29 December 2017

Thick, chunky creamed vegetable soup (with a little bacon)

It's the 29th December, 2017.  We have eaten our own body weight in turkey over Christmas.  It is time to give our digestions a bit of consideration, hence, a vegetable soup.  However, because we're not vegetarians, it's got a wee bit of bacon in it too - just for the flavour input, don'tcha know.

Now for all that I like the brothy kind of soups, I wanted this one to be hearty, thick and worthy of being served as a dinner soup.  Perhaps with some crusty bread, or as it turned out, a gorgeous thin flatbread with mozzarella, basil and olive oil.  Mmmnn, delicious.

Truth be told, you could use just about any vegetables you wanted for this soup.  I will give you the full rundown of vegetable input in the recipe, but you need to follow a few rules, no matter what veggies you use.  Said rules go like this :

a)  chop some veggies very small, so that they cook down and disappear into the vegetable stock.

b)  chop some veggies into bite sized pieces, so that they will be retained and create lovely texture.

c)  start with a tasty oil - coconut, or butter, or rapeseed - and a finely chopped onion.  Do not be tempted to use a bland vegetable oil, or a slightly bitter olive oil.  If you start wrong, you won't ever be able to come back from it.

d)  use the best vegetable stock you can source.  It is the base of your soup and deserves to be delicious.


So there you are.  Not difficult at all, but make sure to set aside a good time to be spent  choppin', cuttin' and a-peelin'.  Not to mention a good hour or so in the preliminary cooking stage and a pause in the middle of however long you've got.  Good soup does not come about in a half an hour.  Well actually it can, but not with this one.


Here comes the recipe!

THICK, CHUNKY CREAMED VEGETABLE SOUP    (Serves 4)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
4 rashers of streaky bacon, finely chopped (optional)
2 tsp ground coriander
a large pinch of sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
half a tsp dried thyme
half a tsp dried parsley

Peeled and chopped small :

1 medium carrot
1 large stick of celery, with fluffy green bits if possible
1 large leek
2 chestnut mushrooms
6 sweet cherry tomatoes (halved works for these)
half a medium potato

Peeled and chopped into bite sized chunks :

2 medium carrots
2 large sticks of celery
5 chestnut mushrooms (quartered)
1 and a half medium potatoes
2 small parsnips
a decent sized chunk of swede or turnip

plus :

750ml of strong vegetable stock (I used 1.5 tsp Marigold vegetable bouillon and 1 tsp Essential Cuisine vegetable stock powder)
4-5 tbsp dry split red lentils
3-4 large leaves of Savoy cabbage, ribs removed and leaves sliced
2-3 tbsp double (or heavy) cream
2 tsp cornflour mixed with a drop of water to thick pouring consistency
sea salt & ground black pepper to taste.

Method :

To begin, make sure you are using a pan which can contain the entire contents.  It needs to be BIG and have a lid which fits.  I used my steep sided wok, which worked perfectly.

Heat the oil and add the onion & bacon (if using).  Cook, stirring often, until the onion is transparent and the bacon is beginning to render its oil.  Add the coriander, sea salt, black pepper and herbs and stir through.

Add all the chopped small ingredients and cook on, stirring regularly to turn the pan contents.  Once the leek and mushroom pieces are softened and the whole is beginning to look cooked, add the vegetable stock.

Increase the temperature under the pan and bring the contents to a gentle boil.  Add the bite sized chunks of veggies, the red lentils and the cabbage.  Gently stir through, cover the pan and bring back to a gentle boil.  Cook on for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste to check the seasoning levels - which should be fairly high as when you add it later, the cream will obliterate a certain level of seasoning.

Remove from the heat, leave covered and go and have a sit down for a couple of hours.

When you return, using a hand blender, blitz a certain amount of the soup to your preference.  I probably made it 50:50 blitzed to chunks which seemed to go down well.

Turn the heat on under the pan and add the cream and cornflour slurry and stir through.  As the soup heats up to a lively simmer, the cornflour will thicken the soup to a consistency where it will coat the back of a spoon - which is what you are aiming for.  If it becomes too thick, add a little water.

Finally, check the seasoning and adjust to your taste.  Serve into warm bowls with crusty bread for dipping.

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9 November 2017

Bacon & Cheddar Twice Baked Potatoes - jackets with knobs on!

When I decided to put these twice baked potatoes on the menu plan for this week, I imagined that I would have a recipe here on the blog to consult where quantities were concerned.  Well I was wrong!  I seriously can't quite believe that I haven't blogged the recipe for these little darlings, mostly because they're so NICE!

