Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home by Nigella Lawson

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Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home by Nigella Lawson

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: A varied, usable, cookable collection of every-day recipes that offers some seriously good pickings along some offerings that, although probably great in their class, don't quite rock everybody's sauce-boat. The production qualities of the hardback are very good and if Nigella's style appeals buy this, definitely in hardback. If you are beyond Nigella, buy it for your child.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0701184605

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Nigella Lawson's latest offering is subtitled recipes from the heart of home, which is a very vague title whose significance (undoubtedly clear to those who watch the TV versions) I fail to decode. All cooking is done in the kitchen after all. But I suppose coming up with interesting titles for general collections of recipes is not that easy, so I'll leave it at that.

The collection is indeed general, with everything from salads to deserts and drinks and from very basic dishes that hardly need a recipe to some more complicated creations. Most recipes are fairly simple though, presenting an interesting or novel idea rather than a difficult technique or a complex process. This is definitely a good thing. Many cookbooks are either explicitly or implicitly geared towards entertaining recipes, best suited for dinner parties and other special occasions, while the Kitchen is relatively low on that and high on every-day food. Many of the recipes are very easy and this could work as an excellent book for the novice-cook, especially one with a family.

The book is divided into fairly whimsical sections and sub-sections of Ms Lawson's design which means that you either need to at least scan it from cover to cover several times to be able to find anything quickly or use the index, as it's not particularly obvious whether Toad in a Hole or Sweet and Sour Chicken for example should be hunted for in What's For Tea or Cure of Sunday-Nightitiss or some other area. I just stick post-it notes in interesting places for future use.

Each recipe (as well as each section) is preceded by a lengthy and fairly entertaining if often infuriating intro. Ms Lawson's style is very, very affected – some might perceive it as insufferably camp – but all the wordiness stylised as mutterings of a neurotic middle-class mother is peppered with a fair amount of practical kitchen gold and many illuminating factoids.

All of that is lavishly photographed and encased between hard covers in a well-stitched, large-format volume of semi-glossy, thick pages that appears to be fairly durable and stays flat when opened on a particular page. I would rather have a thinner book with less photos but at least the font is readable and margins wide (though the use of a heart icon for bullet-points still gets my goat me after months of use).

The raison d'etre of any cookbook is the actual recipes, unless you like just reading them for fun. On this score, Nigella's Kitchen acquits itself very well. There are cookbooks that I owned or borrowed long-term that I never cooked a single recipe from, despite actually enjoying reading them. Some are good for inspiration (classic Elizabeth David), but many are just good for a browse (I owned several of Nigel Slater's books and I loved reading them but I can't recall cooking anything from any of them). This is not the case with Nigella's Kitchen. I have cooked numerous recipes from it in the five months I had it available and I am sure I will cook several more. We didn't love all of them, but we liked many and several have already had more than one outing. Nigella draws her inspiration from a huge variety of regions, styles and levels of cooking. She also has her own obsessions and biases, but a personal slant is a Good Thing and makes for a more interesting collection.

We liked the Mexican and Spanish inspired dishes (an underused field in our kitchen), as well as many others that often combine sweet and spicy flavours in savoury recipes. The savoury favourites include African Drumsticks, Sunshine Soup (a wonderful yellow-pepper-and-sweetcorn concoction), Butternut, Rocket and Pine Nut Salad (which I am pleased to say works with pistachios too), Spring Chicken, Spanish Chicken with Chorizo, incredibly good Jumbo Chilli Sauce, Pork and Apple Hotpot and several more. There is a fair number of seafood and fish recipes which are financially slightly out of reach for us (and the kids don't like seafood yet), and several that go into directions that won't work in our household, but there is enough to choose from either for cooking straight off the page or inspiration.

I am more ambivalent about Kitchen's sweet offerings: I have a strong feeling that Nigella's taste and style in cakes and puddings often diverges from mine by miles. The turn-offs include crushed-biscuit bases, the raptures over disturbing minglings of salty and sweet flavours in deserts (I hate those – maybe that's why I abhor the digestives), over-fondness for peanut butter and some seriously sickly American-inspired puddings (Grasshopper Pie that combines crème de menthe, crème de cacao, MELTED MARSHMALLOWS and a crushed-bourbon-biscuit base). And yet the same book has some of the most fabulous puddings I have ever tried, including the lovely Coconut and Cherry Banana Bread and – probably the best if rather expensive recipe in the whole book – the Venetian Carrot Cake.

The Lazy Cook's Family Favourites by Mo Smith has a more orderly selection of everyday food. It's hard to beat the old classics for inspiration, and you can't go wrong with Great Food: A Taste of the Sun by Elizabeth David. Perusing Appetite by Nigel Slater might make the 'Kitchen'-style recipes unnecessary for some readers.

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