Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Bacon and Pear Salad

An Autumn salad, for that is when the pears ripen. But of course nowadays we can get just about anything we like all year round and my pears came from the United States. 

- Start by frying some bacon slices. I had some pancetta that Nicola’s brother kindly sent us as a Christmas present but unsmoked Streaky would be nice as well.
- Make a dressing. I used three tablespoons of olive oil (not extra virgin, just the ordinary stuff that I use for cooking) mixed with one of redwine vinegar along with two teaspoonfulls of grainy mustard and the same of damson jelly if you have it or honey if you do not, and a little salt and black pepper.
- Meanwhile fill some bowls with a little nest of green lettuce leaves - not iceberg please, but the floppy type that you get in the summer.
- Mix in a couple of sliced spring onions and some cucumber sliced thinly into discs and then cut again into semicircles.
-Take a pear and cut some wedge shaped slices vertically from it and tuck them in amongst the lettuce leaves.
- Once the bacon is just crispy, take it off the heat and tearing the slices into strips tuck them amongst the pear slices.
- Top with the dressing and serve immediately before the lettuce wilts from the heat of the bacon.

The idea of seasonal eating has always appealed to me, but it was not until we moved here to New Zealand from the UK that I actually tried it. Before it was always just such a temptation to have green beans or cherry tomatoes in the middle of Winter, but now I cannot describe the pleasure I get when the asparagus or cherries appear in the shops for that brief few weeks that they are available. It keeps me alive and inspired to cook new things. I like that.`

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Cool Green Salad

I struggle with Iceberg lettuce. It goes nicely with chicken or bacon, but on it’s own all there is crunch and then dissapointment. I think the problem is that I have tried to gee up the emptyness of the iceberg with strong flavours when what it needs is quiet companions that will not overpower its subtle green bitterness. And that is what I did today - kept it simple and came up with a lovely accompanyment to a tart made with puff pastry topped with brie, sweet bell peppers and sprinkled chives.

- Tear up a bowlful of iceberg leaves.
- Add in say, half a cucumber siced into chunks.
- Finally thinly slice three or four spring onions and add them to the bowl.
- Stir it all together and top with a dressing made from three or four tablespoonfuls of greek yoghurt, the juice of a lemon and some coursely ground black pepper.

I have noticed lately that whereas I make soups from flavours, salads for me are very much a visual thing first closely followed by texture. Hence I see my salads as colour combinations and rarely mix a large number of ingredients preferring to make several salads instead and can end up with a whole colour wheel on the table if I am not careful.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Salad of Fried Potatoes with a Moroccan influence

I have never been to Morocco, and chances are I never will. To be honest it is quite far down my list of places I would like to see, and although I have eaten several dishes described as “tagine” I often doubt that they have been anywhere nearer to Morocco than I have. So the influence here is my attempt to recreate that feeling, that taste and smell I have in my head of what Morocco is all about. To me it involves a dark mixture of cinnamon and cumin, shot through with the vibrancy of mint and lemon.

It is also late Spring way down here under the world and as usual my soup making has fallen back a bit to be replaced by the salads my body craves at this time of year.

- Begin by boiling some potatoes. I like to leave the skins on and quarter them into biggish bite sized pieces.
- Cook for ten minutes or so until just cooked and a pointed knife will meet just a little resistance in the middle - you don’t want them to fall apart when fried later.
- Meantime take a mixture of salad leaves and put them in a bowl with a couple of thinly sliced spring onions.
- Thinly slice two or three mint leaves, add to the bowl with the juice of half a lemon. Mix it all together gently.
- Once the potatoes are cooked, put some olive oil into a frying pan and leave to heat up.
- Drain the potatoes into a colander and allow to sit and steam dry for a couple of minutes.
- Make a spice mixture up in a bowl ready to add to the potatoes. I used two teaspoons each of ground cinnamon and cumin seeds, along with a teaspoon of fennel seeds and perhaps half a teaspoon each of crushed chilli flakes and turmeric.
- Pop the potatoes into the hot frying and cook on a hottish heat, stirring occasionally until they start to brown.
- Take the pan off the heat and stir in the spice mixture - the spices just need warming through and the last thing you want to do is burn them.
- Add a little salt to the potatoes if they need it.
- Finally make up a dressing from a tablespoon and a half of mayonnaise from a jar with the juice of a lime squeezed in.

Now just put it all together - salad goes into a bowl to make a nest, then a few potatoes go in and a spoonful or two of dressing is dribbled over, with the rest of the bowl put on the table for people to help themselves. Be quick with this though because as soon as the potatoes hit the salad leaves they will begin to wilt and I think the joy of a salad such as this is the contrast between the hot ingredient and the cool crispyness of the lettuce.


(Oh and if there are any left over potatoes mix them with some more mayonnaise to make a salad for lunch tomorrow, you'll be glad you did . . .)

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mushroom, Bacon (or Celery) and Marscapone soup

Australia has decided to send a storm across to us and as Spring has gone into hiding, I have gone back to Autumn for inspiration today. Something warm, heavy and comforting is called for and mushrooms and bacon fit the bill here for me, along with some marscapone to add a thick, creamy comfortness. Oh, and a touch of thyme as well, just to remind us that Spring will soon be back again. I used free range smoked bacon but if you are vegetarian I would swap it for a stick or two of celery which will taste different of course but give the same effect.

- Peel and chop an onion and set to cook slowly in some olive oil along with a couple of rashers of bacon chopped up.
- Leave to cook slowly until the onion is soft and turning golden.
- Add in a small palmfull of thyme leaves and a couple of handfulls of mushrooms roughly chopped.
- Pour over a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock and leave to simmer until the mushrooms are cooked, ten to fifteen minutes I should think.
- Blend the soup smooth and return to the saucepan.
- Spoon in a tablespoon or so of marscapone cheese, some salt and ground black pepper if it needs it and reheat gently.

Coursely ground black pepper is pretty well compulsory when I am cooking and the lemonyness is a lovely foil to the mushrooms, and occasionally I’ll squeeze in some lemon juice as well if I feel like it to add in a bit of freshness.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Celery and Walnut soup

Pretty obvious combination really - celery and walnuts and it does make a lovely mild and creamy soup. Some grated cheddar would be lovely on top but on the way to the cheese I found a jar of ploughmans pickle and so . . .

- Peel and chop half an onion and a clove of garlic and pop in a saucepan with three or four chopped celery sticks and leave to cook slowly in a little olive oil for ten minutes or so
- Add half a potato and then pour over a pint of vegetable stock.
-leave to simmer gently until the potatoes are soft, another ten minutes I should think.
- Shell and crush a few walnuts I used four, and leave to soak in a bowl covered with some of the stock.
- Once the soup is cooked, pour it into a blender, add in the softened walnuts and blend it all smoothish.
- Return to the now washed saucepan, reheat and serve.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Kumara and Coriander soup

It is officially Spring down here in the Southern hemisphere and here in Hawkes Bay we have had some glorious days. But it doesn’t do to get too complacent because September usually has a few surprises in store. I am prepared though with a Winter soup made with the last of the seasons Kumara (sweet potato) that I found at the farmers market. Teamed up with the lemony tang of coriander seeds it makes for a creamy, subtly flavoured and comforting soup.

