“Caramelized Onion and Beef Stew” from “Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound”

I have never been a fan of beef stew. Never, ever, ever. Every year on our birthdays, my mom would let us pick our favourite meal. Every year my brother Tom always picked stew. I always thought he was wasting his choice, because to my mind beef stew was disgusting and shouldn’t been consumed on any day of the year, let alone your birthday. (My choice, if you’re wondering, was lasagna. Yum.)

Fast forward a few decades. Needless to say, my palate and food choices have become much wider. I’ve eaten things I would have never dreamed possible in suburban New Jersey in the 1980s. Since I got married, my husband, who likes stew, kept telling me I would like it. I’d look at the component parts in the recipe and figured I’d give it another go. Given that I didn’t mind the component parts, surely as an older and wiser woman I would like beef stew.

As I’ve tried a variety of recipes, both here on Cookbook A Month and on my own, the results have been mixed. While I certainly have moved away from the “I Hate All Beef Stew” opinion, it’s never a sure bet that I’ll like it.

I’ll spare you the suspense: I liked this one! It made the house smell nice on a cold February afternoon, it was from the long-and-slow school of cooking, which I love, and it was delicious. Kudos to the fine butchers at Dring’s who not only helped me pick out the correct beef, but also gave me the most excellent tip to make dumplings for the top, which were fantastic.

However– and there’s always a however to ruin the fun– while I liked it, the other two-thirds of my family did not. For this stew, you add some lemon peel for the slow cook. They thought the lemon taste was too overwhelming and didn’t fit in with beef stew. I disagreed, saying that it made the dish lighter and more interesting. Regardless, it was not a 100 percent success, so I don’t know if I’ll be making it again.

Too bad.

“Caramelized Onion and Beef Stew” from “Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound”

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.

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

“Carnival Lasagna” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

When we saw the name of this dish– Carnival Lasagna– it seemed the perfect thing to make as we head into the final weeks/days/hours of Andrew being at home before he heads off to the great adventure that is university life. Who doesn’t love a carnival? And indeed, this dish seems perfect for a big family gathering or a party. More pertinently, a carnival might also be just what we need as we all get a bit wistful about his departure.

We set aside a Sunday afternoon to get this done. You could just tell by looking at the three pages of photographs and one full page of instructions this was going to be a PROJECT. We were fine with that, because after all, isn’t that what Sunday afternoons are for?

It was a team effort. You have to make pasta dough for the lattice on the top, which Tim made. You also have to make meatballs and tomato sauce to layer in, which I made. We both kept an eye on the kilo of spaghetti we had to cook to put inside. Assembly was also largely a team effort.

You can imagine the relief we felt when it was finally time to eat. We figured it would be good, and we also figured that everyone would love it, given the ingredients.

The verdict? “This is just basically just spaghetti and meatballs, in pie form,” Andrew said after one bite. That’s really not the reaction we were hoping for after hours of cooking. But he was right. Even so, it was delicious, and it was even better as leftovers for lunch the next day.

This truly would be the perfect meal for a huge gathering of people. You could make it ahead of time, and put it in the oven when the guests arrive. Then once it’s time to eat, all you have to do is bake it and slice it. The picture above doesn’t really do it justice, but trust me, it’s a dramatic dish.

But when I make it again, I’ll modify some of the more fiddly bits. The meatballs, which are fried and then poached in the tomato sauce, were really good, but it took an age to fish them out of the tomato sauce. So the next time, I’ll just roast the meatballs like I always do, and then toss them in a bit of tomato sauce before layering them in– that will be much easier. Although the pie would be fine without the lattice on the top, it does add something extra to the dish, so I guess I would do that again. The next time I’d also add more prosciutto and cheese to the dish, but that’s just down to personal preference.

All in all, it was an excellent way to kick off a month of Italian eating with Jamie Oliver.

“Carnival Lasagna” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

A Summer Sunday Lunch from “How to Eat a Peach”

That’s not what the lovely Diana Henry called it, but that’s what I’m calling it because that’s what it was. On this particular Sunday, I made “Crostini with Crushed Broad Beans & Nduja” along with “Roast Sea Bass with Fennl & Anise Aïoli” and “Tomatoes Provençales aux Anchois.”

It’s been an unusually hot summer here in London, which has been lovely, for the most part. I mean, it did start to get a bit old when all of our grass died and I had to wake up every morning at 7 a.m. to walk our dog before the heat of the day set in. But by and large, it’s been nice. However, living in such unusual heat did have its fair share of cooking challenges because often I just couldn’t face cooking because that would only make me hotter.

As Kirstin said before, this cookbook is unusual in that it’s organised by menu rather than courses. This does make it difficult to find something to make for, say, a hot Wednesday night. But if you’re planning on spending some time on a meal, which is often the case for me on Sundays, this would be a good book for that. She also helpfully organises the book by “Spring and Summer” and “Autumn and Winter,” which meant I kept to the first half of the book this time of year.

Roasting a whole sea bass is certainly a treat because it’s definitely more expensive than our usual meals. But it looks impressive when you bring it to the table, and once it’s all said and done, it’s a pretty easy dish to make, which would be perfect for a dinner party. We loved the fish.

