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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