Saturday Night Bistro

Our Saturday Nights offer our artisan wines, hand made cocktails and delicious sharing platters during the cold months. Moving into spring and early summer there will be events on the terrace, barbecues and home made gelato!

No need to book!


Cookery School Café Brownies

Cambridge Magazine March article

Best Brownies ever?

So many people tell us our Brownies are the best they have ever tasted. One regular visitor who comes for coffee 2-3 times a week, asked for the recipe. He still comes in just as often for a coffee and a Brownie. According to him it is just not the same eating them at home as it is enjoying our candle lit café...


200g unsalted butter

200g dark chocolate

3 large, organic, free-range eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla paste 250g caster sugar
110g plain or gluten free flour

1/2 teaspoon to a full teaspoon sea salt

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

2. Line a medium baking tray (about the size of an A4 sheet) with baking parchment or foil
3. Melt the butter and chocolate over a very low heat and remove to cool down.

4. Beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla using an electric whisk.

5. Once the chocolate butter mixture has cooled, add to the eggs and sugar.

6. Sift in the flour and salt.

7. Pour into the tray and bake for 15 minutes. The brownies should be slightly sticky at the centre.

Oven proof....

March heralds the welcome return of longer days and warmer weather, yet from a cook's point of view, it is still very much a winter month. When northern winds sweep in from the Fenlands, Cambridgeshire weather certainly feels more like the tail end of winter than oncoming spring. This makes March the perfect month for mood enhancing bakes. A good cake lifts the spirits and can be thrown together with relatively limited effort.

By far the easiest types of cake to make are tray bakes. They may not be up there in the looks stakes, compared to layered and beautifully shaped Bundt type cakes, but they tend to be wonderfully moist and are so easy to make. While we still enjoy an abundance of really good citrus fruit, oranges make an obvious cake ingredient. Not only does the tangy juice marry perfectly with buttery sponge, the zest adds a lovely smattering of colour and texture to icing and frostings.

One of our favourite late winter treats in the café are our rich, tray baked orange squares. We make a really indulgent sponge by beating 4 large organic eggs with 275g caster sugar until very light and fluffy and then enrich that with 150ml fresh orange juice and 300g melted, unsalted butter. Yes this does sound like a lot of butter and sugar, but you will get 20 squares from this quantity and providing your character is strong enough to stop after one piece, you will have consumed around 1 tablespoon each of butter and sugar, which is hardly alarming. 550g of plain flour and 1 1/2 tablespoon of baking powder gets added before the batter is poured into a large, paper lined oven tray and baked at 175C for 25 minutes. We spread the cooled cake with pretty pale orange icing made from melted butter, icing sugar and fresh orange and top with thinly strips of caramelised orange zest.

Another all-time winter favourite of ours is our Raspberry and Coconut tray bake. The secret to this cake is that it is baked in two stages, creating an incredibly moreish and gooey texture. It tastes absolutely fantastic when partnered with a cup of Earl Grey afternoon tea.

We start by rubbing 110g caster sugar and 250g plain flour with 125g cold butter, then add 1 large egg and a teaspoon of vanilla paste and spread this out in a paper lined medium sized baking tray. While the sponge bakes for 15-20 minutes at 180C, we make the second sponge by whisking 2 large organic eggs with 110g sugar until very light and fluffy and then fold in 200g desiccated coconut. The cake comes out of the oven, and while still warm, gets topped with a generous layer of good quality raspberry jam before the coconut mixture is poured over. It then goes back into the oven for 25-30 minutes and is left to cool in the pan before being cut into squares.

Out of all our cake recipes, none elicits more requests access to the recipe than our Brownies. Brownies are pretty ubiquitous, and most self respecting cafés will have a Brownie on the repertoire. But how the quality varies. Disappontingly often, Brownies are dry rather than gooey. All too often they taste of margarine and cocoa powder rather than good quality chocolate and butter. And then there is the question of whether to nut or not to nut. I confess to being a bit of a purist when it comes to Brownies and I feel quite strongly that nuts has no place in a Brownie. They contrast far too greatly with the light, gooey, intensely chocolatey piece of cake. So, for those of you looking for the ultimate Brownie recipe, our recipe for the perfect Brownie can now be found online, in our blog.

