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We’re still in the Spring egg glut situation, so for a little while yet, expect Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes to feature eggs.  And though we don’t have cows or goats, people who do will know that milk is also a Spring glut produce.  Both are good protein foods, and eggs are also a good source of lots of vitamins including the hard to get B12, and they are rich in choline, which is important for memory.  And low fat ricotta is a great way to get enough calcium without too much saturated fat.

And baked ricotta is so good! Something in the process transforms it.  This recipe makes it into the half hour of the rules by the skin of its teeth and only if your oven heats up fairly nicely and evenly.  But most of the time is just waiting for it to bake.

The Recipe:

Makes 6 Texas muffin sized baked ricottas.  Leftovers are good cold for lunch.

Turn your oven on to heat up to medium.

Steam a packed cup of herbs and leafy greens very briefly, just to wilt them.  I used a mixture of flat leaf parsley, spring onion, dill, thyme, and spinach.

In a food processor or blender, blend together

  • 500 grams low fat ricotta
  • 3 medium sized eggs
  • 50 grams grated parmesan
  • a heaped teaspoon of grated lemon rind
  • salt and pepper

When they are well blended, add the wilted greens and pulse just to chop them in.  You want them finely chopped, (rather than turning the whole mix pale green).
Oil a 6 cup Texan muffin tin well and put a little circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each cup.  (This is important – they tend to stick otherwise). Spoon the ricotta mix in and smooth out the top.

Bake for around 25 minutes till they are puffed up and softly set.  They will  be cooked before the tops brown, so be careful not to burn them. Loosen around each ricotta with a knife then tip them out and peel off the paper.

Steamed or grilled asparagus goes really really well with the creamy lemony-ness of the baked ricotta.

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Brydie over at cityhippyfarmgirl posted a post just recently about chevre, or goat’s cheese.  Serendipitously, I’d just finished making some – purely by accident – my sister in law had left a litre of goat’s milk in my fridge after a visit and it was in danger of being wasted. Super simple, and very yummy on sourdough with tomato and black pepper.

The Recipe:

Heat the goat’s milk until it just starts to froth, then turn it off and put the pot in a sink of cold water for a few minutes to cool back down to a temperature where you can comfortably hold your little finger in it, but only just.

Whisk in a good spoonful of plain yoghurt.  I used lowfat cow’s milk yoghurt just because that was what I had. Pour into a clean glass jar with a lid.

Keep the mixture warm for about 8 hours.  There are many ways to do this – put the jar on the dashboard of a car parked in the sun or in the warming oven in a wood stove or on top of the hot water system, or (my preferred method), put the jar in a wide mouthed thermos and fill around it with boiling water, wrap the lot in a towel and leave overnight.

The result should be a thick yoghurt.

Line a strainer with a loose-weave cloth like cheesecloth (where the name came from!) and put a bowl under it.  Pour the yoghurt into the strainer.  If it is cool you can just leave it out to drain, but in warm summer weather best to put the lot in the fridge to allow it to drain.  You will be left with thick, creamy, spreadable curds.  I like to add a little salt at this stage.  You could also add herbs if you like. If you would like it even thicker, to the point of crumbly, put a saucer on top, weigh it down, and allow it to continue draining.

A litre of milk yielded me this nice little pot of ricotta-style cheese, about 200 grams I guess, though I’d eaten it before I thought to weigh it!

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Our blueberry bushes are bearing and the farm up the road is selling bags of blueberry seconds so this is the  second in the   Muesli Bar Challenge series featuring blueberries.  Last week’s muffins are a hard act to follow.  This recipe is just as healthy, low in fat and sugar and featuring ricotta, yoghurt, eggs and wholemeal flour along with the blueberries. It takes a little longer to make but still within the Challenge rules of being easy enough for busy parents or kids themselves to make.

The Recipe:

This recipe makes lots – around 20 squares, depending on how small you slice them. I have a shallow baking tray 33 cm by 23 cm which is perfect for it.

Before you start, turn your oven on to heat up and grease the baking tray with butter.

The Crust:

In the food processor, mix together

  • 2 cups wholemeal plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 good dessertspoons of brown sugar

Add 3 good dessertspoons of butter and continue processing for a minute until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Reserve 2/3 of a cup of crust mix, and press the rest into the base of your baking tray. Press down hard.

Pop it into the oven to bake for 15 minutes, while you make the filling.

Filling:

You don’t need to wash the food processor.

Blend together:

  • 250 gm ricotta
  • 100 gm low fat plain yoghurt
  • 3 dessertspoons of brown sugar
  • Juice and zest of a large lemon
  • 3 large eggs (or 4 small)

Assembling:

Pour the filling over the crust. Sprinkle in 2 cups of blueberries. They should be almost but not quite covered by filling.

