A tribute to The Delicious Miss Dahl

The Delicious Miss Dahl is the food-TV equivalent of a meringue. Aesthetically pleasing, but totally lacking in substance.

For the last six weeks I have watched as Sophie, in her impossibly beautiful kitchen (which, it transpires, is not even hers and is being hired for the purpose), goes through the entire emotional spectrum available to human beings (melancholy, escapist, celebratory, nostalgic, selfish, romantic) and shows you how to cook dishes to suit each mood.

Except she doesn't really show you how to cook at all...she giggles away at the camera and talks nostalgically about her rather idyllic-sounding youth (all roast chickens and apple crumbles and learning cooking at her grandmother's knee, apparently), and makes risque remarks about certain foodstuffs (anyone else fantasise about mozzarella? Nope? Just her then) while pouting at the camera, and showing a bit of cleavage - but it's OK, because said low-cut item is nearly always teamed with a shapeless cardigan, no doubt to avoid charges of pornography. And as if that wasn't enough, there are utterly pointless interludes, all filmed in sepia, I might add, in which Sophie does things like sit in a train station or walk on the beach. Reading the BBC summaries of the episodes will give you some idea as to the totally arbitrary nature of such scenes:
"To ground her firmly back in Britain, she takes a nostalgic train journey through the countryside and finds herself on a windy British beach recalling chilly childhood holidays. "
"Next, Sophie locks herself away in the shed at the end of the garden and, while reading hopeless poetry, she treats herself to the perfect chocolate sauce poured over ice cream. But her soul craves the curative power of chicken soup and this brings her back to the kitchen"
"To banish the week's blues entirely, she visits a saree shop and acquires an exotic new tablecloth, which inspires her final meal of the weekend: Sophie's dhal with lemon and saffron spiced rice. By the end of this culinary adventure she feels ready to handle Monday again."
(What I love about that is that it makes her sound like a normal person with a dreary run-of-the-mill job, for whom Mondays probably are something to dread. Except Mondays for Miss Dahl probably mean a series of glamorous modelling assignments or photo shoots, rather than another day at the office where cups of tea become highlights in the day)

Other great moments included her trip to a graveyard for the sheer "romance" of it, and the bits where she sits in a chair reading poetry - particularly the one where she was reading Dryden, but the book in her hand wasn't Dryden. At least she avoided this scenario:

I guess we are meant to gather from all this that she has the perfect lifestyle, but is "just like us" in that she gets melancholy too. Except what average human being has bunting decking their garden all year round, Cath Kidson everything, and more vintage items (both culinary and sartorial) than you could shake a pearl necklace at? Similarly, what human being could eat an Omelette Arnold Bennett for breakfast, followed by huge pieces of mozzarella bruschetta for lunch, followed by halibut with sweet potato chips and a chocolate pot (chocolate and cream...that's basically it) for dinner and not consider bulimia afterwards? I can see why at one point Sophie was "round as a Rubens", as she herself professes.

You watch it to aspire to Sophie's fictional lifestyle. And to look at what she's making, think "Oh, that looks nice - I've seen something like that before", and go away without any real inclination to find the recipes out. I know how to make a victoria sponge, flapjack, chocolate sauce (she quite literally melted chocolate with some cream and put it on ice cream), salad, and Eton mess. I know how to cook fish and make crab cakes and chicken soup. Another great moment was when Sophie was extolling the delights of the perfect roast chicken as she made said soup - conveniently forgetting to mention that she is in fact a vegetarian (though eats fish). She did in one episode make a shepherd's pie, and inexplicably made it with beef rather than lamb, saying that she didn't think it mattered as it could refer to either meat. Er, Sophie, why do you think we have shepherd's pie AND cottage pie?

In order to determine whether Sophie's recipes are entirely a question of style over substance, I decided to try a couple of them - prompted by an excellent Sophie-viewing sesh with my friend Clare (artfully posing in true Sophie style with Dryden, above). Firstly, there was a chargrilled red pepper, chicory and squid salad with a herb and lime dressing. Characteristically, no real skill involved - I grilled some peppers, pan-fried some squid, shredded some chicory and put it in a bowl with a dressing made of basil, coriander, lime juice, garlic and olive oil.

And I have to say, it was absolutely delicious. One of those recipes where you can't quite imagine it working until you've tried it, and it was wonderful. I will definitely be making it again. I have to thank Sophie for that.

And then, in the spirit of "escapism", Sophie made a rice pudding with spiced plums. She for no apparent reason uses basmati rice instead of pudding rice, so I did too. And it was also quite nice. The plum compote - star anise, plums, orange juice, cloves, ginger syrup - was very similar to one I make for my porridge, and the rice - spiced with cardamom and cinnamon and sprinkled with flaked almonds - was lovely and fragrant but a bit too sweet for my liking.

Sophie, Sophie...she may make fairly generic dishes that aren't going to set the world on fire, but she does make a good squid salad. And obviously, the bitchiness of this post is entirely down to the fact that I would probably sell my pasta machine AND cook's blowtorch to look like her. 

Wouldn't you?