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Blueberries are right in season up here in northern NSW, and with three major ingredients (blueberries, oats and yoghurt) in my superfoods list, this week’s Muesli Bar Challenge recipe blitzes the healthy criteria.  It is also really easy – literally 5 minutes to make then 25 to bake.

Oat bran is specially healthy, loaded with the kind of soluble fibre that stablises blood sugar,  iron that helps blood carry enough oxygen, protein, and Vitamins A and C.  Blueberries are another of those dark coloured fruit that, like mulberries, contain phytonutrients that are protective against a whole range of chronic conditions caused by free radical damage, including cancer, inflammation, diabetes, and infections. And yoghurt has the calcium benefits of dairy foods along with probiotic bacteria that would be very good for you except that they probably don’t survive the baking!

The Recipe

Turn your oven on to heat up.  Grease an 8 hole muffin tray.

In a bowl, mix together:

  • 1 cup of wholemeal self-raising flour
  • ¾ cup of oat bran
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder

In a food processor, blitz together:

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 dessertspoons of raw sugar
  • 1 dessertspoon of lemon juice
  • ¾ cup plain low fat yoghurt
  • 2 dessertspoons of macadamia or other light flavoured oil

Fold the wet mix into the dry mix, then fold in ¾ cup of blueberries.

Bake in a medium oven for around 25 minutes until the top is golden, they bounce back to the touch, and a skewer comes out clean.

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Number 30 in the Muesli Bar Challenge series.  The rules:  fast and easy, healthy enough for school lunch boxes, robust enough to survive the trip, and approved by my school age reviewers.

This one is invented by my sister and first tested by my sweet toothed niece  and nephew,  Rosie and Oliver.

The Recipe:

For this recipe you need a shallow slice pan about 18 cm square, or 14cm by 25 cm rectangle. Grease it with butter and line with greaseproof paper.
Makes about 16 bars

Mix together

  • 1 cup of wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 2 dessertspoons of cornflour (corn starch to US readers)
  • 1 cup of sultanas

Add another cup of mixed bran, rolled oats, dessicated coconut, and/or crushed weetbix.  You can use any combination.

In a small saucepan, melt together:

  • 1/4 cup macadamia, rice bran, or other mild flavoured oil
  • 2 good dessertspoons (60 grams) of butter
  • 2 good dessertspoons of treacle
  • 2 good dessertspoons of raw sugar
  • 2 good dessertspoons of cocoa

As soon as the sugar is dissolved, take it off the heat and stir into the dry mix.
Press the mix into your slice pan, pressing down hard.  Bake for 20 minutes in a medium oven.
Cool, and then refridgerate.  They will become less crumbly when cold so wait till quite cold to slice up and remove from the pan.

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Paw paws are in season and we are picking several a week at the moment.  If you live in their climate zone and grow pawpaws, you probably also have a glut.  If you don’t, sadly this recipe won’t be for you.  Pawpaws don’t travel well and those picked green for supermarkets are not worth buying.

If you do though, pawpaws are another of those orange coloured fruits rich in carotenes, vitamin C and flavonoids that are potent antioxidants and protective against a whole range of chronic diseases.  They also have fibre, folate, and a good range of minerals.  But their special power is a group of  protein-digesting enzymes including papain, that are anti-inflammatory and good for reducing allergies.

These biscuits (or cookies for US readers) easily satisfy the Muesli Bar Challenge rules:  easy enough for busy parents and even kids themselves to be bothered actually making, routinely, for daily school or work lunchboxes, not too loaded up with sugar or fat, based on real whole grains and in season produce, and robust enough to survive being bounced around in a school lunch box. Let’s see if they meet the other criteria: approved by my school age reviewers .

The Recipe:

Makes 2 dozen biscuits

Turn your oven on to heat up. Grease two biscuit (or cookie to US readers) trays.

  • Cream together
    • 4 dessertspoons of butter (100 gm)
    • 4 dessertspoons of brown sugar
  • Beat in:
    • an egg
    • 2 teaspoons of grated lemon rind
    • 2 teaspoons  (or more) of ginger powder, depending on how fresh your ginger is and how gingery you like it.
  • Blend or puree half a cup of paw paw pulp and stir in.
  • Sieve together and stir in
    • 1½ cups of wholemeal plain flour
    • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
    • pinch of salt

You should end up with a dough that is sticky, but using wet hands you will be able to roll it into small balls and arrange them on a greased biscuit tray.