- Begin by slowly frying an onion, peeled and chopped, in some olive oil and a slice of butter. Keep the heat low and cook the onion slowly for a good fifteen minutes until soft and honey coloured.
- Add in two or three teaspoons on ground coriander seeds and cook for a further minute or so. Try to use whole seeds if you can, grinding them yourself in a pestle and mortar because ready ground seeds quickly lose their flavour and it is that lovely lemony tang of the freshly ground seed that we are after here.
- Peel and chop up one or two kumara depending on how big they are and add them into the saucepan. Turn the heat up and stir it all around.
- Pour in a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for a further twenty minutes or so until the kumara is soft.
- Blend the soup smooth in a blender, return to the pan and reheat adding some salt if it needs it.

Serve with something green on top - I had some chives but I think parsley would have been a better choice. Oh and a squeeze of lime juice as well . . .

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tomato and Cumin soup

You have been working late but have finally arrived home. Tired and hungry you gaze hopefully into the fridge, but there is nothing that interesting there . . . so what do you do?

Open a tin? Of course you do, but not of some preprepared foodstuff that probably tastes like every other ready food out there. No you are a creative individual and so open a can of the best invention ever . . . tinned tomatoes. 

- Peel and chop half an onion and a big clove of garlic and fry slowly in some olive oil.
- Add in a small potato, peeled and diced, and continue to cook slowly until the onion is translucent - ten minutes or so.
- Pour in a tin of tomatoes, half a pint of half strength vegetable stock from a powder and a handfull of chopped fresh parsley in you have some.
- Bring to a gentle boil and continue to cook for another ten minutes until the potato is soft.
- Meanwhile pop a dry frying pan on to heat. Put a teaspoonful of cumin seeds and let them toast for a few minutes. Watch carefully in case they burn removing the seeds from the heat just as they turn a darker brown and smell lovely.
- Once the soup is cooked mash up the potato, onion and tomatoes with a potato masher, leaving it all a bit chunky.
- Check and add salt if neccesary and reheat.
- Ladle into a bowl and sprinkle over some of the cumin seeds along with anything you may have found in the fridge - I had sour cream but feta would have been nice as well ( don’t add salt to your soup before tasting it with the feta, as feta can be pretty salty)

 This is a very simplified version of Tomato and Rosemary soup with Cumin instead of Rosemary. Cumin seems to be my favourite spice at the moment, especially with tomatoes - the lemonyness of the Cumin complimenting the tomatoes beautifully. Just be carefull not to add too much as it can easily overpower everything else, a teaspoonful between two people seems about right to me, but taste it and see . . . 

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Potato, Rosemary and Brie soup

Definitely a Winter soup this one. Potatoes, onion, bacon and cheese - all good things that are warming, filling and go together beautifully. Tie that all together with rosemary and saffron and you know that whilst it may be cold outside Summer will soon not be far away . . . 

- Pop a pan on to heat with some butter and olive oil.
- Pop in half an onion, a clove of garlic (peeled and roughly chopped) and a slice of bacon cut into pieces.
- Leave to cook on a medium heat until all is cooked and the onion is translucent and brown at the edges.
- Add in a couple of potatoes, peeled and chopped, and fry a bit longer stirring occasionally until the potato absorbs the flavours and begin to brown at the edges as well.
- Pour over a pint and a half of vegetable stock , bring to a gentle boil and pop in a sprig of rosemary and a pinch of saffron stamens.

Now rosemary is pretty strong and can easily overpower everything else so keep tasting the soup and as soon as you think the flavour is getting too strong fish out the rosemary. My sprig was about three inches long and it was in for about 5 minutes but it all depends on your plant. If at the end you do not think the rosemary flavour is strong enough, just put the sprig back in again whilst you warm the soup up again.

- Continue to simmer gently until the potatoes are soft - say another ten minutes or so.
- take the soup off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or so then blend almost smooth.
- Put the soup back into the saucepan along with a handful of chopped up brie and reheat gently but do not boil because the soup will go tough and stringy (or so I have read, it has never happened to me).

I left the rind on the brie for texture and because I think it looks pretty this way.

- Check for seasoning adding a little salt and black pepper if required and once warmed through serve.

I had some bacon in the fridge so this is obviously not a vegetarian soup . . . but it could easily be, just miss out the bacon and add some celery instead.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Roast Tomato soup

I spent today thinking of Tuscany. I am not sure if this is exactly true but I seem to remember reading that in Tuscany they use a lot of bread in cooking. The reason for this is because the powers that be at the time decided to raise some money by taxing salt. Hence to save money the Tuscans made bread without salt. But the downside of this was that the bread went stale more quickly resulting in various dishes that used stale bread imaginatively.

This soup has nothing to do with Tuscany of course, but it was delicious . . . . and I think the best way to use stale bread is to make croutons!

- Put your oven on to it’s hottest setting.
- In an oven proof dish put 5 or six tomatoes, an onion, a couple of cloves of garlic and a bunch of Thyme. (Peel and roughly chop each as appropriate.)
- Sprinkle over some salt, ground black pepper and a couple of tablespoonfuls of olive oil. 
- Stir it all about a bit and pop in the oven.
- Leave to cook until the tomatoes are blackened around the edges - twenty minutes or so depending on how hot the oven is.
- Meanwhile roughly chop some stale bread, I had a bit of left over ciabatta, put in a bowl with salt, pepper and a crushed and chopped clove of garlic.
- Pour over another tablespoonful or two of olive oil, stir, and leave to sit.
- Ten minutes before the tomatoes are ready put the croutons onto a baking tray and place in the oven.
- The will be fine, but watch the croutons because they will quickly burn. Take them out just as they get golden brown and just charred at the edges.
- Take the tomatoes from the oven, allow to cool fro a few minutes then pour into a sieve over a bowl.
- Use a wooden spoon to rub the tomato mixture through the sieve, removing the skins, seeds and stalks etc in the process.
- Put the tomato sauce into a saucepan with an equal amount of vegetable stock and a small potato peeled and chopped smallish.
- Bring back to a simmer and cook until the potato is soft.
- Finally crush the potato up a bit with a masher, check and add more salt or pepper if required and the soup is made.

Serve with the croutons, a squeeze of lemon juice and some bright green chopped parsley.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Leek and Oatmeal soup

A simple restorative soup for when you are all bunged up with flu and feeling miserable.

Like me.

Fry a chopped leek slowly in some butter and olive oil until soft, translucent and faintly golden brown, ten minutes at least. Add in a good handfull of rolled oats, stir about a bit and leave to cook for a few minutes. Pour in a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock and simmer gently until the oats are cooked but still have some bite, mine took a bit over half an hour. Season and serve.

