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."
Even the word "pie" is comforting. It would be hard to deny the very real lure of pastry, especially when — as here — you know you're going to dunk it in gravied juices till its gorgeous lightness is deliciously, soggily heavy. I concede, however, that making and rolling out your own pastry is not necessarily the speediest option, so I buy all-butter, ready-rolled frozen puff pastry and feel fine about it.
I make the pie even easier by browning the chicken and making the sauce all in one go. A gold-crusted, welcoming pie for two in half an hour is not bad going.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Fry the bacon strips in oil until they begin to crisp, then add the mushrooms and cook until softened.
Turn the chicken strips in the flour and thyme (you could toss them about in a freezer bag), then melt the butter in the pan before adding the floury chicken and all the flour left in the bag. Stir around with the bacon and mushrooms until the chicken begins to color, about 25 minutes.
Pour in the hot stock and Marsala, stirring to form a sauce. Let this bubble away for about 5 minutes.
Take two 1 1/4-cup pie pots (if yours are deeper, don't worry; there will simply be more space between contents and puff pastry top). Make a pastry rim for each one, by curling a 1/2-inch strip around the top of each pot. Dampen the edges with a little water to make the pastry stick.
Cut a circle bigger than the top of each pie-pot for the lid, then divide the chicken filling between the two.
Dampen the edges again and pop on the top of each pie, sealing the edges with your fingers or a fork.
Bake the pies for about 20 minutes, turning them around halfway through cooking. They should puff up magnificently.
6 cups hot vegetable stock made from concentrate or bouillon cubes
15 cups lightly salted tortilla chips
2 cups grated cheese
2 long red chiles, deseeded and finely chopped, optional
Crisp, crunchy corn-gritty tortillas somehow always feel like a guilty pleasure. Having said that, I know only that guilty pleasures exist, but I have never seen the point of feeling guilty about pleasure. Rather, I see plenty of reason for feeling guilty about failing to take pleasure in things.
When I plan to make this, I tend to take a big pack of frozen corn out of the deep freeze at breakfast time, in readiness for a superquick, fantastically soothing, mellow-yellow and very pleasing supper that night.
Use whatever cheese you like; mostly I go for cheddar, because I always have some in the fridge. But I am happy about using up other bits and pieces. If children are eating, it's wise to omit the chiles — unless they're being very annoying.
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Drain the corn and put into a food processor with the scallions, garlic and semolina. Blitz to a speckled primrose mush; unless you have a big processor, you may have to do this in two batches.
3. Tip this mixture into a large saucepan, add the hot vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat and let the chowder simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, spread the tortilla chips on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle these with cheese. Warm in the hot oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until the cheese melts.
5. Ladle the soup into bowls and put a small mound of cheese-molten chips into the middle of each bowl. Top with some of the red chile, if you feel like it, and serve immediately to very grateful people.
Reprinted from Nigella Express: Good Food, Fast. This recipe has not been tested by NPR.
2 cans (14 ounces each) pear halves in juice
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) softened butter, plus more for greasing
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8 1/2-inch square ovenproof dish with butter.
2. Drain the pears and arrange them in the dish.
3. Combine the remaining ingredients in a food processor and blitz till you have a batter with a soft dropping consistency.
4. Spread the batter over the pears. Bake for 30 minutes.
5. Let stand for 5 or 10 minutes before slicing. (I cut 2 down and 2 across to make 9 slices.) Serve with chocolate sauce.
Serves 6 to 9.
This is a cross between pears Belle Helene and Eve's pudding, but that's an irrelevance, really. The only important thing to remember is that this is easy, quick and very comforting — and it seems to please absolutely everyone.
For hot days when baked cake and sauce seems inappropriate, bear in mind that canned (or jarred) pears and chocolate sauce — with or without vanilla ice cream — make a lovely dessert on their own.
You can make the chocolate sauce or buy one, obviously. I have a pantry standby I make by heating together ¾ cup evaporated milk, ½ teaspoon instant espresso powder, ½ cup dark corn syrup and 3 ½ ounces semisweet chocolate.
The cake itself does make a little bit of its own sauce, so if you don't want to make some separately, just serve with chocolate ice cream.
As with most baking, you want all ingredients at room temperature before you start.