What I’m going to grow in 2015


I had a pretty successful growing year last year, but made a few mistakes with what I grew. My theme for 2014 was ‘grow stuff which is expensive in the shops’, which was a nice idea on paper.

For the sixth year running, I used an entire raised bed (50% of my growing space) to attempt pumpkins, which (for the sixth year running) grew to the size of an egg then withered away. I love pumpkins, but 2014 confirmed that we’ll never be mother and child. As a result of this, I lost an enormous amount of growing space, given that each pumpkin takes up a minimum of 1m squared.

I grew globe artichokes, which looked magnificent and tasted immense, but they look a tremendous amount of effort, for a very small return (I grew four).

Celeriac grew, and survived winter, but the resulting vegetables were tiny. This was a big shame. I did all I could for those boys, but they just didn’t deliver.

I am 99.9% sure that I am at fault for these failures, due to not watering enough/watering too much/not feeding enough/not feeding appropriately etc etc. Therefore, as the sort of gardener who stubbornly prefers to experiment, wing it and find my own way, I’ve absolutely no right to complain. I have to take what comes.

2015 has been officially named the year of frugality in our house. We’re having an extension built and are planning a trip to New York, so we’re squirrelling away, staying in and basically being incredibly boring for the next six months. With this in mind, I’ve decided that growing this year will be all about going back to basics. I’m going to grow the stuff we need and use on a daily basis. I’m going to sow monthly, to ensure an ongoing supplies of the staples. I’m going to grow in bulk, store things away in my shed and hope the mice don’t catch wind of my secret supplies.

One of the raised beds is going to be my salad bed – full of a readily replenished supply of radishes, lettuces, pakchoi and onions. In pots I’m going to have potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. In the other bed, I’m going to for hardy staples which can hack the colder months and keep us supplied through winter – kale, chard, leeks, broad beans and beets. This year I’m going to beat the squirrels to the hazelnuts on our hazel tree, freeze the surplus raspberries instead of leaving them to wither on the plant, and dry as many of the herbs as I can. All sounds very optimistic doesn’t it? I’m looking forward to blogging about how it all pans out.

Ready and waiting

Primed with compost and ready for good times ahead.

Easy Decadence: Gooey, spicy, orangey, chocolate shots

noname (10)

These super naughty, super rich shots of chocolate are the sort of thing I’d quickly knock up on a Monday morning before work. In the deepest, darkest drudgery of the monthly budgets meeting, you can feel safe in the knowledge that these decadent little beasts are waiting for you in the fridge when you get home.

They’re also ideal whipped up for a dinner party as an intense dessert; perfect accompanied by steaming espressos.

They’re smokey, sweet, spicy and rich, all rolled into one. They have very few ingredients and take about 15 minutes to make.

If you’re not sold by now, I’m not sure what more I can do.


(makes 8 shots)

300ml pot of single cream
2 x 100g bars of Co-operative Truly Irresistible Ghanaian dark chocolate with spices and orange oil
2 egg yolks
Juice and zest of 1/2 an orange
1/3 a chilli, deseeded and finely chopped


– Pour the entire contents of the single cream into a pan, add the finely chopped chilli and 3/4 of the orange zest
– On a medium heat, bring the cream to a gentle boil
– While the cream is heating, bash up the bars of chocolate with a rolling pin
– As soon as the cream reached the boil, remove from the heat and add in the bashed up chocolate. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined
– When the mixture has turned rich and velvety, mix in the egg yolks
– Add the orange juice and stir until the slick of orange has mixed fully with the chocolate
– Pour into espresso cups or similar
– Refrigerate until set (usually around half an hour) and decorate with the remaining orange zest
– Eat slowly with a teaspoon.


Written for the Co-operative Central England’s Easy Eating Campaign: http://centralengland.coop

Grew it, ate too much of it, need to lose it. Part two.

So, it goes without saying that I like food. But what may not be apparent is that I have a humungous appetite – always have done, always will.

Because of this love of massive portions, I’ve always struggled with my weight, which yoyos with the seasons. I’ve never been a particularly unhealthy eater, I just love to eat it ALL. Twice. With thirds.

I’ve tried Weight Watchers (6 times) and have always been successful. But in the end, I would hijack the whole affair because of the small portions. Seeing the reality of 35g of muesli and realising that would be all I’d eat before lunch, would make my heart sob. I hated measuring and recording stuff. I hated counting a packet of Quavers as something substantial and real, instead of the crispy cheese-air which they really are. I hated seeing a jacket potato as a treat.

I found on Weight Watchers I would always end up eating convenience foods, as the points were already worked out for me. Cooking was an absolute pain: counting the oil, weighing the meat, weighing the pasta, measuring the sauce out, holding off the cheese because you’ve used your points on a banana…. too much. Not fun. Not me. So, 6 times, I stopped.

Then came the 5:2 – perfect! I found the fasting fine, but again, counting the calories was so much easier if Mr Sainsbury had already done it for me. And so I ended up on convenience food again: more expensive, no cooking fun, less nutrition.

