Every now and again I get very excited by a new recipe. But it’s never one of those Cuisine Magazine extravaganzas with 27 ingredients. Instead, the recipes which float my boat are those which show how to make something I’d ordinarily be obliged to buy such as crackers, pasta, biscuits, jam and …marshmallows you know, just the essentials.
With this approach to cooking, the pleasure comes from a feeling of self sufficiency, a smidgen of frugality and a soupcon of sticking it to ‘big food’. In going back to the way our grandmothers used to cook, there’s something of the pioneering spirit about it. If you have relied on preprepared or processed foods (and let’s face it there can’t be too many families with two parents working outside the home who haven’t) is can feel empowering to get back to basics and demystify food. For me it’s satisfying to circumvent the commercial powers that be, and I enjoy knowing what goes in to what we eat. Some say growing your own food is a political act. I’d say cooking it is too.
My favourite recipes are based around pantry staples, with the considerable benefit that you don’t need to get dressed to make them (no special trip out for pomegranate molasses!). Generally staples can be bought in bulk, meaning that otherwise pricy Lavosh crackers for example cost virtually nothing to make, and you can make a lot at once.
If a recipe is to make it on to the regular rota of things made in my kitchen they also need to be more delicious than ‘shop bought’. Putting some spectacular failures aside for a moment, this is often shockingly easy. A wise gardening rule is only to grow what you really like to eat. This rule applies to cooking and baking as well. If the kids eat them, and they store or freeze well, consider me sold.
There are certain reliable guides I have found, and I highly recommend them.
Sophie Gray of Destitute Gourmet is my go-to for all basic household cooking. My top five most cooked items, including birthday cakes and everyday baking come from her stable. These are the cookbooks I wished to replace first after an unfortunate incident with a rogue watermelon.
Sophie is remarkable for her down to earth approach, her sense of humour and her understanding of the pressures involved in feeding a family well and healthily on a budget.
One indicator of long term value in a cookbook for me is the number of times I have had it out from the library before I buy it. I just couldn’t let this one go. Homemade is a gorgeous book by Yvette Van Boven, a Dutch chef with a lot of heart and a fearless ‘why not’ attitude to making hearty, delicious satisfying food, including the mucho moreish Lavosh crackers mentioned above.
3. Another reliable indicator is the number of post it notes you stick into a book as you read through it for the first time. This book, Homemade pantry – 101 foods you can stop buying and start making looked like a little yellow 3M sponsored hedgehog by the time I had finished with it. In fact, I’m still not finished with it.
Do you have a go-to cookbook for everyday or do you rely on friends and family for recipes? And what do you find you tend to make over and over again?