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

tripe soup

Slow Cooker Mondongo

tripe soup

I am a person who gets hangovers. Even as a teenager when everyone else around me seemed to be able to drink cheap vodka mixed with battery acid on an empty stomach and bounce right back, I was suffering. Not for me the two aspirin and a can of full fat Coke trick. I need to lie on a bed of gossamer, sipping angels’ tears from a cut glass goblet while eating crisps and waiting for the day to pass to put it all behind me. No amount of practise has ever really helped, although occasionally a ball of mozzarella eaten like an apple before bed can stave the situation off completely.

Therefore I am constantly on the hunt for hangover cure stories. I think that I’m one old wives’ tale or anecdote away from the hangover Holy Grail. I’ve tried the whole vitamin B before going out rumour, the milk thistle phase of the late 90s, the Gatorade by the bed trick, even the suggestion of mixing the liquid from a jar of gherkins with some soda water and downing it (spoiler alert: this is not the answer to any question, unless this question is ‘how I could feel immediately worse right now?’)

I think I know now nothing will ever be my ultimate answer, but that I can simply use this quest as a way to try new things along the way, which is how I came to know about sopa de mondongo or tripe soup. A Mexican-American friend online mentioned it once for its hangover curing qualities but still feeling scarred from the pickle juice, I screwed my face up and refused to even think about eating tripe even when I wasn’t feeling delicate. Read more

malt caramels

Hot Buttered Rum Caramels

malt caramels

A few years into living in Brixton, I started drinking rum as my go to drink. Previously that had been gin which was my loyal weekend tipple throughout my late teens and twenties. My friend Jo and I used to sit in the park watching the world go by on sunny days when we first moved to London with matching plastic glasses, a bottle of Gordon’s, some slimline tonic and a sliced lime in a plastic bag. But somewhere along the line, my tastes moved on and gin and tonic is an occasion drink for me these days.

Living in a heavily Caribbean area, it’s not really that strange that my allegiances have switched to rum. I prefer dark rum, preferably something spiced and have learned that it’s an excellent spirit for drinking either neat or mixed. Hot Brixton days often involve rum drunk long with soda water so that they are very thirst quenching and not particularly likely to get you drunk.

In the winter though I’ve become a huge fan of hot buttered rum. A big favourite in Brixton Village because it warms you up more than you’d think possibly when the wind sweeps through those avenues, I was introduced to it at Snugg (the name starts to make more sense now!) and have made several versions at home including this one with spiced quince rum. This year though I’m taking it easy on the seasonal booze and have turned my attention to making sweet treats instead.

Inspired by this recipe for homemade caramels by Diana Henry, I got my sugar thermometer out. I tweaked it to use condensed milk instead of cream (cheaper when like me you are prone to burning sugar based dishes) and added some spices along with a big glug of dark rum and got my buttered rum fix in a chewy caramel way instead. It’s very easy if unlike me you prepare well first and pay attention while you are making them.

Buttered Rum Caramels (makes about 65)

  • 175ml condensed milk
  • 60g salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 75ml dark rum (I use Bacardi Oakheart which is excellent and easy to get)
  • 250g white sugar
  • 160g golden syrup

Start by lining a 8 inch square dish or baking tray with greaseproof paper. Oil it lightly with a flavourless vegetable oil and set it aside.

Pour the condensed milk in a saucepan, add 30g of the butter, the salt and all the spices. Warm it through to infuse the spices and melt the butter but don’t let it boil. If you are doing this on an electric cooker do it on the ring behind the one where you’ll melt the sugar so you have a cold area on the hob so you can take the sugar off the heat for ease. Take the pan off the heat and add the rum. Set aside.

In a large deep pan (I used my Le Cresuet) heat the the sugar and the golden syrup together on a medium heat, stirring occasionally to help melt the sugar and prevent it burning. Once it is molten, turn the heat up and without moving the sugar around too much, heat to 155℃. I used a thermometer to make life easier here.

Take the pan off the heat the second it hits 155℃ and pour in the still warm spiced condensed milk. It may spit and bubble slightly so be careful. Stir it well to make sure it is smooth and return it to the heat until it reaches 127℃. Take it off the heat again and pour it into your lined tray.