And my 5 days, well, they were awesome! I could eat it all! Fridays were cheese and biscuits night, Saturdays were pizza and wine night, Sundays were cheese and biscuits night, Monday was cheese and biscuits night…

Miraculously I did lose weight on the 5:2, but my 5 days off bordered on the obscene. It wasn’t right and it had to stop.

About three weeks ago a friend of mine introduced me to Slimming World. All I knew about it was from my mother in law: it was a quid cheaper than Weight Watchers and you ate a lot of Muller Lights. I decided to go along and see what it was all about.

As a newbie, our leader had to explain how it worked. She’d started with Slimming World 14 years previously and you could tell she was still in awe of the whole process. After she’d explained it to me, I could see why. In a nutshell, you can eat the following:

  • unlimited veg (including peas and sweetcorn – if you’ve done Weight Watchers, you’ll know this is exciting)
  • unlimited fruit
  • unlimited lean meat (including bacon, so long as you trim off the fat)
  • unlimited 0% fat yoghurt
  • unlimited POTATOES
  • unlimited PASTA
  • unlimited grains and lentils
  • unlimited low fat dressings

and probably a few other things I have forgotten. But it’s all good, right?

And then, you get two healthy extras per day. You can choose from things like:

  • a couple of slices of wholemeal bread
  • 35g of oats
  • a hunk of cheese
  • 250ml of milk

Then you’re allowed up to 15 ‘syns’ a day which you can use on things like oil, butter, wine etc. These are the only things you have to count.

There’s loads more to it, but essentially, it’s good stuff.

I went into my first week not having a clue how it would go, but I found it incredibly easy. I was never hungry and I felt very liberated by the food I could make and enjoy. In the first week, for breakfast I had:

– yogurt, berries and oats

– eggs and soldiers


For dinner:

– spaghetti bolognese

– homemade burgers

– chargrilled chicken, aioli and wedges (below)


And I could eat as much as I liked of all of them, as all the ingredients were free.

For lunch I had loads of filling salads covered in Waitrose low fat vinaigrette (again, all free). I’ve had:

– chicken, pea and chickpea

– feta, beetoot and lentil

– tuna and mixed bean (below)


Snacks have been limited, as I honestly haven’t been that hungry between meals.

First week weigh in, I lost 6.5 pounds!

I haven’t had my second weigh-in yet, but I’m feeling OK about it. This is better than the feeling I used to have during other diets, which was a constantly rumbling stomach and a gnawing, unnecessary sense of guilt.

I’ve found Slimming World both liberating and exciting, mainly because I have a lot of freedom to play around with recipes. I can’t wait to share them and find out other people’s hints and tips.






it’s ok, you can die happy now.

Nigel Slater. Nigey, Nigey, Nige. Nige-burger. Nige to see you, to see you Nige. King of Nigels.

I’m a big fan of Nigel Slater, marmite of the celebrity chef world. In case you were wondering.

Watching him on TV and reading his books, I slip into some sort of horizontal trance, swept along on a fluffy cloud of soft, plump words and delicate, clean dishes.

Love him or loathe him, he’s not all single ingredient recipes and stingy portions. Oh no. I decided to make his infamous chicken pie the other day, as I realised I had all of the ingredients to hand and I was in need of some emergency stodge.

This pie is great for two reasons – firstly: shop bought pastry. Happy days. Never going to argue with that. Secondly, you poach the chicken before putting it in the pie, which believe me, is a wonderful thing. It melts under the slightest pressure in your mouth, which gives you an untold glow. If you’ve given in and committed to eating some pie, you may as well go the whole hog and make it eating it as slovenly as possible too.

Please, please make this pie. It’s super cheap, super easy and the ingredients are more than likely in your house. Just go and do it please.

Here’s the recipe:


Battening Down the Hatches


It’s now dark before I leave work, which means it’s late in the year, which means it’s time to hibernate.

I’m pretty good at autumn and even better at winter. Thick jumpers, clompy boots, hiding behind scarves, pumpkins, cinnamon, cloves, everything in a pot, everything piping hot. GOOD GOD, I’m in heaven right now.

I started to embrace winter when I realised that dark evenings were making me gloomy. I knew I had to start making the evenings productive. I needed to see staying indoors as a good opportunity to get stuff in order and do something creative, as opposed to feeling constrained and claustrophobic (which I used to).

A few winters ago I used the time to bake. A lot. Every night I’d be whipping up puddings, breads and cakes, to the point where I ran out of people to feed. Last year I bought a slow cooker, so I spent every evening chopping things into tiny pieces to put in the cooker the next morning. This year, I’m learning how to make chutneys, jams and homemade booze. I have no experience at all in this department, but I’m not letting that put me off. I’ve asked for a jam pan for Christmas and I’ve bought some sterilising tablets for my jars and bottles, so it’s getting serious.

