Wholemeal pizza

How to make healthier pizza at home – step by step

So I’m still suffering from hideous jetlag after our recent trip to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream (much more of this coming up).  We got a night flight back from Orlando and it was practically empty, which meant we could all spread out and I spent most of the flight spread out across a row of four seats, snoozing blissfully, and only woke up when they started opening up the blinds and tidying up ready for landing.  Still, I’m now suffering that weirdness that crossing timezones always seems to bring – for me, this means an increase in my usual clumsiness, a general heavy tiredness, and a craving for junk food.

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Shredded barbecue chicken

Slow cooked barbecue pulled chicken

I love a feast.  A proper, gather round the table heaped with dishes, everyone talking at once, help yourself, kind of feast.  My favourite one recently was our huge Middle Eastern feast for New Year’s Eve. when the table was heaving with all sorts of different things ready to tuck into.  We talked, we laughed, we drank lovely wine, we stuffed all sorts of different things into pittas, and then into our faces.  A real joyful night.

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Christmas wines

Step by step: how to cook a turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings

IT’S NEARLY HERE!  If you’re hosting Christmas lunch/dinner this year, here is everything you need to do, including lots of tips to make it stress free and ensure you spend your precious time with your family and friends, and not too much chained to the oven!  Remember, don’t panic, and  just think of it as a roast dinner on a slightly larger scale.

Before you start, grab a cuppa and have a read through:

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Asda Extra Special hamper

Asda’s Extra Special Christmas

Lovely Asda sent me a very festive hamper this weekend: not chocolates, or chutney, no, the best kind: MEAT!

Of course, not everyone wants to eat a traditional roast turkey at Christmas, and Asda’s Extra Special range has some stunning alternatives, including an Extra Special rack of venison, and a unique six bird roast, with British turkey, skinless duck fillet, chicken breast, wild pheasant, partridge and pigeon. The thought of these ‘bird within a bird’ roasts sometimes puts me off (how do you cut off the skin and inedible bits of each bird?) but Asda’s chefs have worked hard to create a dish with all the nice edible bits.  It’s covered in a lattice of oak smoked streaky bacon and all you need to do is shove it in the oven. It serves 10 and costs £40 – in store now.

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One pot garlic chicken

Pot roasted garlic chicken – and win a Berndes casserole dish!

If you’ve been in Tesco recently, you’ll have seen that they’re currently running a sticker promotion  where you can save up to 70% on exclusive Berndes cookware products (collect one sticker for every £20 you spend – once you’ve collected five stickers you can use them to buy the discounted cookware.  Tesco very kindly send me one of the casseroles to try. They’re wonderfully chunky and heavy – perfect for soups, stews and casseroles.  I tried my hand at a little one-pot cooking:

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Ox cheek Jalfrezi

Braised, spicy Jalfrezi ox cheeks with Schwartz Flavour Shots

My store cupboard is really important to me.  As well as the basics like salt, pepper, oil and stock cubes, I like to have lots of different seasoning mixes and dried herbs and spices, especially at this time of year when it’s more difficult to pop into the garden for a handful of parsley or coriander.  Products from the lovely chaps at Schwartz feature heavily in my kitchen – I like dried coriander in my winter curries, and we’re all completely addicted to the Perfect Shake seasoning blend for chips (if you haven’t discovered this yet, grab some now, it’s awesome).

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Chilli chicken noodles

Chilli chicken noodle soup

Yesterday, we were wondering what to have for dinner – it never seems right to have a roast on a hot day – when Sam mentioned that we used to have chicken noodle soup all the time, but we hadn’t had it for ages.

Just so happens that I had a chilli, a lime, and some ginger (I keep the ginger in the freezer anyway) and half a pack of noodles, and it seemed the perfect, fresh alternative to full on Sunday dinner, so it was game on.

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Spring beef and borlotti bean stew

Spring braised beef, with borlotti beans and red wine

I still feel the urge to cook a ‘proper’ Sunday lunch, even though a full on roast dinner seems a bit at odds with the time of year (although it seems to have done nothing but rain recently).  This tomato-based braised beef feels a bit lighter than my normal beef stew and dumplings, especially with the addition of some spring greens just before the end of cooking.

