By all rights we should be getting well and truly tired of soup. In fact I have a friend who swears off the stuff after St Patrick’s Day, opting for salads and wraps, even if the mercury is mired in single digits and sleety rain. But I’m not quite ready to give up my comfort blanket of warmed and blended vegetables, pulses and herbs just yet. Continue reading
Some folk are just too cool for words. Although not seeming to actively pursue perfection – that would be incredibly UNcool, their every move thrums with beta-test brilliance. Pile of pre-Man Booker/Pulitzer prize short-listers: check . Tickets to the next big thing in live music: check. The predicted must-paint colour: check (emerald green, apparently). All of this effortless, osmosified, probably genetic.
I was never that girl. And truthfully it doesn’t bother me. I’ve always, unfathomably, been comfortable in my own skin. Still am. I blame my parents But I secretly hate to be left sitting on the curb when it comes to food and food trends. Just not for the reasons you may think. Continue reading
You may be reading this while tucking into a sumptuous feast of cold leftover turkey, ham, goose or turducken sandwiches, and sides of cold roast potatoes, cranberry sauce and Brussels sprouts, etc. We love Boxing Day leftovers in our house – my favourite is leftover cornbread dressing, which this year I spiked with black pudding for a Scottish twist on a Southern US staple.
But this year I saved back some roast potatoes and ham to make this unbelievably easy soup. It’s no looker, at least the way I present it, which is just as I have made it, ready for serving to my family who of course don’t want to wait while I faff with styling and garnishes. The secret, I think, is the Dijon mustard, a healthy dollop of which balances the flavour of the sweet leeks and ham, and adds an extra piquancy that is often lacking in leftovers. I won’t natter on about it as I want to get back to watching rubbish telly and planning my attack on the after-Christmas sales. I am sharpening my already-pointy elbows in anticipation of the latter. Edinburgh shoppers, you have been warned.
(Leftover Roast) Potato and Ham Soup with Dijon
Beetroot. Beta vulgaris. Hmm. And borscht. Are you picturing what I am picturing? A weathered babushka – with a babushka – ladling steaming red soup into a tin bowl?
I have that image from actual memory. Not a Grimm’s fairy tale story read to me by my mother on a howling night, but a real live babushka: brown walnut face shyly smiling as she proudly served her national soup to me, a dangerous visitor from the land of Ronald Reagan and Mickey Mouse. Continue reading
After promising from the little box on the right-hand side that I would post this recipe, at last it is here. Just in the nick of time, before the British seasonal courgettes are finished. I know you haven’t been waiting with bated breath, but I can’t believe I have waited so long to post this fabby soup.
I love soup (as any right-minded person would) and this one is one of my most favourite, and easiest to make. Because it is so quick and simple it often features at my summer Maggie’s Centre nutrition workshops, where everyone seems to really enjoy it and want to make it at home. Energy and tastebuds certainly take a hit during cancer treatment so it’s great to have a bung it all together kind of recipe that tastes great, is nutritious and freezes well for another day. I am always immensely pleased when anyone says that they enjoyed their lunch at Maggie’s, but especially so by those whose appetite and taste are affected by treatment. I will be putting more of my easy, Maggie’s Centre-tried and tested recipes up for you and your family to try. In the meantime I really hope you go for this one. If you like Italian tastes but want something ultra-light, creamy-tasting but still filling, this might just do. Continue reading
This morning I realised we are experiencing an inexorable slide to ‘porridge weather’. All summer I have been vacillating between starting the day with berries and yogurt, poached egg with asparagus, and a breakfast bruschetta of chopped cherry tomatoes, olive oil & basil on sourdough. All very delicious and light. But this morning – without any thought behind it – I reached into the cupboard and pulled out a forlorn packet of Scottish porridge oats. Using a half and half mixture of soya milk and water, I simmered this companionable pairing before adding dried goji berries and a grating of apple. And it was heavenly. If that doesn’t say ‘autumn’ I’m not sure what does.
