You ask the questions Christmas special

(Such as: Antony Worrall Thompson, why oh why do we insist on cooking Brussels sprouts at this time every year? And are they the devil's food?)
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The Independent Online

Antony Worrall Thompson, 47, was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. After leaving school he attended Westminster College to study for an HND in hotel and catering management. Now a highly acclaimed chef, Worrall Thompson owns Wiz restaurant, in Holland Park, London. He cooks for the BBC's Food and Drink programme and presents for the Carlton Food Network. His shows include Worrall Thompson Cooks, Simply Antony and Classic Dishes, to be shown at 2pm on Christmas Day. Worrall Thompson lives near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, with his wife, Jay, and their two children. He has a dog, Trevor, two cats, 12 pigs and assorted fish. He enjoys art, antiques, tennis and swimming.

Antony Worrall Thompson, 47, was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. After leaving school he attended Westminster College to study for an HND in hotel and catering management. Now a highly acclaimed chef, Worrall Thompson owns Wiz restaurant, in Holland Park, London. He cooks for the BBC's Food and Drink programme and presents for the Carlton Food Network. His shows include Worrall Thompson Cooks, Simply Antony and Classic Dishes, to be shown at 2pm on Christmas Day. Worrall Thompson lives near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, with his wife, Jay, and their two children. He has a dog, Trevor, two cats, 12 pigs and assorted fish. He enjoys art, antiques, tennis and swimming.

Will you be eating turkey this Christmas? If not, what will you eat this year?

Sally Hanson, by e-mail

Yes, I will be eating a turkey (boned except for the legs, to retain the shape of the bird) stuffed with a goose that is stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken, then a pheasant, ending up with a woodcock, the smallest bird of all. My in-laws, kids, wife, brothers and sisters are a good hearty-eating lot, so it will all get eaten.

Whom would you most like to kiss under the mistletoe?

Becci Forster, Sleaford, Hampshire

Apart from my wife, it would be Jodie Foster. I like a woman with brains, and she's a brilliant actress. There's something sexy about her without her being necessarily that beautiful.

What do you leave out for Father Christmas? And if you were Father Christmas, what would you like to eat on your rounds?

Sam Holly, aged nine, Worthing, West Sussex

I'd like a good drink - no rules about drinking and driving with reindeer. I certainly wouldn't like a mince pie or a McDonald's, as in the advert. A piece of my pumpkin fruitcake (an alternative to Christmas cake, see recipe below) or a dish of caviare would be good.

Why, oh why do we insist on cooking Brussels sprouts every year? (And are they the devil's food?)

Sarah Potter, by e-mail

I like them. I'm not fond of modern chefs who say that everything should be rock-hard. I think they need to be cooked thoroughly, then fried with onion, bacon, thyme and butter. Get them nice and crispy, then add a little grated orange rind at the end. They don't look particularly attractive but they taste good.

Have you ever tried pot noodles?

Harold Rollins, London W4

I don't believe I have - although my children's nanny regularly eats pot noodles. I do my own version, though: proper noodles, fresh vegetables and oriental stock.

Who does the washing-up in your house?

Jenny Wilson, London EC1

I do know where the sink is and I have been known to do it. I don't like to do it too often, though, as my family might see it as a habit. Normally the machine does it, but my wife and the nanny are very good at it. I'm good at cleaning my oven, a bright yellow Molteni stove that is 7ft by 5ft. If my wife ever chucked me out, I could put a mattress on it and sleep there.

What is the definitive recipe for brandy butter?

Sandy Gower, by e-mail

Brandy Butter

Serves 4-6

300g (10 1/2oz) unsalted butter, softened 400g (14oz) icing sugar 1 tablespoon warm water 125 ml (4floz) brandy/rum

Beat the butter with the icing sugar, warm water and brandy/rum until white and creamy. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Do you have a party trick?

Jess Eveleigh, Oxford

Staying upright when I'm pissed. I haven't toppled yet.

What do you think of Delia Smith's back-to-basics approach? Do you think it's 'insulting', as Gary Rhodes apparently does?

Deborah Davids, Manchester

I went and bought her second book for myself today. I think she's great. We all would love to be on the receiving end of the funds she gets. She's perfect for the new generation of schoolkids whose mums have been at work for 30 years and don't have the time to teach children how to cook. Her books are a great gift for a girl. I call Delia the Volvo of cooking - perfectly safe.