Sloe news day

I’ve recently liberated a cluttered cupboard, which I plan to fill with things I’ve made for the future. At the moment I have some sloe gin and rosehip vodka in there, which have been steeping for about 6 weeks following an awesome forage I went on in the North York Moors with my mum. We spent the morning poking about in prickly hedgerows, clambering up banks and meditatively plucking berries from their stems. We were lucky enough to come across the holy grail of foraging – a laden sloe bush. Bloody awesome.


Fruits of our labour

I think the forage was the beginning of my seasonal fascination with squirrelling away food for the future. I love the idea of picking fresh things to preserve and store away for brighter times. I just hope I do them justice.

Next week I’m going to have a go at making elderberry wine. The berries are currently in my freezer, something which has already divided opinion. One person has told it was the worst thing I could have done, another person has said its the best. I’ve never been one to worry about strict rules and the way I see it, it may work, it may not. I’m just excited to try it.

Stodgefest 2013


So, admittedly, it has been a while. There have been a myriad of reasons for this, but hey, we’re not here to make excuses, we’re here to talk about food and growing stuff.

By way of reintroduction, I’m keeping today short and sweet. And so I thought it was time I talked a bit about my garden.

My garden is not perfect and I’m sure I do lots of stuff incorrectly, but it is my gym, my 24 hour therapist and my best creative outlet. It’s also my favourite room of the house. Since we moved here 18 months ago, I haven’t painted one wall or put up one curtain. Instead, all my energy has gone into creating and landscaping my very own little paradise. It has gone from a neglected. rubble filled wasteland to somewhere pleasant to sit, with some raised beds and some fairly even grass.

Thanks to a crap year last year and amazing weather this year, summer has been exceptional for growing things. And I am still reaping the benefits, even though winter is knocking. Here’s a quick snapshot of my autumn garden:

ImageIncredible borlotti beans. I’ve made some cracking, fresh, summery stews with these fellers (both in the pod and out of the pod), and still have loads to go.

ImageThanks to a whole winter of cutting back brambles last year I’ve been rewarded with a freezer drawer full of blackberries.

ImageSome rosy red, juicy apples are now in my fruit bowl and chopped up in bags in the freezer (with lemon to stop them browning).

In addition, I am also struggling to grow pumpkins, for the 5th year running. I’ve never got past the flower stage. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong (I’ve fed them regularly, they each have 1m square of soil) – any pointers would be very welcome.

So, with autumnal veg, come autumnal eats. As of this weekend, the slow cooker has been promoted from under the sink to the the counter top, I’ve stocked up on flour for cakes, crumbles and puddings, the freezer is crammed with stock, summer greens and berries. Stodgefest 2013: I’m ready for you, the garden’s ready for you. I can’t wait.


Some may call it blessing, others may call it a curse. But the truth is, my preferred way of living is a all-consuming balancing act between loving spontaneity and chaos, yet being an absolute stickler for the rules. I’m not sure where the lines are – and they constantly shift – but right now, I’m in a rules place. I’m enjoying stability, order, structure and routine. I’m loving the fact that I start work at 9am, have a tea break at 11, lunch at 12, and dead on 5, I leave. I am comforted by the knowledge that I have enough bread to last me until Thursday, when like clockwork, I will have some more delivered. The fact that my wardrobe is currently orderly is giving me inner peace.

In around a month’s time, there’s a chance that my life may be in utter chaos. I’ll be craving the life of a freelancer, out of bread and wading through a heavy sea of discarded garments in my bedroom. I don’t know when the tipping point will come (or indeed whether it will come) but when it does, I’ll be ready and waiting.

So, as I’m calm and collected and organised, this week I’ve decided to go with the grid.

I first saw the grid at my friend Hannah’s house (she must also take the credit for the name). You’ll have seen them too. The grid was pinned to a corkboard in her kitchen. An elegantly formatted word document, all clean lines and crisp edges. It was a table of stability and order; a table of comfort; a table which said ‘It’s cool. I’ve got this shit covered’. It was a table which stopped me in my tracks and made me think about the world in a different way. It made me reassess. It made me feel warm. It was the grid.

The grid is a weekly plan of one’s food, based on the contents of one’s fridge, freezer and cupboards. It is organisation and economy. It’s a challenge to one’s rebellious nature. It’s mother’s comforting hand on your arm. It knows what’s best for you. Gently, it whispers ‘it’s OK’.

The grid also has practical uses. By planning your food ahead you save time and money. It’s an undeniable fact. Secondly, you waste less. By taking stock on a Sunday of all of your chattels, you can make sure that the old stuff gets used first. You can check use by dates and sniff suspicious jars. If you need extra ingredients, the grid will ensure that you can make shopping lists which say things on them like ‘thyme’ or ‘carrots’, as opposed to ‘dinner for Thursday’ or ‘stuff to make cake’.

As I am currently all about order and organisation (and I have a really full fridge of veg which I need to use up. And I’m skint), I’m ready to take on the grid this week. It’s actually not the best week to be doing it, as we’re away from Thursday evening to Monday (this trip away is a blog post in itself – all will be revealed). However, I’m going to try very very hard to stick to this little feller. And if I do, I’ll be on top of the blimmin’ world.

