuff on this blog is. Plus, they hold together a lot better than most muesli bar recipes out there, which makes them very portable. These bars are like breakfast on the run… Indeed, if you have made my Maple Toasted Muesli you will no doubt have all the ingredients already stocked in the pantry, and be ready to go!

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If you’re feeling really crazy, you could even drizzle the cooled bars with melted chocolate. I think I will… next time… after all, that really is what Alex would eat!

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Homemade Muesli Bars {no-bake}
The original recipe was made in a slice tin, but I found it too thin and crunchy. This way, made in a smaller tin, it’s thicker and therefore more chewy.

Ingredients
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup sesame seeds (I added in a few poppy seeds, for good measure)
1/2 cup sunflower kernels
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 cup sultanas, dried cranberries and chopped dried apricots
125g butter
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar

Method
Grease and line a 5cm deep, 23cm x 23cm (9 x 9 inch) baking pan with baking paper. Cook oats, coconut, wheat germ, sesame seeds, sunflower kernels and pumpkin seeds in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring, for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside to cool. Stir in sultanas and other dried fruit.

Cook butter, honey and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, without stirring, for 7 minutes or until mixture forms a soft ball when a little is dropped into ice-cold water. Add to dry ingredients. Stir until combined.

Spoon mixture into pan. Use a large metal spoon to press down firmly. Allow to cool. Cut into squares. Store in a foil-lined airtight container for up to 7 days.

Adapted a little from taste.com.au

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Mezzaluna {shortbread jam turnovers}

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We don’t have many traditions in my family of origin; we are more likely to eschew a tradition than maintain one – non-conformist is our rule of thumb! Growing up we never had a Christmas tree (except the year when Mum, in desperation, strung together a few palm fronds and draped them with tinsel). We rarely celebrate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, and you may or may not get a present on your birthday! But there is one practice that we adhere to as a family… and that is meeting up for coffee.

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My father and brother started it, a few years back. When Dad was Mum’s full-time carer (before she moved into a nursing home), he would get a few hours respite each week while a lady came in to sit with Mum and do the ironing. While she was there, Dad and Phill would head out for a long bicycle ride, which was broken up with an equally long coffee break. They became quite the connoisseurs, and have their favourite cafés, where the coffee can be guaranteed to be up to standard.

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Nowadays, the coffee break may or may not be bookended with a bike ride. But all the same, it’s an enjoyable way to meet up, chat and connect. I now too, though living some distance away and not really a coffee drinker, will meet them to chat and pass the time of day. Now that I’m a stay-at-home mum, it’s a great excuse to get out of the house, and for Theo to connect with family on a regular basis. We’ll often meet at Cibo, where I’ll order an iced coffee, and on the rare occasion, a snack.

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One day, I decided to try a patisserie item called the ‘mezzaluna’. Mezzaluna is actually the name of a crescent shaped knife, but at Cibo it’s a fruit-filled shortbread cookie. I was immediately smitten, and have ordered it several times since. Basically, it’s a shortbread pastry enclosing a not-too-sweet compote of wild cherry. Of course, now they’ve taken it off the menu, so I’ve nothing to check my version against. No matter though, because these jammy biscotti have everyone reaching for more.

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Mezzaluna {shortbread jam turnovers}

Prep time: 1 hour
Total cooking time: 12 – 15 minutes
Makes about 30

2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
½ cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar
185g chilled unsalted butter, chopped
1 egg
½ cup black cherry jam (I used St. Dalfour Rhapsodie de Fruit Black Cherry Spread)
1 egg, extra, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to moderate 180degc. Line two trays with baking paper.

If you have a food processor, place flour, sugar and butter in food processor bowl. Using the pulse action, press button for 20 seconds or until the mixture is fine and crumbly. Add egg, process for a further 15 seconds or until the mixture comes together.

{Alternately, use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour and sugar. Follow up with a pastry cutter until the mixture is fine and crumbly. Add the egg and stir with a wooden spoon, then get your hand in there and bring it together with your fingers.}

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead 2-3 minutes or until dough is smooth. Leave dough, covered in plastic wrap, in refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

Divide pastry in two. Roll half the pastry on a sheet of baking paper to 4mm thickness. Cut out circles with a 7cm diameter cutter. Brush pastry edges with egg. Spoon half a teaspoon cherry jam into the centre of each circle. Fold over one half of the circle onto itself, to make a crescent shape. Press down to seal edges. (To minimise jam leakage, begin at the edges and work around towards the middle). Repeat with remaining dough.

