Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup

I have been slightly distracted this week which I can pin down to three specific things.  Work, general election and an awful thing going on with a tooth that I can go no further into, for everyone’s sake.

Consequently time has done that peculiar thing of continuing as normal but feeling distorted.  It’s a funny old thing which many new parents experience, but when you are having a lot of hours in the day awake, the rhythm of life changes and, for me, makes it feel as though I’m living through blancmange.  I have many things to do that I just haven’t done, or do not have the energy to do, and, if truth be known, am probably, in actuality, doing very little, just thinking about it.

As the Americans say, ‘Go figure’

However, I have managed in some part, to continue to cook a semblance of regular meals, with only the odd quirk here and there.  Interestingly, sometimes these quirks work, and sometimes you look back and ponder,

‘Why did I think throwing everything we had left in the fridge into a pan and just adding tomato ketchup, was a good idea?’

Which is why soup is always a good thing to make.  It’s simple, nourishing and although doesn’t have the appeal to the wee boy of say, spaghetti, it does get eaten.  Almost.

I made a chicken stock with the carcass and usual bits and pieces, boiling for 8 hours or so, then leaving to cool overnight.  Now, here’s the thing.  Often when I make a chicken stock I congratulate myself on using up ever last bit of chicken wisely thus easing my conscience.  Invariably arriving at the cooling stage without a hitch.  And then, mentally having ticked the box in my head for ‘make chicken stock’, I leave it on the hob.

Sometimes for so long that I have to throw the whole lot away… (Oh God, the guilt, even now)

This time though, I was on it like a car bonnet, separating the bones and vegetables from the juice as soon as it was cool enough to do so.  Then awarded myself a medal for achievement.  It’s the little things.

Invariably when making a pot of stock, I divide it into those plastic container boxes that the take-away shops so very kindly donate when they bring you food, although to be fair, it would be a bit odd if they stood at the door waiting until you had emptied the food onto a plate so that you could return their boxes.  Mind you, that’s a pretty good idea don’t you think?

*files away under ‘when I rule the world’*

Anyway, this time I just used all the stock created and turned it into a soup.

Firstly I chopped and diced an onion and carrot and put in the pan with a little vegetable oil.  I then added a slice of bacon, chopped, for saltiness, and the rest of the chicken that had been picked off the bones before making the stock.  The stock was added and a potato, chopped and diced.

I then left the whole thing to simmer for twenty minutes or so.  Took down the trusty steed and whizzed up.

Alongside this we had hummus, carrot sticks and muffins.

I know, not what you’d immediately associate with chicken soup, but hey, I’m doing my best here, and as I say to the boys, that’s all you can do.

Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Soup

Sweet Potato & Butternut squash soup#2

It has been the most glorious spring day, which the wee boy and I have spent with people we love.  Moreover, I have had the chance to potter around shops I haven’t been to in a long time, which is always a delight.  If you like that kind of thing. Although, isn’t it bizarre, the less you do, the more tired you seem to be?  So although it has been a gentle day, we have arrived home quite exhausted.  But very happy.

Despite the sunshine, there is still a chill in the air, which means that a good soup doesn’t ever seem out of place.  And this one is a wonderful orange, especially if you whizz it up with a blender.

So, I melt some oil and butter, and add sliced leeks, carrots, salt and pepper, allowing them to gently simmer for a while whilst I prepare the sweet potato and squash.  Once peeled and cubed add to the pan, stir around a little and add water and a vegetable stock cube.  Bring it all to the boil and then allow to simmer until the cubed potato and squash are soft.  Put a lid on, turn the heat off, and let it cool.  Whizz it up with your trusty steed (hand blender).

Sunshine in a bowl.

Slow Roast Lamb

Slow Roast Lamb

Hurrah, it’s March!   Although I am a little concerned at the speed of where the months are going and have a sneaking suspicion that someone is playing with time itself, I am still delighted that we are here.

But what is it with all this ‘Meteorological Spring’ stuff, eh?  Trying, all of a sudden, to convince us that Spring starts on 1 March.  Balderdash.  Spring starts on the Spring Equinox and I will hear no more about it.

Meanwhile, I am embracing the Spring-like weather and have hung out my washing for the first time this year.

Did you know that 80% of people in the UK no longer hang out their washing, but tumble dry it?

We don’t have a tumble dryer, so during the cold months we make use of our central heating and a clothes dryer.  You know the one, where you hang everything on it, it takes up a huge amount of space, and everything takes an eon to dry?  Yes, we have one of those. So March is when I breathe a huge sigh of relief, as it is warm enough to start hanging out, and therefore I spend less time tripping over the clothes dryer.  And anyway, I love the feel and smell of washing dried outside. Although I may not be quite as keen if I lived next door to a motorway.

All that aside, March also reminds me of lamb so have plumped for slow roasting a leg of it for our dinner.

