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It is approaching that time of year again when many of us get nervous about cooking the Christmas Dinner. For most Christmas Dinner is still the traditional turkey and because it is often only cooked once a year there is a tendency to be nervous, some would say with good cause. Turkey is bigger than anything we cook during the rest of the year and of course to make it a special meal there are loads of vegetables and extras like bread sauce and stuffing.

I have had my own share of disaster over the years. Perhaps the most memorable was when the oven stopped working with still an hour of cooking time left. Looking into a hot oven for the cause was not an option so the bird was quickly jointed and finished in the microwave. Not at tasty as it might have been but at least Christmas Dinner arrived on the table ready to eat. It was only a few days later when examining the oven before calling out an engineer that the problem became apparent – fat from the turkey had been spilling out on to the gas burner and had extinguished the gas. As the oven cooled the gas started to solidify in the burner stopping it being reignited. A quick blast with a blowtorch and the problem was solved . . . but to late for Christmas Dinner. The moral is, use a roasting pan that is big enough to hold your Turkey and if there is too much liquid building up then pour some off!

But enough of disasters! Hub-UK has previously published a guide on How to cook a Roast Turkey which is well worth reading if you are at all nervous and need help in planning what has to be done. However it is often easier to learn by watching rather than reading and here is a video guide by Chef Phil Vickery, courtesy of, showing how easily a turkey can be cooked but additionally showing how easily it can be carved.

And if that is the turkey sorted what about your ham? Cooking your own gammon joint could not be easier and everything you need to know will be found in the article How to cook a Gammon Joint.


So now the dinner is under control you can turn your thoughts to what to buy the cook in your life for a Chritsmas present.

John Saturnall's Feast
by Lawrence Norfolk

This is not a cooking or recipe book and nor is it written by a chef! Something a little bit different. This is a story of Seventeenth century life, love and war, the story of an orphan who becomes the greatest cook of his age.

Based before and during the English Civil War the book paints a picture of English life of the time. It might be described as a historical romance but that would be misleading as there is far more about the rise of a young boy to be a great chef of his time than there is romance. The romance is just an integral part of the story.

As a fan of historical novels, especially by writers such as Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and Simon Scarrow, I was rather dubious about even reading John Saturnall's Feast. It certainly was nothing like the stories those authors tell and for the first few chapters, when John Saturnall is young, I struggled. Once having committed myself to a book I always try to finish it, as was the case here, but I was not disappointed by my perseverance as once things got going I kept turning pages wanting to know what happened next.

One of the reviews on Amazon (by K Mayfield) perhaps best describes the book:

Lawrence Norfolk's elegantly written JOHN SATURNALL'S FEAST is utterly captivating. An interest in history or the 17th century is not necessary to become completely swept away by the story - a testament to Norfolk's magic. One needs only a desire to read a beautifully constructed story of a boy who desperately struggles to stay alive in his young life. He is the boy who emerges from a tragedy in ancient woods only to be thrown into the kitchen of Buckland Manor where he must earn the right to use his talent. We cheer him on as he labours to become the greatest chef, to create the most complicated and magnificent dish, to oversee the most important feast. John Saturnall is the boy who becomes a man in the face of another struggle for the love a forbidden woman and their survival amidst his enemies and the backdrop of the Civil War.

So if you have bought cooking books as a present in the past and are looking for something cooking related but a little different then this is the answer.

To order from Amazon: John Saturnall's Feast

Kitchin Suppers
by Tom Kitchin

What grabbed me about this offering from a chef was it purports to be what he cooks at home . . . Tom Kitchin, takes us into his home kitchen and shows us the food he cooks for friends and family when away from his Edinburgh restaurant, The Kitchin.

I am sure he does cook some good meals at home but I doubt he cooks meals like these every night. Having said that, and regardless of whether it is touted as his home cooking just as a marketing ploy, it has some great looking and interesting recipes. Whilst many require quite a number of ingredients and work, the recipes do look worthwhile trying. Sadly I am yet to find a spare moment to try anything being too concerned with my own simpler home cooking.

The book is also another fine example of the fine food photography produced for cooking books in this country. If they were a little bigger you could remove them from the book, frame them and have some great pictures to hang on your kitchen or dining room wall. The photographs were by Laura Edwards.

Certainly a book I though was worthwhile adding to my collection.

