I love listening to Nigella Lawson when she is an occasional guest on NPR; I imagine many tv-watching cooks enjoy her program on the Food Network as well. Her down-to-earth approach to cooking and entertaining, and her self-admitted indulgent love of eating are as apparent in her cookbooks as they are in her media appearances. Nigella Christmas, published late last year, is a prime example.
Lawson’s approach to Christmas is a secular one that revels in hospitality, gift-giving, celebration, and sharing food with others. There are recipes for old standards and menu plans for groups of six to sixteen. There are lots of make-ahead tips, suggestions for leftovers, and edible presents to make and give. This is not a cookbook with nutritional information after each recipe, but when the dish is called Girdlebuster Pie, do you really need the numbers?
The chapter on desserts (titled “Joy to the World”–if I wasn’t hooked already, this would have done it) includes recipes for a yule log, fruitcakes, and mini minced pies. Three pages are devoted to her Christmas pudding alone.
What I liked best about the book was her commentary about the special joys and burdens of entertaining at holiday time. For instance, she makes a pitch for inviting new friends to Christmas dinner because of “the stabilizing effect of the stranger factor: someone with whom your family doesn’t quite feel at home enough to behave badly.” Lawson does a good job of suggesting ways to mitigate the stress of entertaining at Christmas–a holiday that seems to come with heightened expectations and traditions that cannot be forfeited. I know I’ll never pull off the “Main Event” Christmas dinner she describes, but her book definitely puts me in the mood for celebrating the holiday with food, friends and family. (The recipe for Girdlebuster Pie is on page 87.)