Thursday, 28 March 2013

Beans in the slow cooker

I have to admit that I eat some sort of animal protein at almost every meal. I would love to eat more vegetarian foods, but I'm quite strict with trying to take in at least a gram of protein per kilogram body weight, so I really need to plan my meals. I could do protein shakes, and I do from time to time, but they are just so incredibly disgusting. But I really would love to eat vegetarian more. 

I like the idea of beans, in theory (apart from the rather hilarious side effect they tend to produce). They are cheap and relatively high in protein and particularly high in fibre. And we all know you can't have too much fibre in your diet, the more the merrier. I always browse through the bags of dried beans at the grocery store, but then I always go for the tinned ones, for convenience. But then I saw this wonderful idea on One Perfect Bite about cooking your beans in the slow cooker. You can just pop them in there before going to bed, and in the morning you have perfectly cooked beans. So off I went to the grocery store to get a big bag of dried Pinto beans and popped them into the slow cooker. I only used half the amount of beans from the original recipe, but kept the amounts for the spices and onions the same as I wanted a really flavourful bean paste. And I think they turned out great, although I had a slight mishap when adding dried chilli flakes (I never measure spices but pour straight from the spice jar and just estimate the amount. What can I say, I'm a wild child) and the result was rather chilly for my tongue. But when added into the burrito with the rest of the ingredients, I was actually quite happy I made it a bit hotter than I usually do.

This recipe is from from One Perfect Bite. I changed the amount of the spices a bit more to my taste, and halved the amount of beans (but not the spices and onion).

Pinto beans in slow cooker:
250 g dried pinto beans
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin 
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp smoked paprika
3.5 cups (8.5 dl) of water

The howto:
For the beans, rinse the beans and chop onion and garlic. Add all the ingredients to the slow cooker and stir. Cook on low for 7-8 hours. If you have a lot of liquid left over after cooking, transfer the beans into a food processor and blend to desired consistency. I didn't have much liquid left, so I just took my handheld blender and blended it right in the crockpot.

The verdict:
I'm so happy to bring you a recipe for real food after all those baking recipes lately. This is super healthy and absolute minimum effort food. You can obviously serve your bean paste however you like, but I put mine into some giant burritos. It would also be perfect for enchiladas, but this time I was monstrously hungry after working out and could hardly wait for the rice to boil, not to mention waiting for the enchiladas to bake. Beans, brown rice, home made guacamole, salsa and a bit of yogurt made a really tasty meat free meal.
Card of the day:
The card of the day is something I made for a good friend who recently had her first baby. I knitted a pair of tiny socks, and then made the background by stamping "Oh boy!" using clear embossing ink, and embossing using clear embossing powder. I then sponged using Tim Holtz distress ink. I only have one stamp alphabet, I'm not sure I really like it, but that was what I had, so that was what I used to stamp the sentiment. I can't wait for the day sometime in the distant future when I have my own craft room where I can fit all my stamps and where I also will have a printer so that I can print custom sentiments. Until then I will just have to make do with what I have.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Easter cupcakes

I'm sorry to post another lemon cake recipe so close to the lemon buttermilk cake, but it's spring and there is no flavour which says spring like lemon. Well, technically speaking it's not spring at all. At the time of writing this, it's snowing outside. Or I think it's closer to sleet. Whatever it is, it's wet, cold and disgusting. I know it's rather hypocritical to be so excited about snow, that fluffy, white and wonderful stuff in December while being so negative about it in March. But we have all been putting up with this horrible winter for long enough, and I think now we deserve sun and warmth. I managed to get maximum joy out of the icy cold sleet today. I went to the gym, and because there was an hour-long break between the two classes I was attending, I decided to pop by the post office which is located right next to the gym to pick up a pack of cardmaking stuff I had ordered off Ebay. However, after walking from the gym to the post office I realised I didn't have any form of ID on me. I usually always have my driver's licence on me, although I obviously never need it as I don't drive. When I went on holiday a while ago, I took my driver's licence with me, just in case we ended up renting a car. But I never got around to moving my driver's licence back to my regular wallet from my holiday wallet. So I had to walk back to the gym empty handed, did my other class, then biked back home to pick up my driver's licence and then biked back to the post office for my parcel. All while being soaked in icy sleet. Oh joy!

