Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Soup Kitchen

Winter is definitely on its way. The mountains have a picturesque blanket of snow draped over them which provides a beautiful backdrop but unfortunately means that down here in the Valley it is rain, rain and more rain. The rain has been so heavy over the last few days that today the river finally gave in and burst its banks causing widespread flooding in town and leading to a state of emergency being declared! As bridges were closed and people living near the lake were evacuated, I remained tucked up indoors with the fireplace on and decided it was the perfect day to spend some time in the kitchen making warming homemade soup.

Soup was something that I grew up with and have therefore always loved and turned to for comfort. On a cold, rainy day nothing can beat a piping hot bowl of fresh soup with warm bread ready to dunk in! I think everyone has their favourite soup and of course when a cold or sniffle comes along I find that most people I know turn to a big bowl of soup. For me it has to be my mum’s vegetable soup sprinkled with curry powder and for my husband it is chicken noodle soup which soothes and revitalises.

Soup is a dish that can be enjoyed piping hot slurped from a bowl or mug or chilled and served in dainty glass bowls on a glorious summer day. It is extremely versatile, can be served for lunch or dinner and if that isn’t enough it is also inexpensive to make. It is universally eaten and enjoyed and the variations are endless. Below are two very easy recipes that I made today based on what I had in my kitchen, ideal for lunch and perfect for anyone just starting to make soup or needing a pick-me-up. With the weather the way it is however and winter fast approaching I can assure you that throughout this blog there will be many, many more soup recipes popping up to warm and comfort as needed!

Curried Vegetable Soup

This is such an easy soup that anyone could make it using minimal appliances, basic ingredients that are available all year round and that are cheap – perfect for someone on a budget. Mum always made this for us and now whenever I am ill it’s the only thing I want and that can make me feel better. I’ve kept the recipe exactly as mum made it, however feel free to add any additional herbs or spices that you have lying around.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 oz butter
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
2 tsp curry powder, plus extra to sprinkle on top
Salt & pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a large pan. Add the onion and cook gently for a few minutes until softened, then add the leeks, carrots and potatoes and cook gently for 10-15 minutes with a lid on. Once the vegetables have started to soften add the stock and curry powder and season with salt and pepper. Simmer gently for a further 20-25 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly before blending until smooth. Check the seasoning and serve piping hot with a little curry powder sprinkled over the top if you like.

Leek & Bean Soup

This is another incredibly easy and quick recipe that is hearty and delicious. Make sure you drizzle the soup with good quality extra virgin olive oil to finish it off perfectly.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
4 good sized leeks, cleaned well and thinly sliced
1 fat clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 litre/ 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 410g tin of cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan or pecorino to garnish
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

In a large pan heat the oil and butter until melted. Add the sliced leeks and cook for roughly 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the stock and then the beans. Season with salt and pepper, cover with a lid then simmer for 15 minutes. Leave the soup to cool slightly then blend roughly a third of it. Mix well and check for seasoning. When ready to serve, serve piping hot with a few shavings of parmesan and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Macaroni and cheese

Macaroni and cheese is certainly not a new dish, however I consider it without doubt to be in the top 10 comfort foods, so continuing with our November theme of comfort foods is good old mac and cheese!

I have tried so many different versions of macaroni and cheese in order to try and find what I think is the best, and of course the one I have come back to is my mum’s recipe. The only thing I have done is add a little extra cheese. With other versions I tried infusing the milk with onion, bay leaves, spices and so on, and while they were good, mum’s version was without a doubt the winner.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can vary the types of cheese you use depending on what you have. Cheddar, mozzarella & parmesan taste great, are kid friendly and I generally always have them in my fridge, however experiment and try different varieties. Smoked gouda provides a lovely mild smoky dimension, gruyere adds a delicious nuttiness and blue cheese is perfect for a stronger, slightly more sophisticated taste.

To finish off the macaroni and cheese, I like to simply grill it for a few minutes until the cheese is bubbling and just turning golden. If you prefer to bake yours however, place it in a 200C/ 400F/ GM 6 oven for 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and golden.

10oz/ 285g macaroni
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp plain flour
625ml/ 2 ½ cups milk
2 tsp Dijon or English mustard
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3oz/ 85g strong cheddar cheese, grated
3oz/ 85g hard mozzarella, grated
1oz/ 30g parmesan cheese, finely grated
Salt & pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and cook the macaroni until it is al dente. If you want to finish off the macaroni in the oven by baking it, cook it for roughly 2 minutes less than the packet instructions.

While the pasta is cooking make the cheese sauce. In a medium sized sauce pan, melt the butter and then stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Cook over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes, allowing the roux, (the butter and flour mix) to cook slightly to prevent a raw flour taste later on.

Gently start whisking the milk a little at a time into the roux, stirring constantly to prevent any lumps. Once all the milk has been added gently bring it to a boil then allow to simmer for a couple of minutes so that it thickens. (A milk sauce thickened with flour or cornflour will never thicken fully until it has reached a simmer.) Mix the three cheeses together then add the mustard and two-thirds of the mixed cheese to the sauce, along with the nutmeg and salt and pepper. Remove from the heat while the cheese melts then taste to check the seasoning and stir until all the cheeses are melted.

