Huevos rancheros for a brunch party

It all began with Huevos Rancheros. Everything begins with Rancheros. Friendships, love affairs, relationships, and Saturday mornings.
We (me and my former flatmate Seil, in our little EX-council flat in Bethnal Green, with deck chairs in the sitting room, a rocking dinosaur, and a garden overgrown with weeds no matter how many hours we spent trying to conquer it) first discovered it in the Sunday Times Style, a Jamie Oliver recipe from Jamie’s American Road Trip. Since then it has evolved, and this is the result.This is for two or three, with some mix left over to put in the freezer so that you can impress people at a minute’s notice. Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll just whip you up a Ranchero/Enchilada/amazing pasta sauce/on toast with melted cheese/on a bed of spinach with a poached egg on top for a carb-free mid-week supper, and look like a Domestic Goddess. I have a log of biscuit mix in my freezer too, so that I can have freshly baked biscuits on the table in 10 minutes. Makes you look fancy even when you don’t feel it.Ingredients

2 tins chopped tomatoes

1 packet mature cheddar cheese

1 bunch coriander

1 packet of the big tortillas

6 eggs

2 red peppers

1 red onion

1 clove garlic

Chilli flakes or 1 fresh red chilli (or one from the freezer if you’ve been clever and done that, in a jam jar, next to the jam jar of breadcrumbs)

Seasoning – some Herbes de Provence, sugar, Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

A frying pan with a lid


1 Slice the red peppers, start softening them in a big frying pan – it’ll take about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the red onion, then add that, and cook until they’re both softened. Add a hefty sprinkling of chilli flakes (just under a heaped teaspoonful if you’re feeling brave) or the 1 red chilli.

2 Crush the garlic (get one of these, I hate stinky fingers, add that, and be careful not to let it burn. Cook for just a couple of minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes. Turn it up, and bubble bubble bubble. At some point, add a teaspoon or so of sugar until it loses that harsh tinned tomato taste, plenty of sea salt and ground pepper, and a shake of Herbes de Provence/Mixed Herbs/Oregano/Whatever you have that’s dried and green, within reason. Thyme won’t work, nor will Rosemary).

3 While it’s bubbling, make Bloody Marys/coffee/tea/shandies.

4 Grate the cheese, chop the coriander, warm the tortillas in the microwave or in foil in the oven at 180 for about 5 mins (1 tortilla each)

5 When the red pepper sauce has all bubbled down to a thick consistency, YOU NEED TO PUT ASIDE ALL DISTRACTIONS, GRAB A FRIEND, AND CONCENTRATE.

6 Make egg-sized wells in the red sauce – 1 for each egg. Get the lid ready. Get the eggs ready. Turn the heat to medium.

7 Crack an egg into each hole, then salt from a height. This is very important but I don’t know why, so just do it.  Jamie says so. QUICKLY, put the lid on, step back, say Phew, and then hover near it for 2 minutes.

8 After 2-3 minutes, when the eggs have finished poaching in the red spicy juices, they will be ready. Quickly lift the lid up to check after 1 minute. If they’re cooked too much on the bottom, and none on the top, the heat is too high. If they’re still completely clear, it’s too low. They are ready when just cooked, maybe even a tiny bit still wobbly as they’ll carry on cooking while you’re building the wrap.

9 Tortilla on the plate. Spicy sauce with red peppers on top. Then the egg. Then an absolute crap-load of cheese (see picture). Then the coriander. Fold the bottom over first, then the sides – it is imperative to get the bottom folded over (for some reason men are really bad at remembering – maybe they’re too excited) so that the egg doesn’t spill out of the bottom.



10 At some point while eating your Ranchero, your perfectly cooked yolk will suddenly go ppppffffffffssshhhwwwwwww and dribble all over the cheese, which will have slightly melted. I sometimes keep stuffing more cheese on top as I go.

11 If you have a ripe avocado in your fridge, or any sour cream, they are also delicious additions.

12 Holy crap, I love Mexico.

Picture caption: on the left is Philly, on the right is Pascoe. 

Ultimate pasta bake (for a Sunday afternoon)

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This was a store cupboard creation, and I suggest that you empty your store cupboard/fridge/freezer into a similar pasta bake for a wintry Sunday afternoon, invite some friends around and tell them to bring red wine. Get Cranium or Articulate ready and you’ve got yourself an afternoon sorted.

