Soft Baked Pretzels

One of my New Year  ‘resolutions’ was to bake more bread/dough based recipes. I’ve mentioned in my blog a couple of times that it is one of the baking areas that I feel less confident in. The main reason for this being unsuccessful proving in the past. So this year, I aim to bake a new bread/dough based recipe once a month.

January saw me making my first rye bread. Over the last few months, rye bread has become one of my favourite bread options. Especially toasted for breakfast with smashed avocado or almond butter and banana. I particularly like the dense texture which is one reason why Mr W doesn’t like it. For this bake I followed the suggested recipe on the back of the dark rye flour pack. It was an easy recipe to follow (although the addition of a beaten egg threw me a little) and the end result was a decent, although basic, rye loaf. This recipe was more like the rye breads that you can buy from the bakery section in your local supermarket as opposed to a traditional rye bread. Although it did have the addition of caraway seeds which gave it a slightly aniseed taste which took a while to get used to when eating for breakfast. I’m going to attempt this bake again and follow a recipe Paul Hollywood recipe. His ‘How To Bake’ book has a number of different ones.

February found me wonder what to bake. I didn’t want to bake another bread as I wanted a new challenge. Also, I want to attempt sour dough but I am waiting until summer so I have warmer temperatures to get a starter growing. Mr W didn’t like my suggestion of attempting doughnuts again so I asked my sister for suggestions. I should have guessed what she would want me to bake. Her favourite bakery snack that she had to have every day whilst we were in Germany. Pretzel. A soft baked pretzel. I tried to put her off them by telling them that they were dipped in caustic acid before being baked (honest fact there, it gives them the crunchy outer texture. I was able to find a fairly easy recipe online that got the nod from sis.

They were surprisingly easy to make. They used active yeast which isn’t a yeast I’ve used before. As the name suggests, it needs to be activated in water before use. I’m used to fast action yeast. Unsurprisingly, the hardest part was shaping the pretzels put for a first attempt, they weren’t too bad. Ideally, they need to be eaten straight away as after two days, they’d past their best (but sis still ate them). Although not as good as shop bought, they were a decent attempt. The texture was softer but it had the flavour. They did seem a little greasy which is down to the lashings of melted butter that was used to coat them. I followed the recipe from this blog. If you want to try making them, head over. Do follow the recipe exactly. Although I thought there was too much melted butter it’s better to use your own judgement. See if you can master the classic pretzel shape. You think you’ve managed it but by the time it comes out of the soda bath, its a soggy mess lol.

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Almond, Coconut & Chia Seed Butter

Now who likes peanut butter? I used to hate it. Growing up I disliked nuts generally. I remember family buffets, sitting at the table with my sister and picking all the dried fruit out of the fruit and nut mix. However, I did used to like walnuts. Both of us at ours Grandma’s, cracking open walnuts in front of the fire. It’s funny how I wouldn’t eat them in a nut mix but I would out of their shells. Peanuts were another no go. My dad loved (and still does) salted peanuts and my friend would always buy peanut M&Ms when we would go to the cinema. But me, I just couldn’t stand the smell of them. I would sit as far away as possible.

But now, I love them. I’d quite happily snack on a handful of unsalted nuts (my favourites being cashew and almonds) and peanut butter has a multitude of uses. Mixed into chocolate brownies, cookies, with banana on toast, stirred into porridge or spread on a rice cake. Then I tried other nut butters, like almond, and these were even better than your bog standard peanut butters. When you start to look into the ingredients on some of the nut butters on the market, it’s crazy some of the extra things that are added like sugar and palm oil. So it got me thinking, is it difficult to make your own?

My first attempt was following Jamie Oliver’s basic recipe in his Everyday Superfood book. I toasted a mixture of cashew and almond nuts and then blitzed them in a mini chopper. Now, a lesson I learnt from making this batch was that I didn’t blitz them for long enough. If you think you have, add on an extra five minutes. The texture of mine was quite thick and although it tasted nice, it was difficult to spread onto toast or stir into my morning porridge. A second attempt was needed.

Then, my sister gave me some almond and coconut butter to try. I’m not a big fan of coconut, in particular desiccated coconut because of the texture. Bounty’s are always left at Christmas when the Celebrations tub comes out. But this nut butter was amazing and I was gutted when I finished it.

