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.

Catalan Tuna and Potato Stew

This is a fabulously earthy stew that is so much more than the sum of its parts. I always find the best recipes invoke some kind of alchemy between a handful of carefully selected ingredients, and this one is pure magic.


RECIPE serves 4

4 tbsp olive oil

2 red onions, peeled, halved and sliced

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tsp ground coriander

100ml dry white vermouth

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

400ml fish stock

700g new or baby potatoes, skin on, scrubbed and sliced into 5mm rounds

700g tuna fillet

1 200g jar of stuffed green olives (stuffing of your choice), rinsed


Heat the oil in a large casserole over a medium heat, add the onions with a pinch of salt and sweat them under a lid for around ten minutes, adding the garlic and chilli flakes when you judge that there are around 4 minutes left until the onions are sufficiently softened.

Add the dried spices and stir thoroughly, ensuring that they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan and the other ingredients are carrying the spices. Add the vermouth and let it bubble off for a minute or so, then add the tinned tomatoes and the fish stock, season lightly and add the potatoes.

Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over a gentle heat for twenty minutes or so until the potatoes are just soft but retain their integrity.

If you are preparing this dish in advance, this is the perfect place to pause.

If not already portioned, cut the tuna into 6 steaks, around 2.5cm thick. Brush with a little olive oil and season lightly on both sides.

Heat a frying pan over a high heat and sear the tuna for around 30 seconds on each side, just to colour the surface. Pop the seared tuna into the simmering broth and gently cover each steak with the potatoes and broth so they are submerged. Simmer for a few minutes until the tuna is just cooked through, then add the olives, stir, check the seasoning and serve in warmed bowls.

Lime Cream Cheese Cake

Don’t be fooled by the name, this isn’t a cheesecake, rather it is a cake made with cream cheese. Now, that might strike you as a strange thing to use to make a cake, but actually it is no stranger than using butter, they are both dairy products after all.

The cream cheese adds a delicate, moist lift to the sponge itself, while the lime is sharp and exciting. Every time I make this sponge I wonder why I don’t make it more often, in fact I think I will make it again this evening…



For the cake:

175g unsalted butter, at room temperature

150g full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

the finely-grated zest of 2 limes

250g golden caster sugar

3 medium eggs, at room temperature

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (my own vodka vanilla extract works brilliantly)

225g self-raising flour

For the syrup:

4 tbsp lime juice

50g caster sugar

For the glaze:

150g icing sugar

the grated zest of a lime

approximately 20ml lime juice


Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin with baking parchment.

Put the butter, cream cheese and lime zest in a mixing bowl and beat thoroughly until soft, fluffy and creamy. This is easiest done if you have a stand mixer with a beater attachment. Scrape the sides of the bowl down then gradually add the sugar, beating as you go. If using a stand mixer get it to maximum speed and beat, and beat, and beat… and when you think you’ve beaten it enough, beat it some more.

Meanwhile, break the eggs into a bowl with the vanilla extract and whisk them together. Gradually add the eggs to the beaten butter mixture, beating well after each addition. If the mixture curdles just add a tablespoon of the flour and beat it in – the best way to avoid curdling is to ensure that all of your ingredients are at the same temperature.

Once all the eggs have been incorporated, gently fold the flour into the batter using a metal spoon until it is just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for approximately 50 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, shortly before the cake comes out of the oven, prepare the lime syrup: put the lime juice and sugar in a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. keep it warm.

Keeping the cake in the loaf tin, place it onto a wire cooling rack. Prick the surface all over and spoon the hot syrup all over it, it will absorb into the cake as it cools. Allow the cake to cool completely.

When the cake is cool, loosen the sides with a broad knife and carefully lift out using the parchment as a support. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and grate the zest of a lime into it. Now gradually add sufficient lime juice to make a thick but runny icing. Spoon over the top and allow it to set.

Pearl Barley, Parsnip & Preserved Lemon Tagine

This simple, yet vibrant and elegant dish led to one of those happy evenings with everyone swooning over how lovely it was, and it continued the next day when leftovers were shared. Since I made it last week there has been a clamour for me to get it on the blog, so here it is.


This dish appears in the current issue (December 2017) of BBC Good Food Magazine.

RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

2 onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp turmeric

1 heaped tsp paprika

2 heaped tsp ras el hanout

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

3 parsnips, cut into chunks

3 carrots, cut into chunks

2 preserved lemons (bought, or if using home-made use 1), chopped

200g pearl barley

1 litre vegetable stock

1 small pack parsley, leaves picked

1 small pack mint, leaves picked

150g green olives, chopped

juice of ½ lemon

pomegranate seeds, to serve

zest of a lemon, finely grated to serve

For the tahini yogurt:

160g thick Greek yogurt (or dairy-free alternative)

2-3 tbsp tahini

juice of ½ lemon


Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole dish. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, cook for around 5 minutes until they are beginning to colour and soften, then stir in the garlic and spices. Cook for a minute or more until fragrant, then add the sweet potato, parsnips, carrots, preserved lemon and pearl barley.

Give everything a good mix and cook for a minute or so until the vegetables and barley are coated in the spices. Pour in the stock and some seasoning, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until the vegetables and barley are tender.

To make the tahini yogurt, mix the yogurt with the tahini, lemon juice and some seasoning, then add a splash of water to make it loose and spoonable.

Chop most of the mint and parsley leaves. Taste the tagine for seasoning, then stir through the chopped herbs, olives and lemon juice.

Scatter over the pomegranate seeds and the remaining herbs to add colour and texture, and scatter the grated lemon zest over everything.  Serve with the tahini yogurt.

Apple Compote

We always have a glut of apples at this time of year, thanks to our allotment-owning friends. Every year I dutifully wrap them in newspaper, store them in a cool, dry, dark place, and every year a good proportion of them still rot. Over the years it has made me much more cautious about storing apples that are in any way less-than-perfect.

I won’t throw the marked ones away though, instead we now make up a huge batch of silky smooth apple compote. You can use all eating apples, all cooking apples, or a mix of the two; the method is the same whatever you do.

Stored in an airtight container in the fridge this will easily keep for a few weeks, and will freeze for up to 3 months. It is great with muesli or granola for breakfast; with cinnamon and allspice stirred through it I have made some lovely individual apple pies, and it also makes a great base for an apple fool. It can also be served alongside pork dishes (rather than processed, jarred apple sauce) or used as an element of a lovely home-made granola.



apples: eaters, cookers or a mix

golden caster sugar, to taste

a little water


Peel, core and finely slice the apples – be sure to remove every little bit of fibre from the core and peel, otherwise you can be sure it will catch in your teeth.

Put the apples in a large pan and add a good tablespoon of sugar and 2-3 tablespoons of water – just to stop them catching on the bottom of the pan. Cook, covered, over a gentle heat and stirring often until the apple pieces have completely dissolved and you have a thick, slightly translucent purée. It should take about half an hour.

Add more caster sugar to taste – enough to achieve a purée that is still on the tart side but not unpleasantly so. You can always add sugar when you serve it up, and in fact the slight graininess of just-sprinkled caster sugar on the compote is a pleasure in itself.

Leave to cool completely, then store in the fridge in a jar or Tupperware container.