TV’s new cookery queen tells Diana Pilkington why the festive season is her favourite time of year
With hit cookbooks, TV shows, and a cake business all keeping her busy, it’s hard to imagine Lorraine Pascale has much time to enjoy the simple pleasures of home.
But the former model, who has a teenage daughter, says there’s nothing she likes more than getting ready for Christmas – and she sets the preparations in motion as early as she can.
“I genuinely love it. That excitement I had when I was a child hasn’t left me,” says the 39-year-old.
“I can get quite annoying because I get excited rather early on. After Halloween I put the tree up and start getting everything sorted.
“And I love getting some friends round and having a big family meal. I love all the Quality Streets chocolate and over-indulgence.”
Fans will recently have seen her front her third series, Lorraine’s Fast, Fresh and Easy Food. And, as you’d expect from a cook who favours quick and simple meals, she has plenty of tips for a stress-free Christmas Day.
“Do what you know and don’t take on too much,” she says. “Get friends and family to bring different bits and pieces – one could bring pudding, for example – and rope people into peeling potatoes.
“Try and arrange it so you’re not stuck in the kitchen all the time, so you can come out and have a little glass of sherry with the family. It should be a big family affair with everyone helping.”
Lorraine likes to serve chicken rather than the traditional turkey at Christmas (“I just prefer the taste,” she says). But she makes sure it comes with “loads of cranberry sauce”.
But it’s baking that Lorraine is best known for (her first show, Baking Made Easy, was a big hit), and her favourite things to make in the kitchen are “bread, with lots of butter. And cake obviously!”
So why, in her expert opinion, does she reckon the vogue for baking is still on the rise?
“I think for a long time it was more associated with grannies rather than mainstream,” says Lorraine, who can be seen at the BBC Good Food Show Winter.
“But shows like The Great British Bake Off have made it cool again, as well as the recent cupcake resurgence.
“It’s also very therapeutic, the recession’s on and the ingredients are actually very cheap.
“And baking is a thing you can do together with your children. It’s lovely to bring something to the table you have created. You always get oohs and aahs, don’t you?”
Try these three festive recipes from Lorraine and listen out for the oohs and aahs . . .
Salmon Saltimbocca with Gremolata Potatoes and Crispy Sage Leaves (Serves 4)
For the gremolata potatoes
Large handful of fresh flat leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
750g baby new potatoes
Knob of butter
Handful of toasted pine nuts
For the fish
8 slices of prosciutto or pancetta
4 x 125g (approx) preferably skinless salmon fillets
16 fresh sage leaves
1. Put the kettle on to boil. While you wait, start preparing the gremolata. Rip the parsley leaves off the stalks and place in a blender. Peel and add the garlic, grate the lemon zest in and add the oil.
2. Tip the potatoes into a large pan and cover with boiling water. Put the lid on, return to the boil and, when the lid starts to rattle, turn the heat down and leave to simmer for 15–20 minutes.
3. Back to the gremolata. Briefly whiz the ingredients in the blender until combined. Season to taste and set aside.
4. Lay two slices of prosciutto or pancetta overlapping lengthways. Sit a piece of salmon, round side up, near one short edge. Season and arrange three sage leaves along the length of the fish. Roll the prosciutto around the salmon until completely wrapped. Repeat until all four are wrapped.
5. Put a large frying pan on a high heat and add a little oil. Once hot, place the fillets in, sage leaf side down, turn the heat to medium and cook for about 3 minutes.
6. While the fish cooks, throw in the remaining sage leaves. When crisp, remove them with tongs or a slotted spoon onto kitchen paper to drain the excess oil off. Flip the salmon over and cook for 6 minutes on the other side.
7. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and return them to the pan. Add salt and pepper, a knob of butter, the gremolata, fried sage leaves and pine nuts. Use a masher or end of a rolling pin to gently crush the potatoes so they are still fairly whole. Put the lid on to keep them warm.
8. Check the salmon is cooked by cutting a slit underneath through to the centre. The flesh should be just turning opaque and pale pink all the way through. If so, remove the pan from the heat.
9. Divide the potatoes between four plates and top with a piece of salmon. Serve with salad on the side.
White Chocolate Lollipops with Dried Cranberries
(Makes about 10 lollipops)
100g white chocolate
1 tbsp dried cranberries
10 cocktail or lollipop sticks
1. Line a large tray or baking sheet with baking parchment so the paper is really flat. Lay the cocktail or lollipop sticks out on the sheet, spaced well apart.
2. Snap the chocolate up a bit into a medium bowl. Melt in the microwave in 30-second blasts, stirring between each addition, or set over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water.
3. As white chocolate is harder to melt than dark or milk, keep a close eye on it. As soon as it starts melting, stir for a few seconds and remove from the heat.
4. To make disc lollipops, place a spoonful of melted chocolate on top of one end of each of the sticks to give a 4cm disc. Finely chop the cranberries and scatter them over the chocolate to stick.
5. Place them in the fridge for at least 15 minutes or until set. Very carefully peel the lollipops off the paper and serve. They will keep for up to a month in the fridge.
Homemade Vanilla Extract (makes 200ml)
50ml dark or white rum
150g granulated sugar
4 vanilla pods
1. Sterilise a Kilner or jam jar (and its lid) in the dishwasher on the hottest wash or carefully put them in just-boiled water (off the heat) for a couple of minutes and dry with a clean towel.
2. Put the rum and sugar in a small pan with 100ml of water. Set on a low to medium heat and stir from time to time until the sugar has dissolved. Whack up the heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling, leave it to bubble away for 5 minutes, then take it off the heat to cool a little.
3. Poor the cooled sugar syrup into the sterilised jar. Split the vanilla pods all the way down their length, add them to the syrup and leave to cool completely. Put the lid on and leave for at least 24 hours to infuse.
4. You can then cut the pods in half and decant the extract into little bottles, which can be given away as presents or as part of a homemade hamper.
The above recipes can be found in Lorraine’s cookbook: Lorraine Pascale’s Fast, Fresh and Easy Food (HarperCollins, £20).