Cacao -it’s a bit like chocolate

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It’s week three of the holidays. Things keeping me sort of sane through the repetition of the same argument a million times:

  1. My lovely friends who reassure me it’s just the same in their houses and provide solidarity in the trenches.
  2. The mantra my lovely mum passed down which got her through our childhood (although obviously, she can’t have needed it much as we were all angels). “It’s not me it’s them”.
  3. A lot of chocolate.

I’ve also just had a health check due to my ancient age at which I discovered I am simultaneously ‘obese’, have slightly raised (from ‘ideal’ not average) cholesterol and am at very low risk of developing heart disease. Which is good motivation to keep up with finding ways to eat more healthy food (or at least a bit less chocolate).

I think this might be the most healthy version of my flapjack recipe so far.

Melt:

50g coconut oil

4 Tbsp Honey

1 Tbsp Molasses

Add:

50g cacao powder

Remove from heat and mix in:

150g Oats

Into a lined pan sprinkle over 50g cacao nibs and bake in a preheated oven gas mark 6 for 20 minutes.

Cool and cut into squares.

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Tastes less chocolatey than previous versions but still yummy. These are probably not sweet enough for you if you’re used to eating ‘normal’ amounts of sugar but for those who have already cut down, they’re sweet enough.

Taste team accused them of having funny rubbery bits on the top!

 

Happy Holidays

The house is full. So far the holidays are living up to my expectations of being harder work than term time. There’s mess everywhere and I can’t sit still for 5 seconds without someone asking me what I’m doing. Mind you they also ask me what I’m doing when I’m involved in a blindingly obvious task like loading the washing machine or stirring the batter for these cupcakes. I’m not winning at trying not to stress eat too much.

Most of the baking I’ve been doing this week has been more sourdough related products one of the taste team remarked ‘you really love sourdough don’t you’ half way through the week. Today’s rolls are my best yet. Many recipes that claim to be foolproof are lying but this one has earned its title.

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So yummy I ate three in a row (they’re only small honestly). Taste team comments also very positive.

There’s no free time to enjoy baking but the kitchen assistant wanted to do cupcakes. I managed to hold it together through most of the process -have given up all hope having cleaned the surfaces 3 times in 2 hours.

I started with a recipe but I changed it so much it’s a whole new recipe now.

2 1/2 cups self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup coconut oil

1/3 cup butter

1 cup coconut sugar

3/4 cup caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 1/4 milk

Preheat oven to 190 c 375 f gas mark 5. Place cupcake cases in a cupcake tin. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Spoon batter into cupcake cases. Bake for 18-20 minutes.

We iced with regular vanilla buttercream and sprinkles.

They taste really good. Coconut oil and coconut sugar makes them a bit healthyish -that’s the story I’m sticking to anyway.

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Fancy bread

Getting more practised with the regular sourdough bread and although still have a way to go before reaching loaf perfection feel it’s going well enough to give me the confidence to try new things. The summer holidays are rapidly approaching here. Mixed emotions because although there are lots of fun things about holidays and of course less having to get up early and go out on time there’s so many lasts and firsts and children growing up. Plus it’s not always fun in the house with everyone here, sometimes it’s just more people to row with each other.

I’m looking for more interesting and fun things to pack for picnics so suggestions very welcome.

The first type of fancy bread I’ve made with sourdough is focaccia.

This recipe was a joy to use for the simple fact unlike many sourdough recipes it’s really easy to read and follow.

The biggest difference obviously between this and other sourdough bread recipes is this has a lot more ingredients. There are honey and olive oil in the sponge and even more olive oil in the main dough mix. The dough wasn’t as wet as other sourdough recipes I’ve used, maybe my starter was less liquid and or using a cup measure rather than scales for the flour made that difference.

It was really lovely to knead.

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And easy to press out into the pans. It rose well and pretty quickly, it’s warm here at the moment so that was expected I guess.

Looked pretty good before and after baking or is that cooking?  The cheese and onion one was definitely suitable for a meal. But took a little less time to be well done than the recipe expected, warm weather and an especially effective oven probably caused that.

Sourdough Adventures

I’ve not missed the gluten I’ve cut out of my diet in many places but I’ve been missing the taste and convenience of having bread or toast for breakfast. Plus thinking always of ways to increase the list of healthy things my children want to eat.

