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I have to admit any  Breakfast Cereal Challenge recipe at the moment has to go on top of toast – I have a current obsession with sourdough. But this toast topping has been a favourite for a few weeks now.

Macadamia nuts are in right in season and they are super healthy. If you live too far south to get fresh macas, almonds are also in season and can’t think why they wouldn’t  work in this recipe too. Macadamias have quite some calories but their fats are the “good” kind – monounsaturated  – like olive oil.  There is good evidence that they lower cholesterol much more effectively (and cheaply, and tastily) than the new, very slickly advertised “clinically proven to lower cholesterol” margarines (that are based on hydrogenated sterols, primarily sitostanol derived from pine tree wood pulp).  They also have good quality protein, lots of fibre,  B vitamins and, like many tree crops, a big range of minerals and and antioxidant micronutrients.

This is the tool that has made macadamia nuts in shell a reasonable breakfast ingredient in our house, on a workday, when I have half an hour to be out of here, preferably with keys, purse, bills to pay, report for work and mail.  Fresh, in season, nuts in their shell are another one of those things that you never truly appreciate if you’ve been put off by stale old nuts at Christmas time, (when they would be in season in the northern hemisphere) or stale old shelled nuts in packets in the supermarket.

Pears are also in season, and though I can’t grow them (not enough chill factor) pear growers from the colder area up on the Tablelands are now bringing them to our local Farmer’s Market.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal” .)

The Recipe:

Dry roast a good handful of macadamia kernels in a heavy frypan over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, shaking the pan, till they just start to colour.

Add a chopped pear and a spoonful of water, just enough to stop the pears burning.

Cook for a couple of minutes till the pear softens and start to caramelise.

Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and quarter of a teaspoon of vanilla essence.

Blend the mixture with a stick blender or food processor till smooth.

Slather onto your favourite bread, toasted, and eat.

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A seedy biscuit

This is the last of my Muesli Bar Challenge series for the year. The draft of this post has been in my drafts folder since the very first week.  It’s one of my old favourites – so easy, so healthy, so school lunch box acceptable.  As a gardener, I’m really conscious that seeds are concentrated sources of nutrients – complex carbohydrates  that fuel a plant’s early growth, protein to allow it to create new cells, phytonutrients to protect it.  You can make these with or without nuts as well, depending on your school’s nut policy.

A whole four terms of Challenge recipes, and not one has come home uneaten.  Take that, LCMs!

The Recipe:

Into the food processor, put:

  • two eggs,
  • two dessertspoons (60 grams) butter,
  • two dessertspoons of brown sugar.
  • two heaped dessertspoons of wholemeal self-raising flour.

Blend this mix well, then add a cup full of nuts and/or seeds. I used pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds cashews,  macadamias and almonds, but you can use any combination.  You can blend this very briefly, just enough to break up the bigger nuts but not enough to blend, or you can just stir them in whole.  Large nuts might need rough chopping but whole seeds give a good texture. In the photo I left them whole, but in this latest batch that the kids are reviewing I blended briefly.

Add half a cup of sultanas. Organic sultanas are worth the expense if you can find them. You can taste the difference, and they haven’t been coated in cottonseed oil. If your school has a no-nuts policy, stick to just seeds.

Butter a baking tray and put spoonfuls on it. The biscuits will spread as they cook so give them room. Bake in a moderately hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes till nicely browned. Cool on the tray (they crispen as they cool).

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There are two recipes for one in the Muesli Bar Challenge this week.  The jumping off point was Stephanie Alexander’s adaption of Claudia Roden’s adaption from a Middle Eastern classic that uses whole boiled oranges.  Oranges and almonds are right in season, and I liked the idea of using whole oranges, because most of the “bioflavanoids” that make citrus fruit so healthy are in the pulp, not the juice. But the original version is marmalade-y bitter in a way that adults find gorgeous but kids find a bit too strong.

