Sunday, November 23, 2008


Sunday 10.03am

Sometimes all you need is one ingredient, cooked and served simply to allow all the nuances of the flavour to come through. Especially if you have spent the day over indulging on alcohol and snack food at a Christmas outing.

For me mushrooms does the trick. Any sort will do, sliced and fried in a little oil and butter until they just turn golden at the edges without being too soft. Served along with some lightly buttered toast the whole thing takes a few minutes to prepare and has an almost zen-like calmness and simplicity about it. Perfect.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Broad Bean and Sweet Potato Soup

Saturday 3.05pm

The broad beans are here still going strong, so how about a broad bean soup? Broad beans often have quite a floury texture when cooked and so do sweet potatoes so I have put them together in this mildly spiced soup.

- Put some olive oil on to heat gently and add in an onion, a clove of garlic and a piece of ginger root about the size of your thumb. All peeled and chopped as appropriate.
- While they cook gently peel and roughly chop half a sweet potato and pod about the same amount of beans.
- When the onions are translucent and beginning to turn golden pop in the beans, the potato and a teaspoon of ground cumin seeds.
- Stir around to mix everything, turning the heat up so that the potato begins to brown at the edges.
- Pour in a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock, lower the heat and leave to cook until the sweet potato is soft and can be squashed easily against the side of the pan with your wooden spoon.
- Liquidise it.
- Now broad beans have a sort of skin that comes off when cooked and will now be in little bits all through the soup. Whilst probably great for roughage I think best removed, so put a sieve over a bowl, pur in the soup and stir around with a wooden spoon to force the soup through leaving the bits behind.
- Add a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper if necessary, tasting it until it is right for you. (some ground black pepper never goes amiss in my book)
- Reheat and serve with lots of chopped coriander leaves.

Try serving this to someone who thinks they do not like broad beans, there are a few of them out there, then stand back and watch them change their minds!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Minestrone soup

Friday 10.02am

Minestrone On the way back from The Round Pond yesterday we stopped to buy some strawberries and also some broad beans. the first beans to ripen in the year, you just know that Spring has properly arrived when they appear in the shops. And they are so pretty, encased as they are in their thick foamlike pods like the most precious and valuable jewellery. We were not quite sure what to do with them, especially as we were all in and out at different times tonight so Nicola suggested Minestrone soup, using whatever was in the fridge and some of the beans.

Minestrone is of course an Italian vegetable soup built upon whatever vegetables you have to hand, with a base of tomatoes and onions and thickened with pasta. The vegetables will vary but this is the version I made last night.

- Fry a large onion and a clove of garlic, both peeled and chopped slowly in some olive oil. - Meanwhile prepare the veg and add it to the pan. I used a couple of carrots, a courgette, and of course a couple of big handfulls of broad beans.
- Stir to mix it all and add a tin of tomatoes and some stock, I used chicken out of the fridge but vegetable from stock powder is fine. About a pint and a half, it will look quite thin but the pasta will soak a lot up later.
- Let the soup simmer until it is all cooked, about twenty minutes the carrots will take the longest.
- Add in a handfull of pasta, I like spaghetti (broken up).
- Let it cook until the spaghetti is tender, five/ten minutes I suppose I like Minestrone to be quite fresh tasting, so I try to cook it as little as possible and then as I reheat it to serve I add a few handfulls of fresh green herbs. this time it was a handfull of Oregano, a few soft Thyme shoots and a couple of handfulls of parsley both flat leaved and the other one (whatever it is called).

And to serve? Well parmesan of course if you want and although Nicola disagrees I think some bread with cumin seeds on top goes perfectly.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008


Saturday 11.05am

Muffins seem to have been the thing for the last few years, but having been brought up in Scotland what I like to make are scones. They are just as easy to make, can be sweet or savoury and if you started right now you could be eating warm scones in less than half an hour.

How? Well put 8oz of self raising flour in a mixing bowl along with a pinch of salt and 2oz of butter or margarine. Dip your fingertips in and rub your fingers and thumbs together, kind of smearing the butter between them mixing in the flour. Keep going until the mixture looks roughly like breadcrumbs. Now add any flavourings you fancy - a handfull of grated cheese, some nuts or chives perhaps or any type of fruit, chocolate even if that is your desire. My favourite at the moment is cheese and cumin seeds (about a teaspoonfull), the smell whilst cooking is just glorious.

Next pour in some milk and mix it all together until you get a sticky (but not runny) batter. I always use a knife for this. The amount of milk will vary with the flour, the wetness of your ingredients and the humidity at the time, so just play it by eye, adding more milk or flour as necessary. It is all pretty forgiving really.

Tip the batter onto a floured board and roll it out to half an inch or so in thickness. Now make some shapes - either one big round one scored into triangles or use a pastry cutter. Pop them into a hottish oven, 180 to 200 centigrade, and cook until pale brown on top - 10 minutes or less usually. They will not rise to the dizzy heights of a cafe scone or muffin ( but do I care? ) and will be a coarse-ish texture with a sort of dryness to them.

Bring the scones out of the oven, butter and eat them immediately. Then make some more.

Next day if there are any left - toast and butter them.

Oh and of course they go perfectly with any kind of homely soup - potato, mushroom, that sort of thing.

And talking of perfect - to my mind there is nothing more perfect than a cheese scone still warm from the oven, with butter, sliced tomato and a little salt.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Freezer love

Sunday 5.53pm

Feeling out of sorts today and not keen to do anything, even cook which is unlike me. So lunch is some spiced pumpkin soup from the freezer along with some crunchy fresh chives from the garden and some undemanding reading.

I freeze all my leftover soup in big yogurt pots, usually in two person servings so it is easy to defrost something quickly for lunch or whatever. It is also an excellent way to transport soup to work for lunch especially if you cycle like I used to in my last job, no chance of spillage if your lunch is frozen and there is usually a bit of space in the top of the pot for any additions I fancy - cheese, chives, whatever. Unfortunately in my current job the staffroom is pretty well in the surgery and any cooking smells waft straight through, and as quiet comments have been made about the smell it is back to cheese sandwiches for me at the moment.

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