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baguette pizza

Lazy suppers: baguette pizzas

I have two basic default settings in the kitchen.  The first is ‘all out go-for-it’ where I can throw myself with abandon into making a big roast dinner or a cake with lots of different elements.  The other is ‘nah, can’t be bothered’, which usually coincides with days when I’ve been really busy working or testing recipes and I’ve just had too much kitchen time.

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Spiced lamb puff pastry pie

Weekend baking: spiced lamb puff pastry pies

Continuing with my new menu planning obsession (honestly, it’s saving me A FORTUNE – I’ve got my favourites saved on the online shopping app and I just tweak it every week, then buy the odd bit of fresh stuff from the farmer’s market or my fab local farm shop), I thought I’d share another of my staple ingredients: puff pastry.  I do quite like making puff pastry (well, rough puff), but there’s certainly no shame in using ready made, and a pack of all butter puff pastry is the perfect thing to keep in the fridge to make tarts, pies and much more.

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Toad in the hole

Easy step by step toad in the hole

Oh the rain!  I just think it’s gone away and it comes back again.  The pupster pings around the house like a lunatic if she doesn’t get out an about so it’s wellies and hat on and out into the wet and cold I go.  

Of course, this calls for a comforting, winter dinner (any excuse) and what better than a scrummy toad in the hole with lashings of onion gravy.

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Apple and red onion Christmas stuffing sausage rolls

Apple and red onion sausage roll small

If you’re looking for an easy Christmas eve supper, or something yummy to serve with drinks when you have guests, look no further than very simple to throw together sausage roll recipe.  The filling is my easy apple and red onion stuffing, which can be baked separately and served along with your turkey, but also makes a lovely, moist filling for pies and these easy sausage rolls.  So first, make the stuffing:

Easy apple and red onion stuffing:

(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):

1 tbsp butter

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)

225g pork sausage meat (or you can use the innards of sausages)

100g fresh white breadcrumbs

1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped

Squeeze of lemon juice

375g pack ready to roll puff pastry

Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft.  Add the apple and cook until softened.  Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice.

Now, grab a nice pack of all butter puff pastry (life’s too short to make your own, I find, although if you really want to, I’ve got a rough puff recipe here which isn’t too labour intensive).

Roll the puff pastry out to a nice big rectangle (you need the thickness to be about 1/2 cm), then squish your sausagemeat down the middle in a big fat sausage.

Now, brush the edges with beaten egg, then flap the first edge over the sausagemeat.  Brush that one with egg again, then fold over the second flap, so you’ve created one big, long sausage roll.  Turn that roll over so that the seam is at the bottom.  For a supper dish, it’s nice to keep it whole and slice at the table, but if you’re wanting individual bite-sized ones for a party, cut them now with a serrated edged knife, then score the top and brush with egg.

Bake at gas 4/180 degrees for about 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown and crispy.  If you’re cutting your sausage into individual pieces, they’ll only take about 20 minutes.

The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook – part 2: Quick Eats

The Ultimate Cookbook - Part 2 - front cover

So following on from my first post about the Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook, the Sunday Lunch edition, this weekend it’s all about fast, fabulous Quick Eats.  Once again, I got a little sneaky peak of the recipes and there are some absolute crackers in there.  Just because you’re time pressed or busy, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well.  I was delighted to see Nigella’s wonderful lemon linguine featuring – it’s a family favourite here, often served simply with some peppery watercress salad for a satisfyingly quick supper.  We keep grated parmesan in the freezer, which is really convenient and means that we avoid that awful moment when you reach for the block of cheese in the fridge and discover it’s gone a pretty shade of blue.

Yotam Ottolenghi has a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup – a great choice for a quick and easy meal, this soup contains egg and yoghurt and I’m dying to give it a go.  Eventually though, as we love a bit of spice, we decided to cook Ken Hom’s Sichuan prawns in chilli sauce.  I couldn’t find any chilli bean sauce locally, so used our favourite spicy chilli sauce.  It’s such an easy recipe – the hardest thing is chopping up a couple of cloves of garlic.  The sauce is rich, spicy and zingy.  I served ours simply with some buttered noodles and fresh green salad.  Delicious, healthy, fresh and simple.  Who needs ready meals?

