By Miss Pollyanna, 5th March 2017

Cookbook Calamity

No more Excuses; your Vanilla Pods NEED you!

No more Excuses; your Vanilla Pods NEED you!

When will we ever cook just one of those recipes we’ve been looking at for the past ten years? I have a freestanding bookshelf containing 30 cook books. The average book has 100 recipes. If I make one a day that would take me into yet another decade of dilemma.

Yes, my bookshelf is packed to the brim with copies spewing out of the sides and stacked on the top besides. I have recipe boards on Pinterest, and a scrap book chock full of culinary ideas I rarely get around to reading, let alone attempting to re-create. Yet, I frequently insist upon adding to it, particularly after watching an episode of Jamie Oliver. His promise that I will feed my family with a meal splattered across a tray in just fifteen minutes fools me every time.

Then of course there are the hastily scribbled luxurious love notes piped into my home courtesy of The Hairy Bikers. And if it’s not Si or Dave vying for my attention, Rick Stein’s at it too with his twist on Indian, or one of his classic Cornish creations. Not to forget Lorraine Pascale’s ‘Glam Mac n Cheese’ which has booted Monday night’s entry on the Meal Planner right out of the kitchen window. And now Rachel Khoo is thrusting Cheese, Pistachio and Prune Cake in my face. No, I’m not totally convinced by that one yet either.

Where to start?
I’m in a Cookbook Calamity. Or CBC as it is more affectionately known in this house. CBC has, at times, made me long to morph back into the Comfort Zone Club. Like my friend Tanya, whose pièce de resistance is the humble Flapjack. Which she produces for her kids over and over and over again. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with being a Steady Eddie.

Except, as I said, I have 3000 recipes to try out, just as I suspect do most of you.

So as I frequently remind myself – and my husband – it’s absolutely vital the cupboards are always full of rose water and peppermint extract. And that Korean gochunjang paste is also one of our store cupboard essentials. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t used any of these things, or that I will undoubtedly have to throw them away for being out of date. We have them. And that makes me feel better. Because now I am more likely to whip up Turkish Delight Syllabub or handmade Peppermint Creams to dispatch as housewarming gifts for my shabby chic friends, or Bimbimbap.

And really, what it all boils down to is this: If not now, when?

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– If not because I have a group of Mummy friends popping over for coffee, when will I ever bother to make those Pistachio Macaroons?

Aerosole Halos
Aerosole Halos

– If not because my parents are over for Sunday lunch, when will I ever be arsed to try my hand at a Beef Wellington?

– If not because it’s my daughter’s birthday party, when will I ever re-create every single suggestion in the Children’s Party section of Nigella’s ‘Feast’?

– If not because it is a Wednesday, when will we ever take three hours to conjure up Shoulder of Lamb with Blackberry and Honey Gravy?

You’ve got to admit I have a point.
If we’re not ever going to at least have a go at making any of these recipes, we might as well just pulp and recycle the whole bookshelf. Which in itself would make us feel so much better. I mean, isn’t your cookbook bookshelf a metaphor for your life; a constant reminder of your procrastinating ways and failure to take a leap of faith into the unknown?

It’s okay. So is mine. You are not alone.
So let’s do it! Let’s commit to just one new recipe a week. That’s all. It needn’t be much. In a year we’ll have tasted our way through nearly half a cookbook (according to the average number of pages in those gracing my shelves anyway). I’m not disputing some of these future experiments may be slightly char-grilled, acrid or raw. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a decent lasagna. And anyway isn’t that part of the fun?

Yes, I am guaranteed cake casualties, cheese soufflés that flop in the middle and Swiss roll with the surface of a glacier. But it’s all about the journey, not the destination. And we’ll take that journey together. We’ll wade through seas of olive oil, we’ll brave jungles of broccoli, we’ll inch our way through alfalfa sprouts and we’ll scale Baked Alaskas that have risen to new and un-forseen heights.

And we can start with my Fabulously Flippin’ Easy Flapjacks (see recipe below) and build up our courage like a muscle. Next time we attempt them – woo hoo! – we might be a little more maverick, throwing in a pinch of ginger, or the grated zest of half a lemon:

Miss Pollyanna’s Fabulously Flippin’ Easy Flapjacks

Charlie Choppa
Charlie Choppa

Okay.  First off, give yourself a huge pat on the back. You’ve dusted down your measuring scales and made it back into the kitchen!

175g unsalted butter (look, you can use salted, I’m just being a culinary snob)
175 golden syrup or runny honey (but definitely not both!!!)
175g brown sugar (but equally, you can use caster sugar or granulated sugar. Rules are there to be broken when it comes to baking)
350g porridge oats (I prefer the larger oats personally, but if you don’t have those to hand, finer milled oats work too)

Optional – white chocolate drops and dried cranberries/white chocolate drops and dried strawberries/milk chocolate drops and hazelnuts/zest of half a lemon and ¼ teaspoon ground ginger/any combination you think might be edible!

1) Switch on the oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F). That’s Gas Mark 2. Your best bet by far is to use a square silicone baking tin – approximately 20cm (8 inches). Don’t stress if you don’t have one with the exact measurements, you may just need to leave the flapjack in the oven a few minutes longer… And if you are using a tin instead, either grease it with butter and line it with baking parchment, or grease it with butter and then coat lightly with flour to ensure the bake doesn’t stick to the sides! Nothing more annoying than burnt, inedible flapjack… or scraping it off in hot soapy water.
2) Next melt the butter. You can do this in the microwave, or, as I would; over a low heat in a medium sized pan.
3) Add your syrup/runny honey and sugar to the pan and keep it all on a low heat, just until the sugar has completely vanished. Now take off the heat and add the oats (plus any optional yummies, as above!)
4) Spoon the concoction carefully into your prepared tin and press down so all is relatively level. Bake for 40 minutes or so in the centre of the oven.
5) When it is ready, leave to cool completely – something I am rarely able to do without ‘sampling’ and then burning my tongue. But the flapjack is still technically cooking even when out of the oven, and it will be far easier to cut and far less likely to break apart if you can be patient!

And there you have it. You’re as Domestic a Goddess as the best of them. Easy as pie!


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