Discovering the joy of cooking

I enjoy cooking a lot, but it’s something I’ve never really managed to get fully into. I had that brief interlude with baking and impressed myself with a couple of dishes, but even that ended up petering out before it really got going.

The trouble I have is that I don’t really have the fundamental basic knowledge to start experimenting and learning and making great things. Without boring details about the meals I have been making up to now, I will say that the famous rut of cycling through a handful of recipes over and over has definitely been reached.

Step forward HelloFresh. They’re a company that, essentially, do all the hard work for you when it comes to choosing recipes, picking ingredients and doing the shopping. All you have to do is cook. I signed up as soon as I heard about them, and was superbly excited to get my first delivery.

After the first week, I have to say, I am totally bowled over.

Let’s break it down, then. HelloFresh offer a variety of boxes – classic, veggie, or family friendly. You can get them for 2 or 4 people, and for 3 or 5 meals. A good selection of options to choose from to start with. The HF team figure out the recipes, and send you only the ingredients that you will need to make them with.

BENEFIT 1 – Far less wastage.

The goodies arrived in a box, veggies and non-fridge items stacked on top of the wrapped refrigerated produce. They have it with ice packs, wrapped in sheep’s wool insulation, so that a) it keeps cool until I get home in the evening to put it away and b) it’s recyclable. As is the cardboard box and pretty much all the packaging.

BENEFIT 2 – Good for the environment.

Opening my first box took ages, because I first had to read every little bit of paper included, and then marvel at the scope and colour of the ingredients. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a sweet potato before, how exciting! The recipes come on nice bits of card, with what the food should look like on the front, and a step by step guide on the back. I have found the instructions to be really useful, although absolute beginners may need a bit of guidance to get started.

BENEFIT 3 – Great recipes.

The first meal I made was rigatoni with cherry tomatoes, chorizo and goat’s cheese. Already, this is the fanciest meal I have ever put together. It all went perfectly, a bit of a faff occasionally because I don’t necessarily have the best tools or a fully decked out kitchen, but otherwise… amazing.

And delicious!

It’s also a step towards the adventurous for me. I hate to be someone who is picky when it comes to food, but I can get weird over textures and complicated items. That’s probably why it was so easy to slip into the recipe rut mentioned above. Here, there’s no choice but to experiment. I won’t pretend there isn’t a backup pizza standing by in case things don’t go to plan, but there’s no harm in giving each and every recipe a go!

I know there will be times when the meals won’t work out right, or they won’t be to our taste, but after just a couple of attempts, I’m addicted. There is a small capacity for meal swapping before the boxes arrive, but sadly not on the plan I have chosen. I love the fact the subscriptions are manageable, you can put your delivery on pause if you’re going on holiday or just need a break.

BENEFIT 4 – Customisable and customer-friendly subscriptions.

It’s still early days, but there are loyalty levels you can work through (after three boxes, I’ll be an apprentice chef!) and a free gift or two thrown into the boxes to tempt you to other suppliers. It just seems like a win-win situation all round. The stress of worrying about what meals to make is taken away, the ingredients come directly to my door, and I get the fun of putting it all together and receiving the compliments when it goes well.

Around the world in 19 small silver edible balls

During some recent summer community fun over on Sidepodcast, the challenge arose to bake something F1 related. Given the wealth of choice of recipes available to me, and a limited amount of time, I went for something I’ve already made in the hopes I could do it better.

A long while back, I baked an F1Minute cake, to celebrate a podcasting anniversary.

the-iced-cake

It went down very well, although it was my first attempt at icing something and I went a little over the top in terms of thickness.

I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to have another go, so I followed the same path as before – this madeira cake as a sandwich with copious amounts of buttercream in the middle. Apricot jam used as the glue for the icing and then some nicely rolled out fondant icing on top.

The idea was given to me to present a map of the world with the race locations highlighted, so I headed to the shop looking for decoration items. I bought the ready-made roll out icing, which only really comes in white, so the sea was going to have to be a base white colour. The shop I went to was mostly sold out of icing stuff but thankfully had some green that I could snatch up before it went out of stock.

While the cake was baking, I set about mapping out the world with my icing. I found a picture and transferred it onto some baking paper, but then discarded that because it was too big. I instead used my eye and a knife to approximate the countries. This did not work out so well.

The other problem is that no matter what I did the land masses were all far too big, and any smaller would have meant the silver balls would have been taking over entire countries. So, I smushed it all together and hoped for the best.

cake-of-the-world

So, it’s awful, but I love it. I like to think of it is abstract art. It tasted good, anyway, and that’s all that really matters.

