Laughs at lunch with Little Water

Setting out to launch my first pop up was always going to be a daunting task.

There were so many questions running through my mind. What do I serve? Will people like my food? Most importantly, would people who enjoyed watching me on MasterChef pay to eat my food?

I decided to have my first outing serve as a bridge between the show and the present, giving guests something they were familiar with. Any future efforts would give me greater freedom to experiment.

I have had great feedback from so many people who all said that they really wanted to try the food they had seen me cooking on television so that is what I decided I would serve  Also, Little Water is not only a great burger restaurant, it is also known for its vodkas, so I paired each course with a different infused vodka.

The starter was beetroot, dill and vodka-cured salmon with pickled cucumber, horseradish mayonnaise and homemade rye crisp bread. This dish took me back to the beginning of the MasterChef process and beyond. I have been serving salmon three ways as a starter at dinner parties for a few years and the cured salmon formed part of my audition dish. I paired this with a garlic and dill vodka. The aroma is stong, but it goes well with the other strong flavours on the plate.

This salmon dish has become quite personal, so I was quite nervous looking at all the plates lined up, waiting to be taken out to diners. However, once a few plates had left the kitchen and the unmistakable sounds of laughter were bouncing back into the kitchen, I relaxed, knowing that people were enjoying themselves.

The main was based on the dish for which John Torode gave me ‘dish of the day’ in my heat. I served a chicken ballotine, stuffed with mushrooms and spinach and wrapped in Parma ham. This was served with a potato mille feuille, braised leeks and butter-roasted heritage carrots. This was paired with with tarragon vodka.

The vegetarian option was potato mille feuille, cauliflower purée, roasted cauliflower, roasted walnuts, samphire and a caper and sultana dressing. This was paired with a lemon vodka.

I stressed over this course.  I didn’t want anyone choosing this option to feel that it was a lesser choice.  This dish went through about ten different versions before I settled on the one I served. By the time I published the menu,  I felt that I would be happy to choose this dish.

There was no such stress at all over what to choose for dessert.

Chocolate fondants aplentyI cannot remember a time in over 15 years when I have had people over to eat and not been asked if I am making a chocolate fondant. Sometimes, I will even make a dessert that I think goes well with the rest of the menu and also prepare fondants so people can choose a dessert. Or have both. When I have guests, the most important things are that they are at ease and are well-fed.

Food service ran like clockwork. Working with Alex and Chris in the kitchen was so easy. I had done some prep ahead of time, but we motored through what was left and were ready in good time for 12:30.


It would not have been a success without all the people who were willing to make the leap from viewer to paying customer. I am particularly proud of my vegetarian dish which had neighbouring meat eaters envious. That, to me, is success.


Bring on the next pop up event!


Mother and son The whole team Little Water kitchen team Diners having fun


Who wants to play fig roulette?

Is there anyone else who dislikes leftovers?

When you are self-catering, as I am on this break, you are much more acutely aware of what is in the fridge and cupboard than when you are at home. At home, I have store cupboard and freezer staples that allow me to rustle up something Caribbean, Indian, Malaysian, Thai, French or Italian without having to buy anywhere near a recipe’s worth of ingredients. Knowing that there are lots of ingredients that do not have to be used quickly makes you used to always having food available and reduces any sense of urgency to use them.

In this apartment, when I open the fridge, I see lots of white space and I feel guilty if I don’t have a plan for using up what I can see.

I had already made a salad using some of the ingredients I bought at Rialto market. Now, all I needed to do to assuage my guilt was to come up with something else.

I wanted something a little playful – I am on holiday, after all. It also had to be fresh, easy, satisfying and tasty because that is what I am all about.

I came up with figs with mozzarella, wrapped in prosciutto, and a little cherry tomato and rocket salad. Why fig roulette? Because you never know if you are going to have a black or white fig until you bite into it or cut it open!

These were great. What made them perfect for a hot day was an Aperol spritz to sip.


Who wouldn’t love self-catering in Venice?

I am loving this trip to Venice. Day by day, the temperature has been rising from 29C to around 33C. It is perfect weather for trips along the canals, frequent stops for an Aperol spritz and wandering around shaded markets.