Sprinkle the reserved 2/3 cup of crust over the top.

Bake in a medium oven for another 35 to 40 minutes until set. It will firm up a little more as it cools.

Cool in the tray, then slice up and remove with a cake slice.

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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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I am on a bit of a roll with the mandarin, ricotta and honey flavours.  Plus mandarins are getting towards the end of their season so I’m eager to make the most of them.  This one is, like last week’s cake, super easy.  The flavours are similar -this one is a bit stronger flavoured – but the texture is quite different, more like a cheesecake.

The Muesli Bar Challenge is a weekly series of  recipes for school lunch box baking – everyday baking rather than special occasion baking. It is recipes that are healthy, easy, cheap and based on fresh produce that is now in season. I have a group of school age reviewers, whose job it is to judge whether school kids really do prefer healthy alternatives the the overpriced, overpackaged junk food marketed as “muesli bars”.

The Recipe:

Turn your oven on to heat up.

Grease and line with greaseproof paper a shallow 20cm square cake pan.

Separate three eggs.

Grate the zest off 6 mandarins, then juice them.  You may need the juice from another mandarin as well, depending on how large and juicy your mandarins are.

Blend together:

  • the 3 egg yolks
  • 200 ml of mandarin juice,
  • three teaspoons of mandarin zest,
  • 5 good dessertspoons of honey,
  • 500 grams of ricotta,
  • one cup (150 grams) of wholemeal self-raising flour,
  • a pinch of salt

Beat the 3 egg whites until soft peaks form, then fold the blended mix into them.

Pour the mix into your greased and lined cake pan, and bake in the middle of a medium oven for about an hour until the slice cracks on top and feels set.  It will deflate and firm up more as it cools, so don’t be concerned if it feels a little soft, but you don’t want it still runny.

Meanwhile, make a syrup glaze.

In a small saucepan, simmer 100 ml of mandarin juice, 50 ml of water, and 3 dessertspoons of sugar.  You can add a teaspoon of zest as well if you like a strong, marmelaide-y flavour.  Simmer for 5 minutes or so until it goes thick and syruppy.

Spoon the hot syrup over the top of the hot slice as it comes out of the oven.  Allow it to cool, set and deflate, then turn it out and cut into squares.

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Wow.  I’m over half way through the school year, and I haven’t lost a Muesli Bar Challenge yet.  Even I’m surprised.  I expected at some stage to push the low-fat, low-sugar bar just a bit too low!  Maybe this is the time – it has no sugar in the cake, just a little in the glaze, and is sweetened with the mandarin juice and some honey.  And it has no butter.

But kids have good taste.  They are justifiably wary of bitter flavours – bitterness is often a sign of alkaloids and the human animal has evolved taste buds to alert them to it.  But the confectionery marketed as “muesli bars” tastes only of its main ingredient – high fructose corn syrup – a cheap substitute for sugar that extends shelf life – a huge health risk and boring.

The Muesli Bar Challenge is a weekly series of  baking recipes that are healthy, easy, and cheap enough to be everyday rather than special occasion foods. They have to be based on local, in-season ingredients, and they have to be robust enough to survive the rough and tumble of a one-way trip in a school lunch box, and never need to survive a two-way trip.

The Recipe

This one is super easy – 5 minutes to make and 40 minutes to bake.

Grease a shallow 20cm square cake pan, (or round pan of about the same size).  Turn your oven on to heat up to medium.

Into the food processor, put

  • 300 grams of low fat ricotta
  • 4 good dessertspoons of honey
  • 3 eggs
  • 100 ml of mandarin juice and 4 teaspoons of grated zest (two medium mandarins).

Blend this mix till smooth, then pour it in on top of 2 cups (300 grams) of wholemeal self raising flour. Mix just to combine  – like a muffin batter, the idea is to avoid developing the gluten in the flour.

Pour the batter into your cake pan and bake near the top of a medium oven for around 40 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, juice another two mandarins and dissolve two dessertspoons of raw sugar in the juice.  Simmer in a small saucepan for a few minutes until it goes syrupy. (I think next time I might make this 3 mandarins and 3 dessertspoons of sugar).

Poke holes with a skewer all over the top of the hot cake, and spoon the hot syrup over it.  Allow to cool then turn out of the pan.

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I’ve already blogged on about the nutritional value of macadamias and lemons (especially lemon rind), so I won’t go there again.  These are blondies (as opposed to brownies), and as well as macas and lemons, they are a good source of protein with their eggs and low fat ricotta.  They have no butter and very little sugar (in fact, I shall be interested to see if the reviewers think they’re sweet enough).

