Genuinely healthy brownies

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Jon’s got a thing about mustard seeds at the moment. It’s getting really weird in our house now – they are cropping up in EVERYTHING. The effect ranges from the totally pointless – mustard seeds on popcorn (they don’t stick), to the frankly bizarre – mustard seeds in challah (you can’t really taste them but they look weird). There are mustard seeds in my rice, in my mashed potato, on my fish, really in anything where he is given the freedom to express himself through the spice cupboard. Perhaps when he reads this he’ll think again about how odd it is, but right now he just can’t think of any food that isn’t improved by the addition of mustard seeds.

Fortunately, he wasn’t in charge of planning the food for Joe’s second birthday party. He was a fantastic cake decorator – post coming soon on the birthday cake – but he didn’t decide on the recipes for the other food at the party, which all therefore remained mustard seed free. It’s a good thing too, because Joe isn’t shy about telling us what he thinks of our food. Joe saw the brownies I made here, uniced, in the kitchen a few hours before his birthday tea and asked for one. I gave him one, then another, and then another – they were a huge success. When we sat down to tea he was very excited to see them again with coloured icing to look like lego, and he asked for one in every colour. I’d especially made a creamcheese icing with minimal sugar which I had imagined he would like, since he likes creamcheese and it would be sweeter than normal, but he put it in his mouth and then spat it out with a look of disgust. “It’s not very tasty,” he explained with a serious face, not in a complaining way, just wanting me to understand why he’d been forced to expel it from his mouth. Luckily, with the icing then scraped off, they turned out to be just as “super yummy” as the brownies he had earlier.

From my point of view, the only problem with these brownies is that they aren’t chocolate. I know, if they’re not chocolate then they’re not brownies. But “blondies” sounds stupid and anyway, they are brown, not blonde. They are also vegan and sugar-free, and so I don’t expect you to believe me when I say that they are delicious, but they genuinely are, and they are perfect for babies and anyone else in your life with weird dietary requirements.

I found the recipe online here when searching for a brownie-type thing to use as the base of the lego cakes I wanted to make for the birthday tea. Since I was planning to make him a hugely elaborate birthday cake (which I couldn’t do in a sugar-free, healthy version), I wanted to make one cake thing that I would actually be happy for him to eat, and I thought these seemed perfect.

Makes around 20 mini brownies

  • 150g plain flour
  • 225g whole dates
  • 1 ripe banana (the riper the better)
  • 1 large tablespoon of peanut butter (or other nut butter)
  • 1 tablespoon of applesauce (you can make this amount from 1 apple)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinammon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Prepare a baking tin of around 8×8 inches – grease it and line it, or use a silicon one where you don’t have to do any of that.
  2. Take the stones out of the dates and put them in a bowl of hot water for at least 15 minutes to soak.
  3. Put the dates with two or three tablespoons of the soaking water into a food processor and blend to make a paste.
  4. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and then add the applesauce, peanut butter and vanilla extract.
  5. Mash the banana, either by hand or in the food processor after you have removed the date paste.
  6. Combine the dates and banana with the rest of the mix.
  7. Put the mix into the tin, and bake on your usual oven baking temperature for about 40 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean.

As Joe told us, these brownies are good on their own. However, if you want to make the coloured creamcheese icing to turn these into lego cakes, then I used the recipe below, and coloured the icing using Wiltons Gel Colours (gel colours give a much stronger, brighter colour than liquid colouring and a tiny bit goes a long way). I then put smarties on the top to look like the bobbly bits on lego. This was actually really annoying, because I bought 4 tubes of smarties, imagining that this would easily provide enough of the right colours, and it really didn’t. Plus, since I was a child, the colouring in smarties has obviously got more natural and vegetable-based, which is a good thing for parents of hyper children, but means that the colours are much blander than I remember.

  • 200g Philadelphia or similar creamcheese
  • 70g butter
  • 100g icing sugar (the recipe actually called for 400g, but I was doing a low sugar version!)
  1. The butter needs to be softened and not fridge-hard when you start. The creamcheese should be in the fridge until needed.
  2. Cream the butter with an electric mixer until it has a whipped consistency. Beat in the cheese, but be careful not to overbeat, as the cheese can start to re-liquefy if you do.
  3. Sift the icing sugar and beat it in gradually.
  4. Put a small amount into another bowl and add a tiny bit of colouring (as in, the size of a mustard seed to start with, and then you can always add more as needed). Mix it in with a spoon and spread it onto your brownies.
  5. If you are doing lots of different colours, it’s easiest to do all of one colour, then wash up that small bowl and start again with another colour.
  6. Put the smarties on top and refridgerate until serving.

