Leek and Potato Soup

leek-and-potato-soup

I still have a cold.  I’m not good at not doing anything, so…  Feed a cold, right?

Leeks-and-potatoes

Spring flowers are my favourite flowers, I grabbed them yesterday on a brief supply trip.  There are even some snowdrops in the garden and the footpaths are beginning to have a genuinely dry look about them.  I’m writing this whilst I’m waiting to finish a Blood Orange Meringue Pie, it’s on the step outside cooling as I type.   I think I went on a little bit of a seasonal food spree, hence the leeks and blood oranges.

leeks

I love leeks.  Beautiful colours and so silky in soup.  Just wash them thoroughly, they’ve been banked up and hidden in soil so it gets into the leaves pretty thoroughly.  Top and tail them, remove any grubby/tatty outer leaves and cut half way through the length.  Pop them under running water so you can wipe dirt away with your fingers whilst you pull the leaves aside.

I always begin soup with onion and celery (carrot as well if it’s going to be tomatoey).  Why onions when I’m using leeks?  It’s a different onion flavour plus the slow braising of onion and celery help give the soup more depth, a bloody good chicken stock will also help.  Translucent onions which are brown around the edge make food taste good.

Brown food tastes better!

So.. soup!  It’s creamy and leeky and delicious and is really good with some sharp, jaw tingling cheddar melted onto some oven-crisped bread.

leek-and-potato-soup2

Makes a huge pot of soup, I’d at least half it if you don’t want to eat it for a few days (or freeze it!).

1 onion diced
3 sticks celery, chopped
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
6 leeks, cleaned and cut into 1 inch chunks
10 new potatoes or salad potatoes or any potatoes you have lying around, washed and in small chunks
2 chicken stock cubes*
Salt and Pepper

Biiiig pan time. Put the onion and celery in with the butter and oil. Coat everything in the oil and leave this on a low heat with the lid on while you wash and cut the leeks.
Put in all the leeks, if you think you need some more butter to coat them when they’ve wilted, go right on ahead. I love butter.
Wilt the leeks and put in the potatoes.
Add the stock cubes and cover everything generously with boiling water.
Boil until the potatoes are cooked.
Use an immersion hand blender or a blender blender. Blitz away! I left a few bits, but not many. I don’t think I look attractive when I run into difficulty getting slippy leeks off a spoon with my face.
Taste it and adjust the seasoning. Even after adding stock cubes I required more salt.
If you want cheddar toasts, grate a little cheese onto slices of bread, pop under the grill until it’s the colour you want. I didn’t toast the bread first, I like it warm and soft.

*I use a lot of stock cubes. I get it, for someone who is.. well.. a food snob.. I use a lot of stock cubes. I also work a lot, I don’t have the time or money to roast an organic free range chicken every time I need chicken stock (unfortunately) but as I’ve said, oh so many times, Kallo cubes are a pretty good substitute.

Fast Falafel Wraps

An open falafel wrap

An open falafel wrap

Exactly that.  Falafel wraps for lunch, and they took all of ten minutes, which was basically me puttering about lazily while the falafel heated up in the oven.

Flames brand Falafel

I know.  I’ve used ready made boxed Falafel.  When we were shopping yesterday (in one of the amazing Asian supermarkets in Fenham, the West End of Newcastle) I knew I wasn’t going to feel any better (I’ve got my first cold of the year) so I grabbed a box.  Plus, they’re delicious and don’t have any weird ingredients in them. So there.

coriander-with-chilli-and-garlic

In any of the Asian supermarkets we can buy four fresh naan or flat breads for £1.  Pretty awesome.  All I really needed to do was make a quick mayonnaise mix of crushed garlic, chilli and coriander then pile everything in.

flatbread-onion-tomato-parsley

I was assembling for two

2 large naan or flat breads
8 falafel
1 tomato, thinly sliced
4 thin slices of onion in rings
2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
4 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1 mild heat chilli finely chopped
1 crushed garlic clove
2 heaped tablespoons of mayonnaise
pinch salt
pinch pepper
1 lemon for a few squeezes of juice
2 big handfuls of salad or lettuce or any leaf of your choice

Put the falafel in the oven to warm up. While they’re doing that..
Mix together the chopped chilli, crushed garlic, chopped coriander and mayonnaise with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Grab your breads and spread as much of this tasty mayo on as you’d like.
Top each with salad.
Put four falafel onto each salad pile.
Top with the onion, tomato, chopped parsley, a little extra lemon juice and more spiked mayonnaise if you want (I wanted!).