I'm going to pretend it's spring anyways. And it will be easter in less than a week. So I thought some sort of easter cupcake would be nice. I have been wanting to try out my icing tips, especially the one that makes icing look like grass. And what would be a more perfect time to make grass-iced cupcakes than Easter? I wanted the cupcakes to be lemon flavoured, but I also wanted something else in them. Originally I thought white chocolate chips, but at the store I found honeycomb chips and thought I would try them instead. I googled lemon cupcakes and one of the first hits was Mary Berry's lemon cupcakes. Obviously I had to try them out, what could go wrong if you are using the recipe of the Queen of Cakes! I didn't use the buttercream icing in Mary's recipe, but a modification of the cream cheese frosting from my recent buns

Mary Berry's lemon cupcakes (makes 12-14):
125 g sugar
125 g butter
125 g self rising flour
2 tbsp milk
2 eggs
grated zest from 1 lemon (I wanted my cupcakes extra lemony so I used 2 lemons)
50 g honeycomb pieces

Icing (for half of the cupcakes!!):
30 g cream cheese
1/8 cup softened butter
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup powdered sugar

green food colour (or yellow and blue, as I don't have green. Just make sure to start with the yellow, and add just the teeniest touch of blue)

The howto:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Line a muffin tin with paper cases. Measure all the ingredients for the batter into a bowl, and using an electric mixer, mix until combined. Distribute into the paper cases, and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Let cool.

While the cupcakes are cooling, prepare the icing. Whisk together butter and cream cheese, then add lemon juice and icing sugar (I started off with 1/2 cup, then added about a quarter and another quarter until I got the consistency I wanted). Whisk until the icing turns light and fluffy. The amount makes enough to frost half the cupcakes, as I froze the other half. If you want to ice all your cupcakes, double the amount of icing. I let the piping bag with icing rest in the fridge for about an hour, which made it good consistency for piping with my Wilton 233. Then I just added some chocolate eggs and bunnies on top.
The verdict:
This was a perfect recipe, really quick and easy. One bowl and the mixer, it all took just a few minutes. I would say the most labour intensive part of the recipe is grating the lemon. Other than that, you probably need about three minutes to prepare the cupcakes. The cupcakes turned out nice and lemony and didn't rise too much in the oven so they made a level surface to pipe on. The honeycomb was not the most successful addition, as the pieces just melted in the oven. They did leave a nice sweet and crumbly texture on the top of the cupcakes though. But you might want to substitute with white chocolate chips or maybe small fudge pieces instead. I even thought candied ginger might work quite well with the lemon, but I only thought of that after the cupcakes were already in the oven. I absolutely adore the modified buttercream which has some cream cheese in it, it makes the flavour a bit less butter-y and I just find it tastier. And I love the small colourful easter eggs although, I have to admit, I had a bit of a problem keeping them around for long enough to make it onto the cupcakes. They just seemed to magically disappear during the day...

Card of the day:
I made some Easter cards using the Personal Impressions Easter set 1 stamps. The ones in the first photo were made a while ago, before I had very much card making supplies, so they are a bit more basic. The ones on the bottom are a bit more elaborate, including some embossing using the Sizzix Country&Flowering Foliage set and the Sizzix Thickets&Swirls set. I do my embossing using a rolling pin, as I don't have a Big Shot. I have promised myself I can buy one to celebrate if I ever manage to get a new job, but not before. Embossing actually works really well with the rolling pin method, as long as you make sure you apply even pressure, and have the patience to go at it for a while. And really put your weight into it. Come to think of it, that might be why other people online seem to have a bit of a problem getting a good, deep embossing, while I didn't find that hard at all. One thing that doesn't seem to work very well with the rolling pin method though is inking your embossing folders, so I have had to settle with inking with a foam pad after embossing. 

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Buttermilk lemon cake

I had a problem. After baking my amazing cinnamon buns I had some leftover buttermilk that needed to be used up pronto. Sure, I could have frozen it. But I could also look online for a yummy buttermilk cake recipe and bake it. Obviously one of these options would be more in line with trying to reduce my bum with the ultimate aim of being able to fit said bum into my jeans, but obviously I picked the other one. To be honest, I have been very worried about my declining number of blog posts. All I eat these days is chicken salad interspersed with the occasional salmon salad. Not very exciting to blog about. So I just *had* to bake something to blog about.

