No added sugar banana bread


I have probably made this sugar-free banana bread recipe more than anything else.  My kids love it and think the raisins and vanilla essence make it sweet enough. It takes just 12 minutes to prepare (plus 50 mins baking time), lasts a few days in a tin and can be frozen in portions.  We eat it on it’s own or lightly toasted with butter.  It’s brill!


Sugar-free banana bread

5 ripe bananas, mashed

50g chopped nuts (could be any – I normally use walnuts or pecans)

1 egg, lightly beaten

100g raisins (or other dried fruit such as dates, dried apricots, cranberries – whatever!)

75g porridge oats

150g plain flour

1 tsp vanilla essence

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas mark 5. Mix all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. The consistency should be moist. Spoon in to a greased loaf or cake tin and bake in the oven for 45-55 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool for 10 mins. Delicious on it’s own or with butter!

Blue cheese and poppy seed biscuits


These scrummy blue cheese and poppy seed biscuits can be eaten straight away, kept in a container for several days, or made ahead and then frozen.  They are really simple to make and look impressive so are great to have handy if you are expecting people (or need an edible gift idea).  They were also wolfed down by my kids as an after school snack!

The biscuits are from a recipe in Jane Lovett’s new ‘Make It Easy’ cookbook and she often serves them after meals instead of cheese (although I reckon they would be even better WITH cheese!)  We ate half and froze half so we could have some over Christmas.  You need clingfilm. Allow about 15 mins prep, 1 hour chilling and 10 mins baking.

Blue cheese and poppy seed biscuits (makes approx 25)

110g self-raising flour

110g butter

Large pinch mustard powder

50g blue cheese, crumbled (any is fine – I opted for the cheapest!)

50g cheddar cheese, grated

1 tsp poppy seeds

1 tsp salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.  Process the flour and butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (if the mixture seems too wet, gradually add flour until it is thicker).  Add the mustard powder, cheeses, poppy seeds and salt and pepper and process until well mixed.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the mixture in to two fat sausages and wrap tightly in clingfilm.  Chill for at least an hour (it will firm up).  Unwrap and slice into discs about the thickness of a pound coin.  Place on baking paper and bake for at least 5-7 minutes, turning halfway through when golden.  They should expand a little.  Cool slightly then eat!

If you want to freeze any then do so, either after baking OR after you have sliced in to discs, but before baking.  Put the biscuits spread out in freezer bags.  Cooked frozen biscuits can be briefly heated in the oven to take the frozen ‘edge’ off them and uncooked frozen biscuits can be baked as above.



Pumpkin and honey flapjacks (healthy deliciousness!)

pumpkin and honey flapjacks

My attempt at pumpkin pie didn’t go well. So I decided to try making flapjacks with grated pumpkin in them instead, and luckily they were more successful!  The flapjacks also contain honey, sesame seeds, mashed banana, orange zest, raisins and, of course, porridge oats. There are pretty nutritious and the honey and raisins make them sweet enough without sugar. My son described them as ‘yummy!’ and reminded me that ‘you can make flapjacks with different things’. This is true. We have also made them using grated carrot instead of pumpkin; chopped dried apricots or cranberries instead of raisins; pumpkin seeds or linseeds instead of sesame seeds; and peanut butter instead of banana. We eat them as an after school snack, when out and about or as dessert.

Small seeds such as sesame seeds and linseeds (very cheap to buy!) help the mixture to stick together. Honey, mashed banana and peanut butter also act as a good binder. It’s easiest to cut the pumpkin in to large chunks and then grate (don’t grate the chunks too thin or you might lose some skin!)

pumpkin and honey flapjacks

pumpkin and honey flapjacks

This recipe makes 16 flapjacks, which will last a few days in a sealed container. Allow about 10 minutes to prepare the mixture and 45 minutes to cook. Hope you like them!

pumpkin and honey flapjacks

Pumpkin and honey flapjacks (makes 16)

150g butter

100g honey

200g grated pumpkin

1 mashed banana

150g raisins

50g sesame seeds

Zest of 1 orange

250g porridge oats

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees/gas mark 3.

Put the butter in a pan and heat gently until it is melting, then add the honey. Once all melted take off the heat and add the pumpkin, mashed banana, raisins, sesame seeds, orange zest and porridge oats. Mix well. You want the mixture to be thick but still be able to stir it with a spoon (with a bit of effort).

