Thursday, 29 September 2011

Home Made Baked Beans

Before we go any further, a confession - I can't stand tinned Baked Beans.  I know that marks me out as a food heretic in many people's eyes, but it's true.  Luckily it's about my only weakness when it comes to food - I will eat anything else (oh apart from Salad Creme - tastes like mayo that's gone off... Maybe I just have a thing against Heinz products, apart from Oxtail Soup, which is wonderful!)

So why am I finding myself writing a recipe for what is essentially glorified baked beans?  Well...  I think I may have mentioned that it's been my birthday recently - and if you feel the need, contact me for a present list, I don't mind if they are belated (Hallmark make cards for every occasion...) and as a special birthday present, Team Soup de-camped to Cambridge for the weekend to, umm, camp.  On the way we stopped off at Melton Mowbray to sample some rather amazing pies, ate delicious Wild Boar sausages in a pub near our campsite and I also had cooked for me a brilliant Steak and Kidney pie a la Delia (my special birthday meal)

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Bapao - Dutch Steamed Buns

So it's been a while - a whole week in fact, since my last post.  I do hope you weren't worried, all that happened was that I became a year older (more on that in my next post).  Anyway, I do apologize, and here is the third installment in Dutch Week, although it's been more like Dutch Fortnight...

It seems to me that Dutch cuisine is a lot like English food, a mish-mash of foods from all over the world.  After all, it's been said before that what could be more English than a kebab after a night out, or going out with a group of friends for a curry?  Umm, well... (Also, remind me some time to tell you about the best curry house I ever visited, regularly at 2a.m when I was a student in Bradford - not sure it exists any more, but it was wonderful in 1992!)

But here is Bapao - which some of you may have heard of as Ba Pao, a Chinese or Indonesian recipe for steamed meat filled buns, and they reminded me of Dim-sum and my valiant efforts to make chop-sticks work (they are witchcraft, aren't they?) and were apparently imported into Holland via it's ports, much like the mix of cuisines we count as adopted native in the UK.  You can also play with the fillings, to include chicken, pork or even tofu (if you are a vegetarian, or as my Mum would say Funny Eater...)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Erwtensoep - Dutch Pea Soup

So this soup is the second of three Dutch dishes, as I mentioned last time, inspired by someone sending me a recipe.  Also, I think, this exploration of my vague heritage is spurred on by my rapidly approaching birthday which always makes one take an extra hard look at things (shortly before reaching for the red wine, usually in my case) and it's funny that the only two things I can think of that even connect me to the old country (and I use this term in the loosest sense possible) are two phrases my Grandfather used, passed on to my Dad and were often heard in my house when I was a kid.

The first of these phrases describes pretty much all our family, was Käsekopf (and rather amazingly, as I was googling a spelling for this, I was informed that it is German, not Dutch - is there something my Grandfather didn't tell us? Hmmm).  Käsekopf translates as Cheesehead, accurately describing my love for cheese (speaking of which, did you know the Dutch cheese Edam is made backwards?)

The second phrase, which I have no idea how to spell was muisjes kerkletjes which translated means mouse droppings, and refers to the chocolate sprinkles also known as Hagelslag, beloved of the Dutch.  Please note - I can't find a proper translation of that phrase anywhere on the interwebs, so unless any dutch readers tell me otherwise, assume it to be correct (or a complete fabrication made up by my grandfather to pick up English girls...)

Which brings me to the soup in a very round about way (Well, it's a Dutch recipe, and we are talking about food...)  It's a wonderful, thick and meaty version of the classic pea and ham soup (I imagine it is similar to what would happen if you put pie and peas in a blender) and is perfect for these Autumn nights - and would be perfect for Bonfire night parties in a month or two.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Bitterballen - Dutch Deep Fried Gravy

I have a rather unusual surname, there's no avoiding it.  Whether it's people asking me how to spell it, random strangers asking me about my family tree or trying to avoid confusion in the doctor's surgery, I can go nowhere without taking my name along with me.  Oh, yes, I'm not sure whether you spotted it, but my surname is dutch.

