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Loaf_3
It’s been quite some time between blog posts I must say. I’ve been a little on the busy side, to say the least, and sadly the first thing to drop out of my days is creativity in the kitchen. I’m a creature of habit when I’m stretched for spare time so all the usual culinary suspects have been boring me to tears lately in a desperate attempt to simplify my daily routine. About the only thing I’ve managed to squeeze in has been a spot of baking brought about by my monthly hosting of a group of friends and their rugrats at our house.

I had a mound of overripe bananas on the cusp of Rotsville which were destined for the rather disparate fates of either baked glory or rubbish bin demise. The day of hosting arrived just in a nick of time as the bananas reached their full-flavoured baking potential, mere hours before they were only ripe for turfing out.

Loaf_2
So, bake ‘em I did. Into this very moist, very delicious loaf which has been naturally sweetened with honey, dates and aforementioned bananas. With a base of ground almonds it’s gluten-free and incredibly moist thanks to the fruit content.

Loaf_1
As divine as cakes are hot from the oven, this one does need a good 30 minutes to cool down before you carve into it. It’s dense from the fruit content yet light in texture, a combination which means it’s a little fragile when hot out of the oven. Exercise some restraint if you can muster it and leave the loaf to sit in the tin for 30 minutes before lifting out and carefully cutting into thick slices.

This recipe makes a large loaf so any leftovers can be put under a hot grill for breakfast the next day. Absolutely delicious smothered in butter or topped with a dollop of greek yoghurt if you want to keep it on the virtuous side.

INGREDIENTS
125g butter – at room temperature
1/3 cup liquid honey
2 large free-range eggs
100g dates – roughly chopped
2 large bananas, approximately 250g peeled weight (the riper the better)
1.5 cups ground almonds
1/2 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
80g walnuts – roughly chopped

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a loaf tin and line the base with baking paper.
2. Place the roughly chopped dates into a small bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander and set aside.
3. Put the butter and honey into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and creamy. Add the drained dates and beat well again – this helps break the dates down a little.
4. Add the eggs to the butter mix, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
5. Mash the bananas well and add to the butter/egg mix and stir to combine.
6. In a large mixing bowl combine the ground almonds, flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and chopped nuts.
7. Tip the egg mix into the dry mix and fold together gently until just combined.
8. Pour the batter into the greased loaf tin, smooth the top and bake in the oven for approximately 1 hour until a skewer inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.
9. Remove from the oven and leave to sit in the tin for about half an hour before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

NOTE: If the top of the loaf starts to darken too much during cooking, place a sheet of tin foil very loosely over the top to prevent it burning.

Crumble_1
Is it wrong to eat pudding for lunch? Not in winter…and definitely not on a Sunday. In my book a hearty apple crumble is capable of encompassing many nutritional essentials…protein, carbohydrates, fruit, grains and nuts. This may be slightly wishful thinking on my part but I’ll try anything to relieve the tiny skerick of guilt I’m harboring in the back of my mind. At any rate, it’s naturally sweetened with honey and coconut sugar so really it’s not naughty at all given fats in moderation aren’t anything to be scared of.

I could be talked into eating this crumble at any time of the day, if I’m honest. For breakfast with greek yoghurt or for lunch or dessert with lashings of whipped cream. Whatever time of the day you decide to eat this deliciously warming little pudding, you’ll find it easy to throw together and absolutely divine served fresh out of the oven.

NOTE: This crumble would be great with any combination of cooked fruit. I’ve made this before with a mix of apple and tamarillo which was divine as the tang of the tamarillo was beautifully offset by the sweetness of the crumble. Pears, nectarines or peaches would also be delicious. Play around with fruit combos to find your favourite.

INGREDIENTS – for the apples
4 medium apples – peeled and cored
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp liquid honey
2 tbsp water

INGREDIENTS – for the crumble
2/3 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup thread coconut
1/3 cup coconut sugar
Rind 1 lemon
100g butter – melted

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Cut the peeled and cored apples into quarters then cut each quarter lengthwise into slices approximately 5mm thick.

Crumble_2
3. Place the sliced apples into a medium saucepan along with the vanilla extract, honey and water. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the apples are just tender but not falling apart. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly with the lid off.
4. Put all the dry crumble ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Add the melted butter and stir well to incorporate.
5. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the apples to a pie dish (approximately 4 cup capacity), press down slightly then trickle over 2 tbsp of the cooking liquid. Discard any remaining liquid.

