Tuesday Treat

Flapjack’ Plum Crumble

This comforting crumble has sophisticated flavours – the combination of plums with orange and a touch of cinnamon, beautifully cuts the sweetness of the oat crumble. Serve it with a dollop of cream, custard or a good quality vanilla ice-cream.

The great news is, is that it’s completely gluten free! As you may know, I am gluten free, and so finding ‘carbohydrate’ comforting desserts can be difficult, as I can’t eat wheat. A traditional crumble calls for flour, so it has been some years since I have been able to enjoy this English pudding in the traditional sense, but over the years I have perfected this ‘flapjack crumble’ by combining various recipes for toppings and fillings. Even if you don’t need to eat gluten free, I think that it will become your new favourite crumble!!…

This recipe is perfect for the plums we get in our supermarkets during the winter months, those that never seem to ripen but are perfect for baking with. The oats are best ‘toasted’ before making the topping, this makes their flavour nuttier, so it is worth doing if you have the time.

For the Crumble:

250g porridge oats

125g butter

100g light muscovado sugar

100g golden syrup

For the Plum Filling:

800-900g plums, cut in half, stones removed

1 large orange, zested and juiced

50g light muscovado sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. Firstly, spread the oats on a large baking tray and bake in a preheated oven, 150’c, for 10-15 minutes, stirring once, until they are toasted and slightly golden.
  2. For the topping: melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a large saucepan (big enough to take the oats) over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the toasted oats and stir to combine.
  3. Spread the plums out in a baking dish, cut side up – they should fit snuggly into the dish, covering the base completely. Spoon the orange juice over them.
  4. Mix together the orange zest and cinnamon with the sugar (50g), sprinkle over the plums.
  5. Spread the oat ‘flapjack’ mixture evenly over the plums. Place in a preheated oven, 180’c, for 30-35 minutes until the crumble is golden brown and bubbling.
  6. Serve with a dollop of cream, custard or vanilla ice-cream – Delicious!!

Week Thirty

It doesn’t seem possible that Christmas was almost a month ago, indeed, by New Year’s Eve I was feeling rather stuffed and I was looking forward to some lighter meals in January. It seemed a good idea, at that time, to start eating some lighter meals, but without sounding too depressing(!), I was forgetting how I hate these ‘dog days’ of January, the cold, the damp and the grey. I must admit that January is my least favourite month of the year, even if it does signify new beginnings, and so now, halfway through the month, I am feeling in desperate need for some indulgent comfort food …and a cocktail (I’ve never been good at ‘dry January’!!)...

So, this week I’ve changed my original menu plan for Menu Mistress and I have decided to share a particularly comforting roast chicken recipe. Menu One, ‘Rotisserie Roast Chicken’, is a rather special recipe from Rick Stein, it takes its inspiration from the French ‘fast food’ chicken which you often find in local French markets and ‘boucheries’. I am sure that many of you will have savoured this delicious chicken on your visits to France particularly around Paris; the chickens are slowly roasted on an outdoor rotisserie with sliced potatoes underneath to catch all the delicious roasting juices, heaven – perfect comfort food for January! Menu Two is another comforting dish and it continues to fulfil my New Year’s resolution to share at least one vegetarian recipe every time I share new recipes. ‘Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Goats Cheese Mash’, is very delicious, it is a vegetarian dish which I have been making for years, so even if you are a meat lover like me, I urge you to make this! Menu Three is a pasta dish which is super quick and easy – hence I’m also putting it on my MenuMistress@Uni pages – it’s the perfect midweek supper dish; Puttanesca Pasta. There are various versions of this pasta sauce, but I particularly like this one from Gino Contaldo; it is a lovely thick sauce with just the right amount salt from the anchovies.

Finally, I’m sharing a cocktail recipe. What better way to chase away the January blues than with a Martini?!…If you live in or are visiting London, I can recommend the best place to visit for the quintessential Martini experience (after lockdown!) – Dukes Hotel, Mayfair. It has a wonderful, sophisticated cocktail bar, reassuringly old-fashioned, where it serves the finest Martinis, prepared tableside on a rosewood trolley; they only use organic lemons from Amalfi for their lemon twist! It really is an elegant experience and the perfect excuse to dress up! Unfortunately, until lockdown ends and the world of bars reopens, we can only enjoy this gem at home, so I’m sharing a Martini based on the classic recipe from Dukes… Enjoy!

