Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson

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Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It's a book of the television series and it's difficult to avoid the thought that the series was made to sell the book. It relies on big print and glossy photos to fill space and the chapters follow the television series rather than any logical arrangement. Borrow if you must, but don't buy - it's not a book you'll get a lot of use out of.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 260 Date: May 2001
Publisher: Chatto and Windus
ISBN: 0701172878

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I go back a long way. As a child we didn't have a television, although we did know someone who knew someone who had one. They offered to let me watch the Coronation but my mother was a proud woman and said that we'd arranged to have friends round for the day. In fact I was sent out to play in the back garden with strict instructions that I was not to make any noise or let anyone see me. My memory of the day is of acute boredom.

Sorry, I was getting side-tracked there. You see, I remember the very early cookery programmes. By today's standards they were amateur. I remember once seeing the cook place a pie in the "oven" to be cooked and seeing a hand reach through from the back of the oven to take hold of the dish. The cook would be dressed to the nines - remember Fanny and Johnny Craddock? Inevitably the programme would begin with "Today we are going to cook... " and we would see a plate of fancy cakes or a pie or whatever and then a stentorian voice would say "... and here is the recipe". The list of ingredients would appear on the screen and there would be complete silence for two minutes whilst everyone scribbled away. I still have a notebook in the kitchen cupboard with recipes which begin "4oz pl. fl. 3oz but or marg 3 oz cast sug 2 eggs". You then scribbled the method down as the programme progressed. Fortunately telephones were rather less common than televisions so you were unlikely to be interrupted. This was fine if you were intending to cook whatever was being produced and quite boring if you weren't, but it didn't really matter to the producers as there was only one television channel so they weren't going to lose all that many viewers.

Then competition crept in and having the two minute silence once a week instead of once a year wasn't a starter - unless you were interested you would simply turn over to ITV. The next move was for the stentorian voice to announce "You will find the recipe on page --- of this week's Radio Times, available at all good newsagents, price 6d". This seemed fine. No one was turning over from the boredom of staring at a list of ingredients staring at them and the Radio Times got some free advertising. Oh, hang on, yes, of course; it isn't politically correct for the BBC to give free advertising to a magazine which at that time only listed its own programmes. The day was saved by Ceefax and the stentorian voice announced "You will find today's recipe on page --- of Ceefax". Not everyone had Ceefax and in time television programmes came to be based on cookery books. Delia Smith's Cookery Course was originally issued in three volumes and perhaps one or two dishes would be cooked from each section each week.

From then on it was a slippery slope. Cookery programmes were inextricably linked with cookery books and the only way of cooking anything you'd seen on television was to buy the book. Most books supplied a lot more in the way of recipes than you'd seen in the programmes although it was generally the most striking recipes which had been given air time. Wait, though, we have another slope to slide down - the book of the recipes that you saw being cooked on television and that, essentially is "Nigella Bites".

It's a glossy book of 260 pages. With cookery books I always like to read the preface to get a bit of the flavour of why the book was written and what inspired the author. Do you remember the books we all learned to read from? "Janet and John went to the park..." Well, that's the size of the print in the preface; nice and large - fills more pages, you see. There's a frank admission that there are a lot of pictures (thus less writing and content) and that the chapters take their shape and content from each programme of the television series. The only recipes that are in the book which were not shown on television are ones which had to be dropped from the series because of lack of time. Blank pages are provided at the end of each chapter "for your own notes". Why? I do make notes in cookery books but they tend to be at the side of recipes and along the lines of "probably too much flour" or "check cooking time after 20 mins". Blank pages are of no use for this because I wouldn't see them when it's important - when I'm cooking. The photographs, exquisitely done, are over the top. They are not restricted to pictures of finished dishes, or stages of preparation. There are pictures seemingly with no other purpose than to provide an ambience and there are very few double pages which don't have at least one large, glossy colour photo.

It's difficult to use this as an ordinary cookery book. Normally I will be thinking in terms of "I fancy fish for lunch. Let's have a look for something tempting", but you can't do this with this book as a fish recipe could be in any section. It works if you're going to think "I fancy some fish for lunch of the type that you could cook for breakfast", but it only really works well if you think "I want to cook that fish dish that I saw on the programme called "TV Dinners".

I think we're meant to believe that this is the way that Nigella and her family eat, but somehow, I doubt it. As you read one word keeps surfacing in your mind. Calories. Yes, there are the healthier foods in the final chapter "Templefoods", but to my mind there is too much emphasis on the trashier foods such as deep-fried Bounties with pineapple. If Ms Lawson can eat that sort of food and have a figure like hers she should write a book about how she does it. Er, no, scrub that suggestion...

Too much of this book is based on Nigella's personality and I've got to be honest and admit that she annoys the hell out of me. There's too much reliance on overt sexuality at the expense of depth of content for my taste and at £20 the cover price is a rip-off. Borrow it if you must, but don't waste money on it.

We also have a review of Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home by Nigella Lawson.

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Buy Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson at


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Susan Hogan said:

I felt the reviewer took too long to get to the book in question. It could have been a briefer review but more relevant.

Sue said:

Point taken!

srobert said:

I adore this book, but that is probably because I watched and enjoyed the series before I bought it. The recipes are very easy to use and normally require a minimum of ingredients - quite refreshing when one has been used to cordon bleu cookbooks with their shopping lists.

I understand the nutritional point, but surely most cookbooks are the same (unless you specifically look for a "healthy" cookery book). I have a lot of cookbooks, and I have lost count of the recipes that start "Take 8oz of butter", or "take half a pint of cream"!

Kerry King said:

I went through my copy of this book last night looking for a recipe for a dinner party I am having next weekend and I have to say, none of it was particularly impressive and I think I bought it in the first place purely for the ham cooked in coca-cola recipe, which I have never bothered to do in any event. If it wasn't so nice looking (the book) on my shelf of cookbooks, I would probably list it on readitswapit. It's a bit like having a pair of Prada heels two sizes too small.... pretty but of no practical use whatsoever!