"The Scottish chef presents delicious recipes that are affordable as well as achievable. From quick suppers to ideas for casual entertaining and the beloved Sunday roast, he shows how to get great results using clever combinations and seasonal ingredients. Recipes like smoked salmon & pea frittata showcase his simple yet beautiful food." ~ Good Food Magazine, October 2012

To order from Amazon: Kitchin Suppers

Memories of Gascony
by Pierre Koffmann

Unfortunately I have not had time to do anything other than quickly browse the pages of this new book but from what I have seen, and the few snippets I have read, I am looking forward to a thoroughly enjoyable read. This is not the usual book churned out on the celebrity chef conveyor belt making it much more appealing and hopefully I will learn a lot more from it how a great chef came to be a great chef. For now I will have to settle for what Amazon has published on its site.

"Almost every decent chef I can think of learned most of what he knows from Pierre" ~ Giles Coren, The Times.

"Pierre is one of the world's great, instinctive chefs" ~ Heston Blumenthal

Pierre Koffmann's Memories of Gascony is the story of how one of the most influential chefs of our time first learned to love food. With recipes and reminiscences from his grandparents' home in rural Gascony, this is an intimate account of school holidays spent on the farm helping his grandfather to harvest and hunt, and learning to treasure seasonality, simplicity and the best ingredients at his grandmother's side.

The finest of Gascony produce is here, with a focus on simplicity. The recipes stand the test of time and speak to the food tastes and trends of today. While you read the charming stories of everyday life on the farm, you'll devour the cuisine as you go along - dandelion salad with bacon and poached egg, grilled chicken with shallots and vinaigrette, and greengages in armagnac in Spring; chicken liver pate with capers, Bayonne ham tart with garlic, oeufs a la neige in Summer; roast hare with mustard and beetroot, salt cod cassoulet and quince jelly in Autumn; and fried eggs with foie gras, potato and bacon pie and tarte aux pruneaux in Winter.

This is a book to learn, love and live from.

To order from Amazon: Memories of Gascony




Spanish terracotta casseroleThink Spanish terracotta and the humble ‘cazuela’ may spring to mind however there is far more to cooking in clay than the cazuela - meet one of the giants of the Spanish terracotta cookware world, the Spanish Casserole. Terracotta cookware is produced in so many shapes and sizes the range is mind-boggling, the cazuela for example can be made as small as 6cm (ideal for tapas) up to the substantial 46cm example which needs four handles as it becomes somewhat heavy when filled with a bake or a Spanish roast fit for 15 people!

Where a little depth is required the terracotta casserole (sometimes known as an ‘Olla’) is a prime example of where the Spanish producers tailor their cookware to accommodate big family affairs. Big family casserole dishes can be as large or even larger than the domestic kitchen sink!, generally cooking food in such items is done over a wood fire or large gas burner for which the casserole is perfect as well as being suited to the oven. Big terracotta casseroles mean big appetites, family, friends, atmosphere and the whole Mediterranean experience… Never let it be said that the Spanish can’t create a substantial meal!

Big terracotta cookware comes in a range of guises, the ‘Olla’ casserole with lid, the ‘perol’ which can reach a capacity of 9ltrs or more, the ‘Paellera’ which when full can feed six or more persons and of course the giant terracotta cazuela. Depending on the type of meals you intend to make and if your kitchen (or indeed garage) has the space to store one then a terracotta casserole of larger size is certainly a good investment and will stand the test of time as well as creating a great centerpiece.

Plenty of friends and a giant terracotta casserole for Halloween or Bonfire night full of a delicious chowder or beef stew… Delicious!

Spanish Terracotta Cookware >>>


Someone who has a particular talent for presenting videos showing you how to cook a recipe is Phil Vickery. Here he shows how to cook a casserole showcasing Turkey with kidney beans, chorizo and vegetables.

With winter upon us and the nights getting murkier and colder there is nothing better than a warming winter casserole to make everyone feel good . . . and warm them up. With Phil Vickery to show you how you can’t go wrong. Here he shows the versatility of turkey by combining Turkey with beans, chorizo and vegetables in an easy to make dish.



2 tbsp oil, any will do
500g British turkey thigh, diced
150g chorizo, ¼ cm sliced
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 red onions, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 red peppers, roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 x 400g can tomatoes
1 x 400g can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp vinegar
roughly ½ pint strong chicken stock (or use turkey stock if you have it)
2 tbsp cornflour blended with a little water (optional)

How to make:

  • Turkey with beans, chorizo and vegetablesPreheat the oven to 180°C / Gas 6.