Savoury oven baked treats are also very much part of what we want to eat while the evenings are still chilly. Readers who committed themselves to austere weeks in January and February might be ready for a little indulgence and few things are more indulgent than a properly made Croque Monsieur. A good Croque Monsieur should be both crispy and gooey, and have a pronounced taste of cheese with a hint of mustard.

The standard French snack version is made from sliced white bread, cooked (rather than smoked or cured) ham and white cheese sauce. When we make it we prefer to use our white sour dough, which has plenty of texture and flavour, Bresaola (air cured beef) and a combination of mature Comté and aged Parmesan. We start by frying the slices of sour dough bread in butter. We then make a thick cheese sauce, enriched with both types of cheese, coarsely grated, some Dijon mustard and a pinch of nutmeg. The Monsieurs are assembled by sandwiching the bread with sauce and a couple of slices of Bresaola, then topping with more sauce and baked until golden and crisp. For good measure, serve with a crisp mixed salad.

Festive feel

This is our article for the December 16 issue of Cambridge Magazine

Dreaming of a white Christmas

There is only one way to enjoy the run up to Christmas and that is without so much as a hint of cynicism. That way total disillusion lies. So, instead, throw yourself into the spirit of Christmas with some tips from a region where Christmas really is (usually) white, roofs are covered in fluffy layers of soft snow, children toboggan and ice skate and the crisp air is filled with the scent of wood smoke and mulled wine; the French Alps.

Having just returned from our annual training week in picturesque Les Gets, working through the menu we design for our Chalet clients and ensuring that their new intake of Chalet chefs execute it to perfection for the next 18 weeks, I am in a festive mood. Putting fairly inexperienced young chefs through their paces for the season ahead is certainly no picnic, but swapping dark and wet Cambridge for the crisp air and idyllic high street of an alpine village never fails to bring on the festive feel.

Whilst we teach our budding chefs to prepare Turkey with all the trimmings for their Christmas holiday guests, most of the menu is inspired by the dishes we love to eat while in the mountains. Cheese plays a prominent role, needless to say, as do potatoes, garlic, wine, cream, wild mushrooms and classic desserts such as Tarte au Citron, Crème Caramel and Prune & Armagnac Tart. In a world of pre prepared sprouts and 10-minute dishes, it can be therapeutic to cook classic French cuisine. And the end result is, without fail, plate lickingly delicious.

Cooking French does not have to equal laborious dishes and hours spent in the kitchen while others are having festive fun. For our Chalets, we focus on menus which can, in their entirety, be cooked from scratch in 2 hours. That includes mouth watering canapés.

French food, even when made with a fair bit of cream, butter, cheese and rich meat, is elegant, constrained and exquisitely flavoured. Yes, dishes such as Tartiflette and Cheese Fondue are stodgy but they hail from a time when manual work and conditions outside demanded instant energy and they reflect local ingredients, which always feels right.

Here is my recipe for an Alpine-inspired festive meal. Don a knitted jumper. If that makes you feel hot and bothered, pour yourself a nice, cold Kir Royal. If you feel cold even after donning the festive jumper so much the better - it calls for Vin Chaud.

This is how to make a seriously rich, sweet and spice scented mulled wine:

Melt 150g caster sugar. Let it go to a smoking amber then add 150ml warm red wine, zest and juice of 1 large orange, a couple of cinnamon sticks, a few cloves, and a pinch of nutmeg. Simmer and reduce to a sticky sauce. Add the rest of the bottle of wine and a splash of Madeira, Cognac or Port. Keep the wine warm but don't allow to boil. Serve in a glass with a twist of orange peel.

Sip while you make moorish nibbles from ready rolled puff pastry, Dijon mustard, strong grated cheese and some herbs. Roll, twist or cut - it is bound to taste delicious once baked in a hot oven.

For a relaxed but very typical French starter, I warmly recommend using a great product called Faux Gras, mimicking the richness of Fois Gras but avoiding cruelty to animals. Serve it with thin pieces of toasted sour dough and some cornichons on the side.

Roast a whole duck, it's skin rubbed with sea salt and Chinese five spice, it's cavity stuffed with a clove-studded clementine. As you remove the duck from the oven, tip it bottom up in the tin to release the citrus juice, lift the bird out and put the pan on the hob. Add a splash of wine, a little sugar and a pinch of salt. Reduce down for a minute or two and finish off with a knob of cold butter. Serve the duck with water cress and a few golden roasted potatoes.

