Cook this: Gingerbread men!

Because we’re missing Christmas at home this year, a number of Christmas traditions, such as gingerbread men, have needed to be moved forward. Other traditions, like my husband’s repeated viewings of Chevy Chase’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I’m not pushing quite as hard for an early start on.

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I’ve tried so many gingerbread recipes and it has taken batch after batch after batch to finally come up with a version I love – hope everyone else enjoys them, too 🙂

INGREDIENTS
– 125g butter, softened
– ½ cup brown sugar
– 100g golden syrup
– 100g maple syrup
– ½ tsp vanilla extract
– 2½ cups plain flour
– 3 tsp ground ginger
– 1 tsp baking soda

 

METHOD
1. Combine the flour, ginger and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer for 4 – 5 minutes, until pale and creamy. Add in the golden syrup and/or maple syrup and honey, as well as the vanilla, and beat for another 30 seconds, until combined.

3. Add in the dry ingredients, and beat on low speed until a dough comes together. Don’t worry if it is crumbly, you’ll be able to bring it together with your hands.

4. Roll the dough out to your desired thickness between two pieces of non-stick baking paper and put it in the fridge for half an hour.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C and line 2 large oven trays with baking paper.

6. Take the cold dough out of the fridge and cut out gingerbread men of your preferred size. You can see from the photo below that I made quite little ones – for your reference, I got 90 (yes, 90) little gingerbread gentlemen out of the dough made from the ingredients above. Re-roll the dough as necessary until it’s all been cut and placed onto the oven trays.

7. Bake for 7 – 10 minutes until lightly golden.

8. For a softer cookie, remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the trays for 10 minutes before moving to cooling racks. If you like them a little crunchier, turn the oven off and leave them in there to cool completely.

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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.

Photo Journal: Street food women of Thailand

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In Thailand, as in a lot of South East Asian countries, it seems to be the women who shoulder a good portion of the work. You see them up early, trawling through markets, heaving baskets full of fresh fruit, often with a child or two in tow. They are the ones who sell the market goods, who purchase them, who cook them and then sell them. They’re the ones who run the show, they are strong, often silent, with wiry strong bodies and faces that tell of a tougher life than I could ever imagine.

This woman really caught my attention in Koh Samui. Husband and I had been walking around way off the main drag all morning, and sat down at a street food vendor for a lunch of pad thai, when this lady ambled up, baskets teetering on her small shoulder, and parked herself on a tiny plastic stool. To our complete amazement, she had somehow set up her portable kitchen, complete with meat grilling over charcoal and condiments, in the middle of the street in under 30 seconds.

Late night street food in Bangkok

 

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I’m pretty sure when “normal” people are asked about the best meals of their lives, they’re usually going to talk about fancy restaurants in big cities, celebrity chefs, exceptional, knowledgeable and courteous service, caviar and truffles and expensive wine, maybe even a beautiful view of some gorgeous beach landscape. If you ask me, the first I’ll probably think of will be a dodgy looking, street-side vendor, under a motor-way overpass, on the back streets of Bangkok.  If you haven’t worked it out yet, I’m not “normal.”

We were in Thailand in January2014, while the city was in the midst of the “Shutdown Bangkok” political movement. It wasn’t ideal. A lot of the markets and street food vendors I’d remembered so fondly from a previous visit were either not operating, or doing much shorter hours than usual. The protestors were peaceful, and as such, really didn’t hinder our movements around the city. On our last night in Bangkok, we set out for one of the night markets I’d visited last time I was there, and after a few wrong turns, we finally found it. Only to discover that perhaps a scant 10% of the regular vendors were operating. And no street food to be seen.

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We decided to keep walking until we found somewhere that looked good for dinner; we’d never forgive ourselves if our last meal in Thailand was a Thai-by-numbers, made-for-tourists event. Inevitably, because our Thai isn’t too crash hot and I did my best navigating a Thai map with Thai street names, wrong turns were taken and we just kept walking in the general direction of our hotel. We ended up on what seemed to be much quieter streets without really realising how we got there, but we just kept walking. Until we found this place. It was PACKED. I vividly remember an older lady sitting in the gutter, washing out dishes by hand, and pouring the dirty water from the buckets down the street before re-filling them from the hose that lay next to her.

We took a seat on the squat plastic stools, and were handed two plastic menus. We ordered a bit of everything; papaya salad, stir fried greens in oyster sauce, pork fried rice and BBQ beef.

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There we were: on the side of a dark street in Bangkok, late at night. There were women manning enormous woks over my left shoulder, with bright orange flames licking the sides.  A few plastic menus, sticky with various sauces, being passed around and shared. Locals and a few other travellers sharing the space and enjoying their meals. And this little lady, sitting in the gutter, just kept on robotically cleaning the dishes.

The food was good. Amazing, actually. I’ve been to restaurants where I haven’t eaten beef than tender and well cooked. How they managed to get that much flavour into vegetables with oyster sauce is beyond me. The food was delicious. But good food clearly isn’t the only thing to consider when thinking about your best ever meals.

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