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6. Pour the crumble mix over the apples, spread out evenly and press down lightly with the back of a spoon.

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7. Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly golden and oh so fragrant. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5-10 minutes, depending on how impatient you are.

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8. Spoon into bowls and served with a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream.

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muesli_5
I’ve always been a huge fan of breakfast. Not one to shy away from a hearty feed as soon as my feet hit the floor, once my eyelids are more open than closed I’m beating a hasty path to the pantry. My breakfast of choice changes from time to time, but ultimately I’m a creature of habit. I’ve been obsessed with porridge for months now. I love making it with a half-half mix of milk and water and sweetened with a touch of honey. I up the nutritional stakes by adding a tablespoon of flaxseed oil to get my omega-3 fix for the day. It adds the most divinely nutty, creamy background flavor which I find it hard to do without.

My love of breakfast goes back a long way. I think it originally comes from my Mum’s weekly habit of giving us a ‘treat’ for dinner which equated to her taking a load off one night a week and making us think we were getting a pretty sweet deal by skipping vegetables for the night and eating muesli instead. It was quite the deluxe incarnation though. She would layer muesli in a glass with yoghurt and banana which somehow seemed indulgent to my sister and I.

muesli_2
With a huge array of nutritious grains, cereals, fruit, nuts and seeds on the market these days it’s possible to pack a significant nutritional punch into the first meal of the day. Making your own muesli at home is a very satisfying thing indeed. Not only can you control exactly what goes into your mix, pandering to your every whim and fancy, but you can also avoid all the nasties which you’ll habitually find in store-bought versions.

I like a muesli which is not too heavy on the cereals, one that has a good ratio of grains to other goodies such as nuts, fruit and seeds. My version incorporates everything I love in the flavour department while keeping in mind my goal of making it as nutritious as possible. I believe I’ve succeeded with this most divine of mixes. Puffed millet and oats provide the cereal backbone while chia seeds, goji berries, dates, almonds, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds give it some serious nutritional clout. It’s free of refined sugar and everything is incorporated in its raw form so you are getting the most nutrients possible. It’s seriously delicious…I have to stop myself from having multiple breakfasts in one day.

muesli_1
In a recent trip to Sydney I tried the most divine example of vanilla pear jam. I decided to do some poached pears to top my cereal with so this quick and easy cook-up is inspired by the lovely folk at Fleetwood Macchiato. Take my word for it when I say this is an invigorating, healthy way to start the day. Serve a bowl of my delicious muesli with your choice of milk (I prefer almond or rice) topped with a generous dollop of natural yoghurt and a spoonful of vanilla poached pears. My work here is done.

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As an aside…take a look at the bottom of this post, after the recipes, to find out about some of the goodness this muesli contains.

THE BEST HOMEMADE MUESLI…EVER

INGREDIENTS (makes approximately 8 cups)
2 cups rolled oats (gluten-free if necessary)
2 cups puffed millet
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup LSA (ground linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds)
1 cup dates – roughly chopped
1 cup goji berries
1/3 cup flaked almonds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup brazil nuts – roughly chopped

METHOD
1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and turn over a few times with a large spoon until well combined.
2. Store in an airtight container until ready to use. The muesli will keep well for at least a month.

VANILLA POACHED PEARS WITH MANUKA HONEY

INGREDIENTS
4 ripe but firm pears (about 300gm once cored and peeled)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp manuka honey (or other well flavoured, good quality honey)
1 cup water

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METHOD
1. Peel and core the pears then cut lengthwise into slices approximately 5mm thick.
2. Add to a medium saucepan along with the vanilla, honey and water and bring to a gentle simmer.

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3. Cook for 15 minutes until the pears are tender but not collapsing. Remove the pears with a slotted spoon, leaving behind as much of the liquid as possible and set aside in a bowl.
4. Gently simmer the remaining liquid for a further 10 minutes until it has reduced by half. You should be left with about 4 tablespoons of liquid.
5. Pour the reduced liquid over the pears, leave to cool completely, then cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. The pears will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge.

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION – HOMEMADE MUESLI
This is by no means an exhaustive list of nutritional content but does introduce some of the key nutrients that can be found in these ingredients.

