Friday, 22 August 2014

Ohh lala.... C'est magnifique

This was my first time making French macarons. I've been looking at the pretty colours in Loblaws for months now and figured they were never something I'd never get to eat. They looked to delicate to even attempt baking gluten free. Then I found out they are made with almond flour which is naturally gluten free so I had no excuse. I decided to made two batches, first going for a pretty pink version and then a nice purple. The pink turned out ok as you will see below {not perfect but a good first time effort if I do say so myself}.

The second batch turned out like this...

Not pretty or appealing by any standards. I will have to put lots of practice into these. While researching recipes I came across this post on how NOT to make Macarons which is worth a read before you set out. I followed Michele from The Little White Kitchen's recipe for my macaron trial. She has great tips and step by step pictures over on her blog. Be sure to pay her a visit.  Michele made her own almond flour by grinding the almonds in a food processor which is a lot more dedicated then I was prepared to go, plus I don't have a food processor so that wasn't an option for me.
As you can see my pink batch look the part. They were hollow inside unfortunately but from what I've read I believe that's to do with my oven which if you follow me you know has been acting up for a while now. Next time I'll increase the temperature slightly. Natalie from Love and Macarons suggests an increase of 10 degrees can make all the difference.  Noted for next time.

Basic French Macarons

1/2 cup  Almond Meal/Flour
1 1/2cup Icing Sugar
 3 egg whites, room temperature
2tbsp Sugar
food colouring, optional
I sifted the almond meal and the icing sugar together a couple of times until there was only a small amount of chunky bits left in the sieve. I dumped these and put the mixture aside.

In a large bowl place the egg whites and sugar, beat on medium speed until they start to foam then increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture is glossy and forms stiff peaks. Add the food colouring and mix until blended.

Pour the entire bowl of almond flour and icing sugar mix into the egg white mixture and proceed to fold the two together, to make sure everything gets incorporated ensure you mix from the bottom of the bowl. Clearing the sides and base on each sweep. Continue to fold the batter about 35-40 times, or until the batter forms thick ribbons when you lift the spatula.
In a large icing bag fitted with tip #12 or #114, scoop the batter and pipe into circles on a template (I drew circles on doubled parchment paper to help present even sizes) or you could use a whoopie tin like this if you have one. Drop the cookie sheet/tin onto the counter a few times to release any air bubbles from the batter.

Allow the macarons shells to sit, uncovered, at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour, or until the batter forms a nice skin. Mine where ok after 30 minutes but our apartment is crazy warm.

Bake at 300f for 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cooled remove from parchment paper. If the macaron shells are sticking to the paper, place them on the tray into the fridge for 1/2 hour and the cookies should come right off.

Fill the macarons as desired. I used raspberry jam and a French Butter Cream because I had a lot of egg yolks left over and I didn't want to waste them.  I used this recipe from The Kitchn for Silky French Buttercream and flavoured it 2 tbsp of Tequila Rose liqueur.
Place the finished macarons in an airtight container and leave in the fridge or the freezer for 1-2 days before serving. Serve at room temperature.

If anyone has  any macaron tips before my next trials please let me know. I love hearing from you guys. 

Michelle xxx
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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

I want to ride a bi-cycle

Today I have a project that J worked on during the summer. He has such great vision and can visualise the end results so well {if he wasn't on my team I'd be a little bit jealous} He has always wanted an old style classic bike but wasn't prepared to pay the crazy prices. So after getting the frame for free he set about transforming a two cog mountain bike into a single cog "Cooper" inspired bicycle. 
First job was to strip it down and clean it up. He used Goo Gone to clear off the old stickers and CLR Metal Clear. He put a lot of elbow grease into cleaning it knowing that once the spraying was done that any blemishes would show up. He used Tremclad in flat black to spray the frame. I won a $25 Home Depot at The Makers Giveaway a few weeks back so we used that for the provisions.
As you can see from the bottom right picture he used a broom through the cog section to suspend the frame while spraying which made things a little easier to maneuver. Most of the work on the bike was done on his brothers balcony so he made sure to cover everything really well before spraying hence all the blue tape.
The frame was left to dry over night and given a touch up the following day. A very nice guy in the bike shop showed the boys how to make the double cog into a single cog saving about $60 in the process. Once the frame was dry J put the updated cog, wheels and and a new chain on the bike before moving on the handlebars.
The handlebars that came on the bike are racer bars, not the ones that will stay on the bike. He wants something higher but as summer was coming to an end he decided to stick with what he had for know and update them next year. He removed the old stuff off the bars, wrapped them in black insulating tape and then topped it off with wraps.
We lucked out on our trip to the bike shop and came across a second hand Brooks saddle. Brand new Brooks saddles can cost anything from $100 upwards. So when we saw it for $40 I convinced him he had to have it. Isn't she pretty?? Oh and the cute little bell was $10. Couldn't leave that behind either.
For reference purposes a bike similar to this in a store on Spadina Avenue cost $800. He did pretty well for about $80 in total.
Here he is looking proud as punch heading off on her maiden voyage.
 If you missed J's other creations check out the dining room and coffee table's he made for me out of reclaimed oak flooring. He's handy to have round I tell you, I might have to keep him :-)
Michelle xxx
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Monday, 11 August 2014