No dessert is more quintessentially French than Crème caramel. Start by heating the oven to 150° and as you do so, place a small roasting tin half filled with water in the middle of the oven. In a saucepan, heat 250g sugar with 100ml water. Don't stir. Leave it simmer for 10-15 minutes until a dark Amber colour. Wearing gloves or holding a tea towel, fill a circular cake tin of the type which has a central cone and quickly tilt to cover in caramel. Whisk together 3 eggs, 2 yolks, 2 small tablespoons sugar, finely grated orange zest, a little vanilla and 350ml full fat milk. Add a splash of Cognac. Pour into the tin.

Carefully place in the water bath and bake for 40-50 minutes. Leave to cool, then refrigerate.
To turn out, dip briefly in hot water, run a knife around the edges, place a large serving plate over the mould and invert. You are looking at silky smooth, pale yellow, barely sweet, glistening pudding coated in dark brown, sweet-bordering-on-burnt runny caramel. Heaven on a plate and perfect made a day in advance. The canapés and starter are effortlessly made while the duck and potatoes roast. Bon appétit!

Seasonal lamb recipes

If you missed our lovely 'Meet the Producer' event last night you missed wine and canapés and an opportunity to meet Croxton Park estate, speak to head gardener Pete and buy the vegetables he dug up a few hours earlier as well as buying their amazing organic lamb - slaughtered and hung just for this event.

We nearly sold out of lamb and are left with just a few wonderful parsnips and mooli which we will put to good use in the café.

You won't miss out on our recipes though. Enjoy cooking the first two as slow cooked Sunday lunches and try the rack as an elegant Saturday night supper


Cookery School
3 favourite lamb recipes

Recipes serve 4-6
Italian style, slow cooked in red wine, orange and herbs

800g diced lamb leg or shoulder, diced
1 orange
3-4 sprigs rosemary, bruised and scattered
small handful of fresh soft thyme
salt and pepper - generous
1 garlic head, cut in half horizontally
300ml robust Italian red wine
200ml Marsala fortified wine
good beef stock - enough to immerse the meat 3/4
2 cans chopped tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons sugar
Fresh kale

place lamb in large roasting tray
cut the orange into 8th’s and place in with lamb
add herbs and salt and pepper, rub in to lamb
add garlic, wines and stock, cover with foil
place in oven 150C for 3-4 hours but check after 2
once cooked, add tomatoes, sugar and kale, return to oven for 20-30 minutes at a high heat approx 200C

Moroccan style, slow cooked with warm spices and fruit

800g diced lamb leg or shoulder, diced
3 onions, peeled, halved, thinly sliced
3-4 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-2 sticks cinnamon bark if you have it
1 teaspoon chilli flakes or 1 small red chilli, de-seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground cumin
3-4 whole star anise
salt and pepper - generous amount
1 tin crushed tomatoes
500ml lamb, beef or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons runny honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 small handfuls raisins
1 large handful dried apricots whole or halved
1 large handful pitted dates, whole or halved

liberally dredge cubed lamb in flour
heat 3-4 tablespoons sunflower oil in a large roasting tray that can go on the hob
add spices
brown over high heat, stir once or twice
add wet ingredients and dried fruits
cover with foil or lid, simmer on the hob or in an oven set to 150C for 3 hours or longer
serve with couscous

when we say "or longer" for simmering it is because weight bearing, muscular, sinewy cuts full of connective tissue improve with cooking - the longer the more tender
the absolute opposite applies to prime cuts such as fillet as in the rack recipe
cooking/heating only turns the meat from tender to tough so the less you cook it the better