However, I have never even set foot in Holland.  My name came to this country along with my Grandfather shortly after the second world war.  A glassblower by trade, he eventually settled in England, working at a light bulb factory where he met my Grandmother and the rest is, as they often say, history.

On a strange and un-bidden whim, mainly due to the fact that someone sent me a link to this recipe, I decided to cook a few dutch dishes.  I apologize if any Netherlanders should come across these recipes and find them wholly inaccurate.  I'm doing the best I can.

Anyway, the first dish I decided to cook (the one I was emailed) is Bitterballen, which is often translated to Deep Fried Gravy - apparently a bar snack in Holland, but how could I resist a dish like this - gravy is my one true love, easily as important as the meat it is accompanying in my estimation, and when preparing a Sunday roast, I will devote as much care and attention on the gravy as the roast itself.  So here we go with deep fried gravy, or Bitterballen.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Tomato and Chilli Chutney

A random childhood memory.  When I was about 8, playing hide and seek in our back garden, being told off for using the best hiding place I had ever worked out. This hiding place, I feel safe in revealing 30 years later, safe in the knowledge that a) most people have stopped looking for me, and b) the location in question is long gone, was in our greenhouse.

Not being all that well off when I was growing up, our greenhouse was a rather unconventional structure, fashioned from off-cuts of wood and heavy-duty plastic sheeting in place of glass; a wonky door secured by a latch being all there was in terms of security, and the plants inside made the best hiding place for the aforementioned game of hide and seek, if one could wriggle round behind them without crushing too many of them.

I still remember the smell inside this greenhouse, the smell of plastic and tomato plants, the stifling heat on a July afternoon, trying to remain motionless as Paul Mitchell or Ian Nelson stalked me as mercilessly as a big game hunter stalks a vicious predator.

But what has all this got to do with recipes I hear you ask as you stare at your watch and tap your feet impatiently. Well... 30 years later I find myself in the position of being the one growing the tomatoes, rather than hiding behind them, and although our plants didn't fair too well this season, being by turns baked in unforgiving heat and then drowned by unseasonal weather, the rather straggly looking plants still yielded a rather respectable crop before finally giving up the ghost.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Lamb Tagine

As I write this, it's a stormy morning, wind is blowing fallen leaves through the window and everything has that 'encroaching autumn' feeling.  And whilst the turning of the season is not the best of starts to a Monday (waving goodbye to the summer, realizing you didn't have half as many lazy days and drunken nights as you planned in march) there are some reasons to be cheerful.

One of these is the return of stews and casseroles to the dinner table.  If there is one thing that I could eat endlessly, until I burst (and sometimes it really feels like I will burst)  it's got to be dumplings - accompanied if at all possible by a nice rich beef stew.  My Nana, who's only cooking technique was to boil things for 3 hours, then another hour, just to be sure, made the best stew (unfortunately, the whole boiling things until they are dead technique did not lend itself to very pleasant dumplings - they resembled doughy pebbles)

Today's recipe, however, is not beef stew, nor does it contain dumplings (although you could throw some in if you really wanted to.  Come to think of it, where did I put the suet..?)  What it is, however, is a lamb tagine.  Now, I have to confess that I don't own a massive range of kitchen implements, accessories or geegaws (but I do like using the word geegaw) so my tagine is just made in a casserole pot, rather than the proper way.  If you do have access to a swanky earthenware pot, go for it!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Plum Chutney

Another plum recipe, because we were given quite a few plums, and rather than just make a huge batch of one thing, it seemed like a good idea to experiment.  So here is a plum chutney.  As well as having the plums given for this one, we were also given the onions (thanks Mum!)
 I think that for Christmas, I will be giving everyone I know either seeds or baby trees (Saplings?  Treelings?) so that next year I will be on the receiving end of even more fruit and vegetables.