Adventures in bread making- Take 4 -Gluten Free Poppy Seed Bread

Well I taught this was the best of my bread baking but it just goes to show practice makes perfect!!

Won't you take a moment to look and admire this Gluten Free Poppy Seed Bread. Isn't she pretty? This is now the BEST yet!!!

Ok so it sank a bit. Not like this flop though. So I'm still impressed. If you follow me on instagram you know it came out of the oven like this.

Nicely risen and golden delicious. I'm not ashamed to say I did a little dance around the kitchen.
For this recipe adapted from Bette Hagmans "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread" you will need the following. Check out this post on how to make the light bean flour mix.

Dry Ingredients
Light Bean Flour Mix 3cups
Xanthum Gum 2 1/4tsp
Salt 3/4tsp
Brown Sugar 3tbsp
Egg replacer 1 1/2tsp
Dry yeast granules 2 1/4 tsp
Poppy Seeds 1 1/2tbsp

Wet Ingredients
1 Egg plus 2 egg white
Vinegar/Dough Enhancer 3/4 tsp
Margarine 4 1/4 tbsp (cut into chunks)
Molasses 3 tsp
Warm water (110deg) 1 3/4 cups

Grease and prepare pan*. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk the egg and egg white slightly, add the dough enhancer, margarine, molasses and most of the water. The remaining water can be added a little as a time when needed.

Add the dry ingredients a little at a time to the wet ingredients with the mixer on low. Add more water to ensure mixture is right consistency. It should look like cake batter.

Once combined beat on high for 3 and a half minutes. Put the mixture in the prepared tin, cover with cling film and set in a warm place to rise** for 35-35 minutes for rapid-rising yeast, 60 or more minutes for regular yeast or until the bread reaches the top of the pan. Sprinkle with Poppy Seeds.

 Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 50-60 minutes. After 10 minutes cover with tin foil. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Store in an air tight container.

Michelle xxx
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Thursday, 7 August 2014

Adventures in bread making -Take 3

So far I've been pretty impressed with my bread making attempts and when it's saving us money on the cardboard varieties available in the grocery stores I'm all for it. J did have a minor heart attack when we dropped $80 in bulk barn but once we did the maths he was cool{ish}.

He is not gluten intolerant but has noticed a significant difference in his health since he started eating gluten free with me. He used to drink gallons of Gaviscon and think nothing of it. There has been none in the house for over three years now. Connected...
I think so!! 

Giving up regular bread was a big deal for him and I wait with baited breath when he tries a new loaf for the first time. So when he said that this Sesame Bread was the "Best Yet". It can only be high praise for Bette Hagmans recipe. The recipe for the flour blend can be found here.

Dry Ingredients
Light Bean Flour Mix 3 cups
Xanthum Gum 2 1/4tsp
Salt 3/4tsp
Brown Sugar 3tbsp
Egg replacer 1  1/2tsp
Toasted Sesame Seeds 1 1/2tbsp
Dry yeast granules 2 1/4 tsp

Wet Ingredients
1 Egg plus 2 egg white
Vinegar/Dough Enhancer 3/4 tsp
Margarine 4 1/4 tbsp (cut into chunks)
Molasses 3 tsp
Warm water (110deg) 1 3/4 cups

Grease and prepare pan*. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk the egg and egg white slightly, add the dough enhancer, margarine, molasses and most of the water. The remaining water can be added a little as a time when needed.

