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A temporary goodbye to Nigella

"At its core, it answers that important, everyday question: 'What are we going to eat?'" Nigella Lawson

And actually she has just answered that question of the day for me. I decided on pork chops and was veering towards something with limoncello and possibly mushrooms because David had got out the limoncello to pour over a little panettone we had been given for Christmas. Very nice too. I would recommend.

In the meantime I had decided to farewell this wonderful Christmas present that you see here - and I will. As I chose the quote at the top from her introduction - 'it' by the way in this context, refers to cookbooks - I thought I should look to see what she had to offer for pork chops. And here it is - the perfect answer for a very hot day - Apple pork chops with sauerkraut slaw.

On a hot day using the oven is a bit of a no no. Well I admit it's a bit stupid to use something that will heat up an otherwise relatively cool house. Hence the thought of pork chops, And this fits the bill admirably because the sauerkraut is served cold. And it's pretty simple too, though I might have to go to the supermarket to get some dill, unless I'm really lazy and snip some fennel fronds - if there are any - from my somewhat bedraggled looking fennel plants. I'm not a huge fan of salad and perhaps slaw in particular but I do like sauerkraut, and so does David, so I thought I would give it a go. I think what finally sold me was the apple juice deglazing sauce on top. Yes I will have to go to the supermarket. No apple juice. But I do have sauerkraut. Alas the recipe is not online, so you'll just have to go out and buy the book, which I would thoroughly recommend. Or email me and I will send you the recipe. It's too long to type out here.

But back to Nigella's book as a desirable addition to any cookbook collection. Why do I like it so?

1. She writes so well, which is interesting sort of, because in person she is irritating, as I have said before, with all those sidelong flirtatious looks at the camera and the fluttering of the eyelashes. I often wonder if this is naturally her or whether her minders have told her to be like this. That is, a persona that once glimpsed early in her career had to be carefully consolidated ever after. Some of it comes over in her writing but mostly her writing seems more sincere, even a touch sad here and there. And it's littered with quotable quotes - some of which appear in this blog. Apart from the general introduction every recipe comes with a lengthy introduction and there are even chatty asides and hints throughout the recipe. You can sit down and read it just like you would read any other kind of book. Because:

"This book, like all the books I've written and all the cookbooks I've read, is not just a manual, but a collection of stories and a container of memories. But then, any recipe ever written, any meal ever eaten is a story, the story of home cooking which, in turn, is about who we are, where we've come from and the lives that we've lived, and what we say to each other - all those assertions of love, friendship, hospitality, hope - when we invite people to sit at our table and eat the food we have made for them. ...

Let me illustrate some of the things I like about the book with the first recipe, pictured at left. She calls it Turkish eggs, and it is actually a traditional Turkish dish called çilbir. It is also very simple - poached eggs, sitting on warm garlicky yoghurt and finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice and some brown butter flavoured with Aleppo pepper flakes. Another very 'today' dish.

I looked into this dish elsewhere and found that she hasn't really tinkered with it much at all - butter rather than oil is I think the main difference.

Now you might not be tempted by the idea and she realises this because the recipe opens with:

"If I hadn't eaten the Turkish eggs at Peter Gordon's restaurant, The Providores, I most certainly wouldn't be tempted by the idea of poached eggs on Greek yoghurt. I say that only to preempt any hesitancy on your part. For çilbir, pronounced 'chulburr', is a revelation and a complete sensation."

2. Mind you, you would probably have already been tempted to try as the picture is on the previous page and it looks pretty sensational. I know I thought it could be tried sometime. The problem in our house is when, because David doesn't like poached eggs, and breakfast tends not to be a cooked affair. As I say the food photography and presentation in the book is perfect, and every recipe is illustrated. It is full of temptation. And every recipe is very clearly set out with numbered steps and explanations of why and the occasional tip.

3. Continuing on her history/memory theme in the book's introduction, she says:

Personal history, the weaving of memories that sum up a life, social history, the story of how a culture most intimately expresses itself, a cookbook can be about all of these things and more."