Half a ring of chorizo/some bacon/6 or more slices of pancetta

1 pack of fusilli pasta

2 aubergines

About 100g parmesan, or however much you have

1 pack of cheddar cheese – mild or mature, as you wish

An old roll or piece of bread, to make breadcrumbs

Peas (I forgot to add them, but I’m sure you’ll remember)

1 onion, or a red onion (chopped roughly into small pieces)

2 garlic cloves, chopped or crushed

1 x 500g carton of tomato passata, or a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes

Fresh herbs – rosemary would be delicious, or basil

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C.

  2. Chop the pancetta, bacon, chorizo or a mix of all three. Parma ham would also do the trick for a nice meaty base – it crisps up well when fried. Fry them up in a lot of olive oil until the chorizo is releasing its lovely fatty red oils and the bacon is starting to crisp. Then remove from the pan (leaving the oil in the pan) to a plate/bowl/hand of your sous-chef.

  3. Put the chopped onion into the bacon pan and add a bit more oil if needs be. I’m a big fan of olive oil. Do NOT darken my door with vegetable oil.

  4. Cook it until soft and translucent, then add the garlic, and cook for a bit longer on a very gentle heat so that it doesn’t burn.

  5. Return the chorizo etc to the pan with the onions, stir them all together then add the peas if you fancy, and then the tomato passata or chopped tomatoes, whichever you have to hand. Whack the heat up until it starts to boil then turn down gently so that it’s a hard simmer/gentle boil.

  6. Pour some caster sugar into the palm of your hand – a tbsp or two will do the trick – then add that. Always add some sugar to tinned tomatoes, it removes that bitterness. Put two enormous pinches of Maldon sea salt in, lots of freshly ground pepper (about 40 turns of pepper for 6 people is a good measure). Add in a generous sprinkling of Herbes de Provence or mixed herbs or whatever green oregano/basil-type herbs you have in your cupboard – 1 generous tbsp in total. If you have fresh herbs, add some chopped up/torn up bits now – 1 couple of tbsps in total, you don’t want to overwhelm everything else.

  7. Bubble, bubble, bubble. Maybe turn it down a bit to a gentle simmer if it looks like it’s starting to thicken.

  8. Slice the aubergines lengthways, spray them with oil (it’s good to have an oil sprayer for situations like this when there’s no need to drench them in pouring oil) and sprinkle some Maldon sea salt over them, cayenne too if you fancy a bit of jhujz-ing up (HOW DO YOU SPELL JHOOZJH?), then flip them over and do the same again. Put some greaseproof paper on a baking tray, spread the aubergine slices over them and then put them in the oven for 15 mins then flip them over for another 5 mins until squidgy and crispy and a bit brown.

  9. Put the pasta water on to boil, put a lot of salt in, then start cooking your pasta. While it’s cooking, zizz up the bread roll with the parmesan and some rosemary if you have it, until it’s in small breadcrumbs. Grate the entire pack of cheddar.

  10. Probably turn the tomato sauce off now. When the pasta’s nearly done (it’ll cook more in the oven), pour out the water leaving a tiny bit of cooking water in a jug on the side just in case. Add the tomato sauce to the pasta (if it looks dry, add a few spoonfuls of cooking water) then spread half the tomatoey pasta into a lasagne/pie dish. Sprinkle a couple of generous handfuls of cheddar cheese onto this, then spread out the rest of the pasta on top. An extra cheesy layer!

  11. Lay the aubergine slices over the top of the pasta, making a sort of lid. Generously spread the breadcrumbs and parmesan over the top. Then put the rest of the cheddar on top of that. This is the magic bit, so don’t be shy.

  12. Put it in the oven for 20 mins at 180-200C depending on the power of your oven and whether or not it has a fan in it (if it has a fan, go a bit lower, if it doesn’t, go a bit higher), until the cheese is bubbling and melted and there’s a crispy golden top.


Ultimate posh sausage rolls

I’m calling it! This is the ultimate posh sausage roll recipe. I had some apricots in my baking cupboard, I had an inspiration, and this is the result.



This makes four enormous sausage rolls. It may seem like a lot but last week 10 people devoured them within seconds and I wished I had made even more… (I ate most of them actually. Sorry)

2 x 400g packs of plain pork sausages. Get as good quality as you can – 97% pork if possible (it says the percentage on the back of the pack under ingredients)

1 bunch of spring onions

2 garlic cloves

Olive oil

1 packet of chopped apricots, chopped up into small pieces (easiest with scissors)

5 sprigs of thyme, leaves pulled off, woody stems discarded

1 small handful of parsley

1 packet pancetta/smoky bacon, chopped up into small pieces (easiest with scissors)