Roll up tight and eat.  Awesome.

Silver Dollar Pancakes

silver-dollar-pancakes

I’m better late than never, right?

I was pretty excited that Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day!) fell on my day off.  So excited that I didn’t even manage to have pancakes.  I know – such unbidden excitement is a rare and annoying, disappointing beautiful thing.

It’s ok.  I just had them for breakfast today instead when everyone else had gone back to boring Weetabix. Hah.

There are many pancake recipes out there.  A hoard, if you will (and that’s a lot), but  I just can’t bring myself to make the flat dense English pancakes.  Can’t and won’t.  They will always be American Hotcakes in my house.

When I was younger (over twenty years ago), it would be a ‘treat’ supper for me, which meant an easy one for my Mama.  A stack of fat fluffy hotcakes with crispy bacon, maple syrup and extra butter.  We never really had them for breakfast, that’s become my adult waking ‘treat’.  Particularly if I sneak in some chocolate chips and a banana.

They don’t take any special ingredients.  You can sour the milk, or use buttermilk if you like.  Sometimes I do, today I didn’t.  Everything else will be in residence in your kitchen cupboards.  The best way to cook them is in a cast iron frying pan with bravery – no oil and no butter!  I imagine a non-stick Teflon magic frying pan would work, I just don’t own one.

Pancake batter in the pan

The Silver Dollar part refers to the size of them, one serving spoon of batter (two tablespoons) make one pancake.  They’re dainty and because of this you can have a piled high stack and feel special without complaining of carb overload.  Of course you can make them larger, make them as big as you can handle!  I’m not a tosser I’m afraid, I can barely move the cast iron pan around the kitchen let alone making it loop-the-loop with my wrist.

Flipped silver dollar pancakes

I have a feeling that this well used family recipe came from a 1950’s copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  It is about three inches thick and has a red gingham print on the cover.  It’s such a battered copy, but it’s a wonderful cook book.  No messing around, it wins with every recipe.

berries-for-pancakes

 

top-view-pancake-stack

I got 26 silver dollar sized pancakes from this

1 1/4 cup of plain flour
2.5 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
4 tbsp caster sugar (make it 1 if you don’t want them a little sweet. More if you want them really sweet)
1 cup of milk
1 beaten egg
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Mixed berries and honey

Put your cast iron pan on low to warm up. If it goes higher it will be too hot because they really hold the heat! Other pans I’d say medium to low – better be on the safe side.

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk it around to remove any lumps.

Mix together the wet stuff and make sure the egg is well incorporated.

Add the wet to the dry – mix it gently until the dry ingredients are wet.  Do not worry about lumps, and for God’s sake don’t beat it until it’s smooth!  The pancakes will come out like rubber.  Yuck.

Add serving spoons of batter to the pan, I managed to fit three or four in mine at once.

Wait for a few bubbles to appear, with a fish slice/flipper lift an edge gently to see if it’s nicely brown.  Mine took just over a minute on the first side.

Flip them over one by one and give them another minute.  You can always lift to peek at their progress.

I stacked mine up with a little honey and a berry or two between each and threw some extra honey on top and berries on the side for good measure.

Spring Cabbage and Pea Soup

Shredded cabbage and peas

spring-cabbage-and-pea-soup-two

This is really just ‘fridge soup’ masquerading as a healthy broth.  It IS healthy, and I found it oddly comforting.   I honestly expected it to be bland cabbage soup, the kind the crazy yo-yo dieters insist is the miracle weight stripper.  But it was delicious.  Light and quite sweet from the peas, so the sharp grilled cheddar toasts were a savory delight.  Also – crunchy bread with soft hot soup?  Win.

 cropped-savoy-cabbage-one.jpg

 

ingredients-saucepan

Of course you can make this soup more delicious – add BACON.  Yep.  I said it.  Bacon.  Quite possibly the most delicious, deeply savory soup meat.
If you were to buy a piece of bacon – not the ready sliced rashers which curl up at the thought of being immersed in hot water, leaving their white wobbly fat floating around the pan. A lump/piece of bacon. Normally quite cheap in supermarkets over here in the UK.
So, if you were to buy a piece of bacon to make this soup more delicious – and not vegetarian – you should chop it into chunks and add it to the pan when the onions, bay, celery and garlic have had a few moments to themselves. Do not add stock cubes when you add the water! Bacon is salty.
Let all of this bubble around for quite a while if you want tender bacon which falls into strips. Or even in the slow cooker overnight. Then, when the bacon is done, continue on with the cabbage and peas. It will be tremendous.
Alternatively, brown some cubed pancetta with the onions and carry on regardless.

