10 Tips For Success When Using Your Bread Maker

Bread maker machines are advertised as easy to use — and they are, once you get to know them. But your first results can be disappointingly deflating. Small, dense and under-cooked loaves are often a problem for new machine owners. You can, of course, go with a bread mix, which has all the ingredients in one bag. Just add yeast and water and you’re ready to go.

But if you’d rather start from scratch, here are ten tips to make sure your loaves are the best every single time.

Flour

Use high grade flour

In some countries, you can buy “bread flour” which has an even higher gluten content (12-14%) but New Zealand’s high grade usually works well enough.

You’ll have noticed many different types of flour on the supermarket shelves, and each is best-suited to a particular use. In New Zealand, high-grade flour is the best for bread making because it has the higher gluten content (11%) needed for elasticity in the dough. Standard flour has a lower gluten content and bread simply won’t rise as well if you use it.

Warm The Flour

It’s a good idea to make sure the flour is at least room temperature before it goes into the bread maker. My flour lives in the pantry, so in winter I make sure I bring it inside for a while before I need to get started. I often pop the bag down by the fire if I need it to warm up in a hurry.

Measure The Flour Correctly

Bread maker recipes will give you two ways to measure: cups and weight. Using a set of scales will give you a consistently accurate amount of flour each time. The amount of flour in a cupful can vary quite considerably, depending on whether you heap it or not. Some people pour the flour into the cup, others scoop it out of the flour bin. Each method will result in a slightly different amount of flour in the cup.

Be Generous Measuring Other Ingredients

The standard ingredients for an ordinary loaf of bread are flour, sugar, salt, oil, milk powder and yeast. I find that the amounts stated in the recipe in my bread maker book are a bit small. The amounts I use for a loaf made from 450g (1lb) of high-grade flour are:

  • 1 ½ tbsp olive or rice bran oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp milk powder (1 ½ tbsp of liquid milk works too)
  • 2 tbsp sugar (white sugar or coconut sugar both work well)
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • Yeast (see below)

Tbsp = tablespoon (15 ml in NZ)        Tsp = teaspoon (5 ml)

Your machine is probably not made in New Zealand, and the measurements given in its recipe book may be using Australian or US tablespoons, which are actually a different size to NZ ones. An Aussie tablespoon, for example, is 20 ml whereas a NZ one is only 15 ml.

To be on the safe side, I use the largest tablespoon in my set which is actually NZ1½ tbsp.

Warm Water Is Important

Use water that is warm to the touch but not hot. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast, but cold water will take too long to activate it, and your bread is less likely to rise properly.

Yeast

Use a Yeast With Added Improvers

In New Zealand, you need to add flour improvers to your mix, because of the comparatively low protein/gluten content in our flour (even high grade.) The easiest way to do this is to use a yeast with improvers already added.

I use Edmonds Surebake Yeast — look for the jars with red tops in the baking aisle — but I have seen at least one other brand which also offered a yeast+improver option.

3 tsp is a good amount to add.

Breadmaker recipes vary as to the amount of yeast to use. Some will break it down into a yeast measurement and an improver measurement.

I’ve experimented with amounts over the years, and have found that 3 tsp of Surebake Yeast has given a well-risen loaf every time.

Check the date on the yeast jar.

If you’ve done everything else correctly and the bread still doesn’t rise properly, check the date on the yeast jar. If it’s a long way past the “best before” date then stale yeast could be the problem.

Add the ingredients in the order listed for your bread maker.

Your bread maker machine recipe book will have a list of ingredients and the order you should put them into the bread pan. Some start with the water, and add the flour and yeast last. Others list the yeast first. It’s probably best to add them in the order recommended for your machine.

Check the crust setting

Not all bread maker machines have a crust setting. If yours does, experiment with the setting that works best for you. On my machine, dark is the best option to use.

Yum — Fresh Bread

Bowl of soup with a slice of bread fresh from the bread maker.
Soup and fresh, homemade bread is such a treat, especially in winter. I often put a big pot of homemade soup on the slow-burning wood burner and let it cook all night. Next morning I pop bread ingredients into the bread maker and hey presto! By lunchtime, we have a delicious meal ready to eat.