Add the dry ingredients a little at a time to the wet ingredients with the mixer on low. Add more water to ensure mixture is right consistency. It should look like cake batter.

Once combined beat on high for 3 and a half minutes. Put the mixture in the prepared tin, cover with cling film and set in a warm place to rise** for 35-35 minutes for rapid-rising yeast, 60 or more minutes for regular yeast or until the bread reaches the top of the pan. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 50-60 minutes. After 10 minutes cover with tin foil. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Store in an air tight container.

* I prepared my pan by lining the base and sides with double thickness parchment paper. My oven tends to run on the high side.

** I heat my oven on low while I am mixing the dough, turn it off and place the mix in the warm oven to rise**

Now with the chief's praise ringing in my ears I think it's time to step up the challenge. I'm thinking about trying Gluten Free Sourdough bread. Has anyone tried it? Any tips before I get started?
Is bread like this even possible when gluten free??
 Michelle xxx

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A prudent life and the ladies for Thursday S.T.Y.L.E Link Party


Monday, 4 August 2014

A Back to School Giveaway

I'm so excited to share with you guys today our first ever competition. The lovely people at zulily are giving you the chance to $500 in zulily credits. Before we get to the competition I must tell you that this post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

There is nothing better than getting all of your back-to-school shopping done in one place…unless you can get it done AND paid for of course! Enter to win the zulily Back To School Giveaway where both you and I can each win $500 in zulily credits!

 Just look at the cuteness available!!

 To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do while you're back-to-school shopping on between August 4th to August 11th is pick out your favorite item (apparel, shoes, accessories, gear and more) and post a link to that item in the comments section below. zulily will announce their winner on August 12th, and if we win, I'll announce who my winner is on August 13th!

Good Luck to all who enter and thanks zulily for making the task of back-to-school shopping fun again!

Michelle xxx
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Saturday, 2 August 2014

My Adventures so far..... The Inca Trail, Peru

**Warning folks**
 In starting this blog it was a way for me to document the travels I'd been on but I have kinda gotten side tracked with my baking and it has taken longer than expected to get round to this first travel post. So with my vacation imminent I decided it was a perfect time to share. This post is quite wordy and more for my benefit than anything so feel free to leave after you check out the pretty pictures.

I have always been antsy and a number of years ago I was looking for an adventure. It didn't matter what it was I just wanted to do something! I was out for a walk on my day off and heard an ad on the radio for Concern. They where hosting a trek in Peru to raise money for the charity. This was it. Just what I needed.

My family will tell you I am an over thinker, I scrutinise everything to the smallest detail until I get to the stage where I'm so frustrated that I just talk myself out of it and move on. I had wanted to do something for so long at this stage that I didn't even wait until I got home from my walk. I called them there and then at the side of the road. The registration pack came a few days later.I was so excited reading through it couldn't wait to get going.

Before the trek came around I had to raise the money. I held a benefit night in my local hotel and had a well known band play on the night. Although the band was a big expense, for anyone undertaking something like this I would really recommend going this route. A band with an established following  brought a lot of people to the gig which I wouldn't of had with just a local band. The bulk of the money was raised that night between the tickets and a raffle. I had great support from the community, family and friends who donated prizes, gave up their time to set up and the hotel even had the tickets printed for me saving costs there. Something I hadn't taught about and I'm not sure who informed them but a local reporter called me to see if I'd do an interview which generated a lot of publicity so a big thank you to whoever that was. The press really helped the night be a huge success.

I had done bits of hill walking before but nothing that would prepare me for altitude so I joined a gym to get prepared. I was working nights at the time so once I finished my shift I'd head straight to the gym for an hour and then home to bed. It was tough but I later appreciated the effort while trekking 4000 feet above sea level across the Andes.

When the day finally arrived my mam dropped me to the airport and we had a lovely breaky. During which she gave out the usual mammy words of wisdom and warnings. You know the ones!! I saw a few people sitting close by wearing concern t-shirts and figuring they were part of the group so I introduced myself and my mam left a bit more at ease thinking I wasn't going off on my own. My poor mammy, I don't think she slept from the time I told her I had signed up to do it.