shredded-savoy-cabbage

 

 

Shredded cabbage and peas

 

 

bread-and-cheese

 

two tablespoons of olive oil
one chopped onion
two ribs of celery, chopped
two cloves of garlic, finely chopped
one bay leaf
a half head of savoy cabbage
two stock cubes – vegetable or chicken
two mugs of frozen peas
Into a large saucepan put the oil, onion, celery, bay leaf and garlic. Let this sit on low while you clean and finely slice the cabbage.
Cut out the tough stem of the cabbage, which will leave you two ‘ears’. Stack the ear leaves on top of each other and finely slice across the length.
Add the cabbage ribbons to the pot and coat with the oil.
Add the stock cubes and cover with hot water.
Let this bubble to take the raw edge off the cabbage, about five minutes will do.
I used this five minutes to grate some sharp cheddar onto a slice of olive bread (all I had in the cupboard) and shoved it under a high grill to bubble and crisp.
Toss in the peas for about three minutes.
Check the seasoning and serve.
Beware, it’s very steamy – thoroughly fogged my camera lens.

 

Goat’s Cheese with Blossom Honey and Cracked Black Pepper

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It’s my day off.  I’ve not really done anything, but that’s what they’re for.. aren’t they?  Shift work makes daily life run differently.  That’s what I’m telling myself.

It’s raining, I need to run to the local supermarket for dinner supplies but it’s raining.

I needed a snack.  Something to tide me over while I work up the stones to go out in the cold and wet.  I had some crackers in the cupboard and a packet of soft goat’s cheese lurking in the fridge.  I’d been reading a few food magazines lately and more than one of them mentioned cheese with honey.  I scoffed at this because it’s such a simple thing and surely everyone knows that should you pick the right cheese then that combination is delicious.  Everyone knows.

So why am I not doing it more often?  I don’t know.  But it was perfect.  Tangy goat’s cheese drizzled with lightly flavoured blossom honey and a few grindings of pepper on top.  That’s all it is, and it is good.   Go to it!

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Mushroom Soup

The city where I work is home to a large indoor market which holds at least five excellent green grocers.  I was on a mission for work (dark brown sugar for Mojito making) and I walked past boxes and boxes of flat field mushrooms.  For one pound.  One pound. Each box must have contained a minimum of 25 huge mushrooms.  So of course I left with one.

I had a 30g bag of dried porcini mushrooms at the back of the cupboard bought on a whim because I never know when the urge for mushroom risotto or soup will hit.

I’m a bit of a snob, I wouldn’t want to put more than one field mushroom into a risotto.  To me that’s a showcase for fancy mushrooms with a chestnut mushroom base.  What? It’s the way I like it.

The soup was also an excellent opportunity to use up the leftover potatoes from a few days previously.  I hate waste.  It ended up making seven bowls of soup.  Three ladle fulls to each bowl.  So lets say six people to play safe.

30g dried porcini mushrooms
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
25 large flat field mushrooms – I didn’t weigh them, sorry.  But they very nearly filled a plastic carrier bag.
2 chopped onions
1 rib of celery, chopped
1 mushroom stock cube (yes, Kallo)
1 chicken stock cube – go for vegetable if you like
250g of smothered potatoes, or raw potatoes chopped into about 1 inch cubes      if you don’t have any pre-cooked.  This weight is a guess.
Black pepper