So, imagine my delight when I came across a recipe book by Pip & Nut. In the book was a recipe for Almond, Coconut and Chia Nut Butter. There was also a detailed guide on how to make your own standard nut butter. For this process, they advised that it would take at least 10 minutes to blitz the nuts into a butter (depending on the power of your food processor) and that it should be smooth and glossy. I use a mini processor as it is a small quantity being blitzed. I also stop every two minutes to let the motor cool down so I don’t overheat (lesson learnt when using a hand mixer to make a Christmas Cake one year). So, would take me longer than 10 minutes but at least it’s an idea (more than I had with my first attempt). If you are a fan of nut butters, you need to give this recipe a go. There are even more recipes in the book and suggestions for use (an excuse to go buy a copy). Below is how I made the nut butter. This was different to how the recipe stated due to me misreading it (whoops). Chia seeds aren’t a must to the recipe so don’t worry if you don’t want to include them. However, they are not difficult or expensive to buy. Home bargains sell bags of these a lot cheaper than anywhere else I’ve seen. Tesco also sell ‘shot packs’ which would be enough to make this butter. By the way, the recipe makes enough for one jar. I’ve been keeping mine in the cupboard.

nut-butter

200g whole almonds (skin on)

1 tbsp chia seeds (white or black)

75g creamed coconut (buy from supermarket, packed in individual sachets)

pinch of sea salt

1/2 tbsp agave nectar (or honey or maple syrup)

To roast the almonds:

Pre-heat oven to 150C. Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet in a single layer and roast until golden brown. This will take around 10-15 minutes but keep an eye on them as they can quickly burn. Once roasted, cool for 5 minutes.

To make them into butter:

Tip the nuts into a food processor. I find that my mini food processor is more powerful when chopping nuts compared to my standard one. Blitz for two minutes. The nuts will turn into a crumble texture and will need scraping down with a spatula. I left my processor to cool for two minutes. I blitz for two minutes and left to cool for two minutes throughout the process. After six minutes of blitzing, a ball formed. After another four minutes of blitzing the nuts were smooth but looked to still have a rough texture (this was when I stopped when making Jamie’s nut butter). After another four minutes, the nut butter started to look smooth and glossy. If you want a basic almond butter, stop at this stage.

Add the creamed coconut and sea salt and blitz until smooth. I found that this made the texture appear runnier and glossier than before. Add the chia seeds and agave nectar and blitz until well combined. Pour the nut butter into an airtight container. When pouring into a jar, I found the texture quite runny but it has thickened over time.

The result, a lip smacking delicious nut butter. Although it feels like a long process when you blitzing (especially when taking the rest periods like me) the final product is definitely worth it. Now I know the basic method of making it, I am going to be trying my own combinations.

 

 

Polish Meat Free

Happy New Year!!!! Has anybody made any New Year resolutions? Has anyone broke any New Year resolutions?

This year me and Mr W are continuing with our meat free Mondays. We managed it last year (not always a Monday but a meat free day each week) and quite enjoyed it. I’ll admit, we did have quite few meals that we kept falling back on (veggie chilli….pasta….gnocchi). This year I’m hoping that we can try and vary it a little.

Thankfully, my sister bought me a subscription for a meat free recipe spice box which is a good start. The first recipe and spices were for some Polish dishes. Not something I would have thought to have made when thinking of meal inspiration but I’m up for trying new recipes.

meal

So, the first meat free Monday of 2017 consisted of Mr W’s favourite veggie sandwich (veggie club) for lunch and for tea, borscht and mushroom pierogi with fried cabbage. For those new to Polish cuisine (which I was) borscht is a beetroot based stew and pierogi are dumplings. I was slightly worried that Mr W would hate this meal as it included mushrooms and lots of vinegar. Two things Mr W has on his dislike list. But he really enjoyed it (going back for extra mushroom pierogi!!!)

The spice kit came with different spice mixes to use for the different  components. On the back of the recipe is a list of the ingredients needed (there were quite a few). They also provide a list of spices that can be used in substitute of their spice mixes if you want to make them again.

The borscht consisted of onion, grated beetroot, grated carrot, grated cabbage, some vinegar and a spice mix. This was served with horseradish soured cream (soured cream mixed with a horseradish spice blend) and pickled cucumber (finely sliced cucumber pickled in a pickling mix, vinegar and sugar). The pierogi was made using flour, water and oil which is mixed together to form a dough. The filling was finely chopped mushrooms, onions and a spice mix. The dough is cut into circles and filled with the mushroom mix before folding into half moons and sealing. The dumplings are then cooked in boiling water for around three minutes. The fried cabbage consisted of onions and cabbage fried in in oil and another spice mix. The end result, a Polish feast.