I had mine with croutons and a handfull of chopped parsley.

Now you may notice that I have posted this recipe before but Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa's Kitchen has a monthly event - "No Croutons required" and seeing as this is one of my favourite soups, and one of my favourite photos, and seeing as I am bunged up with the flu again . . . well I thought I would enter this one.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Carrot and Peanut soup

Another Thai inspired soup today. It wasn’t supposed to end up that way but it is wet and rainy here so I thought some ginger would help keep us warm. Then I overdid the chilli a little and so added coconut milk to cool it down a little and the whole thing headed east . . .

- Simmer a small onion, a couple of cloves of garlic and a thumb sized piece of ginger root (peeled and chopped or sliced) in some oil quite quickly until the onion is turning transparent.
- Meanwhile put a couple of tablespoons of roasted, unsalted peanuts in a blender with enough stock to cover and whizz them smoothish.
- Once the onion is turning clear add in half a rteaspoon of dried chilli flakes and three carrots peeled and roughly chopped followed by a pint of vegetable stock. - Pour in the peanut mush and bring to the boil.
- Simmer gently until the carrot is cooked.
- Blend the soup smooth and reheat with a dessertspoonful of tamari or soy sauce, the juice of half a lime and a third of a tin of coconut milk.

You should end up with a beautiful apricot coloured soup that I served with some coriander leaves.

Carrots have a nuttiness to them that I think echos the taste of peanuts so I’ll probably try this one again but without the ginger and chilli and coconut, hopefully ending up with a much simpler soup that just brings out the flavours of the carrots and peanuts. Some thyme might be nice here . . . .

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Spinach and Coconut soup

Chilli, ginger and lemongrass complement the lemonyness of the spinach and add a zingy background to this creamy soup. It is also a classic example of the way i make a soup from three parts, the base the thickening and the main ingredient. If you want to know more it is all explained in my book which is absolutely free and has been downloaded over 2000 times now! (If you would like a copy just follow the links and my ramblings on the right.)

Ok the main ingredient is spinach of course but first construct the base.

- In a saucepan put some olive oil then fry a small onion, a clove of garlic both peeled and sliced.
- Add in a third to a half of a red chilli sliced. How much depends on how hot you like your soup. Less is usually better than more if you are not sure.
- Add a thumb sized piece of ginger sliced and a dessertspoonful of sliced lemongrass. (mine comes ready sliced in a tube).
- Quickly cook all this until the onion goes translucent.

All of this forms the base of the soup - slightly thai influenced in this case.

- Now add in a small potato, peeled and roughly chopped. This will thicken the soup.
- Pour in a pint or so of vegetable stock and leave to simmer until the potato is soft, ten to fifteen minutes I should think.
- Now pop in the main ingredient, spinach. A two or three big handfuls should do it, rinsed under the tap to remove any soil.
- The spinach will cook in a couple of minutes and then blend the whole lot smooth.
- Reheat adding a third of a tin of coconut milk, the juice of half a lime and a little salt if you think it needs it.

I served mine with a few mint leaves sliced up. Coriander or basil would have been good as well.

Coconut milk is a great ingredient to have in your cupboard, I try it with just about everything eventually because it adds a slightly exotic creamyness as well as being dead easy to use - just open the tin and pour it into the soup at the end as you reheat it. Taste as you go and reheat gently because it might curdle, although I have never worried myself because it does not seem to affect the flavour. I buy 14oz cans and freeze what is left over in small amounts say a third of a tin because that is what I usually use for a pint of soup.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009


"Nowadays we are so used to getting food pre-prepared, ready to eat,that we hardly consider how it gets there.You order it over the phone or internet, or you open the tin and warm it through, or you take it out of the freezer and microwave it, and hey presto or “ding” should I say, there it is on your plate ready to eat. Even recipes are pretty foolproof, you could probably go from start to finish without tasting and the end result would be fine.
But that is not what we are after here. No, we are constructing something from scratch, so taste everything all the way through. Watch how the flavours change, how the stock overpowers everything at the beginning but then mellows during cooking as the other flavours develop and come through.

And think about what you’re tasting, is it nice? Is it what you expected? Does it need something else? If it does you’ll know, you may not know what, but you will know that the taste is not quite right. Here is where I experiment. I’ll take a spoonful and add a little bit to that spoonful, say yoghurt perhaps or lemon juice or some feta cheese. Then I’ll taste that and if it works – fine, if not I still have my soup. This way you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, and gather a whole lot of ideas that work (or don’t) for the future."

I have become a bit obsessed with tv chefs lately. Or not them as such but their behaviour. To be specific - whether they taste things as they go along. I have noticed that some do and some don’t. Or do they, as Nicola suggested try things but then that bit is just cut out, hmmmm . . .

Because you have to taste as you go along don’t you? I taste everything, including things I shouldn’t like food my children have touched or some more disgusting things (the cheese sandwich found in a skip (dumpster), comes to mind but is best forgotten!). But does everybody, have recipes become so precise and predictable that tasting and adjusting are no longer required ?

I have noticed that the chefs I like to watch, from Rachel Allen through to Nigella and Jamie Oliver do taste as they go along but that is probably part of their appeal, they cook like I do or rather I would like to cook like they do. Having noticed that leaves me wondering even more about all the other chefs . . .

Perhaps I need to get out more.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cream of Fennel and Roast Garlic Soup

Nicola found some fennel bulbs at the farmers market and brought a couple home for me. At the same time I really enjoyed the garlic in the mushroom and garlic soup last week and so decided to combine the fennel with garlic and cream aiming for a creamy consoling soup. When cooked fennel has quite a subtle flavour so I have roasted the garlic which mellows it beautifully. You could roast the fennel and onion as well if you like but I didn’t.

-Begin with the garlic. Put the oven on to 190 centigrade. Take a whole bulb of garlic, snip off the top with some scissors, put on a baking tray and pour over a little olive oil and some salt.
- Pop in the oven and roast until the cloves are soft enough to squash between your fingers, twenty minutes to half an hour probably.
- Meanwhile peel and chop up a small onion and a couple of fennel bulbs.
- Cook gently in a tablespoon or two of olive oil
- Take the garlic out of the oven and allow it to cool. Then separate the cloves and squeeze them out into the onion and fennel pan. The flavour really is quite mild so use the whole bulb.
- Add in a small palmfull of thyme leaves and stir it all about.
- Pour over about three quarters of a pint of chicken or vegetable stock and leave to simmer until the fennel is soft, maybe another twenty minutes.
- Allow the soup to cool a little and then blend smooth.
- Reheat again adding some salt if neccessary, black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, and then some cream. I never add much cream, a dessertspoonful or two is all that is required to give the soup a creamyness without over powering the rest of the ingredients.


