Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thai spiced Pumpkin and Kumara soup

Sunday 4.45pm

While waiting for Nicola to shop recently, I went to a cafe with my youngest so that he could have hot chocolate and chocolate cake (yes I know, but it was my day off from dentistry and anyway, chocolate is good for you). On the menu was a thai spiced pumpkin soup which sounded nice, but when I had some was a bit of a disappointment. It was firey a bit coconutty, but that was it really. Thai food has a flavour all of it's own and I would never say this was authentic but it is certainly more what I was expecting that day - coriander and lime along with that sherbet lemonyness from the lemongrass, all backed up with some fire from the chilli. 

- Put some oil in a pan and gently cook the following. One onion, 3 cloves of garlic, a thumb sized piece of ginger root, a red chilli and 1/2 a teaspoon of black pepper, all peeled if neccessary and roughly chopped.
- Meanwhile peel and chop a three inch piece of squash and a golden Kumara.
- Scrape out the onions etc into a bowl, add some more oil, turn up the heat and put in the pumpkin and kumara. Let them cook until the edges start to blacken, shuffling them about a bit occasionally with a wooden spoon.
- Return the onions etc to the pan, add in a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock, a couple of lime leaves, and some lemongrass. If you have the real thing I would go for 4 stalks (peeled and sliced) but I only had some ready prepared stuff so used a dessertspoonfull.
- Turn the heat down and leave to simmer until cooked.
- Liquidise the soup along with a big handfull of coriander.
- Return it all to the washed out saucepan along with a dessertspoon of fish sauce, the juice of a lime, a tin of coconut milk and if neccessary a little salt (or more lime juice or lemongrass . . . whatever you fancy really.)

Served with some feta and more coriander it was mildly spiced, the pumpkin flavour coming through along with a flouryness from the kumara (a potato would do the same job). I like quite a fragrant flavour, hence all the coriander but as I say, you can alter the spicing to what you like.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chicken, Spinach and Bean soup

Sunday 8.59pm

Inspired I think by our new rustic wall cabinet I decided to make a more down to earth simple soup. This was the result. Now with only a few ingredients the quality of the stock will be important, so here is where a home made stock really comes into it's own. Vegetable or chicken would work fine, I used chicken made from the roast chicken carcass that the chicken for the soup came from.

- Start with a base made from a small onion, two cloves of garlic and a stick or two of celery, all chopped quite finely and cooked gently in some olive oil until soft and transparent but not coloured.
- You'll need a handfull of chicken later, I used left over roast chicken but if you start with a raw chicken breast then bring your stock to the boil now and pop in the chicken to cook -about ten minutes.
- Once the base is ready add in a tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed.
- Stir them around so they mix with the base, but gently because tinned beans are quite delicate and you don't want them to break up.
- Add in the stock - a pint and a quarter, and bring to a gentle boil. Again you don't want to boil too fiercely or the beans will turn to mush.
- Cook gently for fifteen to twenty minutes then add a handfull of cooked chicken and continue cooking for ten minutes or so until it is heated through.
- Check the seasoning, it may need a little salt. Some black pepper is always a good idea and finally a squeeze of lemon juice.

Spinach, especially baby spinach takes very little cooking so just tear up a few leaves, put them into the soup bowls and ladle the soup over. It will cook in the heat from the soup.

This soup has quite a simple taste so some bread with rosemary on top goes well along with some grated parmesan if you like.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008


Saturday 7.56pm

Sitting as I am on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, it shouldn't be a surprise really, but people in New Zealand love sushi. They eat it just as I would a bag of chips from a fish and chip shop. That is chips as in french fries not what I would call crisps or chippies here. Here sushi bars are everywhere but in Edinburgh I only remember one, on Rose street I think, and mesmerised as I was by the little conveyor belt that went round with the dishes on it I never actually ventured inside. I was a sushi virgin. But on the nineteenth of September at seven o'clock in the evening that all changed. In our family, on your birthday you get to choose what your birthday tea will be. And this year I chose sushi. Served up by Nicola and our youngest dressed in Kimonos I cannot say it was exactly a hit. As the only one in our family who actually like fish (fish fingers don't really count), this was not a complete surprise. 

So I ate most of the sushi. And it was strange and tasted of the sea. I can't say I disliked it but can't say I liked it either. But I'll be trying it again I think.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Not French onion soup

Saturday 8.20pm

Mention onion soup and French onion soup is what immediately springs to mind. Made with beef stock, wine and onions, and served with cheese on toast, it is a perfect winter soup. But I didnt want that. No, I wanted something a bit lighter, so this is my version - an onion soup but definetely not French.

- Three big onions are peeled and chopped into your favourite shape. I like to half them and then slice thinly so that I get long thin pieces in my soup.
- Set them to cook very slowly in a quarter inch slice of butter with a little bit of olive oil along with the leaves from a couple of sprigs of thyme, probably a dessertspoonfull or so. Don't forget the extractor fan as well.

This is the important step. The onions must be cooked softly and slowly until they caramelise, going soft and golden brown because this is where the flavour develops. It will take ages, at least half an hour - mine took a good three quarters, so find something else to do meantime. I browsed the internet looking for french onion soup pictures and stumbled upon this blog.

- gradually add a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock then bring to the boil and simmer gently for fifteen minutes or so until it tastes good. 

"et voila" sorry, I mean there it is, onion soup.

