I have a small but growing collection of cookbooks and take great pleasure from rummaging around charity shops looking for old books to give a new home to, of course the added bonus is that these books are usually a bargain.
Over the years as I am slowly gaining more confidence and experience, I no longer feel the need to stick to a recipe exactly.
As a young girl who moved away to England to have the sole charge of a 2 year old boy I mainly prepared breakfast and light food for lunch as his Mum liked to prepare the evening meals when she could. Not long after that I was thrown into a turbulent period of my life and found myself being a wife and Mother, who had to work as the man of the house would not lower himself to get a job. (We split up 14 years ago and he has only started working in the past 3 years or so). We lived on a tight budget as most young couples living on the breadline do, but my inexperience at cooking left me with few meals that stick out in my memory, one I do remember was making my first proper curry, I had to buy so many “special” ingredients and borrow a food processor to make the dish. It turned out well, but I remember thinking at the time how expensive it was and how I would not use many of the spices again.
Other times I have looked at the glossy picture in the cookbook, followed the long list of instructions only to be left with something that bears little resemblance to the dish in the book!
Now, although my home life is still turbulent, but for different reasons, I really enjoy cooking and trying out new things, but at the same time I am confident enough to leave something out, use a different meat/veg, tweak the spices and herbs a bit to the ones my family like. Sites like Recipezaar and allrecipes are full of real pictures of home cooked food. They don’t replace books, but give you a wealth of new things to try with the added bonus of honest reviews and helpful hints so you can make an informed choice.
I am now trying to keep track of all my thrown together meals that I am sure you all do where a little bit of this and a pinch of that get mixed together to make something wonderful- but often never to be made again because I know I often forget what I did!
The other night I had thrown together some meatballs and tomato sauce, the girls love meatball pizza, so with the leftovers I made this lovely pizza using a base recipe from a BBC Good Food magazine I got last summer, it was on the table in under 30 minutes and kept my 9 yr old busy doing the kneading.
Easy Thin Crust Pizza Dough
Serves 4 (makes 2 pizzas) Prep 25 minutes Cook 10 mins.
300g strong bread flour
1tsp dried yeast
1 tbs olive oil plus extra for drizzling
Pre heat oven to gas mark 8, 240oc. It helps to place an upturned baking tray in the oven on the top shelf while the oven is heating, not the same as a pizza stone, but better than just a tray on its own!
Put the flour into a large bowl, and then stir in the yeast and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in 200 ml warm water and the olive oil, bringing together with a wooden spoon until you have a soft fairly wet dough. You may need to adjust the flour/water ratio as all flours absorb the water differently.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5mins until smooth. Cover with a tea towel and set aside. You can leave the dough to rise if you like, but it is not essential for a thin crust.
Roll out the dough. If you have let it rise, give it a quick knead, then split into two balls. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into large rounds, about 25 cms across, using a rolling pin. The dough needs to be very thin as it will rise in the oven.
Put the rounds onto thick baking sheets dusted with flour, add your favourite toppings and bake in the pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes till crisp.