Also, if you know someone who has a fruit tree in their garden but doesn't do anything with the produce (you will be able to pinpoint the houses of these people as the pavement in front of their houses will be slick with rotting windfall)  why not just knock on their door and offer to relieve them of the fruit that they don't want.  After all, it would be such a shame to let it all go to waste!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Spiced Plum Jam

One of the great things about making your own jam (and this also holds true if you make your own wine too) is that once you tell people about your hobby, you will never be short of the raw materials.  Anyone who has a fruit tree in their garden will soon be presenting you with carrier bags and boxes full of apples, pears, plums and anything else you can comfortably grow in your back yard.

This free food is amazing, and the generosity of friends is very much appreciated, but it does beg the question of why the purveyors of fruit aren't turning them into jams, wines, pies, crumbles and assorted other goodies instead of passing them on to me.  I for one am not complaining (and never having owned a fruit tree, perhaps the quantities produced are enough to satisfy anyone's fruit-lust and still have some to spare)

So here we go with another jam recipe, this time a spiced plum jam.  I love plums, can't get enough of them - they are perhaps my favourite fruit.  I have a habit of liking them very un-ripe and sour, and as a consequence, I get told off for eating them before anyone else has a chance to.  The plums we were given were a lot more ripe than that, which is better for making jam with (and also stopped me from eating too many when they were being pitted, which is probably for the best).

 This jam is a wonderfully spicy, fruity taste that made the whole kitchen smell like Christmas, even though it's only September.  Blimey, less than 100 days, need to start planning some Christmas posts...

This recipe only makes 3 jars - I only had a limited amount of plums and wanted to do a few different things with them.  Feel free to increase the amounts should you have bushels of plums (can you measure plums in bushels?)

650g Plums (pitted)
650g Sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 Cup Water
1 Cinnamon Stick
5 Cloves
8 Cardamom Pods
1/2 tsp Ground Allspice
1/4 tsp Nutmeg

Pit and chop the plums, then wash them.  Place them in a large pan with just enough water to cover them.  Add the sugar, lemon juice and spices, heat the mixture to dissolve the sugar and then simmer for 10 minutes.  The plums will start to break up as they cook. At this point, you can fish out the plum skins if you don't like them in the jam - it's easier than trying to peel the fruit beforehand.

Also, remember to put your jam jars in the oven to sterilize (120ºc for about 20 minutes should do it)

(A good tip is to remember how many cardamom pods and cloves you put in, so you can check they all come out again at the end!)

After 10 minutes, bring the mixture to the boil. Boil hard for another 10 minutes and then test to see if the jam has reached setting point.

As usual, you can check this by putting a saucer in the fridge to chill.  Drop a teaspoonful of jam onto the saucer.  Let it cool.  If you can push a jellied trail through it with you fingernail, it’s ready.

Remember to fish out the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, then transfer the jam to the sterilized jars and store in a cool dry place.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Elderberry Scramble

So Team Tuesday (Team Soup doesn't sound quite as catchy, does it?) were out in the wilds of our local canal path, looking for berries and getting dirty looks from cyclists, and knowing looks form old ladies out for a Sunday Afternoon stroll (they know exactly what is edible, and also how to make the best pies and jams - ask one and see) and we found many, many Elderberry trees, with branches drooping under the weight of huge bunches of berries, all ripe and full of flavour.