Leave the caramel to cool for about 5 hours. Then lift the greaseproof paper out and cut the caramel into bite sized squares and wrap in 10cm squares of waxed or greaseproof paper. I got my rather festive looking stuff from Ebay but also used plain white. The caramel is soft enough to be able to roll up nicely. Store in an airtight container for up to a month. These make a lovely gift and are basically a very grown up version of Highland Toffee bars from my childhood.

 

coconut jam

Slow Cooker Caramel Coconut Jam

coconut jam 

Theoretically I have the most fantastic simple slow cooker idea for a Christmas gift for you today. However when you taste it, you’ll fall so in love with it that you might want to hoard all the jars to yourself and sit in eating it off the spoon while you wrap something from the pound shop instead.

I hadn’t heard of coconut jam until very recently. My local branch of Marks and Spencer has gone a bit upmarket with lots of the posh gourmet food products you buy for people at Christmas and while I was circling the aisles going green with envy at all the stuff I could never justify buying, I saw a jar of coconut jam. Interest piqued, I lifted it and saw that it was coconut cream cooked down til soft and jammy and highly popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. I took a snap of the jar and went home to research it.

I have a pretty unerring knack of being able to adapt things to the slow cooker these days and the more I read about coconut jam or its Singaporean name of kaya, the more I suspected I could make something really good here. As is my wont with anything from Singapore, I checked out Shu Han’s fab blog Mummy I Can Cook to see what she had to say on the subject. Two paragraphs in and I knew I had to make this.

Practically the national obsession out there, it’s usually served as kaya toast on white toast with butter and some hard boiled eggs with it. I eat eggs for breakfast every morning, but some reason, the idea of eggs and coconut together doesn’t appeal to me. (I’m very fussy about eggs for breakfast. I don’t like the whites and yolks mixed together, fried eggs must not be crispy and chilli can only accompany them when I feel like it. French toast cannot be the savoury eggy bread. This is the law in my house.)

Instead my eye was drawn to the variations on kaya. I couldn’t really be authentic as kaya relies on pandan or screwpine leaf for a distinctive flavour to cut through the richness of the coconut and I have no idea where you’d find it in the UK. I read on. The Hainanese variety caramelises the sugar first for a darker stickier version and I decided to tweak this into a very multicultural cross between kaya and dulce de leche as few things I’ve done have pleased people more from the slow cooker (see page 199 of Slow Cooked) . The result was even better than that sounds and is spectacular on toast, even if might technically be better described as a curd than a jam.

Slow Cooker Caramel Coconut Jam (makes 5 x 250ml jars)

  • 250g sugar
  • 2 x 200g block creamed coconut
  • 1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks

As with any dish involving the heating of sugar, get everything ready first. Speed is imperative to prevent things burning. Grate your blocks of creamed coconut using a box grater onto a plate and set aside. Open the coconut milk as well.

Put the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan and allow it to melt over a medium heat. Don’t stir too much. When it starts to colour very slightly, put the creamed coconut in and stir well. The sugar will continue to colour as will the creamed coconut. Keep stirring like crazy. Don’t let the coconut catch on the bottom of the pan. Once it starts to melt, add the coconut milk and stir it all well with a balloon whisk. It will continue to darken in colour, so keep stirring until everything is melted together and a lovely golden caramel colour.

Take off the heat immediately and stir the vanilla in. Leave to cool slightly for about 15 minutes in the pan. Then beat the eggs in and pour into a lidded plastic pudding basin. Put the lid on and place the basin in the slow cooker. Pour boiling water half way up the basin. Cook on low for 3 hours without disturbing it.

At the end of three hours, the coconut cream and milk will have reduced to a caramel and the eggs will have caused it to set like a custard. You could in future halve the amounts and pour it into ramekins before cooking for 2 hours and serving as a gorgeous dessert. Just allow it to cool for about 20 minutes first to enhance the flavour. However to turn it into a gorgeous jam, simply beat it with an electric whisk for 2 minutes until light and creamy.

Put the jam into glass jars you’ve sterilised in the oven at 160℃ for 15 minutes and seal immediately. Allow to cool and keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. If you’d like Christmas to come early, make some French toast and spread this on it to serve. You’ll hear angels sing as you eat.

Don’t forget that if you’re enjoying Slow Cooked, you can leave your 5 star review on Amazon even if you didn’t buy it there. It’s a great way to introduce people to the book as they browse before Christmas and since I’m on this bland low fat diet again, the only thing I can have fed at the moment is my ego so I’d really appreciate it!