Put the dried mushrooms into a bowl and cover with hot water. Leave them alone. Don’t worry about chopping them, they’ll be blended later.
Then, as usual, butter and oil into a large pan on a medium heat. Pop in the onions and the celery. Turn them to low and put the lid on. They’ll sit happily while you chop all the mushrooms. Just roughly, you want them to cook evenly but they’re going to get whizzed up in the blender.
In with the mushrooms and turn up the heat. You want to pull the water out of them and boil it away to concentrate their flavour.
When you’ve boiled away at least half of the liquid that’s appeared add the two stock cubes and at least 1 litre of water. Mix to incorporate the cubes properly.
Add the dried mushrooms with their soaking liquor.
Add the potatoes. If they’re raw, boil until they’re cooked. If they aren’t then they just need to be warmed up.
Add pepper, and salt to taste. Try to keep in mind that the soup will taste different when it’s been through the blitz.
You’ll have to do the next bit in batches, unless you’re using an immersion blender. You lucky person, you.
Half filling your blender, blitz up the soup in stages. Put the blitzed soup into another pan while you transfer the remaining lumpy soup, because we all love having more dishes to wash.
When all the soup is silky put it back onto a low heat to stay hot. At this point if it’s too thick adjust it by adding more hot water – it’s a bit odd having soup you can stand a spoon in.
Tweak the seasoning if you need to. I love a fair amount of black pepper with my ‘shrooms.

This would have been excellent with truffle oil drizzled over the top, which I have and have only just remembered about – bit miffed now.  It would also be lovely with a swirl of sour cream, even with the truffle oil.

Smothered Potatoes. Southern old school cooking.

Sometimes I don’t want plain boiled potatoes.  If I’m not using the oven for anything else I’m not going to put it on just to make roasted potatoes, however excellent they are and however much I would love them to be a diet staple.

I still want them to be full of flavour but I don’t want to invest much more effort than I would to boil them.  This is when I turn to smothering.  The act of cooking something with onions and stock.

Recently this was a no brainer accompaniment to simple peppered steak with greens.

At the end of the recipe is the trick I do with some raw cooking chorizo for a speedy one pot wonder.

Served three people with leftovers which I put into Mushroom Soup.

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 sliced onion
2 500g bags of tiny new potatoes kept whole
500ml chicken stock from a Kallo stock cube – of course you could use vegetable stock.

Into a big pan put the butter and olive oil on a medium heat to melt and mingle.
Add the sliced onions and coat them with the oil, let them cook for about five minutes while you wash and clean the potatoes.
Throw in the potatoes and coat them with the onions and oils. Give them a few minutes while you boil the kettle for the stock.
Put the cube in with the potatoes then pour in boiling water.
Now. I like to reduce the stock so by the end of their cooking time there is an intense ‘gravy’ in the pan, so I boil them without a lid.
If by the time you have a thickish gravy your potatoes aren’t cooked, add a little more boiling water until they are.

Done.

I have, on occasion, added a sliced red pepper, 1 tsp fennel seeds and some chunks of cooking chorizo in with the onions and then proceeded the same way. The chorizo stays moist and colours the dish, adding its paprika gloss and smoky flavour. Delicious with a sharply dressed green salad to cut through the oils.

Eaton Mess.

Last Saturday I had finished work at 4pm.  I was loitering at the bar with a G&T (Sipsmith’s, delicious!) when a friend – who always seems in a permanent hustle – breezed in.  I’m not good with time off – I don’t know what to do – so I told said friend they would be coming home with me for chats and dinner.

On Saturday night, even though I don’t get the same weekend as other working folk (bar staff and other shift workers will know my plight), I still wanted Saturday-Night-a-Little-Bit-Special-Dinner.  Also, had company.  Must make a little effort.

It was Smothered Potatoes with lemon greens and STEAK.  What better to follow a hunk of peppery protein than mounds of cream, meringue, fruit and nuts.

The only effort required here is the whipping.  Maybe cutting the strawberries in half could be included but it all happened alongside conversation and the continued consumption of gin.  (At home it was Edinburgh gin, always with Fever Tree tonic).

So, to Mess!  This ended up being enough to serve six people.  I cannot cook for two.  I don’t know how.

1 300ml tub whipping cream
1 300ml tub crème fraîche
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (essence would work)
8 small meringue nests – mine were from Waitrose
3 Cadbury’s crunchie bars bashed up in their packets with a rolling pin
1 punnet of strawberries – tops off and halved
1 punnet of blackberries
1 punnet of blueberries
200g flaked almonds

So, while you’re standing around in the kitchen talking up a storm pop the whipping cream into a bowl big enough to hold everything by the end (or do it in a stand mixer and have more dishes to wash). Whip your cream until it makes peaks, not too stiff. You want it to fall from a spoon with just a little coercion. Fold in the vanilla.
After this, crumble in the meringue with your hands. Pour the crème fraîche on top. Add the crunchie mess, the fruit and the almonds. Fold everything gently.

Done. Dish up and retreat to the sofa so when the cream coma hits you’re in a safe place.