Dec 13

Festive entertaining – Christmas lunch


Without wishing to pile on the pressure at this time of the year, Christmas lunch is probably the most important meal you’ll cook all year. If you are a meat eater, like me, choosing your meat can be very stressful. I want to ensure I choose the best meat that I know will cook perfectly and taste divine on the day.

So, here are my tried and tested top recommendations for Christmas lunch.

Starting with turkey, the obvious choice for Christmas meat, there is nothing better than a Copas turkey. Self-titled “very, very special turkeys”, these juicy, finely flavoured birds are reared to the most scrupulous standards, resulting in a superior Christmas turkey. These magnificent turkeys are delivered to your home with complete cooking instructions and a pop-up cooking timer which are really easy to use and ensure perfectly tender meat. All products in their range are excellent – I favour the turkey crown, which involves much less waste and mess than cooking a whole carcass. Worth every penny.


In my house, we love beef for our Christmas lunch as it is simply our favourite roast of all.  The very best beef we have tried is from The Traditional Beef Company, who supply multi award-winning beef to your door. Based in Wiltshire, the cattle is grass fed, and the meat is hung for a whopping 4-6 weeks, then expertly butchered, resulting in the very finest meat. The beauty of this is that you’re buying your meat direct from the farmer, too. The two best cuts for a roast are the fore rib, with a deliciously rich flavour, and the super lean and tender sirloin joint.  This beef is melt-in-the-mouth tender with an exquisite flavour. The best money can buy.

For all the other bits and pieces for a perfect Christmas lunch, here are my favourite recipes:

Vegetarian lunch

Roast potatoes

Roasted vegetables


Cranberry sauce

Bread sauce and gravy

Next: Top Christmas drinks

Dec 13

Gastronomy of Italy, by Anna del Conte


Gastronomy of Italy…a distillation of my personal reflections on the many recipes I have cooked, foods that I have tasted, books I have read and regions I have visited” Anna Del Conte.

Anna Del Conte is widely recognized as the leading authority on Italian food in the UK. Although not a household name like some celebrity chefs, she is the author of a number of cookery books which have been widely praised for their detail and authoritative voice on Italian cookery.  Over the years, she has won many awards, including the Premo Nazionale di Cultura Gastronomica Verdicchio d’Oro prize in 1994 for her contribution to the dissemination of knowledge around authentic Italian cooking, and in 2011 the Guild of Food Writers Lifetime Achievement Award.

Del Conte is also the muse for many celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, who describes her as “beyond doubt, the best writer on Italian food”.

Del Conte’s latest book, Gastronomy of Italy is an up-to-date definitive guide to regional Italian food, covering the regions in detail, ingredients and techniques, including the classics: pasta, polenta, gnocchi, risotto and pizza, and Anna’s versions of favourite Italian dishes, such as peperonata and osso buco. Gastronomy of Italy is a beautiful book featuring over 200 recipes with plenty of gorgeous photographs to accompany the recipes. It is a truly invaluable book for all those who enjoy Italian food, and would make a great Christmas gift for any keen cook. Read from cover to cover and take part in Mastermind.

I’m delighted to be able to share a wonderful recipe with you with kind permission from Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy, published by Pavilion. Photography by Laura Edwards.


Milanese vegetable soup

You can add small tubular pasta to this soup instead of rice, although the classic Milanese minestrone is always made with rice.

Serves 6–8

150g/5½oz/¾ cup dried borlotti beans, soaked for about 12 hours in
cold water

50g/1¾oz/4 tbsp unsalted butter

50g/1¾oz pancetta, chopped

3 onions, sliced

4 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 courgettes, diced

100g/3½oz green beans, diced

100g/3½oz/2⁄3 cup shelled fresh peas

200g/7oz Savoy cabbage, shredded

1.5–2 litres/3–4 pints/1½–2 quarts meat stock (page 61) or chicken stock or 3 good-quality bouillon cubes dissolved in the same quantity of water

350g/12oz floury (starchy) potatoes, cut in half

225g/8oz ripe fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled, or canned plum tomatoes, drained

salt and freshly ground black pepper

175g/6oz/scant 1 cup Italian rice, preferably Vialone Nano

75g/2¾oz Parmesan cheese, grated


Drain and rinse the beans.

