My guide to cooking Christmas dinner

A few years ago, I was asked by the Sunday Times Style magazine to write a guide to cooking the perfect Christmas dinner with lots of recipes. This is an updated, unedited version of that feature that you can print off to create your own perfect Christmas meal.  Some of the recipes also appear elsewhere on this website.  

Imagine the perfect Christmas dinner.  The air is fragrant with the scent of roast turkey.  You sip a pre-dinner glass of champagne, cool and collected …  Yet in reality I always find myself feeling hot and dishevelled, fighting dirty pans while trying to serve up a lovely meal.  Seeking culinary perfection at Christmas is the hardest call.   

Most of us, including yours truly, are unrealistic about what we can physically cook in our kitchens. After all, there is only so much you can fit in your oven or on your hob.  A turkey is a very large bird, so the first thing is to work out the practical dynamics of what you’ve chosen to cook.  If, for example, you have one as opposed to two ovens, you can’t fit roast parsnips, potatoes, sausages and forcemeat balls into the oven at the same time as the turkey.  This is not an insurmountable problem, but it does require careful planning to avoid distress.

Arm yourself with some coffee and mince pies, kick off your shoes and settle down to write an action plan. Begin by imagining your ideal Christmas meal. You need an easy, light starter that looks beautiful and an equally gorgeous pudding that you can prepare in advance.  This will allow you to relax once you’ve served the main course.  The latter should be as simple as possible.  It is better to enjoy making a few dishes well, than become stressed by having to work like a maniac for hours.  A dish of perfectly roasted cinnamon maple syrup parsnips will be appreciated far more than a large choice of indifferent vegetables. Traditionally, only three vegetables (including roast potatoes) were required, but make sure they are colourful. There is nothing worse than a beige meal.  Think bright green peas, splashes of orange carrot or deep purple sweet and sour cabbage.

Once you’ve chosen your recipes, work out what you can prepare in advance and double check that you’ll have enough space in your fridge, oven and hob on the day for everything you want to make.  Write shopping lists for everything from mixed spice and cling film to turkey and sprouts.  Then work out a timetable.  If you’re cooking for large numbers, it is worth allocating tasks to other members of the family in advance so they know when they have to peel the potatoes, trim the sprouts or help clear up the kitchen.  And remember, it doesn’t matter if they’re slower than you or do things differently, they’re helping and that’s what counts.  

If you spread the work load over several days, you’ll find that your Christmas dinner is transformed from an ordeal into a pleasure. Treat it like a slightly extended Sunday roast and suddenly everything will fall into place.  Always follow your own common sense rather than a recipe, if the timings seem wrong somehow. For example, if your bird looks like it’s cooking faster than it should, double check its temperature with a meat thermometer and, if necessary, bring everything else slightly forward.  A truly perfect Christmas dinner is a happy Christmas dinner, so even if you drop the bird and burn the pudding, if you laugh and have fun, everyone else will have a ball.

Emergency help for defrosting and roasting turkeys:

If you need advice about defrosting or roasting your turkey look up the following websites: or .

Christmas timetable:

*  Tasks that can be prepared a week in advance:

*  It’s worth making a really good chicken stock if you have time.  Freeze in 500ml batches.

*  The breadcrumbs can be made, weighed, labelled and frozen for the bread sauce and grape stuffing.

*  The leek soup can be made ahead and frozen.

*  The forcemeat balls can be half-cooked and frozen.

*  If making trifle, the sponge can be frozen ahead.

*  The Christmas pudding can be made any time from now until Christmas, but it can also be made on the day.

23rd or 24th December:

*  You can make the mulled wine jelly today or tomorrow.

*  You can make the cranberry sauce today or tomorrow.  

24th December:

*  Double check that you have everything that you need for the next day.

*  Chop lots of parsley, clingwrap tightly and chill.

*  If serving trifle make the custard and chill covered.

*  If serving trifle and not already made – bake the sponge.

*  If serving, make the mulled wine jelly.

*  If serving Christmas pudding, make the orange crème fraiche, cover and chill.

*  Make your chosen stuffing and or forcemeat balls

*  Defrost the forcemeat balls in the fridge if frozen.

