My Ultimate Roast Dinner

This post originally appeared at Christmas time as a how-to guide for my version of the ultimate Christmas roast. Although it's no longer seasonal it's still a pretty delicious menu, so I thought I'd move it to the archive with the rest of my recipes. Hope you enjoy it! There might be complaints because my ultimate Christmas menu doesn’t include turkey, but I have to say that when it comes to roasting a bird, duck is always going to be my first choice – the rich, sumptuous flavours make it perfect for a special festive occasion. I also went for cheesecake instead of Christmas cake or pudding as, dare I say it, I don’t actually like either of those things. So although this isn’t a particularly traditional Christmas feast, it is, I promise you, a very delicious one.

My secret to making a big family roast is preparation – if you get a bit organised and do some work the day before, you can take the stress out of the day itself and cut down on washing up and general mayhem. So each recipe is split into things to do the day before, things to do the morning before, and things to do before serving. If one of those sections doesn’t apply to a particular recipe, I’ve just left it out.

Gooey Baked Camembert with Crudités
Roast duck with Port & Cherry Sauce, Roast Potatoes & Carrots, Baked Leeks with Cheddar Cheese, and Broad Beans 
Vanilla-bean Cheesecake with Salted Caramel Sauce

Quantities given for all recipes serve 6.

Gooey Baked Camembert with Crudités

Baked Camembert is a great little starter because it looks and sounds fancy but is really very uncomplicated, plus it’s great for lots of people as you can just gather round and share it. And if you don’t normally like Camembert, I beg you to have a go at this anyway – when cheese melts, the flavour mellows out a lot, so even if you normally find Camembert a bit ripe, once it’s gone all gooey it’s just rich and creamy.

Make sure that the Camembert you buy is in one of those little wooden boxes, rather than a cardboard one, so that the box can go in the oven. For dipping, I’ve suggested carrots and warm pita bread, but obviously you can use whatever you fancy.

1 250g Camembert in a wooden box
1 clove of garlic
Olive oil
Black pepper
Pita bread and carrots, for dipping

The morning before: prepare your crudités. Peel and slice the carrots into batons for easy dipping, and cut the pita up into fingers. Wrap in clingfilm and pop into the fridge.

Before serving: preheat the oven to 180˚C. Unwrap the Camembert and then put the cheese itself back into the box. Using a sharp knife, cut a circle into the top, leaving a border about 1cm wide around the edge, and then carefully slip the knife under the rind and take it off like a lid. Peel and finely slice the garlic and lay that on top of the exposed cheese, then sprinkle with rosemary, olive oil and black pepper. Pop in the oven on a baking tray for 25 minutes, until the cheese has melted and started to bubble. 5 minutes before the timer goes, scatter the pita fingers onto the baking tray around the box, to warm up. When it’s all ready, stick it in the middle of the table with plenty of stuff to dip in the creamy, golden melted cheese, and watch it disappear.

Roast Duck with Port & Cherry Sauce, Roast Potatoes & Carrots, Baked Leeks with Cheddar Cheese, and Broad Beans 

First of all, don’t panic – this might sound like a lot to do at once, but if you do a bit of preparation the day before and stay on top of the timings, it’ll go like a dream. The rich, dark flavour of the duck combined with the boozy sweetness of the sauce is the height of luxury, and the vegetables have been carefully chosen not only for their delicious complimentary flavours, but for how easy they are to prepare.

Cooking the duck is very straightforward, but does require a wire rack which fits over the top of a deep-ish baking tray or roasting tin. We don’t have a fancy version but use one of the wire shelves from our oven slotted over the top of one of the deeper solid shelves – you can probably cobble something similar together. This is necessary because the duck will release a lot of fat as it cooks, which needs to be drained a couple of times during the cooking process.

Roasted, rested, and ready to eat!
1 2kg whole duck
A jar of good-quality cherry conserve
A generous splash of port
1 tsp sugar
8 large-ish potatoes
A good handful of nice fat carrots
4 big leeks
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper
200ml single cream
Plenty of cheddar cheese, to grate on top of the baked leeks
About 500g fresh or frozen broad beans

The day before: peel and parboil the carrots & potatoes. Simply peel and chop the veg (I like to chop the potatoes into generous chunks and slice the carrots into batons) and then pop into a pan with boiling water and a pinch of salt, bring to the boil, and then boil for about five minutes. I don’t usually boil the potatoes and carrots together, as the potatoes release a lot of starch during cooking. When five minutes is up, drain the vegetables and leave to cool, before popping them into an airtight container and sticking them in the fridge overnight. As long as they’re well covered up, they should keep just fine.
The evening before, it would also be a good idea to get the duck out of its packaging and dry the skin thoroughly with a clean tea towel or dish cloth, then pop it in the fridge, uncovered, overnight. Getting the skin as dry as possible will help to get it really crispy when it cooks.

