Holiday entertaining



Watch my videos on You Tube


Managing a sit-down lunch for nearly 30 family and neighbours before Christmas was like a military operation: detailed OP Order with actions timed to the minute, full logistics for shopping and a Battle Plan for the seating arrangements.  But I kept the menu pretty simple: multiplying the cottage pie recipe by five (; using a couple of turkey thighs and drumsticks with mushrooms and truffles for another pie (; smoked cod, salmon, monkfish and prawns topped with potato for the third choice; really simple roast vegetables topped with toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds for crunch.  Nearly 30 individual blind-baked flan cases filled with lemon custard or the chocolate and orange alternative was a simple dessert with fruit garnish and cream.

roast-veg turkey-pie

Ready for my Christmas buffet

Ready for my Christmas buffet

Everything could be prepared a day or more beforehand and just needed final cooking in the oven before serving from the hot plates.  And using foil containers with cardboard lids meant that they could be stacked in the fridge and needed no washing up – and there wasn’t a scrap left!

I particularly like table decorations that include lighting – they are completely pictured in my imagination even if I can’t see the final effect.  The front door Christmas wreath features old CDs to add a bit of sparkle – and cooking equipment is my traditional way of suspending it on the front door: it is amazing what you can do with a wooden spoon!

front-door-christmas-wreath wooden-spoon


Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000


table-decoration table-decoration-4 table-decoration-3 table decoration table-decoration-2

Cottage Pie.

Watch me make them on You Tube


Shepherd’s pie is usually made with the left-overs from roast lamb and gravy while Cottage pie is made with beef – but here I’m using minced beef in case all the roast got eaten. I also make “Gobble pie” with left-over cooked turkey and Stag pie with cooked venison – the principles are much the same.



Imperial Metric Ingredient
2   Onions
1 dessert spoon   Olive oil
2   Carrots
16 ounces 450 grams Minced beef
Half pint 2.8 Millilitres’ Strong beef stock
2   Star anise (optional)
    Salt and pepper
16 ounces 450 grams Potatoes
2 ounces 50 grams Butter
Splash   Milk
    Salt and pepper
Ready for my Christmas buffet

Ready for my Christmas buffet

Start with the filling as it will cook for a few hours.

Peel and dice the onions and sweat over a medium heat in the oil until softened.

Peel the carrots and cut in to small cubes then add to the onions and cook for about 5 minutes.


Heat oven to Gas Mark 5 (375 Fahrenheit; 190 Celsius).

Remove the onions and carrots.

Increase heat and crumble in the minced beef in a very thin layer over the base of the pan.

Cook on one side until brown and then turn over.  You might need to do this in two batches.

Put the onions, carrots, minced beef, star anise, salt, pepper and hot beef stock in an oven-proof container.

Cut a piece of greaseproof paper to fit over the mixture.    Cover the mixture with the paper and then put on a lid or a tight double layer of cooking foil.

Place dish in the oven.

After 10 minutes, reduce heat to Gas Mark 3 (325 Fahrenheit; 170 Celsius) and cook for a couple of hours.

Peel the potatoes and cut in to even-sized pieces.  Place in a pan with enough cold salted water to just cover and bring to the boil.

Simmer the potatoes for 20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked – a knife will go through one easily.

Drain the potatoes and return to the pan with the butter.

Mash the potatoes adding salt and white pepper to taste – and a splash of milk to give a softer texture.

Heat oven to Gas Mark 4 (350 Fahrenheit; 180 Celsius)

Place filling in oven-proof dish and fork over the mashed potato – little ridges will cook faster and give more taste and texture.  Top with some tiny cubes of butter.

Cook in oven for about 30 minutes until the filling is hot and potato topping is browning on the ridges.

My tips:

The filling can be cooked the day before and stored in the fridge until needed.

The star anise increases the savoury flavour of the beef – but try to remove them before adding the potato layer.

You can just add hot water to some commercial stock – but then may not need to add any salt.

Use just enough stock to barely cover the meat and vegetables – they shouldn’t be swimming in it.  The paper layer should make sure that any steam falls back in to the filling.  If the mixture looks too dry during cooking, just add a little more stock.

The aim is to avoid the filling boiling in the oven but just to braise it over a low heat until it is soft and unxious.  If you have a slow cooker, this is ideal for long, slow cooking.

Some people like lots more butter and cream instead of milk in their mashed potatoes.  Black pepper would work just as well but gives the mash dark freckles!

I put the sweated onions, part-cooked carrots, browned mince, star anise, pepper and 2 Knorr beef “Stock Pots” in a plastic bag and vacuum-packed before submerging in the sousvide waterbath at 70 degrees Centigrade for about 12 hours.  After removing the bag from the waterbath, it was plunged in cold water to chill before storing overnight in the fridge. Next day, I made the mashed potato, put the beef in ramekins and topped with the potato before the final oven-cooking.

When multiplying this recipe by 5 and braising in a slow oven for hours, I reduced a whole bottle of red wine and added to the mix to give extra liquid and flavour.

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000