By a knockout

Dear Ruth

Here we go, a blow by blow account of the title fight. Yesterday's meal the undercard, nothing spectacular, but the crowd were impressed enough to return to their seats and the place was due to fill up for the top billing.

Before I begin, I have to let you know that I somehow found the desire, the will, the energy even to prepare for the big meal the day before as the beef was still digesting. Where most men were falling asleep on the sofa (nothing like a good old stereotype - but I saw enough facebook photos to know this still goes on), I was preparing the turkey and gravy.

As you know, I agreed to a friend's recommendation. A Nigella recipe that I was assured never fails...ha, Nigella hadn't banked on ol' Thomas Cook here. Thankfully my friend had, and talked me through it step by step, telling me what was essential and what could be left out. I don't know if you've ever tried to buy cloves on Christmas eve but I can tell you now that it is near impossible. Thankfully at about 4:45 I got my mitts on the last lot in the last place I looked.

And they were a central part of the turkey brine ( I assume this is a brine, it had a lot of salt in it):

So this baby was soaked overnight, turning it before bed to leave it swimming in a heady mix of spices, fruits and veg. But the fun bit was the gravy...giblets (quite possibly my new favourite word, say it out loud and try not to laugh) came with my turkey, so following instructions I popped them in with the required gravy ingredients and left to simmer, before cooling and popping in the garden - my new makeshift fridge.

I have a theory about why Christmas happens in winter. It may upset a few people but hear me out. Essentially, so much food gets prepared that it needed storing in the cold. And in the absence of fridges God, or the Victorians depending on one's Christmas beliefs timed it to perfection. Australia either hadn't been invented at the time (God), or was yet to be properly recognised (the Victorians),  and as God (or the Victorians) ruled the world they could do what they wanted. Anyway, the point of my half baked theory is that despite having a sizable fridge for a live alone guy, there is no way I could have delivered Christmas without my back garden holding temperatures at between 0 and 5 degrees for 2 days. As you know, I love my garden already. It has just gone up in my estimations.

Boxing day
I woke up early (yet again), but this time with a hangover. I knew I had a mammouth task ahead. My menu was as follows, with no less than 7 of your recipes on there:

  • Spiced roast turkey with homemade gravy
  • Sage and onion stuffing
  • Cheese, red pepper and onion tart
  • Garlic and rosemary roast potatoes
  • Yorkshire puddings
  • Braised red cabbage with onion and apple
  • Potato, celeriac and sprout mash
  • Green beans salad with hazlenuts and orange
  • Orange and cranberry sauce 
  • Salad of lettuce leaves, cucumber and red pepper

Before all that, I decided to treat myself to a breakfast of the finest bacon, poached egg and red onion on handmade bread. I'd planned this for Christmas day but in the rush to prep the food I just had porridge. To some it may seem a little indulgent, to others symbolic of the final meal.

On the menu today, double the amount of food. And the real challenge, the vegetarian dish. Now, given your hectic Christmas I know you didn't have time to post up a meal, but thank you for texting the dish to me. I managed to get the ready rolled pastry into the pie dish, chop the onions, peppers and grate the cheese. But, i heard that to bake puff pastry you need to bake it with baking beans, or as a substitute, rice.

So what did I do? Oh yes, just poured the rice right on in and whacked it in the oven. It made nice imprints. I'll come back to this part of the story later, but next, the arrival...

Thankfully the turkey was already in. Christmas day was serene. Boxing day morning peaceful. Then in one hit came my nephew and his entourage (mum, dad, brother and sister in law, other brother, sister and boyfriend). The place exploded with noise, filled with presents and suddenly a major moveable trip hazard appeared in the kitchen, just as I had my lovely new sharp knife in hand.

Stress. Apparently a little bit is good for us. It is, it forces you to raise your game, fight, beat it. Somehow though, when other people notice your stress they tend to either point it out to you ("no, I am not stressing!"), which makes you more stressed, or step in to control the stress, which makes you more stressed. Only you can beat your own stress as long as you recognise it and choose to ask for help. At this particular moment, I had suddenly became called the temperamental cook, fighting off calls to 'let me help' and I was reaching boiling point. 

But, in a moment of calm, I managed to clear the kitchen of helpers and delegate tasks to any non kitchen space I could find. My sister's boyfriend showed quiet talent in preparing a green bean salad, my brother given Turkey carving duty. 

Back in the kitchen, it was the last half hour where mayhem kicked in, in my mind at least. Pulling out the spuds, getting the boiling and steaming on the go, heating the yorkshire trays, and covering food with foil, tea towels, and of course, washing everything up as I went along. Getting the timings, knowing that the gravy had to be delivered to the table hot, that the oven and hob space was at a premium, the pressure really was building. 

And before I knew it, it was time to plate up. I'd love to say it all went to plan. And in terms of putting all the food on the table at the same time, warm, it did (except of course the yorkshires). But I was 2 and a half hours past the advertised eating time... That's a whole meal missed out.  Thankfully I had very patient guests and upon seating everyone looked happy that their hunger was about to be sated.

Only to hear dad say ' what about Lucy's meal? ' Ah yes, no sign of his specially bought root roast. I said I was stubborn. Instead, she was presented with my first ever cheese, onion and pepper tart. Thankfully I had the foresight to buy two packs of pastry, guessing I'd ruin the first attempt. The verdict? I'll leave that to Lucy but she did have seconds so it can't have been that bad. And in fact, tonight, I had the last bit for supper. The potential of pastry, of pies and tarts intrigues me. Lets pick that up another day.

But what about the turkey? All I can say is that I must give Nigella her due. She certainly has a fool-proof recipe for a moist bird. It was yummy if I'm allowed to say so, but the real flavour was in the gravy which was just pure dark nectar. I'll never diss turkey again.

