Adventures in Bread Baking

Bread

I am a perfectionist, and don’t often like to start new things if I know there’s a good chance of failure. That is especially true when it comes to cooking & baking; I’m pretty sure my sense of self is tied up in a messy way with my ability to shine in the kitchen, so I tend to stick to easier dishes and bakes to minimise against disasters (and tantrums). That’s not to say I’m immune to kitchen fails – we won’t mention the grey salted caramel cheesecake… – but I’ve often not attempted something with a perceived level of difficulty. That’s all to change this year; as I mentioned on Monday I am attempting to hone my skills and try new things – often finding that they weren’t as difficult as I once thought. Case in point: bread. 

Flour for making Bread

Bread Dough

Freshly baked bread is truly a thing of beauty – far from the insipid, uninspiring packet loaves that we’re used to. I have turned my hand to bread baking a couple of times in the past, but with little success. This is most definitely a science – there’s no just leaving it to chance with bread. However, I want to master bread baking (as much as you can master such a thing) this year, so I armed myself with Brilliant Bread by James Morton (recommended to me by Rachel) and actually read the introduction and instructions properly. As with all things, a bit of patience and attention to detail make a big difference – and I’ve successfully baked half a dozen white loaves. Paul has become a bit addicted, devouring almost the entire thing each time – which is probably for the best since the bread is nowhere near as good the next day, suitable only for toasting, and totally rubbish by day two. Such is the curse of fresh bread; the pleasure is great but only fleeting. 

Bread Dough

I can highly recommend this book to other novice bread bakers – it’s so easy to follow and understand the process, which has helped me enormously. Although each loaf is quite a big undertaking – 3 and a half hours from start to finish – you only spend about 15 minutes of that actually in the kitchen, so you can get on with other bits & pieces in the meantime. I’ve been standing my dough on a chair next to the radiator to help it rise, and it really is a wonder to behold. You look away for half an hour and it doubles in size, seemingly by magic. Unlike cakes, dough feels like (and sort of is) a living, breathing thing. Although the recipe I’ve been using doesn’t call for much kneading, I can’t help myself. The elasticky dough is so satisfying to throw around. In fact, my niece and I spent quite a long time prodding, poking, pulling and kneading a ball of bread between us – she was absolutely fascinated by the way that it worked, in the wonderful way that kids are, and I wasn’t far behind! 

Bread and Butter

My next task is bread rolls; my first batch were not a roaring success; although they were edible the sizes were mis-matched and the crust was a little too dark. I also don’t think they had enough chance to rise. It’s safe to say I’m totally addicted to bread-making – and totally over my fear of bread failure! 

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Book Club

book club

I have been powering through my 100 books reading challenge, but in the last few weeks I’ve come to a bit of a halt. It feels like life has been super busy the past couple of weeks – and so many people I know have said the same – that reading is getting pushed aside for other tasks. The point of this challenge, though, was to make that time for reading, to make it a part of my life, so this week I’ve been resolving to set aside time before bed to get through some more of my ‘to-read’ pile. It’s so much better for me than endless episodes of TV and it helps my brain switch off, which is sorely needed at the moment. Hopefully I’ll get captivated by a story and get back into my stride in no time. 

Stardust, Neil Gaiman 

I’ll be honest and say that, although I am a big fan of the movie, I didn’t know that it was based on a book – and by Neil Gaiman of all people, whose work I have heard so much about but which I have never had chance to pick up myself. I usually like to read the book before I watch the movie or, as I did with this, I spend the whole time trying to work out the differences – and there were many. That said, this is a fantastic book – and fantastical, with plenty of imaginary folklore and mystical doings. It’s witty and heart-warming, with brilliant moments of tension. I raced through it and would thoroughly recommend for a touch of escapism. 

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Calahan 

Quite the opposite to escapism, Brain on Fire is harrowing and alarming – the true story of a journalist who ‘went mad’ in just a month, going from normalcy to violent episodes, seizures and paranoid delusions in the space of a few weeks. The book charts the beginning of her illness, through her time in hospital and her eventual recovery (which, although you know it’s coming since she wrote the book, still feels on edge throughout as you watch her family go through it with her). It’s both interesting and terrifying; there’s a little bit of mystery as she is continuously mis-diagnosed until the true cause is determined and treated, but it’s worrying to think about – there were no signs before this happened, so it’s certainly not one for hypochondriacs to read! 

