Nigella Lawson really knows how to get you excited about food. In her TV show, it’s her warm way of inviting you into her kitchen and her down-to-earth manners that make you believe she lives just like you do (even though she’s married to multi-millionaire Charles Saatchi and is herself now worth millions of pounds). In her books, it’s her voice: her funny and sometimes witty comments before each recipe, the no-fuss instructions and mouth-watering pictures (in which she’s often featured). Somehow, she manages to make you believe she’s one of your friends telling you about a fabulous recipe she just found out about.
And so Nigella Express is an enticing book. I found myself wanting to try many more recipes than I had time to. I sometimes doubted the flavor level of some recipes based on the ingredients list but, except for one crab salad recipe in which I more than doubled the dressing quantities to make it flavorful, I found the results very satisfying. The book is great in a ‘weekday’ kind of way: I wasn’t at any point blown away or surprised by the recipes, but they are sure shots that will get you out of your work-week routine. I think this is a great book for an apprentice cook: ingredients are few and used the right way and in the right quantities. The instructions are straight to the point and the recipes can really be whipped up pretty quickly.
One thing I didn’t like is the organization of the book: instead of following the traditional appetizers – soups – mains – dessert order, the recipes are filed under rather obscure chapter names like “Instant Calmer”, “Retro Rapido” and “Razzle Dazzle”. While this is a great way to choose a mood before a menu, it isn’t the right way to help you find a recipe fast – you have to go through the whole book to find salad recipes scattered across five or six chapters.
Many recipes are inspired by Asian and Indian cuisines, and feature ingredients that may be a bit harder to find (and unfamiliar to the beginner cook), but substitution options are often given. I particularly liked the last section, Storecupboard SOS, which gives instructions on how to prepare many basics from scratch, such as flavored cooking oils and dressings as well as very last-minute emergency recipes like hummus, soups and salads. Since I think the book would be at its best in the hands of a beginner, I think a pantry basics section is lacking: what should you always have in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer to whip up these recipes so quickly? People who are just starting out in the kitchen struggle with organization, and that’s precisely why take-out food so often becomes the last-resort option.
As I expected, the book’s desserts are particularly rich. Mrs. Lawson isn’t afraid of cream and butter, and it shows: while all of the dessert options are undoubtedly delicious, I think they are, more often than not, too sinful for day-to-day sweet endings. I preferred the few fruit-based desserts, but if you’re a sugar-addict, you will indeed find your fix in this book.
All in all, a good go-to reference book to plan your weeknight meals. Beginners will feel like stars when they successfully cook great-tasting meals from scratch, while intermediate to expert cooks will want to stray away from the recipes to add their own flavorings and finishing touches to bring the recipes to a more refined level.
Details about the book
- Title/Author: Nigella Express, Nigella Lawson
- Numbers: 130 recipes, 390 pages
- Picture/Recipe Ratio: 1:1
- Publishing Year/Publisher: 2007, Hyperion Books (US & Canada)
- Audience: Busy cooks, beginner to intermediate cooks
The last recipe from Nigella Express I am treating you with is a versatile one that you could choose to prepare for a Sunday brunch, a weekday lunch or even a lazy dinner. It’s a cross between a croque-monsieur and a French toast that must be prepared in advance and is cooked somewhat like a quiche. Intrigued? I was and I loved it. It couldn’t be easier to prepare and you can easily downsize or double the recipe, depending on how many hungry stomachs you have to feed.
Makes 2 full-size servings (one serving = one sandwich) or 4 half-sandwiches you could serve for brunch with bacon, potatoes and a fruit salad.
4 slices ready-sliced multigrain brown bread (I prefer a dense, stale bread like you would use to make French toasts)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 ½ cups grated Gruyère cheese (Swiss, Emmenthal or Aged Cheddar cheeses would also be good)
2 to 4 slices ham
1 teaspoon Kosher salt or ½ teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup whole milk
A good sprinkling of Worcestershire sauce
Spread the mustard on the bread slices and make two sandwiches with the ham and the cheese (reserving some cheese for the topping). Cut each sandwich in half, making triangles.
Squish the sandwiches into a baking dish that will ideally fit them as tightly as possible*. Beat together the eggs, salt and milk and pour this over the sandwiches tightly packed in the dish.
Cover the dish with a plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for several hours to overnight, depending on when you plan on serving your croque-monsieur.
A half-hour before serving, preheat the oven to 400°F and take the dish out of the fridge, removing the plastic wrap. Sprinkle over the Worcestershire sauce (don’t be afraid) and the remaining grated cheese. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.
*Note: If you don’t have a dish that will fit the sandwiches very tightly, don’t sweat it: the bread will absorb the egg mixture from the bottom of the dish as it stands in the fridge before cooking. My baking dish was a little bigger than necessary and it was still absolutely delicious.