Zest of 1 lemon

2 packs of jus-rol ready rolled pastry

1 egg, for glaze

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Chop the spring onions into very small pieces, then fry them up slowly and gently in generous amounts of olive oil in a frying pan. When they’re nearly cooked (which always takes much longer than any cookbook will have you believe), crush the garlic in the crusher and add that in. Cook the garlic very gently too, so that it doesn’t burn.
  2. Add the chopped pancetta in with the oniony garlic mixture and fry it up until cooked. I’m normally an enormous fan of crispy bacon, but this is not the time for that. Don’t overcook it. Keep stirring it until it’s cooked and all the delicious bacony juices have come out into the pan then been sucked right back up again. Put this mixture into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Chop your apricots into little bits, pull the leaves off the thyme, chop them with a massive and wonderfully sharp knife to pretend you’re a proper chef, then add them to the mixing bowl. Don’t be precious about amounts. If you have some extra bits and bobs hanging around, chuck them in.
  4. Chop the parsley finely, and add that to the mix.

5. Slice the skins of the sausages with a sharp knife and put the meat into the mixing bowl too.

  1. Zest the lemon (ideally on a microplane, those brilliant tools you get in Lakeland) and add that in. Then put the lemon in the fridge and you can have it tomorrow morning squeezed into some warm water – very good for you.

  2. Season it very generously with shedloads of Maldon sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Grate in some fresh nutmeg too. Not silly amounts, but a good few grates.  One thing I’ve learnt from chefs is to overseason, and then add some more – particularly if it’s lovely Maldon. Never use table salt, it’s far too harsh and will then taste like salt rather than just bringing out all the flavours.

8. Get your hands stuck in – much easier and more thorough than a spoon. Squidge the sausage meat with all the delicious additions and squidge and squidge and squidge until it’s all combined. Put that aside. You could always make that in advance if you wished, then just take it out of the fridge half an hour before your guests arrive and build the sausage rolls.

  1. Roll out the puff pastry, or if you’ve bought ready-roll then unroll it (I love this stuff. Don’t make your own puff pastry – there are not enough hours in the day to bother with such things, you really shouldn’t have to see how much butter goes into the making of puff pastry, and jus-rol is cheap and brilliant anyway)

  2. Make the sausage rolls! For my last batch I divided each of the two ready-roll sheets in two (splitting the rectangle in two down the middle so it makes two sort-of squares) and squidged the meat mix out into four long sausages. Alternatively, you could make loads of mini ones. Put your meat along beside one edge, and roll it up tightly like when you were little and you’d roll your little sister up in a rug and make her into a sausage roll (I was the little sister).

  3. Crack the egg into a little ramekin and mix it up with a fork. Get a pastry brush ready (the plastic/silicone ones are best because they clean easier). When you’ve rolled the sausage up in its pastry jacket, brush egg along the inside of the pastry then stick it down. Leave it open at the end so that it goes a bit crispy and then you get some extra pastry to snack on too.

  4. Spread some silicone/greaseproof paper on  a large baking sheet then put the sausage rolls on. You may only be able to fit two on – it’s nice for them to have a bit of space so that the pastry can puff up. Paint the whole of the sausage roll with the egg. Pop it in the oven for 20 mins, then check it, turn it around and do it for another 15-20.

  5. Chop it into large bits, and serve it on a wooden board and pretend you run a hipster coffee shop in Stoke Newington.

Slow roasted Turkish lamb leg or shoulder with pomegranates

This is an amalgamation of lots of slow roasted lamb recipes and I THINK I’ve made it perfect… I love it because it’s cheap (leg or shoulder), supermarket meat is fine, and you can whack it in the oven on a hangover when you’ve got people over for Sunday lunch and then spend the next four hours in the bath, or watching Friends reruns until you feel ready to receive company. I prefer this to a normal Sunday roast because a couscous dish to accompany is much lighter than a pile of roast potatoes and yorkshire puddings.

An important aside. If this all feels like a little bit too much and you’ve woken up with nothing in the fridge apart from the lamb (in which case, well done for planning ahead), all you really need to do for a tasty dish is pour a couple of glasses of red or white wine into the bottom of the tray, stab the lamb a few times then stick some slices of garlic into the holes, cover the tray tightly with foil and stick it in the oven at 160C for four hours. Uncover it for the last half hour and job’s a good ‘un.


Serves 6

5 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 tsp ground cumin

Juice of 1 lemon

4 garlic cloves (pressed through a garlic crusher)

A red onion

1 leg or shoulder of lamb, about 1.6kg

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C.

