The joy of cooking

I start by apologising  – this post is about cooking, does contain a recipe and probably should go under the Munchy Things heading but it also is a general ramble and consideration about cooking/baking. Those of you having a bit of tremble at my flagrant misuse of categories, find a quiet spot and have a lie down; this too shall pass. As for the rest of you, you’re a bunch of enablers and should congratulate yourselves – where else other than a personal blog can you simultaneously make and break the rules? I thought so too.

Cooking, as we all know, is something that some people can do very well and make quite a bit of money from, others potter and feed their families and friends and then there are some who find the whole thing beyond them and opt for the chiller cabinets at M&S or some such other provider of ready-made meals. I used to scoff at those who said they couldn’t cook but as I’ve grown up I realise that it really doesn’t need my opinion. Just because I liked cooking and could cook didn’t mean that other people were less just because they didn’t like it or didn’t care about it. Having said that, there have been times when cooking bores the pants off me and the thought of having to cook something for dinner (that’s tea/evening meal for those who think dinner is lunch)  has had me reaching for the take away menu and the online ordering. Thank fuck for the internet on those such occasions. Such domesticity, once the standard pastime for the housewife/homemaker, can be both a pleasure and a chore and when it becomes a chore, it’s time to have a little holiday from the stove – familiarity does indeed breed contempt.

I’ve known how to cook from about the age of 9 or 10 – I am the eldest of 4 kids so there were days when dinner was my job when we got home from school. I’m not saying I was a Cordon Bleu chef or able to whip up a Pavlova for 50 people but the basics I knew; pasta bakes, casseroles, mashed potatoes with sausages, Bolognese and spaghetti, that was my repertoire. Cooking lessons at school were less of a practical nature and more a theory although I think my Home Ec. teacher forbade anyone to make another creme caramel after my attempt – burnt on sugar takes an age to remove. When I went to university, I would cook for my flatmates who would claim that Pot Noodles were lovely. We’d chip in for the ingredients and I would cook – no one went hungry and the flat was also well supplied with alcohol, a winning combination.

Unsurprisingly, this actually happens in student halls…

However, there have been days and indeed weeks where I want nothing to do with the kitchen and it’s gadgets. Food has bored me and cooking has felt like a drudge, a Cinderella task to be endured. First world problems, I’m fully aware – I do chastise myself when I think like this. I know I am more than lucky to be able to have this privilege of being bored of food when there are over 450,000 people relying on food banks for their food¹. I’m a product of a middle class family where I have never ever had to go hungry, where food was never rationed to make sure there would be enough for the week for everyone. I never thought about where my next meal would come from and I never saw my parents refusing food so their children wouldn’t go without. This is the reality of many families and a reality that Jack Monroe brought starkly into people’s vision in 2012 when she started blogging about her almost crippling poverty and her journey back to solvency. She routinely went without food, selling all her possessions, switching off the fridge to save electricity and money and mashing Weetabix with water for her son. I’ve never had to watch a child ask for jam on the bread and cry when I couldn’t give him the jam like Jack had to. I sincerely hope I never have to.

Jack Monroe and her Small Blonde Boy…she rocks.

Knowing I’m this lucky has made me appreciate food, the price of food and where it comes from and in turn has reawakened my cooking bug. I like cooking again, trying something new and providing the basics such as bread and breakfast cereal for my husband and I. I’m also lucky I have internet and cooking books for recipes and advice. Knowing this, I’m back in the game, cooking and enjoying it. Today was bread day – a two loaf day to be exact seeing as one lasts precisely 2 days as it seems to vanish rather quickly. Our new house seems far better for bread, less damp and warmer places for a natural rise of the dough. The windowsill in the living room is facing east, allowing a slow rise of the dough without needing to shock the yeast over a radiator.

The source of the brewery smell


The other Saturday mission was breakfast cereal. Husband is a crunchy nut cornflake addict but given I tend to feel sick after eating peanuts, I’m not part of that party. Granola is my thing, with almonds, pecans and a variety of seeds. Stick a bit of yogurt and whatever soft fruit we have around and it’s a fairly good breakfast or dinner when a hot meal is the last thing on my mind. I’ve flicked through the Nigellisma book mum bought me for Christmas a few years ago, stopping on the granola page a few times. It just coincided with the end of the last bag of granola running out that I decided to recreate her recipe and make my own. Easy peasy breakfast and I know what is in it too – no coconut which seems to be in every crunchy breakfast cereal and the exact combination of seeds and nuts that I like and can eat without feeling sick. I have swapped a few things round in the recipe but that’s the beauty of a recipe; it’s a guide not a set of rules.

The granola recipe is here – I’ve added my substitutions in italics but feel free to stick in whatever the hell you like.

  • 450 grams rolled oats
  • 120 grams sunflower seeds (also I added 100g pumpkin seeds as there were in the cupboard
  • 120 grams white sesame seeds
  • 175 grams apple sauce (or apple compote)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 120 grams brown rice syrup (or rice malt syrup, or failing that golden syrup) – golden syrup…again, it was in the cupboard
  • 4 tablespoons clover honey (or other runny honey) bog standard runny honey
  • 100 grams soft light brown sugar
  • 250 grams whole natural almonds  I used pecans – like them more than whole almonds. I did add about 80g of flaked almonds, again, because we had them open
  • 1 teaspoon maldon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 300 grams raisins

This is the easiest recipe in the world – stick everything except the raisins in a bowl and mix well until it’s all combined. Nigella requests a spoon as using hands makes you’re hands sticky – a spoon is boring and hands are way more fun. Yes you’ll be a bit sticky, no it won’t kill you. Get your hands dirty. Spread into to baking trays (you’ll need ones that have some sides) and bake for approximately 40 minutes at 170C.  When cool, add the raisins/sultanas and stick into a jar or box. It makes approximately 3l of granola. If you don’t eat it before it hits the jar.



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