January 30, 2024


I made cock-a-leekie soup as the first course at our Burns Night Supper.  There were five guests plus ourselves so seven people in total.  This was more than my soup maker could handle so I made it like I always used to - in my large stock pot.  As the name suggests it is essentially a chunky chicken and leek soup!

Most of the recipes I consulted suggested cooking a chicken with the veg, taking the meat off the bones after it was cooked and adding it back into the soup.  I already had some home made chicken stock in the freezer so I cooked some chicken breasts separately (in the air fryer) and used those.  

Some recipes suggested adding prunes to the soup.  Prunes are a favourite in this house but not everyone is a fan so I left them out.  I would add some next time if I made a smaller quantity just for the two of us.  Another ingredient I left out was some smoked bacon because one of the guests eats only fish or chicken, no red meat. They would also be a good addition for next time I think!

It turned out really well - chunky veg, very tasty and this amount of ingredients made eight good servings.  It would also be an excellent way of using up leftover chicken.


2 skinless chicken breasts, cooked 

A twinpack of smoked bacon lardons (optional)

4 large carrots

2 large leeks

4 sticks of celery 

50g butter

2 tblsp olive oil 

1 litre of chicken stock (home made or using water and two chicken stock pots or cubes)

1 bouquet garni

A good handful of stoned prunes (optional)


Peel and chop the carrots into small dice of about 1cm.  Trim and thinly slice the leeks.  Wash and thinly slice the celery.  

In a large saucepan or stock pot heat the oil and butter gently until the butter has melted, add the lardons if using, then add all the veg.  Cook gently until the veg are softened which will take about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally or shaking the pan so that they don’t stick.  

Add the stock and approximately a litre of water.  The liquid should cover the veg completely so use your judgment to add more water if needed.  Add the bouquet garni and season well with salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.  If using the prunes add them half way through the cooking time.

Chop or tear the cooked chicken into small pieces and add into the pan.  Cook for another 5 minutes, check the seasoning and serve with a nice fresh baguette.

Makes 6-8 generous servings.

January 29, 2024


For our our Burns Night Supper I had planned to make Scotch pies for the main course, which are made with lamb or mutton.  One of the guests eats no red meat, only fish or chicken, so I wondered about making a vegetable version.  I was not sure how well it would hold together so made a large top crust pie instead.  

A common term for this kind of pie nowadays is a "pot pie".  It’s basically a pie filling topped with either shortcrust or flaky pastry.  This one was served with tatties and neeps - mashed potatoes and swede - but normally it would be good with a pile of greens - sprouts, broccoli, cabbage or beans.

The first time I made this pie was about fifty years ago.  I was a student, just married to husband number one, and money was very tight.  I remember it so well because we had asked friends round for dinner, which was my very first dinner party.  We couldn’t afford enough meat of any kind for four people but I had spotted a recipe for vegetable pie in a magazine in a waiting room somewhere.  It was essentially cooked veg in a cheese sauce with a pastry top.

I baked it in the Pyrex pie dish that came in a set with a mixing bowl and jug as a wedding present.  I still have and use the pie dish and bowl.  For this pie I included some broccoli but back then I’m sure I would have used brussels sprouts.  If broccoli had been available it would have seemed far too expensive and exotic.  I would have made the pastry myself from flour and lard as I’m not sure that ready made pastry - even if I could have afforded it - was a thing in the early seventies.  

I also remember that we served grilled grapefruit as a starter and crème caramel for dessert.  Remember those?!


1 pack of ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pastry

1 large carrot 

1 large leek

1 chunk of swede

1 stick of celery 

A few florets of broccoli 

A chunk of broccoli stalk

1 egg, beaten 

For the cheese sauce 

1 heaped dessertspoon of plain flour 

1 large knob of butter 

1 pint of milk 

50g of grated cheese such as cheddar

A pinch of mace or mustard powder 


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.

Peel the carrots and swede and chop into small dice of about 1cm.  Wash and thinly slice the leek and celery.  Trim the broccoli stalk and chop into 1cm dice.

Put all the vegetables apart from the broccoli florets into a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil.  Cook for 10-15 minutes until cooked but still firm, adding the broccoli florets for the last few minutes so that they don’t get too soft.  Drain the veg and tip back into the pan.