I think I've learnt something about Christmas doing your recipes, and taking on this challenge. Year after year, Christmas can be predictable. The same songs in the supermarket. The same drunken office parties with food for the masses. The same flu bug hitting just about the same time as the drunken christmas parties. The same last minute rush. The same programmes on TV. The best bits are the christmas meal and the presents. If you can put the effort, energy and creativity into those two, taking time to prepare and deliver food and gifts that feel fresh and exciting each year, Christmas will rock. And indeed this year did. My reward for Christmas dinner? A drum kit!

I've also well and truly got the cooking bug. I was wondering if we could continue the lessons in the new year? The 'Christmas miracle' in the grocers I mentioned in yesterday's post was being overawed by vegetables. I used to hate them all. Not only do I want to grow them all, I want to understand how to get the very best out of them on a daily basis, according to season, and to embrace the amazing larder that is the South West of England. 

Finally, it's been an absolutely exhausting December, and from a very selfish point of view I thrived on this particular challenge. It would have been tempting to sit back and bask in the glory of a successful feast, but with impeccable timing came the moment that showed just who Christmas is for, and one that brought back all the best memories (mainly of lego):

Thank you to my family for their patience and for daring to eat my food, and thank you Ruth for being a superb teacher. I hope others will follow you, write to you with their own challenges and ideas and that I can continue to use your blog as a source of inspiration in the kitchen.


A very knackered Tom

Thomas. Cook

Dear Ruth,

I've now been re-christened, accidentally by my dad, much to my sister's amusement.

And I'm shattered! Who'd have thought cooking could be so exhausting.  Today I had the longest lie in since my student days, my body not just refusing to get up but doing so with a "I've earnt this rest and I'm damn well going to have it' Who am I to argue with myself?

Lets cut to the chase. Your cajoling, tutoring, stern reminders and above all simple but classy recipes meant that Christmas 2011 has gone down in this family as one of the most memorable. I can't thank you enough. I've so much to tell you, but for now here are the stories from Christmas eve and christmas day...

Christmas eve

With a week to go, I was getting seriously worried. I didn't get home from work until 7 on the night before Christmas eve, with a major project to see out the door and a desire to clear the desk before leaving for the year.

Christmas eve, I was a man with a mission. Crack of dawn I was at the grocers for the second time in 2 days, stocking up on onions, potatoes and fruit.

And whilst I was there, some sort of Christmas miracle occured. I'd bought my Christmas tree from them, I'd been there to buy my practice veg too. The tiny shop was packed, not just with other Christmas cooks, but with more amazing produce that you could shake a parsnip at. Bright in colour, rich in scent and above all coming in all shapes and sizes. Hidden amongst it all were herbs, dates, nuts, eggs and passion from the owners. All I could think was ' I want to play with it all '

I took a pit stop at a new tea shop nearby. I love tea. This place is the grandaddy of tea shops if ever I saw one. Lahloo tea - a real passion of the owners. I spent most of the morning in there trying the teas, eating a truly superb bacon sandwich - with marmalade, you must try that combo! I totally lost track of time.

But I regained my focus and headed off to the butchers for the meat. Turkey, beef, smoked streaky bacon and sausages. Heaven.

So, all food in, time to prep. Ah, presents. Yes, man's achilles heel, leaving presents to Christmas eve. Always have done, probably always will. So rather than braise the cabbage I braved the shops, joining the queues of, well other men in the same gravy boat.

By 5pm I was home. All set. Then the parents called. "We're at the hotel, but don't want to leave the presents and food in the car"; "Ok I'll come and pick them up, wait, what do you mean food"? "Well just a few things like the starter (fine, dad was charged with that), pudding (yep, mum was doing that), some things we picked up to help, and Lucy's food." Lucy is the vegetarian. The way my parents, with the best of intentions, talk it's as if she was a rabbit (we mustn't forget to feed the bunny).

On collection of the food, sitting in the boot was a whole ready meal of roast root vegetables just for Lucy. I also found out there were two half empty packets of crisps, strawberries, blueberries, courgettes, onions, peppers, mince and an assortment of other things. My fridge was already full. It turns out my parents were in denial about me cooking for the whole family. They thought I could manage Christmas day but, as my mum put it "don't worry, I'll be helping you with boxing day." Oh will you?

I'm nothing if not stubborn...

Christmas day

So, the stakes had been raised. One slip up and I would have to concede defeat, hand the reins back to the parents. Ruth, I spent most of the morning believing that the true meaning of Christmas only comes from winning the kitchen power struggle.

I was up early (again) and braising the cabbage. I have to say, this dish above all was the one that filled me with most pride. The colour, fragrance and impact of it set the tone for the rest of the day. It was that dish, which instantly made my parents think "oh, maybe he can cook".

And to distract them I had a plan that had been literally kept in storage for months. My dad loves champagne and any family occasion brings a frugally sourced bottle. My friend Kate came up with the idea of raspberry and mint ice cubes on her (brilliant) blog, so I made some from picking the raspberries and mint from the garden in the summer. Now was the time to unleash:

Knowing I wouldn't have long to distract them I kept the food simple, an hour for the beef and potatoes, and just a simple accompaniment of steamed sprouts, the braised cabbage, yorkshires and a green salad would allow me to stay in control. And it all came together in time, on time:

No mishaps, no disasters and tasty food, it was with that, I realised there was a chance I could pull it off.

I'd love to know what you think...

Tomorrow I'll let you know about the main event...boxing day!

Yorkshire Pudding

Dear Ruth

I burnt the yorkshires. I cannot, just cannot believe I burnt the yorkshires. The one thing I had to get right

I got everything else spot on, over two days. And they were the last thing in the oven. The cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake.

Like clearing the final fence in the National, striding for the line and finding my knees buckle at the last.

This wasn't a 'scrape the burnt bits away', or salvage the ones in the middle. This was a ' no, not a single one is going to be edible' disaster.

I have stories to tell and photos to share but for now, Christmas has finally lowered it's festive curtain, I have a cold beer and Match of the Day. I shall sleep very very well.

Yours until the morning


Not so amused, bouche.

Dear Ruth

I couldn't get through Christmas Day and not let you have an inkling of how today went in the kitchen. Yet I'm shattered, truly wiped out. I'm just not sure how much I can tell you about before my head hits the keyboard in exhaustion.

