Comfort Food for a Rainy Day – Smooth Leek and Potato Soup

Easy Leek and Potato Soup Recipe

IMG_0060After an especially wet and muddy walk this weekend at Polesden Lacey I was in dire need of something warm and comforting to eat. Thankfully the cafe in the outside courtyard of the National Trust house was cosy and warm and their leek and potato soup proved perfect sustenance after our endeavours.

I had forgotten how delicious this classic recipe is, and this recipe is the best; very easy and no frills or added ingredients.

Another frugal student recipe winner.

I whizzed up a a couple of large of leeks and two medium potatoes and was able to use up some chicken stock. I had run out of butter so instead I sweated the leeks in olive oil, added the peeled potatoes and liquidised into the perfect creamy soup. Nigel Slater has a very interesting take on this in his book The Kitchen Diaries. He adds some leftover Parmesan rinds while the leeks and potatoes are simmering to give a cheesy, velvety version. He then removes the rinds before  the leeks and potatoes with the stock, scraping in any cheese you can get from the rind. He suggests finishing off with a handful of chopped parsley and topping with some grated Parmesan. So next time you have any leftover rind from a hunk of Parmesan, don’t throw it away, but keep until you are in the mood for soup. To complete the wholesome approach, I love to serve soup with tasty cheese scones<

NOTE: The trick to achieving a lovely smooth texture is to simmer slowly for about 40 minutes.

To serve 4

This recipe is straightforward, no-nonsense and with just four ingredients very easy to make.

  • 2 large leeks
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into dice
  • 30g butter or 3Tbs olive oil
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • fresh ground black pepper


  1. Trim the leeks by removing the tip and the dark leaves at the top.
  2. Slice into rings and wash throughly in cold running water. Make sure all the layers are separated so there is no grit lurking in between.
  3. Heat the butter or oil in a heavy based pan and add the leeks. Allow to soften and stir for 8-10 minutes or so. Add the potatoes and continue to stir for another 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken stock, cover the pan with a lid and allow to simmer gently for 40 minutes, checking from time to time to make sure it is not sticking. See Note below.
  5. Remove from the heat, season with salt and a good twist of black pepper. Puree by blitzing in a blender and serve.

Note: I usually cook this in a medium sized lidded casserole and put in a low oven – about 130C- to cook. This avoids the possibility of the soup catching on the bottom which can happen if you don’t concentrate when cooking on a hob. Likewise it can be cooked in a slow cooker.

Comfort food for Rainy Days – Cauliflower cheese with crispy chorizo

Cauliflower cheese with crispy chorizo

This is a quick and easy and nutritious meal for everyone. I am currently teaching my son Jamie some easily achievable recipes for when he goes to uni in September. He tested this recipe and it worked out perfectly so now he is going to it out by making if for his girlfriend this weekend. We had it for supper with some ciabatta bread and a tomato salad. Perfect.

To serve 4


  • 1 firm cauliflower
  • 50g of unsalted butter
  • 50g of plain white flour
  • pinch dry mustard (optional)
  • pinch paprika (optional)
  • 500ml of milk
  • 100g of mature cheddar cheese – grated
  • 50g grated Parmesan
  • 100g of diced cooking chorizo (optional)
  • 4 Tbs Parmesan for the top
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas mark 6.
  2. Wash the cauliflower and separated into equal sized florets. Bring a large saucepan of boiling water. Simmer for about eight minutes (testing after five) until cooked but still with a bite. Drain through a colander and set aside while as you make the sauce. Alternatively steam for 10 minutes or so until tender (see Tip below).
  3. To make a rich cheese sauce, melt the butter and, add the flour, mustard powder and paprika if using. Stir for a few minutes to cook out the flour. Add the milk gradually, stirring constantly so that the mixture (known as a roux) absorbs all the milk before you add the next lot. When all the milk has been added let the sauce simmer for ten minutes to thicken. It should be fairly thick and smooth by this stage. If there are any remaining lumps, a good whizz with an electric hand whisk can sort this out.
  4. Add both types of cheese and allow to simmer for a further 3-4 minutes. Add a good twist of black pepper.
  5. Place the drained cauliflower into a ovenproof dish
  6. and pour the sauce over the cauliflower, making sure it is well coated.
  7. Scatter a little Parmesan on top and bake for 25  minutes.
  8. Towards the end of the cooking time, fry the chorizo bits over a gentle heat in a frying pan until they are golden brown and cooked through.This should take around 4-5 minutes.
  9.  When the cauliflower is bubbling and golden, remove from the oven and serve with the chorizo bits scattered on top.

