Cook this: Oktoberfest Pretzels

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It’s not Oktoberfest without pretzels, and if you’re going to do something like this, you do it properly. As soon as decided to host our own backyard-Oktoberfest, I decided home made pretzels were going to happen, too. I was going to make them myself, from scratch, and they were going to be awesome (God willing). Guess the baking gods were smiling on me, because they were perfect. Despite my reservations, there was nothing complicated or scary about this recipe. I wish I could claim I’d slaved away for hours but actually, the process isn’t as impressive as the end result. Once they’ve sat out of the oven for a while, they harden up like a proper, legitimate Brauhaus-style pretzel. They’re crunchy on the outside and impossible soft and airy on the inside. Let’s get stuck into this…

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To make 12:
– 525g plain flour
– 375ml lukewarm milk
– 1tsp caster sugar
– 7g sachet dried yeast
– coarse salt to sprinkle on top

 

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl with around 1tsp salt.

2. In a small bowl, combine the milk, sugar and yeast, stirring to dissolve.

3. Pour the milk mix into the flour and stir it to combine. Then, using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, knead/mix the dough for around 10 minutes; it should form a soft and smooth and very elastic dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 5 minutes.

4. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and divide into 12 equal pieces. Gently roll the dough pieces into long, thin logs (around 40-50cm long).

5. Twist the dough into pretzel shape by laying it in a U shape, then cross the ends over and and bring both ends back to the curve in the U. Dab a little water onto the two ends before you press them down onto the U to join them. Place them on a large plate or baking tray lined with baking paper as you go.

6. Let the pretzels sit uncovered for 30 minutes, then cover them in plastic wrap and refrigerate preferably overnight, but no less than 3 hours.

7. After they’ve rested, pre-heat the oven to 220°C.

8. Combine 1L water, 1tbs salt and 1tbs bicarb soda in a large pot. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Immerse each pretzel, one at a time, in the solution for 10 seconds, then return to a baking paper lined oven teat. Sprinkle each with salt, and bake for 15 minutes, or until nicely golden. Eat them warm with a little butter and mustard. Or cold, with butter and mustard. Just eat lots of them, they’re so, so good!

 

Cook this: Spinach & feta gozleme

This is one of my favourite market foods – cheap, delicious, and easy to eat while you’re walking around. I’d always been curious about trying to make them myself, but thought the dough would be too complicated… But a while ago I was flicking through some cook books and found a recipe in my Lonely Planet Street Food cook book (amazing book, by the way); turns out the dough isn’t so complicated, and it’s just as delicious made at home!

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This recipe makes about 8 decent sized gozleme – I usually halve the recipe if I’m making a few to put on the BBQ when we have a few people over for a catch up! I’ve made this quite a few times now, so here’s my version, adapted from the Lonely Planet recipe.

Ingredients:
– 5¼ cups plain flour
– 2 tsp salt
– 2 tsp dried yeast powder
– 1 tsp sugar
– 1¼ cups warm water
– 2 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped
– 2 cups crumbled fetta cheese


Method:

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl (reserve ¼ cup), add the salt and create a well in the centre.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar and ¼ cup water, then pour it into the well in the bowl of flour, and sift the remaining quarter cup over the liquid. Sit it aside for 10 minutes.

3. Add the rest of the water to the bowl and stir together well to combine. Knead the dough on a floured board for around 5 minutes, then put it back into the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel, and set aside for an hour to rise.

4. In another bowl, combine the spinach and fetta, and set aside.

5. After rising, take the tough out of the bowl and divide into 8 equal portions. Shape each portion into a rough ball and roll out of on a floured board into a rectangular shape – you’re aiming to have it thin enough that you can just about see through it if you hold it up to sunlight, but not so thin that it easily tears.

6. Sprinkle some of the spinach and fetta mixture onto one half of the rectangular piece of dough, fold the uncovered half over and press the edges together to seal.

7. To cook the gozleme, heat a large, non-stick fry pan over high heat, or fire up the BBQ as I prefer to do. Spray a little cooking oil and cook for a few minutes on each side, until the dough becomes speckled with brown spots.

8. Slice up your gozleme with a pizza cutter or sharp knife and serve hot with lemon wedges, and chilli flakes if you’re spicily inclined.

Cook this: Nonna Gemma’s buttery, salty French toast

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I miss my grandmother. It still feels weird to talk about her in the past tense, that she doesn’t “exist” anymore. I don’t like writing that she “was” a big part of my life; she still is. She helped raise me. She taught me to knit and hand stitch in her sewing room. She taught me to pick out good produce at the market, and cook it like a pro. She made outfit after outfit for me, including the veil I wore on my wedding day. She gave me crap for my ripped jeans, asking if they needed mending, and telling me I looked ridiculous. She always started phone conversations by asking if I’d eaten (no, it’s not some Italian joke, she legit asked every time), and how Marley, my dog, was going. After she’d told me off for not answering my phone earlier in the day (sorry Nonna, I’ve been at work. “Why?!” was her response, most of the time – I could never tell if she was serious or not).