I’ve made many mistakes with my bread over the years, but if a loaf doesn’t rise properly then it’s usually because I haven’t followed my own tips.

Farm Recipes on Time of my Life

Food is such a part of farming culture. The first thing you’re likely to hear when you walk into our house is “have a cuppa.” 

Apart from fresh bread, I’ve got some go-to recipes for keeping my farmer and guests well fed. Cheese scones are another perfect accompaniment to soup, or a quick snack to whip up when your farmer suddenly turns up with guests in tow.

Choco-Banana Ice Dream

Bowl of soft-serve chocolate banana ice cream

Ice Cream is one of my favourite foods. Whether it’s summer or winter, in my mind an ice cream is a staple treat during an outing, and a must-have dessert.

Unfortunately, since it’s high in fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium, and low in most vitamins and minerals, I can’t justify eating loads of ice cream  eating any ice cream now that I’m sticking to a healthy diet.

So I was thrilled to discover that you can make a delicious “ice cream” from frozen bananas.  Naturally, I immediately tried the recipe. And of course, wanting to get maximum healthy bang out of every treat buck, I changed it.

NB: If you don’t like the taste of bananas then, sadly, this recipe is not for you.

Before starting, you’ll need to prepare some frozen food the day before:

  • Slice 1 large or 2 small bananas into small pieces and freeflow freeze them.
  • Open, drain, rinse and freeze canned chickpeas.
  • Slice and free-flow freeze approx ½ small courgetteSlices of banana and courgette, plus chickpeas ready to freeze.

Choco-Banana Ice Dream

Frozen banana and courgette slices (see above)

2 tbsp frozen chickpeas

2 tbsp raw cacao powder or cocoa powder (a cheaper option)

2 tbsp peanut butter (optional)

½ cup almond milk

What to do:

Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

The mixture quickly becomes thick and creamy and you’ll probably need to push it down and stir with a wooden spoon a few times during the blending process.

Serve immediately as a “soft-serve dream” or pop it into the freezer for more of a solid frozen treat.

Bowl of soft-serve chocolate banana ice cream

Notes:

Bananas contain a fair amount of fructose (sugar), that I can’t deny. But they are also high in potassium, fiber and vitamins B6 and C. Add in the antioxidant qualities of raw cacao, plus the extra protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber from the vegetables and I reckon my Choco-Banana Ice Dream is definitely on the healthier side of the treat-food-scale.

This is a pretty forgiving recipe; you can add or subtract all sorts of things to make your own variations. I’ve tried adding small amounts of frozen cooked carrot and cauliflower, and no one has even noticed!

Keep a container of banana and vegetable slices in the freezer. That way you’ll be able to whip up this yummy dessert (or breakfast) without delay.

The Yummiest Breakfast Ever

I’ve been known to eat this for breakfast. To allay any possible guilt, I make it even healthier by adding 1 tbsp of protein powder, and chuck in a handful of frozen blueberries and  another of spinach leaves. (Blend it extra-well to disguise any little green flecks.)

Why not give this yummy dessert a try?

Make some changes to suit your taste then let us all know your delicious variations in the comments below.

I can’t wait to try YOUR inventions!

Confessions of a Bookworm

AKA: Why I Never Read In Airports.

I have interests a-plenty, but only one grand passion. I adore writing, but even that pales, compared to my full-blown obsession with reading. Hand me a new book and don’t bother talking until it’s finished. I won’t hear you — a fact that has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. Let me tell you of the time I started a new book at the airport…

Picture this:

With a couple of hours to spare before my flight, I saunter into the bookshop. I love to look, but I know better than to buy a book at the airport. Twice the price — and sooo dangerous (for me!) Sure enough, staring me in the face is a book that screams BUY ME NOW.

So, I do.

With 90 minutes till the flight, I dash through security and sit just metres away from the gate entrance. It’s so early — I’m the ONLY person in the small lounge. I open the book.

Got the picture? The next thing I knew, someone was calling my name… over the airport sound system.  Lyn McNamee get to your gate now! (or words to that effect.)