Ken Hom Sichuan chilli prawns sma


Get your copy of The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook: Quick Eats this weekend, the second in a four-part series. Featuring a selection of the finest recipes of the celebrity chef era, The Ultimate Cookbook is part of The Incredible Edibles Food Series dedicated to food and dining.

Upcoming editions in the series are Brunch & Baking on Sunday December 1 and Dinner Party on Sunday December 8.

Visit thesundaytimes.co.uk to subscribe and to find out more details about exclusive Times+ chef events, hosted at some of the country’s best restaurants.

The Lean on Turkey challenge: turkey and chestnut pilaf

Turkey and chestnut pilaf small

If you’re a regular reader, I’m sure you’ll have seen these Lean on Turkey challenges before.  I’ve done quite a few and I’m delighted that the campaign recently won ‘Best Use of Digital’ at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Pride Awards.  The campaign supports British turkey farmers to show you how versatile, healthy and tasty turkey can be.  Of course it’s not just for Christmas, but it’s getting to that time of year and Christmas isn’t Christmas without turkey.  The challenge this time was to come up with a creative way to use turkey leftovers.

This pilaf recipe is based on one I use quite a lot, with the addition of some lovely Christmassy spices and some festive chestnuts.   Bart do a lovely mix that’s all ready to go called ‘Pilau’ which is perfect for this, but if you can’t find it, try 1tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp turmeric and a couple of cloves (don’t forget to fish them out before you serve).  It’s a really easy, tasty one pot wonder.  I do hope you’ll give it a go.

Turkey and chestnut pilaf

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 onion, finely chopped

Generous pinch of salt

3 tsp Bart pilau spice

1 or 2 bay leaves

Leftover roast turkey, shredded

Chestnuts 200g vacuum packed (reserve a couple for garnish)

1 litre chicken stock (or leftover gravy, diluted)

300g brown or white Basmati rice, well rinsed

To garnish:  crumbled chestnuts and a handful of fresh coriander or parsley

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and gently fry the onion until translucent, adding in the salt at this stage.  Add in the spice and bay leaves and cook gently – you’ll start to get a whiff of the lovely aromas.  Throw in the turkey and chestnuts and stir gently until everything is coated in the spices.

Take out the bay leaves and add in the rice and chicken stock (I use a generous amount as we like our pilaf with a bit of ‘sauce’.  If you like your rice drier, keep to about 750ml stock).  Stir well and cover.  Turn the heat right down and leave to cook for about 30 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender.  Try not to keep lifting the lid as you want to keep all the steam inside.  Fork the pilaf through to fluff up the rice, then keep it covered until you’re ready to serve.  Throw in a handful of frozen peas if you like, for added colour and freshness.

Just before serving, sprinkle over the reserved chestnuts and coriander.

My shopping list:

From the store cupboard:

Salt, bay leaves, stock cube


1 onion, 28p

Bart Pilau spice mix: £4.00 (obviously you’ll get to reuse this)

Chestnuts 200g vacuum packed £2.25

Brown Basmati rice, well rinsed (1kg bag) £2.99

Fresh coriander: 95p

From the freezer:

Frozen peas

Total: £10.19 (slightly over but you can obviously use the rice and spice mix for many more meals)

Cooking time: About 40 minutes including prep and baking time.

For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk



Palo seared tuna with potato risotto

Seared tuna with potato risotto

One of my favourite moments aboard the Disney Magic was when I had the amazing opportunity for a one to one masterclass with the Executive Chef of the fine dining restaurant, Palo.  Here I am (below, with lovely Jamie the cameraman – he works on the X Factor you know) doing my piece to camera VERY BADLY.  Palo was my favourite restaurant aboard the Disney Dream, so I was really excited  to see how the Palo on the Magic stacked up.  Luckily the experience was just as incredible, and, with the film crew (film coming soon!), I got to see how Chef made his famous seared tuna with a potato risotto.

