Monday, February 18, 2008

A Nigella Breakfast

Do you know who Nigella Lawson is?

I did not know the answer to this question before I tiptoed into the food-blogging world. Nigella, in some parts of the foodie world, is a goddess. Literally, they call her the Domestic Goddess. She’s a cookbook-writing, sensually food-promoting British woman. She is perhaps Britain’s answer to Martha Stewart, except that Nigella amps up the sex factor a millionfold. She is beautiful, but more importantly, her writing is gorgeous. Being the wordy chick that I am, I think it’s nice if someone is physically attractive. If they inspire me with their writing, then they can rock my world. (Gentlemen, take note.)

I first came across Nigella in Sarah Discovers How to Eat, a totally addictive blog about an Australian woman’s attempt to cook everything in Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat during a single year. I found myself completely hooked on Sarah’s blog, drooling over the lavish meals she cooked and cheering with her as she crossed off one recipe after another. Much as I loved the story, I felt lukewarm about adding Nigella into my cookbook rotation for two reasons. Sarah cooked a lot of meat dishes from How to Eat, so it seemed to me that Nigella might not have much to offer a vegetarian like myself. Secondly, Nigella’s recipes seemed very decadent to me: oodles of cream, butter, eggs, and sugar. I like a little decadence from time to time, but I’m also a bit of a health nut. I felt ambivalent about pursuing a kitchen style that seemed so very different from mine.

But much like taking a chance on an unconventional new love, I gave Nigella a chance. A tiny chance. In Borders one day, I sighed with pleasure over Nigella Express, her newest cookbook. I admired and stroked the glossy photographs; I drank in her witty, encouraging prose like a letter from a dear friend. It was the introduction to her breakfast chapter that stole my heart:

“But on weekends or when we’re not at work, it can be liberating to live beyond the routine. I’m also happier on weekends to eat lunch later and therefore want a bigger breakfast, an hour or so after I’ve tea’d myself into consciousness.” Nigella Lawson, Nigella Express.

What a wondrous idea: to live beyond the routine. To have the luxury of puttering around on the weekend, fixing pancakes or French toast or a breakfast casserole of some sort. To simply sit for more than five minutes, tea’ing myself into consciousness, without anxious thoughts invading my mind, reminding me: Experiments! Laundry! Your manuscript! The apartment is dirty! Order those chemicals! E-mail your boss! Buy groceries!

And above all: don’t forget to look like you are completely happy and totally satisfied with your life!

Oh my.

I like Nigella because she inspires me. She reminds me of things I already know: that cooking is pleasant. That food is a gift. That meals and life are meant to be savored. That breakfast should wake us up without exhausting us in our efforts to fix it.

Nigella’s newfound presence in my kitchen is a gift from Matt, the man whose absence from my kitchen leaves a little hole in my heart each time he leaves. (Ah, the joy of long-distance love.) After I oohed and aahed over Nigella Express in Borders, I walked away, empty-handed and sad. I convinced myself not to buy it, skeptical as I was about what Nigella had to offer a health-nutty vegetarian. Slightly mournfully, I told Matt about it later, certain that I did not need yet another cookbook. Matt is wise, though, and I believe he can distinguish between my needs and my wants. He is happy to fulfill my wants. I might even go so far as to say he is eager to fulfill them, inasmuch as one can from 600 miles away. And so it was that I found a copy of Nigella Express on my doorstep, delivered with love from Matt via Amazon.

He is amazing.