Cut up a few fresh carrots, a chunk of swede, a couple of onions and place them all with the lamb in a casserole dish that has a lid.  Add freshly ground pepper, salt, and a good dollop of mint sauce. Then cover almost all of it in just boiled water and pop into the oven, gas mark 3.  Leave for a few hours.

When you can stand it no longer, drain the juices from the pot, place in a pan and taste.  If you’d like a stronger taste either add a stock cube or more mint sauce.  It’s a personal thing.

Thicken up the gravy and pour over the resting lamb.  Put the lid back on and leave for 10 minutes.  If you can resist.  The smell of it is divine.

I serve with new potatoes and something like sugar snap peas, green beans or mange tout.

Gorgeous.

Italian Tomato Sauce

Italian Tomato Sauce

We have had one of those very chilled out, gentle days where everyone has been in the same room doing different things and generally allowing time to just waft.  I love these days.

And it is on days such as these that I tend to do my catch up cooking.  Today I am making some hummus, roasting some peppers and cooking a large pot of my all purpose tomato sauce.

The thing about this tomato sauce is that, although it takes a while to make, once it’s done you can use it as a base for anything in the Italian food range, from pizza to lasagne, bolognese to cannelloni, or just as a sauce in itself, to cover spaghetti or another form of pasta.  It’s perfect.  Well, perfect for our family.  Some people get stuff in for the freezer, I make tomato sauce.

So, what I do is finely chop an onion, a few carrots, a couple of sticks of celery and a few cloves of garlic.  Pop in a pan with a generous portion of ordinary olive oil, add some salt and pepper, put the lid on and allow it to all saute, very gently, into itself. I would say if you leave it on a very low heat, keeping your eye on it, everything will be wonderfully soft within around 45 minutes.

Once the vegetable base is softened, chop up 9 or 10 large tomatoes and add to the pot.  Squeeze a good splodge of tomato puree in there and sprinkle a teaspoon or two of oregano depending on how strong you like the flavour to come through.

The next couple of ingredients are both a confession and a statement in my defence.  You see you can’t truly make a good tomato sauce unless you put in red wine and sugar.  I have to admit to having had a splosh of red wine in a bottle sitting next to my oven for about two weeks, waiting for exactly this type of day to arrive. Sadly, to my shame, I have not been able to resist putting in a teaspoonful of sugar to accompany the wine, and enhance the flavour of the tomato.  However, my logic follows that of bread making.  You cannot possible make bread without adding some sweetness as it is a catalyst to the yeast.  Similarly, with home made tomato sauce, I believe it to be imperative in order to allow the tomatoes to shine, that sugar is added.  It’s only the tiniest bit…

And on the subject of sugar, I’m not sure whether I am going through a sugar delirium having not had any for 10 days now, but everything is starting to taste sweet.  Is that what normally occurs?

Anyway, allow everything to simmer in the pot with the lid on, for another 20 – 30 minutes or until you think everything is cooked.  Turn the heat off and let it all sit in itself for a while.

At this juncture I would suggest you make a cup of tea, perhaps have a slice of cake, and put your feet up.

When the tomato sauce has cooled down you can either whizz it up in a blender, leave it chunky, or, as I do, split it and do half and half.

Whatever you decide to do with your sauce, when it’s cooled pop it in a tupperware box, an old large greek yoghurt pot, ice cream pot or whatever has a lid, and either store it in the fridge or separate into small meal sized portions and freeze.

I tell you what, if it does nothing else, it will make you feel very organised and together when you next need an Italian tomato sauce.

Gravy

gravy

One of our lovely friends brought a relatively new girlfriend round for lunch one Sunday.  As she was Italian and had not been round before, I decided to cook a traditional Sunday Lunch.

Thankfully, everything went well and she even asked for seconds, adding in the most exquisite English,

‘I just love this sauce, what is it?’

Of course we all know the answer to that one.  Gravy.  Which made me warm to her even more as gravy is one of my most favourite savoury sauces.  And so versatile. I’m not sure whether you are aware, but up here in the North, chips and gravy is ‘a thing’.  In fact, gravy and almost any style of potato, manages to hit the spot perfectly.

Now it would normally be at this juncture in the blog that I would pop up a little recipe, or perhaps a series of ingredients which may aide proceedings.  However, that’s another thing about gravy.  There are so many different ways to make it, and not one more successful, necessarily, than the other.

Indeed one of the many wonders of gravy is just how personalised it can be.

When we were growing up, a regular little phrase of big Dave’s was,

‘Ooo, gravy.  I hope it’s not that bloody runny stuff’

Whereas others are quite appalled by anything other than ‘runny’ gravy.  In all fairness, I think big Dave’s beef was more to do with the association of runny gravy with tasteless gravy.  A hallmark of many foods during and post, WWII childhoods.