But it wasn’t just the instinctively pre-hibernation breakfast that signaled summer’s end. Although it doesn’t yet feel too chilly, the other omens are abundantly clear: more than the odd brown leaf on the lawn, mystery mushrooms colonising under the oak tree, a lower, moodier sky. But my most accurate harbinger is the two extra bodies on the bed. Today Mr A and I awoke to find our cats nestled and immovable among the folds of the the duvet.
Over the years we have realised that as soon as Max and Mimi pad up from the cool and serene downstairs to warm and cosy upstairs, summer is well and truly behind us. So, barring a freak heat wave (highly unlikely) it won’t be long until we fire up the central heating and start moaning about the cost of it. Until then it is an extra layer and the comfort of cat-warmed feet. Continue reading
Pittenweem, the picture-postcard fishing village where we are staying the weekend, is gearing up for its week in the British cultural spotlight hosting the Pittenweem Arts Festival (6-14 August). This dinky village, so tiny that it doesn’t have a cash machine, or even the ubiquitous Tesco Metro, hosts one of the best, most accessible art shows to be found anywhere. By accessible I mean that the art displayed is wide-ranging enough to please the culture-vultures (my in-laws) and Philistines (that will be me) alike. Gorgeous, colour-soaked abstract canvases jostle with simple pen and ink studies, blowsy floral whimsies and beautiful sea-inspired tapestries in this most egalitarian of art festivals.
Although Pittenweem boosts an unusually high number of galleries for such a bijou place, the ever-increasing number of artists who exhibit over the week means that the ground floors and gardens of many houses are co-opted and hung with paintings, dotted with sculptures and draped with textiles and decorative baubles. The village is always eye-achingly gorgeous, especially the Shore area, with its pastel tied fishermen’s cottages, tumbling gardens and step-gabled roofs, but it really comes alive in August. If you are anywhere near the east coast of Scotland come and have a browse around this uniquely homey art festival.
Even if nothing catches your eye art-wise there are always the home-baking stalls spilling out onto the pavement to tempt you. And the Cocoa Tree, where I use coffee-purchased wi-fi for the occasional blog post, has dangerously addictive chilli cocoa to sup while enjoying homemade crepes and other goodies. Great chocolate shop too. The fish and chip shop a few doors down is also a good find. Anstruther, the next village up, has a famous fish and chip shop (it boasts photos of celebs noshing with the plebes from cardboard trays). But Pittenweem Fish Bar is just as good at two-thirds of the price, with efficient staff to keep everyone in their place as they queue down the street for their portions of crisp-golden fish. And no cardboard tray-plates, just good old paper to unwrap while sitting on the harbour wall watching the fishing boats go out for the night.
As I am writing this I am also keeping an amused eye on the antics at my bird feeders. The gnarly, old apple tree on which the feeders hang is suddenly alive with over a dozen balls of downy cerulean fluff, cheeping and and chasing as if battery powered. The extra life in the tree is due to a second set of blue tits having just today fledged and joined their older, bolder siblings. I would love to show you a picture of these hyperactive blue bullets but they are too darn fast, flitting from limb to limb with the ease of practised trapeze artists.
Because we have two cats it is with a certain amount of guilt that we hang and maintain bird feeders. One cat is too rotund to prove much of a risk to the visiting bird population, and is taunted by raucous crows who occasionally swoop low and rocket off, cawing loudly. The other cat, a slinky tabby, is another story altogether. Let’s just say that at this time of year it is not a complete surprise to be given a ‘present’. He watches and waits with infinite patience for any clumsy, or distracted, chick upon which to pounce. A large recently fallen oak tree branch is proving a perfect eyrie to espy little ground-based birds as they scavenge for anything knocked from the overhanging feeders. Our cats are well-fed and of relatively advanced years (somewhat like myself) so are not as active in this respect as once they were, but it is still a source of guilt at this time of year. But right now, with the deft acrobatics I am witnessing before me, it’s all good. And both cats are doing as cats do and sleeping. On the master bed of course.
