What We're Cooking Now

What We're Cooking Now - My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Nigella's Kitchen

Over all we found this cookbook to be exactly what it proposed to be-a good solid mess of family friendly, easily assembled recipes. No hard to source, high end ingredients here. A few of us have kids at home and by in large, all tested recipes were loved by all.

A couple of things to keep in mind. We did find many instances where photos showed ingredients that were not actually in the recipe. We also found that in the absence of formal 'appetizer' or 'dessert' sections in the index, this book does require you to search through the whole book in order to make sure not to miss any recipes. For instance we found a recipe for hummus waaaay back in the book on page 434. While there is a "My Sweet Solution" section on page 156, desserts are peppered throughout the book.

Nigella makes no bones about being a proud home cook. No CIA, Cordon Bleu for this buxom Britt. Does that make us love her more? Absolutely. As does the fact that she is just as susceptible as we all are, to buying all manner of kitchen gadgets that inevitably end up in the garage sale pile. She is a messy, unorganized, vintage-loving gorgeous thing. And I want to be her!
We like the introduction and the practical advice on everything from what to have in your kitchen to how to cook stress free.  We like the detailed introductions to each recipe, which (in many cases) provide useful substitution advice, and the notes following many of the recipes about making ahead and freezing/storage options, but we wanted more of this type of info--and were slightly disappointed that this last feature didn't accompany EVERY recipe. 

Overall Consensus: If you are looking for a 'go-to' type cookbook, virtually guaranteed to please palates from the most sophisticated to the most simple, this is a book that should stand proudly on your shelf.


There aren't very many apps in this book. Our conclusion is that because the focus of this book is cooking at home-real family meals don't often come with formal appetizers...at least not in our homes, and not in Nigella's either :)

Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup (p82)
Very tasty - the meat, after cooking in the fish sauce had a real silky texture. 

Avocado Salsa (p107)
Calling for jalapenos from a jar is the only slightly strange thing in this recipe. Other than the name. Essentially this is a quacamole--not so much a salsa.

Peanut butter hummus (p434)
Strange combo-delish result. We all agreed that this could even be a spread for vegetarian sandwiches.


Pasta alla genovese (p 41)
This is the first recipe I tried from the book.  We ate it on New Year's Eve.  I loved it and have made it repeatedly ever since.  It's easy, and my kids like it.  I have to admit, though, that I do cheat on this one.  I use good purchased pesto in the interest of saving time.  This just isn't a recipe that, to me, warrants the time required to make one's own pesto.  MA

Turkey meatballs in tomato sauce (p45)

This was one of Deb's favourite recipes from the book. She claims that it was perhaps that she was a bit hung over the first time she made it. But we're happy she loved it. It made the final cut for our dinner party and we all agreed. Very good. With or without a hangover.

I was skeptical when the celery and onion blitzed into a liquid mush.  But it is like a secret ingredient.

This very simple tomato sauce is perfect.  
The perfect Italian red sauce for me.  The meatballs were easy to make and very easy to cook.  My only minor tweak of this recipe would be more advice on how long to allow the red sauce to simmer. As with many other recipes, she just says to leave it simmer while you make other parts of the recipe.  A keeper.

Scallops with Thai-scented pea puree (p72)

This was another family favourite.  The tastes were very nice.  A few comments, however, on preparation.  First off, there is a disproportionately large quantity of the pea puree, more than two people would ever eat.  Our family of 4 did not eat it all at one meal, but we loved it.  The picture on page 73 is entirely deceptive in this regard.  Next time, I'll make 12 large scallops and keep the suggested amount of pea puree and serve to 4 people.  I followed the make ahead note with the peas, and cheated by reheating in the microwave.  No problem.  I would definitely recommend 2 tbsp of the green thai curry paste.

Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes (p100)
This was, as described, a stress-free meal to prepare.  It took about 5 minutes to put the whole thing together and then I threw the tray into the oven and moved on to the 100 other tasks I had left to accomplish that day.  Tasty and filling. 

Lemony Salmon with Cherry Tomato 
Couscous (p119)

This recipe was easy and quick but there is NOTHING special about it.  The salmon was better than the couscous which was plain old boring.  It would have been useful to have a description of the size of salmon fillet and how long the couscous was meant to sit.


South Indian Vegetable Curry (p154)

This recipe too is easy and tasty.  The make ahead note for this recipe is VERY important and should perhaps have been in the introduction.  I made the full recipe, with vegetables, and then we didn't eat for about half an hour.  Mistake!  The vegetables became all soggy and much less appealing.  So the bottom line here is - must be eaten immediately once vegetables are cooked.

Pasta with Pancetta, Parsley and Peppers (p194)

Okay, it bothers me when the picture doesn't match the recipe.  This recipe calls for spaghetti noodles. Which is what I used. Nigella's photo shows a kind of curly lasagna noodle.

I hated this recipe.  It felt like a mixture of random things Nigella had at home that didn't quite work and that she shouldn't have foisted on the rest of us.  To say that it really "sings" is to provide an incomplete description.  If it's singing...it's most definitely singing out of tune.