But back to present day gravy.  If I were to offer any advice or suggestions at all, it would be this.  Make sure that you have carrots and onions simmering away in your gravy as they add a sweetness that cannot be replaced by anything else.  Funnily enough, not even sugar.

Of course there is always the very quick gravy which come out of a container.   You just add boiling water and stir.  But even that gravy is not off my culinary Christmas card list.

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that gravy, above everything else, is the ‘sauce’ closest to my heart.

Sunday Stew

stew

There are many versions of Sunday lunch that I merrily trough my way through regularly, and then, after a huge sigh, exclaim,

‘That was just delicious!’

Complete satisfaction.

With stew however, there is a little bit more that happens.  A certain je ne sais quoi of fulfilment which reaches the parts other lunches only dream about.  I think it’s probably a combination of the slowly marinated meat, perfectly complimented by the creamy mashed potato, and today, broccoli.

When son #1 was little, one day he sat at the table to a meal which included broccoli, and declared he didn’t like broccoli any more.  There was a slight pause and then himself, very calmly, explained to son #1 that his decision to not eat broccoli was his to make, but meant he would never be able to run fast, as the two things went hand in hand.

There was another thoughtful pause and we continued with the meal, by the end of which, all the broccoli had been eaten.

It has been thus ever since, and son #1 is a pretty fast runner.  I’m not saying the theory is conclusive, but…

Now then, everyone has their own stew method, but most stews reach the top echelon of satisfaction by being cooked slowly. To achieve this I rise early to prepare all the components, in order that they are given as good a chance as possible to become perfectly combined.  When I say early, my Sunday early is 8.30. Just so you know.

Anyway, toss the beef in flour, salt and pepper, then gently fry in butter and vegetable oil that has melted in the bottom of a heavy bottomed pan, until browned.

Take out the meat and set aside.  Add chopped onion, carrots and turnip to the pan. These are softened before I add boiling water and put the meat back in.  Give it a good stir, add a few sprigs of thyme, a good sprinkling of coarsely ground black pepper and some beef stock.  Put the lid on, place in the lower part of the oven, gas mark 2/3 for me, and leave there for 4 – 6 hours.

The next part is probably one of the most comfort evoking things for me.  The smell of the stew slowly wafts around the kitchen and gently infuses through everyone’s nostrils creating calm anticipation.  Obviously, if you leave your crew waiting too long, they do start to get a little grumpy, so make sure that any potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, vegetables, etc are ready to go.

I like to indulge in a creamy mashed potato one day and then fill a Yorkshire pudding the next.  You, of course, may decide to do both, or neither.  I would however (if I may), gently suggest that a green vegetable such as savoy cabbage, broccoli, green beans etc. compliments the whole thing perfectly.

And of course, having this meal for Sunday lunch means that everyone can sit staring into space, or even enjoy a cheekie forty winks, for an hour or so afterwards, without a care in the world.

It makes that ‘early’ start absolutely worth it.

 

 

 

Roasted Root Vegetables

photo (93)

One of the many beautiful things about Autumn is the crisp air that descends in the late afternoon.  This, for me, allows the pleasure of having ‘warming’ food without feeling any guilt whatsoever.  Which also allows me the pleasure of roasting root vegetables.

Now I know that roast vegetables are almost de rigueur in a lot of households. They are simple to do and always, without exception, taste fabulous, even when burnt. Which is a great plus for someone with an oven like mine.  Many a day I have not looked for a little too long, as the last time I did all the vegetables were nowhere near roasted, only to find out when I did look that they had suddenly changed their minds and were roasted to billy-o.

Moving on.

I would like to share a little secret with you.  Did you know that root vegetables, because of their natural sweetness, become an explosion of root veg heaven if they have a little salt and sweetness added to them?

There are many chefs who add maple syrup, or ordinary syrup to parsnips, but I have taken to chopping parsnips and carrots together, soaking them in Agave and salt and then, once in the roasting dish, adding beetroot and letting it all hang out together.  Trust me, it is delicious.

But wait, what is the Agave nonsense?  I hear you say.

Well, this is the best bit.  It’s sweetness that isn’t bad for you.  Come closer and let me reveal all…

It says, and I quote directly from the front of the bottle ‘low GI organic sweetener, from the finest blue webber agave plant’

*leaves a moment for you to take it all in and consider why this isn’t headline news*

There are two versions, light which is akin to golden syrup, and rich and dark which is akin to maple syrup.  I use the rich and dark one for roast vegetables, and also as a little aside, when we have American Pancakes, I add the rich and dark version, coupled with some lovely crisp bacon.  The light one is delicious in porridge.

So, next time you think, hmmm roast vegetables are exactly what will satisfy me on this autumnal evening, buy yourself some Agave and let the explosion sensation begin.

Oh, and just in case you’re thinking this is way too exotic for my supermarket, they all have it on their shelves, often in the baking section, but if they don’t you can ask the supermarket to buy some in, and they are obliged to do so.

Let me know how you get on.