Easy Pizza Pie! Healthy, delicious, and packed with vegetables.

I was so excited to discover our corner dairy has started stocking locally made Middle Eastern flatbread. It’s baked and delivered fresh each day, soy free, additive free, and wonderfully cheap. I’m having fun experimenting with it to make pizza, pizza pie, and wraps. The latest experiment involved making a vegetarian pizza pie that contrasts a salty crispy top with the tangy sweetness of tomato and the rich flavour of melted cheese. Not only is it a great way to get vegetables into your kids but it’s also a useful idea to keep in mind for jazzing up leftovers.

Ingredients

  • 2 x large flatbread (dinner plate size)
  • Leftover tinned spaghetti or pasta sauce
  • Thinly sliced vegetables (I used mushrooms, fresh spinach, and zucchini).
  • Grated cheese (I used Colby and Parmesan)
  • Neutral oil (I use Rice Bran)
  • Rock salt + garlic granules / smoked garlic salt / dukkah
  • Optional: If you like meat then you it’s easy to add tinned tuna, cooked chicken, roast pork, leftover (cooked) mince, sliced boiled egg, etc…

Allergies: soy free, egg free, dairy free*, nut free.

Directions

  1. Place the first flatbread on a pizza tray or lined oven tray.
  2. Lightly spread on tinned spaghetti or pasta sauce.
  3. Layer on sliced vegetables (and meat, if using).
  4. Cover in grated cheese(s).
  5. Place the second flatbread on top.
  6. Brush with neutral oil or melted butter.
  7. Grind rock salt over the top and sprinkle on garlic granules. Alternatively, you could use a smoked garlic salt, or dukkah, etc.
  8. Cook in a preheated oven at 180’C for approx. 10 mins (until cheese has melted and the pizza pie is thoroughly heated through). Keep an eye on the top (you may want to move it lower in oven or lower temperature slightly if the top is browning and crisping too early).

 

Tip: For other great pizza ideas – consider making a scone base pizza!

Everything you wanted to know about baking bread & rolls!

I stumbled upon a fabulous repository of information at the Robin Hood Baking Centre; apart from a wee bit of product placement all of their information is well presented with helpful photos. I’ve altered the order of information so that there’s a more logical grouping and flow to it 🙂

ADDING FLOUR

Adding Flour

People often add too much flour to dough, and this makes the finished product heavy and dense. Hold back about 1 cup (250 mL) of flour, then add it gradually until you get the desired texture. Add as little flour as possible to the kneading surface. Use a pastry scraper as you knead the dough to pick up any bits that stick to the surface. The dough should still be slightly sticky when fully kneaded— it may be a little harder to work but will give you the desired results.

CHOOSING FLOUR

Choosing Flour

It’s best to use flour specially formulated for baking bread, like Robin Hood® Best for Bread flours. It will help you make delicious breads that are high in volume with a light, even texture.
At the minimum, you want High Grade Flour (not plain flour). You may also find flours that are called ‘Strong Flour’ or which say that they have extra gluten added for breadmaking.

ADDING SALT

Adding Salt

Salt enhances taste, and helps bring out the flavours and aromas of the ingredients in your baked goods. Salt will help with tightening the gluten structure, which strengthens the bread dough, and helps with the volume of the bread in the end.

ADDING SUGAR

Adding Sugar

Yeast feeds on sugar, which causes it to activate and produce carbon dioxide gas. Be sure to follow the recipe, as adding too much sugar can slow down your yeast or keep it from activating.

BAKING WITH YEAST

Baking with Yeast

When using active dry yeast, it’s important to make sure it’s still viable. Always follow the recipe directions, which will include dissolving a specified amount of sugar into lukewarm water (110ºF-115ºF/45ºC-56ºC). Then add the yeast and allow it to stand for 10 minutes. If the yeast bubbles up, it’s still active. If not, your bread or rolls will not rise.

Be sure the water is lukewarm. If the water exceeds 138°F (59°C), the yeast will become inactive.

