Week one: 69-er challenge

I was given various cook books for my birthday a couple of weeks ago which obviously filled me with joy.  But as I put the lovely new books on my shelves that were already crammed with recipe books, I felt a twinge of regret that I hadn’t ever cooked from many of them.  Which led to the idea of challenging myself to cook a new recipe from each and every one of my books to a deadline.  I counted them and believe it or not I had sixty-nine recipe books.   I loved the clickbait appeal of a cheeky 69-er challenge so I pounced on that as the name.

My quest needed to be difficult enough to be impressive, but not so difficult that my normal life had to stop to complete it.  I came up with end of September as the deadline – which worked out at just over four months to try sixty-nine new recipes. That works out at seventeen recipes a month and about four a week.  And just to hold my hands up to this right now – my boyfriend Jamie would be helping me with this.

We started on saturday and got really stuck in. By monday we’d done six recipes.  At this rate I’d be done by the end of June! I will talk you through them:

Chicken couscous from the ‘Urban Cookbook’.  This book was a birthday present about seven years ago. I have not cooked a single recipe from this book. I’ll be honest it’s quite an intimidating book.  Part travel/art guide and part cook book – I never knew where to start with it – it mainly consisted of photos, pictures and chat which made it hard to find the recipes in the first place.  But my 69-er challenge forced me to take the plunge.  My criteria was that I wanted a healthy straight forward dinner. So spicy chicken couscous with french beans, carrots and chickpeas was my choice.  Jamie cooked this one as I was recovering from a nine mile Peak District hike (done on a hangover!), so I was next to useless.  The hearty, flavourful stew was perfect to sooth an exhausted walker.  The ingredients were simmered for an hour which gave it a lot depth of flavour.  I was a happy customer.

Sunday brought fresh enthusiasm to crack on with new recipes.  And we nailed ‘Indian beans on toast’, a simple Indian lentil curry from a ‘Good Food 101 Meals for Two’ book.  It took ten minutes to make using a tin of green lentils – we chose to serve it with rice instead of ‘toast’ (naan bread).  Jamie is always a good litmus test on food because he’s not as into experimental stuff as me and he bloody loved it.

In the evening I moved onto Granola from Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Notes from my Kitchen Table’.  It’s a surprisingly enjoyable read with many tales of favourite family dishes from her childhood and recipes she cooks for her children.  It’s also pre her super healthy phase so there’s quite a bit of buttery and sugary stuff in the recipes.  The granola took five minutes to prepare (literally mix ingredients and put on baking tray) and twenty minutes to cook.  I liked the rogue garam masala addition to the mix of ingredients. I now have a brand new tasty breakfast which is perfect for getting me out of my dull breakfast rut.

Monday was my most productive cooking day, but I did have a day at home, so that helped. It started with Paul Hollywood’s pitta.  I’ve been wanting to and talking about making bread for about four years so I was chuffed with myself for giving this a stab. It wasn’t difficult – mix flour, yeast, salt, water and knead for five mins then leave to rise.  Unfortunately mine didn’t ‘double in size’ in an hour as was predicted.  So I interfered by shoving it in the oven at gas mark 1 which basically cooked my dough and it developed a crust (definitely wrong!), but hey it DID double in size! Then I rolled it out into six little oval shapes and baked them for eight minutes.  Despite my questionable approach to proving dough – they were beautiful! There’s nothing like hot fresh bread.

Ice-cream was next on the itinerary. I decided to keep it simple and do plain vanilla from ‘Become an Ice-Cream Maker the Easy Way’. The instructions are pretty much: make a homemade vanilla custard with eggs yolks and double cream and churn it in the ice-cream maker.  Although not so brilliant when the custard curdled!  But no matter, we sieved the lumpy mixture and churned it and it was a really tasty treat.  It may have tasted more like frozen creme caramel and it’s certainly the brownest vanilla ice-cream I’ve ever eaten, but it was a success in my books.

And the final recipe of my six was Delia’s Frugal Food.  A book I’d neglected to use because it didn’t have ANY photos of the food! A massive downfall in my eyes.  However I like the essence of the book – cheap wholesome tasty seventies style cooking.  I chose a baked eggs in a cheesy spinach sauce recipe as my mum used to cook something similar in the eighties – so it was a nostalgia choice.  I had to make a white sauce with an excessive amount of butter, double cream and cheese (maybe that’s why Delia’s food tastes so good – lots of fat). Then blitz in some cooked spinach using a hand blender and pour it over some boiled eggs, cover in cheese and grill.  Fairly straightforward and exceptionally tasty – but if I put that much fat in everything I cooked – it would all taste good.

Six recipes completed, sixty-three to go! Keep reading my blog to see if I can keep up the momentum.  And if anyone fancies joining me with their own cookbook challenge please do comment and let me know.

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