Monday, 24 October 2011

Warm Beetroot and Black Pudding Salad

Sometimes, the food that you throw together at the last minute can be the best food.  All it takes is a little imagination and a vaguely well stocked cupboard and you can find yourself in taste heaven.

Take for example this little number, which we decided to call a salad in defiance of the encroaching Autumn (and I know that its a warm salad, but to me, salad is always something eaten when the calender points closer to Wimbledon than winter.  Either that or the stuff you push to the side of your plate when you have pub-meals).

It has so many delicious flavours, from the earthy beetroot to the savoury black pudding, it's brilliant as a starter, or do what we did and just make huge portions because it's so nice, especially when served with garlic bread!

4 Beetroot
1 Butternut Squash
2 Cloves of Garlic
Handful of Fresh Thyme
300 g Black Pudding
250g Goats Cheese
Salad Leaves or Spinach

Heat the oven to 200ºc.  Wash and scrub the beetroot and then cut into chunks about 2cm in size.  Put the beetroot in an ovenproof dish with some oil and roast for 30 minutes, along with the garlic and thyme.

 Peel and chop the butternut squash, cube that too, and then add this to the beetroot and roast for a further 20 minutes. Check to make sure that the vegetables have been cooked through.  They will be the most glorious bright red colour by now.

In a frying pan, fry the black pudding for about 5 minutes, until it's cooked and starting to brown around the edges, then remove from the heat.

Put a layer of salad leaves (or spinach on the plate, then a layer of the roasted vegetables, then crumble the cooked black pudding and the goats cheese on top.  Then it's ready to serve.  Enjoy!

Beef and Black Bean Soup

Sometimes, when I'm looking for inspiration, a trip to the supermarket helps.  This soup is a case in point. Mrs Soup wanted something for lunch at work and so headed to the chiller isle at our local supermarket, where we were confronted by a bewildering array of ready to eat soups.

One of them caught my eye as being a bit more interesting than the rest, so I decided that rather than buy a tub to bung in the microwave, I'd have a go at coming up with my own variation on the soup in question.  And here it  is - Beef and Black Bean Soup

Despite seeing it in the fridge at the supermarket, however, I forgot exactly which beans were needed, and for some reason I got Black Beans mixed up with Black-Eyes Beans (you can see how my poor addled brain could make such a mistake, can't you?) but I'm not sure it really would have mattered either way.  But you may think otherwise...

Also, now having made this soup, I'm intrigued to purchase the stuff I first saw and see how it stands up, but I'm betting it in now way comes close to this fresh and spicy little number.  If you have tried it yourself, maybe you could let me know how this recipe stands up?

250g Mince Beef
400g Tinned Tomatoes
400g Black Beans(Drained)
2 Onions
1 Carrot (Diced)
2 Celery Stalks (Finely chopped)
2 Garlic Cloves
1tsp Parpika
1tsp Chilli Powder
1tsp Cumin
1tsp Oregano
1.5l Beef Stock
1 Lime (Juice)
Handful of Fresh Corriander


In a large pan, fry off the minced beef in a bit of oil until it browns and breaks down into small chunks.  Then remove the meat and in the same pan, fry off the onions until they start to colour - add some more oil if the pan gets dry.

Once the onions are browning slightly, add the mean back to the pan and then the tomatoes and stock.  Bring the pan to the boil and then add the rest of the ingredients.

Cover the pan and simmer the soup for 2 hours, then season to taste and serve.  Enjoy!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Hard Tack (Ships Biscuits)

Apparently, the inability to bake runs in my family, but even I can get this one right.  Today is the anniversary of The Battle of Trafalgar, and it's also National Baking Week, so I thought why not kill two birds with one stone and make some hard tack or Ship's Biscuits to take to a party being thrown in Lord Nelson's honour tonight.

Ships biscuits are just about indestructible, and this recipe is a lot more palatable than the stuff that would have been eaten in Nelson's time, where the biscuits were made with ground up bone meal, or pea flour.  They also became infested with weevils on long voyages, and it was customary to tap them on the table before eating them to give said parasites a sporting chance to escape. Although the weevils probably gave more nutrition than these biscuits.

When I said I was making them, someone pointed out that they are the first thing you get taught how to make in infant school cookery classes, so maybe I will move up to jam tarts next.  These biscuits can be served with bone soup (I might make this one day - vegetables, stock, bones and lots of vinegar to dissolve said bones - tasty eh?)