Yes, it’s true.

Every single other passenger on that full flight to Queenstown had arrived in the lounge, heard the multiple announcements to board, lined up beside my seat, and boarded the plane.

And I noticed nothing.

If you’ve ever been that passenger who delays departure with their tardiness, you’ll know the glares that greeted me as I slunk onto the plane.

And you also know why I have never dared to open a book at an airport again.

3 Novels To Love

I couldn’t tell you my favourite novel, but I could certainly name my top hundred. Every single one sits on my bookcase waiting to be lovingly plucked up and re-read. Don’t worry — I’m not going to list them all now. But if you’re in the mood for a good book, here are three of the best.


BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty

Cover of book: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.

One thing’s clear in Big Little Lies: someone dies. That’s established on Page 7.

But here’s the mystery: Not just whodunnit but WHO DIED?

I love the unusual format of this book; how personalities and situations slowly reveal themselves in every chapter; the hidden twists and turns. Parts of it made me cry. And best of all, it finished fittingly. All in all, a deeply satisfying read.

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY & POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY             by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Cover of book: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.

I can echo that sentiment with “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” Where to begin with such a beloved book? The title alone is surely enough to intrigue…

Written as a series of letters, this novel takes us back first to post-war Britain and then paints a vivid picture of life in the Channel Islands during the German Occupation. I’m a history buff, love getting mail, and a sucker for a little romance so of course I fell in love with each character as soon as I met them. Brilliant.

THE LITTLE WOMEN LETTERS by Gabrielle Donnelly

Cover of book: The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly.

I picked this gem up unexpectedly in Emma’s At Oxford a few years ago now, and for that I’m truly grateful. It’s one of my favourites. Despite the name, though, this one’s not a series of letters.

If, like me, you grew up loving “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, then I guarantee you’ll like this book. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy come to life in unexpected ways as each letter is discovered, and so too, do their modern-day counterparts, Emma, Lulu and Sophie.

It’s a book of love and discovery. Finding who you want to be and where you fit in. Of growing up, and being okay with that.


How’s your bookshelf looking? Or are you more of a Kindle reader these days?

Whichever it is, I bet you have your own favourites . Tell me your top 3 and what you love about them.

 

Indigestion: Such A Horrible Pain

Have you ever experienced indigestion?

Indigestion is an innocuous word for an absolutely horrible feeling. At best it feels like acid rising out of your stomach and up towards your throat. That’s painful enough but antacids will quickly solve it.

But at its worst, pain grasps your stomach, throat, belly and chest. It claws at your gut and refuses to release. You breathe in shallow gasps because it hurts to fill your lungs. Your abdomen is tight, bloated and full of wind. Even your heart hurts. Antacids take forever to kick in. Walking around eases the pain a little, as does drinking hot water. Often it just goes on and on until you vomit.

As you can imagine, after an attack like that your stomach is upset for hours, sometimes days. It’s not much fun!

Tablets Can Help Sometimes

There’s a whole heap of medicine out there dedicated to the relief of indigestion so that you don’t get to that worst-case scenario, and I’ve taken them all. They worked fine for a long time, but in the past few months the long- term, daily-dose pill suddenly stopped working. Oh no! There I was, back in that state where I was popping antacids two, three, even four times a day  just to keep the indigestion at bay.

A Lasting Solution  

Once my sisters and I started the Blitz — Healthy Eating Challenge: Putting on the Blitz — I learned a very important lesson. My body simply won’t tolerate processed junk any more.

During the first three weeks of this healthy eating challenge, I’ve only had indigestion once , and that was the weekend we went out for a meal twice in the same day.  I ate the healthiest things on the menu (which wasn’t saying much) but that night — OUCH! Not the worst kind, but it sure hurt. Back on the Blitz the next day and my stomach was back to normal thank goodness.

A Wake-Up Call

This is a wake-up call because now I realise with my whole being, this is not a game. It’s not something I can do for a while, but then let old habits slip back over time (as has happened in the past.) Forget about  losing weight — that’s a nice by-product, but it’s not the goal any more. Now the health of my digestive system is my number one priority and motivation.