In a flash, we had filled a plastic bag with bunches and headed home to prepare them.  As the main purpose of collecting Elderberries was to produce wine, the majority weren't too well cleaned and prepared - simply running a fork through the bunches to liberate the berries (and a few creepy-crawlies too) was enough for them, before they were put in a bucket with all manner of other things that start the alchemical processes involved in turning fruit into wine (a process I don't even begin to understand - I'll leave that to those members of Team Tuesday who have a PhD)

Having some berries left, I thought that I would whip up some sort of pudding, but I wanted to try something a bit different from the usual crumbles and pies, and then I found this interesting recipe which is a sort of a cross between a bread and butter pudding and a summer pudding.  It's a nice way to use up any left over fruit that you have lying around, and a nice way to celebrate the few remaining days of summer we have left before the nights draw in and I just want to hibernate (But at least I will have bottles of Elderberry wine to keep me company)

450g Elderberries
250g Pears
250g Plums
200g Bread (Crust Removed)
500ml Milk
50g Butter
3tbsp Plain Flour
2tsp Lemon Juice

Make sure that the elderberries are clean and free of stalks, peel and slice the pears and pit the plums, quartering them.

In a large pan, heat the butter and then cook the fruit over a low heat for 5 minutes.  In a cup., mix the flour with some of the milk to make a paste, then add this to the fruit.

Next add the rest of the milk to the pan.  Cut the bread into small pieces and then add this to the pan as well, cooking until the plums are soft.

Season to taste with sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice, then serve and enjoy!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Parsnip and Apple Soup with Black Pudding

When it comes to love 'em or loath em foods, there are only a few that I can think of that divide opinion as much as Black Pudding (Marmite and various permutations of offal being the others - all of which I love, by the way.  Hmmm, I wonder what that says about me?)

In recent years, the humble black pudding ('Uurgh, you do know it's made from blood', I hear some of you say, and 'yes we know, but it's so very tasty' the rest chant) has been given something of a new lease of life due to various chefs and restaurants picking up on it and using it as an accompaniment to pork dishes, amongst other things.  Me, I never stopped loving it, ever since nattering my mum for some when I was young I have been a black pudding lover.  The wonderful savoury flavour goes well with a lot of things, and a fried breakfast isn't complete without a few slices of deep rich black pudding next to the bacon.

So I thought I would give you this soup recipe to show off black pudding, along with a couple of other textures / flavours that go well with it - apple and cream, and also dill, all of which combine to make a rather tasty and a bit unusual soup.

Incidentally, if anyone else has a massive craving for love / hate food, I'd love to hear about it - tell us all about it in the comments section.  Me, I'm planning a tripe soup recipe for some time soon, which I'm sure will be, ummm, interesting


For the Soup
400g Parsnips
200g Apples (Any kind will do, but the sharper the flavour the better)
1l Stock
1 Onion
20g Butter
2 Clove Garlic
1tsp Ground Corriander
75ml Single Cream

For the Meatballs
250g Black Pudding
1tbsp Dill
2 Shallots
40g Butter

Finely chop the onion and garlic, then add to a large pan with the butter and sweat for about 5 minutes, until the onion starts to soften.  Roughly chop the parsnips, peel and core then chop the apples and add them to the pan, cooking over a low heat for a few more minutes, until they start to soften too, then add the corriander, letting it coat the other ingredients.

Next add the stock, then bring the soup to a simmer and cover, let cook for 30 minutes or so and then transfer to a food mixer and blend until smooth, and return to the pan

Next make the meatballs. Finely chop the shallots and fry them in a little butter for a few minute to soften them.  Remove the skin from the black pudding. In a bowl, use a fork to break the black pudding down, then mix with the dill and cooked shallots (It is easier to do this if the black pudding is at room temperature) 

Then form the mixture into balls - make them as big or small as you want, depending on how many people you are feeding, then fry them in the butter until cooked then keep warm.  The smaller the meatballs the better, as then there are more to go round, and they make a savoury counterpoint to the sweet soup (when I made it, everyone wanted more, so feel free to increase the amount you make!)

Add the cream to the soup and reheat gently, but don't let the soup boil. Season to taste

Warm some dishes and then place the meatballs in them, then pour the soup over the top and serve, garnished with dill fronds and enjoy!