*Approximate nutritional values (1 brownie, no icing)*

  • Calories – 80.2 kcal
  • Carbs – 28.3g
  • Fat – 0.9g
  • Protein – 1.5g
  • Sodium – 11.4mg
  • Sugar – 9.1g

*Approximate nutritional values (1 brownie, with icing and smarties)*

  • Calories – 136.8 kcal
  • Carbs – 34.6g
  • Fat – 4.1g
  • Protein – 2g
  • Sodium – 23mg
  • Sugar – 11.8g

 

Carrot, apple and blueberry muffins

Everyone where I live has a Bugaboo. And if they don’t have a Bugaboo, then there’s a good reason why, such as they don’t have a baby, or, more likely, they’ve made a very thoroughly researched decision as to why another buggy is better – the City Mini (“the amazing fold!”) is also quite popular, as are iCandies (“I wanted to support a British company”) and Maclarens (“simple, sturdy, effective”). (My buggy is obviously better than all of these – the Uppababy: upgraded, cheaper Bugaboo, with HUGE basket). But no one just went to Argos and picked up a buggy for £29.99. Not for our babies.

That’s because this is a pretentious neighbourhood with lots of neurotic but style-conscious parents who buy all of this top-of-the-range, probably mostly unnecessary baby stuff.  The plus side, if you’re writing a blog and you need material, is that if you hang around these parents, you hear some funny and cringeworthy things. A few months before Joe was born I was in a local, very expensive baby shop buying a present for a friend, and a couple came in with their baby and asked the shop assistant for “a developmental toy for our very bright 8 month old. He’s already bored with the toys he’s got and keeps throwing them out the buggy. What new developmental toys can you recommend?” Even the shop assistant, who must hear this kind of stuff all the time, looked a bit baffled, but then she realised that these customers were easy marks and she started throwing toys at them (the dad then thrust each toy in turn in front of his son’s face, and then decided whether to buy it based on the reaction he got. Tears meant “this toy is a bit babyish for him”, but a tongue poking out or a grabbing hand meant it was stimulating enough that it went into the shopping basket.)

But a couple of weeks ago, I was out with Jon and Joe for coffee in Primrose Hill, and I heard myself say, “No Joe, please take your fingers out of mummy’s cappuccino, you’ve got your own cappuccino right there.” Cringe. Even worse, a couple walked past as I said it and looked at me with the same unbelieving sneer I gave to the development toy people. Joe didn’t have his own cappuccino, by the way. I’m not crazy. He had his own babyccino, and if you don’t know what that is, well, I’m not sure you should even be reading this blog.

Anyway, the point of all of this was simply to say that there’s lots of things I didn’t imagine myself saying or doing before I became a parent (and it’s not just me: this morning I heard Jon say, “Joe, if you don’t touch daddy’s wee then you can flush the toilet afterwards.”)

Another thing is the constant the singing of annoying children’s rhymes. Not to Joe – we do that of course, but it doesn’t stop when he goes to bed or we go to work. We leave the house to the tune of “Wind the Bobbins” and “The Wheels on the Bus” and, most recently it has been “The Muffin Man”. I know that seems like a really a tenuous link to for a recipe for muffins but it actually isn’t – singing “The Muffin Man” as I sat at my desk (it’s OK, I have my own office) was what prompted me to send Jon my shopping list for the muffin ingredients I didn’t have.

I invented these muffins shortly after Joe started eating real food. They make an excellent, healthy snack and we always have a bag of these in the freezer, as they freeze well and can be restored by putting them in the oven for about 15 minutes, or just leaving to defrost (the oven makes them taste fresher, though). They would also make a tasty, healthy snack for adults and older children.

Makes about 24 mini muffins or fairy cakes

  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml sunflower/canola/rapeseed oil
  • 8 oz self raising flour
  • 2 oz porridge oats
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 eating apples
  • Approx 4 oz blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  1. Grate the apple and carrot or use a food processor to finely grate them.
  2. Put all ingredients into a bowl, mix with a wooden spoon.
  3. Spoon into muffin tins or fairy cake cases Cook on 160c fan, or 180c normal for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

*Approximate nutritional values (1 muffin)*

  • Calories: 95 kcal
  • Carbs: 10.9g
  • Fat: 4.9g
  • Protein: 1.8g
  • Sugar: 2.3g
  • Sodium: 9.5mg

Chocolate mousse

Sometimes I do Weeks. Like, after a particularly indulgent, steak-eating holiday, when we get home, we do Thin Week, where  we try to eat light, healthy meals to compensate a bit for what went before. This week, for no particular reason other than that internet research over the week led me to links like these – Is Sugar Toxic?Is there a foetal sugar syndrome? and Sugar as Poison – I am doing Sugar-Free Week. I told Jon I was doing it and he huffed and puffed and said “does that mean a whole week without Percies?” I replied, “I said I’M doing Sugar-Free Week. YOU don’t have to” and he said, “Well obviously I do if you are… if there’s a THING happening, then obviously I’m doing it as well.” There’s no THING but there is a bandwagon going, so together we are doing Sugar-Free Week.

