Monday, 30 April 2012

Olympic Food Challenge

It can't have failed to come to your attention that very soon the Olympics will be upon us with its wall-to-wall TV coverage of men and women in un-seemly tight clothes running, jumping and generally showing me up as being the slovenly couch potato that I am (although as I mentioned last week, I am trying to get fit...)

But apart from sitting on the sofa waving a little Union Flag and cheering on Team GB, what else could I do to bring me closer to the Olympian Ideal?  Nothing, or so I thought until I got involved in The Olympic Food Challenge!

A Traditional English Sport, taking place on a non-traditional un-rainy day (possibly)
Run by the lovely Ewan over at the challenge is to sample foods from the 204 countries taking part in the games.  Now obviously, this would kill a person (unless he was Jeff Capes, but this is the Olympics, not The World's Stongest Man) so 11 bloggers split the 204 countries between them (That's 19 countries - more or less - for each blogger, I left the complicated maths up to Ewan) and the idea is to make and eat a meal from each country on our list and blog about it every day for the 19 days of the Games.

At Soup Tuesday, our countries are as follows

American Samoa
Antigua and Barbuda
Cook Islands
Hong Kong
South Korea

Starting on the 25th of July, we will be blogging meals / foods from each of these countries over the 19 days of the games, but until then we will be in some serious research and meal planning (plus trying to find out where some of the countries are)

So I offer a plea to you, my humble readers!  If you or someone you know has ever visited any of the above countries and knows of some amazing dish that is waiting to be unveiled to the wider food blogging world, then please get in touch and tell us about it, and we will have a crack at cooking it.

In the meantime,  pop on over to the Olympic Food Blog to find out about all the other bloggers taking part (why not make friends with them too, possibly on twitter - this thing even has it's own hashtag #olympicfoodchallenge) and also... Go Team GB!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Ginger and Treacle Spiced Traybake

After not participating in last week's Weekly Bake Off thanks to cake overload (Lemon and Lavender Battenberg for work and an Opera Cake for Clandestine Cake Club), I was really happy to see that this week's bake was something I really fancied baking and eating!
I love the addition of chopped preserved ginger on top of this cake
I love ginger in virtually any form - ginger nuts are one of my favorite biscuits, and my first creative baking attempt (which prompted the blog hijack) was chocolate and ginger biscotti (yum!). (I also enjoy ginger in a savoury form - salmon with soy and ginger is a regular feature in the Soup household). This recipe also is a very good way to use up some of the black treacle you might haveleft over from Christmas.
In addition to the allspice and mixed spice I added some extra ginger powder. The chunks of preserved ginger in the cake are a lovely surprise!
This traybake was incredibly easy to make - everything weighed into the same bowl and then mixed and poured into the lined tin. The icing was equally straightforward (and a nice use of the syrup the preserved ginger is kept in). I was worried it might be a bit heavy with the black treacle, but the cake is moist and light.
I just couldn't wait for the icing to set all the way, but quite like the look of the icing oozing down the side of the cake. These slices didn't last long after this picture was taken.
We were very happy with this cake, and it came at a good time - a nice warming spiced cake (I added some extra ginger powder to the batter) on a cold, rainy afternoon when one of the Soups is all bunged up with cold - a healthy dose of ginger was just what the doctor ordered!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Lavender and Lemon Battenberg

A few months ago a friend at work proposed a baking challenge - she picked something most people wouldn't normally bake and that would be a bit technically challenging. Despite this, 16 of us signed up for it, and since we decided that we'd take turns with the tin (specially bought for the challenge, and provided as the prize), this means we're in for 4 months of eating battenberg!

This is my entry - look at me giving away the final outcome and killing the suspense!
Some people have gone for a traditional approach, but there have also been some very exciting combinations - the most exotic colour combination so far was yellow and (very bright) blue (vanilla and blueberry), and the very first contribution was coated (all four sides!) in chocolate. (I happen to know there's something even more exotic and stylish on the cards and am very excited to see next week's cake!)