What in the world does this have to do with minestrone? Well, not much (my ramblings rarely dovetail with the accompanying recipe) except they are both delights of late spring. Root-based soups are sustaining and warming in winter, but a fresh-tasting, pesto-infused minestrone makes a wonderful light lunch as spring eases into summer. And even better if accompanied by a pillowy hunk of green stratified focaccia. Continue reading
Spring has at last sprung in Scotland. The outside thermometer in my lovely Skoda Octavia (that’s a car to any US readers) read 15C on Monday: this is sometimes a top temperature in July. I had planned on making a soup today, and had already bought all the ingredients. But I must admit to being sorely tempted to crack on with a delicate spring salad. I stopped in my tracks however, afraid that I would jinx us all, unleashing a torrent of plant-ripping hail and sky-scudding storms. And anyway, there is enough spring in this soup to fit comfortably with the unaccustomed sun and warmth yet cover the still-cold nights. Versatile, or what?
Another thing that is making me feel very chipper is the sight of my beautiful Black Rock hens (wrecking) pecking in the back garden. Such joy to see the sun glinting off their deep green feathers as they hypnotically bob their little heads, feasting on everything tender that I have dared plant out. Friends (and my husband) think they are the most spoiled hens ever, dining as they do on fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains and the odd bit of cake. I think it’s only looking after our best interests. After all, we eat what they eat. And as they eat gravel, worms, flowers and bugs I like to think that the diced mango, quinoa and coriander stalks are adding value and flavour to our daily delivery. The yolks are certainly as deep a saffron as those you get in Italy, and twice as delicious. Could be the saffron cake…
Science bit: I have indulged a bit in the ol’ nutrition stuff lately so I will calm down and try not to scare off you folk who are tuning in just for the nosh. Suffice it to say that leeks are the stars in this soup and that watercress comes a close second, but only because of the smaller amount. Not much research exists on leeks as they get lumped in with their fellow alliums, onions and garlic, but they are certainly useful to anyone wanting to eat more healthily. An Italian study noted rates of mouth, esophageal, colorectal and stomach cancers were lower the more alliums one consumes. Eating the equivalent of 1/2 a cup of alliums (leeks, onions, garlic, chives etc) per day is thought to be a health-promoting amount. It is certainly achievable if you make most of your own meals from scratch, but even adding sauteed onions, leeks or garlic to a bought meal is good. To get the most from your alliums, ‘box and cox’ (US readers, look that one up) between having them cooked and raw. Another tip: after cutting, leave alliums ten minutes as this develops the anti-carcinogen compound allicin.
Leek’s main nutrients are interferon-boosting manganese, Vitamin C, iron, folate, vitamin B6 and fibre. The cardiovascular benefits of alliums are more studied than for cancer, with numerous polyphenols known to help keep heart-damaging homocysteine levels low, blood vessels supple, cholesterol low, and protect blood vessels from free radical damage. For those who ‘know their onions’ (groan), but want to know more, click here.
Leek, Parsnip and Watercress Soup
This is a tail-end-of-winter soup, with a hint of spring. Sweet local parsnips are almost finished and edging towards being woody, but maincrop potatoes, leeks and watercress are in full swing. I’m only just tiring of the heartier winter veg such as parsnips and swedes, but here in Scotland we have a wee while to go before our springier crops are ready for harvesting. While winter and spring battle it out on the weather front (spring is winning today – hooray!), hedge your bets and try this mixed season soup. Please don’t hunt around for the parsnips if they aren’t available, just up the potato: I happened to have some parsnips and liked the sweetness they added to the soup. Garnish with frazzled thin-cut pancetta if you like, or even garden chives that may be peeking through just now.
700g/1 lb 8 oz maincrop potatoes (basically not new or waxy potatoes), peeled and chopped
200g/7 oz parsnips, peeled and chopped
500g/1 lb 2 oz leeks, trimmed
1 tbsp rapeseed oil or butter
1.5 litres/50 fl oz vegetable stock or chicken stock (I sometimes use a combination)
1 tbsp fresh tarragon or 1 tsp dried tarragon
100g/3.5 oz watercress (use the stalks too – tasty and nutritious)
250 ml/8 fl oz full-cream milk (optional)
salt and white pepper
What To Do: Take the leeks and cut away the tough darker green leaves. The easiest way to slice leeks is to cut them lengthways and then again so you have four long pieces for each. Gather them up and slice them thinly. Pop them in a colander and give them a good rinse to get out any grit. Supermarket leeks are usually pretty grit-free but farm shop or vegetable box/CSA leeks will always have some clinging in there.