*  If stuffing your turkey – stuff today.

*  Work out the cooking times of everything tomorrow.  It is very important that you do this when feeling calm and relaxed as it is easy to miscalculate times when distracted by children opening presents and visitors enquiring about church services.

*  Write out a fresh timetable for tomorrow.

*  If serving Christmas lunch as opposed to dinner, it’s quite relaxing to prepare some of your raw vegetables on Christmas Eve. Carrots can be peeled and cut into batons then stored in ziplock bags.  Brussels sprouts can be washed and trimmed and stored in ziplock bags.  Potatoes can be peeled and cut into chunks and stored in a bowl of cold water. 

Christmas day:

Cook’s note:  Your day will be more relaxed if you serve your Christmas meal as dinner rather than lunch.  That way, it can be the grand finale of a lovely day.  Get everyone to dress up and insist on Champagne cocktails for all. 

*  While the kitchen is quiet and calm, make the Christmas pudding, if serving.

*  Take the turkey out of the fridge 2 hours before you want to cook it.

*  Defrost the chicken stock for gravy and for the carrot or pea recipe given here.

*  If serving the trifle, defrost the sponge for the trifle.

*  Preheat the oven and roast your turkey according to your calculations.  You should base your calculations on the fact that you will need to remove the turkey from the oven and prepare the gravy before you sit down to your starters.  In other words the turkey should be out of the oven about 45 minutes before you want to eat it. 

*  Once the turkey is in the oven, you are free to indulge in a Christmas drink of your choice. I find dry martinis very effective for chilling about turkeys and relations, but you do need a willing partner to make one for you.

*  Send someone out to find a sprig or two of berried holly.  Remember to wash it.

*  Depending on the vegetables you have chosen and how much you’ve prepped yesterday, prepare any remaining vegetables now so that they are ready to be cooked:

*  Peel your potatoes, cover in water and set aside.

*  Peel your carrots, sauté the shallots and garlic, add the raw carrots but don’t cook, chop the herbs.

*  Parboil the parsnips and prepare for roasting.

*  Saute the bacon for the peas, trim the spring onions,  lettuce, etc

*  Parboil the potatoes, ready for roasting.

*  If serving trifle, dice and macerate the fruit.

*  Infuse the milk for the bread sauce.

*  Organise others to lay the table – make sure that you have all the necessary serving plates.


Another cooks note:  Organise others to clear up the kitchen.  I find the best way to feel happy and in control when cooking is to have a clean, well ordered kitchen. If you feel a sense of panic welling-up – set about clearing up, wipe down surfaces and put away all that you don’t need.  Now sit down, relax and remember that timetables aren’t everything and it really doesn’t matter if you’re running a little late.  If you stay happy, so will everyone else.

*  The last hour the turkey is in the oven can be quite frenetic:

*  30 minutes before the turkey is removed from the oven, add the potatoes. These will continue to roast once you turn up the temperature in the oven after removing turkey.

*  20 minutes before the turkey is removed, add the parsnips.

*  If room, slip in the pork and apple stuffing.

*  Finish the bread sauce.

*  Prepare the Brussels sprout puree.

Once the turkey is removed from the oven, turn up the oven to 200C/gas 6, or if fan assisted to 180C to speed up and finish off your roast vegetables, sausages and or forcemeat balls:

*  Add the pork and apple stuffing (if not already in the oven).

*  Add the chestnut forcemeat balls if using.

*  Add the sausages (if not already in the oven).

*  Meanwhile, make the gravy.

* Cook the carrots or peas with bacon.

*  Plate up the starter.


Serve the first course.

*  Organise someone to carve turkey and serve the stuffing while you reheat and transfer the gravy, bread sauce and vegetables to serving dishes.

Enjoy the second course.

*  Either assemble the trifle, or turn out the jellies or:

*  Place pudding plates and orange crème fraiche on table.

* Warm brandy in small pan.  Turn pudding out, insert holly and just before going to dining table, pour over brandy, set alight and march in. 

*  Make sure you wrap and refrigerate all left overs for tomorrow.  Let everyone else clear up and wash up.  Relax for the rest of the holidays.