THE GRID (of a fashion)

THE GRID (of a fashion)

Buffet dreams, the ultimate potato salad and a borderline illegal trifle.


If you’ve not yet read my post ‘Homage to the Buffet’, then please do. It’ll put all of the below into perspective and make this post look a lot less like a big long list, which is essentially what it is.

SO, on Boxing Day, as I’m sure you’re very aware, we had family over and I created a buffet. It wasn’t a buffet in the traditional sense, as we sat around the table (despite not really having enough chairs) and there wasn’t a prawn ring in sight. However, I still maintain that it was a buffet, as I made everything in advance and it was a ‘help-yourselves-while-I-drink-wine’ kind of affair.

Here are the things we had:

  • My ultimate potato salad. My niece (who always said she didn’t like potato salad) said she loved it. Anyone who says they don’t like potato salad, will love this version. Until now, the recipe has been a closely guarded secret, locked in a safe, flanked by 24 hour security. However, in the spirit of Christmas, I have decided to share it with the world. The recipe is below.
  • Cranberry and stilton bread. A Paul Hollywood recipe, which I have tweaked ever so  slightly. Recipe below.
  • Chorizo and sunblushed tomato bread (in the photo above). Same recipe as the cranberry and sitlton, just without cranberry and stilton. It’s with chorizo and sunblushed tomatoes instead. No cranberries. No stilton. Just chorizo and sunblushed tomatoes. I’m not sure I’m making myself clear here.
  • Game pie. Definitely NOT made. I don’t think I could handle seeing what actually goes into one of these. They taste incredible though. We got ours from the ever-miraculous Abel and Cole. Organic, amazing quality meat and not too much jelly. Lip smacking served with lots of tangy pickle.
  • Chicken liver and brandy pateAnother Abel and Cole treat. This most certainly isn’t everyday food. Unless you’re actually aiming for gout.
  • Watercress, blood orange and pomegranate salad. I don’t really need to give you the recipe for this, do I? It is all three of these ingredients, tossed in a bowl. The juices of the fruit create their own dressing. It’s an amazing, refreshing, Christmassy combination which goes with anything. My hero Nigel Slater is fully responsible for this. I love you, Nigel. No, really. I do. Nigel.
  • Scotch Eggs. I made these from scratch and I am never going back! They were really pleasurable to create and an absolute doddle. They didn’t last long enough for me to even get a photo, however this is a link to the incredibly helpful article I found, which contains some lovely scotch egg pictures, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. The recipe at the bottom is the exact one I used. And the article contains the word ‘Pulchritudinous’. Do you need much more? If you don’t have the time or inclination to read it, instead, please remember this ancient housewife’s saying: ‘If you’re to be making scotch eggs three, use panko breadcrumbs: crunchy they shall be’. Please use panko breadcrumbs kids. They’ll permanently change the way you view and cook fried, crumbed food. They’re easy to get and cheap as well, I got mine from Sainsburys (see ye here). They’re amazing.
  • Mince pies. Obvs. We had tons left, so last night I invented mince pie trifle. Yesterday morning, I woke up knowing nothing of the existence of mince pie trifle. Yesterday night, I went to bed, hammered, on a raging sugar come down, knowing quite a bit about the existence of mince pie trifle. It’s only for the brave. Recipe (if you can call it that), below.
  • Chocolate and Chestnut Cake. Sort-of seasonal, rich, deep, sensual, filthy, FILTHY, cake. Recipe and sexy photo here.

Here are the things we were meant to have, but didn’t:

  • Christmas coleslaw – burnt. Every year I make this with the left over spiced red cabbage from Christmas dinner. It’s so simple: red cabbage, grated carrot, grated onion, full fat mayonnaise. That is it. It’s incredible with turkey and lashings of butter on fluffy white bread. The only rule is to squeeze the carrots one you’ve grated them. Squeeze, y’hear? If you don’t, you get watery coleslaw. This isn’t a crime, it just makes your bread soggy. Soggy bread makes me think of duck ponds and bird tables in winter. Not very appetising. So, yeah, I burnt it. It looked great before it went in the oven (see here if you’re on Twitter), but the recipe I followed (half way down this page) meant the cabbage was quite dry and as such, all the juices very quickly disappeared. I’m free-styling next year.
  • Homemade piccalilli – went manky. Great recipe, courtesy of my other TV cook boyfriend, Hugh Fearnley Whttingstall. However, something went terribly wrong with the pickling process. I definitely sterilised my jars and they were the right sort of jars, but I opened one on Christmas morning and the sights and smells that confronted me were what could only be described as Jurassic, sulphuric swamp. And only a few days previously I had proudly given some to my Mum (a chutney/jam master) for Christmas. I then had to call her and tell her in no uncertain terms not to eat it, as I was worried it might make her very, very ill. Merry Christmas, Mum. Love you.
  • Paul Hollywood 8 strand plait – too ambitious. I’m a big fan of Paul. He’s probably my third TV food boyfriend after Nige and Hugh. However, I started on the sloe gin quite early on Boxing day, and the idea of creating one of his plaits quickly became unpalatable. I will do it one day though. If you’ve not seen this plait before, watch this. You’ll see why gin and 8 strand plait do not make good bedfellows.