Yes Please, Amy Poehler

The Internet has been raving about this book for weeks, and I absolutely devoured it as soon as I got my hands on it. Everyone was right, it’s excellent and full of pearls of wisdom. I have long admired Amy Poehler’s work – she is obviously very talented and successful – and although I have read in various anecdotes (particularly in both Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling’s books) that she is a lovely person on top of all that, I was still (pleasantly) surprised at just how kind and gracious she is. I know it’s her book so she gets to decide how she comes across, but it felt very genuine, and was corroborated by the bits and pieces written by others and inserted into the book. This is just a lovely, funny book and definitely one worth reading – her mantra ‘good for her, not for me’ needs to be taken up in force – and I like to think that since we share so much else – short stature, blonde hair, the name Amy – that I might one day grow up to be just as wonderful as Amy Poehler. A girl can dream. 

Her, Harriet Lane 

A bit of a psychological thriller, Her focuses on the life of two women – Emma and Nina – the former a struggling stay at home mum of young children, the latter a glamorous artist who befriends her. However, this isn’t the first time the two have met, and Nina’s desire to insert herself into Emma’s life has another motive and a nefarious bent – both of which are revealed as the book goes on. Although it’s gripping at first as you try to solve the mystery and the characters are excellently written, I found the eventual ending to be very disappointing and the motivation behind Nina’s actions to be flimsy at best. I wanted more from the story, which I felt very unsatisfied by. 

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

This book was unlike anything I’ve read for a long time – in a very good way. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to reading – sticking to what you know and love – but this was a little departure from my usual style and I’m so glad I picked this up. Telling the stories and secrets of four mothers and four daughters, exploring the mother-daughter relationship and what it means to be a Chinese immigrant in the USA, I found this book very moving as well as fascinating. It was a little difficult to keep track of all of the different stories and threads that wove through as the stories shifted in time and place, but each story was wonderfully told and incredibly compelling. 

Wild, Cheryl Strayed 

I finished this just yesterday, with tears streaming down my cheeks. At first I was sceptical of this book, which tells the true story of how Cheryl Strayed hiked a big chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother. I think I’m weary of ‘finding yourself’ narratives – but once I was stuck into it, I forgot to be sceptical and allowed myself to be swept along through Cheryl’s trials and tribulations. She beautifully wove the stories of the difficulties of hiking such a gruelling trail with stories about her life, before, during and after her mother’s death. Although I felt the elation as she came to the end of her journey, for me what was most striking was the stories of kindness she was shown along the way, of human’s infinite empathy, compassion and connection with one another. I’ll be watching the movie, for sure. 

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Easy Homemade Lemon Curd

Easy Homemade Lemon Curd

I love to cook (and to eat). I cook every day but there are still so many basic things that I have never even tried or considered turning my hand to, for fear that they would be too difficult or time-consuming. For someone who spends so much time in the kitchen, I can be pretty lazy (hello, shop-bought pastry…). It’s something I’m trying to work on this year – my New Year’s resolutions were to bake more bread and make more pastry and so far I’m on track, although certainly not an expert in either (yet) – but it has inspired me to start experimenting a bit more.

Easy Homemade Lemon Curd

Lemon curd was one such experiment – and a very successful one at that. I was making a batch of blueberry scones and was just about to buy a jar of lemon curd to accompany them, when it struck me that I could give making it a go. A quick Google of the recipe confirmed that it was so much easier than I had originally thought it might be (no sugar thermometers in sight!) and so I gathered up my ingredients and gave it a whirl. Believe me when I say that this might be one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever tried, proving once and for all that I should stop being a kitchen wuss and get stuck in to some new recipes every once in a while. The resulting curd is sweet and tangy and ever so satisfying sat in a big jar in my fridge. There’s nothing quite like that smugness that comes from making something yourself, is there? 

