Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen

17 Dec

Last month, I was lucky enough to get an invitation (after some shameless begging) to a feast with Nigella Lawson at the Royal York in Toronto.

The event was to launch Nigella’s newest book, Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, and involved fit-for-a-ballroom interpretations of recipes such as Sweetcorn Sunshine Soup; Red Currant and Mint Lamb Cutlets, Red Leicester Mash and Seasonal Vegetables; and Devil’s Food Cake with Dark Chocolate Ice Cream.

Kitchen is a reflective, intimate cookbook (along the lines of How to Eat and How to Be a Domestic Goddess), in which the prose is as wonderful and reassuring as the food. “This book is simply the story of my love affair with the kitchen,” says Nigella. “Whatever the opposite of the currently still fashionable genre, the misery memoir, might be, this is it: a comfort chronicle.”

I went to the soiree with Open Kitchen contributor Signe Langford. To say we were excited about “Nigella Night” would be an understatement–the last time I’ve felt quite so excited about someone coming to town was probably Christmas Eve, 1980.

Nigella’s dishes have been like the culinary soundtrack to the past decade of my life. Her cookbooks stand out on my shelves as the ones with covers all spattered and tattered. Nigella Bites, with its whipped cream, chocolate and butter-laden goodies, is to blame for the extra ten pounds I gained in my 20s… Forever Summer, to thank for bringing homemade ice cream into my life and making me realize a waistline was an OK thing to waste for the right dessert.

I got the chance to talk with Nigella one-on-one too, and I’ve been waiting for the right moment to post our interview. This morning, as I sit drinking tea in my sister’s kitchen in England, fresh from an overnight transatlantic flight, I figure that time has come. And if you still want a Friday-recipe fix, may I jetlaggedly redirect you to Nigella’s Red Velvet Cupcakes?

p.s. I promise there’s a cookie-making extravaganza coming up mid-week… guest-starring my lovely mum and sister. So enjoy this chat today, and check in again on Monday to see how the Christmas baking goes.

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Q+A with Nigella Lawson

Every time I revisit your recipes, I’m taken back to times I’ve made a certain dish before… who I was cooking for and what was going on in our lives. What is your emotional relationship to your own previous cookbooks?
They do take me back. On How to Be a Domestic Goddess, the spine is broken. That one takes me back to the revelation of discovering baking. Actually, it began with How to Eat. I discovered I didn’t have to be the person I thought I was. In families, you are so defined by the family script. Until then I thought cooking was about instinct, and baking was about skill. It made me so much more comfortable to realize I could do both. But I remember when Domestic Goddess came out, I had a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. My children used to take that book from the shelf and use it as a catalogue. They’d point at what they wanted me to make them for lunch, like it was the menu.

Your children are in their teens now, so they should be leaving home in a few years. Which of your cookbooks will you send them off with?
The best for students would be
Nigella Express. When you’re busy with  exams, those recipes are quick. But of course students like to do anything other than study, so maybe Domestic Goddess for the baking.

By the time my children leave home though, I hope they’ll be independent enough to cook freestyle. We try to get organized so that each week, they have to make one recipe; I get them to stick to the same recipe for a month. My daughter did Carbonara over and over, and by the end of the month she knew it. When her friends came round, she’d make it for them–it became her thing. I think they need about five things they do really well.

Is eating at the table as a family important in your home?
We do it, but not all at the same time. On weeknights, the kids tend to eat when they get back from school. I sit down twice. But on Sundays, supper is always at 7:30. My husband doesn’t like eating at the table, so I exempt him. It’s OK–I like being a matriarch.

What fan responses have stood out for you on your North American tour?
The other day, someone said “three generations of our family cook your recipes.”  That really moved me. When I’m at a book signing and I have grown up daughters and their mothers there, it really moves me too. It’s something I hope I’ll get with my daughter.

You lost your mother, first husband and sister in a relatively short space of time. Did you find being in the kitchen helped you, in any way, to get through that?
I did [cook] a lot then. I don’t like to be unoccupied. But with loss like that, it’s for forever really, not just when it happens. You don’t get that person restored to you. Therein lies the problem.

What are the most therapeutic cooking activities?
Making bread, risotto or soup. There’s something very de-stressing about kneading. I also love to knock down the dough. That’s almost better than eating the actual bread. For risotto, I just love the stirring. If my week has been busy, I just focus on that, not what’s coming next. And soup–well it’s something very basic, and I just like cutting things up and getting a sense of providing good things to eat. I like making soup, ideally, with ends of things from the fridge. I like the feeling that you’ve had a quick tidy up.

What music do you listen to while cooking?
If someone else has music on in their kitchen, I think it’s lovely, but I prefer the babble of human voices on the radio. Or just silence.

Any tips on entertaining?
The thing is just to be relaxed. Keep it simple: I have a friend who only likes pudding, so I make ice cream for her. Just concentrate on what’s easy and delicious.

And finally, what foods do you want to take home from Canada?
If I can, I’ll take home some maple sugar.  I adore that, but in the U.K. you can only really get it at Harrods. When I was in Montreal, I tried pudding chomeur [a cake-like pudding drenched in syrup]… God, it’s rich! And I ate maple candy floss at Au pied de cochon: the most delicious thing I’ve ever had… I could see them having to come after me and try and get that stuff out of my hands at the airport.

7 Responses to “Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen”

  1. Sat Anlage December 31st, 2010 at 8:36 AM #

    awesome blog, do you have twitter or facebook? i will bookmark this page thanks. jasmin holzbauer

  2. Ada Chinery January 7th, 2011 at 5:43 PM #

    This comment is for Valerie Howe- In January’s issue 2011 there is a blueberry and pumpkin muffin recipe. I s the 1/2 tsp of puree pumpkin a miss print? If so what is the correct measure? Maybe 1/2 c?
    Would really like some feed back.I would like to make the muffins but 1/2 tsp is not worth opening the can!
    Thanks Ada

    • Valerie Howes January 7th, 2011 at 6:30 PM #

      Hi Ada,
      You’re absolutely right, it should be 1/2 cup. Our apologies for the error. I hope your muffins turn out great.
      Best wishes,

      • Ada Chinery January 8th, 2011 at 9:03 PM #


        • Ada Chinery January 11th, 2011 at 3:14 PM #

          Hi,Valerie, just made the muffins. They’re
          delic. I changed the butter to veg. oil. It worked just fine. Next time I will try half the sugar in splenda. Thanks again for answering my first e-mail.Ada

          • Valerie Howes January 15th, 2011 at 9:06 AM #

            Glad you liked them!

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