27 September 2015

“Homemade Soup is No Place for Narrow Dogmatism”

homemade tomato soup

Thus wrote Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopal Minister, Professor of Dogmatic Theology and Exuberant Foodie writing in America in 1969.  He said …

Homemade soup is no place for narrow dogmatism. Do anything that comes into your head except over salt.  It is impossible to go wrong.

And …

“Soups, whose variety is only limited by the length of a man’s life!”

This is a man after my own heart and these my thoughts exactly, only better expressed!  Soup is so easy to make, so delicious and so comforting.

I have a very simple, very flexible method of making soup (one of my useful genius recipes) which can be varied to create an incredible variety of soups, from simple Leek and Potato to Caribbean Callaloo, Caldo Verde, Cullen Skink and even some soups that don’t begin with the letter C!

The basic recipe makes enough for four as an appetizer or 2-3 as a “meal in a bowl”, depending on what you add and how hungry you all are.

30g/1oz butter OR 2 tablespoons of olive oil, to be healthier and still delicious
2 med/large floury potatoes such as King Edward or Maris Piper
(
*** see below for a new breed we’ve just discovered)
stock or water
salt and pepper

~   Peel the onions, halve them lengthways and thinly slice into half-moons.
~   Heat the butter or oil in a saucepan with a lid and toss and separate the sliced onions in the fat to coat.
~   Sprinkle with a little salt.
~   Press something appropriate (a piece of foil, a piece of baking parchment, greaseproof paper or a butter wrapper) directly onto the onions to cover completely. Try not to burn yourself on the side of the pan.
~   Turn the heat down to low and put the lid on the pot; the onions should not so much fry in the butter or oil as gently steam in it.
~   Cook slowly until the onions are soft enough to cut with the edge of a wooden spoon. You can stir once or twice during this time and they should take about 30 minutes.
~   When really tender peel and thinly slice the potatoes and add them together with enough stock or water to just cover them. You may need more liquid to finish the soup but it’s best not to use more than necessary at this stage; less splashy when mashing or puréeing.
~   Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, cover with the lid and cook till the potatoes are tender.
~   Taste and season till delicious.

genius soup recipe cookbook


Et voila, as they say in America, you have a very good, cockle-warming soup but there is so much you can do with it, so very much more that I have written a book giving not only 60+ recipes for soups based on this but also all the information I can think of for using different fats, seasonings, herbs, spices, vegetables, cheeses, dairy and other additions so that it is easy to confidently create new soups.

As a taster here is a recipe straight from the book …




Roasted Garlic & Parmesan Soup


For a more intensely cheesy flavour, if  you have both time and the leftover rind of a piece of Parmesan cheese, simmer said rind in the stock you will be using for about an hour before making the soup.

1 x basic recipe
1 whole head of roasted garlic – instructions in the book or see here for how to roast garlic
about 1 tablespoon olive oil
90g/3oz grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
150ml/5 fl oz double (heavy) cream

~   Make the basic soup.
~   When ready squeeze the soft roasted garlic from its skins into the soup and purée until smooth.
~   Return to the pan
and stir in the cream and Parmesan.
~   Bring to
a simmer, taste and adjust seasoning again.
~  
Serve hot with croutons and more Parmesan.
roasted garlic and Parmesan soup


In addition to soup recipes and useful soup making info I also include recipes for stocks, garnishes, some handy ancillary recipes and what to do with leftover soup including a rather surprising idea.  And remember ...

“Good manners: The noise you don't make when you're eating soup.”
Bennett Cerf

In Other News apropos of the *** above

Instead of buying a few potatoes every week we buy a sack every couple of months or so, it is far more economical that way.  We always have a choice of potatoes to buy and this time were a breed I have never heard of before; Sagitta. The lady in the shop said they were good all-rounders and up to now we have been very pleased indeed with them.  They make excellent mash, gorgeous jacket potatoes (the skin is slightly thicker than normal and we do like our skin – I rub it with salt and oil before baking which makes it extra good), sautéed potatoes were excellent and they worked very well in this soup recipe.  So, if you see them give them a go.