Mixed Meat Pilaff (p198)

This recipe ranked as the favourite for two family members. Tasty, easy and definitely to be repeated when we have leftover roasted meat.  Make sure to use the herbs, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds, however.  They make the recipe.  Without them, there would really be no recipe.  One minor irritant, and one I've observed several times with this book.  The photo shows dill.  I'm sure it's dill.  The recipe does not call for dill.

Small Pasta with Salami (p200)

This pasta makes an easy and light weekend lunch.  Like Nigella, I almost always have these ingredients on hand.  The bouquet garni marries well with the salami and tomatoes, and makes for a rich tasting sauce when butter is added.  This recipe is not fancy, and it's not one you'd likely serve to guests, but it is really tasty!  NB  The butter does make a difference, so best not to omit it.

Curly Pasta with Feta, Spinach and Pine Nuts (p209)

This recipe FAILED.  There is NO WAY that the pasta in the picture has as much cheese as the recipe calls for.  I ended up with a big ball of cheezy spinach in the middle of a bowl of pasta.  While the tastes were good, my daughter and her friends likened it to a big spinach meatball.  I can see that one could modify the recipe to make this work, but if we are reviewing the recipe in the book, here are some reasons why this might not have worked:  there is no mention of how long to stir and melt the spinach;  I've no idea what a "snooker baize" is;  and to call this a creamy sauce is neither accurate in fact nor consistent with the picture in the book.  Disappointed. 

Greek Lamb Chops with Lemon and Potatoes (p390)

This recipe was super easy to throw together after school.  I used lamb loin chops.  I think it took 5 minutes to assemble, including dicing potatoes.  It tasted great.  My son said - this lamb is so tender!  My husband said - I'd still prefer it a bit rarer.  It is essential to follow the advice and have bread to sop up the sauce.  Mmmm!  I'll definitely make this again in a pinch. 


Salad on the side (p30)

Admittedly, this really is not a recipe, so there's not much to review.    That said, it's easy, and I'd not thought of tossing parmesan flakes into my salad.  Why not, you ask?  Don't know.  But it was mighty tasty.  They kind of melted in.  Kids love that!  The only thing I'd recommend is to cut back a bit on the cheese.  A bit salty as a result of 50g. 

Sunshine Soup (p78)

This recipe is super easy and super sweet tasting.  The kids loved it.  My neighbours loved it.  It's a bit curious and different, and perhaps a bit too sweet for most palates. 

Rocket and Lemon Couscous (p90)
Simple and good. Try this with the Turkey meatballs for a fantastic meal.

Indian Roast Potatoes (p207)
This recipe packs a punch! We recommend you serve this as an accompaniment to a rather bland main...anything else would just be too much flavour.

Tangy Parsnip & Potato Mash (p386)
This recipe is really a two-in-one. Today's Tangy Parsnip and Potato mash becomes tomorrow's Potato Cakes. This is an awesome example of Nigella at her best. 

Soup made with Garlic and Love (p448)

This recipe is as described - peasant fare. It is not fancy and I would not make it for a dinner party.  But I did make it for a sick son and a down friend.  They loved it.  It reeks of comfort.  It's relatively simple to prepare, if you are okay with peeling and thinly slicing garlic cloves.  I'll make this again, although I think it is almost entirely dependent on a good chicken stock.  Do not scrimp with this one.  MA

Desserts & Sweets-Bonnie

There are over 40 dessert recipes in this book--NOT including scones and muffins. One thing I found annoying however, is that there actually isn't a "Dessert" section. The recipes are peppered throughout the book, so as the tester tasked with making sweets, I had to search through the whole book to find all of the dessert recipes.  A small thing to be sure, but an annoyance that bears pointing out.

Difficulties encountered:
1) British oven temps used throughout--180 or gas mark 4. HUH?
2) Castor Sugar--after a brief internet search, I learned that Castor Sugar is actually super fine sugar...BUT not icing sugar. I did make an effort to find super fine sugar (usually used in Canada for jam making) and use it in a few of the recipes I tested...but then decided it was a bit of hooey as she called for it when making a plain chocolate chip cookie. There was no way that in so basic and coarse a recipe that super fine sugar could make a huge difference.
3) Golden syrup called for in the Banoffee cheesecake. I found a few sites that suggested a 2:1 substitution of corn syrup:molasses as Golden Syrup is not available in Canada. The resulting mixture was way too molassessy (sp??) for a banana cheese cake, so I used pure corn syrup and it was great.
4) All recipes require a weigh scale. Granted it is the best way to bake....but if you don't have a scale, you'll have to guesstimate equivalent amounts and that does not always yield accurate results, especially when baking.

