Having spent some more time with this cookbook, I can now share some general things I do and don’t like about it. For starters: every bulleted list in this book (and there are many of them) uses hearts as bullet points. This gets old really quickly. Another small annoyance: all recipes in this book that use eggs call for extra-large ones, rather than the large eggs that most other cookbooks seem to use (and that I normally buy). Also: lots of recipes seem to call for garlic-flavored oil, which I don’t quite get—why not just use garlic? On the plus side: the photographs, by Lis Parsons, are all beautiful, whether they’re of cooked dishes, raw ingredients, or miscellaneous-stuff-around-the-kitchen. Also satisfying is the tone of gentle encouragement throughout the book, starting with the introduction, which contains passages like this:

We all dream about the perfect kitchen with its well-appointed fittings, gleaming surfaces, and top-of-the-range equipment. It’s both roomy and cozy at the same time, boasting lots of space and lots of light, but most of all it is the setting for our ideal life. This is a kitchen that I’ve never cooked in, let alone written about.

Whatever stove you have, it has to work for you, however haphazardly. However restricted the space, that has to work for you, too. However dated the design, it must work for you. And it will. (XV)

After the introduction, there’s a section called “Kitchen Caboodle,” which lists the kitchen items that Nigella finds essential/helpful/not worth buying. It’s interesting, though probably more useful for someone setting up house for the first time (or just getting into cooking) than someone who’s been cooking a while: I pretty much have every kitchen gadget I want or need, with the exception of a free-standing mixer (which Nigella recommends) and an ice-cream maker (which Nigella does not), and honestly, neither of those fit into my current kitchen/lifestyle. Maybe someday. Tangential rant: when Nigella lists a “healthy-eating electric grill” as a kitchen item she never should’ve purchased (I agree, I’ve never seen the appeal of these), we get this: “But just as (and here’s an unlikely issuer of the utterance in question) Samuel Beckett said that “probably nothing in the world arouses more false hopes than the first four hours of a diet,” so there is nothing that arouses more pleasurable self-delusion than those swollen, sleepless, post-prandial hours when, yes, actually a diet tomorrow seems positively welcoming” (9). Really? Did this part of the book not get fact-checked? A quick Google search does pull up many results attributing this quote to Samuel Beckett—which does indeed seem unlikely—but pulls up more results saying it comes from a comedian named Dan Bennett, which seems more likely to me.

But on to the recipes! The early recipes in this book are pretty quick and easy-seeming: they’re grouped in sections called “What’s for supper?” and “Hurry up! I’m hungry!” and aim to get good food on the table quickly. They’re pretty meat-centric, and lots of them aim to be reasonably kid-friendly. I was not tempted by the Sloppy Joe-style “Barbecued ground beef,” or by the Sweet and sour chicken whose sauce features ketchup, apricot jam, soy sauce, pineapple juice, and rice wine vinegar. I was definitely not tempted by Spaghetti with Marmite. I was tempted by the “Cheesy chili”—more on that soon. If it were summer and I had an abundance of basil to use, I’d totally be making the Pasta alla genovese, which features potatoes, green beans, and a “pesto” sans pine nuts.

Some of the meat or shellfish recipes in these early sections of the book sound great, both simple and sophisticated—the mussels cooked in hard cider instead of beer, or the lamb steaks with a rosemary and port sauce or the scallops with Thai-scented pea puree—but that sort of meal would be a special occasion dinner for me, not the kind of thing I cook regularly. My ordinary cooking life doesn’t have the organization or forethought or coordination necessary for making a meal of, say, lamb steaks plus mashed potatoes plus green beans, and the mussels or scallops would require waiting on the long Saturday-morning line at the fish stand at the Grand Army Plaza farmers market: not impossible, but not very likely, either.

I’m much more likely to make and enjoy a one-dish meal, some kind of soup or stew or casserole. And so: the chili. It features chorizo and ground beef (both of which I got at the farmers market, though the recipe isn’t really clear as to whether it calls for fresh sausage or the dried Spanish kind), plus canned kidney beans, canned tomatoes and tomato paste, water, cocoa powder, oregano, Worcestershire sauce, and fresh mozzarella. I don’t think I’ve ever met a chili recipe that featured mozzarella (or Worcestershire sauce, for that matter) until now, but OK. I live mere blocks from an Italian-food store where I can walk in on a Sunday morning at 11 and buy a still-warm ball of fresh mozzarella, so I figured I might as well go with it. The chorizo I used was from Flying Pigs Farm (who also sell the most beautiful eggs I have ever cooked with), and the beef was from Wilklow Orchards. Once we started cooking, I realized we didn’t actually have any Worcestershire sauce, so we chucked in soy sauce instead, guessing (correctly) that we wouldn’t be able to taste it in the end. While it’s mild and subtle and not terribly revelatory, this chili was delicious, and satisfying for such a quick meal.

Other things I might want to make: the “Mexican lasagne” (tortillas instead of pasta, canned black beans and canned corn), which looks yummy though it uses rather a lot of canned goods, the tomato curry with coconut rice (though this one’s obviously destined not to happen in my kitchen until summertime and local tomatoes have returned), the apple cinnamon muffins, banoffee cheesecake (banana cheesecake + toffee sauce), coconut and cherry banana bread, chocolate banana muffins … and that’s only having read up to page 140 of the book. Hm: I might have to revise my initial assessment that this book was nice but not one I wanted to own.

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