top of page


Winter is a time when our kitchen gardens can still produce vegetables but traditionally, we would also use our store cupboard supplies of dried beans/pulses and start opening our jars of bottled fruit and other preserves. Nowadays, I guess it’s the freezer. It’s also the season for citrus fruits from Spain, nuts and, especially around Christmas, dried fruits

Celery and Blue Cheese Soup

This month’s soup is wonderfully flavoured, celery being great in soups, stocks and stews and it is possible to get a whole head for 50p! Blue cheese melds beautifully with celery. You can choose a mild one if you prefer.

cook 60 minutes

serves 4

blue chesse


1 medium head of celery, chopped fairly small

2 medium onions, chopped

50g butter or vegetable margarine

30g plain flour

1 litre chicken stock (or water + 2 Knorr stock pots)

60–85g blue cheese, depending on the strength of the cheese *

Chopped parsley


Melt the butter/margarine in a pan and stir in the chopped celery and onion.

Cover the pan and let the vegetables cook gently for about 10 mins without browning.

Now stir in the flour and then add the stock, stirring all the while and bring gently up to the boil.


Cover and simmer for 40 mins until the celery is really tender.

Mash the cheese to a cream and whisk it into the soup gradually, keeping the soup well below boiling point. * Recently I made this soup and used Blacksticks Blue, which is a mellow, fairly mild blue cheese and not too expensive, but use a stronger, more piquant one if you prefer.

Check the seasoning and add the parsley.

This is nice served with croutons. You can make these yourself by cutting a couple of slices of bread into 1cm squares and gently frying in butter or olive oil, turning them over until all sides are golden brown.

Nut and Cranberry Filo Pie

So what’s a celebratory alternative to turkey this Christmas? If you want something meaty but much cheaper yet with a potential Christmassy feel, I would suggest a gammon joint cooked with cider, cloves, grain mustard and dark brown sugar or marmalade – lots of recipes available which you could find online no doubt. This would also have the benefit of being both great hot and excellent as cold leftovers.


However, here is a very different suggestion.  Last year my brother’s family all came to me and my nieces and nephew are all either vegetarian or vegan. So this is what we had on Christmas Day – it is delicious and I cooked it the previous year at New Year for friends. Here is a splendid, beautifully spiced pie serving 6 – 8.

Don’t be put off by the list of ingredients – there’s nothing inaccessible and the result is worth it! Plus you can do most of the work in advance if you want to.

cook 30-40 minutes

serves 6-8

filo pie.jpg
filo pie


  • 2 tsp each coriander and cumin seeds

  • 1 tsp paprika, plus extra for dusting

  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon

  • 150ml olive oil

  • 900g squash, peeled and cut into small chunks (about 2cm)

  • 12 shallots, quartered

  • 4cm piece of root ginger, finely chopped

  • 140g whole blanched almonds

  • 140g shelled pistachios

  • 75g dried cranberries

  • 6 tbsp clear honey (or Agave nectar or maple syrup for vegans)

  • 225g fresh spinach

  • 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • 3 tbsp lemon juice

  • 4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

  • 100g butter or vegan margarine

  • 8 large sheets of filo pastry

  • Lemon wedges to serve

  • 200g Greek yoghurt (vegan alternative available)

  • 6 tbsp milk (vegan alternative available)

  • 3 large sprigs of mint leaves, chopped

  • 2-3 tbsp harissa paste

For the Harissa Yogurt Sauce


Preheat the oven Gas 6/200C or 180C fan.Dry fry the seeds briefly in a small pan over a medium heat until toasted – don’t let them burn. Grind coarsely, using a pestle and mortar (or a bowl and end of rolling pin), then mix in the paprika, cinnamon, ½ tsp salt and 4 tbsp oil. Tip the squash into a roasting tin, pour over the spiced oil and toss. Roast for 20 mins.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a frying pan, add the shallots and cook, stirring, until they start to brown. Stir in the ginger and 100g each almonds and pistachios.

When the nuts have browned, toss in the cranberries, 2 tbsp honey and the spinach, stirring until the spinach has wilted. Take off the heat and stir into the roasted squash when it comes out of the oven. Set aside.

In a food processor whizz up the chickpeas with the garlic, cumin, remaining oil, lemon juice, 2 tbsp water and salt & pepper to make a houmous. Stir in the coriander leaves.

Melt the butter in a small pan. Put a loose-bottomed 28cm quiche tin on a baking sheet and brush with some butter. Keeping the filo covered with a damp cloth so it doesn’t dry out, lay one sheet over half of the tin so that it hangs over the edge by about 12cm. Lay another sheet on the other side so it overlaps the first in the centre and hangs over the opposite edge. Brush both with butter. Lay 2 more sheets in the opposite direction (90 degrees) in the same way and brush with more butter. Build up two more layers in this way so you have a total of 8 sheets of filo.

Pile half the squash mixture in the centre of the pastry. Spread over the houmous and then the rest of the squash mixture.

One at a time, bring the edge of each filo sheet up to the centre to cover the filling, brushing with more butter to cover the whole thing.

When ready, bake for 30–40 mins until crisp and golden. Just before the pie is ready, reheat any remaining butter in the pan, tip in the rest of the nuts and fry until golden. Spoon in the remaining 4 tbsp honey and when it melts take off the heat and pour over the pie.

Mix the yoghurt and milk together, stir in the mint and then swirl in the harissa. Serve the pie with harissa yoghurt sauce and lemon wedges.


