Watercress Soup

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Funnily enough, although it’s still August and therefore technically summer, it has been on the slightly parky side to the extent that our central heating has made a unilateral decision and popped itself on for an hour or so every now and again.  That said, I’m not into full stew and dumpling mode yet, and although I may be making soup, something I associate more with the colder months, chances are it will go into the freezer.  This is, if I haven’t eaten it all through ‘sampling’.  It’s darn fine.

Of course the wonderful thing about watercress soup is you can eat it hot or cold in theory, but I’m a little bit conservative when it comes to soup, and haven’t as yet, really truly relished a cold soup.  That could be down to the ingredients within the soup so perhaps I should make my own.  It would have to be when we had friends round though.  I am not very good at selling foods that I am slightly unsure of to himself and the boys, so fear I would probably end up eating alone that evening.

Onto the soup.  Chop an onion and put into a pan with butter.  Now then, I almost always cook my onion in a large lump of butter with salt and ground pepper so that it sautes however, you may prefer to hold back on the butter.  Either way, slow cook until the onions are translucent.  Chop the watercress and add to the onion.  Then add chicken stock, grated nutmeg and one or two peeled and chopped potatoes.   Bring to the boil and leave simmering for twenty minutes or so.

Just a little thought about the stock.  I use my own homemade chicken stock *polishes halo*, but you may be vegetarian, or indeed just can’t be arsed with the fuss of making your own stock.  In which case, buy those fantastic Knorr Stock Pots. They come in all types of flavours and are amazing.

So, when the stuff in the pan has been simmering away for a while, take off the heat and liquidise.  I think actually, you’re supposed to leave it to cool down a little before liquidising, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.  In fact, I don’t think it makes any difference whatsoever, barring the heat of the soup, which may attack you when you least expect it.

And finally, if you are going to eat this soup straight away, ladle into bowls then add a little single cream in a swirly fashion to each bowl, standing on one foot with the other leg coyly lifted at the knee and thrown, with gay abandon behind you.  Make sure at least one arm looks ready to conduct an orchestra.  Perfect.

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Sweet Potato

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Aren’t potatoes a wonderful thing?  I am always amazed by how many differing types there are.  I have never eaten a potato, or a potato dish and thought it was unpleasant.  In fact I would go so far as to say I find almost everything to do with potatoes delicious.

So today, realising we have absolutely no food in for the weekend of any significance, I popped into Waitrose to pick up a few bits.  One of which was some sweet potatoes.

Now I really must just have a diversional rant here.  Whilst in Waitrose, happily minding my own business, my eyes were presented with a father and son image that, quite frankly, I find completely abhorrent.  Why does a certain type of male insist on putting the collar of his t-shirt up around the back of his neck?  What on earth possesses them to think this is in any way an attractive, stylish or appealing look to impose on the public?

Just to clarify though, a collar turned up on a Mackintosh coat I understand completely.  In fact, many coats lend themselves to the turned up collar look. Having a penchant for film noir I am appreciative of those men who carry off that unique elegance.  I don’t even have a problem with men sporting the look at private parties, sports venues or in their own home.  I’m not completely unreasonable.  Indeed what people do in their own homes is their own affair. But I find it deeply unreasonable to enforce it onto the public.  Myself especially.  Surely I am not the only one?

So, aside from gathering all my wits in order not to march up to said father and son and turn their collars down, the image momentarily completely puts me off balance. However, I eventually managed to compose myself and continue with my tasks. One of which was to purchase a few glorious sweet potatoes.

Now for those of you who are not versed in sweet potatoes, my advice would be to begin your journey by slicing and twice cooking them.  By this I mean, slice them into wedge or large chip size, put in a pan of water, bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for five minutes, then drain and dry.

You have now cooked them once.

Put your oven on gas mark 7 and heat some vegetable oil in a roasting dish.  When the oil is hot put the dried potato slices into the oil and swizzle them around.  At this point I sprinkle salt over them all, but you may wish to pop them in saltless.  Top shelf is best for these.  Leave them for around 20 minutes and then turn.  Leave in the oven for another 20 minutes or so.  They should come out crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Alternatively, of course, you could deep fry them.

