Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cookbook Review ~ Nigella Express

This is a very overdue review since I started testing this book out last October, however I will spare you any excuses as to why this is so late and just get on with it because one thing is for sure - this is a book worth reviewing.

I'm a big fan of Nigella Lawson, particularly her recipes, and having already reviewed Nigella Kitchen (which is still to date one of my favourite cookbooks to cook from) I knew it wouldn't be long before Nigella Express was put to the test. In this day and age although at times we like to relax and take our time to potter around the kitchen at weekends, the reality is that for the majority of the week we need quick, delicious meals that can go from kitchen to table in as short a time as possible but without compromising on taste. Nigella Express is a book that is all about fast food where the recipes claim to be minimum stress for maximum enjoyment.

The chapters are divided up into categories depending on your needs such as 'Everyday Easy', 'Workday Winners', 'Get Up and Go', 'Instant Calmer' (Soul Food), 'On the Run' and my favourite, 'Razzle Dazzle' for when you need to put together a party pronto! As is becoming increasingly familiar with all of my cookbook reviews I once again bookmarked a ridiculous amount of recipes but in the end I tested 9 which is good for a review but a mere dent on the enormity of recipes in this book!

The Tested Recipes:

Prawns with Maryam Zaira Sauce
Mozzarella with Crazy Gremolata
Minestrone in Minutes
Scallops and Chorizo
Sweetcorn Chowder with Toasted Tortillas
Chicken, Mushroom & Bacon Pot Pies
Chocolate Mint Cookies
Flourless Chocolate Brownies

First up was the super simple Prawns with Maryam Zaira Sauce which got a big thumbs up not just because it's delicious, but because it's super quick and easy to make. This is a Moroccan inspired version of the classic UK style Prawn Cocktail and would make a perfect starter or light lazy lunch enjoyed outside in the sun with a chilled glass of wine. As someone who loves Prawn Cocktail (or for that matter prawns with most dipping sauces!) I will definitely make this again for a ridiculously easy meal that is a little bit different from the usual.

Next up and there was no resisting the Mozzarella with Crazy Gremolata. I will eat Mozzarella any way I can so I was delighted to find something a little different. Even more so when I saw this 'Crazy Gremolata' included olives and chillies – 2 of my favourite ingredients and things that I always have in my fridge. Before I even made this I knew I couldn't go wrong and I was right – completely delicious, super fast and easy!

The third recipe I tested was the Minestrone in Minutes. From the moment I saw this recipe I knew I had to try it since it promised me a delicious minestrone in minutes using only 4 ingredients....how could I not try it?! It really did take no time at all to make – the hardest part was waiting 10 minutes to let it sit and the pasta swell before eating! I don't ever buy bought pasta/tomato sauces so I would probably change the one I bought but if you have a favourite jarred tomato sauce then you will love this soup. I couldn't resist by finishing mine off with a sprinkling of some chilli, parsley and for completely unnecessary indulgence and greed, a little grating of cheese. It was delicious but if you want to be more restrained very unnecessary as the soup was still good without the additional ingredients!! I will definitely make this again when I need something filling and hearty in a hurry using 4 ingredients that you can keep on hand in your pantry.

Being a lover of tapas and food that I can generally pick at and graze over for a long time, I couldn't resist trying her recipe for Scallops and Chorizo to accompany some other tapas that I made for a relaxed Friday night meal with my husband. All I can say is from now on whenever I make Tapas I will always be making this! To be honest being a huge fan of Chorizo and Scallops we couldn't really go wrong because it is as simple as simple gets but regardless it is a great recipe and I'm glad we tried it.

So after so many successes it was bound to be time for a bit of a fail and that came in the form of recipe number 5 which was Sweetcorn Chowder with Toasted Tortillas. Don't get me wrong it wasn't bad but I would only really describe it as okay and wouldn't be in a rush to make it again. It just seemed to be missing something and I found the taste of the spring onions to be a little overpowering which took away from the sweetcorn. The soup is finished with toasted tortillas topped with melted cheese (think basic nachos) and if you like, some fiery red chilli, and it was these toppings that really finished the soup off nicely and without them it would have been a real miss for me. Not terrible but not great, this is a recipe that I would have to adapt to make it one that I would repeat.

