Sunday Lunch, Roast Beef Edition from “How to Eat”

Do you have a fail-safe system that you use all the time? (Me: Yes.) Do you question its origins? (Me: No.)

For me, my fail-safe system for Sunday lunch– or any big feast– is to create a menu and then make timetable for cooking all the different dishes. Obviously you work backward from when you want to sit down and eat and then plan accordingly. I never really thought about when I started using this method, or why, it just seems like it’s always been that way.

Until now. As I turned to the gravy-splattered pages covering Sunday Lunch in How to Eat, I read this sentence: “I’m sorry to sound bossy, but Sunday lunch, as I’ve said, has to be run like a military campaign. I find it easier to decide when I want to eat and then work backwards, writing every move down on a pad which I keep in a fixed place in the kitchen.”

There it is. My origin story for how to make Sunday lunch.

Nigella is right, of course. Not only do I write the schedule down, but I keep plans and schedules from big legendary feasts so that if I want to do it again, I’ll know how it went. For Thanksgiving, which is this week (huzzah!) I have a whole file folder devoted to previous schedules, recipes, menu plans, notes about didn’t work, dating back to 2001. We’ve never started eating the Thanksgiving year at the same time twice, but I find it very comforting to find these old notes when I’m planning our Thanksgiving extravaganza.

The grease stains and gravy spots in my copy of “How to Eat” will tell you that I’ve used Nigella’s recipes for a roast beef Sunday lunch countless times. The roast beef instructions are clear and work every time. The gravy is delicious and never fails. Controversially, she directs you to make one big Yorkshire pudding rather than four or eight smaller ones, but that’s good too.

Even looking at the photo again is making my mouth water. Once again: Nigella For The Win.

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Sunday Lunch, Roast Beef Edition from “How to Eat”

“Couscous” from “How to Eat”

“How to Eat” has been with me for 19 years. I got it on my first birthday in London in 1999. I had a newborn son and I was still trying to find my feet both as a Londoner and as a mother. My husband gave it to me purely because there was a whole section in the back devoted to how to feed children. Little did I know then how important this cookbook would be to me, 19 years later. It would definitely be one of my Desert Island Cookbooks.

I can’t possible recall when I first made the recipe for couscous, but I do know that once I started making it, I never stopped.

I’ve made this recipe so often now that I know it by heart. 100 grams of couscous to 150 millilitres of stock, and for our family, 300 grams of couscous to 450 millilitres of stock is a good amount. Put the two together, pop a lid on it, wait 10 minutes (or thereabouts), add some olive oil or butter, fluff it up, and it’s done.

In the ensuing years, I’ve adapted and changed this recipe countless times. Some popular variations include: adding roasted vegetables, adding feta, adding chopped flat-leaf parsley, sometimes doing all three. In the above photo, I added a new Waitrose frozen roasted vegetable assortment, which worked a treat.

Couscous carried my boys through their childhood and beyond. Soon after I started making this regularly, a new British friend (who is now an old British friend) said to me, “This couscous is perfect. It’s just the way it should be.” High praise indeed.

Once again, thanks Nigella.

“Couscous” from “How to Eat”

“Minestrone” from “How to Eat”

The air was autumnal, the sky was grey and we had just returned from a week of eating all sorts of goodness in the US (read: fried chicken, pizza, cheesesteaks), so there was only one thing for it– a bowl of healthy soup. Minestrone fit the bill perfectly.

Once again, Nigella did not disappoint. As with all vegetable-centric dishes, the prep– chopping, peeling and the like– is what takes up so much time. But Nigella soothingly tells us in the introduction that you can chop one set of vegetables, throw it in at a low heat, and then move on to prepare the next one. It makes sense.

She does note that the soup does turn out to be “an undeniable khaki,” and that’s true. See above. This is one recipe where it probably is a good thing that there’s no photos in this book.

The one thing that tripped me up was Nigella’s recommendation to use Ligurian olive oil. I spent a fair amount of time in my local Waitrose trying, and failing, to find Ligurian olive oil. I went for the Tuscan olive oil instead, reasoning that it was the next region over, so close enough (though she says the Tuscan stuff is more peppery). But funnily enough, that night we finally sat down to watch “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” on Netflixa cookbook we reviewed earlier this year— and Samin Nosrat goes to Liguria to see them make olive oil. Coincidental or poetic? You decide.