The other thing that has characterised this challenge has been the level of stress. In some ways it's been more of a Battenberg Break-Down than a Bake-Off! I know several people have scapped their first attempt and remade it, and the tin (link to Amazon because I forgot to take a picture of it!) presented endless problems too. It doesn't have a non-stick coating, and once you've baked your cake, it can be very hard to get the pieces out without a problem. I had my own mini-crisis when applying the marzipan at 11pm the night before when all I wanted to do was forget the cake and go to bed! Luckily the marzipan coating wasn't too difficult and I didn't end up throwing cake all over the kitchen!

I decided to go with a traditional-look Battenberg, but with a non-traditional flavour, and used lavender for the pink quarters and lemon for the yellow quarters.  I'd been playing with the idea of a lavender sponge for a while, and almost made a lavender opera cake for the Headingley Clandestine Cake Club event last week, so had some ideas about how best to flavour the cake, and was almost very please with how it turned out... (you'll see why it was 'almost' at the end!)

Sponge - standard recipe (I was surprised when speaking to people how few people know this very easy technique for making a sponge!) :
Break your eggs into a bowl and weigh them (I used 3 for the size of the tin I was using and that's about right for a medium cake)
In a separate bowl weigh out an equal quantity of butter (at room temperature - if it's chilled oyu might want to pop it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it)
Add an equal weight of caster sugar.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light
Add an equal quantity of self raising flour - I weigh mine separately and then add a bit of flour and an egg, beat, then a bit more flour and another egg etc.

Then pour into a greased, lined tin and bake at 180 ºC until a toothpick/knife comes out clean
For the lavender sponge I used lavender infused caster sugar prepared by adding 2tsp lavender flowers (dried or fresh) to 100g caster sugar, and leaving to infuse (shaking every few days) for a week or longer. Sieve before using to remove the lavender flowers - those that pass through the sieve are fine to include in the cake, you just don't want big chunks! I also used a liquid food colouring, in liberal quantities, having been warned that it might fade when baking. When it went into the oven it was a very dark pink...
Once the cake had cooled, I prepared a lemon syrup (1/4 cup each of caster sugar and water heated till boiling in a panwith the juice of half a lemon). I repeated the process for a lavender syrup and boiled lavender flowers with the water, caster sugar and lemon juice, then passed the syrup through a sieve to remove the lavender flowers. 

I poured the syrups over the cake quarters, and then assembled the cake. First I stuck the quarters together with apricot jam. I then rolled out the marzipan using icing sugar on the counter to stop it sticking. I flipped the marzipan over, clean side down onto a sheet of baking paper, and smoothed a layer of apricot jam over the inside. I placed the sponge onto the marzipan at one end, and trimmed the marzipan to about 2cm from the edge (to form the seam). I then used the baking paper to roll the battenberg up in the marzipan - this worked really effectively and I can add instructions if anyone is interested! (Another trick is to keep your marzipan cool). Once it was rolled up I trimmed the edges, and scored the top, and there it was.
And the 'almost' happy bit... was down to the colour! It's not as obvious in the pictures (though the one below comes close...), but my dark pink batter turned into a bright orange sponge! I decided to go ahead with it as I didn't have any other food colouring to use, but it did look like it might be a carrot battenberg! (Apparently paste colouring is far more reliable and less likely to fade/change colour.) The taste was incredible - a really light, delicate flavour and I was very happy with the combination of lavender, lemon and marzipan - will definitely use it again!  

Doesn't this look like it might be a carrot or orange flavoured cake?!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Chicken and Tarragon Soup With Ravioli

This week I've been trying to get fit. I know, don't faint with shock from the news but it's true.  After years of abusing my body with every substance I could lay my hands on (well, just beer, mainly) and leading what one could definitely call a sedentary lifestyle, I decided that something needed to change - possibly as I'm nearing a significant landmark birthday (hint : It isn't 21) and developing a decidedly hypochondria's perspective on life...