I googled buttermilk cake, and found a recipe for one here. I was looking for a recipe which contained ingredients that I would have at home. I'm sure buttermilk and raspberry cake would have been great as well, but I couldn't be bothered to walk to the store. I'm so incredibly sore from my first time at the gym in three weeks, and the thought of having to climb all 50 steps of stairs to my flat was somewhat overwhelming. The original recipe didn't have a glaze, but I love how coffee cakes are drizzled with glaze and it soaks into the top of the cake and makes it even more sweet.

Lemon buttermilk cake (serves 8):
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted

For the glaze:
1 cup icing sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice

The howto:
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F). Butter or oil a loaf tin (I used my silicone one which doesn't need buttering). Mix oil, eggs, sugar, buttermilk, vanilla extract, lemon zest and lemon juice. In another bowl, mix baking powder, salt and sifted flour, and mix it all into the liquids. Pour into the loaf tin and bake until a toothpick into the middle of the cake comes out clean (about 65-75 minutes). Let the cake cool for a while, and pour glaze over the cake.
The verdict:
This cake is super easy to make, and it is really moist and tasty. It would be perfectly fine without the glaze, but I just love lemon glaze. I love the lemon drizzle cake at Bill's, it's just so super moist and sweet. And this cake was very indulgent and absorbed all that lovely drizzle to make a crusty and super sweet topping. 

This cake is definitely best eaten after it has cooled. I tried cutting into it while it was still warm, and the result was not very pretty (as can be seen in the picture). But it cuts very nicely once it's cooled. And it's one of those adult cakes. You know, you have a slice with a cup of tea. Brownies or mud cake, that is something you can binge on, eat a whole batch straight from the baking dish with a spoon. But this is type of cake has to be eaten with dignity. And starting from the bottom of the slice, and working your way up so that you can finish off with the lovely glazed top. Just look at the picture on top, you can see how the glaze has absorbed into the cake making it all sweet and gooey. This cake is also approved by the culinary consultant, so it's just like I'm imagining that it's good. I urge you to try it, it only takes a few minutes and one bowl to whip up, so it's perfect for a sudden craving for something sweet.

Card of the day:
I have been really excited about card making lately. So I thought from time to time I would add a picture and short description of the cards I have been making. I made the card below for my sis when she was down with the flu a few weeks ago. I love the origami bow, the instructions for making that can be found here. Other than that, I used clear embossing ink and powder for the background, and sponged Tim Holtz Distress inks to bring out the sentiments and hearts. The bear is also coloured with Tim Holtz Distress ink, blended with water using a watercolour brush. I think it turned out quite cute. 

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Amazing Cinnamon Buns

I love buns. Particularly cinnamon buns. And I haven't been able to find any that I really like around here. Sure, there is Cinnabon. But they are ridiculously expensive, and there is something dodgy about them. I just don't like the flavour. But I stumbled across this Cinnabon copycat recipe on Pinterest, and thought it looked quite yummy. The original recipe also has some really good pictures of the whole baking process, so head over there to take a look if you are not a seasoned bun maker. 

I made a few small changes to the original recipe. It used margarine for the bun filling and frosting, but I would obviously never use that stuff in my kitchen. I also added some cardamom to the filling. For a Finn, you can't have buns without cardamom. The other changes I made was using instant yeast instead of active yeast. That way I can skip the step of activating the yeast. And finally, I still don't have a kitchen aid, so I did all my dough kneading by hand. One happy day I will have a shiny and lovely dough kneading machine, but that won't happen until I win the lottery. 

I was afraid the buns would be a bit of a disaster as I didn't have any strong flour, but was forced to stick with all purpose. With any yeast dough that needs to be kneaded, I have grown to realise strong flour will make the dough easier to work. But this time all purpose seemed to do the trick just fine. I also ended up giving the buns quite a long rise before popping them into the oven because of how the whole day turned out, and I think that did the buns good. 

