potato soup

Cream of Potato Soup

potato soupFor some reason despite more or less worshipping at the shrine of the spud, I have never made a potato soup without adding either leeks or kale for caldo verde. In fact I’d never heard of cream of potato soup until I moved to England and saw packets of the Erin stuff in Irish sections of the supermarket and discovered it was thought of here as quintessentially Irish.

So when I checked out Ocado’s Irish shop for an event with them and Bord Bia for St Patrick’s Day, I was amused to see that they don’t stock this but lots of things I really do think of as Irish. I decided to make my own cream of potato soup though to be sure and top it with soda bread croutons, fresh dill and smoked salmon to make sure no one confused it with the packet stuff.

Cream of Potato Soup with Soda Bread Croutons (serves 4 to start)

For the soup:

  • 1 large onion
  • 25g butter
  • 500g potatoes
  • 650ml vegetable or chicken stock
  • 100ml buttermilk
  • salt and pepper

For the soda bread:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 250ml buttermilk

To serve:

This is a very simple dish with a surprising amount of flavour from very few ingredients. I know I’ve described it as cream of potato but I forgot to buy any so I used the leftover buttermilk instead and the slight tang works brilliantly, so if you use cream, don’t skimp on a squirt of lemon juice too.

Finely slice the onion into half moons and allow it to soften into a sticky caramel tangle in butter over a low heat for about 30 minutes. Or use a batch of my slow cooker caramelised onions from the fridge where they last up to a month.

Peel the potatoes and cut into inch chunks. Add to the pan of onions and pour the stock over it all, seasoning well. Simmer on a low heat until the potatoes are collapsing around the edges for about 25 minutes. Use a handblender to blitz it all into a smooth soup.

It will thick and almost gluey at this stage but don’t panic. Add the buttermilk and blitz again and the texture will lift into a sleek soup with an almost foam like texture to the surface.

While the soup has been cooking, you’ll have been making the soda bread. I do buy mine for a emergency stash in the freezer, but having finally found a source of decent buttermilk, it seemed a shame not to make my own farls here.

Heat a dry heavy bottomed frying pan on the stove. Put the flour in a large bowl and add the sugar, salt and bicarb. Gradually add the buttermilk, bringing the dough together to a lump that shouldn’t be sticky. You may not need all the buttermilk. The acid in it activates the bicarbonate of soda and allows the bread to rise, so if you only milk, don’t forget to sour it with a splash of lemon or vinegar.

Flour the worktop and place the dough on it, pressing it into a circle with your hands until it is about an inch thick. Cut into four pieces or farls and cook two at a time in the dry frying pan giving them about 7 minutes on each side. Flip them over if they start to burn. Repeat with the remaining farls.

To make the croutons, split the farls in half and cut into small cubes. Add some oil or bacon fat to the frying pan and add the cubes to it and fry until the croutons are crisp and golden. Drain on some kitchen roll.

Serve the soup in shallow bowls scattered with the hot croutons, thinly sliced smoked salmon and chopped fresh dill. It probably doesn’t reheat well due to the buttermilk, but as there were only clean bowls from my guests, I’m not sure!

Gache melee

Guernsey Gâche Melée

Gache melee

I know most people go to book group as an excuse to drink wine and possibly read Fifty Shades of Grey, but the one I go to has ended up being much more highbrow than that (we’ve never read Fifty Shades and I had spare bottles of wine after the last one.) It’s introduced me to books and people I didn’t know and taught me a lot along the way. It was constructed from a group of us on Twitter who had all read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and had not entirely positive feelings about it.

On the suggestion of the Guernsey native in the group, we went for something much more authentic and less whimsical and read The Book of Ebenezer Le Page instead. We ate Guernsey’s national dish of bean jar (a recipe I shamelessly appropriated for Slow Cooked) and put the world to rights. Sadly we haven’t found much other literature from the Channel Islands to read since then, but I thought it would be fun to hark back to Guernsey’s charms for this week’s get together and try making gâche melée for dessert.

Almost like a cake made with suet instead of butter, gâche melée is filled with apple and differs from the similarly named gâche which is more like a tea bread like barmbrack or bara brith. Gâche melée is an excellent vehicle for Guernsey’s famous cream and allows non Guernésiais speakers to try and get the pronunciation right as they eat. It should be as close to gosh mel-aah as you can get (which isn’t very in my Belfast accent.) Or you can just keep your mouth too full with its loveliness to say much. Read more

halwa cake

Slow Cooker Carrot Halwa Cake

halwa cake

 

Slow Cooked finally hit the shelves this week and what could be a better way to celebrate than a cake? (Clue: it has a cork you can pop, but I digress.) And what could be better than a cake you weren’t expecting? Surprise cake is, of course, always the best.