So that’s what I did, here’s how I did it:

Ultimate Potato Salad.

Everyone has their own method of making potato salad. This one’s mine, passed to me by my good friend Louise. In my opinion, these are the key ingredients:

  • Waxy, clean potatoes. Chopped into 3cm squared chunks.
  • Full fat mayonnaise. We’re doing this properly. Full fat is essential.
  • Full fat greek yoghurt. As above.
  • Juice from a jar of pickled onions. This is the secret ingredient.
  • Diced red onion.
  • Chopped fresh dill.
  • Chopped fresh parsley.

Boil the potatoes for around 10 minutes in salted water (until a fork goes right through one with very little pressure). After draining them leave them in the colander over the sink to dry out (my mum taught me that). Dry, fluffy potatoes absorb more of the juicy stuff.

While they’re cooling, start on the sauce in a separate bowl. Everyone has different tastes, but I start with two tablespoons of mayonnaise, one tablespoon of yoghurt and half a tablespoon of pickle juice. I then add the diced onion. The key is to keep tasting, adding and adjusting until you get the right flavour, quantity and consistency for you. I think the perfect consistency for potato salad sauce is of runny yoghurt.

As soon as the potatoes are cool, add the sauce. Then stir through a generous handful of each of the herbs. You can never have too many in my opinion.

BOOM! Ultimate potato sald. Gawjus.

Cranberry and Stilton Bread.

(Taken from Paul Hollywood’s book ‘How to Bake’ – available now)

This might look and sound like hard work, but it’s foolproof and you’ll be beaming with delight once you’ve made it. You won’t believe you’ve made it, it’s that good. You can leave it plain as an easy-to-make everyday loaf, or you can add you own mix of ingredients. As the bread is quite robust it can withstand lots of different ingredients. In the future, i’d like to try it with:

  • Coriander and green olives
  • Maple roasted pecans
  • Cheddar and ham
  • Pepperoni and onion

The only thing I would say about this bread is that that it’s a little too salty for my taste, however I don’t use salt much, so I notice it very readily in recipes. I haven’t tried it with less salt yet, I’m a bit too scared as I know it’ll affect the texture and quality of the bread. I think I just to man up on this one.


(Makes 1 loaf)

  • 500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 10g salt
  • 10g instant yeast
  • 30g unsalted butter, softened
  • 320ml cool water
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 150g Stilton, crumbled

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the butter and three-quarters of the water and turn the mixture round with your fingers. Continue to add the remaining water, a little at a time, until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more – you want dough that is soft, but not soggy. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until the mixture forms a rough dough.

Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead. Keep kneading for 5-10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft, smooth skin.

When your dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until at least doubled in size – at least 1 hour, but it’s fine to leave it for 2 or even 3 hours.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment or silicone paper.

Tip your dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Without knocking it back, flatten it out with your hands, then roll out using a rolling pin into a rectangle, about 35 x 25cm. Turn the dough 90 degrees if necessary, so you have a long edge facing you. Sprinkle the cranberries and Stilton on top as evenly as you can. Roll the dough up from the closest edge into a sausage. Press along the seam to seal it. Coil the sausage into a spiral and put it on the prepared baking tray.

Put the tray inside a clean plastic bag and leave to prove for 1 hour, or until the dough is at least doubled in size and springs back quickly if you prod it lightly with your finger. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 220C and put a roasting tray in the bottom to heat up.

When the dough is risen and feels light to the touch, fill the roasting tray with hot water and put the bread in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Cool on a wire rack.

Mince Pie Trifle.

Mince Pie Trifle - the proud owner of my dignity.

Mince Pie Trifle – the proud owner of my dignity.

Vile, evil, mistress. I can’t even give you the words to explain how this came to be. As such, I’m doing the recipe in the form of a filthy, sordid photo diary. You’re clever people. You can work out what’s going on without too much detail.

I've got loads of completely mismatched ingredients and no dessert planned for this evening. What can fill this void? I know, trifle!

I’ve got loads of completely mismatched ingredients and no dessert planned for this evening. What can fill this void? I know, trifle!

In go the mince pies. Into the wine glasses. Their natural environment.

In go the mince pies. Into the wine glasses. Their natural environment.

Yep, just adding the brandy now. In it goes!

Yep, just adding the brandy now. In it goes!

Full fat brandy custard on top. Dum-de-dum.

Full fat brandy custard on top. Dum-de-dum.

I need some health! You manky clementines will do!

I need some health! You manky clementines will do!

Well hello there! What's your name?

Well, hello there! What’s your name? Have you met my friend, mince pie trifle?

Cream and trifle united. Brandy and cointreau fumes cause me to knock over trifle whilst grating chocolate on top. Ah, who cares, it's Chrishtmash!

