Treacle Tart

I have eaten a lot of bad treacle tarts over the years, and more than a few of them I made myself. It took a while, but I finally figured out the perfect ratio of lemon, crumbs and syrup so that the result is light and airy rather than heavy and stodgy.

A traditional treacle tart uses breadcrumbs, but I have discovered that cake crumbs from a plain or vanilla sponge cake give a softer more velvety texture. If you haven’t got any leftover cake then make this tart using breadcrumbs as usual, but keep it in mind as an experiment next time you make a Victoria sponge.

The pastry here is a little tricky to work with because it is very short and crumbly, but it is well worth the effort. I’m sure you will agree when you feel it melt in your mouth.

This recipe requires a 23cm round tart tin, 2.5 cm deep.


RECIPE serves 12 easily

For the pastry case:

175g plain flour

50g fridge-cold butter, cubed

50g fridge-cold vegetable shortening, crumbled

1 tbsp icing sugar

1 egg yolk

For the filling:

400g golden syrup

150ml double cream

1 large egg

100g breadcrumbs (or 100g cake crumbs if you have them)

60g ground almonds

the zest of a lemon, finely grated

2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice


First, make the pastry case:

Put the plain flour, butter, shortening and icing sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to mix it thoroughly. When it looks like fine crumbs add the egg yolk and pulse again, then add around a tablespoon of cold water a little bit at a time and pulse for a second until the pastry starts to come together. Take care not to overwork the pastry mixture, the beauty of this pastry is that it is soft and crumbly, doing too much to it is liable to make it tough. Empty it out of the food processor onto a lightly floured surface and gently bring it together into a smooth ball.

Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a round until it is approximately the thickness of a pound coin, this should give you the correct diameter to fill your pastry case with a little left over that you can trim off later. Always keep your trimmings as you may need to make a couple of repairs.

Lift the pastry up onto a rolling pin, drape it over your tart tin and gently drop it into the tin. Using a small piece of pastry push the pastry gently into the corners and flutes of your tart tin so there are no air pockets. Trim off the surplus pastry from the edges of the tin and liberally prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Chill for another 30 minutes.

There is no need to butter or otherwise oil the sides of the tin, this pastry will come away easily once cooked.

Cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case at 200C for 15 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through. Now turn the oven down to 170C/ gas 3.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, gently warm the syrup. Don’t heat it until it is hot, you just want to soften it so it flows well and will accept the rest of the ingredients.

Take off the heat and whisk in the double cream, then add the crumbs and ground almonds. Break the egg into a cup and gently break it all together with a fork, then add to the filling together with the lemon zest and juice. Stir thoroughly so that everything is completely combined, then pour it into the pre-baked pastry case.

Bake at 170C/ gas 3 for approximately 35-40 minutes, until the filling is set. You can tell when it is set by setting the tin on a flat, heatproof surface and pulling it gently but sharply backward and forward. If set, the filling will be bubbling like a volcano but will not wobble.

Allow the tart to cool until it is just warm before removing from the tin. Serve with custard, creme fraiche or thick cream. Yumptious!

Sweet Potato Saag Aloo

Saag aloo is usually made with regular potatoes but this sweet potato version from The Hairy Bikers is particularly luscious. The great thing about sweet potatoes is that they are richer in nutrients – particularly vitamin C – than white potatoes and lower in starch. They count towards your five a day too, while regular potatoes don’t.

This is a great meal if you are dieting, coming in at only 200 calories per serving and making you feel comfortably full. That means you can have a serving of rice and a couple of rotis with it, without bursting your waistband.

The secret to great flavour here is to use your own fresh curry powder mix. It’s not hard to make and my recipe is here.


RECIPE serves 4 

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

20g fresh root ginger, grated

2 tbsp curry powder

2 medium sweet potatoes, diced

1 large ripe tomato, diced

300ml vegetable stock

a small bunch of coriander, stalks only, chopped

200g bag of baby spinach, picked over and thoroughly washed

To serve:

the zest and juice of a lemon

a few green chillies, sliced

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped


Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole dish or a deep frying pan. Add the onion and cook it quite briskly until it’s softened and very lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger and curry powder and stir until combined.

Add the sweet potatoes to the pan and stir to coat them with the garlic, ginger and spices, then add the tomato and the vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the stock to the boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pan and simmer very gently until the sweet potato is just cooked. This should take no longer than 10 minutes, but check regularly from 5 minutes as you don’t want the sweet potato to go mushy – it should still have a little bite to it. Loosen the sauce with a little more stock or water if necessary.

