It followed me home…can I keep it?

I need another cookbook like a need a hole in the head, but that doesn’t stop me from checking out new ones from the library. And now one of them has decided it must come to live with me for good (i.e., I’m putting it on my Christmas list).

Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights has indeed proved too delightful to bear living without. In case you haven’t heard of Sophie Dahl, she was a plus-size model about a decade ago, until she lost weight. Many people felt that this was some kind of a betrayal, but I always felt “Hey, it’s her body, she can lose weight if she wants. Sheesh!”

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this book was that Miss Dahl weaves a bit of autobiography through the sections of recipes (they are divided up by the seasons, with a separate section at the end for desserts). She talks about being a schoolgirl with “a big arse” who didn’t know when to put down the chocolate cake, to her modeling days of being frequently photographed naked because sample size clothing didn’t fit her, to the various life lessons that led her to a place where she can enjoy eating lovely food and still be healthy and trim. And that’s really lovely.

On the whole, I enjoyed her writing (since she’s written a novel, I am quite confident that she wrote the text in this book herself)), especially the Britishisms naturally sprinkled throughout. And never before have I seen a woman’s figure described as “creamily voluptuous.” How delightful.

Specifically, she says a few things that made me sit up and say, “Yes…exactly!” For example:

“Suddenly [my body] was within my jurisdiction again. In that time came realization number one – which was that my body belonged to me and I alone held its fate, good or bad, in my hands.”

“I learned the foundations of good eating, and began to find the balance of it. I realized there wasn’t some secret code to crack, that the ‘secret’ could be found in the straightforward mentality of my grandmother, and most grandmothers the world over. Responding to fad trends in eating can be potentially problematic and confusing.”

If I had to classify the recipes in Miss Dahl’s book it would be as such: Healthy comfort food with reasonably short ingredient lists. This isn’t fancy cuisine, but it all looks delicious. Many of the recipes are quite family-friendly, and others would suit just fine for entertaining. The book, with it’s lovely photos of food, and raw ingredients like apples, and of Miss Dahl herself cooking, reminds me of a Nigella Lawson book, but with a bit of a health angle. (I love Nigella, and have several of her books.)

One food I’d been craving since I was in the hospital is rice pudding. I don’t think it was on the hospital menu, but I wouldn’t have ordered it if it was: I adore a good rice pudding, and I would have cried if I’d been served some inferior glop. It’s bad enough that I ate hospital oatmeal, but at least there I was braced for the worst.

Anyhoo…the first recipe I pounced on in Miss Dahl’s book was the one for Cardamom Rice Pudding. And let me just say this: Yum! I halved the recipe and used brown basmati rice, but followed the rest of the recipe to the letter and it turned out perfectly. Here is the recipe in it’s orginal form:

Cardamom Rice Pudding
Serves 6-8

5 1/2 cups milk of your choice (she uses 2%, as did I)
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 cardamom pods
1/2 cup superfine sugar or 1/2 cup of maple syrup
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Pour milk into a big heavy-bottomed pan with the cinnamon stick. Bring it to the boil and stir in the rice and vanilla extract. Simmer on a very low heat for about 30 minutes, making sure that you keep stirring so the rice does not stick to the pan.

In a pestle and mortar, crush the cardamom pods and extract their seeds. Throw the pods away and add the crushed seeds to the sugar. (If you are using maple syrup instead of sugar, add the seeds separately to the rice pan now.)

When the rice looks like a soupy milky risotto, stir in the raisins, almonds and cardamom sugar (or maple syrup) and cook for another 5-10 minutes on low, adding more milk if it starts to get dry.