It turns out that Nigella does have something to offer me in the way of recipes. It’s true that there are a number of recipes in Nigella Express that probably don’t lend themselves to a vegetarian adaptation. Pleasantly, though, there ARE recipes that either are vegetarian or might inspire a vegetarian interpretation (curry, anyone?). I’m starting small, making easy breakfasty things and working my way up toward the entrees. But it’s hard to do that when the breakfast items are so good that I want to eat them for lunch and dinner! That’s definitely the case with the Avocado Bruschetta, a chunky seasoned avocado spread spooned onto good bakery bread. Nigella’s Go Get ‘Em Smoothie makes for a delicious late-afternoon snack, particularly before heading out on a Saturday night when you want to party into the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes that gentle bump of caffeine from the espresso powder hits the spot just right. Best of all, these two recipes pair together perfectly in the morning, balancing savory and sweet, chewy and sippable. Beyond the routine indeed.

Nigella’s Avocado Bruschetta
Serves 2
Adapted from “Avocado Bruschetta” in Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

A note for singletons who might be making this just for themselves: the avocado mash keeps well in the fridge for at least a day, thanks to the lime juice. I had it for breakfast one day and lunch the next, and it was quite tasty both times. My version of this dish is just slightly simpler than Nigella’s. I hope she doesn’t mind.

1 perfectly ripe avocado
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
6 slices of best-quality French bread (slice width-wise to make oval-shaped rounds)

1) Use a sharp knife to slice the avocado in half lengthwise around the pit. Twist gently to separate the two halves and remove the pit. Make lengthwise and widthwise cuts about every ½ inch—you are essentially dicing the avocado while it’s still attached to the peel. Gently scrape the avocado pieces into a bowl. Add the lime juice and a bit of salt and pepper. Mash everything together to make a clumpy spread. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper if needed.
2) Spread the avocado mash on each slice of bread and enjoy. If you are feeling ambitious, you can toast the bread. Not that you need my permission to do that!

Nigella’s Go Get ‘Em Smoothie
Serves 1
Adapted from “Go Get ‘Em Smoothie” in Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

This smoothie is so delicious that every time I think about it, I want a glass of it in my hand RIGHT NOW! My version differs slightly from Nigella's, and recipes this good deserve to be shared.

1 ripe banana
2/3 c. cold milk
3 tsp. cocoa powder
3 tsp. malt powder
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. instant espresso granules (I’ve been using Medaglia D’oro brand, found conveniently at my neighborhood Jewel store)

1) Place all ingredients in the blender. Blend until thoroughly combined. Taste and add more cocoa, malt, sugar, or espresso as you like.


JD said...

I definitely hear what you are saying about all these heavy fattening ingredients. We are always making substitutions to bring the recipe more in line with our health conscious selves. I think my favorite is heavy whipping cream...I mean honestly, who keeps a giant container of that stuff laying around.

Rosiecat said...

Hey JD!

Apparently, if you are Nigella Lawson or Rachael Ray, you keep plenty of heavy cream on hand at all times! My goodness, some of their recipes are shocking in the amount of fat that goes into them.

I will admit to occasionally having a small containter of cream on hand, small meaning a cup or pint, depending on what I'm making. As a cook, I feel justified in exploring recipes and sometimes that requires some cream. But my daily repertoire does not at all resemble a Nigella or a Rachael cookbook!

Oh, and not to be a total health fanatic, but have you noticed that butter and cream are expensive? They are especially expensive if you start looking at the organic versions.

So what kind of substitutions do you and the wife like to make?

Rosiecat said...

Hello again, dear reader. I just dropped by to share a very important recipe with you. I find myself craving this smoothie without the caffeine from the espresso powder, so this is what I make:

Nigella's Go Get 'Em Smoothie, Caffeine-Free Version:
2/3 cup of milk
1 banana, frozen or not
1/2 tbsp. malt powder
1/2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
Sugar, to taste (optional)

In the order listed, place all the ingredients in a blender. Blend all the ingredients together until smooth. Taste and add sugar if you think it needs it. I find that the smoothie is perfect without adding any extra sugar. Pour into a small glass and enjoy.


Rosiecat said...

One more thing. The Caffeine-Free version above, when made with a frozen banana, makes for the most delicious frosty chocolate malt I've ever had. No ice cream needed--this stuff is amazing. Make one right now.