Posts Tagged With: soup

January Friends

January ended up being more adventurous than expected in some ways and less in others.

First up, I cooked something from my new recipe book. A lot of the recipes are actually designed for things like dinner parties so aren’t actually that practical for cooking for one, so that was a little bit of a set back. As was the realisation that a lot of the recipes I actually fancy making, are very much summer-time recipes. Hopefully, at some point during the summer, I’m going to have friends round for dinner and knock four things off this list at once in the process.

Anyway, I ended up picking Peanut Soup to make, as soup is pretty much a sure fire win with me. It’s a fairly unusual soup actually, there’s not a lot to it and I found that rather disappointing. It’s designed to be used as a starter and served in shot glasses, so perhaps it needs to be as light-weight as it is for that purpose, but frankly I could have done with some lentils, maybe some celery, to give it a bit more body and texture. The recipe suggests that you can blend it but I found that there wasn’t enough in the soup to actually blend rather than spin round at great speed. All it seemed to do was lose any thickness the peanut butter had given it. It tastes nice enough but I found it too thin for my taste.

On the other hand, my first attempt at baking this year was a resounding success. I made Beetroot brownies from a recipe a friend recommended from the BBC Good Food website. I’ve had Beetroot and Dark Chocolate cake before so I knew the flavour would work for me. They’re actually quite straightforward to make, with relatively few ingredients and they taste amazing. Unexpectedly moist brownies, but that’s no bad thing. The recipe makes loads, even with taking some of them to work with me, I’ve only just finished them a week and a bit later. Also, on a learning experience front, I discovered that my kitchen in January is too cold to bring butter and chocolate to ‘room-temperature’ so that it will melt nicely when blended with the cooked beetroot. I had to make judicious use of the microwave once I realised what was wrong. You’d think I’d have learned that from last spring’s 36 hours to defrost some puff pastry shenanigans but apparently I needed the reminder.

Chocolate & Beetroot Brownies

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Categories: bake more often, challenges, cooking the book | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Warmers

Until the last week or so, it seemed that spring was not really ever going to, well spring into action. In line with this, my cooking hasn’t quite shifted out of winter gear into its lighter spring and summer guise, and I’ve been making a lot of warm filling meals designed to line the stomach and keep out the cold. It was also shaped by a couple of unexpected windfalls of bulk loads of free food.

My first windfall came in the shape of a bag of parsnips that, for reasons that were never clear to me, were being given away free in our local supermarket. (Some poor shop assistant was handing out bags of them to somewhat confused punters without explanation.) Free parsnips! But what to do with them? Parsnips aren’t something that I often cook with. I spent hours looking through recipe books and browsing the BBC food pages in search of inspiration to no avail. But finally, inspiration struck. My landlady was away for a few days and left me with free reign of her fruit-bowl to save it from going off while she was away. Said fruit-bowl contained half a dozen apples… Parsnip and apple soup was clearly the answer. I’ve not previously eaten parsnip and apple soup that I could remember but while I’m not sure it’ll steal a place in my regular rotation of winter warmer soups, I’ll definitely be making it again. It’s quite a different soup, somehow sweet and strange; it makes me think of autumn for some reason. An unexpected but welcome treat for those unseasonably chilly evenings. (Well, lunch breaks really, but who’s counting.)

My second windfall was a work colleague whose allotment saw a glut of rhubarb and brought it in to work to share. It was a bit greener than I generally like it, but not being one to turn my nose up at free fruit, I happily took it home and stewed it with some sugar and a little ground ginger. (We used to grow rhubarb in old chimney pots when I was a kid, but I’d never encountered, what appears to be a local delicacy round here, breaking off young pink shoots of rhubarb, dipping them in sugar and eating them raw.) I made little rhubarb tarts, which were lovely with custard, but also delightfully hot and filling as breakfast on days that I slept in and needed to take my breakfast into the office with me.

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Cooking the Book – February Edition

Given that I had made my two things for this challenge by the end of the first week of last month, you would think I’d have managed to write about them before now, wouldn’t you? Not so much.