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14 September 2015

10 Stupid Food Hacks and a Blatantly Obvious One!

I am all for good ideas that will save time, make cooking easier or meals better (which is why I wrote a book of sensible and seriously useful cooking tips, (free sample here!) but some of these so called hacks I have been seeing on the internet recently are ridiculous!

Here are 11 cooking hacks that I am totally hacked off with!


1.   Halve little grape or cherry tomatoes by placing them between two plastic lids. 


Press down the top lid and gently slice through the tomatoes. A yogurt lid is suggested for this.

How many tomatoes can you do at a time with a yogurt lid (or, more accurately, two)? Ten-ish? How long does it take? I think it would be quicker, easier and safer to cut 10 or so little tomatoes in half with a knife than try to hold them in place between two lids and slide a knife between. Is it really beyond people to do this 10 times?

how-to-cut-tomatoes


2.  Use a Panini Maker to Make Omelettes


Well really!  A panini maker will just result in some cooked egg which is nothing like the light moist dish deserving of the name “omelette”.

how-to-make-an-omelette

 This is how to make an omelette, it is nowhere near as difficult as you might think, in fact it’s quite easy.

~   Break 2 or 3 fresh eggs into a bowl (you’d have to do this with a panini maker too).
~   Season and lightly beat together just to break the whites into the yolks, there is no need to whisk till fully amalgamated (same for a panini maker but I think it would need to be fully whisked).
~   Melt a knob of butter in a non frying stick pan (or grease your panini maker).
~   When the butter has melted and starts to foam swirl it about the pan and pour in the eggs.
~   Allow to sit over the heat for a few seconds and when you see the edges start to solidify gently lift them with a spatula, tilt the pan and encourage the runny egg on top to flow to the side of the pan and under the cooked egg.
~   Keep doing this till the top of the omelette is merely moist.
~   Add any fillings and fold one half of the omelette over the other.
~   Slide onto a warm plate.

3.   Squeeze lemons with tongs – why?


how-to-squeeze lemons

Hands are a great tool for squeezing lemons (useful hack – wiggle your clean fingers in the cavity of the fruit to squeeze out every drop) and you can use your other hand to catch the pips. 


Purpose made lemon juicers work perfectly, of course, they get all the juice  and they catch the pips.



Tongs - I’ve just tried doing this and found it tricky, uncontrollable, squirty and they don’t catch the pips.





4.   I recently read two suggestions for “coping” with butternut squash ...

i)   Use a mallet to tap your knife into the squash


This sounds dangerous to me.

ii)  To avoid “hours of terror” before preparing a squash and “many excruciating minutes” cutting it ...


"prick it with a fork and put in the microwave for a few minutes first.  That might help and is certainly preferable to bashing a knife with a mallet!"

Alternatively just a large sharp knife for cutting and a smaller sharp knife or potato peeler for peeling will do the job nicely.

~   Lay the squash on its side and cut off the very end with the stalk – cut 1.
~   Now cut it just at the end of the long straight bit before it swells out – cut 2.
~   Stand this piece on one end and using the small sharp knife cut off strips of peel in a downward direction or use a potato peeler.
~   Cut off the end of the rounded half of squash – cut 3.
~   Stand it on a cut end and cut off the peel as above or use a potato peeler.
~   Cut it in half – cut 4.
~   Using a sharp edges teaspoon remove the seeds and membrane in the middle.

how-to-prepare-butternut-squash

See here for delicious ideas for using your squash (including a way that needs less frightening cutting and no peeling).   

And here is a “hack” of my very own ...

With large round solid things like butternut squash instead of moving the knife back and forth to cut it I wedge the blade where I want to make the cut then hold it still and move the squash back and forth. I find this much safer and easier.  

