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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!

 

 

 

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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?

Refined 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!

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The 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 refined 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.

Coconut and lime macaroons

While Easter is over, although the tempting chocolate eggs linger, I wanted to share one last Easter-inspired recipe. The great thing is you don’t need to wait until next Easter to make them. Shape them into circles or other shapes, colour them or not, and they’re a great dairy-free sweet morsel.

coconut and lime macaroon eggs

This recipe (apart from the food colouring) is an unchanged Jill Dupleix recipe and, following her food philosophy, they are a wonderfully light treat. The non-traditional lime zest and juice add a fresh zing, and contrast perfectly with the chewy coconut interior, making it easier to eat another one, and another one, and another one!

I wanted little bite-sized macaroons so I used a very small round cookie cutter approximately 4cm in diameter. I then shaped the circles into egg shapes by gently pinching the top. Jill uses the rim of a small liqueur glass to make slightly bigger macaroons. Because mine were smaller than the original recipe, they cooked quicker. Do watch them closely as they can colour very quickly at the end (as you can see in my photo!).

Nicholas had great fun helping me squish and squeeze the ingredients together with our hands. He also enjoyed cutting out the circles, but because of the sticky consistency of the mixture he needed help to get them on the baking tray.

making coconut and lime macaroons

Make them plain like the original recipe or add some food colouring for fun. We also made multi-coloured macaroons by pressing stripes of different coloured mixture together. With so few ingredients they’re perfect for your munchkin’s next cooking activity.

COCONUT AND LIME MACAROONS

Prep time: 10-15 mins
Cook time: 8-12 mins
Makes 30 bite-sized macaroons

2 egg whites
100g caster sugar
160g desiccated coconut
1 tsp grated lime (about 1/2 a lime)
1 tbsp lime juice (about 1/2 a lime)
food colouring of your choice (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Put the egg whites, sugar, coconut, lime zest and juice in a bowl, and use your hands to mix and squeeze until they lightly come together.

If using food colouring, divide you mixture into smaller bowls and add a drop or two of your desired colouring. Mix until evenly coloured.

On a piece of baking paper, press the mixture into a flat shape (about 1cm high) using wet hands.

Use a small round cookie cutter (approx. 4cm in diameter) to cut out small rounds, and place on your prepared baking tray.

Using wet hands, gently pinch the top of each circle to create oval shapes.

Bake for 8-12 minutes in the centre of the oven until just starting to colour.

Cool the macaroons on a wire rack (move them carefully as they’ll still be quite soft while they’re still warm), and store in an airtight jar.

Happy belated Easter from my own little Easter bunny!

Cute Lunches: Easter snacking plate

With Easter bunny coming tonight, this is the last of our cute plates for Easter. Today it was a snacking plate.

Easter snacking plate

I used an egg-shaped cookie cutter for the sandwiches. I mixed a little food colouring in water and decorated the top slices. The sandwiches have a light curried egg filling: mashed boiled egg, some mayonnaise and a pinch of mild curry powder.

I made an avocado dip by mashing up half an avocado with a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt, serving it inside a plastic Easter egg with some carrot sticks for dipping.

Hoping the Easter bunny brings you lots of goodies!

Hot Cross Buns

Staying at home this year for Easter (yay!), I wanted to cook some traditional Easter dishes. And apart from Easter eggs, something that cries ‘Easter!’ for me are hot cross buns.

hot cross buns

I came across Paul Hollywood’s recipe online and then saw him make them on The Great British Bake Off’s Easter Masterclass (still available to watch on BBC’s iPlayer for those of you in the UK). All the online positive comments easily swayed me, as well as the addition of a couple of different ingredients which I was curious about.

By the way, did you know the buns and their distinctive crosses come from pagan traditions rather than Christian? The word ‘Easter’ comes from the goddess Eostre who was worshipped by the Saxons. To celebrate the arrival of spring, they made her bun offerings, marked with crosses to represent the four seasons. Enter the Christians, and they realised it was better to reinterpret the pagan Easter festivities rather than try to eliminate them. Thus the buns’ crosses came to symbolise Jesus’ crucifixion.