Have a good week and remember to visit Menu Mistress next Tuesday for my ‘Tuesday Treat’!

Also… go to my ‘Eating Out’ page for my latest restaurant review, it will, unfortunately, be my last for some time, as with continuing lockdown rules it seems unlikely that restaurants will be opening soon. My latest review is for ‘Meltons’, York, where we enjoyed a superb meal before Christmas.

Menu One

Rotisserie-Style Roast Chicken with Beetroot & Mint Salad

This is a rather special roast chicken recipe from Rick Stein’s cookbook ‘Secret France’, it takes its inspiration from the French ‘fast food’ chicken which you often find in local French markets and ‘boucheries’. I am sure that many of you will have savoured this delicious chicken on your visits to France particularly around Paris; the chickens are slowly roasted on an outdoor rotisserie with sliced potatoes underneath to catch all the delicious roasting juices, heaven! In this recipe the chicken is similarly roasted on a bed of sliced potatoes at a low temperature for 2-2½ hours, although this may seem a long time it comes out incredibly succulent. It’s a very handsfree recipe, so can easily be made midweek, it just needs a good green salad and is also great with a beetroot and mint salad (recipe below).

1 free range chicken (about 1.7kg)

½ lemon

1 clove garlic, bashed

700g potatoes (such as Maris Piper), peeled and cut into 2cm thick slices

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Spice Rub:

2 teaspoons paprika

Good pinch of cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dried thyme

40g butter, softened

  1. First of all make the spice rub by mixing all the spices and seasoning together and blending with the butter.
  2. Put the lemon half and the garlic inside the cavity of the chicken and tie up the legs.
  3. Rub the spiced butter all over the chicken.
  4. Place the sliced potatoes in a roasting tin, drizzle over the olive oil, place the chicken in the middle of the roasting tin on top of the potatoes.
  5. Roast in a preheated oven, 130’c, for around 2½ hours. Baste the chicken and potatoes a few times during the cooking time.
  6. Rest the chicken for about 10 minutes before carving, whilst it is resting, if I want the potatoes a little crispier, I often crank up the oven to 200’c and return them to the oven .
  7. Serve the carved chicken with the potatoes and pan juices spooned over. It is delicious with a simple green salad with a classic vinaigrette (recipe here) and a beetroot salad (recipe below).

Beetroot and Mint Salad (Serves 4)

This is my new favourite salad, it is particularly good during the winter months with its jewel like colours (especially if you manage to get hold of a mix of coloured beetroot). It is incredibly easy to make and will happily sit in the fridge for a day or two. I came across this recipe recently in Sky McAlpine’s brilliant new cookbook, ‘A Table For Friends’, which I would definitely recommend.

2 teaspoons caster sugar

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Juice of one lemon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

500g cooked beetroots, finely sliced (a mix of colours if available)

A small bunch of mint leaves

Sea salt flakes

  1. Whisk the sugar, vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil with a generous pinch of salt.
  2. Put the beetroot in a bowl. Roughly chop half of the bunch of mint and add to the beetroot and pour over the dressing, gently stir and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour to intensify the flavours.
  3. To serve: bring to room temperature then arrange the beetroot on a plate with the remaining mint scattered over and drizzled with some of the marinade.

Menu Two

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Goats’ Cheese Mash (Serves 4)

As you may be aware, I am a complete meat lover, so when I say that this recipe could convert me to vegetarianism, you’ll know it’s extremely good!…I found this recipe many years ago in Delia Smith’s ‘How to Cook: Book Three’, I have made it on numerous occasions since then. It is quite a straightforward recipe but you must remember to pre-soak the black eyed beans the night before cooking it. The vegetables need to be chopped small so it is a good idea to use a food processor – and it saves a lot of time! I like to serve this with a green salad with a classic vinaigrette dressing (recipe here).