The Chef’s version was obviously much more complicated, with shaved truffles, artichokes and a beautiful veal reduction. However, he did tell me how to cook the creamy potato risotto and the wonderful seared tuna:

Potato Risotto (serves 4)

1kg waxy potatoes


1 fat clove garlic, grated

500ml stock (chicken or fish is fine)

Dash of double cream

So firstly, peel all the potatoes and chop them into about 2 cm cubes.  It’s a bit laborious but well worth the effort (as you can see, mine weren’t very uniform – I’m terribly sloppy in the kitchen – what would Chef say?).  As you chop them, pop them into a bowl of salted water so they don’t discolour.  Heat a large knob of butter in a large, heavy frying pan and fry the garlic for a minute or so, then add in the potatoes.  Stir well to cover them in the garlicky butter, then pour in the stock.

Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and allow the potatoes to simmer very gently for about 15 minutes until just tender.  Pour in a dash of double cream, stirring gently so you don’t break up the potatoes, and season to taste.  Keep warm while you quickly sear the tuna.

Seared Tuna

Bring four decent sized tuna steaks, trimmed of any sinewy bits, to room temperature.  Rub the tuna with a little oil and then season with salt and pepper.  Heat a frying pan until it’s really hot, then fry the tuna steaks so that they’re golden on the outside but still retaining some pinkness in the middle.

Serve immediately on the potato risotto.  Drizzle with a little truffle oil if liked.

Doing my 'piece to camera'


Tagliatelle with crab, fresh tomato and courgette

I LOVE the sunny weather!  I know it’s not fun for everybody, but it’s like being on holiday at home!    The boys are hoping and praying that it lasts into the summer holidays too.  The one downside about it is that I don’t really feel like slaving over the cooker, so supper has become quick, easy and minimal fuss.  Tonight we had a lovely, fresh tasting pasta dish that takes about as long as the pasta takes to cook:

Tagliatelle with crab, fresh tomato and courgette

Good quality dried tagliatelle (generally you need to allow about 75-80 of pasta per person)

1 clove garlic

Pinch salt

Pinch dried chilli

Good quality olive or rapeseed oil

1 courgette, cut into fat slices

About 1/2 punnet of fresh baby plum tomatoes (or any tomato, frankly)

1 tin white crab meat, drained

Fresh herbs if you have them

So first bring a big pan of salted water to the boil and add in the pasta.  Stir it around and leave to cook.

Next, add a glug of oil to a frying pan (I use rapeseed) and pop in the courgette slices.  Season well – be generous with the pepper.

With a pestle and mortar, bash the garlic with the pinch of salt.  Add in the dried chilli and then a generous glug of oil.  Stir in the crab and set aside.  Don’t forget to check the courgettes and give them a turn so they brown easily.

If you’ve timed it right, your pasta will be al dente just as the courgettes and nice and golden.  Drain it off, reserving a little bit of the cooking liquid in case the mixture is a bit dry

Toss through the oily garlicky crab (also delicious spread on toast, by the way),  the courgette sliced, the halved tomatoes and a generous handful of something fresh like basil or parsley – rocket’s nice with this too.

Carry to garden and stuff into face.  Preferably with a nice glass of rosé.  Cheers!

Easy tapas: spicy garlic prawns

Spicy garlic prawnsSo next up on my easy tapas menu from the Disreputable One’s birthday tapas feast were these beautiful pink spicy garlic prawns:

Spicy garlic prawns

1 kg prawns (we bought shell-on and peeled them beforehand – never again!)

Large glug of olive oil

3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely grated or crushed

2 red chillies, chopped and deseeded

2 tbsp sweet paprika

If you bought shell-on prawns, it’s a really nice touch to leave the tail on – it just makes it slightly easier to pick them up.  Make sure you provide a finger bowl or two with some lemon slices and plenty of towels – eating these is a messy job!  I also left a couple whole just for decoration.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy based pan and add the garlic, chillies and paprika.  Fry gently for a couple of minutes (don’t let the garlic burn), then add in the prawns.  Put the heat up a bit and fry just until the prawns turn pink.  Serve immediately with loads of bread for dunking as the sauce is AMAZING.

Saffron chicken pilaf

Saffron chicken pilaf small

I’ve recently teamed up with Farmer’s Choice, the online butchers, green grocers and deli to help create a new recipe section on their website.  Farmer’s Choice deliver free range, British meat and produce to homes across the UK and they’re keen to provide inspirational, quick and healthy recipes to their customers.

