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Warming winter insulation

Squash and cauliflower soup

Ah, how I love the simple, comforting nature of a good home-made soup on a cold day. As the mercury’s plunged again this week after the unseasonal warmth over Christmas and New Year, I’ve been slipping back to the wintery cycle of roasting, making stock, and then cooking up quick and delightful vats of soup. As well as being a simple, wholesome task, it’s also a great way of using things up in the kitchen.

I rarely follow recipes for soups… you can’t go far wrong with most combinations as long as you use your taste and nose… although an exception to the rule was a fabulous Butternut Squash, Ginger and Apple soup. This was from my favourite Parlour Café Cookbook (which has just been awarded ‘Best First Cookbook in Scotland’ at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards… congratulations!) and was sweet, velvety and savoury all the way. Generally though, I make it up as I go along, but when the results are really good, I do note them down… so here are a couple I’d like to share.

One lazy Sunday lunchtime a couple of weeks ago, when it was freezing outside and the kitchen windows were all steamed up, I decided we needed some warming soup. We’d had a gloriously rich evening meal the night before, so something a little more simple was the perfect foil to this.

I’d bought one of those cute wee striped squashes around Halloween, and it had sat patiently on the sideboard, imploring me to use it in something. Squashes are great emergency food, lasting for ever. Today was its calling, so I cut it into eighths, and placed it and the florets of about half a cauliflower head on baking tray, drizzled some olive oil over the top, and placed it in a mid-temperature oven (the oven had already been on for a spot of baking a quick wheaten bread.)

Cauliflower and squash

Cauliflower’s been making a comeback in Mister North’s kitchen recently. When we were kids cauliflower only came in two ways: boiled (normally something we’d have at our granny’s) or as cauliflower cheese. I loved both, but it’s a veg which I realised I’d been sorely neglecting when the Hairy Bikers shone a spotlight on the humble cauli in the first series of the Great British Food Revival. I’d made a cauliflower purée the night before, so had a spare half a head to use.

As the veg was lightly roasting, I sweated down some shallots in butter, then added a couple of chopped potatoes to soften. Braving the rain, I nipped out and cut a good sprig of rosemary off the bush; washed it and threw the leaves into the pan. Everything sizzled and softened – the heady aroma of rosemary oil and shallots pervading all of downstairs – and once the spuds felt soft to touch, I threw in five home-made hare stock cubes. Some cooks think life’s too short to make stock ice cubes, but for me it’s a boon to be able to lay my hands on a selection of real stock in small, easy-to-measure quantities.

Taking stock

By then the veg in the oven was looking and smelling pretty fine too, with the cauli florets taking on just a hint of roasted colour, so they got tipped into the pan while I cut the skin off the squash and cubed it. Stir it up, simmer it down. A good shake of smoked paprika was next, the warming scent wafting up from the pan. Finally a decent splash of double cream, and a quick garnish, using up the last of the garlic chives which had grown lackadaisically on my windowsill since late spring, added a flash of colour. I paired it up with some freshly-baked wheaten bread, still warm from the oven: just perfect for wiping the bowl clean.

Winter soups 4

 

A couple of days later I bought a duck from Lidl – specifically so I’d have a decent stash of duck fat for roasting veg over Christmas – roasted it simply, made a load of stock from it (which set into the most wonderful lustrous thick jelly) and enjoyed the meat in sarnies. When that was suitably diminished I used up the rest in one of my standby big noodle soups: duck, rice noodles, cucumber, carrot and spring onion, shot through with star anise and chilli.

Duck noodle soup

And finally, here’s one of my favourites. When I posted this a few weeks ago on Twitter, the consensus was that it’s not worth making your own, as the tinned version is just perfect. Just add a swirl of cream or a knob of butter, and a generous helping of freshly ground black pepper. What is it? Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup… a true taste of childhood and still one of the best quick standby meals I can call upon…

Winter soups 1

Bloody Mary Soup

Summer has taken a while to get here, but it’s all arrived at once and suddenly it’s hot enough to melt the tarmac and send you searching frantically for any way to cool one’s self even momentarily. Ice cream is the obvious answer, but if that doesn’t seem like a proper lunch, then a chilled soup is just the ticket.