I apologise for the even crappier than usual photos on this one, as I didn't have my camera with me when baking. But as I found this recipe so perfect, I couldn't let the lack of decent photos stop me from blogging about it. Also, head over to the original recipe here for impressive photos of these doughy lovelies.

Cinnamon buns (makes 12-15):
3/4 cups warm water
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 1/2-5 cups flour

1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cup muscovado sugar
2 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

60 g cream cheese
1/4 cup softened butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tbsp corn syrup (I didn't have corn syrup so I used golden syrup, not quite sure what the difference is)
1 tsp lemon juice (I used a bit more, probably 2-3 tsp)
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
The howto:
Start by preparing the dough. Mix water and yeast. Add the sugar and salt. Mix buttermilk, egg and oil in another bowl and add to the to the yeast mixture (or if you are lazy like me, just add buttermilk, egg and oil directly to the yeast mixture). Start by adding about half of the flour, and then add about half a cup at a time until the dough doesn't stick to the bowl anymore and is easy to handle but still soft. Knead the dough for about five minutes and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (1-2 hours, I let mine rise for 1h and 20 minutes). While the dough is rising, prepare your oven proof tin for the buns. You can butter the bottom of the tin, or use a (buttered) sheet of parchment paper. I just dumped the buns straight onto my Le Creuset ovenproof pan without any butter and, apart from some butter sticking to the bottom, had no problems.

When the dough is almost done rising, prepare the filling. Mix sugar, cinnamon, corn starch and cardamom in a bowl. Punch the air out of the dough, and roll to a 20x30 in (50x75 cm) rectangle. Spread the softened butter over the dough, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) at the bottom unbuttered. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar on top, and press into the butter using your hands. Roll into a tight log, and cut into desired number of rolls. I read a tip in a food blog somewhere suggesting you use dental floss to cut your buns. I finally tried this trick, and got the prettiest buns I have ever managed to produce. Place buns in your pan, and let rise for at least an hour, but you can even leave them in the fridge over night and then let them rise the following day. The original recipe says to bake in 175 degrees C (350 degrees F) for about 17 minutes. I was dealing with the temperamental oven at the Culinary Consultant's place, so I baked mine for a bit longer.

While the buns are baking, prepare the frosting. Start by whipping together the cream cheese and softened butter. Add vanilla, lemon juice and syrup and mix. Finally, add the icing sugar and whisk for about five minutes until the frosting starts to lighten in colour. After removing your buns from the oven, immediately spread half of the frosting on top of the buns. It will partly melt and drip into the buns. After the buns have cooled for a while, frost with the remaining frosting. 

The verdict:
As I already mentioned, I just don't like Cinnabons. There is something strange about their flavour, something artificial. Sure, they are lovely and gooey, but every time I have one, after taking the first bite I am reminded why I don't quite like them. So I can honestly say, to me these buns were so much better than Cinnabons. They were like I want Cinnabons to taste. They were absolute perfection. The filling of the buns was lovely and sweet, and the frosting is so addictively delicious. I have to admit the buns disappeared very quickly. The following day I just popped them into the microwave for about 20 seconds to get them lovely, warm and gooey again. This recipe will definitely go into the keepers file. I can't wait for an excuse to make them again.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Chicken pot pie with biscuits

This whole biscuit thing had me really confused for quite some time. Yes, I realise I'm easily confused, but still. I started my food blog about a year ago, and that's also when I started to follow other food blogs and Pinterest. I actually didn't actively follow any food blogs when I started my own, it was started because last Easter I ended up baking and cooking quite a lot over the holidays, and I wanted a place where I could store my recipes and the accompanying pictures. So I thought, instead of just jutting them down in my own files, I might as well share them online. At least that way my mum would see what I'm up to. And I think she might still be one of my few readers, and if anyone else out there actually reads this, please feel free to leave a comment as I would absolutely love to hear about you. And why oh why do I always get inspired to start writing my blog posts in the morning about ten minutes before I have to dash off to the bus. Well, I will just have to continue to pour my heart out about biscuits some other time. 

