Friday, 30 November 2012

Stone Soup and Other Great Soup Recipes

Product DetailsI used to love to read this classic tale to my children: how the cooking pot with nothing in it except water and a stone gradually builds into a delicious soup.

For some reason, I remembered it the other day - and then I got to thinking about soup in general. As you do. Especially when it's cold and wet and wintry.

Recently, I asked family members what they considered my best dish- my culinary forte- and the answer came back resoundingly- "Soup!"

And it's true- there's nothing I like better than looking in the fridge on a Friday and seeing what's left in the vegetable drawer, and whether there's any leftover cooked veg to use up- and then making my weekend soup.

So- playing to my strengths- here's a blog all about potage, chowder, sopa, broth and all things soupy!

Now, to be completely purist- before you make a great soup you need a great stock- and this is a wonderful way of using every last bit of a chicken or duck carcass for example and using up vegetable peelings and bits and bobs.

Every one of my soup recipes however works just as well with a stock cube, except perhaps the Chinese-style clear broths which really benefit from a homemade stock if possible.

Making stock is child's play if you have a slow cooker- and simple (but more adult) too if you have a pressure cooker. If you don't, then using a good quality stock cube is far kinder on the environment and your fuel bills.

Making stock from a carcass
 For  home made stock, put the carcass of a chicken, duck or turkey into a crockpot or pressure cooker. Add parsley, bay leaf or bouquet garni, celery leaves and a few stalks, carrot peelings, a chopped onion, some peppercorns and a tsp salt.
Remove the bouquet garni
Simmer for at least 4 hours or more if you can (or pressure cook for 30 minutes.) Cool and strain and remove the bouquet garni. Keep any meat that you can now pick off the carcass to put into the soup later.

You can use this meat stock for any number of soups- here are some of my regulars: thick chicken and rice, golden vegetable, spiced parsnip or butternut squash or pumpkin, asparagus veloute, celery, leek and potato.

Choose your garnish carefully- poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds and sprinkles are lovely, as is a swirl of creme fraiche, or croutons, chopped parsley and chives, a little cooked rice or pasta.

Pumpkin or Squash soup
Golden Girl Soup
Thick Chicken and Rice

Mushroom ravioli broth

Using the clear broth makes a wonderful Chinese-style soup: I add chopped spring onion, some  spinach leaves or bok choi, finely shaved carrot, sweetcorn or finely sliced mushrooms as below. Or  float some ravioli in it Italian-style.
Chinese-style soup with Dumplings

 The basic principle for my thick soups is always the same- sweat your vegetables in a little sunflower oil, add the stock, simmer for 30 minutes or pressure cook for 10. Blitz with a stick blender.


If you prefer to use a vegetable stock, there are some soups that really benefit from this such as Spiced Tomato Soup and the love child that it begat when partnered with butternut squash -

 Bloody Mary Butternut Soup.

Spiced Tomato Soup

Bloody Mary Butternut Soup

Ingredients:  two tins chopped tomatoes (if you can get the ones with added chilli or arrabiatta so much the better), one finely chopped onion, one finely chopped green pepper, 1/2 butternut squash chopped, 1 tsp red wine vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, dash Worcestershire sauce or Tobasco, splash of vodka (optional), 400 ml stock.

Sweat the onion and pepper in sunflower oil until translucent, add the squash and coat in the oil. Add the vinegar (and vodka if you like it), and then the tomatoes, sugar, hot sauce, and stock.

Simmer or pressure cook until squash is tender. Blitz - and adjust seasoning, add more Tobasco or salt and pepper to taste.

Final type of soup today is a laksa- or my version of it.

This is a meal-in-a-soup: noodles in a coconut and vegetable broth - with salmon or chicken or prawns or whatever you like to top it with.

Using the rest of the butternut squash from the last recipe- sweat the flesh in a little sunflower oil and then add a dessertspoon of curry paste. When coated, add 1/2 a tin of coconut milk, then 300 ml of stock and a heaped tablespoon of peanut butter or Thai peanut sauce. Simmer until the squash is tender and then blitz. Bring back to a simmer and add 2 portions of egg or rice noodles, two chopped spring onions and two big handfuls of spinach or bok choi.

If you are using prawns, simply add them to the laksa 1 minute before serving and heat them through, if you are using salmon- cook it through in the microwave for 4 minutes per fillet or steam or fry or however you like to prepare your salmon. The same with chicken- use cooked chicken or poach or steam chicken fillets to accompany your laksa. Yum!