To make the sauce put the flour, butter and about half of the milk into a medium saucepan and bring gently to the boil, whisking all the time until it thickens.  Add enough of the rest of the milk to get the thickness you want, remembering that the cheese will also thicken it up slightly.  You should aim for a "coating" consistency, i.e. a bit thicker than "pouring " and not too runny.  Add the cheese and spice, and a little more milk if needed.  It’s easier to thin the sauce by adding more milk than to thicken it up if it’s too thin!

Add the sauce to the veg, season with salt and pepper and stir well until the veg are all coated.  Tip into a suitable pie dish, top with the pastry and decorate with leaves made from the trimmings.  Make a hole in the middle to let out the steam, plus a few around the edge, brush with beaten egg and bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.  Rest for a few minutes before serving.

Cuts into 6 generous servings.

January 27, 2024


In a moment of  madness I proposed that we should host a Burns Supper.  
The missing ingredient was the haggis.  

Haggis is not to everyone’s taste but I have enjoyed it in the past.  It’s now one of the items we are no longer permitted to bring into France post Brexit.  All meat and dairy products are banned so those expats who used to buy a couple of haggis during their Christmas UK visit to bring back to France for their Burns Suppers have to either smuggle them in their luggage or get creative.  In a moment of pure insanity I proposed that I should make Scotch pies.  How hard can they be?!

There is a recipe on the BBC Good Food website by Paul Hollywood which comes from his TV series "Pies and Puds". You can see the recipe here. It includes a video of how to construct the pies but I can’t view it from outside of the UK! ** Luckily I also have a copy of the book from the TV series, a charity shop find, and there’s a couple of pages of helpful photos.

To say they are fiddly is a gross understatement!

I practised two days before the event using some leftover roast pork from our Sunday lunch, scaling down the ingredients to make just two of them.  I had never made hot water crust pastry before and the two pies took me about an hour to make, plus baking time.  BUT they looked the part and were delicious! I was very proud of them.  However, it dawned on me that at the rate of production it could literally take me all day to make the six I needed for the evening’s festivities and there was also the tatties, neeps, cock-a-leekie soup and cranachan to make!

I decided that the way to go was to cook the lamb the day before and mince it for the filling "shepherd’s pie" fashion.  No risk of serving undercooked meat to our guests.  I also decided I would make them in the morning and reheat for dinner.  No risk of me still being up to my elbows in flour and pastry when the guests arrived!

I set to early, deciding to make the pies one by one as I thought that would be easier than rolling out such a huge amount of pastry.  The website instructions are for four pies and the book for eight so I split the difference and portioned out the pastry for individual pies.

*Moulding the pastry around the filling is immensely fiddly.  I found that for me the quickest way to get them made was to put a ball of filling in the middle of a circle of pastry, pat it down a bit, brush the edge with water and then place a circle of pastry for the lid straight on top.  I then brought the bottom pastry up to meet the lid at four points, north, east, south and west, pinching it together to secure it.  I then gathered up the rest of the pastry, pleating to fit, and pinched the edges together.  This got my production time down to less than ten minutes per pie from rolling out to stringing up!

They were not the prettiest pies you have ever seen but they were really tasty and went down well with our guests.  I have given the quantity of ingredients for six pies and my own adaptions to the recipe but suggest you look it up and work out your own best method!  I have given it three stars in the faff factor but in reality they were about three and a half - incredibly fiddly but very definitely worth it!

Next time I think I would try to make them a bit smaller!


For the filling

900g cooked lamb

A pinch of mace

1 onion, cooked.  Mine had been roasted under the joint of lamb

For the pastry

540g Plain flour

180g Lard or other white cooking fat.  I used Trex.

240ml Water

A pinch of salt 

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash


Begin by choosing a small plate of about 18cm diameter and a saucer or jar of about 10cm diameter.  These will be used as templates to cut the circles of pastry.  Cut six strips of baking paper about 30cm long and 10cm deep, folded over lengthways.  These will be used to encase the pies so they keep their shape while baking. Also cut six pieces of string long enough to tie around the pies.