TIP: Steaming small amounts of vegetables is the best way of preserving the nutrients and helps keep the texture. We have a very nifty and space saving collapsible steamer basket. You can get them in shops like Robert Dyas or from Lakeland.

NOTE:  I have put some as the ingredients as optional as student cooks will probably not have the cupboard space nor frequent use for some of these items. The chorizo is also optional as it is an added expense for students on a tight budget, but could be substituted with some rashers of streaky bacon.

How to make Perfect Baby Meringues

Gorgeous Raspberry Meringues
Gorgeous Raspberry Meringues
Gorgeous Raspberry Meringues

This recipe is courtesy of my brother-in-law, Mark Jenkins, who thought that the meringues I made for a family party in Wales were too perfect to be home made. It is such a simple recipe – only two ingredients – but is deemed difficult for non-professional cooks. However, follow a couple of easy guidelines and it is the easiest thing in the world. Each and every time we produce these for a wedding, or any party for that matter, they go down a storm as they are simply gorgeous. So to show Mark and any other doubting Thomases – here is how you do it….


This amount will make 20-22 dessert size, or 40 very mini meringues for finger food

  • 2 medium egg whites, at room temperature
  • 125g white caster sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 120’C/Gas Mark 1/2
  2. Make sure your equipment is clean and dry and line a flat baking sheet with baking parchment
  3. Separate the eggs, and place the whites into a bowl and whisk until they are stiff and hold soft peaks.At this point, start adding the sugar, one tablespoon at a time whisking well between each spoonful. Keep going until you have added all the sugar. Don’t be in too much of a rush to do this, and continue whisking until you have a stiff and glossy mixture ready to pipe.
  4. Fill your piping bag with a large star nozzle and pipe little rosettes onto the baking parchment, leaving space between each meringue.
  5. Place in the oven for an hour until they are crisp and dry and remove easily from the baking parchment.
  6. Turn the oven off and leave to cool in the oven before removing.
  7. Once completely cold the meringues can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.


  • 150ml double cream
  • a punnet fresh raspberries (or strawberries if you’d prefer)
  • small tot of Chase Rhubarb liqueur (optional)

Whip the cream until thickened, being careful not to over whisk. Crush the raspberries with the back of a fork and stir into the cream and add the Rhubarb liqueur if using. Pile onto your favourite plate and decorate with rose petals.

NOTE: The vodka maker Chase makes some lovely vodka liqueurs and I love using the rhubarb liqueur for grown up recipes. It is fun to serve a shot of the liqueur alongside for the perfect dinner party pudding.

Perfect Picnic Food or Wedding Canape?


photo-7photo-8This recipe is like one of those pleasingly handy reversible skirt – two outfits for the price of one! (White Stuff, since you’re asking). I devised this recipe as a deeply savoury portable loaf to be taken on a picnic. Whilst I was planning a Hen Party canape workshop at The Medicine Garden in Cobham, I realised that the texture was perfect for a canape base, so I made a loaf to take along and we cut it into cute little heart shapes and topped them with goat’s cheese and baby leaves. Looks fresh and summery – perfect hen or wedding party food, or even just for fun at any time.

Leek and Red Pepper Picnic Loaf Recipe

photo-2This makes enough mixture to fill a 1lb loaf tin and will feed up 8-10

  • 2 medium leeks (150-200g)
  • 1 small red pepper
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 3medium eggs, beaten
  • milk 75ml
  • 110g plain whole wheat flour
  • ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g goats cheese or 100g grated cheddar
  • 50g Parmesan
  • salt and pepper

For the canapes you will need a small tub of creme fraiche or fresh goat’s cheese with some chopped herbs or micro leaves


  1. Preheat the oven to 180’C or equivalent. 
  2. Trim ends and tops of the leeks, cut in half lengthwise and slice the leeks thinly. Give them a good wash in running water.
  3. Cut the pepper into small even size dice shapes
  4. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and soften the leek and red pepper for 7-10 minutes, stirring to prevent them sticking.
  5. Mix the eggs and milk with the flour, smoked paprika and baking powder.
  6. Remove the leeks and red pepper from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  7. Mix the flour and egg mixture with the leeks and red pepper and add the Parmesan and goat’s cheese.
  8. Add salt and pepper and turn the mixture into the prepared loaf tin.
  9. Transfer to the oven to cook for 25-30 minutes.
  10. Leave to cool before eating, and wrap in greaseproof paper and a clean tea towel if taking on a picnic, along with a small chopping board and knife. 

If using as a canape base, leave to cool and cut out shapes when required. This size loaf will yield two small heart shapes per slice, giving you around 18-20 little heart shapes. Top these with the creme fraiche or goat’s cheese and decorate with herbs or leaves.

