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Easter in Bruges

We had a really enjoyable Easter in Bruges. It was our second time visiting and I loved it just as much as the first, perhaps even more because I had so many memories of Nicholas toddling around and tucking into various delicacies for the first time from our trip two years ago.

Beautiful BrugesBruges is a gorgeous city with lots of wonderful green spaces as well as amazing architecture and very pretty canals. The fact that the centre is small and flat makes it super easy to get about walking (although you can rent bicycles or even Segways if you don’t want to walk).

Bruges MarktWe went with our dearest friends who also have a little boy (our cheeky godson) and they found an amazing house just outside the centre. There was a bus stop right in front of the house, although it was cheaper to drive and park at the station (just 3.50 Euros for the whole day with a free bus into the centre) then either jump on the bus or just walk into the centre.

Hunting for Easter eggs in the garden

The house we rented had the perfect garden for an Easter egg hunt (I must remind the Easter Bunny next year that he can hide them in trickier places).

Bruges from the canalsWhen it comes to eating there are lots of yummy options to try, from the famous fries and waffles you can buy on the street to the amazing number of Michelin-starred restaurants.

De Wijngaert Grill Restaurant BrugesA restaurant we wanted to go back to was De Wijngaert Grill Restaurant. We stumbled across it by chance last time, following the delicious smells of grilled meats (is there anything better than grilled meat or fish?). And it didn’t disappoint this time. I also love the fact that locals eat there. It’s tiny so if you go during a busy period of the year, pop in earlier and book a table.

BrugesIt’s very close to De Halve Maan Brewery where they make the famous Brugse Zot beers as well as the richer (and more dangerous!) Straffe Hendrick beers. You can take a tour of the brewery (the only working one that remains in Bruges) and either enjoy a drink in their lovely courtyard or a meal in their large bistro (the dishes that are cooked with beer, such as the famous Flemish beef stew, are particularly good).

De Vlaamsche Pot, Bruges

 

A ‘new’ restaurant for us this time, thanks to a friend’s recommendation, was De Vlaamsche Pot, close to the large ‘t Zand square. It prides itself on slow cooking so not good if you want to eat quickly, but perfect to savour their mouth-watering slow-cooked dishes. The Flemish beef stew was amazing here (and could have fed two people!) and all main meals came with bottomless fries. Be careful when ordering beer though as most of them are sold in large 750ml bottles.

I think I need to book our next trip back!

 

 

 

Easter inspiration 2014

It’s almost time for the Easter Bunny to visit and this year I haven’t made any Easter-themed lunches and snacks.

We were lucky to be able to spend two weeks in the sun in Marsa Alam, Egypt and I really enjoyed having time off from meal preparation. Also having come back home just a week ago I’ve been making the most of my time with Nicholas before he starts preschool full-time after Easter (this has involved lots of playing and dancing together with not that much thought for food!).

Oh, and there’s been lots of questions about how big the Easter Bunny is, a bit of disbelief when I admit I’ve never seen him and then a slight concern about how he gets in the house – questions I wasn’t prepared for. What do your little ones ask about Easter?

Anyway, if you’re looking for some last minute inspiration, here are some of my favourites with a couple of my efforts from last year thrown in.

Happy Easter!

EasterJill, over at Meet the Dubiens, has created the cutest plate of chicks in their nest. Check out her wonderful website for other adorable Easter food.

Bento, Monsters Easter Chick BurgerMing, who blogs at Bento, Monsters, has come up with a wonderful Easter twist on a simple cheese burger.

EasterLittle Miss Bento has turned Japanese curry buns into a nest of cute chicks.

Lunarbell Lunch Easter BasketSarah, who is Lunarbell Lunch on Instagram, has made the most adorable Easter basket.

And some of my efforts from last year:

Easter chicks

Easter chicks

The Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny

Easter egg snacking plate

Easter egg snacking plate

You can find some more inspiration from my Easter round-up post last year.

Wishing you all a very happy Easter.

 

Dairy-free hot cross buns

This time last year I made my very first attempts at making hot cross buns using a wonderful Paul Hollywood recipe, and I was very proud of the results.

hot cross buns

My not too shabby efforts at making hot cross buns last year.

This year I’ve been experimenting with a dairy-free version as we’re spending Easter with our dearest friends and godson, one of whom is lactose intolerant. I used last year’s recipe as a starting point; it requires quite a bit of time (you need to leave the buns to rise three times) but you do get wonderful buns in the end.