Of course I won’t be Blitzing for life — that’s not realistic. But I will be committing very seriously to eating whole, healthy food once the Blitz is finished. You won’t see pizza, cakes or chips in my hand again. I’m not even tempted by them. I’d far rather eat food like this:

Indigestion Buster: A bowl of quinoa, rice, mushrooms,, spinach decorated with pear slices.
A delicious meal from Week 2.

Healthy Eating Challenge: Putting on the Blitz

Pineapple with leaves, fruit and smoothie

Healthy Eating (Again): Part 1.

You wake up feeling sluggish. You didn’t sleep well — again! In the shower you make a promise: “Today I’ll start my diet. Today I’m going to be healthy. No sugar — no snacks. I can do this!” You step out of the shower completely resolved. Today’s the first day of the rest of your life.

You eat breakfast   feeling good so far. You skip the biscuits at morning tea — now feeling virtuous. Lunch is a big, healthy salad — great.

By 3pm your energy is beginning to flag. 4 o’clock drags around and those biscuits are calling. You turn your back, grit your teeth and carry on.

By tea time you’re ravenous. You load up your plate: healthy but huge. Somehow it’s not enough. All that food and your mind says more, more. I want pudding. You give in. Out comes the ice cream or the cake. You’ve blown it again. “Tomorrow,” you vow. “I’ll try again tomorrow… or maybe next week.”

Sound familiar? This was my life for YEARS. Every day I blew it. Frustration, failure, misery — I knew them all intimately.

Then one day everything changed!

Help Is At Hand.

18 months ago I found a programme that seriously kicked butt. It’s called the Blitz. Run by “superwoman” Tania Campbell of Fitness For Life in Queenstown, the Blitz has changed my life. Not a diet, but a healthy eating programme, the Blitz is guaranteed to help me lose weight AND, more importantly, change my eating habits.

The Blitz gives you six weeks of meal menus, shopping lists and recipes, plus coaching, encouragement and accountability. You have to report your progress to Tania each week, and that’s a huge motivation right there. It costs: that’s part of the motivation too. After all, you’ve forked out good money for this programme. If you cheat it’s all been wasted.

Exercise is part of the deal, of course. It’s a simple formula really: eat healthy food and exercise regularly. I go to fitness classes and yoga, and of course I love to walk.

I seriously loved doing that first Blitz, and carried it on for 9 weeks. By the end I’d lost 12kg and felt wonderful. So much energy… so much more joy in life. Some of the recipes I loved and still use regularly, others I dropped thankfully. In the next few months I looked online for healthy recipes and wasn’t afraid to experiment and try new tastes. I knew I had to keep on with healthy eating if I wanted to keep the weight off and the energy up.

Pineapple with leaves, fruit and smoothie.
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

This week I started another Blitz. Old habits have crept back into my life: bread, ice cream, chips… ahh. It’s time for a reset.

I’m extra excited because this time my sisters are joining me in the challenge. They don’t live in Queenstown; they’re doing the online version. It’s great to have that extra support and to be a support for them in return.  

This is what will happen:

  • We’ll lose weight.
  • Physically, emotionally, mentally we’ll feel great.
  • Sugar cravings will have disappeared.
  • Sleeping will be so much easier.
  • We will be properly hydrated.

I know because I’ve been there before. I’ve slipped off track recently, but not so far that it’s hard to go back.

I’m looking forward to this: Okay Blitzers  –  healthy eating here we come!

 

Please note, this is not an affiliate post. I receive no compensation for this post, it’s just something I really love to do and would recommend. 

 

 

3 Lists to Sort Out Your Day

Lists on notice board

You absolutely need a list.

Do you find it difficult to get things done? Do you end each day wondering what you achieved? Frustrated by the never-ending chores still looming? If this is you, the solution is clear: you need to make a list.

Why make a list?

Lists are an invaluable tool for creating order in your day and in your life. Your list lets you see the tasks to be done and set priorities so you don’t get overwhelmed.