Drain the pasta and add to the cheese sauce. Stir well then transfer to an oven-proof serving dish. Top with the remaining cheese then bake in the oven for 20 minutes or put it under a hot grill for roughly 5 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

*For variation add some chopped cooked bacon to the cheese sauce or for extreme luxury add some chunks of lobster!

Friday, November 6, 2009


For me, November is a month that is all about comfort food. The nights get darker much earlier, the trees have lost their leaves and the air is cold and damp. Jumpers are in full-force and scarves, gloves and hats are making their first appearance of the winter. It is only natural therefore that on the menu is comfort food. Comfort food is different to everyone but generally it is food that will warm and sooth you and is easy to eat.

With that being said I am dedicating the month of November to comfort food and first on our list is Goulash.

Yesterday it poured with rain all day long (and all night) so this Hungarian casserole was a perfect meal to warm us up, as well as the house as it slowly bubbled away in the oven. Goulash is a beef stew (or you can use pork) intensely flavoured with paprika and peppers and then mellowed out at the end with lashings of sour cream. From the moment I added the smoky paprika to the dish I was instantly revived and felt like I had been transported to a rustic log cabin with a wood-burning fireplace smouldering away in the corner of the room.

I really recommend trying to get some smoked paprika for this dish as it really does make a huge difference, however if you can’t you can just use ordinary paprika, you just won’t get such an intensely smoky taste. La Chinata is the paprika I like to use to achieve the distinct sultry smoky taste and is now available from most supermarkets. The hot paprika is optional as it is quite spicy and will add a definite heat to the goulash, so if you would prefer a milder version miss it out and use 2 tablespoons of the sweet paprika instead.

The most common accompaniment to goulash tends to be rice or tagliatelle – both of which are lovely, however for ultimate comfort I find you can’t beat having it with creamy mashed potatoes.

750g approx. stewing or braising steak
30g/ 1oz plain or all-purpose flour
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely sliced
100ml red wine (you can also use white if that’s what you have)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 red peppers, sliced
1 tbsp smoked sweet paprika, plus extra for sprinkling
1 tbsp smoked hot paprika
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 x 400g/ 14oz tin of chopped tomatoes
250ml beef stock
1 bay leave
Salt & pepper
150ml sour cream, plus extra to serve
3 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

If you are using an oven-proof casserole dish, pre-heat the oven to 350F/ 180C.

Toss the beef in the flour so that all the pieces are lightly covered, shaking off any excess. Heat the oil in a large casserole dish or pan and cook the meat in batches until it is well browned all over. Remove and set aside.

If need be add a little extra oil then add the sliced onions to the same pan or casserole dish and cook for a couple of minutes then add the wine and de-glaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up all the delicious brown bits that have stuck to the bottom with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook the onions for a few more minutes before adding the garlic and peppers. Cook for another couple of minutes then add the meat back to the pan along with the paprika. Stir well so that everything is coated in the paprika then add the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, beef stock, bay leaf, salt and pepper.

If cooking the goulash in a casserole dish, cover it and then put it into the oven to cook for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. If you are using a large pan, simply cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and leave to cook gently for just over 1 hour (or longer if you have the time), stirring from time to time.

When ready to serve stir in the sour cream and scatter over the parsley. Stir well then serve with rice, tagliatelle or mashed potatoes (if you want the extra comfort!). As a final touch, I like to put a small bowl with some extra sour cream on the table sprinkled with some of the sweet paprika for everyone to help themselves to.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thai Pumpkin soup

This is a great warming soup to have at Halloween or on Guy Fawkes night when there is still an abundance of pumpkins around. Although smaller pumpkins will give a stronger flavour, feel free to use any you can get your hands on, including any failed attempts at pumpkin carving! If you can't get a pumpkin then feel free to use any type of squash. I've made this several times using Butternut Squash and it's just as delicious.

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed & cut into cubes
1.2kg of pumpkin flesh, peeled & cubed
1 carrot, peeled & roughly chopped
2 red chillies, 1 finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled & grated
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp red curry paste
1 litre/ 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
400ml tin of coconut milk
Salt & pepper
Handful of fresh coriander

To serve:
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds (optional)

In a large pan heat the oil then add the sliced onion and leek and gently sauté for roughly 7 minutes until they have started to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes before adding the chopped pumpkin flesh, carrot, 1 finely chopped chilli and the ginger. Sauté for a few more minutes then add the ground coriander and the curry paste. Cook for a minute or so stirring well so that the paste doesn’t burn, then add the stock. Cover and leave to simmer gently for roughly 25 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft.

Remove from the heat then add the coconut milk and seasoning. Allow to cool completely before blending to a completely smooth consistency. When ready to serve, gently reheat and add the coriander, reserving a little for a garnish along with the remaining chilli, thinly sliced or if you prefer garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top.
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