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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Failure, or a pretty cool way to crack walnuts

My soup making has gone off lately, nothing seems to taste right. Being bunged up with flu probably has something to do with it. So instead of making soup this weekend, my youngest and I built a small trebuchet.

And then spent the afternoon throwing walnuts around the garden.

Lunch was Courgette, Cumin and Chick Pea soup from the freezer.

If your cooking mojo seems to have left you, don't worry, open a tin or look in the freezer and do something else for a while.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mushroom and Garlic soup

Upping the amount of garlic in the base and a pinch of nutmeg makes for a comforting and very tasty soup that might just drive away the flu that is just lingering on inside my head. The garlic is cooked slowly to bring out it’s sweetness and flavour. You could roast the garlic as well if you have the oven on anyway for something else. If this doesn’t work I’ll just have to blast it away with some chilli and ginger!

- gently fry and onion, a celery stick and three cloves of garlic ( peeled and/or roughly chopped as appropriate) in some olive oil and a big slice of butter.
- leave them to cook for ages until they caramelise to a golden brown. This will take a good fifteen minutes.
- Meanwhile roughly chop up a couple of good handfuls of mushrooms.
- Add the mushrooms to the onions and stir around. Cook until the liquid that comes from the mushrooms has nearly all evaporated or until you get bored waiting.
- Pop in a pinch of ground Nutmeg and a dessertspoonful of plain flour.
- Stir and cook the flour for a couple of minutes.
- Pour in a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock and a small bunch of parsley, chopped.
- Simmer until the mushrooms are cooked then blend the soup smooth.
- Reheat adding salt and black pepper as required.

Serve with a good dollop of soured cream, sit back, enjoy the mushrooms backed up by a gentle garlicky background and think healing thoughts. At least that's what I did. . .

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pea soup

A simple plain soup for those Winter days when Summer seems a long way off.

- Warm some olive oil in a pan and add half an onion and a clove of garlic or two, peeled and chopped.
- Add in a small potato, peeled and chopped into chunks.
- When the onion is soft and translucent add in say four handfulls of frozen peas.
- Pour over a pint and a quarter of half strength vegetable stock.
- Bring to a gentle boil and cook until the peas are soft, fifteen to twenty minutes or so.
- Blend the soup smooth.
- Return to your washed out saucepan, reheat adding a teaspoon or two of Tamari to taste along with some black pepper and salt if required, go carefully though because the Tamari is very salty itself.

And that is all there is too it, half an hour from start to eating . . . I had mine with some grated parmesan and more black pepper.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

An Asian inspired Chicken, Ginger and Spring Onion Soup

After the recent rain it is now one of those clear bright days of Autumn going into Winter. The sun is streaming through the windows and bouncing around the room with a cold intensity that a lazy Summer day could never match. Ever the perfect earth-mother, Nicola has made some stock from the remains of our Sunday roast chicken. It is absolutely delicious, fresh and clean and deserves a starring role in something . . .

I am not an expert but to me the difference between an Asian soup and a Western is their simplicity. Whereas a Western soup would be cooked slowly an Asian one is quick to make, consisting of little more than stock warmed through with a few simple flavourings. This is my take on that idea.

- Put a pint of chicken stock in a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Take a small piece of ginger root, say half the size of your thumb, slice it very thinly and pop it into the stock.
- While the stock is simmering, turn on the grill and prepare the chicken.
- Rub a chicken breast with a little olive oil and lots of salt and ground black pepper.
- Put under the grill and cook until browning at the edges and just cooked through. I do this on a little tin foil box or tray that I fold up so that the juices are collected to add to the soup as well.
- Now back to the stock, and add in half a teaspoon of salt, the same of sugar and about a dessertspoon of light soy sauce. I use an organic Tamari which is quite mild and not too salty, so adjust the amount until it tastes right.
- Slice two spring onions into thin circles.
- Once the chicken is cooked slice or tear it into pieces.
- Add the chicken and spring onions to the stock and serve immediately, nice and hot.

Serve with lots of Winter sunshine.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Vegetable and Walnut Broth

It is wet and very wild here this weekend. Not the sort of weather you want to be out in. Not unless you have something warm and filling to come back to. Like a broth made with barley and dried peas. I was brought up on Scotch broth that my mum would make in the pressure cooker with a small bit of lamb flank or neck. It was fatty, glutinous and tasted delicious on a bitterly cold day. But down here in Hawkes Bay it is somewhat warmer and although there is plenty of lamb I have made a vegetable version with a few walnuts thrown in as well for variety and because they go with the nuttyness of the barley.

You can buy a mixture of barley and dried peas - yellow and green, called (fairly obviously) “broth mixture” or do as I did and mix your own. It is best to think ahead though, because although you can cook dried peas straight from the packet they will take hours and hours to soften. So it is better to pop some in a bowl and soak them in water overnight. Next day rinse in new water, drain and then use.

- Ok so start by slowly frying a peeled and finely chopped onion in some olive oil until soft. This will take longer than you think, a good ten to fifteen minutes.
- Meanwhile peel and grate some vegetables. I like to go heavy on potatoes (a small one) and carrots (two) with some turnip (a small piece) but use whatever you have.
- Also crush up some walnuts, say three, by shelling them, putting them in a ziplock bag and whacking with a rolling pin.
- Once the onion is soft put in a cupful of the drained broth mixture along with the vegetables and walnuts.
- Pour in a pint and a half of vegetable stock and simmer at a gentle boil until the peas are soft. This could take anywhere from half an hour to an hour so just keep checking until they are as soft as you like.
- Finally check for salt and pepper and serve. Some chopped parley or coriander is nice as well if you have some.

This is the sort of soup that is even better next day and will freeze well. But if you haven’t got the time for all of that I have also made a much simpler version here.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

White bean and Celery soup

Every now and then I get the urge to make some particular thing. Today it was something pure, delicate and white. A brief look in the pantry and fridge revealed a small collection of white things - a tin of cannellini beans, some ground almonds, celery, garlic and white onions. Oh, and some white bread. And the result? A white bean and celery soup. I did not use everything I had found and the soup was not even very white, but it was delicious . . . .

- In a tablespoon or two of olive oil, gently fry a peeled and chopped onion, a couple of clove of garlic, two or three sticks of celery and a sage leaf.
- Once they are soft and translucent add in a can of cannellini beans, drained and washed. Stir around and cook for a further minute or two.
- Pour in a glass of white wine, I used Sauvignon Blanc. Bring the heat up and boil until the liquid has nearly all evaporated.
- Add in a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock, reduce the heat and simmer until the celery is soft, say fifteen or twenty minutes.
- Take out the sage leaf and blend the soup smooth.
- Reheat, adding more stock if it is too thick and some salt and a little lemon juice if you think it needs it.

