Monday, 30 January 2012

Leek and Blue Cheese Soup

So this might be a bit premature, but I spent this weekend planning what to grow in the garden (and by garden I mean the tiny 2x4meter balcony outside our flat...) because hopefully, Spring is coming soon.  I have quite a bad track record when it comes to growing things - instead of green fingers, I have death-fingers, or so it seems, with a rubber plant that now adorns my flat being the only thing I've ever grown that has lived longer than six months.

A tiny evil creature.  Elvis had the right idea.  Eat 'em!

With the help of Mrs Soup (and the valiant efforts of Suttons Seeds and the local B&Q) we now have seeds a' plenty (two varieties of beetroot, kohlrabi, borlotti beans, raspberries etc) and some nice specially designed growing containers just for teeny tiny balconies.  So the scene is set for some growing type actives come spring.  We shall see what happens, and whether the plants survive for more than a month against the terrors of inclement weather, forgetting to water them and the marauding squirrels that dive-bomb the balcony (and were responsible for destroying not one, not two but three bird feeders...)

I will certainly keep you updated, and hopefully, the results will be incorporated into a few soups come harvest time (and I might organize a mini Harvest Festival like we had in school)

But one thing that I keep trying to grow, and that keep dying, is a good crop of herbs.  If anyone has any tips, please let me know in the comments section - you could just be a life-saver.  One herb plant that I have tried at least three times, and three times have watched in horror is it turned brown and whithered, is Rosemary - it's one of my favourite flavors, goes so well with lamb (my favourite meat) as well as so many other things, including being used in this soup, which is a really nice variation on the classic Broccoli and Stilton soup.

Anyway, this soup is great for these spring-is-not-yet-here evenings...

5 Leeks - Trimmed
1 Small Onion
2 Medium Potatoes
3 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
1tsp Minced Garlic
1.5l Chicken Stock
1tsp English Mustard
150g Soft Blue Cheese
Salt and Pepper
Cooking Oil


Peel and cube the potatoes, chop the onion and strip to rosemary sprigs of the green bits (just pull them off roughly and don't worry about chopping them at this stage)

In your soup pan, heat the oil and then add the potatoes, onion, rosemary and garlic.  Cook this with the lid on over a low heat for around 5 minutes, until everything has started to soften and the rosemary starts to release its wonderful smells and flavour.

Roughly chop the leeks (green bits and all) and then toss them into the pan, stirring them in and cooking for another 5 or so minutes, until they are nice and soft too.

At this point, add the stock and bring the pan to a simmer, then cook the soup for 30  minutes.

Cut the cheese up into cubes and then stir these into the soup and add the mustard, then with either a stick blender or a food processor, blend the soup until it's smooth.  As always, pass it through a sieve for a smoother texture if you wish (and I do wish - I hate soup that's more puree than soup)  This also helps get rid of any bits of rosemary that might be lurking in the soup

Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste and then heat through, garnish with a bit of grated nutmeg, before serving with some nice (preferably home-made) bread to warm you up on a cold winter's evening.  Enjoy!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Weekly Bake Off : Divine Chocolate Birthday Cake

Well, my birthday is still a couple of weeks off, but I had no objections to the choice of cake this week for the Weekly-Bake-Off. In my opinion, any recipe that has a 300(ish) grams of chocolate, 6 eggs, sugar, almonds and coffee, can't go wrong!

I used a mix of dark and milk chocolate to get an average cocoa solid percentage of about 42%. Having watched Heston Blumenthal's chocolate masterclass episode a couple of weeks ago, I treated my chocolate gently. I was a bit concerned about the recipe's instructions to add the coffee directly to the melted chocolate (Heston's demonstration of how chocolate seizes when water is added to it had me panicking a bit!), so I instead added it to the choclate/almond/eggy mixture as I folded that together. I didn't make any other changes to the recipe, and baked it for exactly 50 minutes, with only a quick peek at about 45 minutes.

The top seemed a bit crispy and had risen slightly lopsided, so I trimmed it, flipped it upside down and iced it that way up.

I only had salted butter for the icing, but that turned out to be A Very Good Thing (again, Mr Blumenthal had mentioned that salt accentuates the taste of chocolate), and the icing has a lovely, super chocolately taste, as well as being beautifully glossy. I'd decided to use some fresh cherries to decorate the cake, and dipped these in the melted chocolate (before the butter was added) and set them onto baking paper to set slightly. Once the chocolate icing was poured onto the cake, I placed the cherries - I'm very pleased with the way they look like they're half immersed in a chocolate sea!

The cake tastes wonderful, has a good, dense texture and is very indulgent. I'll be making this again when something special is called for. This first picture was taken with my phone's camera.