First up was a smoothie. I love smoothies. I got a blender in my final year at uni and it was a revelation in terms of increasing my fruit intake and reducing my food waste. The summer I lived in Bournemouth was essentially three months of glorious weather and I developed a repertoire of lovely refreshing smoothies – to the extent that a couple of my friends bought me a smoothie recipe book for my birthday. I practically lived on them that summer and then, didn’t really ever make them again once I came home. As I once again have my blender to hand and Eating Well Made Easy has a whole section of smoothies I thought it was high time I got back into it.

I have to admit I’m a bit baffled by the whole ‘green smoothie/juice’ trend that seems to be going on in smoothies these days. That glorious summer in Bournemouth, I used to make a lovely fresh smoothie made with tomatoes and bell peppers, but let’s be honest, while we eat them as vegetables, they are – technically – fruit. I’m a bit baffled by this whole putting spinach and kale in your smoothies thing. (I have a friend who swears by it, but she has IBS and needs all the help she can get tricking her body into accepting nutrients – it makes sense for her.) I like both of those things, but for me kale is a winter veg – my parents grew it when I was a kid, I preferred it to cabbage – you put in soup. I can’t get my head around it.

I braved putting spinach in my smoothie and honestly if you’re putting in enough blackcurrants or what have you, you can’t taste it so I’ve accustomed myself to it. The first time I made it (It’s called Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed cutely enough.) I put a small amount of pepper in it as instructed and that’s literally all that you taste. As noted above that’s actually a smoothie flavour I enjoy when the weather is hot, but when there’s as many other ingredients in the recipe as this has, it’s a bit disappointing that you can only taste one of them. On the second attempt I made it without the pepper and that was much fruitier and conventionally tasty.

Healthy Breakfast!

My second recipe was Saag Aloo Soup. It’s literally runny Saag Aloo, but that’s no bad thing. I think I prefer it as a curry than as a soup but its really quite tasty in either consistency. It doesn’t look particularly inspiring – hence the lack of photos – but its a tasty and filling for lunch on a winters day. I recommend serving with Nan Bread. You could probably make it with kale instead of spinach too, though you would need to cook it for longer, but as far as I’m concerned that would be a much better use for it.

Categories: challenges, cooking the book | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Like the Internet reached out and hugged me.

I’ve known my friend Sarah for the best part of a decade now: since the days when we both lived on the south coast of England. We share an abiding love of horror movies, but food has always been our favoured method of communication. Despite having left home with a good grasp of the basics, I was a very unadventurous cook. More importantly, despite my love of planning and organisation, I’m fundamentally not a very organised person. (Most jobs I’ve ever had have involved either high levels of organisation or working to deadlines, so all my energy goes into those, leaving my personal life with a sort of Douglas Adams approach to deadlines…) So when I was living down by the sea, working on my masters’ dissertation, my organisational energies for anything that wasn’t research or writing was utterly minimal. I would get up eat breakfast, start working and get caught up, forget to have lunch and suddenly it would be dark and I’d be feeling light-headed, because it was 8 at night and I hadn’t eaten since 10 in the morning. And at the point when you’re already ravenous, that’s a really bad time to try and make sensible and healthy choices about food and what you want to eat. I ate a lot of pasta with sauce that was made from chicken soup, generally with either sausages or bell peppers. That or chicken in a cook-in sauce with rice. Unsurprisingly I got sick a lot. (I eat a lot of fruit – I suspect it’s the only reason I didn’t get scurvy as a student.) My blog from back then talks a lot about poor health and poor diet and learning to cook to combat that. At some point I borrowed one of my mum’s OXO cookbooks and diligently worked my way through that to varying degrees of success. Along the way, as I started feeling the benefits of cooking properly, I started to branch out into ingredients I wasn’t familiar with. Sarah started gently nudging me towards new and interesting foodstuffs, sharing quick and easy recipes that were tasty and simple, but felt grown-up and adventurous. (She mothered me a little, but far from home and determined I could make it on my own, I kind of needed it.) The distance between pasta and sausage and peppers in a chicken soup sauce and gnocchi and chorizo, with cherry tomatoes, in pesto is not that far, but it feels a thousand miles away. Pancetta and Parmesan and spinach and ricotta, all rolled into my repertoire and stayed there. Mostly she taught me how something a little different (that squeeze of lime juice or sprinkle of parmesan) could turn an ordinary meal into something special. Reassuring instructions and tips in the IM window as I cooked, encouraging me to be adventurous in the kitchen and somehow it was easier to be brave.

