Nigella Lawson webchat
Nigella Lawson, the TV chef and food writer, joined us for a Christmas cooking webchat on 13 December 2011. You wanted to know which recipes she'd recommend for Christmas Day, whether she'd ever hire a cook and who gets the remote when she's lounging on the couch with her husband, Charles Saatchi.
Nigella has sold more than six million cookbooks worldwide, won a slew of awards for her TV shows and runs the successful cookware range, Living Kitchen.
Ilovepigs: This is an S.O.S from a desperate mum! We're having our first Christmas at home after years of going to the in-laws so I have to cook my first-ever Christmas dinner
Nigella: Please, please don't panic. If you brine a turkey, you will never need to worry about whether the bird is dry or juicy: it will always be juicily tender. My turkey brining method is explained on www.nigella.com. I promise you all will be fine.
mrsmplus3: I will be spending all day on Christmas eve preparing the Christmas dinner for the next day (feeding 11). Once that's done, the last thing I will want to do at night on Christmas eve is start making a dinner for me, my husband and three kids for that night. Can you recommend an easy but tasty meal we could all eat on the 24th? We're not too fussy but kids wouldn't want anything too fancy either. I'd be prepared to make a Christmas eve meal on the 23rd though if that's any help to you?
Nigella: I would suggest you make what I do, which is my macaroni cheese deluxe, although admittedly you will have to reduce portions quite a bit as I cook a ham and macaroni cheese for a big supper on Christmas Eve hoping for leftovers afterwards. Cold ham augments cold turkey, and having some macaroni cheese in the fridge to reheat when fractious children need to be fed is a big plus at this time of year!
mumof3teens: Can you suggest anything for six people for Christmas Eve dinner - something tasty, but - as it's my husband's birthday and we'll be out for lunch - we don't need a feast.
Nigella: I rather like sausages with Heaven and Earth mash, which is mash with some apple and onion cooked along with the potatoes, and have often cooked that for us on Christmas Eve, though when the numbers get bigger, I favour ham with macaroni cheese.
AgentProvocateur: I'd like to make some sort of savoury nibble/biscuit in advance, so that I can offer it to any guests who drop by for a wee sherry. What would you recommend?
Nigella: Well, my cheese stars always go down well but I do also have a slightly more grown-up and truly delicious blue cheese biscuit in Domestic Goddess.
smartyparts: I have made your chocolate gooey meringue stack with pistachios on top so many times, I actually think I invented it. Which desserts do you eat over Christmas? Traditional or modern?
Nigella: I am mad for anything with chestnuts. But I do that the easy, lazy way by using cans of sweetened chestnut purée. Mont Blanc is a old fave - dark chocolate, chestnut purée, whipped cream and meringue. My chestnut chocolate pots are also a new enthusiasm.
NettoHoHoHoSuperstar: I'm doing goose for Christmas dinner this year and would like to know if you have a specific stuffing recipe to go with goose?
Nigella: Well, there are a couple of stuffings that I use for goose, one is a mashed potato stuffing via Ireland, and the other hails from Denmark and is predominantly made with dried pears and fresh (or frozen) cranberries. The sharp, fruity stuffing is just perfect with the fattiness of the goose. I think I'd like to fiddle a bit with the mashed potato stuffing, and am thinking of introducing apple and black pudding. However, the pear and cranberry stuffing (a little crunch given by pecans, though you could easily use walnuts which are often cheaper) is my favourite of the moment!
drinkystinkyyuletidegubbins: We're hosting Christmas this year - nine adults and three kids - and your Christmas book has become my bible. Half of the attendees don't eat pork, the other half don't eat beef. We'll be doing turkey on Christmas day but do you have any recommendations for a fabulous non-pork based stuffing? And one for a non-beef, non-pork main for boxing day buffet?
Nigella: You have got your work cut out for you! But sometimes having some options taken away can simplify matters, (that's the way I advise you to look at it!) and certainly a pork-free stuffing is not a problem. I do a cornbread, cranberry and orange stuffing which - even though you make the cornbread from scratch - is simplicity itself. If you have a copy of Feast, it is on page 12. And for your Boxing Day buffet, can't you do something with the leftover turkey? I've got a fabulous glass noodle and turkey salad on my website right now. But for Boxing Day itself, before people get really jaded, I wouldn't sniff at cold turkey, cold stuffing, hot jacket potatoes with sour cream and chives, and lots of pickles and chutneys...
