I had never seen Nigella Lawson on television until I went to England and Wales this summer. Exhausted from a conference – oh, and from running around London with a tween looking for Harry Potter filming locations – we were thrilled we could “veg out” in the evening with the Food Network UK. (Ah, the comfort. Ah, the bacon!) Our schedule (and jet lag) introduced us to two new-to-us shows: Nigella Kitchen and Bitchin’ Kitchen. Back home, I looked for accompanying cookbooks because my daughter had enjoyed the shows so much, and Nigella Express was the first one I saw. Which is why Nigella has the (dubious) distinction of being my first Rent Before Buying review.
Who is Nigella Lawson? Self-proclaimed “Domestic Goddess,” daughter of a former Chancellor of the Exchequer of Great Britain, and until this week the wife of the advertising-made bazillionaire Charles Saatchi. She is a self-taught cook, and her curvaceous appearance and flirtatious delivery helped to define what media critics refer to a “food porn.” Lawson is an icon in the UK, with a string of successful cookbooks and cooking series to her credit.
Take on Cooking: Nigella Express is Lawson’s ode to the busy working mom – someone she knows more than a little bit about, what with running a media empire and being a mother of three! It’s all about giving yourself a break and getting good tasting food on the table fast.
The Delicious Parts: The book is beautifully photographed, and Lawson’s personal stories make it an entertaining read. She comes across as down-to-earth but just a little bit edgy– kind of like the Anti-Martha Stewart. And Lawson has a real talent for putting together flavors that work well together. There’s plenty of spices and seasonings, with some unexpected combinations.
Not Quite To My Taste: The “express” part of the title comes with some shortcuts that we don’t usually use, including a lot of processed products –mixing jarred spaghetti sauce, broth and pasta for minestrone seems a bit too express, if you get my drift. Also, the “comfort food” aspect of the book meant that a lot of the recipes were very fatty. So I wound up adding steps and substituting ingredients to make meals for my family. The book is dessert heavy, because sweets are definitely Lawson’s thing – but we aren’t habitual dessert eaters, so a lot of the recipes would go unused (although I’m pretty sure my daughter would be happy if I used them).
Recommedation? Devour, Split, Send it Back to the Kitchen? For me, it’s a definite split—it’s going back to the library, and I don’t have to purchase it. But I can see why others would devour it, especially dessert lovers, and those looking for one cookbook with a broad set of recipes! I could see this as a great shower gift or new parent gift – perfect for someone not used to getting a meal together every night.
One Great Recipe: Nigella Lawson’s Curry in a Hurry
2 T. canola or other oil
3 T. finely chopped scallions
3-4 T. green Thai curry paste
2 ¼ lbs. chicken thigh fillets, cut into strips about 1 ½ inches by ¾ inch (I used considerably less, only about a pound, and for the four of us the proportions were fine)
1 14-oz can coconut milk
1 cup boiling water + enough chicken bouillon or concentrate to make 2 cups (I used veggie broth)
1 T. fish sauce
1 ½ cup frozen peas
1 ½ cup frozen edamame
1 ½ cup frozen slender beans (I used fresh because they are in season)
3 T. fresh cilantro
Cooked rice or noodles (I served this with a spicy chili rice)
1) Heat the oil in a large saucepan, on that owns a lid, and drop in the scallions. Cook, stirring for a minute of two, and then add the curry paste.
2) Add the chicken pieces and keep turning over heat for 2 minutes before adding the coconut milk, stock, and fish sauce, and then the frozen peas and soybeans.
3) Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the frozen green beans and cook for 3-5 minutes.
4) Serve with rice or noodles, as wished, sprinkling over the cilantro as you do so. Put a plate of lime wedges for people to squeeze over as they eat.
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FTC disclosure: I did not receive a free copy of this book for review.