In the end I was very happy with my first attempt at baking hot cross buns. I used to bake bread quite a bit, but my last few efforts didn’t turn out that well so I stopped making it and became a bit afraid of any recipe involving yeast. Now was the perfect time to conquer my fear!

You need to allow a lot of time for proving (you leave the dough three times, each time for an hour, to rise), so making hot cross buns is for when you’re home all day or afternoon, and probably isn’t a great recipe to try with kids. I also made the mistake of not reading the ingredients list carefully enough. Milk: check; butter: check; strong bread flour: add to the shopping list… yeast: check… but as I started to make them I realised Paul Hollywood specifies fast-action or easy-blend yeast, which I didn’t have. What the heck, I thought, let’s see if the yeast I have works without dissolving it in liquid first. I followed the recipe and let the dough stand for its first hour of rising, but it didn’t rise. Ok, of course, Paul Hollywood knows what he’s talking about. Take two!

To activate my normal dried yeast, I took 3 tablespoons of the milk before I heated it and put it aside. I also took 5g from the 75g of caster sugar and put it in the bowl with the yeast. Once the rest of the milk was heated, I added the cold milk and enough hot milk to the yeast and sugar to dissolve them. I left the yeast mixture for 15 minutes to do its stuff and was thankful it was frothy when I came back. I then added the frothy yeast to the dry ingredients when I added the milk and continued as the recipe states. This time my dough rose!

The original recipe has an apricot jam glaze, but many of the people reviewing it said they preferred a simple sugar glaze. I went with the sugar glaze.

Another common comment by people who’ve made Paul’s hot cross buns is that there’s a lack of spice. When I think of hot cross buns I can almost smell the warmth of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. I followed Paul’s recipe and only included 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. While hubby pointed out that this amount of cinnamon balances well with the other flavours, it doesn’t give you the heady aroma of spices. Next time I’d add some more cinnamon, plus some nutmeg and a little cloves.

Paul’s different ingredients of orange zest and chopped apple really do add to the flavour without actually being obviously noticeable. I was surprised not to come across pieces of apple (I chopped them into 1cm squares more or less) which probably was a good thing. The amount of candied peel is also on the safe side. Hubby is a huge fan so could have had more, while I don’t like it and the amount was fine for me.

I’m always afraid of dried fruit like sultanas and raisins drying out when they’re cooking, so I soaked the sultanas in hot water for 30 mins before adding them. They did come out lovely and plump.

Anyway, I’ve made you read far too much. Get baking your one a penny, two a penny…

HOT CROSS BUNS

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

300ml full-fat milk
50g butter
500g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
75g caster sugar
7g sachet fast-action or easy-blend yeast
1 egg, beaten
75g sultanas
50g mixed peel
zest 1 orange
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For the cross
75g plain flour
water

For the glaze
25g caster sugar
25ml water

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the butter. 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 butter 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 (Paul suggests holding the dough with one hand and stretching it with the heel of the other hand, then folding it back on itself).

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 and cinnamon. 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 (Paul actually says 15 pieces, but I have an issue with odd number when baking, and to weigh each piece so they cook evenly). Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface (Paul suggests cupping your hand over the ball and using a circular motion, first slow then fast, to create an even ball).

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 (Paul suggests starting piping on the baking tray, moving over the buns and finishing on the baking tray so your crosses go all the way across your buns).

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

Gently heat the sugar and water 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.

Variations:

  • add some more spice such as nutmeg and cloves (even ginger) for a more traditional spiced bun
  • glaze the warm buns with warmed and sieved apricot jam (Paul’s suggestion), or honey or golden syrup
  • add some different dried fruit such as cranberries, cherries or dates
  • add 100g of broken up chocolate for more decadent buns

How do you eat your hot cross buns? Toasted? Anything on top?