Cooking Challenge – February

 In February I worked with One-Dish Winners by Christelle Erasmus. I used it quite a lot when I bought the book a few years ago, and have made a lot of the salads and several puddings.

But now was the time to try another four recipes. Unfortunately this was not as successful as the first month of my challenge. Perhaps partly due to the incredible heat. When it hits 40º cooking is the last thing I want to do.  I ate a lot of salad in February, and as I had already tried most of the salads I had less opportunities to try new things.

I started with a chicken casserole, which was very successful. It took a long time to cook, but made a lot so I had meals for several days. It was rather similar to the chicken casserole I tried in January, but with mushrooms and onions added. This is one I will make again.

Anyone who has been paying attention will realise that on a page of recipes the one entitled “Quick as a wink fish” is going to be my first choice. And it was quick. Even better, it included a microwave option. Supper was prepared, cooked and eaten in under half an hour. I can live with that. The down side was that it called for salmon. I don’t eat fish much, so this seemed a good chance to include a healthy option in my diet. But I realised that I don’t really like salmon. Especially not the tinned version. I know the bones and crunchy bits are healthy. But think I will happily get my salmon oil and other health benefits out of a supplement. I will make this dish again, but with tuna instead of salmon. It has also given me the idea (and the timing) to try my basic tuna casserole in the microwave.

Then I made a pudding. Again, I was attracted by the words “quick” in the title. Quick marshmallow pudding it said. Hah! The end result was very nice. But my advice to any other cooks is this : if a recipe calls for melted marshmallows, just turn the page. Maybe I did something wrong, but I ended up with a stick mass of  sweetness, which spread to just about everything in the kitchen. If anyone out there knows how to melt marshmallows without producing toffee (or glue) please do share the technique.  Until then I will just chop the marshmallows, which is bad enough. Better still, I will just eat the marshmallows.

My final recipe was a noodle salad. This took a while to get to as I kept eating the noodles before I got round to the salad. I finally cooked a large pot of pasta and managed to save the two cups called for. It was an interesting salad, with carrots, onions and pineapple added to the pasta. Unfortunately I was not so impressed with the sauce to put over it all. I am not a great mayonnaise fan, but was intrigued by the addition of condensed milk and other interesting things.  I should probably have just lightly moistened the salad, because to me the sauce overwhelmed everything. I found it too strong, and rather tart (despite the condensed milk). If I make this again I will just add a small amount of salad dressing, or maybe just moisten with the pineapple juice.  (The other down side to this recipe was requiring half a tin of condensed milk. Needless to say the rest of the tin was soon eaten. Sadly I can not claim to have used it in another recipe:)

So there was mixed success this month.  Only two of the four recipes are likely to get made again, and one of them in a modified form. But at least I did try four new recipes, and can return One-Dish Winners to the shelf with a clear conscience.

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Julie & Julia … and me

I like recipe books. I have a whole shelf of them and can happily browse through them, admiring the pictures and planning all sorts of interesting dishes to make. But I have to admit that I seldom get further than planning. Most of my recipe books sit on the shelf, never seeing the inside of the kitchen. I tend to make the same dishes over and over again, or go with simple meals which don’t actually need recipes – salads, stir fry, grilled chicken, pasta and so on.

Every year I promise myself that I will cook properly, that I will try new recipes, that I will not buy another recipe book until I have actually used the last one I bought. And no, looking at the pictures does not count.

This year, I might actually get somewhere. Two things have prompted me to get back to cooking and baking. One was my birthday. I was trying to decide what to make for tea at work, when it dawned on me that the last few times I have taken tea, I have made chocolate cake and pineapple fridge tart. These are two of my standard recipes – quick, easy and yummy. But perhaps it was time for a change. So I made a madeira rainbow cake (new recipe) and a caramel tart (old recipe but not made for a while).

The next day I went to see the film Julie & Julia. And came home completely inspired to cook. For those who have not seen the film, the character Julie challenges herself to cook all the recipes in Julia Child’s book, Mastering French Cooking and to blog about it. The film switches between Julie’s project, and the story of Julia Childs learning to love (and master) French cooking. It is well worth seeing, but be warned, you are likely to come out feeling hungry.

Now I have no desire to master French cooking. It is far too fancy for me.   I am  too fussy to want to work through an entire recipe book. We all know there is no way I am going to cook lobster, or spinach for that matter. And too  lazy  busy to want to cook over 500 recipes in one year.

So I have set myself a gentler, more manageable challenge. ( And one less likely to see me double in size.) Each month I will pick one of my recipe books and aim to try four or five new recipes, roughly one a week. At the end of the month I will let my readers know how it went, and which book is next on the menu.