Sunday, 2 December 2018

Cookery Calendar Challenge: November

November's chosen cookery book was Jamie's Dinners, quite an old one of mine which was published in 2004. The torn-out title page tells me that it must have been from the damaged book shelf in the staff room when I worked at Waterstones in a different life, one of the perks of working in a book shop. This book reminded me how much, and how quickly, cookery books can date if they try to be too much on trend. The tone of this book is irritatingly jokey and blokey, with recipes called "the ultimate" this and that, but it is also friendly and very accessible and that's why I like it. 

The book is simply broken down into chapters like meat, fish, vegetables etc but there are some really nice touches, like the "Family Tree" chapter, where one starter recipe (pesto, tomato sauce, slow cooked lamb) is taken in lots of directions providing lots of meal ideas which is big on using up leftovers, so I approve of this.

The first recipe I tried was The Ultimate Onion Soup, something I've never made but always fancied. It involves peeling and slicing one kilogramme of onions which takes longer than you might think, and this very nearly tipped me over the edge. You see, I wear contact lenses and hadn't realised quite how much they protect my eyes from the fumes from chopped onions. That day, however, I was wearing my glasses and oh my goodness, I was in a world of pain. I had to keep taking breaks. I had to go outside for fresh air. I had to get John to come and help, until he was gasping too. 

Once I could see again, I put the onions in a pan and started the slow cooking process, until they were lovely and gooey.

Then you turn up the heat until they start to darken a little before adding stock and simmering.

You serve with a slice of toast covered in melted gruyere cheese, a kind of giant crouton. I couldn't really see the point of this, since it made the bread scalding hot, soggy and impossible to eat, ruining a very nice piece of cheese on toast.

Don't get me wrong, it was nice, but not worth nearly choking to death for.

The next recipe, The Ultimate Burger, was a much calmer affair. Angus, always on hand to chop or stir something in an endearing yet unhelpful fashion, mixed the ingredients together before forming them into patties which we chilled.

The burger recipe is fairly standard apart from a lot of grated parmesan which is a magic touch, adding flavour and making the burgers extra juicy and less likely to dry out. Even Bella, who had stroppily informed me all afternoon that she hates burger now, actually, said they were the nicest burger she'd ever eaten. 

The last recipe from this book was a bit of an indulgence, in that it involved a leg of lamb, normally a treat reserved for Easter, but it was on offer and I was intrigued to see quite how far I could stretch this meal.

You place the meat, seasoned and stuffed with sliced garlic and rosemary, on top of a bed of chopped vegetables, cover with foil, and bake slowly for about three hours.

When it's done you remove the meat, stripping it from the bone and shredding it, while pureeing the roasted vegetables, before mixing the whole thing together until it's like a cross between a stew and a ragu sauce.

It produced a huge amount of food, enough for three meals for the four of us, easily. We ate it that night topped with sliced potatoes and baked, a kind of Shepherd's Pie with a difference, and then later in the week again but this time stirred through pasta, and there was still loads left. I think we just had the rest with a baked potato and some vegetables, a speedy weeknight dinner.

But I'd never cooked lamb this way and I really enjoyed it, it was delicious and not that expensive when I think how many meals we got from one joint of meat.


Cooking aside, little signs of Christmas are creeping into the house here and there. I had a lovely time this morning with the children, doing a little festive crafting. The advent calendar is hung, the nativity scene is out of it's box, and the odd wreath or garland has started to appear here and there. We'll choose our tree next weekend, when John is off, and then that's when it will all start properly for us.

Wishing you all a happy and fulfilling week ahead. 


  1. People have been known to wear swimming goggles in this house to chop onions. Well done for getting through so many! What was it like working at Waterstones? I imagine it a bit of a dream job, but maybe I have rose-tinted glasses. But bookshops just feel so utterly blissful. I relax just by walking in. Probably different if you have to worry about the stock etc. I have same idea about being a librarian. Wishing you a good week Gillian. CJ xx

    1. It was a long time ago but it was absolutely brilliant. Lovely people, the best product in the world. Very hectic behind the scenes though! X

  2. After reading your post I pointed out a few of your recipe ideas to John. It's lovely Angus helps out in the kitchen. I wanted to make sure both my children could cook so they wouldn't live off 'ping meals' when they left home. They're both better cooks than me; so is John, so is anyone! Best, Jane x

  3. "Jokey and blokey" made me laugh! Onion soup is definitely not for me, but the leg of lamb with spuds sounds really good.
    I have been at O.K.'s for the weekend, so did not decorate in time for the 1st Advent - it would have been pointless, as I only returned this morning. Tonight, though, I am hosting my part of the "Living Advent Calendar" that is held every year in my quarter of town, and I have just finished decorating. Now it looks very christmassy inside, while outdoors, it is spring-like mild with plenty of wind and - finally!! - rain today.

  4. Can't beat a bit of Jamie. I love that you add glugs of this and that and give things a whizz, my kind of cooking.

  5. Have you ever tried burning a candle close to where you're chopping and cooking onions? Someone told me about it a few years ago and I was skeptical, but I swear it works! I enjoy Jamie's cookbooks and use some of his recipes all the time, but I don't love his writing. I think maybe some of what you've described in that book is a product of the times too. At least in American cookbooks, the early 2000's were rife with recipes that were billed as the "ultimate" whatever, and everything was very extreme. Lots of cooking as quickly as humanly possible, which is fine when you need it, but I don't think it should be every single meal.

  6. I have a set of onion goggles and they save my eyes almost daily.
    When I have onion soup with the cheese toast on top I let it soak in the soup, break it into bite sized pieces with my spoon and eat it with the soup. I can see why soggy toast isn't appealing though...
    Kids in the kitchen are usually more work than help but it's so good to teach them. Most of my Girl Scouts (ages 7&8) hadn't used a knife before I gave them a lesson!

  7. Your summing up of the soup made me smile! Thankfully I am at home this afternoon while reading about your delicious culinary round-up - off to raid the larder!


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