I was a long way from home those days, and it was years ago, but gnocchi with cherry tomatoes and pesto is still comfort food. I’m older and wiser – I hope! – now, a vegetarian even, but I’m a long way from home again.

I’ve recently discovered Instagram (I keep a food blog, no one should be surprised that I would gravitate towards a social media format stereotypically known for people photographing their food) and have been vicariously enjoying other people’s food. One of those people being Sarah. The other week she made a particularly tasty looking soup. Mussaman chicken soup. She reckoned it would be dead easy to make it veggie with lentils instead of chicken. It sounded pretty darn good and I told her so, and she responded with the recipe.

I’d not been…good about cooking during September (or August really); in fact the only thing I’d been consistently making was soup. I’ve eaten a lot of broccoli and blue cheese soup but otherwise if I did a decent cook once a week I was doing well. I make grand plans about what I’m going to make, but I don’t actually make very much. If food is self-care for me, then I wasn’t doing a very good job of looking after myself. I needed to break the spell. Soup I could do, I bought the ingredients I didn’t already have – the list nestled safely on my phone as a reminder both of what I needed and that Sarah would be expecting to learn how I got on with it.

One Sunday I made the soup. I even remembered to buy a nice crunchy loaf to eat it with. It was warm and aromatic. Spicy without a chilli kick of doom. I mentally made notes for future cooking, an extra five minutes for the lentils and sweet potato, perhaps a little seasonal squash (if pre-cooked) would work well in the mix, debating whether blending it would improve or weaken the soup. It was tasty and comforting and a bit different from anything else I’d made recently. Almost as though my friend had reached out through the Internet and given me a hug. It was, in fact, exactly what I needed.

Mussaman Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup

It did in fact break the spell, setting me off on all sorts of cooking adventures. Sausage rolls and pesto puffs, various curries and several different ways with apples. I made spanakopita from her instructions too, despite never having eaten feta cheese before, stepping into the unfamiliar territory of Greek cuisine with only an old friends reassurances that they were simple and tasty – correct in both cases. (Exploded a little but I’ll get the hang of them eventually.) I’m on a downswing again from my cooking kick of the last month or so. I feel all scatty and disorganised. But when I was searching through my cupboards and fridge for inspiration this evening, I came across the left over feta from the spanakopita and remembered to be brave. Made something simple and filling, but a little bit different. Spanikoptika for dinner

Categories: challenges, feeling philisophical, nablopomo | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Unseasonal Soup Making

I came across a Billy Connelly quote the other day that seemed particularly apt, “Scotland only has two seasons: June and Winter.” And for a while there it looked like this year June had arrived without bringing Summer with it. (Seriously, it hailed last Friday.) So I’ve been making quite a lot of soup lately.

The first lot came about purely because I had some broccoli in the fridge that was looking a bit sad, so went looking for a recipe to use it up and came across a recipe for broccoli and blue cheese soup. There was a place in my hometown when I was a teenager that did an excellent cauliflower and Stilton soup, and given that I prefer broccoli to cauliflower any day of the week it seemed a good idea. So I grabbed some leeks and a pack of baking potatoes (you’re supposed to use large floury potatoes for it but the shops are rather low of potatoes that aren’t tiny at the moment so baking potatoes it was) and had at it. It turned out to be an excellent and very tasty idea and definitely one I’ll be making again and again in the future. The dollop of mascarpone is pure indulgence but does mellow the whole business out nicely. A delicious success.