Melt the butter in a large heavy pot, preferably earthenware, and add the pancetta and onions. Sauté gently for 5 minutes or so and then add the carrots and celery. After 2 or 3 minutes, add the borlotti beans. Sauté for a further 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the courgettes, green beans and peas. After 5 minutes or so, mix in the cabbage. Stir everything together for about 5 minutes to coat in the fat.

Add the stock, potatoes, tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, cover the pan and simmer over a very low heat for about 3 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, lift out the potatoes, mash them with a fork, then return them to the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the rice and cook for about 10 minutes, until al dente. Stir in 4 tablespoons of the Parmesan and serve the remaining cheese separately.

Dec 13

Sausage, chorizo, butternut squash and lentil casserole

Chorizo stew

This casserole is wonderful at this time of year. It’s full of tasty morsels and is good for you too, being a complete meal in one. This casserole is very easy to make – it is best cooked slowly for as long as possible, but the amount of time it takes to prepare is fairly minimal. I assembled all the ingredients and left it to bake in my lovely new cast iron casserole dish from Pro Cook. It looks rather smart and is it makes life even easier, as it looks good enough to serve on the table.

This is a seriously delicious, hearty winter-warmer that is great served with some steamed vegetables.

Sausage, chorizo, butternut squash and lentil casserole

Serves 4 generously


2 tsp olive oil

8 good quality pork sausages

200g chorizo, chopped into 1 cm dice

1 butternut squash peeled, seeds removed and diced

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

300ml chicken stock

400g cooked green lentils, diced

2 tsp thyme leaves, fresh or dried

Sea salt and pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 140C.

Start by adding the oil to a large non-stick pan. Add the sausages and cook for 10 minutes until the skins are well-browned. Now, add the chorizo and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Transfer the sausages and chorizo to a large, lidded casserole dish. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir well and bake with the lid on for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve with fresh vegetables. Any leftovers keep well, freeze well too and taste even better the next day.

Nov 13

Autumn veg box recipes

Food shopping can be a bit of a minefield at times, particularly when choosing products you will enjoy, whilst balancing cost, environmental and ethical issues.

Personally speaking, food shopping will always be a toss up between these factors. Cost is a major factor, but I am definitely part of a growing number of people wanting to eat local, seasonal Organic food. Part of the difficulty with that for most people is actually sourcing ingredients – I certainly struggle to find a good farm shop, and don’t always have loads of time to dedicate to food shopping. So, with that in mind, I was keen to try a veg box from Abel & Cole, as they offer a wide range of groceries as well as fruit and vegetables.

My delivery arrived at my door within my allotted time frame, and included fresh vegetables, meat, wine, olive oil, fruit, vegetables and chilies. All the meat and vegetables was from within a 150-mile radius from my home, and was all Organic and very, very fresh. The wild venison from Hampshire Game was superb. Like for like prices are extremely competitive. The quality of the produce is outstanding, and it is a very convenient way to shop. All boxes come with a selection of seasonal recipes for you to try, but here are some  of my seasonal recipes for you to try – all made with ingredients from my veg box.


Venision steaks with Sage, Rosemary and garlic

Serves 2


2 Venison minute steaks (appx. 250-300g)

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 spring rosemary

6 sage leaves

8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Place all the ingredients into a large, shallow dish and mix well to combine. Leave to marinate for at least an hour – the longer you can leave it the better the flavour.

When you’re ready to cook the steak, preheat a pan (preferably a grill pan) under a hot heat. Add the steaks and cook for 2-4 minutes on each side. Cook the herbs and garlic with the meat, too.

Once the meat is cooked to your liking, allow to rest for 10 minutes on a hot plate to become more tender.

Serve with some freshly steamed green beans and baked squash


Baked onion squash with garlic and sage

Serves 2 


An onion squash

3 cloves garlic

6 sage leaves

A generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil


Preheat the oven to 180C

Cut the top off of the squash and remove the seeds and stringy flesh from the inside. Place onto a large baking tray and put the garlic and sage inside the squash. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 20-30 minutes until the flesh is lightly browned and tender. Serve immediately. 

