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?