I took a trip out to the Rialto Market in Venice to see what was on offer.

I like coming home and just cooking without a set plan, just whatever is in the fridge or cupboard, so that’s what I decided to do here. Having decided to stay in an apartment and not a hotel, meant I had the freedom to cook or eat out. With such great produce, having a kitchen sitting unused seemed such a waste.

I took a quick look around as I stepped into the market to see what caught my eye. I was instantly drawn to white figs. I’m familiar with black figs but white ones were new to me. Almost next to them were beautiful peaches. Within about 30 seconds, I had a dish in my head.

Fig peach salad ingredients

I wanted to make some small plates with whatever produce I found. Cicchetti are small plates, typical in Venice. It can be something on crostini or it can be as simple as a cooked vegetable, such as sliced carrots, or something more elaborate like an octopus salad.

What I ended up with was almost exactly what I set out to put on a plate: a white fig and grilled peach salad with buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto di San Daniele and basil. With a chilled glass of Prosecco, this was just about the perfect lunch, especially in this weather.



Join me at my first pop-up event

I’m really excited to announce that I will be cooking at my first pop-up event at the end of July.

I will be serving food that means a lot to me and that people have been asking me to cook for them since seeing me on MasterChef. It will all happen at Little Water, a great burger restaurant and vodka house in the heart of Covent Garden on 26 July at 12pm. I held drinks with family and friends to mark my first MasterChef heat appearance at Little Water and all the staff have been hugely supportive ever since.

I have devised a three-course menu for £25. Each of the courses is paired with an optional infused vodka, a speciality of Little Water. If I were not in the kitchen, I could think of few better ways to spend a Sunday lunchtime.

Full details and menu, including vegetarian option are on the event page.


Britain + sunshine = BBQ

I think it was comedian Paul Merton who said that beautiful people are solar powered because they seem to come out en masse when the sun shines.

The same could probably be said for barbecues. Sunshine and barbecues just go well together. The merest hint of good weather has us heading out for barbecue staples.

Walking around our neighbourhood after six o’clock but while there is still natural sunlight, you can take in the heady aroma of smoke, of meat being grilled and sense the change in people’s mood that sunshine brings.
I’m all for the more Australian way of looking at barbecues. It is a method of cooking that can be enjoyed whenever the mood takes you. When I was in Australia, I had great breakfasts grilled on a barbie as well as lunches and dinners.

So now, I always have at least one disposable barbecue so that I can be up and running whenever the mood takes me. I have been known to be crouched outside over a disposable as storm clouds threatened, just because I had a craving for smoky meat and chargrilled vegetables that no oven could satisfy.

Thankfully, we have been blessed with sun and high temperatures, so being outside had no downside. But I was torn. I wanted a juicy steak but I also wanted a salad to help cope with the hot weather.

It was then that I realised it had been while since I had done anything remotely Thai and I have loved a good Thai beef salad ever since I first visited the Blue Elephant over 20 years ago.

The Blue Elephant transports you to the tropics, complete with forest setting and streams with fish darting around. Even when I moved to Brussels, I used to visit them in their Brussels outpost for an occasional fix. So, that was where I turned for inspiration.

All I bought for this dish was the steak. Everything else was already in the cupboard or fridge, waiting for me to show it some love.

What came off the grill was beautiful beef. Strips of steak crowned a salad of fresh spinach, spring onions, grilled strips of courgette and cucumber, slightly charred on the barbecue to give you a flavour hit that was smoky yet refreshing at the same time. Cherry tomatoes helped cool the fiery heat of the sauce which had several bird’s eye chillies, fish sauce, palm sugar, lemon juice and garlic.

Not bad for what was almost entirely a store cupboard dinner.


Food demo at Wimbledon Village Fair

When Wimbledon Guild asks you if you could deliver a food demo as part of its annual Wimbledon Village Fair, you don’t say no.

The guild does great community work in Wimbledon and elsewhere in the local borough and Surrey tackling poverty, supporting ageing and encouraging mental well-being.