Now, having made them again without following any recipe but relying on my (patchy, at best) memory of what to use and how much, I appear to have made the best version of these baked potatoes, to date.  All of which necessitated a blog entry, so that I can re-create them in future.

They are very simple to make and don't take much longer than a standard jacket potato.  You just need to allow a bit of time for filling the potato shells and putting them back into the oven to finally bake.  Making the filling is a little bit fiddly, but can easily be done while the potatoes are baking, so no worries there.

In this instance, I served the potatoes with some leftover gammon ham, juicy tomatoes and homemade coleslaw.  However, finding something to serve them with really shouldn't be difficult - they can be lunch, the star of the show, a side dish or even a standalone item in a finger buffet (so long as you let them cool down a bit!).

So the next time you find yourself with two rashers of bacon that are homeless - break out the twice baked potato and do yourself a super-tasty favour.

BACON & CHEDDAR TWICE BAKED POTATOES   (serves 3)

Ingredients :

3 large baking potatoes (floury are best - I like Marabel type)
a drizzle of rapeseed or olive oil
sea salt & ground black pepper
2 rashers of smoked back bacon
1 heaped tsp of sour cream or mayonnaise
1 tsp of wholegrain mustard
2-3 spring onions, sliced finely on the diagonal
200g & 50g mature cheddar cheese, grated.

Method :

Pre-heat your oven to 200degC/400degF/Gas 6.

Taking each baking potato, cut each in half long-ways.  Shave a tiny amount from the underside of each half, so that it will sit level and steady on a baking tray.

Drizzle each half with oil and season lightly with sea salt & black pepper, then place into the oven - on a high rack - to bake for 45mins.

While the potatoes are baking, make the filling.

Grill the two rashers of bacon until cooked through and the fat rendered, but not crispy.  Set them aside to cool.

Into a large heatproof bowl, place the spring onions, sour cream, mustard and bulk of the cheese.  Reserve the 50g of cheese for sprinkling over the filled potatoes.  Cut the bacon into tiny pieces and add to the bowl.

When the potatoes are soft and baked golden brown on top, remove them from the oven and set aside to cool slightly in order for them to be handled.  Using a teaspoon, gently remove the bulk of the cooked flesh from inside each half and add it to the filling bowl.  Replace the empty shell onto the baking tray.  

Once each potato is done, break up the potato flesh using a fork and mix lightly into the rest of the ingredients.  Taste for seasoning and add more if necessary.

Spoon the filling back into the shells, making sure not to pack it down.  Leave each spoonful light and airy for a deliciously luscious look.  Once the filling is evenly distributed, divide the remainder of the grated cheese between each potato half, sprinkling it over the top.

Place the potatoes back into the oven for 15-20 mins until golden brown and delicious.

Serve with your choice of accompaniment.

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8 November 2017

Chicken Mulligatawny soup - with thanks to Jo Cooks

I was recently introduced to the terrific recipe blog "Jo Cooks" by another cooking friend.  He certainly is absolutely right about the wealth of interesting recipes on there - and lots that fit within my favourite type of "sit and put things in the pot in order" one pot dinners.

As a first foray, I immediately decided upon giving a go to Jo's recipe for Chicken Mulligatawny soup.  Mainly because it looked so good, but also because I've been looking for a great Mulligatawny recipe for the longest time.  So many Mulligatawny recipes are thin, brothy type of soups and to my mind, a good Mulligatawny needs some body.  I'm sure that back in the days of the British Raj - when the soup first found favour - it wasn't light and brothy, but rich and hearty.  Oh and speaking of the British Raj, the origins of the name are interesting (thanks, Wikipedia!), as the name apparently originates from the Tamil words "millagai"/"milagu" and "thanni" and can be translated as "pepper-water".  Ha!  Cute.  

Everything about Jo's recipe said "yum!" to me.  The fact that it was made with chicken appealed very much as I now have to be careful over my red meat consumption owing to a marked tendency towards gout.  So chicken ticked that box.  The use of the apple cubes appealed, too.  I like a fruity, milder, coconut flavoured curry and one turned into a soup could only be good in these colder early autumnal days.  I loved the simplicity of the cooking method, as well.  None of this "cook this, take it out, cook that, take it out and bring it all together at the end" malarky.  Nope.  Just chuck it into the pan in the right order and cook as described.  Lovely.


I made a few changes to Jo's original recipe - the first being that as I was making just half the original quantity, yet had to buy a 400ml can of coconut milk, was that I used the whole can and reduced the quantity of the chicken stock (broth).  I countered that by using an extra amount of chicken stock powder, so that the chickeny flavour was right up there and not compromised at all.