The recipe served four so the leftovers came into work to share with my sister. Cue funny looks from colleagues as I pulled out the equivalent of a Polish smorgasbord. But it still tasted as good as the night I made it. Her favourite was the mushroom pierogi (which is something that I will be making again).

The best thing is, me, my mum and sister are going to Poland in a couple of months so I can compare it against an authentic version.

For those that don’t really like cooking, this wouldn’t be the meal/recipe choice for you. It took me two and a half hours to prepare the ingredients and cook the dishes. I thought it was worth it and don’t mind spending that amount of time in the kitchen (it happens at least once a week). A lesson learnt is to try and prepare the ingredients the night before. Unless I want to be eating at 9 pm, its not something I want to be doing after work. Thankfully, last Monday was a bank holiday.

If anyone is interested in the recipe spice box kits, they are from a company called The Spicery and they do different types of boxes. I will keep you updated with future recipe kits.

Baked Doughnuts (Attempt 3)

Third time’s a charm. I did it. I successfully made a baked doughnut that looked like a doughnut and tasted (depending on who you speak to) like a doughnut. Mr W said that it tasted better than some shop bought ones he’d had. Result 🙂

For this attempt, I found a recipe on the Lakeland website (it was attached to the doughnut maker kit I bought). It gave recipes for ring doughnuts and filled doughnuts so I used the filled doughnut recipe. again, I halved the recipe as it made 10 (too many to eat if they don’t turn out too well). I let Mr W choose his filling when we went shopping (strawberry jam is the classic doughnut filler apparently). This recipe used yeast (like the other recipes) and also had egg in it. The dough needed to be proved twice. This time I sat the dough in front of the fire (an excuse to get nice and toasty) and this worked a treat. I also used my food mixer with the dough hook to ‘knead’ the dough just to make it a little easier. It probably took around the same amount time but it can vary depending on ingredients and temperatures. The difficult part for me was the filling of the doughnut. I didn’t check what jam Mr W had picked up (not seedless in case you were wondering) and the nozzle kept getting blocked. But I got there in the end. Me and Mr W had a doughnut on the night I made them and my sister (and Mr W again) had another the next day. They passed the test. The jam was still in the middle and hadn’t soaked into the doughnut. I admit, the doughnut still had a bread like flavour/texture but it was lovely and sweet. Next time I’m going to try the ringed doughnut recipe and glaze them.

A couple of days later I tried one of the attempt 2 doughnuts that I’d kept in the freezer. Big disappointment.

Recipe taken from Lakeland website

FILLED DOUGHNUTS
Made using the Doughnut Making Kit – Makes 10
What you need
240ml milk
40g butter
500g strong white bread flour
50g caster sugar
2 tsp salt
7g sachet fast-action yeast
2 eggs
Method
1. In a small saucepan, warm the milk and butter until just hand hot, mixing the butter until it melts
completely.
2. Sift the flour and sugar into a mixing bowl and stir in the salt and yeast.
3. Slowly add the milk mixture and the eggs to the dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon. You can
use your hands but the dough is very sticky.
4. Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. As the mixture is sticky, it may be useful
to use a dough scraper to lift it and fold it over.
5. When the dough is smooth and elastic – persevere, this will happen – place it in a lightly floured bowl,
cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for 1 hour.
6. Divide the risen dough into 10 equal pieces. Roll into balls and place into the moulds. You can also roll
the dough into sausages and shape them into the ring moulds.
7. Cover the moulds with oiled cling film, making sure the cling film doesn’t touch the dough. Leave to rise
again for 1-2 hours until doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C / Gas 4.
8. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden. Leave to cool and fill with jam, custard,
cream or any other filling of your choice.

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Last weekend was a busy baking/cooking session as I also gave the Peanut Butter Millionaire Slices another go (recipe was mentioned in a previous post). When I took them into work first time, people felt that it needed the caramel layer that I chose not to make. This time round I made it. So there was a layer of biscuit base, peanut butter icing, salted caramel with crushed peanuts, dark chocolate, toffee drizzle and crushed peanuts. I made them as a late birthday treat for my previous manager (couldn’t make them on a work night due to them taking around 8 hours). In her words they were epic.

Meat Free

So last weeks meat free Monday highlight was the home made soup (again, part of my epic weekend baking/cooking). Mr W bought me Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers. In here I found a recipe for Sweet & Spicy Squash and Chickpea. My disappointment was that it only served 2, no leftovers for another day. I did adapt the recipe slightly to suit the ingredients that I had in. If you a soup lover, please give this a try. Below is my adaptation of the recipe.