The morning before: make the port & cherry sauce, and prepare the baked leeks (which will be finished off later). To make the sauce, simply plop most of the jar of jam in a small saucepan and heat gently until it becomes liquid, then add a good slug of port and a teaspoon of sugar. Although this is ridiculously easy, you would not believe how fantastic it tastes. Once you’ve got a fairly smooth liquid sauce, cover and pop it in the fridge. You can reheat it in the microwave just before serving (to save on hob space).

To prepare the baked leek dish, top & tail the leeks and then slice the up into 1cm disks and cut each one roughly in half. If you’ve bought the leeks loose from a supermarket or greengrocers, you might find that there’s a bit of soil trapped between the layers – just give them a rinse, once chopped, in a sieve. If the leeks are packaged, you should be ok without washing them. Set a frying pan (or a wok, if you have one) over a medium heat and add a good slug of olive oil and a couple of knobs of butter. Tip all the leeks in (if your frying pan is too small, just add the leeks in two loads – as they cook they soften and take up much less space), sprinkle with a bit of salt, and stir gently.

Once the leeks have all softened and started to darken in colour, scrape them out into an earthenware dish (that is, one that can go in the oven). Pour the cream over the top and season well with salt and pepper, then mix thoroughly. Leave to cool before covering and setting to one side – you’ll cook it again later with the cheese on top.

Before serving: this is where you need to start keeping an eye on the timer. Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Sprinkle the duck generously with salt and black pepper (plenty of salt will also help the skin to go crispy) and, using a sharp knife or skewer, prick the skin all over. Transfer to the oven, on a wire rack over a baking tray or roasting tin, and set a timer for 2 hours and 20 minutes. So that you only need to use one timer (rather than about 6), for the rest of the dishes, I will give you timings to put things in or take them out according to this original timer counting down to zero – hopefully, the point at which everything will be ready to serve!

At 1 hour 50 minutes to go, you need to drain the duck fat from the roasting tin – this is really a 2-person job as you need someone to hold the duck in place while the other person tips the tray and pours the liquid fat into a bowl. Don’t throw it away as it’s great for roast potatoes.

At 1 hour 20 minutes, repeat the draining of the fat, and pour most of it into a large roasting tin. Add a knob or two of lard. Place on the hob over a medium heat (doesn’t matter if the heat is only under part of the tin) and let the fat melt, then carefully add your pre-boiled potatoes, spreading them out in a single layer (if they’re piled up, they’ll steam instead of going crispy). If you have room, add the carrots too, otherwise, pop them in a small earthenware dish or roasting tin. Drizzle the vegetables with a bit more duck fat, then stick them in the oven, under the roasting duck.

At 40 minutes, drain the duck fat again (keep it for the gravy this time). Grate plenty of cheddar over the baked leek dish and pop this in the oven, at the bottom. Next you can get your gravy started – and unfortunately, this is where I have to make a big confession: I can’t make gravy. At least, not yet. It’s something I fully intend to learn, but for the moment, I am reduced to buying lovely onion gravy from Sainsburys and jazzing it up a bit. In this case, I put it in a small saucepan to warm, on a low heat, and added the duck fat, a splash of port, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

At 20 minutes, take the duck out and cover with tinfoil and a clean tea towel, tucking the edges in loosely to keep it warm. Leave it to rest until the timer goes off. Move the leeks up to the top of the oven, and if your oven has a fan/grill feature like mine, switch that on to get the cheese bubbling and golden on the top. Put the kettle on for the broad beans – if you’re cooking them from frozen, put them in as soon as the kettle has boiled, as they’ll take longer to come to the boil. If you’re cooking them fresh, you can leave it for a minute, as they only need to boil for about five minutes.

Now is the time to get somebody to carve the duck – as I was cooking for the family, I got my big brother to do the honours. Of course, you can carve it yourself, if you have a trustworthy sous-chef to keep an eye on everything else.

