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.

The Ws Bake

The last month has seen both Mr W and I being a baking duo, baking cakes for Mr W’s Dad’s 65th birthday. Now, I like to bake but I have never made a mammoth amount of cakes for an important occasions. I’ll bake for work, family, friends and charity sales but never for a party. Last month I was asked if I would like to bake a cake for his birthday party. Mr W quickly answered with a yes whereas I was sat there waiting to ask the most important question, how many will it be for? …..100…I’ve never made more than enough cakes for 16 people (not including when I’ve had to bake for work) so that number was a bit of a shock. Whilst I had witnesses (Mr W’s mum and dad) I confirmed that he was going to be helping. To be fair, he did. 

I’m not the most creative when it comes to cake decorating and managed to find some fairly simple cricket themed birthday cakes on the internet. I was also able to find a cake and buttercream recipe that was for 50 servings. Mr W said he would make cupcakes so we settled on carrot cake cupcakes and madeira sponge for the actual cake. My sister was going to help and make some lemon cupcakes but the weekend before the party, we were told less cake was needed.

The week before the party was a busy week for me and not an ideal time for a mammoth baking session but with Mr Ws help and a plan, we managed it (it did mean leaving my works Christmas party early to finish decorating). Mr W made the cupcakes (with very little assistance from me) and helped me assemble the main birthday cake and check my cricket decorations were up to standard. We managed to get all the cakes over to the venue in one piece. I would hate to be a professional cake decorator and having to transport multi tiered cakes, just transporting 24 cupcakes and a single tier cake was nerve-racking enough.

Mr W’s dad liked the cricket theme and everybody seemed to enjoy the cakes. I feared it would be heavy on the buttercream due to a lot of patching up to try and fill the gaps but when it was cut, you couldn’t tell. Although the feedback was good, I won’t be rushing to make such a big cake again anytime soon. 

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However, a normal sized Christmas cake is perfectly fine to be getting on with. I took over this job for Christmas (my sister has been making it for past two years). We normally use a simple cake recipe that has no alcohol in it and can be made days before you want it. This year, I wanted to make a ginger fruit cake and found a recipe that used ginger wine. I made it the week before stir-up Sunday and fed the cake every two weeks  with two tablespoons of ginger wine. Mr W wanted the cake for Christmas Eve (we were visiting both sets of parents so could leave them some of it for the Christmas period) so I covered it with marzipan, icing and decorations on the run up before.

After trying a slice on Boxing Day, this is now my new Christmas cake recipe. The texture was moist and the dried fruit remained juicy. It wasn’t heavy like some of your standard Christmas fruit cakes. Although the flavour was good and without the alcohol hit that I dislike about alcohol infused fruit cakes, it just wasn’t gingery enough for me. Next year, I’m going to have to at least double the amount of ginger or add some chopped stem ginger. Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a go.

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Black Bean Brownies

I promised one of my friends that I would make her some black bean brownies. She wanted to try them but was struggling to find black beans that were a reasonable price (country living for you lol). Now, I’d managed to source a tin of black beans and had found a recipe for the brownies online. I’d also planned a visit with my sister to meet our friend at Lincoln Christmas Markets so I decided to make some on Friday night to take with us. 

I ended up halving the recipe I’d found as I wasn’t sure how they would turn out and didn’t want to be eating them for the next week. So, with these brownies, the black beans are a substitute for the flour, maple syrup is used as a natural sweetener and cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate. You can tell from these changes that the brownie is not going to like the decadent brownies that I’m normally used to. But, I’m all for trying new recipes and healthier alternatives.

The recipe was fairly easy to follow, with everything being thrown into a food processor. You can then add any extra additions like nuts before pouring into the tin. I’ll be honest, I can’t actually remember where my recipe came from. It’s been sat in my pile of ‘recipes to try’ for a while. I adapted it slightly so that I could make eight brownies (it was meant to be six but it would have been more of a cake and not a brownie with the tin size I was going to use).

So…what were they like? The texture was a little drier than a standard brownie. You also don’t get the same rich chocolate flavour. Mine could have done with a little more maple syrup as some thought they weren’t sweet enough (Mr W refused to finish his). I was worried that you would be able to detect the skin of the black beans in the texture but I think having the walnuts in masks any that remain. Your never going to get away with telling people they are a ‘real’ brownie but they are a good alternative for anyone who wants a treat but wants to minimise the amount of refined sugars or needs it to be gluten free. I might try tweaking the recipe a bit to try and get the balance of sweetness right. 

