RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
When we reached food writer Nigella Lawson recently, she was feeling a little under the weather.
Ms. NIGELLA LAWSON (Food Writer): I feel that the cold and flu thing that's going around now is a bit like one of those monsters in a 1950s sci-fi movie, whereby a many-tentacled creature comes out of the deep, and you think you've killed it, and then a bit later, another tentacle comes up and grabs you.
MONTAGNE: Even with a cold in chilly London, Nigella Lawson says she still finds warmth in those freezing days of winter. And no surprise it comes from the kitchen.
Ms. LAWSON: I never complain about the cold weather. For me, that just means soups, stews and something soothing and rich in carbohydrates. So for me, it's all positive.
MONTAGNE: As you say, you have soups and stews in your different cookbooks. There's one recipe for sweet corn chowder that is pretty easy to make.
Ms. LAWSON: Oh, it's incredibly easy to make. And it also - which is useful when one's busy - is one of those comfort foods that children like a lot as well. It's a kind of multi-generational comfort food. And the thing that's so easy about it is you just need to get a bag of frozen sweet corn, and it's little kind of niblets. And if you just put it in a colander and pour boiling water from a kettle over it, that will defrost it.
MONTAGNE: That is such a nice cheat.
Ms. LAWSON: You know, it's easier. What I do is, rather than make a soup and then blend it when you've got all those hot liquids going about - not in itself a comforting act juggling with, you know, small children and hot liquids. I process the sweet corn - and it doesn't really work when it's still frozen - and I just process that with some scallions and garlic, and I put a tiny bit of semolina. You know, sometimes people put flour to thicken soups, which I don't like. But semolina somehow echoes the corn-flavored yellowness of the actual corn I'm using. And then it's really just a question of just cooking that with some hot vegetable stock - and I don't make my own, I must own up, and I'm not ashamed of that. And then while that's cooking, I put some tortilla chips out of a packet and put a bit of grated cheese or sliced cheese or whatever you want on top that, and warm those in the oven. And then I just put a huge helping of toasted cheese tortilla chips on top of the soup, slightly submerged. And I suppose it's - in a way, you could say it's a North American version of a French onion soup. Very easy in a store-covered standby, which actually is a comfort as well. If, I know I've got things in my kitchen that will feed me when it's too cold to go out shopping, that makes me happy.
MONTAGNE: When it comes to a main dish.
Ms. LAWSON: Yes.
MONTAGNE: There - in the winter months, there is - is one dish that might just cry out comfort, and that is a version of chicken pie.
Ms. LAWSON: Oh, when I just hear the word pie, what amount of balm and comfort is there in that word, you know you're going to feel better. I make a pie which is really incredibly simple. I get an all-butter puff pastry - you know, already made and it comes frozen, and you can thaw it. And I just fry some bacon, and then that gives off such a fantastic flavorsome juice. And I just add a few mushrooms. Then I flour some chicken strips, a bit of dried thyme. I add a bit of stock. And I like to add Marsala, but, you know, it's just that sort of fortified wine from Italy. And I - you get a kind of thick gravy sauce. And all that needs then is be put in its little pots and roll out the thawed bought pastry, and put a little lid around. Into an oven just till the pastry itself is golden and puffy, and that's it. You've got a couple of very comforting pies with very little time expended.
MONTAGNE: Although, with that puff pastry, they do look a little elegant.
Ms. LAWSON: Mine never look terribly elegant, because they puff up in a rustic fashion, they don't puff up uniformly. So some suddenly look like a rather fantastic sort of toadstool that might have been found. And then, some look like elegant ruffled French pies.
MONTAGNE: I can smell it right now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MONTAGNE: You know, I must let folks know that there will be these recipes on the Web, so not to despair.
Ms. LAWSON: Yes, because of course, it helps to have measurements, and they're going to be online, so that's easier to follow.
MONTAGNE: Well, we have reached a point at which we could talk about - oh, the comfort of dessert and indulgence. Certainly, something you could, in a situation like this, actually curl up in bed with after it was done. Tell us about the chocolate pear pudding cake.
