It must be at least four years now during which my sister has been nagging me to write her a cook book or at least give her menu plans for the daily slog of feeding her family. It’s not that she’s an unenthusiastic eater, or cook for that matter, in fact as long as she’s not had too much wine Sarah can be very excitable in the kitchen! After that though things can go downhill and usually at a dinner party at their house someone will have to take over the cooking, because following a lovely starter of (if you’re lucky) her delicious crab tart, she’ll have forgotten all about the sautéed potatoes blackening on the aga, and you can kiss goodbye to any hope of the toffee sauce for the sticky pudding – unless a gallant guest steps in you may as well just thank your lucky stars you cleverly had seconds of that tart, give up hope of any further solid sustenance, and join her in dancing round the table as a backing singer, screeching ‘Bat out of Hell’ into a wine bottle microphone. Oh yes, we know how to live!
She loves food though and gets pleasure from cooking, just more so from dancing, singing, gig rowing, partying and pilates; and with her own business, 4 kids, 2 dogs, 2 cats (at least I think Snoopdog is still alive?) and a shed load of mates who’d quite rightly rather have fun than a clean house, feeding takes a back seat in the order of things. Her husband John will regularly step in and knock up supper, but in the chaos of it all quite often 3-year-old Lizzie will be found asleep on the worktop having exhausted herself trying to break into the snack box, poor love. Now, you must take anything I say with a pinch of salt, I don’t want any good Samaritans calling child services. So for that reason perhaps I should use pseudonyms for members of the Wickins family.
Sarah dreams of work, of bedlam, of children, of partying, and of Mulberry handbags. I spent most of last night dreaming of a sausage pasta dish I’m yet to try.
Anyway on the back of her harassing I finally wrote 4 weeks’ worth of November menus, just as an example, and emailed them to Sarah for feedback. I just really wanted her general opinion. Were the menus enticing? Did they look simple enough? Might the kids be willing to eat ANY of them? Did they seem like a good weekly balance? Were any dishes too ‘out there’ in her opinion?
I did not expect to be hounded with telephone calls while I was trying to arrange made-to-order curtains in John Lewis last Saturday (Jesus, did I really just confess that?, time to get OUT MORE!) because Sarah needed her shopping list for week one. My ‘I’m too busy’ ‘leave me alone, it’s the weekend’ excuses didn’t wash. She had the bit between her teeth – and if any of you know her you’ll know when to give up – and was determined to commence project “stuffed challenge”, so I duly emailed the shopping list only to be told that you couldn’t get a bloody pumpkin anywhere in Cornwall post-Halloween so just what exactly was she supposed to replace Caribbean Chicken Stew with?! So between us we ad-libbed to avert the emergency and last night’s stew was awarded 8.71 out of 10 from the family, even 15-year-old Dan ate a parsnip, a near miracle believe me, but I was marked down by Lizzie, 3, who just had the mash with ketchup. Rest assured we will be having words when I next see her.
Tonight’s dish is a sausage and puy lentil casserole which I will blog soon in honour of British Sausage Week, and then tomorrow it’s French Onion Soup. Now I was just drawn to this, probably on the back of a mainly ‘Dukan’ lifestyle this year, and I’m getting a bit sick of meat so have recently taken to roasting lots of root vegetables and making warm barley salads which I’m sure is in retaliation after all that protein! However despite this being a vegetarian (if you overlook a couple of litres of beef stock!) soup, it feels like a proper meal thanks to its topping of thick toasted bread and masses of gruyère and parmesan melted under the grill till golden and bubbling and big globules have dropped down into the rich deep-brown broth to get scooped up on the occasional spoonful like lucky-dip prizes of chewy, cheesy, oozy lushness.
French Onion Soup
Recipe by Lucas Hollweg in a recent Sunday Times Magazine
Ingredients (for 4):
- 50 g butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 kg brown onions, peeled and sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tbsp thyme leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- 200 ml port
- 1.5 litres beef stock (I used Knorr ‘stock pot’)
- salt & pepper
- 12 slices of baguette or 6 slices of sourdough cut in half
- 100 g grated gruyère cheese
- 50 g grated parmesan cheese
Heat the butter and the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Stir over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat a bit, put a lid on, then cook for another 35 minutes until the onions are really soft and starting to brown. Stir occasionally.
Remove the lid, turn up the heat and cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring often until the onions are sticky and golden, taking care not to burn them.
Pour in the port and let it bubble for a couple of minutes, scraping up the sticky bits on the bottom of the pan, then add the stock, reduce the heat, and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile toast the bread and mix the 2 cheeses together. Heat the grill to medium/high. Put 4 heat-proof bowls onto an oven tray and ladle the soup into them. Lay 3 slices of toasted bread on top of each bowl, and scatter over the cheese. Place under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese is golden. It’s quite tempting to dive straight in, but eat with caution and beware burnt tongues!