For my first recipe, Farmer’s Choice challenged me to do something creative with chicken, and I’ve started with pilaf, a popular Middle Eastern rice dish that appears in many forms across many countries and cultures.  It’s an easy, one-pot way of cooking and is great for warm weather eating as all it needs as an accompaniment is a green leafy salad.  It’s also an easy way to feed a crowd and you can strew it with golden raisins, or chopped apricots to make it even prettier too.

You can find this, the first of many recipes I hope – on my author page, plus lots more recipe inspiration from my fellow food-lovers!

Click here for my full saffron chicken pilaf recipe.



Turkey, tomato and pesto open puff pastry tart

Turkey puff pastry pieI’ve done a few of these Lean on Turkey challenges now, supporting our hard-working British turkey farmers and showing you just how versatile turkey is.   The next challenge, just in time for the school holidays, is to create a recipe using fresh turkey that’s perfect for kids and picnics.

The main requirement for a picnic is that whatever you take has to be portable.  We’re lazy picnickers, which generally means we don’t faff about with loads of things in bowls requiring cutlery.  Puff pastry is a brilliant base for loads of different toppings and this turkey, tomato and pesto open puff pastry tart is very easy to transport, slice and eat with the miminum of fuss!  Here, I’ve used pesto, but any leftover sauce will work just as well, so if you’ve got a bit of leftover pizza sauce, try that too.  We’ve also tried this recipe with feta and it was scrummy.

Eggy wash small

Turkey, tomato and pesto open puff pastry tart

500g British turkey fillets

100g baby plum tomatoes

1 ball mozzarella (or 100g feta)

3 tbsp pesto

1 lemon

Ready rolled puff pastry sheet

Cut the turkey into smallish chunks and pop them into a bowl, then halve the tomatoes and add them in.

Chop the mozzarella into similar-sized chunks and pop them in with the turkey and tomatoes.

Measure out 3 tbsp pesto and add this to the bowl along with a good grating of lemon zest and a squeeze of the juice.  Season well (if using feta, go steady with the salt).

Stir it all together and leave to marinate for a while in the fridge while you sort out the pastry.

Unroll the pastry straight onto a baking tray and cut around the edge, gently, about an inch in all the way round (don’t cut all the way through!).

Pile the turkey mixture onto the puff pastry, keeping the edge free.  Brush this edge with a little egg wash if you like, just to give it a nice shine.

Bake at 200 degrees, gas 7 for about 20 minutes until the turkey is cooked and the puff pastry is nice and brown.  Transport to your chosen picnic spot just as it is, covered in foil, or cool, slice and place into a storage container.

Ingredients small

My shopping list:

From the store cupboard:


From the fruit bowl:



British turkey fillets (£5.35)

275g baby plum tomatoes (£1.99)

1 ball mozzarella (95p)

320g ready rolled puff pastry sheet (£ 1.50)

Total: £9.79

Cooking time: About 30 minutes including prep and baking time.

For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk





Easy tapas: baked cod with garlic and oregano for my Dad’s birthday

Baked cod with garlic and oregano small

So it was the Disreputable One’s birthday on Saturday.  As he loves a bit of tapas, I thought I’d cook him a tapas feast fit for a birthday boy.  The menu looked like this:

Olives and spicy nibbles to start (we used these  from Olives et Al – very yummy they are too)




Easy tapas:

baked cod with garlic and oregano

Papas arugadas

Spicy garlic prawns (click for recipe)

Smoky bacon meatballs (Albóndigas) in tomato and pepper sauce

Green salad


Raspberry sorbet


Selection of cheese including The Birthday Cheese

Baked cod with garlic and oregano

When we were in the Canary Islands last year, we ate a beautiful baked hake dish with garlic and oregano.  Sadly there was no hake at the market this Saturday, but I was determined to cook this dish for my Dad so we picked up some nice, chunky cod, which works equally as well.  Here’s my approximation of the dish.  Use a decent make of dried herb – you don’t want a dry, dusty one. I  like dried oregano from Schwartz, but if you’re using fresh, double up and use 2 tsp.

Serves 6

1 kg fresh cod fillets

1 clove garlic

1 tsp oregano

Olive oil (preferably Spanish!)

Preheat the oven to 190/gas 5.

