I had really missed the boat on Nigel Slater. I am usually fairly current on British chefs, and I am certain that I must have come across his name here or there, but I just simply gave him no attention.
It wasn't until Luisa at The Wednesday Chef began to declare her love for him, and many commenters posted to concur, that I thought, "Gee, I'd better get in here and see what the fuss is about."
I am here to report that I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what the fuss is about. The Kitchen Diaries is one of the biggest cookbook purchasing mistakes I have ever made. Do you want to know how I really feel? It's rubbish.
And I am so sorry to those that adore him -- especially to Luisa and Molly, both of whom I respect enormously. We will just have to agree to disagree, for there is no meeting halfway on this one.
So, Slater writes a book, cataloging his eating and cooking from January to December. It's not unlike food blogging, I suppose, although I suspect he had a bit more time to put his daily thoughts together than a regular ol' blogger. And his "entries" are so not interesting. And sure, the same could be said for my entries, but at least you didn't have to pay 35 bucks to read my blatherings. AND I give recipes that have actually been tested. I'll guarantee you that Slater's recipes have not been tested exactly as written.
Since the book is written as a diary, the recipes are seasonal and broken up into the months of the year. I was testing the book in December, so I really wanted to stick with the recipes contained in that chapter, but it was not to be. Here were the offerings:
- Nigel's Christmas pudding
- Christmas Cake
- Taleggio and parsley cakes
- Sauteed chicken with spices, fennel and cream
- Marinated feta and artichoke salad
- Baked red mullet with pine nut stuffing
- Roast duck with pancetta and potatoes
- Lemon ice-cream tart
- Potatoes with duck fat and garlic
- Bean sprout salad with mint
- Walnut and candied peel tartlets
- Grilled pork steaks with vermouth and fennel
- Roast leg of pork with onion and Marsala gravy
- Cabbage with orange and juniper
- Roast goose, juniper sauce and apple and lemon puree
- Passion fruit roulade
- Cheese bubble and squeak
Once I crossed off the list of things I can't make due to size (leg of pork) or due to the fact that they have wings (chicken, duck, goose -- The Mayor is the Jack Sprat of Poultry) or due to the fact that I have already made them (Christmas pudding, Christmas cake) or due to hard-to-find ingredients (juniper) or due to things I just say no to (red mullet, bean sprouts, cooked cabbage, passion fruit), or due to just plain boredom or fussiness (feta and artichokes, walnut tartlets and lemon ice cream pie) well that just doesn't leave me with much to try. Not really Nigel's fault, but annoying nonetheless.
I was forced into other months, I am sure sending the world off its axis in the process.
I finally settled on four things, 75% in the "winter months" -- I just could not find anything else I wanted to try:
- Sausages with salami and lentils (January)
- Stilton, onion and potato pie (November)
- Lime tart (January)
- Pork and lemon polpettine (April -- this was The Mayor's choice)
Since The Mayor adores sausages and lentils, the Sausages with salami and lentils choice was a no-brainer. It's too bad it just didn't taste great. I used the best sausages and salami I could find (and they alone were delicious) and super fancy lentils, but the combo just left us flat. Slater doesn't call for any kind of seasoning except black pepper, but I think some kind of herb is needed to perk this dish up. Rosemary or thyme, anybody? How about marjoram? And it's too tomato-y. The Mayor about had a coronary when he saw I was cooking lentils with tomatoes. He said he knew that was a no-no from his bachelor days, since legumes don't cook in highly acidic sauces. The lentils did cook without a problem. I would just never, ever make this again.
Next was the Stilton, onion and potato pie. After standing at the stove for an hour caramelizing onions, I want the final results to be spectacular. This was just so-so. The potatoes were fine, the Stilton is good and the onions were welcome, but overall, it is not worth the time it took. It's fine to call this simple, but nearly two hours of my time is not simple. And again, Slater calls for absolutely no salt through this entire dish, except in the water to boil the potatoes. No salt on the onions, no salt in the mash... what is the matter with him? Is he a seasoning-hater? I think someone needs to spend an afternoon with Emeril.
And let me begin here on Slater's ridiculous directions. Can anyone tell me what a "generous tablespoon of water" is? I detest imprecise directions. Heaping tablespoon of sugar, I get. There is no such thing as a generous tablespoon of water. Call it one tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon. Or say, "add water until the dough comes together." But don't tell me to add a generous tablespoon of water. It makes me nuts.
He also cautioned to not over-mix the eggs with the sugar -- "Mix the eggs and sugar together, beating lightly for a few seconds -- you don't want the mixture to be frothy." Really, why not? Because if we follow Nigel's instructions, we end up with what I got: a scrambled egg lime tart. I am guessing that the sugar and eggs need to be beat to death until at a ribbon stage for this tart to work -- definitely not for the prescribed "few seconds." I had to throw the entire thing in the bin.
Slater has one recipe for beef, and it is for a tenderloin that is so long he doesn't have a carving board long enough to hold it. Out of 300 recipes, he can only find room for just one beef recipe and it's so extravagant that you can only make it once a year? Instead, he is content with a year of pheasant, pigeon and quail, and no less than five (FIVE?!) recipes for mackerel (yeesh!) and seventeen for chicken. Where's the beef, man? I am pleading with you!
The Mayor made the Pork and lemon polpettine, which are basically meatballs. He followed the recipe exactly (he's so good) but these just tasted off to me... something about the ground pork, a ton of lemon zest and juice, and ten anchovies all together just didn't work for me. The Mayor liked it, but you know, he's Irish. I couldn't finish the two little balls on my plate. Yuck. It's all I have to say. And once again, no measurements for seasoning. For me, it is imperative to have a measured amount of seasoning when dealing with raw meat -- since there is no way to taste it before it is cooked, someone needs to give some kind of guideline about how much salt and pepper to toss in.
I want this book out of my house. I find no enjoyment in his poncy notations, his recipes are extremely hard to read and the instructions frustrating to follow. Not to mention they don't taste good. And the thing is, I give cookbooks a fighting chance because I am selecting recipes to test based on things that I think I will love. Look, if I hate squid, and I make a dish with squid, and I report back and say it was disgusting, well, duh. But I am picking recipes full of cheese and potatoes and whatever else I fancy. That should already give the recipe a leg up. So, that let's me know that, at least to my taste, this book is crap.
But I know there are plenty of Nigel Slater fans out there so, I'll tell you what: the first person to email me at thetowntart at thetowntart dot com gets the book, free and clear. Really. It's my pleasure.