Simple starters:

Smoked salmon and chicory salad

The simpler your food the more important it is to ensure that you use the best quality ingredients you can find regardless of whether it is smoked salmon or olive oil.

Serves 6

6 chicory, trimmed

1 small red onion, finely sliced

2 heaped tbsp capers

200ml crème fraiche

2 tsp lemon juice

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

400g (12 slices) finely sliced smoked salmon

1 ½ lemons, cut into 12 wedges

Separate the Belgian endives leaves.  Put in a large bowl with the finely sliced red onions.  Rinse the capers and pat dry on kitchen paper.  Whisk the crème fraiche in a small bowl with 2 tbsp cold water.

When you are ready to serve, drizzle the endive with the lemon juice and olive oil.  Toss well, then lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Divide between 6 plates, then weave in the smoked salmon slices.  Scatter with capers, then lightly drizzle with crème fraiche. Arrange 2 lemon wedges on each plate and serve immediately.  

Melon, mint and lime

The art of every cook is to make simple food taste fabulous.  Lime juice, salt and pepper have that effect on ripe melon.  This is very refreshing starter and will make everyone ready to wolf down the roast turkey.  You can prepare the mint an hour or two before you plan to eat it, but don’t dress in lime juice or mint until you’re ready to serve pre-Christmas dinner drinks.  The mint is optional.  You can play by using different coloured melons but don’t use watermelon.

Serves 6

3 ripe medium-sized Galia melons

1 ½  limes

salt and freshly ground black pepper

a small bunch of mint (optional)

Halve the melons lengthways and scoop out the seeds.  Halve each melon lengthways and cut away and discard their skin.  Halve lengthways each peeled melon quarter and place in a mixing bowl. Cover and keep at room temperature

Season the melon to taste with the lime juice, salt and pepper.   Set aside 6 mint sprigs.  Roughly slice about a tablespoon of whole mint leaves and mix into the sliced melons. Arrange the melon pieces in airy piles on 6 plates.  Garnish with the mint and serve immediately. 

Leek and lemon grass soup

This soup is perfect if you want to prepare ahead as it freezes well.  You can serve it hot or chilled, depending on your mood. Normally, I would serve this with bread, but not for Christmas dinner as you really just want to stimulate your guests appetite.

1.5kg leeks

3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

8 stems lemon grass, finely sliced

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 large potatoes, peeled and diced

1.5 litres water

salt and freshly ground black pepper

400ml crème fraiche

3 tbsp finely sliced chives

Trim the leeks, discarding their outer leaves and dark green tops.  Cut in half lengthways and wash thoroughly in running water.  Finely slice and put in a colander.  Rinse again and leave to drain.

Gently fry the garlic and lemon grass in the olive oil in a large pan for 4 minutes.  Mix in the potatoes and continue to fry over a low heat, stirring regularly until they begin to soften – about 8 minutes.  Stir in the leeks and continue to fry for about 7 minutes or until soft.

Add the water and season to taste.  Bring to the boil, then simmer over a moderate heat for 25 minutes or until very soft.  Liquidise until very smooth and pass the mixture through a sieve.  Stir in the 300ml crème fraiche and adjust the seasoning to taste. 

Reheat to serve.  Beat the remaining crème fraiche with a fork to thin it slightly, then ladle the hot soup into bowls, add a generous swirl of crème fraiche and sprinkle with chives.  Serve immediately.

Classic British:

Lemon butter roast turkey

What is the perfect to turkey to buy?  A happy well bred one, of course!  In terms of flavour, Bronze feathered turkeys are generally considered more flavoursome, although they do not grow as large as white feathered turkeys.  Kellybronze turkeys are free range so have a pleasant life, however, you should also look at organic birds.

The size of the bird:  When working out how large a bird to buy, allow 350g-450g per person when buying your turkey if it is below 4.5kg.  If you think you need a bigger bird, allow 200-350g per person, but make sure it will fit in the oven.

To stuff or not to stuff:  If you have the oven room, it is easier to roast a bird unstuffed.  However, non-meat stuffings such as the grape stuffing below taste best cooked in the bird.  If you are stuffing the bird’s neck with a meat stuffing, calculate the cooking time by the weight of the bird, once it has been stuffed.  However, this is not necessary with the bread stuffing below.  If your scales won’t take the turkey, stand on the bathroom scales and get someone to pass the bird to you, then substract your weight from the total weight.

