The Cheating Chef


Verite CollinsWhen I was eight, I decided it was time I learnt to cook, I made meringues, and had an early lesson in how to disgust people with my cooking.  Thinking that bright green coloured meringues were fun to make, it was disappointing that none of the family wanted to eat them.

Since then I thought a lot more about what people like to eat, and loved to cook for parties;.  Friends would come for lunch and stay way into the evening – one memorable lunch ended at 4 am the next morning.  But today, disabilities mean that I can’t stand, or sit, for very long, so my cooking no longer is an all-day love affair whilst I try out new recipes.  Instead it has become a quick dash between freezer, fridge and cupboards whilst I assemble something that I would like to eat, and hopefully gives friends a pleasant meal.


Now, instead of trying to produce gourmet menus, I focus on seasonal food  – and make a feature of things like Asparagus, or the first Cherries.  And at Christmas time I tend to serve a hunk of good cheese (or two or three) along with crusty bread, celery and, if I can get hold of them, wet walnuts (those wonderful walnuts that come in their shells;  so fresh that the skin inside still surrounds the juicy nut). Friends fall on these, and I find seasonal foods can be just as exciting as gourmet cooking.  And at Christmas, something simple is often a pleasant change.

Christmas Dinner

If you are disabled, serving up a whole Turkey with all the trimmings is a no-no.  Even if you could manage to get it into the oven, taking a heavy bird out of a hot stove has to be a no-no.  Instead, Andy at my local Wallingford Waitrose suggested cooking a Turkey Crown. Waitrose, along with most supermarkets, supply them in several sizes, along with ready-prepared sprouts, carrots etc.

Andy reckons they will be popular this year with smaller Christmas gatherings, so recommends ordering in advance.  Then all you have to do is read the cooking instructions.  Information on prices, sizes, even what to do with left-overs, on

Vegan Christmas

Just as I was writing this, out comes the Oxford Study, which raises all sorts of questions over bone health for vegans.

Brittle bones are a very, very nasty condition, which comes along with age, and lack of calcium.  Adults need 700 mg of calcium a day, so until the dust has settled, I would suggest contacting the Vegan Society for their suggestions on how to ensure you have enough calcium in your diet. They also have ideas for Christmas cooking.

Meanwhile, Andy again had helpful suggestions and recommended I went on the Waitrose site where they have nutritious Vegan suggestions –

Alternative to Christmas Pudding

You need to go to town with the pud, it should look as if you have made an effort.  Many don’t like Christmas pud, but if you like chestnuts, these often feature in French Christmas cooking.  I make a Chestnut ice-cream pudding, and instead of pouring flaming brandy over it, drown it in hot chocolate sauce! So here is my Christmas Chestnut Pudding :

This pud should carry a diet warning.  But what the heck – it’s Christmas!

First make your favourite vanilla ice-cream;  or try this easy one from Nigella  –

  • 250 grams sweetened chestnut puree (from a can or jar)
  • 2 tablespoons cooking brandy (or you could use rum, coffee, Baileys or leave it out – according to taste)
  • 300 millilitres double cream
  • 50 grams icing sugar

Faugier Crème de Marron Chestnut SpreadSee if you can find a tin of Faugier sweetened Chestnut puree –  (see left) with which to make the ice-cream, as I find it has a lovely taste.  As it is sweet you may not need to use all the icing sugar, although do remember that sugar helps the ‘set’, and the ice-cream loses sweetness as it freezes.  However, I would be careful using any substitute for cream;  as there are no eggs in the recipe you will need all the 300 mils.

Set it in a bowl that has similar shape to Christmas pudding bowl, and it should be enough for six. – eight

Or cheat!  Buy a tub of the best vanilla ice-cream.  Mix with a tin of sweetened chestnut purée, squash it into a greased pudding bowl, cover and freeze.

On Christmas morning, bring the pud out of the freezer, dip the bowl (carefully) in warmish water and turn out.  Decorate with swirls of cream; if feeling extravagant cut up whole marrons glacé (whole sugared chestnuts) and dot around, re-wrap in tinfoil (don’t press too hard on cream swirls) and return to freezer, ready to bring out 10 – 15 mins before dessert course.

Meanwhile place fire-proof bowl above boiling water in saucepan and heat chocolate pieces – at least 1.1/2 blocks and I prefer dark chocolate.  Make sure the bottom of bowl is above the level of water, otherwise it will go nasty.   Cheat heat a good shop-bought chocolate sauce. When ready to eat, pour the melted chocolate into a heat-proof jug and hand round to pour over the ice-cream round the table – the more the merrier.

Happy Christmas!

This article was written for Scope Newsletter  which goes out to 50,000 disabled readers.  It is designed to make cooking as simple as possible for those with painful joints, limited mobility, etc.