Using a wet fork, flatten the balls into a biscuit.  Sprinkle a pinch of raw sugar crystals on each one.

Bake in a medium hot oven for around 25 minutes until they are lightly browned.

Cool on the tray (they will crispen up as they cool).

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This is  number 28 in my Muesli Bar Challenge series. For those of you who are new to the site,  the Challenge is a school year’s worth of lunch box treats that fit the Witches Kitchen definition of healthy and ethical,  that are easy enough to be a real option, and that my school age reviewers prefer to the overpackaged junk food marketed as suitable for kids’ lunch boxes.

Mulberries are right in season up here, and like most foods with that deep colour, they’re full of antioxidants and phyto-nutrients.  They’re also rich in iron and a good range of vitamins and minerals.  Chocolate is also a good source of anti-oxidants and when it isn’t combined with fake fats and too much sugar, it’sactually good for you!

The Recipe:

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Put a good cup of fresh mulberries in a small pot with 4 dessertspoons of raw sugar.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. You don’t want jam – you want slightly broken up mulberries in a small amount of syrupy juice.

Meanwhile, beat together:

  • 1½ cups of wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 3 dessertspoons of brown sugar
  • 4 dessertspoons of grape seed, macadamia or other mild flavoured oil
  • 4 dessertspoons of cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla essence
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ cup plain low fat yoghurt

Gently fold the mulberries into the cake batter, mixing just enough to spread them through it with swirls of the juice. Spoon the mix into cupcake papers.  Bake in a moderate oven for around 25 minutes until they bounce back when pressed.  (The usual straw test is a bit unreliable with these because of the pockets of mulberry.)

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Sadly fresh mulberries won’t survive a trip to school.  Which is a pity, because they’re right in season and hugely healthy – a real super food.  Most foods with that deep colour are rich sources of anti-oxidants, which are protective against lots of diseases including cancer, inflammation, diabetes, and infections.  Mulberries are also an excellent source of iron which guards against anemia and helps the blood carry enough oxygen for active kids. They also have lots of minerals and plenty of vitamins.

These little tarts use a strong egg custard to encase the mulberries and give them enough lunch box stamina.  The eggs are also a superfood, high in protein and choline, which is brain food.

So they meet the Muesli Bar Challenge criteria for healthy and ethical and robust enough to survive a school lunch box.  This is the first in the series for Term 4.  I’m away from home for a few days, so these were tested in grown-ups lunch boxes. (Sorry kids – home in time for next week!)

The Recipe:

Makes 12 tartlets.

The Pastry:

In the food processor, put

  • 1½ cups of wholemeal plain flour,
  • 3 dessertspoons of butter
  • 2 dessertspoons of brown sugar

Blend for a minute until it resembles breadcrumbs.  (Or you can just mix the flour and sugar and rub the butter in with your finger tips). Add just enough cold water to make a soft dough.  Add it  carefully, spoonful at a time.

Sprinkle flour on your benchtop and roll it out quite thin. I use a saucer to cut 10 cm circles and put each in a cup of a greased 12 cup muffin tray.

Fill each case with fresh mulberries, stems trimmed.  You will fit about 4 or 5 mulberries in each, depending on size. You can fill them very full – the mulberries sink as they cook.

The Custard:

You can re-use your food processor, or just beat together:

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 dessertspoons of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla esssence
  • 4 teaspoons of cornflour (cornstarch to US cooks)

Pour the custard over the mulberries in the tart shells.  You can fill them quite full.

Bake in a medium oven for half an hour or so until the pastry is browned and the custard set.

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The kids are on school holidays, so there’s no Muesli Bar Challenge baking this week.  So I thought I’d do some adult lunch box baking instead.  One of my favourite bought lunches is a spinach and feta pie – yummy but full of fake fats.  And I feel very silly buying it when I have so much silver beet in the garden at present.

This is a bread dough based pastry, which means that it is very low fat.  Filled with a mixture of silver beet or spinach and low fat feta cheese, it is about as healthy as you get in a pie.

The Recipe

This takes a while, but most of the time is waiting for the bread dough to rise.