KNEADING BREAD DOUGH

Kneading Bread Dough

Kneading helps to develop gluten in the bread. Knead dough on a lightly floured work surface, adding more flour if dough is too sticky.

You’ll know kneading is complete when the bread is smooth and elastic. To test it, lightly slap the dough. If your hand comes away clean, it’s ready to rise.

RISING

First Rising
When you let the dough rise, the ingredients activate and carbon dioxide develops causing the gluten to stretch. It will rise best in a warm place (75°F-85°F / 24°C-29°C) that is free from drafts. Make sure you place it in a greased bowl that’s large enough to allow the dough to double in size. Cover the bowl with a tea towel.Once it’s doubled in size and no longer springs back when pressed, lightly punch down the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten.

Second Rising
Once your dough is placed in or on its pan, it’s ready to rise again in a warm place (75°F-85°F / 24°C-29°C). Let your dough rise until it is again double in size.

If dough overrises, it may collapse in the oven during baking.

If you don’t have a place in your home that’s warm enough, try leaving it in the oven with the oven light turned on. If you like, you can also add a pot of hot water on another rack.

Letting the dough rise twice helps improve the flavour and texture even more.

RISING BREAD DOUGH IN THE REFRIGERATOR

Rising Bread Dough in the Refrigerator

Just finished making your bread dough but need to step away? Place your dough in the refrigerator for the first rising. This slows down the rising as yeast doesn’t like the cold. You can let the dough sit in the refrigerator overnight.

When you’re ready to make the bread, take the dough out of the refrigerator, punch it down, shape the dough and let it rise a second time. Since the dough is cold, it will take longer than normal to rise.

SHAPING A LOAF

Shaping a Loaf

To eliminate large air bubbles, roll out your dough into a large rectangle (approx. 9” x 12” / 23cm x 30cm). From the shorter end, roll it up jelly-roll style, sealing the dough in the middle with the heel of your hand after each turn.

For a different look, bake your loaves free-form on a baking sheet that’s greased or sprinkled with cornmeal. Cornmeal will prevent bread from sticking and provide an interesting texture to the bread.

DIVIDING DOUGH

Dividing dough

Use a sharp knife or kitchen shears when a recipe calls for dividing the dough in half or making into rolls. If you tear the dough it may compromise the gluten, which will affect the rising and shape of the end product.

FREEZING BREAD DOUGH

Freezing Bread Dough

Love homemade bread but don’t want to have to make the dough all the time? Plan ahead and freeze some dough. Use your favourite bread dough recipe but double the amount of yeast called for. Follow the recipe for the mixing, kneading and the first rising. Punch down the dough, shape into loaves that are 2” (5 cm) thick (this allows for quicker thawing). Place in air tight freezer bag and freeze for up to four weeks.

When you’re ready to bake, remove the dough from freezer bag, place it in a greased loaf pan, and cover with greased plastic wrap. The dough will rise as it defrosts. Once thawed, follow your recipe’s baking directions.

GLAZING BREADS

Glazing Breads

Glazes may be used to provide different results in the bread crust. For a crisp crust, brush the dough with a mixture of one egg white and ½ tsp (2 mL) water. For a shiny, golden crust, use a whole egg beaten with 1 tsp (5 mL) water. If you’d like a deep brown crust, use egg yolks instead of egg whites. If you brush the dough with melted butter or oil, it will produce a soft velvety crust.

If you want to top your bread with nuts, seeds or grains, make sure to brush the dough with the glaze first, so it acts like a glue.

CRUSTS – FROM SOFT TO CRISP

Crusts – From Soft to Crisp

Dough that is made with water will typically have a crispier crust, while dough made with milk will be softer.

To soften a crisp crust, brush it with melted butter as soon as it comes out of the oven.

For a darker, richer colour, brush the finished loaves lightly with butter and return them to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

HOW DO I GET A CRISP BAGUETTE TYPE CRUST

How Do I Get a Crisp Baguette Type Crust

To get a crisp baguette type crust, you have to create a steam environment in your oven. Using a spray bottle, spray water on the sides of the oven every 10 minutes while the bread is baking. You can also put a pan of boiling water on the bottom rack of the oven under the bread.