As you know, I had my parents and my brother over for Christmas lunch. Lunch. Since when did 'lunch' start at 8am the day before and finish at 8pm?

And as you and readers will be patting turkey tummies with satisfaction, watching the lego be dismantled as quickly as it was created and praise the foodie god that the fridge is stacked for the next two days to avoid any further effort, I've just provided my family with a little appetiser. 

Tomorrow, the self-styled Michelin inspectors otherwise known as my sister and (second) brother are driving into town. My sister says she has "high expectations". This is not, as some might think, a compliment. It's a threat.

Today, I had time, a quieter household and no pressure to be done so that presents could be opened. In fact, the Christmas tree is still stacked with gifts (mostly for my nephew, lucky boy). Tomorrow, the heat will be there from the off. More food, veggie and toddler to cater for, and of course those expectations to meet.

But, to give you comfort that I have found inspiration from your tutoring in the middle of this festive culinary challenge, here are a couple of snaps from today. The yorkshires and the beef:

Yours apprehensively



Given up the goose...

Dear Ruth, 

It was a step too far, a bird too grand, and certainly the thought of a threesome nothing but a fantasy. Turducken indeed. So, no duck, no goose, no game. It'll be beef on Christmas and turkey for the boxing day main event.

In my mind, i still have practice time. In reality it all kicks right off tomorrow. It is, perhaps, just as well that even if I can't find the time to practice, that I have managed to get in a healthy collection of fresh veg from the grocer, a sample of which below:

And that tomorrow I can visit the butcher collect my pre-ordered stash of perfectly plucked west country gobbler, a properly hung Topside and of course enough chipolatas to embarrass a warmly wrapped pig. No last minute scrabbling around the empty shelves of Tesco for me.

But, your recipes below have just created a new shopping list. I'm well up for the cranberry and orange sauce. I need more onions, hope to goodness there's some sage knocking about and I must not forget the eggs for the Yorkshires! I will be up with the crows to round this all off.

I can't tell you just how manic this week has been. Late nights at work as I've managed to see a major project to the close in the Saint Nick of time. Tonight I had take away curry. Worse still, it was left over from last night's takeaway curry! But, I'm no Nigella. Just keeping it simple will do.

So now to bed. I'm excited about tomorrow, simply because all I'll be doing is cooking all the advance dishes that I can.

The next pictures you'll see will be the real thing. 

Wish me luck...

Yours with one sleep left till the off


PS - we forgot the veggie...

Time to talk Turkey!

Dear Tom,

The turkey... it is just a large chicken really, and you can manage to do that quite well so this should be the easiest bit for you, although if you over cook it you will get complaints about dryness and if you under cook it there will be more problems than complaints to worry about!!

You need to know how much the turkey weighs to work out how long to cook it for

The general rule is that if your turkey weighs between 6-10lbs     = 20mins per lb plus 20mins gas 4 / 180'c
                                                                                 2.7- 4.5kg = 20mins per 450g plus 20mins extra

                                                                                 10-18lbs    = 15mins per lb plus 20mins
                                                                                 4.5 - 8.1kg = 15mins per 450g pus 20mins

The three golden rules are make sure that your turkey is thoroughly defrosted when using a frozen one
Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the raw meat
Make sure that it is cooked properly all of the way through, a meat thermometer is handy but as most of us don't have one.... When it has been cooking for its allotted time, use a sharp knife and pierce the bird in its fattest part, if the juices that run out are clear then it is done, if there is blood in them then it is back into the oven for another 20 minutes and try again.

There are endless recipes, methods of cooking and general advice about cooking turkeys that you could probably miss the entire Christmas period reading them. I can't tell you which one is best, I can only tell you the way that I will be doing it.


1 Turkey, (mine is about 4kg, enough for 6)
Red onions


* Work out how long your turkey is likely to take, and work backwards from the time you want to serve it, confused? I want my turkey on the table at 2, so... It needs an hour resting, therefore needs to come out of the oven at 1. By weight it should take about 2 and a half hours so need to go in by half 10 You also need to factor in getting it out of the fridge and getting up to room temperature which takes a couple of hours. In other words for a two o'clock finish it will need to come out of the fridge at 8ish

* The oven needs preheating to gas 4

* You could just plop the bird into a roasting tray, straight into the oven for the allotted time and that's it, however that is unlikely to get the best out it.

* Cut your onions in half length ways and lay in the roasting tray flat side down, add the carrots in chunks too, this is going to make a platform for your turkey to stand on

* Rub your turkey all over with butter, place sprigs of thyme on to the top and cover in bacon. Put the lemon, halved, into the cavity, plus an extra onion or two if you have some to spare

* Put your turkey onto the roasting tray upside down. This helps the juices to flow through the breast meat whilst cooking instead of coming straight out of the bottom, and in theory you will get juicier flesh that way
If it doesn't want to balance that way you can press down firmly on it to break the back bone.
* Cover in tin foil and pop into the oven

* Check every half an hour and baste with the escaped juices.

* If you like you can turn the turkey too, when checking on it, turn it onto its side, then the next checking time onto its other side, then for the final time back onto its back.

* For the last half an hour of cooking time you should remove the tin foil, turn the turkey the right way up and baste again

* When the turkey is finally cooked it needs a good long resting period, this helps all of the juices to go back into the meat and the meat relaxes a bit. Obviously you will be wanting to keep it warm too. Remove your turkey from the roasting tray, onto a carving platter, saving all of the juices and vegetables for the gravy. Wrap it i tin foil and then place a couple of towels on the top, this will do a fantastic job of keeping he heat in :)

I hope this all makes sense?




Dear Tom

Are you buried under the weight of your Christmas shopping and Jobs?

Oh well, whilst you aren't looking I shall just add to your 'to do' list :)

I was thinkng that you might want a recipe for bread sauce, not a personal favourite, but everyone else seems to like it, and also a cranberry sauce.