Easy Homemade Lemon Curd

Easy Homemade Lemon Curd
Yields 500
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Ingredients
  1. zest & juice of 4 unwaxed lemons
  2. 200g caster sugar
  3. 100g unsalted butter, cubed
  4. 3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
Instructions
  1. Place the lemon zest, juice, sugar and butter into a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water, as if you were melting chocolate. Heat until the butter has melted, stirring occasionally.
  2. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and pour into the lemon mixture. Whisk to combine the two.
  3. Leave to cook over the pan of water for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of the spoon.
  4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before spooning into a sterilised jar. Pop in the fridge until you fancy a snack!
Notes
  1. Here's a little tutorial on how to sterilise jars: http://www.jamieoliver.com/videos/how-to-sterilise-jars/
Adapted from BBC Food
Adapted from BBC Food
Amy Elizabeth http://amyliz.co.uk/

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Weekend Link Love

ferris wheel

(Photo by Ilya)

Hey friends! I hope that this week has been sunny and wonderful for you. Life is still a little stressful for me – I’ve been dreaming about project plans and Gantt charts – but this weekend has been a breath of fresh air. Making lemon curd, hanging out with babies and kittens (so much cuteness), catching up with friends and gorging on curry. Is there a better way to spend the weekend? I doubt it. We’ve been powering through on wedding planning – it’s coming up so fast – and I’ve been getting behind on my reading challenge. So that’s the week in a nutshell, really. What have you been getting up to? 

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February

to do list

(Photo by Death to the Stock Photo

Feeling a bit overwhelmed. 

Baking all the scones and all the bread. 

Making my own lemon curd. And all the to do lists. 

Booking a crochet class so I can keep up with my resolutions! 

Listening to the Longform podcast and plenty of Ed Sheeran. 

Wearing all stripes, all the time.

Decluttering my bookshelves and saying goodbye to my feminist theory textbooks. 

Spending a weekend in Sheffield with friends it does my heart good to see. 

Collecting jam jars and tea lights for hipster wedding decor. 

Eating honey mustard chicken, at least once a week. 

Reading all of our RSVPs. They’re coming in thick and fast now. 

Hosting my sister, and taking her to her University interview. 

Skipping down the street with my sweet niece. She’s so fun. 

Enjoying my rare evenings in alone. Just me and Tuna, chilling out. 

Dancing to ’00s hip hop at the Maven. So good I couldn’t leave, even when my feet hurt. 

Escaping work for lunch with two of my favourites. This needs to happen more often. 

Testing my knowledge at the pub quiz. Need to brush up… 

How about you? 

 

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Farmers & Food Markets in Leeds

kirkstall abbey

I am craving the Spring. Every time I step outside into the biting wind, or shuck off hundreds of layers to contend with overzealous central heating, I yearn for the sunshine and the ease of Spring. One of my favourite things to do when the weather is slightly warmer is to wander around one of the many foodie markets that Leeds has to offer. It’s the perfect way to while away a morning, picking up fresh bread, delicious and unusual ingredients, and something for your sweet tooth, all ready to be squirrelled home and enjoyed as a hearty lunch. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to markets in the Leeds area – here are a few to get you started! 

Kirkstall Deli Market – Last Weekend of the Month, 12pm-3pm 

My favourite of the lot, Kirkstall Deli Market is set amongst the beautiful ruins of Kirkstall Abbey. Where once monks wandered the cloisters, now hungry foodies venture for street food vans and stalls crammed high with delicious treats. I have walked away with delicious pasties and pies, piles of cheeses, locally produced honey, Yorkshire chorizo, squidgy brownies and steaks for my dinner, but if that’s not enough to be getting on with then there are plenty more options. The Saturday is the more foodie day, with crafty stalls popping up on the Sunday. 

Farmers and Craft Market, Briggate – 1st & 3rd Sunday of the Month, 10am-4pm 

This market sets up its home right down the centre of one of the busiest shopping streets in Leeds, offering all sorts of foodie and crafty goodies twice a month. It’s a nice surprise to stumble upon the green and white striped stalls when you’re shopping, and I’m sure you’ll be able to find something to tempt you at the Briggate market

Leeds Dock Market – Last Weekend of the Month, 10am-4pm

Leeds Dock Market is the new kid on the block, but this waterside market is already making a splash (pun intended). You can take a free water taxi there from Granary Wharf, and there is live music from buskers throughout the day. As well as the delicious street food and foodie stalls that you’d expect, you can grab a drink from the bar. Go on, treat yo’self. 

Chapel Allerton Farmers Market – Last Sunday of the Month, 9am-1pm 

I’ve driven past this market outside the Three Hulats pub a couple of times but never made it down to test the wares but it’s definitely on my to-do list. Maybe I’ll see you there! 