After months of feeling like I couldn’t really talk slow cooker stuff on the blog or Twitter so you didn’t feel that all the best stuff in Slow Cooked had been given away before you got your copy, publication has released my inner slow cooker mojo again. I’ve felt hugely inspired to cook again in the slow cooker and I’ve been keen to try new techniques again.

I happened to see Imran from Elephant in Brixton Village during the week as we promote the Brixton Blog crowdfunder and since it was the first really cold day in there of the autumn/winter, he had made some fantastic warming semolina in the tradition of very sweet comfort dishes from Pakistan and India and it got me thinking how much I love those milky desserts from the subcontinent.

I have a particular love for gajar ka halwa or carrot pudding which is made from slow cooking carrots and milk into a soft sticky super charged version of condensed milk sprinkled with pistachios to serve. I’ve had a notion to make it in the slow cooker for ages and wouldn’t you know it, I had a whole bag of carrots needing used up.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any of my usual storecupboard standby of evaporated milk and had to use whole milk instead which has a tendency to become a little bit grainy and burnt tasting in the slow cooker. I then compounded this by stupidly setting it to high rather than low and leaving it in about three hours longer than needed, ending up with curdled looking milk and halwa that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing enough to eat on its own this time. It worked perfectly next time though with the right milks. Evap and condensed milks are slow cooker saviours.

Rather than throw it in the bin, it occured to me that it could be recycled into a amazing spiced carrot cake which is how I came to be celebrating my second book this year with a whole cake to myself. To be fitting, I baked it in the slow cooker itself which is basically a slightly more grown up version of those Easy-Bake ovens you get when you’re a kid. Thanks to The Crafty Larder, Farmersgirl Kitchen and BakingQueen74, I’ve discovered you can use cake tin liners in the slow cooker instead of the sheets of reusable baking liner I’ve been using and you can create easy slab style cakes without greasing tins and turning the oven on.

Slow Cooker Carrot Halwa Cake (adapted from Recipes from Brixton Village)

For the halwa:

  • 500g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 x 400ml can evaporated milk
  • 1 x 297ml can condensed milk
  • 75g light brown sugar
  • 6-8 green cardamom pods, seeds crushed
  • pinch sea salt
  • 50g sliced pistachios to serve
  • 50g sliced almonds to serve

For the cake:

  • 200ml sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 200g sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 350g halwa (or grated carrot)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger cordial (optional)
  • 300g cream cheese
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced

Start by making your halwa. It’s incredibly simple if you don’t oversleep like I did and overcook it. Peel and grate your carrots, either with a box grater or food processor. Place into a slow cooker crock you have greased slightly with oil or butter. Press the carrots down so they are half way between loose and tightly packed.

Pour the evaporated and condensed milks over them. Sprinkle with the sugar, salt and cardamom and then put the lid on. Traditionally a pinch of saffron would be used too, but I don’t have it in my kitchen. Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours. The carrots will soften and break down into the slow cooked milk which creates a toffeeish dish. Stir the nuts through it. You could serve it as it is, but it was fantastic in the cake.

The cake is adapted from page 153 of Recipes from Brixton Village and uses the technique of whipping oil and sugar together to a syrup to make the moistest cake possible. This carrot cake is so good it has stopped me pining for my lost recipe for Nigella’s Venetian carrot cake from Vogue.

Line your slow cooker with a sheet of reusable baking liner or set a 9 inch cake tin liner into the crock. I find it’s easiest to line it first then set the liner in as you only have to lift one sheet that way instead of fumble with oven gloves.

Pour the oil into a large bowl and using an electric hand whisk, beat the sugar into it for about 3-4 minutes until it is a glossy syrup. Add the egg yolks one at a time. The mixture will get glossier with each one.

Beat in the flour, spices, halwa and ginger cordial if using, stopping when combined. Wash the beaters of your electric whisk well and in a clean grease free bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks. Fold them into the mix to create a light pillowy looking batter.

Pour the batter into your prepared slow cooker. Cover the top of the crock with double folded kitchen towel or a clean tea towel. This stops the condensation in the slow cooker from dripping down into your cake and making it damp. I prefer the kitchen roll as I find the tea towel can lower the temperature of the slow cooker too much and add cooking time. Bake the cake for 2 hours 30 minutes. Check the centre with a toothpick. It should come out clean. Give it another 20 minutes even time if it doesn’t.

Lift the cake out and cool on a rack. If using the liner, don’t peel it away until the cake is completely cooled or the little edge bits will pull off and the cake will look picked at. Make the frosting by beating the cream cheese, icing sugar and lemon juice and zest together.

Use a bread knife to carefully cut across the cake from side to side to create two sandwich layers. Fill with the zesty cream cheese frosting and serve in slices. It will keep for 48 hours with the frosting and 5 days without. I have to say, it didn’t last that long in my house…

 

wrinkled potatoes

Slow Cooked and Wrinkled Potatoes

wrinkled potatoesThis year, the big date in my diary hasn’t been my birthday or Christmas or even Bonfire Night but the 6th of November instead. That’s because it’s publication day for Slow Cooked! My book baby is all ready to go out into the world. Those of you who have pre-ordered should have their paws on it by now and everyone else can start buying it from today.