Apple and Cinnamon Muffins (p18)

I like these muffins.  I like that Nigella agrees with my oft stated feeling that a muffin is not just an un-iced cupcake.  These muffins are dense and filled with flavour and truly breakfast worthy.  I like that she indicates at the outset that you could use plain flour instead of spelt.  I choose to use spelt.  I also like that she acknowledges that the time to make these muffins is when you have apples shrivelling in the bowl.  My only small criticism of these muffins is that I found them a wee bit too sweet for my taste.  The second time round I reduced the sugar to 2/3 what was called for and they turned out just fine.  Also, and this is just a North American comment, this recipe requires a weigh scale.  These froze beautifully as suggested at the recipe's end. 

Strawberry and Almond Crumble (p131)

This is excellent.  Easy.  I'll make it again.  I really like the make ahead notes;  I made the crumble ahead of time as we were hosting a dinner party.  This made assembly very easy.  I also like how she suggests using vile supermarket strawberries.  Since those are around all the time now, this could become a staple GO TO recipe. 

Banoffee Cheesecake (p133)

Aside from the golden syrup debaucle, outlined in the introduction to Desserts, this was an easy cheesecake that was quite delish. Banana flavour was actually quite subtle and the toffee sauce was AMAZING!

Coconut and Cherry Banana Bread (p136)

We have made this easily half a dozen times, once in mini loaf form.  I am now keeping some on hand in the freezer almost all the time.  The kids love it, I love it.  The tartness of the cherries is a nice offset to the banana bread, and the coconut makes for a nice chewy texture.  This is one where reading the entire recipe through is helpful, because you have to melt butter and then let it cool before proceeding with any further steps.  The full size loaf took a fair bit more time than suggested, but that could be my oven. 

Chocolate Banana Muffins (p138)

This is the only recipe so far that I really have not liked at all.  That said, I made them without a weigh scale and with best estimates to proper measure, so I really should give them a second go.  But they were boring.  They would have benefitted from chocolate chips or dried cranberries or cherries.  So I doubt I'll try again... 

Chocolate Key Lime Pie (p158)
My pie never totally solidified-the middle was VERY giggly, even right out of the fridge. The recipe called for lime zest to be sprinkled on top. NB if you do this first and then store it in the fridge...the zest actually gets really crunchy and according to one taste tester was "incongruous" with the silky pie. It also added a bitter note to the pie--all in all, if you are going to use the zest, do so just before serving. Or omit it altogether. On the crust-while it was tasty with the use of digestive biscuits and butter (how can you go wrong with that combo, I ask you?), it maybe didn't have enough butter as it ended up being quite crumbly and did not hold together very well.

No Churn Pina Colada Ice Cream (p180)
Oh. My. God. Creamy, refreshing, achieving the perfect balance between tart and sweet, this became a standard dessert for us this past summer. It is the easiest ice cream I've ever made. I read the recipe and was very skeptical, but it was a totally home run. 

Maple Pecan Bundt Cake (p239)

This is exactly what I think of when I think of a British cake:  dense and sweet.  Overall, it was easy to make and turned out as shown in the photo.  It was quite fussy work to put the filling into the cake batter without allowing it to reach the edges. The filing is much denser than the batter.  As a result, it's better to say that you should drop the filling into the middle of the batter and then press it down.  Like many coffee cakes, this is better the second day.  MA

Devil's Food Cake (p253)
Another recipe calling for Castor Sugar. I went a little rogue here and used quick dissolve sugar from my canning stash. I also didn't use the dark muskovado sugar. Perhaps it might have added some depth of flavour, but there is so much chocolate flavour in this cake, that I just couldn't imagine that the effort would pay off. A cute British turn of phrase here...Nigella calls for 'sandwich tins' to bake the cakes in. Regular cake round cake pans worked perfectly well here. While the cake was quite good, the icing? Well that was a total FAIL. It was essentially a thin, liquid sad sack thing. More like something on it's way to being a very rich hot chocolate. I ended up adding oh, maybe 7 cups of icing sugar to stiffen it up sufficiently to spread...resulting in a tooth achingly sweet icing. BLEH

Chocolate Chip Cookies (p257)
Nigella admits in the intro to this recipe, that in the 7 cook books she has written, she's never included a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Well, I can tell you that she needn't have bothered. While it has it's merits for those who like a very cakey consistency in their CHCH cookies, I am in the other camp who prefers a more substantial cookie with the addition of oatmeal, perhaps a bit of nut? Another thing to note-her instructions followed to a "T" will yield HUGE cookies. That may be how they make 'em in England, but sister-a 60ml (1/4 cup) measure of batter for each cookie is just plain crazy!

Lemon Polenta Cake (p272)
Pucker up Buttercup...this was CRAZY sour! The cake was lovely and a great gluten free option, but the lemon glaze that was poured on top rendered the cake virtually inedible.

Coffee Walnut Cake (p275)

This is most definitely a cake for grown ups. Grown ups who like coffee that is. What's more, this is the easiest cake I've ever made. I was intrigued by the method--both cake and icing were made in a food processor. SO easy! NB while instant espresso powder may be hard to source, I'm sure you could use a bit of finely ground coffee in the cake and then substitute strong espresso for the icing.

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