CHIA SEEDS – high dietary fibre aids digestion; omega-3 fatty acids (good for your brain); high levels of calcium and manganese (good for your bones); phosphorus (helps with cell and tissue repair); high protein; helps to stabilize blood sugar; can help regulate appetite and sleep and can also aid in lowering cholesterol.
PUMPKIN SEEDS – magnesium (heart health); zinc (immune support).
SUNFLOWER SEEDS – selenium (cell damage control); vitamin E; magnesium; copper (vital for healthy bones).
BRAZIL NUTS – monounsaturated fatty acids (help to lower ‘bad’ and increase ‘good’ cholesterol in the blood); vitamin E (great for skin); selenium.
GOJI BERRIES – packed with antioxidants; can help with eye health; protein; vitamin C; iron.
DATES – high soluble fibre (regulation of digestion processes); packed with minerals.
PUFFED MILLET – gluten-free and easy to digest; rich in B-vitamins and minerals.
OATS – good source of dietary fibre; slow release energy (regulation of blood sugars).
CINNAMON – high in antioxidants; helps with blood circulation and removal of impurities.
LSA – rich source of protein; omega-3 fatty acids; helps with bone, skin and liver health.

Bites-8
I feel like I’m perpetually on a quest to find nutritious snacks to throw into Thea’s lunchbox which don’t cost the earth and won’t put her teeth into the line of sugary fire that most store-bought snacks promise to do. These little oaty bites are packed with the goodness of nuts and oats, are naturally sweetened with dates and honey and have a lovely nutty flavour thanks to the tahini. They’re very easy to throw together and keep well once stored in an airtight container.

Bites-2
What I love most about these bites is that you can make up double the dry volume (everything minus the tahini and honey) and reserve half of it in a jar as homemade muesli. It’s super delicious soaked in almond or rice milk with a dollop of organic natural yoghurt, a drizzle of honey and some fresh fruit. My kind of start to the day.

Bites-9
You could play around with the types of nuts and seeds you want to use depending on your preferences, just keep the volumes the same and the recipe will still work a treat. I used non-stick mini-muffin tins as they provide a good portion size and make it easy to press the bites into shape.

OATY, NUTTY BITES
1/2 cup dates – roughly chopped
50g brazil nuts – roughly chopped
25g sunflower seeds
25g pumpkin seeds
30g dessicated coconut
100g oats (buy gluten-free if need be)
150g hulled tahini
4 tbsp manuka honey

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Combine the dates, brazil nuts, seeds, coconut and oats in a bowl and mix well.

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3. Add the tahini and honey and stir well with a wooden spoon until everything is well incorporated and has come together.
4. Use your hands to firmly press tablespoons of the mix into the mini-muffin tins (you don’t need to grease the cavities).

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Bites-6
5. Bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Allow to cool slightly before removing from the tins by gently running a bread knife around the edge of each bite. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack and then store in an airtight container.

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Bites-1

Lemon_syrup_cake_1
Making new friends is a very sweet thing indeed. I think the older you get the more you appreciate the relatively rare occurrence of meeting people in somewhat unforeseen scenarios and finding their company unexpectedly easy and effortless. It doesn’t happen very often, it never has really, at least not for me. It’s even sweeter when said friendships extend to letterbox drops of goodies such as bags of feijoas, homegrown tomatoes and most recently, a bag of the largest backyard lemons I’ve even seen (take note of the deceptively ‘perfect’ infiltrator in the ranks).

Lemon_syrup_cake_3
With winter just around the corner lemon season is approaching with great promise. There’s nothing I hate more than taking home a bag of store-bought lemons only to find you nearly dislocate your fingers trying to eek a meagre few dregs of juice from their dehydrated insides.

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One of these beauties, on the other hand, is worth two in the bush. Their skin is thick and fragrant, they are loaded with pips (shock-horror), their juice spilleth-over in an abundant display of excess. Clearly I had to do something with these lemons which really showed off their pungency and taste-tingling merits. What better than a zesty, tangy lemon syrup loaf?

Lemon
This divinely moist loaf is gluten-free and can be converted to a refined-sugar free version by replacing the caster sugar* with coconut sugar. The recipe makes a relatively small loaf but if you make it any larger the syrup won’t soak through the body of the cake. Where cakes are concerned big isn’t always better. I served this up to six of my friends and after one generous slice each there was little left behind. It would comfortably serve eight but don’t count on any leftovers.