It also came with instructions on making your own garlic bread, so I when I had time I ate tasty home-made garlic bread and when I was short of time I had left over fresh baguette to dunk in it. A win all round.

Brocolli & Blue Cheese Soup

Having bought potatoes and leeks, the nature of these things is that there was plenty of both left over, so I obviously made potato and leek soup. But not ordinary potato and leek soup: potato and leek vichyssoise. Yeah. It’s supposed to be made with chicken stock but have crispy pancetta sprinkled on top as a garnish. As a compromise, as I still have random pork stock cubes in the cupboard, I decided to make it with pork stock instead. This was such rubbish soup, just really bland and bleurgh? I seasoned it to heck and still it was bland weird yellowy soup. So we shall not be making that one again. Rarely does Lorraine let me down, but when she does its pretty spectacular.

Soup

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Winter Warmers

The other week, I had a particularly productive weekend on the culinary front. As part of that productivity I knocked another recipe off my 30 recipes list, making Lazy Mini Sausage Rolls on Friday night. (With, I must confess, shop bought puff pastry, because as much as I want to learn to make short-crust pastry, having watched lots of different chefs make puff pastry I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a faff and life is too short to make your own puff pastry.) Afterwards I went to update my recipe list and realised that I’d actually made a few other things off the list that I’d never written about here, and felt it was high time I rectified that. This winter I appear to have been making a serious attempt to rehabilitate the humble cauliflower. I have a bit of a mixed history with Cauliflower, as generally whenever I get it – unless my mum makes it – it’s either under-cooked and a bit ‘teugh’ or so overcooked it fall apart and tastes bitter and watery. Cauliflower cheese is usually safe from overcooking but can be disaster if someone decides to skimp on the sauce. Yet done right, its delicious – plus its really cheap at the moment, you get a lot of veg for your pennies – so with a couple of tasty sounding recipes in hand I set out to rediscover the joys of cauliflower. First up I went back to basics. Years ago, when I was first teaching myself to cook beyond the basics, my mum loaned me one of her OXO cook books which I cooked my way through during my masters with…varied success that was more to do with my inexperience than the quality of the recipes. Recently I’ve been working my way through her other OXO cookbook, which is essentially the comfort food of my childhood. Something that definitely wasn’t a staple of my childhood is the lentil and cauliflower largely because it calls for the inclusion of a couple of their ‘Indian Herb & Spice’ cubes. Which, as much missed and lamented as their Italian and Chinese cubes are in our household, the Indian ones were, well, a crime against the subtle nuances of good Indian cookery is harsh and not a little poncy sounding, but you get the idea. So without that particular sledgehammer to hand I had to make up the spicing as I went along. Not withstanding the need to refine the spice usage, curry is an excellent way to eat cauliflower; the slow simmer ensures it’s lovely and tender, while the flavours and spice ensure it is far from bland. Next up, I made cauliflower soup – I’ve tasted a decent number of tasty cauliflower and cheese soups over the years so I reckoned soup was a safe bet. At the start of last year I read an interesting piece by Nigel Slater – reading the food section of the Guardian on my lunch breaks at work has been a feature of many of my less exciting modes of employment over the years – on interesting new ingredients to consider adding into your repertoire. This particular soup was included in the article as an example of a different way to use Ras-el-Hanout – better known for its role in Moroccan cooking, particularly in tagines – and having been given a tagine for my birthday and purchased this not cheap spice mix it seemed a good confluence of elements. It turns out that boiling cauliflower in milk is an excellent plan, and depending when you add the Ras-el-Hanout depends whether you eat a rich and spicy soup or a smoother soup with a pleasant kick to it. The toasted flaked almonds to garnish are worth the effort, but croutons would work just as well if you had them in the cupboard instead. Cauliflower Soup Not involving cauliflower, but no less tasty and warming, I also made Poached Pears in Sake. I have a long and affectionate – if idiosyncratic – relationship with Japanese food. (For example, one of my friends, with whom I have a longstanding monthly arrangement for Monday night sushi, regales her workmates with tales of going for sushi with the friend who introduced her to sushi and who doesn’t eat fish…) My attempts to cook my own have been mixed, but I came across a Wagamama cookbook in my local Oxfam bookshop and decided to take the leap. I keep planning to make things out of it and either chickening out or not having the time to make all the little bits. However, there was an unexpected glut of pears in January – why? Who can tell, but my dad and I came home from two separate supermarkets with large bags of pears like bricks for 20p – and that seemed a sign to poach some pears like nothing else. I confess to being a little excited to finally break open the mirin and star anise I had in the cupboard and use them in a tasty fashion. I’ve never made a chocolate sauce and it was rich and glorious with the pairs, though I should note that they work equally well served with cream if you enjoy the hot pear with cold accompaniment sensation. I personally prefer a hot accompaniment but I suppose if you wanted a less rich accompaniment custard would make a tasty, if less authentically Japanese version. Poached Pears