Wedding Canapes



The heart shaped version is such a simple and effective canape for a wedding or hen night. For other occasions the square shapes are also very stylish.

First find the right size heart shaped cutter which will fit into the centre of a large cucumber. If this isn’t available then you can cut the cucumber into rounds or into square shapes as in the photograph above. We use peeled baby brown shrimps when available, but small pink peeled prawns can also be used.

Top Tip – you can use the cucumber trimmings with it’s heart shape centre as a garnish in a refreshing soft drink or gin and tonic instead of a slice of lemon. Perfect for a hot day.

Pommes Anna for Mother’s Day

IMG_1188I have to say that I don’t really hold with all this mother’s day nonsense. A well chosen card and a bunch of daffs should do it. I also know that it is one of the busiest Sundays in a restaurant’s calendar which is one big reason to stay at home. With this in mind, I had given my two boys instructions on what I would like them to cook me for a mother’s day dinner on Sunday. Along with Simon Hopkinson, roast chicken is my all time favourite and I had intended to show them how to press herb-laden butter under the skin and create the perfect herb-scented, crisply skinned bird. Like all good meals, it is all in the planning and as I escaped the ‘burbs for a lovely, long walk in the country, I hadn’t bought the food required or provided the wherewithal to buy it. As it turned out my husband was ill and my eldest son felt unwell so no one was that hungry. We made do with some Lincolnshire sausages, red onion gravy and a lovely little version of Pommes Anna on the side. Only three of us ate it, as a poorly eldest son remained in bed. However the dog was looking longingly at the sausages, bought that morning from the shop at Polesden Lacey. This lovely National Trust property is my favourite destination for a Saturday morning walk and has lovely woods and fields surrounding it which are ideal for walking the dog. The best thing is the cafe/deli where you can slurp a cappuccino for breakfast along with a freshly made sandwich before heading off. The deli is full of locally produced ham, cheese and sausages and worth a visit just for the shop.

Pommes Anna

is a simple dish of layered sliced potatoes and is great with grilled or roast meat or fish

Serves 4-6 using a small oven proof frying pan – mine is 8inches/20cm in diameter

  • 750g potatoes
  • 90g unsalted butter
  • sea salt and black pepper
  1. Pre heat oven to 180’C/ Gas 6
  2. Don’t bother peeling the potatoes, but slice very thinly with a mandolin or slicing disc of a food processor.
  3. Butter the base and sides of the pan and put onto a low heat.
  4. Working quickly, layer up the potatoes in the frying pan, seasoning each layer with a sprinkling of sea salt and a good twist of black pepper, and dotting with small cubes of the butter.
  5. Heat on the hob for about 10 minutes before covering the pan with foil and transferring to the oven.
  6. Cook for about 30 minutes until tender, removing the foil towards the end.
  7. To serve, loosen the sides and base, then place a flat serving plate or chopping board over the pan and turn out the potato cake so that the crisp bottom layer is now on the top. Serve cut into wedges.
Polesden Lacey
Polesden Lacey
Chester at Polesden Lacey
Chester at Polesden Lacey


Chorizo and Butter Bean Hot Pot

Chorizo, Sausage and Butter Bean Hot Pot

This recipe would serve 6-8 bowls. We use Brindisa chorizo picante. Brindisa are a specialist importer of fabulous Spanish produce. The sausages are often sold in good delis, or you can buy these online at Brindisa.

  • 6 x Brindisa chorizo picante sausages (or if you can’t locate the Brindisa ones, then use some good quality cooking chorizo)
  • 6 x normal sausages
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons diced onions
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 celery stick, cut into small dice
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
  • 1 glass red wine
  • 2 x 390g cartons of chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 carton water
  • 1 dessertspoon wholegrain mustard
  • 2 x bayleaves
  • 1 x jar of large Judion butter beans, or two tins normal size butter beans
  • roughly chopped flat leafed parsley for garnish


  1. Put chorizo and sausages in separate roasting pans and cook at 180’C for about 20 minutes, until just cooked
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy based casserole pan and add the onions and garlic
  3. Stir for a few minutes then add the chopped celery and carrot
  4. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes until softened, then deglaze the pan with the red wine
  5. Allow to bubble down and reduce a little before adding the chopped tomatoes, water, mustard and bay leaves.
  6. Remove the chorizo and sausages from the oven. Cut the chorizo into 2cm slices and the sausage into 1/2 inch chunks.
  7. Put the sausages and butter beans into the casserole with the onion and tomato mixture and cook for a further 30 minutes for flavours to mingle
  8. Check for seasoning – you probably do not need to add any extra salt or pepper.
  9. Serve steaming hot in bowls with flat parsley sprinkled over.