Bread Sauce


400ml full fat milk
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
1 Bay leaf
5/6 cloves
2 slices white bread, made into bread crumbs
25g butter, softened
salt and pepper


* Put milk, cloves, onion, and bay leaf into a saucepan and heat until simmering
* Turn off the heat and leave to sit for 30 minutes, the longer you leave it the stronger it will taste
* Strain the milk mixture into a clean pan, add breadcrumbs and heat to simmering. Simmer for a couple of minutes
* Season and stir in butter
* It can now be left to cool and can be reheated ready to serve, it can be made on Christmas eve and refridgerated

Cranberry and Orange Sauce


250g Cranberries, fresh
1 large orange, juice and zest
half tsp of ground ginger
40g caster sugar
half tsp cinnamon
3-4 cloves
Optional - 2 tbsp port


* Put everything into a pan and simmer for 10-15 minutes until cranberries have broken down, stir regularly to prevent sticking and if nedded you can add a tablespoon of water at a time to help with the cooking
* Dish up warm or leave to go cold

I Hope you find these useful

Yours, a hectic and buried under wrapping paper,


Get stuffed!

Dear Tom

I hope you are looking forward to cooking the Christmas dinner?

I expect your cupboards are fully stocked and your fridge is groaning under the weight of all the yummy things you are filling it with?

Hopefully you are feeling positive about the whole cooking event?

Anyway, enough chat, on with the lessons...

You really can't have a big roast meal without stuffing, veggie, sausagemeat, fruity, nutty or simply just sage and onion, it is a fab addition and has to be included

Lets start with a simple sage and onion...


3 slices of slightly stale bread
small handful of fresh sage, or 2 tsps of dried
1 medium onion
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper


* Oven temperature gas 5 / 200'c
* Finely dice your onion, pop into a frying pan and add a couple of tablespoons of water. Heat until the onion softens, but don't let it brown
* Pop your bread and sage leaves and salt and pepper into a food processor and whizz until it is bread crumbs, a few lumpy bits here and there are fine, it adds texture
* Add bread mix to the softened onions, mix well, then add beaten egg. The mixture should start to stick together, if not add a table spoon or two of water, you don't want a sloppy heap however so this is a check and see moment really
* Put the mixture into a baking dish and put in the oven for 20minutes until golden and crunchy on top.

Simple :)

Sausagemeat stuffing


Almost as above!

2 slices of bread made into breadcrumbs (as above with herbs)
2 red onions or 1 medium normal onion
Small handful of fresh sage or 2 tsps dried
Small handful of fresh thyme or 2 tsps dried
900g or thereabouts of pork sausagemeat

optional extras -

Lemon zest
chopped apricots
chopped chesttnuts
handful of cranberries
chopped garlic clove


* Cook onion until soft not browned
* Whizz bread and herbs into bread crumbs
* Add onion, bread herb mix and sausage meat togther in a bowl and using hands mix well, also this is the time to add any extra ingredients
* It can be wrapped in cling film and put in the fridge at this point making it a good Christmas eve job
* You can either bake it in a dish or roll it into golf ball sized portions and bake




Deck the halls.... A little more

Dried fruit can make lovely decorations, of course I don't mean string up prunes or sultanas, but dried orange slices. Very easy to do, hardly any effort for lots of reward. Just slice an orange into thin (2-3mm) rounds, place on a baking tray in single layer and then pop into your oven for a few hours on it's lowest setting. Turn them over every now and again to stop them sticking and to help with even drying. Whilst I had my oven on I popped in a tray with rosehips that a friend, Lucy, and I picked. These now look like little jewels and I hope to string them together.

The dried orange slices will look pretty tied together with ribbon or string, just piled in a bowl or with cotton loops tied on to make them into Chistmas tree decorations.

If you don't want to use an oven you could put the tray of oranges into the airing cupboard. Your linen would smell lovely but trying to dry them before they go mouldy or indeed for Christmas would be a little bit tricky!

If you make these please send photos so we can see how pretty they all look

Deck the halls

There are a few smells that remind you of Christmas, for me some of the most evocative are cloves and oranges. Cloves, on their own, smell to me like the dentist, yikes, but somehow become transformed into a delicious smell with cooking or when placed with oranges.

My boys and our friends made pomanders yesterday, they look beautiful and smell so Christmassy that I thought I should share it with you.

All that is needed is an orange each, large sort not clementine sort, a jar of cloves and some ribbon if you have some.

Tie the ribbon around the orange. Then, using a fork or skewer, make little holes in which ever pattern you choose, the emphasis is on little holes. Plug each hole with a clove, make sure every hole is filled because this stops the orange from going mouldy too quickly. A plate of these pretty oranges would make a lovely centre piece for your Christmas table or individually as mantlepiece decorations.

There is hope!

Dear Tom

Well done!! Are you pleased? I hope so, you have done a good job so feel proud of yourself.

All fingers in tact? A sharp knife makes so much difference in food preparation, it'll make it easier and, after some more practice, quicker too.

You mentioned an issue with timings when it came to the red cabbage, this is a bake ahead dish really. Mine always goes into the oven on Christmas eve. There are a few dishes and vegetables that can be prepared the day before, so later on maybe it will be a good ideathor me to write a Christmas Eve to do list?

For now however, on with the lessons

Yours, relieved,


Rising to the occassion

Dear Ruth,

It's taken me all week to get absolutely nowhere, but I hope that the fruits of my effort today give you some hope. Although I didn't get going till 1pm... (it was a tough week last week, I spent the morning cleaning the kitchen properly, having hot drinks on the sofa, taking all the decorations off the tree because the lights were rubbish and putting much better lights on - I won't be judged just on the food).

So, this afternoon, I went on a mission. To the butcher, the greengrocer and the kitchen shop.

Yep, I had the meat talk. To recap, I had grand ideas of game, or at the least, goose. Anything but turkey. My mum rates my cooking so highly she reckons I should just go for beef. My sister won't have anything but turkey. And conversations with my brother have led to a Turducken suggestion. Which can only be 3 birds in 1. I hope. Oh, and I have a veggie sister in law too. Butcher couldn't help me with that. Sent me to the grocers.

