I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: looking for a job is stressful. It would be less so if there was a way of deciphering the meaning behind people’s flattering smiles and words of encouragement, of which I’m getting many of late. I’ve dealt with shifty interviewers who said they’d call, and never called; believed to those who promised positive developments, until they actually delivered bad news. Others did call, eventually, breaking a silence long enough to unleash my worst fears (“They changed their mind. They hired someone else. Wait, are you sure they’re still alive?”); what they have in store, I still can’t predict. As my brain threatens to explode, I find myself longing for a holiday I can’t yet book, and missing the days of my childhood. At the very least, an innocent, trusting kid would give all this “I-will-call-you-tomorrow” crap the benefit of the doubt.
These impromptu bouts of nostalgia trigger happy memories of my grandmother, who raised me like a second mum throughout my primary school years. Feeding me was a task she quite enjoyed, whether it involved cooking homemade meals, or sourcing sweet and savoury delights at the local bakery. The big slabs of focaccia she encouraged me to snack on are the treats I remember most fondly; so fondly, in fact, that I’ve spent years mustering the courage to recreate this bread-making wonder at home. Here’s the outcome of my first attempt, together with three more new recipes I tested last month.
1. Foodelicious’s Rosemary Onion Focaccia
You’ll like this if: You’re easily overjoyed by a warm slice of freshly baked bread. This is truly everything focaccia is supposed to be: soft, thick, and garnished with a generous helping of toppings that bring all its flavour alive.
You’ll turn up your nose if: You’re not prepared to face carb overload. This focaccia is no black or white matter: once you start eating it, you won’t be able to stop until you’ve swept up the very last crumb.
My experience: After last month’s pizza, this is another Italian classic that exceeded my expectations. I’d never have thought that making focaccia would be so easy, or that my humble homemade version would taste so close to the bakery made ones I used to feast on as a kid. Light in hassle and rich in taste, this is comfort food at its best; it’s great on its own, or served with slices of cured meat and olive oil dips.
2. Just a Taste’s Homemade Falafel
You’ll like this if: You’re after an indulgent vegetarian meal. As my former university roommate used to say, (usually sporting a disapproving frown towards my unwholesome eating habits of the time), “everything tastes good when it’s fried”. One can hardly disagree, when falafel are concerned.
You’ll turn up your nose if: You expect restaurant standards. While these falafel may have a smoother texture and a softer core than your favourite Middle-Eastern eatery’s, their characteristic, unmistakable taste is all there. The beauty of homemade is sometimes imperfect, but it’s beauty nonetheless.
My experience: This experiment was source of doubt and concern. “Are you really sure”, fretted my partner, “that we can we make falafel without a deep fryer?” I’m happy to report that the recipe works very well, and that it only takes a normal frying pan to make a dozen perfectly shaped patties. Nailing the coarse, grainy texture of restaurant-made falafel is my next challenge; most likely one I can solve by using a lighter hand with my food processor.
3. Table for Two’s Honey Soy Chicken
You’ll like this if: You get it right (I didn’t, and still wouldn’t say that I disliked it). The honey and soy sauce add a really nice taste to the chicken, and the procedure is easy enough to be worth a try.
You’ll turn up your nose if: You’re against unconventional pairings. You don’t see the point of brushing a chicken dish with honey, and wonder what the hell soy sauce has to do with all of this.
My experience: This experiment was conclusive proof that kitchen equipment can make or break a recipe. Unfortunately, the recipe’s 40-minute cooking time doesn’t cut it for my oven: by the time I deemed it ready, the sauce had all dried up, and so had the chicken. Simplicity and taste convince me to give this recipe another chance, and I’ll limit cooking to 30 minutes the next time.
4. Taste With The Eyes’s Spinach and Chickpeas in a Bengali Mustard Sauce
You’ll like this if: You’re one to give up easily. Some Indian recipes have scarily long cooking times, but this one is a matter of ten minutes. It’ll be ready before you even notice.
You’ll turn up your nose if: Your ideal Indian meal is all about fiery spices, creamy sauces, and chunky pieces of meat.
My experience: I’m by all means a fan of creamy curries; little beats the pleasure of pouring a helping of nutty, flavoursome pasanda sauce on a heap of basmati rice. While pairing rice with a dry dish isn’t quite as satisfying, this spicy combination of chickpeas and spinach tastes really good. I’d suggest repurposing it as a healthy side, rather than having it as a main.