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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