A better resolution one was taken once the camera's batteries were charged, but by that point quite a bit of the cake was missing! I stored the cake in the fridge, but would suggest before serving taking it out and letting it come to room temperature as the texture of the icing is much nicer.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Mulligatawny Soup

So this week I was still full of cold - a continuation of last week's suffering (and it's NOT man-flu, OK?) but at least I got my sense of smell and taste back, which I can only think is a good thing, and a sign that the illness may have reached a high-water mark and is now receding!

As soon as I developed a sniffle, it seemed like everyone was tripping over themselves to offer remedies, from staying in bed (my favourite) to drinking Hydrogen Peroxide (Not so keen on drinking rocket fuel...) and also as people know I write a blog about soup, people are also offering their idea of the perfect illness fighting soup.  (indeed, a quick check at search terms that brought people to my sight reveals an increase in interest in my chicken noodle soup, and also a search for 'chicken soup vs minestrone for illness.  If you are still reading, person who searched for that, I hope you are feeling better now!)

Anyway, most of the recipes involved either spices or lots of garlic and ginger, and the one that I thought I'd try - never having tasted it before - was Mulligatawny.  Now I know that this is an Indian recipe, and I imagine that bluff colonial types with mutton chop whiskers sat eating it in Victorian times.  Well, one can dream anyway....

1 Red Onion
1 Parsnip
2 Carrots
1 Potato
200g Lamb
3 Cloves Minced Garlic
1  Green Chili
50g Basmati Rice
2 Pints Vegetable Stock
1tsp Salt
1tsp Black Pepper
 2 Cloves
1ts Cumin Seeds
1tsp Turmeric
2tsp Coriander Seeds
Handful of fresh corriander

Cube the lamb and fry it off with some oil in a frying pan until its brown.

Chop the onion, parsnip, carrot and potato into small cubes.

In a pestle and mortar, grind the chili, salt and pepper, cloves, cumin and coriander seeds and turmeric into a paste

In your soup pan, heat some more oil and then add the cubed vegetables and garlic, and fry them off until they turn a little brown and start to soften up a bit.

Add the spice paste and basmati rice to the vegetables and allow to cook for a few minutes, then add the vegetable stock, bring the soup to the boil and then simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the rice is soft.

Serve and garnish with fresh chopped coriander leaves.  Enjoy!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Weekly Bake-Off : Maple Syrup Cake

I won't be writing much about this week's Weekly Bake Off bake, mostly because I'm typing this in the last 10 minutes of my lunch hour! This cake really illustrated to me the value of participating in the Bake-Off - I wouldn't ever have picked this to bake myself, but it was a spectacularly lovely tasting cake, with the flavours of orange, pecan nuts and maple syrup balanced beautifully (I was under the impression right up to writing my shopping list that the recipe called for walnuts and was thrilled to see it was pecan nuts - my favorite). My cake didn't rise quite as much as everyone else's, and had a bit of a dip in the middle - I blame peeking at 1hour to check its' progress (my oven doesn't have a light)!

I decided to use an orange butter icing instead of the cream icing, as I am not the biggest fan of cream cakes and was very happy with the result, even though you can't see the middle layers, there's a nice bit of orangey sweetness as a highlight.

Experimenting a bit with photos taken on my iPod using Instamatic (background is a lovely green chopping board from Ikea!).

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Spicy Carrot, Bean and Coconut Soup

Winter is coming... well, winter is here, actually*.  The trees and the ground is dusted with a fine sprinkling of silver frost, one's breath can be seen as a mist on the chill air, the sunlight is brittle and bright and everything has a slightly unreal, fairy tale quality about it.  It really is quite spectacular.

See how nice everything looks at this time of year?

Apart from the cold I have got.  Now my nose is blocked, my throat feels like it's caught in a vice and my mind seems to wander at the slightest distraction.  It really is rather unpleasant and another rather annoying side-effect it the magical disappearing sense of taste. So I thought that to ease this, and also to make myself a little bit more healthy, I would cook up something hearty, wholesome and perhaps a little bit spicy to see if I could actually taste anything.

If this soup tastes awful, don't blame me - I can't taste a thing at the moment and I'm more pre-occupied by why you can't get Lucozade in glass bottles wrapped in orange cellophane any more.  That's what I had when I was a child and it always made me feel better and I demand it now (Lucozade in plastic bottles doesn't taste the same, and I'm sure its restorative powers are somehow dimished as well - its chicken soup for those of us without wise Jewish grandmothers to make it for us...)

When Mrs Soup came in, the first thing she said was "That smells amazing", sadly I can't smell a thing, so you should take her word for it and give this recipe a go, nop matter what I say, being grumpy and with cold and all that...