I served mine just as it was, with just a sprinkling of ground black pepper. Oh and some of that white bread as well of course.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

About me

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Potato, Cumin, Yoghurt and Mint soup

Always the bridesmaid, potato rarely gets the starring role in a soup. This is a bit unfair because it has a lovely texture, smooth and creamy with a stickiness about it that is as comforting as porridge is on a cold day. And a potato is a true friend as well, no matter what dire straights I have found myself in there has always been a potato or two in the larder somewhere to make sure I am fed. So today I celebrate the potato with a quite intensly savoury soup that is at the same time tangy as well.

- Gently fry an onion and a clove of garlic (peeled and roughly chopped) in some oil and butter until softly translucent.
- Add in a teaspoon of ground Cunin seeds, a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds, half a teaspoon of ground Blackpepper and half a teaspoon of Turmuric for it's earthiness.
- Stir the spices around a bit for a couple of minutes then add in two or three potatoes peeled and roughly diced, stir around again to mix everything together.
- Pour in a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock, bring to a gentle boil and leave until the potatoes are cooked.
- Blend or liquidise the soup and return to the now washed pan.
- Stir in a tablespoon of creamy greek yoghurt and a small palmfull of sliced mint leaves along with some salt and pepper if required.
- Reheat gently, don't let it boil or the yoghurt will separate into little white bits.
- Serve with another dollop of yoghurt and some more chopped mint.

Student food really but there is nothing wrong with that. Jamie Oliver would be proud of me I think . . . .

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Leek, Tomato and Tarragon soup

This is and old recipe of mine, from the days when I was realising that what I ate didn't have to come from a tin or packet but could be made from real things that were actually growing all around me! In this particular case it was the discovery of fresh herbs. The joy I got then of going out to the garden, picking a bunch of leaves and dropping them into my soup has never left me. French Tarragon in particular I love. It has that sort of "old house" mustiness to it, different to the earthiness of fennel seeds or that larger than life intensity of a star anise . . .

This is also a good one for the end of Winter, beginning of Spring because there will still be leeks standing and everybody has a tin of tomatoes in the larder. Finding fresh herbs might be more difficult, but as I say use whatever you have there'll be Rosemary out there and you can often find Parsley and Tarragon out there sheltering under the leaves and tangled dead stuff.

-Begin with a leek, an onion and a garlic clove. Peel them and as this soup will not be blended, chop them to the size you'll want in the final soup - chunky or small whatever you fancy.
-Fry them gently in some olive oil and butter, until translucent. This will take a good ten or fifteen minutes, don't rush it.
-Add in a tin of tomatoes (if whole I chop the tomatoes up roughly in the pan with a knife) and a pint of vegetable stock.
-Leave to simmer for a further fifteen or twenty minutes until the tomatoes have collapsed and the flavours all blend together.

(This would be a good time to make some cheese scones)

- Once the soup is cooked add in some salt if required and enough ground black pepper to give a warmth in the background (remember it is still winter)
- Now just before serving add in a good handfull or two of fresh herbs, use whatever you have - I like a good handfull of flat leaved parsley and a bit less than half of that of tarragon. Carefull with the Tarragon because it is quite strong.

Serve with your scones buttered still be warm from the oven - delicious.

Does everybody go through that stage in their cookery development? You know discovering that you can actually make things from scratch? I certainly did of course and I see my teenage boys doing it now. They still come and gaze into the fridge and larder, hoping some readymade delight will leap out to be eaten straightaway. Or at most after a couple of minutes in the microwave, because don't you realise that they are hungry right now and have things to do and cannot possibly wait . . . . But now I notice their heads turning to what I am doing at the stove. "What's in the pan?" they'll say. "Leek and tomato soup" I say "would you like some?" "No" they say automatically looking down at the frozen pizza in their hands and then back at the soup with a slightly puzzled expression, thinking . . . The seeds of change are there, beginning to germinate I think, it won't be long now.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

A mildly spiced Kumara and Cream Soup

Nothing new or startlingly different from me here, just a mildly spiced creamy soup. And you know, amidst the hectic bustle and stress of the modern grown up world don't we all need a little comforting familiarity sometimes. Like returning home after a journey this is the type of soup that I look for when it all gets too much out there . . .

- Peel and chop an onion, a clove of garlic and a small red chilli and cook slowly in some olive oil and butter. (I don't bother to remove the chilli seeds anymore, I just slice up the whole thing)

- After ten minutes or so add in two teaspoonsful of ground coriander seeds and the same of ground cumin.
- Peel and chop a Kumara (sweet potato) and pop it in the pan along with a tomato, turning up the heat and stirring it around.
- Pour in a pint and a quarter of half strength vegetable stock, lower the heat to a gentle bubble and do something else for twenty minutes.
- Blend or liquidise the soup, return it to the pan and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and some salt and ground black pepper if you think it needs it. (mine needed a little salt, and black pepper is not really optional when I cook so in it went as well)
- Finally stir in a couple of tablespoonsful of cream as you reheat the soup. I don't like a lot of cream (and often use milk instead) but go with what tastes right for you.

Sit somewhere quiet and peaceful, forget the world outside and enjoy . . .

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Leek, Coriander and Coconut soup

Recipes evolve in strange ways. This soup started as an idea - Leek and Coriander soup. Coriander seeds that is not the green stuff that has all died away now anyway. These two make a beautifull combination especially in a pie with halved or quartered boiled eggs popped in. And as I was stirring the base of leeks, onion and celery whilst they cooked I kept smelling the strangest thing - coconut, so a quick search of the larder uncovered a tin of coconut milk and in it went as well and a creamy soup with a hint of spice was born . . .

- Put a big leek, half an onion and a stick of celery all peeled and roughly chopped as required into a saucepan with some butter and olive oil and left to fry slowly until all meltingly soft and fragrant.
- Add in two teaspoonfulls of ground coriander seeds, a sage leaf and a small potato peeled and chopped. Stir and cook for a further couple of minutes.

You could use just leeks of course but I like the combination of leek and onion and the celery was in the fridge anyway and it all goes to add more depth to the ultimate flavor. I always cook my spices in oil as well, either as part of the base or separately in some oil or butter if I am adding them at the end. I find that if I don't they have a sort of powdery taste, but also I love the way the fragrances come out as you warm them through in the hot oil.

- Pour in a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock turn the heat up until it comes to a gentle boil and simmer until the potato is soft, say fifteen minutes or so.
- Blend it all smooth and return to the pan along with a third of a tin of coconut milk - 100 mls or so. Taste it to see, you don't want the coconut to over power everything else.
- Add some salt and pepper if you think it needs it (mine did) and gently reheat.

Mild and creamy as it is, you need a bit of contrast to stop it becoming sickly so serve with a good squeeze of lime juice or even better do what I did and make a simple salsa of chopped tomato, chilli and lime zest and juice.

It was just what I needed today and hence absolutely delicious.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Beetroot and Cumin soup

Intense earthy flavours for Autumn here. This is a time of the woodlands and fields, of rich earthy smells and sight of your misty breath coiling away into the chill air. It is a time time for slow cooking, for deep complex flavours that echo the world outside and fill the house with enticing smells. You cannot get much more earthy than beetroot of course and paired with cumin forms a sublime combination. The cumin here is elevated to one of the main ingredients and if you get it right they will balance each other perfectly.

