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Welcome to dinner party season…

Meet celebrity chef Rachel Allen – author, teacher at Ballymaloe Cookery School and Nairn’s oatcakes ambassador – as she passes on tips for hot dinner dates, perfect cakes and throwing last-minute Christmas parties

What should we be cooking right now?
“Pumpkins! I love to find small ones the size of soup bowls to make one of my fave recipes. Scoop out the centre and mix it with gruyere cheese, a little salt and pepper, a grating of nutmeg and a couple of teaspoons of cream or crème fraiche. Bake until the flesh is soft on the outside and the cheese has melted on the inside for an amazing fondue you can eat straight out of the flesh.”

Do you find food nostalgic?
“Yes, absolutely. It’s amazing how the taste or smell of foods can whip you right back to a time or place. My first passion for food came from baking with my mum. Every single time I make cakes and buns, it reminds me of the early days baking with her at home. I still make them the way she taught me – by scooping the mixture from one spoon to another to get the right shape and consistency.”

Cold weather often means potatoes, pasta, toast… Not great when bikini season returns!
“Oats and lentils are two perfect cold weather staples.  Both are incredibly wholesome, filling, substantial and will keep you going, so you avoid reaching for snacks. Add them to soups, broths, casseroles and stews to give you that slow release energy, or match them with oatcakes for maximum fibre and wholegrain goodness.”

Party season looms… What would you suggest for hostesses in a hurry who’ve invited everyone over for spontaneous cocktails and canapés? 

“I think there are two things to help any hostess and both are very simple but look incredibly impressive. One is pate. Take some fresh smoked salmon or smoked mackerel, chop it up and whip it in a food processor with equal parts cream cheese and crème fraiche, a dash of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon and some chopped herbs. So simple. I love to serve it on Nairn’s Mini Oatcakes, as they make the perfect party canapé. The oily fish and wholegrain oats make it a healthy option too.

“My other party secret is home-made winter vegetable soup. You can turn it into a party food by serving it in small espresso cups with Nairn’s Mini Oatcakes served on the side. It’s warming, nutritious and also a good start to the evening, before cocktails!”

What would be your go-to meal for an InStyle reader to cook to impress a hot date?
“After you’ve checked they’re not allergic to shellfish, cook prawns with lobster. It’s luxurious but cheaper to make than to order in a restaurant. It’s quite a seductive dish to eat and is so delicious served with a lovely homemade mayonnaise. And it goes very well with a glass of bubbly!”

Any morning-after-the-cocktails cures?
“First of all – water, water, water is the very best cure. After that, what I often crave is eggs Benedict and a Bloody Mary – and I mean just one! Or, if you’re being more restrained, then I’d recommend a two-egg omelette or a big bowl of porridge oats with nuts and seeds to get you feeling back to yourself.”

Rachel Allen is a TV Chef, Cook, Author and Nairn’s Oatcakes Ambassador. Visit nairns-oatcakes.com/recipes to find more of Rachel’s delicious seasonal recipes

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