We had loads of leftovers, but I’ve got to say that the soup is even better the next day. Once again, Nigella for the win.

“Minestrone” from “How to Eat”

Cookbook of the Month, November 2018: How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

Maureen: How could we not review this book by the patron saint of our blog?

Kirstin: It’s twenty years since the original release. I was given my copy by a fellow doctor. We both survived the trauma of housejobs together and she gave me the book as a thank you for being her bridesmaid the following year.

Maureen: How did that happen?!?

Kirstin: Seriously, I have no idea!

Maureen: This was the first British cookbook I ever got– Tim gave it to my on my birthday in November 1999. Now that’s taking me back. It’s still on my high-rotation shelf, 19 years later. I learnt so much from this book and made so many things from it, and indeed, still do.

Kirstin: Me too, me too! I’m looking forward to learning some new recipes now I can cook a little better.

Maureen: I know what you mean. It’s such a classic book.

Cookbook of the Month, November 2018: How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

Our Verdict: At My Table

Maureen: Using one of my favourite British expressions, this was a bit of a damp squid.

Kirstin: I agree. Does that make it damp squid squared? I’m not sure I’d want to eat at her At Her Table every night. That sounds really mean, but it’s true.

Maureen: Nigella is so good and so inspirational it just seems a double disappointment.

Kirstin: I forgive her for that, unlike other people we could mention. {Editor’s note: She’s talking about Jamie and his recent slide into writing not-very-good cookbooks.}

Maureen: When I usually get a Nigella cookbook, it’s filled with post-its of the things I want to make. But not this time. I struggled to find something that I wanted to make.

Kirstin: I’m sure the next book will be a triumph.

Maureen: Her first books were all about getting as many people as you could around the table and enjoying a meal. It’s a philosophy that drives me to this day. But this book didn’t have that. The recipes were not inspiring. And she really didn’t talk about the communal aspect of food and how great that is, and that just made me sad.

[At this point, we lost interest in the cookbook and started talking about the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle engagement.]

We know you can do a great one the next time, Nigella.

“At My Table”
Overall Grade (A- F): B- (Kirstin)  C (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Lime & Coriander Chicken and Indian Spiced Traybake. Maureen: Roasted tomato salsa.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  B.
Any disasters? Kirstin: No. Maureen: No.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Low-rotation Bookshelf.  Maureen: I might give it to the charity shop because I know there isn’t anything in there that I’ll cook again, but then again, it is Nigella so I might hold on to it for sentimental reasons only.                                   Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: No. If I were to give a Nigella cookbook to a friend, I would give them “Feast.”

 

Our Verdict: At My Table

“Meatballs with Orzo” from “At My Table”

I was very much looking forward to cooking this recipe, as Nigella created a similar dish in “Nigellissima” that is eaten by this family so often that it’s practically in our food canon.

“Fake Risotto” (see the original post here and see the follow up post here) is so beloved that I’ve already taught 18-year-old Andrew how to make it so when he’s at university next year, he’ll be able to make it for himself.

Alas, this recipe had big shoes– or should that be bowls?– to follow, and it didn’t quite fill them.

To be sure, it was delicious. However, given that you make the meatballs and then poach them in the tomato sauce before finally adding the orzo, it takes more than an hour from start to finish. If I wanted to do something that labour intensive, I’d just make our very favourite meatballs and tomato sauce from Polpo.

It was good, I just won’t be making it again. I’ll either make the original fake risotto if I only have 15 minutes, or Polpo’s meatballs and tomato sauce if I’ve got more than an hour.

“Meatballs with Orzo” from “At My Table”

“Spelt spaghetti with spicy sesame mushrooms” from “At My Table”

Maureen: It’s like Asian spaghetti.

Kirstin: It’s perfect food for a hangover!

Maureen: I’m wondering if you could use wholewheat spaghetti instead of spelt spaghetti.

Kirstin: You probably could. But I liked the challenge finding it this morning. I almost bought soba noodles when I couldn’t find spelt spaghetti at the first shop.

Maureen: So where did you find it in the end?

Kirstin: Sainsbury’s!

Maureen: Not sure the kids would like it though because of the mushrooms, unfortunately because it is good.

Kirstin: What is it with kids and their whole texture nonsense? GRRRRRRR.

Maureen: And it’s probably delicious cold too.

Kirstin: Unless you ate it all like we did!

“Spelt spaghetti with spicy sesame mushrooms” from “At My Table”