5.   Shred chicken breasts using the K-beater and your mixer


Isn’t this a bit strange and a lot of faff for nothing? How about 2 forks or even a sharp knife (again)? WTF?

6.   Use an egg slicer to slice garlic, mushrooms or strawberries


And there was me thinking it was daft using an egg slicer to slice eggs!  Daft, daft, daft. Yet again a sharp knife, only a smaller one this time, is the answer and so much easier!

7.   Chop Herbs with a Pizza Cutter Instead of a Knife


The same site went on to say “even better cut everything with a pizza cutter” which is seriously misguided.  Chop herbs with a long sharp knife and a rocking motion, sprinkle the board with a little salt before you start to stop the herbs sliding around too much.

8.  Quickly Sear Meat in the Broiler Rather Than on the Stove 


NO, don’t do that  because doing it in the pan (which should NOT be non-stick) leaves a delicious meaty residue ...

how to brown meat for the maillard reaction

... which can then be quickly made into a sauce.

~   Once your meat is browned set it aside in a warm place (here’s yet another “hack” – meat is so, so, so much juicer and more tender if you let it rest for a say 10 minutes before serving).
~   Add a little liquid (water, wine or stock) to the pan. 
~   Bring it to a boil scraping up the cooked-on meat juices and letting them dissolve in the liquid. 
~   If it is a bit runny simmer till reduced a little then add a knob of butter or a splash of cream et voila a delicious sauce.

9.  For Richer Scrambled Eggs, Use Sour Cream Instead of Milk


I have never, ever whisked milk or cream into eggs for scrambling, there is no need or even any point, for richer scrambled eggs this is the thing to do ...

~    Melt a knob of butter (not margarine or anything else) in a small non-stick pan (easier for washing up hack). 
~   When partly melted break 2 or 3 eggs into the butter and immediately stir all together, season and continue stirring over low-ish heat. 
~   As it cooks fold the solidifying egg into the uncooked and continue till you have a pan of soft perfectly scrambled eggs and then immediately do this neat trick (or “hack”) from Julia Child ...
~  Whisk in a knob of cold butter. This will stop the eggs cooking any further, retain them at optimal creaminess and make them more delicious than ever. You could use cream or sour cream at this stage instead of butter or even milk if you don’t want them to be too delicious!

10.   Cook vegetables (and other things) in the dishwasher together with a load of dishes. 


I was surprised to read this. It is suggested that the vegetables are seasoned and then sealed in a jar with a tight screw on lid so that the soapy water can’t get in, it should be placed upright in the dishwasher.  

I don’t have a dishwasher but research has shown that they take between 30 minutes and two hours per cycle, 80 minutes being optimum.  Also that you should probably not open the dishwasher mid-cycle. How well cooked do you like your veggies?

Jack Monroe, and others, make the very valid point that some people don’t have adequate cooking equipment and I sympathise but if you don’t cook why would you have a dishwasher?

To cook vegetables cut them into slices or florets or whatever shape is appropriate, put them in a small pan, just cover with boiling water, add a little salt, bring to the boil, turn down the heat, put on the lid and simmer for about 3 minutes for green vegetables, cauliflower and carrots and 25 minutes or so for potatoes - NOT 80!

This cooking hack is a little different ...


11.   Grate your own cheese!!! 


This one, of course, isn’t daft it is absolutely the thing to do.  I saw this in a list of “17 F*cking Brilliant Food Hacks That Will Save You A Lot Of Money” but I think it is more F*cking Blatantly Obvious than brilliant!

This changes EVERYTHING

Articles on these “hacks” often say “This changes EVERYTHING” or something similar and I agree – you could hurt your eyes with out-of-control lemon juice, stab yourself whilst bashing a knife with a mallet or cut your finger off sliding a knife between two plastic lids separated by rolly- about tomatoes.


In Other News ...

I have been “helping” my real man with concreting our yard; holding things such as the cement mixer and the wheelbarrow steady. 