- Start with the beetroot. Boil two or three whole for a quarter of an hour or so before putting it into a hot oven (200 centigrade) for half an hour to roast.
- When the beet is nearly done, peel and roughly chop an onion and a couple of garlic cloves and fry slowly in some olive oil and some butter, this will take fifteen to twenty minutes and the onion will be translucent and look like it is bathed in honey.
- Add in two teaspoons of ground cumin seeds, stir and allow to cook for a minute then add a small potato peeled and chopped.
- Take the beets out of the oven, peel them chop into pieces and add to the pan.
- Pour in a pint and a quarter of half strength vegetable stock and leave to simmer until the potato is cooked.
- Blend smooth and return to the pan,
- Heat a dry frying pan and pour in a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds and toast until lightly browned. Add these to the soup.
- Lastly squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and some salt and pepper if you think it needs any.

I like whole spices in my soups, They soften but keep their flavour and when you crunch one up you get a sudden burst of flavour as well as the extra crunchiness. Serve with a splodge of sour cream and some lemon zest, both of which will back up the lemonyness of the cumin.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Broccoli and Cheese soup

Broccoli is now available pretty much all year round, which is a shame I think because it's time is Autumn. When it is getting cooler and your body starts looking for heavier more filling but at the same time nutritious food - Broccoli shines in my opinion and if we were not all so bored of seeing it every week for the rest of the year it would be celebrated much more.

- For Autumn soups I like a deeply comforting base so I have started with an onion a couple cloves of garlic and a couple of celery stalks all peeled, chopped and left to cook slowly on a low heat in some olive oil and a quarter inch slice of butter. A couple of slices of bacon would also go well here if you are not vegetarian.
- After twenty minutes or so the onion will be translucent and golden brown and the butter slightly sticky and honeyish. Now add a head of broccoli roughly chopped, stalk and all, and about a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock.
- Leave to simmer until the broccoli stalks are tender, say twenty minutes or so then liquidise the soup smooth in a blender.
- If you are not going to eat it until later I would stop here and leave the soup in the pan or pop it into the fridge. Why? well cheese is a difficult one and if you allow the soup to boil with it in the cheese will separate out into grittyish bits in the soup. Mind you I have to say that this has never stopped me eating it in the past when it has happened! But to get round this I usually reheat my soup and add the cheese just before serving so it just melts through.
- So add the cheese, a couple of handfuls grated, I like cheddar but use whatever you like, blue cheese is nice.
- Finally some salt and quite a lot of black pepper and serve with some more grated cheese and something green sprinkled over such as thyme leaves. If like me you have avoided this type of soup because you think it might taste and smell like some sort of institutional over boiled vegetables - have a go, try it because it is actually surprisingly mild and very filling.

Oh and the prefect accompaniment? - Walnut bread, delicious.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Carrot and Walnut soup

Autumn is officially here in the southern hemisphere so what better way to celebrate than with a soup that includes a real autumn ingredient - nuts. Walnuts in this case. Nuts add texture and flavour and of course don't require cooking, just grinding up and softening a little by soaking in some stock - lovely!

- Slowly fry a small onion (peeled and roughly chopped) in some olive oil and a piece of butter until soft and pale brown.
- Meanwhile grind up about two ounces of walnuts. I do this by putting them in a little ziplock bag and bashing them with a rolling pin.
- Pop the walnuts into a bowl and pour over enough vegetable stock to cover them.
- Peel and chop two or three carrots and add them to the onions.
- Pour in a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock, bring to the boil then turn down the heat to a gentle bubble and leave until the carrots are soft.
- Blend the soup along with the reserved walnuts and their stock until all is as smooth as you want.
- Pour back into the saucepan and reheat adding no more than half a teaspoon of ground cardammon seeds. Go carefully here as the aim is just to get a hint of cardammon and they are quite strong.

I had mine with a big splodge of Yoghurt and some more black pepper along with some flatbread with a few curry leaves on top.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Linda's Roasted Veggie Soup

My friend Linda (The Souper) has sent me her own special soup recipe for a roasted vegetable soup. So I made some today and I must say she has managed what I have never been able to do, make a mixed vegetable soup and get all the different flavours to balance. Basically you roast all your veg. then blend them with stock and add some spices as you reheat it. I particularly liked the fun and artistic way she pops all the spices on top of the soup like an artists palette as it is reheated. The full recipe is here and she has even included some photos as well, putting my chuck it in/ taste it and see style to shame.

Linda says she would love some feedback about her creation, so if you try it let me know by leaving a comment or by email and I'll pass it on to her.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Leek, Bacon, and Feta Pie

Sometimes when your wife has been ill for over a week with a stomach bug and is now bunged up with flu and rather grumpy, it's best to do what she says. And so when she said leek pie instead of the suggested pumpkin and bacon thats what I made. Luckily leek and bacon is my favourite pie . . . .

First make some pastry. I use two cups of plain flour to 4 ounces of butter, salt and a couple of tablespoonfuls of cold water.
- Put the flour in a bowl with a pinch or two of salt.
- Slice up the butter, add it in and rub it between your fingers with the flour until the mixture has the texture of breadcrumbs.
- Add a tablespoonful or of cold water and mix again (I use a table knife for this) until the mixture sticks together when gathered up with your fingers. Depending on the weather and your flour you may need more or less water, I usually use two tablespoons on average. Less is better than more.
- Wrap the pastry in gladwrap (clingfilm) and pop it into the fridge while you make the filling.

- Put the oven on to hottish, say 200 degrees.
- In a pan or covered frying pan fry some bacon, say six rashers chopped up into half inch slices, until browned.
- Add in two leeks halved and sliced into quarter inch slices along with two or three sage leaves sliced thinly, and a quarter inch slice of butter. Turn the heat down and cook until the leeks are soft and translucent.
- When the leeks are almost down take the pastry out and roll it out to about an eighth of an inch.
- Lay the pastry into a buttered pie dish, cut off the excess and roll it out again for the lid.
- Stir a dessertspoonful of plain flour into the leeks and leave to cook for a few minutes longer.
- Put the leeks into the pie base, tuck in some chunks of creamy feta and lay the lid over squashing the edges together to seal, and cut a little slot in the middle to let the steam out.
- Put the pie into the oven until the pastry is nicely brown, twenty minutes maybe. The filling is already cooked of course so no need to worry about it, it just needs to warm through.

We had ours still warm with some salad and a mustardy french dressing. It is also great cold - so guess what I'll be having for lunch tomorrow!