  • 1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large leek, washed and sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 dried chilli, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 400ml chicken stock
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat oil in a pan. Cook the leeks for 5 minutes over a medium heat until tender before adding the cumin, garlic, chilli and oregano. Cook for 3 minutes.
  2. Add the squash, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Stir the mixture and then pour over the stock. Bring to the boil then turn down and simmer for 15 minutes until the squash is soft. Add the chickpeas and season.
  3. Blend the soup if you like. I blended using a hand blender so that I could still leave some chunks in it.

Stem Ginger

So, the other week I came across a jar of stem ginger in the cupboard and didn’t know what to do with it. A lot of recipes were using it to make cakes but I wanted to do something a little different. On the label it suggested you visit their website for recipe ideas, so I did. The first recipe I came across was for a Spicy Butternut Squash and Ginger Risotto (I’ve been loving the squash this week). I decided to use pearl barley instead of risotto rice and threw a bag of spinach in towards the end of cooking. The end result was lovely. I brought the leftovers in the next day for my sister and she enjoyed it also (may have been a little hot for her). It did take me almost 2 hours to make (ended up missing a Pilates class and getting chilli in my eye) but it was worth it. Click here for the recipe.

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I also made some Ginger and Mixed Seed Flapjacks for a visit down to Lincoln at the weekend. I was going to put on a picture but Mr W ate half of the last slice and it looks for sorry for itself on its own on the plate. But take my word for it, they were yummy. MR W would have preferred if there wasn’t honey in it but I think that was my favourite bit. Instead of using clear honey I used some Mexican Orange Blossom honey which gives a subtle orange flavour. I also melted around 50g of dark chocolate to put on the top. Ginger and dark chocolate are a great combination. The recipe suggested it served six. I used a smaller tin and cut it into 8 decent sized portions and would probably cut into ten next time. In the W household, Mr W is the flapjack making King but I think I have redeemed myself with this bake. Millie, here is the recipe as promised.

Baked Doughnuts (attempt 2)

As promised in my last post, I gave the baked doughnuts another go last weekend. This time I used a different recipe that I had found online and thought it would be better to master a basic ring doughnut before I attempted the filled doughnut again. I’d also seen online, people mentioning that they had used their air fryer to bake their doughnuts. An excuse for me to use it again (I also attempted kale crisps in it last weekend. Did not go well for me. The kale blew up into the element and started to burn. Thinking about it, it might have been because I used shredded kale (leftovers from last weekends smoothies) rather than kale pieces. Might consider trying again at a later date). Back to the doughnuts. I used this recipe that I’d found online for making the doughnuts and this recipe for guidance on baking in an air fryer. Due to the unsuccessfulness of my last attempt at these, I decided I would do half a batch which was easy as it didn’t have any egg in it (if I can’t easily halve the amount of egg in a recipe, I’ll always make the full batch). So, for this attempt I decided to use my stand mixer to make the kneading easier (I always struggle with this when doing it by hand. Always takes me three times as long). As we are going through our cold spell at the moment in the UK, I didn’t feel it was warm enough to prove the dough out on the side so used the oven technique instead (Turn oven on full. When heated, turn off and put dough in to prove).  Instead of cutting the doughnuts and placing them on some greaseproof paper, I placed them in my doughnut moulds. As I managed to get 7 doughnuts out of the dough and I only have four ring moulds, I used the stated method for the remaining three. I set my air fryer to 160C (only needs 3 minutes to warm up!) and cooked the doughnuts in batches for 5 -7 minutes until golden brown. Whilst still warm, I brushed with the melted butter and rolled in the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Voilà, cinnamon ring doughnuts.

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Verdict: After I proved the doughnuts, I noticed they had a crust on the outside. This was due to putting them in the oven. Next time, I need to leave them out in a warm place. The doughnuts hadn’t puffed up as much as the doughnuts shown on the recipes website. However, they did look like those on the ‘baking in an air fryer’ website which I guess is a good thing. The doughnuts had a close, bread like texture which was a bit disappointing (not as bad as attempt one mind). Personally, I liked the cinnamon flavour however Mr W wasn’t as keen (hence, leftover doughnuts are currently in the freezer waiting for me to eat them. Normally I can rely on Mr W to finish my bakes). His opinion being that doughnuts should either be iced (think The Simpsons) or filled with something sweet. So, I have found a third recipe on the Lakeland website which is for use with the mould kit I bought. It gives suggestions for ring and filled doughnuts. This will be used for attempt three with Mr W providing suggestions for fillings and toppings.