We flew to London to meet the rest of the group, the Across the Divide team who were running the trek and catch the flight to Lima. We stopped off in the smallest pinkest airport in Caracus on the way for refueling and a brief leg stretch. A total of fifteen hours after leaving London, England we arrived in Lima and were taken to a hotel for the night. We were catching a flight to Cuzco the following morning to start the trek. On arrival in Cuzco we had some time to look around the city and try some coca tea which is said to help with altitude sickness.

From here we went to Ollantaytambo were we had a brief tour of the village before starting our first leg of the trek. Our campsite for the night was a terraced site on the side of a mountain. Not a great place for sleep walkers I can tell you. We woke early the next morning with basins of agua caliente (hot water to you and me) being brought to our tents. We had breakfast and were given some snacks for the days trekking. Back in Ollantaytambo that day we had a tour of the town and the ruins. Our guide was great, he gave us the low down of the Inca culture, customs and religion.

One house we visited gave us an idea of how people lived and still live today. It's bascially one space were they eat and sleep. They had niches in the walls were the skulls of their deceased family are placed. In Inca culture it is taught they look over the family and the property. Where we would have cats and dogs running in and out of our houses they had guinea pigs. This house had at least 30 in and around their feet. Guinea pig is a delicacy which is served at special occasions.  Or if your a tourist can be tried at a local restaurant which some of us did later in the trip.

One camp at 3200m above sea level had been closed because the teacher didn't want to come so far to work. The local kids had to walk a two hour trip each day to get to the next school and we think think we have a long commute. We played football with the kids that evening and gave them some crayons and colouring books which we had brought with us. Some of the kids sang us songs or did a little party piece to show their appreciation for the gifts.

On one of the days we came across a lone old busker singing local folklore songs in the middle of the mountains, like it was no different to busking at the corner of Yonge Street. We gave him some fruit and small donations of Nuevos Soles (local currency) as a thank you for entertaining us and went on our merry way.


The day we reached the highest point at 4445 meters {emotional to say the least but we will blame that on the altitude ok!!} we had lunch looking out over the most stunning landscape before making our way down to the next campsite where we played a game of football with some locals and had a singsong round the campfire. This was one of the best nights on the trip for me. I made myself a life long friend that night. You know who you are!!


The trek from here was pretty easy. Downhill all the way, through forests and across rivers and on to our next camp site. This one was particularly luxurious with thatched roof huts, hot showers and toilets. We had the remainder of the day to relax, catch some rays, read a book or just simply take in the view.


The following day we where off on the train taking us 100km where we got off and walked the rest of the way to Machu Picchu National Park. We reached the Sun Gate to be greeted by the guides with a huge congratulations for making it so far. After spending some time looking around we went down to the nearby village Aquas Calientes where we were staying in a hotel for the night. I know spoilt right!! We all went to a local restaurant that night to celebrate coming so far but it also happened to be one of the groups birthdays so we got to try the roasted guinea pig. 
We were up early for a return trip to Machu Picchu where we where going to have a guided tour around the ruins which we where told had been placed on this particular mountain for reasons to do with Inka religion and culture.


Source of image and meaning below

 I prefer the mythological version of events however on the flip slip the ever practical archeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti and was abandoned around the time of the Spanish Conquest. It was unknown to the outside world before being discovered by historian Hiram Bingham in 1911.

The various temples, houses and terraces are all in a very good and are still being restored to give travellers a better idea of what it was like in it's hay day. After the tour there was an opportunity for some of the group to do a further 2 hour climb up Machu Picchu mountain, behind us, for some more impressive views of the city. Some people decided not to take the extra tour and went back into the town to have a look around but i figured I had come this far why waste the opportunity.  The steps up where very narrow and quite often to my groups distress my big size 9's would trip me up. I practically stumbled for 2 hours up the mountain. The views where totally worth though!!
Here we all are in Cusco on the last night of the trip before we headed out to celebrate. This trip was exactly what I had been looking for. So humbling and self-exploratory. I would recommend something like this to anyone who is feeling lost in themselves and needs some space to figure it out. You can't get much more space than 4000m high up in the Andes.

If you made it to the end of this post fair play and thanks for reading. I would love to hear from anyone who has done something similar or is even just considering it. I apologise for the quality of the pictures, these were taken on an old school 35mm film camera long before digital entered my air space. 
Michelle xxx
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