So I started running.  Yes, for the first time since doing PE at school, I intentionally set out to run somewhere (as opposed to chasing a bus or that time I got attacked by angry bees) and guess what? I'm still (just about) alive to tell the tale!

So what does this have to do with soup?  Well, I'm one of those people for whom calories seem like witchcraft, fat and sugar content are mysteries on par with the fate of Atlantis.  Whereas some people can pick up food and make an informed decision about their health and diet suitability, I'm left scratching my head and thinking "60% fat, well that's not too bad, is it?"

So I thought I'd have a go at producing a vaguely healthy soup this week, and also using my new found enthusiasm for the pasta maker. And having now made fresh pasta and then turned it into ravioli, I believe I could give Michelle Roux Jr a run for his money in the culinary stakes...
This soup is so light and tasty, and I've never really cooked with tarragon before, but I love the taste, although I'm given to understand that there is a global tarragon shortage at the moment, although no-one seems to have told my local supermarket... And you can use some left over chicken from the Sunday roast for the filling of the ravioli as well

For the Broth
1.5l Chicken Stock
1 1/2 tbsp Finely Chopped Fresh Tarragon
250ml White Wine

For the Pasta
250g plain flour / pasta flour
1tsp Salt
1 Egg and 3 more egg yolks, lightly beaten
1tbsp Olive Oil
1 Egg White

For the Filling
200g Cooked Chicken
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
1tbsp Chopped Tarragon
1tbsp Chopped Flat leaf Parsley
60ml Double Cream

1.  Make the pasta. I used pasta flour, which is finer than plain flour, but if you can't get it, then plain will do just fine.  Sieve the flour and salt into a pile on a clean surface, then make a well in the middle.  Pour in the beaten eggs and oil and start to bring the mixture together with your finger tips.

After a while, the mixture will start to come together, but if it's too dry, add some water, sparingly as you don't want to make it too wet.  Once it forms a ball, need for about 5 minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and a bit elastic.  Then wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Run the pasta maker to make sheets, then cover them is a sprinkling of flour and set aside for the moment.
 2.  Next prepare the filling for the ravioli.  Put the chicken, herbs and zest in a food processor, with some salt and pepper, then pulse the blender to finely chop the ingredients, but not puree them.  Take the mixture out of the blender, put into a bowl and stir in the cream.  Set this aside to chill for 10 minutes.
3.  Cut the pasta sheets into pieces about 6cm by 12cm and lay them out flat.  Into each one, spoon a ball of the filling about 3 or 4cm in diameter, leaving enough space to fold and seal the ravioli, then moisten the edges of the pasta with lightly beaten egg white, before folding it over and sealing it around the edges, first with your fingers, then trim the ravioli to neaten it and finally press the edges down with a fork.  Put the finished ravioli in the fridge to chill for an hour at least before cooking them.
 If you make too much pasta (and I did!) separate the sheets with greaseproof paper, put them in a sealed bag and put them in the freezer for later use...

4. Heat the stock in your soup pan, then add the wine, tarragon and season to taste. Let this cook for about 10-15 minutes, so the stock infuses with the taste of the tarragon/

5.  Heat a large pan of salted water.  Once it's come to the boil, cook your ravioli for 10 minutes.  You may have to do this in batches if you're making a lot of ravioli.  I just about got away with 10 ravioli in one pan!

6.  Drain the ravioli and then transfer them to the stock, cook for another 5 minutes and you are ready to serve/
7.  Garnish with some freshly chopped tarragon.  Enjoy!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Opera Cake - Clandestine Cake Club Headingley

This is a cake for a Clandestine Cake Club event. The theme was 'Je Ne Sais Quoi - all things French' and after a bit of research, I decided to make an Opera Cake. This is the first cake recipe I feel I truly 'own' having adapted, merged and quite frankly, just winged it in places to create this cake (all based on the general principles of an Opera cake). I think there is a parallel that can be drawn with the work I used to do, in lab-based research. Once you understand the principles behind a protocol (or recipe) and why each step is there, that's when you can start to modify it for your own purposes. (Also for anyone familiar with lab work - if you can put together a Western blot, an Opera cake is, well, a piece of cake!)