110g dried black-eyed beans, pre-soaked and drained

75g green split peas (no need to soak), rinsed

75g green lentils (no need to soak), rinsed

725ml boiling water

50g peeled carrots

50g peeled swede

50g peeled celeriac

1 large onion, peeled

1 small green pepper, deseeded

50g butter, plus a little extra for greasing

1 heaped tablespoon chopped mixed fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme and parsley)

¼ teaspoon ground mace

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and black pepper

For the topping:

110g soft goats’ cheese

700g potatoes (such as Maris Piper), peeled

225g tomatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

50g butter

2 tablespoons milk

25g Pecorino cheese, grated

Sea salt and black pepper

(A round baking dish, roughly 23cm diameter and 5cm deep, buttered)

  1. First put the drained beans in a saucepan with the split peas and lentils. Add the boiling water and some salt. Cover and simmer gently for 50-60 minutes until they have absorbed the water and are soft. Remove from the heat and mash them just a little with a fork.
  2. Meanwhile cook the potatoes.
  3. Whilst the potatoes are cooking, roughly chop the vegetables before placing in a food processor and chopping small.
  4. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat, add the vegetables and cook gently for 10-15 minutes until they are softened and tinged gold at the edges.
  5. Add the vegetable mixture to the lightly mashed pulses, along with the herbs, spices and salt and pepper to taste. Spoon this mixture into the buttered baking dish.
  6. Arrange the slices of tomato over this mixture.
  7. Mash the cooked potato with the butter, milk and goats cheese and season with salt and pepper (you can use an electric hand held whisk to do this). Spread the potato over the top of the ingredients in the dish.
  8. Finally sprinkle over the Pecorino and bake the pie in a preheated oven, 190’c, for 20-25 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.

Menu Three

Pasta alla Puttanesca (Serves 4)

There are various versions of this pasta sauce, but I particularly like this one from Gino Contaldo; it is a lovely thick sauce with just the right amount salt from the anchovies. It is another recipe which I have taken from one of my favourite cookbooks, ‘Cook: A Year in the Kitchen with Britain’s Favourite Chefs’, which has numerous recipes from different chefs, including Gino Contaldo.

6 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled, left whole and crushed with the flat blade of a knife

1 small red chilli, finely chopped

6 anchovy fillets

35 black olives, stoned and sliced in half

2 tablespoon capers

300g tinned chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

A large handful parsley, chopped

400g linguine or spaghetti (gluten free if required)

Salt to taste

  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the garlic, chilli and anchovy fillets. Fry until the anchovies have melted and the garlic is golden brown.
  2. Add the olives and capers, stir-fry for a minute. Then add the tomatoes, oregano and parsley.
  3. Lower the heat, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, until al dente.
  5. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce, stir well so that the pasta absorbs the flavours of the sauce – if you feel that the sauce is too dry add a tablespoon or two of hot pasta water.
  6. Serve immediately.

And a Little Treat…

A Classic Martini (Serves 1)

A Classic Martini

I am partial to a Martini, one of my favourite places to have one in London is Dukes Hotel, Mayfair. It has a wonderful, sophisticated cocktail bar, reassuringly old-fashioned, where it serves the finest Martinis, prepared tableside on a rosewood trolley; they only use organic lemons from Amalfi for their lemon twist! The recipe I am sharing is based on their classic Martini. I like vodka Martinis with a twist of lemon, but in this recipe you can always substitute the vodka for gin and the lemon for an olive!

Before you start making a Martini, make sure you put, not only your vodka (or gin) in the freezer, but also your glasses, as you want this cocktail to be chilled to perfection.

1 frozen martini glass
100ml vodka or gin (frozen – see note above)
5ml (1 teaspoon) Dry vermouth
1 large twist of lemon peel from an unwaxed lemon

  1. Put the Dry Vermouth into the frozen glass
  2. Top the glass up with the vodka (or gin).
  3. Squeeze the lemon twist over the glass to extract the fragrant oils.
  4. Finally, swirl the Martini with the lemon twist and drop it into the glass.
  5. Enjoy!

Tuesday Treat

Orange Almond Cake (Gluten Free!)

When my good friend, Sophie, first gave me this recipe, I was hesitant to try it, as being a self-confessed ‘lazy cook’ when I discovered that I had to boil the oranges for an hour before even starting the recipe, I wasn’t sold on it. But, fortunately she insisted that it was worth the effort… and she was definitely right, this is one of the most moist orange cakes I have tasted – it truly is delicious. In fact, it is also very easy, the boiling of the oranges is something that pretty much takes care of itself and to make the cake it’s simply a matter of pureeing the oranges in a food processor, adding them to the whisked eggs and sugar, and stirring in the other ingredients – done!Try it!…

