How many recipes have you made in your lifetime? How many more do you think you might still? And just how many are left languishing inside eagerly acquired cookbooks, on pages torn from magazines, on bookmark bars and Pinterest boards, never to see the light of day as you return to tried, tested and trusted recipes you’ve always enjoyed?
According to a poll commissioned by the Good Food Channel last year, the average British woman can cook just seven meals from scratch, with eighty percent admitting to churning out the same thing over and again, and only two percent turning to cookbooks or online for a source of inspiration. I don’t know about you, but as a member of that minority percentage, my problem is less how to get out of a cooking rut and more deciding what to make next from the ever-growing reams of recipe ideas accumulating in print, online and in my head.
Cooking the same recipes day in and day out is a little like putting on a pair of pajama trousers: easy, familiar and an almost ritual guilty pleasure. If we were to continue with the clothes analogy, I suppose having a blog is not dissimilar to attending a public premiere: everything should look amazing, all eyes are on you and heaven forbid you be seen wearing (posting) the same thing more than once.
Blogging has really opened my eyes to all the exciting recipes out there, whether reading other peoples’ posts or coming up with ideas of my own. However much as I enjoy looking things up online, it’s hard to beat the look and feel of a proper printed cookbook. Whether it’s brand new, pristine from its packaging and screaming for the gorgeous glossy photos within to be brought to life, or a dog-eared tome, pages turned down on family favourites or smeared with buttery fingerprints, there’s something about cookbooks that completely captivates me.
But there are only so many hours in the day, and try as I might to use all my cookbooks in regular rotation, there are some I turn to time and again, and others (whispers) that I’ve never managed to cook from at all. One such book is – or I should say was – Heston at Home, a present from my brother this Christmas just gone. Having asked for it specifically, when presented with the pages of fancy foams, sponge-filled cheese toasties (!) and other weird and wonderful tips and techniques, my brain simply refused to engage. The photography wasn’t quite as enticing as I’d hoped, the recipes required various odd pieces of equipment I didn’t have and somehow poor old Heston ended up at the back of my bookshelf.
On Monday we arrived back in London after a blissful family weekend away in Yorkshire. With rain lashing at the windows, thick grey clouds slung low in the sky and my body only just beginning to come out of a chocolate Easter-egg induced coma, it felt like some lazy baking should be firmly on the agenda. Trawling the cupboards I laid out oats, flour, sugar, honey, an open jar of natural peanut butter and a bag of dry roasted peanuts. With butter and a squeezy bottle of condensed milk from the fridge, I was set to make one of the easiest recipes ever, so to spend a little more time in the kitchen I decided to tackle something from Heston’s book.
The recipe below involves crystallized peanuts. In Heston at Home, the photograph shows pistachios, the green, jewel-like nuggets coated in a lacy white layer. My peanuts are a little less pretty, looking more like the salty crust of a slightly underbaked potato, but ignore the slightly anaemic appearance and they taste absolutely delicious: nutty, crisp and crunchy with a salty-sweet kick. The crunch of the nuts against the smooth milk chocolate and sweet, fudgy flapjack works wonders and elevates these from a basic after-school snack into something much more exciting.
If you’re looking for a healthy flapjack recipe, look away now. Or better still, have a look at the sesame and tahini flapjacks I posted at some point last year. But if you’re looking for something rich, mellow and seriously satisfying, packed with toasty oats and crispy, crunchy nuts, then this is the recipe for you. The chocolate coating is entirely optional, but is a great way to use up any bits of leftover Easter chocolate (really? No, me neither), and the crystallized peanuts are (hopefully) something new to try. After all, you wouldn’t want to get stuck in a recipe rut, would you?
Chocolate Coated Peanut Butter Flapjacks with Caramelized Peanuts
For the flapjacks
175g smooth natural peanut butter
100g unsalted butter
100g condensed milk
50g light brown sugar
200g rolled oats
25g unsalted peanuts, chopped
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line a 20cm square tin.
Melt all the ingredients except the oats and peanuts in a medium saucepan over a low heat until combined. Remove from the heat and stir in the oats and peanuts. Transfer to your prepared tin, smooth the mixture flat and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into 10 bars.
For the crystallized nuts (adapted from Heston at Home)
100g white caster sugar
100g dry roasted peanuts
Sprinkle of sea salt
Line a tray with non stick baking parchment.
Combine the caster sugar and water in a medium pan and bring to the boil over a medium to high heat. Continue to boil until the syrup at the edges of the pan begins to colour, then remove from the heat and add the peanuts, whisking until the syrup has completely crystallized and coated the nuts.
Pour the nuts over your prepared tray, sprinkle with a small amount of salt and leave to cool. This recipe will make more nuts than you need, but they can be stored in an airtight container for several months (if you can keep them away from hungry hands…)
For the coating
90g milk chocolate, chopped
35g smooth natural peanut butter
A few drops of flavourless oil (I used sunflower)
Line a tray with non stick baking parchment.
Melt the chocolate and peanut butter together in a small pan over a low heat, stirring constantly. Add a little oil until you have a thick, glossy spread (this final addition isn’t entirely necessary but gives the chocolate a lovely sheen).
Dip your flapjack bars into the chocolate mixture one at a time, then lay them out on your prepared tray, a few centimetres apart. Top each one with a few crystallized peanuts. Once the tray is full, pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the chocolate to firm up.
Serve at room temperature, and store in an airtight container.