At My Table by Nigella Lawson

Nigella At My Table

What is it? TV tie-in to Nigella’s latest BBC TV cookery show with about 100 recipes celebrating home cooking.

Nigella who? You’re kidding, right? Nigella is the famously sultry queen of British food writing and broadcasting who could sexualise a sultana at 100 paces. She has ten other books to her name including How To Be a Domestic Goddess, numerous TV shows and appearances and a hugely popular website.

In 2013, she transcended foodie-fame to became tabloid fodder due to a messy divorce from former ad-man and art gallery owner Charles Saatchi. In the same year, revelations were made about her drug use during a court case involving the couple’s personal assistants.

What does it look like? A cook book. There are recipes. There are (mostly) overhead shots of the dishes to illustrate the recipes. The food styling is kept to an absolute minimum and anyone hoping for images of all those gorgeous rose-gold utensils, copper KitchenAid stand mixer, or indeed Nigella in her now-famous map-of-Venice silk dressing gown from the TV series will be sorely disappointed.

Is it good bedtime reading?  Sort of. This is first and foremost a recipe book but Nigella has such a distinctive and well developed writing voice that the extended introductions are just a joy to read at any time.

Killer recipes?  Coconut shrimp with turmeric yoghurt; Turkish eggs; toasted Brie, Parma ham and fig sandwich; sweet potato tacos; white miso hummus; roast loin of salmon with Aleppo pepper and fennel seeds; Chicken barley (the list goes on).

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  You may need to head online for Nigella’s favourite ingredient du jour, Aleppo pepper, but the book seems to be designed with the supermarket shopper in mind.

What’s the faff factor?  Nigella doesn’t understand the meaning of the word. She is faff antimatter that annihilates the very idea of unnecessary arsing about in the kitchen. If she can make something simple and easy, she will.

How often will I cook from the book?  At My Table is a book you could turn to for mid-week meal inspiration, a weekend baking session, special occasion dining or when entertaining friends. So if you like Nigella’s style, you won’t be leaving her on the shelf.

What will I love?  The sheer range of the recipes, from simple tray bakes with familiar, comforting ingredients and flavours like chicken and peas to more exotic creations such as Moroccan vegetable pot and brussels sprouts with preserved lemon and pomegranate. ‘Subverting the spiralizer’ cocks a well deserved snook at the clean eating brigade by re-purposing the movement’s emblematic gadget to make down and dirty shoestring fries.

Nigella is always reliable when it comes to desserts and baking and At My Table doesn’t disappoint with the likes of sunken chocolate amaretto cake and warm blondie pudding. She knows her booze too and negroni sbagliato made with prosecco, Campari and red vermouth is destined to become the drink of the chattering classes, and just anyone who buys the book.

What won’t I like?  Some may object to Nigella’s shortcut style (‘better behaved cooks would tell you to skim off the frothy bits that rise to the top but, frankly, I’m to lazy to’ she admits in the method for her chicken barley stew) but we know what we think of those people don’t we?

Should I buy it? Despite the almost utilitarian design, you should welcome Nigella to your table. You won’t regret it.

Cuisine: British/Eclectic
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking
£26, Chatto and Windus

The Road to Mexico by Rick Stein

The Road to Mexico by Rick Stein

Restaurateur and seafood expert Rick Stein has been absolutely bloody everywhere. He’s written numerous cookbooks (many of them with an accompanying TV series) covering France, Spain, India, the Med, the Far East, most of Europe and the UK. Now he’s turned his attention to Mexico and California with The Road to Mexico. The book, and TV series, retraces Steins steps from nearly 50 years ago when, as he explains in the introduction, he ‘crossed the border from the USA at Neuvo Laredo and headed for the city of Monterrey’ and ordered some tacos in a bar.

His recent experience of Mexico was undoubtedly more luxurious than his original trip, swapping hitch-hiking, Greyhound buses and German cargo ships for a pale blue convertible Mustang, but the food probably hasn’t changed all that much in intervening half-a-century. Tortillas, tacos, enchiladas, corn, chilies and avocado abound. Recipes include ‘the original Caesar salad’ from Caesar Hotel in Tijuana made with salted white anchovies; refried beans, guacamole and roasted red tomato and chilli salsa. A short section on staples like guacatillo sauce made with tomatillos, avocado and chilies and a list of essential Mexican larder ingredients make the book a perfect primer for the first-time Mexican cook.

Each of the seven chapters that cover breakfasts and brunch, street food, vegetables and sides, fish and shellfish, poultry, meat and desserts and drinks is prefaced by a short essay by Stein, which, combined with the comprehensive and informative recipe introductions and the vividly colourful location photography makes for a satisfying travelogue.

Because the recipes are arranged into categories rather than place of origin, you’ll need to watch the series to get a proper sense of the regional variations of Mexican cuisine, and to understand why California has been included. Stein avers that ‘there is so much Mexican influence in Californian food’, and while that is true, recipes like Italian cioppino (monkfish, mussel and prawn stew) from Tadich Grill, chicken noodle soup with yellow bean sauce from chef Martin Yan’s M.Y China and Alice Waters’ rhubarb galette Chez Panisse (all in San Francisco) don’t reflect that influence.