This Clandestine Cake Club meeting was held at The Bowery in Headingley, and was quite a bit smaller than the last event I attended (I'm sure the truly horrible weather contributed to several cancellations, but an evening with coffee and cake in a snug coffeeshop was perfect!). 6 cakes, and 8 people in total meant we all got to try each cake, so I didn't have any regrets about being too full with 10 cakes still to try this time!
The spread of cakes - a cake version of a Tarte Tatin arrived still warm a few minutes after I took this picture, bringing the total to 6 cakes. The quite unusual Dan Lepard fig, red wine and honey loaf was probably my favorite, though the profiterole cake was lovely, and the other chocolate cakes were both gorgeous!
Opera cakes are quite impressive, and I was rather surprised by how easy it actually was - each individual element is something most people who bake will have made before, and assembling it is not as fiddly as you might think - the trick is in cutting the edge off the cake at the end, leaving a lovely neat profile, and eliminating untidy edges.

Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients/elements of the cake - the syrup and buttercream can both be made while the sponge is baking, and the ganache is very quick to make too.

Chocolate/almond sponge
4 eggs
220g butter
220g caster sugar
55g ground almonds
165g self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
4 Tbsp cocoa powder

Spoon a thin layer of the mixture into a greased, lined square/rectangular cake tin. You want this to be about 5mm thick or so - I used about 1/3 of the mix in a 10 x 6.5 inches (25x16cm). Try to get the top as smooth as possible, and the layer of batter as evenly spread - otherwise you will end up with a wonky cake! Bake at 180ºC for about 8-10 minutes - once the top looks cooked, you're probably about right - keep an eye on it and use a toothpick to check. I only have one tin the right size, so cooked the 3 layers one after the other, and that worked well. Once you take a layer out of the oven, use the greasproof paper to lift it out of the tin, and leave on a wire rack to cool.

Coffee syrup
150ml caster sugar
150ml water
2 heaped teaspoons instant coffee

Boil sugar and water together in a pan until the sugar has dissolved, add coffee powder and allow to cool. Reserve a little syrup for the buttercream.
Turn the cooled sponge layers over and remove the greaseproof paper, then pour the syrup over the sponge layers - the better coverage you can get the better.
Didn't quite manage to cover the entire cake - pretty pattern though! I'd turned the cake over, but left it on the paper to catch any run-through of syrup.
Coffee buttercream
150g Icing sugar
150g Butter
3 Tbsp Coffee Syrup

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add a little of the coffee syrup until the buttercream is the right flavour for you. Allow to cool in the fridge for a bit if too runny to spread on the cake. Put your first layer of sponge onto your serving plate (if you're serving it as a whole cake). Spread about half the buttercream over the sponge, and place the second layer on top of the buttercream. This is the fiddliest part of the process, and it helps to have someone else on hand to help if you're stuck with both hands full of cake and need something positioning! Spread the rest of the buttercream over this layer, and then place the final layer of sponge on top.
At this stage it looks a bit messy - not to worry though! Use the buttercream to get the layers as level as possible.
Chocolate ganache
100g Chocolate
45g Salted Butter
A few Tbsp smooth apricot jam, heated

Melt chocolate and butter together very gently in a double boiler (I use a plastic bowl that fits loosely over a pan of hot water without touching the water). Spread a thin layer of the heated apricot jam over the top of the cake, to ensure the ganache spreads evenly. Once the butter and chocolate are melted, stir together gently, allow to cool slightly, then pour over the cake. You may need to spread the ganache a little to ensure you cover the top of the cake completely. Dont' worry about drips down the side being untidy - this will be fixed in the next step!
Put the cake in the fridge for a few hours to allow the ganache to set.