I served this still warm from the oven with a large dollop of organic yoghurt on the side. I’m currently obsessed with the Retro Organics brand. It is lactose-free and has a beautifully light, silky texture, not unlike that of whipped cream.

Yoghurt
INGREDIENTS – CAKE
100g butter – at room temperature
1/4 cup good quality honey – I used creamed manuka
1/4 cup caster sugar*
1 tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated rind 1 large lemon
2 eggs – separated
1.5 cups ground almonds
Juice 1/2 orange
Pinch sea salt

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease and line the base and sides of a 10x22cmloaf tin with baking paper.
2. Put the butter, sugar and honey into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and creamy.
3. Add to this mix the egg yolks, vanilla extract and lemon rind and beat again until well combined.
4. Add the juice of half an orange along with the ground almonds and mix again on a low setting until the ingredients have just come together. Transfer to a separate mixing bowl.
5. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of sea salt until stiff peaks form (make sure the bowl and whisk of the electric mixer are completely clean and dry).
6. Fold the egg whites very gently through the almond mix with a large metal spoon. The almond mix will feel quite heavy in comparison to the whites but persevere turning the mix over gently until the whites are just incorporated. Then stop mixing!
7. Pour the mix into the loaf tin and smooth the top with a spatula.

Cake
8. Bake for approximately 45-50 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The loaf will darken quite a bit around the edges as it cooks so keep an eye on it towards the end of the cooking time – if it starts to darken too much loosely place a sheet of tinfoil over the top of the tin. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly in the tin while you make the syrup.

INGREDIENTS – SYRUP
Juice 1 large lemon
Juice 1/2 orange
1/4 cup caster sugar*

1. Put all syrup ingredients into a small saucepan over a low heat and simmer gently for a five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has thickened slightly.
2. Pour the hot syrup evenly over the surface of the loaf and allow to cool in the tin.
3. Gently lift the loaf from the tin and serve in thick slices with a generous dollop of organic yoghurt on the side.

Lemon_syrup_cake_2

Coconut_tahini_cookies_4
We’re completely addicted to tahini in our household. Our weekly rate of consumption has diminished only slightly in the last week or so after I discovered I was buying a 600gm jar at each weekly supermarket shop. This seemed a little on the excessive side plus I was in danger of fooling myself into thinking tahini sauce was indeed the appropriate accompaniment for every meal. It’s good but not that good.

Tahini is ridiculously versatile though and I continue to use it at high volume. My favourite ways of incorporating it into our diet are in said tahini sauce (greek yoghurt, tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper and a little water), homemade hummus (chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and water) and the unfathomably good tahini cookies of Jerusalem fame.

These cookies are loosely based on that recipe. Mostly I wanted to see if I could use honey in place of the sugar but I was also keen experiment with making them gluten-free and incorporate some different flavours which I think are very well matched.

These little gems are incredibly moreish. The texture is very light and crumbly and they have a delicious chewiness thanks to the coconut. The honey provides ample sweetness so I’m feeling pretty pleased that I’ve discovered another healthier, less sugary treat to offer my toddler.

Coconut_tahini_cookies_5
INGREDIENTS (makes approx 30 cookies)
150g butter – at room temperature
1/3 cup liquid honey
85g hulled tahini
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups desiccated coconut
1 cup ground almonds
1.5 cups gluten-free flour

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line two oven trays with baking paper.
2. Put the butter, honey, tahini and vanilla into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high speed until thick, creamy and pale.
3. Add the coconut, almonds and gluten-free flour and mix on a low speed until everything is just incorporated. The dough will be quite sticky.

Coconut_tahini_cookies_1
4. Roll tablespoons of the dough between your hands into walnut-sized balls.
5. Place the balls onto the lined oven trays allowing about 5cm between each cookie. Flatten each one slightly with the back of a fork.

Coconut_tahini_cookies_2
6. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes – set a timer as they will burn quickly if left any longer. They should be a lovely golden brown.
7. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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8. Store in an airtight container. These cookies will keep well for up to a week.

Quinoa_bean_salad
I didn’t exactly set out to turn last night’s dinner into a blog post. It was so tasty though that we ate dinner in near-silence, compulsively shoveling each forkful into our mouths, slightly surprised that a salad could be this delicious. I only managed to snap one photo of it, half-devoured, before the light fell too low to capture it with any level of success.

