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TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp loves to entertain at home. Here she shares some of her favourite recipes and her food philosophy for home cooks
Kirstie is passionate about food and caters for armies of visitors when she’s not filming. She shares her secrets in a new book, Kirstie’s Real Kitchen (Hodder & Stoughton, £25), but explains how she hasn’t always been such a confident cook.
You’re very honest about the fact that you came to cooking quite late…
My mother was not interested in cooking, so I didn’t have a food heritage. I started cooking in my twenties so I could host dinner parties. Later, it was about feeding the kids something they would eat!
However, your mother did teach you about creating a lovely atmosphere…
Yes, she did. I think it’s important that when someone walks into your home, they see you’re expecting them for dinner. I love laying the table. In the winter, we eat in the dining room with a fire. I do flowers and I lay the table with mismatched plates and napkins.
Do you save any dinner settings for best?
No; but that’s why I buy things in junk shops, so you can own beautiful things but use them every day.
Do you use a seating plan?
If I have more than eight people then I do. I love introducing people to those they haven’t met before; it’s part of the atmosphere of a great dinner.
What would be on the menu?
I’ll do a main and serve it with three vegetable sides. I think vegetables are often better raw; so I’ll serve at least one raw salad with every lunch or dinner. I also always have a box of meringues at the ready for a quick pudding.
Now the season is changing, what are your favourite autumnal flavours?
I go meatier and eat more stews. I love lamb. Mashed potato is so good; I grate nutmeg and black pepper into it. I also adore stewed fruit.
How do you fit cooking in?
I have a wonderful nanny who does the cooking during the week in term time, as I’m often filming. But weekends and holidays, it’s all me. I love putting on the radio, preparing food and thinking about the fun we’re going to have eating it.
You are cautious about your sugar intake – why do we need to be careful?
Treats should be something we have once a week, not every day. I followed [nutritional therapist] Amelia Freer’s 10-day plan where, among other things, you cut out sugar. You reset your taste buds and, after 10 days, an apple tastes like the sweetest thing.
So, do you eat sugar now?
I do, but less. I’ve stopped having it in coffee, but I find tea a struggle without it, so I’ve cut down on tea. I’ve cut out wine, bread and potatoes, too.
Do you let your kids eat sugar?
Yes, I’m not a totally no-sugar mum because I’m wary of forbidden fruits. My son asked for one of those Starbucks drinks the other day because he’d had a bad week, so we went to get one. I had a sip and thought, ‘Wow, how much sugar is in that?’ But what worries me is that people order those every day.
So you still bake with your children?
Yes – I learned to enjoy baking once I realised you have to follow the recipe exactly, rather than experiment as you go. I still make that mistake. Recently, one of the boys was making brownies and he couldn’t find the right sized tin. I told him to use any and, of course, the brownies didn’t cook in the middle.
Are your children fussy eaters?
One child won’t eat fruit and one won’t eat fish. But they’re good with vegetables, so I do lots of dishes around veg.
What’s your winning dish for the kids?
There’s a Yorkshire pudding recipe in the book that’s the easiest thing to make for a group of children. [Chef] James Mackenzie taught me how to do it, and it works every time. I serve it with a huge pile of veg – the kids love it.
Do you value eating together as a family?
Yes, it’s vital. I sit with my children while they have their supper, and at weekends we eat together religiously.
Kirstie's book Kirstie's Real Kitchen is out now.