Cooking time:  Calculate your cooking time by allowing 20 minutes per 450g/1lb, plus an extra 20 minutes.  If the turkey is above 6.75kg allow 15 minutes per 450g, plus 15 minutes.

Cooking temperature: Set the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.  Fan ovens should be turned to 160C.  Take your turkey out of the fridge 2 hours before you intend to cook it, so that it has time to come up to room temperature.  

Serves 8-10 people with leftovers

1 lemon, halved

salt and freshly ground black pepper

85g softened unsalted butter

1 large onion

4kg bronze feathered free range turkey

Plus your chosen stuffing (see below)

Olive oil


Preheat the oven to either 180C/gas 4 or, if you have a fan oven turn to 160C.

Begin by making the stuffing.  While it is cooling wash and pat dry the turkey inside and out.  If using a bronze feathered turkey pull out any unsightly pin feathers. Rub the bird all over with the lemon halves, squeezing the juice into its skin.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Once the stuffing is cool, loosen the bird’s neck skin with your hands and pack the stuffing into the neck end, pushing it up between the flesh and the skin towards the breast.  Do not pack it too tightly or it will burst as it cooks.  Shape the end, so that it is rounded and secure the neck flap under the turkey’s back with some wooden cocktail sticks or a small skewer. 

Do not place any stuffing in the bird’s cavity as, according to current thinking, this increases the risk of food poisoning as it is not always possible to ensure that the stuffing reaches a sufficiently high temperature to destroy any food poisoning bacteria. Instead, tuck the halved onion in it.  If feeling chic, tie the turkey at the top of the drumsticks to give the bird a neater shape.  Place the turkey breast side down on a lightly oiled non-stick roasting tray.  Squish the butter all over the back and legs of the bird. 

Once you have finished the turkey, line a non-stick bread tin with buttered foil and pack with the excess stuffing.  Seal the foil.   This can be baked separately at the same temperature.  Place in the oven an hour before you are ready to serve.

There is much debate as to the best way to cook a turkey.  I recommend cooking breast down until the last 40 minutes, as although the bird will look slightly squashed it will have a moist breast and this is the least hassle.  You can wrap the turkey in a baggy parcel of foil but in effect this means that it will steam rather than roast for much of the cooking process.


A Kellybronze turkey needs very little basting or protection, but an ordinary British white turkey needs to be basted every 30-40 minutes and a loose sheet of foil to protect its back from burning. Either method will give you lots of flavoursome gravy.

Place in the oven and roast according to your calculations – see above.  Forty minutes before the bird is ready, take it out, protect your clothes and arms and grab the turkey’s legs with 2 cloths and turn the bird over. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of its body between the thigh and body.  Return the bird to cook breast side up.  Once 75C/167F is reached on the thermometer, or the juices run clear from the thickest part of the thigh, the bird can be removed from the oven.  Transfer to a warm serving dish, loosely cover with 2 sheets of foil and leave to rest while you make the gravy and finish the other trimmings. 

You can now, turn up the oven to 200C/gas 6, or if fan assisted to 180C to speed up and finish off your roast vegetables, sausages and forcemeat balls.    Serve the turkey once you have everything else ready. 

Parsley, grape bread stuffing

This stuffing is best cooked in the turkey as it benefits from the bird’s juices.

Serves 6

50g butter

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely diced

275g seedless white grapes, halved

140g soft white breadcrumbs

4 tbsp finely chopped parsley

1 small egg, beaten

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a frying pan and gently fry the onion and garlic for 8 minutes or until soft and golden. Tip into a bowl and add the breadcrumbs, grapes, parsley and egg. Mix thoroughly and season to taste.  See stuffing instructions in the turkey recipe.


