Just when I thought Nigella couldn’t possibly produce another cookbook, she came out with this nearly-500 page heavyweight “Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home.” (Knopf Canada)
Like many of her previous cookbooks, this one is meant to give us a glimpse into her household, by way of her feel-good food solutions for the harried weekday cook. Can this book live up to the high standard of past success?
I’ve interviewed Nigella in the past and she was nothing if not utterly charming. Exactly what you’d expect. But lately, I will sadly admit, some of her recipes have been hit or miss.
I am going to take partial responsibility for this though, because I don’t embark on any of her recipes without keeping in mind she is not a professional chef.
Nor does she pretend to be. While I follow some pastry recipes with military discipline, there are some recipes, like Nigella’s, that I use as a loose guideline.She is a former journalist who loves food, not a trained professional. She is unabashedly voluptuous and she is married to one of the U.K.’s richest men and yet she still finds the time to pursue her passion, and make cookies with children. I’m rather envious that she can make it all work with such grace, such aplomb, even while admitting she’s a “domestic catastrophe.” Not to be naive, I’m sure she must have help, but it can be be emotionally taxing to overbook your life and she does not betray any signs of this.
My quick and dirty review of the recipes I tried:
Coffee toffee meringues: As the kids would say these days, this was a big “fail.” (See the photo to the right). And yet, as it crumbled under my tongue, I couldn’t help letting forth an audible hiss and pronouncing to myself “this may be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.” Sure, the meringue was a bit fat, flat fail, because it didn’t rise. Again. This is not the first time my meringues have fallen flat. And it probably won’t be the last, because I am obviously doing something wrong because they emerged as discs, but they were just delicious. A spectacular marriage of flavours. And I might even make it again in the hopes that it will fall flat. Imagine this in a few perfectly round scoops of vanilla bean ice cream. Wouldn’t that be just scrumptious?
Chocolate banana muffins: I’ve said all I have to say on this topic in a previous post, so head over there whenever you’re ready.
Everyday brownies: These were yummy, yes, but any recipe that combines brown sugar, vanilla extract, milk chocolate “chopped into small nuggety chunks,” butter, flour and eggs is bound to taste good. How’d they turn out? Well, I wouldn’t call them brownies. They were more like a gloppy mess of brown stuff that I could barely cut into squares. In fact, the cooking time was so off that I had to keep them in the oven for an extra half hour because the middle was not just squishy but completely uncooked. By the time I pulled them out, the outside edges had completely burned. Another fail, fail, fail.
So – should you buy this book? Despite my quick and dirty reviews above – yes. Yes, if you appreciate Nigella’s flair for words, zest for life, honest instructions that don’t beat you over the head with exacting force should you miss an ingredient, and that take into account busy lifestyles where you do not have hours — or even half an hour — to watch a simmering pot. She seems to understand what it is we are looking for – short ingredient lists, big, bold carefully-styled photographs – including of her wearing a red silky robe, dozens of express-style recipes, and tips on how to stretch your meal with leftovers.
Nigella’s recipes wouldn’t win any French culinary awards. They were never meant to. She is simply a good cook who has had the fortune of being well-travelled and well-fed and extraordinarily photogenic and expressive.
Nigella, I heart you. I want to be you. For now, I’ll just stick to making your food, though. And even though your recipes, this time around, missed the mark in my kitchen, I won’t give up. I’ve made enough of your fantastic recipes, that I’ll probably methodically work my way through “Kitchen” just the same.
Of course rather than buy this book, you can try to win a copy by heading over to Random House Canada to participate in their contest. There are only a few days left, so try while you can!
Keep reading for excerpts from “Kitchen” courtesy of the good people at Random House Canada.
Maple pecan bundt cake
This is the cake that emblematically scratches that Domestic Goddess itch: it’s feelgood food (for cook and eater) by way of some simple stirring. The nutty syrupy filling is simply forked into being; you could make the cake batter with no more equipment than a bowl and a wooden spoon. But I’m afraid even my alter ego, the Domestic Goddess, is lazy, so I use an electric mixer. But beware the processor here: it’s easy to overmix as you blitz, and while a dense sponge is good, a rubbery one – clearly – is not.
Not only do I love making this cake, but I get a rare feeling of calm contentment just seeing it on its stand on the kitchen surface. Then there’s the eating of it, a greedy slice alongside a mid-afternoon mug of coffee, which produces nothing less than a surge of body-and-soul-bolstering joy. Now, this is what a weekend is for . . .
Cuts easily into 12 slices for the maple pecan filling:
75g plain flour
30g soft unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
150g pecans (or walnuts), roughly chopped
125ml maple syrup
For the cake:
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
125g soft unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
250ml crème fraîche or sour cream
1–2 teaspoons icing sugar, for decoration
flavourless oil, for greasing
1 x 23cm bundt tin
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Using flavourless oil (or a squirt of cooking spray) grease your bundt tin, and leave upside down on newspaper for the excess oil to drain out.
Make the filling for the cake by mixing together the 75g flour and 30g butter with a fork, till you end up with the sort of mixture you’d expect when making crumble topping. Then, still using the fork, mix in the cinnamon, chopped pecans (or walnuts) and maple syrup, to form a sticky, bumpy paste. Set aside for a moment.