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List Progression

Slowly and surely, progress is being made. I ended up having to knock one of the recipes off the list, as I’d mistakenly thought I had couscous in the cupboard when in fact it was polenta. However the list is now 20 items long, and I have been making decent progress on cooking up the cupboard contents, though not necessarily from the list.

  1. Dal Paneer Nawabi (Dal Cookbook)
  2. Parsee Dal
  3. Rasam with Gourd and Toor Lentils
  4. Lentil Kutu with Green Beans
  5. Moong Dal with Cauliflower
  6. Flaked Rice with Potatoes/Batate Pohe (India’s Vegetarian Cooking)
  7. Bamboo Shoots in Coconut Milk/Kirla Ghassi
  8. Rice and Mung Stew/Mung Khichdi
  9. Rich Root Soup (Easy Vegetarian)
  10. Lentils and Couscous (Guardian)
  11. Pappardelle with Leek
  12. Pumpkin Curry (Wagamama)
  13. Yasai Dotenabe
  14. Yasai Yaki Soba
  15. Sake Poached Pears
  16. Rosemary and Thyme Focaccia (Packet)
  17. Cheddar Cheese Scones (Lighter Way to Bake)
  18. Bite-sized Pinwheel Snacks
  19. White Chocolate Chunk Cookies
  20. Baked Lentil and Bean Cottage Pie

 

I have made a few things from the list though, largely because last week, I finished compiling my list and was utterly horrified by how little I’d actually cooked off the list so far and went on a bit of a cooking spree. That’s actually harder than it sounds for me, as I tend to bulk cook to accomodate my shifts and we also have a tiny freezer so I have to strike a happy medium between making several days meals at once and making so much of one thing that I scunner myself of the meal in question.

Rich Root Veg

I made the Rich Root Soup, which was very tasty and filling, though mostly brought home to me that I need a proper BIG pot for making soup in, my current large one really isn’t up to the task.

Lentil and 'Couscous'

Then I decided to make the Lentils and Couscous recipe, only to discover that I don’t actually have any couscous in the cupboard. Handily though, the recipe had a variant option where you replace the couscous with brown rice (which I do have in the cupboard) so I made that instead. It was a bit bland, but I suspect the couscous takes on the lime juice flavour more so worth trying again with actual couscous.

Then I had a go at making focaccia. This is actually my second attempt at focaccia – I wasn’t happy with my original attempt so a while back I picked up one of those little flour bags that claim to be bread mix to see if that would work better. No. Nope. Not at all. Total disaster. Wouldn’t rise, wouldn’t cook, I ended up cooking it for twice as long as the recipe recommended and still when I cut it open the dough was still raw inside. Win some, lose some, I guess. Perhaps I should just take it as a sign that I’m not meant to make focaccia…

So four recipes tried; sixteen to go. Clearly I’m not going to make them all before the end of the month, but I’m going to have fun trying to squeeze them all in!

Categories: being veggie, challenges, October cook-up | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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