Anyways. I'm back, so let's return to my confusion over biscuits. I always thought biscuits are like cookies. At least that's what they are over here in the UK. But clearly in the US, they are more like scones. I'm sure there is technically a difference between biscuits and scones, but let's not get nitpicky. And I had never thought about putting them in food, for me scones are eaten with tea. As in a cup of tea, not supper. Tea was also a source of much confusion for me before I realised the Brits actually mean supper when they say tea. Again, why? There is a perfectly good, non-ambiguous word like supper, but oh well. And then there is dinner and supper? Aren't they the same? But apparently not. Very confusing for someone who speaks a language where there is just one word for the meal you eat in the evening. And again I drifted off from biscuits. The point was, when I saw this lovely recipe for chicken pot pie with biscuits from Joy the Baker I was doing a bit of a happy dance in my head. And my tummy. How genius to bake the scones, no I mean biscuits, on top of food! Kind of like dumplings, but not submerged. This was a completely new concept to me, so I just had to try it. Obviously since then, I have seen many recipes with biscuits used in a similar way, but this was the original I tried a while ago, and it really made an impression. It's so warming and comforting, and such great winter food.

My recipe is inspired by this recipe from Joy the Baker. I only made some minor modifications to the biscuits, but a major re-working of the filling. I skipped making the creamy dreamy sauce that goes with the original recipe, replacing it by more veggies and crushed tomatoes. If you don't mind the extra calories, make sure to check out the original recipe, as it looks absolutely delicious. I didn't have any cream cheese for the biscuits, but I did have some leftover Stilton in my fridge, so I used that instead. Also, I halved the amount of the dough for the biscuits.

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
30 g butter
50 g cream cheese (or Stilton, or maybe Brie)
95 ml buttermilk (I used regular milk)

Filling: 1 tbsp oil of choice
2 onions
1 clove of garlic
4 carrots
4 stalks of celery
1 courgette
2 cups water
1 can (400g) tinned tomatoes
salt and pepper
4 chicken fillets, cooked and diced
1 chicken stock cube

The howto:
First make the biscuits. Mix flour, baking powder, soda, salt, pepper and chives. With your fingers, mix in butter and cream cheese until the mixture is crumbly, but has texture. Add buttermilk, and mix very quickly to form a dough. Knead with your hands until the dough is about 3 cm (a bit more than an inch) thick, and use a cookie cutter to make round biscuits. I used a very small cutter to have tiny little biscuits, because I thought that would look nice, adjust the thickness of the disc of dough if you are making bigger biscuits. 

To make the filling, start by chopping all the veggies. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Heat up oil in a frying pan, and add onions. Let cook until translucent. Then add garlic, carrots and celery. Let cook for about 10 minutes, the veg should still be firm. Pour veg into an oven proof dish along with the courgette and add water and tinned tomatoes. Sprinkle chicken evenly over the veg and season with salt and pepper. Finish by crumbling the chicken stock cube on top of the chicken and place biscuits evenly on top of it all. You can brush the biscuits with milk or egg wash if you like (I didn't). Bake for about 25 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown.
The verdict:
My version of this chicken pot pie is a bit simplified from the original, which includes making a white sauce with cream cheese for the filling. Mine is much more humble but it's bursting with flavours from the veg. Also, the biscuits are perfectly crumbly and delicious and I think adding in the Stilton instead of cream cheese did bring lots of delicious flavour as well. 

This recipe is not exactly low carb or low calorie, but sometimes you have to treat yourself a little, and this pot pie certainly did the trick. I was going to freeze a few servings, but after having a taste, I just ate it all in a few days, with no left-overs to freeze. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Happy Women's day!!

Happy Women's day to all you Ladies out there!!! And if you are a guy, I hope you have done something to spoil that special lady in your life. If not, there is still time, and one way you can celebrate is by making these amazing cheese scones. They are super quick and easy to make, and taste divine.

I am a huge scone aficionado. I think the fruit ones are good, but my choice of scone will always be a cheese scone. Preferably still warm from the oven, served with a latte and some fresh butter. The best cheese scones I have ever had are actually from the coffe shop at work. They are huge, soft and fluffy. The best way to start the morning is to enjoy a cheese scone and a big latte. That comes with the added bonus of putting off the start of the work day with a few extra minutes. I am the queen of procrastination.