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Black bean brownies (8)

1 tin black beans

115g coconut oil

43g cocoa powder

2 eggs

80 ml maple syrup (may need more)

1tbsp vanilla extract

sea salt

65g walnuts, roughly chopped

  1. Pre-heat oven to 170C and line a 6in x 5in tin with greaseproof paper. Rinse black beans and leave to drain whilst you melt the coconut oil.
  2. Place the black beans, eggs, cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Blitz until smooth.
  3. Whilst the processor is still running, slowly add the melted coconut oil. At this stage, if you want to, try the mixture to see if it needs more maple syrup adding. Stir through the walnuts.
  4. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until the brownie is firm but springy and the top is slightly cracked.
  5. Leave to cool before cutting into pieces.

Salted Caramel Brownies

Now, when asked to make a birthday bake that was chocolate related, this recipe was the first that popped in my head. I made it earlier this year when going to visit some friends. There were 6 of us. I went with 16 pieces and returned with none. If that’s not a sign of a good brownie, I don’t know what is. Maybe that Mr W had more than one means it’s a winner seen as he tells me he doesn’t like brownies!!

I found the recipe in an old copy of a Good Food magazine (it has since made an appearance on their Instagram). It’s a fairly easy recipe. The only step I struggle with is the placing of the salted caramel. It asks for 5 thick strips (I can only manage 4) and the strips are never even (I’m a bit of a perfectionist). The first set of strips are placed in between two layers of brownie batter. This time round I had a thinner base layer so the caramel oozed out the bottom a little (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just meant I had more bits stuck to the greaseproof paper to eat 😛 ). The last set of salted caramel strips are placed on top and feathered. I struggled to make the feathering look anywhere as good as Mary Berry’s iced Bakewell tart (remember GBBO pastry week?).

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If you want to make these yummy brownies, see the recipe below. I adapted the original slightly as I feel that the higher end chocolate does not melt as well as the cheaper chocolate. It’s down to preference.

Makes 16 large pieces

Ingredients

  • 200g unsalted butter, plus a little extra for greasing
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 100g milk chocolate
  • 397g can Carnation caramel
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 130g plain flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • pinch flaky sea salt

Method

  1. Heat oven to 160C fan. Grease then line a 23cm square traybake tin with baking parchment. Melt the butter in a medium pan, break in all the chocolate, then remove the pan from the heat and wait for the chocolate to melt.
  2. In a small bowl, mix 175g of the caramel with 1 tsp salt to loosen. Put the rest of the caramel in a large bowl with the sugar and eggs, and beat with a whisk until evenly combined.
  3. Whisk in the melted chocolate and butter. In another bowl, combine the flour, cocoa and a good pinch of salt, then sift this on top of the chocolate mix. Beat briefly until smooth.
  4. Pour half the brownie batter into the tin and level it with a spatula. Using a teaspoon, spoon half of the salted caramel on top of the batter layer in 4 evenly spaced strips. Spoon the rest of the brownie batter on top and smooth it out. Try not to disturb the caramel. Top with the rest of the caramel in the same stripy fashion. Drag a skewer or tip of a knife through the caramel to make a feathered pattern on the top.
  5. Scatter with the sea salt flakes, then bake for 25-30 mins or until risen all the way to the middle with a firm crust on top. Let it cool completely in the tin, then cut into squares.

GBBO weeks 3 and 4

So, the third week of this year’s Great British Bake Off was bread week. Now, as I’ve admitted on here before, bread isn’t my strongest baking area. I never seem to get a good rise. But, I had seen in a recipe in one of my Jamie Oliver cookbooks that I’d been wanting to try, so week 3 theme seemed a good time to try. It didn’t fit in with any of the categories (a sweet dough, a steamed bake or contain three flours) but who cares?

The recipe was for a ‘Figgy Banana Bread’ from Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food cookbook. It’s a suggested breakfast idea so we actually had our first try of it before the bake off episode (yum yum yum). The recipe is relatively easy with everything going into a food processor. It also doesn’t contain any yeast so does not need to be proved and can be ready in under an hour and a half. Rather than being a typical bread, it comes out looking more like a cake. I don’t think it helps that it is baked in a cake tin. I found it easier to slice the bread into the recommended number of wedges so you can grab a piece each morning. Jamie suggests serving it with a dollop of nut butter and a dollop of natural yoghurt. I did this and loved the combination of salty peanut butter with the sweet figgy bread.  I sliced my piece of bread in half, topping one with the peanut butter and the other with yoghurt. I also had it with home made strawberry chia jam instead of the peanut butter and it was still yummy. Mr W had his with sliced banana instead of the nut butter so the combinations are endless. I strongly recommend having it with something to make it more into a meal rather than a snack. Although the recipe doesn’t mention anything about freezing the bread, I froze a couple of pieces for about a week and they were just as good as fresh once defrosted. The bread until stays fresh for a few days in a tin and I didn’t want to have to throw away the leftovers (I liked it too much). Below is the recipe taken from Jamie’s book.

