2011 is already almost a month old and I have yet to write my first blog of the year. But what with a new job, a tax return to complete (somehow it always wipes out weeks, however prepared I think I am) and the misery that is January I’ve had neither the time nor the inclination. Nevertheless, even though it’s 11.30 on a Sunday night and I should be in bed, I’m determined to write something before February starts. And, since I learnt quite a few interesting tricks and recipes through writing this blog in 2010, what better way to start one year than to round up the gems of the last.
1) Buy an oven thermometer.
If the following two statements – ‘I have a really old oven’ and ‘I love baking’ – apply to you, then invest in an oven thermometer. Mine was about £9 and, instead of having to keep opening the oven door towards the end of a cake’s baking time because the results were a bit hit and miss, I now know that my oven runs 10 degrees over and I can relax. What’s more my cakes no longer look like pin cushions because I’m not stabbing them every five minutes to see if they’re done.
2) Buy some reusable baking liners.
A couple of these liners are worth every penny. If you bake, you need to line your tins. And if you line your tins you keep using baking paper/parchment and, if you’re me, keep feeling a bit guilty that you can’t recycle the stuff once it’s covered in food. Then, ta-dah, you discover the delights of a reusable baking liner. One that you can wash by hand and, if you’re lucky enough to have one, in the dishwasher. They’re cheap (about £2), they work brilliantly and they even do their bit for the environment.
3) Baked risotto is just as good.
I didn’t believe it either, and I still have friends who don’t, but baking a risotto (starting it off in the pan on the hob, then putting it with the stock in the oven) is a very very acceptable substitute for the stirred version. You may have to fiddle a bit with the proportions (is there anyone who minds a bit of extra butter and cheese anyway?) but the result, combined with the fact that you win some of your evening back, is brilliant. I’ve done it with this recipe, with Delia’s risotto carbonara and with a few other ad hoc ones and I’ve not been disappointed yet.
4) Baking a cake, and eating it, cheers everyone up.
I started this blog when I wasn’t working, or at least not working in any sustained way and I had plenty of time to bake. Since then I’ve got a permanent job but, although I have less time, I still find myself baking at the weekend. Not because I’m a big fat pig (when you live alone, unless you are a little odd, it’s very hard to eat a whole 20cm cake) but because I have got into the habit of baking for others. What could be lovelier than making your friends or colleagues a cake? A miserable Monday afternoon in the office in winter can be made just that little bit brighter with a slice of ginger cake or two.
5) The more you cook, the more you cook.
That sounds a bit trite and obvious and for that I’m sorry. But blogging about food, and paying attention to it, has really taught me that even with very little time or energy I can make something a bit more original than beans on toast (though I must stress there is always a place for beans on toast, as long as they’re served with mayonnaise…). I was always a bit of a foodie and I still am; however, now I’m really obsessed with finding the simplest and best methods for cooking and eating well. One of my favourite new cookery books, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Everyday, follows exactly that thinking and I’m planning to blog about some of its recipes soon. Here’s to 2011, all eleven months of it.