Don't forget to accompany your soup with something fitting- spring rolls or dumplings or prawn crackers for oriental soups, crusty bread or garlic bread for vegetable soups- or why not make cheese scones, olive cakes or biscuits to dunk (recipes on the blog if you search).

Cheese scones

Cheese and tapenade biscuits
Olive cakes

You could add a stone too of course.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Party Dress 'Diet'

"Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat."

And they're not the only ones.

It's always at this time of year-round the end of November- when thoughts turn to party clothes and looking good for the festive season.
Last year, I got round the Little Black Dress problem rather ingeniously by buying a BIG black dress, so I looked lost and small within it. That won't work two years in a row.
This year however- something weird is happening. I've lost a bit of weight- and it seems to be staying away. How come?

I put it all down to two astonishing tips- and despite having a rocket scientist in the family, I haven't needed his help to find them out.

1. Eat well
2. Exercise more.

That's all there is to it.

The exercise is up to you- but eating well needs a bit more explaining.

I always thought I ate well- and these blog pages are testament to my life as a bonviveuse but recently I was introduced to the Eat Well Plate as a concept for meal planning- and it really got me thinking about how much fat and sugar was in my diet and how simple it would be to increase the lean protein, carbohydrate and above all - the fruit and vegetables (which are a cornerstone of my frugal feasting but need to be more so.)

The principle is easy- plenty of fruit and vegetables, plenty of carbohydrates ( you can increase this amount for other members of the family with higher energy needs), small amounts of lean protein, small amounts of fat and dairy and a tiny amount of sweet or treat.

As you plan each week's meal, think about how it would look on the Eatwell Plate. Or print one off from the net and stick it on your fridge.

For example, mediterranean vegetable pasta with smoked bacon would have equal amounts of vegetables and carbs, a small amount of protein and fat. Perfect. Even better with a side salad or extra crusty bread for hungry teenagers or sportifs.

Meat lasagne ingredients 'Eatwell-style'
Meat Lasagne and Veg
 A meat lasagne however would be a bit heavy on the protein and dairy but with lots of side vegetables it can still be a healthy meal
Vegetable curry

Butternut squash curry with basmati rice and cucumber raita errs this time on the side of the vegetables  but is still a satisfying meal

Bloody Mary Butternut Soup 
Use the rest of the squash for homemade vegetable soup with bread, mushroom pate or cheese and a side salad.

Use the leftover peppers from your pasta dish in Stuffed peppers with paella and green veg :
Paella Stuffed Peppers
Rolling the pork meatballs in cabbage leaves

Then make baked cabbage with lean pork in tomato sauce:

Braised Endive with Ham and Cheese
Or braised endive with ham and cheese:  (great with garlic bread)

Also stuffed jacket potatoes with cauliflower cheese, or tuna or bacon and salad

Jackets and Salad

And chorizo patties ( using the rest of the lean pork mixed with chorizo sausage) with tabbouleh, flatbreads and autumn slaw:

Chorizo Patties

Autumn Slaw

That's 9 to be going on with- enough for a week or more and none of them expensive.

Red fruit crumble
You can balance things up with fruity puds, like fruit salad and crumbles.

Fruit Crumble

I've been eating like this deliberately for a while now - and the weight is steadily dropping off.

Give it a go.

So, this festive season there's going to be at least one bird who is dressed and ready to party !

Friday, 16 November 2012

Rainy Day Cooking

There are some things in life that take time.
Like painting the Forth Road Bridge.
Or raising children.
They take as long as they take.

When the rain sets in and it's November, sometimes it's lovely to go to the kitchen, shut the door (if you can!) and get on with some slow food.

Some of you will enjoy baking . Others will love bottling and making jams and chutneys.

But when it's pouring outside, I love to take the time to make pasta. Especially ravioli.

It's a time consuming process- but well worth it. First, you need a foolproof pasta recipe and this one never fails for me.
250g plain or pasta flour
1/2tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil
2 eggs and 2 egg yolks (remember to freeze the egg whites for another day)

Place all the ingredients (except one of the eggs) in the bowl of your food processor. Whizz it up and then look at the consistency- if it's too dry and breadcrumb-y, then add the second egg. (You might not need it depending on the size of the eggs). You can add a drop more olive oil if you need to.
Tip the dough out onto some clingfilm and bring it together into a smooth ball. Place in fridge until you need it.