BlackSwan: There's a gaping hole in my roast dinner repertoire...I cannot make a palatable gravy. If there is a foolproof method I would certainly appreciate you sharing it.
Nigella: Yes, gravy is a difficult thing and I have had to apply myself, though along with coffee, it is not something I feel very confident about (I conclude brown liquids are not my thing). But what I have found is that gravy is much better if you don't concentrate too much on the oven dish method, but work hard at the broth making bit. For turkey, I make a spiced stock with aromatics plus giblets etc, and then can make the gravy in advance (very important for my state of mind on the day) but I often make onion gravy which is a good way to go, and delicious when made with a bit of cider.
storminabuttercup: Can you recommend a lovely Christmas day breakfast recipe?
Nigella: I have no trouble recommending you my Christmas Morning Muffins on www.nigella.com And they make the house smell so gorgeously festive too!
bananamam: What are you having for christmas dinner? We are thinking of beef...just a simple roast, any way to spruce it up?
Nigella: If I don't have turkey for Christmas Dinner it just wouldn't feel like Christmas. However, a rib roast of beef is a big treat and very festive. I make mine Christmassy by making a pork and stilton gravy to go with (recipe in the Christmas book). You could do sprouts, chestnuts, some roast potatoes and maple-glazed parsnips as well. But I would tend to hold the bread and cranberry sauces.
Tobagostreet: Are you cooking Christmas dinner yourself this year - and if so, what starter are you making? I'm looking for inspiration and I always find this the hardest course to decide upon, as everyone has different expectations, whereas turkey/goose for main and a selection of puds all satisfy.
Nigella: I don't think I am cooking Christmas Dinner this year but I never make a starter. There's quite enough food as it is, plus I really don't think it's manageable to start clearing tables and re-laying for main course. If you feel you cannot go starterless, then I'd hand around a plate of soda bread or pumpernickel spread with a little horseradish mixed with creme fraiche, with a tiny bit of smoked salmon, then a little pickled red cabbage (from a jar) and fresh dill to decorate.
JollyBear: I love all the chocolate cakes in Feast but my cling film melted on the chocolate loaf cake. Did my cheap cling film just not cut the mustard?
Nigella: I should have recommended ovenproof cling film, but it is safer to dispense with it altogether if you've had melting issues. I am sorry.
BIWIshYouAMerryChristmas: The one recipe of yours that I really don't like is your Ham in Coke. Yet other people (here and in real life) rave about it. When I'd cooked it, the liquor was revolting. It smelt like petrol. I definitely didn't want to keep it to use in making soup! What do you think went wrong? (I didn't use diet Coke, I used normal Coke).
Nigella: Maybe nothing went wrong - maybe you just don't like it! We all have different tastes, you know, and there is no reason why everyone would be enthusiastic about the same recipes. And enough people - as you say - do rave about the Ham in Coke, so I can't see it as anything other than a matter of taste. I know not everyone likes the Coca-Cola ham stock after and for them my black bean soup notion is therefore unattractive, but I have only ever been able to write recipes that I like, and I suggest if the stock tastes unpleasant, don't cook with it! Have you tried my ham in ginger ale, btw?
AhsataN: Do you have a quick and easy gingerbread biscuit recipe, or festive treats I could make with my fussy eater of a two-year-old?
Nigella: I do have some ginger bread biscuits, which I think of as edible Christmas tree decorations, but I think my butter cut-out biscuits may be a better bet. My children always loved them and still do!
SugarAndSpiceMistletoeAndWine: I know you have emphasised speedy recipes, what is your favourite short cut to use which still tastes just as good?
Nigella: I suppose my most regular shortcut (in that I probably use it everyday) is that I use garlic-infused oil rather than peeling and chopping and then cooking garlic in a recipe. Purists look down on this, but I am afraid I doubt I will ever shake the habit.
lemonbonbons: I would like to make a Christmas trifle this year. For all sorts of reasons it must be the best trifle anyone has ever tasted. Which book/recipe should I follow?
Nigella: Oh dear, I always think it's hard when anyone focusses too much on the judgment of others. It's too tense-making. I'm even tense trying to think of what trifle to recommend to you. But I'll give it a go. If you want to go traditional, then my Boozy British Trifle (Nigella Christmas) is the best route to take; if you want a little seasonal kitsch (and serious deliciousness) then go for the Chocolate Cherry Trifle in Feast. In the interests of thoroughness, I should also alert you to my Raspberry and Lemongrass trifle (Bites) and my Anglo-Italian (Forever Summer) which introduces blackberries, limoncello and mascarpone. Frozen fruit should be fine with these....