Classic French herb crusted rack of lamb

2 French trimmed 7-rib racks
sea salt
sunflower oil and a generous knob of butter
100ml red wine
2 tablespoons red currant jelly
a knob of cold butter

for the crust
1 handful good quality bread crumbs.
50g grated parmesan
small handful curly parsley, leaves only
small handful left thyme, leaves only
small handful rosemary, needles only
a little olive oil to bind
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
preparing the lamb:
ask your butcher to French trim the racks i.e. remove everything expcept the lamb fillet which should sit on beautifully cleaned bones
pre-heat the oven to 210C
generously season the lamb with salt and pepper.
mop up the excess seasoning with the rack of lamb, ensuring it’s thoroughly coated
heat sunflower oil and butter in a frying pan.
seal the lamb by holding the exposed ribs and pressing all sides of the fillet down on the pan to brown
browning adds flavour and better looking meat, it does not seal in juices,
that is the role of resting, see below
the aim is to brown in the shortest possible time to ensure the lamb is still raw inside
transfer the racks to a roasting tray
de-glaze the pan with wine and jelly, check seasoning and add shine by popping in a
knob of fridge cold butter.

place all the ingredients for the crust except the mustard in a blender and pulse several
times until it looks nice and green.
add just enough oil to pop to bind
when cooled, brush the lamb with mustard.
dip the lamb in the herb mixture, coating it well
roast in the oven for 13-17 minutes depending on the size of the rack
leave to rest, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes.
resting is vital for evenly pink and juicy meat
serve with the pan jus, al dente green beans and classic Dauphinoise or Boulangère potatoes

Le Marche culinary trips

When we first visited Le Marche to check out if what we had heard about this Adriatic region  - some of the best food in Italy, remarkable wines, stunning nature and elusive white truffles - was true or not, it simply exceeded all expectations.

We have made it our business to to dive deep under the surface and build personal contacts who now open doors which would normally be closed to what few tourists visit this jaw-droppingly beautiful region.

We think that the testimonials we receive give more justice to what our trips to Le Marche entail than our own words and would like to share the most recent one, from our June trip to Villa il Boschetto.

My husband and I had a fabulous holiday in Le Marche at the end of June with the Cambridge Cookery School. I knew that the cooking classes would be informative, fun and ultimately delicious having completed the eight week cooking course a couple of years ago, but the holiday itself totally exceeded our expectations. We spent six glorious days with four other guests at the Villa il Boschetto. A beautiful villa with a huge garden, set in remote rolling countryside at the top of a sun flower lined road. No photograph we took can do it justice. The facilities were top class, from the outdoor kitchen to the cooling pool, which proved to be a welcome treat in the afternoon heat. Our room was enormous the bed very comfortable and the facilities luxurious.

The cooking was a lot of fun. We spent a a few hours each day preparing our lunch and evening meal working under the expert guidance of Tine and Natalie, sometimes in the outdoor kitchen, sometimes inside, nearly always with an aperol spritz or glass of wine at hand. By the end of the week we were all experts in making staples like pasta and focaccia, but also prepared some stunning dishes fit for a feast - the porchetta was a real highlight, and the chicken with rosemary and garlic - who knew something so simple could taste so good?

Meals were taken outside with the other guests, now friends, with a selection of very good locally produced wines, and would last all evening as we sat and ate what we had cooked that day, drank as much or as little as we wanted, talked and laughed together. It was wonderfully informal, intimate and felt very exclusive.

The holiday was fully inclusive from the time we were met at Ancona airport until we dropped off there. I spent less than 10 euro all week and only then to buy some insect repellent. We were encouraged to treat the villa as we would our home, if you wanted a drink or a snack then you just helped yourself from the fridge, or if you had washing you just put it in the machine (which was really useful given Ryanair luggage restrictions).

There was also plenty of downtime to relax, lots of sunny or shady spots by the pool to read or snooze, or to go for a walk. We also enjoyed some trips out with the group for a little sightseeing, coffee and the most enormous Sunday lunch. Another highlight was an exclusive tour of a beautiful family vineyard, and a trip to a local market where we were able to stock up on fresh local supplies. These trips and all food and drink whilst out were also included in the price.

The holiday was excellent value for money, beautiful location, great company, delicious food made even better by the fact we had prepared it ourselves. We both agreed we would do it all again in a heartbeat (and I suspect we will).

Rachel & Adrian

In defence of Food

I write my contribution for this year's August edition of the Cambridge Magazine from a terrace in Italy, enjoying a glass of superb local red wine while looking out over emerald green hill tops bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun. I am back in Le Marche, the unspoilt part of Italy which is the base for all our culinary trips, savouring a few inspirational days ahead of a week cooking Italian food, shopping at markets and enjoying wine tastings with guests.

