Pretzels

Sport Snack Pretzels

While I do like to be adventurous when it comes to live sport snacks (ever tried a pickle egg?) there is some real snack fatigue going on. Unless some idiot decides to bring along some fresh fruit, you’re usually in for a safe ride of crisps, peanuts or the recently popular wasabi peas.

England were hardly good football material this year, so perhaps my enthusiasm for live sport snacks waned simultaneously with their goal scoring abilities. My predicament is that this is the year of sport in England, so I’ve got mountains of junk food to consume. Unless of course I can somehow find a better alternative.

Look I won’t lie to you, this wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be. First there’s the dough, then the incredibly complicated fold, followed by poaching and finally they get baked. So a long process, but one that makes you look super flash on the snack front.

What you’ll need make roughly 28 – 30 small pretzels
440ml warm water
3 tablespoons of castor sugar
1 packet of active dry yeast
750g all-purpose flour and some for dusting
1 tablespoon of salt
2 teaspoons of olive oil
37g baking soda
1 large egg
Sea salt

Dough
Pour 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the warm water and stir to combine. Sprinkle the yeast on top and leave for ten minutes until it starts to foam.  Then add 150g of the flour (a handful will do) and combine with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the rest of the flour, a handful at a time until the dough feels a little stretchy. If wet and sticky, just add a little bit more flour. Then knead for about a minute. Pour the oil into a large bowl, coat and pop in the dough mix. Lay a tea towel over the top and leave in a warm spot for an hour or so.

Take the dough out, give it a little punch in the middle to remove the air and knead a couple of times. Flatten it out and cut into 28 pieces. As even as you can, but don’t worry if they’re not perfect.

Folding
This was complicated. I mean really complicated. Plus if you’re not careful, they end up looking like a little salty poop and that’s never a good feature for a snack. Roll each piece into a 30cm strip before you fold. I laid out a ruler in advance and kept rolling to that length. For some reason it seemed impossible to roll on a floured surface. Try it on a clean worktop if you’re struggling.

To fold you need to adopt the lasso approach which just seemed impossible. An over eager employee from Auntie Annie shows you how, but I couldn’t muster it. So I ended up with the flip, twist and hope for the best approach. If you can do it better, please share and gloat because you’ll deserve the credit. Once you’ve mastered the technique, leave them for 15 minutes on a grease proof papered tray to rise a little.

Poach
Fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil. Add the baking powder and stand back till it settles, then add the remaining sugar. Gently drop three at a time into the water and poach for around 30 seconds on each side. Drain, then transfer back onto the grease proof papered tray. I managed to only do eight at a time on a tray

Bake
Beat the egg and brush each of the pretzels with the glaze. Sprinkle the salt on top and pop into a hot 230 degree over (gas mark 8) until golden brown. It’s amazing how good they look and I was proud as punch when they came out.


The Dip
Now any good sporting snack needs a good dip to dunk it in. I tried to get flash with a red pepper chilli dip, but it was a little too fresh. Mustard is the most traditional, but what’s mustard without a bit of salt beef. The best I found was cream cheese with heaps of ground black pepper.

Top Shot

Paleo Pie with Sweet Potato & Fennel Mash

Recently, I attempted to roughly work out the probability of ever seeing myself with a flat stomach. Sure, it’s fairly unlikely with my love of beer, pies and sweet treats, but I’ve recently been put onto the Paleo diet at the local Crossfit. Now, I was totally content to keep this dull diet stuff to myself – workday salads, grilled chicken thighs with whatever vegetables now dominate my fridge – but you clicked on the link, so you clearly wanted to know a bit more.

The trouble with Paleo is that you have to be super prepared and own an overwhelming amount of Tupperware boxes. Adopting Paleo is like making food choices along a very narrow line that divides food into two categories of “Acceptable” and “Nope”. I like to think this recipe sits in the middle of that line. It’s totally Paleo, but tastes like proper food should.

Organic Mince

Paleo Pie with Sweet Potato & Fennel Mash (makes 6 portions)
1kg organic mince
20g dried Porcini mushrooms & 250ml boiling water
2 medium diced red onions
500ml beef stock
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
2 chopped carrots
1 sprig of rosemary
2 tablespoons tomato puree
3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
125g sliced mushrooms
2 gloves of crushed garlic
1.25kg sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds

First, brown off all the organic mince in small batches with the rapeseed oil and set aside. In the same pan brown the onions and once they start to caramelise add the tomato puree. Fry for a couple of minutes before pouring in a cup of cold water to deglaze the pan. Add the mince back to the pan and mix together so the ingredients get to know each other.

Dried Porcini Mushrooms

Add the tinned tomato, chopped rosemary, garlic, beef stock, carrots and sliced mushrooms to the pan. Soak the Porcini mushrooms in boiling water for about 5 minutes, and then add the mushrooms and liquid to the pan. Turn the heat down and simmer until it reduces to look like the photo below.

Cottage Pie Mince

Paleo Sheperds Pie

Meanwhile, peel your sweet potatoes and warm you oven up to 200°C.  Mash the potatoes and stir in the ground up fennel seeds. To assemble, add the mince to a large oven dish and spoon over the mashed sweet potato. Place in your pre-heated oven for twenty five minutes and you’re done. I find its best served with steamed broccoli.

Two loaves of Chocoloate Goodness

Twisted Chocolate Almond Loaf

It has been way too long since I baked a loaf of anything. Making the ever-so-popular mini pretzels was fun. The double egg glazed burger buns? Yep they were a laugh, but I think making the sourdough starter sort of ruined the joy of baking for me. It was too much hard work, with little reward and I needed something to lure me back to my giant jar of flour.