Line a smallish square or rectangle baking tin with foil and spoon in the mixture. Flatten it out and squash the mixture down with the back of the spoon to help it stick together. Bake for 35-45 mins, until it’s firm and deeply golden at the edges and sides. Take out and leave to cool. Carefully lift out the foil with the flapjack mixture inside it then cut in to pieces with a sharp knife.

Oat, apple and banana pancakes (gluten-free and ready in 20 mins)

oat, apple and banana pancakes

These pancakes are packed with goodness, gluten-free and take about 20 minutes to prepare and cook.  They are made from oats (which you blitz to a flour in a food processor), walnuts (also blitzed), apple, banana, milk and cinnamon.  They have a slightly thicker and grittier consistency than more traditional pancakes but are still delicious with honey on top.  Don’t worry if they look a bit scruffy – it’s all part of their charm!

oat, apple and banana pancakes

My kids enjoyed making a tower of the pancakes and then devoured them – we ate them American-style with blueberries, and yoghurt.  I will have to make another batch and use as an after-school snack soon too (with honey, obviously).  If you are a pancake traditionalist or don’t have a food processor you could leave out the oats and walnuts and simply use plain flour instead!

oat, apple and banana pancakes

Oat, apple and banana pancakes (makes 10 small pancakes)

80g oats

50g walnuts, pecans or almonds

OR replace the oats and walnuts with 120g plain flour

1 apple, grated

1 banana, broken in to a few bits

150ml milk

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Put the oats into a blender and blitz until you have a rough scruffy flour.  Put the nuts, milk, apple and banana into the blender and blitz until combined.  (Alternatively, use 120g plain flour instead of the oats and nuts and mix with the apple, finely chopped banana, milk and cinnamon without using a food processor).

Heat a non-stick pan on a medium heat and add a little butter, until there is a thin melted coating of butter gently bubbling in the pan.  Add the pancake batter (1 tbsp = 1 pancake) to make small pancake rounds. Cook for 2–3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Eat messily and happily.

Tasty roast chickpeas – a quick snack or versatile ingredient!

roast chickpeas

Canned chickpeas are cheap, healthy and versatile – the cheapest can costs 40p in many supermarkets.  If you roast them in the oven with some oil and a crumbled stock cube (or with a shake of dry seasoning such as cajun seasoning, or dry spice such as garam masala, paprika or ground coriander) then the chickpeas go golden brown and absorb the flavour.

Great as a simple snack to eat at home or when out and about.  You can also add them to salad or use them as a soup topping to give crunch and texture.

roast chickpeas

roast chickpeas

Yesterday my kids (who like them – hooray!) had their chickpeas along with dinner and then we adults had them later in a salad and with soup, on top of a dollop of creme fraiche and cumin seeds (for my veggie soup recipe click here

roast chickpeas

Tasty roast chickpeas (serves 2-3 people as a snack or more people in a salad/as a soup topping)

Can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Good glug of oil (ideally olive oil but I have also used vegetable and sunflower oil)

1 veg stock cube, crumbled (I like OXO as it crumbles easily) or good shake of seasoning or spice (see above for ideas)

Heat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 6.

Put the chickpeas on to a non-stick baking tray, pour over some oil and sprinkle over the stock cube/seasoning/spice.  Mix really well with a spoon.  Roast in the oven for 10-20 minutes, shaking the tray regularly to avoid burning/sticking.  If you want the chickpeas lightly roasted then 10-15 minutes is enough, or if you want them a little crispy 20 minutes should do it.  Depends a bit on the oven – you want them slightly browned.

Remove from the oven and eat on their own, with salad or as a soup topping.

Stilton crust veggie or meat sausage rolls (20 mins prep/30 mins cooking)

stilton crust sausage rolls

These sausage rolls are really simple to make, using shop-bought ready-rolled puff pastry (which you roll a few extra times with crumbled stilton) and either veggie or meat sausages.  They take 20 mins to prepare and about 30 mins to cook.

stilton crust sausage rolls

stilton crust sausage rolls

The stilton gives the pastry a lovely subtle flavour.  We had the sausage rolls for dinner with sweetcorn, tuna and mayo salad and will eat them as a snack tomorrow. Yum! We all loved them.

stilton crust sausage rolls

My boyfriend stuffed the little bit of leftover pastry with chorizo and that was a big hit too.

