Given that life these days is frenetically busy, we like to think that the productive things we do will be successful and reveal us as the multi-talented, highly organised and fabulous-in-every-way individuals we are.
I've noticed that the thing that most often puts people off trying something new in the kitchen is the idea that it might go wrong and even, heaven forbid, that they might be responsible for producing a Dismal Failure. We want people to like us, and our food. We don't want to face a mutiny over a dodgy dinner.
This is where the recipe comes in. A good recipe is like an easy-to-follow road map, designed to get you expeditiously from a list of ingredients to a lovely meal that has everyone sighing with pleasure, and you looking and feeling good (and sometimes way more pleased with yourself than the amount of effort would have implied).
But sometimes the recipe doesn't deliver, and that's where sourcing recipes from random websites and blogs gets risky. It happened to me the other day, in a yummy-sounding recipe someone had posted online. The recipe supposedly originated from a very well-known and highly regarded American cook, but whoever had typed it into their blog post had failed to do their job properly. After scrolling through the ingredients list I scanned the method, where I came across stock - several times. But there was no mention in the ingredients list of stock, nor any liquids. I was immediately thinking where is the stock, how much stock, what sort of stock? My chances of success, even as an experienced cook, were now officially highly unlikely. I didn't want to waste expensive ingredients on a recipe I didn't trust, so I didn't go there.
Baking is a great place to start in the kitchen - it's the place where I got my learner wheels, sitting on a stool watching my mother cook, and then got hooked myself. In baking you do have to follow the recipe carefully, but some recipes are more forgiving than others, and the three I've shared here really are child's play.
Read the whole recipe before you start, measure carefully and have fun! It's like riding a bike - the more you do it the easier it gets.
Three-ingredient cheese scones
This is the simplest scone recipe you'll ever find - so easy you'll be able to remember it off by heart next time you make it. They are so light and tender and cheesy. The mixture needs to be sticky, though not so wet that it will lose shape when you scoop or shape it. That's what makes them rise and gives a light texture.
Ready in 30 mins, makes 12
2½ cups self-raising flour
2½ cups tasty cheese, grated
2 cups natural Greek-style yoghurt
Preheat oven to 200C fanbake and line an oven tray with baking paper. Combine flour and 2 cups of cheese in a bowl, adding a little salt if you like. Add yoghurt and bring together with a knife to make a soft dough. Drop 12 scoops on the prepared tray and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake until cooked through and golden (15-20 minutes). Enjoy while hot.
Chocolate Fudge Slice
I've made this easy update on the classic biscuit slice in a round cake tin and cut it into wedges for a morning or afternoon tea treat, but you could also make it in a swiss roll tin if you want to cut it into squares for lunchboxes. You can also dress it up with chocolate icing for an after-dinner nibble. It can also be made in different flavours - leave out the cocoa and use lemon juice and zest and some coconut, and ice with a lemony icing. The butter is what makes it set.
Ready in 20 mins, makes about 20 pieces
2 eggs, lightly whisked
¼ cup honey
¼ cup golden syrup
3 Tbsp good-quality cocoa, sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 x 250g packets plain sweet biscuits, such as Super Wine, crushed to a coarse crumb (leave some small chunks)
½ cup chopped walnuts and/or sultanas (optional)
Line a 20cm-diameter loose-bottom round cake tin with baking paper. Melt the butter in a pot. Whisk in the eggs, honey, golden syrup, cocoa and vanilla. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat as the mixture comes up to the boil and add the crushed biscuits and nuts or sultanas, if using. Mix until well combined and press into the prepared cake tin. Chill and cut into thin wedges when firm. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.
Orange Lightning Cake
This is a great cake to make in winter with oranges coming into season. I call it a lightning cake because you make it in a flash. It's so quick and simple and yet it has an amazing flavour, like something your grandmother might have made, that has everyone coming back for seconds. The whole orange keeps it wonderfully tender so it makes a great dessert cake served with a dollop of yoghurt. It will keep in an airtight container for up to a week or can be frozen.
Ready in 1¼ hours, serves 8
1 whole orange, unpeeled
1 tsp baking soda
½ cup water
125g butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 cup sultanas or raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 160C fanbake. Grease a 20cm-diameter cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Cut the orange into quarters, remove the seeds and whizz in a food processor until finely chopped. Dissolve baking soda in water and add to the food processor with butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour. Whizz to combine. Add sultanas or raisins and walnuts, if using, and stir with a spoon or pulse several times to just combine (don't whizz them or they will break up). Pour into prepared cake tin and bake until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (about 1 hour).
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95).