Oct 13

Almond Cannellé

Almond canelle

One of the most fun aspects about baking is experimentation. I love to try different cake tins and these are the best ones I’ve found recently. They are actually for Italian Pandoro or French Cannellé. They are made from silicone and are sold online through The Cook’s Kitchen.

Pandoro is a delicious light and sweet dough cake, not dissimilar to pannetone. Sadly, like any dough recipes, they are very hard to adapt to being gluten free. So, using the mould, I have come up with a delicious and easy version of French cannellé, which would be perfect at any time of the year, but particularly at Christmas.

I should add that the mould does come with a recipe for traditional Pandoro, which I have made, and is delicious.

Almond Cannellé

Makes 6


150g butter or dairy-free spread

150g golden caster sugar

3 medium free-range eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp cinnamon

150g ground almonds

1 heaped tbsp. gluten free plain flour

4 tbsp honey, warmed until runny


Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease your moulds as best you can. Quick release spray is a godsend here. Set the mould aside.

Place the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and cream together until pale and fluffy.

Add the eggs gradually and beat well after each addition. Now, add the vanilla extract and cinnamon and beat well.

Finally, add the almonds and four and gently fold in. Carefully spoon the mixture into the moulds. Bake for 25-35 minutes until golden brown and risen.

Allow to cool in the mould for 20 minutes before removing and allowing to cool fully on a wire rack.

Drizzle with warmed honey and serve.

Oct 13

Autumn slaw


Just because the summer’s over doesn’t mean salads have to be off the menu. This is one of my favourite salads. It’s crunchy, fresh and full of flavour. It’s also super healthy if you, like me, are looking for alternatives to winter stodge at this time of year.

The trick to making a really great slaw is to slice the vegetables really thinly. I mean so thin they are almost transparent. Fennel can be really tough, but thinly slicing it brings out its sweetness and much more tender to eat. A really sharp knife is what you need to use here. I have been loving these gorgeous knives made by Edge of Belgravia – a favourite of the Fabulous Baker Brothers. They make easy work of any tough vegetable and enable you to cut things really, really thinly.

Autumn slaw

Serves 4 as a side


For the slaw

1 bulb of fennel, very thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, peeled and grated

1 large eating apple, thinly sliced

75g walnuts

50g sultanas

1 tbsp freshly chopped mint

For the dressing

2 tbsp mayonnaise

1 tsp wholegrain mustard


Place the slaw ingredients (except the mint) into a bowl and stir together well.

Mix they mayonnaise and mustard together until smooth and well-combined.

Stir the dressing evenly through the slaw. Serve on a plate topped generously with fresh mint. Serve and enjoy immediately, as the fennel and apple will brown quickly.

Oct 13

Pork and Fennel Ragu

Pork Fennel Ragu

When the days start to get shorter and the weather a touch cooler, there’s nothing like a warm, comforting meal in the evening.

If you’re busy, like me, and want something delicious for supper, but don’t have much time to spend cooking, allow me to introduce my new kitchen savior: the slow cooker.

For me, it is an absolute godsend, as it is just so easy to prepare a good meal in advance with the minimum amount of input. Not only that, but it’s great for batch cooking, which is a great way of saving time, as any extra portions can be individually frozen and reheated when you are in need of a quick meal.

I highly recommend my CrockPot digital slow cooker. It’s easily programmable for up to 20 hours, and has a digital timer, so if you’re at home, you can keep track of how long you have left. It also has a helpful keep warm function which would be great if you are cooking for guests.

I’m a total convert. Our favourite meals so far have included this Pulled Pork recipe which is ridiculously easy and delicious, and my Pork and Fennel Ragu. It makes a really interesting alternative to bolognaise sauce, and has very quickly become a firm favourite. Adjust the fennel and garlic to taste – we like both flavours to be very prominent in the dish.

