Ok, so this is by no means a review – it’s way too early to be able to give a proper one – come back in a few years when I’ve made it through as many recipes as I can; but my initial feeling from this book is an authentic warmth. There’s a real flow to the recipes that they seem to come more from Nigella than ever before; not just food she knows how to make but meals she cooks and eats and loves. My first flick through any cookbook is always to the desserts and bakery section, but for some reason I started at the start with this one; heck, I even read the introduction before I thumbed through. There’s a lovely natural progression from breakfast through different types of meat, interspersed with side dishes and finishing (appropriately) with dessert and drinks. It’s a little bit like when you try on something new and it suits you so well that it looks like it’s already yours. Everything has an air of familiar warmth, despite the recipes being new. There’s a homely affection here that reminds me of my favourite Nigella book and the one I always find myself returning to – Feast.
The physical book itself is beautiful – crisp and modern, elegant and pretty – it fits in on any bookshelf. I do love a new cookbook; there’s a promise and excitement – not knowing what to make first, wanting to cook everything this weekend, mentally bookmarking recipes while wondering if you should go and buy actual little markers to tab the pages. Recipes for me mark different stages in my life, whether it’s the go-to birthday cake (always the sour cream cake from Feast) to the Christmas staples of ham in ginger ale or gingerbread stuffing and chilli jam that I can’t not make. There are so many occasions where it wouldn’t be a particular festivity without a particular recipe. Express was one of my first ever cookbooks, whereupon I realised I could cook and enjoy so many different recipes I’d never made before, feeding and pleasing people with food – including myself. Then I had to retrace my steps back to How to Eat, Domestic Goddess, Bites, Forever Summer and Feast and complete my full Nigella education, cooking my way through different stages of my life, with the addition of her new books like new members of the family.
As a result, the recipes I’ve cooked and the food from her books punctuates my life and reminds me of occasions, an engagement, new job, wedding, babies. My two little people came with me to book signings for Nigellissima and Simply Nigella and, spookily, were the same age to the day when I queued with them and bumbled my fangirl compliments, hiding my awkward face behind them and not knowing how to express the very simple sentiment I wished to convey: yes, I cook recipes from other cooks/chefs/food writers, no I’m not a slave to exact recipes and I do freestyle a little bit (within reason when baking) and yes, there have been recipes I didn’t make again, but…these books changed my life in a way. They welcomed cooking into my life, showed me it wasn’t for other people, taught me about food and taught me the joy of setting something down on a table for friends and family and getting a kick out of seeing them enjoy it.
But back to At My Table…inital recipes that stand out are:
- meatballs with orzo – this looks like an oozing autumn winter favourite waiting to happen;
- warm blondie pudding – say no more;
- no-churn Bourbon salted-caramel ice cream and chocolate truffle ice-cream – I am a huge fan of the no churn ice cream family and these flavours sound like fun long-lost cousins;
- chilli cheese garlic bread – because garlic yes, bread, yes, chilli…you get the gist;
- parmesan french toast – sounds like the parmesan shortbreads from Christmas but breakfast; I’m already imagining this as a new year breakfast;
- emergency brownies – this is not a drill;
- butternut and sweet potato curry – ok, so this is where I realise I am in serious autumn and comfort food mode;
- cumin seed cake – must try;
- carrots with fennel and harissa – exciting;
- Indian-spiced chicken and potato traybake – I’ve already seen a pic of this one on Twitter #AtMyTable and it looks gooooood;
- grapefruit margarita – *adds grapefruits to online shop in anticipation and wonders who we can invite to dinner as an excuse to cocktail it up*;
- devilled eggs – could I incorporate these into a Fatburn week do you think?
- salt and vinegar potatoes – my favourite flavour;
- red-hot roast salsa – y’arriba;
- waffles – a weekend favourite in this house already.
At the risk of naming everything in the book apart from squid, I must stop before I lose the run of myself. My shopping list is expanding to include preserved lemons, miso paste and prunes, radiatori pasta and rosewater (although I think I may have some of that languishing in the pantry, but am pretty sure it must be past its best by now). I also love the make ahead/store and freezer reference section at the back; anything that makes life easier or means you can get ahead (or impress at short notice from a secret freezer stash) is good with me.
My first recipe from the book had to be something baked, so after flicking through I stared at the index under cakes for a good half hour. Top three contenders after surveying with Mr T and visitors were the coconut snowball cake, lemon tendercake with blueberry compote and raspberry-flecked sour cream cake. Needless to say I ignored this and Sunday morning saw me making the only thing I was ever going to cook first: the chocolate cake with coffee buttercream.
The sponge of this cake is really good. It is dark and muggy like an autumn evening, with a tender black crumb and dank squidge. The coffee icing nudges it somehow into feeling light and airy; the moist layers of cake against the ecru, sweet frosting bring it springing to life. The instant espresso powder gives both the icing and sponge a smoky tang and an edgy authority. This cake does not come to play; its sponge sticks to the roof of your mouth slightly and the vegetable oil means it’s even better the day after than the day of baking. I do like cakes that use vegetable oil, both for texture and convenience. Softening butter is my least favourite kitchen task and, like estimating the correct amount of pasta, is somehow impossible to get right.
As you might be able to see from the photo, the batter is super runny, which produces a tender crumb and damp sponge. And it took around 10 minutes from pantry to oven (also a big winner – I am all about minimal effort for maximum results). The frosting took a little more effort as I sieved the icing sugar, but I can live with that, it’s practically cardio. With no chocolate covered coffee beans at home, I substituted with a malteaser flourish. How much more endearing can I be? The fork even makes a nice sound as you slice into it. It is my new favourite chocolate cake (a title not to be underestimated) and I have had to eat three pieces to write this paragraph with complete integrity.
So one recipe down, countless other memories to make, I can’t help but predict that this first one I’ve produced will characterise the whole book for me; familiar vibes but new favourites to bury yourself in. Just leafing through the book really does feel almost like you have a little place at Nigella’s table – one of those spare ones you keep for when you run out of chairs maybe, but a seat nonetheless.
Now what to cook next…
*One very slight issue – my copy seemed to be bursting with so many delicious pages that it literally burst and the binding split at the back on day one, so I’ve returned it for a new copy. Just a little glitch I’m sure.