Book nigella lawson always wanted

Nigella Lawson never intended to become a renowned cooking figure in both America and Europe.

"I don't believe in having goals. If you do, you can't be spontaneous," said the British writer and food personality. "I never thought I was going to have a career in food, but you don't choose your passions. Your passions choose you. Even when you cook, you can have an idea, but you need spontaneity."

Lawson has released her newest cookbook, "Nigella Kitchen" ($35, Hyperion), and said that this is book she has been waiting her whole career to write. Her numerous television specials, book projects and accumulated years in the kitchen have all prepared her for her personal cooking anthology.

"I had planned to write this one, but I couldn't have written this book at the beginning of my career," Lawson said. "I needed to cook more. This book is part of my life in the kitchen. It doesn't matter where you are in life; this book has something for you. These are the recipes I believe in and love."

Lawson said one recipe in the book, the Sweet Potato Supper, is the embodiment of her belief in cooking with an open mind and curiosity.

"One afternoon I was at the store and had an overwhelming craving for sweet potatoes and bacon," she said. "Sometimes I see something and think, `That sounds interesting; maybe I will do something like that.' I like to play with recipes. Some of my best recipes stem from that."

- Layne Lynch

Sweet Potato Supper

2 sweet potatoes (washed and dried but not peeled), each cut into quarters

8 oz. (1 cup) smoked lardons, cubed pancetta or 16 slices smoked bacon (optional) snipped

8 oz. asparagus tips

6 cloves garlic, unpeeled

a few sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme

3 Tbsp. cold-pressed canola oil

salad leaves (optional)

salt to taste

chili sauce

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, Arrange the sweet potato chunks in the pan and then drop in most of the lardons or bacon, followed by the asparagus tips and garlic cloves and, finally, the remaining lardons. Sprinkle with the thyme, pour the oil over, then bake in the oven for 30 minutes, before turning the sweet potatoes over and baking for another 30 minutes. Let everything cool before dividing between 2 plates, strewn with salad leaves if desired. Sprinkle with some salt or chili sauce, or both to taste.

- Adapted from `Nigella Kitchen'

A new spice cabinet to explore global tastes

Many store-bought spices live a lonely life, occasionally receiving a surprise visit or two from the kitchen teaspoon before meeting a tragic fate with the trash can.

Karen Aboussie, owner of the Savory Spice Shop, is on a mission to make Austinites grab hold of their kitchen spices and begin culinary experimentation.

Aboussie is opening Austin's first culinary spice shop Friday, offering more than 400 spices, seasonings and salts from around the world. Her passion for spice stems from one country in particular.

"Four years ago I took a trip to India, and it was the most phenomenal country. I could go on forever about it. I got to see spices grown in a pure state and was just fascinated by it all."

Her Lebanese roots also contribute to her appreciation for spices, she said. "Lebanese food is full of seasonings and spices, so unfamiliar to mainstream cuisine. I've traveled a lot, tried a lot of new things and experimented with food. This is purely a personal journey."

The franchise store offers items ranging from an exotic Cambodian lemongrass to a standard set of spice staples, appropriately entitled "keys to the cupboard." The store is only the third to open outside Colorado, but more are on the way.

The Austin store, at 1201B W. Sixth St., will have its grand opening Friday at 10 a.m. For more information, call 524-1093 or visit savoryspiceshop.com/aboutus/austin6th.html .

- L.L.

Thanksgiving day out: Restaurant menus

In our discussion of Thanksgiving dinner at area restaurants, we'll start with Mirabelle (8127 Mesa Drive. Reservations at 346-7900). On Nov. 25, this enduring fine-dining spot is doing two seatings, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., for $29.95 (kids' menu $12.95). Three courses, with one choice each of appetizer, main course and dessert, including shrimp spring rolls, carrot-coconut bisque, polenta-crusted salmon, rosemary prime rib, apple beignets and pumpkin cheesecake. Here are a few more restaurant options. Check my Forklore restaurant blog at austin360.com/forklore for updated lists.

• Corazon at Castle Hill (1101 W. Fifth St. 476-0728, www.corazonatcastlehill.com ): Three course fixed-price lunch. Highlights: posole blanco, turkey with Oaxacan mole sauce, redfish with lump crab, pumpkin bread pudding. $24.95, à la carte kids' menu. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Cru a Wine Bar (238 W. Second St., 472-9463; 11410 Century Oaks Terrace, Suite 104 in the Domain. 339-9463, www.cruawinebar.com): Three-course, fixed price dinner. Highlights: sweet-potato ravioli, turkey, lamb, beef tenderloin, chocolate lava cake. $34, $17 children younger than 12. Noon to 9 p.m.

• Four Seasons hotel (98 San Jacinto Blvd. 685-8300, www.fourseasons.com ): Buffet. Highlights: sushi bar, carving station, seafood station, omelet station, dessert bar. $75 at Trio, $68 in the ballroom, $20 children 6-11, free for children 5 and younger. 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

• The Monument Cafe (500 S. Austin Ave., Georgetown. 512-930-9586, www.themonumentcafe.com ): À la carte pricing from the regular menu. 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• Omni Austin Downtown (700 San Jacinto Blvd. 476-3700, www.omnihotels.com ): Brunch buffet. Highlights: Waffle and omelet stations, cheese board, carving station, pan-seared salmon, dessert station. $36, $42 with bottomless mimosa, $16 children 6-12, free for 5 and younger. 11:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

- M.S.

Prepared food on menu once more at markets

Starting this week, vendors at farmers' markets in the Austin area will be able to use permits from the Austin Travis County Health and Human Services Department allowing them to serve prepared food and drinks at markets certified through the Texas Department of Agriculture. The Austin City Council cleared the way for the Special Event Temporary Food Establishment permits with a vote Oct. 28. Earlier this year, some farmers' market vendors had stopped selling food prepared on-site after the Health Department began tighter enforcement of temporary-vendor permit provisions restricting the number of days they could be used.

- Mike Sutter

Openings, closings and coming soon

• Open: The Coffee Cup, the first U.S. location of the Central American coffee chain, at 305 E. Cesar Chavez St., at the base of the Four Seasons Residences. Also serving pastries, paninis and quiche.

• Open: A Touch of Fire, a trailer serving Thai and Asian food, at 801 Barton Springs Road. Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., until 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. 589-5269.

• Closed: The ZuZu Handmade Mexican food location at 6317 Bee Cave Road. The location at 5770 N. MoPac Blvd. (Loop 1) is still open. 467-9295, www.zuzuaustin.com .

- M.S.

Toss the ball of twine and lace turkey

Stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey won't be as strenuous as usual this year thanks to the innovation of a silicone threading needle called the Foodloop Lace.

The Foodloop Lace is the replacement to the awkward kitchen string and sewing needle that plagued those who weren't as familiar with stitching. The 22-inch lace comes with a storage bag and is heat-resistant to 675 degrees, dishwasher safe and reusable. It is, however, not microwave safe. The lace retails for $10, and can be found in Austin at Breed & Co., Herb Central Market, Whole Foods Market and Zinger.

Food and wine briefs

• Pflugerville's Pfall ChiliPfest will take place from 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday , with a chili cook-off, washers tournament, dance contest and music from Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes. Free admission. 100-300 E. Main St., Pflugerville. www.cityofpflugerville.com/chili .

• The specialty popcorn shop Reel Popcorn (try the all-flavor Suicide) is marking its second year with a party from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday with free popcorn, prizes and a contest to name a new flavor. 9600 S. Interstate 35, Suite C500, at Southpark Meadows. 280-7335, www.reelpopcornaustin.com .

- M.S.