It is nowhere near as interesting as one would think so I was not surprised to see on the mixer, among stickers about wearing goggles and not returning the mixer in a dirty condition, that they recommend you read a book whilst working.

cement-mixer-instructions







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10 September 2015

Ideas for Black Pudding in Addition to the Underarm Throw!


black pudding warning

As you are no doubt aware this Sunday sees the exciting World Black Pudding Throwing Championships take place outside the The Oaks Pub in Ramsbottom from 12pm. Contestants must lob three ‘competition standard’ (6oz) puddings underarm in an attempt to dislodge Yorkshire puddings that have been stacked on a 20 foot high (20 feet!) plinth! It is apparently a ‘celebration’ of the longstanding rivalry between Yorkshire & Lancashire. 

World black pudding throwing championship

If you are unable to make it to Ramsbottom this year or your black pudding is not up competition standard, here are ...


14 Delicious Ideas for Black Pudding


~   Serve as part of a fry-up, obviously.
real man's fry up

~   Sauté crumbled or chopped pieces in a little oil till crisp and black (I don’t often say that!) and toss in a salad. Add a poached egg  if you feel like it.

~   Add crumbled black pudding to potato cakes or bubble ‘n’ squeak or mashed potato or scalloped potatoes, etc.

~   Dip diced or sliced black pudding in your choice of coating from those listed here and deep fry. They'd be good served with apple sauce to dip them in.

~   Add to homemade (or bought in, I suppose) stuffing – see here for homemade stuffing recipe.  This is particularly good with chicken and pork, of course.

~   Mix with ground pork and make a tasty pork burger.

~   Add to sausage meat when making Scotch Eggs, which are made thus – wrap cold hard boiled eggs (peeled of course!) in 70g-80g seasoned sausage meat per egg, making sure there are no gaps. Roll in beaten egg and then fresh breadcrumbs. Deep fry till crisp and golden.  


~   Or mix into the sausagemeat when making sausage rolls.

~   Stir through baked beans.

~   Add to or replace the sausage in Toad in the Hole - although this does rather force the situation between two natural enemies.

~   Sauté with mushrooms and serve on toast.

~   Black Pudding Pizza! See here for a great easy pizza dough recipe plus suggestions. The Finan Crispy Pizza in that post would be good with added black pudding or perhaps make a Black Puddng and Apple Pizza! 

~   Make Eggs Bury (or possibly Eggs Stornoway – see below) by which I mean a version of Eggs Benedict – see herefor all sorts of info and the recipe. 

 ~   Add to kedgeree – kedgeree recipe here. 

Apparently there is an ongoing heated discussion between Lancashire and Scotland as to the origin of true black pudding.  The version made in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis has been has been awarded Protected Geographical Indication by the The European Commission. It is known  as “marag dubh” and I understand that it is smoother than the Lancashire version so will give it a try next time I am in Scotland.

In view of this rivalry I actually feel it would be inappropriate to lob a Stornoway Black Pudding at anything, really.

In Other News ...

1.   Look who our neighbour Julie introduced us to the other day ...

elephant hawk moth caterpillar
  
What a lovely face! Apparently he/she is an Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar and will turn into this ...

elephant hawk moth

Julie was kind enough to leave him with us and I so hope he pupates nearby and we get to see the finished result!

2.   You may have noticed that the weather has very much improved in the last few days. This is because I have now published my Genius Recipe soup book as a paperback as well as on kindle, just when no-one needs soup!

almost the only soup recipe you'll ever need




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4 September 2015

"My Family Kitchen" by Sophie Thompson ~ a Review

Well I sit corrected!


I was recently sent "My Family Kitchen" to review but, to be honest, was a bit worried about it. I had not heard (or at least thought I hadn’t heard) of the writer, Sophie Thompson. I don’t watch Celebrity Masterchef which Sophie won last year, I never watch soaps (apparently she was in EastEnders) and I even have a bit of a dour view of celebrities writing cookbooks. For some reason I have always thought chefs, lifelong cooks and food enthusiasts might be better at it! 