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

A big pan of Pumpkin soup

It is late in the evening. You have just returned from a few days away, been picked up at the airport and have not had time for anything to eat on the way. So what is it you want? Well something easy and quick of course, but if you are anything like me, after a few restaurant meals what you really crave is some comforting home cooking. Such a thing happened to Nicola recently on her return from Christchurch after delivering our eldest to university. In our house there is nothing more comforting and homely than pumpkin soup. So to the freezer we went, but disaster! - there was none. An alternative was found, digestive biscuits and philadelphia cheese if I remember rightly but now a couple of weeks later our first pumpkin is ready in the garden so time to restock the freezer. I say "pumpkin" but actually it is an Australian Blue Squash which happens to be similar. Having been brought up in Scotland where we only ever saw pumpkins proper for a few days at halloween, the only other squash ever seen were butternut squash at ASDA which are orange as well. So I tend to call all squashes pumpkins. To be honest I don't think it matters - I'll make soup with whatever comes my way and just adjust the other ingredients to suit, this is home cooking after all.

Home cooking, not restaurant cooking, the two styles are different but equally valid and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.This is important because once we leave home we learn cookery from chefs, and great though they are, they are professionals and work in professional kitchens. Every restaurant has a different style, yes but within that restaurant you know what you are going to get. The chefs have all the ingredients in front of them, their ovens are on all the time, the dishes are portion controlled and timed and hence reproducible so that you enjoy what eat without waiting forever and at the end of it all the owners make a profit and the restaurant is still there next time you go out. You only have to watch Hell's Kitchen or the contestants on Masterchef crumbling when placed in a professional kitchen to see what it is really like. My teenagers may disagree but my home is not a restaurant. It is a place of creativity where I cook with what I have in front of me, what the weather is like and by how I feel that day. It is a place of experimentation and of learning, sometimes by choice and sometimes forced upon me, as in when I add too much black pepper or the chillies turn out to be hotter than expected. Suddenly I have a choice, eat it anyway and sweat it out or fix it somehow (drink more beer perhaps or add something cooling like coconut milk or cucumber). This is where new recipes come from of course, running with an idea that just pops into your head, or having to fix a mistake now because what you have cooked is all you have and time is running out.

Because of this, I find I rarely cook the same soup twice. I have my favourites of course but even these will change slightly depending on how I feel at the time. The pumpkin soup I made today came from this recipe but I added ginger and thyme to it as it cooked. The result is a flavoursome but plain soup which is perfect for freezing in quantity because you can add other things to each portion when you defrost it, roast tomato sauce perhaps or today it was coconut milk and lemongrass.

Home cooking - something to be celebrated.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pumpkin, Carrot and Ginger soup with Strawberry sauce - yes really

Is it cold where you are? Here is a plain soup with the comforting warmth that only ginger can give and with a kick as well caused by adding just a little too much chilli . . .

- The base begins with an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped or squashed and left cooking slowly in some olive oil.
- Grate a thumb sized piece of ginger root and add to the onion along with half a red chilli sliced up.
- Leave to cook slowly for fifteen minutes or so until soft.
- Scoop out the onions etc into a bowl, turn the heat up and put in two carrots peeled and roughly chopped and about the same amount of pumpkin.
- Stir them around a bit until they start to brown at the edges.
- Put the onions etc back in along with a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock.
- Bring to a boil then turn down the heat and leave to simmer until all is soft.
- Liquidise smooth, return to the pan and squeeze in half a lemon and some salt and pepper if it needs it.

Just then Nicola came back . . . .

" Peter, it's 30 degrees out there - why are you making soup?" (30 centigrade is 86 fareinheit by the way)

"errrrrm . . . . " good question I thought, trying to think of a clever answer and stalling my brain in the process.

I hid behind the fridge door until she went away.

And found some strawberries that were a bit past it for eating. Now strawberries go with lots of different things, so popping a strawberry into my mouth I had a spoonful of soup. The result was rather nice.

Hence I liquidised a couple of handfuls to make a sauce to serve with the soup. And after a short competition to see who could make the best swirl we ate lunch outside in the heat.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pumpkin and Roast Beetroot soup

I have grown up not liking beetroot. To me it was always something that came in a jar tasting of vinegar and earth. And then one day I had it roasted, in a salad I should think, and everything changed . . . .

- First roast your beetroots, I like to speed things up by boling them first, so scrub a couple and pop them in a pan of cold water.
- Bring to the boil and boil for fifteen minutes or so until just tender when poked with a knife.
- Put the oven on hottish, say 190 centigrade and pop a dish in with some olive oil in to heat.
- Meanwhile you can get on with the pumpkin part which is my usual recipe, so cook slowly an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic along with a thyme stem or two in some oil until soft and golden brown.
- Once the beetroot has boiled drain and allow to cool so you can peel them and chop them into chunks.
- Take the dish out of the oven and put the beetroot into the hot oil along with a clove of garlic peeled and crushed and a few more thyme stems. Pop it back into the oven to roast for another fifteen to twenty minutes.
- To the onion and garlic add in half a small pumpkin, about a breakfast bowl full, peeled and chopped into thumb sized pieces, turn up the heat and cook until the pumpkin browns at the edges, stirring now and again.
- Add a pint and a half of vegetable stock and turning the heat down leave to simmer until the pumpkin is soft.
- Once the beetroot is roasted take it out of the oven and pour in a dessertspoonfull or two of balsamic vinegar and stir around.

There are two recipes going on at once here of course, but why not? - if I am going to all the trouble of roasting beetroot I am going to roast some extra. This mixed with some feta cheese and some more thyme leaves (I like thyme!) makes a lovely salad and if you then add a handfull of that new fangled microsalad, and some bread, you'll have tomorrows lunch. Anyway back to the soup.

- Add the rest of the beetroot to the soup. How much depends on how strong you want the flavour to be, I used about half as much as the pumpkin which gave a distinct but not overpowering taste.
- Allow to cool a little then fish out the thyme stalks and blend the soup until smooth - it will go a beautifull rasberry red colour.
- Squeeze in half a lemon and serve with crumbled feta cheese and still more thyme leaves.

One of the prettiest looking soups I have made for a long time and a gorgeous flavour, comforting and earthy with an orangy hint in there as well.

And thinking of rasberry red here's a memory from the past . . .

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Sunday, February 15, 2009


Bread of course, is the ideal accompaniment to any soup. There is a lot of mysticism attached to bread making, but a simple flat loaf is fairly straightforward to make. A couple of ingredients will make the result more predictable. Firstly, use a strong or breadmaking flour. This has more gluten and makes a more springy dough, so trapping more bubbles and giving a lighter loaf. Secondly use a dried yeast with flour improvers in. Here in New Zealand it is called “Surebake“ but there will be a type in your supermarket, usually next to the flour. You can use ordinary plain flour and normal dried yeast but I find that it makes a more solid loaf. Finally, and this is probably the most important part, remember that your dough is alive! So keep it warm and always treat it gently but firmly.