Ms. LAWSON: Well certainly a very old-fashioned English dessert. It slightly reminds me of both the cooking of my grandmother's time and - without wishing this to sound horrible - the sort of school lunches that I had as a child, where you had an awful lot of things baked in sponge. But what I do with the pears is I use canned pears, which actually a number of notable chefs are happy to use canned pears often, because fresh pears are quite difficult to get at exactly the right point of juiciness. I get two cans of pears, and I just put the pears in, so there's little humped yellow pears in the dish. And I make a sponge in the processor, because that's very easy. I mean, really just by putting in some sugar, some flour, some good cocoa and then soft butter. Bit of baking powder and baking soda and eggs and vanilla extract. Then blitz those in the processor.
And everyone panics at this stage because it doesn't look like there's enough lovely, gorgeous, sort of Aztec brown batter to coat the pears, but there really is. You just put that on top of the pears, pop it in the oven. And what happens is, where the chocolate sponge hits the pears underneath, you get an almost - like a layer of sauce. It's slightly gungy there. You half spoon it, half cut it, it's that sort of texture. With that, you either could have some cream or some ice cream. You could make a rich chocolate sauce by melting dark chocolate into some heavy cream if you wanted - you don't need to.
MONTAGNE: Would it be just good with a cup of tea?
Ms. LAWSON: Oh, it would be very good with a cup of tea. I mean, I can't think of a bad way to eat it. But it is very much better warm.
MONTAGNE: Now, it's cold in London these days?
Ms. LAWSON: Very.
MONTAGNE: So what will you be having for dinner tonight?
Ms. LAWSON: Well actually, what I'm going to have for dinner tonight is an old standby of mine, because I've got people coming over for dinner. It - which is Thai curry with shrimp and salmon. If a bowl of curry doesn't sort my cold out, nothing is going to.
MONTAGNE: Nigella Lawson on wintertime comfort food. Her latest book is "Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast." And you can get her recipes, those that we've just heard for sweet corn chowder, chicken mushroom and bacon pie.
WERTHEIMER: And do not forget chocolate pear pudding cake.
MONTAGNE: Absolutely, no, it is there, npr.org. This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Bon appetit, I'm Renee Montagne.
WERTHEIMER: And I'm Linda Wertheimer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
It can be hard to escape winter chills. But cookbook author Nigella Lawson says she never complains about it — instead, it's a great excuse for her to indulge in warm and hearty comfort foods such as soups and stews. Besides, recipes for sweet corn chowder, chicken pot pie and other dishes can be easy.
Beat The Winter Chills With Nigella Lawson
It can be hard to escape the chills of winter. But Nigella Lawson says she never complains about it — instead, it's a great excuse for her to indulge in warm and hearty comfort foods like soups and stews.
They're not all complicated to make, she tells NPR's Renee Montagne. Take sweet corn chowder. It's based on a bag of frozen sweet corn that can be defrosted by pouring very hot water over it.
Instead of making the soup from scratch — and having to blend it over and over — Lawson processes sweet corn with some scallions and garlic. "Then it's really just a question of cooking that with some hot vegetable stock — and I don't make my own, I must own up, and I'm not ashamed of that," she says.
While that mixture cooks, Lawson takes a few tortilla chips, tops them with some grated or sliced cheese on a broiling tray, then heats them in the oven until the cheese has melted. When serving the soup, these hunks of tortillas and cheese go on top of the bowl, slightly submerged in the soup.
"I suppose you could say it's a North American version of French onion soup," she says.
Lawson also turns to savory pies to fight winter's grip. Her chicken pot pie is made with an all-butter puff pastry, mushrooms, bacon, floured chicken strips, dried thyme and stock — and often a touch of Marsala, the Italian wine.
That may sound fancy, but it's not, Lawson says.
"Mine never look terribly elegant," she says of her pies, "because they puff up in a rustic fashion."
A few may look like beautiful, ruffled French pies, she admits — but some resemble "a rather fantastic toadstool that might have been found."
Of course, dessert is nothing if not a comfort. To that end, Lawson makes a chocolate pear pudding cake.
"Certainly, a very old-fashioned English dessert," she says.
To make it, she turns to a modern cook's aid: canned pears. They're more likely to have the proper texture and juiciness than fresh ones, Lawson notes. The chocolate sponge cake absorbs that juice and makes a soft, almost sauce-like texture as it cooks. It can be served with heavy cream, a dark chocolate sauce — or all on its own.
"I can't think of a bad way to eat it," she says.
As for what she'll be eating tonight, Lawson says she's making her version of Thai curry, with shrimp and salmon.
"If a bowl of curry doesn't sort my cold out," she says, "nothing is going to."