Of course any meal containing quinoa equals nutritious with a capital ‘N’ which also leaves me feeling virtuous with a capital ‘V’. I actually cooked up a load of quinoa with The Girl in mind. I used two thirds of the cooked volume for our dinner and reserved one third for her. My cunning plan being to use this quinoa as a base for a filo parcel filling so if all goes well I’ll follow this post with another Mini-me meal idea.

I prefer to cook quinoa using the steaming method as I think the flavour is better but you can also simmer it if you aren’t confident with this technique. All you need to do is bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add the quinoa (no pre-rinsing required) and gently simmer for 12-15 minutes until tender. Drain well through a sieve then spread out on a board to allow the excess moisture to steam off.

Oh and one more thing…I may have mentioned The Red Onion Trick before but it’s so great that it certainly warrants repeating. I love the flavour of red onion but I’m not so fond of the morning-after breath. By soaking the sliced onion in cold water for 10 minutes you remove the intensity that can overwhelm the taste buds, leaving behind just the delicious red onion flavour.

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HERBY QUINOA SALAD WITH GREEN BEANS AND FETA

INGREDIENTS (serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side)
1 cup red quinoa (dry volume) – white quinoa also fine, just not quite as pretty
1/2 red onion
1 clove garlic – crushed to a paste with a pinch of sea salt
4 tbsp good quality olive oil
Juice and rind of half a lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
150g green beans
Large handful each of flat-leaf parsley and basil – roughly chopped
2 tbsp pinenuts – lightly toasted
50g goat feta

METHOD
1. Cook the quinoa and reserve one third of the cooked volume in the fridge. Place the remaining quinoa into a large bowl and allow to cool.
2. Slice the onion as thinly as possible, place in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Allow to sit for 10 minutes then strain through a sieve and turn out onto on paper towels to drain.
3. Add the drained onion, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and rind to the quinoa and season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Stir well to incorporate all the flavours and leave to rest while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
4. Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil, add a generous pinch of sea salt and blanch the beans for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Drain and run under cold water for a minute to stop them cooking further, then drain well.
5. Add the beans, chopped herbs, toasted pinenuts and crumbled feta to the quinoa and toss a few times to combine well.
6. Transfer the salad to a large platter or bowl and serve!

Icecream_1
These hot summer days beg a refreshing treat from time to time. I’m not completely averse to sweet treats for the littlies, everything in moderation is my mantra, but I do like to keep the sugar levels in check where I can. The genius of this recipe is that you can fool the kids into thinking they’re about to eat something slightly naughty when in fact it’s packed full of goodness. By all rights they should be spitting it back out, not that they need to know that.

Naturally this recipe is a cheat’s version, we’re busy people after all. It’s another gem of an idea I garnered from my friend Ruth, whose kids clearly eat like miniature Kings and Queens on a daily basis. I personally think it’s best served immediately after making. It’s not icecream per se, more of a soft-serve which goes quite frosty when put into the freezer. You can get around this by removing portions from the freezer and allowing them to sit for about half an hour prior to eating and give them a quick whip with a spoon to return them to their original soft, gooey consistency.

Icecream_5
The recipe below is quite virtuous in that it uses plain yoghurt in combination with the berries and banana. On the second occasion I made this I didn’t quite have enough yoghurt in the fridge so I supplemented it with a decent dollop of whipped cream, which happened to be on hand thanks to a delicious cake I’d just served up for friends. This version was, unsurprisingly, a little more on the luscious side…so give that a go too if the contents of your fridge are playing ball.

Ruth’s recipe uses raspberries but I chose to use strawberries as my fussy little princess turns her nose up at raspberry seeds. If you use strawberries it’s helpful to chop them roughly first so the blender doesn’t have a meltdown trying to dissemble them whilst frozen.

BANANA & BERRY ICECREAM

INGREDIENTS (makes four little-person-sized serves)
100g banana – peeled weight
40g frozen berries – strawberries or raspberries work well
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp natural yoghurt (I used the very delicious Retro Organics)
1.5 tsp manuka honey (any other type of liquid honey will do)

METHOD
1. Chop the banana into small pieces and put in the freezer until solid. Do the same with fresh berries if you have them, otherwise pre-frozen berries from the supermarket are fine.

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2. Place the frozen banana into a food processor and blitz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

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3. Add the berries, vanilla, yoghurt and honey to the blender and blitz again until smooth and luscious.

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4. Serve immediately in small bowls or freeze in individual portions until required.

Icecream_8

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