Pinner35: In these times of economising, having less time etc, please could you develop some recipes for the slow cooker. There are so many people who use them but are stuck in a casserole/chilli rut.
Nigella: I am afraid I just can't get on with a slow cooker. I know many people are mad for them, but I am not one of them. Maybe you could consider the pressure cooker route. There's a good book called Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna J. Sass.
Jux: Some time ago, I went to a butcher that I don't generally use and got a brace of grouse. They were really tough old birds and we didn't enjoy them much, which was a shame as I love game and wanted to convert my husband. Obviously it didn't work! What do you think would be the best way to cook grouse, partridge or pheasant of unknown provenance to ensure it is successful?
Nigella: Lucky you if you don't like grouse, as they are expensive and rare! I don't know if I can lump all those game birds together as they don't necessarily need to be cooked the same way. I am not mad about pheasant but like it enough when casseroled with apples and cider; grouse and partridge I think are best roasted. I sometimes like to put a little mascarpone, red wine and chopped rosemary or thyme in a grouse before it goes into the oven, although for me, just smeared with butter or goose fat and 20 mins or so in a very hot oven is perfection.
rubyslippers: Can you tell me what your favourite cookbook is? Also, do you write in the ones you use? My most treasured cook books are the ones from my late grandma with all her notes on tweaking the recipes etc...
Nigella: I find it so hard to choose just one favourite book. I have a real tug towards Anna Del Conte's Entertaining all'Italiana as I found it so inspirational at the very start of my food writing career, but with a library of some 4,000 food titles, it's hard to settle on just one. I should say that her latest, about being in the kitchen with her granddaughter, Cooking with Coco, is the PERFECT family cookbook. But like you, I, too, am particularly fond of my granny's file with its clippings and comments, even if I don't actually cook from it a lot.
gateacre1: Will you be doing any new TV cookery shows in the new year?
Nigella: That's certainly the plan. And a book, though the book will come first, and the TV series will be shot after. I just can't do TV every year, it's too invasive into family life and every other year is much more manageable. Of course, I have to get the schedule to suit and the coming year is a difficult one with my son doing GCSEs, my stepdaughter AS levels and my daughter A levels, so there's not going to be any filming done for a while. I hope to be able to pull it out of the bag in time to go out in Autumn, but home life has to come first...
Get0rf: Two questions - firstly, what is your next book going to be about? I hope it's similar to Feast, expanding on themes such as Jewish food (like a modern version of Claudia Roden). Secondly, the strongest theme of your writing is your sense of the past, and your memories of cooking with your mother and siblings, such as the memory of your mother's 60s blender, and making mayonnaise from a young age. Have you considered writing an autobiography?
Nigella: My next book will be inspired by Italian food, which is in itself autobiographical really in that I learnt to love Italian food when I went to work in Italy for a year between school and university and needed to learn Italian. Not only did I learn how to speak Italian, but I learnt how to cook Italian food, and cemented a relationship with Italy that is fundamental to me. Even my children have Italian names! But the thing is, I don't think I'd either want to write a straight autobiography, or even remember enough to do so. When I write about food, though, I feel that I say everything that I feel about life.
AitchTwoOHoHoHo: I like your japanese-ish recipes in HTE, they're naturally low-fat and healthy but without any actual mealtime sacrifice. Would you consider writing a diet book?
Nigella: I'm working on an Italian-inspired book at the moment. I think it's a fantastic food for feeling wonderful and eating well.
housemum: Have you thought about writing a children's cookery book, perhaps your children's favourite recipes from when they were young?
Nigella: In every book I've ever written, there's been a part dedicated to cooking for or with children. I suppose I have never thought of separating that and making it the only theme...
nursenic: Like you I collect kitsch cookbooks. What is your favourite?
Nigella: So hard to say what my favourite kitsch title is, but quite keen on the cookery book from the World Wrestling Foundation called 'Can You Feel the Heat?'
ColdTurkeyRemains: I'd just like to know if you have ever, in all your adulthood, worn your hair in a ponytail?
Nigella: Yes but never to leave the house! Or rather, maybe some times when my children were younger and I was walking them to school.
debka: How do you seemingly eat so much and stay so slim?