So there are two versions:  one that makes a great adult lunch box treat, or, with a dollop of cream, a sensational dinner party desert.  The other one that satisfies the Muesli Bar Challenge rules:  healthy, ethical, based on in-season ingredients, fast and easy to make, and rated by school age reviewers as preferable to the overpackaged junk food marketed as suitable for school lunches.

The Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of orange juice and pulp (or substitute mandarin juice and pulp)

For the adult, marmalade-y version, boil one large or two small oranges in a pot of water for an hour.  Roughly chop, remove the seeds, and use  a good stick blender or food processor to blend the whole orange, skin and all, to give 1 cup of orange pulp.

For the sweeter kids’ version, juice 2 or 3 oranges, remove the seeds, but add the pulp to the juice to give 1 cup of orange pulp.

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 good desertspoons of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom powder

Using a good stick blender or food processor, blend all this list together with the orange pulp till it is smooth and creamy.

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • ¾ cup wholemeal plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Fold this list in.

Grease and line a shallow, square or rectangular cake pan with greaseproof paper.

  • flaked almonds

Sprinkle all over the bottom of the pan, and spoon the cake mix in on top.

Bake in a moderate oven  till the cake springs back and a skewer comes out clean.  It takes about 30 minutes in a rectangular pan, a bit longer if there is more “middle” – that is, if your pan is square or deep.

The Syrup

  • half a cup of orange juice
  • 2 good desertspoons of raw sugar

Simmer for a few minutes until it goes  syrupy. While the cake is still warm, turn it out of the tin and strip off the greaseproof paper.  With the flaked almond side on top,  poke holes all over it with a skewer.  Pour the warm syrup over the warm cake and allow to soak in.

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Pears are in season, and Bartlett pears (perfect for cooking) are starting to appear at our local Farmers Market. Where I live, we don’t get enough chill factor for pears, but luckily, within our 100 mile limit (as the crow flies) there is good pear growing district up on the Tablelands.

Almonds are also in season, so when I saw an almond and pear tart at a local coffee shop, I had to try it (for research purposes only).  I tried, unsuccessfully, to find the recipe online, so this is my go at recreating it. Although it seems deceptively pastisserie complex and decadent, it’s actually a great Muesli Bar Challenge recipe – simple, fast, very healthy, based on fresh food in season, and suitable for kids lunch boxes.

This recipe makes 8 tartlets.

Part 1: The Pear Puree

Peel and chop 5 pears. Reserve 8 small pieces for garnishing and put the rest in a small saucepan with a good desertspoon of honey, a teaspoon of vanilla and a pinch of cinnamon. Simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes to reduce to ¾ cup of puree. While it is doing so, make the pastry.

Part 2: The Pastry

I don’t know why people buy pre-made shortcrust pastry. I get it for filo, but shortcrust? It takes more effort to find it in the supermarket than to make it, and home-made has none of those nasty fake fats.

For this almond pastry, first separate an egg. Keep the white for the filling (put it in a bowl where you can whisk it later).  Put the yolk in the food processor with half a cup of wholemeal plain flour, half a cup of almond meal and a desertspoon of butter.   I added a teaspoon of brown sugar but I don’t think it needed it.  Blend for a minute until it resembles breadcrumbs. (Alternatively, you can just rub the butter into the flour and almond mix with your fingertips.) Add just enough cold water to make a soft dough. Sprinkle flour on your benchtop and roll it out. I use a saucer to cut 10 cm circles and put each in a cup of a muffin tray. Bake in a moderate oven for 15 minutes till the pastry is starting to firm but not browning. Meanwhile make the filling.

Part 3: The Filling

Whisk the egg white to form stiff peaks. Blend the ¾ cup pear puree together with ¾ cup almond meal, 1 desertspoon of plain flour, and 1 desertspoon of butter. Make sure it is coolish, then fold it into the egg white, stirring just enough to combine.

Putting it Together

Fill each tart case in the muffin tray with the filling. It will puff up a bit but it doesn’t seem to overflow so you can fill them quite full. Put one of the reserved bits of pear on top of each and settle into the filling. Bake for half an hour until the tops are browned and the filling is firmish – they’ll firm up more as they cool.

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