Kitchen Projects

Everything feels pretty horrible right now, so I am taking pleasure wherever I can find it. For most of this year, it hasn’t been in my kitchen. Cooking has continued to feel like a chore that I am, frankly, tired of. It doesn’t lead to great blog posts. 

The notable exception to my ennui (anxiety and depression?) has been Nicola Lamb’s brilliant newsletter, Kitchen Projects, which has been one of the bright spots of the past year. I am here today because I wanted to make sure you knew about it. In the newsletter Nicola tackles a range of pastry projects from the relatively simple to the complex, and somehow makes me want to take them all on. Projects that have extended over a couple of days have felt like no problem at all thanks to her careful explanations and encouraging voice, as well as her exceptionally good recipe design.

The newsletter typically follows Nicola down a rabbit hole investigating a technique or recipe. More than you ever thought you wanted to know about meringues, or custards, for instance. In a way it is the kind of writing that Serious Eats or Cook’s Illustrated has popularized, but without the joyless and quasi-scientific prose. There is real enthusiasm and camaraderie in Nicola’s voice, there is humor and emotion. The teacher that wants you to share in their excitement and curiosity versus the teacher that has prepared a lecture and isn’t really interested in your questions. 

The result, for me, has been an eager, if infrequent, return to the kitchen. I have been rewarded each time because every recipe I have tried I have loved and has worked perfectly. Stuff that would normally make me nervous felt absolutely doable. Which is what the great food writers do. If Dorie Greenspan believes I can do something, I can. The same goes for Nicola. She is the real deal. The coolest. I hope some smart publisher has already offered her a cookbook deal and that they give her piles of money and free rein to do what she wants to do with the book. In the meantime, we have her beautiful newsletter. 

My favorite recipe was for Salted Apple Caramel Bars and it is truly exceptional. I imagine I will make them every autumn for the rest of my life. But I also loved her Rhubarb Custard Crumble Cake, her Strawberry Shortcake, and most recently her Tomato and Parmesan Linzer Tart—it is topped with caraway seeds and is so, so good.

Too often when pastry chefs and bakers get cookbook deals or writing opportunities they dumb things down for a general audience. We get recipes for banana bread and brownies from brilliant pastry pros. It feels like such a waste. Or in the other direction we get laminated doughs that are impossible to make with incomplete instructions and little understanding of home kitchens and ingredients. Nicola’s newsletter manages to bridge the gap. The recipes are complex and sophisticated enough that you haven’t come across them before, but she gives you the knowledge and support to make them work. It really is the sweet spot (Sorry. Pun definitely intended).

You can subscribe to the free version of her newsletter here, but for a few bucks a month can support her work and get really great bonus content.

7 comments to “Kitchen Projects”

  1. Thanks for the heads up about Nicola’s newsletter! Also, for putting into words what I couldn’t about the Cook’s Illustrated recipes. They are joyless. The best I could come up with was that they sounded like they were written by engineers.

  2. I subscribed a couple of months ago on a tip from your IG (?) and cannot get enough. I wish her lots of success! Thank you for the referral. (And also I still love YOUR blog too, when you write!)

  3. I’ve been wondering what to do with the precious rhubarb stored in the freezer; I need to make room for roasted hatch chile before the season’s run out here in NM. I want to make the linzer tart with chile added to the tomato, and I DEFinitely want to try that rhubarb cake. Thank you for an excellent recommendation, Tim.

  4. Oh, I thoroughly share your experience of feeling so uninspired by food and the kitchen the past year +. I thought I was the only one not delighting in sourdough & banana bread, but I just wanted to say that all your feelings about Nicola’s newsletter (thanks for the rec) are how I feel about Lottie & Doof! I keep checking for an update, because it’s like the only thing I can imagine would spark a flicker of interest. Take all the time, I hope you will get excited about cooking & writing again!

  5. yes i subscribed after you posted about her on instagram—it has truly been a bright spot. i’m so burned out on cooking right now and it feels so inspiring to see someone so joyfully leaning into their expertise. someday when i come out of this funk i will actually cook some of her recipes, but for now it’s the daydreaming i really need. as an american i also love the opportunity to be directly exposed to a UK perspective/recipes/ingredients without them having been reworked by a publisher for a US audience.

  6. I too am liking the affirmations about Cooks Illustrated, both the pros and cons…and Im looking forward to Nicola Lamb’s Kitchen projects. Whenever I’m tempted to look at the news more than once a day, I often turn to recipes and food writing. I need and want this comfort. It’s so good to pull up this page and find a new post….that is always spot on. Thank you.

  7. Thanks for this recommendation, and for all your posts so far! You’re a very big part of my kitchen adventures and my family and friends all get the benefits of your labour. I checked out Nicola’s website and immediately made the olive oil apricot cake – I’m sold! It’s delicious.

What do you think?