  2. Put the lamb in a big roasting tray. Pierce it all over, making deep slits. Push the crushed garlic into the slits. Mix together the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, cumin and a good big glug of olive oil, then pour that over the lamb, making sure some goes into the slits too if possible. If you have time, marinate it, but as it’s roasting for four hours anyway, pffft to that if you don’t have time.

  3. Pour a glassful of red or white wine into the bottom of the tray, or some stock if you’d rather not open a bottle of wine just yet. Chop up the red onion into big wedges and chuck that into the bottom of the tray too. Maybe two onions, if you’re feeling generous. And some whole cloves of garlic… the more flavourmakers the better, really – this is not a precious recipe – follow your instincts and add more or less when you feel…

  4. Make a big snug foil tent over the top of the lamb. Put it in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 160C/gas mark 3. Cook it for four hours minimum, basting with the juices every 45 mins or hour. If the juices dry out, add more stock or wine. Take the foil off for the last half hour to give the lamb some colour, but be careful that the juices don’t then burn.

  5. To serve, use two forks to shred the lamb, on a big plate. Scatter over pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander or mint. Serve with the couscous salad below, the sumacky yoghurt below, and if you’re particularly hungry, some warmed flatbreads which can also be dipped into the sumacky yoghurt, or make some aubergine dip/hummous.

Accompany it with: Couscous with apricots, sultanas and toasted flaked almonds

700ml chicken stock

350g couscous

Zest of one lemon

75g toasted flaked almonds

75g dried apricots, chopped up

75g sultanas

Small bunch of coriander, chopped

  1. Make the stock with boiling water. Pour in the couscous, sultanas and chopped apricots. Cover the pan, remove from the heat and leave for 5 minutes, fluffing with a fork after the first couple of minutes, and again after 4 minutes.

  2. Stir in some good quality olive oil, the chopped coriander and the toasted flaked almonds and season with lots of Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

And on the side: Sumacky yoghurt

Crush two small/one massive garlic cloves into a bowl. Add a tablespoon of sumac, a long lug of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon and more sea salt than you think you need. Then add in about two thirds of a pot of Greek yoghurt, or the green Yeo valley natural one. It won’t work with set yoghurt, it has to be runny. Don’t get low-fat because we know now that good fats are good for us. Taste the yoghurt and generally you’ll need to add a bit more sumac – don’t be shy. Once you’ve got the hang of this yoghurt dip you’ll start doing it with everything – roasted vegetables, chicken traybakes, poached eggs on toast…..

Delicious chicken and aubergine tray bake with preserved lemons

Chicken and aubergine tagine traybake. Photographed by Dan Jones

A few Fridays ago (when it was still 2014), I had a dinner party for lots of fellow wine hags and made Annie Bell’s chicken and aubergine tagine traybake from her completely excellent Low-Carb-Revolution book. The aubergines go all gooey and soak up the syrupy lemony chickeny juices. I cannot for the life of me remember what I exactly served it with,  but I presume that in the interests of carb avoidance and middle-class grain worship, it was probably quinoa. I’d even go so far as to say it was probably quinoa mixed up with lemon juice, chopped coriander, lots of Maldon sea salt and some very good quality olive oil (which, by the way, every kitchen should have for drizzling. Ask Santa for some next Christmas in your stocking). As this is made with chicken legs and thighs, it’s pretty cheap to make. Hopefully you have a nice market or veg shop who will sell aubergines at a normal price, not sodding Tesco who sells them for about a pound a piece. Then again, aubergines are the meat of the vegetarian world so….


Serves 6

1½ tsp ground ginger

1½ tsp paprika

½ tsp ground cumin

About 20 saffron filaments, ground

Extra virgin olive oil

6 free-range chicken thighs

6 free-range chicken drumsticks

3 aubergines, cut into 1-2cm thick slices, ends discarded

Sea salt and black pepper

3 red onions, peeled, halved and sliced

100g preserved lemons, thinly sliced if baby or chopped if large, seeds discarded

Coarsely chopped coriander, to serve

1 Blend the spices with 3 tbsp olive oil in a small bowl and brush all over the chicken pieces to coat them, placing them in a large bowl as you go. Cover with clingfilm and chill for at least 1 hour, but preferably several.

2 Preheat the oven to 210C/Gas 7. Place a ridged, cast-iron griddle over a medium heat. You will need to cook the aubergine slices in batches. Brush one side of as many slices as will fit on the griddle with olive oil, season and grill for 2-3 minutes until striped with gold. Brush the top side, turn and grill. They should still appear underdone, as they will cook further in the oven. Remove to a plate. Season the chicken pieces on both sides and grill for 1-2 minutes on either side to colour – again, you will need to do this in batches. Toss the onions in a bowl with 2 tbsp olive oil.

3 Arrange the aubergines, onions and preserved lemons in a couple of roasting dishes (about 25 x 38cm), and nestle the chicken pieces between them, thighs skin-side up. Drizzle over a little more oil and roast for 35-40 minutes, turning the vegetables halfway through with a spatula, leaving the chicken pieces uppermost. The vegetables should be golden and sitting in syrupy juices. Scatter with coriander and serve.

The easiest chocolate mousse cake

Swedish chocolate cake. Photographed by Tara Fisher

I’m quite annoyed with Izy Hossack, because she’s much younger than me, has a fantastic cookbook and is very gorgeous. Anyway, kudos, whatever. As she introduced me to this chocolate cake (published in Times Magazine I NICKED THIS PICTURE FROM THE MAGAZINE SORRY) which (like my salted caramel recipe) is one of those that makes your guests think you’re so f**king amazingly talented that it’s a shame to ruin that illusion by admitting how easy this chocolate cake is. It tastes like gooey brownie-mousse-stodgy gooey chocolate cake, is completely and utterly delicious, and takes 5 minutes to put together.

I tend to weigh all the dry ingredients (and the eggs) into a bowl together before guests arrive, cover it with a plate/cling film, then after the main course turn on the oven, melt the butter and chuck it in then. It’s best when very slightly undercooked and gooey. Serve it with creme fraiche to cut through the chocolatiness.

I have no idea what makes it Swedish unless of course Swedes are famous for making the world’s best dinner party pudding, in which case there’s your answer.


Serves 8-9

135g salted butter

55g cocoa powder

350g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

110g plain flour

3 eggs

2 tbsp icing sugar, for dusting

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line, grease and flour a deep 18cm cake tin. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 20-30 minutes – it should be set around the edges but still gooey in the middle.

2 Cool in the tin for about 20 minutes, then run a blunt knife around the inside edge of the tin to loosen it. Turn out onto a wire rack, dust with icing sugar and serve warm.

Extracted from Top with Cinnamon by Izy Hossack, published by Hardie Grant. Buy from the Times Bookshop for £18 (RRP £20), free p&p, on 0845 2712134;

Salted caramel sauce (with thanks to Nigella)

I first made this on Pancake Day 2012 (PCD 2012), which my friend and wonderful ex-flatmate (before she left me for a MAN) Seil and I co-host every year, and normally we do a Practice Pancake Day during the winter some time too (PPCD), because a year is too long to wait between pancake feasts. Anyway in 2012 I reached the peak of my creativity and came up with the idea of a new pancake filling: DECONSTRUCTED APPLE CRUMBLE PANCAKE. Apples cooked down with some butter, crumble cooked solo on a tray until crispy (my Mum’s crumble recipe uses porridge oats and brown sugar and a lot of butter and is insanely good), then wrapped up in a pancake and served with ice cream, and salted caramel drizzled on top. Our 14 guests went absolutely loopy and it’s been a PCD and PPCD menu staple ever since. I now make two or three times the recipe so that our friend Alice (who definitely only maintains our friendship for the salted caramel – she is a woman obsessed) can take a jarful home.

The only thing is, is that I’m almost loathe to post this recipe up, because then everyone will realise how easy it is, and then they won’t think that I’m some sort of amazing genius who can whip up salted caramel sauce at the drop of a hat any more, and I like it when my guests think I’m an amazing genius. Anyway, FINE. Here it is, with enormous thanks to Nigella Lawson for making me look brilliant. Sorry if the easy access to salted caramel makes anyone very fat.


Nigella reckons one serving will serve 6! She’s made. It will serve 3, maybe 4.

She also originally suggests 1 tsp fleur de sel. I use Maldon, and generally add rather more than she says. Add gradually, to your taste.

  • 75 grams best-quality unsalted butter
  • 50 grams soft light brown sugar
  • 50 grams caster sugar
  • 50 grams golden syrup
  • 125 ml double cream
  • 1 teaspoon fleur de sel
  1. Melt butter, sugars and syrup and butter in a small heavy based pan and let simmer for 3 minutes, swirling every now and again.
  2. Add cream and half a teaspoon of fleur de sel salt (not table salt!) and swirl again, give a stir with a wooden spoon and taste – go cautiously so that you don’t burn your tongue – to see if you want more salt before letting it cook for another minute on the stove, then pour into a jug for serving.
  3. Eat it on its own, over ice cream, or on an appley dish. Last night I had a dinner party and made the mistake of serving it with brownies AND ice cream. Big mistake – far, far too much sugar at one time. Lesson learnt: don’t be such a greedy cow/sometimes less is more/sometimes the sum of two parts is better than the sum of three, etc.

Crispy potato leaves

I tried these at Christmas – they’re a recipe in The Times mag, by Donna Hay. Australians and Kiwis (I am half kiwi) have brilliant food magazines and recipe books. Or, I’ve been brainwashed by my Mum to believe that they do. Whatever happens, these were very impressive and delicious. I didn’t bother with the duck fat in the original recipe, I drizzled olive oil all over them instead and it worked very well, and presumably made a slightly lighter dish. They’d go fantastically well with any meat dish and look very impressive – until you take them out of the dish, so definitely do them in a beautiful baking tray which can be put directly onto the table.


Crispy leaf potatoes with oregano salt. Photographed by Anson Smart

They’re so beautiful! You can upscale/downscale them as you wish, but the starting point is as follows:

5.5kg large starchy potatoes, peeled
Olive oil to drizzle/spray over
Large quantities of Maldon sea salt/fleur de sel
1 tsp cracked black pepper
Handful of oregano leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Any higher and the edges will burn before the potatoes are cooked.

2. The original recipe says to trim the edges of each potato to make large rectangles (which I did), and slice thinly on a mandolin (which I did not. I used a food processor because I had neither the time nor the inclination to slice 5.5kg of potatoes by hand).

3. Put your potato slices in a large bowl and pour a load of olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and sea salt over them and mix well together. It’s always best to get stuck in there with your hands because they’re better than any kitchen tools.

4. Working in batches, arrange the potatoes upright from one side to the other in a 37x24cm baking tray (obviously if you’re halving the recipe you’ll need a smaller tray. Basically, use whatever size of tray you have and add potatoes until it’s full, then stop. Potatoes are hardly expensive if you end up throwing a couple of fervently sliced ones away).

5. Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender, golden and crisp. I started checking them after about 45 minutes because it sounded like such a ludicrously long cooking time and I’m glad I did because otherwise they’d be burnt. I happen to love burnt food, but most people rightly do not.

Brunch parties

We did best brunch recipes in Times Weekend this Saturday just gone, which are all easily scale-upable. I love having brunch parties – but they’re a dangerous business, as they can easily turn into an all-day and all-night booze-up. Fine on a Saturday, less fine on a Sunday…

I shall put them all up one by one but in the meantime, here are the recipes online (£)

Baked eggs with chorizo, mushrooms and lemon creme fraiche

baked eggs Shelagh Ryan


Slow braised beans with ham hock


Corn fritters with roast tomatoes and smashed avocados

corn fritters shelagh ryan


Sauteed mixed mushrooms with lemon herbed feta


Easy canape – palmiers and cheese puffs

If you’re short on time, these are fast and impressive, and excellent with champagne. Do I sound like Pippa Middleton yet?

Easy canape: PALMIERS


The basic concept is that you buy some ready-rolled puff pastry (really, honestly, never bother making your own. You could buy the packs that you have to roll out yourself but as they’re pretty much the same price, there’s really no point other than rolling pastry out is quite fun), spread fillings out on top of it, and then roll it cleverly. Look – someone’s even done a handy picture for you (credit: Epicurious). Basically, fold each side in, to meet in the middle. Then do it again. Then fold that in half. When you’ve made your fatty pastry roll, filled with delicious things, cut it into skinnier bits about 1-1.5cm wide. Spread those out onto a baking tray with baking paper on top, cut-size up, then cling that and put it in the fridge for 30 mins (warm pastry will not puff up in the oven). Then, brush them with a beaten egg and cook at 200C for 10-15 minutes until the cheese has melted and they’re golden brown. Distribute into bowls around the room.

palmier stages

Ideas for savoury fillings 

 Cheddar cheese with cayenne pepper

Goats cheese and pesto

Brie and caramelised red onion


Parma ham and parmesan


Ideas for sweet fillings



Brown sugar and cinnamon

Brown sugar and orange zest

Easy canapes – mini roast potatoes

I know I just wrote about this in the last post, but I thought it probably deserved its own post too, for ease of looking it up…

I once had a drinks party where I served little bowls of roast potatoes and they went down brilliantly. Don’t even bother with cocktail sticks, because it’s a pain being stuck with one in your hand. I think that it’s best to cut the potatoes really small, so that you get maximum crispiness.



Lots of potatoes. Either new potatoes or Maris Piper

Olive oil

Roast potatoes

Lots of potatoes. Say, 1kg. If you can, go for new potatoes or Maris Piper.

