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.
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:
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.
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:
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).
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.
I love roast beef. I’m a bit slapdash when cooking it, but I always use the same timings and it always turns out okay for me. This step-by-step works whether you’re intending to cook a full-on roast dinner, or make the warm salad with Thai flavours that I’ve made here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
I’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.
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
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.
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)
Cooking time: About 30 minutes including prep and baking time.
For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk
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.
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
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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