We arrived to a home made lunch of pasta with wild boar ragú, fresh bread and braised greens from the garden. Dessert was apricots and white peaches. Three generations tucked in, with the youngest, 14 month old Anna, hoovering up every single morsel offered to her, including an entire bowl of freshly grated Parmesan cheese which clearly presented itself as a new pleasure. The contents were allowed to spill over the table, onto clothes and into the eyes and nose of the enthusiastic toddler. In fact, the mess was positively encouraged on account of supporting love of food and general dexterity! A relaxed, stress free and unpretentious attitude to the delights of the table.

When we dream of the perfect meal, the perfect family life - isn't it just this, the simple connection with local food, eating what is in season and the coming together of families across generations to share a meal, which so entices us? In Italy, children eat with the adults and what the adults eat. The concept of placing a toddler in a high chair, and leaving her to eat a "kid's meal" while parents are busy doing other things in the background would be utterly abhorrent to most southern Europeans. How can we possibly give children the gift of appreciating good food, understanding how to eat sensibly and acquiring the confidence to communicate in a wider social context if we don't have daily family meals? Labelling this as "good table manners" sounds terribly outdated, as if referring merely to the ability to pick up and use the right piece of cutlery on the off chance of encountering a formally set table. But to me "good table manners" incorporates so much more - an open and curious mind to trying new food, being able to join in a conversation with adults and learning about their daily lives as well as sharing one's own experiences. But first and foremost, it is about welcoming meal times as the main time to eat - as opposed to grazing through the day and eating ready meals as and when it suits. In addition, I also happen to think that it is a good feeling - if not an absolute necessity for life - to know how to tackle a formally laid table.

Our interest in cookery programs, cookery books and all things food, has lately taken a shift towards extreme "health", excluding almost everything that we recognise as real food. In the name of eating healthily, young, thin, beautiful women with absolutely no formal cooking or nutritional training dominate the food pages of glossy magazines. What they promote is neither healthy nor real food. It is a diet underpinned by fear of food. The notion that all animal protein, fat, dairy and gluten as well as the act of heating/cooking food is bad for us is just plain ignorant. Accidentally discovering how to improve the energy output of food by cooking it was probably the single most important step on our evolutionary journey from primates to humans. Compare the huge trunk of a primate to our body shape, and you are looking at the result of sufficiently upping the calorific load of food to eliminate the need for all our daily energy to go to our guts, digesting raw food with poor energy output, and allowing our brains to develop instead. Brains need fat. With the risk of offending, I wonder if this lack of nourishment to the brain is what propels the brigade of deliberately under-weight women towards a diet of denial and exclusion.

It is not just plain bonkers, lacking any form of scientific - or gastronomical - knowledge to advocate such a diet; it is potentially disastrous for those already prone towards an eating disorder. Because let's be honest here, that is what is masquerading as an interest in "clean" and "pure" food. There is nothing unclean about real ingredients as long as they are sourced from healthy animals and sustainable crops. What we should move away from is mass produced meals where animals are reared in the most cruel of fashions and where chemicals are vital for producing ingredients on a scale which allows us to buy larger quantities of cheap food so that global, commodity driven food corporations and supermarkets can increase their profits.

I completely respect keeping a vegan diet for moral reasons, in protest against cruelty to animals, but can we please stop pretending that the current exclusion diets are a manifestation of a genuine interest in cooking and eating. A healthy diet is certainly one which features a lot of plant based ingredients, fibre, fresh vegetables and fruit - but it should also include sustainable fish, meat, cereal and full fat dairy. Vilifying almost everything we recognise as real food, claiming that it damages our health, is irresponsible and ignorant. Good food is not killing us - processed food full of sugar, growth hormones, antibiotics, additives and preservatives is.

To readers who recognise the title of this piece as borrowed from the eminent American food writer Michael Pollan, you most likely already agree with the above. To those who don't, but who wish to regain a balanced and sane approach to cooking and eating, I warmly recommend reading Mr Pollan's superb book of the same title.

Nature Nuture

Read my July article for Cambridge Magazine

Nature Nurture

Here it is again, the glorious month of July. It sits confidently between the lime green promises of early summer and the ripeness of late summer, with its bitter-sweet hint of things coming to an end.