Due to my dislike of peppers, I’ve never tried a gazpacho, but I figured that by taking my influence from fresh seasonal produce and chilling it, I would end up with something just as good. A quick rummage in the kitchen reminded me I had some lovely looking vine tomatoes and a particularly good bunch of celery. As celery only really come into its own for me as a cocktail ingredient, it didn’t take much of a leap to start knocking up a Bloody Mary soup.

Some celery and carrots went into a pan with an anchovy and half a Scotch bonnet for a fruity kick and both the veg and I sweated gently for around ten minutes. They softened and sweetened in that time while I used it to skin and chop some lovely ripe tomatoes. These then went into the pan with a good grinding of black pepper, a sprinkle of celery salt and a glug of tomato juice. Everything shimmered and simmered in the heat for about twenty minutes while I turned my attention to a sorbet.

I blended everything up to make a thick soup of unrivaled colour, adding a big splosh of Lea and Perrins, a delicate shake of Tabasco and some more black pepper before loosening the texture with two shots of ice cold vodka. The whole thing went in the fridge to chill down and I relaxed in the garden for a while. When it got overwhelming enough that I considered turning the hose on myself, I served the soup with a frozen stalk of celery as a garnish and literally drank in the refreshment.

The sleek sweetness of the tomato and carrot were lifted by the tickle of the Scotch bonnet and Tabasco while the icy cold vodka left a lovely mouth tingling kick behind. The mix of chilled liquid with the spice of the black pepper and cubeb-infused Sacred vodka and the savoury of the rich umami took my temperature down in the most delicious of ways, leaving me well refreshed and relaxed round the edges.

Not one to serve to visitors who have driven to visit you, there is no nicer way to chill out in the garden on a baking hot Sunday afternoon than with this super simple soup. Much healthier and more refreshing than any ice lolly around!

Scotch Broth (or central heating in a bowl)

You can’t have failed to notice that it is absolute brass monkeys out there. With bells on. I’ve certainly never seen snow this early in the winter in London and I’m immensely grateful that I don’t really have anywhere to be for the next few days so I can stay indoors and stay warm. I could either run the heat all day or I could make a bowl of serious soup to banish the chills. It was time to break out the family recipe for Scotch Broth…
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Vive Colombia!

Mister North happened to be in London at the tail end of last week and after a late night watching election results and bemoaning the state of the nation we needed fortified and soothed by some hearty food. Inspired by Mister North’s recent purchase of Felipe Rojas-Lombardi’s The Art of South American Cooking we decided to visit the Colombian butcher in Brixton Village for inspiration.

A purchase of some of the plumpest meatiest sausages (or chorizo colombiano) I have seen in a long time had us so engrossed in conversation about what to do with them that before we knew it we were on 2nd Avenue and found ourselves standing outside Restaurante La Cabana. Realising we could indulge our craving for Colombian food right then and there, rather than going home and cooking for an hour or two we were seated inside with a menu in front of us before we knew it. Read more

Mister North’s souper noodles…

I was out with some friends in Manchester yesterday and we decided to eat in Wagamama, previously a reliable and solid choice for utilitarian Asian food. Their first branch in Manchester opened a decade ago, and provided good competition to local chain Tampopo. Wagamama tended to be more Japanese-oriented, and I credit it as being the place to get me interested in expanding my knowledge of Nipponese nosh. I and my companions were, however, massively underwhelmed by last night’s meal: I think the chain has become more focused on homogeneity and profit margins in the last few years. Either that or my palette has become a lot more discerning…

So today I resolved to make up for my mediocre yaki soba with something a lot more delicious. When I go to Manchester, home of one of the biggest Chinese populations in Europe, I like to stock up on Asian goodies from one of the many fabulous Asian supermarkets. Fresh udon noodles, green Asian brassicas, random sauces, and staples of my store cupboard such as bonito and kombu seaweed. So yesterday I filled several bags with the above and other delicious morsels – wasabi peas, roast duck, Chinese sausages – and revelled in the prospect of a fresh and filling bowl of goodness for my tea.

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