It is true that I had gone to a dinner party where the host spent the time rushing back to the stove and then could be heard sobbing loudly. I think that too many people feel that they must strain to produce restaurant food in a domestic kitchen, and I wanted to counter that.
But I wrote the book for another reason, even if at the time it wasn't a conscious one, and that is to memorialise the cooking of my mother and one of my sisters, both of whom died young. So many of my conversations with them hinged on what we were cooking, and How to Eat was a means of continuing the conversation.
You do not claim to be a chef. Is not being an expert part of your appeal?
I am not a chef; I am not even a trained cook. So yes, I do think the fact that I am a bit of a kitchen klutz, and fit cooking into an already busy life (and I started writing food books when I was a non-food columnist with young children), means that I cook in much the same way as my readers, or viewers.
Real cooking, the sort that goes on in homes, does not have to be tricksy or difficult, and I felt it was important to demonstrate that. It's vital to show people how easy it is to get something good on the table. I think of myself as a food writer rather than cook, and in writing I can encourage people to see food in the context of life, which is just as important as easing them, confidently, into the kitchen.
Are you a feminist?
I feel the answer to be so self-evidently a "yes", I am almost baffled by the question. When I wrote How to Be a Domestic Goddess, many felt I was saying that women's place was in the kitchen, but the ironic pictures on the endpapers surely undermined that, except for those people who consciously chose to misread my intent.
Feeling comfortable in the kitchen is essential for everyone, male or female. At the time it seemed so many people were fearful of cooking, and that meant home was never more than a stop-off from work. Women of my generation were keen - rightly - not to be tied to the stove, but the ramifications of this were that they felt a sense of dread in the kitchen. How can this be good for anyone? I also feel that to denigrate any activity because it has traditionally been associated with the female sphere is in itself anti-feminist.
What would your last meal be?
How long have you got? I'd start with my roquamole (guacamole and blue cheese) with tortilla chips, followed by linguine with clams and white truffle risotto. Then roast chicken with roast potatoes, mash, chips, petits pois à la française and fennel salad, or My Mother's Praised Chicken with rice, or maybe both, then steak bearnaise, with English mustard and more chips, roast grouse, Korean barbecue, fantastic sushi, slow-cooked pork belly and a bacon sandwich. Followed by lemon meringue pie, passionfruit pavlova and zabaglione, and ending with muscat grapes and gorgonzola so ripe it's ready to move of its own accord.
Is there one particular recipe that brings back especially vivid memories?
This would have to be My Mother's Praised Chicken - I call it this, as it was the way my mother most often cooked chicken, not-quite braised, not-poached, and cooking it feels like a devotional act.
My mother died very young, at 48, and cooking this not only makes me feel connected with her in an essential way, but also allows my children, who never knew her, to eat her food, and in turn feed it to their children and so on, I hope.
This is so much of what cooking is about. I also think it is important to show food in books and on TV that aren't photogenic or fancy, and a dish of chicken poached with leeks and carrots is definitely that. But it tastes good, and feels essentially nourishing, to both body and soul, to cook and eat.
You're famed for your use of Twitter. What do you like about interacting in this way?
I resisted Twitter for a long time, as I felt nervous of entering the arena of self-important pronouncements, but then - after a period of "lurking" - I saw that that was not actually what it was about. For me, Twitter is the Radio 4 of social media, and I enjoy the wit and cleverness so many demonstrate on it, and I am not referring to famous people, but the day-to-day reactions of the people who follow me.
As someone who writes books and makes food programmes, I am aware that I am printing only my side of the conversation: Twitter lets me hear other people talking back to me, and I relish the genuine interaction.
Are you surprised at how successful you've become?
I think people generally divide into those who are goal-oriented, and those who are fear-driven, and I am more in the latter category. That's not to say I am fearful about my work, but in considering this question, a desire not to fail carries more weight than a desire to succeed.
But I can say that what I do is somewhat of a surprise to me. It is not a career path I consciously chose, and I would never have imagined myself in this position. I feel inordinately grateful that I have work that I enjoy for its own sake, and, being somewhat of an incontinent communicator, can enjoy the sense of relationship with my readers that is also, in itself, gratifying. For me, the real success comes from the feeling of community - as cliched as that sounds - my work has fostered.
Photo: Nigella Lawson at Universal Studios, Los Angeles. Photograph: Barry J Holmes for Observer Food Monthly