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The sensual pleasure of cooking
By Steven Martinovich
In many respects a good cookbook is little different from quality erotica. Lush images are accompanied by evocative text and the reader is tempted to try what's depicted in the pictures. Even if you don't manage to replicate the ideal portrayed in front of you, failure can be just as fun as success. Nigella Lawson's Nigella Bites, complete with subtly suggestive cover, manages to combine a little of both worlds in an enjoyable and accessible cookbook for the masses.
Nigella Bites, the title is taken from her recent Style Network cooking show of the same name, is the third book from the New York Times Food columnist, British Vogue food editor and mainstay of food networks from North America to Europe. Like her previous efforts, Nigella Bites is geared towards the busy professional who still wants to put together satisfying home cooked meals.
Lawson's appeal is easy to see in Nigella Bites. Given that her motto is "Maximum pleasure with minimal effort," Lawson's aim isn't to impress professional chefs but rather the masses -- who like her -- prefer to consider themselves eaters. Preparing food fulfills a necessary need but it can also be sensual and satisfying, a chance to break out of the Palm Pilot regimented lifestyle that many of us have trapped ourselves into. The strength of Nigella Bites is that you are encouraged not simply to make food for a utilitarian purpose, but also to cook food you would want to eat and enjoy the process at the same time.
"Even if you like cooking, at the end of a long day you don't necessarily have much time or energy for it," Lawson writes in the introduction to one section. "Of course you can always phone for a pizza, but I find that a bit of pottering in the kitchen helps me unwind. What I'm talking about here is the food you can cook on those days when you just have to hit the kitchen running..."
Nigella Bites is divided into sections that include "All-Day Breakfast," "Comfort Food," "TV Dinners," "Party Girl," "Rainy Days," "Trashy," "Legacy," "Suppertime," "Slow-Cooked Weekend," and "Templefood." Everything from Linguine with Garlic Oil and Pancetta to deep-fried candy bars can be found, some recipes familiar while others definitely call for a palate willing to experiment. All are, as Lawson is fond of saying, restorative in the simple pleasure they bring.
Of course, the true test for any cookbook is how well the recipes translate into reality. Those who have seen the television show which the book is based on will find that they are as generally easy to make as Lawson made them out to be. Finding some of the ingredients for a few of the recipes might give you some trouble but there generally isn't very much exotic to them. The purpose of the book is to enable the quick creation of good food and it usually scores well in that area.
Given that Nigella Bites was a British series, it shouldn't surprise anyone that some of the recipes may not appeal to North American tastes, and although the American edition uses familiar measurements some seem to be inaccurate translations from their metric counterparts. Despite those minor quibbles, Nigella Bites is a rich experience for people who like food and don't mind spending a little time preparing it. Some things may be dangerous to overindulge in, and Lawson's Chocolate-Lime Cheesecake may well fit in that category, but they can well worth the danger.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
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