 

Smoothies. For those interested in smoothie recipes. This weekend I have been having strawberry, banana and spinach smoothies. I have been blending a handful of frozen strawberries, half a frozen banana, and two handfuls of spinach with some low fat natural yoghurt and water. Personally, I prefer using spinach to kale as it’s not as bitty when blended. I might try last weekends recipe with spinach instead of kale.

 

Mexican night. A few months ago, my sister and I went to a Mexican Street Food cookery class (I mentioned it in one of my previous posts). This weekend we finally got round to cooking what we learnt for our other halves. My sister took on the corn salsa, guacamole, radish pickle and tomato salsa. I took on the chipotle chicken, black bean tostadas (with feta and coriander garnish) and green rice. We did learn how to make our own tortillas but I decided to buy these in instead. It went down a storm with the favourite dishes being the chipotle chicken and black bean tostadas. Below is a picture of our efforts. Used it as an excuse to make up some sangria (I know it’s not Mexican but goes better with a meal than a shot of tequila). Now we just need to decide on our next cuisine type.

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Healthy Start

I hope the first week of 2016 has been good for you all (especially the dreaded first full week back at work). I know I’ve been feeling it a little this week and coming home from work a little tired but it’s a good excuse to snuggle up on the sofa wrapped up warm.

Rather than set resolutions this year (I know I can never keep them) I have decided to set myself (and Mr W in some ways) challenges/goals for the year. The main focus for this year is to be healthy through healthy eating and exercise. I’m wanting to make sure that we both get plenty of fruit and veg in our diets so that we are getting all the right nutrients. So, an obvious thing to start doing was to introduce a meat free day. I wanted to do ‘Meat Free Mondays’ but then realised that my job may require me to eat meat on Mondays so Mr W suggested a meat free day a week instead. So this Monday started off with a home-made vegetable soup for lunch that I found in my go to Good Food cookbook recipe here. I did cheat and use dried herbs and it did require a bit of seasoning (and good old Worcester sauce) to lift the flavour. The leftovers went in the freezer ready for this Monday. Tea had some Italian inspiration using gnocchi and butternut squash with a rosemary butter sauce.  If anybody has any suggestions for meat free recipes, please leave a comment as inspiration is always needed.

I came to the realisation that during the week I can easily reach and surpass my 5 a day recommendation for fruit and veg (more veg than fruit mind) as it is easy to snack on this at work. But when it comes to the weekend I find that I can struggle to get past 3 servings (and drink my usual 2 litres of water). So, I have decided to make myself smoothies for my weekend breakfast. Last weekend I was on kiwi and spinach smoothies. For those who want to try it, chop up two kiwis and add to a blender with a couple of handfuls of spinach, couple of spoons of natural yogurt and 100ml water, then just blitz together. This weekend I’m on banana, pineapple and kale. So it was half a frozen banana (slightly defrosted), 12 chunks of pineapple, a couple of handfuls of kale and 100ml of water blitzed together. If you’ve never had a smoothie before, these green smoothies do take a while to get your head round (Mr W always has comments on the greenness of it) but I feel like I am adding those extra nutrients into my diet. People can say that smoothies are high in sugar but by making them yourself you can control what goes in. I try to keep the fruit down to the equivalent of 1-1 and half servings then top it up with the greens (low in sugar and fat but have the iron or folic acid).

Exercise….Probably one of the main focuses of resolutions. For a few months now I have been doing some form of exercise for 5-6 times a week. These sessions haven’t been intense, some cardio or strength training to get my heart going in the morning. I think that this could be why I haven’t been ill so far this winter. Doing some exercise each day (along with a healthy diet) keeps the immune system at its best. However, too much exercise can put too much stress on the body and weaken the immune system. So remember, everything in moderation (exercise and diet). So for this year I just want to keep this routine going. It can take up to three weeks for your body to get used to a routine so I’m hoping that now I’m beyond that stage, I can keep it up.

In my last post I mentioned about some healthy baking. This weekend I am going to give the baked doughnuts another go (using my doughnut kit and possibly AirFryer, this is my new toy for the year). I will give an update on this in my next post. Again, any suggestions for uses of the AirFryer (I got a Phillips one after a colleague at work recommended it) please leave a comment. I will be attempting kale crisps in it later today so fingers crossed.