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Katie Melua


>> Her chocolate brownies beat Gordon Ramsay's on the F-Word and she won the Mumsnet Best Cookbook award for 'Fay's Family Food' in 2011.

Fay Ripley - actress, food writer and mother of two - can 'impress with no stress' in the kitchen and knows how to inject her signature no-nonsense, relaxed personality into her recipes.

Family is at the heart of Fay's food writing and her best-selling cookery books are growing up with her children. "I'm a cookbook hoarder and despite buying more than my accountant would approve of, I got to the point where I realised I had only ever cooked one or two recipes from any of them - they always seemed way too ambitious or had ingredients that sounded like incurable diseases. Or worse still, there were no pictures to work from other than a beautiful close-up of a raw empty prawn shell," she says.

So what does any sensible untrained home cook do when she can't find what she wants? She writes it herself! Fay's husband Dan is Australian with an Italian father, so it's not surprising that she's had to work at dominating the kitchen. "He's great at fresh pasta, roast potatoes and slow-roasted meat but he makes a whole load of mess, serves up hours late and adds way too much salt and oil for my liking," Fay laughs. "He keeps his head down nowadays and sticks to making the flat white coffees and BBQs."

Fay's approach to cooking is to impress without breaking into a sweat in the kitchen. "It's all in the preparation, in as much time as possible beforehand. Think ahead, make a list and leave time for a blow dry! Dan doesn't use these tips!"

Fay's inspiration for her books came from lessons she learned as a mum. "I was neurotic about feeding my first child, Parker. I learnt the hard way that the best route to feeding your family is to eat together wherever possible - talk, laugh, even fight around the table. Sharing makes memories - it's old school but it works. If the children see food making you happy then they'll want a piece of that happy pie as well."

Fay confesses to loving nothing more than a house full of hungry friends and family, but only if she can achieve a spread fit for a king, made with love, not fear. "I've picked my Pavlova to share here because it is so damn impressive! Meringue scares folk but with an electric whisk, it's a piece of cake. You can make it in advance and assemble at the last minute - the roasted nuts take it to the next level. I've had more applause for this little beauty than any performance I've ever given!"

Showstopping Hazelnut & Raspberry Pavlova

>> Serves 8-10 >> Preparation 15 minutes >> Cook time 1 hour (Pavlova only)

This show-off pud is not a new idea but it's one of the best party pieces I have up my sleeve. Make the meringues the day before, whip the cream a few hours in advance and keep it in the fridge. Then it's easy to assemble and even easier to eat. It can be a big birthday cake or a dinner party showstopper - you will be remembered for this one, trust me.

    Ingredients

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 1 level tsp cornflour
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 200g roasted chopped hazelnuts (buy the ready-to-go packs)
  • 500ml whipping cream
  • 400g raspberries
  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

    Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 130°C (fan), 150°C, gas mark 2 and line two baking sheets with baking paper.

  2. With an electric whisk, whizz the egg whites until stiff, then whisk in the sugar, a dessertspoon at a time, until very thick and glossy.

  3. Mix the cornflour and vinegar in a cup and whisk into the egg whites. Add most of the nuts, reserving a couple of tablespoons to decorate, and fold them in by hand (don't whisk at this point).

  4. Divide the mixture between the two trays, gently spreading it into the shape you fancy (think about the plate it will sit on), keep the two shapes 2.5cm or so deep.

  5. Pop the meringues into the oven and bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off but leave them in there until completely cold or overnight - DON'T PEEK!

  6. Before serving, whip the cream to soft peaks and then add half the raspberries. Carry on whipping and the cream will turn a gentle pink. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water.

To serve

Use half the pink cream to sandwich the meringues together, using the rest on top. Scatter over the remaining raspberries, drizzle with the melted chocolate and finally scatter the remaining chopped nuts over your masterpiece. Take a bow! De-stress - You can use defrosted frozen raspberries for the cream.

>> 'Fay Makes it Easy' is Fay's new cookbook, containing over 100 stress-free recipes. (HarperCollins, £20). See Country Club (page 28) for your chance to win a signed copy.


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