  • Heat the oil in a large pan or casserole and add the turkey to brown slightly.

  • Add the chorizo and tomato puree and stir well.

  • Add all the vegetables, bay leaves, kidney beans and sugar.

  • Tip in the canned tomatoes, vinegar, a little salt and pepper and the stock.

  • Stir well.

  • Cover and cook in the oven for 30 - 40 minutes.

  • Once cooked remove from the oven and remove the lid, bring to a gentle simmer and then thicken with a little cornflour and water if required.

  • Serve with mash, rice, pasta or couscous.


If you prefer you can use turkey breast instead of thigh in this recipe. This dish can also be cooked on the hob on a gentle simmer for the same length of time.



Dried peasThis recipe is for my Mother's "Mushy" Pea Soup. I never did get the recipe from her before she died so I have had to experiment to get it to something like I remember it. If you would like to know more about the story behind the recipe have a look at Mother's "Mushy" Pea Soup.


8 pints water (vary according to size of pan)
4 sticks of celery
2 large carrots
3 x 250g pkts dried peas (the type you have to soak with a steeping tablet for 24 hours)
4 ham stock cubes or 1 ham shank boiled for three hours and left overnight
Fresh ground pepper
Sea salt


  • Remember you will need to soak your peas for 24 hours before you need them.

  • If using a ham shank you will need to simmer it for three hours or so and if possible leave it in the stock overnight. Reduce your water by the amount of stock you have.

  • You will need a saucepan that is capable of holding at least 8 pints of liquid. Add water to your stock to bring it up to approximately eight pints (depends on size of your pan) or add your stock cubes to water and dissolve by heating.

  • Rough chop your celery and carrots and add to stock. (Do not add any salt - salt stops the flavour from coming out of the vegetables). Bring to boil and simmer for about an hour.

  • Drain and rinse your peas which have been soaking and add to pan. Bring liquid in pan back up to level at start of process.

  • (If using stock cubes taste to see if additional stock cubes might be required.)

  • Bring back to to the boil and simmer for two to three hours with a lid on.

  • Remove from heat and put through liquidiser. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  • Serve hot with chunks of freshly baked bread.

Serves 12 bowls



Following on from last month here is another recipe using Weetabix.

I am always fascinated by hand written recipes or cut-out recipes that have been stuffed into the pages of old recipe books. Another fascination is for the recipe pamphlets food manufacturers used to publish. One such pamphlet I came across was for recipes using Weetabix as an ingredient. There is no date on when it was published but the style suggest perhaps the 50s.


8 oz Short-crust pastry
2 oz castor sugar
1 egg white
Apricot jam
A few drops of almond essence
1 - 2 roughly crushed Weetabix


  • Roll out the pastry to less thana quarter inch thick.

  • Form a rim with your finger and thumb, prick and bake at 200°C / Gas mark 5 for 10 - 15 minutes until pale gold.

  • Spread with apricot jam.

  • Whip egg white until stiff.

  • Fold n sugar, almond essence and crushed Weetabix crumbs.

  • Spread meringue mix on jam.

  • Bake for 25 - 30 minutes at 180°C / Gas Mark 4.

  • Cut into fingers and leave to cool.

Food tip on removing excess fat from stocks, sauces, soups and stews

I received an email from Yinghui somewhere in Asia, they had heard that lettuce leaves could be used for removing fat from stocks, sauces, soups and stews and wanted to know if this was true and why.

Well, yes this will work and works purely because the lettuce acts as a 'sponge' and soaks it up, you place the lettuce leaves on top of the ‘offending item’ and leave for a minute or so and then remove with tongs and discard. Other vegetables could be used also but lettuce being the lightest can just sit on the surface where the fat would be. It does seem a great waste of lettuce though, when a good size spoon or ladle will also do the trick, here are the two methods I always use:

  • As the rendered fat comes to the surface take a soup ladle or large spoon and make a small circular motion in the centre of the pot: this will (because of centrifugal) force the fat to the sides
  • Scoop the fat up and dispose
  • Repeat as necessary

If the stock, sauce, soup, stew etc is not needed until the next day, this is much easier:

  • Transfer the soup into a bowl or similar clean container
  • Place in the refrigerator over night
  • The fat will settle on the surface and turn solid, which is very easily removed by hand


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