Place on prepared oven trays and bake for 12 – 15 minutes or until pale golden. Cool biscuits on trays. Dust liberally with sifted icing sugar before serving.

Storage time: Biscuits may be stored in an airtight container for up to three days.

Spelt Honey Cake {Dutch Honey Cake}

Harmony Day 21 March is a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home – from the traditional owners of this land to those who have come from many countries around the world. www.harmony.gov.au

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One of the great things about this nation is that everyone here is a migrant, or from a migrant family; we all immigrated to this country. I think this fact is a great leveller, if you take the time to acknowledge it. Even the Indigenous people, though many thousands of years ago, would have made the trip by boat from somewhere. Though the issue of boat people has become a ridiculously heated political issue lately, it needn’t be.

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My own father’s mother’s family made the voyage from England to Australia by boat; and that vessel (the ‘Buffalo’) is now berthed and operates as a restaurant cum museum by the sea. A few years ago, while reading up on family history, I made the amusing discovery that a friend of mine comes from the same family tree – the early settlers who came out on that boat are her ancestors also – we’re related, about five generations back!

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Although I can’t boast anything more than mere British blood, another good friend has a much more varied lineage; her father is Dutch and her mother Canadian. On a recent visit, I was thrilled to get a copy of her grandmother’s recipe for Honey Cake, and have made it twice already. In the spirit of Harmony Day, I’m offering a take on it here. The original Dutch honey cake is made with rye flour, but I figure spelt flour will do just as well.

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Spelt Honey Cake {Dutch Honey Cake}
I have adjusted the recipe a little, to make it easier to follow. And because we are using spelt flour, decreased the amount of water just a tad. Otherwise, it is here as given.

Ingredients

Dry Ingredients
360g (3 cups) plain spelt flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
Spekulaas spice (ratio of 2 tsp cinnamon: 1 tsp cloves: ½ tsp nutmeg)*

Wet Ingredients
150g (3/4 cup firmly packed) brown sugar
120g (1/3 cup) honey
80mL boiling water (approx 1/3 cup)

Flaked almonds for decoration (optional)

Preheat oven to 150degC (300degF). Grease and line a large loaf tin, base measuring 11 x 21 cm (4 x 8 inches).

Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, honey and boiling water. Mix wet and dry ingredients together thoroughly, and if too thick add more water. Mixture should be thick and sticky like cement (or wet sand, if you prefer).

Spoon mixture into prepared loaf tin, sprinkle liberally with flaked almonds and bake in a slow oven for 1 hour or until fully cooked. This cake can be deceptive and will sink otherwise.

Allow to cool completely before slicing and enjoying. If storing, wrap in foil and store at room temperature or freeze. Enjoy fresh, or toasted with or without butter.

*This combination packs a spicy punch; if you like yours a bit more subtle, dial back on the cloves.

Nanna’s Pastie Slice

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Oh, the memories! Of summer days spent at our grandparents’ house in the country. Sunset joy rides on the ferry, walks with the dog, a cockatiel that whistled ‘Pop goes the weasel’, a clock ticking in the hall. Biggles books in the lounge room, pigface growing in a disused tractor tyre, metal seats on the lawn. Grandpa’s huge shed, his cheery, scratchy whistle, the dog who loved watermelon. Grandma’s metallic orange mugs, and dinner around the table. Cold meat, hot mashed potato, jelly salad and beetroot on the side. Apple pie for dessert and as many preserved peaches as we could eat.

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My father’s mother was of the generation that lived through the Depression, who knew how to grow her own food, and preserve the excess for the lean times. Being a tenant farmer’s wife, she also knew what it took to stretch the resources to feed and clothe five growing children on a meagre wage. This pastie slice is her recipe, one that’s been handed down from her to my aunty, and now to me. It’s not fancy, but it is very, very good. Chock-ful of veggie goodness, it doesn’t need herbs to make it tasty. I was sceptical at first, that something so simple could be so good, but I can tell you now, it’s perfect.