But before I left I got all the advice on prices and birds that I needed and have now made my decision...I'll be making the order first thing tomorrow. Once it's in, I'll no doubt be coming back with a cry for help saying 'what have I done'?!

Anyway, at the grocers they kindly offered to save me a celeriac if I wanted one. There's service for you. And then I picked up my red cabbage. I'd forgotten just what a cracking looking veg this is, once you peel back the leathery exterior. It took me to some place else, where I'd seen it in such glory, but I couldn't quite recall straight away.

So finally to the cook shop. You'd be proud. Not only did I get a pastry brush and cookie cutters for the pies, I got a knife. A proper, must keep it sharp, must dry it straight after washing, must stare at it in awe at least once a day:

Isn't she gorgeous?

I have to say though, I've never cut apples up in such fear, this is one sharp mistress, one slip and your pinkies are off.

Ok, so you've seen my roasties, now for the steaming hot braised cabbage. In a timing issue, I realised that it was either use the oven for 3 hours for cabbage, and eat roast dinner at 10pm, or find another way with the cabbage (at this point I texted you for emergency help - thank you for your reply to pop them on the stove top).

Two and a half hours steaming in the vinegar and sugar, apple and onion juice and a generous helping of port, (yes I added all the port) out popped a gorgeously fragrant mix:

After tasting, I think another half hour would have been good for them. It was very tasty, but very crunchy still. Not that that's a bad thing actually. This was the first time I'd ever cooked red cabbage. Lovely stuff and I can only assume it's good for me. An aphrodisiac no doubt.

But... our family, you can be forgiven for ruining most things. Screw up the yorkshires though and there is trouble. There is a lot resting on your 'made from scratch recipe'. I'm all for putting Aunt Bessie back in her northern box and was very excited as the recipe seems easy. Followed to the letter and considering your Jamie 'splash it in' Oliver approach to quantities, I just poured in the amount I thought would be right. Let's just say, with yorkshires, size matters:

I have to say, I will be going to sleep very happy indeed. I may have put a dash too much juice in the bun tin but they were mighty fine. All of it went superbly with my roast chicken, which is one dish I am confident with, so all in all I think I can do this. 

So tomorrow, I'll let you know the meat. I need stuffing, gravy and a veg main idea and then I think your little apprentice is ready to be tested...

Oh, and I remembered where I first saw the beauty of red cabbage, standing out against all that green. A kebab shop.

Yours highly satisfied


My spuds have taken a roasting

Dear Ruth

Oh yes, this is Sunday night live cooking and...


Now come on, what an impressive set eh? The stuff of crispy dreams; potatoes from heaven. I think you have to say I'm back on track...

...except, I haven't tasted them yet. See, I'm also roasting myself a Sunday night chicken, to give me ready made food after rowing tonight and Wednesday (um, yeah, I may not be able to practice cooking those nights).

But the chicken still has half an hour to go.

And I couldn't braise the cabbage at the same time, so I've popped them on the hob instead, simmering away. But they need another hour.

I keep hearing the phrase, it's all about timing...

On the plus side, time to make some Yorkshires, and gravy. Talking of which, do you have any Bisto alternatives up your culinary sleeves?

Yours boldly


I beg your parsnip...

Dear Tom

A thought accured to me, if you are going to try out the roast potatoes today then maybe you should give parsnips a go too, the reason being I cook mine together.


And honey if you like it, don't bother with the posh expensive pots for this.

That's it. I can't tell you in weight how many to use, one medium one would give you 5-6 pieces to serve depending on how skinny they are. I would probably only eat two pieces, but my eldest son unwatched would eat 8 or 9 and always asks for seconds. I suppose I would aim to have 3-4 pieces per person.


• Peel your parsnips, and chop. Chop once towards the top for your first piece, halve it if it is still carrot thickness, then standing the parsnip on it's fat end, slice down through the middle into quarters.
• Put the chopped pieces into a bowl of cold water until ready to use to prevent them going brown which they do quite quickly.
• The next bit relates to the roast potato recipe. Parsnips benefit from a very brief part boil, a couple of minutes at most, it helps them to cook through as they tend to brown quickly when roasting and not always have time to soften first.
• If cooking at the same time as potatoes - when you have brought the potatoes up to boil, pop the drained parsnips on top of them. This reduces the temperature of the water instantly. When the water comes back up to boil, use a slotted spoon to fish the parsnips out again, and pop them onto the roasting tray you will be using for your spuds. (Put them to one side of it so you can avoid them with the rosemary from the potatoes recipe)
• Roast them with your potatoes, they will take between 30-45 minutes depending on their thickness
• 5 minutes before serving, take them out, put them into a small oven proof dish and pour on enough honey to coat them
• Put them back in to the oven for 5 minutes, it heats them through and makes them lovely and sticky.

Hints and tips

Don't cut your pasnips too thinly as they will just burn, thumb thickness would be fine

When buying your parsnips don't think that bigger is better, the bigger they get, the woodier they become in the middle and then you end up having to cut out the middles as the woody bits are tough

You could use maple syrup instead of honey, and I might try out my rosehip syrup today too

Yours, looking forward to seeing your results,


Time for a roasting!

Dear Tom

Time waits for no man, especially a one week to Christmas and can't cook the Christmas lunch man, so best foot (or knife, and a sharpened one at that)forward....

No roast dinner, whatever the meat, is truly complete without roast potatoes. They are easy to do well and so have to be part of your festive table.