You have now cooked them twice.

The other way to start you adventure on the sweet potato train is to take out up to one third of what would have been white potatoes for mash and replace with sweet potato. Cook together with the white potatoes, drain, mash and butter up as usual. You will have the most delicious, slightly sweet, orange mashed potato.  The wee boy is extremely partial to this method.

Whichever way you decide to cook your sweet potato, now is most definitely the time of year to get cooking them.  The colour is sublime, and totally complimentary of the season.

Who said style over content?

Eating Ice Cream

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I have a confession to make.  I am not a very big fan of ice cream.

*Leaves pause for gasps of horror to die down*

However, every now and again I am told ‘this’ ice cream or ‘that’ ice cream is to die for, and it must be tried.  Being the curious person that I am, I almost always try a recommendation.  Most of the time it is still a disappointment, but today, having already been on the beach and had a wonderful time in the sunshine and sea and therefore completely caught up in the seaside experience, I was easily persuaded to give Di Meo’s a go.

I am overjoyed to say, this ice cream parlour supersedes all expectations.

It is absolutely sublime.  And when I say sublime I mean mouth-wateringly divine. The type of food where you relish every mouthful as though it may be your last.  The temperature is perfect.  The creaminess is astonishingly delectable and the different flavours are absolutely on the right side of delicious.

We tasted the Belgian Chocolate, Cherry (I think I will be dreaming about this flavour for many nights to come), Honeycomb and Caramel, Cookie (Orios) and Cream, Mango, Strawberry and Bubblegum (not my favourite, but is a complete must have for 10 year olds).  However, there are many, many more flavours that I would have tried had I not been full to bursting.  The Lemon Sorbet looked particularly scrumptious.

It just means I will have to go back.  Again, and again, and again.

If you’re within a 100 mile radius, may I suggest you pop by, say ‘Hi’ and indulge in probably one of the best ice creams you will have tasted in your own memory.

I promise you, you will not regret it.

Sweet Tooth

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There’s a funny thing that happens to children when you travel anywhere in a car. For some reason they suddenly gain the ability to eat absolute rubbish constantly. It’s almost like their mind watches everything going by so quickly, it relates a message to their body saying,

‘Wow, we are travelling VERY far, best refuel’

Or, to be more precise,

‘Wow, we are travelling VERY far,  we must refuel on sugar based items only’

And so it is with the boys.  Although to be honest we haven’t travelled that far really, but still, they have managed to devour a rather impressive amount of sweets and grapes in the time it’s taken us to drive approximately one hundred miles.

Of course I could just deny them any sort of food that has names of things I can’t pronounce in them, but my theory is, if you allow them to have everything in moderation, they won’t crave it when they’re older from being deprived of it when they’re young.

I’ll let you know how that one turns out.

Chocolate Slices

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Now these, for any of you who have not had the pleasure, are probably the most delicious tasting pieces of chocolate perfection you will eat in a long while.  More-ish doesn’t even come close, although I must point out that although they do leave you wanting more, if you have more you do begin to feel slightly queasy as the palette can only deal with so much sugar in one sitting.

The recipe, passed down from my mother, has absolutely everything in it you would desire if you have a sweet tooth, or any propensity to be satisfied by the delights of sugary delicacies.   A sweet, chocolate, chewy something, it is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea, or as someone said to me this weekend, Guinness. No, I don’t see it either, but I like to believe that I will always respect a persons point of view, and them being able to express it.

As a sideline, a gentleman came up to us this weekend and asked if he could have his face painted as a lion.  He then shared his secret with us.  He was actually a wolf. Now I have to admit that on the outside he didn’t look anything like a wolf, but he obviously felt it on the inside, and who am I to argue?