Heat a sharp knife (preferably something like a butcher's knife) by running under some hot water. (Repeat between cuts). Slice off the edges of the cake, to leave a clean edge (you could cut into individual portions at this stage if required). Transfer the cake to the serving dish, and keep refigerated (in a sealed container if necessary) until about an hour before serving.
The final product! I think for presentation in the future I would do individual slices, which looked incredible (none survived long enough to photograph...).
And then sit back and enjoy all the compliments on your cake! 

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Wild Garlic and Basil Pesto with Fresh Pasta

We are mad for wild garlic here at Soup Tuesday.  The wild garlic, chorizo and black pudding soup has proven to be one of our most popular recipes, and as we love the taste so much, here's another wild garlic heavy recipe.

I remember when I was getting into food - I mean starting to appreciate food and enjoy making new and unusual recipes - two things seemed alien to me. One of them was making your own pasta, which seemed like a crazy science experiment mixed with the finer points of knitting (for some reason) and the kind of thing that chefs on TV talk about, but no-one in their right minds would ever bother with in the safety of their own kitchen (possibly even including Italian matriarchs, as seen in Dolmio adverts and the films of Martin Scorsese)

A quick straw poll of friends revealed that whilst many had pasta makers, most of these were consigned to bottoms of drawers or tops of cupboards, after being used once, discovering what a phaff it was and then being put alongside slow cookers, ice-cream makers and bread makers in the graveyard of kitchen gadgets.

Having just discovered the wonders of slow cookers and bread makers (and whilst not owning an ice-cream maker, it's on the list of things to buy) it seemed like the time to face my inner cookery demons and get out the pasta maker that had been recently received as a birthday present, after all, how hard can it be? At least one person on Team Soup has a PhD! and we were determined not to let our machine rest in gadget hell...

Lo and behold, it was actually quite easy, and now I'm more than a little bit addicted to fresh pasta. So the moral of this story is this - go, dig out your pasta maker - yes, I know you have one, in the same place my was languishing- and have another go - I promise you won't look back...

The other thing I couldn't get my head around was olive oil.  I know it sounds strange, but the idea of using oil for anything other than frying things with, to my mind sounded like madness, especially in something like a pesto - just herbs and oil?  Urgh, won't it be all greasy?

After biting the bullet and trying the stuff (I should note that these attitudes were directly the result of growing up in the 70's where Spaghetti Bolognese was the most exotic food I was exposed to, and Arctic Roll was considered a delicacy..) I found out it was actually really nice.

And what better way to use some lovely wild garlic than in a pesto? If you make lots, you can always put it into ice-cube trays and freeze it, or have it with the home made pasta that I persuaded you to try earlier...


For the Pesto
30g Wild Garlic
30g Basil
30g Hazelnuts
30g Parmesan
90ml Olive Oil

For the pasta
250g plain flour / pasta flour
1tsp Salt
1 Egg and 3 more egg yolks, lightly beaten
1tbsp Olive Oil

125g Button Mushrooms
Handful of Spinach leaves
Pancetta Cubes


Make the pesto first, which couldn't be easier.  Toast the hazelnuts lightly, in a dry frying pan, heat them until they start to colour, then set aside.  Then throw everything in a food mixer and blitz until it turns into a beautiful bright green paste.  This can then be refrigerated until needed.

Next, make the pasta.  I used pasta flour, which is finer than plain flour, but if you can't get it, then plain will do just fine.  Sieve the flour and salt into a pile on a clean surface, then make a well in the middle.  Pour in the beaten eggs and oil and start to bring the mixture together with your finger tips.