2 seedless oranges

6 eggs

250g caster sugar

250g ground almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

50g flaked almonds

2 tablespoons icing sugar

(To serve: double cream lightly whipped with a touch vanilla paste)

A 22cm springform tin: grease and line the base and sides

  1. Wash the oranges and cut off the ends (discard), place the oranges into a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 hours (topping up with water as required).
  2. Remove the oranges from the water and allow to cool completely before cutting into pieces and pureeing in a food processor until completely smooth.
  3. Use an electric whisk to beat the eggs and caster sugar in a large bowl until pale and frothy.
  4. Add the orange puree, stir through, then add the ground almonds and baking powder, and combine.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top of the cake.
  6. Place in a preheated oven, 160’c, and bake for 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out with just a few crumbs on it.
  7. Allow to cool completely in the tin.
  8. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve with a dollop of cream (flavoured with a touch of vanilla paste).

Week Twenty Nine

Happy New Year and a very warm welcome to 2021!…

Are we all stuffed with food from our festive treats?!…I know I am, although I fear that I may have stretched my stomach, as I am still feeling hungry!..

Well, with the arrival of the new year I have been thinking about New Year’s resolutions, I must admit I’m not really one to make resolutions, but this year I have a definite plan…

Before Christmas I watched David Attenborough’s ‘A Life On Our Planet’(on Netflix), I must say that it had quite an effect on me. I am, like all of us, aware of our need to be more environmentally friendly, but I will be the first to admit that sometimes I am not quite as good as I could be. However, this new programme by David Attenborough really shook me as it visually showed how, if we don’t try and change our ways, we could get to the point of no return. I must admit that it was not an easy programme to watch, but thankfully, at the end of it, Mr Attenborough did demonstrate what can be done to help our planet and its future. After watching it, there are definitely things that I will be taking even more seriously than before. One will be my use of palm oil – I have consciously started to take notice of listed ingredients to ensure that it is not included, I am also more acutely aware of the importance to put pressure on world powers to support sustained fishing and greener energy. The programme also highlighted the dangers of factory farming, I am fortunate that I can afford to buy organic produce which is sustainably produced, and so I can award myself ‘brownie points’ on this front. However, I am acutely aware that I probably eat too much meat…which brings me to my New Year’s resolution!…

Although I always buy my meat from a local butcher that prides itself on selling sustainable produce from farms which rear free-range animals, I think that I should still cut back a little on my meat consumption – my little gift to the universe(!). So, I have decided to eat at least two vegetarian meals a week – OK, I admit, it’s not a groundbreaking change, but for me, someone who is an all-out meat lover, it is a significant start! Alongside my little mission, I will also start to share a vegetarian recipe every time I post new recipes on Menu Mistress. I know that this will please a lot of you who are already very partial to vegetarian meals!

Therefore, naturally, this week, one of the recipes I am sharing is a vegetarian dish…Menu One is ‘Tagliatelle with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Crispy Sage’, it is a very delicious recipe; the sweetness of the butternut squash is wonderfully cut with the addition of crispy, fried sage leaves and chopped hazelnuts. Menu Two is ‘Pea and Ham Soup’, a lovely light supper dish which I think most of us will welcome after the rich festive menus which we have enjoyed recently (and it’s super quick!). Menu Three is another refreshing dish, a very delicately spiced curry, ‘Home Style Chicken’.

Also this week…

Menu Music… I’ve been welcoming the new year into my kitchen with a new playlist, a chilled feel-good mix, including tracks from John Legend, Stevie Wonder and Mary J.BligeMusic to Cook To…MenuMusic Seven… Bring a bit of ‘new year’ life to your kitchen with these tunes!

Also, check out my Eating Out page!…As you may remember, before Christmas, I managed to get away for a few days to the Yorkshire Dales, in addition to some beautiful walks I enjoyed eating out at some great restaurants –  I have just added a new review of the Blue Lion, East Whitton.

Finally, a note to you all about a small change at Menu Mistress…

Since I started Menu Mistress six months ago, I have been posting three or four recipes every week. I now feel that I have created an extensive library of recipes, so rather than swamping you with too many recipes, I have decided to post two or three savoury dishes every two weeks on a Wednesday, and then, on the alternate Tuesday, I will post a dessert or cake recipe – a ‘Tuesday Treat’. Those of you who are already signed up to receive notifications of new posts will continue to get them – if you haven’t already signed up for them, you can do so on the link at the bottom of this page – just scroll down – in this way you’ll never miss a new recipe!!…

Menu One

Tagliatelle with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Crispy Sage (Serves 4)

This is a relatively quick pasta dish, comforting and tasty. The crispy sage leaves really lift the dish. This recipe is from Marcus Wareing’s Cookbook, ‘New Classics’.