When the duck is carved, stick your port & cherry sauce in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Drain the broad beans and stir in a knob of butter and a good sprinkling of black pepper. By now, the potatoes should be crispy and starting to brown, and the leeks should be bubbling and golden. Bring everything to the table and pour yourself a big glass of wine – you’ve done it!

Vanilla-bean Cheesecake with Salted Caramel Sauce

I found this recipe on Pinterest, to which I am addicted – it’s the best place ever to find recipe ideas and inspiration – so I must give a shout out to Kristina at, although I have done a little bit of tweaking, partly to make it suitable to British ingredients. It’s a fabulous dessert and particularly good for a special occasion as nearly all the hard work can be done one or even two days before. The crumbly, buttery chocolate crust contrasts beautifully with the smooth creamy cheese filling, and the caramel sauce is heavenly – some of my family were going back for third helpings of the sauce alone…

For the crust:
About 600g Bourbon biscuits
75g plain flour
225g melted butter
For the filling:
900g soft cream cheese (you can use an inexpensive supermarket own-brand one – I went for the Sainsburys Basics version and it tasted great)
225g granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 vanilla pod
60ml milk
For the sauce:
225g granulated sugar
2 tbsp tap water
240ml single cream
60g butter

The day before: as I said above, this is when you do most of the work for this dessert. Start by making the crust – if you have a food processor, just tip all the biscuits in there and whiz until you get fine crumbs. If you don’t, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way with a strong plastic sandwich bag and a rolling pin. Keep going until the crumbs are no bigger than a pea – if you’re using a food processor you might need to pick out the last few big chunks (which get lost amongst the rest of the crumbs) and blend them again.

In a large bowl, mix the biscuit crumbs with the flour. Melt the butter in the microwave until there are no lumps remaining and then stir through the crumbs – they should start to look damp and sticky, although the mixture will still feel quite dry. Don’t worry, because once you start pressing it into the cheesecake tin, it will all stick together. Start by covering the base of the tin and pressing the crumbs down with the bottom of a glass tumbler, then tip a spoonful of crumbs into a little heap at the edge and gently push with the glass so that they rise up and stick to the inside of the tin’s edge. Repeat all the way round, packing everything in firmly with the side of the glass, then pop the tin into the fridge (or set it aside somewhere cool, if your fridge is looking full by now!) while you do the next bit.

To make the filling, first of all you need to infuse the milk with the vanilla – this is why you need a pod rather than vanilla essence. Measure the milk out into a small saucepan, then carefully slice open the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds into the milk. Don’t worry if the seeds stick together in blobs, because they’ll get mixed in with the cream cheese eventually. Add the pods themselves, then heat the milk gently until it starts to steam. Once it reaches this point, take it off the heat and leave it to infuse for 15 minutes.

Next, combine the cream cheese with the sugar in a large mixing bowl. I used my handheld electric mixer to get a really smooth texture but you could easily just beat it with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, beating hard in between, and then pour in the milk once it’s finished infusing. Give the mixture another good beating to make sure there are no lumps – there’s nothing worse than a lumpy cheesecake.

Finally, gently (so as not to break up the biscuit crust) pour the mixture into the lined tin until it comes to just below the top of the crust (I only had enough mixture for this anyway). Don’t be tempted to scrape out the bowl as you may end up with the dreaded lumps… Preheat the oven to 160˚C and bake the cheesecake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until it’s set but still jiggly in the middle. You don’t want to overcook it because it will solidify as it cools – when it’s done, pop it in the fridge or in a cool dry place until you’re ready to serve.

Before serving: make the caramel sauce. Mix the sugar with the water and then place on a medium heat and leave it to melt and bubble without stirring – this is very important, because if you stir it, you’ll get a grainy, lumpy caramel. Just keep a close eye on it as it starts to bubble up (it might look quite crystallized at this point but don’t be tempted to stir it!) and then once it turns deep amber in the centre (don’t wait for the colour to spread all the way to the edge or it’ll blacken in the middle), take it off the heat and pour in the cream. The mixture will hiss and seethe at this point – whisk it well to incorporate the cream, then add the butter and stir as it melts. If the mixture isn’t warm enough to melt the butter completely, put the pan back on a low heat and keep stirring. You should end up with a lovely deep golden-brown caramel – serve up a thick slice of cheesecake and pour the gooey fragrant sauce over the top. Bon appetit!