I’ve had so much support and encouragement while I was writing it, especially from my Twitter followers and I’d just like to thank everyone who showed enthusiasm and interest throughout the process. Your patience is about to be rewarded! Go forth and make yourself something lovely in the slow cooker!

You can buy Slow Cooked on Amazon or in branches of Waterstones and WH Smith and good independent bookstores in person or through the fantastic Hive. It’s also available as an e-book if you’re new-fangled that way. Whatever format you decide to buy it in, I’m honoured that you’ve chosen to do so and hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. A massive thank you to Anti Limited for design, Olia Hercules for food styling and Jen Collins for illustrations.

You’ll also have to bear with me while I spend the new few weeks retweeting praise and generally getting a big head. I’ll make it up to you all by answering any slow cooker questions you’ve got on a webchat on Friday 14th November though. Simply tweet @northsouthfood and @eburypublishing and @thehappyfoodie using the #slowcooked hashtag and I’ll be happy to chat about slow cookers til the cows come home!

To celebrate today I’ve decided to go for a slow cooker recipe with one of my all time favourite ingredients; the potato. I’ve gone Spanish with wrinkled potatoes from the Canary Islands. Small potatoes are cooked in salted water until they wrinkle and are imbued with savoury flavour. The long slow cooking mellows the salinity and makes them massively moreish.

Traditionally they’d be served with a mojo sauce of red peppers and smoked paprika, but obviously as a fully fledged pepper hater, I didn’t want to do that. Instead I took my inspiration from another famed Canarian dip, almagrote which is made from mature goats cheese and tomatoes. I must admit that it’s the loosest interpretation of the dish possible and one that will probably get me hounded out of Tenerife if I ever visit. But it is lovely…

Canarian Wrinkled Potatoes with Sweet Potato Almagrote Style Dip

  • 750g small potatoes (I used International Kidney from Sainsbury’s Basics)
  • 50g sea salt
  • 1 litre boiling water
  • 1 large sweet potato, roasted or steamed
  • drizzle of oil if roasting
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 50g cream cheese
  • 25g grated parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon tomato puree
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • juice of one lemon

This makes a great pre dinner dish like a homemade tapa. Perfect for soaking up the cava I will be celebrating with tonight in fact. You could also serve it as a side dish.

Start with your potatoes. Scrub them clean if needed and put into the slow cooker crock whole. Add the sea salt and pour the boiling water over them. Put the lid on and cook them on high for 5 hours. You can also boil them on the stove in the salted water but they get a better flavour and texture in the slow cooker.

Heat the oven to 200℃. Peel and chop the sweet potato into 1 inch chunks. Drizzle with the oil and roast for about 15 minutes. Take it out of the oven and add the smoked paprika and crushed garlic so the heat of it mellows them both. Mash the sweet potato with the cream cheese, parmesan and tomato puree. Beat well until it is smooth and add the cayenne and white pepper. Add the lemon juice and set aside.

Drain the potatoes well. The water will look dark as some of the colour has leached out of the potato skins, but don’t worry. This is totaally normal. Don’t rinse the potatoes, you want to keep the saltiness. Roast them for 10 minutes in the oven to dry the skins out and wrinkle the potatoes further. Serve with the sweet potato dip and enjoy the salty savoury umami hit each spud contains. The warm glow of publication day is optional…

PS: don’t forget, the fantastic Brixton Blog and Bugle that I also write for is crowdfunding for a news editor to keep bringing local news to Brixton. In the years it’s been going the Blog and Bugle have been funded by love and volunteers. We need some cash to move forward so please give anything you can!

 

 

 

nsf_slowcooked_book_spreads-07

Shooting ‘Slow Cooked’

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I thought it might be interesting for our readers to get a sneak peek behind the scenes at the tasty shots for the ‘Slow Cooked’ book, and hear about the process directly from the perspective of the photographer. It’s been an exciting exercise to help bring these very personal recipes and vibrant flavours to life… and see them in print in the book, which is published this week (you have pre-ordered your copy I hope!)

After Miss South was commissioned to write ‘Slow Cooked’ there was a whirlwind of activity on her part. While she was trialling and testing, sharing tantalising recipe ideas, we were starting to think about what the photographs could look like. As she’s the writer and I’m the visual one, this played to both our strengths and presented plenty of food for thought.

People often think of stews and casseroles when it comes to slow cookers, so Miss South was determined that the food had to be anything but the browns which are synonymous with books about slow cooking. The other thing we had to bear in mind was that this is honest, fun cooking: there’s a brilliant range of varied recipes but they’re not intimidating to make, and anyone with a slow cooker can create them, so we wanted the photos to reflect that. Homely, healthy, delicious, and good looking!

Read more