Saturday, October 07, 2006

Nigella Feasts - Episode 1 recap

The day has finally come when Nigella Lawson has a show on the food network. Many in the blogsphere (myself included) have been waiting with bated breath for the first episode. What's the verdict? The same verdict as I'd give for pizza. Pizza is like sex - when it's good, it's great; when it's bad, it's still ok. Nigella Feasts isn't exactly bad Nigella, but it doesn't hang together as well as it should. There's something about the film and sound quality that makes the whole thing a little stark as opposed to warm and inviting. The shots are herky-jerky and the sound has this weird echo. Someone else noted that it might be because they are using digital video instead of film. Nevertheless, Nigella is gloriously Nigella. She's still a hoot to hang around and her sly sense of humor still comes through.

Like Nigella Bites and Forever Summer, we start with a shot of Nigella louging around on a couch talking. This time she is stating her cooking philosophy - casual and easy food. The goal is for everyone to have a fabulous time, especially the cook. She introduces the menu - spicy beef chili with a cornbread crust, served with guacamole and other chili fixin's and a chocolate cherry trifle. I knew that her first dessert on this series had to be a trifle or a pavlova.

Cut to Nigella in her kitchen with a big pile of chopped onions and red bell peppers in front of her. In a related note, this is the same kitchen as the one in Nigella Bites. This is actually the kitchen of her house she lived in when she was married to John Diamond, British columnist. She's since moved into the house of Charles Saatchi, her new husband, a super rich art collector and investor. Her sister lives in this house so it's not as if she's barging in or anything. She opines that there's no better dish for a sight at a party than "a vatful of cornbread topped chili." She sautees the onion and bell pepper in oil along with a bit of minced garlic. Through the sauteeing, she talks about how she wants the food she makes at home to be welcoming and comforting.

Ooooo!!!!! Nigella is going to her pantry. I love these segments. She describes her pantry as an Aladdin's cave and gleefully chirps "open sesame." In her cave, she says that while most people go abroad and visit museums to buy souvenirs, she goes to supermarkets. From Italy she gets some kind of powdered broth (since she doesn't feel like making broth herself) and from Sweden she shows off her poetically-named cloudberry jam. She tells us that cloudberries are yellow, fatter raspberries.

Back at the stove she regretfully adds the spices to her onion/pepper mixture, noting that they will muddy the translucent color of the vegetables, but knows that the payoff in falvor is more than worth it. As her chili flavor, Nigella puts in chili flakes as opposed to chili powder along with cumin, dried coriander, and strangely enough, crushed cardamom pods. From the fridge Nigella gleefully brings out a big slab of ground beef. Making a goofy face, she notes the meat is "one big mother." This sends me into a burst of giggles. She recommends us to break up with meat using a wooden fork. Once again her skills as a writer shine as she tells her audience that the fork allows you to coax and cajole the meat. Seriously, how poetic is that? To the meat, she adds tomato paste and ketchup where she regresses into adolescence by slyly apologizing to the audience about the farting sounds the ketchup is making. Her final dose of tomatoes are two cans of chopped tomatoes. The final two ingredients are kidney beans and cocoa powder. She explains that cocoa doesn't really have any sweet flavor on its own and adds an earthly heat to the chili. As a lover of mole, this makes sense to be. She notes that even uncooked her chili looks good but qualifies that by saying that "all children look good to their mother" and asks the audience not to disillusion her. She simmers the mixture for an hour and a half where it is ready to be reheated.

After the commercial we see Nigella at the grocery store. Nigella says she is all about making her life, and ours, easier. her cooking philosophy is to buy something and then fiddle about with it and make it into something better. For example, in her chocolate-cherry trifle, she is more than happy to buy a few chocolate cakes but will make the custard herself.

In the kitchen, Nigella nonsensically but poetically declares that whatever the question is, the answer is always trifle. Do I know what she means? No. Do I care? No. Because right now her hair is fabulous and she is wearing a scoop necked sweater that shows some skin but isn't the cleavage-fest that constitutes Giada's outfits. She's breaking chocolate into bits to melt. While she's doing that she's talking about the inspiration for the trifle which is a black forest gateau with chocolate and cherries. While the black forest gateau is ridiculously hard to make, the trifle is ludicrously easy. She musters every bit of restraint in her being by dumping ALL of the chocolate over a double boiler. She then heats heavy cream and full fat milk (turning to the audience and saying "you don't think I was going to say skim, did you?") She adds egg yolks, sugar, and cocoa to the mixture. She then simmers the mixture and adds the chocolate until it thickens. She leaves that to cool and moves on to making the cake base of the trifle. This is where she cuts the cake into slices, and makes jam sandwiches with them, smearing cherry jam between the slices. She squishes the sandwiches into the bottom of a trifle dish and pours a heavy glug of cherry brandy onto the sandwich layer. I am dubious about this because it seems like that much brandy would make the cake really soggy. Next she dumps a can of drained sour cherries onto the cake layer and pushes some of the cherries towards the edge of the bowl so you can see them when they are layered with the custard and the whipped cream.

After commercial, she prepares the cornbread topping which includes buttermilk, eggs, vegetable oil, honey, cornmeal, flour baking powder and surprisingly, cinnamon. Televisionwithoutpity boards say that the cornmeal topping is rather dense. As a final bit of embellishment she grates sharp cheddar cheese on the top of the cornbread. As she pushes the casserole in the oven, she makes an adorable face at the camera. LOVE!

I will totally have to remember this - Nigella has a tub full of ice which she is pushing bottles of wine into. As a throwback to her college days, she has to use the tub because she doesn't have room in the fridge to keep beverages cold. in putting together the party, Nigella spreads a thick layer of whipped cream and shaved chocolate on top of the trifle. She then throws cutlery and PAPER napkins on the table for people to help themselves. She makes the guacamole that she previously made in Nigella Bites' Entertaining episode. She states that her guacamole preference includes NO tomato because she wants clear avocado taste and using scallions instead of onions because they have a milder flavor. There's a whole chili accoutrement plate with guacamole, corn chips, sour cream, and cheese.

The party scene is classic Nigella. Her eclectic group of friends is clearly having a good time without Nigella asking leading leading questions about how good the food is or any of the guests making stilted stupid compliments about the food. There's just a healthy buzz of laughter and conversation.

In the final classic Nigella scene, she is doing her trademark midnight fridge raid of the leftovers. First taking a ladylike spoonful and then taking the whole pot of chili to eat. HEEE!!!

Thanks for coming back Nigella. I hope you can get your producers up the production quality.


ScottE. said...


She's such a fun person to watch in the kitchen. And that is a total relief considering some of the other personalities who have fallen flat in the past few short years.

Go Nigella!

Brunette said...

Even if the production values aren't stellar, I still adore Nigella. I feel like she's what RayRay, Giada, and others *want* to be, only more genuine... and a whole lot more sensual.

I also love that she almost speaks in poetry, like in today's episode where she waxed rhapsodic about lemon rinds and mustard.

Dancer in DC said...

I totally agree - the production values lack the warmth of her other shows. Did you notice that she's living in the U.S. for this show? I wonder if that has anything to do with it.

Regardless, I still adore her, and her sarcastic remarks with a wink at the camera. Not to mention her divine adjectives.

"And then pour in that AMBER honey..."

monkeyrotica said...

I found the second episode a bit more likeable than the first. But the herky-jerky camera style and MTV jumpcutting and out of focus shots really gave me a headache. It's why I can't watch Jamie Oliver, that whole nauseacam style that was passe in 1989.