We all have busy lives, and in my case the family is growing, so we enjoy informal entertaining often round the kitchen table.
As a result, I really do regularly have to get "one step ahead" with my cooking.
I am generally a fairly organised person and I find this invaluable when having friends or family for supper.
However, I only prepare ahead when the dish is just as good cooked in advance as when served immediately.
It is important to use the freshest of ingredients and the best quality you can – this is the secret to good cooking.
Cooking should be a pleasure – a joy for you to do and a delight for your guests to enjoy.
Thai Crab Tartlets
This is a good first course or light lunch. It's always useful to have a few tartlets lined with this pastry in the freezer ready to fill if guests arrive unexpectedly. The pastry must be rolled out thinly so that the result is crisp and light. You can use 225g (8oz) shelled prawns instead of the crab.
For the cheese pastry
175g (6oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
75g (3oz) butter, cut into small pieces
50g (2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten
For the filling
225ml (8fl oz) double cream
2 eggs, beaten
2 (170g) tins of white crab meat in brine
2 red chillies, deseeded and very finely chopped
2cm (1in) fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
8 spring onions, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7 and put a large heavy baking sheet in the oven to get
First make the pastry, measure the flour, mustard and butter into a processor and whizz until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the Parmesan and the egg, and whizz again until a dough forms.
Roll out and use the pastry to line two four-hole Yorkshire pudding tin sheets.
Make the filling: measure the cream into a bowl and whisk with the eggs. Season with salt and pepper, then pour into the pastry case.
Drain the crab meat and dry on kitchen paper. Tip into a bowl: mix with the rest of the filling ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Divide equally between the pastry cases.
Bake on the now very hot baking sheet for about 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is set.
TIP: The tartlets can be made and baked a day ahead and reheated in a hot oven for about eight minutes. They also freeze well once cooked.
Serve warm with a dressed green salad.
Slow-roast Belly of Pork with Onion Gravy
This is a very fashionable recipe at the moment . For a modern variation, rub some Chinese five-spice powder into the skin before crisping it up at the end.
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon oil
1.2 kg (2Ib) boned belly of pork, skin scored by the butcher
2-3 tablespoons flour
600ml (1pt) stock
1 tablespoon apple jelly or redcurrant jelly
dash of gravy browning
Put the onion and oil in the base of a small roasting tin. Put a small grill rack on top and place the belly, skin side up, on the rack. Rub the sea salt into the scored skin.
The pork belly can be prepared to this point and kept in the fridge for up to eight hours. It cannot be frozen.
Slow-roast the pork in an oven preheated to 160C/140C fan/gas 3 for about 2-2 hours. Turn up the heat to 220C/200C fan/gas 7 and roast for about 30-40 minutes more, or until the skin has become crisp and the onions have turned golden brown. (Keep an eye on the onion – if it starts to burn, tuck it under the pork.) Transfer the belly to a plate to rest while you make the gravy.
Add the flour to the onion and fat in the bottom of the tin and mix together. Put the tin on the hob and blend in the stock and jelly over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper, and add a dash of gravy browning.
Remove the crackling and slice the pork. Snip the crackling into pieces and arrange pork and crackling on a plate. Serve with the gravy and some mashed sweet potatoes.
As this very rich pudding is perfect for any special occasion it is wonderful to have at the ready in the freezer.
To make the strong coffee, dissolve one teaspoon of instant coffee in one tablespoon of boiling water.
Serves 8 (gives 16-20 thin slices, two slices each)
200g (7oz) Bournville chocolate or similar
3 egg yolks
75g (3oz) caster sugar
75g (3oz) soft butter
2 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 tablespoon strong coffee
3 tablespoons brandy
150ml (pt) double cream, lightly whisked
fresh red berries and pouring cream, to serve
Line a 500g (1lb) loaf tin with cling film.
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl. Sit the bowl over a pan of hot water and stir until completely melted.
Whisk the egg yolks with half the sugar until light, pale and fluffy. Using the same whisk in a separate bowl, beat the butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the cocoa powder.
Pour the melted chocolate into the cocoa butter mixture, stir in the egg yolk mixture, coffee and brandy, and carefully fold in the cream. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and cover with cling film. Chill for 6-8 hours or overnight.
This can be made up to this point up to 24 hours ahead. It also freezes well.
TIP: It needs to be very cold to slice easily, so freeze for at least 1 hour before slicing. Turn out and remove the cling film. Dip a knife into boiling water, then cut into thin slices and arrange on a plate. Serve chilled with red berries and pouring cream.
One Step Ahead by Mary Berry (12.99) is published by Quadrille. To order a copy from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop, call free on 0800 0153232 or go online at www.yorkshirepostbookshop.co.uk. Postage and packing is 2.75.