VERSATILITY OF BREAD DOUGH

Versatility of Bread Dough

Take your favourite bread dough and change it up by adding nuts, cheese, dried fruit or chopped chocolate. To make a savory dinner bread, you can also add chopped garlic and herbs.

PREPARING YOUR PAN

Preparing Your Pan

Use shortening or oil, like Crisco®, butter, or non-stick spray to grease the pan.

BAKING WITH PROPER HEAT DISTRIBUTION

Baking with Proper Heat Distribution

Unless the recipe says otherwise, always bake your bread on a lower rack.

If you’re baking more than one pan, be sure they are not touching one another or any sides of the oven. You want the air to circulate between them so they cook evenly.

If your crust is becoming too brown too quickly, cover it loosely with aluminum foil.

HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY BREAD IS BAKED?

How Do I Know When My Bread Is Baked?

Similar to checking the doneness of other baked goods, you can insert a skewer or cake tester into middle of bread. If it comes out clean, it is ready. An instant read thermometer is a very reliable way to check as well. Insert the thermometer in the center of the loaf – if the temperature has reached 190°F/88°C, it is ready.

COOLING BAKED BREAD

Cooling Baked Bread

Remove the baked bread from the pan immediately and place on a wire cooling rack to cool. This allows the air to circulate and prevents the crust from becoming soggy.

WHY IS MY BREAD TOO SMALL?

Why is My Bread Too Small?

Make sure your oven is at the right temperature. If it’s too hot, the bread may bake too quickly, causing a crust to form before the bread is finished rising in the oven.

Also make sure that your bread dough isn’t too cold. Make sure your bread dough has risen in a warm place (between 75°to 85°F/24° to 29°C).

When baking, leave a space between your pans so they are not touching in the oven, allowing for proper air circulation.

WHY IS MY BREAD COARSE AND CRUMBLY?

Why is My Bread Coarse and Crumbly?

If your bread is coarse and crumbly, you may have let your dough over rise or you may have over kneaded the dough. Make sure you follow the recipe directions and allow the dough to rise just until it is double in size – this should take about 1 hour. Knead your dough for the specified time only.

STORING BREAD

Storing Bread

To keep your crust crisp, store your bread in a paper bag at room temperature. It should be good for up to two days. If storing bread at room temperature, avoid storing it in plastic wrap unless you want an especially soft crust.

Bread is best stored at room temperature or frozen. Refrigeration tends to dry out bread.

FREEZING BREAD

Freezing Bread

Bread freezes really well. To freeze, allow your loaf to cool completely, wrap well with plastic wrap, then place in a freezer bag. Be sure to remove all the air or ice crystals will form while freezing.

Thaw at room temperature in the freezer bag to allow the bread to re-absorb the moisture lost during the freezing process.

To freshen your loaf, place it in a 350°F (180°C) oven for 10-15 minutes.

Easy Banana Muffins (or Banana Cake) that can be made vegan and allergy free!

Banana cupcakes & gingerbread spice cookies

Banana cupcakes & gingerbread spice cookies. Made vegan and allergy free.

Banana cake has long been one of my nemesis; I just haven’t had the knack. I’m so glad to have finally found a recipe that works! It also has the wonderful bonus of being dairy, egg, soy, and nut free! I have also made it gluten free 🙂

Ingredients

  • 2 mashed / pureed ripe bananas*
  • 5 Tbsp neutral oil (I use rice bran)
  • 1/2 cup water + 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2c plain flour (or Healtheries Gluten Free Bread Mix).
  • 3/4c sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar (I use apple cider)

Tip: The riper the bananas, the better this will work! As the bananas ripen they convert starch to sugar. Really ripe bananas will mash more easily, be sweeter, and have a more intense banana flavour.

