March 14, 2013

Real, everyday cooking for real, everyday cooks

By Raleigh-Elizabeth.

When you write about food, it’s a bit scary to admit you don’t actually watch the Food Network. (Well I do, sometimes. But mostly around Turkey-time when I find that the only thing that keeps me happily on my feet and stuffing birds is the sight of other people on their feet, stuffing birds as well.)

It’s especially scary to admit you don’t really know half of the Food Network celebs from a hole in the wall. Paula Deen, sure. (I’m Southern.) Alton Brown? Giada? Bobby Flay? Is it really so bad to confess I only know half of these personalities from the branded kitchen gear I see at Target and Macy’s?

One might even go so far as to say I had become a little bit of a food celeb snob. I relished all this not-knowing. I’m a real cook, I’d say. I cook in a real kitchen! I don’t need to watch the Kardashians of the food world do it in immaculate kitchens with million-dollar frying pans and perfect ingredients! That’s not real cooking!

And then there comes that moment in all of our lives where we realize we’re complete idiots.

My moment (or at least its most recent iteration) came in February. I was standing in the bathroom, trying to figure out if my non-pregnant outfit was covering enough of my pregnant-self to be decent, and Nigella Lawson came on the radio. As she bantered her way through a Morning Edition interview, I fell in love. The kind of love foodies fall into in the depths of winter: the sort of love that promises rich stews and hearty pastas and desserts that warm our tummies and our souls. I was in love, and Nigella was my Valentine.

And all of this love is thanks to her newest cookbook, Nigellissima. Nigellissima is a compilation of the everyday dishes Nigella actually makes. Real food for real people when they’re not cooking on TV.

The Pork Chops with Fennel Seeds and Allspice are delicious. Plus, they take about twenty minutes to make (start to finish) and, unlike the pork chops I usually make, these actually taste like they came from a restaurant. A delicious restaurant called Chez Your Awesome Home Kitchen. (I hear great things.)

But in what has to be the most endearing thing ever, Nigella has written a full page of notes to go along with this four step, super simple recipe. It’s the kind of thing you and I would write if we were sharing our favorite recipe. We’d tell you all about how we’re particular about the meat having fat or whether or not it makes any sense to add sage, and we’d go on about it because to us it matters. When it comes to every recipe in this book, it clearly matters to Nigella. That’s true love.

And there’s no greater gift in food than that.

If that hadn’t won me over, the Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic, and Almonds (you blitz the sauce in the food processor!) and the One Step, No-Churn Coffee Ice Cream would have.

But instead I was won over by Nigella herself. In what became a publicity firestorm, Nigella admitted to getting into a bit of a tiff with ABC over a publicity photo for The Taste. She’d been on the show to get the word out about this cookbook, and they took some promotional photos, as TV shows are known to do. Only they wanted to photoshop out her belly. She refused.

“[Airbrushing] is just the habit, I suppose, in promotional materials,” she told Lynne Rosetto Kasper. “Particularly in America, where there’s a very idealized form of what one should be. Young, blonde, and thin are the three word that come up in my head – none of which I am.”

Instead, she’s a woman who looks at her tummy and sees a happy truth. It’s the product of a million delicious meals, pasta to drool over, pork chops that satisfy after a long day at work, and no-churn ice cream. When it comes to that tummy, she’s earned it.

And this book is the collection of recipes that let her do so. If the recipes I’ve made thus far are any indication, they’ll all fill our bellies and our souls, just like hers.

Nigella. She might be a Food Network star, and she might cook in a perfect, TV-ready kitchen the likes of which I can only dream about. But she also does it with a real figure, cooking real food, and there’s nothing but real love in that for me. And hopefully, for you.

Tell me: Do you have a favorite chef? Have you ever fallen head over heels for one like I seem to have?

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rachel March 14, 2013 at 10:15 am

Btw, if you don’t have it already, her How To Be A Domestic Goddess cookbook is a wonderful collection of simple baking recipes. I’ve used it for almost a decade and (having lived on both sides of the pond) have both the UK and US versions!


2 Rachel March 14, 2013 at 10:18 am

Oh, and to answer your question: Nigel Slater. I own almost all of his cookbooks and for good reason. Uncomplicated, good food. “The Kitchen Diaries” is a favorite and I’m working my way through “Tender”.


3 raleigh-elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 10:40 am

Tender looks fantastic! I will have to scoop it up. The name reminds me of Ruth Reichl’s “Tender at the Bone,” though, which is one of the greatest food books out there. Had to foodie-proselytize!