Anyway, I married a teacher, so I observe the comings and goings of the school terms. With the mention of the school term about to end, a memory filled my head and took over for a second, like one of those crazy movie flashbacks… I was a primary school aged kid again, at Nonna’s house. I’d usually stay at her house a few nights every school holidays, so we could just hang out together and do stuff that mum wouldn’t let me do. I was sitting at the bench in the kitchen, on the wooden stool you can see in the picture below, where we had breakfast together, watching her cook French toast for us. And I felt my soul crack a little. It’s cracking again right now, as I type this.

Nonna would work SO intently at her little stove top, making sure our breakfast was just right. Everything had to be perfect for her grand children, especially the food. Our favourite breakfast was French toast, made with thick, fresh Italian bread, cooked in an absolutely ludicrous amount of butter, with more than a sprinkle of salt. It was always perfectly crispy and golden without ever burning. She was a master, really.

Yes, it’s indulgent, and no, it’s not going to benefit your health to eat this regularly. But sometimes when your soul is crying out for a hug, comfort food is where it’s at. Here’s my best attempt to re-create Nonna’s French toast.

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It was pretty simple – a few eggs and milk whisked together, dip the bread in (I went a la Nonna and used a loaf of Italian bread, bought from the Preston market, sliced myself with the crusts removed) and fry up on a non-stick pan containing a small ocean of butter. And yes, I added some fruit to try to justify all of the butter and carbs. If you need a pick me up too this weekend, whip yourself up a plate of this buttery deliciousness this weekend – trust Nonna Gemma, it’ll make you happy!

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Cook this: Lemon chia seed cake

I’m basically a little old lady who loves a cup of tea and a piece of cake. I also really like a good lemon dessert, so I thought I’d make a lemon poppy seed cake. Then I realised I didn’t have poppy seeds… but I did have chia seeds. I figured they’d work pretty well in cake, which they really, really did.

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Ingredients:
– 1½ cups plain flour
– 1½ tsp baking powder
– 115g butter, softened slightly
– 125g caster sugar
– 2 large eggs, at room temperature
– zest and juice of 2 lemons
-180g plain Greek yoghurt
– 2 tbsp chia seeds
– 2 tbsp milk

 

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a 9″ round cake tin with non-stick baking paper.
2. Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.
3. In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric beater for a few minutes and until light in colour, creamy and fluffy. Then, beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides as needed.
4. Beat in the lemon zest and juice next for a few minutes, until completely combined.
5. Stir in half the flour mixture with a spoon, then add the yoghurt and the chia seeds. Once they’re mixed in, add the rest of the flour and stir until completely incorporated.
6. Finally, mix in the milk, then pour the batter into the cake in and smooth out.
7. Bake for 35 minutes, until golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
8. Allow the cake to cool for 15 – 20 minutes in the tin, then remove and dust with a little icing sugar to serve.

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Cook this: Peanut Butter Nutella Cookies

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Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I’m a chronic chocoholic, with a particular weakness for Nutella, which I inherited from my dad. I also LOVE peanut butter. Sweet chocolate + salty peanut butter = happy Jess.

I came across a recipe for Nutella Peanut Butter Cookies at Averie Cooks the other day. As far as I was concerned, my hands were tied. As usual, I played around with the recipe a bit (I can’t follow instructions in the kitchen without messing around with them), and here’s what happened…

 

Ingredients to make around 20 cookies..
– 1 large egg
– about ⅘ of a 220g jar of Nutella
– ½ cup crunchy peanut butter – my weapon of choice is Mayvers Crunchy Peanut Butter
– ½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– ½ cup all-purpose flour
– 1 tsp baking soda
– pinch of salt
– 180g dark chocolate, chopped

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To create heaven…

1. Combine the egg, Nutella, peanut butter, brown sugar and vanilla in an electric mixer or with a hand beater for about 5 minutes – you’ll know it’s done when it’s smoother and oily and comes together nicely.

2. Add the flour, baking soda, optional salt and beat to incorporate. The dough will be quite different to regular cookie dough; it won’t really come together and will be a little flaky. All good, it’ll be fine. Mix in the chocolate chunks.

3. Take scoops of approximately 1 tablespoon (you can go bigger if you prefer) and use your hands to compact them into a ball. Place a sheet of non-stick baking paper on a large plate or tray, and place the cookies on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a bare minimum of 2 – 3 hours – I left them overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 180°C, line 2 baking sheets with non-stick baking paper. Place your cookies on the baking trays, leaving an inch or so between (they’ll spread quite a bit). Bake for around 10 minutes, or until top have just set, even if slightly under baked in the center. It’ll be tempting to let them cook a little longer, but they will firm up as they cool, and baking too long will result in cookies that set up too crisp.

5. Leave the cookies to cool on their trays for 10 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack to come down to room temperature. Or just wait until they’re cool enough to handle and tuck in.

 

A little crunchy on the outside, gooey and fudgy on the inside. Very sweet, a little salty, completely delicious. There’s not much I’d change about this recipe – the only thing I can think of would be to maybe add some crushed, toasted peanuts to balance out the sugar a little more. Really glad I went on a 12km walk this morning. Feel like I might need to walk another 12km now. Worth it. Enjoy.