I read the headline of an article from a satirical news website saying “middle-class children overdosing on sourdough bread” and realised I was letting my middle-class children down in so many ways. I’m sure they would like to write you a list, lack of instant access to exactly what they want when they want it being top of it!

Joking aside sourdough bread seemed to be a good place to start trying to increase the fermented food products in our diets so I thought I’d give it a go. I read many pages of recipes and descriptions and started a starter which went mouldy. Fortunately, I’m lucky to have friends who are much further ahead in the pursuit of healthy kitchens than I am so I took some advice on Instagram and read some more pages. But I pretty much stuck to this recipe just for the simplicity compared to many recipes.

The loss of my first ‘sourdough mother’ due to mould meant I learned two important things 1. don’t use tap water 2. mix with a non-metal spoon not sure whether both are necessary but definitely one is vital as the second lot of starter went much better. Also, don’t go out and have too much fun and then have to make your loaf up in a delicate state (apparently, I hear, not that I would ever do that).

So after the starter comes the ‘sponge’ basically just add more flour and water and leave it overnight (or until it’s thick sticky and bubbly).

 

I was a bit concerned about how sticky the dough was going to be when I first added the flour but it turned out to be lovely to knead.

Ended up having to clear up most of the extra flour I’d put on the worktop as it wasn’t used in the kneading process.

The first leaving to rise was very slow (the second picture is nearly 24 hours later) but the second loaf I made it rose loads much quicker so I think maybe my ‘mother’ just needed another 24 hours to get more effective.

The second rise photos show I don’t have a proper proving basket but I may well get one if I keep up making sourdough as the flat shape although it looks ok is not the easiest shape to slice and make sandwiches with.

The mess on the top is from not enough flour on the tea towel in some areas and too much in others.

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Had to leave the house to take the 4-year-old to one of her weekend parties while the loaf was in the oven so I had to ask my husband to take it out when it was cooked.

Must have tasted good as it was half gone by the time the party was over. It is quite sour but seems to be digestible. Hoping to make more well-risen loaves in future. Which seems like it’s going to work out based on loaf number two which was an experiment with a loaf tin that didn’t go perfectly but was definitely a lot more risen.

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Pizza

Parenting challenge this week -when the news is pretty scary how do you help your 13-year-old with a tendency to be anxious and an interest in current affairs not let it overwhelm them? I don’t know the answer, I’m working on not letting it overwhelm me and remembering that a loving gentle home environment and a safe space are the things I can control when I can’t control what’s out there. If anyone has the answer please let me know I’m always keen to learn.

In our little home bubble, we’ve had a lovely weekend. All three children worked together on a meal for father’s day without arguing which was a minor miracle. Friday we had pizza for tea. Making pizza is pretty easy and fun if you just use a bread mix for the base and let people choose their own toppings and don’t make the people who have very strong views on how much sauce a pizza should have share with each other.

The challenge comes when you’re trying to cut down on gluten. I’ve tried a gluten free scone pizza base, too dry for me and a commercially prepared gluten free pizza base, tasty but not so fun from a cooking point of view. So this week yeast and gluten free flour like this recipe.

There’s milk in it which I think could be substituted for a non-dairy alternative but I thought on the first go I’d not change too much. Making the yeast bubble was fun and looked cooler than the photo shows.

It wasn’t too sticky and formed a dough nicely but didn’t rise as well as I hoped. It did look more different than the photo shows. Think I need to do a food photography course next.

Rolling out was not too difficult but picking it up to put on the tray was practically impossible without it falling to pieces.img_20170616_173712.jpg

The one on the left I managed to get on the tray almost in one piece but the one on the left fell apart completely and ended up as a pile on the tray with the result it was a lot thicker.

They looked good once the topping was on and they had been baked.

The thinner pizza was pretty good just a little floury if it had been just a bit thinner it might have been just right. The thicker pizza was just too floury and I mostly just at the topping.

So the search for the perfect gluten free pizza continues.

In other news, while I was making pizza our new budding foody was making Mary Berry’s ‘Can’t go wrong chocolate cake’. Which was very yummy. It’s two layers in the recipe but he’s of the opinion that two cakes are better than one!