4 Kace March 14, 2013 at 11:22 am

I received Tender as a Christmas present this year after placing it on my wish list (based on a recommendation by David Lebovitz). It’s a fabulous cookbook with lots of interesting stories. You have to love a cookbook organized by vegetable. :)


5 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 11:24 am

Clearly I should already own this : )


6 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag March 14, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Tender is one of the greatest cookbooks I’ve ever seen/read. I am more than a tad obsessed with Nigel Slater, and I am REALLY wanting his Kitchen Diaries book!

Also, I joke that Nigella is my pretend BFF/glamorous older sister. In the alternate reality of my mind, she totally is! I own every cookbook she’s ever put out, and this newest one will be added to the heap hopefully in very short order. :) Great post!


7 Emily March 15, 2013 at 11:06 am

I love all of Nigel Slater’s books (he deserves to be better known in the US! Doesn’t do the celeb endorsement thing) but his first book ‘Real Fast Food’ is an excellent starter cookbook… I give it to all my friends who are just beginning. No pictures, just tons of helpful advice on how to make meals out of pantry staples. Really useful to learn how to combine ingredients. I still use it regularly when I’m stuck for ideas, and need to make something quick (all recipes less than 30 mins).


8 Stacy Mc March 14, 2013 at 10:48 am

I love Nigella! When my husband, my 11 month old son, and I got stationed in AL. Nine hours away from all family and friends. I did not know how to cook and as a new stay at home Mom that was my new top priority. In comes Nigella every day on the style network. I call her my English Aunt, she taught me to not be scared in the kitchen. Coming from a long line of very good cooks I was soon able to tackle family recipes too. I have all of her cook books and have watched on Style, E, Food Network, and Cooking Channel. My favorites are her Christmas episodes. So after almost 14 years, 4 moves, and a new baby girl the Nigella love continues!


9 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 10:51 am

Stacy you sound suspiciously military… are we kindred milwives?!? Congrats on the new baby girl and thank you for sharing all your memories! I’m so excited to admit my newfound love and adoration : )


10 hairyshoefairy March 14, 2013 at 11:07 am

Nigella! Hands down, she is my favorite “celebrity” chef. I’ve watched her various shows for over a decade and savored every minute of her screen time. I think my favorite part of her shows is the end. She always has this scene where she gets up in the middle of the night for a snack made up of whatever she made during the show. She grabs a chicken leg and carries it off while winding a bit of prosciutto around it or indulges in one more bit of cake. A girl who snacks at midnight as I am apt to do? That’s a girl I can get behind. I must agree with your description of her cookbooks. They are enjoyable reading, not just a collection of dull recipes.


11 Lyndsay Hughes March 14, 2013 at 11:12 am

Great piece. Lovely reading something that is actually heart felt. And naturally, Nigella would inspire such writing.


12 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 11:15 am

Of course she would : )


13 Brandy March 14, 2013 at 11:21 am

I’m with you on not being a Food Network watcher, but, oddly enough, I have a Nigella crush as well. I love to hear her interviews. She is such a profoundly eloquent speaker, seemingly well informed and inquisitive (not to mention absurdly beautiful), while at the same time having the air of someone you could comfortable sit down to tea with.
By the way, I’ve just now understood that you are pregnant; congratulations!!


14 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 11:23 am

Thank you! Due this summer! I’m already the size of a small house. I just love Nigella, and her interviews really did it for me. You said just right – I feel like we could sit down to tea and get along. And laugh. And eat really well. And… mostly I just have a super big crush on her cooking, so I’d probably just sit there like a puppy dog and say “and then what did you make? and then? and then?” until she decided she really had someplace else to be.


15 Jenny March 14, 2013 at 11:42 am

I loved watching Nigella back when she was on the Style Network. Those shows were great! Since then, I have received “How to Be a Domestic Goddess” and her AMAZING other cookbook, “Summer.” It is just wonderful.


16 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I love that we all seem so enamored of her. Apparently it’s Nigella Day!


17 Cece March 14, 2013 at 11:45 am

Nigella for the romance and emotion of food, and Alton Brown for the science and the history of food.


18 Mijk March 14, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Yvette van boven who wroet the homemade books. she is so Greta and nagellak science the domestic goddess….. But reAd Yvette..


19 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm

These look great! I’ll have to give them a shot!


20 Aimee March 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm

JAMIE OLIVER!!! So real and probably the male version of Nigella really. How could you not love someone who tries to reform the American public school food. Man totally passionate about food and sharing that passion with the world.


21 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Amen to that.


