My other major food based challenge for last year was to bake more often and I must admit I was surprised by how much of a resounding success it was. Despite having a frankly rubbish oven for most of 2015, I baked a lot last year. To the extent that half my posts on here in the last year were about baking. I need to find an equally successful challenge for this year, as I want to make at least two posts a month to this blog over the coming year and while I’ve succeeded this month, I’ll need a running challenge to keep up the momentum rather than my feast or famine approach from last year.
Really this post (like the last one) should have gone up during my nablopomo stint back in November – I did intend to write them then – as my apple adventures actually took place in October. The place I was working over Mod week in October had a large apple tree in the garden and while I was working there someone gave the tree a good shake and a large bag of cooking apples appeared in the office kitchen for taking. Which made for a week or two of apple-based baking for everyone in the office as the unwritten rule seemed to be – you can take as many as you like as long as you bring some of the results in to share!
My first experiment were Chaussons de Pommes from one of my many Lorraine Pascale cook books. Chaussons de pommes are essentially little puff pasty pasties. They look rather like the savoury ‘bakes’ that you get out of Greggs bakers at lunchtime and rather make me want to try making my own savoury vegetarian-friendly varieties. The recipe instructed you to make a thick apple sauce which I did and despite having about half the apples that the recipe called for (and therefore having made half the expected amount of sauce) I ended up with lashings of sauce too much for the recipe. This was, however, no tragedy at all – though I’d have made more chaussons de pommes if I’d realised there’d be so much filling – it just resulted in me making a bunch of mini-apple tartlets. The sauce was in fact the nicest apple sauce I’ve ever eaten, I’m not normally a massive fan, but this I could have eaten on its own with a spoon.
By happy chance when I’d gone looking for puff pastry for my chassons de pommes, there’d been a special offer on the frozen pastry and I’d ended up picking up some short-crust pastry at the same time. (I want to learn how to make my own short-crust pastry eventually but I think that’s adventure for later this year.) And then…well they had this set of mini pie tins that I couldn’t resist. So I ended up making apple tartlets – I even gave them little latticework tops! I made them on a Friday night, had one with cream for supper and took the rest with me on a road trip to Elgin the following morning with some of my roller derby team. I perked them up with 10 minutes in the oven before I left and then made a tasty breakfast on the road – if the happy munching noises of my team mates can be believed!
It is helpful, when starting a major or long-term blog challenge on a food blog that you don’t start it just before making major life changes including moving half-way across the country, changing jobs and oh completely changing your diet. In fairness, I only planned to be a vegetarian for three months in 2014 I didn’t realise that I was going to make the shift completely. And certainly in April of 2014 I had no idea that the next year and a half would involve me moving house three times between two cities. That I actually finished the challenge was victory in itself. I ended up making various adjustments to the original list in order to accommodate my new diet, but in the end I made 16 of the recipes that I originally chose and several of those have become regular favourites of mine, including some things that I was previously a little…cautious about making.
So what did I learn about what I think I want to cook and what I actually cook? Well for a start I have a marked preference for things that look like they’ll be really complex but are actually pretty straight-forward. (Soda bread and sausage rolls are good examples of this.) I made a variety of casseroles and tagines over the course of the challenge that seemed like straightforward bulk cooking recipes, but actually had millions of ingredients to very little effect. I also have to be in the right mood to make something complex. Most of the time when I come home from work I want something tasty and straight-forward to cook and eat.
I’d like to think that I now have a more realistic idea of what I’m likely to make, and I’m less likely to hoard recipes and recipe books that I’ll never use. I’ve been braver about trying new things, without being foolish about the likelihood of my actually cooking and eating them.
It’s also a very different prospect bulk cooking for one versus bulk cooking for two or three people. For all that there are now less people to have to come up with something else to feed if something goes wrong, there are also less people to eat up the leftovers if it turns out that what I’ve made it perfectly fine, just not to my own taste. I only have a tiny freezer here so I have to carefully manage my bulk cooking so that I don’t end up scunnered with whatever I’ve made long before I run out of it! I certainly make a lot more soup that I did before I started this challenge. I used to make soup only on special occasions, but now it’s a weekly occurrence in Winter and I have a rotating cast of favourites that I’ve mastered the art of making enough of to get me through the work week.
Overall I found the challenge really useful. I was able to clear out a lot of recipe cards and books that I didn’t actually need and my own little hand-written recipe book has got decidedly fuller. I tried lots of new things and learned a lot of new techniques in the process and it gave me lots to write about here on the blog. I think I’ll do the challenge again in a couple of years when things have settled down again and I need to shake up my ideas on what I cook and what is actually practical to cook in my then-current living situation.
Lastly, here’s my final recipe from this challenge. Kirla Ghassi (bamboo shoots in coconut milk) – tasty curry, served with lentil and couscous from further up the list. Could do with a little more spice and a little more tamarind. (Tamarind and toasted coconut are a delicious combination!)