For the cake, measure the 300g flour, the baking powder and bicarb into a bowl.
Now, cream the butter and sugar (i.e. beat well together until light in texture and pale in colour), then beat in 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture, then 1 egg, then another tablespoonful of flour mixture followed by the second egg.
Add the rest of the flour mixture beating as you go, and then finally the crème fraîche or sour cream. You should expect to end up with a fairly firm cake batter.
Spoon just more than half the cake batter into the oiled bundt tin. Spread the mixture up the sides a little and around the funnel of the tin to create a rim. You don’t want the sticky filling to leak out to the sides of the tin.
Dollop the maple filling carefully into the dent in the cake batter, then cover the filling with the remaining batter. Smooth the top and put the tin into the oven for 40 minutes, though it’s best to check with a cake tester after 30 minutes.
Once cooked, and the cake tester comes out clean where it hits the sponge (obviously, any gooey filling will stick to the tester), let the cake cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes in its tin, then loosen the edges with a small spatula, including around the middle funnel bit, and turn the cake out onto the rack.
When the cake is cold, dust with icing sugar by pushing a teaspoonful or so through a tea strainer.
Make ahead note:
Can be baked up to 2 days ahead. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and store in airtight container. Dust with icing sugar just before serving.
The cake can be frozen, tightly wrapped in double layer of clingfilm and a layer of foil, for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight at room temperature and dust with icing sugar just before serving.
Vietnamese pork noodle soup
I couldn’t contemplate a section of speedy suppers without a noodle soup. Nothing can give succour as fast as a bowl of noodles in flavoursome broth. This is good for chowing down and for slurping and for keeping body and soul together when your stomach’s empty and your day’s been full.
In extremis, I am more than happy to use frozen chopped ginger and chilli, which are kept in my deep-freeze for just such an eventuality (not so infrequent).
Serves 2–4, depending how hungry you are
275g pork fillet, cut into thin discs and then fine strips
2 x 15ml tablespoons lime juice
2 x 15ml tablespoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon paprika
2 x 15ml tablespoons fish sauce
250g ramen noodles
1 x 15ml tablespoon garlic oil
6 thin or 3 fat spring onions, finely sliced
1 x 15ml tablespoon chopped fresh (or frozen) ginger
1 litre chicken stock (good-quality cube or concentrate is fine), preferably organic
175g baby pak choi, torn into pieces
2 teaspoons chopped red chilli
Put the strips of pork fillet into a bowl and add the lime juice, soy sauce, paprika and
fish sauce, but don’t let this stand for more than 15 minutes.
Cook the noodles according to packet instructions and then refresh in cold water.
Heat a wok or a deep, heavy-based frying pan, then add the garlic oil and fry the spring onions and ginger for a minute or so. Add the pork and its liquid to the wok, stirring as you go.
Cook the meat in the pan for another 2 minutes, then make up the chicken stock with boiling water, add the hot stock to the pan and bring to the boil.
Check the pork is cooked through, then add the beansprouts and baby pak choi. Add water if the soupy base has evaporated too much – about 125ml of freshly boiled water should do the trick, but you may not need it.
Arrange the drained noodles equally in 2 large or 4 small warmed bowls, ladle over them the pork and vegetables, and finally the soupy stock. Scatter the chopped chilli on top and serve.
Spanish chicken with chorizo and potatoes
Much as I love to have a pan bubbling away on the stove, I often feel that the most stressfree way to feed people is by taking the oven route. When I’m frazzled, I firmly believe that the tray-bake is the safest way to go. Enjoy the easefulness of the oven: you just bung everything in, and you’re done. I think I’d go to the supreme effort of laying on a green salad as well but, other than that, you may kick up your flamenco heels and enjoy the fiesta.
2 x 15ml tablespoons regular olive oil
12 chicken thighs (bone in, with skin)
750g chorizo sausages, whole if baby ones, or cut into 4cm chunks if regular-sized
1kg new potatoes, halved
2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
grated zest 1 orange
Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7. Put the oil in the bottom of 2 shallow roasting tins, 1 tablespoon in each. Rub the skin of the chicken in the oil, then turn skin-side up, 6 pieces in each tin.
Divide the chorizo sausages and the new potatoes between the 2 tins. Sprinkle the onion and the oregano over, then grate the orange zest over the contents of the 2 tins.
Cook for 1 hour, but after 30 minutes, swap the top tray with the bottom tray in the oven and baste the contents with the orange-coloured juices.
Making leftovers right:
You can reheat what remains (removing the bones from the chicken first) within 2 days, maybe with some canned chopped tomatoes, sherry and orange juice, but my absolute favourite final destination for this dish is a quesadilla. When I was last in Kansas, that shining city of lights, I breakfasted on a chicken, pepperjack and potato quesadilla (as one does) and it inspired me. So, just get as many soft flour tortillas as your leftovers command, take the bones out of the chicken, dice the meat along with the chorizo and potatoes, and stir in some diced, shredded or grated cheese (Cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, all are possible), dollop some of the mixture into each tortilla, fold, then griddle or fry. Make sure the chicken is piping hot. This makes for a splendid hangover-banishing breakfast or nearinstant supper, the sort you chow down on while watching something compellingly bad on TV.