22 Erin March 14, 2013 at 1:48 pm

I loved Food Revolution. I was cheering the whole time; I feel passionate about what Jamie’s trying to do. And he also named his son Buddy Bear Maurice Oliver. How can that not make you smile?


23 Giulia March 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm

It would have to be Jamie. His meals are delicious and heart felt and at times a little quirky, just like his personality. He’s always in a mad rush, zipping from one thing to the next, and that’s how I often feel when cooking after a day of work. I love his cookbooks, but I also really like his cooking app. Amazing results every time.


24 39midlifecrisis March 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm

If you love Nigellissima – get how to eat. The book is my bible and compiled with Feast and Domestic Goddess are all the cookery books you will ever need for every occasion. Love Nigella – many happy meals and memories due to her.


25 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I love all our Nigella love : ) I’m going to get these other two books ASAP. Thank you!


26 Alexis Gentry March 14, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I LOVE Nigella! Practical, passionate, and unapologetic. Also, I’d love to cook with Mario Batali and Alex Guarnaschelli. What a party that would be!


27 Prêt à Voyager / Anne March 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Rachel Khoo! She’s a Brit living in Paris! Her book came out in the UK last year, and Chronicle Just released the US version of “The Little Paris Kitchen.” The 6-episode tv show is absolutely delightful too!


28 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 1:45 pm

This looks DELICIOUS.


29 Erin March 14, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Jamie Oliver and Alton Brown; they’re not reality-TV stars who’ve become *brands to hawk everything with and *then* star in a movie, because, why not? They know what they’re doing, they’re confident, they’re inspiring, they’re teachers. They don’t take shortcuts just because; they make real food and want others to, too. And in the case of Alton, I yearn for the science of food, and he gives me that. *OK, AB has Welch’s, and I’m still trying to forgive him for that. And Jamie is now a worldwide brand in reality, but I think he stays very true to what he started out doing, so I mostly forgive him.


30 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I feel like awesome people being awesome always get a by – that’s not just branding, that’s spreading the awesome.


31 Emma March 14, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I am 23 and have basically grown up on Nigella – I simply adore her, and own all of her books! Her writing is what makes her stand out – I feel like I know her. And obviously her recipes are incredible. And she is so beautiful! xxx


32 Starr March 14, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I spent my birthday five years ago in bed, cuddling an ill little boy & reading the just-released Nigella Express (a gift from my great husband). It’s one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.

Strangely, I enjoy Nigella’s radio interviews far more than I enjoy her TV shows. That hasn’t stopped me from watching them when they first air on BBC, but I find I no longer mind if I miss an episode. I realized it’s because if I tried to become the “Nigella” lifestyle brand ideal consumer, I’d feel fake.

I’ll also add my voice to the Nigel Slater delegation. His radio interviews are a delight, and when BBC broadcasts a TV series, I will glad watch & re-watch/listen to (often while in the kitchen) his programs. I have been known to daydream, wishing that he lived down the road from me so I could have him be my kitchen and gardening mentor.

And for pure fantasy, Rachel Khoo is a charmer. In fact I watched a program today just because she was the guest.


33 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 14, 2013 at 2:04 pm

This story has really had us all walk away with three winners – I have a lot of cookbooks I’m going to need to add to my kitchen at this rate! (Lucky me)


34 Melissa Yoder March 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I have loved watching cooking shows ever since I was a kid. (I wish I had the Food Network, but Saturday morning PBS shows had to do.) My favorite cook is Lidia Bastianich (host of Lidia’s Italy) by far. Her recipes are simple, rustic and authentic. She knows the history of each dish and she’ll show you her trips to Italy where the recipes originated. She cooks from her own home and she really knows her stuff. Love her.


35 Sandra Gonzales March 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm

I have a BIG crush on Mario Batali!


36 bdaiss March 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I admit to a huge Alton Brown crush. He applies to my geeky side. WHY does this work? What’s the science involved? Plus? Puppets. : ) In fact – I adore Good Eats so much that when we built our dream house, I designed my kitchen to be similar to the Good Eats kitchen. (But, ahem, much smaller. 30′ wide kitchen?!? I wish!)


37 julie March 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm

I love Jamie Oliver, he could come and cook for me any day. I do hate it though when the cooks try and get all fancy pants and add saffron and truffles, which is a bit out of the budget of most home cooks. Nigella is pretty awesome too, I love just listening to her and her soothing tones.

