Tuesday, January 29, 2008

There's shortcuts and there's shortcuts

I hate to sound blasphemous but Nigella Express really irritates me. I watch it week after week hoping it will get better and it just gets more annoying. In the grand scheme of what's on the Food Network, it's clearly more satisfying and entertaining that most of what's out there. However, I am grading on a curve here and I am comparing Nigella Express to the divine Nigella Bites, the fabulous Forever Summer, and even the decent and not annoying, Nigella Feasts.

It seems the Nigella overall demeanor and the demeanor of her guests has a rehearsed quality to it. While the dinner scene don't do that forced gushing about the food that Barefoot Contessa is notorious for. The way they talk seem a lot less natural and spontaneous than in her previous series. I also compare that to Jaime Oliver's new show where his delivery just seems a a little messier and therefore a lot more natural. He'll be like "the pepper is the friend of the garlic while the basil is best friends to them all" and somehow it doesn't come off as twee in the least. I think it does help that whoever styles him goes for a deliberately tousled look. When I compare the two shows, a sheen of perfection has settle on Nigella Express while Jaime at Home has an enthusiastic spontaneous energy. And the thing is, some of the stuff he does do, like throwing vegetable scraps directly from his outdoor table into a flower bed, would be really annoying if it didn't seem like Jaime did that sort of thing all the time.

The previous shows were built on a reliable premise - Nigella likes to cook. She may not always have time to cook (i.e. the TV Dinners episode of Nigella Bites) but she doesn't see cooking as this horrible chore. The thing that seems to be missing in Express is that cooking is enjoyable. There are times you really want to just make something that takes all afternoon. At least I do. Sure she took some shortcuts (using boullion cubes and frozen peas), but they weren't shortcuts that compromised the flavor of the dishes and they weren't being used to avoid cooking. however on Nigella Express, she liberally uses bottled lime juice and seriously that stuff has nothing to do with what you squeeze out of the fruit. It's sad because Nigella has been a voice of intelligence, balancing the utter insanity of Martha Stewart perfectionism with the complete the Sandra Lee levels of expediency. I am sad that she's leaning towards the Sandra Lee side of things.

One shortcut I am very happy to use is gyoza skins as ravioli. Ever since New Year's when I made dumplings with round gyoza skins, I have been dying to use them as ravioli. Two Saturdays ago, I went on a riot of cooking, got some peeled, chopped butternut squash from Trader Joe's and made butternut squash ravioli with brown butter sauce. It's probably one of the most successful dish I have ever made. The ravioli froze beautifully and tasted sublime. Here's what I did:

Butternut squash ravioli
1 package of round gyoza skins (these are round and slightly thicker than won ton skins)
1 package of peeled and chopped butternut squash
1/4 cup of dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons of fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts
1 clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 egg, beaten
4 tablespoons butter

Roast the squash in the oven for half and hour at 425 degrees. Let cool. Blend the rest of the ingredients in a food processor. Add the squash and puree until smooth but not baby food. Put about a tablespoon of the filling onto the gyoza and brush half of the gyoza with the beaten egg. Seal and press out any air. Repeat. A lot. If not using immediately, freeze on a cookie sheet and then put the frozen ravioli in a ziplock bag.

To serve, boil in salt water until they float to the surface. Cook butter until browned. You can add toasted chopped walnuts or a few sage leaves to the butter. Toss the butter and ravioli together and top with shaved parmesan.

I've done the dumpling route. I've done the butternut squash route. What else can I fill these gyoza skins with?

1 comment:

Maddy said...

I am so relieved to read this post! I just received a copy of Nigella Express and I've seen the show a few times as well, and let me tell you the book is even worse than the show. At least the show is included in your cable, but this book is not worth any money. The chapter titles jumble up savory and sweet (not to mention there are a bit to many dessert recipes here) and some "express" recipes call for braising and slow roasting of meats for a few hours! If you find the new Nigella show insipid, as I do, Idefinitely don't buy the book. Thank you for saying something about this disappointment. It appears the old sultry Nigella is gone forever. P.s. love the blog- I'm in Arlington, VA, not too far away! :)