Despite the plethora of foodstuffs on offer nowadays, many of us still love to get stuck into a classic British favourite - be it roast beef with Yorkshire pud, fish and chips, treacle tart and custard, or a good old-fashioned Victoria sponge cake. These hefty dishes have been national stalwarts through good times and bad, not to mention excellent comfort food in our notoriously changeable climate.
Sadly, many traditional British recipes have acquired a bad reputation for being unhealthy, stodgy and bland. But for anyone who thinks that British cooking is nothing but grease-soaked carbs, here are a few ideas to spark your interest.
Bangers 'n' mash, again?
The beauty of this traditional British meal lies in its simplicity: meat, mash and a topping of either beans or gravy. You can tinker with any one of these component parts to create a new and exciting version of this family favourite. I prefer duck or venison sausages (which you can get from Sainsbury's or Waitrose) and making the mash using a mixture of sweet potatoes and regular potatoes.
Add a splash of plum sauce to the gravy and serve with steamed broccoli or green beans. A few drops of Lea & Perrins or Henderson's Relish in the mash will make it more flavoursome without adding to the fat content.
Lemon-lime brined roast pheasant
Some people find game birds a little tough, so brining is a great way to soften up the meat prior to cooking. To make a traditional brine, you just dissolve 30g salt and one tablespoon of white sugar in a litre of boiled water, then add a few sprigs of thyme and some juniper berries or cranberries - but for a more tangy variation, try swapping out the berries and instead adding a few teaspoons of lemon and lime juice. Leave the brine to cool, then immerse the pheasant, cover, and refrigerate for several hours.
Before putting the pheasant in to roast, I like to make up a rub for the skin using the zest from the lemon and lime, some honey and olive oil, and then stuff the cavity with the citrus fruits. Draping a few rashers of bacon over the bird and basting regularly during cooking will help to retain moisture. Roast the pheasant on a high heat for the first 10 minutes, and then turn the oven down to a moderate heat for the duration of the cooking time.
Saffron, garlic and chilli roast potatoes
Roast potatoes can be pretty bland, but parboiling the potatoes in slightly salted water with some strands of saffron added will give them a golden tinge and that fragrant, distinctive taste. In the meantime, pour a mixture of sunflower oil and light olive oil into a deep roasting tray and add a few crushed cloves of garlic, some more strands of saffron, a bit of salt, some black pepper and chilli flakes (if you want spicy roasties), then put this into the oven to heat up.
Once the potatoes are parboiled, discard the water and (keeping the lid on the pan!) give the potatoes a good shake around. This will rough up the edges, which will then crisp nicely during cooking. Carefully add the potatoes to the oil once it's really hot and roast for at least 45 minutes, turning occasionally.
Orange and lemon Victoria sponge
This is a delicately flavoured, citrus version of the classic Victoria Sandwich, filled and decorated with buttercream rather than jam and sugar, and named for a certain old English nursery rhyme. Summery, sweet, creamy and light, this cake is perfect for a picnic in the sunshine.
Blend 150g each of butter, caster sugar and sifted self-raising flour with two large eggs until creamy, then divide the mixture in half and add the zest of a lemon to one half and the zest of an orange to the other.
Grease two 7'' (18cm) round tins, put the lemon mix in one and the orange mix in the other and smooth over. Bake for 25 minutes on the middle shelf of an oven preheated to Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°F (20 minutes if using a fan-assisted oven). Resist the urge to open the oven door to check how they're doing, or you'll end up with sunken cakes. Well-cooked sponge should be fairly firm but springy to the touch.
Turn out on to a wire rack and leave to cool.
To make the buttercream, blend 100g unsalted butter with 200g sifted icing sugar. Again, split the mixture in half, but this time add lemon juice (to taste) to one half and orange juice to the other (if this makes the buttercream too thin, add sifted icing sugar a tablespoon at a time until you get the right consistency).
Sandwich the two cake halves together with the lemon buttercream and use the orange buttercream for the topping (or the other way round, it's up to you). Decorate with orange and lemon jelly slices, or citrus zest.