The Book: At My Table, A Celebration Of Home Cooking by Nigella Lawson, $45
You may never be invited to eat chez Nigella, but chin up: The latest cookbook from the British food writer invites you to peek inside her kitchen, at a variety of dishes she loves to serve friends and family in her day-to-day cooking. Lawson considers this book a collection of her own stories and memories (the chicken fricassee sparks nostalgia for visits to her grandmother’s apartment) as much as a new offering of recipes.
Sticking to her trademark style, she continues to champion the home cook and present food that’s simple, approachable and satisfying. “We cook to bring pleasure, comfort, and flavour to life, to the table,” Lawson writes in the intro. When estimating serving sizes, she admits she likes to “err on the side of generosity” and convinces us to just trust her on any unusual-sounding flavour combinations. About to dive in, I’m looking forward to tasty, stress-free cooking, with Lawson’s witty narrative keeping me chilled out while I whip up new and memorable meals.
I’ll admit that on first pass I was a little “meh.” The recipes all seemed, sure, approachable, but maybe a little bit too standard — I saw roast cornish hen, chicken marsala (the chicken fricassee) on a quick flip-thru. But once I dug in and started picking recipes to prepare, I changed my tune. I appreciated the weeknight-friendly fare that leaned on flavour-boosting ingredients like miso and pomegranate molasses. Even comforting classics like Sausages With Apples And Onions made my mouth water. The recipe is one Nigella’s grandmother made when “exhausted by her grandchildren, she hadn’t the energy for anything fancier.” Who hasn’t been at the intersection of exhausted and starving?
Jamie Oliver’s New 5 Ingredients Cookbook Will End Weeknight Dinner StressAnd I certainly appreciate Lawson’s generous nature when it comes to desserts (aka puddings) — the book contains treats for any occasion from brunch to birthdays to midnight chocolate cravings. Each recipe includes make-ahead tips (thank you!) and is labelled in the index if it’s vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free or gluten-free. Very handy.
I received this book just before a weekend family gathering, the perfect opportunity to plan a home-cooked meal that would be a little bit special, but not too demanding (I hoped). The first four dishes below became our dinner, and I brought the Tomato And Horseradish Salad (chosen because I hadn’t used fresh horseradish in a long time) along with me to a pot luck. I also made the Emergency Brownies because I really did have a chocolate emergency.
Garlic And Parmesan Mashed Potatoes, page 66
Carrots And Fennel With Harissa, page 60
Tomato And Horseradish Salad, page 89
Emergency Brownies, page 233
Do The Recipes Actually Work?
I did what everyone says never to do — I cooked for guests using recipes I’d never made before. But this is Nigella, and I had faith she’d pull me through. I started by throwing together an appetizer of smashed chickpeas, seasoned simply with garlic, lemon zest and chilis. Not quite the same as making hummus, you infuse flavour into the chickpeas by warming them in olive oil combined with garlic, lemon zest and red chilies. The chilies turn the oil slightly orange (it’s all very Tequila Sunrise, says Lawson) before you roughly mash everything together, and serve. It’s fresh, flavourful and not overly filling before a hearty dinner.
Once the app was done, I began prepping the slow-cooked lamb shanks, which take about three hours to cook. Lamb is one of my favourite foods and other than figuring out how to cram six shanks into my Dutch oven, this was not a complicated recipe. First you sear the meat, then sauté onions, garlic and carrots, add stock and spices, plus pitted dates for sweetness and pomegranate molasses for acidity, and let it all slowly cook. One reaps the benefits of this recipe even before you sit down to eat thanks to the sweet, rich aroma that fills the kitchen. The shanks, when done, were falling off the bone, and the sauce was dense and sumptuous. Leftovers were heaven. If you have a larger group coming, Lawson suggests pulling the meat off the bone and serving it as a stew.
For sides, I made Nigella’s Garlic And Parmesan Mashed Potatoes and her Carrots And Fennel With Harissa. She wasn’t kidding about her generous serving sizes: I had enough mashed potatoes to feed six and still and make a shepherd’s pie the next night (you could also use the leftovers for Nigella’s Mashed Potato Waffles). I served my mash immediately, but the book also provides instructions for making them ahead of time to turn into a gratin that you heat up just before serving.
The fennel and carrots side was also easy-peasy. The vibrant colours of the dish are gorgeous on the table and the addition of spicy harissa helped balance the full flavours of the other dishes. For this recipe, you just toss the sliced veg with clementine juice, harissa, olive oil and salt, then roast in the oven. (I halved the amount of harissa as my family is a bit wimpy with spice) and the dish still had enough kick to balance the sweetness of the carrots and match the tang of the citrus.
I created an occasion to test out my next pick, the enticing Cherry Tomato And Horseradish Salad, ASAP. We were heading over to a friend’s and I offered to double up and bring a salad as well as the dessert I’d already signed up for. Verdict: This salad is going to take me through BBQ season. The sweet tomato, herby parsley and distinctive fresh, fiery horseradish combined to be a flavour powerhouse that would be perfect with grilled meats. (I might just grate horseradish into all my dressing going forward!) Prep takes only about 10 minutes and is even faster if you grab a friend to halve the tomatoes for you.
And finally, the moment I was waiting for: a brownie emergency! I’ve never been so happy to see a pile of pots (including one with burnt spaghetti remains crisped to the bottom) sitting in the sink (day 3!) and have my husband tell me (again) that we should keep the fridge better organized while my son let me know that he was feeling a bit too tired to fold the laundry and could I just do it? But you know what I did? I made brownies while they talked. Nigella’s emergency recipe makes two large brownies, and was created for those time that you need a brownie but don’t want to make a whole batch. It took about 10 minutes to make the batter, 20 minutes to bake and then 20 minutes to cool (agony). One for me and, well, one for my me again (in my lunch the next day). Fast, dense and intensely chocolaty with nibbles of chocolate chips throughout — happy place.
This book has something for everyone. It provides everything from family-friendly meals to celebration-worthy nosh. You could probably cook for a month just using these recipes and then rerun them with enthusiasm. Nigella dives into a variety of flavours, from basic English meals (like sausages and apples) to Middle Eastern and Indian influenced fare. If you’re looking for adventure, you probably won’t find it here. But you will create flavourful, robust meals that, as promised, will warm your home with tantalizing aromas and draw people to the table.
If you’re someone who doesn’t veer too far from a fixed repertoire (and pantry) then you’ll probably also find some new ingredients to try (the pomegranate molasses, which I used for the lamb shanks, can be drizzled on roasted veggies or added to salad dressing). If you want to nestle into a comfort zone (in the best sense), At My Table has got you covered.
Ease Of Use
Effort: Easy to Medium Skill Level: Easy
Who To Buy It For
- A must-have for any Nigella fan, this book will add to your list of favourite recipes and uplift your cooking with Nigella’s witty camaraderie
- Any burgeoning cooks in your life: The tone is gentle and the recipes forgiving enough to build confidence
- Anyone who loves dessert: There’s enough delicious “puddings” in here to carry you through any sugar craving
Where It will Live
Close at hand, to grab when meal planning or having friends over for a last-minute gathering.
Watch Just How Easy It Is To Make Your Own Perfectly Mashed Potatoes: