Category Archives: celebrity chefs

Katie Stewart: Pots de Crème au Chocolat (chocolate pots)

Spring vegetables Petersham Nurseries Katie Stewart book

Yesterday I received an email from the Guild of Food Writers with sad news: the cookery writer, Katie Stewart, had died.

“…a long-time Guild member and the recipient of our 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award. Katie was taken ill on Friday and died on Saturday” said the email.

My mum gave me The Times Calendar Cookbook (my edition published 1976) and I have used it since the 1980s. I also had the privilege of meeting Katie Stewart when she received her Guild of Food Writers’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

I tweeted the sad news, and soon there was an outpouring of tweet messages from fellow food writers who, like me, had learnt to cook thanks to Katie Stewart.

I believe generosity of spirit, and the heartfelt desire to communicate and share, really does transmit, to create classic cookbooks.

Yesterday Fiona Beckett, Guardian food writer, suggested on Twitter we have a day/weekend when we cook one of Katie’s recipes. What a great idea. More and more food writers thought so too. (Wow. Social media in action. Love it!).

I suggested we have a #katiestewart hashtag, and explained why at my other blog.

Alex Renton, The Times food writer got in touch. He is doing an obituary piece in Thursday’s edition for Katie, who was The Times cookery columnist.

He did not have a Katie recipe, so I offered to write one down.

I know the page number for pot au chocolate – page 77 - by heart.

My additions in brackets.

Pots de Crème au Chocolat

6oz/175g chocolate chips or plain chocolate broken in pieces

1/2 pint/3 dl. (300 ml single cream)

1 egg

pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence (optional)

Katie says: ‘Put the chocolate in the globlet of a blender. Heat the cream until just under boiling point, then pour on to the chocolate. Cover, switch on and blend until smooth. The heat of the cream will melt the chocolate. Add the egg, salt and vanilla essence and blend again quickly. The mixture at this stage will be quite thin. Pour into six small individual pots, or failing this, small glasses. Chill for several hours or overnight until the mixture is quite firm. Serves 6

Katie Stewart pot au chocolat

As you will see from my pic, I have played with this recipe over the years, and in 2012, made a raw chocolate version with chilli and orange zest.

Her book, The Times Calendar Cookbook, follows, without fanfare, seasonality: “Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and game mature according to the seasons and over the year offer us a wide variety of fresh foods to use in recipes,” writes Katie Stewart in her introduction.

The pic of spring vegetables (heading up this blog) is a photograph from the book illustrating May. The vegetables come from Petersham Nurseries, still going strong.

I fear I am jumping the gun a bit because our #katiestewart, or Katie Cook Day as Alex coined it, is really at the weekend.

So please, please all fellow Katie Stewart fans near and far – get cooking at the weekend, share your recipe and…pass it on!

God bless Katie Stewart. What a life-enhancing legacy.

May her soul rest at peace.

Jamie Oliver – good food in 15 minutes?


Ah, I like Jamie Oliver. I have interviewed him, and I do think he is the Real Thing.

So Jamie has won the 2010 TED prize. Of course it is a bit annoying when high-earning celebrities win $100,000 prizes – I can think of equally worthy but cash-starved causes.

On the other hand, the TED prize is prestigious, international and sends a powerful message:  healthy food for children matters.

Jamie says: “Good food can be made in 15 minutes.”

I like the principle but my mind has gone blank.

Thinks: omelette / ciabatta…? (But I don’t like wheat or too many eggs).

I am currently enamoured of casseroles:

Cooked brown rice or pearl barley in a casserole with (tinned/homecooked) haricot beans, sliced raw onions and cut-up-small raw squash. Add fiery seasoning such as chilli, and/or mango chutney (or any other chutney lingering, neglected, at back of fridge) and cook in the oven with lid on, gas mark 5 for 40 minutes.

That’s dead-quick and no last-minute cooking-stress before eating.

But 15 minutes, it ain’t.

What good food would you cook in 15 minutes?

Anjum’s Gujarati lamb curry

My children are carnivores so when they (now grown-up) visit, meat is a treat.

Cheaply produced meat means people can eat it every day as a cheap takeaway.

But eating meat daily is neither good for the health of the animals, consumers or planet.

Some people need to eat meat, while others argue our soils need  manure for soil-strength.

We just don’t need to be mass-producing meat on an industrial scale.

So it’s about trying to get a balance. There’s a spontaneous revival of the traditional way of eating:  have a feast of (well-reared) meat once a week and live on the leftovers.

Join the Feastarians, Weekend Carnivore or Paul McCartney on a Meat-free Monday.

Which leads me to this delicious lamb curry.

Quadrille Books had offered – on Twitter – a free copy of Anjum’s New Indian.

Canny New Media marketing device, eh? I like - and copied it for my own books!

So I contacted Quadrille on Twitter and the big beautiful hardback copy signed-by-Anjum arrived by post.

Its subtitle is Indian Food Made Easy.

Sadly, not easy enough for me. The ingredients list looked too long. The pages too big and glossy.

I felt daunted.

For simplified Indian dishes, I rate Quick Indian Cooking.

However after months of free-book-on-Twitter-guilt, I finally tackled a recipe.

Gujarati lamb and dumpling stew – it was bloody delicious.

But I did simplify it. I left out the dumplings for a start.

Note: I substituted raw ginger for horseradish because Middle Child cannot stand ginger and takes it Very Personally if I cook with it.

Horseradish works incredibly well. Grate it raw, cover with white wine vinegar and it keeps in a jar in the fridge for 3-4 weeks.

Here’s my version: 

Ask the butcher for lamb for stewing - or mutton. Mutton is cheaper because it is  a grown-up animal. Stewing will soften the tough older meat of mutton.

Unlike pigs and poultry, it is harder to farm sheep intensively - sheep continue to roam freely and eat grass. So if you are going to eat non-organic meat, lamb is your best bet.  

I bought about 400g of organic lamb (about £4) which fed 4. I cut up the pieces quite small.

Then I browned the lamb pieces in a pan to seal the taste, then removed them.

Add a teaspoon of mustard seeds and when they pop, add the sliced onions and fry until brown.

My gratitude to Anjum grew - I don’t know what to do with mustard seeds and now I was using them like a pro.

Meanwhile, in a blender (I used the grinder attachment), make a paste of 20g of ginger – or raw grated horseradish – and 5 large peeled garlic.

This paste is a great discovery. I use it for spicy vegetarian dishes too.

Add the paste to the onions until it gently colours, about 3 minutes. Add salt to taste (I omitted the 1 tsp. of sugar), 1 Tbs of ground coriander and 1 Tbs of ground cumin; 1/2 tsp of turmeric and 1/2 tsp of chilli powder. Cook for 20 seconds.

Add about 100 ml water (I omitted the 3 pureed tomatoes) and cook gently until completely reduced, then fry the paste for 5 mins until the oil comes out.

These instructions were brill as I tend to overcook spices and not get the ratio of water-to-spices right (too watery or too dry). This worked! Thanks, Anjum.

I added a quarter of a block of coconut, not the recipe’s can of coconut milk. I also forgot the 1-2 tsp of lemon juice. I didn’t measure the water but Anjum said 200ml (for 600g of lamb).

I forgot the sweet potato but that would have been a wonderful addition.

I chose this recipe because of the chickpeas. I can’t eat a lot of meat – although I do love its rich gravy flavours – so I was happy to have meat-bits with my beloved chickpeas.

I had already soaked 200g of the raw chickpeas overnight and cooked them for an hour (or, as Anjum says, use a can).

I served it with organic curly kale and brown rice.

And it went down a treat with the carnivores.

Guild of Food Writers Awards 2009

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Last night I was at the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2009 party at the Old Hall, London.

My blog was shortlisted for the New Media award, and I took my mum (see pic, above) along to give me support.

OK, my blog did not win. Tim Haward of the Guardian/ Observer Word of Mouth blog pipped both me and the lovely Helen Yuet Ling Pang of the World Foodie Guide to the post.

However, the judges said nice things about this blog such as: “Quirky”, “informative” and “Winkler’s writing rules should be required reading for aspiring writers online or in print.”

One of the judges, Rupert Parker, gave me some good advice, saying I should update more often. Like daily. Will give it a go. Viz.

Emma Sturgess and Diane Hendry were also winners and that meant a lot to me because I had voted for them when I was on two previous judging panels.

Being a participant – rather than an observer – took the event to another level. I was high.

And snapped away.

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Here is the lovely Jane Baxter and Guy Watson happy with their award (and not knowing they are about to receive another). I love their Riverford Farm Cook Book – and I have mentioned it a few times here at this blog.

Jane said there was no danger of this going to her head. “As I was coming up the steps of the Old Hall, I got a call from my six-year-old: ‘Mum, where is my bicycle pump?”

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Here is Mark Hix who is not only a winner but thouroughly helpful. When I told him my niece was a fan, he said: “Can she cook?” and said she could contact him (yippee).

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Here is Jay Rayner who was warm and funny. And below is Heston Blumenthal.

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As my mum said: “You were up there with the big boys.”

In fact Heston was dead impressed by my mum. She was talking about her parents (circa 1930s) who used to analyse every dish at every meal – an enduring family trait. Heston admired my mum’s energy and told her:

“I want what you’ve got.”

O it was fun. And being shortlisted is a goddamn-fine accolade. Nichola Fletcher told me her publishers put it on her book cover.

So in the words of the song: “They can’t take that away from me.”

Oh no – they can’t take that away from meeeeeeee.

Jamie Oliver – the real thing

I once sat in a room with Jamie Oliver for two and a half hours as he gave five interviews on the trot to the Scottish media. Whether explaining his passion for organic food to a reporter, or pacing the small room in-between bouts, Jamie seemed comfortably himself.

It was 2004, and Jamie hinted his next step was to do something with school meals. I escorted him through the university building where the Soil Association was holding its annual conference (stop press: our next conference is in Bristol this coming November). As he passed the book stall, Jamie bought twenty pounds worth of books on organic farming. We shook hands and I have to report – this guy is for real. He exudes natural warmth and spontaneity.

Now he is on television teaching Rotherham how to cook. And I love him.

The TV show tonight could not have packed-in more touching scenes. Julie used to live on crisps and chocolate – now she cooks healthy fresh dinners. The miner who found food teaches fellow miners how to stir-fry. Stereotypes fall away. So-called feckless single mothers and ‘real’ men, the stuff of tabloid headlines, absorb Jamie’s lessons – eager to learn, brimming with untapped talents.

Jamie takes his inspiration from the wartime Ministry of Food – Marguerite Patten reminds Jamie “the Ministry never lectured…cooking has to be pleasurable.” Wise advice but pity we have to wait for a disaster to get people changing their behaviour.

Such as the obesity crisis that Jamie graphically illustrates when he drops by the hospital to see Julie’s scan (and the baby she might call after him). There is a hoist and equipment that costs £60,000 to help care for extremely obese people. Clinically-fat people who do not need to suffer if – as the NHS medics insist – they had learnt to cook from scratch from the start.

Jamie gets a thousand people together in one go for a mass cook-in. He is working on the theory of passing it on. If I learn a recipe and pass it on to five people then – do the maths. I marvel at the cheffy dishes he chooses for people who have never cooked before: flattening chicken breasts pressed with parma ham.  His chief ingredients are chilli, ginger and garlic to get everything tasty – top tips to pass on.

His Rotherham experiment is part of revolution, with cooks as guerilla fighters in the war against junk food.

[I changed ‘part of’ from ‘beginning of’ following Sarah Beattie‘s comment because she‘s right: there’s unseen work going on, which is precariously-funded.]

My recipe: I put flat mushrooms with slivered garlic under a grill, brushed them with olive oil top and bottom so they would not burn. When they had softened, I added a slice or two of camembert cheese that took five minutes to melt. I piled the mushrooms on wholemeal toast and served them with grated carrots and mustard leaves snipped from my potted salad plants.

I hope Jamie would be proud of me.

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Bread and organic ghee

This morning’s breakfast: toast from Hobbs House Bakery and organic ghee from Pukka, both bought at the Soil Association’s Organic Food Festival this weekend.

I have wanted to buy ghee for months – it’s a healthy fat that can be used at high temperatures without burning. But I have been deterred by the ingredients list. This ghee, however, has nothing in it but clarified butter from organic milk.

I have pledged to eat unpackaged local and organic during Organic Fortnight. As this is impossible, I Ask Questions instead.

“Why is the organic ghee from Austria ?” I sternly ask Pukka’s Helena Kowalski. Turns out Pukka works with an Austrian farmer who specialises in making ghee on his small farm. Perhaps this is a new way for west country organic farmers to add value to their milk?

My breakfast toast is from Hobbs House Bakery in Bath – local points there. The Hobbs people (see their colourful stall below) were jubilant about their win at the Soil Association organic food awards on Friday. So they should be – their bread is so damn delicious, I was heartbroken when I ate my last slice an hour ago.

The whole mood of the Organic Food Festival was buzzy and warm. It’s a wonderful feeling to be involved in something which does the planet good. And is successful.

At the festival’s launch, Barny Haughton from sustainable gastro-paradise restaurant, Bordeaux Quay, said business had never been so good.

The recent food price rises are linked to the price of oil. The lynchpin of industrial farming is factory-made fertiliser, a process that relies entirely on burning oil.

In contrast organic farmers fertilise their fields naturally, courtesy of the sun, by using crop rotations, nitrogen-fixing clover and composting. As oil prices rise, organic farming becomes more profitable.

In an oil-depleted world, local organic is the future. Common sense, don’t you agree?

Celebrity to market

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I had to set an organic challenge for Hardeep Singh Kohli of Celebrity Masterchef fame: become 100% organic in two weeks. See how the comedian fared in olive, on sale now. It was a tall order because, in truth, going organic happens gradually.

I was mad-keen for Hardeep to visit a farmers’ market but he stuck to supermarkets. Farmers’ markets only set up stall once a week (or less), so I can see why they are not convenient. But the difference in quality between local organic food grown, made – or reared – within 50 miles, and the much-travelled organic food in supermarkets, is beyond compare.

Buying organic food from the person who grew it (from farmers’ markets or veg box delivery) adds a new dimension to shopping – you know where your food is from. Price-wise, buying direct is cheaper than supermarkets – no middleman to add costs.

Last Thursday at noon, catching a lift with Mike to Exeter train station, we unexpectedly passed Exeter’s farmers’ market.

“Stop the car,” I said. I had ten minutes to gather dinner (see above). Everything was organic apart from the fish, which was wild. With only a short season, the sprats, caught in Dorset , are special. And cheap. I got six portions-worth for £5. Sprats are sustainable to fish and healthy to eat. Grill without oil – they are naturally rich in must-have omega-3.

I fried the above darlings, eating them with Rod and Ben’s salad and Emma’s homemade bread, fresh from Exeter’s Farmer’s Market.

As well as shallow-frying the fish, I slathered oil on the salad and butter on my bread – what am I like?

The next day my pal and child came round. We ate the fried sprats whole, crunchy heads and all. I was surprised a four-year old would enjoy them but he did.

This time I served them with organic mash potatoes grown at Radford Mill Farm 30 miles away, and sold at its inner-city organic farm shop luckily on my flight-path.

How do you access local organic produce? Do you find it hard like Hardeep?