However, I’m actually not sure about Sugar-Free Week, for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t really like this whole craze of removing entire food groups from your diet for health reasons (unless, of course, there’s a live health reason, like diabetes). I particularly dislike carb-dodgers, who will eat fat and sugar and all kinds of rubbish but never Evil Wholewheat Bread or Terrible Brown Rice.

(As an aside, this reminds me of when my dad decided that he wasn’t going to eat melon, grapes or bananas anymore because they were “full of sugar”. Cake? No problem. Biscuits? Totally fine. Chocolate? You’ve got to have a square of chocolate after a meal. But melon? Take that lump of sugar away!) 

I just feel that in a normal healthy diet, eaten by a normal, healthy person of normal, healthy size, there is room for all food groups. And also I think there has to be a balance struck between health and enjoyment. I really enjoy eating, and I think it is one of life’s pleasures. Unless you really have to, I think it’s a bit hair-shirted to deny yourself some bad-for-you things some of the time.

Secondly, I actually don’t think I eat that much sugar. I do love my dark chocolate and I eat some every day. I also eat, sometimes, ice cream, more chocolate, and home-made desserts once a week. But I don’t drink fizzy drinks or juice (two of the major culprits, apparently), and I don’t tend to eat sugary snacks every day – I’d rather eat crisps. Mmm… salty, delicious, crispy crisps.

But, I do think I eat more sugar than I used to, particularly since having a baby. Since I read this article several months ago I started to think that this kind of eating was out of habit and, since I had acknowledged that, it should now be easy to stop, but it actually wasn’t. So Sugar-Free Week is an experiment: will I miss sugar, and will eating less of it make me feel better? Perhaps a week isn’t really long enough to find this out, but we’ll see.

All of this segues nicely into the recipe I want to share with you, which is for (absolutely not sugar-free) chocolate mousse. This was the last sugary thing I ate, as I made it this weekend, and so it was a perfect start to Sugar-Free Week.

This dessert obviously doesn’t fit the category of baby-friendly as even if you are OK with the sugar, the raw eggs are a definite no. But it is in the category of quick and easy things to make. This is the perfect quick dessert to make for friends or to take to friends for dinner – although it needs time to set, so it’s not the perfect dessert to make at 7pm just before your friends arrive. Make it the day before and it will be perfect. I should also add that it’s only a super quick dessert if you have an electric whisk (or Kitchen Aid/Kenwood style food mixer). If you don’t, it is possible to do with a hand whisk but I wouldn’t bother.

This recipe is unadapted, straight from Delia. I am always being complimented on it:

  •  200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 4 fl oz water
  • 1 ½ oz caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and put in a large bowl (stainless steel or heat-proof glass) over a saucepan of boiling water. It is difficult, but not impossible, to burn the chocolate doing it this way (you’ll know if you burned it as it will separate into a grainy part and an oily part) so keep an eye on it and stir it regularly. You want to end up with a totally smooth chocolate paste, and when you have this, take the bowl off the heat and put aside to cool.
  2. Separate the eggs, putting the yolks aside, and putting the whites into another large bowl to be whisked. Whisk with electric mixer until they have formed soft peaks, and then add the sugar, a little at a time, until the whites are glossy.
  3. Add the yolks to the chocolate and stir again until it is smooth.
  4. Then add one spoon of whites to the chocolate and mix it in to loosen it up. Next, using a metal spoon, add the whites to the chocolate by using chopping motions, or “folding and cutting” – not stirring, as the aim is to retain the air, which will be lost if you stir.
  5. Pour the mousse into another bowl or into individual martini glasses if you like, and put in the fridge to let it set.

 This serves around 6, but obviously depends on how greedy you/your guests are.

 *Approximate nutritional values*

  • Calories: 223kcal
  • Carbs: 60g
  • Fat: 43g
  • Protein: 13g
  • Sugar: 43g
  • Sodium: 68mg