Looking for a recipe in a haystack

I’m writing this in a state of great frustration. Somewhere, tucked into one of my cookbooks or boxes of cut-out recipes and other things that might be useful one day, is a recipe for a chocolate chip and banana semi-freddo. I want to find this recipe for two reasons – one, our kitchen is full of extremely ripe bananas; and two; I really want to make it for January’s We Should Cocoa challenge.

In my professional life I am extremely organised. At home, well, not so much. But then again, I have just realised I have something like 75 cookbooks, a secret stash of food mags (seriously culled), two boxes of printed or cut-out recipes and various notebooks. It’s not unusual to pull a novel off our shelves and discover a recipe tucked inside (often written in shorthand on the back of a gas bill). I’m forever finding stray recipes in various email folders, a bit like finding dollar coins under the sofa cushions, and have zillions of bookmarks.

So my chances of finding this recipe are slim, to say the least. Perhaps instead I should devote myself to developing a more organised system. How do you manage your recipe collection? All tips (especially if they include a recipe for a chocolate chip and banana semifreddo) very welcome…

Pasta sorta alla Nigella

I like to think Nigella Lawson and I have a lot in common. We both love cooking and eating and feeding people, we both love buying cookbooks and bits of kitchen kit, we both have brown hair and beautiful daughters. We both have millionaire husbands and live in swanky Georgian houses in Belgravia… oh, hang on, that’s right, I knew there was something that didn’t quite match. For all our similarities, I doubt Nigella has the same sort of slightly sick feeling in the middle of January when she gets her credit card statement. She probably doesn’t look in her pantry and think, oh god, there’s nothing to eat and another week until pay day. But if she did, I like to think this is what she might come up with…

Pasta sorta alla Nigella
This is my entry for Forever Nigella, a new blogging challenge set by the wonderful Sarah of Maison Cupcake fame. The theme for this month’s challenge is ‘Seasonal Sensations’ – which I have interpreted as ‘making something sensational even when you are broke after Christmas’. I’ve taken inspiration from Nigella’s Ultimate Greek Salad (published in Forever Summer), which we have been eating almost constantly. But with no feta or olives left in the fridge, this is what I came up with to sustain us on a night when the cupboard was bare and the only thing we had in abundance was basil in the garden. Actually, the cupboard seems bare quite often at the moment, so we are eating like this a lot (which is no bad thing).

1/2 cup olive oil
1Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed with a little salt
4-6 vine ripened tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
handfuls of fresh basil, roughly torn
225g pasta
salt and pepper

At least an hour before you want to eat (preferably two or more), put the olive oil, vinegar, onion and garlic in a small bowl. Stir well and cover.
Just before you want to eat, put the tomatoes, sugar and salt in another small bowl. Stir well and leave at room temperature.
When you want to eat, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain into a serving bowl, then tip the onion and tomato mixtures on top, followed by the basil. Grind over lots of black pepper. Toss well and congratulate yourself on another night of outwitting the bailiffs.

Sweet sweet Friday: Hokey Pokey Biscuits

Have you ever noticed how things that you admire as rustic and charmingly old-fashioned in other cultures are often dismissed as deadly dull in your own? Take these biscuits, for example. They come from the Edmonds Cookbook, which was first published in 1908 as a marketing tool for Edmonds ‘Sure To Rise’ baking powder. Since then it has become the biggest selling book ever published in New Zealand and most households have a copy – the lucky ones still have their grandmother’s annotated copy with its tissue-thin pages.
I have a modern edition, which I rarely use because many of its dishes (using horrors like packet soup and sausage meat) seem rather old-fashioned and out of touch with the sort of food I cook. But its baking recipes cannot be faulted, especially if you’re after a nostalgia hit.

Hokey Pokey Biscuits (from the Edmonds Classics Cookbook)
These hokey pokey biscuits have humble ingredients and would never win a beauty pageant. But they have a deliciously buttery, caramel flavour and their very simplicity seems to make them extremely modern.
They would also be good as an accompaniment to hokey pokey ice cream…

125g butter
1/2 cup sugar
1Tbsp golden syrup
1Tbsp milk
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 180C. Combine butter, sugar, golden syrup and milk in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the butter is melted and the mixture nearly boiling. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm (about five minutes). Sift the flour and baking soda together, then add to the cooled mixture and mix well. Roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place on lightly greased oven trays. Flatten with a floured fork and bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight tin. Makes about 18.

Do you have an end of the week baking treat or a classic favourite? Post it below to share the sweetness of Fridays…

Give us today our daily bread…

Chief among my New Year resolutions is the one to make bread. About 10 years ago I had a sourdough starter on the go all the time and made bread a lot, partly because I was living in big shared flats and there were always lots of willing eaters. I’ve decided that 2011 is the year to get back in the saddle and am challenging myself to make bread of some sort at least once a week.

But because I wasn’t organised enough to have a sourdough starter on the go for January 1 (that was the old me, so 2010!), I used Hugh F-W’s recipe for a ‘cheaty yeasty sponge loaf’. This is brilliant, no-stress breadmaking – especially if you employ a mixer to do all the kneading. I do love kneading but I think I love being able to do other things while the mixer is doing all the work even more. I haven’t quite got it nailed yet, but for once time is on my side.

Cheat’s Sourdough (from River Cottage Everyday)
These instructions assume a working knowledge of basic breadmaking – if you can’t follow them, then you can definitely find far more experienced advice elsewhere on the interweb!

500g strong bread flour (I used some Italian 00 flour lurking in the pantry)
5g dried yeast (about 1 1/2 tsp)
2tsp fine sea salt
325ml warm water

The night before you want your bread to be ready, combine 250g of the flour with the yeast and water. Beat to form a thick batter, then cover with cling film and leave overnight.
In the morning, beat in the remaining flour and salt, then knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and silky. It will be fairly sticky and wet to start with. (I use the dough hook in my freestanding mixer so I can have a cup of tea and check my emails while the bread is doing its thing).
Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise for an hour or two, until  doubled in size. Knock back (deflate) the dough and shape, then cover loosely and let rise until doubled in size again.
Preheat the oven to 250C. About five minutes before you want to put the loaf in the oven, put a baking tray in the oven to heat up. Take the hot baking sheet from the oven, dust it with flour, and carefully transfer the risen dough to it by tipping it out of the proving basket/bowl, upside down, on to the sheet. Slash the top of the loaf a few times with a very sharp knife or pair of scissors.
Put the loaf into the hot oven and give a few squirts of water from a clean spray bottle over and around it. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 200C, give the oven another spray, and bake for a further 30 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap its base. Leave to cool completely, on a rack (or wait at least 20 minutes) before slicing.

Do you have any foodie New Year resolutions? Better still, do you have a great bread recipe for me to try?

My creative space: What’s the perfect recipe for a food mag?

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking deeply about food mags and foodie sections in newspapers. I mean, I think about these things all the time anyway (as well as food blogs, of course) but my new job requires me to redesign a newspaper food supplement that’s in desperate need of a decent shakeup.

It’s been great fun, reading all sorts of fun food mags and calling it work, but I actually have to produce the goods next week and I feel as panicked about it as a Masterchef contestant. So I thought I might throw the floor open to you all.

What do you look for – or dream of finding – in a newspaper food supplement? Do you want the recipes to be restaurant-fancy, or do you prefer accessible over aspirational?
What about product stuff? Do you like reading about new sorts of ingredients and where to find them?
And what do you think of cafe or restaurant reviews? What makes a good one and what turns you right off?
I’d really love to know what you think. Comment away, please!
(And afterwards, you can find more creative spaces here.)