My cheese scones are a bit crumblier than the ones at work, I haven't been able to recreate the recipe exactly. I went through quite a number of cheese scone recipes to find one that works in my hands. Funnily enough, as much as I love to bake with butter, my scone recipe has no butter, only oil. This just happened to be the one I like the best. And it happens to be super easy and quick as well, which increased it's appeal in my eyes. From ingredients to fresh scones on your plate in less than half an hour.

Cheese scones (makes about 9):
1 cup grated cheese (I usually use a mature cheddar, but this time I used a mix of mature cheddar and a red cheddar with cracked peppercorns)
325 g self raising flour (or regular flour and 2 tsp baking powder)
1 tsp salt
125 ml milk
1 egg
50 ml oil (I use rapeseed)

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Mix cheese, flour and salt. Add milk and egg, and mix very quickly using a fork. Add oil and give a final quick mix. Be careful not to overwork the dough. Pat out to about 1 inch thickness and use a glass or cookie cutter to make round scones. Top with grated cheese (and egg wash if you can be bothered to make that extra step). Bake for about 20 minutes, or until scones are golden on top.

The verdict:
I still haven't been able to shake my cold that I have been suffering from for the last two weeks. I didn't think it would be too bad, but it has got worse with time. I have even managed to lose my appetite. Which is normal for other people when they are sick, but I don't lose my appetite. Ever! So this is really weird. I am having trouble finding foods I want to eat, so I thought I would whip up a batch of these scones as bread is one of the few things I can imagine eating. And they were even better than I remembered! I can only imagine what they would taste like if all my taste buds were working. They are crumbly and soft and super tasty. I don't have a coffee maker at home, so I had to settle for a glass of milk instead of a latte, but that was a perfect combination. And the milk added a bit of  protein which hopefully will help my body heal from this killer virus. As an added bonus, the scones filled my apartment with the most wonderful scent while baking.

In addition to baking scones, I have been continuing my journey into the world of card-making. The card in the picture next to the scones is one of my recent creations, a really simple one as I just wanted to try out a new stamp I got. I keep rationalising my card-making hobby by how much money it will save me as I don't have to buy any cards ever again. Of course, I have already bought card-making supplies for more money than I would ever have spent on cards in my entire life, but obviously thats not the point!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Getting back on track chicken

I've been having just a teeny tiny bit of a problem getting back on track with my nutrition plan after getting back from my holiday, and being sick, and being very undisciplined in general. I thought I really need to make something that is healthy but doesn't taste healthy. Something which packs such a punch of flavours that I don't think about all that unhealthy bad food I've been craving. I needed something that is healthy, high in protein, low in fat and full of flavour. Also, I happened to have some parsley and coriander which had been hanging around my fridge for just a bit too long, so I needed to use  them up asap. Looking around in my kitchen, I spied a huge garlic and my omnipresent piece of ginger root (fresh ginger root is one of those things I always keep in my kitchen). And my eyes landed on my mortar and pestle which I bought probably a year ago, with the aim of making all sorts of spice mixes and my own pesto. But as so many of my other impuse buys, the mortar has just been serving as a garlic bowl. The sad truth is, I haven't used it, not even once. So now I finally thought I would break it in.

Back on track chicken (serves 4):
4 boneless chicken thighs (or fillets, if you prefer)
1 clove of garlic
a piece of fresh ginger about half the size of your thumb (ok I know, we all have different sized thumbs, but you know... just wing it!)
a bunch of fresh coriander (I used about 1/2 of a 31 g pack)
a bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley (I used about 1/2 of a 31 g pack)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or other oil of choice)

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Place chicken in an oven proof dish. Roughly chop the garlic, ginger, coriander and parsley, and place in a mortar. Using a pestle, grind until the garlic and ginger has been thoroughly smooched together with the herbs to a nice paste, and add olive oil. Spread the paste on top of the chicken, and cook in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until juicen from the chicken are clear. 