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Chocolate Quinoa

It’s true what they say, who you are matters more than what you say in determining who your children will become. It’s a slow and steady process. I’m six months in to eating differently and paying more attention to my health (some weeks it goes better than others but there are no failures when you don’t give up) and my super fussy eater has not only tried and even liked a few new things but has been reading and thinking about allergies and food that makes you feel better. Now if only I could find a way to cope better with them being really irritating so I could pass that on to them too. Or maybe siblings will just always get wound up by each other no matter what. 🙂

The last few weeks I’ve also started consciously working on not letting anxiety stop me from achieving what I want. I know that doing the thing that makes me anxious is almost always not as bad as not doing it and getting anxious over what might happen. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I need to head back and re-read The Opposite of Worry and maybe get on and write my diary so I can move on to the next part of the CBT course rather than continue to just avoid it by starting other courses. At least the learn to code HTML and CSS course is really interesting and making my brain work hard and being encouraged by my son to give it a go and keep going is super special.

Despite prevailing opinions on quinoa in the household I decided to give a quinoa experiment a go this week. So I made some for my lunch which was yummy and then made the rest into quinoa crispies like this it wasn’t the weather for having the oven on for longer than necessary so I took the opportunity to slow roast some veggies which means that my dinner is under control for today. Not often I’m that organised so feel pleased with myself!

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The quinoa didn’t all get the same amount crispy but it was sticking to the tray more and more so I decided it was time to move on.

To make it into Quinoa Crunch Bars.

These are so simple. I didn’t have (and don’t like) stevia but I’m also used to things not so sweet now. If you’re not used to being sugar-free or don’t want to be then a teaspoon or even half a teaspoon of icing sugar would work really well.

Decided to be extra decadent and put some melted chocolate on top before they went in the freezer. When they came out they looked great.

They taste like a chocolate bar. The only issue for me was a little bit of getting quinoa stuck in my teeth, worth it for the kick for sure. Two of the taste team found them a little too chocolatey but the maybe not so fussy anymore one wanted a second piece!

Cheese and Chocolate Chips

You’ll be relieved to hear I’ve not mixed the two things together. Last weekend -the long weekend- we were busy, so baking didn’t happen. I realised when looking through my photos for this post I did do some more baking last week too so there are two posts ready for this week.

I’ve been thinking about how to not get completely exhausted and frustrated while doing household tasks and cleaning this week. Half term is always a time there’s so much more to be done and it can be easy to let things slide for a day and then have regret the next day. In our house, we are trying to teach our children the household tasks are the joint responsibility of the household. So the older kids have a list of chores to pick from before they go off and do their own thing each day and the youngest is beginning to learn to tidy up her own things after she finishes using them. Still, many of the household chores fall to me as does keeping a mental picture of what needs doing and how long it was since all the different tasks were last done. The most helpful thing I’ve found apart from doing little and often and listening to good podcasts or radio shows is thinking about why I am doing something, who am I really doing it for. More often than not I find I’m really doing things for myself. It’s me who doesn’t feel comfortable surrounded by dirty dishes or with piles of dog hair over the floor so really it’s me who benefits from those things being sorted out. I think it’s important to teach my kids to do the laundry and to cook and clean so they are positive members of any future household they belong to and can look after themselves when they are ready to leave home. But I find it much less stressful if I remember they aren’t there yet they’re still learning and sometimes I have the energy to teach but sometimes I don’t but I still want things done so I chose the things that matter to me and let the other things slide if I’m happy in my surroundings that’s what’s most important.

Today I was invited to a vegan cheese related event which was too good an opportunity to try something new to turn down. So I had a go at making vegan queso dip.

I used this recipe which I picked because it was comparatively quick to make. I have spotted some recipes for cashew cheese which take a while to mature but I’m definitely giving them a try soon.

Basically, this is aubergine dip flavoured with garlic, cumin, nutritional yeast and what is supposed to be chilli powder but I didn’t have any so I used paprika. I chopped too much garlic and had to remove some when I measured and I might use even less if I make it again as it was a bit garlicky for my personal taste.

The only issue I had was it didn’t thicken as much as I expected even after adding extra cornflour. But once mixed with salsa and nachos it was really yummy and cheesy and I couldn’t really tell it was vegan. Not sure if anyone else tried it so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

This afternoon we had a go at vegan gluten free chocolate chip cookies as choc-chip cookies are something super popular with my family.

Had fun cooking with my kitchen assistant except when she was disappointed she couldn’t use the oven herself.