Julie q


38 Lyn March 14, 2013 at 8:50 pm

I love Nigella – I do not love cooking. My friends all laugh when I bring Nigella into the conversation because they know about my ‘cooking’. Nigella’s show came on TV after another I was watching and being too lazy to get up I sat there and was mesmerised. She makes everything look so easy and she just relishes every moment with utter glee. My fave part is also when she goes to the pantry at night and takes a great chunk of the left overs with such pleasure and without any guilt whatsoever. My kind of woman – she just makes you feel good about yourself. By the way, I am so proud because I have really and truly cooked some of Nigella’s recipes. Now, you have to be pretty ‘special’ to make me do that.


39 cream-of-mushroom catering March 14, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Once upon a time my daughter said, “Mother, you should open a catering business and call it “Cream of Mushroom Soup Catering.”

Okay, I’m deep-south southern and schooled on “Huntsville Cookbook,” “Atlanta Picnics in the Park,” and the ubiquitous “Charleston Receipts.” Great ‘lil go-to’s from which I had a penchant for culling any recipe that even smacked of using or my-substituting the much adored and maligned cream-of-mushroom soup (yep! straight from ye ole can – such a sophisticate I am). Do you now see my problem!?!

Thank heavens for Nigella – like her recipes, she’s smart, creative, intuitive, and a delight to us all.

Bravo Nigella! You rescued me (and all my friendships which had reached their cream-of-mushroom limit at my dining table). Thank you so very much.


40 Caddy March 14, 2013 at 10:49 pm

I love the way Nigella is able to put into words her love for food. She speaks in such rich, descriptive language on her shows and that makes the dishes just sound all the more appetizing.

Your mentioning how she writes a page full of notes for each recipe in her new cookbook made me think of this line I loved (I actually tweeted it! Haha!) from Rachel of the blog Heart of Light’s Thanksgiving entry last year, she said ” I rarely feel closer to someone than when I get to see the notes they’ve written to themselves about food they’ve made.” I just love that line and it does ring true.


41 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 15, 2013 at 5:35 am

That is so lovely. Thank you for sharing it!


42 melissa March 15, 2013 at 4:42 am

Like you, Nigella is my absolute favorite. Definitely worth a look are her earlier cookbooks, How to Eat and How to be a Domestic Goddess. They are the sort of cookbooks you’d enjoy reading every bit as much as trying the recipes therein.


43 JulieG March 15, 2013 at 8:12 am

How to Eat is a wonderful book which pre-dates the later glamour photo books – in fact there are very few photos, it’s just beautifully written by Nigella at a tough time in her life. She started out as a journalist and there is an excellent writer behind that tv persona.


44 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 15, 2013 at 8:21 am

It’s true! She was deputy literary editor at The Sunday Times — no slouch job. With that kind of history, you could wind up a tenured professor at an Ivy League journalism program – but I love that she follows her heart (and tastebuds) instead. She’s a model woman, really – true to herself, true to her art (writing), true to her love (food). We should all learn a little from her.


45 Kelly March 15, 2013 at 8:48 am

I love Nigella and her cooking! I am so surprised at the photoshopping! My husband thinks she is incredibly sexy, and I must admit she just seems luscious. I wonder if it is strange that we think that, or if it is really the ABC execs who are strangely out of touch with reality. Who wants food from a stick figure? I particularly love the episodes of her show when she cooks for her kids. Their reaction is what I hope to evoke from mine.


46 Raleigh-Elizabeth March 15, 2013 at 8:51 am

you know, my dad and husband both said the same thing – she’s a hottie. it’s really bizarre to think how out of touch those in the media can be with what looks good to the rest of us? i don’t want a british stick insect talking to me about food. i want someone who actually eats!


47 Emily March 15, 2013 at 11:10 am

I’m an expat American, and I think that the British cooks write much more interesting cookbooks… my faves are Nigel Slater, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall & his River Cottage cookbooks (his Meat cookbook is just about my favourite & most educational ever!) and Ottolenghi (to die for salads, grilled meats, with a Mediterranean flavour — really delicious and usual).


48 ck March 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm

I do have to say that if I was into women, I would marry Nigella. The voice, the brains, the looks, the food. Seriously she has been my girl crush for years.


49 AimeeK March 16, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Not a tv chef, but when you mentioned Ruth Reichl’s Tender At the Bone, I had to write in and add my two cents’ worth in favour of Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking. I love her writing and there are recipes too. The print version of a comfort dish!!


50 Jenny March 16, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I like to imagine Nigella is in my kitchen talking in her awesome voice when I cook. I got her how to be a domestic goddess cookbook as a gift several years ago and she quickly became my favorite chef of all time.


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