Paul Hollywood’s original recipe is rather tame in terms of spices (there’s just a small amount of ground cinnamon) and also only has a moderate amount of mixed peel (something my hubby loves but I don’t), so in my dairy-free version I increased both, and also added some nutmeg and cloves. The end result was much more satisfying especially the wonderful aroma of warm spices, and I have to admit the extra mixed peel works well.

The recipe uses fast-action or easy-blend yeast, but I’ve successfully used normal dried yeast as well. Look at last year’s recipe for instructions. I also like to soak my sultanas (or raisins) for half an hour in just boiled water before adding them to the dough so they’re lovely and plump, but that’s entirely up to you.

Several weeks ago I saw some amazing hot cross buns on Instagram by Burch & Purchase, a wonderful cake shop in Melbourne, Australia. They had the most incredible crosses on top. Instead of the usual traditional white flour mixture being piped on, it had been brushed on with very evident brush strokes (check out Burch & Purchase’s Instagram feed to see them and their other incredible creations). I attempted something similar with a thinner flour mixture and a brush, but as you can see it wasn’t a great success. I’ve left the instructions for the more traditional method!

EasterI used a sugar and water glaze on my finished buns last year which worked very well. This year I used a sugar and orange juice glaze, so as not to waste the orange whose zest you need. It’s very tasty although stays much stickier than the water version.

DAIRY-FREE HOT CROSS BUNS

Prep time: 30 mins (plus 3 x 1 hour of proving)
Cook time: 12-15 mins
Makes 16 buns
Freezable

300ml non-dairy milk (I used lactose free dairy drink)
3 tbsp vegetable oil (I used rapeseed oil)
500g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
75g caster sugar
7g sachet fast-action or easy-blend yeast
1 egg, beaten
100g sultanas or raisins
75g mixed peel
zest of 1 orange
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves

For the cross:
75g plain flour
water

For the glaze:
25g caster sugar
25ml freshly squeezed orange juice

In a small saucepan, bring the non-dairy milk to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the oil. Leave to cool until it reaches a temperature you can put your hand into.

Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a bowl (keeping the salt away from the yeast). Make a well in the centre. Pour in the warm milk and oil mixture, then add the egg. Using a wooden spoon, mix well.

Use your hands to bring the dough together then tip onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Put the dough in a clean and lightly oiled bowl. Cover with oiled cling film (to stop the dough drying out) and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Keeping the dough in the bowl, add the sultanas, mixed peel, orange zest, apple, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Knead into the dough, making sure everything is well distributed (this isn’t as easy as it sounds!). Cover and leave to rise for another hour or until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 16 even pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface.

Arrange the buns on two baking trays lined with baking paper, leaving some space for the dough to expand. Cover (but don’t wrap) with more oiled cling film, or a clean tea towel, and let them prove for another hour.

Heat your oven to 220C (200C fan).

Mix the flour for the cross with about 5 tbsp water to make a paste, adding the water 1 tbsp at a time to achieve a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Pipe a line along each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses.

Bake for 12-15 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven, until golden brown.

Gently heat the sugar and orange juice for the glaze either in a small saucepan or in the microwave.  While the buns are still warm, brush over the sugar syrup over the top of the buns and leave to cool.

What are you favourite foods to eat at Easter? Do you have any family Easter traditions?

Cute lunches: Spider crackers

I came across these super cute spider snacks on Pinterest and knew they’d be great for Nicholas’ Spider-Man birthday party. They went down very well, even with the adults! Nicholas now asks for them regularly and they’re an easy snack to prepare.

Ritz spider crackers

Sorry for the very blurry photo, but…

For each spider you’ll need two round crackers (I used Ritz crackers). Using an edible ink pen, draw eyes and a mouth on the top of one cracker (you can also use raisins or sultanas for eyes stuck in place with soft cheese or even mayonnaise). Spread some soft cheese on the other cracker and press in the spider’s legs (I used Twiglets broken in half, but you could also use pretzel sticks or thin bread sticks). Spread a little bit of soft cheese on the top crack and position it on top.

Spider crackers

someone couldn’t wait to eat his spiders!

Can you think of any other animals you could make out of crackers?

Sugar-free Easter nests

Nicholas’ preschool has had an Easter display up for a couple of weeks now so Nicholas is already getting excited. We had lots of fun making these simple nests together and even more fun eating the eggs that unfortunately wouldn’t fit in the nests!