Cream and trifle united. Brandy and cointreau fumes cause me to knock over trifle whilst grating chocolate on top. Ah, who cares, it’s Chrishtmash!

And that’s where it all went downhill. I have to say, it was bloody lovely. But I’m not hurrying back there. I think it’ll be a yearly treat. An antidote to Christmas come-down.

Right, anyway, I’m off. I’m still in my pyjamas and it’s half 6 at night.  I did tell you the mince pie trifle stole my dignity, didn’t I?

Homage to… the buffet.

Who can resist the unmistakable flavours of mince pie and salsa?

Who can resist the unmistakable flavours of mince pie and salsa?

This year, we had family over on Boxing Day for lunch. It’s always hard to know what to make for people the day after Christmas Day, as they’re either still bulging and nauseous from the previous day’s feasting, or their bodies have become accustomed to seasonal gluttony and as such, they require a triple portion of everything. I took the sensible option: buffet.

It was a fancy buffet and I did quite a lot of cooking and faffing for it. I’ll write about what exactly I made tomorrow. But before then, I thought I would do my first ‘homage to…’. There are lots of things in the world of food that we take for granted/ignore/under analyse. And I would like to highlight and celebrate those things. The buffet is to be the first of these homages. Undervalued yet overused, I give you: the buffet.

Who doesn’t like a buffet? The answer is no-one. No-one doesn’t like a buffet, which is a double negative. That means it’s a positive. That means EVERYONE likes a buffet. I think the true beauty of buffets lies in that nearly all conventional eating rules are out of the window.

They’re great for the host (if there is one)

If you’re hosting a buffet, you can spend time being a host, rather than sweating by the cooker. You can do all your prep well in advance and once it is laid out, your work is pretty much done.

The only time when this isn’t applicable is when you have collaborative workplace buffets, which for some reason are called ‘fuddles’ where I live. You know the kind of thing: it’s Christmas/Jim from IT’s birthday/Sarah’s last day before she goes on maternity… and so someone organised has asked everyone to bring something in for the buffet. More often than not, these buffets consist of;

  • 6 GIANT tupperware bowls of pasta salad, which clearly took people hours to prepare, but no-one even makes a dent in. They fester, untouched, for the rest of the week until the cleaner gets frustrated and bins the lot. The bowls then mysteriously go missing and Jane from reception (whose bowl was one of the casualties) tells Sue from accounts that making the pasta salad was a waste of bloody time and next time she’s bringing crisps, as that’s all that Steve brought and everyone seemed to appreciate them. The bowls turn up 6 months later behind a filing cabinet. Mark from HR is blamed.
  • Lots of bags of crisps, like the ones Steve brought. Always go down well. Usually purchased a petrol station in state of mild panic at 8:55am.
  • Something in a small, square tupperware that looks like couscous, which Anna from reception brought in. No-one is sure if it’s something especially for her (as she’s gluten intolerant) or whether it’s for the collective. Mark from HR decides to try some and declares that it’s ‘actually really nice’, and so everyone digs in. Anna turns up late to the party; it was for her. Anna doesn’t eat and has to go to Pret a Manger at 2pm to buy something, complaining as she leaves of feeling faint from hunger. Mark from HR is blamed. Irene the admin says that he should have offered to pay for her replacement lunch. Mark says Anna should have done more to keep it separate. Jane from reception blames Sue from accounts for mixing it in with all the rest of the food. Sue says Anna should have told her it was special. The incident is brought up on a 6 monthly basis for the next 4 years. Everyone has an opinion (I’m on Mark’s side – he always gets blamed for things).
  • A tiny victoria sponge from the co-op, 79p. No-one knows who brought it, but everyone judges them. It still gets eaten.

There is a fascinating etiquette to it all

Everyone knows that there is always someone keeping covert tabs on how many times you’ve gone to the table.  This is usually your great auntie or Irene the admin. Your performance will be commended (‘so THAT’s how she keeps her figure’) or criticised (‘did you SEE how many plates of food she had?’) in private, later that afternoon. You will never know how you fared. You can respond in one of two ways to this:

1) Take one triangle of sandwich and three grapes, whilst congratulating the creator of the buffet on ‘an amazing spread’. If you’re British, you are more likely to be this person. By 3 o’clock, you’re shoving Dairy Milks into any orifice which will take them.

2) On your seventh proud stride to the table, whilst coming up on your sugar induced high, congratulate the the creator of the buffet: ‘Well, I won’t be needing any dinner this evening! I LOVE this potato salad – how did you make it? Oh, I couldn’t possibly… well, if there’s some going spare? I’d LOVE to take the rest home! Thank you SO much!’

Both of these attitudes seem to stem from the very public nature of buffets and our subsequent self-awareness. You’re on display; your eating habits are being laid bare.  Whether or not you care about what people think, determines whether or not you pass the test.

Will you pass? What actually IS the test? And why does Irene the admin get to be judge, jury and executioner?

