In this series, I'm waging war on TV chefs.
Since when did we need a television personality telling us how to feed our families?
Sure it's nice to have cookbooks around with famous faces on them, and sure, some of those recipes are useful. But I can tell you now, that for every recipe I've ever accumulated with a famous name or face attached to it, I have dozens that I use daily, that are handed down from my Mum, Nanna, Aunty Myrtle, or ones that I've devised myself over the years.
Those are the recipes that feed my family, week in, week out. And dare I say, against the tide of Masterchefs out there, they are the ones that most impress my friends too. They are the recipes 'born of necessity' as the saying goes. The ones where you don't have something on hand and the hungry hoardes are on your heels, so you substitute something else, and a whole new family favourite is discovered.
So one of my aims in this series, is to empower you to invent your own recipes.
Inventing your own recipes is a foreign idea, isn't it? We're all brainwashed into thinking that only chefs and TV personalities can do that. What nonsense! You are just as capable of finding a blend of ingredients that will produce a delicacy for your family, as they are. Moreso, if truth be known.
I used to follow recipes slavishly too. I thought the glossy books and their glamorous authors knew more than I did. It was only when I noticed that one very notable TV chef was stealing recipes from Ethnic cuisine that I myself had been making for years as part of my family repertoire, and that another simply bakes the same things over and over with different flavours, that I realised it's just a trick to get us to buy their books and DVDs, and watch their shows so that they can continue to have their adventures paid for by sponsors. Sure their latest book might only be $20, but if two million people buy it, even if their cut is only a single dollar per sale (quite likely), that's still a hefty profit for doing something that you can do yourself.
I've known friends who just about have apoplexy when they're missing a 'vital' ingredient for let's say, stir fry, or bolognaise. Huh? You just add something else similar (always remembering that you replace like for like, and salty/sour/sweet/earthy/spicy is your guide), and make do. Make do is an old idea ripe for resurrection too, and I'll come to that in another post.
There are a whole host of ideas surrounding recipe creation, that I'll cover in the coming weeks and months, but let me give you a really simple example.
The humble No Bake Slice.
They're the ones where you take a packet of store purchased cookies or crunchy breakfast cereal, and turn them into a yummy treat by crushing them, adding stuff to the crumbs and chilling the mixture into a base to firm it up, and end by finishing it with a delish topping. Where's the mystery in that?
We eat gluten free here, and due to circumstances beyond my control, I have had no oven for nearly six months. What a frustration for me, but I can tell you, it taught me a few things. In order to make those little lunch box and afternoon tea treats to which my family were accustomed, I had to reinvent the No Bake Slice and make it interesting enough to consume in different incarnations, over a long period of time.
To be honest, the No Bake Slice is a godsend in hot weather. No oven to deal with for a start, and very little cleaning up either, so even though I now have a new oven installed, the No Bake Slice is here to stay.
If you Google No Bake Slice, literally hundreds of recipes will appear. They'll all specify a type of cookie or cereal to use, a particular topping .and we all assume that unless we have those ingredients on hand, we can't produce a delicious slice.
But breaking it down, any cookie, nuts or crunchy breakfast cereal, can be made into a crumbly base (even home baked cookies), and that + binding ingredients + topping = yummy slice.
Step 1. So first of all, you need your cookie crumbs or whatever, crushed. You can use a food processor if you like, but I just break my ingredients up slightly, fold them inside a tea towel, and bash the heck out of them with a meat mallet. Specifying that you must use a particular kitchen appliance to produce family treats and meals is another ruse that we've all been brainwashed into believing.
Step 2. The next ingredient is something that binds the crumbs together to form the base. That is usually a solid oil that's been melted (butter, margarine, copha, chocolate, coconut oil), and a sweet, sticky syrup (sweetened condensed milk, honey, golden syrup, molasses, treacle). You can vary your slices enormously simply by choosing different combinations of solid oil and sticky syrup. So if you have half a cup of melted butter, you need up to two thirds of a cup of condensed milk, or any variation on that idea. That's enough to bind the equivalent of a packet of bought cookies or a couple of cups of breakfast cereal. I make my own condensed milk by mixing water, milk powder and sugar, and microwaving it. I don't measure, I don't use a recipe, I just make it so it looks and tastes right to me. If your cookies or cereal are already very sweet, you can really just use the melted solid oil, but it must be an oil that reverts to solid upon refrigeration or your slice will not hold together.
This mixture gets added to the crumbs, mixed until it's all combined well, and pressed firmly with clean hands, into the base. I'd use one full packet of bought gluten free cookies per slice, so two packets to form these two slices. But if someone's raided the packet before I get to it, and there's one or two missing, well, so what.
Here's my two completed bases, after chilling in the fridge for an hour.
Step 3. Next is your topping. Now depending on how busy I am, what's in the pantry, and what's in the fruit bowl, I'll make a gooey topping like peanut butter, nutella, caramel or poached fruit/custard and a glaze, and a less fussy one that's a frosting or icing, or even just a drizzle of melted chocolate.
To use a sandwich spread like peanut butter to make a topping, you need to add something to firm it up a bit. Butter or margarine and brown sugar, which is dense and sticky, will do this. I experimented a bit and decided that a ratio of about one part butter to two parts brown sugar and three parts peanut butter gives a gooey, but firm topping. I tried a few different ideas though, and none of them were inedible! I melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the spread and sugar, and stir it till smooth. It gets poured over one of the bases, and chilled well.
For a runny icing, I just add a couple of teaspoons of fruit juice of any kind to a cup or so of sifted icing sugar in a bowl, and pour it over the slice. For a frosting, I'll add softened butter to the icing sugar, beating it well, and adding flavours like a squeeze of lemon juice and some lemon rind, flavour essences, coconut, cocoa, coffee and so on. You can then sprinkle anything you like over the icing or frosting if you think it needs it, or for variety. Last week, I kept a couple of spoonfuls of the crumb base aside, and mixed that through the frosting for the second slice to give it a bit of texture and it's a new favourite. It's a similar texture to chopped nuts, without the nuts!
A layer of thick custard, covered with poached fruit and a jelly (jello) or jam glaze is another nice one, and it can be any fruit that you've simmered with a little water and sugar till soft. Drain and cool the poached fruit, arrange it over a layer of thick custard on top of the crumb base. Make your glaze by mixing packet jelly (jello) with one third the specified amount of water, and cooling it before pouring over the fruit. Or alternatively, just warm some jam in the microwave, and brush it over the fruit to make it glossy.
Do you see how it works?
Crushed cookies + solid oil and syrup + filling and/or topping = yummy slice of your own invention.
Here's my Peanut butter one and the one with the frosting into which I folded crushed crumb base and lemon zest. I can assure you both were scrumptious.
Some other favourites here, are the poached fruit and custard, the peanut butter one above with strawberry jam or chocolate warmed and drizzled over it, tinned caramel warmed to liquefy it slightly, and poured over, chilled, then covered with a layer of drained sweet Greek Yoghurt and some grated chocolate, lemon icing, lime juice icing, orange icing (always with juice and zest) and of course, melted chocolate. All very yummy, and all highly experimental initially!
Don't be scared. You can do it.
Let me know how you go.