I consider myself lucky to have had a mother who brought me up appreciating nature. An avid "twitcher" and rambler, she made me alert to changes in nature and taught me to take time to notice sights and sounds. When my now adult daughters were little, my mother often picked them up from school. One of the highlights of the year was picnicking under the blossom of a cherry tree on the village green. Aged 4 and 7, my daughters found it wildly exciting to be picked up by their grand mother carrying a basket with home baked cookies and a flask of cold lemonade. The three of them sat on a bench under the tree, less than 200 metres from our home; and yet to them, this was an adventure, infinitely more fun than going home to their own kitchen and garden. The memory is so powerful that every year when the fruit trees blossom, my daughters will without fail mention their childhood picnics under the cherry tree.

The threat to nature from urban sprawl and intensive farming is something we can either engage with or ignore at our peril. Monocultures, growing only one crop on a massive scale, with the aid of pesticides and fertilisers, destroy natural habitats and produce food which nurtures only one
group of species: global food brands and retailers. The result is a depleted earth in the midst of collapsed Eco systems where the natural links between nutrient cycles and energy flows have been destroyed.

At the cookery school and café we are led by the seasons and our menus are shaped by what is available locally. This may sound like an obvious way to cook, but sadly it is far from the norm. In our search for locally produced, small scale meat and vegetables, we have found a wonderful partner in Croxton Park organic farm near Cambridge. A traditional, privately owned estate, Croxton Park is a mixed organic farm with woodlands, whose goal is to manages the land in a way that respects the soil, the animals and the people who live and work there.

When we first cooked a rack of organic lamb and a couple of sirloin steaks given to us by Camilla, the daughter who left her job in financial services to manage the estate, we were simply astounded. Here was meat of a quality we have not had the pleasure to come across in years. Sweet, tender, packed with flavour - a revelation. In April, Croxton Park's Head Gardener, Pete, started supplying us with spring crops of leaves and herbs. Again, the vigour, strength, colour and taste of everything he and his team brought to our kitchen has been simply outstanding. Most rewarding of all, we are receiving comments from our visitors which show that they notice. We get asked about the secret of our yoghurt, lemon and mint dressing, or the sweet flavour of dill in our smoked salmon and dill Frittata. The answer, of course, is simply the quality of the produce.

Our aim is to collaborate closely with the wonderful team at Croxton Park by letting the seasons and their output determine our menu. This is why our counter, with its offering of open sandwiches made from our hand made bread, our daily salads and catered office lunches currently feature mainly high summer produce including beets, kale, sorrel, gooseberries and the full range of currants. All grown organically, with a loving hand, just a few miles from Cambridge. This is food as it should be.

Cookery School Dog Biscuits

This week we added our own lovingly made dog biscuits to our café menu. First dog to try them was 5-month old mini Schnauzer girl Fig. She wolfed down her first biscuits and then asked for another. This was washed down with fresh Cambridge water.

We love dog visitors both inside the café and and outside on the terrace. The biscuits are a free treat to all our four legged guests who should be able to enjoy popping in for coffee or lunch just as must as their owners.

We would like to share the recipe so you can treat your dog to a snack which is healthy and wholesome - and tasty!

Cookery School café Dog Biscuits
250-275g wholemeal flour
100g toasted wheat germ or rye flakes
10g fresh yeast or 3g quick action yeast
100g chunky peanut butter
1 tablespoon Marmite
1 tablespoon golden syrup or honey
1 large egg
175ml chicken or beef stock
3 tablespoons olive oil


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Flour or paper line a baking sheet.

2. Combine the flour, wheat germ and yeast in a medium bowl. Whisk together the peanut butter, egg, broth and oil in a separate bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir with a spoon or rubber spatula until a rough dough forms. Knead the dough in the bowl 5-6 times until it comes together.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll to a 5-6mm thickness. With a dog bone shaped cookie cutter, cut out and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Press all the scraps together, kneading once or twice, then roll out and cut more.

4. Bake treats until lightly browned and fairly hard, rotating the pans from top to bottom once, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely; biscuits will harden as they cool. Store in an airtight container.


In Sickness and in Health

...or the dire state of hospital food

My 89- year old mother recently spent 10 days in hospital, recovering from a minor fall, and, as it turned out, a nasty UTI. The fact that the hospital visit was, apart from an apendectomy aged 13, my mother's first experience of being admitted to hospital, is quite remarkable at her age.