The verdict:
Not only did my improvised herb-y chicken taste really freshly of herbs and ginger, it also filled my kitchen with the most amazing aroma. Admittedly it's not the most beautiful dish I have ever cooked, but this is obviously your first time here if you were looking for pretty food. My food may not be pretty, but it is good. And this time, it's also healthy. This dish almost made me think spring might be silently creeping closer. Could it be?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Healthy "onion rings"

The other day I stumbled upon a blog called The Peaceful Mom, and more specifically a series of blog posts on how a family of five lives on less than $28,000 a year. I found that an absolutely fascinating read. I constantly struggle with my finances, but in the back of my mind, I know a lot of it is because I'm just not organised enough. And I indulge in crazy impulse buys, like last month when I decided I wanted to start doing paper crafts, and instead of buying things little by little, I spent all the money I was going to save that month on inks, stamps and cardstock. Especially with my work contract coming to an end very soon, and not too many jobs around to apply for, I should be saving all the money I can to prepare for possibly being unemployed for a while. 

The blog I found made really interesting reading. I think the lady who writes the blog is really brave to be so honest about her family's financial situation, something which is pretty much tabu to talk about. Also, she is very careful about not being judgemental, she just says these are the choices that work for her family, and everyone should try to figure out what is important for them and to work towards those goals. The blog highlights the need to plan your finances, and also prepare for those bills you know are coming. Also, I loved the idea that was raised in one of the posts: do you really need everything you think you need? I have lived without a TV for a few years now, and every time I tell someone I don't have a TV (usually to explain why I haven't watched this or that TV show), I just get a look like I'm crazy. I'm not saying anyone else should necessarily get rid of their TV, but I can honestly say I don't miss it one bit. I watch DVDs, sometimes I watch something on iPlayer, but mostly I go to the gym, do crafts, and read (or write) blogs. For me, the internet is something I couldn't live without, I would be bored in no time, but I never want to get a TV again. Well, my point was, if you are trying to save money, hop over and have a look at the blog.

Talking about saving money, this is a super frugar recipe. Who wouldn't love some nice hot onion rings, drenched in all that heart friendly fat... Well, Best Friend wouldn't, as for some inexplicable reason she can't stand onions. But other than that, she is a lovely person! It has just been a source of unending wonder and amazement to me how someone doesn't like onions. But fair enough, that just leaves more onions for the rest of us onion lovers. 

This is not really a recipe, it's just a really great way to cook onions. And despite being much more healthy than those battered and deep fried onion rings you so crave every once in a while, these are at least as tasty (actually, I think they are superior to the battered ones, but I'm a bit biased I think).The key is to cut them relatively thin so that they really crisp up real good, and then enjoy them piping hot, right out of the oven. You can use either yellow or red onions, the red ones caramelise a bit more as they have a higher sugar content, so they are my favourites. These make a great side to roasted chicken, a nice juicy steak or served with other roasted veg and topped with a bit of goats cheese.

Oven baked crisped onion (serves 1):
1 huge onion (or two medium ones)
1 tbsp oil (I used smoke flavoured extra virgin rapeseed, but olive or even coconut would work great)
salt and pepper to taste

The howto:
Pay close attention and read through the instructions at least a few times before starting, because this is really complicated. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Slice onion into 1/2 cm thick slices and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Make sure the onions don't overlap, because you want then to be all nice and crisp, and they won't be crisp if they overlap. Drizzle with oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake in 200 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until nice and crisp around the edges. Serve immediately!

The verdict:
I like to bake my onions until they are browned and super crispy. This does lead to a bit of a problem though, as the smoke detector in my house is ridiculously sensitive, and as soon as I open the oven door, I know I will have to run down the stairs and turn off the fire alarm. But it's worth it every time, as this is one of my favourite sides to serve with practically any meal. Or just to eat on it's own. I know, I'm sick, but I have been known to eat a whole batch of these straight from the baking sheet, without even putting them onto a plate. I actually had to show great restraint to be able to get a photo for the blog as it meant I actually had to transfer them onto a plate, and wait until I took the photo. Which is why there isn't too much artistic touch in this photo (either...). I just wanted to tuck into my lovely onions!