Do too many cooks spoil the broth?

Tony James, by e-mail

They can do. I think it depends on the chefs. I did a dinner for 700 people at Guildhall, London, where Diana, Princess of Wales, was the star guest, for the Royal Marsden hospital. I had 100 egomaniacs cooking, who all behaved themselves except for Marco Pierre White, who was trying to wind me up. He was doing a ravioli course, and at 6.30pm there was no sign of him. The dinner started at 7.30pm, so I had to send a cab over to his hotel to pick him up. Generally, though, chefs are like sheep. You just need a couple of good sheepdogs to round them up.

Whom would you most like to cook your Christmas meal this year? (And failing that, will it be you cooking the dinner?)

Trevor Woods, Brighton

Ainsley Harriot would be good. He's not the best cook in the world and doesn't pretend to be, but at least we'd have a laugh.

Do you own any novelty aprons?

Francis Appleton, London SE5

I have recently done some work with Bounty towels - the paper tissues that don't break and that you can wring out after rubbing a stain off the carpet. I did some roadshows with them, demonstrating how good their product is, as I am known on the circuit as the messiest chef around. They sent me a naughty maid's outfit, with a pink feather duster. I haven't worn it yet.

How can you tell when your turkey is cooked?

Lesley Brewer, Chelmsford, Essex

Easy. The best gadget to buy is a meat thermometer: stick it in the thickest part of the thigh, and when it has reached 72C, you know that it's cooked and ready to eat. The main thing is not to stuff the turkey. The heat doesn't enter the cavity of the turkey. If you want to stuff it, do just the neck end.

What do you recommend for a vegetarian Christmas?

Eve Harris, London N1

Wild Mushroom Cassoulet

1 large aubergine, cut into half-inch cubes 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped 25g (1oz) unsalted butter 300g (10oz) mixed wild mushrooms 25g (1oz) dried porcini or cÿpes 1 teaspoon dried rosemary 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper 2 dried bay leaves, broken into small pieces 400g (14oz) tin of white cannelini beans, drained and rinsed 1 small tin Italian chopped tomatoes 1 small glass dry white wine 700g (1lb 9oz) plum tomatoes, peeled, halved and seeded 55g (2oz) breadcrumbs, mixed with 55g (2oz) melted unsalted butter Rock salt

1. Fry the aubergine in half of the olive oil until it is dark golden all over. Season and set aside.

2. In the same pan, with the remaining olive oil fry the onion and garlic until softened, remove with a slotted spoon and add to the aubergine.

3. In the same pan, fry the fresh mushrooms in the residue of olive oil and the butter over a high heat until they have started to colour and release their liquids - about 3-4 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a spice or coffee grinder, blend the dried porcini, rosemary, thyme, pepper and bay leaves until finely powdered. You may have to do this in batches.

5. Add the herb/mushroom powder to the vegetables, then add the beans, tomatoes and white wine. Stir to combine. Tip or spoon the mixture into four singles or one large gratin dish. Top with the halved tomatoes, uncut side up, in a visual pattern or slightly overlapping.

6. Sprinkle the top with the buttered breadcrumbs so you can see the tomatoes. Bake at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 in an oven for about 30-40 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

Does the fact that your customers are 'merrier' at this time of year cause any problems in your restaurants?

Anna Tyler, by e-mail

Yes. They tend to be coarse sorts of problems - nasties in the loos, people being sick, that kind of thing. No one can control themselves, and most of the time their company is paying, so they don't care. We understand that for 10 days people can have a free rein, as long as they are not upsetting customers. Some people have knocked candles over and set fire to curtains - but it is a learning curve. We don't give rowdy parties candles now. Mainly it is the most disgusting mess they leave, which we have to clean up.

What is the longest you have ever spent preparing a meal (and was it worth it)?

Caroline Andrews, Cardiff

Two days for Rory Bremner's wedding. It was worth it. We were meant to be advising the caterers, but there was a mix-up, and they thought we were cooking. It took us by surprise, as we were in a marquee in Scotland. In the end we did a tomato water, a consommé type of thing, then a stuffed chicken breast with grilled vegetables and then caramelised pears.

