I've written about this book a couple of times since it came out last last September, most recently in March just before lockdown started. I'm writing about it again because it's one of the books that keeps rescuing me.
I need a bit of rescue because Leicester is still in partial lockdown. Shops are open and so are a lot of the pubs, restaurants, and cafes, but crucially we're not meant to meet in houses or private gardens, or meet other households in public places unless they're part of a social bubble for single people. To be honest I have no idea how carefully people are adhering to whatever the current rules are - appearances suggest not much, especially now schools have gone back here.
My own lockdown observance took a significant hit this time last week - the beginning of last week was comprehensively spoiled by evidence of more water coming into my bathroom from upstairs (anyone who knows, or follows me, will know this is a recurring theme). Sometime around midnight last Friday it ceased to be a problem when the buildings pumps failed and all the flats were left without water. No water in a city still in partial lockdown is no joke, inconvenient at the best of times, there's a distinct lack of public toilets open, or swimming pools, or gyms, or public spaces where you might keep warm, dry, and feel safe from infection for any length of time. I decamped.
When I returned it was to realise that the damp patch in the bathroom was turning into a rapidly worsening stream of water coming down the wall and doing serious damage to the plaster board. Discovering this after 5pm is never great, trying to get hold of building managers and letting agents and all the rest of it when so many people are still working from home isn't easy either. Everything appears to be working properly now, please keep your fingers crossed for me that it remains so!
It's a status that seemed worthy of a proper celebration so I'm writing this full of seared and roast duck breasts with Asian flavoured plums (and cabbage) courtesy of M&S having duck breasts on offer and 'From The Oven to the Table'. Now I have 2 more things to celebrate. The first is that I've finally discovered how to cook a duck breast satisfactorily (to be fair the packet more or less gave the same instructions as Diana, but they never used to and I always used to end up with something so rubbery it could have bounced), it turns out that searing and then roasting is the trick. The second is that this didn't take much over half an hour to prepare and cook (it helped that the plums were really ripe) and it was delicious.
Readers of this blog will know that I enthuse about Diana Henry's books almost as often as my flat suffers water damage (both have happened a lot), but until now 'Salt, Suger, Smoke' has been the one I used the most. That's changed with 'From the Oven to the Table' which without much thought has remained this years go to book for when I want something really good. Every one of the several recipes I've tried has become a kitchen staple (duly transcribed and scaled down in a notebook). Not being able to share this food has been one of the smaller but persistent frustrations of lock down.
I don't quite know what the specific alchemy is between me and this particular book. The recipes are very much in classic Diana Henry style, so why it's this one and not say 'Simple' that I keep turning to is a mystery to me, or why the chicken thigh chapter here rather than in 'A Bird in the Hand? I just know that it is so. The baked rice with orange feta and dill (and olives but I don't much like them) is so good it has become my ultimate comfort food. The last things I cooked for others were the pork in marsala, and the Arroz Al Horno - and it's cold enough today to make that seem appealing again.
Maybe it's the whole oven to table concept that works so well for me, it's certainly appealing when your cooking for yourself to be able to bung everything in the oven and leave it be until it's done. Especially when you're not compromising on flavour or variety. Whatever it is, I love this book, it's made me happy time after time in this difficult year, and that seems like something worth sharing and shouting about.