With plenty of lighter easy meals having been tested (and devoured!), it was time to try a dish that was more substantial and could be enjoyed as a main course, so next to be put to the test was the Chicken, Mushroom and Bacon Pie. Now I say more substantial because it was a main course but that doesn't mean it was any more complicated or labour intensive – it wasn't. Minimal ingredients, maximum taste is definitely the backbone to this book. Now since Chicken Pot Pie is one of my husband's all time favourite meals this recipe was really going to put the book to the test. Thankfully it passed – with flying colours!! It was fantastic but then can you really go wrong with a Chicken Pie when it has plenty of bacon in it?! I had to deviate from the recipe slightly since I wanted to double it and didn't have 4 individual dishes of the right size so instead I made 1 big pie and I did add a little seasoning which the recipe didn't call for but I didn't want to be disappointed by lack of salt and pepper! Anyway it was fabulous and as hubby said, he would recommend buying the book purely for that recipe alone!

Having been successful with plenty of savoury dishes I decided it was turn to the sweeter side of things so I made the Chocolate Mint Cookies which Nigella suggests as a great alternative to after-dinner mints or dessert. Although a cookie they had a slight resemblance and density to Brownies and were completely addictive. The mint drizzle provided a fantastic finish to cut through the deeply intense chocolate and made them very moreish! I loved them and so did everyone else in the family so they didn't last long!

Up next and we had family round for dinner so I made the Flourless Chocolate Brownies since my niece has an intolerance to wheat. As with most brownie recipes they were very simple to make and didn't take long to bake. The end result was a very dense, rich brownie which everyone loved although I found a little rich, but if you are a chocolate lover you would love these. You serve the brownies with a chocolate sauce which to be honest I wasn't a big fan of. There was far too much as it was so rich you only need a drizzle and the espresso in it really overpowered it so next time I would probably miss out the chocolate sauce altogether or certainly reduce the espresso in it.

Finally the last recipe that I tested out was the Breakfast Bars (click on link for recipe). I knew from looking at the list of ingredients that these certainly weren't going to be the healthiest option for a homemade breakfast bar (hello condensed milk!) but they looked so good on the photograph and seemed so straightforward I just couldn't resist, especially since I had all of the ingredients in my pantry with the exception of the unsalted peanuts which I promptly went out and bought then forgot to put in the bars! But even with the peanuts M.I.A these bars were still great. They weren't as sweet as I was expecting and were perfect with my cup of coffee although I suspect I would keep them for a snack as opposed to having for breakfast. That being said if you are on the run and need to grab and go these would be ideal.

So out of 9 recipes tested 7 were complete successes, 1 needed a little bit of work (just need to change the chocolate sauce for the Brownies) and 1 was to my tastes a miss but that's not bad odds if you ask me! On top of the tried and tested recipes I also bookmarked the following recipes which I still plan to try over time.......

Potato & Mushroom Gratin
Blackberry Crisp
Cheese Fondue
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Green Eggs & Ham
Maple Chicken 'N' Ribs
Crispy Duck
Forgotten Pudding
Chicken Schnitzel with Bacon & White Wine
Mirin-Glazed Salmon
Instant Chocolate Mousse
Doughnut French Toast
Glitzy Chocolate Puddings
Sesame Peanut Noodles
Amaretto Syllabub
Golden Goat's Cheese with Lentil & Walnut Salad
Mellow Meatballs

I have to say that with this book it really doesn't feel like you are cooking. Things are so easy and quick to prepare it's a little bit of this and that, a chop here, a stir there and you're done! It's like magic! That being said I am happy to say that despite the ease and speed there is no compromising on flavour. Nigella has once again delivered and this book is a must have for your kitchen library if you want speedy, easy and super tasty meals that will be on your table in no time! This book absolutely gets the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops stamp of approval!

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