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 600g)

2 bay leaves

4 sprigs of thyme

½ nutmeg, grated

75g butter

80g blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped

20 sage leaves

350g tagliatelle pasta

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Put the diced butternut squash in a saucepan and cover with cold water, add a generous pinch of salt, the bay leaves and thyme. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the squash is tender. Strain off the water and remove the herbs.
  2. Add the nutmeg and 25g of the butter and lightly mash the squash, seasoning to taste.
  3. Heat the remaining 50g of butter in a large frying pan. When foaming add the hazelnuts and sage. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 5-8 minutes until golden and crispy, and the butter has browned.
  4. Cook the tagliatelle according to the packet instructions, until al dente. Drain and mix with most of the hazelnut and sage butter.
  5. Gently stir through the mashed squash and serve, topped with the remaining hazelnut and sage butter.

Menu Two

Pea and Ham Soup (Serves 4)

This is a recipe from Simon Hopkinson’s wonderful cookbook, ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories: Second Helpings’. It’s name caught my eye – ‘Almost Instant Pea and Ham Soup’ – yes, those words, ‘almost instant’, perfect for a midweek meal!…So, I had to try it to see if it could pass the taste test, and indeed it did – it really is very flavoursome! Served with some warm crusty bread or gluten free Oat Bread (recipe here), it really makes a comforting midweek supper.

1 large onion, chopped

75g butter

2 Little Gem lettuces, shredded

2 cans, average size 350g, of quality French peas (look for ‘à l’étuvée’ on the label)

750ml chicken stock

Several mint and tarragon leaves

150ml whipping cream

5-6 slices of prosciutto

Sea salt and pepper

  1. First put your prosciutto slices on a baking tray and bake in the oven, 160’c,  for about 20 minutes (keep an eye on them!).
  2. Meanwhile melt the butter in a large saucepan and cook the onion until softened. Add the lettuce, stir, then add the peas with their juice and then add the stock. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that comes to the surface.
  3. Season lightly and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Liquidise with the mint and tarragon leaves until smooth, you could use a food processor or handheld blender for this.
  5. Pass through a sieve.
  6. Reheat, stirring in the cream. Check the seasoning.
  7. Serve with the bits of prosciutto broken up over the surface.

Menu Three

Home-Style Chicken Curry (Serves 4)

This is a simple, very mild, curry recipe which is quite dry in consistency but very tasty – adding ginger at the end of cooking really lifts the flavour. I found this recipe in the cookbook, ‘Cook; A Year in the Kitchen with Britain’s Favourite Chefs’, this particular recipe is from Michelin starred Indian chef Atul Kochhar. I have been making it for years – it’s an easy midweek meal which also reheats well. Serve with plain white rice.

For the Pounded Spices:

4 green cardamom pods

2.5 cm cinnamon stick

10-12 black peppercorns

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 cloves

Other Ingredients:

3 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 bay leaf

250g onions, sliced

½ teaspoon garlic, crushed

½ teaspoon red chilli powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

Salt to taste

100g tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon tomato purée

600g chicken breast, cut into 2.5cm dice

½ teaspoon garam marsala

2 teaspoons coriander leaves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped

  1. First of all pound the ‘pounded spices’ together in a pestle and mortar.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the pounded spices and the bay leaf, stirring until the spices crackle and start to change colour.
  3. Add the onions and sauté until they are golden brown, then add the crushed garlic. Stir continuously, continue to cook for about 30 seconds and then add the red chilli, coriander and turmeric powders. Mix quickly without letting the spices burn. Add the salt, tomatoes and tomato purée and cook over a low heat, stirring.
  4. When the tomatoes are starting to melt to form a sauce add the chicken and cook over a low heat for 20-25 minutes until the chicken is almost cooked. Sprinkle over the garam marsala and simmer to finish cooking.
  5. Finally add the coriander and sprinkle over the ginger.
  6. Serve with white rice.