I started with this recipe and then changed it around for ingredients I had in the cupboard.

1/3rd Cup coconut oil

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons almond milk

2 cups Doves Farm Gluten Free Self Raising Flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup dark choc chips

Heat oven to Gas Mark 4 (180C 350F).

Grease cookie sheets.

Cream coconut oil and sugar, whisk in vanilla and almond milk.

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Stir in flour and baking powder. Gently combine chocolate chips. 1 cup is definitely too many chocolate chips 1/2 or 3/4 would be plenty. img_20170601_190109.jpg

Make small balls and flatten slightly onto trays at a reasonable distance from each other.

Bake for 12-14 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before eating if you can resist that long.

These are amazing. So good that the fussiest member of the taste team ate two without realising or even minding when he found out they were gluten free and vegan. Will be making them again many times.

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Chocolate and Banana and Apple

Two lots of baking this week first a Birthday cake. Just plain despite the numerous suggestions his small sister came up with the 13-year-old was reluctant to have too much fun -it’s very serious being 13 you know.

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Just a regular chocolate sponge with chocolate buttercream and chocolate sprinkles -enough chocolate for you yet? It was yummy of course.

Second was an adjustment on a banana loaf to make a banana and apple loaf. Looks good but won’t be taste tested until it goes to a bring and share lunch on Saturday.

Pancake day special

After a disaster of an attempt to cook pancakes for breakfast, I made a positive choice to learn to make pancakes well today.

I started out blaming my tools and went to get a new pancake pan at the shop. Then I found some new recipes. A ‘proper’ pancake recipe from when Mary Berry made pancakes on The One Show.

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This recipe for scotch pancakes which is also a Mary Berry recipe. And after quite a lot of searching this recipe for vegan pancakes which I made with regular flour and hazelnut milk rather than almond milk.

Other things I discovered while reading up on pancakes are that Shrove Tuesday apparently comes from an old English word shrive which means to confess your sins -all part of it being preparation for lent. Managed to hold myself back from running round the corner to confess all my sins with pancake in pan though. It also seems (based on facebook posts) a lot of mums measure their success or failure as a mum based on whether or not they can provide their children with well-cooked pancakes. News just in, if you’re even trying to make pancakes for your children you’re doing a brilliant job as a mum give yourself a gold star regardless of the prettiness of your pancakes.

Turns out all the recipes although they looked quite different in the bowls

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are pretty easy to cook. Must have been right I just needed a new pan.

We had a lot of fun and despite not all looking the best they all tasted OK.

The taste test team liked the traditional English pancakes best and even insisted they had them for their main meal. The Scotch pancakes second best and they liked the vegan pancakes more than they expected to do. The Scotch pancakes were a little difficult to spread on the griddle and very filling and the vegan pancakes had a little bit of a bitter aftertaste (less baking powder would probably have solved that issue without changing the pancakes too much) and were softer than the other ones.

So now to decide whether to give up anything for lent or not. Would it be a positive choice or a step back in time?

Too yummy for photos

This week I made vegan brownies twice and both times they were eaten too quickly and I didn’t get the chance to take a photo of the finished product. Partly the speed of eating because they were so yummy and partly I was distracted as I had a week surrounded by friends and family. So super busy that not only did I not have time for food photography I had little time for thinking.

Yet what did ‘get done’ was very important. I spent time with my children, I listened to them and I gave them opportunities to spend time with friends and I spent time with my friends and that’s good for the soul. Then I spent time with family over the weekend, which is precious especially as you never know when it won’t be able to do it anymore.

Vegan brownies inspired by some of my friends ‘going vegan’ or rather ‘switching to a plant-based diet’. Good for the environment and when you don’t make brownies as your main vegan thing often good for health too with lots of yummy vegetables.

The recipe involves precooking some of the flour and water before mixing into sugar and cocoa powder and oil.

It’s an unusual method, not one I’ve used before but not too difficult or time-consuming. It makes a really sticky batter which is much thicker than I’m used to but makes really lovely sticky sweet brownies which you can easily be healthy and eat just a small amount of, unless you’re like the taste team and get carried away.

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Thank you https://www.facebook.com/itsthehappypage/

When you’re an introvert it can sometimes feel like hard work having friends and family but it’s always good to be reminded it’s really worth it.