Don't forget to let us know about the foods you love but everybody else hates!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Perfect Roast Chicken

Sunday dinner has long been the highlight of my week.  From being something to enjoy whilst hung over after a hard night out (thanks Mum!) to something I really enjoy cooking myself, in all its permutations, a good roast has always been one of my favourite meals.

Roasting a chicken seems to have gotten a lot easier, what with supermarket chickens having pretty good instructions printed on the packaging, but there are ways of making it even better. First off, I would always go for a larger chicken than you think you will needs.  This is for two reasons - larger chickens are less likely to dry out during cooking, and left-over chicken is so versatile - using it in curries, pies, soups or even just a humble sandwich, and bigger birds mean more left-overs!

In fact, it can be easier and cheaper to buy a whole chicken for any recipe that needs chicken meat, and strip the carcass, then freeze what you don't need before cooking it.  It's not that hard to get the meat off the bone with a sharp knife and it will save quite a bit of money too - often a whole chicken costs as much as 2 fillets!

So, cooking the chicken.  It's so easy, but I'm always surprised by how many people get it wrong or just think it's too much hassle.  Pre-heat to oven to around 190ºc.  Get an oven dish big enough to fit your bird in comfortably, the peel and chop a few carrots, onions, sticks of celery or fennel and spread them over the dish.  Get a lemon and prick it a few times to get the juices flowing and put it, along with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and oregano, into the chicken cavity, then cover the whole thing in foil and put in the oven.

Cook the chicken for 1 hour per kilogram and 30 minutes extra, and take the foil off for the last half hour, but baste the chicken a couple of times in that last half hour just to keep it moist, and also to give the chicken a lovely golden skin.  It's all about not letting the bird dry out, and the kitchen will be filled with a wonderful smell of roasting meat.

Check the meat is cooked through, by pricking it and making sure the juices that run out are clear of blood, then put the chicken on a plate, wrap with the foil again and leave to stand for 10 - 15 minutes before carving.  And when it comes to carving, you can put as much effort in as you want.  Personally I more or less tear the meat off and put it on to the plates.

But of course, cooking the chicken is only half the battle in preparing a Sunday Roast.  The rest is the vegetables, and when it comes to them, timing is key, so keep an eye on the clock and try to make sure everything is ready at the same time

I love roast potatoes with my roast dinners, but there are as many vegetables that go with a roast as there are cooks who prepare them.  If anyone has any interesting suggestions, I'd love to hear them, so feel free to pass them on in the comments section below, and in the meantime, enjoy your chicken!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Mushroom Soup

I was telling someone I that I was thinking about putting up a mushroom soup recipe on the blog, and they said that you couldn't beat a tin of Mushroom soup with white sliced bread.  That got me thinking about comfort food - the best kind of food in my opinion - and I have to admit that tinned soup is always something that I fall back on when its raining outside and I want something to cheer me up.

I think that this goes back to when I was a kid and I always had soup for lunch - either mushroom, chicken or cream of celery.  My mother, not being one to tolerate fussy eating always told my brother - a budding fussy eater - that the mushroom and celery soup that he refused to eat was chocolate or seaweed respectively, and for some reason, he found these flavours much more acceptable, and he ate the soup.  And now every time I think of tinned mushroom soup I can't help but think of it as chocolate soup.

The reason I mention this is that as much as tinned soup is a comfort food, once I tasted this recipe I don't think I can ever go back.  I'd love to know what other people's comfort foods are and wether you prefer to make them from scratch or use the tinned / shop bought versions (I love making home-made baked beans, but can't stand the tinned ones...)

You can use any mushrooms you want, but chestnut, oyster or anything like that are much better than just plain white mushrooms.  I managed to get hold of some king oyster and black trompette varieties to go with my chestnut and oyster mushrooms.

It goes without saying that be very careful if you use freshly picked wild mushrooms, and always check anything you aren't 100% sure about!