Add the spinach and chopped coriander stalks to the pan and cover the pan again until the spinach has wilted down. Stir very carefully to combine without breaking up the sweet potatoes.

At this point you can turn the heat off and leave it for for a few hours or overnight, the flavours will only get better. If you are going to eat it immediately, garnish with the lemon zest and juice and a sprinkling of finely sliced green chillies and chopped coriander leaves.

Serve with basmati rice and roti.

White Wine Veloute

The first time I made this simple sauce, a reduction of wine and cream, I was knocked out by its brilliance and simplicity. Every time I make it, I wonder why I don’t find an excuse to make it every night.

This sauce is fantastic with white fish and chicken, and with just a little thought you can add herbs and other aromatics to take it even higher. Using the best ingredients is crucial whatever you are making, especially when making a sauce. Make sure you use wine and vermouth that you would like to drink – if it’s a nasty wine it will give you a nasty sauce.


RECIPE makes around 500ml

25g unsalted butter

3 banana shallots, finely chopped

200ml dry white wine

200ml dry vermouth

400ml fish, vegetable or chicken stock

300ml creme fraiche


Melt the butter in the widest saucepan that you own. Stir in the shallots and saute gently for about ten minutes until soft but not coloured.

Pour in the white wine and vermouth, turn the heat right up and boil until the liquid has reduced by half – a wide saucepan makes this process quicker.

Add the stock, return to the boil and once again reduce the liquid by half.

Stir in the creme fraiche and simmer gently until the sauce is the consistency of single cream and will coat the back of a spoon.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and strain the sauce through a fine sieve.

Sri Lankan Coconut Dhal

We are a diverse family, encompassing unrepentant meat-eaters, pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans. When any combination of us gets together it can be tricky to come up with meals that will satisfy everyone’s needs while also being satisfying.

What that really means is that I need a good stock of vegan recipes, a thought that would drive my grandfather into a rant about lentils. Well, this is a vegan dish, and its made from lentils, and even my grandfather would approve. He always appreciates luscious food, and this has lusciousness in spades. It’s quick too, so if you walk in the door after a long hard day and don’t fancy a big work-up in the kitchen, this will feed everybody and anybody.


RECIPE serves 4 

2 tsp sunflower oil

250g red split lentils, rinsed thoroughly

1 banana shallot, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a small handful of dried curry leaves

a small cinnamon stick

1 green chilli, finely chopped

4 tsp curry powder

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

a small bunch of coriander, leaves and stalks

the zest and juice of a lemon


Gently fry the shallots, garlic, curry leaves, cinnamon stick and chilli in the oil, for around 5 minutes until softened and aromatic.

Mix a little water into the curry powder – please use either my own recipe for curry powder, or (if you really must) a top quality, fresh off the shelf supermarket version – to make a paste, and add it to the pan. Cook the spices out for a few minutes, then add 400ml of water, the coconut milk and the lentils.

Simmer for around 20 minutes until the lentils are soft and plump. Finely chop the coriander stalks and add them to the dhal, stir them in thoroughly.

At this point you can turn the heat off and leave it for for a few hours or overnight, the flavours will only get better. If you are going to eat it immediately, garlish with the lemon zest and juice and sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves.

Serve with basmati rice and roti.

Lightweight Lasagne

I’m on a bit of a Hairy Bikers’ roll at the moment. I keep flicking through their books and spotting things that I absolutely have to make. I can honestly say that every single recipe of theirs that I have ever made has been exceptional, and I have made a lot – perhaps 50 or so over the years.

I have fancied a lasagne for weeks now, but it’s a rich, heavy dish and it is just after Christmas after all, so who needs all those calories? So, I almost jumped for joy when I spotted this recipe, a genius way of making a lasagne that has all the rich, creamy unctuousness of a traditional lasagne, but coming in at only 343 calories per serving.

We had this for dinner last night, and while my wife was extolling its deliciousness I told her that it was a low-calorie dish. She looked at me unsure whether I was pulling her leg: surely something this good couldn’t be diet food?

Yes it is. The Hairy Bikers = nothing short of genius. They have used a few tricks here: limiting the amount of pasta, being extremely judicious with the amount of oil used and, perhaps most importantly, roasting vegetables for the filling rather than mince. If you’re a meat lover you’ll be amazed – you won’t miss it at all.