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The ready-made pastry we buy comes in 10-inch squares, thereby lining a 9-inch square pan perfectly. If you don’t have a pan that size, this pastie slice works just as well as a free-form pie on a larger baking tray. If you do this, make extra sure you’ve sealed the edges properly, otherwise the juices will run, burning the pan. And although I prefer to chop the vegetables by hand (I enjoy the challenge, and find the repetition soothing), I imagine using a food processor would be much quicker! Just remember to remove the vegetables to a large mixing bowl before adding the meat, peas and seasoning.

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Nanna’s Pastie Slice*
Not to be too prescriptive (I think the beauty of this dish is its lack of precision), but as a rough guide, I got 450g (1 lb) of diced root vegetables.

Preheat oven to 220degC (425degF).
Line a greased baking dish (9 x 9 inch/23 x 23cm) with shortcrust or flaky pastry sheets.

Mince up (or dice finely):
1 large potato
1 carrot
1 turnip
1 parsnip
1 onion (optional)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste

Add 250g (8 oz) beef mince and mix well (I use my hands). Stir through ½ cup frozen peas, a little salt and lots of black pepper.

Place mix over pastry and press down, leaving a 1cm border. Brush edges of pastry with a little milk.

Place second pastry sheet over the top and crimp edges to create a seal. Brush the top with more milk.

With a sharp knife, cut a few air holes in the pastry top before cooking.

Bake in oven 220C (425F) for 25 minutes, then turn down to 190C (375F) for 25 minutes. Should be cooked and brown.

Cool 5 minutes before taking out of dish. Serve hot or cold with tomato sauce (of course!).

*Although we called her ‘Grandma’, none of the other cousins did, hence this being named, “Nanna’s Pastie Slice”. ;-)

Serves 4.

Peach Kuchen {gluten-free, dairy-free and fructose-friendly}

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Bounty ripening on the tree.

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Fruit theif!

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He likes his fruit fresh.

I like mine baked into a dessert.

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Flour, butter, sugar makes a crust.

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Peaches are arranged on pastry. Messy but good!

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Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and sugar!

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Bake until bubbling and gooey.

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Yoghurt and egg make a custard to cover the fruit.

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Bake till set.

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Devour!

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If you had a choice, would you eat your fruit fresh, or baked into a dessert?

Peach Kuchen 
Serves 6
400degF/200degC
15/30 min.

Preheat oven to 400degF (200degC).

Combine in bowl:
1 1/3 cups sifted flour (I used 1 cup GF flour and 1/3 cup almond meal)
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons caster sugar

Cut in:
1/3 cup margarine or dairy-free spread
Pat mixture over bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan or skillet.

Arrange in pastry:
8-12 peach halves, canned or fresh

Sprinkle over:
¼ cup caster sugar combined with
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Bake 15 minutes.

Combine:
1 egg, beaten
1 cup sour cream, sour milk, yoghurt, or combination (I used coconut yoghurt)
Pour over peaches and bake 30 minutes longer.

Options:
Drizzle peaches with honey instead of sugar.
Use 2 cups fresh diced rhubarb. Increase sugar over fruit to ½ cup.

Taken from the More with Less cookbook, by Doris Janzen Longacre

Banana and white chocolate cakes

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There’s a certain rivalry that can occur when a child is born; especially the first child. The question was raised early; which parent will he take after – his father or his mother? The question asker was of course referring to our respective hobbies. Will he be like his father, and be obsessed with anything that flies, or like his mother and love to bake?

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The answer is already crystal clear; at 11 months our son is totally obsessed with planes. It’s his first word every morning and his last word at night. Hubby has been tasked with making several duplicate balsa wood gliders, so that when one is broken there will still be another available to play with. They are stored on the top of the hallway cupboard.

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In the absence of these though (or when Mummy won’t get them down), his imagination kicks in, and anything will do. The other week it was a zucchini… “whoosh” or perhaps some Duplo, a peg, anything really. We live on a flight path, and he has learned to recognise the sound of Cessnas passing overhead. “Bee-ah!” he says, pointing upwards.

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Obviously, an intervention has become necessary. So I’ve started bribing the lad with cake. Not really, but he asks for it now. With all the eloquence of baby babble and body language, he enquires after what I’m eating and then reaches for it with chubby hands. So I allow him a morsel or two. I think he may have inherited his daddy’s sweet tooth, as well.

