I've been 'Cooking the Books' for a few months now. I feel I've got so much better at it, I'm ready to take on the Domestic Goddess herself, Nigella Lawson. After all how hard can it be? I think my cheff-ing skills have really improved now I have learned to follow a recipe.
"I think you mean cooking skills," my husband informs me. "Actually it takes years rather than weeks to become a chef. Even to call yourself a 'cook' might be a stretch." he adds, rather unnecessarily I think.
Challenge accepted. I decide to take a day off and devote it to cooking like Nigella.
Her latest book is Simply Nigella and the accompanying TV series which began last month.
The 400 page tome Simply Nigella is a triumphant return to what she does best.
She writes, "Cooking combines hopefulness with playfulness. These gifts restored to me, this book began to emerge."
The book is divided into enticingly named chapters such as Quick and Calm, Bowlfood, Dine and Breathe. I turn to the chapter called Breathe.
All of the meals are for large families so there is a lot to choose from.
I decide to try the Spiced Lamb Stew. It is a dish that serves eight and is a 'Sunday stalwart' in her house. As I'm feeling confident, I also decide to try the optional Goat's Cheese and Thyme Cobbler topping which she says is "dreamily easy". A couple of pages later is a delicious looking mash potato dish called Make-ahead Mash so I decide to give that a go too.
Buying the ingredients is easy however at €50.65 it is also pretty expensive. This is because of the lamb and the wine. The only thing I can't source is the 3-star anise. I decide we can do without it.
Back in the kitchen, with all the ingredients laid out, the task seems a little more daunting.
The stew is pretty easy to put together and goes in the oven for two hours. Then it is on to the Make-ahead Mash. This could have been made three days before if I was organised - which I'm not. Once the potato is mashed, it takes 250ml of sour cream (which means I have to buy two 200ml pots) and a large amount of butter. Parmesan, nutmeg, pepper and sea salt are added - then the whole thing goes in a pan with a topping of breadcrumbs, parmesan and more butter. Lastly, it is on to the cobbler topping. Nigella says: "These are really a doddle to make... Indeed, the very act of making them reduces rather than adds to any stress." She's right. I spend some time choosing the right implement to cut them - obviously I have no cookie cutters but I find a wine glass with exactly the right size brim - and I carefully shape them into 20 cobbler-scones. I place them on top of the stew and brush them with egg wash.
Everyone seems duly impressed. I get the thumbs up all round. It took me an entire day to produce dinner, but I feel it was a day well spent. Even after all six of us have eaten there is still enough left for a second meal.