Back to the slices.  It has come to my attention over the last few years that this type of food has become more popularly referred to as Tiffin.  And indeed, according to some sources, it has all the properties of a ‘Fridge Cake’ barring the raisins.  Biscuits, sugar, syrup etc covered in chocolate.  This usage of the word Tiffin originated in Troon, Scotland during the 1900’s, as did my mother give or take a bit of geography.

However, I know Tiffin as an Indian English word meaning light lunch or afternoon tea.  It is served in the most beautifully designed tiered round metal boxes, which interlink and lock together allowing both the main course and dessert to be sold in one object.  Perfect for train journeys or picnics.  The sweet slabs I make, although great for a picnic, do not have this diversity, and therefore are known as chocolate slices.  That is what they are called in the recipe book and that is what I’m most comfortable with.

And this brings me to the recipe itself.

Melt sugar, syrup, butter, and cocoa powder in a pan on a low heat until everything has combined and is silky smooth.  Take off the heat.  Add the crushed digestive biscuits, mix until they have all been coated in the chocolate sauce and spread out evenly into a dish.  Pour the melted chocolate over the biscuit base and leave to set.

Whilst these are setting phone, text, facebook, tweet or send a letter to friends or family and arrange a rendezvous.  Why?  Well, I am a total advocate of the best foods should be shared philosophy.  Therefore, once set, cut the large slab of chocolate perfection into moderately sized slices, pop in a tin and take round to friends or family.  Put the kettle on, drink a cuppa and indulge yourselves in a little slice of heaven.

I took my chocolate slices to Leeds West Indian Carnival this weekend to sell on a little stall my friends and I have.  Despite the deeply inclement weather, everyone who tasted the chocolate slice went away with a smile on their face.  And that’s ratification enough for me.

Oh, and just to let you know, there is one ingredient I have left out, but then all family recipes have a secret something don’t they?

Baked Chicken and Rice

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There is something very satisfying about putting a whole load of things in a dish and popping it in the over to discover, about forty minutes later that not only is it all cooked, but the alchemy of the food blends so beautifully together that you have something very gratifying to eat.  And so it is with baked chicken and rice.

Here’s how I do it.

Grease a dish with a little butter.  Add rice, chopped chicken pieces, red and yellow pepper, sultanas, nuts, chicken stock, salt and pepper.

Put it in the oven, gas mark 5.

Make a cup of tea.

Wait.

Look in the oven after around twenty minutes as it might need a bit of a stir.  My oven tends to cook things round the outside of the dish quicker than in the middle, so I give it a gentle swirl and sometimes add some more hot water.

Twenty minutes or so later, take out of the oven and serve.

It’s a little bit like savoury rice, but the sultanas add a touch of sweetness that I find irresistible.  Of course, you could, should the feeling take you, just bake the rice with the peppers etc and cook the chicken separately.  Either way, the results are always enjoyable.

And, as a little aside, it looks beautiful.

Making Plum Jam

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 I am in the process of making jam.  Plum jam.

The thing is I have now sat here for over two hours and the large bucket of plums we picked from our neighbours tree is just not going down quickly enough.  However, my fingers have slowly been coloured by the skins of said plums and are strong contenders for ‘best camouflage of the year’ award. They look like wrinkly plums.   Moreover, the little blighters of stones are often so tricky to release from their fruity coats that I end up cutting around them.  Someone needs to invent a plum de-stoner. They’d make a fortune.

‘It’s so 10 out of 10 annoying’, as one of the fabulous students on ‘Educating Yorkshire, One Year On’ said last night.  That most definitely wins the my ‘favourite phrase of the year’ award.

All my moaning aside, I am actually a very big fan of home made jams and chutneys. Firstly, there is a self satisfaction in utilising the fruit growing around you.  Secondly, there is nothing like the taste of home made jams and chutneys and thirdly, they make great gifts.  Perfect.

Back to the reality of the day.  Having now taken a short break from the de-stoning of plums, I really should get back on the case or I will lose all impetus and they will sit around in the pan, looking forlorn, unloved and very much like unmade jam.

And not even my most loved would appreciate a jar of ’emperor’s new clothes’ jam.