For a small bread, enough for two or three people, take a warm mixing bowl and pour in two cupfuls of flour. Add in a teaspoonful and a half of yeast, a teaspoonful of salt and the same of sugar or honey. Mix them all around a bit then add in 200ml of warm water. That is warm to the touch but not hot, blood heat I suppose. Mix it all together and you will get a sticky dough. Tip this out onto a floured surface and knead it. You can look up any bread book for how to knead , but basically you flatten out your ball of dough from the middle with your hands then fold it back into the middle and stretch it out again. Do this for a good ten minutes, gently but firmly - it and should become smooth and elastic. If the dough is quite wet then use some sort of spatula to knead it with, scooping it from the outside over and into the middle. It will pick up more flour as you work it and get drier.

Now put some olive oil into a bowl, pop the dough ball in and roll it around a bit. Cover the bowl with Gladwrap (clingfilm) or a damp tea towel and place the bowl somewhere warm for an hour. I use the airing cupboard or a sunny windowsill. The dough will get bigger eventually threatening to engulf the whole bowl!

Put the oven on, I use 190 centigrade. Flour a baking sheet or tray and tip the dough out onto it. Knead it a bit and flatten it out to about ½ an inch thick. Pop it in the middle or bottom of the oven for about ten minutes until cooked and as brown as you like.

I am not a great fan of flavoured breads but I do like toppings – walnuts, cheese, garlic, onions, herbs, olives etc, etc. To stop the drier toppings burning I mix them in a bowl with some olive oil and spread that on the bread before it goes in the oven, pressing it all in as much as possible. Walnuts will come out beautifully toasted this way. They tend to drop off again once cooked, but you are going to pick at them and nibble at them anyway so it makes little difference.

That's all there is to it really. The kitchen will smell glorious.

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Friday, February 6, 2009


I love cookery books but they also frustrate me. Being a visual person the pictures always catch my eye first and draw me in, but then the words often disappoint. Sometimes all you want to do is look up a quick recipe and get on with making it and there are books for that but I want more. I want a book I can lie in bed and read. I want to know who wrote the book, why they cooked this or that and who for, I want vision, I want to be inspired to do what they do, but in my own way. It seems to me that cookery books have been written the same way, to the same formula forever. Introduction, a list of store cupboard ingredients, basic utensils . . . . and so on. You know, when I get home with my shiny new book I don't want any of that. What I want to do is to open my pantry, take out what I have and just start cooking right then and there. This can only be accomplished with understanding - by knowing why things are done in a certain way, and yet most recipes just tell you what do without explanation. And this goes further - some of the instructions have been repeated unchanged for years. I myself have never salted and drained courgette or aubergine before use and I think with modern varieties it is unnecessary, yet it appears over and over again. If a book does need a list of knives to buy, then put it at the back. If I need to, I'll find it ; but don't stifle my enthusiasm before I get to pick up so much as an an onion. We mostly all have an eclectic mix of pans already so I'll be using the one at the front of the cupboard not rushing off to buy the one with the authors name on it ( that will go on a list for my birthday).

So character and directness, thats what I want, a book with a personality that reflects what's inside.

My favourite book is of course Appetite by Nigel Slater. It is not perfect by what I have just written but it inspired me from the first page with it's different approach.

So what is your favourite?

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Courgette, Cumin and Chick pea soup

Mid summer and the courgettes
are growing like magic beans. I like courgettes but they are very plain and I tend to mix them with other flavours - roast tomatoes, onions, and brie all go well but one of my especial favourites is cumin. And if I am going down the middle eastern or indian flavour route then chick peas are a great choice because cumin also goes with most types of beans as well. I am using the chick peas here for that floury texture they have so they go in early and get cooked through and blended with the rest of the soup.

The courgette I had was quite large so the quantities here are larger - a pint and a half of stock, instead of my usual pint and a quarter.

- Begin by warming some olive oil and a half inch slice of butter in a saucepan.
- Add in an onion peeled and sliced and three or four garlic cloves peeled and crushed.
- Chop up the courgette and open a tin of chick peas and rinse them under cold water (in a seive under the tap)
- Cook until soft and translucent the add in a dessertspoonfull of ground cumin seeds and the roughly chopped courgette and half the chick peas.
- Stir about to mix, turn up the heat and continue to cook until the liquid released by the courgette has pretty well evaporated.
- Add in a chopped tomato (skin and all) and a pint and a half of half strength vegetable stock from powder.
- Let it come to the boil the turn the heat back down and gently cook until the courgette is softish.
- Let the soup cool for a few minutes the blend smooth.
- Return to the now clean pan, reheat and add salt or pepper if you think it needs it. Mine didn't but it all depends on your stock.

A handfull of coriander leaves would have been good with the soup but I didn't have any so I sprinkled on some fennel seeds that had been gently toasted in a dry frying pan until just brown. They added a nice crunchyness and went well with the lemony tang of the cumin.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Leftover rice

My favourite foods all seem to be white.

Rice, pasta, bread, couscous, noodles. I can happily eat a bowl of any of them on their own with nothing but some salt and pepper. Seeing as the oven was already on, lunch today was left over rice heated with some butter.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tomato, Bean and Spinach soup

A pure soup for when you need clarity in your life.

This soup uses a base prepared first and then used to cook the additional flavourings so you could easily prepare a large batch of the base and freeze some to use later.

- Peel and roughly chop up half an onion and peel a clove of garlic.
- Pop in a pan with some oil and cook gently until the onion is soft and translucently honey coloured.
- Add in some tomatoes, a tin of plum tomatoes or half a dozen fresh ones chopped up. The soup will be strained through a seive so don't worry about the skin or seeds - put it all in.
- Add a pint of half strength vegetable stock and simmer gently until the tomatoes are broken down and soft, about twenty minutes.
- Put a sieve over a bowl, pour the soup in and rub it through with a wooden spoon to separate out the lumpy bits. Squash the garlic against the sieve and push it through as well.

If you have made lots, this is the point to freeze some for later.

- Pop the soup back in a pan along with a tin of beans (I used cannellini)that you have rinsed under the cold tap and warm gently .

Fresh would be nice but they are best soaked overnight and not being that organized I generally use canned, just be sure to rinse off that strange gooey water that they come in. Canned beans are very delicate of course and will easily break up if you boil the soup too fiercely so bring them up to heat very gently and only cook long enough to warm them through.

Last thing to go in is the spinach, their are two ways to do this. You could add it straight to the soup to cook but this will risk breaking up the beans so I usually cook it separately and put some in the bowls and pour the soup over to serve. It does not have to be spinach of course, any vegetable would do - celery, cabbage, broccoli even. These take longer to cook so add them at the same time as the beans and serve the soup as soon as they are just cooked. But spinach it was this time so . . .

- Rinse the spinach under the cold tap to wash of the grit then drain and put into a warm saucepan with just the water left sticking to it. Stir around a bit while it steams until it wilts, this only takes seconds.
- Put some spinach in the bottom of each bowl, ladle over the soup and serve with some plain bread.

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