This week has been Holiday week – a week of staycation. We have romped around Kew Gardens, been swimming, had some time together as a family, and some time to ourselves too. It’s been a good week. Lots of leftovers building on each other, quite a lot of quick cooking. Tomorrow we have friends visiting for lunch, so there has been a bit of preparation for that, to make tomorrow as effort-free as possible (including the trifle above). E has tucked into bolognese, a lot of yoghurt, nectarines and doughnut peaches, as many cherries as she could get her hands on, and for the first time today, an ice lolly.
- Tagliata – with a beaten out piece of topside, from Nigella’s Feast
- Fish curry, approximately from Curry in a Hurry in Nigella Express
Without a recipe:
- Pork with green lentils
- Bolognese from the freezer with pasta
- Takeaway chinese
- Pizza with courgette, tomato, yellow pepper and bacon
Flapjacks always go wrong! My flapjacks don’t work! Why do my flapjacks fall apart? You don’t have to look too far to find lots of tales of flapjacks gone wrong. Too chewy, too crunchy, but most often, just crumbly and collapsing into a super-sticky granola. I’ve had flapjack problems before, but put this down to errors on my part. After all, flapjacks are easy – aren’t they? And Nigella Lawson’s flapjack recipe in ‘Domestic Goddess’ is notorious for causing problems (there was a misprint in early versions of the book). So when I made some peanut butter flapjacks that were a little too willing to fall apart, I decided I was going to solve this problem once and for all. What makes flapjacks so maddeningly inconsistent?
Pretty much all flapjack recipes follow the same simple pattern: melt butter with sugar and syrup, and stir in the oats. Then bake to toast the oats slightly, caramelise the sugar a bit and dry everything out enough to be sliceable.They are such a simple idea, where could it possibly go wrong? Well, it turns out, quite a few things create pitfalls for the flapjack maker. The details of ingredients and method make all the difference between a chewy slice, a crunchy biscuit – or a collapsed pile of sticky oats.
After a bit of a marathon flapjack-making session last week, plus a bit of internet searching for others who had problems, here are my tips for successful flapjacks:
- You need the right oats – porridge oats. This is not the place for high quality, chunky, jumbo rolled oats. Those will make great granola, but rubbish flapjacks. You want Quaker oats, or Scotts – porridge oats that are rolled fairly thin. This helps them to absorb the syrup mixture, and holds the whole thing together. The jumbo oats just get coated, and the excess tends to boil over (see photo below). Instant cook/quick cook oats are a little too dusty, but can be useful to adjust the texture if there’s too much syrup.
- Melt the sugar completely. If you’re using sugar in addition to syrup, make sure it dissolves completely when you heat it, or you will end up with gritty sugar granules in the final result, and a more crumbly texture. The easiest way to do this is just to heat quite slowly, over a fairly low heat, and stir every now and then. To check if it has dissolved, use the trick advised in jam making: check the back of the spoon or spatula you are stirring with to make sure the liquid coating it is totally smooth and has no granules left.
- Adjust the oats/liquid before baking. As oats vary so much, even following the recipe carefully you can still end up with a mismatch between the volume of syrup and the oats needed to absorb it. So stop and look at the mixture once the oats have been stirred in. Is there any syrup pooled at the bottom of the pan? If so, add a few more oats, or leave it for five minutes to let the oats soak up some of the excess, and check again. Are there any dry patches of oats, or do they look thinly covered? You want everything to be coated and slightly glossy. If it doesn’t look right, throw in a bit more syrup.
- Match the baking method to the type of flapjack you want. This tip comes via Felicity Cloake’s Guardian column. Some think of flapjacks as crunchy squares – something like biscuits in slice form. Others prefer a chewy and caramelised version. You can produce both, according to this blog, with the same recipe, by baking at different temperatures for different times. High temperatures will produce a crunchier version, lower temperatures a chewier one.
- Bake until browned. Ovens vary, oats vary, so you need to be fairly flexible with the baking time. Adjust the temperature as above, and then bake until the top is a little browned. The oats taste better and have a greater dimension of flavour if they get a little colour.
Hopefully following these five tips will help you to make perfect flapjacks. And once you have a recipe that works for you, stick with the same brand of oats in future to ensure it will be consistent.
A warm but rainy week means alternating between summer food and something comforting. So sweet corn, salsa, courgettes, tacos but also vegetable chilli, roast chicken and gratin. I’ve also been enjoying a couple of new cookbooks. The first is one I’ve bought: Food52 Genius Recipes. I’ve linked here before to the Genius Recipes column on the Food52 website, and this collection of recipes gives you something new to learn on almost every page, even for experienced cooks. By choosing the surprising and unusual recipes, the ones that seem to break the rules but still produce great results, they’ve produced a very different sort of essential recipe collection.
The other book is the Momofuku cookbook, borrowed from the library. I don’t often buy restaurant cookbooks. By their nature, the recipes tend to be complicated, multi-step affairs, that I’m unlikely to want to attempt at home. But I’ve been reading this mainly for David Chang’s great essays on learning to cook and setting up a restaurant. As I knew from reading his food magazine, Lucky Peach, David knows how to write engagingly about food. And he’s an honest and humble documenter of his food journey. I may even try out some of the recipes from here too.
- Gratin of courgettes and rice – Food52 Genius Recipes
- Plum torte – the same
- Bircher muesli – approximately from Felicity Cloake. I soaked in apple juice and water as we were out of milk.