After a while, the mixture will start to come together, but if it's too dry, add some water, sparingly as you don't want to make it too wet.  Once it forms a ball, need for about 5 minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and a bit elastic.  Then wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Run the pasta through your pasta maker, according to the instructions, and then cook in slated boiling water for 3-4 minutes.

In a thick bottomed pan, fry your pancetta cubes and mushrooms until they are golden, then throw in the spinach leaves and let them wilt.

Drain the pasta over the sink, then return to the pan and stir in pesto to taste, enough to cover all the pasta with it's green and tasty goodness, then serve on a warm plate with the pancetta, mushrooms and spinach.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Shchav - Russian Chard Soup

The process of inspiration when it comes to recipes for the blog is often a strange and meandering thing.  Some soup recipes are old favourites, some are things that I see in shops or read about somewhere and have a crack at coming up with my own variation of, and sometimes, I will just pick an ingredient out of the aether and wonder if it can be turned into soup.

That is most definitely the case with today's recipe.  I remember the first time I had chard, after signing up for a vegetable box to be delivered and receiving a rather manky looking cabbage, some flea-bitten carrots (do fleas bite carrots?) and some big dark green and red things that could, in a bad light, be mistaken for rhubarb, but rhubarb it most assuredly was not.

I think that i just steamed it and had it with chicken breasts or something, not feeling particularly inspired at the time, but it was thinking about this incident that made me wonder if there was such a thing as chard soup.  After a quick Google, I found a few references to Shchav (or Schav, depending on how you want to spell it) which it seems can be made with chard, but is more traditionally made with sorrel but can be made with chard instead.  My local supermarket is particularly well stocked with regards to fresh produce, but I couldn't find sorrel anywhere, so I went back to plan a) which was to make the soup with chard.

So apologies to any Eastern Europeans who find this version of Shchav slightly inaccurate, just consider this the Yorkshire version of a classic soup (also sometimes known as green borscht, and sometimes eaten cold as well. This soup is also served with boiled eggs, and has a wonderful creamy taste)

300g Swiss Chard
200g Red Chard
1 Red Onion
1 Large Potato
2 Cloves Garlic
30g Butter
25g Plain Flour
1.2l Chicken Stock
Fresh Dill
1 Lemon
200g Smoked Sausage
4 Eggs
150ml Sour Cream


1. Prepare the chard. First give it a good wash, then remove the stalks.  Slice the stalks and chop the leaves.  Peel and cube the potato and roughly chop the red onion.

2. In your soup pan, heat butter, then add the chopped chard stalks, onion and garlic. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 4-5 Minuntes

3.  Add chopped leaves and cook for another 4-5 minutes, then stir in the flour. a bit at a time.

4. Add the stock and stir well, then put the potatoes in, bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are fully cooked through

 5. Add the chopped dill and juice of a lemon, then cook for another 5 minutes

6.  Take the pan off the heat and let the soup cool, then blend it smooth (pass through a sieve to get any lumps out) then return to the heat, checking the seasoning and adding the sour cream.

7.  When the soup is cooling, hard boil the eggs.  Shell them for use as a garnish.  At the same time, fry the smoked sausage, cubed or thinly sliced until it starts to colour.
8.  Serve the soup in warmed bowls, with slices of hard boiled egg and smoked sausage for garnish, as well as a sprinkling of chopped dill. Enjoy!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Double Chocolate and Sour Cherry Biscuits

In the absence of the Weekly Bake-Off for a week, I decided to take the opportunity to make some biscuits from one of my other Christmas presents - The Boy Who Bakes' cook book.
I had originally planned to make macarons, but wanted something quick and easy for Friday evening and so settled on the Double Chocolate and Sour Cherry biscuits instead. The recipe was fairly straightforward - both melted chocolate and cocoa go into the batter, making it extra chocolatey, and then chopped chocolate and the dried, sour cherries are stirred in, so the final result is a very chocolatey biscuit with chunks of sour cherry, which compliments the sweetness of the chocolate. The batter is spooned onto the baking tray, and spreads a bit as it's cooking, resulting in beautifully big, lumpy, rustic looking biscuits (I like my biscuits to look like they're full of chunks of chocolate)!