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Serves 12

  • 250g dried figs
  • 75ml cold-pressed rapeseed oil
  • 125g natural yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 eating apple
  • 50g whole almonds
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Line a 25cm cake tin with a scrunched sheet of wet greaseproof paper. Place 200g of figs in a food processor with the oil, yoghurt, vanilla extract, peeled bananas and eggs then blitz until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, poppy seeds and turmeric and pulse until just combined. Be careful not to overwork the mixture. Coarsely grate the apple and stir into the mixture.
  2. Spoon the mixture into the tin and spread out evenly. Tear over the remaining figs and chop the almonds, scatter over the top of the mixture, pushing them down slightly. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little. N.B. I found it difficult to remove from the greaseproof paper. Don’t panic if it sticks, just slowly peel it away.

This is definitely a  recipe I want to bake again. It was slightly indulgent having essentially cake for breakfast but it made a nice change.

Now, GBBO week 4 was batter week with the making of Yorkshire puddings, lace pancakes and churros. The obvious option for something to make was pancakes. This year, I never made the traditional pancakes for Shrove Tuesday so took this week as a chance to do so. Now, what a disappointment. Maybe I’ve gotten too used to having slightly thicker, flavourful breakfast pancakes. These crepe style pancakes were plain, bland and boring. Even the addition of lemon, sugar and ice cream didn’t help matters. Not something I will be repeating anytime soon.

 

 

Biscuit Week

One of my favourite television programmes returned to our screens two weeks ago….The Great British Bake Off!!!! Who would have thought that watching 12 amateur bakers battling it out each week would be so popular. I think having Mel and Sue presenting the show makes it even more enjoyable. The start of this years series coincided with Mr W’s birthday which meant I had even more reason to bake. I’d decided to bake Mr W one of his favourite biscuits, Empire Biscuits. Now, I’d never hear of these delectable treats before I met Mr W. They seem to be more popular in Scotland than in England. I guess you could call them a fancy jammie dodger. It wasn’t until the night before the first episode did Mr W point out that it was cake week. And it wasn’t until the end of the show did I find out that it was biscuit next and I was a whole week early with my bake. Never mind. I did do an experimental ginger and lime drizzle cake to make up for it. Although it tasted great, it had more of a syrup topping rather than a drizzle. I was also disappointed with the rise of the cake (more of a traybake than a loaf cake) and refused to take pictures. To make up for it, I made some more biscuits which turned out a lot better. These were a request from someone at work. She wanted the biscuits she used to have at school that had jam in the middle…thumbprint biscuits.

To be fair, these two biscuits weren’t the most technical of bakes but they were very much enjoyed. Although I didn’t get to try the thumbprint biscuits, they met my colleagues criteria which was a hit.

Empire Biscuits

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After a bit of googling, I managed to find a recipe by a previous GBBO contestant (James Morton) that looked like the biscuits Mr W wanted. The recipe has very few ingredients and is extremely easy to make. The only adaptation I made was the halving of the recipe. I followed the suggestion of using some cornflour which gives it a lovely crumbly texture. I also rolled the dough as thinly as possible so that when the biscuits are sandwiched together, the ratio of biscuit to jam to biscuit is as close to the same as possible. Click here for his recipe.

Thumbprint Biscuits

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There were a number of variations of this recipe online. I knew what biscuit my colleague wanted. I managed to buy one a couple of years ago at a food fair and it brought back those school memories. It’s funny how as a child, school dinners were awful but when you think back on them, they weren’t as bad as you thought. The biscuit needs to be crumbly with a good dollop of jam (preferably strawberry) in the middle.  BBC Good Food had just the recipe I needed. Again, it uses very few ingredients and is very easy to make. It is also a quick recipe if you have a food processor as it can do all the work for you. Click here for recipe.

Tomorrow it’s bread week….

 

Apple and cinnamon pancakes

I thought I would try a variation of my single serve pancakes. Rather than use half a mashed banana as an egg substitute, I tried apple sauce. Adding cinnamon seemed an obvious pairing. I also added some sliced apples to the top of each pancake before flipping. They made a lovely alternative to my usual pancakes.

  • 1/4 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1/4 cup soy milk
  • 1/4 cup apple sauce
  • Sliced apples
  1. Mix dry ingredients together in a jug.
  2. Mix wet ingredients in a mug. Adding wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well.
  3. Grease a frying pan and heat. Pour in batter to make pancake. Top with some sliced apples. When underside browned and bubbles form on surface, carefully flip pancake. Once browned on second side put on plate and cover to keep warm. Make more pancakes until batter used up.
  4. Serve with an optional dollop of natural yoghurt and sprinkling of ground cinnamon.