"Cooking is not about just joining the dots, following one recipe slavishly and then moving on to the next," says British food writer Nigella Lawson. "It's about developing an understanding of food, a sense of assurance in the kitchen, about the simple desire to make yourself something to eat." Lawson is not a chef, but "an eater." She writes as if she's conversing with you while beating eggs or mincing garlic in your kitchen. She explains how to make the basics, such as roast chicken, soup stock, various sauces, cake, and ice cream. She teaches you to cook more esoteric dishes, such as grouse, white truffles (mushrooms, not chocolate), and "ham in Coca-Cola." She gives advice for entertaining over the holidays, quick cooking ("the real way to make life easier for yourself: cooking in advance"), cooking for yourself ("you don't have to belong to the drearily narcissistic learn-to-love-yourself school of thought to grasp that it might be a good thing to consider yourself worth cooking for"), and weekend lunches for six to eight people. Don't expect any concessions to health recommendations in the recipes here--Lawson makes liberal and unapologetic use of egg yolks, cream, and butter. There are plenty of recipes, but the best parts of How to Eat
are the well-crafted tidbits of wisdom, such as the following:
- "Cook in advance and, if the worse comes to the worst, you can ditch it. No one but you will know that it tasted disgusting, or failed to set, or curdled or whatever."
- On the proper English trifle: "When I say proper I mean proper: lots of sponge, lots of jam, lots of custard and lots of cream. This is not a timid construction ... you don't want to end up with a trifle so upmarket it's inappropriately, posturingly elegant. A degree of vulgarity is requisite."
- "Too many people cook only when they're giving a dinner party. And it's very hard to go from zero to a hundred miles an hour. How can you learn to feel at ease around food, relaxed about cooking, if every time you go into the kitchen it's to cook at competition level?"
Nigella Lawson has long been among the most realistic as well as the most readable of writers on food. Her description of a three-star dinner really is a good second best to actually eating it yourself. But equally she knows the inestimable value of a bacon sandwich on sliced white. This wonderful book combines both of these talents as she sets out on the ambitious task to impart no less than "the Pleasures and Principles of Good Food". The book is neatly divided into categories--cooking in advance, weekend lunch, low fat and so on--each with its own passionate and intelligent introductory essay. The recipes are straightforwardly presented and the occasional school-mistress tone--"you must keep your stock in the freezer", "I loathe the acrid dustiness of standard-issue sherry"--is always justified by its implication of an entirely proper seriousness and her endless common sense. But most of all Lawson is a greedy eater who knows about food and can write like an angel. "I hate the new-age voodoo about eating", she declares. "The notion that foods are either harmful or healing, that a good diet makes you a good person". Hurrah! How to Eat
is the perfect book for anyone who knows that food is more than fuel. --Nick Wroe