Half of the family liked the the tomatoes provençales– the half of the family that loves tomatoes. The other half wasn’t so keen, but I don’t think that was a failure of the recipe, but instead a failure of their taste buds (I am in the half of the family that LOVES tomatoes). For what it’s worth, I cut up one of the leftover ones and added it to scrambled eggs the next morning for breakfast and it was delicious too.

Unfortunately, given that everything else was so good, the crostini was a total faff and definitely more trouble than it was worth. Cooking, podding and mashing the beans took a ridiculously long time. Crostini, which is just fancy toast, really is delicious but I’m not going to spend an hour getting the ingredient that goes on top ready. Next time I’ll follow her alternative suggestion and use peas instead and use the time I saved reading a good book.

But all in all, a delicious summer Sunday lunch.

 

A Summer Sunday Lunch from “How to Eat a Peach”

“Pulled Beef Brisket in a Bun” from “Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes”

IMG_6107Want to make this yourself? The BBC has the recipe, which you’ll find by clicking through this sentence.

Maureen: This is the cover star of this month’s cookbook, you know.

Nicholas (11): Yum. Brisket.

Maureen: You know, I was never a fan of brisket until a few years ago. Now I love it. Though I did get repetitive stress injury from pounding out all the spices for the rub. But I think it was worth it.

Andrew (15): This is fantastic. I really love it.

Maureen: I have to note for the record that you guys don’t actually have the alcoholic-laden barbecue sauce. Only the normal stuff, that I bought off the shelf. I didn’t think you’d appreciate the strong taste of bourbon. Between this and the tart, I’m beginning to think that Tom Kerridge really loves the taste of alcohol in his food.

Tim: That much is obvious. What does everyone think the milk buns I made?

Maureen: Delicious. Having home-made bread always makes all the difference. The cole slaw is good too, even if the boys aren’t eating that.

Tim: That’s not a surprise, is it?

Maureen: Not a surprise, but still disappointing.

Tim: This is ALL GOOD. I’d give it 9 out 10 stars. Would eat again.

Andrew: Me too.

Nicholas: Me too.

Maureen: It’s unanimous. We will definitely be eating this again.

 

“Pulled Beef Brisket in a Bun” from “Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes”

“Cottage Pie with Dauphinois Potato Topping” from “Mary Berry Cooks”

Anna: This hasn’t worked. It may be because I didn’t par boil the potatoes for long enough, but I’m disappointed.

Peter: It’s not really a cottage pie without a mashed potato top.

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Anna: If it had a mashed potato top it would be great, as the mince is really nice. But the cream has seeped into it which making it look grey, which isn’t very appetising. And some of the potatoes aren’t cooked properly.

Peter: I don’t think the embellishments have made any improvement to what should be a simple dish.

Anna: No. I’m glad that we didn’t have anyone round to share this with as it looks a mess on the plate. Disappointing.

“Cottage Pie with Dauphinois Potato Topping” from “Mary Berry Cooks”

“Mothership Sunday Roast Chicken” from “Save With Jamie”

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaureen: Sunday lunch starring roast chicken! My favourite!

Nicholas (10): I love roast chicken. I bagsy* one of the legs. (For those readers among us who are unfamiliar with this fantastic British word, it means “claim”.)

Tim: I get the other one.

Maureen: Fair enough. What does everyone think?

Andrew: I’m not sure about the carrots.

Maureen: When you say, “not sure,” do you really mean, “I don’t like.”

Andrew (14): Well, no. Before I wasn’t sure. But now that I’ve had a few bites, I now know I mean I don’t like them.

Nicholas: I don’t like them either, and you know how much I like carrots.

Maureen: What don’t you like about them. Is it all the orange zest?

Nicholas: I guess so. I just prefer the other type you always make.

Maureen: OK. I’ll go back to the usual way the next time. I’ve been making that version, with carrots and honey, for years. That’s a Jamie recipe too. (Important note: I spent a good amount of time following this Sunday lunch trying to find exactly what Jamie book our beloved carrot recipe  is from, but to no avail. So I’m pretty sure it’s a Jamie recipe, but now I have to proof to back it up. This is the problem with having more than 150 cookbooks. Things can get muddled over time.)

Tim: The chicken is good, but I can’t see how it’s much different from any other roast chicken we’ve had over the years.

Maureen: I think the ability to be creative with a roast chicken recipe is somewhat limited. This version is fine and it works. The good thing about it, particularly for less confident cooks, is it includes directions on all the side vegetables to have with it. That’s a nice touch.

Nicholas: Other than the carrots, which we already decided we didn’t like.

Maureen: Fair enough. (Looking at the nearly empty serving platter). There’s one problem with this recipe though: We’re supposed to get two meals out of it.

Tim: Ha! Well, we do have a teenage boy at the table, and we are greedy when it comes to roast chicken, so maybe that’s the difference.

Cook’s Notes: Once I followed Jamie’s instructions to the letter, I realised that amendments were going to have to be made, otherwise we were going to end up having a variation of brown water on top of our chicken. So after I added just plain water, and tasted the flavourless “gravy,” I added the necessary amount of chicken stock cubes. So if you do make this, don’t add 600 ml of boiling water, add 600ml of chicken stock. You can thank me later.)

 

“Mothership Sunday Roast Chicken” from “Save With Jamie”