Squash, Sweet Potato
and Red Lentil Soup

For cold winter days this soup is thick, gently spiced and wonderfully warming.

cook 20 minutes

serves 4

Image by Monika Grabkowska
Lentil soup


  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil

  • 2 tsp cinnamon

  • 2 tsp ground ginger

  • 2 tsp turmeric

  • 1 tsp ground allspice

  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

  • 400g peeled and seeded squash, cubed

  • 400g sweet potato, peeled and cubed

  • 100g red lentils

  • 1 litre vegetable stock

  • 100g creamed coconut, cut into pieces


Sauté the onion in the oil together with all the spices until softened.

Add the squash, and sweet potato and cook for 5 mins.

Add the lentils and the stock; stir to mix and bring to the boil.

Simmer until the vegetables are soft – approx. 10 mins

Drop the pieces of creamed coconut into the pan and when the coconut has melted take the pan off the heat.


Blend the soup and then gently reheat before serving. If you feel it is a bit too thick, add some more water but it is meant to be quite a thick soup!

New way with Sprouts!
Shredded sprouts with sausage meat and fennel seeds

Cooked properly and imaginatively, sprouts are wonderful. If you are sceptical at least try this one – even the kids could enjoy it!  (thanks to Jamie Oliver!)

cook 30 minutes

serves 4

Brussel Sprouts


  • Olive oil

  • 2 Cumberland sausages (or your favourite)

  • 1 white onion, peeled

  • Several thyme sprigs, leaves picked

  • 1 heaped tsp fennel seeds

  • 500g Brussels sprouts

  • 2 generous tsps. runny honey

  • 2-3 tbsp cider vinegar

  • Salt and pepper


Either run the onion through the slicer attachment of your food processor if you have one or slice as finely as you can.

Take off any tatty/spoilt outer leaves of the sprouts then run them through the slicing attachment too. Otherwise you have to do it by hand.

Heat up some olive oil in a large frying pan. When it’s hot squeeze out the sausages from their skins into the pan and break up the meat into little bits with a wooden spoon while it fries.

Add the onion, thyme leaves and fennel seeds, stirring for about 10 mins or so until you have golden, caramelised onion and little bits of sausage meat.

Now stir in the honey and cider vinegar with a pinch of salt and pepper. You want a nice sticky golden mixture, but not burnt!

Now spread the sliced sprouts over the top and another pinch of salt and pepper. Pour in 150ml of water and cover with a lid (or tin foil) and simmer for 10 mins until the sprouts are tender but still nicely bright green and a pleasure to eat! In effect, they steam.

Gently fold the mixture together to serve.

Tip: For a Christmassy effect you could throw in some cooked chestnuts or cranberries before you add the sprouts.

Armenian soup

This is an unusual and substantial soup, quick and easy to make when days are chilly and grey and there’s not much in the fridge. Double the quantities to serve 4 people twice.

cook 30-40 minutes

serves 4

Yellow Lentils


  • 55g red lentils

  • 55g dried apricots

  • 1 large potato

  • 1.2 litres vegetable stock

  • Juice from ½ lemon

  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • 3 tbsp chopped parsley

  • Salt and pepper to taste


Chop the potato and place in a large saucepan.

Cut the apricots in half and add, along with the lentils and all the other ingredients, to the pan with the potato. (I use Knorr Stock Pots for vegetable stock so this would be 1.2 litres of water and 2 vegetable Stock Pots).

Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 mins.

Allow to cool, then blend until smooth.

Reheat to serving temperature and adjust seasoning to taste.

Ox cheek stew

Ox or beef cheek is one of the cheapest cuts of beef which maybe you have never bought or cooked before but give it a very long, slow cook with some beer (or wine) and you get a melt-in-the-mouth tender result. A really good recipe if you have a slow cooker.  You probably need to go to a butcher or a fresh meat counter to find ox cheek. The inclusion of some beer helps to tenderise the meat as well as add flavour but see below for no alcohol alternative.

cook 30-40 minutes

serves 6-8

Red Onion
Ox cheek


  • 800g ox or beef cheek

  • 6 large shallots or 12 small ones or 2–3 onions

  • 4 cloves of garlic peeled (optional)

  • 330/400ml can stout (I used Mackeson, Guiness is good) or alternative* (see below)

  • Knorr beef stockpot and approx. 600ml water

  • Generous bunch of fresh thyme or 1 ½ heaped tsp dried thyme

  • 3 bay leaves

  • 3 tablespoons grain mustard

  • Salt and pepper


Cut the meat into good-sized pieces, discarding any large pieces of pure fat (there shouldn’t be much) and season.

Peel the shallots or onions. If the shallots are large, cut them in half. If small, leave them whole. If using onions, cut them into wedges so you have 12 wedges altogether.

Cover the bottom of a heavy pan or casserole with some oil; heat on a medium heat and brown the meat on both sides. Don’t crowd the pan – do it in 2 or 3 batches, transferring the meat to a plate while you do the next batch.

Add the shallots/onions and whole garlic cloves, if used, with a little more oil if necessary, stirring them around until they have taken on a little colour. Add the bay leaves and the thyme.

Return the meat to the pan and add the stout, stirring and scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan. Let it come up to a simmer and then add the Stock Pot, the mustard and enough water to just cover the meat. When the whole thing has come up to the simmer, transfer to your slow cooker or slow cook oven with a close-fitting lid.

Leave it and forget about it for 7–8 hrs until you are ready to eat. Just before you want to eat, check the seasoning. If you like a thicker gravy, remove the meat, bay leaves and thyme sprigs and whizz up the onions into the gravy to thicken it and then return just the meat. Or you can just leave it as it is.The meat will be really tender.


Slight variation – *If you don’t have or don’t want to use any beer or wine you could just use stock – 1 litre water and 2 Stock Pots. I think I would add maybe 90ml red wine vinegar first, then the stock and 3 tbsp tomato purée 2 tsp sugar and 2-3tbsp grain mustard to your taste.  In fact, when everything is cooked check the balance of the gravy.

bottom of page