It’s difficult not to like Nigella Lawson. You’d have to be hard-hearted indeed not to fall prey to the charms of this intelligent, witty and yes – gorgeous – woman. As a television personality, her presence is infectious. Don’t we all wish we could look so good throwing egg shells into the sink?!
I own two of Nigella’s cookbooks and love them both. Simply put, her recipes work. Her Sticky Toffee Pudding (Nigella Bites) is probably one of my family’s favourite desserts. Her Madeira Cake (How to Be a Domestic Goddess) is a quick and reliable treat when you just have to have something sweet with your coffee. And if you can make her Christmas Pavlova (How to Be a Domestic Goddess) and not eat it all in one sitting, you’re a better Cream Puff than me.
I recently had the opportunity to review her most recent cookbook, Feast. Released in paperback in September 2006, Feast follows in the footsteps of Lawson’s previous books. Beautifully photographed and written, Feast is Lawson’s statement to the world that any special occasion is worthy of a food celebration.
The cookbook is divided into many sections that cover every imaginable festivity or important moment that would necessitate a special meal. While the obvious occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas are there, there are also sections devoted to Breakfast, Valentine’s Day and my personal favourite, the Midnight Feast.
I think that Lawson is an incredible writer and it shows both in the Introduction to the cookbook as well as the introductions to each section. It’s almost impossible to argue with her logic for going all out to prepare the meals of your dreams, whatever the occasion. I found the head notes to her recipes particularly enjoyable, especially the ones that offer a glimpse of her own family life. Nothing helps a reader to identify with a cookbook than a sense of camaraderie with the author.
I think this is Lawson’s greatest success as a cookbook author. She may not be a professional chef, but her recipes are enticing and well-written. And because she doesn’t talk down to her reader, it’s easy to visualize yourself making the recipes. It’s easy to imagine what those dishes will look like on your own table in your own kitchen.
Feast has something for everyone. It will satisfy the the carnivore, the vegetarian and the cream puffs (that is, those who crave sweets!) among us. And I warn you, the pictures will make your mouth water.
As I read through the cookbook, I found the recipes to be clear and well-presented. Well-suited to the home cook, the recipes can be easily managed by cooks of all backgrounds and levels of experience. For those with a bit more experience, I think the recipes are generous enough that they invite improvisation and adaptation. After all, what’s better than a cookbook with recipes that inspire you to bigger and better things?
But the final proof, as they say, is in the pudding so it was time to roll up my sleeve and try some of the recipes. The first recipe I tried was Andy’s Fairfield Granola. Lawson got this recipe from Andy Rolleri of The Pantry deli in Fairfield, Connecticut. I’m a bit of a tough judge when it comes to granola recipes as I personally think that I make a mean granola.
I was pleasantly surprised by this granola recipe. It was easy to pull together and the end result was a nutty granola that was crunchy, but not too sweet. The only hiccup in the recipe as far as I was concerned was the use of brown rice syrup or rice malt syrup. I have no idea where to locate those ingredients so I used golden syrup instead(the recipe gives you that option) and I don’t think the granola suffered one bit. I also added dried cherries for colour. Delicious!
Having started with a lovely breakfast, I thought it was time to move directly to dessert. But then I thought that I should at least try one of the savoury recipes in the book. Cream Puff cannot live on dessert alone.
I found myself repeatedly drawn to a recipe for Hot Pepper Relish to be served with melon. This relish is Georgian in origin and can be kept refrigerated for several weeks. While I didn’t want to have it with melon, I was intrigued by the relish as we enjoy spicy condiments with many of the foods we eat.
I made my version of this pepper relish with hot banana peppers and jalapenos (as opposed to red chiles in the original). I also topped my relish off with olive oil after I put it in a glass jar. Without question, this was a huge hit! We ate the entire jar of relish in one sitting on toasted bread rubbed with garlic. It was spicy with a nice vinegary bite. I’ve already gotten requests for seconds.
As soon as I saw the photograph of the Baci di Ricotta, piled high on a beautiful stand and covered in icing sugar, I dreamt of making them. Made with ricotta, eggs, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla extract, these ricotta fritters were a snap to pull together. The batter comes together in less time than it takes to heat the oil. One of the other attractive points of this recipe is that while you are frying in oil, you’re not frying in a lot of oil, which is nice for those that are intimidated of deep frying.
These fritters were golden on the outside and feather-light on the inside. We gobbled them up warm, drenched in icing sugar which actually melted into the warmish fritters. Heaven!
Having had our dessert appetizer, it was time to get serious. We unbuckled our belts and undid our pant buttons, ready to dig into cheesecake … Chestnut Cheesecake. I have a huge love of chestnuts and find beautifully roasted chestnuts impossible to resist. This particular cheesecake called for chestnut puree which I’d never tried before. My very well stocked supermarket carries a lovely chestnut puree from France. Besides the puree, this is a very straightforward cheesecake. I decided to give my new mini-cheesecake pans a try and was pleased at how beautifully the little cheesecakes turned out. While they would have been quite good on their own, they’re pushed over the top by a rum syrup which compliments the chestnut filling perfectly.
While I would count the Hot Pepper Relish and the Baci di Ricotta as my favourites, all four recipes turned out exceedingly well. And believe me, I’m looking forward to trying many more. Who knew feasting on Nigella could taste so good?!
Hot Pepper Relish
Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson.
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
- 1 celery stick, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
- 2 banana peppers, cut lengthwise and the seeds removed
- 2 jalapeno peppers, cut lengthwise and the seeds removed
- 1 red bell pepper, seeds removed
- 1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Place all the ingredients, except the parsley, vinegar, salt and olive oil, in the bowl of a food processor and process until everything is finely chopped.
- Add the parsley, vinegar and salt, and pulse 4 or 5 times. Taste the relish and adjust the seasoning according to your own tastes.
- Place the relish in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 8 to 10 hours.
- Remove the relish from the refrigerator and spoon into a fine-mesh sieve. Let the relish sit in the sieve for 5 minutes to allow some of the excess liquid to drain.
- Spoon the relish into a sterilized glass jar, leaving an inch at the top of the jar. Pour the olive oil in, a bit at a time, allowing the olive oil to seep down into the relish.
- Store the relish in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.