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.