Bakewell tart

I have recently been looking at magazines on the Newsstand, and investigated the digital version of the BBC’s GoodFood magazine. Considering most of my recipes tend to come from the BBC or their GoodFood equivalent, this seemed like a natural extension. In my first issue, I stumbled across this recipe for a lighter Bakewell tart. It being “lighter” didn’t bother me all that much, but I suddenly had a craving for all things Bakewell!

bakewell-tart

The tart itself probably could have done with a few more minutes in the oven to get that golden brown colour across more of it, but it was all cooked through okay. I think I put the icing on too quickly, as it just melted into it, and I’m not sure there was enough of it either.

bakewell-tart-slice

The recipe calls for fresh raspberries mixed with jam, but I forgot about the jam and just used the raspberries. I don’t think it lacked anything for that, it still tasted great. I impressed myself with how well this came out, because at each stage it felt like it wasn’t quite sticking to the recipe. In the end, it looked good and tasted even better!

Bread alert

My bread-making skills are still very basic, and although I keep meaning to practice more, it is such a stop-start and lengthy process that I never get round to it. Nevertheless, when I bought a loaf tin for my cherry cake, I decided I should probably try and make a loaf of bread – it would be rude not to do so!

I delved into my copy of Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake and got kneading. I tried one batch of dough that I left for an hour and it didn’t rise at all. I don’t know what I did to offend it but there was absolutely no movement. I tried another batch and this was better, but it still took about three hours to get to double the size, whereas most recipes suggest an hour. I’m wondering whether it is the cool water I’m using. Paul Hollywood may say that you don’t need to use luke-warm water and that’s an old wives tale, but I’m thinking maybe not.

Anyway, eventually I got a rise and I baked the dough and got a loaf! It was slightly overdone on one side at the top, but otherwise, it came out looking very good.

bread-loaf

And it was delicious!

bread-slice

I’m going to have to try again to see if I can fathom what is making my dough rise so slowly, it’s just a matter of convincing myself that I have the time to do it.

Basic oaty, syrupy, deliciousy flapjack

I am quite behind on talking of my recent bakes, but equally, you haven’t missed that much. I have discovered the Basil iPad app for keeping track of the recipes I like, and spent some time importing all the recipes I’ve tried, noticing that a lot of them come from the BBC. I’ve also been looking at the GoodFood (BBC) magazine available on the Newsstand. Perhaps I need to spread my wings a bit!

Anyway, at the start of the month, I tried out something nice and simple – plain, but delicious flapjacks. I’ve tried flapjacks before but here I wanted to go back to basics, without the fruit. Lorraine Pascale delivered with a brilliant recipe that makes scrummy, chewy flapjacks that went down a storm in our house.

flapjack

The only issue I had was that I baked the flapjack in a square tin, and the edges were more well done than the middle, and once they had cooled it was impossible to eat those bits. I tried the recipe twice, the second time I lowered the cooking time but somehow the problem was even worse!

Anyway, it’s a problem that can be overcome, and will just require some experimentation. This is definitely a recipe I’ll be making again, but not any time soon as we may have overdone it on the flapjack front.

Cherry loaf cake

I tried baking a cherry cake before, and it was a more traditional sort – the result was not quite what I was looking for. Instead, I searched for a loaf cake recipe, and uncovered this gem, which is apparently adapted from a Good Housekeeping recipe.

cherry-loaf-cake

It was so delicious, and disappeared very quickly. I couldn’t quite work out whether the cherries had stayed in situ or not – there did seem to be a larger congregation of them at the bottom of the cake, but they were scattered throughout as well. Sort of mixed results, I’d say.

Considering how nervous I am of things that take almost an hour in the oven, I’m really happy with how this one came out, and I’m keen to make it again. I might try two next time, just to make it last a bit longer!

A scone by any other name

A few week’s ago, I bought the Great British Bake Off booklet, produced for Comic Relief. There weren’t really any new recipes in there that I hadn’t already seen, but it was for charity – plus, I ordered it through a supermarket delivery, so it came right to my door without me having to lift a finger.

Inside was a recipe for scones, and whilst I wasn’t keen on that recipe (includes yogurt?) I did get a craving for some scones. So, I dug out a recipe from the master, Paul Hollywood, and was intrigued to see that this one came with a video. After watching a five minute masterclass, I decided to have a go myself.

I’ll admit to questioning Paul’s recipe, particularly how wet the dough is when turned out on to the surface, but after throwing some flour around (like the professionals), it all came together nicely.

scone-with-cream-and-jam

Served with clotted cream and strawberry jam, these were absolutely delicious.