Peel the potatoes (unless they’re new potatoes, in which case do not bother), and cut them up small – small enough to be eaten in one bite. Put them in a pan of salted (don’t be shy with the salt – and use Maldon as the taste is softer) boiling water until they’re completely cooked and a knife slips straight through (I like them slightly overcooked because of the next stage…). Preheat the oven to 220C. Put them into a colander and shake shake shake until the bashing together means that the edges start to go all fluffy.

Meanwhile, put a big baking tray into the oven with a few generous glugs of olive oil. After 2 minutes, then put your bashed up little potatoes into the hot oil, shake it around, make sure that all the potatoes are covered but not drowned in oil and sprinkle lots of Maldon sea salt and a bit of cayenne pepper over them (and all in a single layer). Put them into the oven for 15 minutes to start, then give them a toss and a turn over, then 15 minutes more, until they’re really crispy and golden. Scatter with more Maldon sea salt, then serve them in bowls on every available sideboard.

Cleo Rocos’ party rules

One of my favourite interviews I’ve done for The Times was with the amazing Cleo Rocos, who I’m very happy to say has become a friend. Happy because she’s the most joyful (or gleeful, as she would say) person I’ve ever met. You can’t fail to be happy around Cleo. For anyone who doesn’t know who Cleo is, firstly, shame on you. Secondly – she was Kenny Everett’s sidekick on the Kenny Everett show, was on Celebrity Big Brother at one point, and now makes a hangover-free tequila. I’m not lying – I’ve had a night of 12 margaritas with Cleo, and we were both SO HAPPY and excitable rather than woozy drunk, and I had not a sniff of a hangover since. I’ve tried the margarita experiment several times since with her tequila (Aquariva – it’s all natural), and it works every time. So if someone knows her parties, Cleo knows her parties.

Here are her party rules:


Cleo Rocos party rules

What a party needs, is throbbingly happy people. Never, ever drink with dreary people. Put fabulous people together who wouldn’t normally end up together, but who you know would get on. Mix it up so that it’s an odd bunch – a politician with a pop star, for example

 The venue isn’t always terribly important. But do make sure that as soon as people walk into the room, they know that it’s a party. I get those cheap thin ribbons for present-wrapping, in ice blue, cream, silver or red, and curl them slightly with scissors and drape them over all the picture frames and all the lamps and it just says party.

 The quality of outfits is important. People should be their favourite, most celebratory version of themselves for the night. Everyone has something in their cupboard that they ‘never get the chance to wear’. Well, just wear it!

 Always feed people/serve food that serves a purpose. Don’t do anything pretentious. I hate being served those pretty, flimsy little things with a dangly that, wrapped in a bit of that – yes, it looks pretty, but it’s not going to fill you up. At a party, sometimes I even make it as simple as dismantling a roast meal for a standing-up affair. I will simply make enormous platters of beautifully crisped roast potatoes, or delicious glazed roast parsnips, or even a plate of lovely roast beef, mini sausages or meatballs – anything that is easy to pick up in one hand, or stab with a cocktail stick with a glass in one hand, and it just goes in the stomach and lines it for all the drink that will follow – and it just tastes divine.

 Don’t interrupt your hostess if she’s still getting ready. As the hostess, and people come into your room to chat to you, just say to them Oh hello, how fabulous to see you! Would you be marvellous and pop downstairs and check that all the guests are ok? Or ask that she should check what’s happening with the oven. Make them feel important, and crucially, get rid of them while you’re putting yourself together.

Arrive no more than 15 minutes late. A good host should detail the timings of the party: cocktails from 6pm, dinner will be served at 8pm. A perfectly-behaved guest would arrive between 6 and 6.15.

 Drink until the peak of your fabulousness. Instead of dealing in units (which is absolutely pointless, and not a proper measurement), deal in fabulousness. If you have been fabulous, and start to think that you might not be as fabulous any more, then stop. Drink until the peak of your fabulousness! It’s always good to have a palate cleanser of water occasionally, even if it isn’t very jolly.

 How to deal with a bad drunk at a party. Make sure that they get home safely. The next day, when they phone you in a completely mortified fashion, you must deny that they were anything other than divine company. They will be beating themselves up anyway, unable to come out from under the duvet, so as a host, it is terribly rude to tell someone that they were not properly behaved. You would not have invited them if they were not people that you wanted to be around, so treat them as such.  

Don’t look for problems, look for solutions. If someone turns up late it is probably because they work in a different industry to you, and are stuck at work. I am hugely forgiving if anyone is late, because they are never deliberately trying to mess up your plans. So just leave the oven on, and feed them when they get there.