Enter Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest recipe book, jam packed full of inspirational ideas, that found its way into my birthday wishlist. Now here was something to kick-start me into baking again, especially the take on a classic krantz cake. Granted it’s a lot of work, but the reward…well my key recipe tasters (Anna and some mate’s down the road) said it was well worth it. A couple of small tweaks to his classic recipe and I was bitten again by the baking bug.

Twisted Almond Loaf

Twisted Chocolate Almond Loaf (makes two loaves)
530g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g caster sugar
2tsp dried fast-action yeast
grated zest of one lime
3 large free-range eggs
120ml water
1/3 tsp salt
150g unsalted butter, cut into 2cm cubes, at room temperature
sunflower oil, for greasing

To  make the dough combine the flour, sugar, yeast, lime zest and salt into a large mixing bowl. I don’t have a fancy food mixer, so I attempted it by hand. Add the eggs and water, then mix until the dough comes together. Then start adding the butter, just a little bit at a time, until it melts into the dough. Keep kneading until it becomes elastic, smooth and a little bit shiny. You’ll need the extra flour to keep dusting it so it doesn’t stick. Once done, place in a large pre-greased bowl, cover and leave in the fridge overnight to proof.

Chopped Almonds

Chocolate Almond Filling
50g icing sugar
30g cocoa powder
130g dark chocolate
120g unsalted butter
100g almonds, with their skins on
2 tbsp caster sugar

Chocolate Spread

Lightly toast the almonds in a pan, then roughly chop and set aside. Melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl over bowling water until combined. Then mix the chocolate together with the icing sugar and cocoa powder to make a spreadable paste.

Dough

Grease two baking tins with sunflower oil and line the bottom with grease proof paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and divide in half. Keep the remaining half in the fridge. Roll the dough on a floured surface into a large rectangle. Then with a palate knife spread half the chocolate mixture over the dough rectangle, leaving roughly a 2cm border. Sprinkle half the toasted almonds and half the caster sugar on top of the chocolate mixture.

Spread with crushed almonds Roulade

Then brush a little water around the 2cm border so it sticks. Using both your hands roll it like a roulade and gently stick the wet edge so it looks like a giant burrito.

Trimmed Edges Lengthways Trim Chocolate Twist

Trim 2cm off each end with a large serrated knife. Now take the same knife and cut lengthways down the middle, dividing the log into two pieces.  You should have layers of dough and chocolate mix showing. Gently press together and then plait the two pieces together. Once you get to the end, press the two pieces together and place the whole thing into your pre-greased loaf tin to proof. Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients. Leave both loaves to proof under a wet tea towel for around 90 minutes.

Chocolate Almond Plate Proofing Loaf

The Sticky Syrup Finish
260g caster sugar
160ml water

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 or 190ºC. Remove the wet tea towel and place the loaves on the middle shelf of your oven for 30 minutes. While the loaves are cooking, boil the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. Set the syrup aside and leave to cool.  As soon as your loaves are done, brush all the syrup across both of them. The recipe calls to use all of the syrup, so it might seem like a lot, but don’t worry the breads soaks it all up. Leave until warm, then remove from the tins and leave to cool before eating…I’ve certainly got the baking bug back.

Vintage Mirror

Vintage Mirror

It’s amazing what yarn someone will spin to try and sell something for a higher price. There we were at a local car boot sale, being slowly convinced that the picture frame we were looking at was actually a door. A door you say, but it has a big hole in the middle? Yep it’s a door for a bedroom and you can have it for £60….more like a hobbit’s door I thought. Finally we got him down to £20 and off we went to convert it into a rustic mirror.

At first glance we could see the condition of the frame wasn’t at it’s best. They had beveled one of edges and installed hinges so it could swing like a door. Unfortunately by beveling one of the edges they’d revealed the lighter colour of the wood. Our best option was to bevel the whole frame with a small hand plain and go for a rustic painted finish.

I was a little worried about the frame falling apart once we fitted a big heavy mirror in the middle of it and seeing as it had been used as a door, I had no idea how many times it had been slammed in a hobbit huff. So I used some corner brackets to make it a little more stable and solid. Finally the old hinges were removed, holes filled in with wood filler and all the prep work was done in less than an hour. Time for a cup of tea.

Painting proved to be the more tricky and time consuming part of the process. With so many nooks and crannies to paint on the carved frame it took ages – dab, dab, dab I went with the paint brush for what seemed like an eternity. We had some leftover chalk pain from the Toybox project, so I used that and went with two coats to ensure a clean finish. Once dried I took some wire wool and gently rubbed down the edges and across the details to give it that worn look. Be careful if you’re doing this yourself as the paint can rub away fairly quickly. To finish I used a simple wax to seal the paint.

The final part of the process was getting the mirror into the frame. I went to get the mirror from the glazier which was a nerve wracking experience. I’m a little clumsy, some might say very clumsy, so being in a warehouse filled with nothing but mirror and glass makes me slightly uncomfortable. Here I met Mike who I imagined to be the unluckiest person in the world – surely he’s broken the odd mirror? Nope not one. Amazing.

 

To finish I tacked the mirror into place with some pins and we were done. It was a little on the heavy side with the mirror in place so we used a fairly robust set of screw plugs to get it onto the wall. It looks great and cost less than £50 to make. So if you ever spot a frame, pretending to be a door, at your local carboot sale buy it and make a mirror.

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