But I followed the recipe to the letter!

How many times have you followed a recipe as closely as you could and finished up with nothing but an inedible mess?  I’ll admit, that even following my own recipes jotted down after countless successful outcomes, I’ve still been left wondering what went wrong on occasion.  It’s frustrating and disheartening.  It’s also one of the reasons that I don’t buy recipe books.

I love cooking and I love reading, so it should follow that recipe books line my shelves and gather in ever-growing gangs around my house.  Instead, I’ve a handful of books on my kitchen shelf and I rarely open them.  The internet has all but killed any need for recipe books.  Blogs, recipe sites and food forums share an abundance of recipes for every imaginable type of food.  Why clutter the kitchen with glossy hard backs from television chefs when a quick look on my computer or phone gives me access to countless food sites?

I’ve only ever bought one recipe book, a classic by Jane Norman to help me get to grips with basic cooking methods when I first began to take an interest in cooking.  I still refer to it from time to time and I suspect that I’ll own it forever.  The other books that line my kitchen shelf have been gifts from well-meaning friends and relatives.  Truth be told, I tend to have a glance through cookery books once and rarely pick them up again unless I’m looking for something specific.

Last week, I happened to look through a Gino D’Acampo book (another gift) and spotted a fun-looking recipe for a creamy rice pudding.  It was simple enough for a dolt like me, so I carefully arranged the ingredients on my worktop and followed the recipe sentence by perfidious sentence with confidence.  Sadly, our passionate, Italian chef seems to have little or no knowledge of the properties of arborio rice and the methods required to cook it successfully and two hours later, I was still adding milk to stubborn grains of crunchy rice.  I was fuming.  So rarely do I put my trust in the pages of slickly designed cook books, and the moment I do, betrayal occurs in the most irritating way: a recipe that doesn’t work.

Sensing the potential for adaption, I threw away the offending pot of disappointment and started afresh.  I cooked the rice as it should be, cranked up the sugar content and added two of my favourite flavours to produce a rice pudding with all the gloopy comfort that you’d need when the mood took you.

I’ve realised over the last couple of years that following a recipe closely is not a guarantee of success.  Instead, a grasp of some basic cooking techniques for whatever ingredients you’re using combined with your own instinct is a far better guide in the kitchen.  I guess that sounds like sage advice from a wisened cook.  In fact, it’s my disclaimer.

Vanilla & cinnamon rice pudding

40g Arborio rice

30g caster sugar

milk

water

half tspoon ground cinnamon

quarter tspoon vanilla paste

I cooked the rice in a milk pan by just covering it with water and simmering until the rice absorbed the water and became tender.  This took about ten minutes.  During this time, I added more water to the rice as it was absorbed and tested the rice when I thought it was cooked.

The next step was to stir in the sugar and add enough milk to cover the rice.  I stirred the milk through until the sugar had dissolved and then added a little more milk every couple of minutes over a gentle heat.  What you’re looking for is a gloopy, soft consistency where the soft rice is lost in a thick and sweet liquid.  If the mixture becomes too dry, add more milk.  If it is too watery, continue to stir it until the milk has reduced.  When I was happy with the rice, I stirred in the vanilla paste and took it off the heat to cool.  The rice becomes a little firmer upon cooling which is fine.

My recipe makes one portion, but you could easily increase the quantities.  As long as the rice is cooked through before you add the milk and sugar, the results will be satisfying.

Honey & cinnamon smoothie

I’ve never liked the taste of milk.  Even as a youngster, I was one of the children who did not have milk at school and though I tried desperately to like it, my opinion did not change over the years.

Chocolate milk is a different story altogether.  Early memories of drinking it through a straw dropped into the triangular hole made by my mum’s tin opener remain with me to this day.  There was a rabbit on the front of the tin and complete contentment in my whole being.  Chocolate milk soothes me in a way that very few other food stuffs do.  Super cold, super sweet and super refreshing.  It evokes memories of being in my mum’s kitchen in Greece and it comforts me no end.  Childish, yes, but it has benefits too, since I need my share of calcium and protein too.  Okay, the sugar doesn’t benefit my teeth, but ask me if I’m worried.

Chocolate milk may be my go-to drink at any time of day, but after years of hitting the stuff hard, my eyes began to wander.  I needed a new sweet milky drink.  Drinking Carnation condensed milk wasn’t gonna be sustainable.  Thankfully, upon moving to Hong Kong, I found a wonderful smoothie joint that had an endless menu of smoothies with all kinds of exciting ingredients and combinations.  I quickly became hooked on these fruit-filled blends of health and goodness.  It wasn’t long before I’d purchased my own blender, partly so that I could experiment, and largely because my wife could see that I was spending a silly amount of money on what was essentially ice and mushy fruit.

I’m not the biggest fan of fruit so blending them up with other tasty ingredients is ideal for me.  After moving back to England, the blender went into the back of the cupboard.  “Next to the toastie machine?” I hear you ask.  No!  I make toasties all the time!  What’s the matter with you?

Now I’m back in full blender mode and throwing in all sorts to appease my monstrous desire for tasty fun.  I went through a phase of adding milk, chocolate milk powder and a slice of cherry pie before blending it all.  I’ve been going through packets of Oreos in recent weeks as they have found themselves thrown into the milky depths of my blender.  Today, I tried something a little more healthy.  I blended 450ml semi-skimmed milk, 5 tablespoons of honey flavoured Greek style yoghurt, half a teaspoon of cinnamon and a tablespoon of Greek mountain honey.  It was delicious, but not sugary enough for me, so I threw in a load of Demerara sugar to make it hit the spot.  I’ll be trying lot’s of different things over the next few weeks, but if anyone has any suggestions, let me know and I’ll give ’em a whirl!

There seems to be a theme here…