Then prepare your filling - I love a mushroom stuffing, but butternut squash or pumpkin, or spinach work really well with the cream cheese mixture too: soak a tablespoonful of dried wild mushrooms in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes,  blitz a small onion, a clove of garlic, a handful of parsley and 150g (about 6) large button mushrooms in a food processor (or chop finely by hand). Drain the wild mushrooms using a tea strainer (reserving the strained liquid). Add the wild mushrooms and blitz again. Fry the mushroom mixture in a little olive oil and then add the mushroom liquid and cook until it has been absorbed. Allow to cool and then mix with 2 tablespoons of cream cheese (of your choice- garlic and herb, low fat, ricotta....).

Keep the pasta wrapped in clingfilm in the fridge and take a quarter at a time to work with so it doesn't dry out.

Roll it three times through the pasta machine- first on the widest setting, then a medium, then a fine. 

Cut the strips with a biscuit cutter, place a teaspoon of filling in each one, brush the edges with water and crimp the edges 2/3 of the way round.

 Pick up the little parcels and finish the crimping at the top to ensure all air is pressed out and the filling is secure. If you have sealed well and expelled all the air bubbles these ravioli will not burst and will cook easily.

I keep a damp tea towel handy, sprinkled with flour, to store the ravioli as I work.

You can cook them fresh or freeze them in a container with tiers of greaseproof paper between them, again sprinkled with flour. They freeze well and can be cooked from frozen too.

To cook, bring a pan of water to a rapid boil, gently add the ravioli and turn down the heat to a simmer. The ravioli are cooked when they rise to the surface and float.
You can serve them with simple tomato sauce, or olive oil and parmesan shavings, or floating in a tomato or mushroom soup.

Ravioli in a mushroom broth

You will probably have a helping of mushroom filling left over of course (otherwise why post it on this blog?). It is scrumptious stirred through tagliatelle, spread on garlic toast as mushroom pate or stirred into a mushroom risotto, or used a jacket potato filling with some crispy bacon.

Mushroom stuffed potatoes

Whilst I'm rolling, stuffing, crimping and flouring the pasta - I like to put a stew on to cook slowly in the slow cooker: a coq au vin or a rich beef stew. Very simple for both- brown some onion, carrot and celery quickly in a pan, place in the casserole dish or slow cooker , brown some beef (for beef stew) or chicken and bacon (for coq au vin)  in the same pan and add to the casserole. Deglaze the pan with 2 glasses of red wine, add to the casserole. Add 2 bay leaves and some herbes de provence. Cover and cook for 6 -8 hours in the slow cooker or 2-3 hours in a low oven (150 degrees). You will need more liquid if you cook in the oven- another cup of stock or water. Adjust seasoning  to your own taste, thicken with gravy granules or cornflour paste if necessary.
Coq au vin
Rich Beef Stew
Braised red cabbage

Lovely to serve these stews with a braised vegetable dish like braised red cabbage. I like to cook red cabbage with some chopped onion and a glass of red vermouth (for a sweet and sour taste) but it goes well with apple or chilli too.

Finally, for those of you who like to bake... you command my respect, as I am not much of a pastry chef. I quite like to knock up a batch of cheese scones though whilst the oven is on and here is a recipe I gleaned on a recent course I attended. (I'm now a Community Cookery Leader by the way- v. proud.) I was by far and away the worst baker there though, so do as I say not as I do when it comes to this recipe.

You need 3 level dessertspoons of sunflower margarine, 1 cup of plain flour and 1 cup of wholemeal flour, 4 tsp baking powder and 1/2 cup of milk plus 1 tsp mustard, 50-60 g of grated cheese and a finely chopped spring onion or red pepper.

Blitz it all together until it forms a soft dough and then press it out on a floured board until it is 3-4 cm thick- cut with pastry cutters or slice into triangles, sprinkle with paprika or sunflower seeds or more grated cheese and bake for 10 minutes in a hot oven (220 degrees).

These are delicious with Marmite, butter or cream cheese- hot from the oven. Bliss!

Cheese scones

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Bonfire Night Bangers

If you're reading this -and you're not from the UK- this title might leave you a little bewildered or even amused.