Honey Joys, Sweet FreedomThe nests are based on a recipe all Australians know. Honey Joys were pretty much a prerequisite at birthday parties when I was growing up and now they give me a wonderful feeling of nostalgia.

The standard Honey Joy recipe uses butter, sugar and honey, which are melted together and then stirred through cornflakes. I wanted to make a slightly healthier version, and so replaced the sugar and honey with Sweet Freedom (a natural sweetener made from 100% fruit). You could also use agave nectar, or even honey (as you’re still cutting out the original sugar). The end result is just as sugary sweet as I remember but with fewer calories. And I believe that means you can eat more of them!

I’ve also successfully made a dairy-free version of these, using a dairy-free spread instead of the butter. They turned out just slightly softer than using butter, but otherwise I was very happy with the result.

Sweet Freedom nests

SUGAR-FREE EASTER NESTS

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Makes about 12 nests

45g butter or dairy-free spread
2 tbsp Sweet Freedom (or agave nectar or honey)
2 cups cornflakes
Some small chocolate eggs

Preheat oven to 150C and line a cupcake tray with paper cases.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and Sweet Freedom over a low heat until the butter is frothing a little (if using a dairy-free spread, just melt as it won’t froth).

While you’re waiting, put the cornflakes into a medium-sized bowl.

Pour the melted sweetened butter over the cornflakes and quickly mix to combine.

Spoon the cornflake mixture into the cupcake cases, making nest shapes by leaving a hollow in the centre of each.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Cool a little and while the nests are still sticky, push in some small chocolate eggs.

Cool completely.

Third birthday and a dinosaur adventure

I really enjoyed spending Nicholas’ third birthday just the three of us (and his party was 6 days later so my stress levels were still rather low!).

Hubby and I blew up lots of balloons and put them in Nicholas’ room while he was sleeping the night before so he’d have a lovely surprise when he woke up. Well that was my nice thought. Last year we left just 3 or 4 balloons and he got very excited. This year was another story.

We woke up to Nicholas making strange angry sounds and found him sitting on his bed looking very annoyed at all the balloons filling up his bedroom floor. Ok, I should have taken into account his need (typical for kids his age) for things not to change, especially in his room! Oh well…

To lighten the mood and get back on track with the festivities, he opened his main present from us before breakfast.

third birthday presentI continued the birthday tradition we started last year of pancakes and icecream with candles for breakfast, this year incorporating his adoration of blue. I made pancakes with a little blue food colouring a couple of days before and put them in the freezer so I could have a relaxed morning too (pancakes freeze wonderfully!).

blue birthday pancakesThen we headed into London to the Natural History Museum to look at dinosaurs. Nicholas was both excited and a bit nervous about seeing dinosaurs (I wish I could have gotten into his brain to see what he was anticipating), but as we queued, one of the museum workers did a wonderful job telling him all about the first dinosaur he’d see as soon as we went in – Dippy the diplodocus.

practising our dinosaur impersonationWe had a wonderful afternoon and Nicholas enjoyed himself immensely, even comforting a boy, probably more or less his own age, who was crying after seeing the big animatronic T.Rex.

meeting T.Rex

To finish the day, Nicholas was very happy to have his much requested blue chocolate cake (although I think he would have been just as happy with the bowl of blue chocolate ganache!).

blowing out the candles on his blue chocolate cakeHappy birthday to my gorgeous boy!

The ultimate (blue) chocolate cake

Nicholas is now a big three years old (although it depends on what he does or doesn’t want to do whether it’s “mummy, I’m big!” or “mummy, I’m little!”). And I promised myself it wouldn’t take me a year to blog about it (like his second birthday).

When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted on his birthday he very decisively requested a blue chocolate cake. I have to admit cheering loudly to myself. Even though I’m a big chocolate lover, hubby isn’t and has a tendency to sulk if I make anything chocolatey for other people.

We even had an argument one year when I requested a chocolate cake for my birthday but he wanted to make me his pineapple upside down cake (which I do love) because surely I’d be happier if everyone could enjoy the cake (um… I think I’m allowed to be a little selfish one day a year!). Anyway he did come through in the end and made me the yummiest chocolate brownies.

Back to the blue chocolate cake, this was the perfect excuse to make a lovely decadent cake I’ve had saved in my favourites for a while, Angela Nilson’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake. And having made it twice now, this is definitely my ‘go to’ chocolate cake from now on! It’s a deliciously decadent fudgy chocolate cake that stays moist for several days, so perfect to make a day or two ahead. Its richness also means you can serve up smaller slices making it feed more people.

