Nigella's Tips For A Frugal Yet Festive Holiday Here's a little Christmas secret: Dusting desserts with powdered sugar makes them look more expensive. Chef Nigella Lawson talks with NPR's Steve Inskeep about her tricks for economical holiday hosting.
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Nigella's Tips For A Frugal Yet Festive Holiday

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Nigella's Tips For A Frugal Yet Festive Holiday

Nigella's Tips For A Frugal Yet Festive Holiday

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Holiday spending is up a little bit this Christmas season, but many people remain on tight budgets. And the truth is that many of us don't like spending too much at Christmas anyway, which doesn't mean we don't want to enjoy it.

And that's where Nigella Lawson comes in. She's offering us some suggestions from her book "Nigella Christmas," on how to do Christmas pleasantly on a budget. She's a regular guest on this program, a TV chef.

Hi, Nigella.

NIGELLA LAWSON: Hello.

INSKEEP: And welcome back once again. Let's start, I suppose, with an appetizer. You have a recipe here for, well, potato skins.

LAWSON: I do. And I have to say straightaway that these recipes came to me just out of greed, not out of budgetary concerns.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWSON: And I think, in a way, this is quite important because, you know, one should always try and do food that is just as good as any luxury dish would be. And actually, so they are potato skins and my fully loaded potato skins. And this time of year makes sense because I think you need a lot of carbohydrate - maybe unfashionable but it's cold and maybe you're drinking a lot. But I - I mean this is quite strange, ‘cause I'm giving you back a recipe that I got via America. So, it's really my thank you present.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is a very American dish - potato skins.

LAWSON: It really is. And so, really, it's just a question of, you know, baking potatoes, splitting them in half, taking out all that, you know, soft cooked potato meat. And then let the potato meat get cold - or flesh maybe it is really, more than meat. You let that get cold. You let the husks sort of dry out a little so that they become vessels for eating the rest of the potato later.

I let them dry out, because the great thing about this is you can do mostly in advance, or all of it. And then on the day you've got your friends coming over, I mix - I like sour cream and some grated cheese and maybe some scallions and a bit of Worcestershire sauce. Now, I pop those back into their skins and put them in the oven.

Now, I actually like them with bacon, as well. So I think you either can do little bacon bits and put them on top. Or you can put them in cute little bowls for people to pass around.

INSKEEP: Now, you said that greed attracts you to these particular dishes. Is that partly because some of the simpler dishes, the less expensive dishes, you can just make more and more and more of it?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWSON: Well, I suppose so. But I do think that, really, at key times of the year like the holidays, what one really wants are the simpler, more traditional foods. I don't know that I want anything giddyingly fancy. And I think also, food tends to have to be multigenerational. So it's absolutely pointless cooking something that if you've got a seven-year-old and a 70-year-old, you know - you want to make everyone happy.

INSKEEP: I wonder if this lasagna that you've suggested here would have the same effect.

LAWSON: Well, the lasagna I adore. Now, it's a pumpkin and goat's cheese lasagna. I love this because it's not only is, you know, vegetarians like it which isn't obviously my main concern as a meat eater. But again, it's something you cook ahead. And obviously if you're dispensing with meat, you're probably doing away with the most expensive part of any meal.

But there's something so festive about this. I suppose a huge tray of lasagna always is pretty festive. But the scent of the spiced pumpkin and that sharpness of the cheese, and it creates a slight lake at the bottom so you have to give people bread to mop it up. And even as a pumpkin lasagna, if it's easier for you to chop up some butternut squash, I mean by all means do that. I'm pretty easygoing about that.

But the reality is it's very basic. There's sweet and there's sharp, and then there's the tangy sauce, and then of course that incredible comforting smoothness of a lasagna. And I don't make my own pasta here, though I could. And I would encourage anyone to, but I would also encourage anyone who hasn't got the time to buy some soft, as it were, fresh lasagna. So you don't have to pre-boil it.

INSKEEP: So, isn't it time - maybe past time for a drink?

LAWSON: I know. I wondered when you were going to offer me something to drink. Or rather I - ask me to offer you one.

INSKEEP: Oh, please.

LAWSON: Okay, do you want to - this is what I give everyone before they come for lunch on 25th of December, and was very useful one year because one of my ovens broke. And so that lunch was at four rather than at two. And it's called - I call it a Poinsettia, because obviously it's a very seasonal plant and this is a red drink. And I will give you the wherewithal to make it and make one bottle of fizz, you know, stretch so it's delicious but I'm going to pretend now it's this really, really good economical sense...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWSON: ...which it is, but that's secondary.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWSON: You're not having to go out and buy, you know, eight different liqueurs.

INSKEEP: It's straightforward.

LAWSON: It's straightforward. So, you have a bottle of prosecco - any fizzy dry wine - it doesn't have to be premium. And then for that, a half a cup of any orange liqueur, which you can get pretty - orange liqueur is not a fancy one - and then two cups of cranberry juice.

Now, if you wanted to, there's nothing to stop you really missing out, you know the orange liqueur - it would still be delicious. But let me tell you, with the orange liqueur in it, not only is it fantastic, but the dangerous thing is it doesn't taste alcoholic. I'm just warning everyone now, please.

INSKEEP: Oh, have four or five before you know what you're...

LAWSON: Well, all I can say is no one even noticed lunch was two hours late when my oven broke.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWSON: And that is the truth.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's great. Now, let's move onto one more thing here, if we've still got a little bit of room for some gingerbread.

LAWSON: I think you have to have gingerbread; not at least it smells so wonderful. You know, the ginger, cinnamon, cloves, molasses, butter - oh, it's so delicious. But the reality is with this gingerbread is, it's very easy because you make it all in a pan. So you're not actually creaming anything. You just put all the relevant ingredients into a saucepan. You know, you heat it and then stir everything together.

And then I throw everything into - I use a foil tin because it's easy. You can store the gingerbread in it afterwards, as well. And you just bake it for about - I don't know - 45 minutes, 60 minutes, depending on how hot your oven runs. And if you can bear it, you know, leave it for a day or two and it will get stickier and stickier.

But it's so wonderful just with a cup of tea or coffee. And, of course, it doesn't hurt at this time of year to have something you could take over to friends where you're visiting.

INSKEEP: So, will you be making the Sticky Gingerbread for your guests this Christmas?

LAWSON: Always - absolutely always. And also, even though it's completely my going into a different register, because after all ginger is the taste of the tropics. It's a fantastic - if you want to upscale it somewhat to a dinner party dessert, I get some cute mangoes and cube them and serve that with it. And then a little bit of dusting of - you know, if you just a bit of powdered sugar through a sieve on top of anything, it suddenly looks more expensive. That's what you do.

INSKEEP: Nigella Lawson, it's always a pleasure talking with you.

LAWSON: And you.

INSKEEP: Her many books include "Nigella Christmas." And you can find recipes for Pumpkin Goat Cheese Lasagna and Sticky Gingerbread at NPR.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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