One of my biggest commitments for 2018 is to eat healthily: to nourish my body and fill it full of good stuff. But let’s be sensible: we’re never going to eat healthily 100% of the time. I think I’m aiming for around 80%, with a bit of cake and the odd glass of wine thrown in as a treat (note to self: that’s a treat, not every day – catch up on my Drinkaware month here). Diets are one of my biggest bugbears. I don’t want to count calories, or cut out carbs. I like carbs. Carbs give us energy and are a great source of fibre*, but we need to choose the right carbs for our body, not depressing, flabby white bread, mass produced, sugary biscuits, or – sadly – doughnuts (mmmm, doughnuts). One of the greatest things I feel I do for our family is take the time to bake really delicious, home made bread. Rye is less refined and much more nutritious than some other grains but I’m not really a huge fan of 100% rye, so I mix it roughly half and half with normal white bread flour. These easy, no knead rye bread rolls are so easy to make and this dough will probably make 10-12, depending on how big you make them.
As Charlie goes off to university very soon (sob), and as we all know, being a student means living on a pretty limited budget. I want to make sure that he has loads of recipes that he can refer to here so that he can make himself a few decent meals without resorting to expensive takeaways. For a Friday night treat, is there anything better than pizza? It’s horrendously expensive to buy, but incredibly easy – and much cheaper – to make at home. Step forward my favourite essential Waitrose range which stocks all the products you need at great prices (and great welfare standards) without compromising on quality. Charlie loves halloumi, so I’ve created this pizza especially for him, piled high with all the ingredients he likes: here’s how to make my halloumi, olive and mint pizzas at home:
Last week, I mentioned my need for a few little calming rituals, like my coconut chai tea. My brain is particularly whizzy at the moment (hence, I went to my first yoga class this week – and loved it), and if I’m up really early, I quite like to go downstairs, say hi to the dog and have a little potter in the kitchen. At the moment I’m a bit obsessed with baking bread – I tend to bake two loaves at a time, using my standard, lazy recipe (which doesn’t involve any kneading at all). I’ve mentioned before that rye is really good for you – I don’t make 100% rye bread, which we find too strong, but when mixed with white flour, this is our absolute favourite. Another bonus of home made bread is that it lasts ages when compared to shop bought, which seems to go mouldy very quickly. This particular recipe has rosemary added, which is surprisingly delicious. Here’s how to do it:
I love pottering about in the kitchen; I find stirring, chopping, rolling and mixing completely therapeutic – that kind of mindless manual labour that’s both soothing and uncomplicated (although I mostly do the kneading in the KitchenAid, if I’m honest – I’m far too lazy for that). There’s only one thing that makes pottering nicer, and that’s the chatter of people. One of my favourite evenings is a weekend night when the boys are both home, maybe with friends/girlfriends in tow and we have an impromptu pizza night. I can only fit two at a time in the oven, so there’s a whole pizza production line going on, with people chatting and munching – I love it. My one photograph – snapped before someone grabbed a slice – is completely rubbish (I’ll rephotograph it, I promise) but I wanted you to experience this lovely, fun family evening as soon as possible. Here’s my foolproof, easy home made pizza recipe, that you can jazz up/double up as much as you wish:
I’ve been fiddling around a lot lately with this recipe. The boys have (mostly) been willing testers, although one of the batches tasted ‘kinda like chocolate pizza’, which wasn’t really the result I was aiming for. What I have been aiming for is a really soft white finger roll – you know, like the ones you buy in a bakery, smothered in gooey icing. I think the best ingredient in getting these soft iced buns as light as possible is actually time – they need to rise slowly, then be shaped, then rise slowly again. The perfect rainy-day occupation, then. And there have been quite a few of those recently (although yesterday I made them while the sun was shining and the kitchen door was open – and that’s good too.) Read more
I love this lazy time at home between the hustle and bustle of Christmas, and the excitement of the New Year. We’re lucky, nobody is working and we’re all enjoying spending time at home together, watching films and eating too much chocolate. Yesterday we went to the Royal Albert Hall with my Dad for the Christmas Spectacular. It was wonderfully festive – there was a bit of ballet, a bit of opera and some modern classics like John Williams’ incredible Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Today we’re just pottering at home (see what I did there?). I wanted to share this really lovely, easy recipe with you. It’s a half rye/half strong white flour mix (I find rye a bit overpowering), scented with oranges (or at this time of year, leftover clementines) and sweetened with honey. I think 2017 is the year we’re all going to be embracing our homes and families, simplifying our lives and counting our blessings, and pottering in my beloved kitchen, baking those I love a delicious, home made treat comes high up in my priorities. Here’s how to make my orange and sultana rye bread:
So GBBO is back on our screens tonight and I’m completely over-excited! I LOVE baking (and watching other people baking) and I particularly love making bread, don’t you? It’s the ultimate slow food. I do feel that I’m rather chained to the internet, what with blogging and writing and, well, Instagramming and stuff (I know, it’s totally my own doing), so sometimes it’s just nice to switch off and have a lovely potter in the kitchen. Bread baking can’t be rushed and it forces you to relax and gives you plenty of head clearing time. These easy soft wholemeal rolls are based on my ‘quick and easy soft bread rolls’ recipe, published back in 2010 and since archived. I often get lovely emails from people asking where they went, and keep meaning to update the recipe (and the horrific photography – and the dodgy title – I prefer slow bread to quick bread!) so I made a batch yesterday and feel rather chuffed to be able to have one topped with smashed avo and a poached egg for my breakfast today!