When you follow a list you can master your day. You won’t find yourself spending hours on social media or mind-numbing TV. Your tasks are done,  and believe me, there’s nothing like the satisfaction of a crossed out list. If you’re a champion procrastinator, an over-worked parent or simply overwhelmed by life, a list could be the tool that saves the day.

Here are my top three essential lists.

The Daily Task list

This list organises your day-to-day life. Simply write down the tasks that you want to achieve during your day. I include everything – work, study, food, leisure, gardening, housework, walking the dog, visiting a friend, reading a book, checking Facebook. That way I get a balance in my day and don’t feel overwhelmed with hated tasks (housework!).     

Cross off each task as it is completed: there’s nothing like the satisfaction of a crossed-out list. What a lot you accomplished today!

Break it down

Break large tasks into specific jobs. Take a moment to think about a good order to tackle them and which ones could be multi-tasked. Maybe laundry is on your list,? Just put the washing machine on and then move onto another task. You can cross them both off together – two for the price of one, hooray!

If something unexpected comes up don’t stress. If friends call in, or your husband suggests “let’s go out for the day” say “sure!” and add it to your list. It might bump the housework down the pecking order, but that’s okay. Your list is a tool to help your life, not to stop you from having fun.

Finally – don’t beat yourself up if a few tasks are still undone that night. Smile and reschedule them for another time.

Weekly menu plan

At the end of a busy day, the last thing I want to do is decide what to have for dinner.

What’s in the cupboard? What did we have yesterday? Can I be bothered? It’s much easier to reach for the phone and order take-out.

But take-out every night is bad for your wallet, and terrible for your waistline.

What’s the solution? Make another list.

It takes a bit of practice to decide on your meals for a whole week in advance, but the savings in time and money make this list a no-brainer.

Think about your needs first

Start by writing down any activities or commitments that will happen on a particular day for you and for your family. That will help you decide what sort of meal to cook.

Will you get home late on Wednesday? Plan on a slow-cooker meal: you can start it in the morning and come home to a delicious meal at night.

Rushing off to a class after tea, or taking the kids to sports practice?  Plan for cold meat and salad with a bread roll – easy to put out and even easier to pack away afterwards.

Maybe Thursdays are your quiet days: that’s the time to be adventurous and plan for a meal that will take more time to prepare and cook.

Decide on the menu

Once you’ve sorted your activities, choose your meals and write them next to each day.

Make it as simple or detailed as you want.

Doing a little thinking and planning once a week will save you the stress of having to make decisions when you’re tired and hungry. It will save you time and money when you shop because you’ll know exactly what you need to buy. And it allows you to eat healthy, budget-friendly meals every day of the week.

Once you’ve got a few menus prepared you can simply rotate them, with a few tweaks for changing activities. So three or four plans could last you an entire season before you feel the need to change. What a bonus!

The S.M.A.R.T.  List.

Most people have a dream they’d love to achieve. But often it’s so big and vague that it’s impossible to succeed. But your plans CAN be realised: with the help of a third list.

S.M.A.R.T stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Orientation and  Time-bound, offering the perfect framework for reaching your goals.

To create a SMART list, think about steps you need to take to achieve your dream goal. You might need to break each step down into even smaller goals. For each goal, set a time limit by which you will get it done, and write down the results you want to see at the end.

You can do it!

You can use SMART lists for any goal, be it personal or professional. I was overweight and unfit after years of working too hard and neglecting my health. But when I finally decided to stop moaning and actually do something about it, I made my goal specific – to lose 10 kg in 3 months. This was specific, measurable results-oriented and achievable and making it time-bound helped me to focus on achieving milestones at regular intervals. It was amazing to see those pounds disappearing and my SMART list kept me motivated.

The Power of a List

Don’t underestimate the power of these lists. By using them you can free up your mind and your time. You can make room in your life for yourself, your family and your friends. Your goals can be achieved; Tasks will be done: Meals will be a breeze!

So my new year’s resolution (made at the end of  January) is simple:

Keep on making lists.

If I don’t have a list, it won’t get done.

So what am I  waiting for? What are you waiting for?

Start enjoying life again. Get things done. and feel that sense of accomplishment.

Make that list today.

Writing a list.