- White bread from Brilliant Bread
Without a recipe:
- Pasta with sausage, cherry tomatoes and courgette
- Vegetable chili with black beans
- Fishfinger tacos with tomato, corn and avocado salsa
- Roast chicken with roast veg
I went a bit flapjack crazy this week – more of this in an upcoming post. I was frustrated with a peanut butter flapjack recipe that didn’t turn out quite right, so I went on a bit of a quest, and baked four different recipes on Tuesday morning. Most of them went to work – never underestimate office workers’ appetite for baked goods! The other food theme this week was pork. I cooked some pork shoulder with black beans in the slow cooker on Sunday, and it reappeared in various forms all week. That and a tub of bolognese sauce made weeknight dinners very easy this week. Tonight it’s going to be pizza, before a car journey to Somerset this evening to celebrate my Dad’s birthday this weekend.
Without a recipe:
- Friday night pizza (last week) with feta, and courgettes and cherry tomatoes from the garden.
- A very random dinner of beetroot greens, gnocchi and pulled pork. Tastier than it sounds, although with a slightly disturbing hint of pink from the beetroot stalks.
- Using up wilting spinach and parsley for a green sauce to freeze (Amanda Cohen-style, but playing fast and loose with the ingredients)
- Breaded haddock, with corn on the cob and sugar snap peas
- Bolognese sauce – mostly following the Marcella Hazan approach (milk, wine, tomatoes and a long simmer). I also added some roasted mushroom base
It feels like I’m complaining about sickness here every other week. I suppose that is the lot of parents to a toddler at nursery – there’s always a new bug being incubated somewhere in the family. This week, although E has been coughing and teething, I seem to be the one carrying the infection, very nearly losing my voice the last couple of days. This sickness led me to cancel our Sunday lunch plans last weekend, which also means that eating this week has been shaped by the leftovers we should have eaten with friends that day. So the fridge started the week loaded with cold roast chicken, baba ganoush, cooked chickpeas, and some little vegan chocolate puddings.
This wealth of resources is both a blessing and a curse. It makes meals easy to put together, but it also tempts you to skip planning things altogether, and as the week goes on, it gets harder and harder to put together useful combinations. So I tried this week to deliberately take each meal in a different direction to avoid the feeling that we were eating the same things over and over again.
- Smoky roast chicken, from Donna Hay in a recent Waitrose magazine
- Vegan chocolate pudding – there are lots of versions of this pudding, made by blending sugar syrup, silken tofu and melted chocolate together. I used this New York Times version. I made this as a gluten-free, dairy-free dessert, but it is really worth trying even if you have no dietary restrictions. It’s just a deeply chocolately, super-smooth pudding, that sets with a perfect texture. Make sure you get silken tofu though – you won’t get the right texture with a firmer pressed tofu. I used this Clearspring one.
- Baba Ganoush – loosely from a David Tanis recipe
- Roasted mushroom base – from Martha Rose Shulman in the NY Times
- Slightly adapted Riverford recipe box gnocchi with chicken, red pesto and spinach
Without a recipe:
- A mushroom bolognese, using the roasted mushroom base (above) cooked with an onion, a carrot, a tin of chopped tomatoes, some chicken stock and red lentils.
- A loaf of bread
- A Vietnamese-style chicken salad, with the peanut dressing from this recipe (which I found a bit too salty and sour)
- Chicken curry with chickpeas and butternut squash (using a Thermomix recipe for balti paste)
- Chicken fried rice with sweetcorn and cabbage, and with green stir-fry sauce mixed in
- Chicken stock in the slow cooker
Updated: I’ve just noticed that, as of the time of writing (Friday evening) Justin Gellatly’s excellent book Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding is on Amazon for only £4. So if you’re at all a serious baker, and you don’t already have this one, dash over there and get it
Lots to cover this week, but no time, so let’s do this in bullets:
- My birthday: a day of great food: I baked the baguette dough that had been gestating for 3 days in the fridge and we ate it with cheese, salami, prosciutto and salads. My mum made a cake. And we had a shed-painting party. A dinner out and a first trip to the cinema in about 18 months.
- Time with family and with E
- A week of sickness: little E spent the weekend careering around and bumped her head about 6 times. She then got a temperature overnight on Tuesday, and spent the rest of the week out of nursery. Lots of sadness :-(
- A bit of a lack of meal planning, which combined with the unexpected sickness and unexpected (although very welcome) extra house guests (my parents, looking after E) to mean a bit of a random week of meals.
- I restarted running – 3 run/walks this week (using the couch to 5k app). Doing the timed runs interspersed with walks is a much more enjoyable way to start for me than just running slowly.
- I ordered a Riverford recipe box for the first time. Although this ended up not being a great week to try it out, the one recipe we’ve tried so far has been good.
Without a recipe:
- Lasagne with pork mince bolognese
- Spice Tailor chicken curry, with tomato dal from the freezer
Reading – no real time this week, but what time i have had has been making progress on the Ed Catmull book Creativity Inc – highly recommended.
Today rather got away from me, so this one will be short and sweet, before I turn into a pumpkin. The week has been full of leftovers of various kinds – but the good sort of leftovers. Tomorrow is my birthday, so the fridge is now stacked with lots of edible goodies: baguette dough to bake tomorrow morning, St Jude cheese from Neal’s Yard, a joint of pork, and another of beef, prosciutto, peaches, cherries and apricots. So with any luck, next week we’ll have amazing leftovers too.
Without a recipe:
- Lamb stuffed into pittas with red cabbage salad and hummus
- Oven fish and chips
- Meatballs (from the freezer) with roasted cherry tomatoes and tomato sauce over pasta
- New potato salad with mint