When you learn that the fair attracted around 30,000 people in 2014, and that Wimbledon Guild’s marquee is the big red thing in the middle of all that is going on (and right next to the magnet that is the Champagne tent), you think that perhaps you said yes a little too hastily.

All I had to do was keep reminding myself that I loved the dish I was about to showcase. I also could not come up with a dish that better marked my first public outing since MasterChef.

The last that viewers saw of me was the Swedish odyssey and my final salmon dish in the kitchen, inspired by that trip.

Fast forward and here we are, during what is Swedish midsummer. I have decided to demo a dish I have been serving variously as a starter or a canapé for a few years and which always goes down well: beetroot, dill and vodka-cured salmon with pickled cucumbers, horseradish mayonnaise and rye crispbread.

I love this dish because it looks great, doesn’t require a huge amount of skill and can be done days in advance. If you are having people over and already have a million and one things to think about, a dish you can prepare in advance and forget is a godsend.

It really is as simple as taking a basic cure mixture of one and a half parts salt to one part sugar. To this you add grated beetroot, chopped dill and lemon zest.

Line a dish generously with clingfilm and spread half the mix in the dish. Place your salmon on top, then cover the fish with the remaining cure. Pour over a couple of tablespoons of vodka, wrap completely in clingfilm and put in the fridge for a couple of days with a weight on top.

How long you leave it is up to you. I usually leave it to cure for two days. At this point, the texture is beautifully tender, there is a striking contrast between the purple colouring of the beetroot and the bright coral pink of the salmon. It also has a great sheen that just looks great when presented.

Leaving it longer with intensify the flavour and remove more moisture. It still tastes great but you get to choose how you like your fish. If you have the patience.

My demo also showed how to make horseradish mayonnaise, rye crispbread and pickled cucumbers using ättika, a Swedish vinegar.

The great weather put everyone in a good mood. The crowd was great and everyone seemed to love the food. Not bad for my first time out.


Wimbledon Village Fair food demo


It’s Eurovision, and that can only mean one thing …

… sweepstakes!

I’ve been to several Eurovision parties over the years. There is always a drinking game, a sweepstakes or even a combination of the two.

This year, I decided to take a less passive approach. Apart from hosting a party, I decided to cook a dish that represented one of the countries I had drawn.

Once I had drawn Italy, it could only really be meatballs and pasta, something quintessentially Italian  and always a great crowd pleaser.

Even though my fridge is covered with the flags of competing countries (and Australia), my heart and mind are firmly in Italy as I roll out the pasta in a continuous loop.

Rolling out pasta

Most people I know who make pasta use the formula of one egg to 100g of 00 flour. However, I have been using a recipe by Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Bouchon. I love it because it uses lots of egg yolks for a great colour and richness, it is easy to work with and gives great results every time, whether I am making linguine, tagliatelle or ravioli.

How I make meatballs has changed over the years. I used to be all about the beef and didn’t really want anything else detracting from the flavour. I thought an egg bound the beef and a little seasoning together well.

What a difference time and changing taste buds makes.

Now, I’m willing to give up on a little beefy taste in exchange for a little mouthful of heaven that melts in the mouth every time. A 50/50 mix of pork and beef mince is, to me, a great combination but it too needs a little help.

The egg? Gone! It did what I wanted it to do, that is bind everything together so the meatballs did not fall apart in the pan. But it did it a little too well, resulting in meatballs that were too tough. Breadcrumbs, soaked in milk and gently squeezed of excess liquid before adding to the meat do the job just fine. They are the perfect wingman for my meat – they help you get the result you want without ever needing to make their presence felt or hog the limelight.

While all this is going on, my tomato sauce is very gently cooking, the surface broken only by the occasional bubble. I have an Italian friend who lives near Bologna which is known as la grassa (the fat one) because of the high standard of food and the sheer number of word-famous produce from the region, such as Parma ham, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar to name a few. She is adamant that a good tomato sauce or ragu needs at least a couple of hours so that any trace of rawness is cooked out.

The dish may take a couple of hours on and off, but anything involving fresh pasta becomes a labour of love. And, let’s face it – after a couple of hours, you haven’t really missed that much of Eurovision, have you?

Meatballs and linguine