Sophie Dahl: 'I've made a rock-like cake or two in the past, but not any more'
Sunday 16 October 2011
My earliest food memory... Going to lunch at my paternal grandparents' house in Sussex. We'd drive down from London, and the journey there used to feel interminable. I remember the relief of getting out of the car and opening the front door and the smell of Sunday lunch wafting out.
My store-cupboard essentials... Eggs, because if all else fails, you can make a frittata. Also, vanilla pods are useful little fellows: I put them in cream if I'm serving it with pudding, and use them to make custard, and the other day I put one in a chicken stew. And I've been making lavender shortbread recently, so my kitchen now has a place for dried lavender, like an old granny's.
My favourite cookbook... A Year at Ballymaloe by Darina Allen. It's a master cookbook, and so straightforward and practical: there's no fussing. A formative cookbook for me was Nigella Lawson's How to Eat. Its warm, conversational tone is wonderful. When I began cooking a lot, in my early twenties, I'd never read anything like it and I think I cooked everything in it, from cover to cover.
The kitchen gadget I can't live without... Probably my blender. I'm the queen of blending, particularly at the moment, because of all the baby purées I'm making [Dahl had her first baby, Lyra, in March]. I also love my KitchenAid mixer: I've made a rock-like cake or two in the past, but not any more.
My culinary tip... Have a sense of humour about cooking, be fearless and don't listen to other people. I remember being home alone when I was about 13 and making a soufflé from a recipe in one of my mother's old cookbooks. I approached it in a very unafraid way, and produced a rather beautiful one. Then the grown-ups came home and made such a fuss about it and how hard it was to make them, and whenever I tried to make them after that, they would always fall flat. My cooking is incredibly haphazard, but I've never pretended it was anything else. That's the joy of the process: discovering when something really works and when it really doesn't.
My favourite food shop... In London, it's [the cheese shop] La Fromagerie – it's a deeply shallow thing, but it's so beautiful, like walking into a painting. And in New York, Murray's cheese shop in the West Village. I used to live round the corner from it, and it's got epic cheeses, yet they're very good-humoured there: it's very accessible and it doesn't feel like you can't touch things.
My tipple of choice... If it's with dinner, a good white burgundy, and if it's a cocktail, a mojito. The most amazing one I ever had was at Ernest Hemingway's favourite bar in Havana.
My top table... Larsen's Fish Market in Menemsha in Martha's Vineyard [Massachusetts], where my granny lived until she died last year. There aren't any tables: you just get a steamed lobster or crab or mussels, some melted butter and a little tub of coleslaw and eat it on the pier with your legs swinging off the end of the dock.
My guilty pleasure... Aeroplane food. I dig it in a comforting, cotton-woolly sort of way. I really like flying, so getting that little tray is part of the ritual. And a thick, malty American-diner milkshake: my favourite flavour is chocolate and peanut butter.
My pet hates... I love anchovies in sauces, but on their own, they're repellent: their lurid pink bodies spook me out. Also I really loathe it when people over-boil hard-boiled eggs so they get a horrible green outer layer; it reminds me of school Scotch eggs. And I'm not mad about foams: I don't really understand them. I'm not a foam type and I don't think foam types would approve of me.
Sophie Dahl is a food writer. Her new book, 'From Season to Season: A Year in Recipes', is published by HarperCollins, priced £20
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