Pork and chestnut forcemeat balls

These can be made ahead and frozen or chilled or if wished.  Allow to come up to room temperature then slip in the oven as instructed below. Alternatively, you can use this as your main stuffing. Non-pork eaters can adapt this recipe by using British veal in place of pork and omitting the bacon, but adding an extra clove of garlic.  (Oven time: 30 minutes – you can add when turkey is removed)

Makes 40 balls

40g butter

1 large onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

a small bunch flat leaf parsley

6 slices smoked back bacon, finely diced

500g minced organic pork

1 large egg

finely grated zest of 2 lemons

½ tbsp lemon thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground black pepper

200g pack Merchant Gourmet cooked and peeled whole chestnuts

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Melt the butter in a small pan over a medium low heat, add the onion and garlic and fry for about 8 minutes until soft. 

Strip the leaves from the parsley and place in a food processor with the lemon thyme leaves.  Process until finely chopped then mix in the diced bacon.  Whiz briefly to chop quite finely, then add the pork, egg, lemon zest and softened onions with some salt and pepper.  Process in a few short bursts to mix together the stuffing, then turn out into a bowl. 

Chop the chestnuts into small chunks and mix into the stuffing.  Fry off a small patty of stuffing to taste the seasoning.  Adjust if necessary.  Then roll out 40 walnut-sized balls between the palms of your hands.  You’ll need to keep rinsing your hands in water to stop them becoming too sticky.

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6, or if fan assisted to 180C.  Pour the oil into a large frying pan and set over a medium heat.  Gently fry the balls in batches, until they are lightly coloured.  Transfer them to a small non-stick baking tray, cover in foil and roast in the oven for 30 minutes until the juices run clear.

Pork and apple stuffing

If you don’t want to mess about with the turkey, simply cook this in a 450g non-stick bread tin.  However, if you stuff the turkey neck with this mixture, you will have some mixture left over.  This can be baked in foil.   (Oven time for 450g tin: 50 minutes, but if you place in oven about 15 minutes before the turkey is removed and the oven is then turned up, allow 60 minutes)

Serves 6 plus leftovers

50g butter

1 large onion, finely diced

2 inner stems celery, finely diced

1 clove garlic, finely diced

1 Bramley cooking apple, peeled, cored and roughly grated

4 tbsp chopped parsley

450g good quality sausagemeat

2 lemons, finely grated


Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6, or if fan assisted to 180C. See note above.   Melt the butter in a frying pan and gently fry the onion, celery and garlic for 12 minutes or until soft.  Tip the mixture into a bowl and mix in the grated apple, parsley, lemon thyme, sausage meat and lemon zest.  Fry a small patty of the stuffing and check the seasoning.  If using as a stuffing, continue as described in the turkey recipe.  If baking it in a small non-stick loaf tin, place in the oven 50 minutes before the turkey is ready.  Otherwise, if making forcemeat balls, roll into walnut-sized balls and cook according to the directions under the pork and chestnut forcemeat balls recipe.


Classic British accompaniments:

Bread sauce

This is a classic British sauce that tastes wonderful.

Serves 6

425ml milk

1 peeled onion, stuck with 3 cloves

1 bay leaf (fresh or dried)

2 blades of mace

4 black peppercorns

20g butter

3 tbsp double cream

85g fresh white breadcrumbs

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the milk, onion, bay leaf, mace and peppercorns in a small pan and bring slowly up to the boil.  As soon as the surface of the milk trembles remove from the heat, cover and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.  Don’t worry if you leave it for longer than 30 minutes.

Strain the milk into a clean pan and reheat with the butter and cream.  Once piping hot, whisk in the breadcrumbs over a low heat and stir occasionally until the sauce has thickened.  Season to taste and serve separately along with the gravy.

Cranberry port sauce

This can be made a day or two before it is needed.  Store covered in the fridge until an hour or two before it is needed.

Serves 6

300g cranberries

100ml port

1 small stick cinnamon, snapped in half

1 orange, finely grated and juiced

140g caster sugar (or to taste)

1 tbsp Grand Marnier


Place the cranberries, port, cinnamon, orange zest and juice in a small non-corrosive saucepan.  Bring to the boil and simmer uncovered until the berries begin to pop and soften. Stir in the sugar and Grand Marnier and adjust the sweetness to taste. Sugar has the effect of toughening the cranberries, so do not add until this stage.  Remove the cinnamon stick and allow to cool before serving. It will thicken as it cools.