250g Plain Flour
180ml Water
1tsp Salt

Make a dough with the ingredients - add the water carefully because you don't want it to become too wet, then roll it out into a sheet of less than 1cm, and cut the dough into squares or about 6 x 6cm.  Decorate as you want - I pricked mine on both sides with a fork.

Heat the oven to 200ºc.  Put the biscuits on a baking tray and cook for 30 minutes, then flip them over and cook for another 30 minutes.  The biscuits should just be starting to go a golden colour.  Leave them to cool on a wire rack and then you can try to eat them.  As they cool they will take on the consistency of a freshly fired brick, so watch you don't crack your teeth on them.  Best served with grog!  Now you can feel like a proper pirate!

As for me, I will be celebrating the defeat of Villneuve and the hated French (and Spanish) with roast Beef, Port and fireworks!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Beef Stew

It's Autumn. I know this because it is 6p.m. and it's dark.  It's also raining.  And Strictly is back on the telly. All signs point to the Vernal Equinox being in full effect.  This can only be described as A Good Thing as far as I'm concerned.  And why is this?  Why should the time of year when the nights close in and the mercury and leaves start to drop be a time for celebration?

One word -


I am a dumpling addict.  There, I said it.  I would eat dumplings until my stomach exploded and would consider it a fine and proper demise, and the best way to eat dumplings is to drop them into a fine beef stew.  And this recipe is the finest beef stew that I have ever made.  Better than my Nana's stew, which was cooked for around 3 days in a huge vat and the consistency of wallpaper paste.  Better than the Irish stew that the pub across from my old office used to make, and I ate for lunch every day, loving how the flavor increased the closer to the weekend we got - obviously another huge vat that was kept on the stove all week.

After making stew for pretty much all of my adult life, I have come to a few conclusions -
1. Shin Beef is better than Stewing Beef
2. Turnips beat Swede every day of the week
3. Dumplings should NEVER have a crust on them
4. Red wine makes better gravy than Stout

Please note, these are just my opinions, and you should feel free to disregard them if you wish to have inferior stew.

700g Shin Beef
3 Onions
2 Stalks Celery
3 Carrots
2 Turnips
500ml Beef stock
500ml Red Wine
2 Bay Leaves
4 Sprigs Thyme
Beef Dripping
2tsp Worcestershire Sause

For the dumplings
100g PlainFlour
50g Beef Suet
1tsp Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt


Cut the beef into about inch cubes, removing any tendons and extra fatty bits, then coat them in seasoned flour.

In a large frying pan, brown the meat in hot dripping (or oil if you want), but only do it a few chunks at a time or they will boil rather than brown.  Remove the beef and set aside for now

Next cut up the onions and fry them in the same pan as the beef, but dont let them colour too much.  Remove them from the pan and set them aside.  Now use some of the stock to de-glaze the pan, then pour the stock into your large stew pan, add the meat and onions, red wine, worcestershire sauce, thyme and bay leaves and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, add the carrots, celery and turnips and simmer for another hour.

To make the dumplings, mix the flour and suet, baking powder and salt, then add just enough water to bind it all together in a dough, then separate into 6 balls and add to the stew, cover and simmer for another 15 minutes until the dumplings are cooked.  Then the stew is ready to serve.  Enjoy!

Also, you could try putting other things in the dumplings to make them more interesting - these could include horseradish, rosemary, thyme or creme fraiche.  Feel free to experiment, but a word of warning - don't eat too many, they are addictive!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Celeriac and Stilton Soup

Just recently, someone  suggested that I should watch the Harry Potter films.  I said that I had seen the first one and hated it - reminded me too much of those twee children's shows that the BBC used to show on a Sunday evening - adaptations of Narnia books and the like with posh drama school kids over-pronouncing everything and slightly shoddy special effects.

However, because the person who told me I should give the rest of the films a go has great taste in films, and also because she agreed to watch Game of Thrones if I watched the Potter films (If you aren't watching Game of Thrones, then go buy DVDs right now.  Sean Bean is the best thing since sliced bread in it, and for so many other reasons) then I relented and watched the rest of the Harry Potter films.

And as readers of this blog will know, I am prone to wild and strange digressions, but a discussion of a series of fantasy films?  This links to cookery how?  The answer, my lovely readers, is Mandrake Root.