 Be flexible. I am always encouraging people to be happy. If people feel so happy that they want to dance on the tables or swing from the chandeliers, then that they should do. I will always say – Do that. Absolutely, please do that. I really do want people to have a wonderful time.

 Flirting. Flirting should just be to the point that people are complimented rather than anything sleazy or untoward, or indicating anything improper.

Keep a paint pot at the ready. Don’t be stuffy. If you serve red wine, you have to imagine that it’s going to be spilt. Instead of trying to wipe spillages off the walls, just always keep a pot of paint ready, and just repaint it the next day – no problem. These are things that really don’t matter. They are part of the journey.

 Make fake cocktails for drunk people. I make my fake ‘Pink Gin’, which I press into the hands of people who are a bit too drunk, to help them out. It’s a fake cocktail. It’s just tonic water with a few drops of Angostura bitters, some ice and some lime and lemon. If they really are too drunk, then I simply order them a cab, and say ‘Oh! Your cab is here!’.

If you need help, it’s fine to ask your closest friends. We all offer to help in the kitchen, but quite often it can be more of a hindrance than a help. One should never feel compelled to offer to wash the dishes, unless you are staying the night in their house, in which case you must offer. I would always rather that my guests to end their party by dancing on the tables, not in the sink!


THE CANAPES: roast potatoes

It goes without saying that all the rules are brilliant. But I remember thinking that it was such a good idea to serve a deconstructed roast dinner. Since then, I have had a drinks party and served little bowls of roast potatoes and they went down brilliantly. Don’t even bother with cocktail sticks, because it’s a pain being stuck with one in your hand. I think that it’s best to cut the potatoes really small, so that you get maximum crispiness.

Mini roast potatoes 

Roast potatoes

Lots of potatoes. Say, 1kg. If you can, go for new potatoes or Maris Piper.

Peel the potatoes (unless they’re new potatoes, in which case do not bother), and cut them up small – small enough to be eaten in one bite. Put them in a pan of salted (don’t be shy with the salt – and use Maldon as the taste is softer) boiling water until they’re completely cooked and a knife slips straight through (I like them slightly overcooked because of the next stage…). Preheat the oven to 220C. Put them into a colander and shake shake shake until the bashing together means that the edges start to go all fluffy.

Meanwhile, put a big baking tray into the oven with a few generous glugs of olive oil. After 2 minutes, then put your bashed up little potatoes into the hot oil, shake it around, make sure that all the potatoes are covered but not drowned in oil and sprinkle lots of Maldon sea salt and a bit of cayenne pepper over them (and all in a single layer). Put them into the oven for 15 minutes to start, then give them a toss and a turn over, then 15 minutes more, until they’re really crispy and golden. Scatter with more Maldon sea salt, then serve them in bowls on every available sideboard.

STARTER: easy aubergine dip

It’s partly shop-bought, for which I apologise. But the shop-bought bit is cheap, we’re all busy, and you’ve got 8 people coming round imminently so let’s not be too fussy. I used to do this with Greek yoghurt, which I still would if having four or fewer people round. Any more than four though, it gets too unwieldy, so I bulk it up with houmous (the nice smooth one they sell in most supermarkets – the make is Sabra, and it’s normally under £2)


aubergine with pomegranate seeds

Makes enough for between 6 and 8 people, depending on hungriness, speed of wine drinking and how ready your main course is

Store cupboard 


Olive oil

Pine nuts


Three aubergines

Lemon juice

A tub of houmous

A small pot of Greek yoghurt (or a few large dollops of a bigger pot)

Pomegranate seeds (one of those small 100g packets, or one pomegranate)

Torn up mint – about 15-20 leaves would do it

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Put some baking paper on a baking tray, stab the aubergines a few times with a sharp knife and put it in the oven. Lay the table and pour yourself a glass of wine. In 20-25 minutes, check to see how they’re getting on – you want them to have collapsed completely. Then, take them out, leave them to cool a bit and scrape the inside of the flesh into a bowl. Don’t scrape the skins too hard because otherwise it’ll become bitter. You can then drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on the leftover skins, salt and pepper, and put them back into the oven for 10 minutes until crispy, as a special chef’s snack.

2. Crush a couple of cloves of garlic, and mix them in with the aubergine flesh, along with the juice of half a lemon, a small glug of olive oil, a couple of big spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt, and a tub of houmous.

3. Toast some pine nuts until golden brown, and toast some pittas – wholemeal or white. Top the dip with pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts and torn up mint.