Perfect vegetables:

Crispy roast potatoes

Choose King Edward, Maris Piper, Golden Wonder potatoes for fluffy roast potatoes, and Cara, Wilja and Pentland Dell for a firmer more creamy textured roast tattie.  Peel and cut into evenly-sized fairly large chunks. You should allow 3-4 chunks per person depending on what other vegetables you are serving and the taste of your family and guests.  Keep covered in cold water.

Shortly before roasting, place in a pan of cold water and bring up to the boil.  Boil briskly for about 10 minutes so that the potatoes are partially cooked on the outside but still firm and raw on the inside.  The cooking time will vary according to the size of the chunk and potato variety. Drain and leave to steam dry in the colander over the empty warm pan. 

Some cooks favour scoring or roughing up the flesh of the parboiled potatoes.  I don’t do this, but it is purely a matter of personal taste.

Choose a non-stick roasting tray large enough to hold the potatoes in a single layer but small enough to fit in the oven. Add about 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, goose fat or dripping and place in the oven for about 5 minutes or until the fat is piping hot.  Do not use butter, it will burn.  Remove the tray from the oven and carefully add the potatoes – they can cause the fat to splutter which can burn you if your arms are not protected.  Sprinkle the potatoes with fine sea salt and toss thoroughly in the sizzling oil so that they are well coated in fat.  Return to the oven and roast until golden and crispy. This will vary according to the oven temperature and size of the potatoes.  Small roast potatoes in a hot oven will take 45 minutes, larger potatoes in a cooler oven can take over an hour.  However, they will crisp up when the oven temperature is turned up on the removal of the turkey.

Cinnamon maple syrup roasted parsnips

This makes the fluffiest, sweetest of roasted parsnips as you peel them after they’ve been partially cooked in water.  These can start at a lower temperature with the turkey, just increase the temperature later as instructed.  (Oven time: 40 minutes)

Serves 6

750g  same sized medium parsnips

salt and freshly ground black pepper

40g butter, melted

¾  tbsp maple syrup

¾  tsp ground cinnamon


Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6, or if fan assisted to 180C.  Scrub the parsnips clean and drop whole into a saucepan filled with boiling water.  Boil for 10 minutes or until half cooked, then drain and allow to cool. Once they’re warm but not hot, top and tail the parsnip.  Cut each parsnip in half, so you have a thick upper end and thin lower end.  Then with the help of a small knife peel off their skin.  This winds off easily if you work around the parsnip.  Don’t peel it lengthways.  Cut lenthways into wedges.

Melt the butter with the maple syrup and cinnamon.  Place the parsnips in a non-stick roasting pan and thoroughly coat in the spicy sweet butter.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and place in the oven for 40 minutes, turning regularly until soft and flecked golden.

Puree of Brussels sprouts

There are some who like their Brussels sprouts lightly boiled with not even a hint of butter, but there are others who would really rather not face a sprout.  This simple textured puree may be the solution.  The sprouts can be trimmed the night before but make the puree shortly before serving. 

Serves 6

500g Brussels sprouts, trimmed

160ml double cream (or to taste)

salt and freshly ground black pepper


Trim the sprouts and drop into a pan of boiling unsalted water. Cook briskly until just cooked through then drain and cool under the cold tap.  Shake dry and tip into the food processor with the cream.  Process until the sprouts form a bright green roughly textured puree.  Transfer to a clean pan and season to taste.  Reheat when needed.  Don’t overcook or their colour and flavour will spoil.


Rosemary carrots  

Carrots taste gorgeous cooked like this. If you are feeling organised, peel and cut the carrots earlier in the day then seal in a plastic bag and chill until needed.  The parsley can also  be prepared, covered and chilled in advance. 

25g butter

3 shallots, finely diced

1 clove garlic, finely diced

550g carrots, peeled and cut into batons

salt and freshly ground black pepper

300ml good chicken stock

1 tsp finely chopped rosemary

a handful chopped parsley


Melt the butter in a wide pan and gently fry the shallots and garlic over a medium low heat for 5 minutes.  Once soft, mix in the carrots and rosemary and season to taste.  Add the stock and bring up to the boil.  Cover and simmer briskly for 10 minutes.  Mix in the parsley and serve.

