COOKBOOK REVIEW Nigella Christmas

By Nigella Lawson

Nigella Christmas is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this cookbook please click here

 


Cookbook review written by
Stay-At-Home-Chef

Nigella Lawson is a successful cookbook author, television host, and New York Times contributor. Hers is a household name known across the globe, famous for her – shall we say ‘racy’? – approach to food. Nigella often receives criticism for her lack of formal culinary education, but with a total of eight hugely successful cookbooks she obviously knows a thing or two about food.

Nigella Christmas (published by Hyperion, $50 CDN)  not only provides you with the culinary arsenal needed for the 25th, but contains recipes and menu ideas that will see you through most of your special occasion entertaining needs. There are many dishes that would be perfect to serve at cocktail parties, birthday dinners, Easter and Thanksgiving celebrations.

The book is built around Nigella’s signature casual approach to entertaining, and acknowledges the fact that for a lot of us mere mortals the holidays can be a stressful, crazed time of the year. Instead of spending the entire Christmas season slaving away in the kitchen, Nigella’s goal is to provide us with the tools that enable us to lounge in the living room looking gorgeous and sipping a fun cocktail (or two). Everything is based on the idea of planning and cooking ahead as much as possible, in order to ensure minimum stress and maximum enjoyment.

I like the make ahead and freeze ahead tips included for each recipe. The photography (by famed British photographer Lis Parsons)  is attractive and festive, inspiring not only culinary related delights but design and gift wrapping ideas as well. Some people find the red and green print a bit over the top, but to those people I say a big loud ‘bah humbug’. It’s a Christmas book! The kitschier the better. At least in my humble opinion.

At the risk of sounding like a whiner, I have to admit I found myself getting frustrated with the frequent recipe conversions I needed to make. Being a UK publication, the good ol’ metric vs. imperial issue was at hand. But my exasperation did raise an interesting question: do folks outside of North America get equally frustrated with our measurements? Would love to hear what you think! Are listed measurements in cookbooks an issue for you or not?

A common complaint people have about this book is in regards to the long recipe intros. While I agree that they are long and full of flowery language, that’s kinda how Nigella rolls so if you don’t like that style why buy her book? Personally, I appreciated the fun, personal anecdotes that include information on the recipe’s origin along with past mistakes Nigella has made and from which we can learn.

 

Chocolate Peanut-Butter Cups

RATING: 4 out of 5 (festive treat perfect for the holidays!)

THE TEST: This recipe is a homemade version of the treat made famous by Reese’s. They looked so pretty and festive in the photo I knew they’d be a welcome addition to my Christmas baking repertoire.

The recipe is not difficult but be warned that it’s finicky work. Pressing the peanut butter base into the tiny petit-four cases would be perfect for my daughters’ little fingers, except they’d end up consuming more than they produced. In fact, Nigella alludes to this challenge when using your offspring for this particular project!

Once the bases are pressed into the cases, a mixture of melted milk and dark chocolate is poured on top and they are refrigerated until firm (approximately 30 minutes). Alternatively, you can freeze them and thaw overnight as the need arises.

You can top them with pretty much whatever turns your crank. Honestly, the festive possibilities are endless! I used some pretty little edible silver stars I found at Scoop-N-Save, a cake decorating supply store located in Langley (BC).

How cute are they?!

By the way, Pamela from My Man’s Belly suggested adding bourbon to the peanut butter mixture which I think is genius! While I can’t stand drinking the stuff, I happen to love the flavour of bourbon in baking. It adds such depth of flavour. (Read more about Pamela’s booze infused treats here).

THE RESULTS: I could hardly wait for these little beauties to harden enough so I could pop them into my mouth. There’s just something about the combination of peanut butter and chocolate that I can’t resist. It’s a perfect flavour partnership.

I loved the first slightly hard crunch into the cup as your teeth sink into the chocolate crust. Immediately it gets melty and suddenly you’re in peanut butter heaven. Yummy!

This is an easy, impressive treat to serve up over the holidays, although in terms of peanut butter/chocolate desserts I think I still prefer my famous Tiger Butter recipe. Just sayin.