Week Twenty Eight

This is the last Menu Mistress post of 2020! I am sure that most of us will be very happy to say goodbye to 2020. What a year it’s been, who would have guessed at the beginning of the year that the word ‘lockdown’ would become part of our daily vocabulary!…Of course, there have been some positives to come out of this ‘Covid year’, for one thing, it has definitely made us appreciate the freedom of our ‘old’ lives! On a personal note, it has encouraged Nick and me to discover some beautiful walks just outside London as we have fed our need to escape the house! And of course, if it hadn’t been for lockdown in June, I would never have started this blog. Menu Mistress was born out of boredom, and even as life has returned to a ‘new normal’ it has continued to be something that I enjoy immensely, in fact, it encourages me to cook even more than before, as I am on a continuous mission to find new, foolproof recipes to share!

Of course this past week we have all been busy cooking and eating our Christmas dinners. I like to cook a roast goose for our festive treat, and over the years I have perfected my favourite menu, a combined one from Delia Smith and Gordon Ramsay – yes, quite a combination! I find that the combination of the traditional element from Delia works well with Gordon’s more contemporary edge.

I thought that this week before we enter into a new year of cooking, that I would share my Christmas Dinner Menu, even though Christmas is over for this year and it won’t be something you will be cooking soon, it’s always good to plan ahead; you may want to add these recipes to your menu next year!

Have a good week and see you next year!…

My Christmas Dinner Menu

Over the years I have tried various ‘menus’ for Christmas Day, but for some time now I have been serving up Roast Goose and it’s trimmings. These days, I use a combination of recipes from Delia Smith and from Gordon Ramsay – yes quite a combination, but definitely a winning one! Roast Goose with Five Spice and Honey, is a simple recipe from Gordon Ramsay, I like to serve it with his recipe for Redcurrant and Red Wine Sauce. At this point I move over to recipes for the trimmings from Delia Smith; Prunes in Armagnac are a must (the sweetness compliments the goose meat perfectly), Braised Red Cabbage (my all-time favourite recipe for red cabbage!), Parmesan Baked Parsnips and, of course, Roast Potatoes (Delia’s recipe is always the winner!). I must admit that I go slightly off-piste for the recipe for Brussel Sprouts with Chestnuts, Bacon and Marsala; they are a recipe that I have nabbed from Nigella Lawson. Finally dessert, now I must admit that I am not mad about Christmas pudding, so it appears on our Christmas menu just for the sake of tradition. For this reason I have never felt the need to make my own, and over the years, after trying many ‘gourmet’ ones,  I have always returned to M&S for ours – yes, not exactly the refined choice you might expect from a ‘foodie’ like myself!…In addition to Christmas Pudding, I do serve up a very special dessert and one which I do make myself, Passionfruit Parfait (a Gordon Ramsay recipe). In my opinion, its fresh, tangy flavour is perfect after the rich goose main course, much better than the traditional Christmas pudding!

This Christmas Dinner menu is in fact very simple to make, I like to prepare most of the elements in advance, so that on Christmas day I have little to do, other than putting things in the oven and getting my timings right. I make the Armagnac Prunes several days in advance, then 2 days before Christmas I prepare the red cabbage – it will then sit quite happily in the fridge, prepared for the oven, until you need to cook it on Christmas Day, in fact, I sometimes cook it on Christmas Eve and just reheat it Christmas Day as I find that the flavours develop better in this way. On Christmas Eve I make the sauce and prepare the goose, parsnips, and the sprouts so that they are ready to be cooked. Finally, I make the Passion Fruit Parfait. So, in fact Christmas Eve is the day when I am most manic, and this is the way it should be, as after all, Christmas Day is the day when you want to enjoy the company of your loved ones!

Roast Goose with Five Spice and Honey (Serves 6-8)