Oakwood Farmers Market – 1st Saturday of the Month, 9.30am-3pm 

This is a lovely little market just next to the Clocktower in Roundhay Park. It’s best to go early as they do run out of stuff – it’s a popular one! Great for picking up fresh meat and fish, as well as baked goods and condiments.They’ve currently relocated round the corner whilst the clocktower is being repaired but you can find out more information on their website

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Simple Tomato & White Wine Pasta Sauce

Simple Tomato & White Wine Pasta Sauce

Having a good pasta sauce recipe under your belt will serve you well in life. Pasta is the ultimate comfort food, and I think I could eat it every day without ever getting bored. This sauce recipe is super simple, stripped back to the very basics, but it’s full of those delicious, Italian flavours that we all know and love. You can knock the whole dish up in 20 minutes, so it’s perfect for a midweek dinner when you’re feeling lazy, but equally you can jazz it up for something a little bit more special. Throw some cooked chorizo or prawns in there (or maybe both), garnish with some garlic bread and pour out the rest of the wine into two glasses and you’ve got yourself a meal fit for a king. The key to the whole thing is fresh herbs – they really are worth it in the flavour stakes. I’ve been trying to grow my own rather unsuccessfully, but it is my aim to always have fresh herbs on hand. Because I’m worth it, obviously (and so are you). 

Simple Tomato & White Wine Pasta Sauce

Simple Tomato & White Wine Pasta Sauce

Simple Tomato & White Wine Pasta Sauce
Serves 2
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Ingredients
  1. olive oil
  2. 1 onion, finely chopped
  3. 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  4. 1 tsp. chilli flakes
  5. 150ml white wine
  6. 400g chopped tomatoes
  7. 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  8. 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  9. 1 tsp. sugar
  10. salt & pepper
  11. small bunch of fresh basil
  12. small bunch of fresh parsley
  13. 150g spaghetti
  14. parmesan, to serve
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook slowly for 5 minutes until softened, stirring regularly. Try not to let them go brown - if they're catching, turn the heat down a little.
  2. Add the garlic and the chilli flakes and fry for another few minutes, continuing to stir.
  3. Pour in the wine and allow to bubble for a minute or so, before adding the chopped tomatoes. Add the oregano, thyme, sugar and salt & pepper and stir through.
  4. Allow to simmer over a low heat whilst you cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions (don't forget to salt the boiling water before adding the pasta!).
  5. A minute or so before serving, roughly chop the basil and parsley, discarding the stalks, and stir through the sauce.
  6. Drain the pasta and mix into the sauce. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.
Amy Elizabeth http://amyliz.co.uk/
Simple Tomato & White Wine Pasta Sauce

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Weekend Link Love

mugs

(Photo by André Freitas)

Hey friends, how’s it going? I’ll be honest with you, this week has been a tough one. I am glad that it is over. Bereavement, work stress, wedding crises, and just general overwhelm have taken over our lives and it’s been a bit rough. Of course, those things don’t just go away because a new week starts, but it does feel like a Monday is a chance to restart and rewrite so whilst no one really loves Mondays, I am quite looking forward to tomorrow. However, it’s not all doom and gloom (is it ever?). My baby sister came to stay this week to interview at Leeds Uni (she got in, obviously) so it was fun to hang out with her a little bit, even if I wasn’t at my best. It’ll be so great if she comes to this city in September – living far away from family is definitely not ideal so the more that move here the better! Today we are visiting a couple of secondhand bookshops (the best!), powering through some wedding prep, baking more bread (I’m addicted) and pub quizzing tonight. They say a Sunday well spent brings a week of content; let’s hope so. 

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10 Things I Love Right Now

phtographer

(Photo by S Zolkin)

1. Orphan Black

Paul and I have just started watching Orphan Black on Netflix and I’m already hooked. Emma recommended it to me earlier in the year but I’d totally forgotten about it until we were searching for a new series and it popped up. Don’t make the same mistake as me – watch it now! It’s dark, edgy, intriguing and perfectly paced. I’m already itching to find out what happens! 

2. AfterLight 

I’ve dabbled with various photo editing apps on my phone before, but I think I’ve found The One in AfterLight. It’s super easy to use, syncs great with Instagram (which is all I need it for, really), and is perfect for making dark photos taken in winter light look bright and breezy. 

3. Kindle Voyage 

I’m not sure how I’ve lived without a Kindle before now. Don’t get me wrong, I will always love paper books – my house is stuffed full of them – but my Kindle is so easy for everyday life. It’s light, it’s easy to use, I have a whole library at the click of a button, and the ‘percentage read’ figure it shows very much appeals to the over-achiever in me. Since I’m trying to read 100 books this year, it’s been a godsend. If you’re thinking of investing, I’d definitely recommend it! 