Add the oil or butter to a large saucepan and, when this is melted over a medium heat, add the leeks and sauté for four to five minutes, stirring. Add in the potatoes, parsnip and stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer – covered – for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Turn off the heat and add in the watercress and tarragon; let them wilt. Whiz the soup very carefully with a hand blender or in a food processor, before putting the soup into a clean saucepan with the milk and reheating gently. Season to taste with salt and white pepper, if desired. Serves 6
Another soup day – cloudy, promise of snow, blustery, speed restrictions on the bridge. I had hoped to do a more spring-welcoming soup as it is March-proper, but the weather just doesn’t warrant it. So, it’s to the comfort blanket of soups, a simple but unusual combination of celeriac, carrots, potato, caraway and cumin. I won’t blather on about the nutrients too much today as yesterday’s post probably stunned with its tmi approach to that days’ ingredients – everything you always wanted to know about cardamom but were afraid to ask…
For those that have never tried celeriac it is a lovely, subtle vegetable, slightly nutty, a bit like mild celery (funny, that). I really love it. It is however a vegetable that a lot of us don’t know how to use – the puzzling, nobbly addition to a delivered organic veg box. Although you can easily add it in with other vegetables when roasting, or half and half with potato in a gratin or mash (or classic but fattening remoulade), try it in this comforting, aromatic soup. Please keep in the touch of Greek yogurt unless you aren’t having dairy; the tang of the yogurt really adds to the vegetable and spice flavours. Maybe add a bit of fresh lemon juice if you are off milk products. Also, like a lot of soups, measurements don’t have to be exact; use the quantities that you have available or prefer.
Science Bit: Celeriac is a well-kept secret that anyone trying to shed a few pounds could well do to explore being very low in calories and sugars, especially when eaten raw (have with a low-fat dip). It is a good source of fibre, vitamin B6, vitamin K, magnesium, potassium and manganese, and a very good source of vitamin C and bone-strengthening phosphorus.
For those expecting a pancake recipe, I really didn’t want to join the intense throng of posts on the subject. Plenty of great ones from which to chose. Miss R will however be fixing the pancake with pear and homemade chocolate sauce recipe enticingly photographed in this month’s Waitrose magazine. We are having an ascetic salad beforehand to ‘deserve’ our gooey treat. Glad I ‘zumba-ed’ last night!
Carrot and Celeriac Soup with Caraway and Cumin
2 tsp rapeseed oil
2 leeks, sliced OR one large onion, sliced*
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seed
250g/0.5 lb carrots, sliced (about 3 medium carrots)
250g/0.5 lb potatoes, diced (about 2 medium potatoes)
250g/ 0.5 lb celeriac, root trimmed, peeled and cubed (or half a celeriac)
1.5 litres/50 fl oz/6.3 cups vegetable stock, plus extra for thinning the soup, if liked – it’s a thick soup
4 tbsp organic Greek yogurt
Equipment You Need: cutting board, sharp knife, measuring spoons, wooden spoon, large saucepan with lid, hand-blender or blender
What You Do: In a large lidded saucepan sauté the leeks or onion in the oil over a low heat for a few minutes. Add the seeds, carrots, potatoes and celeriac and continue cooking for a further five minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. Add the vegetable stock, cover the pan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are soft. Allow the soup to cool a bit before blending with a hand blender or in a food processor. Reheat with the Greek yogurt in clean pan; with any additional seasoning such as freshly ground pepper or fresh thyme leaves. If you think you might like to eat some and freeze the remainder, leave out the yogurt and only add it to what you will be eating immediately or storing in the fridge. This soup is really nice with rye bread or rye crispbread. Makes 5-6 bowlsful