Pop the cod fillets into a large ovenproof dish.  Bash the garlic with a pestle and mortar, add the oregano, then slowly glug in about 50ml olive oil.

Pour the mixture over the cod, then bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily.

I’ll publish all the rest of the recipes for you, but until then, here’s the Birthday Boy, blowing out his cheesy birthday candle.  Happy birthday Dad!

Birthday cheese

Easy spiced lamb kofta kebabs with coriander hummus and tzatziki

Easy spiced lamb kofta kebabs with coriander hummus and tzatziki
This last week of term is such a slog isn’t it?  We’re looking forward to a summer of travel: sunbathing, restaurants, al fresco eating and fun in the sun.  I’ve slightly scuppered Sam’s plans to get away with his friends by booking us back-to-back on various trips right up until September.  Still, not the worst thing a mother could do, I’m sure.  They’re trying to squeeze in a group trip to Skiathos, where one of their friends has family with a hotel, which, judging by the photos, is absolutely beautiful.  To make him feel better, I made him a lovely Greek-inspired dinner:
Easy spiced lamb kofta kebabs
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 level teaspoon sea salt
1 or 2 cloves garlic
2 slices bread, cut into cubes then soaked in a little milk
500g minced lamb
Salt and pepper
With a pestle and mortar, grind the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, salt and garlic into a paste.  Fish out the bread – don’t squeeze it too hard, but too much excess milk will make it a bit sloppy, making it impossible to stick on the skewers – then add it in and squish (technical term)  until combined.
Put the lamb in a large bowl, add the spice/bread mixture and the egg, plus the salt and pepper.
With clean hands, squish the mixture together well.
Squish the mixture around some metal skewers in a rough sausage shape.  Grill (or barbecue) until golden on the outside (the metal skewer will ensure that the middle is cooked through) – about 10 – 15 minutes should do it, depending on the heat of your grill.

Quick and easy coriander hummus

Hummus is quick and easy although I recently saw Simon Hopkinson painstakingly taking the skin off every single chickpea before making it (go ahead if you’re that way inclined!):

1 tin chickpeas, drained

1 clove garlic (I sometimes cut out the garlic and just use a good quality garlic oil instead)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Pinch of salt

2-3 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil

Handful of chopped mint or coriander

Paprika to garnish

So just whizz the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and salt up with a stick blender, glugging in enough oil to loosen the mixture.  If you like it a bit runnier, feel free to add a couple of tbsp water.  Stir in the chopped coriander and serve sprinkled with paprika and maybe a swirl of oil.

Easy tzatziki

About 1/2 cucumber, deseeded and grated

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 pot thick Greek yogurt

Mint leaves, chopped

I don’t mind the peel on the cucumber, but it’s a bit much iFirst, make sure that you’ve


Step by step: how to cook the perfect steak

Perfect rib eye steak

Perfect rib eye steak

This morning the postie knocked on the door and handed me a weird, squishy parcel.  Intrigued, I ferreted around, removing several layers of packaging until – finally – arriving at the rather pleasing contents: four beautiful looking (and perfectly packaged) 21 day aged rib eye steaks, courtesy of the lovely chaps at Farmers Choice.

I find that steak is a bit ‘Marmitey’.  You either absolutely adore it, or you’re not really that keen.  Sometimes I wonder if the people that aren’t that keen are the ones that have had a grey slab of chewy, leathery well done steak in their past.  How else could you explain such take-it-or-leave-it-ness about such a cracking, and frankly delicious, piece of meat?

Everyone cooks steak differently, but here’s my guide to cooking your perfect steak.

First things first: start with your steaks at room temperature.  Rub them very sparingly with oil (I use rapeseed – just enough so they don’t stick) and sprinkle  generously with lovely sea salt and black pepper.  Get your (dry) pan really hot – this is an excellent way to get the delicious caramelised crust (the best bit).

Pop the steak into your hot pan (hear that sizzle?  yeah, now we’re cooking) and press it down with your spatula for a minute to encourage that delicious crust to form.  Flip it over and do the same with the other side.

Rare, medium-rare, medium or well done?

I’m not telling you what to eat, or indeed how to eat, but honestly, a well done steak just isn’t brilliant.  If you absolutely love it and you feel your jaw’s happy with the amount of chewing a well done steak necessitates, then go you.

