It might seem a bit early yet to be reviewing Christmas-themed books here. After all, American Thanksgiving hasn’t even happened yet, and I do generally prefer Christmas to be kept in December. However, for those of you who do like to plan ahead, I thought it would be a good idea to get a jump on my holiday reading.
I bought my copy of Nigella Christmas during the holiday sales last year; it’s been available for more than a year in Britain, but the American edition was only recently published. Regular readers know of my long-harboured love for Nigella, so will understand why I just had to buy this. Though If I’m honest, I never do much holiday cooking- instead I hop on a plane back to my parents house, where I rely on others to do it for me.
The coffee table-sized Nigella Christmas is intended as a one-stop shop for those who do engage in Christmas cooking. The nine chapters include The More The Merrier (holiday mass catering), Come On Over… (a useful chapter on stress-free suppers), The Main Event (everything you could possibly want for a traditional, or non-traditional, holiday meal), Joy To The World (holiday baking and sweet treats) and All Wrapped Up (edible presents and preserves). All in, it contains 150 recipes, making it Nigella’s most comprehensive-feeling book since Feast.
If I’m honest, I’m not crazy about the design of the book- it leans rather too heavily on a kitschy and clichéd red, white and green idea of Christmas. But while festive red type and cutesy photo styling might not be my style, but it’s not overtly offensive- and it is Christmassy, admittedly.
The design is successful in other ways- clear, well-presented recipes, loads of full-colour photography, and even step-by-step photographs for some recipes. On each recipe page there’s a clearly marked “Make Ahead Tip”, particularly useful for holiday cooking. The Main Event chapter, which contains traditional recipes for Christmas lunch/dinner, is printed on red-edged pages, making it easy to find in the middle of the book.
For the most part, the recipes in Nigella Christmas are traditional British holiday fare, sometimes with a twist. Canapés like Drunken Devils on Horseback (pg. 22) have a retro appeal, while Gleaming Maple Cheesecake (pg. 74) is a contemporary spin on seasonal flavours. For the Christmas meal itself, Nigella offers up not only Roast Turkey with Allspice Gravy (pg. 115), but Roast Goose (pg. 149), Roast Rib of Beef (pg. 155), Rolled Stuffed Loin of Pork (pg. 158) and Roast Stuffed Pumpkin (pg. 165). There are even recipes for using up the leftovers of each of these- if I was still eating meat, Ed’s Victorious Turkey Hash (pg. 146) would be right up my alley.
I’ve tried a few recipes so far, with good results. Pumpkin and Goat’s Cheese Lasagne (pg. 34) made a yummy Autumnal dinner, and I’m counting down the days until I can make the wonderful Sticky Gingerbread (pg. 201) again. I liked the Roast Squash and Sweet Potato Soup (pg. 53), and Christmas Morning Muffins (pg. 214) made a simple, tasty start to the day (not Christmas Day, though- I made them last winter).
Next on my list are some of the preserves and edible gifts- I want to do all homemade presents this year, so might try my hand at the Chili Jam (pg. 241), Christmas Ketchup (pg. 242), or Peanut Brittle (pg. 244).
The drawbacks of Nigella Christmas are pretty much what you’d guess. It is, of course, a Christmas cookbook, so not exactly a kitchen workhorse. The recipes are mainly appropriate for cold weather, and there’s not so much as a fresh green salad to be found. Whether the recipes are to your taste or not will also be a deciding factor in how useful you’d find it, and while I like traditional British food, I can only take so many recipes for fruit cakes and steamed puddings.
Also- and this is surprising, coming from me- there’s rather a lot of talking. While I love Nigella’s writing, this book has convinced me that it’s best in small doses. Too much of her trademark self-deprecation can wear a bit thin.
If I may, I’d also argue against the very existence of a Christmas-themed cookbook; do people really want new ideas at such a tradition-laden time of year? For me, Christmas is a time for family recipes, passed down through generations. Even if you don’t particularly like these dishes (my family’s herring salad comes to mind), you’d probably rather have them than something prescribed by a celebrity chef.
I like Nigella Christmas, but I doubt my cookbook collection would really miss it, had it never been written. Whether you’ll like it is entirely up to you, but as long as you a) are obsessed with Christmas to the point of hosting multiple holiday parties and making all your own gifts, b) like the sound of a British Christmas feast, but c) aren’t overly hampered by your own traditions, I think you’ll love it. For me, though, it’s a three star book.