Pork and Fennel Ragu

Serves 8


1 tbsp olive oil

1kg free-range pork, minced

1 bulb garlic

2 tbsp fennel seeds (adjust to taste)

1 x 400g tin chopped plum tomatoes

2 x tubes tomato purée

1 x tube sundried tomato purée

100ml water

1 large glass red wine

3 bay leaves

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper


Place the oil into a large pan. Add the pork and brown lightly. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for around 5 minutes until fragrant.

Transfer the meat to the slow cooker, followed by the remaining ingredients. Stir well and allow to cook for at least 3 hours until the ragù has become rich and thick. I have been known to cook this for 8 hours on a low heat.

Serve with your choice of pasta. I used pappardelle in the photo, but you can use any gluten free pasta or spaghetti.

It is lovely topped with some finely grated Parmesan cheese. And it tastes even better the next day!

Sep 13

Pumpkin, cardamom and orange cake


This is a completely delicious, dairy free cake that’s perfect for this time of year. I can’t get enough of it at the moment!

Pumpkin, cardamom and orange cake

Makes one 21cm cake

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 200g finely grated pumpkin
  • 150g cardamom caster sugar
  • 3 large organic eggs
  • 125ml vegetable oil
  • zest one large orange, microplaned
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Ingredients for the drizzle:

  • 60g cardamom sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Cointreau


1.Grease and line a 21cm round tin

2.Preheat the oven to 180C

3.Peel and grate the pumpkin finely. I use the Magimix every time

4.Place the eggs, sugar and oil into a stand mixer and whisk vigorously for around 5 minutes

5.Tip in the flour, orange zest and grated pumpkin and mix lightly until combined

6.Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes

7.Make the drizzle by mixing together the sugar and Cointreau

8.When the cake comes out of the oven, prick all over using a cocktail stick, and tip the drizzle over the top

9. Allow to cool and eat immediately!

Sep 13

Autumn warmer


Now that the weather has taken a turn cooler, I’m finding I want more comforting meals. Gone are salads – I want something hot to eat in the evening.

I’m always in search of something hot and filling to enjoy in the evening, but I want it to be healthy, too.

I love this dish – it’s a cross between a ratatouille and caponata. It’s super simple to make – to get it on the table sooner rather than later, simply slice the vegetables thinner than you might do normally – around 3mm slices should do the trick.

Serve with rice or some good bread.

Serves 4 generously


1 tbsp olive oil

1 large aubergine

2 medium courgettes

6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

300g mushrooms, thinly sliced

2  x 400g tins chopped tomatoes

Salt and pepper

A generous handful finely chopped fresh basil leaves


Place the olive oil into a large, non-stick pan over a moderate heat. Add the aubergines and cook gently for 10 minutes.

Add the courgettes, garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and stir well. Allow to bubble away gently for 15 minutes.

The vegetables will now be ready to serve. Serve generously topped with fresh basil, and with your chosen accompaniment on the side.


Sep 13

Poached rhubarb with orange and cardamom and rosemary ice cream


I wanted to share a fantastic dessert I made recently.

This ice cream is amazing with all manner of tarts, particularly apple and rhubarb, but, looking for something lighter on this occasion, I decided to poach some fresh, local rhubarb with orange and cardamom to accompany the ice cream. This took just a matter of minutes in this gorgeous Italian copper pan from Cream Supplies. The two were such a good match, but either would be delicious on its own. They make a delicious, easy to make dessert, which can also be prepared in advance. 

Poached rhubarb with orange and cardamom and rosemary ice cream 

Serves 4

Well, the rhubarb part isn’t really a recipe. I placed  around 500g of rhubarb into the pan. Added the zest of a large orange, four heaped tablespoons of cardamom sugar and 3 tablespoons of water. I poached the rhubarb for around 10 minutes over a moderate heat until tender, but not too long as I didn’t want it to fall apart. I decanted it into a bowl and chilled in the fridge before serving.

To make the ice cream. I followed this recipe (or use any simple vanilla custard ice cream recipe) and infuse it with one large, bruised sprig of rosemary. Pass through a metal sieve to ensure there are no needles left in the custard before freezing.

Serve the two together for a seriously delicious dessert.

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