Secondly, I added a half a large potato, diced.  I just love potato in curry and as I was after a good, thick, hearty Mulligatawny I figured if some dissolved and added to the thick texture of the soup that could also only be good.  It certainly was - good, that is!

Aside from that, I made just small changes such as using 50:50 butter and coconut oil to start with, I used a red onion for its antioxidant properties, I used the full amount of turmeric for the health benefits and the full amount of curry powder because if it's supposed to be curried, let's taste it!  I  also backed off from some of the seasoning as my chicken stock is low salt, but it's worthwhile being cautious and adjusting the salt at the end.  You can't take it away once it's been added!

So I have detailed my version of Jo's recipe below - but my advice to you is to take a look at Jo's original recipe - here - and decide for yourself which recipe to follow.  Oh and for people who don't use cup measurements, mine is expressed in metric.  I know some of you have problems with cup measures!

Personally, I can't wait until tomorrow lunchtime because the leftovers of that soup are MINE, all MINE!  *chuckle*

CHICKEN MULLIGATAWNY SOUP   (serves 2-3)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp butter 
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 large red onion, chopped finely
1 medium carrot, diced finely
1 stalk of celery, diced finely
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
1 medium potato, peeled and diced finely
sea salt and black pepper to taste
4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized chunks
half a tsp dried oregano
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
500ml chicken stock, made with 1.5 tsp chicken stock powder
150g dry basmati rice
400ml unsweetened coconut milk (1 can)
1 medium Braeburn apple peeled, cored and diced small
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped.

Method :

Using a large saucepan, soup pot, or as I did - a wok -  melt the butter and coconut oil over a medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and potato to the pot, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, stir and cook for about 5-10 minutes or until the onion and carrot softens and the garlic becomes aromatic.

Add the chicken thigh pieces to the pot and cook for around 10 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink. Don't worry if it's not cooked through - it will finish cooking once the liquid is added.

Add the oregano, turmeric, curry powder and stir well to combine.  Sprinkle with the flour and stir again.

Add the chicken stock, rice and coconut milk, lower the heat to a medium-low and stir through well.  Let the soup simmer for about 10-20 minutes or until the rice is cooked through and you can be sure the chicken is fully cooked.

You may find that you need to add a little hot water every so often to maintain the soupy texture.  It is worthwhile having a little on hand in a jug so that you aren't tempted to swamp the soup!  Just add a small amount and stir through until the texture returns back to being soupy.

Add the apples and simmer for a couple more minutes, to heat them through and bring everything up to a piping hot temperature.

Garnish with fresh parsley and serve in warm bowls with crusty bread for dipping.


1 November 2017

Manchego chicken Alfredo - super quick, two pot supper

This bowl of chickeny, cheesy, garlicky and creamy delight could almost be called a one pot supper, but regrettably the pasta needed to be cooked in its own pan - hence it became a two pot deal.  However, that in no way slows it down, oh no.  The sheer simplicity of the ingredients makes this as speedy a dinner to produce as any you could wish for.

With no onions to chop, no veggies to peel or slice, the only preparation that's required is to peel and chop some garlic, cut some chicken in half, grate some cheese and chop a bit of parsley.  I certainly can't claim that's in any way difficult - and oh boy, does it pay off by way of flavour!  Alfredo de Lelio, you sure knew what you were doing when you put the original dish together, all those years ago in 1892.


However, I suspect Mr de Lelio would be horrified to learn that I have removed the quintessentially Italian Parmesan cheese from the recipe and submitted, instead, a Spanish replacement - the gorgeous Manchego hard cheese.  Being a sheep's cheese, Manchego has a very different flavour to Parmesan, but equally there are similarities in both texture and colour plus they both melt in a similar way.

Son and heir is passionately opposed to Parmesan - he can't bear the after taste it brings with it, so consequently I was committed to finding a replacement for it or not indulging in pasta Alfredo at all.  I was intending on using Grana Padano, but having recently used some Manchego in cheese scones with every success, I decided to give it a go and I'm so glad I did.

So there we are.  A bit of a different spin on pasta Alfredo, but super tasty and super quick to make, too.  If, perchance, you can't find any Manchego but like the sound of the recipe and don't have anyone at home passionately opposed to Parmesan, then by all means use Parmesan.  You won't be harming the recipe at all, you'll simply be returning it back to its roots.

I only have one Cook's Tip for you, which is that when you drain the pasta make sure to keep some of the pasta water close by.  If (as sometimes happens), the sauce becomes too gloopy and thick, simply add a little of the pasta water.  Far better to use that than add more cream, or milk, or have to mix up some chicken stock.

Onwards to the recipe!