Enough potatoes to have 3-4 halves per person, or 2 for a child
Cooking oil, vegetable or sunflower
Garlic bulb
Sprig of fresh rosemary or heaped tsp of dried


• Pre heat oven to gas 5 or 200'c
• Peel and halve potatoes (Or possibly quartered if they are baking sized ones)
• Put them into a pan, add a good pinch of salt, pour on boiling water
• Bring to the boil and then simmer for 5 minutes, you're not trying to cook them through, just soften the edges.
• Test them by scrapping the edge of one with a fork, if the fork breaks the edges without too much effort they are done. Turn off the heat and strain them in a colander
• Whilst still in the colander shake them around a bit, this breaks up the outside edges, fluffs them up a bit and is what will make them crispy in the oven
• Put into a roasting pan, coat in about 5-6 tbsp oil. Sprinkle over a large pinch of salt
• Halve the garlic bulb horizontally through the middle, pop on top of the potatoes, cut side facing down
• Lie the rosemary on top, or sprinkle if using dried
• Put into the oven for an hour or so, stiring gently from time to time

Many many vegetables can be roasted, they don't require much attention, get sweeter and smell so nice cooking away.
You can add flavours like orange with carrots, cumin with sweet potatoes, or just leave them naked
You don't need to part boil anything except potatoes and perhaps parsnips which only need a minute or two, but different vegetables need different amounts of cooking time, so just keep an eye on them
I will be making a tray of roasted sweet potatoes with butternut squash and also honey roast parsnips.

Yours, with a dose of optimism

Excuses, excuses

Dear Tom

"Cat swallowed my homework" "My work was lost by my brother" "I would have called but I ran out of credit/had no signal..." What do all of these things have in common? They're excuses, simple get out clauses.

Children get colds, men get flu and woman get on with it!

Anyone who can stay out until midnight, do a full week at work and have the stomach for alcohol can't be as poorly as you are making out!

Time to take yourself into your kitchen and get on with it, no more excuses....

As for turkey or not, why don't you do a gammon on Christmas day, glazed, clove studded, tasty and cook a big enough one to have leftovers on boxing day. Then on boxing day, when you have the most family to feed, have a turkey and the gammon too if people want extra?

Yours, worriedly,


Man flu. Evil

Dear Ruth,

Its been hell. Those promised Yorkshires never materialised as the virus took hold, chained me to my sofa. Sunday's race was the last I saw of active duty.  Since then its been drugs all the way to keep the worst at bay.

Fever fought by Lemsip. Sore throat taken to task by all manner of fresh fruit and antiseptics. Without the stomach for coffee to combat sleepless nights, its been water water water. But. I didn't miss a day's work and I even lasted till midnight at the office xmas party. The guinness saw me through. It deserves a place at the Christmas table.

Talking of which, you're right, at this rate it will be the only thing on the table. When man flu strikes we all drop some baubles. For me it has been the cooking. I accept I'll have to redouble my efforts and in the next few days I hope to show you that I'm back on the goose.

And in that lies the big question.

What meat to go for on the day? Turkey is just so so tasteless...

Yours in a cry for culinary help


Braised Red Cabbage

Braised red cabbage is a lovely addition to the Christmas spread. It can be made in advance, reheated, served cold and even freezes well. I plan to make mine the day before it is needed, reheat on Christmas day and then serve cold with cold meats and cheeses on boxing day. If, and not likely, there is any left I will then freeze it ready for the next roast dinner.

The ingredients are simple, and so is the cooking of them which is great when everything else is slightly too hectic!


1 small red cabbage
3 small/medium onions
3 small/medium cooking apples
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or 0.5tsp of powdered garlic (Optional)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons White wine vinegar
Optional - 3 table spoons port
Salt and pepper to taste


• Finely shred the cabbage, if there are any particularly large stalks then cut these out
• Finely slice the onion
• Peel, core and finely slice the apple
• Put all of the chopped ingredients into an oven proof dish (make sure it is a lidded one)
• Add all of the other ingredients and stir
• Cover with lid. (If you don't have one, tightly wrap in tin foil)
• Put into the oven for 2-3 hrs. Check every 40 minutes or so, and stir.

TIP - the cabbage may lose some of it's colour during cooking, and turn bluejay, that is fine. Adding the port will help to hold the redness, but alocohol isn't for everybody, children especially might not like the taste, so if unsure just leave it out.

You could add a few cloves into the pot too, but count them in and make sure the same amount come out, biting into one wouldn't be good!! Only use 3 or 4 they are very strong

You could add a handful of sultanas too if you like, great for people with a sweet tooth


Tick tock tick tock

Dear Tom

Well done, those pigs in blankets looked great, I bet you enjoyed them too?
Easy aren't they?

But, where or where are the Yorkshire puddings? Don't tell me... "I have been busy." "I have been poorly." "I have been too otherwise occupied...."

Tick tock, tick tock, there goes the Christmas clock! If you want to learn to cook then you have to try cooking, that's how it works! Your plate will be a little bare without anything else on it.

I will have to push you harder then?

Right, coming up, Braised Red cabbage, honey roast parsnips, sage and onion stuffing, sausage meat stuffing, mini lemon pies and roast potatoes. Where shall we start?

Yours, arms folded and waiting,


This little piggy... committed.

Dear Ruth

I am on a roll, cheffing my way to christmas day. I have just come back from competing in a rowing race and I have made and eaten some these babies whilst still in my lycra. Ok that may put you off your own dinner, but bear with me.

Following your heads up the other day I managed to sneak a trip to the butcher in between a final training session yesterday and my 2nd xmas drinks of the weekend and picked up some proper chipolatas and smoked streaky bacon.

Pigs in blankets have always been a highlight of our family christmas dinner. Where the idea came from I can't say, but seeing a chipolata 'naked' they really do look inappropriate and I can't think of a finer modesty wrap than succulant smoked bacon.

So, barely through the door and with a bit of haste I got dressing. My rumbling tummy may have had a part to play.

I mixed it up a bit, some sausages left revealing more than others. And then, I threw them in the oven for half an hour.  The scent from the oven was enticing and when the time was up I could hardly wait to get stuck in:

The flavours were strong. Pig against pig, both proving a match for each other. Sweet and smokey, meaty and delicate all at once. I can't believe we only eat these at christmas, surely we need no excuse to keep our snout in this particular trough?

Yours greedily


High Rising Yorkshire puddings and Pigs in Blankets

Hi Tom

Ready for the next lesson?