Mince the lamb coarsely in a food processor.  Add the onion and mace and process for a few seconds until blended in.

Tip the lamb onto a board and mould into a ball.  Divide into six even portions and roll each one into a smaller ball.  Place on a tray or dish and chill in the fridge while you make the pastry.

Put the flour into a large bowl.  Put the fat, salt and water into a saucepan on medium heat and bring to the boil.  Pour this liquid onto the flour and mix in with a spoon.  (The flour will fizz briefly as you add the liquid.) 

When the pastry starts to come together and is cool enough to handle tip it onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.  (This took longer than I expected.)

Mould the pastry into a patty and cut into quarters, setting one aside for the lids.  Divide each of the three remaining quarters into two giving you six equal portions of pastry.  Divide the first quarter into six equal smaller portions.

On a floured surface roll a portion of pastry into a circle of about 18cm using your plate to cut it out.  Roll one of the lid portions using your jar or saucer template.

Place a ball of meat on the large pastry and flatten slightly. Moisten the edges of the pastry with water and with your hands bring the sides up around the meat.  Place a lid on top and pinch them together.  (*See text for how I found the best way of doing this.)

Wrap a strip of paper around the pie and secure with string.  Place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.  Repeat with the remaining pies.

Make a hole in the top of each pie and brush with the beaten egg.  Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Bake for 35-40 minutes at 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6 until golden brown.  Serve hot.

Makes 6 pies.

** I have since been able to watch the video on a different device and it's for a single large pie, so nothing like PH's recipe and instructions!  However, if I ever want to make a large pork pie, I'll definitely give it a try!

January 14, 2024


I very rarely make a Victoria sponge, just once every few years.  To me there always seem to be so many other, more interesting cakes, I could make.  I have made exactly three in the last ten years and all were as a special request.

Ten years ago I made one for the charity cake stall at work.  I had retired but still helped out with the cake stall and the ladies running it asked for a Victoria sponge, specifically with no cream or buttercream filling, just jam and a sprinkling of caster sugar on top.  It was sold out within the first hour.

The next was for a picnic which was being held in summer 2022 for Ukranian refugees that have come to live in our part of France.  The request was for people to bring food that represented their own part of the world.  That was fascinating as the area is home to so many different nationalities.  There was a huge amount of food but most of my cake got eaten.

The third and latest time I made a Victoria sponge was last autumn for the English tea rooms at the annual craft and food fair in the next village to us in France.  It was requested by the lady who runs it and when I asked about the filling she said she always puts cream in hers so I did too.

I delivered the cake along with several others at 9am and when I went back at 2pm to help with the washing up was told it sold out very quickly and had received several compliments.

So what does that tell you?  Obviously a Victoria sponge is very popular even though it is, in my book, rather a plain cake.  People love it.

I used a Mary Berry recipe for an all in one method.  I toyed with the idea of using the creaming method (which my mum always did) and even the "weigh the eggs" method where you use the weight of the eggs to determine the weight of the other ingredients.  In the end, I went for the quickest method as I had several cakes to make.  I have to say, it looked the part and by all accounts ticked all the boxes. 

If I am invited to bake for this year's tea rooms I shall make two Victoria sponges, so that the people who come in the afternoon still have that as a choice.  And it was, after all, so easy and quick to make and is clearly very popular!


225g each of

    baking spread

    caster sugar

    self raising flour

4 large eggs

1 level tsp baking powder

For the filling

strawberry or raspberry jam

150ml double or whipping cream*


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease and line the base of two 20cm sandwich tins.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat well with a hand held electric whisk until thoroughly smooth and creamy.  You could also use a stand mixer.

Divide the mixture evenly between the two sandwich tins and level the tops.  Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown and done.  (See the tip on my sidebar on how to tell if a cake is done.)

Leave in the tins for a few minutes then remove carefully onto a wire rack to finish cooling, removing the base lining paper.

When cold, put one cake upside down on a serving plate and spread generously with the jam.  Spread the whipped cream over this and place the other cake right way up on top.

Sprinkle a little caster sugar on top before serving.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

*You could, alternatively, fill with buttercream instead of real cream.  Some would say this is not the right thing for a Victoria sponge but I know it is still very popular!