Friday, 1 March 2013


Yes, I'm still alive. But I don't blame you for thinking I suddenly disappeared off the planet given the lack of blog posts. I could come up with so many excuses. Like the fact that I have come down with woman flu. Which is soo much worse than man flu, I feel absolutely rotten. But I think I have now reached the peak of whatever this is, and my immune system is finally kicking the butt of whatever basilisks that have invaded my body. And I have another excuse for my lack of blog posts. I am totally enamoured with paper crafts right now. I have been perusing the interwebs for affordable stamps, inks, cardstock and trying out different techniques. And I have been totally overwhelmed by the card making tutorials on Youtube. I can spend hours watching stamping and inking tutorials. So you can expect a blog post or two on cards in the future. Although, I tend to get really excited about things, but then I get bored really quickly as well. But with all the money I have put on crafting supplies, I had better not ever be buying another card ever again for my whole life. 

But after all those excuses, how about finally getting to the main point. I recently failed miserably in baking buns, and although I usually eat whatever I cook or bake, no matter how disgusting the end result is, this time I actually had to bin my attempt at buns. So my baking confidence was at an all time low. When I used to do horseback riding, my teacher would force me right back on the horse if I fell off, even the time I flew like a missile over my horse and right into a jump when my horse made an unscheduled stop. I knew I had to get my hands flour-y as soon as possible again to find my confidence again.

I have pinned several pretzel recipes, as I think the dark brown funny looking snake-like breads look so delicious. Also, pretzels have that wonderful pretzel-y flavour, and I wasn't quite sure where it was coming from, so I wanted to bake some myself and see if they would actually taste like pretzels or just like regular bread.

Not only did I attempt to bake these pretzels when my yeasted dough confidence was at an all time low, I baked them in the culinary consultant's kitchen. The oven is a gas oven, and we are not on good terms. I was mentally prepared for another yeasted dough disaster on my hands. One thing I did have though was good quality strong bread flour and a good quality instant yeast. So bravely, I just pulled out the recipe and got to work. The recipe I used is from the Brown Eyed Baker, and I used it without making any alterations apart from working the dough by hand instead of a Kitchen Aid, as I'm not yet in possession of such luxury items. For instructions on how to prepare the dough with the help of a Kitchen Aid or other similar food processor, head over to the original recipe.

Soft pretzels (makes 8):
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) water
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp instant dry yeast (I used 2 pouches, i.e. 14 g, I was going to check how much that is in teaspoons, but forgot)
4 1/2 cups (10-11 dl) strong bread flour
4 tbsp melted butter

For boiling the pretzels:
10 cups (2.4 l) water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp water mixed together for the egg wash
salt for sprinkling
The howto:
Mix water, sugar, salt and yeast. Add the flour and butter. Don't add all the bread flour at once, work it into the dough in batches, alternating with the butter. Leave the dough soft but not runny. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until it's elastic and smooth. I added a little bit of flour during the first minutes of kneading until the dough felt good in my hands. After kneading, leave the dough to rise for about an hour. As room temperature at the culinary consultant's place is quite a few degrees below normal room temperature, I turned on the oven for a few minutes to warm it up a few degrees and then left the dough in the oven to rise. After the dough has risen, start by turning on the oven to 230 degrees C. Also, fill a large saucepan with water and add the baking soda, and bring the water to a boil. Then punch the air out of the dough, and divide into eight equal parts. Roll each part out to a thin snake, and fold over itself to form the traditional pretzel shape. Boil the pretzels for 30-60 seconds before moving onto an oven plate, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Bake for about 15 minutes (mine took about 20 minutes, however this particular oven is known to be a bit inefficient), or until dark brown.
The verdict:
I'm happy to report that the total loss of my baking abilites seemed to be reversible, and after a disastrous enriched dough, I was compensated with an absolute perfect pretzel dough. It was easy to knead, it didn't stick and it was easy to roll to shape and form the pretzels. It rose to gigantic heights during the proofing, and it baked to form soft and chewy pretzels. I am starting to be more and more convinced that there is a huge difference in the flours that are available. I always used to buy the really cheap flours thinking there can't be much of a difference between brands of flour. But the two best breads I have ever baked, these pretzels and this bacon and cheddar bread, have been baked from more expensive flour and the texture of the dough has been totally different and much easier to handle than my yeasted doughs usually are. Or maybe watching Paul knead that dough so many times has rubbed off on me.