The taste did not disappoint, and I will be making these again. They took less than half an hour to make, and were good enough for any company, so could be good emergency bake, though I'd probably never have enough chocoloate in the house so they would need a trip to the shops! Despite making only half the mix, it made 15 biscuits, and we still have a few left at the end of the weekend (due to extreme self restraint). 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Creamy Turkey, Mushroom and Sage Soup

So Easter came and went, and was declared by all and sundry to be a bit of a damp squib, but life goes on and so does the soup making.  And here is a bit of a cracker - more of a winter soup than a light, summery thing, but once you've tasted it, I think you will forgive me.  Oh, and the way the wether is at the moment, it will go down a treat!

You could use left-over turkey for this one, especially if you've had one for Sunday roast (I'll have to remind everyone of this soup come December when people are moaning about what to do with surplus xmas dinner - not me, however, I love turkey and I'm always a little bit sad when it's all gone...)

Also in this soup, I've used red rice, which has a really nice nutty flavour, but if you can't get that, just use brown rice instead (I think I own way to may types of rice.  At present, we have Arborio, Paella, Thai Jasmine, Brown, Red, Black, Long grain, Pudding, Sushi and Basmati.  Is that too much rice?)

250g Turkey Breast
250g Chestnut Mushrooms
75g Red Rice
20 Sage Leaves
1 Onion
1 Leek
1.2l Chicken or Turkey Stock
250ml White Wine
200ml Double Cream
3tbsp Plain Flour
Salt and Pepper

1. If you are using fresh turkey instead of left overs, dice the turkey and fry in a little oil until it starts to colour slightly.  Drain and set aside.

2.  Finely chop the onion and leek, then finely slice the sage leaves.

3.  Heat some more oil in your soup pan and fry the onion, leeks and sage leaves until the onions start to soften.  Add the flour and cook for another minute or two, stirring constantly

4.  Slowly add 200ml of stock and the white wine, stirring all the time, making sure no bits get  caught on the bottom of the pan and burn.  This should start to thicken nicely

5.  Add the rest of the stock, season to taste and then add the rice.  Bring the soup to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes, until the rice is cooked through.

6.  Slice the mushrooms.  In another pan, heat some butter and fry the mushrooms gently until they start to brown on the edges.

7.  Add the mushrooms and cream to the soup, along with the turkey, and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Check the seasoning one more time

8.  Serve and garnish with fresh sage leaves.  Enjoy!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Happy Easter! Simnel Cake

After last week's successful Hot Cross Buns, I was very happy to see that this week's Weekly Bake Off was a Simnel Cake. I only discovered Simnel Cake a couple of years ago, and am very much in favour of the idea - Easter is generally about a month after the Christmas Cake runs out, and with Spring in full bloom, this lighter fruit cake, with the addition of marzipan matches the season perfectly.
My round sprung cake tin is unfortunately a 23cm tin, not the 20cm that Mary Berry suggests, but having heard a few other Weekly Bakers discussing their 20cm tins overflowing during the bake, that probably wasn't a bad thing! It did mean that my marzipan for the middle was a bit thinner than I would have liked (likewise the marzipan on the top), but it seems to have oozed into the cake nicely. (In fact you can see the difference between the top and the bottom in the picture of the slice - I flipped the cake over to ice it, so the top layer in the picture was actually the bottom as the cake baked, with the marzipan oozing it's way into the batter as the cake baked.)

This was my first attempt working with marzipan as decoration, and not just a layer beneath royal icing (and to be honest I've only done that once!), so I used shop-bought, and apart from some initial issues with the middle layer sticking and the fact that I had to roll it quite thin to cover the larger surface of the cake, it went quite smoothly - I'm feeling a bit more confident about my upcoming Battenberg for a work challenge.