I know yorkshire puds aren't traditionally part of a Christmas dinner, but my boys always ask for them whether we are having beef, lamb, chicken or just sausages! They are simple and never fail to look impressive. The secrets are a smoking hot pan and lots of eggs in the batter.

The pigs in blankets. Sausages and bacon don't have to wait for a cooked breakfast to come into their own, cooking them this way they make a lovely accompaniment and can be eaten cold the next day with cold meats and chutney. You don't need to be snobby about good quality bacon and sausages (although higher welfare/free range is always better when budget allows)

Yorkshire Puddings


100g / 4oz Plain flour
3 eggs
1/2 pint full fat milk
Pinch of salt


• Heat your oven to it's highest setting
• Use a muffin tin, deeper than a bun tin, and drizzle some sunflower oil into the bottom of each hole, put into the oven to heat whilst you make the batter. Ideally it should the preheat for up to 10 minutes
• To make the batter, put the flour and salt into a bowl
• In a jug, measure out your milk, then add to it the three eggs and mix using a whisk (or a fork if you haven't got the whisk)
• Next slowly add the eggy mix to the flour. Just put a small amount at a time, and mix thoroughly, then add a bit more... This will stop you getting a lumpy mixture
• When everything is combined pour it back into your jug. This will make it easier to pour into the bun tins
• This next step needs to be done as quickly as it is possible to do without getting burnt!
• Get Your tin out of the oven, close door, pour in the mixture as quickly as you can, put the tray back into the oven. You don't need to be too precious about splashing mix on the tin or about precise amounts. The most important thing is to not let the tin cool too much.
• They will take about 20 minutes to cook. Serve straight away as they will start to sink once you get them out.

If you don't have a muffin tin, use a roasting tray, and add some cooking time.

Obviously as this recipe requires a very hot oven, that isn't always compatible with roasting meat. I tend to make the batter just before the rest is due to be cooked, take out the meat, turn up the oven, let the tin heat for 10 minutes and then start serving up everything else whilst the Yorkshire puds are cooking.

Pigs in Blankets


12 Thin sausages
12 Rashers of rindless streaky bacon


• Preheat oven to Gas5, 200'c
• Chop your sausages in half, and your bacon in half too
• Take your bacon, one half slice at a time, and put it onto your chopping board.
• With the back of a butter or eating knife, run it down the bacon from one end to the other, in a single movement, to stretch it to about double it's length.
• Repeat with all of the bacon
• Wrap each sausage tightly in a single piece of bacon and put on a roasting tray.
• Cook for about 30 minutes

The reason you stretch the bacon is that it will shrink when it cooks and will hold around the sausage more tightly.

When combining with a roast meat, just add them to the roasting tray 30 minutes before the meat is due to come out.

I hope you enjoy both of these recipes, please let me know how you get on

Yours, in anticipation, Ruth

There is no knead for that

Hey Tom

Well done, hope you are feeling proud of your efforts?

The kneading part however.... Save it for bread! Kneading pastry makes it tough. You need your lightest touches with pastry, that way it will be lighter, and more melt in your mouth, less chewy.

Also, with the measurements used, there should be enough for 12 pies, so roll it out to about 2-3mm

Well done with the make do and mend attitude, I'm sure if we were to ask people about their improvisations then we'd get a lot of interesting answers!

Practice makes perfect, so have another attempt and let me know how you get on. Once pastry is mastered we can move on to pasties, quiches and tarts!... Maybe in the new year

On with the next lesson then.

Yours, slightly impressed, Ruth

Rocky Road Chocolate Log

This recipe was devised for a twitter group known as #thebreakfastclub, it runs week days 6.46am-8am and is run, hosted, by 4 very energetic ladies, Jayne M Cox, Dinah Liversidge, Lisa Settle and Liz Bisson. Full of positive energy.

Every Friday I will be on twitter (As @MummaRuth or @CookWithYumMum) trying to get a recipe into 140 characters for their #fridayfeasts slot. However, 140 characters can only really give you a snapshot idea of a recipe so I will endeavour to write a much more detailed version on this blog. You'll be able to find them all on The Breakfast Club page.

This week is Rocky Road Chocolate Log. I like making a proper chocolate log, with a sponge and all of the traditional tweaks, but sometimes a simple recipe that requires virtually no cooking, is Kids cooking friendly and basically mostly chocolate is what is needed most.

500g of your favourite sort of chocolate
2 handfulls of something fruity, something crunchy, something sweet and either something nutty or something else to give a similar texture, all chopped into small pieces.

(For mine I used chopped fudge, chopped marshmallows, raisins and rice crisps. Chopped up crunches and Turkish delight work well too)

•Melt 400g of your chocolate slowly in a bowl over hot water
•Remove from the heat and add all of your other ingredients
•Line, with baking paper, a small baking tin, a loaf tin would be good, and pour in the mixture.
•place in the fridge until starting to cool and firm up, check very regularly, maybe every 5 minutes. You need it firm but pliable.
•When starting to firm, remove from fridgeand fillip into a log shape, you may need to squeeze and mould.
•Pop back into the fridge
•Meanwhile carefully melt the remaining 100g chocolate. When done, spread it over your chilled chocolate log. Pop back into the fridge and it's done.

It can be thinly sliced and individually wrapped, or it can be kept whole, one thing for sure, don't worry about finding a storage container, it probably won't last long enough for that

Enjoy x


Dear Ruth,

Oh yeah, I made some pies, I made some pies, I made some pies. Hot toasty apple and cinnamon pies!

I could get used to this, home made apple pies, although the cinnamon really does makes all the difference.

I followed your instructions and successfully made a ball of dough

I have to say, it was a bit of an anticlimax making pastry dough. I realise the recipe doesn't suggest kneeding, but I've made a few loaves of bread in the past and the kneeding is the best bit. It's been a hectic week, so I sneaked in a bit of pummelling. The dough broke up a bit too much for my liking. Wuss.

Now, I thought I had all the kit. I bought the bun tray today, I've had a rolling pin in the drawer for two years that I'm not even sure is mine, and in my mind I also had a pastry brush there. But of course there's always something missing. Something important.