Generally, we aim for medium-rare: not bloody and oozing, but soft and pink in the middle.   Because I don’t pay attention in the kitchen – especially if I’m on the wine – we often end up with steaks of various different stages of doneness and then engage in a  mad plate-swapping thing at the table until we’ve all got our perfect steak.  It’s a difficult thing to judge, but it’s best to do it with your finger.  Keep pushing on it – as it cooks it will firm up.  Very squishy, like marshmallow, and your steak is rare – rock hard and your steak is well done. You need to aim for something in the middle.

Some people advocate that weird thing where you put your index finger and your thumb together and feel the fleshy bit at the bottom of your thumb – the thinking being that as you move through the fingers from index to little finger, the squishiness roughly equates to rare, medium rare, medium and well done being your little finger.  I can’t do that.  Remember, you’re not cooking in a restaurant. If you feel the need to cut into the steak and have a look, do it.  Rather that then get it wrong and waste your beautiful steak.

Resting the meat (the science bit)

Once your steak’s perfect, remove it to a warm plate and cover it with foil to rest.  *Science klaxon* this is the bit that makes it tender as it allows the fibres in the meat to relax, and redistribute all the juices that have been forced to the centre of the steak by the fibres nearest the heat contracting. At least five minutes, but ten is perfect.

A quick pepper ‘pan’ sauce

In the meantime, slosh a bit of stock (it’s really handy if you keep an ice cube tray in the freezer full of stock – you can just use one or two cubes) and a slug of cream into your pan and add a bit more pepper.  At the last minute, add the resting juices from the meat too.

Serve with the sauce and – our favourite – some oven baked sweet potato wedges – add a crisp green salad, or some green beans and it’s really all you need.

And the verdict on the Farmers Choice steaks?  Absolutely spot on.  A good marbling of fat through the meat, a lovely deep red colour and creamy coloured fat at the edges.  They cooked beautifully and were absolutely delicious.

Click here to check out the selection of steaks at Farmers Choice

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Summer grilling: roasted barbecue chicken and vegetable skewers

Barbecue chicken skewers

Barbecue chicken skewers

So summer is finally creeping up on us (I definitely saw the sun at least twice last week), and, with some fabulous fresh veg popping up in our local farm shop (I can’t resist a glossy aubergine), I felt it was time to dust off one of my favourite summer essentials: the barbecue skewer.  It’s handy to have meat in the freezer (I often bulk buy meat online from Farmer’s Choice – the selection is incredible and the packs are very good value) that way, you can take it out to defrost if you wake up and it’s a sunny morning.

I favour the evil, pointy metal variety, especially when cooking meat as they do ensure that the meat is cooked through the middle – something always worth paying attention to when barbecuing.  This barbecue sauce recipe is an old favourite and very easy to make.  Once it’s cooked, split the quantity in half, so you can use half as a sauce at the table and half to marinade the meat as it cooks:

For the barbecue sauce/marinade:

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • About 1 tsp fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 4 tbsps runny honey
  • 2 tbsps brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsps soy sauce
  • 4 tbsps tomato ketchup
  • Pinch dried chilli
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée

Add the oil into a saucepan, and gently fry the onion until it’s starting to go a bit translucent.  Grate in the ginger (I keep my ginger in the freezer and grate it straight in), then just add in all the other ingredients.  Let it simmer and thicken slightly, then reserve half for serving at the table.

Brushing on the marinade.

Brushing on the marinade.

For the skewers:

2 large chicken breasts

1 aubergine

2 sweet potatoes

1 red onion

I find it’s best to give the sweet potatoes a quick blanch first, otherwise you can find that they’re a bit hard to thread onto a skewer without breaking.

Cut the rest of the ingredients into big chunks, then thread them randomly onto the skewers – pushing everything together so that everyone gets a generous portion.

Brush the skewers well with the marinade, on both sides, then place onto the barbecue or under a medium grill.  Keep basting and turning until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are starting to char.

Serve with the other half of the barbecue sauce (throw the remaining marinade away) and fresh salad.  Oh, and if the sun doesn’t come out? A baked potato wouldn’t go amiss.


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