Gluten Free: You can, of course, use a different gluten free flour! The reason that I’ve listed that one is because it contains guar gum but no raising agents (as the recipe includes those). You could, for instance, substitute superfine rice flour and add guar gum. Personally, I don’t use xanthan gum as it can be grown using soy as a base. You may need to experiment a little with gluten free flours to get the cake just right (you may want to start with muffins as it’s easier to tell when they’re cooked). Keep in mind that gluten free baking is often moister, denser, and may require a longer baking time.

Allergies: soy free, dairy free, egg free, nut free, gluten free*

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 180’C and prepare muffin trays / cake tin.
  2. Mash your bananas until you have a smooth texture. Tip: A food processor can do this quickly for you but you’ll want to do the actual mixing by hand.
  3. Mix in the oil and 1/2 cup water.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Add the wet ingredients (banana, oil, water) to the dry ingredients. Add the vinegar.
  6. Stir till just combined. (Slowly add additional water if required).
  7. Quickly get into cupcake cases, muffin trays, or cake tin, and pop in oven.
  8. Bake until skewer comes out clean. Approximately 12 – 15 mins for muffins and 30-40 mins for cake.

Icings: Check out these ideas for completely natural icings that don’t use any artificial additives and are easy to make.

Tips: I’ve made this recipe several times. Lessons learned: using the plastic batter-stirrer-attachment-thingy for the food processor makes for a denser end product (so does over stirring by hand); the rising effect that you get from the vinegar + baking soda means that you want to get this into the oven quickly (instead of having a lengthy sidebar with your toddler about how baking is really just chemistry in the kitchen).

How to wash net curtains (cheaply, easily, and with natural products)

Getting great results from washing net curtains with natural products!

Getting great results from washing net curtains with natural products!

My city is humid all year round (often hovering at 95% and still not raining); combine that with winter and aluminium frames and it means sweating windows which need to be wiped down daily. It also means net curtains need to be periodically washed to keep them free of grime and mold.

Miss 2 has really sensitive skin (and eczema) so I’m moving many of our cleaning products to more natural options. I wanted to see if I could find any advice on washing net curtains and found these great step by step instructions.

To summarise:

  1. Put warm water and 1 cup of white vinegar in a bathtub (or large bucket). Swirl around (agitate) and make sure the curtains are covered.  Leave to soak for an hour.
  2. Drain the water. Refill with a fresh batch of warm water and 1 cup of baking soda (bicarbonate soda). Swirl around and make sure the curtains are covered. Leave to soak for an hour.
  3. Treat any stains remaining on the curtains. Create a paste using four tablespoons of baking soda and ¼ cup of water. Apply this paste to your curtain and rub it into the stains. After working the baking soda thoroughly into the stains, apply a little undiluted vinegar.
  4. Wash normally in the washing machine (on a gentle / delicate cycle).
  5. Line dry in the sun.

 

Tip: The reason for needing separate soaking times is because baking soda (base) + white vinegar (acid) will largely cancel each other out and reduce effectiveness if you use them at the same time.

Tip: Don’t put the net curtains in the dryer (not even on Low). They shrink – I speak from experience!

Gingerbread / Spice Cookies (Allergy Free)

Gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups plain flour (I have also used Healtheries GF Bread Mix)
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 150g butter or allergy free spread (I use Nuttelex)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp Maple Syrup or Golden Syrup
  • Drop vanilla
  • Pinch salt

Note: These make a light more-ish spices gingerbread cookie (as opposed to one denser and chewier). Maple syrup will provide a more delicate flavour, golden syrup a more traditional one. The flavour notes are easy to experiment with, you can add more ginger and a pinch of nutmeg. I’ve made these a lot as my daughter loves them and this is her favourite combination.