Having called 999 following her fall, an ambulance crew arrived within 10 minutes and spent the next 30 lugging in what looked like tons of equipment needed to get my mother strapped onto a stretcher, her neck secured and her ECG and blood pressure monitored. It took us less than 10 minutes to arrive at a heaving A&E on Red Alert. Despite being officially over-full, our stay at A&E lasted only a couple of hours, during which time my mother was seen by two doctors and constantly monitored and treated with amazing kindness. An x-ray later, my mother was admitted to a ward where she was to remain for the next 10 days. Fully staffed and constantly attending to their elderly patients, the team did a remarkable job and I could only marvel at what a blessing it is to have an NHS which, certainly in our case, provides wonderful care and service from the moment the superbly equipped ambulance arrived until we left the ward.

Being elderly, and not seriously ill, my mother was made quite aware that the main aim of her hospital stay was to get her back on her feet and feeling stronger. And that's where the brilliant care hit a wall - for how on earth does anyone weakened by illness, feeling vulnerable and worrying about the immediate future recover if denied access to good food and drink? My mother soon came to dread the ghastly smell of the twice daily hot meals and the sight of brightly coloured plastic menu cards showing items which were as puzzling as they were off-putting. I say items, rather than meals, as about 50% of what was on offer were what I would describe as ingredients, intended to be used in cooking, and the remaining 50% extremely basic nursery food or hitherto unheard-of dishes. Grilled pineapple ring with cheese, anyone?

Tinned tomatoes struck me as particularly sad and depressing. If you have ever tried eating cold, whole tomatoes straight out of the tin - although I can't see why you would have - you will know that they are extremely acidic, slippery and "tinny". They are a basic raw ingredient intended for use in sauces and bakes. When presented on its own, as a side dish, they just don't make any sense at all and this lack of sense infuses all of the food served to patients.

So while junior doctors strike and the media is giving us daily updates on the crisis in the NHS, my mother's recent experience, including seeing the inner workings of a modern ambulance and a hospital ward, only served to make me appreciate how much this must cost, and what an extraordinary welfare benefit it is to have access to a good health care system. But, the one healing ingredient which does not rely on hugely advanced, cutting edge technology and which ought to be given focus due both to its relatively inexpensive nature and its power to lift spirits and to heal; food, is of the poorest possible standard.

Unless you are seriously ill, days spent in hospital are uneventful and boring. A bit like being on a long-haul flight, boredom rather than hunger makes you look forward to the next meal. Just imagine if those meals were truly delicious and nutritious, offering good quality, healthy comfort food with plenty of vibrant, crisp vegetables and salads. And taking that vision one step further, imagine if patients whose medical condition would allow it, were offered a glass of wine or a "wee dram" to go to sleep on. I am absolutely convinced that this would cut down recovery time and, in the case of elderly patients in particular, would restore a dwindling quest for life, rather than causing ennui and dread. Natural fibre and hydration provided by vegetables and fruit could, I believe, render the dreaded laxative drinks redundant in some of the less severe cases as could a swap to full corn bread in place of the useless white slices of toast served up every morning.

Many a celebrity chef, including Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumethal, have tried to tackle this but failed. Surely it can't be impossible to demand of the catering companies who supply the NHS that they move into the 21st century. The NHS menus quite simply show a complete lack of understanding of good food and how to apply nutritional considerations. As it battles to cut costs, comparing the hard numbers of food costs against soft ones relating to less time spent in care surely deserves proper consideration.

For the able bodied people in hospital - health care workers and visitors - the food on offer is certainly much more tasty but no more healthy. The food courts have been given over to the large fast food brands serving just the kind of food which we now know cause high cholesterol and weight gain. As a nation we are facing unprecedented issues relating to longevity, obesity and diabetes. Yet tet the very places which are meant to heal us serve patients and medical staff alike sub-standard, unhealthy food fit for no one and least of all those who are frail, down in the dumps and in need of sustenance. The proverbial Jewish chicken soup, the sinecure for all ills, contains a large dose of nutritionally proven healing ingredients as do most "old wives' tales" relating to the natural health aspects of food. Good food has the power to heal and give us strength and it also lifts the human spirit like few other things on earth. Shouldn't it be on the NHS menu?