4. Silver Polish 

I’ve been meaning to clean some of my jewellery for months now, and I finally got around to picking up some silver dip at the supermarket this week. It was absolutely magic – I dropped the jewellery in and it changed from that horrid tarnished colour to bright silver again in seconds. I almost wish I had more to clean just so I could watch it happen. 

5. Scones 

I made Lil’s goat’s cheese & chorizo scones on Monday and now I don’t want to eat anything else ever again. I’d forgotten how good freshly cooked scones are, so now I want to bake all different kinds. Anyone got any other recipes? 

6. Uber 

Since Uber has come to Leeds, we haven’t used a regular taxi. On Saturday night we stumbled out of the Maven at 1am, requested a car and it pulled up 30 seconds later. So easy. Plus, I never have cash so it’s perfect for me. If you haven’t tried it out yet, sign up here using the code UBERAMYLIZ and get £15 off your first ride. 

7. TeuxDeux 

I’m not sure how I ever lived without TeuxDeux. I have it open all day at work on my desktop and am constantly referencing it on my phone, too. It’s just a simple online to do list, but it works so well and helps me keep track of everything – definitely worth checking out if you’re in the market for that sort of thing. 

8. James Morton’s Brilliant Bread 

I’ve been on a real bread-baking kick recently, averaging at least 2 loaves a week, and it’s all thanks to this book (recommended to me by Rachel – she knows her stuff!). I think I’ve pretty much mastered the basic white loaf, which is the first recipe in the book, and I’m moving onto rolls. My first batch were a little small and a little too crusty, but the insides were fluffy, so I think with a little work I’ll be able to get to grips with them. 

9. Fresh Bay Leaves 

We bought a little bay plant at the garden centre a couple of weeks ago and it’s lovely to be able to pop the fresh leaves into stews and sauces, where once we would have used dried. It makes all the difference! 

10. Lighter Evenings

Not having the sun set so early is making a world of difference to my mood. It’s a sign that Spring is coming, and I cannot wait! 

What are you loving right now? 

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Decluttering – Throw Away 100 Things

decluttering

I have become a bit obsessed with de-cluttering. I know I’m not the only one; the blogosphere is awash with articles on capsule wardrobes, minimalism and stripping back to basics. I am a naturally untidy person who really hates to live in a messy house. The best solution for this problem is to clear out all of the unnecessary clutter – more space on shelves and in drawers makes it easier to keep things tidy, even for my lazy self, and means we get that neat, clean look when we’ve bothered to tidy, rather than the organised chaos that I used to live in.

I usually get the urge to declutter at the end of the season, as I put away the clothes that I won’t need once the weather turns, I try to get rid of anything that I haven’t worn, or barely worn, in the past few months. It’s unlikely that I’ll fall back in love with them if I’ve gone a whole season without pulling them out of the drawers. In turn, that sends me off in a flurry, searching every room in the house for unwanted and unloved items. We naturally accumulate stuff as we go through life so it’s worth reassessing every now and again whether everything you’re storing in your house is serving its purpose. Books you won’t re-read, beauty products you weren’t wow-ed by, clothes that don’t fit (your body or your style), and other bits and pieces that are no longer working for you. What’s that saying? Never have anything in your house that you don’t believe to be useful or beautiful. 

Throwing away 100 things is a great place to get started when you’re not used to decluttering. I’ve become ruthless over the years, but I was once very sentimental and wanted to cling on to everything. However, even if you’re the type to hoard old cinema tickets and birthday cards, I bet you can find 100 things in your house to get rid of. I say throw away, but of course, I mean just remove from your house – charity shops, eBay, Freecycle and re-gifting are all better ways to get rid of stuff that you don’t want anymore. 100 things seems like a lot, but once you get started you’ll be surprised how quickly you can chisel away at the total – one trip to my bookshelf and I was almost halfway there. All in all, I got rid of: 

  • 32 books 
  • 20 beauty products 
  • 1 hair doughnut 
  • 1 pair of sunglasses
  • 3 key rings
  • 1 Christmas cracker toy
  • 4 board games 
  • 2 photo frames 
  • 21 pieces of jewellery 
  • 12 plastic cups 
  • 2 jumpers
  • 1 pair of boots 

See? 100 things, easy. You can repeat this exercise as often as you see fit – once a month, perhaps, or just once a year. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get the decluttering bug! 

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