Instead of putting the cake under the grill to turn the marzipan golden I used one of my birthday presents instead, and had a bit of fun with my handheld blowtorch - I'm going to have to get around to making creme brulee soon - having seen how effective the blowtorch was on the marzipan I can't wait to try it out on sugar!
The final decoration of 11 marzipan balls went on, but unfortunately the apostles' numbers were quickly reduced by Mr Soup and I having 2 slices! I really enjoyed making this cake and am looking forward to my next slice with a cup of tea tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Red Onion and Wild Garlic Soup

Well, today you wouldn't think it was spring, there are dark clouds, rain and even snow in places (which is great, 'cos I'm planning on spending the Easter weekend under canvas in my new, hilariously huge tent) but luckily, today's soup recipe works as well in the cold and miserable weather as it does in the sunshine.

I love onions, especially when they are caramelised, that deep rich flavour that comes out is amazing - its the first place I start when I make gravy (and regular readers will know just how important a good gravy is to me), curries and yes, soups.

I once made french onion soup on a date when I was trying to impress with my culinary skills, but unfortunately, the recipe I was following produced a nasty, bitter soup that didn't cast my mad soup skillz in the best light.  And the dish that followed, Baked Camembert was equally a disaster, as the cheese I bought turned out to be Camembert STYLE cheese that didn't melt, and just tasted weird when it came out of the oven. Happily, the person I was trying to impress found it all a bit funny, especially when she saw I was close to tears due to the menu malfunction, so all's well that ends well

Needless to say, this soup is NOT that recipe, and uses some more of my current culinary obsession - wild garlic.  However, if you can't get any, the soup works well without it...

750g Red Onions
20g Butter
Olive Oil
2tsp Brown Sugar
2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
1.2l Beef Stock
150ml Red Wine
1tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
French Bread
Goat's Cheese

1.  Peel and finely chop the onions.  I cheated and used a food processor for this - mainly to spare myself from tears!

2.  In your soup pan, heat the butter and a good glug of oil, then add the chopped onions, sugar and thyme.  Give the onions a good stir to make sure they are coated in butter and then reduce the heat.

3.  Cook the onions for 20-25 minutes, until they have turned nice and soft.  Stir regularly to stop the from sticking!

4. Add the red wine and turn up the heat.  Let the liquid reduce by half, and then add the stock and balsamic vinegar.

5.  Bring the soup to a simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes.

6.  Heat the oven to 180ºc.  Cut the french bread into slices and pop it in the oven for 5-6 minutes, turning once

7.  Chop the wild garlic and throw into the pan just before serving.  Also, check the soup and season to taste.

8.  Spread a generous helping of goats cheese onto your french bread.  Put a couple of slices in warmed bowls and then add soup

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Weekly Bake Off - Hot Cross Buns

With Easter rapidly approaching I've shown great restraint (mostly inspired by the huge amount of cake there has been in the house) in not buying any hot cross buns yet. Mr Soup and I are big fans, and quite capable of eating a pack together in the space of a day, so it's better not to have the temptation there...
But after this week's Weekly Bake Off challenge, I suspect that while Hot Cross Buns will remain on the menu, shop-bought ones won't, as they simply don't measure up to this tasty recipe.
 Having seen everyone else's pictures start to go up through the week, I was rather keen on having some Hot Cross Buns for breakfast on Saturday morning. In order to get the timings right, I made the mix, and left it to rise for the first time overnight in a warmed oven (reasoning that the oven would cool after an hour or so, and the yeast would not get completely out of control). This strategy worked, and on Saturday morning I woke to a big bowl full of risen dough. This was kneaded for a few minutes, and then I made the buns and put them to rise for a second time. Abking was only about 15 minutes, so about an hour after getting up, we had hot, fresh Hot Cross Buns - pure indulgence.

About the only thing I will change when making these again is to add a bit more spice.