Stilton crust veggie or meat sausage rolls (makes approx 18 small ones)

Sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry (375g)

100g stilton, crumbled

Plain flour, for rolling

6 medium sized veggie or meat sausages (I used Quorn veggie sausages)

Beaten egg, to finish

Lightly flour a work surface and lay the sheet of puff pastry on it.  Cut it in half and crumble the stilton evenly over the first half.  Lay the second half over the top and gently press it on so it is sealed, then roll with a rolling pin until twice the size.  Fold it over and roll again, and then repeat this again so the stilton is spread.  You want the final sheet to be the same size as it was originally.  Cut it in to three pieces lengthways, and lay two sausages down each of the three sheets.  Fold the pastry over the sausages, allowing a 2cm ish overlap.  Seal each sausage roll with your fingers and brush each one with the beaten egg.  Cut each sausage roll in to six equally sized pieces (making 18 in total). Place on a non-stick baking tray and bake for 25-30 mins, turning so that all four sides are golden brown and the filling is piping hot. Remove from the oven and eat!

Tortellini kebabs (15 mins prep) – less than £1 per head

tortellini kebabs

I was thinking about making some more ‘dinner on a stick’ meals for the kids as they love sliding the little chunks off the stick  or biting them straight off (and sometimes assembling the kebabs themselves).   As my kids also love tortellini (little filled pasta parcels), I decided to mix some shop-bought tortellini with a couple of less familiar foods, mozzarella and roast red peppers from a jar, in the hope that they would try them.  I also added olives (always a winner in our house). For our grown up version I mixed up the mozzarella with pesto and lightly grilled a few cherry tomatoes.  The meal worked out as about £3.60 in total and took 15 mins to prepare.

You can vary what you put on your kebab sticks (you can find metal or disposable wooden ones from supermarkets and some pound shops) – cheddar cheese or grilled halloumi cheese, pasta (penne pasta is good to slide on), other veg (e.g. broccoli, carrots, courgette, mushrooms, potatoes, asparagus, avocado), sausages, prawns, chunks of fish, chicken, tofu, falafel.  Anything that can slide on to a stick!  Also feel free to use a little sauce to add more flavour e.g. pesto as mentioned above,  sweet chilli sauce (not spicy if you use sparingly) or bbq sauce.  If you mix foods that you know your kids like (or let them choose some) with one or two that they have never tried or are unsure about, the novelty of eating a kebab may be enough to tempt them!

tortellini kebabs

My kids were a little apprehensive about trying the mozzarella and roast peppers but once the tortellini and olives were gone they couldn’t resist picking up a small bit with the tip of the kebab stick (only once I should add) and attempting to get it in to their mouth before falling off – so that is a small victory!  Other novel eating ideas are using chopsticks (even with just a selection of finger food), eating from a cup (see my 7 minute noodles in a cup recipe here or using a larger than normal fork or spoon.

Tortellini kebabs (makes 7-8 sticks – enough for 2 adults and 2 kids)

1/2 pack tortellini, cooked (normally only takes 4 mins)

3 roast peppers from a jar, chopped

32 olives (any kind)

1 mozzarella ball, cut in to chunks (optional – mix with pesto for extra flavour)

Optional – cherry tomatoes, either as they are or lightly roasted in hot oven for 10 mins (turning once)

Divide the ingredients (and mix them with sauce if you fancy).   Slide them on to the kebab stick as pictured.  Serve!  Add some rice or salad alongside the meal if you are extra hungry.

Fuss-free olive (or grape) focaccia – great to cook with or for kids

easy focaccia

Focaccia is an Italian oven-baked bread that is traditionally topped with ingredients such as olives, herbs and olive oil.  Italian grandmothers would have plenty to say about my simplified, no-knead version, and it certainly looks a little uneven and chunky, but that is all part of it’s charm in my opinion!

easy focaccia

easy focaccia

You can use olives or grapes for this recipe, and there are plenty of ways kids can get involved with the preparation – helping to mix, watching the dough prove (rise), spreading it out on to the baking tray and, most fun of all, pushing the olives (or grapes) in to it with their chubby little fingers!  Other toppings you could experiment with are rock salt, herbs (thyme or rosemary work well), dried fruit or chilli.   Allow 15 mins for preparation, at least one hour for the dough to rest and rise, plus 30 minutes cooking time.

easy focaccia

easy focaccia

Eat the focaccia on it’s own as a snack or with pesto, humous or chorizo slices.  The whole loaf costs about £1.30 to make and will keep for two days wrapped in clingfilm.