5.5 -6.5kg goose

2 oranges, finely grated zest and fruit cut into wedges

2 lemons, finely grated zest and fruit cut into wedges

2 tablespoons Chinese five spice powder

1 tablespoon sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

4-5 tablespoons runny honey, to drizzle

  1. First of all preheat your oven, 220’c, and place a deep roasting tin, with a rack inside, in the oven to heat up.
  2. If the goose is ready-trussed, remove the string and gently tug and loosen the legs and wings a little – this helps the bird cook more evenly.  Remove the giblets from the body cavity and trim off any excess fat around the neck and cavity.
  3. Mix together the orange and lemon zest with the five spice powder, salt and pepper.
  4. Lightly score the kin of the goose in a criss-cross pattern – taking care not to cut through to the flesh. Rub the orange and lemon zest seasoning all over the skin and inside the cavity of the goose. Put the orange and lemon wedges inside the cavity.
  5. Place the goose on the rack in the preheated roasting pan, breast side up and roast for 15 minutes.
  6. Then turn down the oven to 170’c and roast for another 30 minutes.
  7. Take the goose from the oven, pouring off any fat from the tin (keep this as its great for roasting potatoes). At this point use a knife to cut the legs slightly away from the main bird, in this way they will cook evenly, at the same time as the breast.  Drizzle the honey over the goose and return it to the oven for 30 minutes to 1 hour, basting once or twice – a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should read 70’c . It is important to check the bird half an hour before the end of the estimated cooking time, as size, density and fat ratio can all make a difference , thereafter check every 15 minutes or so (generally I find that a 5.5kg bird needs 1hr 20 minutes in total)
  8. Cover loosely with foil and leave it to rest for 30 minutes before carving.

Redcurrant and Red Wine Sauce (Serves 6-8)

This is a lovely tangy sauce which compliments the richness of the goose meat perfectly. Redcurrants can be difficult to source during the winter months so I always make sure I have some frozen, just in case I can’t get some fresh in the week leading up to Christmas.

800ml good quality chicken stock

300ml red wine

75ml ruby port

2½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar

125g redcurrants (fresh or frozen – see note above)

2½ tablespoons redcurrant jelly

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Pour the stock, wine, port and balsamic vinegar into a saucepan and boil vigorously for about 20 minutes until it is reduced by two-thirds or thickened to a light syrupy consistency (this can be done up to three days ahead).
  2. When you are ready to serve add the redcurrants and redcurrant jelly and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the redcurrants are just beginning to burst. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Prunes in Armagnac (Serves 8)

350g dried prunes

570ml cold tea

50g granulated sugar

150ml Armagnac

  1. Soak the prunes overnight in the cold tea. Drain them and place in a saucepan, barely cover with water, add the sugar and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and sprinkle with the Armagnac, cover and leave in the refrigerator (these can be made several days ahead).

Parmesan Baked Parsnips (Serves 8)

This is a delicious way of cooking parsnips, they do not taste particularly cheesy, just very crunchy!  I found the recipe in Delia Smith’s Christmas cookbook. They can be prepared in advance and frozen – just defrost first before cooking.

1.25kg parsnips

17g plain flour (gluten free if required)

50g Parmesan cheese, grated

Sea salt and black pepper

Groundnut oil

Knob of butter

  1. First of all combine the flour with the Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
  2. Peel the parsnips, halve then quarter them, cutting out the tough woody centres. Place the parsnips in a saucepan and cover with boiling water and some salt. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil, boil for 3 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile have a large kitchen tray ready.
  4. As soon as the parsnips are ready, drain them and whilst they are still steaming drop them, a few at a time, into the flour and Parmesan mixture, ensure they get a good coating before transferring them to the tray.
  5. Place the tray with the parsnips in the fridge (or freeze) until you are ready to cook them.
  6. To roast them, place a large roasting tin with enough groundnut oil to just cover the base and the knob of butter in an oven, and preheat it to 200’c. When the oven is ready, remove the tin, place it on the hob over a low heat and carefully place the parsnips in the tin (with tongs) side by side. Baste them with the hot fat before placing in the oven for 20 minutes.
  7. Remove the tin from the oven, turn over the parsnips and drain off any surplus fat. Return to the oven and continue to bake for a further 15-20 minutes until they are crisp and golden.
  8. Serve straightaway.

Brussel Sprouts with Chestnuts, Pancetta & Marsala

(Serves 8-10)

1 kg brussel sprouts

250g diced pancetta

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

30g butter

250g vacuum packed chestnuts

60ml Marsala wine

1 large bunch of parsley

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Trim the sprouts and tip them into a large pan of salted boiling water and cook until tender but still retaining some bite – about 5 minutes.
  2. In a deep frying pan, cook the pancetta cubes in the oil until golden and crisp.
  3. Add the butter and the chestnuts, use a wooden spoon to press on the chestnuts to break them up a little. When they are warmed through, turn up the heat and add the Marsala, letting it bubble away to create a lovely, buttery syrup.
  4. Add the drained sprouts, turning well and sprinkling over half of the parsley and a good grinding of pepper and a little salt to taste.
  5. Place in a serving bowl and sprinkle over a little more parsley.