 

Effortless Home-Cured Pork with Apple & Onion Gravy

RATING: 3 out of 5 (lacked the expected punch of flavour)

THE TEST: Out of all the recipe tests this is the one I was most excited to try. An alternative option to traditional turkey or roast beef, I found the idea of a semi-cured pork loin roast appealing. Add to that a yummy sounding concoction of apples and onions in gravy form and I was sold!

Preparing this roast is indeed ‘effortless’. It is a less labour intensive version of the Rolled Stuffed Loin of Pork included in the book, and makes for some pretty simple entertaining. After two days of what Nigella calls her “magic-soaking treatment”, garlic oil is poured over the roast which is then baked off in the oven for approximately 1 ½ hours. The brine consists of apple juice, salt, cider vinegar, chopped onions and parsley, garlic, maple syrup, cardamom and caraway seeds. Sound amazing? It smelled amazing too.

While the roast is baking you make the gravy by puréeing apples and onions, which is then cooked in garlic oil for half an hour. Near the end a mixture of maple syrup, cornflour (or ‘cornstarch’ as we call it in North America), ground ginger and soy sauce are added into the gravy.

One side note would be my confusion in regards to the bacon fat called for in the recipe. You can opt for butter (which I did since I didn’t have any bacon fat on hand the day I made this dish) but in the directions it says to cook the processed onions and bacon over gentle heat. Did I miss something? Were we supposed to add bacon? My guess is that she meant bacon fat which she mentions earlier, but this possible typo does make the whole thing slightly confusing. At least it did for me.

THE RESULTS: I had such high hopes for this dish but unfortunately we were disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – the roast tasted good…it just didn’t taste as good as it should have considering all of the heavyweight flavour ingredients the meat had been soaking in for two days. Two days! And honestly there wasn’t any added flavour. It tasted the same as if I’d bought the pork and slapped it into the oven all plain Jane style as soon as I came home.


The apple and onion gravy was – ummm – interesting. In a good way! But I definitely won’t be making it again. The kids thought it was the oddest apple sauce they’d ever had and became grumpy at the thought that mom and dad were trying to trick them. Eaten alone it is very strange, although combined with the pork it all came together. Apples and pork – can’t really go wrong.

A word of caution: the recipe calls for the pork to be cooked at 200 C/gas mark 6, which according to my quick google search comes out somewhere in the 392 F degree range. I ended up cooking the roast at 375 F which browned the meat nicely but near the end everything started to burn. The roast was fine but if I were to try this meal again I would definitely cook it at a lower temperature of 350 F.

I should also mention that Mr. Spock and I tagged each other out on this recipe test, as I had to leave before the roast was finished (thanks for taking such great pics babe!) It was an interesting process, as I felt incomplete and he felt thrown in the middle of the mix. I also know for a fact that it was a struggle for him to stick so closely to a recipe. What can I say? My husband is a free spirit in the kitchen!

 

Seasonally Spiced Nuts

RATING: 5 out of 5 (perfect for entertaining, great flavour that improves over time)

THE TEST:
Who doesn’t like warm, salty nuts during the holidays (shut your mouth Crystal Smith!) It’s the perfect snack to have on hand and makes you look like a rockstar when you pull out a jar of these nuts to serve to your guests.

What I love about this recipe is the endless flavour possibilities. Simply swap out different nuts/spices and voilà – a whole new version to enjoy. I decided to use a mix of almond, macadamia, Brazil, pecan and cashew nuts. These are toasted on the stovetop until golden brown, and then tossed with a ground spice mix of garam masala and celery salt. Olive oil, brown sugar and finely chopped rosemary are then added to the pan, and the nuts are cooked until evenly coated and slightly darkened. Cool on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.

THE RESULTS: These nuts tasted fantastic! Even though Nigella stipulates that they taste best when served right away, I definitely found they improved with age as the flavours got a chance to really meld and deepen. I used a lovely smoked sea salt which tasted incredible with these nuts, but with the wide variety of flavoured salt now commonly available the possibilities are endless.