10 years ago I taught abroad in Vanuatu, South Pacific, which has since been voted the happiest country on earth (I don’t know how this was judged, but it is what it is). One weekend, I went on a day trip with some of my students. I’d brought along a picnic, part of which was a very esteemed and rare bag of crisps that I’d brought with me from Australia. With only having two shops on the island and crisps being prohibitively expensive (£5 for a large bag – I kid you not), both myself and the children were VERY excited by the crisps. At lunch, I opened the bag and gave it to one of the students, asking him to pass it on to the others when he’d taken some. He took the bag from me, dug both his hands in, took out about 9/10ths of the bag and plonked the crisps on his lap, beaming with delight. He then passed the bag on to the next kid, who emptied the rest of the bag onto his lap. The second kid then announced to the rest of the class that there were no more crisps left. To my astonishment, the rest of the students just shrugged their shoulders and carried on eating what they had, despite the fact that only 5 minutes previously we had all been excitedly discussing the impending treat. There was a little pause and then everyone burst into screaming laughter and we were rolling around on the floor in hysterics for the next 10 minutes. Happiest place on earth, see?  This isn’t meant to be some sort of fable… but the incident really highlighted to me just how many conventions and hang ups we have about food in the West. The attitude of the first kid was ‘nice one, crisps!’ and he took as many as he could. The other kids didn’t even bat an eyelid, instead just eating what they had. Not for one minute did they feel any sense of injustice. No-one cared! It was brilliant!

If the same thing had happened here in the UK, internal and external outrage would swell the room. In food sharing situations we should apparently be reserved, diplomatic, humble. We absorb these subconscious ways of working from a very young age, and I find them absolutely fascinating. Buffets are heaving with them – it’s great to just sit back and watch the psychology textbooks write themselves.

You can mix things in ungodly ways

One of my favourite things about buffets… it is perfectly normal to have a pork pie and some chicken satay on a plate together. Does it mean they complement one another? No, of course not, but the choice is in your hands. You are the master of your own buffet-based destiny. It’s up to you to create your own taste combinations and sensations. The provider of the buffet simply presents the options.

I’m not a massive fan of fusion food, but sometimes, just sometimes, magic can happen at buffets. Here are some of my favourite flavour combos that you’ll only ever encounter at a buffet:

  • Mango chutney and (insert anything you wish here). Buffets have taught me that the indestructible flavour of mango chutney can pretty much withstand anything. It’s so strong, that you could spread it on a bird’s eye chilli and have no reaction whatsoever. Awful buffet with bland, soggy, quiche lorraines? Look for the mango chutney and spread it over everything you’ve got. It’ll obliterate the most offensive of flavours. If I come to your buffet and there’s mango chutney all over my plate, I’m sorry, but I’m in gastronomic pain.
  • Milk chocolate in any form, followed by salt and vinegar Kettle Chips (obtained when you thought you were full and had had your final mini chocolate brownie, but it turns out you weren’t and went up for fourths). It’s wrong, it shouldn’t work, but it really does. Sugar meets salt. Sugar meets grease. Arteries meet saturated fat.
  • Salted peanuts and sour cream dip. You’re perched on the arm of the sofa, your side plate at a diagonal on your lap. Your paper hat slips over your eyes, forming a limp, hazy shield to the frivolities. You glance downwards forlornly. Eight peanuts roll slowly across your plate and rest in a glut of sour cream dip. In a normal world, nuts and cream shouldn’t generally mix in a savoury sense. In buffet land, provided you have a pringle to scoop it all up with, it actually works. So much so, that you’ll actively seek the pairing when you go up for seconds.

Leftover Food

Everyone (that’s everyone, not no-one) knows that two-day-old buffet food is king. If you play it right, you’ll be dining on the remnants for days to come. Baked ham will become the basis of lunchtime sandwiches that you actually look forward to. A late night hunger-run to the fridge will reward you with a quarter of pork pie, smothered with tangy pickle. A pinch of mildly stale, yet still salty crisps will comfort you, as you wait for the kettle to boil. Dinner the following evening will be half a scotch egg, some stilton on hovis crackers and a spoonful of potato salad. Again, defying conventions. Continuing the party.

If you like food, being at home in the wake of a buffet is akin to nirvana.

Pickled Onions

When else do you eat them? And when you do eat them, how happy do you feel? Very, that’s what. I feel a future homage coming on…


And this was my homage to the humble buffet. We’ve all been there, as both host and guest. We’ve all loved them, we’ve all despised them. They never age, they never  evolve. A glistening reflection of society and what it is to be a human, I give you: the buffet.

There will be things I have overlooked. Of course there will. Buffets mean lots of different things to lots of different people. I’d love to hear about your favourite things to do with buffets. Any funny stories? Or do you despise them? Tell me why!

It’s cheeeeeesssseeeemaaaaaaaaaaas!

Is this love?
Is this love?

**** Caution: this blog post contains small elements of Scrooginess and me being a bit of a Scrooge. It doesn’t last though. ****

Well, despite the fact that it isn’t actually very cold outside and I’ve not yet watched Elf, it’s crept up on us, once again.