Nicholas and his requested blue chocolate cake
I always read any comments people make when looking at recipes online. In the comments left by people who’d made Angela’s cake there were two very helpful suggestions made by different people: make the ganache that gets poured over the finished cake first so it can cool and thicken in the fridge; the amount of sugar in the cake can be reduced a lot.

It is amazing how much you can often reduce the quantity of sugar in recipes without really noticing a difference. Since I started experimenting with cooking more healthily after having Nicholas, I’ve successfully reduced the sugar for most of my favourite sweet recipes sometimes even reducing it by as much as 25%. Next time you do some baking, why not try taking out some of the sugar and see if you notice the difference.

The original cake recipe has 400g in total of sugar (200g each of light muscovada and golden caster sugars). As suggested, I used 250g in total, a very large reduction, and it was still a very sweet cake! I also omitted the 2 tablespoons of golden caster sugar in the ganache as I thought it was unnecessary and again it was definitely sweet enough. So a slightly healthier version of the original recipe ;).

The original recipe uses dark chocolate in the ganache. I used white chocolate to be able to give Nicholas his requested blue cake and it was a nice pop of colour having some blue sandwiching the cake together.

Being a bit lazy, I cooked my cakes in two separate tins to avoid having to cut through the middle later when decorating it. This also reduces the cooking time (another bonus!).

The ganache recipe makes a lot. I used it to sandwich together the two cakes and poured it over the top, but still had a small bowlful left. You could use the leftovers to ice cupcakes, or warm it a little and pour over ice cream or dollop over frozen berries.

Please try to ignore the big crack on the top!

THE ULTIMATE (BLUE) CHOCOLATE CAKE

Prep time: 30-40 mins
Cook time: 45-55 mins (mixture divided into 2 tins); 1hr 20 – 1 hr 30 mins (mixture cooked in 1 tin)

For the ganache:
200g good quality white chocolate, chopped or broken into fairly small pieces
284ml carton double cream (pouring type)
A few drops of food colouring

For the cake:
200g good quality dark chocolate, about 60% cocoa solids, chopped or broken into fairly small pieces
200g butter, cut into cubes
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
85g self-raising flour
85g plain flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g light muscovado sugar
125g golden caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
75ml (5 tbsp) buttermilk

To make the ganache, pour the double cream into a small saucepan and heat gently over a low heat until it’s just about to boil. Meanwhile put the pieces of white chocolate into a bowl.

Once the cream is almost boiling, take it off the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add a few drops of food colouring and stir through.

Put the ganache in the fridge to cool and thicken while you make the cake.

To make the cake, butter two 20cm round cake tins (if using just one tin it needs to be at least 8cm deep) and line the base with baking paper.

Preheat the oven to fan 140C/conventional 160C/ gas 3.

Put the pieces of dark chocolate and butter into a medium, heavy-based saucepan. Mix the instant coffee into 125ml cold water and add it to the saucepan. Gently melt over a low heat, stirring regularly so the mixture doesn’t burn on the bottom. (Or melt in the microwave on medium for about 5 minutes, stirring half way through.)

While the chocolate is melting, sift the self-raising and plain flours, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa powder into a big bowl. Add the light muscovado sugar and golden caster sugar and stir getting rid of any lumps.

Once the chocolate mixture has melted, pour it into the dry ingredients and add the beaten eggs and buttermilk. Mix until everything is thoroughly combined and you have a smooth, quite runny consistency. Pour into your prepared tin/s and bake until a skewer comes out clean and the top feels firm (don’t worry if it cracks a bit): 45-55 mins if dividing it between two tins or 1hr 20-1hr 30 mins if baking it as one cake.

Leave to cool in the tin (don’t worry if it dips slightly), then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

If you’ve made one cake, cut it horizontally in half once cold. If you’ve made two, you might need to level the top of the one which will be your bottom piece (if that is the case, you must then eat the bits you cut off to ensure the cake is ok ;)).

Sandwich the pieces together with some of the ganache, then pour more ganache over the cake letting it fall down the sides and smoothing to cover with a palette knife. Decorate as desired.

third birthday 'selfie'

Tip: You’ll have leftover buttermilk after making this cake; use the rest to make wonderfully light pancakes (just do an online search for ‘buttermilk pancakes’).

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