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Banana and white chocolate cakes
Like any good recipe, this one is infinitely tweak-able’, meaning that you can swap various ingredients in or out, depending on what you have on hand. So, because the boy is reaching for cake, I’ll be making this next time with wholemeal flour and chopped strawberries.

Makes 32

Ingredients
Wet mix
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup raw caster sugar (if you have it)
1 egg
1 ½ cups mashed bananas (about three medium over-ripe bananas)
½ cup white chocolate chips

Dry Mix
1 ½ cups self-raising flour*
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon baking soda

Method
Preheat the oven to 190degC (375degF). Line 24 mini-muffin holes with patty pans or grease liberally with cooking spray.

Blend together softened butter and sugar and then mix in the egg and banana. Combine the dry ingredients and then mix these into the wet ingredients.

Place spoonfuls into the muffin tins and bake for 12-15 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Repeat with the remaining batter.

*Self-raising flour can be made with 1 cup all-purpose flour + 2 teaspoons of baking powder.

Adapted from Banana and choc chip muffins

Choc-Cherry Jelly Cakes

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Last month’s SABH prompt, as described by Miss Sweet was to take a childhood favourite and turn it into something bigger, better or even maybe something a little bit adult. This fits right into where I’m at right now, re-visiting childhood memories… the popsicle party started it, and the reminiscing goes on…

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When I think back to my earliest kitchen memories, one that stands out is helping my mum make jelly cakes. I’m not sure she made them a lot, but I do remember clearly helping dip cakes in jelly and coconut. Being quite young, I’m not sure how much help I really was, but there you go! Jelly cakes, when made well, are just so good! We even had them at our wedding reception. Sadly I was too busy talking to guests to taste more than one.

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Speaking of weddings, these little cakes are like the marriage of two classics – Trifle and Black Forest Cake. As it is my Dad’s birthday in March, and those are his top two favourite desserts, I thought I’d make an attempt at combining them into one for his birthday celebrations this year. Although I was too late for the February blog hop, I was glad of the inspiration.

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Taking the simple jelly cake to another level, these are adult-friendly chocolate cherry cakes, split, filled with cream, dipped in liqueur-spiked jelly and then rolled in coconut. Same same but different. Enjoy!

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Choc-Cherry Jelly Cakes

Adapted from delicious. and Taste.com.au

Ingredients
175g good-quality dark chocolate
80ml (1/3 cup) cherry liqueur
100ml (6 tbs) strong black espresso
75g caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
100g unsalted butter, melted, cooled
50g almond meal
50g plain flour, sifted
425g can pitted black cherries, drained, with 1/4 cup juice reserved

Cherry liqueur jelly
1x 85g pkt dark cherry flavoured jelly crystals*
250 ml (1 cup) boiling water
110ml cold water
60ml (1/4 cup) reserved cherry juice
80ml (1/3 cup) cherry liqueur

3 cups desiccated coconut
300ml thickened cream

Method
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line 18 regular-sized muffin holes with cupcake papers.

Place the chocolate, cherry liqueur and espresso coffee in a bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water until melted. Set aside to cool.
Reserve 1 tablespoon of the caster sugar. Place the remaining sugar and egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and light. Add the cooled melted butter and almond meal and beat until combined. Combine with the chocolate mixture.

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Add the reserved caster sugar and continue to beat until thick and glossy. Gradually fold the egg whites, alternating with the flour, into the cake mixture.
Reserve half the cherries, then fold the remaining half into the cake mixture and spoon into patty pans. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool cakes on a wire rack.

Dissolve jelly crystals in 250ml boiling water, then stir in cold water, cherry juice and liqueur to make up to 500ml. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until cold and slightly thick. Meanwhile, beat cream until thick. Set aside.

Place coconut into a large bowl. After removing cupcake papers, cut each cake in half horizontally. Sandwich halves back together using one teaspoon of whipped cream. Using a slotted spoon, lower cakes, one cake at a time, into jelly. Drain excess jelly. Toss cakes in coconut until well coated. Place onto a lined tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until set.

* I used Aeroplane Jelly Lite Dark Cherry flavour, but if you can’t find it, port wine flavour will do just as well.