Breakfast for dinner, re-purposing leftovers and not being hamstrung by weights and measurements: it's not the type of advice you might expect from one of the world's most glamorous foodies, but Nigella Lawson is nothing if not practical.
Loved and admired for her saucy style, the English food writer comes to New Zealand for a flying visit next month and her wise suggestions, tips and hints are likely to please frazzled home cooks as well as the more accomplished.
Frequently described as a "celebrity chef", Lawson, 58, says she's not even a trained cook – she once described herself as a bit of a "kitchen klutz" – and prefers the term home cook. Her latest book, At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking flies the flag with recipes from light snacks to gorgeous cakes that won't send those doing the cooking into a nervous breakdown.
"I think some people are afraid of cooking because they think it's harder than it actually is and there are some cooking shows people see on television that would make anyone terrified," says Lawson, who started her career as a journalist before releasing her first cookery book, How to Eat, in 1998.
Since then she's written 10 bestselling cookery books including How To Be a Domestic Goddess which inspired a new generation of bakers and won Lawson the British Book Award for Author of the Year in 2000.
Though she's gained a reputation for being flirtatious - her TV shows seem to be peppered with double entendre - Lawson remains down-to-earth and relatable. For her, cooking is all about flavour and taste rather than being preoccupied with technique and presentation.
"A lot of people think home cooking is about looking to the past and what we grew up with, but we travel more and are more aware of other food cultures, so home cooking can be equally about incorporating new ingredients to make simple and flavoursome meals," she says.
"Home cooking is sometimes treated as if it's a museum piece but it's a living, breathing and evolving thing which responds to where we went on holiday, the friends we have made and the meals we have eaten. For me, food is about inclusivity; it's not about cooking to impress."
But she agrees when you cook regularly, it's easy to get stuck in a rut preparing just a handful of tried-and-trusted dishes. She suggests those who want to extend their repertoire start with adding one new ingredient at a time to tweak the dishes they already cook or try a new recipe once or twice a week.
And though she acknowledges some celebrity chef-led TV cooking shows might be intimidating, she believes there are great numbers of people who learn or improve their cooking by watching those shows or YouTube instructionals. It's about recognising the differences and looking almost voyeuristically at the top-end shows, then finding those that offer more practical guidance.
"By all means, watch professional chefs for their talent and virtuosity," she says, adding that hers is a more casual approach.
Lawson confesses she's come to appreciate she needs a certain amount of bumbling chaos to be at her best in the kitchen. So, are there times when she simply doesn't feel like cooking?
"Of course there are, but as soon as I start doing a bit of gentle stirring or cooking and I find myself feeling better; it helps me to decompress at the end of the day - but I don't think I am a morally better person because I cook."
It means there's nothing wrong with keeping things simple, particularly when you're pressed for time. For Lawson, sometimes a piece of good bread with cheese, a poached egg on toast or tomatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper and a bit of basil can be among the most delicious foods.
Not surprisingly, she doesn't believe in slavishly following faddish food trends and doubts any of these have unduly influenced her. She notes that all 12 of her cookbooks feature a wide range of recipes, diverse ingredients – from pantry staples to those some might consider more exotic – and plenty of vegetarian recipes. At My Table has 55 vegetable recipes, 35 of which are vegan.
"I haven't consciously tried to include vegetables dishes; it's just the way I cook and eat and if you eat in a balanced way, a lot of what you're eating will be vegetarian but certainly plant-based meals have become very creative and I love that."
Our own Peter Gordon is one of her favourite chefs and food writers because he's always been happy to combine different ingredients and food cultures to create dishes that let flavours sing. She also rates Israeli-British chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Egyptian-born food writer Claudia Roden, whose books did much to popularise Middle Eastern cooking - because they share stories and histories about their recipes.
When she comes to New Zealand, Lawson looks forward to eating seafood and delights in the fact that, although a world away, she sees similarities in the way we cook and the Italian approach to food. Lawson believes it's an approach that respects ingredients, aims for flavour and a certain simplicity that isn't flash or show-offy.
And she always replenishes her stock of Whittaker's chocolate when she visits. Lawson became the brand ambassador in 2012 and has been with the company ever since, filming a star-studded new commercial to promote its Destinations range last year. She appeared with fellow chocolate-lovers Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley and Bill Bailey and says the commercial was great fun to make. Yes, she says, they're all chocolate lovers because who isn't?
Shortly after she joined Whittaker's, Lawson's personal life was thrown into chaos when then-husband Charles Saatchi was photographed with his hands around her throat. Divorce followed and, a year later, a high-profile court case involving the former couple's two personal assistants. Allegations of drug use were made against Lawson, who confessed to using drugs to make an intolerable situation tolerable.
But Lawson says she doesn't read what is written about her online or in the tabloid press, preferring to use social media to forge direct connections to her many fans and readers.
"I don't let in taint me because it makes life complicated and difficult and life is already full of complications and difficulties, but it seems to me that there is a lot of sanctioned unkindness in the world. I just prefer not to get involved with all of that stuff; I like the quote, 'what other people think of you is none of your business', and it's your friends and family, the people around you, whose views are more important."
• Nigella Lawson is in NZ thanks to the Auckland Writers Festival, Word Christchurch and publishers Penguin Random House. She speaks in Auckland at the Aotea Centre's ASB Theatre on February 7 and in Christchurch on February 8 at the Isaac Theatre Royal.
The Weekend Herald has five copies of Nigella's new book, At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking, to give away. To be in the draw, go to winwiththeherald.co.nz and enter the keyword NIGELLA. Entries close on Wednesday at 11.59pm.
At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking
By Nigella Lawson
(Chatto & Windus, $60)