Nigella: Well, I do not stay so slim. Like a lot of women, my weight goes up and down. And if I eat regularly, I don't put on weight, and if I work crazy hours, don't sleep, get stressed and then get ravenous, I put on weight. However, I have had to take a policy decision and exercise more. As you get older, I feel it doesn't matter how much or how little one eats, if you don't exercise you blob out! But I'm afraid it's the first thing to go when I'm filming because of the hours!
ShirleyKnot: You recently did a photo shoot for the front cover of Stylist. How many wet wipes did it take to get rid of that caramel? And did you manage not to stick your tongue out to have a taste?
Nigella: Forget wet wipes, I had to give myself a thorough hosing down in the shower, for about a half an hour! I didn't even think of trying to lick the caramel off while doing the pic as actually it felt rather creepy running down my face like that!
outwardbound: Who would you be most nervous cooking for?
Nigella: Well, I'm going to make a yule log with a six-year-old this afternoon, and I'm pretty nervous about that!
thisonehasalittlecar: I have always thought of myself as someone who loves cooking, but the recent years of cooking for my - not always fulsome with gratitude - husband and small children have made me realise that actually I just love eating nice food and cook it because no-one else is going to cook it for me. Does cooking both at home and work ever make you sick of it?
Nigella: Well, I certainly do look forward to being cooked for by my children (can it measure up to the joy I felt when they could make me cups of tea?) but I am not sure if I am suited to having decisions about food taken away from me. The day in, day out thing of what to cook can get difficult sometimes, but I find I need to engage in it, and enjoy the actual cooking, unless I am too exhausted or bad tempered - and even then, it can be the easiest part of the day! Having said that, I do love being cooked for, but if I were given the choice between always being cooked for or always cooking, the latter would be what I'd go for.
worldgonecrazy: If you're cooking for just yourself, what is your favourite meal for a comfort-eating, stuck-at-home evening? Also, would you like to join my campaign for bringing champagne coupes back into vogue?
Nigella: Easy: rye toast drizzled with Mellow Yellow cold-pressed rapeseed oil, with a peeled soft boiled egg squished on top with lots of coarsely ground white pepper and sea salt flakes. I know it's breakfast, but it is the most heavenly supper too. I feel safe and happy eating it any time of the day. PS I am very anti-flute and actually working on some fab designs for champagne saucers, ie coupes, right now; they are lovely as glasses for spoony type desserts.
midnightexpress: Your children must be approaching the leaving home stage. What single recipe/dish do you think they will take away from home with them?
Nigella: It's so hard to know what exactly they'll take with them. I think certainly my general enthusiasm for food, and for feeding them but in terms of actual recipes, I think it will be a toss up between my Sunday night pasta (pasta, chicken stock, butter, touch of cream) and my mother's praised chicken, which is a kind of cross between poached chicken, braised chicken, and chicken soup (recipe on my website). There would also be a strong case for pasta with ham and peas and custard cream hearts. I rather feel the pasta dishes will be the ones they take with them initially, but I think my ma's chicken might be what they feed their families much later.... I live in hope!
MordechaiVanunu: I'd love a little inside goss on life with the elusive Mr. Saatchi...have you watched any good DVD box sets recently? If not, what do you watch on TV together and who has the remote?
Nigella: We really love The Good Wife (a Ridley and Tony Scott programme starring Julianna Margulies). I am afraid to admit I have conceded remote powers entirely...
Brunhilde: I'm a huge fan of your tips on fripperies - nail polish, wrapping paper, best sites etc. So, come on, beguile us with the latest delightful sensation that's bringing you joy.
Nigella: I'm working up an enthusiasm for Evernote Food (a free app).
BelleEnd: I love your recipes beacause they're often easy without a list of obscure ingredients, and a lot of them have a kitsch quality that really appeals. But I was wondering if you'd come across much snobbery about kitsch, easy food in cheffy circles?
Nigella: Yes, I think I am much looked down on in cheffy circles. But I am unapologetic about being a home cook rather than a chef, so all is fine!
LizLemon: My question is with regard to reluctant husband cooks - is there a good, solid recipe that you know can tempt a male to providing food? Once a week would do me...
Nigella: My sound man was converted to the kitchen instantly by my linguine with raw sliced mushrooms with garlic, lemon and thyme (it's in Express, but also on nigella.com) so why not start with that?