Rather than cheese on toast I served mine with some grated parmesan and some cashew nuts that I made into a sort of cream by liquidising a handfull with a little water, enough to make a paste. Apart than that all it needed was some black pepper, oh and brown bread of course.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

The tree of happiness

Friday 6.22pm

Nicola has tagged me with this meme - "The tree of happiness" I have to list six things that make me happy. She has also stipulated that they have to be food inspired. So, in no particular order they are . . . . 

1. Soup. Obviously. I liken it to painting, sketching really, with flavours.

2. Traditional cooking, old fasioned recipes that make the most of what you have, especially if they belong to the area you live in.

3. Seasonal ingredients. Although it is always nice to have green beans at Christmas I feel my body needs and expects certain things at certain times of the year.

4. Organic produce. We need to treat the world and the rest of its inhabitants with respect. The more organic produce I see the happier I am.

5. Cooking for other people. The whole thing, tiring as it is, from planning to preparing and serving. It is a good feeling to have fed four, five, six or more people succesfully and see them enjoying themselves. My first few Christmas and Sunday lunches I count as a big success in my life.

6. Lemon tart. My most favourite pudding ever, served with cream poured over of course.

And now I need to nominate someone to continue this . . . . Jo I think, should be interesting, might involve beer perhaps (and I am all for beer).

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Curried Parsnip Soup

Sunday 7am

Spring has just begun here in New Zealand, traditionally the time to be eating over wintered root vegetables, Brussels sprouts, and leeks. In the UK supermarkets have killed seasonal eating of course with green beans flown in from Kenya and so on, but here in NZ, miles from anywhere food is still quite seasonal. I like that. My body does too and I find I crave diferent things at different times of the year.

Here is my recipe for a spiced parsnip soup. I find parsnips can be a bit harsh but at this time of year, having been through a few frosts they are at their best and this soup brings out their sweetness.

- Put some olive oil and a quarter inch slice of butter in a pan to melt over a low    heat.
- Peel and chop a small onion, add it and leave to cook slowly until soft and        golden brown, this will take a good ten to fifteen minutes but don't hurry it, it  is  sweetness we are after here.
- Scoop out the onions into a bowl, turn up the heat and add three peeled and chopped parsnips.
- Let them cook until they begin to brown in patches and char at the edges. This  is the sugar in them caramelising and again brings out the sweetness.
- Put the onions back in along with a pint and a quarter of half strenght vegetable  stock, turn down until gently bubbling and leave until the parsnips are cooked,  twenty minutes or so usually.
- Liquidise the soup and return to the cleaned pan to reheat.

For the spicing most recipes add a teaspoonfull of curry powder but I prefer to choose my own spices and add them whole in a method I have seen for finishing off a dahl.

- put a little oil and some butter to melt melt ans sizzle in a fying pan.
- once the sizzling dies down add half a cinnamon stick, a couple of cardamom  pods and a teaspoonfull each of fennel seeds and cumin seeds.
- Fry them gently, taking them off the heat instantly as soon as they start to pop  and brown.
- Stir in a spoonful of ground coriander the add it all to the soup, or swirl it into individual bowls as you serve  

The spicing should be mild and not at all overpowering. I like the way that the seeds stay whole and you can crunch them as you eat releasing that fennel or cumin flavour in a burst. If your guests would be traumatised by the sight of all that butter being poured in you could of course toast the spices in a dry frying pan and serve them in a bowl at the table for everybody to scatter over their soup themselves.

Parsnip soup, perfect for a frosty winters day.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Mushroom and Walnut soup

Sunday 8.30am

This is a soup that I have been thinking of for a long time but for some reason have never got round to making. Shame really because it is quite delicious. Walnuts can be quite strongly flavoured but when cooked on top of bread are much milder, so I have roasted them this way first for my soup. - Put the oven on to heat, say 190 centigrade.If you are making bread as well you'll need it on anyway.

- roughly chop a small onion and a celery stalk and put them on to cook slowly in some oil and butter, enough to cover the bottom of the pan.
- make up some vegetable stock - a pint and a quarter.

- put a handfull of walnuts on a baking tray, pour on some olive oil and roll them around a bit until coated. Put them in the oven to toast.

- while everything is cooking, chop up a good couple of handfuls of mushrooms say eight ounces.

- keep an eye on the walnuts because they burn very quickly, take them out as soon as they start to change colour and go golden brown.

- once the onions and celery are translucent and golden coloured as well, add the mushrooms and stir about a bit to mix and let them cook gently until all the liquid that come out has just about disappeared.

- meanwhile put the walnuts in a ziplock bag and whack them with a rolling pin until well crushed and then put them in a bowl covered with some vegetable stock ( half strength rapunzel as usual )

- the rest of the stock goes into the pan and left to simmer gently until the mushrooms are cooked, not long say ten minutes.

- now for the messy bit. Put the walnuts and stock into a liquidiser and whizz them up a bit. Gradually add the rest of the soup from the pan and continue until it is all as smooth as you like.

- and thats it, just return the soup to the now washed out saucepan to reheat.

Mine did not need any salt or pepper but you'll try yours to check.
At first the soup tasted quite mushroomy so I roasted another handfull of walnuts and whizzed the whole lot in the liquidiser again. Now it tasted quite walnuty so I suppose you could vary things using anywhere from 2 to 4 ounces of walnuts depending on what you fancy.

I had mine with some bread to which I had added a teaspoonfull of garam masala. It had quite a weird flavour, a bit like hot cross buns but went well with the soup. Some of Nicola's sundried tomato bread would have been great as well.

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