Peas with bacon

These are perfect if you want to introduce a smoky bacon taste to your meal without cooking little bacon rolls!  The peas taste deliciously sweet.

Serves 6

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

250g smoked back bacon, cut into lardoons

1 clove finely diced garlic

1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and cut into pea sized chunks

500g frozen petit pois

3 little gem lettuces, trimmed and roughly sliced

200ml good chicken stock

45g butter


Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan over a medium high heat.  Add the bacon and fry briskly for 4 minutes or until it begins to colour.  Add the garlic and spring onions and continue to fry for 2 minutes.  Stir in the peas and lettuce and with 200ml of the chicken stock and simmer gently for 5 minutes.  Stir in the butter and once melted, remove from the heat.  Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve.


Perfect Christmas puddings

Eliza Acton’s light Christmas pudding with orange crème fraiche

This fragrant amber coloured pudding is an adaptation of Eliza’s Acton’s Christmas pudding, which she describes as “a remarkably light small rich pudding”.  It can be made on the day you eat it.  However, you can also make it as far ahead as you wish, provided you boil it regularly. The more you boil it, the darker it will become.  You need a 750ml pudding basin (15cm diameter).  (Boiling time for pudding:  3 ½ hours)

Serves 6

Sunflower or vegetable oil

170g raisins

170g currants

55g chopped mixed peel

1 organic orange, finely grated and juiced

1 organic lemon, finely grated and juiced

100ml Remy Martin + 3 tbsp

85g white breadcrumbs

85g plain flour

170g shredded suet (beef or vegetarian)

115g roughly grated Bramley apple (peeled and cored weight)

140g unrefined caster sugar

½ tsp mixed spice

a pinch of salt

3 medium eggs

Lightly oil a 750ml pudding basin. Measure and cut out a disc of greaseproof paper to fit as a lid.

In a large bowl, mix together all the raisins, currants, mixed peel, orange and lemon zest and juice, 100ml Remy Martin, breadcrumbs, plain flour, shredded suet, 115g roughly grated cooking apple, sugar, mixed spice, salt and the eggs.  Mix very thoroughly – making a wish as you do so.

Fill the basin with the pudding mixture and top with the greaseproof paper dice.  Cover this with a pleated square of foil, tightly scrunching the edges around the rim of the basin so that it is water-tight.  Place in a saucepan, add enough boiling water to come two thirds of the side of the basin. Cover and set over a medium heat. Boil briskly for a good 3 ½ hours – refilling regularly with more boiling water.  It is very important to keep refilling the water. 

Once cooked the pudding can either be set aside and reheated in boiling water later, or kept warm in the hot water and served when ready.  To reheat from cold, boil for an hour on the cooker top when the hob is relatively free from other pans, then keep hot in the hot water,  while you’re eating the main course. 

To serve, remove the lid and paper covering, loosen with a knife and invert on to a serving plate.  Slip on a sprig of berried holly – remember that holly berries are poisonous and should not be eaten.  Warm 3 tbsp Remy Martin and pour over the pudding, set alight with a match and serve with orange crème fraiche.

Orange Crème fraiche

This can be made the day before it is needed, if wished, just lightly remix before serving.

1 organic orange, finely grated

200ml crème fraiche

2 tbsp icing sugar (or to taste)

2 tbsp Grand Marnier


Mix together the orange zest, crème fraiche, icing sugar and Grand Marnier.  Stir until thick, then chill covered until needed.


Classic modern trifle

Don’t be discouraged by the length of this recipe, each stage can be done in advance, so that you just assemble it at the last moment. The sponge can be frozen or made 2 days in advance, as can the custard.  The fruit can be made day before if you add the bananas on the day.

Serves 6

For the sponge

2 eggs

55g caster sugar

55g plain flour, sifted

pinch of salt

For the custard:

425ml full fat milk

1 split vanilla pod

115g caster sugar

6 egg yolks

For the fruit base:

1 large passion fruit

4 tbsp kirsch + extra for the sponge

½ orange, juiced

2 tbsp icing sugar (or to taste)

1 medium mango

1 medium pineapple

2 small bananas

For the topping

285ml double cream, softly whipped

Juliened orange zest

To make the sponge preheat the oven to 190°C/gas 5.  Line a 27cm x 17cm non-stick baking tray (or something similar) with some lightly oiled baking paper.  Lightly oil the sides. The sponge will rise to about 1.5cm in this.  