Because I’ve been away quite a bit, I’ve really missed pottering in the kitchen, and the first thing that I wanted to do was bake. Oh wait, that was actually the second – the first was tidy up and put everything back where I like it – but then it was bake. I absolutely adore breadmaking: I love the delicious smell and the sense of achievement (and the fact that this recipe makes two loaves, because the first one gets scoffed instantly). What I don’t like is kneading. This recipe is 100% perfect WITHOUT kneading, and I know, because I make it nearly every day.
This week’s Sunday baking is steering into uncharted territory for me. I make pizza all the time and have a tried and tested dough recipe that always turns out well, so when the lovely chaps at Beko asked if I’d create a pizza for them, I was really happy to give it a go. Turns out, though, that Beko were after something a bit different! They have a sweet pizza recipe page on their website and my challenge was to come up with a new sweet pizza creation.
Sweet pizza you say? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
The thing I like most about baking hot cross buns is the smell. That gorgeous, sweet spicy smell that fills the whole house – better than any scented candle, and so comforting. With these hot cross buns I used a packet of dried cherries that I had in the cupboard, but any dried fruit will do; I think cranberries would be delicious. Take your time, because slow rising gives the best results. I’m guilty of rushing up to the airing cupboard every five minutes to see if they’ve risen, but, like bread, they always turn out best when you’ve forgotten the dough and it’s puffed up to glorious proportions.
One of the things I really wanted to do this year was spend more time in the kitchen for fun (as opposed to for work, which I love too, but for different reasons). Baking bread is the ultimate in relaxation – it’s absorbing, but not taxing. I love it. I love having a loaf on the table at dinner times for people to grab a hunk and mop up whatever we’re eating. The boys both adore this bread and serving it up for breakfast seems so much nicer than sticking a couple of slices of bought white sliced in the toaster. I’ve been fiddling with rye recipes recently and I feel like I’ve really cracked it with this easy rye bread. The secret seems to be a really sticky dough, which doesn’t need kneading, followed by a nice, slow rise, both of which coincidentally make this bread really easy to make – the longer you forget it, the nicer it is!
You’ll probably remember that back in the summer, The Organic Trade Board challenged us to take the #thriftyorganic challenge and switch our usual weekly shop for a 100% organic one, all for £83, the average grocery shopping budget for a UK family of four. We ate really well AND stayed on budget, and it made me really think about what we eat, and made me plan our meals properly as well. Eating organic on a budget really is possible!
Sundays for me are all about cooking. It’s my relaxation time and I look forward to it all week: radio on, cup of tea (or several) and a spot of baking is just the best way to spend Sunday morning. Sometimes it’s cookies or brownies, or a dessert for Sunday dinner, but recently I’ve been baking a lot of bread and, although there have been a few disasters, I’m pretty sure that this one is just about perfect.
I’ve been wallying around for ages trying to create a decent gluten free/grain free flatbread. I don’t even know why the obsession started (I think it was when I was cutting down on carbs, so experimenting with coconut flour). I started out with 100% coconut, but the texture isn’t as good and they’re overwhelmingly coconutty (good with curry though, as they’re kind of like Peshwari naan). Anyhoo, the lovely chaps at Steenbergs Organic sent me a range of flours and I’ve been messing about with them. And that’s how these buckwheat and coconut flatbreads came to be.
One of the best things about living in Ireland was the amazing food. I learned so much when we lived there, and of course was spoiled with all the fabulous ingredients: Irish cheeses, butter, beef, lamb… all incredible. I absolutely adore Irish soda bread and still make it all the time. It’s quick to make and requires just a quick mix – no kneading, no yeast and no waiting. Perfect for breakfast (you can make a lovely sweet version by adding sugar, dried fruit and orange zest), or if you’re having soup, you can knock it while the soup cooks. Traditionally you need buttermilk, but I tend to just squeeze the juice of half a lemon into normal milk and give it a quick stir. It thickens up instantly and works the same way.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terribly wasteful with bananas. Mr English only likes them when they’re green and unripe, and I only like them when they’re perfectly yellow. Once they’ve ‘gone over’ I’m afraid I tend to put them in the food recycling bin. Every so often, though, I do remember to knock up a quick banana bread. I’m afraid I’m not sure where this original recipe came from as it’s ancient and was scribbled on a scrap of paper, but it’s very reliable and incredibly easy. The actual amount of banana doesn’t really seem to matter, but keep it to two or three for best results. Oh and it’s worth adding in the extra teaspoon of baking powder, even though you’re using self raising flour, just because it lightens it up a bit.
100g salted butter
175g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Splash of milk
225g self raising flour
2 or 3 over-ripe bananas
1 tsp baking powder
Firstly, assemble all your ingredients and preheat the oven to 180/gas 4. I use a re-usable bake-o-glide sheet, but if you haven’t got one, make sure you grease your loaf tin well or use some parchment paper to line it.
Cream the butter and sugar until they’re light and creamy. Whisk the eggs with a fork and pop in the vanilla and the splash of milk, then you can dribble them into the mixture a little at a time, beating well between dribbles (technical term).
I favour a ‘half and half’ method to incorporate all the runny stuff, but feel free to just bung it all in if you’d rather:
So now add about half the flour, give it a beat, then add the bananas, mix again, then the other half of the flour. Don’t forget the baking powder.
Flump the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 45 – 50 minutes. A skewer or knife tip pushed into the deepest part should come out clean. If it’s not quite there, give it another five minutes.
This is also really gorgeous toasted for breakfast as well with a smear of butter. Before long, you’ll be willing those bananas to go brown so you can make this again!
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