In short I am a bit of a grumpy git!

This very attractive book arrived and I felt I recognised the girl on the cover so googled Sophie Thompson and found that I have watched her with pleasure in many things, including one of my utter favourites; “Dancing at Lughnasa”.  So I apologise.

Next I applied my standard test. One day a week I sort books that have been donated to Cornwall Hospice Care  (dividing them between those that go to their shops and those that are to be sold, hopefully, on Amazon) and, of course, cookbooks always catch my eye. Obviously I can’t buy all the books I fancy (we only have a small home) so I apply a test; I flick through any cookbooks I am interested in and in most cases said flick reveals that I’ve seen it all before. In this case, however, whilst doing my preliminary flick my attention was caught by good ideas and flavour combinations over and over again. The Autumn Burgers sound brilliant!

It seems that Sophie Thompson is indeed a food enthusiast and lifelong cook as well as being talented actress, so another apology!

One recipe that interested me straightaway was ...

College Days Homemade Flatbreads


I love a flatbread but have honestly never thought of using yogurt in them – call myself a cook! This recipe was so incredibly simple, memorable and variable – it almost qualifies as a "genius recipe" according to my very strict standards.

I quartered the recipe because it was just for me and made four little round breads, more than enough to go with my chicken salad lunch.

flatbread recipe

Sophie suggests cooking these breads in an unoiled grill pan but mine seems to have gone awol so I cooked them in a normal frying pan and they worked fine. I added sumac to one of the flatbreads and whilst they were all good that was my favourite. Sophie suggests adding turmeric or thyme or black pepper and I am sure there are loads of other great things that could be added to the basic breads.

Then I tried ...


Rainy Day Tablet


Tablet is a very rich, unhealthy and delicious crumbly fudge-like thingy from Scotland.  I was recently offered some Iron Bru flavoured tablet to try and it was ‘orrible. Yuk, yuk, yuk. After that I felt it would be good for me to eat some proper tablet asap so that I would not be put off for life. I made Rainy Day Tablet and it was really good, what a relief.


tablet recipe

The recipe is very hands on (constant stirring, which I enjoyed as I just flicked through the rest of the book at the same time!) but is easy and took about 15 minutes from deciding to make it to it being ready.  So much faster than driving to Scotland!

homemade tablet


tomato sketch


"My Family Kitchen" is highly illustrated with food photos, pictures of Sophie and her family and some attractive drawings. The layout is clear and attractive. The paper is thick!  Lovely book – I am jealous. I wish my publishers had been a fraction as assiduous with “The Leftovers Handbook”!




Many of the 100+ recipes are attributed to friends and family, I particularly like the sound of her Granny Megsie, a girl after my own heart.  I liked the writing style from the start; friendly, funny, it is well worth reading not only the recipes but all the notes and asides too.

You can watch Sophie making her 

Uncle James's Bavarian Orange Pie from the book here.




There is also none of The Thing That Really Irritates Me!  ie. using ready made, bought in mixes and “ingredients” and the book even a recipe for homemade marzipan. The exception to this (which doesn’t irritate me at all) is her whimsical State School Mess (as opposed to what they eat at Eton) which is an over the top mixture of ice cream and lots and lots of sweets and biscuits, made a weeny bit healthy by the addition of fresh raspberries immediately offset by a Mars Bar Sauce!


So, in short and much so to my surprise Yes, I heartily recommend this book! 

I’m am so much in favour of people learning to cook (has anyone been watching “Eat Well for Less”? I couldn’t stand it after a few minutes!) and do believe this happy, friendly not at all intimidating book might be an inspiration to both novices and experienced cooks.  I know it sounds a bit harsh but Christmas is coming! I am sure this would make a great gift. 

"My Family Kitchen" by Sophie Thompson was published yesterday (!) by Faber & Faber and is available, of course, from Amazon and probably lots of other good bookshops too!

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