Nigella Lawson Answers Your Questions!

You asked, she answered: The Nigella Feasts host gives you her secret cooking tips

British domestic goddess Nigella Lawson is back on American television, tantalizing taste buds with her new Food Network show Nigella Feasts (airing Sundays at 1 p.m. ET). The 46-year-old host, bestselling author and mother of two (to daughter Cosima, 12, and son Bruno, 10) sat down to answer PEOPLE.com readers’ burning questions – providing holiday entertaining tips (her Nigella Bites Christmas Special premieres on the Food Network Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. ET), plus her secret recipe for maintaining her figure while being surrounded by all that delicious food.

Did you have any formal training in cooking, or was it something that you picked up along the way?
– Claire Veitch, Ontario, Canada
Not only do I have no formal training, but I have no informal training either! I learned to cook the old-fashioned way – by watching and helping my mother. I also inherited a passionate interest in food, which meant that on my travels and as I went through life, I did indeed pick up tastes, instincts, sensibilities and these – not merely recipes – are what cooking is.

I love entertaining, but find it a huge challenge to serve all the dishes hot to my guests. How do you get around this issue?
Jen Fan, Mountain View, Calif.
An old lady once told me that when serving a roast only two things need to be piping hot: the gravy and roast potatoes. She’s right – so long as you warm the plates. You can let meat stand for quite a while out of the oven. I often make sure I’ve got dishes that work better after they’ve stood out of the oven for a while rather than blisteringly hot – such as baked pasta dishes. But so long as the food is good, it doesn’t need to be just-off-the-stove hot!

With all of that delicious food you create, how do you manage to keep that incredible figure?
– Kelly Hutchison, Richmond, Va.
You flatter me, but my figure contains a lot of all that food. I have a small frame but a whole lot of flesh on it. I have started trying to walk every day. If I walk really briskly all the way back from the kids’ schools, I’ve done 45 minutes and it’s not even 9 in the morning!

What are the staples I should have stocked in my refrigerator and pantry for any kind of impromptu get-together?
–Megan DeFelice, Frankfort, Ill.
The easiest thing to cook when you suddenly have a crowd of people on your hands is pasta. Pasta alla carbonara is my regular standby, as people seem to love it and it’s easy to make sure you have bacon, eggs, cheese and spaghetti in the house. To make a pretty instant dessert, keep good vanilla ice cream in the freezer and if you have butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and vanilla, you can whip up a caramel sauce. If you have some salted peanuts, do chop them and scatter them over the sauced ice cream: The mixture of salt and sweet is – for me – food nirvana.

What would you recommend as a romantic dish to cook for someone special on a first date?
– Krystle Castelo, Moreno Valley, Calif.
You can’t beat a perfect roast chicken with buttery mashed potatoes. This is the sort of food to melt the heart: You feel looked after, and the food is simple but delicious. It’s not a tap dance – it’s a hearty serenade.

What are your favorite spices to use in the dishes that you make?
– Juli Jakubowski, Rutland, Vt.
I don’t have any all-time favorite spice or herb, but I certainly go through phases. In my spice cupboard, the cinnamon, cumin and coriander get the most use and, from the fridge, the herbs that I absolutely must have are flat-leaf parsley and cilantro. Right now I am going through a bit of a dill phase!

Your skin and hair are so absolutely beautiful, could you please share with us what products you use? Thanks so much!
– Jennifer Selden, Pittsburgh, Pa.
I’m not one of those people who spends a fortune on hair products and has a regimented beauty regime. I discovered a shampoo called Thicker, Fuller Hair and love it. As for face creams, I am not a great believer in slathering stuff all over. At the moment, I am very keen on Estée Lauder’s Advanced Night Protection Serum and Chanel’s Hydromax moisturizer. I think the great trick to looking natural but improved is Laura Mercier’s Tinted Moisturizer (I use Fawn)! This is the best stuff in the business – better than foundation and with a sunblock in it too.

Do you have some cooking suggestions for college students with limited cooking utensils and storage space?
– Laura Steele, Athens, Ga.
I learned to cook properly by cooking for friends while I was at college. I had a very low budget and no space, so it meant that I had to work out ways to overcome these problems. I bought cheap cuts of meat and cooked them on low heat in an oven for ages; I became the queen of the onion soup. You must let yourself tinker and develop your own approach and then, by the time you’re out of college, you’ll be a cook!

I am a huge fan of yours and am intrigued by your passion and zest for cooking. What is your biggest inspiration?
– Samantha Lily Nelson, Vancouver, B.C.
I’d have to say greed! That’s to say, I am pretty well governed by imagining how something will taste alongside something else. I also really feel nourished by feeding others, and that is both satisfying and inspiring. But basically, I just love being in the kitchen, clattering about, fixing something to eat!

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