So, the book’s premise might be a bit shaky and the recipe selection scattershot, but that shouldn’t prevent you from cooking from it. Recipes are well written, easy to follow and for the most part straightforward to prepare. Stein has an unerring nose for a great dish and The Road to Mexico has enough of them to make it a must buy for Stein’s many fans and anyone who wants to find out more about one of the world’s greatest, and most fashionable, cuisines.

Cuisine: Mexican/American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Rick Stein: The Road to Mexico (TV Tie in)
£26 BBC Books

Cook from this book
Ensenada fish tacos
Turkey breast with pasilla chipotle chilli butter sauce
Mexican rice pudding with honeycomb

Pork belly and mojo verde by Nieves Barragán Mohacho

Pork belly and mojo verde from Sabor

This recipe uses a pestle and mortar to make a lumpier mojo verde that’s good for serving alongside meat, but you could make a smoother, creamier sauce for marinating. Just put all the ingredients, except the coriander, into a blender. Whiz together, adding the coriander halfway through, then blend again until green and creamy with some small flecks of herb. Instead of pork belly, you could grill lamb cutlets and serve them with the mojo verde dotted around, or marinate chicken in the smoother version of the sauce.

Serves 6-8

1 x 4–5kg piece of pork belly, rib bones intact
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

For the mojo verde

1 bunch of spring onions
4 cloves of garlic
2 big bunches of fresh coriander (equal to around 6–8 of the 40g supermarket packets)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
200ml extra virgin olive oil
125ml Moscatel vinegar
2 dried chillies
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Line a roasting tray with greaseproof paper. Score the skin of the pork belly quite deeply (around 1cm), then place it skin side down on the paper-lined tray. Season the top of the pork belly with salt, pepper and cumin seeds and cook for 1½–2hrs. The skin should be very crispy and the meat must be tender – if it’s not quite there yet, turn it over and cook it for another 10 minutes.

Make the mojo verde while the pork belly is cooking: roughly chop the ingredients and add them slowly to a pestle and mortar, dribbling in the olive oil bit by bit and mashing together.

Spoon some mojo verde on to each plate, then top with 1cm–2cm thick pork belly slices and drizzle over a little olive oil to finish.

This recipe appears in
Sabor: Flavours from a Spanish Kitchen
Nieves Barragan Mohacho
£25 Penguin Fig Tree

Read the review

Gary Rhodes at the Table

Rhodes at the table

At the Table was the spiky-haired one’s seventh major cook book in about as many years and followed hot on the heels of the mammoth New British Classics. How on earth did he do it?

No doubt that sustaining a career like Rhodes’s is a team effort, and the many acknowledgements in the front of the book support that theory. However, all the food for the book was prepared by the chef himself, and his style is firmly imprinted in both the prose and recipes.

As always with Rhodes’s dishes, quotation marks abound in titles to indicate not all is as it seems, eg Pigeon and Red Onion “Pasty” turns out to be a pithivier. There are many more examples. It’s an annoying affectation and is indicative of Rhodes slightly overwrought approach.

However, the book design is excellent, with good use of colour. The photography is superb, and there are some real gems amongst the recipes, including a terrific crab salad, duck with spicy plums and a fantastic pear parfait.

Rhodes is a highly skilled and talented chef, and his food can be demanding of the home cook. Using this book may require a little more forethought and preparation, and you may need to adapt the recipes to your own abilities, but the results will be worth it.

Cuisine: modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

Buy this book
Gary Rhodes at the Table
Gary Rhodes
£0.01 BBC Books

Cooking At The Merchant House by Shaun Hill

Merchant House

There had been a ten year gap between The Shaun Hill Cookery Book (also known as The Gidliegh Park Cookbook) and Cooking At The Merchant House when it finally arrived in 2000. In between, Hill had knocked out a vegetable cook booklet for the BBC, contributed recipes to “A Spoon At Every Course by Mirabel Osler, and apparently spent the advance for a book called Masterclass which eventually surfaced as How to Cook Better.

Of course, he was also busy doing other things, such as running a restaurant, consulting for BA and Tescos and the odd bit of broadcasting on Radio 4. But I’m extremely glad he took the time to record the recipes that formed the menus at his wonderful and late lamented Ludlow restaurant.

Dishes such as Warm Artichoke Heart with Peas and Mint Hollandaise; Fresh Goats Cheese Gnocchi and Lobster with Chickpea, Corinander and Olive Oil Sauce bring back fond memories of numerous meals eaten at The Merchant House.

In addition to the excellent recipes, Cooking At The Merchant House goes some way to telling the story of the life of the restaurant.  Hill is a gifted writer of prose and it’s a great shame that there is not more of it. I am told by ‘sources close to the author’ that a great deal more was written and submitted, but was sacrificed to photos and general design considerations. Nevertheless Cooking From the Merchant House remains an essential purchase for any serious cook, professional or amateur.

Cuisine: modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Cooking at the Merchant House
Shaun Hill
£0.01 Conran Octopus