So old Mr make do and mend over here  used an old plastic soup container and a knife to cut my 'circles'. And then brushed the egg mixture with the back of a teaspoon. And look:

Ok, I could have pushed the front one down a bit but there you go. Half-pies.

What do you mean where are the rest? Um, well, one ended up on the floor, one on the sink, and perhaps, just perhaps I could have rolled the pastry out a bit thinner...

But 20 mins later look what came out:

An apple and cinnamon pie

Gorgeous beast.

As you've probably worked out by now, the pie itself was quite dry with thick pastry and the need for a bit more juice in the filling. So I sought an accompaniment. And thankfully in my freezer is a classic twist on 'ice cream' to go with this take on an apple pie:

Yours exceedingly


A bad workman (or chef) shouldn't blame his tools!

Dear Tom

I am really pleased to see that you successfully made the potato cakes, so could this possibly be a candidate for your festivities at some point?

I have to say tho that you might have found them easier to make if you had read the part about celeriac properly... No way would I bother matchsticking celeriac, which is why I said match BOX size :) still, gave you some preparation practice I suppose!

I was a little surprised, however, that you managed to avoid pie making! Tom, we have a fair bit to get through and time is ticking away.... On top of which I was slightly amazed that as a want to be cook you don't even have a sharp knife. The lack of baking tins I can understand, but every kitchen needs proper knives (and plasters just in case!) You don't have to get all chefy about it and larger isn't better either, I have two brilliant knives both made by Kuhn Rikon, Swiss knives.

What do you have in the way of bakeware? I can do improvisation, but only to a point!

And your store cupboard, is there anything in it or is it full of wine, beer and whatever type of food a respectable batchelor pad would stock?

I have two more recipes waiting in the wings, Yorkshire puddings and pigs in blankets, so on with the pies....

So, thus far, for the potato cakes - shows potential, for the pies- must try harder!



Sprouts, sprouts, good for the heart, the more you eat them the more you...

Love them or hate them sprouts are one of the traditional vegetables at the Christmas feast, and badly cooked ones are the stuff of bad childhood memories for some.

I posed the question on Facebook and twitter "Are sprouts going to be part of your Christmas meal or not?"

Considering the bad press the humble sprout endures the results were quite suprising!

Two thirds of you will be eating them, good news, although two people confessed to only planning on a single token sprout. Still, one is better than none.

One person suggested, cooking them, covering them in chocolate, letting them set and then wrapping them in a Ferrero Rocher wrapper to play tricks on people, a little harsh perhaps?

I also asked people how they cook them. Plain and simple or with other bits and pieces. The answers, unsurprisingly, involved bacon and chestnuts as well as butter, onions and Brie.

I think it's likely that mine will be naked except for a knob of butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper, although the brie does sound tempting, and I'm toying with a sprinkling of parmesan...

How will you be eating yours?

How do you cook sprouts? The most important answer is not too much. Over cooked sprouts really aren't great, although not as bad as bullet hard raw ones!

When you buy yours, try and pick similarly sized ones so that even cooking is easier. They then need trimming a little off the end and discard any tatty outer leaves. Don't bother with crossing the bottom of them. They can then be boiled or steamed for between 5-10 mins, keep checking whether they are cooked or not with a sharp knife. Drain and serve.


My mash cakes

Dear Ruth,

Thank you for the recipes, I can only imagine the chaos around you as you tried to put them down on paper for me. It's hard enough making sure I get myself out of bed, wash, feed and drug myself up with coffee without having to think of anyone else.

I've taken you up on the potato cakes, but alas the pies have so far proved beyond me. You see, I went out to the shops and got in the butter and saw eggs on the list. It appears that half of Bristol did too and I couldn't find those chicken nuggets anywhere.

Not that it made any difference. I got home and realised I had nothing to make them in. Yup, gotta get meself some of that baking equipment. I've earmarked Thursday as 'pie-day'.

So it's all about the spud today, but it has not been easy. It would seem that celeriac isn't available to the common man in the supermarket. I know it's a brute of a veg but are we shoppers really that shallow? Thankfully, hidden away in the greengrocers were a handful of these disfigured creatures. But this was a greengrocer in the posh part of town, and the sprouts were on a stick. I didn't want a whole stick. That's just showing off.

However, i managed to find a few remaining loose ones, so here is my stash:

Now, something I didn't appreciate first time I read your recipe was the preparation. Peeling and boiling spuds? No problem. Sprouts in hot water, easy. Celeriac matchsticks... I don't know if you have ever tried to make such things with a 10-year old, only once sharpened set of knives? Well let me tell you, you need some beef behind you to manage anything that can loosely be described as 'chopped'.

You can see just here, the knife stuck in the damn thing. Not sharp enough to slice through, my arms not swift or powerful enough either.

And this cheffy matchstick concept... I saw it done once as part of knife skills on some day time cooking programme. I'm sure I've also seen graters with 200 attachments one of which must have been for sticks. Maybe I should look into that?

But I have to say, once those were done it was a breeze to get to the mash stage. and I ended up with a very tasty looking mountain of mashed potato, celeriac and sprouts (um, I cut up the sprouts to mash them in, is that what I was supposed to do?)

I must admit I had to refrain from adding mustard, grated chilli and above all fried bacon. It was calling out for one if not all of them. I can't explain why, but there was just an 'add heat, add meat' thing going on in my mouth.

I have to say the mash is a winner for me. Great way to get the sprouts on the table for all and I'll fully intend to serve some of that up to the family.

But earlier, I fried a few cakes, actually I confess, I fried some bacon first and then the cakes. Well, i just thought bacon and sprouts...look, all I'm saying is that it's good to experiment a bit, use your knowledge and all that. And bacon just goes. With everything. Yum

Before you score me out of 5, I'm going to get in there first

Difficulty (2 / 5 ) - where 5 is 'I give up'
Taste (4 / 5) - where 5 is so good the words are unprintable

As for the rest of you, right there is my gauntlet. Your turn...

Yours very contentedly