Whisk together the eggs and sugar until they become pale and very thick.  Once the mixture leaves a slight trail, quickly fold in the sifted flour and salt and as soon as it is mixed pour on to the baking tray.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the sponge is golden and springy to touch. 

Lay out a sheet of baking paper slightly larger than the sponge. Generously sprinkle with caster sugar.  Remove the sponge from the oven and gently turn it out on to the sugar.  Peel off the paper on its base and leave until cold.

Trim off the edges and cut the sponge into neat diamonds.  These can be stored in an airtight container or frozen until needed.

To make the custard, place the milk, vanilla pod and half the sugar in a saucepan.  Bring up to the boil but don’t boil.  Remove from the heat and stir to ensure the sugar has dissolved, then leave to infuse for 5 minutes.

Set a bowl large enough to hold the custard in a larger bowl filled with ice and some cold water.  Place a sieve on top of the smaller bowl.

Whisk the egg yolk with the remaining sugar until they leave a trail.  Slowly pour the hot milk milk into the egg yolks, whisking all the time to prevent them from curdling.  Immediately return the mixture ot the saucepan and continue to stir vigorously.  Place the pan over a low heat and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the custard is as thick as runny double ream.  Do not let the custard boil or it will split.  If it gets too hot, quickly lift the pan off the heat but keep stirring.  Strain the cooked custard into the bowl on ice.  Stir occasionally until it cools slightly.  Once cold cover and chill the custard until needed.

Prepare the fruit by scraping the seeds from a passion fruit into a mixing bowl.  Mix in 4 tablespoons kirsch, the icing sugar and orange juice

Peel the mango, then cut the flesh in fine slices away from the stone – working your way around the stone. Finely dice each thin slice and mix into the passion fruit.  Top, tail and peel the pineapple so that no eyes remain.  Finely slice the pineapple flesh away from the tough core.  Finely dice the thin pineapple slices and mix into the mango.  Peel and finely dice the banana and mix into the fruit.  Chill until just before Christmas dinner.

To assemble the trifle, take 6 shallow soup bowls and arrange the finely diced fruit salad around the outer part of the bowls.  Pour the custard into the centre and then sprinkle a pile of cake diamonds into the centre.  Drizzle a little kirsch over each pile of sponge.  Place a soft dollop of whipped cream in the middle.  Liberally scatter with orange zest.


Mulled wine jelly

This is a very alcoholic, wobbly jelly. You can turn it out from small jelly moulds, but for a relaxed Christmas, I would recommend serving it in pretty glasses instead.  If you wish to make it one large mould, add 2g more gelatine.  It makes 950ml liquid. You can decorate it with orange zest, cinnamon sticks or if feeling very recherché and well organised gold leaf.  This can be bought from Squires shop in Farnham or by mail order: (0845 2255671/2).

Serves 6

1 organic orange

1 organic lemon

2 sliced rounds of peeled fresh ginger

1 small cinnamon stick

2 cloves

100ml vodka

8 green cardamoms

200ml port

1 bottle fruity red wine such as Zinfandel

150g granulated sugar

25g sheet gelatine

Use a potato peeler to finely pare the zest from the orange and the lemon. Place in a bowl with the ginger, cinnamon, cloves and vodka.  Roughly crush the cardamoms and mix into the vodka.  Cover and leave to macerate overnight.  The next day, pour the mixture into a non-corrosive saucepan.  Add the port, wine and sugar.  Gently heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved.  The mixture should never reach a simmer.  As soon as it is piping hot and fragrant, remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, place the sheet gelatine in a large bowl. Keep the sheets loose and slightly separate as you pour on enough cold water to cover the gelatine.  Leave to soak for 5 minutes, then drain off the water.  Strain the hot wine through a fine sieve on to the soft gelatine and stir until the gelatine has dissolved.  Leave to cool. 

Pour the mixture into 6 pretty glasses or 6 little jelly moulds.   Chill overnight until the jelly has set.  Decorate and serve.





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