Cookery Challenge Day Three

Final day of the Cookery Challenge today and I will admit that my spirits were low. Yesterday’s effort didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped and I’ve been feeling unwell the last couple of days. However, those of you who followed the infamous Bus Challenge will know that I always see a task through, even those that are self-inflicted. So. Onwards.

Luckily, I consulted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Everyday in the afternoon as I hadn’t realised my planned meal would take two and a half hours to cook. But it turned out to be super easy: minimum chopping, maximum stewing away in the oven. So, my lamb with lemon and pearl barley was really rather good:

How bloody wholesome does that look?! I served it with warm rye bread too. Om nom nom.

I ad lib-ed again today and replaced the pearl barley with a broth mixture from Tesco, which included split lentils and peas, as well as pearl barley. You know, for a bit of variety. However, it is apparent that there’s a good reason for Hugh writing the recipe to specifically include pearl barley. I’d also add slightly less lemon juice next time, I think.

So what have we learnt this week?

1. I can cook rice if I just follow simple instructions

2. I need to practice chopping and I need to man up around a sizzling pan

3. I now know a really good curry recipe, a really good marinade and a really good slow-cook casserole and thus my cooking repertoire is expanding

4. Split lentils take longer to cook than pearl barley

5. There is no supermarket in Worcester or Droitwich that sells polenta

6. I could benefit from using fewer utensils and making less of a mess

The most important lesson, though, is that I’ve enjoyed the challenge. There have been ups and downs (yes, I really have only been doing this for three days – bear with me) but it’s been satisfying to eat meals cooked by my own fair hands and I think Chris has enjoyed the break, despite his input yesterday.

My next challenge has to be to keep this up, surely…


Cookery Challenge Day Two

I’ll be honest, Day Two didn’t go quite as well as Day One. The results were delicious but it was quite a trial getting there, unfortunately, and I had to call in the sous chef for some assistance (on the grounds that we’d have never eaten if I hadn’t).

The dish should have been venison with creamy beans from Jamie Oliver’s America book. However, snow prevented me from purchasing the required venison, so I used neck of lamb that I had in the fridge instead. This proved to be a worthy substitute and I am pleased by my ability to adapt. Surely a sign of an improving cook?

However, there was a lot of chopping required: onions, carrot, bacon, all into tiny cubes. I resorted to a pestle and mortar for the thyme and rosemary. Also, I’m not particularly confident in terms of cooking a piece of meat like that in a big, hot pan without cremating it or serving it raw. So I didn’t quite get the lovely pink slices of lamb like the photo in the book but it wasn’t too overcooked. The broad beans were though, as you can see in the photo below, just needed to take the pan off the heat slightly earlier.

Anyway, here’s the results:

(I’d just like to point out that the lamb isn’t burnt – it has been marinated in balsamic vinegar and it’s all caramelised and wonderful.)

Now, before I can embark on Day Three, I need to find somewhere that sells pearl barley and polenta…

Cookery Challenge, Day One

Yesterday, I announced (yes, announced) my New Year Cookery Challenge, which began today. It started badly – with Waitrose failing miserably to stock most of the necessary ingredients – but, that little hiccup resolved, I’m quite pleased with the results:

This is chicken curry made from scratch, using a recipe from Sophie Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights. I deliberately started with something simple, and this really was. In fact, I intend to start making this instead of using sauces from a jar in future. The red chilli garnish was my own addition, of which I am particularly proud.

Things I learnt:

1. I need to practice chopping.

2. Cooking is much more fun when accompanied by my own choice of music (Emma Pollack, Arcade Fire and …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead today).

3. I can cook rice after all. I just need to follow the instructions on the packet more often.

Here’s to Day Two!


This afternoon, I talked to Omar about new year’s resolutions (on the phone, because he’s doing this digital cleanse thing and, other than writing him a letter, it’s the only way we can communicate for the time being, but it’s nice so I don’t really mind). I explained that it’s pointless repeating my typical resolutions – usually to stop biting my nails and to get more exercise – because I’ve resolved to do those things year after year. Despite managing to grow my nails for our wedding in May, they’re currently bitten down to the quick. And I can’t remember the last exercise I did.


A couple of years ago, I resolved to see more live music and (surprise, surprise) it’s one new year’s resolution I have managed to stick to. So, this year, I’m going to get a balance between the two and try to make more time to cook (I was originally planning to try to enjoy cooking but Omar pointed out that forcing myself to enjoy something would go the way of the nail biting and exercise).

I don’t cook very often; I’m lucky enough to be married to a man who enjoys cooking and is naturally very good at it. I tend to tell people that I don’t enjoy it but that’s not really true. I’m just not particularly confident, so things go wrong or it takes an age to make the simplest dish, and I can’t be bothered with faffing about in the kitchen when there are so many other demands on my time. When I remove these factors, for example when I spend a Sunday afternoon baking a cake (I’m good at baking because it requires the precise following of a recipe), I really enjoy it.

I’m going to mark the beginning of a year in which I intend to make more time to cook by trying something new. For Christmas, Chris and I got three different cookery books as gifts (although I don’t cook, I adore reading cookery books). And I have three more days at home before I return to work. So, for each of those three days off, I’m going to take the time to cook a meal from one of those three books. And Chris is going to guess which book it came from.

Starting tomorrow…