Bangers - for today's purposes- are both noisy fireworks and a slang word for sausages. If you thought differently, then please stop sniggering at the back and pay attention.

Because Bonfire Night (November 5th) is no laughing matter and is taken very seriously here in Sussex.

In the 19th Century there grew up 'the cult of the Sussex martyrs' (commemorating the deaths of the 17 Protestant Lewes martyrs during the reign of Mary Tudor) and the Sussex bonfire societies began to develop. Now there is a society for practically every village or town in Sussex and they spend all year planning their costumes, processions and their bonfire (and effigy to burn).

I'm not a big fan of effigy-burning or of noisy fireworks - but I've gradually been won over by the Battel Bonfire Boyes (the oldest of the societies) who host a magnificent procession and firework display on the famous battle ground of the Battle of Hastings.

Last year they burned the News of the World in effigy- much better choice than the pope-burning, firework-throwing hooligan-fest which is the Lewes bonfire.

Whilst not much liking the idea of firework nights, I do think back happily to standing by a bonfire, drinking tomato soup, cooking baked potatoes in the embers, eating hot dogs and remembering bonfire parties with my children where we put sparklers in the top of 'Bonfire Cake' ( said cake pictured below ).

Bonfire cake

As ever, it's the food that makes the occasion.

So, back to the sausages- which are today's blog ingredient of choice.

This week I've used several different types of sausages to make my recipes: chipolatas, meaty Toulouse sausages, sausagemeat, cocktail sausages and fiery chilli bangers.

First up, I made a batch of sticky glazed chipolatas:

Sticky glazed sausages
The sausages are browned and then placed in a roasting dish with a dessertspoon each of honey and coarse grain mustard. I roast them at 200 degrees for 20 minutes or until they are glossy and sticky with the marinade. Use the sausages in any number of ways (and make a delicious sauce by deglazing the dish with hot water or meat stock and thickening in whichever way you like best- gravy granules, roux or cornflour paste).

Stuffed Baked Potatoes

You can pop them into hot dog rolls and munch them round the bonfire with a mug of spicy tomato soup (as in the old days) or with a hot baked potato-
Spiced tomato soup

Bangers and Mash

Or lay them on a bed of mash or Colcannon and pour on that honey and mustard gravy. You can make a children's version with cocktail sausages too :
Bangers and Mash Hedgehog

Or put them into a traditional Toad-in-the-Hole:
Toad -in-the-Hole

Make a batter with 150g plain flour, 2 eggs, a pinch of salt and 150 ml milk.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in  a roasting dish in the oven at 200 degrees until it begins to smoke slightly, quickly lay in the sausages and pour the batter around them. Cook for 30 minutes or until the batter is risen and crispy.
Don't forget the honey and mustard gravy.

Butchers, farm shops (and supermarkets) have a really good range of sausages now: everything from traditional pork to those made with local ales or even Marmite!

I bought some fiery chilli sausages locally for these next two recipes- but you could use Merguez or chorizo.

First take the sausages out of their skins and combine with some plain pork sausagemeat, some breadcrumbs and some finely chopped spring onion. Divide the mixture into two and use one for the first recipe and one for the second.

Shape the meat into patties and fry in hot oil until browned and cooked through. Serve with tabbouleh and some tomato salsa.(Just use the search box to find the salad recipe).

The other half of the meat mixture I rolled in  blanched cabbage leaves and made Stuffed Cabbage Rolls as below (again the recipe is elsewhere on the blog, just search for it):

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Sausages with lentils
Finally, meatier sausages- like Toulouse or traditional links- go well with lentils and vegetables for an economical and very tasty Autumn supper. Cook a diced onion and some finely diced carrot and celery in a little oil. Add a tin of green lentils, plus a 'tinful' of water or stock, a teaspoon of coarse grain mustard and a splash of red wine. Cook until the liquid has been mostly absorbed and then adjust the seasoning. Lentils need a bit of salt usually. Add your pan-fried sausages and leave to simmer for 10 minutes to allow any flavour from the sausages to permeate and serve with crusty bread or boiled potatoes.

I've used a picture from the Net above as my own refused to be photogenic, and looked less than appetizing. Although I assure you it was delicious!

Alright, I'll show you- but you mustn't laugh.

Dog's Dinner
Remember what I said about bangers not being a laughing matter?

Is that sniggering I can hear at the back?