The Muesli Bar Challenge is a weekly series of recipes for school lunch box treats that are healthy, based on in season ingredients,  easy and fast to make, and  rated by my school age reviewers as preferable to the overpackaged, overpriced  junk food based on corn syrup and trans fats so aggressively marketed to kids.  I am aiming for one for every week of the school year – this is number 20 and so far I have won all 20.

The Recipe:

Makes 8 blondies.

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.  The recipe has no butter in it, so you need to grease the pan quite well.
  • Turn the oven on to medium to heat up.
  • Coarsely chop 50 grams of fresh macadamia nuts and put them in the oven to roast as it warms up.  You want them with just a touch of toasty brown-ness.
  • Grate the rind off a lemon, then juice it.  You need 3 teaspoons of zest and 100 ml of juice.
  • Beat 3 eggs with 3 dessertspoons of brown  sugar and  125 grams of low fat ricotta.
  • Add  a teaspoon of vanilla essence, a pinch of salt, and the grated rind and juice.
  • Mix in 1¼ cups of wholemeal self raising flour and the toasted macadamia nuts.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan.  Bake in a moderate oven for 25 minutes or so until it is firm in the centre and golden on the edges.
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The dessert version of these is easy, but the healthy lunchbox version is a little trickier.  It is still easy enough, though, to be within the bounds of the Muesli Bar Challenge rule:  easy enough for busy parents and even kids themselves to be bothered actually making, routinely, for daily school or work lunchboxes.

The recipe easily satisfies the other rules: within the Witches Kitchen definition of healthy and ethical, not too loaded up with sugar or fat, and robust enough to survive being bounced around in a school lunch box.  It is based on lemons, which are so locally in season that even the wildlife can’t make a dent in them, and the eggs and ricotta add a good dose of protein.

The other criteria: they have to be rated by my school age reviewers as preferable to the overpackaged, overpriced junk food marketed as suitable for lunchboxes.  Only a couple more weeks to go and this series will have been going for two full school terms.  Let’s see if I can make it a clean sweep!

The Recipe:

The Pastry

Making a “delicate” wholemeal pastry is most of the trickiness in this recipe. Making your own pastry means you can use organic wholemeal flour,  real eggs and real butter rather than powdered egg and “hyrogenated vegetable oils” with their nasty trans fats.  The key concept is keeping it all cool so the butter doesn’t melt until it is in the oven.

With the tartness of lemons, this one needs a slightly sweet pastry too.

In the food processor, put

  • a good cup of wholemeal plain flour,
  • 2 dessertspoons of butter
  • 2 dessertspoons of brown sugar
  • one egg

Blend for a minute until it resembles breadcrumbs.  (Or you can just mix the flour and sugar, rub the butter in with your finger tips, then add the beaten egg). Add just enough cold water to make a soft dough.  Add it  carefully, spoonful at a time – it’s easy to make the dough too wet, then you have to add extra flour and you end up with a tough pastry.

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. Take the pastry right to the top of the muffin cups – you want as deep a well as you can get.

Prick the base with a fork and bake the shells in a moderate oven for 10 minutes till the pastry is starting to firm but not browning. Meanwhile make the filling.

The Filling

Blend together

  • 140 ml lemon juice (Juice of 2 lemons)
  • 4 dessertspoons (50 gm) raw sugar (not brown sugar this time – it makes the filling too dark)
  • 80 grams ricotta
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • 3 eggs

If you like a strong lemon flavour, you can also add 1 teaspoon lemon zest.

Pour the filling carefully into the pastry, filling the cups as full as you can without overflowing (or they will stick).

Bake for half an hour in a moderate oven till the filling is set.  It will deflate and firm up a little more as it cools.

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Pumpkin soup is so simple, and everyone has their own version, that I hesitated to post this.  But pumpkins are so very much in season here that I thought it worth a reminder.  Soup in a thermos makes a great lunch or an afternoon snack. BBC ran an experiment last year that had the interesting finding that turning calories into soup keeps you feeling full for longer, and thus helps lose weight.  But why would you buy packet cup-a-soups when pumpkins – loaded with beta carotene and fibre and minerals – are in season?

The Recipe:

I reckon pumpkin soup is best not over-elaborated.  So this is my simple, 10 minute tops version.

  • Dice and fry an onion in a little olive oil.
  • Add diced pumpkin, a squashed clove of garlic, and a good pinch of paprika. Fry it a little more, till it just starts browning, then add ordinary water to just cover the pumpkin.  You can always add more later if it is too thick but you can’t take it out!
  • Simmer for a few minutes until the pumpkin is very soft  then use a stick blender, food processor, or an egg beater to blend it until it is quite smooth.
  • Blend in a good dollop of low fat ricotta.
  • Taste and add soy sauce until it is salty enough for your taste.
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