Braised Red Cabbage with Apples (Serves 10-12)

This is a family favourite, and another Delia Smith recipe from her cookbook ‘Christmas’. This is a winner of a recipe, it can be prepared and cooked beforehand and reheated successfully and, apparently, it freezes well, although I have never tried as it always gets eaten very quickly!

1kg red cabbage

450g onions, chopped small

450g cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped small

1 garlic clove, chopped very small

¼ whole nutmeg, freshly grated

¼ level teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

15g butter, cubed

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Discard the tough outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it into quarters, remove the hard stalk. Then shred the rest of the cabbage finely.
  2. In a fairly large casserole arrange a layer of shredded cabbage, season with salt and pepper, then add a layer of chopped onions and apples with a sprinkling of garlic, spices and sugar. Continue to alternate layers until everything is used up (I like to make up three layers).
  3. Pour over the red wine vinegar and finally dot the cubes of butter over the top.
  4. Cover with a lid and place in a preheated oven, 150’c, for 2-2½ hours, stirring everything around once or twice during cooking.

Perfect Roast Potatoes (Serves 4)

Everybody has their favourite roast potato recipe. I must admit that having tried various recipes, I have always returned to the one I found years ago in Delia Smith’s ‘Winter Collection Cookbook’ – you can’t beat it in my opinion. I use either olive oil or goose fat (I buy it in jars), depending on my mood. The olive oil gives a lighter, cleaner taste, whereas the goose fat has a richer flavour – both crisp up the potatoes equally well.

1.8kg Maris Piper or other floury, roasting potatoes

110g olive oil or goose fat (see note above)

Sea salt

  1. Place the fat in the roasting tin and place in the oven, 190’c, on the highest shelf so that the oil preheats whilst you prepare the potatoes.
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut into evenly sized pieces.
  3. Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with boiling water and add the salt. Simmer for 10 minutes until the outer edge of the potatoes is fluffy – test with the points of a fork.
  4. Drain the potatoes well and return to the saucepan. Place a lid over the pan and shake it vigorously. By shaking the potatoes in the saucepan in this way the cooked edges will become floury and fluffy – perfect for crisping up in the oven.
  5. Remove the roasting tin from the oven and place the potatoes in the hot fat – careful as the oil may spit! Baste them well and return to the oven for about 40 minutes until they are golden brown and crisped.
  6. Sprinkle with salt and serve straightaway – do not allow them to sit around otherwise they will loose their crunch (if they are cooked before you are ready, turn off the oven and leave them inside – but with caution, they don’t like to wait!)

Passion Fruit Parfait (Serves 6)

8 ripe large passion fruit

Sunflower oil to oil

6 large egg yolks

75g caster sugar

50ml water

2 tablespoons vodka

300ml double cream

To finish:

1 mango cut into thin slices

Seeds from 1 passion fruit

  1. Lightly oil 6 darioles or other individual moulds.
  2. Halve the passion fruit, scoop out the pulp and seeds into a sieve set over a small pan and press to extract the juice. Bring the juice to boil  and let bubble until it is reduced by half, about 60 -70 ml. set aside to cool
  3. Beat the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl using a hand held electric whisk, until they are light and fluffy. Set the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and continue to whisk until pale, stiff and at least doubled in size. Remove the bowl from the heat.
  4. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and boil vigorously until the temperature registers 110’c on a sugar thermometer. The syrup should be thick with large bubbles.
  5. Briefly whisk the egg yolk mixture again, then whilst whisking gradually trickle in the sugar syrup. Once incorporated the mixture will be thick, glossy and mousse-like. Continue to whisk for 5 minutes – or until the side of the bowl no longer feels hot.
  6. Fold in the passion fruit purée and the vodka. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and place in the fridge for an hour.
  7. Whip the cream until softly peaking, then carefully fold into the passion fruit mixture. Spoon into the prepared moulds and set on a tray. Freeze for 2-3 hours until firm.
  8. To turn out each parfait, dip into a bowl of hot water for a second or two, invert the mould onto a plate, give it a light shake to release the parfait. Top each parfait with a folded mango slice and a few passion fruit seeds to serve.