MANCHEGO CHICKEN ALFREDO   Serves 2

Ingredients :

250g small, open style pasta such as Conchiglie shells
1 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved horizontally
sea salt & black pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
200ml dry white wine
250ml single cream
50ml double cream
half a tsp good quality chicken stock powder (or half a chicken stock cube)
125g Manchego cheese, grated finely
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped.

Method :

Bring a good quantity of salted water to the boil in a large saucepan and cook the Conchiglie shells to manufacturer's recommendation, draining once cooked.

In a large frying pan, heat the rapeseed oil and melt the butter over a high heat.

Season the two halves of each chicken breast with both sea salt & black pepper and carefully place into the frying pan.  Fry the chicken until it is a deep golden brown on both sides and cooked through.

Remove the pan from the heat and decant the chicken onto a warmed plate.  Cut the chicken into even sized slices and reserve to keep warm.

Replace the pan onto a reduced heat and add the garlic.  Stir and cook gently until the garlic is softened and lightly golden.  Add the wine (and a little bit extra for luck is definitely allowed) and allow to bubble and reduce by one third.

Add the single and double creams along with the chicken stock powder and stir gently to combine.  Once the sauce has heated through, is bubbly and slightly thickened, add the grated cheese, most of the parsley, the hot, drained pasta and sliced chicken.  Toss everything in the sauce until all is well combined.  Taste for seasoning and add more pepper if necessary.

Serve into warmed bowls with a sprinkle of the reserved parsley on top as garnish.


25 October 2017

Scarborough Fairly Meatloaf - parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme!

You may not be altogether surprised to hear that the name of this meatloaf is one of my own devising. Of course, it's because the herbs involved are parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. LOL

You see, I was after a midweek, no frills, relatively plain, good and savoury, tasty meatloaf that could be served with some denomination of potato dish and a selection of vegetables. A meat & three veg. meatloaf, if you like!

I used beef and pork mince in a two thirds/one third combination because the pork mince just serves to lighten the texture of the beef. Adding loads of extra flavours - mustard, herbs, onion & garlic granules - helped pep up the savouriness and my now indispensable method of draining off the cooking juices halfway through the cooking time as ever, resulted in a good firm loaf. I do so hate meatloaf that you could serve with a spoon. Gak!


Now you might be wondering why I used the onion & garlic granules instead of adding fresh onion and fresh garlic. Good question! I find that fresh onion has to be almost grated or minced, so as not to leave small pieces of quite firm, almost crunchy, onion behind in the mix. Some people might like that, but I'm not a fan. Grating or mincing the onion just serves to increase the liquid in the mix, which I pour off at half time anyway so its not a good method.

It's a similar thing with garlic. I'm allergic to raw garlic, so it has to be incredibly finely chopped to wind up cooked sufficiently for me. Hitting on a piece of semi raw garlic is so overpowering to the other flavours, that again, it's just not a good method for me. However, if I add onion and garlic granules - which are simply dehydrated and finely minced - I get all the benefit of the flavour and none of the drawbacks. It's a personal taste thing. If you like to find onion or garlic in your meatloaf, or have the time and energy to pre-cook and caramelise them, then by all means go ahead and use fresh!



Oh and I'm also assured that this meatloaf is fairly epic when used, cold, as part of a sandwich. Happy days!

SCARBOROUGH FAIRLY MEATLOAF   (Serves 5)

Ingredients :

1 bread crust, blitzed into breadcrumbs
500g reduced fat beef mince
250g pork mince
1 large egg
1 heaped tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
pinch of sea salt
pinch of ground black pepper
1 tsp onion granules
half a tsp garlic granules
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped fine (dried parsley would work too - use 1 tsp)
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried rosemary
half a tsp dried thyme
1 tsp beef stock powder or 1 tsp Bovril.

Method :

Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.

Place all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together well, using your hands.  Try not to over-mix or the meatloaf will become tough, but ensure all the ingredients are distributed well across the mix.

Line a 1lb loaf tin with silver foil and pack the meatloaf mix in well.  I find it best to put half in and press into the corners, pushing it well down and ensuring all air bubbles are out, before adding the second half and repeating the process.

Using your fingertips, create a small space along the edge of the mix between the loaf tin and the ingredients - a gutter, effectively!  This will help when it comes to draining off the excess liquid, later.

Place onto the middle oven shelf and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the meatloaf from the oven and carefully drain off any accumulated liquid.  Take care not to let the loaf slip from within the tin, into the sink!

Place back into the oven for another 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and, using the silver foil, pull the meatloaf from inside the loaf tin.  Place onto a chopping board and carefully unwrap.  Cut the meatloaf into slices and serve with mashed potato and seasonal vegetables of your choice.

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