The Dough

In a big mixing bowl, dissolve a good teaspoon of dry yeast in a cup of ‘baby’s bottle warm’ water.  Add a dessertspoon of honey, cover the bowl, and leave it in a warm spot for 5 minutes.  It should froth, showing the yeast is alive.  If not, you have dud yeast and you can give up now.

If your yeast develops a bit of froth though, stir in a beaten egg, then mix in 2 cups of wholemeal plain flour and a teaspoon of salt. Flour your work surface well and knead the dough until it is smooth and springy.  Like all bread kneading, the more the merrier, but about 5 minutes is a good guide.

Put a little swig of olive oil in your bowl and return the dough to the bowl, swirling it around to coat.  Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave it in a warm place for a couple of hours until it doubles in bulk.  (I find in this Spring weather, the dashboard of the car parked in the sun with the windows up makes a good warm spot).

The Filling

Strip the leaves from the stalks of a bunch of silver beet.  Blanch in boiling water for just a minute or two, drain well, then blend with 60 to 120 grams of low fat feta cheese (depending on how cheesy you like it).  I like to just pulse it briefly so there is still some texture.

Assembling

Turn your oven on to heat up.

Flour your work surface, tip the dough out and knead it just for a minute to knock it down.  Divide it into 9 balls. Flatten the balls between the palms of your hands, then stretch the dough into flat circles about 10 cm across.

Put a heaped dessertspoon of filling on one side of the circle, fold the dough over, and press the edges together with a fork.  You can fill them quite full – unlike pastry dough, the bread dough will stretch so they won’t tend to bust out as they cook.

Put your filled piroshki on an oiled tray and prick the top with a fork.  Leave them to rise for 5 minutes, then bake in a medium hot oven for around 20 to 30 minutes till golden.

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My strawberry patch is laden at the moment, but despite the netting many of the berries are pecked. It’s pretty hard to beat a strawberry just as is, but they don’t travel that well in a lunch box, and this recipe is a good way to use the less than perfect ones.   Strawberries are one of the best sources of folate which is important for cell division, so growing kids know what’s good for them!

This recipe also has decent levels of protein and calcium in the cottage cheese and yoghurt, and of course eggs are a super-food rich in a whole range of nutrients.

If you liked the Passionfruit Cheesecake Slice back in Term One, this is the same concept.

This is the last Muesli Bar Challenge recipe for Term 3 –  recipes for lunch box baking based on  in-season fresh ingredients that are  healthy (low in sugar and saturated fat, low GI, wholegrain),  easy, and that my school age reviewers rate as preferable to the overpackaged junk food marketed as lunch box food.

The Recipe

For this recipe you need a shallow cake pan that is 21 cm diameter, or (preferably) a similar area in a square or rectangular shape, eg 18.5 cm square, or 14cm by 25 cm rectangle. Grease it with butter and line with greaseproof paper.

The base:

In the food processor, blend together:

  • 60 gm of butter,
  • 1 ½ dessertspoons of brown sugar,
  • ½ cup wholemeal SR flour and
  • ½ cup shredded coconut.

Press into the base of a pan so that it is about 1 cm thick.

The filling:

Rinse out the food processor, and blend together:

  • A scant ½ cup low fat cottage cheese or ricotta
  • A scant ½ cup low fat plain yoghurt
  • 2  eggs
  • 1 good dessertspoon cornflour (or cornstarch in US)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1½ dessertspoons brown sugar.
  • 200 grams of ripe strawberries.

Pour the filling over the base and bake in a moderate over for about 45 minutes until set. It will firm up a little more as it cools. Cool before cutting into 8 squares.

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For practically the first time in my adult life, I have no chooks at present.  This is the culprit.

I am working on a new roost design.  If it works, the chooks will be able to put themselves to bed at night.  I will be able to let them free range in the daytime and she (or he) won’t be able to get them at night.

I am missing them for many reasons, but right now because it is egg season.  Luckily though, I have friends who have free-range, ethically raised chooks and, at this time of year an abundance of eggs.

My Muesli Bar Challenge series is a series of recipes for healthy lunch box baking based on fresh in-season produce.  This recipe melds the last of the citrus season with the start of the egg season.  It is a flourless cake with no butter but no less than six eggs.

Eggs are a great source of protein, but they go extra well in school lunches because they are rich in choline, which is needed for nerves and brain to function properly. Using them in baking makes them safer in the heat of a lunch box.

