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Launch of Sabrina's one-to-one private cookery tuition Guest critic on Gordon Ramsay's 'F-Word' series finale Organised Top Chef Charity Banquet for Haiti raising £70,000 for 'Action Against Hunger' Seasonal Food & Recipe Writer for 'Blue Tomato'

Winner of Channel 4's 'Come Dine With Me' (West London) 'Bronze' winner in professionally judged 'AA Home Cooking Competition 2009' Appointed resident cookery columnist for Foodepedia

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Friday, 27 November 2009


As Christmas draws near, the stress of planning my meals on different days is getting to me. Why? (I hear you ask) Well, I'm on a diet. Yes... diet. Ughhh, I hate that word. But where does that put a food loving home cook like me? To be perfectly honest, i'm in hell... or something a lot like it. But the idea is that i shift some much needed poundage in time for Christmas, because inevitably (and whether you like it or not) the holidays are the season for over-indulgence and weight gain for the whole family. No one person is safe! So cutting back right now is the most sensible thing i can do for myself in anticipation of Christmas... and do it, i shall!

Christmas Day is pretty much sorted really. After years of slaving away for the best part of 8 hours over a traditional turkey with all the trimmings, my family felt is best to confront me (en masse) that they would really rather have rib of beef. I was mortified! Mortified at the fact that they didnt tell me this any earlier! Turkey is ok, but i can live without it and the 8 hour cooking session that comes with it. My lovely rib of beef means that i spend just 3 hours in the kitchen doing prep on Christmas days and get to spend time with the whole family as well as factor in some cooking time with my beloved nephews Cyrus, Darius and the latest addition to the family Cass.

I have decided to host an "Orphans and strays" day at my house over the Christmas period, where my friends are welcome to drop by and hang out with me, anytime through out the day either for lunch or just a quick glass of wine and a festive treat. So, these festive treats… What to cook? Hmmm… It has got me thinking. I want to be able to make trays of oven ready treats and I have recently discovered that ready made refrigerated pastry is the best friend you may have when you are in a pinch, especially over the Christmas period!

Having recently been ‘saved’ by a pack of puff pastry, I decided I will recreate that magic in miniature for guests arriving on my day for strays. I drew my inspiration for a delicious vegetarian option that I whipped up for one of my oldest friends Denise, who sadly (she’ll kill me) suffers from incurable vegetarianism. I made a wonderful puff pastry tart of mushrooms and thyme with a smidgen of cream and garlic. She said it was one of the best things I had made for her, despite its simplicity, it spurred me on to make it part of my regular repertoire of dishes for both veggies and carnivores. So here is the recipe for you;

Quick n' Easy Woodland Mushroom Tart

1 pack of ready-rolled puff pastry sheet (from the fridge section of supermarkets)
400g of mushrooms (I used 300g of Chestnut & 100g of Chanterelles)
3 stems of thyme
3 garlic cloves
2 long (or 3 small) shallots
150mls of double cream
Knob of butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to season
1 egg
Oven-proof paper

Lay your pastry onto an oven-proof paper lined baking tray and using a knife, gently mark a border around the perimeter of your pastry, about 1 ½ inches away from the edged. Do NOT cut the pastry, just score it lightly to create an edge around the centre that you will fill with your mushroom mix.

Finely chop your shallots, garlic cloves and thyme and wash, dry and slice your mushrooms (doesn’t matter what size they are, as long as they are sliced relatively thinly) and toss them into a preheated pan over a high heat and sauté them with a knob of butter and some olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and once the mushrooms are cooked through, turn the heat source off and move the pan away from the heat. Then stir in your cream and allow the mixture to cool down for about 15 minutes.

Beat your egg and using a pastry brush, glaze the border of your pastry well with the egg and that way, when the tart is done, the pastry edges that are exposed will be nice and glossy. Pour the mushroom mixture into the centre of your pastry and spread it out evenly within the scored line border and bake in the oven according to the cooking instructions on your pastry pack. (Which should be about 20 minutes on 220) and voila! Tasty mushroom tart… done!
~ ~ ~ ~

Don’t like mushrooms? They don’t stick to mushrooms. Using the scored pastry mixtures, take a jar of pesto and spread a generous layer of it across the pastry (within the border) and then dot with goats cheese (or mozzarella) black olives, sundried tomatoes and any other vegetable you like until the centre area is covered. Or how about making a sort of puff pastry pizza? Use passata or plain tomato sauce, topped with some of your favourite cheeses and pizza toppings… Delicious. But you don’t have to stick to savoury toppings, you can use fruits, chocolate, nuts and all kinds of things to make your ideal tart! Just experiment, don’t be afraid! It could be the key to stress free entertainment for Christmas!

Watch out for more helpful, speedy Christmas tips to ease the stress and strains of cooking over the festive period!!!

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