600g Mushrooms
25g Dried Mixed Mushrooms
10g Butter
1tbsp Olive Oil
1 Leek
1 Onion
3 Garlic Cloves
2tsp Fresh Rosemary
2tbsp Tomato Ketchup
1.5l Stock
75ml Sherry
100g Pearl Barley

First open the dried mushrooms and soak them in 250ml of hot water for 20-25 minutes.

Finely chop the leek, onion, rosemary and garlic.  In a large pan, heat the butter and olive oil, then add the vegetables, and sweat for 5 minutes, until the onion and leek start to soften.

Remove the soaked dried mushrooms from the liquid and chop finely, remembering to save the rich brown mushroom liquid for later.  Also chop all the other mushrooms and add them to the pan, letting them sweat down for 10-15 minutes, until they are soft and the juices start to flow from the mushrooms.

Now add the stock, sherry, barley tomato ketchup and the liquid that came from the dried mushroom,  season to taste and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes.  When it's cooked through, if you want a smoother soup, transfer half of it into a blender and blend until smooth, then return to the pan.

Serve with home made bread
The soup is now ready to serve. The smell of this soup is wonderful, but not half as wonderful as the rich mushroomy taste - a perfect soup now the winter nights are drawing in, and much better than cream of mushroom soup of of a can, I think you will agree!

You can garnish with parmesan, chopped fresh parsley or a swirl of double cream.  Enjoy


Sunday, 4 September 2011

Crab Apple and Chilli Jelly

This recipe is one of my girlfriend's favourites.  I never really 'got' blue cheeses until just recently - I blame it on a saturday job when I was a teenager working at the deli counter of a super market and selling many varieties of blue cheese, all of which seemed to smell horrible and upset my delicate constitution.  On reflection, my constitution was probably delicate due to the copious amounts of beer I used to drink on a Friday evening before starting work first thing on a Saturday morning.

Anyway, once I discovered my love of blue cheese (current favorites - Yorkshire Blue and Smelly Apeth) I couldn't get enough of them.  I used them in cooking, but the best and most simple way of eating them is with crackers and Crab Apple and Chilli Jelly.  Oh, and some decent red wine and possibly a bowl of olives.

It just so happened that when we moved into our new flat, there was a Crab Apple tree growing in the car park, which was quickly stripped of its fruit, and then found their way into the jam pan to be made into this sweet golden jelly, with just a hint of chili heat.

Crab Apples can be found growing wild all over the place - they look like little apples and have a bitter taste.  As always, check before you eat!

2kg Crab Apples
1.5l Water
Sugar (Depends on the amount of juice, but about 1.5kg)
6 Chillies

Wash the Crab Apples and then chop roughly, then put in a large pan with the water and bring to the boil and simmer until the apples are cooked to a pulp.

Once this is done, transfer the pulp to a muslin bag and strain.  This is best done by suspending the bag from a cupboard handle or chair, with a bowl underneath.

Don't squeeze the bag! This makes the jelly cloudy because it lets starch from apples squeeze out, and you don't want it to spoil the clear finshed jelly.

When most of the liquid should has collected in the bowl (ours was left hanging overnight), you will be left with a rather nice rose pink liquid.  Put this into a measuring jug to check the quantity and then return it to your pan.  Now add the same amount of sugar as you have liquid - our apples produced 1.4l of liquid, so we added 1.4kg of sugar - and put the pan back on the heat.

At this point, add the chillies - finely chopped - to the pan and bring the mixture to a rolling boil, stirring constantly, until it starts to set. You will also want to skim the foam off the top of the jelly when it's cooking, or it will set into an unpleasant skin once the jelly is in the jars.  You might need to do this a few times during the cooking.

As usual, you can check this by putting a saucer in the fridge to chill.  Drop a teaspoonful of jelly onto the saucer.  Let it cool.  If you can push a jellied trail through it with you fingernail, it’s ready.  Transfer the jelly to sterilized jars and store in a cool dry place.

The jelly goes great with cooked meats or cheese and crackers!