I always spend a few days in the build up to Christmas over-analysing it, trying to understand what it’s all about. Why do I have to do it? And how did all the component parts actually come together? What does a fir tee have to do with a rich fruit pudding and why do we need them in order to celebrate the birth of a man who apparently wasn’t even born in December? I always tie myself in knots about it. This utter ridiculousness has afflicted me from quite a young age, as I was brought up to question everything. Then last year my husband said something along the lines of; ‘just chill out and enjoy it, it’s a tradition. Like giving presents on someone’s birthday or toasting people’s health. No-one knows exactly why we do these things, we just do them because they’re nice things to do.’ And he was right. SO, as from last year, I chilled out. I dropped the Scrooge act and instead begun a one-woman mission to usurp Mrs Claus as Queen of Christmas. This year, I actually bought a tree. It’s small, but I have one and it’s lovely. I am ABSOLUTELY FINE with the fact that I have a living tree covered in plastic trinkets in my sitting room for no reason other than ‘that’s what you do in December.’ I’m fine with it. Totally. Trees in the living room. It’s all good. It’s the new me. I LOVE CHRISTMAS.

I love the cinnamon, the collective glow and the wooly scarves. I love the guilt free gin and tonics at 12pm. I love using ‘but it’s Christmas!’ as a quasi-legitimate excuse for my (year-round) inability to say ‘no’ to ANYTHING. But, rather predictably, the most important and loved part of Christmas in our home, is food.

This year, with the exception of Christmas Day, we’ll be holing up in our house until January 2nd. I have stocked up accordingly. We’re all set. Food will dictate our days. New meals will be invented, such as ‘third lunch’ and ‘pre-breakfast’. Our daily pattern of movement will be this: bedroom, kitchen, living room, kitchen, living room, kitchen, living room, kitchen, living room, bedroom. This will repeat for 11 days. And then we’ll go back to work; fatter, no wiser, but bloody happy. And fatter. And less wise. And most likely with breathing difficulties (me) or gout (husband.)

To me, the most important thing about Christmas food is cheese. That’s why I called this post ‘It’s Cheesemas’, but I put lots of extra ‘e’s’ and ‘a’s’ in it, so it sounded like Noddy Holder was shouting it at you. It was meant to be funny. Won’t be good for the SEO.

Yes. Cheese. It’s important to me. Every 6 months or so, me and my husband moot the idea of moving abroad for a few years, while we’re still childless and selfish. But then we always shudder to a halt at the inevitable show stopper: ‘what about the cheese?’ Could we find a rich, tangy, wincingly sour cheddar in Jakarta? If I had only $5 and 20 minutes, could I find goats cheese in Denver? We will never move. We are so, so lucky to live in a part of the world where excellent cheese is cheap and freely available. And as such, it pretty much rules my life.

As with many things foodie, there is some sort of pointless etiquette one is supposed to follow when it comes to having a cheeseboard. I recall some of the rules:

  • No more than 5 cheeses
  • Only include one blue
  • Don’t cut the ends off the cheese

There are other rules as well, but they’re not important. The only thing important right now is that we have the cheese and that no-one can take it from us. We only do this once a year, and so we should do it properly.

Here’s our cheeseboard:

  • Montgomery cheddar (I still haven’t tried this, but several people have recommended it)
  • Wensleydale with cranberries (it’s illegal to live in Yorkshire and not have this in your Christmas fridge. ILLEGAL. You still have time.)
  • Roule (wrong, wrong, wrong. But right, right, right. Spread on Hovis crackers. Jesus.)
  • Taleggio (a bit of Mediterranean sunshine from the amazing Abel and Cole)
  • Yorkshire Blue and Harrogate Blue (from the miraculous and fabulously local Shepherd’s Purse dairy. Two of the greatest blue cheeses on earth.)
  • Cotswold herb brie (another Abel and Cole treat. Looking forward to this on its own with some fresh tomato and watercress.)
  • Stilton (did I mention it’s Christmas? This one’s a no-brainer.)

These cheeses shall sustain us through the days ahead. There will be crackers, there will be salads, there will be tarts (of the puff pastry, not saucy lady variety.) I’ll tweet or blog about some of the upcoming cheesey combinations, if it lasts long enough. When there is lots of cheese in the house, I am prone to doing late night Nigella-runs to the fridge. I’ll observe NO etiquette, as I snap off and inhale corners of crumbly stilton. I can be there for up to 10 minutes, leaning against the humming fridge door, moaning with dairy-induced delight. It’s once a year. It’s how it should be.

I will doubtless talk more about cheese in the coming weeks. However, tomorrow, I’m having a bake and booze fest. We’re having family over on Boxing Day and so I’m making:

  • Stilton and cranberry bread
  • Chorizo and sunblushed tomato bread
  • Chestnut and chocolate cake
  • Limoncello (I’ve found a recipe which doesn’t require you to steep it for months)
  • Probably something else.

As such, I’ll be blogging about the results – whatever they may be. And I’ll share the recipes, if they work!

Merry Cheesemas, one and all!

Peace and love x