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How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food Hardcover – August 22, 2002
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"Cooking is not about just joining the dots, following one recipe slavishly and then moving on to the next," says British food writer Nigella Lawson. "It's about developing an understanding of food, a sense of assurance in the kitchen, about the simple desire to make yourself something to eat." Lawson is not a chef, but "an eater." She writes as if she's conversing with you while beating eggs or mincing garlic in your kitchen. She explains how to make the basics, such as roast chicken, soup stock, various sauces, cake, and ice cream. She teaches you to cook more esoteric dishes, such as grouse, white truffles (mushrooms, not chocolate), and "ham in Coca-Cola." She gives advice for entertaining over the holidays, quick cooking ("the real way to make life easier for yourself: cooking in advance"), cooking for yourself ("you don't have to belong to the drearily narcissistic learn-to-love-yourself school of thought to grasp that it might be a good thing to consider yourself worth cooking for"), and weekend lunches for six to eight people. Don't expect any concessions to health recommendations in the recipes here--Lawson makes liberal and unapologetic use of egg yolks, cream, and butter. There are plenty of recipes, but the best parts of How to Eat are the well-crafted tidbits of wisdom, such as the following:
- "Cook in advance and, if the worse comes to the worst, you can ditch it. No one but you will know that it tasted disgusting, or failed to set, or curdled or whatever."
- On the proper English trifle: "When I say proper I mean proper: lots of sponge, lots of jam, lots of custard and lots of cream. This is not a timid construction ... you don't want to end up with a trifle so upmarket it's inappropriately, posturingly elegant. A degree of vulgarity is requisite."
- "Too many people cook only when they're giving a dinner party. And it's very hard to go from zero to a hundred miles an hour. How can you learn to feel at ease around food, relaxed about cooking, if every time you go into the kitchen it's to cook at competition level?"
--Joan Price --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"How to Eat was in many ways a breakthrough. With the confident air of Elizabeth David, she laid out what seemed every view possible on how she eats, including when she is dieting and when she is eating alone, and complimented it with hundreds of appealing and accessible recipes.... Some of her best recipes...are written as suggestions within the text. How to Eat is full of them." (The New York Times, January 9, 2002) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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That said, when was the last time you had a really great teacher? This is probably the best and the most important cookbook that has been published in the last decade (the last big one, for me, was Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso's New Basics). Nigella inspired me. Obviously, she knows how to make and serve superb food. But she can also write, in a voice that is straightforward, simple, and direct; and she makes you want to cook.
Her credo is directed toward those of us who eat well and also struggle in the kitchen at home: we are a generation of cooks who have been cowed in the kitched by "too much cheffiness," the endemic fussiness of restaurant food; and the subsequent intimidation we experience from professional chefs and food celebrities (clearly she wrote this before she became a superstar). Instead of trying to replicate restaurant food, she argues, we should consider the distinction between how we eat at home and how we eat when we go out. This book directs itself toward how we eat at home. And her answer is simple: make what you want to make, in the time that you're allowed to do it. Therefore, this book is organized by time and convenience, rather than by region or category. You get whole (albeit limited) menus, rather than exhaustive descriptions of one regional category or another.
I have probably cooked every recipe in this book and (like one of the previous reviewers) I have some of Nigella's recipes permanently under my belt--alas, in more ways than one. The parsley salad with red onion, capers, and lemon juice is a permanent fixture in my life now; so is her red wine onion gravy (for sausages and mash, even though I disobiently use chicken or turkey instead of pork). I make that @!%$ recipe for chickpea and pasta soup more than I can bear to admit, even to myself, because it's inexpensive and it works. Nigella even instigated enough courage in my soul to actually purchase and cook oxtails, and she was right: they are less trouble than you would expect, delicious (and cheap). I also completely understand her obsession with rhubarb . . . and linguine with clams . . . and ham cooked in cider . . . and creme caramel made with coconut creme instead of milk . . . and the pleasure of laying out nice things you bought at the store when you can't deal with imprisoning yourself in the kitchen.
In the meantime, you have her stories to keep you company--her family's celebrations and tragedies, the tribulations of raising small children, and the most beautiful drag queen in all of Florence.
What more could you ask? This book acts as a guide to the hidden culinary adventures possible in your own home. Familiar energizing ideas suddenly offer up new ones, and old neglected ones naggingly call your name until you get off your ass, go out and try something new
Four years later, I am not by any means finished with this book. It waits, open, spattered and torn, by the other cookbooks that I love to flip through but rarely use. It now forms part of the fabric of my life. Forget the hot shots and the style network . . . she an oracle of our modern age, where everything is available but we have no idea what to do with it.
For those who only enjoy cookbooks that have lots of pictures, this book is not for you. I can go either way - the pictures are fun, but it's kind of like pictures of food at McDonalds - the 'real' end product often looks nothing like it, but tastes fine either way.
That said, this book is filled with valuable recipes and bundles them together into full meals. If you're looking for a single recipe, the index has them all, but I really like that she makes recommendations for dishes that go well together and have gone over well in her own cooking experience.
You'll likely find yourself reading the book leisurely, which is exactly the intent - take your time, enjoy the process, and have a great time in the kitchen!
(If you must have pix - "Nigella Bites" and "How to Be a Domestic Goddess" have plenty!)