RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Okay, for those who celebrate Christmas, it's more than a day, it's a season. It's a season actually for those who don't celebrate Christmas, I think whether they like it or not. This year food writer Nigella Lawson is welcoming the season with a new cookbook �Nigella Christmas.� In her introduction, Nigella says that everything she believes about the kitchen - that it's a place to celebrate warmth and contentment and friendship - finds expression at Christmas. She joined us as she does from time to time from London. Good morning.
Ms. NIGELLA LAWSON (Food Writer; Author, �Nigella Christmas�): Hello.
MONTAGNE: So, pretty nice time then, if sort of, everything that a kitchen is comes to fruition during the Christmas season.
Ms. LAWSON: Well, I think so. But I think that's partly because I sort of construct my holiday season in a very informal way. For many people its quite stressful, but actually because I like things to be relaxed, my idea of the Christmas period, the holidays, is friends over, food that maybe you've cooked in advance or else, you know, you can just serve very easily. And I suppose it's comforting food rather than impressive, you know, status-symbol food.
MONTAGNE: Well, we're going to talk about some of those recipes. But, you know, you say you want the house to be filled with people, sitting around the table, talking and eating, as you've just said, but every single night.
Ms. LAWSON: Well, I don't mean every single night. But I certainly am very happy to do, you know, three nights a week because I feel somehow people are so predisposed, I'd say, to having a good time, it makes one want to invite them. I also tend to do slightly earlier suppers and I invite whole families together. So I suppose it sounds like I'm saying have a dinner party every night, but really I'm just saying have people round.
MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about one of the dishes that you might serve or have on hand at one of those gatherings in December, chocolate chip chili. What makes it perfect for Christmas time entertaining?
Ms. LAWSON: Well, I think there are various things. In terms of, you know, what makes it perfect for the cook, it's that you can cook it in advance. And that really means that when your friends come over, you've got everything dealt with. And I suppose there's something about chili which is such a classic, but a classic of the cozy kitchen, that it makes people feel looked after. And I do think that, you know, this time of year people are probably going to drink more than they might at other times of the year, so it somehow soaks up any seasonal excess.
It's also slightly playful. It sounds odd to say, you know, put chocolate chips in your chili. But actually, cocoa is used routinely. It just adds a kind of thickness and a velvetiness, so I suppose it's that; it's warming food, but it's family food.
MONTAGNE: So, along with the chili, you would serve fully-loaded potato skins. But that one does not say, you know, Christmas.
Ms. LAWSON: Well, I suppose it doesn't in the sense that people will be pretty surprised if you served it on Christmas Day, although I would be overjoyed and actually it would be rather fantastic in the days after Christmas. But I find it I suppose so indulgent and I think that at Christmas and during the holidays people allow themselves to sort of wallow in the sort of food that sometimes they might try and deny themselves.
Again, this is a recipe that can be made in advance. You can bake the potatoes, you can scoop out their white flesh and mix it with the sour cream and cheese and chives and what have you and just put them all back and then keep them in the fridge. And when people come over, they're just quickly popped in a hot oven. I mean, I do put bacon on them when I cook them for myself, and sometimes leave the bacon if there's a huge party of people, because I feel one probably should not make the vegetables anti-vegetarian.
MONTAGNE: Yeah, leave off the bacon then. But I must say that, just when you described it, it sounded so lovely.
Ms. LAWSON: Well, it's a cold time of the year and it's also - I think somehow we've got in our heads the idea that Christmas should be bejeweled and enormously formal and we should go to great lengths to create spectacular dinners.
Well, that may be very nice, but it's not reality. And that really makes people dread having any sort of entertaining planned because it asks too much. And I think sometimes if you cook in a complicated way, your attention translates to your guests and actually they'll have a much better time having chili and baked potatoes than they would if you did, you know, roast duck with a wild cherry sauce and then really had to lie down and cry for a while.
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MONTAGNE: Well, you suggest we end with your Christmas rocky road and, you know, you already have a recipe for rocky road. So, what makes this a Christmas recipe?
Ms. LAWSON: Oh, well, this is a Christmas recipe because I have candied cherries in, which I feel is a kind of reference to Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. I also don't use the very plain cookies, I use amaretti cookies. And there's a tradition in Britain and I don't know if it's quite the same in the States, which is nuts and Brazil nuts in particular are very Christmassy, so I put Brazil nuts in. You know, you can see in the book that I do sort of pile it up in a rather camp Christmassy way with a lot of powdered sugar and a little plastic reindeer.
But you don't have to do that. I think why this is Christmassy is because it's an indulgent dessert and also you can make it and wrap it and tie it with a little bow, and it makes a great gift. And I'm a great believer in edible presents at Christmas. I think it's, in a way, an old-fashioned tradition but one that probably should be resurrected.
MONTAGNE: Nigella Lawson's new cookbook is �Nigella Christmas.� And I guess it's okay to, at this point in time because it's after Thanksgiving, wish you Merry Christmas season.
Ms. LAWSON: Oh, it's my first wish for this season. So, I return it.
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MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep.
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