You need a cup of macadamia meal for this recipe.  You can substitute almond meal – in fact I would be fairly sure that somewhere back in time I had an original version of this recipe  based on almond meal.  But for me, macadamias have no food miles at all. And they’re super healthy, with monounsaturated heart healthy oils  and a huge range of vitamins and minerals.  And fresh, in-the-shell macas in season are a taste sensation.  This little tool makes cracking macas easy, and the kernels blend to a meal easily in a food processor.

Once you have your maca meal, the recipe is dead easy. Let’s see what the reviewers think.

The Recipe:

Turn your oven on to heat up to medium.

Grease a 20 cm cake tin and line the base with a circle of greaseproof paper.

Blend together until smooth:

  • 1 cup of macadamia meal
  • 1½ teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 cup of orange, tangelo, mandarin, or lime segments with seeds removed.
  • ¾ cup of brown sugar
  • 6 whole eggs

Stir in 3 good dessertspoons of poppy seeds.

The mixture will not be at all like a cake mix.  It will be quite liquid.

Pour it into your prepared cake tin and bake for around 40 minutes till the cake is set and a skewer comes out clean.

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The rules of my Muesli Bar Challenge series are that the Challenger must be healthy (low in sugar and saturated fat, low GI, wholegrain), based on in-season fresh produce, easy enough to be a realistic option for busy parents and kids themselves to make, and rated by my school age reviewers as no-way-going-to-be-left-in-the-lunchbox.

So many choices for a recipe for this week!

It is the turning point in the seasons – my strawberries and mulberries and pawpaws are still green but so close that a bit of warm weather will bring them on, and I haven’t yet finished with all the macadamias, oranges, mandarins, limes and tangelos that are all still just finishing their season. The cockatoos have finished off the bush lemons (which are the sweetest, much like a Meyer but hardier) but we still have plenty of Eureka lemons. What to feature?

In the end I’ve decided to go with this adaption of a traditional recipe that uses macadamias along with the date and orange combination that was so successful last week. The recipe takes more time than most of this series, but it is easy in the sense that even young kids can manage much of the making, and will probably love helping.

Traditional Lebanese cooks probably should turn away now. I have taken huge liberties with a traditional Middle Eastern sweet. These little pastry mouthfuls are tradionally a bite sized ball of sweet shortbread surrounding a date, almond, fig or pistachio filling. But for a lunch box treat, the dates and orange juice provide nearly all the sweetness needed, and macadamias make the most wonderful shortbread, smooth and buttery and melt-in-your-mouth, and they’re super healthy at the same time.

So this is a very non-traditional Ma-amoul that fits the rules of the Muesli Bar Challenge.

The Recipe:

First crack your macadamias. I’ve written before about this little tool that takes macadamias in shell from “too hard” to “seasonal staple”. Like all nuts, if you buy them fresh, in season, in shell, (or grow your own) you will be amazed how different they are to the stale, slightly rancid things you get in packets in mid-summer.

The Shortbread

You need 125 grams, or about a cup of macadamia kernels. They will blend quite easily in a food processor into a fine meal.

To the maca meal, add

  • 3 dessertspoons of cold butter,
  • 3 dessertspoons of brown sugar,
  • 2 teaspoons of finely grated orange zest, and
  • ¾ of a cup of wholemeal plain flour.

Process until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Then add cold water, a dessertspoon at a time, until you can knead it into a soft dough. Add carefully – you can’t take it out – but when you have a dough that just holds together, add another spoonful. You want a dough that is soft but not quite sticky.

Put your dough in the freezer for a few minutes while you make the filling.

The Filling

In a small saucepan, bring to the boil 100 grams (2/3 cup) of stoned dates and 100 ml of orange juice. Tip into your food processor and blend briefly till it is minced but not smooth.

Assembling

Now here’s the bit that kids will love doing.

Break off a piece of dough, large macadamia sized or slightly larger, and roll it into a ball. Push your thumb into the ball and hollow out the inside like making a little pot. (Mudpie making practice will help here). You should be able to fit a good half teaspoon or more of filling into the pot, then squeeze the top shut, roll it into a ball shape again, and roll the ball in a little raw sugar.

Put the Ma-amoul seam-side down on a greased biscuit tray and bake them in a medium oven for about 30 minutes until they are browned. Cool on the tray (they will crispen up as they cool). Store in an airtight container, but not for long, because they will disappear.

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