RECIPE serves 6 

for the tomato sauce:

1 tsp olive oil

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

for the vegetable filling:

1 aubergine, halved lengthways and cut into 1cm thick crescents

200g pumpkin or butternut squash, sliced into thin wedges

1 large red onion, cut into thin wedges

2 red and 1 green pepper, diced

10 garlic cloves, in their skins

low-calorie spray oil

for the bechamel:

600ml semi-skimmed milk

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves

1 bay leaf

10 black pepper corns

20g cornflour

to assemble:

150g dried pasta

50g low-calorie cheddar. grated

25g Parmesan, grated


First make the tomato sauce, the further ahead you can make this the better the flavour will be.

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat and add the garlic, cook gently for a minute until aromatic, then add the chilli flakes and oregano. Cook for a further minute, allowing the flavours to infuse the oil, then add the tomatoes and fish sauce. Mix thoroughly, bring to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour to allow the sauce to reduce, thicken and intensify.

After an hour, add the red wine vinegar, cook for a couple of minutes then check the seasoning. At this point you can set the sauce aside for a few hours or overnight to allow the flavours to develop further.

Preheat the oven to 200C/ Fan 180C/ gas 6.

Arrange the aubergine, pumpkin, onion, peppers and garlic on two baking trays, spray lightly with the oil and toss thoroughly to ensure everything is coated. The oil will prevent the vegetables from burning, while encouraging internal steaming and external caramelisation. Don’t be tempted to try and squeeze everything onto one tray; when roasting, everything needs to have airflow around it otherwise it might steam instead.

Roast for around 30 minutes until everything is soft and just beginning to caramelise.

Meanwhile, make the bechamel. Put the milk in a saucepan with the onion, cloves, bay and peppercorns. Heat until the milk is at scalding point (just short of boiling), then turn off the heat and leave the milk to infuse with the aromatics until it is almost cold.

Strain the milk into a jug and dispose of the solids, wash the pan out and put the milk back into it. Mix the cornflour with a little of the milk to make a thin paste, reheat the milk and pour the cornflour paste into the pan. Gradually bring the milk back to the boil, whisking or stirring constantly to ensure that no lumps form. When the sauce is hot and as thick as double cream, turn the heat off and season it. Set aside for now.

Meanwhile, soak the lasagne sheets in just-boiled water until ready for use.

Retrieve the roasted garlic cloves, squeeze the cooked flesh from the skins and mash with a fork. Add the mashed garlic to the tomato sauce that you made earlier, stir it in well and heat the sauce back up.

To assemble the lasagne: spoon half the tomato sauce into the bottom of an ovenproof dish and top with half the roasted vegetables. Spoon over a small amount of bechamel, then top with half the pasta sheets. Spread the remaining tomato sauce on top of that, followed by the other half of the vegetables and another small amount of bechamel, then the final pasta sheets. Pour the remaining bechamel over the top and smooth out, then sprinkle the grated cheese over the top with a good grinding of black pepper.

Bake in the centre of the oven at 200C/ Fan 180C/ gas 6 for around 45 minutes until the top is crunchy and golden brown, and the lasagne is piping hot.

Serve with an apple and celery salad, the perfect combination of texture to match the creaminess of the lasagne, while the sharpness of the salad cuts through the richness. Perfect.

Llama Farmer Cottage Pie

Another Hairy Bikers’ triumph, this vegetarian cottage pie (which can easily be made vegan-friendly by substituting the cheese for a vegan product) is low in calories, easy to make and so absolutely delicious that it positively encourages over-eating. The trick here is using a gorgeous baked crust of sweetcorn and polenta, rather than mashed potato.

The good news is that if you DO over-eat (and in my experience that is quite likely) you still won’t have eaten too many calories. Dividing this between four people gives exceedingly generous portions, each serving coming in at only 400 calories.


RECIPE serves 4 – 6 

1 tsp olive oil

1 large red onion, finely chopped

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

1 large carrot, small dice

1 red and 1 green pepper, each small dice

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 dried chipotle chillies, finely chopped

1x 400g can of kidney beans

1x 400g can of butter beans

1x 400g can of chopped tomatoes

300ml vegetable stock

small bunch of finely-chopped fresh coriander


500g sweetcorn kernels

3 tbsp fine cornmeal (polenta)

1 tsp baking powder

15g unsalted butter (vegetable oil if making it for a vegan)

50g mature cheddar (or vegetarian/vegan equivalent)


Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the onion, celery, carrot and peppers, with a pinch of salt and a splash of water and sweat, covered, gently for around fifteen minutes until softened.

Add the garlic and spices and cook, stirring, for a further minute, then add the beans, tomatoes and stock. Stir thoroughly and bring to the boil.

Reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce to a thick sauce.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 190C/ fan 170C/ gas 5.

Make the topping: in a food processor, blitz half the sweetcorn with the polenta, baking powder, butter and a generous pinch of salt. At this stage you want a smooth paste. Now add the remaining sweetcorn and pulse the food processor until the texture is rough but all the sweetcorn has broken down. Check and adjust the seasoning.

Check and adjust the seasoning of the filling then pour it into an ovenproof dish and carefully spoon the topping thinly and evenly over it. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and a good grinding of black pepper. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping is a deep golden brown and the filling is piping hot.

Red Lentil and Harissa Soup

I hate ‘punish-yourself-January’. So many people eschewing alcohol and meat, going on diets that will never succeed and buying gym memberships they will never use. Here’s my highly opinionated tip: if you’re going to change anything about anything, then you need to make changes that will be permanent. Permanent means life-long, so you’d better make sure that you love the changes that you do make.

It doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be punishing. With people like The Hairy Bikers around, low-fat, no-sugar, delicious food is easy to make. This gorgeous soup of their devising takes a mere ten minutes or so to put together, from what are likely to be store-cupboard ingredients. It is also vegan, so whatever you are putting yourself through this January, this dish ticks every box.

The ‘gremolata’ lifts this from the everyday lovely to the out-of-this-world, so don’t leave it out. Frightened of raw garlic? Don’t go and breathe on people afterward; that’s all I can say.

Don’t be thinking that this is a dish suitable only for January, you can eat this as a summer supper, meaning you can make those lifestyle changes permanent.

If serving 6 (this is a filling dish), the calories come in at 166 per portion. If serving 4 it is 249 per portion, and you’ll be full.


RECIPE serves 4 – 6 

1 tbsp olive oil

2 large onion, finely chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

a small bunch of finely-chopped fresh coriander stalks

2 tbsp harissa paste

200g red lentils, rinsed

1 litre vegetable stock

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

the juice of half a lemon


the finely grated zest of a lemon

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

a small bunch of finely-chopped fresh coriander leaves


Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the onions with a pinch of salt and cook gently for five to ten minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for a further minute, then add the coriander stalks and harissa paste. Stir thoroughly then add the lentils, stir thoroughly again until everything is coated in the harissa, then add the stock and bring to the boil.

Reduce to a simmer for ten minutes, then add the tomatoes and simmer for a further ten minutes. The lentils should be soft by this time, so test and adjust the seasoning, and add lemon juice to thin the soup and add liveliness.

To make the ‘gremolata’ (a real gremolata uses parsley, but the coriander used here is splendid) chop the ingredients together and spoon over each serving once it has been put into bowls.

Microwave-Steamed Sponge Pudding

For every ten times that I fancy a steamed pudding, I probably act on it once. It’s just such a colossal faff, all that wrapping, and string, and steam, and forgetting to top up the water…

The results are always worth it, but sometimes life is just too busy. Imagine my delight then when I spotted Rose Elliot’s foolproof method for cooking a steamed pudding in a microwave. I have made this successfully with golden syrup and maple syrup, but the method lends itself to experimenting with all kinds of steamed puddings – including Christmas pudding. We have missed the boat on that one, but this year I’ll be testing it in the run-up to Christmas.

In general, it is a truth that in life every shortcut has a cost. Not this time; this shortcut saves hours of time and a load of energy, and the results are exactly the same as if you had done it the long, traditional way.



175g unsalted butter, room temperature

175g golden caster sugar

175g self-raising flour

100ml whole milk

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 medium hens eggs, or 2 duck eggs

5 tbsp (approx) syrup


Put the butter, sugar, flour, milk, baking powder, eggs and 1 tbsp of the syrup into a mixing bowl and beat together until light, fluffy and creamy. If you don’t have a mixer you can achieve great results with a wooden spoon and elbow-grease.

Pour the remaining syrup into the bottom of a lightly-greased plastic or Pyrex microwaveable pudding bowl, then spoon the sponge batter carefully on top.

Put the bowl in to the microwave, uncovered, and cook on full power until the sponge has risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The time it takes will vary, depending on the power of your microwave. Anything between 10 minutes for a 600W machine, down to around 5 minutes for an 850W machine. There’s no need to worry, you can cook it for a few minutes, have a look, cook it a bit longer and have another look and continue until it is ready. It won’t ruin it.

Allow the pudding to stand for a few minutes then turn it out onto a warmed serving plate so that the syrupy top is uppermost. You can add a little more syrup if you want to be really indulgent.