Allergies: dairy free*, gluten free*, soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Cream ‘butter’, sugar, maple (or golden) syrup, and vanilla.
  2. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.
  3. Knead everything together. It will gradually turn from breadcrumbs to a soft cookie dough. Add a little water if you need to but just a tablespoon at a time.
  4. Refrigerate for 30 – 60 mins. You can leave it in a ball or roll it out. It’s tempting to try cutting it but (and I speak from experience) it doesn’t work very well at room temperature.
  5. Preheat oven to 180’C while rolling out the cookies.
  6. Place cookies on a baking sheet / lightly oiled baking tray.
  7. Bake for 12-15 mins.
  8. Take out from oven and allow to cool briefly before placing on cooling rack to continue cooling.

Tip: If you want a fancy (and easy) dessert reserve some of the cookie dough. Serve balls of French vanilla ice cream with little balls of cookie dough and a warm gingerbread cookie.

Note: These cookies are soft coming straight out of the oven and will harden overnight. They are delicious either way. They also freeze well.

Gingerbread cookies with chocolate icing

Gingerbread cookies with chocolate icing

Winter Crafts: Painting Leaves

A wonderful winter activity can be going for a walk through the woods or local park and talking about how the trees change with the seasons (and how some don’t!).

Collect some leaves and pine cones on your walk and take them home to dry.

Tip: Putting then on newspaper or a towel in the hot water cupboard works well.

Once the leaves are dry they make a wonderful canvas for painting. Again, they dry well in the hot water cupboard and can be hung up for a few days as decorations.

Tip: You could try spraying them with varnish to help them last longer.

Jungle Stories by Miss Almost-3

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle a bird flew through the air singing “Tweet, tweet, tweet”. It went to a beautiful waterfall for a drink of water but SPLOOSH an elephant shot water out if it’s nose (trunk) and got it all wet to be silly. The birdy told the elephant a joke. The end.

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle there was a crocodile and some fishes swimming in the river. The crocodile was very hungry so he ate the fishes, SNAP. his tummy was very full and he was happy. BURP. The end.

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle there was a giraffe. He stretched his long neck up and ate the juicy leaves. YUM. They went through his tummy and he did a big poop out his anus. The end.

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle there was a snake. She went round and round in the warm sun. She says Sss to her FRIENDS, the butterflies. She has a nice cup of tea and reads a book. Then elephant, giraffe, crocodile, and monkey come over for tea. They have a party and give her presents. The end.
Haha she cracks me up! She’s also going through the phase where she LOVES talking about body parts, wee, poo, and farts. What stories do your kids tell you?

Superfood Coconut Cacao Smoothie

I used the Healtheries Ground Chia Superfood Blend Cacao & Coconut in the Gluten Free Wild Berry Chocolate Cake and wanted to see what it would be like in a smoothie. The result is creamy, delicious, chocolatey, and with the added nutritional benefits of chia seeds!

Ingredients

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free*, soy free, nut free*, egg free.

Directions

  1. Place everything in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth and creamy.
  2. Pour into a serving glass. Consider topping with a little coconut cream or greek yoghurt and sprinkle some cacao on top.

Making playdough insects (portable playgroup fun!)

Playdough and straw caterpillar

Making playdough insects

Why not spend a rainy afternoon making homemade playdough and designing your own insects (or animals, or monsters!). It’s a cheap activity that’s also easily transportable to playgroup. Younger toddlers will have fun pushing the legs in and pulling them out again; preschoolers will have fun making their designs happen. Think about putting out some library picture books to help give them ideas!

What you 

  • Playdough (try making your own!)
  • Straws
  • Scissors
  • Knife (bamboo or wooden ones are great!)
  • Optional: Googly eyes (from craft stores)

Discovering the Secret Garden

Toi toi standing tall.

Toi toi standing tall.

Today we went and explored a beautiful secret garden after Miss 2’s post-op Doctor’s appointment. I’m still working my way up to talking about our experiences with her multiple surgeries and instead thought I’d share a glimpse of the beautiful landscapes we saw.

Path of Gold

Path of Gold

Winter beauty

Winter beauty

Journey to Rangitoto

Journey to Rangitoto

Love and Comfort

She won’t leave the house without him!

Fern valley

Fern valley

Winter waterfall

Winter waterfall