Olive (or grape) focaccia

300g strong white bread flour

200g strong wholemeal flour

tsp salt (around 4g)

tsp dried yeast (around 4g)

375g cold water

4 tbsp olive oil

30 pitted green olives or seedless grapes

Pour the flour, salt and yeast in to a large bowl and mix.  Add the water and mix then use your hands to mix more and shape in to a ball.  Return to the bowl, cover with a damp, clean towel and rest for at least an hour so the dough can prove (increase in size).

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees/gas mark 7.  Grease a baking tray with one tablespoon of olive oil then gently lower in the dough.  Use your hands to stretch it to the edges of the tray and make sure it is roughly even all over.  Use your fingers to push the olives in to the dough.  Rub 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil all over the top and pop in the oven, first for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 190 degrees/gas mark 5 for a further approx 20 minutes.  It is ready when it is crusted and golden brown.  As soon as you take it out of the oven pour 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on and spread evenly all over, so the hot focaccia can soak it up.  Tear or cut in to wedges and serve!

Kale crisps (4 mins prep/15 mins cooking)

kale crisps

People have been raving about kale as a source of low-calorie goodness for a while.    It is only about £1 for a big bag so pretty cheap too.  If you sprinkle some kale with a little olive oil, lemon zest, cumin seeds and salt and pop them in the oven for about 15-20 minutes they become tasty and crispy.  Great as a snack or as part of a meal for adults and (certain!) children.

kale crisps healthy kids snack

My two year old loved them (watching him stuff fistfuls in to his little mouth was very satisfying!) while my four year old thought it was a big joke to call them ‘crisps’…

For an alternative kale recipe this kale and almond gratin from Nigel Slater is brilliant:

Kale crisps (serves 2 as a snack or part of a meal)

120g kale (I left the stalks on as I don’t mind a bit of crunch)

Zest of 1/3 lemon

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

Small drizzle olive oil

Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/160 degrees.

Put the kale in a baking tray, add the other ingredients and mix up with your hands.  Bake in the oven for around 15-20 minutes, checking and giving the tray a good shake/stir every 4 minutes.   You want the kale to be a little singed around the edges to ensure they are crispy enough, but only around the edges.  Serve quickly while they keep their crispiness.

Mushroom roast – rich and sumptuous (20 mins prep/35 mins cooking)

mushroom roast

This mushroom roast is the standout recipe of my childhood.  Rich and sumptuous thanks to the mushrooms and marmite, and with a little crunch from the onions, it is best eaten in an old fashioned way with veg and gravy, but is also great cut in to wedges as a cold snack the next day.  My poor mum had to be creative with her meals when I was a kid as I was the only vegetarian in our family, but this recipe was a winner with all of us, and the taste still makes me feel nostalgic!  It is from the lovely Vegetarian Cook Book by Doreen Keighley, which is simple and unpretentious in the way that cookbooks used by our parents seem to be (or am I being nostalgic again?).  It was written in 1985 when people looked frightened and cooked you a fried egg if you said you were a vegetarian, so at the time the book must have been quite revolutionary!

Use as little butter as possible (draining it once the mushrooms and onions are fried) and press the ingredients tightly in to the baking dish/loaf tin to help it bind.  Don’t worry if the mushroom roast breaks up a bit when it is cooked and you are taking it out of the tin.  Mine has never stayed all in one piece but it still tastes great!

Mushroom roast – serves 2 hungry people or 4 as part of a lighter meal

200g mushrooms, chopped small

Large knob of butter

1 onion, finely chopped

150g grated cheddar cheese

90g breadcrumbs (I just blend some slices of bread)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp marmite

Salt and pepper

Butter your baking dish/loaf tin.  Fry the mushrooms and onions in the butter for approx 10 mins. Drain the butter away.  To the mushrooms and onions add the grated cheese, breadcrumbs, marmite, beaten egg, salt and pepper, and mix.  Place the mixture in a greased baking dish/loaf tin, pressing it tightly together.   Bake at 190 degrees/gas mark 5 for approx 35 mins, until nicely brown. Leave to cool for 10 mins before getting it out.  Don’t worry if it falls apart a little!  Delicious served with veg and gravy or cut in to wedges and eaten cold the next day.