You always seem so cheerful in your TV kitchens. Do you turn into Gordon Ramsay when the cameras stop rolling?

Jason Donald, Edinburgh

No, Ramsay makes very good TV viewing but he has damaged our reputation. He criticised the Pied-Ã -Terre chef, Tom Aitkens, for branding a worker in the kitchen with a hot knife. It was the wrong thing to do, and of course Aitkens should never work in London again, as Ramsay said, but it was hypocritical of Ramsay to say it.

What do you hope you'll get in your stocking this year?

Donna Bradford, by e-mail

A set of scales, maybe, as I'm on a diet. I have lost 24lb so far and I need to lose a further 18lb. I will be taking part in the London marathon next year, so nothing fattening, please.

What's your worst TV moment?

Julie Preston, by e-mail

Doing the Full Monty in front of 13 million people for Children in Need. Taking my kit off in front of that many people was scary. I had to stand naked next to Brian Turner, Ainsley Harriot, Tony Tobin and James Martin, all the chefs from Ready Steady Cook. We raised over £1m, though, which was incredibly exhilarating.

Has any of your dishes spectacularly failed when it was really important that everything was perfect? I only ask because I burnt the turkey last year.

Matt Turner, by e-mail

Not really. When I first started cooking I was a manager, and one day the chef couldn't turn up, so I had to make tomato soup. I went and bought some Heinz tomato soup and threw in some croutons and fresh tomatoes. Everyone said it was the best soup they had ever tasted. I did the opening of the Channel Tunnel and overslept. I was stopped by the police for speeding on my way down, and I told them that if I was late I would let the Queen down. I was supposed to be feeding 1,500 people in a big marquee in Folkestone. They let me off with a fine.

Canapés - love 'em or hate 'em? And do you have a recipe for a good festive canapé to serve with champagne?

Mick Hayward, Nottingham

Love them if they are individual, not jellied mayonnaise things.

Smoked Salmon Blinis

2 packets ready-made blinis (24) About 4tablespoons crÿme fraîche 225g (8oz) smoked salmon slices, cut into strips 2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives or dill sauce from a jar

Preheat the grill. Arrange the blinis on baking sheets and grill for a couple of minutes or according to the manufacturer's instructions. Smear the crÿme fraîche on to the blinis; top with the smoked salmon. Add a sprinkling of the chives or small drops of the dill sauce and arrange on a plate to serve.

Oops, I've forgotten to make a Christmas cake this year. What cake can I make on Christmas Eve that will keep my family just as happy?

Kate Barker, Sheffield

Pumpkin Fruitcake

Serves 8-10

55g (2oz) sultanas 50ml (2floz) dark rum 225g (8oz) unsalted butter, softened 400g (14oz) plain flour 55g (2oz) dried cherries 55g (2oz) dried cranberries 55g (2oz) chopped dates 85g (3oz) grated pumpkin 600g (1lb 5oz) soft brown muscovado sugar 4 large free-range eggs 225g (8oz) pumpkin purée 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg 1 teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 300 ml ( 1/2pt) buttermilk or milk 115g (4oz) chopped walnuts Grated rind of 1 orange Grated rind of 1 unwaxed lemon Juice of 2 oranges Icing sugar (optional)

1. Soak the sultanas overnight in the rum. Next day, drain them. Set aside the sultanas and the rum.

2. Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Butter and flour a 9in spring-form cake tin. Combine the cherries, cranberries, dates and grated pumpkin with 1tbsp of flour and set aside.

3. Beat the remaining butter with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in 400g of the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Fold in the pumpkin purée and spices.

4. Sift the remaining flour with the baking powder and salt. Combine the bicarbonate of soda with the buttermilk.

5. Stir a third of the flour into the pumpkin and add a third of the buttermilk. Repeat in the same quantities until the flour and buttermilk are used up.

6. Fold in the sultanas, the fruit and pumpkin mixture, the nuts and the grated peel.

7. Spoon the mixture into the spring-form tin. Bake for 1 1/2-2 hours or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. (You may need to cover the top of the cake with foil three-quarters of the way through.) Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes. Unfold.

8. Combine the remaining sugar with the rum and/or orange juice. Prick the cake all over and dribble the rum mixture over the cake while it is still warm. Allow to cool and dust with icing sugar.

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