I don't think she does an awful lot on the social history kind of things - you need a Claudia Roden or Jane Grigson for that, but she certainly injects her own personal history into some of the recipes. Her own personality in fact. For this recipe there is nothing about the origins of the dish, but there is a brief mention of her own first encounter. Not that there seems to be much to say about it other than it is very old. It is related to countless other Middle-eastern dishes such as shakshuka but it is a simpler thing.

However, even Greg Malouf couldn't resist messing with it just a bit by adding spinach, shallots and cream to the mix.

4. She is reassuring and full of little tips and tricks. None of the recipes are that complicated. For this recipe she remarks that if your egg is not the freshest - poached eggs should be really fresh - then you can get rid of some of the watery part of the white by breaking the egg into a sieve, swirling it around a bit to get rid of the more watery bits, leaving you with the bit that clings to the yolk. In her general introduction she says:

"no one needs qualifications to cook, or human beings would have fallen out of the evolutionary loop a long time ago."

and in this particular recipe she states that:

"unless you've worked the brunch station at a busy restaurant for months on end, you'll be hard pushed to turn out perfectly formed poached eggs every time. So do not feel that anything less than perfection is a mistake, and accept a little scraggliness here and there."

She even warns against leaving the water on the heat when you've finished with it:

"Do remember to switch off the heat. Sorry to state the obvious, but I have too often left it on this low without noticing."

5. There are not too many weird and unobtainable ingredients, although there are a few, and she usually either suggests alternatives, to leave out, or to buy online. In this recipe it's Aleppo pepper flakes which seem to be a big thing in the UK.

"Aleppo pepper ... has a mild, almost sweet heat and a distinctive lemoniness, you could substitute paprika, adding a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. But, in these days of online grocery shopping, I'd encourage you to go for the real thing."

And you can get it online here, and probably in superior supermarkets such as Leo's or Middle-Eastern shops. But she doesn't leave it there because she recognises that you might have bought something of which you now have more than you need for this one recipe. And in her eternally optimistic style she says:

"I repeat certain ingredients unashamedly. The home cook has to, and happily. If I buy a jar of preserved lemons, say for a particular recipe, or require you to, it wouldn't occur to me to leave that opened jar in the fridge with nothing else to do with it. And, indeed finding ways to use up such a jar that is in itself inspiring."

Alas she obviously has more willpower than I who will buy something like this and then leave it mouldering either in the fridge or the far reaches of the pantry. In spite of all my resolutions to do better alas I don't seem to. Tonight I shall have leftover sauerkraut, but yes that could be quite exhilarating in terms of pondering on what to do with that. Lots I'm sure.

6. Finally there are so many tempting things to cook in this book. I have already cooked one - the Indian spiced chicken and potato tray bake which I tried the other day. Tonight's pork chops will be my second. And I haven't even mentioned the many luscious looking desserts.

So you may not have heard the last of Nigella's At my Table. I just hope it doesn't get slotted into the bookshelves and forgotten.

Last recipe? Grapefruit Margarita. If I was into cocktails I could be tempted by this, particularly on a hot day like today, although I'm not supposed to eat grapefruit, they interfere with my cholesterol pills. I'm sure just once wouldn't matter though:

"Squeeze a grapefruit and dip the rim of a glass into the juice and then in some lightly crushed - just with your fingers - sea salt flakes. In a cocktail shaker generously stacked with ice cubes, shake together 2 shots of tequila, 2 shots of Triple Sec, Cointreau, or other orange liqueur along with 4 shots of grapefruit juice and strain into your salt-rimmed glass, adding fresh ice cubes if you like. Spritz with lime juice to tase, for added sharpness if wished."

I'm saved from trying through lack of tequila and no desire to get any.

And I've just noticed that at the back of the book, every recipe has a brief piece on how to store any leftovers and how much you can do in advance - a whole host of little extras. For example - how to expand the quantities for the Margaritas.

A gorgeous Christmas present. Thank you.


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