Today's soup has celeriac in it, which is possibly my favourite vegetable, aesthetically speaking, and it looks just like Mandrake Root from the Harry Potter films. Don't believe me?

How can something so weird, so strange and un-earthly looking have such a delicate taste?  Without further ado, I give you Mandrake...Celeriac and Stilton Soup, perfecr for winter evenings when Potions is cancelled due to heavy Dragon showers or something.

1 Celeriac
2 Onions
1 Leek
1tsp Thyme
2l Vegetable Stock
2 Apples
150g Blue Stilton
70g Butter
2 Cloves of Garlic

First off, you need to prepare the Celeriac, by cutting away all the tough roots and them the skin.  Treat it like you would a turnip, you will need to cut away about half a centimeter of the outer skin, and then cut the celeriac into centimeter cubes.
In a thick bottomed pan, heat the butter and then add the celeriac, chopped onions and leek, then sweat the vegetables until they go soft.  Once this is done (about 5 minutes), add the garlic, thyme, stock and apples - peeled, cored and cubed and then cook the soup for 30-40 minutes, before letting it cool.

I really hate thick blended soups that have the consistency of wallpaper paste, so when you blend the soup - I use a stick blender - you can always pass the soup through a sieve afterwards to give it a smoother consistency, and maybe add a bit more liquid.

Then return the soup to the heat, and crumble the Stilton into it, season to taste and then serve.  Enjoy!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Minestrone Soup

There hasn't been a blog post in a while, but there has been illness abroad at Chez Soup.  And when there is illness, I always turn to the restorative powers of the soup - and this time it was the turn of Minestrone.  Everybody probably knows this soup. and it would seem that everybody has their own way of making it.  And that's the joy of soup - they can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish them to be.

However, my version of Minestrone is about as simple as you can get - and yet again it's an old family recipe - I remember my mum making huge dishes of this soup, served from a rather gaudy enamaled tureen that must have fallen through a timewarp from the 1970's (or probably actually was from the 1970's, come to think of it...) and it' probably the first meal that I ever cooked by myself - back in 19-something or other I was a fresh-faced schoolboy, studying home-economics and to impress the teacher, during one lesson, I brought in the ingredients and made a pan-full of Minestrone.  However, if memory serves, I mis-judged the quantity of stock needed and so what I ended up producing something much closer to a thick stew than a soup! Mu cooking has improved much since then...

Other Minestrone experiences I can remember are - my first ever Cup-a-soup (which started my life-long love affair with heavily processed foods, such as the humble cheese slice) and it's amazing chemically taste, and then tinned Minestrone, eaten out of a Muppets flask for lunch at school, and dipping cheese spread sandwiches into it...

Ah, the folly of youth!

Anyway, here is the recipe, a rich and hearty soup perfect for autumn evenings, and possibly for curing the common cold too...
 When making this soup, you can use any pasta you want, but I really like using Orzo or Pasta Rice - mainly because it doesn't swell up too much when it absorbs the liquid from the soup.

2 Small Onions
2 Carrots
3 Sticks Celery
1 Leek
200g Dark Cabbage
150g Smoked Back Bacon
1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes
100g Pasta
50g Butter
2 Cloves of Garlic
1 Cup Red Wine
1tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1.5l Chicken Stock
2tsp Fresh Thyme
2tsp Fresh Basil
2tsp Fresh Parsley

To Garnish
Parmesan Shavings

Heat the butter in a large pan.  To this, add the bacon, chopped finely, and fry until the bacon starts to brown.

Remove the pan from the heat and remove the bacon, placing it on some kitchen towel to soak up the excess butter.  Now return the pan to the heat and add the carrots, onion, celery, leek cabbage and garlic, all shredded, grated or finely chopped, depending on how chunky you like your soup, and sweat in the butter for 3-5 minutes, adding more butter or olive oil if the pan gets too dry and the vegetables start to stick.

Once the vegetables are nice and soft, add the tomatoes, red wine and balsamic vinegar, and bring to the boil, cooking over a high heat for a few minutes before adding the stock and herbs.  Also at this point, put the bacon back into the pan as well. 

Cover the soup and cook for 30-40 minutes, then add the pasta and cook for another 10 minutes.  Check to make sure the pasta is cooked through, season to taste and serve.  Garnish with parmesan and eat with crusty bread.  Enjoy!