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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

So you want to have a holiday party, but you don't have a lot of time or a lot of money. It is possible to host an elegant and affordable party even in tough economic times. And food writer Nigella Lawson is here to help us understand how. She's the author of a number of cookbooks and an occasional guest on this program. Welcome back once again.

Ms. NIGELLA LAWSON (English Celebrity Chef; Food Writer): Lovely to be here.

INSKEEP: OK. So you're cutting back, or people are cutting back, in this holiday season. How do you still have a great time?

Ms. LAWSON: Well, I think you always have to remember why you entertain. You entertain to see your friends. You're not opening a restaurant, and you're not trying to show that, you know, every nation's cuisine can be represented in your kitchen. And I think people tend to get excessive. And they tend to feel that if they spend more, their friends will appreciate it more.

And actually we know from how we hang out with all of our friends, it's just the being together that matters. And you can keep food simple. I think the easiest way of not spending too much is not to give too many different bits to eat. I believe in plenty. But I mean - if this makes sense - I think you should get a lot of a few things rather than a small amount of many things.

INSKEEP: Serve a couple of things. Maybe a little bit creative.

Ms. LAWSON: Yes.

INSKEEP: Don't lose your mind, and don't have a giant smorgasbord.

Ms. LAWSON: I think, yes. Because I think apart from anything else, the amount of leftovers you'd have would be wasteful.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about having a nice drink at the beginning of this. What's something you'd recommend?

Ms. LAWSON: Well, I can recommend it, but I cannot put any claims for the fact that it's a money saver.

INSKEEP: Oh.

Ms. LAWSON: But I do think a green apple martini is a good way to make a party go well. There's something about a special drink for a party, I feel, that makes people think it's a real party. And also, it's - my apple martini is so ludicrously green, we call it kryptonite at home.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LAWSON: That's what it looks like.

INSKEEP: Does it glow?

Ms. LAWSON: Well, I do after I've had a few.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LAWSON: So I use apple sours or anything which actually - I hate to think what's in them, because it doesn't cost very much, and it's probably got all sorts of chemicals. But it's not an everyday drink. And you can use gin or you can use vodka as a base. And I use an apple syrup - that you just do need a bit of sweet fruitiness. So really your one different element there is the apple sours.

INSKEEP: So, you have some people over. Everybody has a drink. It's a good drink, so everybody has a second drink. And at some point you're going to serve them some food. Why don't you get started there?

Ms. LAWSON: I am. Well, I like - I make a red pepper hummus quite a lot because it's quite filling, it's very easy to make, and it's just - it's as plain as it can be, but delicious. And I use canned chickpeas. Do you call them chickpeas or do you call them garbanzos?

INSKEEP: Oh, they're called chickpeas.

Ms. LAWSON: Yes. And I blend those or process those with some char-grilled red peppers. They come in jars. And in a way - I mean, I can add a bit of oil or I can add a bit of garlic, but really it's - there's something in the peppers when they've been in - when they've been char-grilled and they've been in a jar of oil that gives them such a silkiness it really helps you whip the chick peas up.

INSKEEP: Are you saying that it's better than fresh right out of the garden?

Ms. LAWSON: Fresh is fantastic. It just depends how much time you have to spend before your party. But those are great with either vegetables...

INSKEEP: It sounds like you just prefer the jar anyway. It's the better way to go.

Ms. LAWSON: Well, I keep the jar around. But sometimes with a party, I think, in a way one of your duties is to keep calm. Because if you've made yourself feel so a twitter before the first doorbell rings, then actually no one's going to have a great time. So it's a tradeoff.

INSKEEP: OK. We're coming back to making sure that you drink a martini if you're the host of this thing. Right?

Ms. LAWSON: That's right, but no more than one before people come, otherwise you'll be weeping on their shoulders as they come in. It's not the right sort of party.

INSKEEP: I'm looking at this lovely pink book of yours, and I find cocktail sausages. And I look at this lovely dish - and I don't mean this insultingly at all, I'm just trying to describe it - it looks like a big pile of sweet and sour pork out of a great Chinese restaurant. What's going on there?

Ms. LAWSON: Yes. And I'm afraid to say that's more or less - I think you've more or less got me on that one. That's what it is. And I cook the sausages - they're small sausages - and I cook them in a mixture of sesame oil, a teeny bit of soy sauce and honey. Of course you wouldn't eat this every day. But they're a treat for a party.

And I think that probably they absorb alcohol quite well, they look gloriously burnished, and it's easy to do because you can just do a huge tray at a time. So I can make - to be honest I can get 75 small little cocktail sausages in my oven at a time. And then if you want to put another batch in, you can. I don't think I've ever given a party without having some sort of sausage for people to eat.

INSKEEP: Two questions I want to ask before I let you go here. One is how do you avoid staying in the kitchen the whole time if you're hosting a party like this and you want to do something kind of nice with the food?

Ms. LAWSON: Well, I think it's quite easy. You can do an awful lot in advance, because food doesn't need to be piping hot. If anything you don't want it to be piping hot. So I think you can get everything ready before, certainly if you're having dips and so forth. However, you know, there is a reason why people like hanging around kitchens at parties, so that doesn't matter either.

But I think the thing is, again it goes back to just remember why you're giving the party. You want to see your friends. It's more important to be chatting. And actually I always like serving food around myself too, because it gives you a very good in and out for talking to quite a few people.

INSKEEP: Are you one of those cooks who's comfortable if the party does kind of drift into the kitchen, and you're suddenly surrounded by people holding apple martinis?

Ms. LAWSON: More than comfortable. I love it.

INSKEEP: But this is the other question on my mind. If you invite people over to your house...

Ms. LAWSON: Yes.

INSKEEP: You must know that they know that they're going over to Nigella Lawson's house.

Ms. LAWSON: I know. It's a terrible burden for me because I - they're going to be disappointed. We live in an age where everyone is either expected to be or thought to be an expert. I'm not an expert. I'm very happy always having chicken wings and just an ordinary dip. And I probably do the same food for every single party I ever give.

INSKEEP: Is the same food, the food we've just been discussing, or something else that you do every single time?

Ms. LAWSON: Well, I do - one other thing I do. It's pure self-interest and greed. And that's my rockamole, which is a mixture of guacamole and blue cheese. Basically, you get a ripe avocado or two, and with a fork you squish it along with some blue cheese, bit of sour cream, some finely chopped scallion, and some of those pickled jalapenos. And that's really all you need to know. That's the mix. And it's perfect and is probably the quickest route to deliciousness. I want it. Therefore I'm going to make it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: All right. There you go. Nigella Lawson, great talking with you again.

Ms. LAWSON: And you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Her latest book is "Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast." You can get a recipe for green apple martinis at npr.org. It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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