2 Onions, diced
500g Carrots, Chopped
400g Tine of Mixed Beans
40g Ginger
1/2 tbsp Garam Masala
1tsp Cumin Seeds
1 Red Chili
2tbsp Oil
Juice of 1 Orange
800ml Vegetable Stock
250ml Coconut Milk
Fresh Coriander

In a large thick bottomed pan, heat the oil, and then add the chopped onions and carrots.  Cook them for about 10 minutes over a low heat, until they are soft and starting to colour.

Whilst the vegetables are cooking, grind the ginger,  chili, cumin seeds, salt and Garam Masala with a pestle and mortar, until they make a thick, smooth paste.

When the vegetables are ready, add the paste and cook for anothr 2-3 minutes over a low heat.  Then add the stock and orange juice and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.

With a hand blender, blend the soup until it's smooth (you might want to let it cool down a bit first) and then add the beans, cook for a further 10 minutes and then add the coconut milk, heating through before serving with chopped coriander leaves on top.

I served mine with hmoe made naan bread - aren't I a fancy-pants today? Enjoy!

*I've been reading too much Game of Thrones recently, hence the quote and hence some of the flowery language in this post.  It's coming back in April on the telly!  Yay...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Weekly Bake Off - Devil's Food Cake

I recently discovered a fantastic online community challenge - the Weekly Bake Off. This is a weekly challenge to bake a recipe (announced on a Monday) from Mary Berry's 100 Cakes and Bakes. Unfortunately I found out about it halfway through December, during the break for the Christmas holidays, so had to wait till the New Year to participate. (Though after receiving the book for Christmas I couldn't wait, and did make one recipe from a previous Bake-Off - Meringue roulade.)

This week's recipe was Devil's Food Cake. Since it was my first bake, I decided to stick (almost) exactly to the recipe. The cake part was fairly straightforward - when mixing the butter/sugar mix with the dry and wet ingredients I was a bit worried that the texture was quite runny (started off almost moussey). I added a heaped spoonful of coffee to the cocoa but kept the liquid volume the same - next time I'll add more as I could taste coffee in the batter, but not really in the final cake. I did need the full 45 minutes to cook them, and the texture of the sponges when they came out of the oven seemed very light and fluffy. My cake tins are closer to 25cm than 20cm, so they were a little thin.

The icing was the most exciting bit of this bake - I've never made American frosting before (in fact I didn't know it existed - the recipe does remind me of Italian meringue - anyone know if there is a difference?) Despite that I did alter the recipe slightly - added a pinch of cream of tartar, and a little vanilla extract the sugar syrup. This gave me a chance to try out my new sugar thermometer (I was really spoilt this Christmas!), and I'm pleased to report it went fairly smoothly. Mr Soup helped pouring in the syrup, and we both ended up splattered with sticky meringue (so much so that we stuck together after a hug!). The instructions said to ice the cake quickly as the mixture sets quite fast, but I think I would have had a better result waiting for a little while for it to start getting a little stickier. (or perhaps it was because I hadn't got the mix stiff enough?)

So here is the final product :

As you can see, the icing was a bit runny and slid a bit - not too much, there was still a good thick layer on top, but nothing like the picture in the book! It set crispy on the outside, but stayed gooey underneath, so after slicing it the next day, it oozed down even more (though not as much as it looks in the picture - the top layer of cake is the same thickness as the bottom). I think the mixture probably needed to be whipped even stiffer, or perhaps the sugar syrup needed to be slightly hotter.

Final verdict on taste - the icing was a bit too sweet for my taste, but had a lovely sticky marshmallowy feel. The cake itself was gorgeous - lovely and light and chocolatey. I'll make this again, but will probably use a different icing - probably a coffee flavoured one!

Swede Soup

I know it's a little bit late (or early) in the year to be talking about Halloween, but when I was younger (or when ah' were a' lad) a Halloween trick-or-treating trip was not lit by a pumpkin carved with a ghoulish visage - I don't think I ever even saw a pumpkin until about 10 years ago (so the classic Charlie Brown specials on TV made absolutely no sense as well..)

Instead of a pumpkin, we carried turnip lanterns, which were made of... ummm... swede, lit from inside with a candle, and with a face crudely carved into it.  And it's very hard to carve a swede.  And now the smell of burning swede is hugely evocative of knocking on old ladies doors and being given Blackjacks, Wam bars, Yorkshire mixture and Palma violets.  Not that burning swede is a common smell round our way.

Swede seemed to feature a lot in my childhood diet - usually mashed with carrots, and I think it's given a bad reputation as being a bit useless.  I think it has a flavour at least as nice as sweet potato, and really should be given some more love.  I also don't think it helps that our colonial cousins call it 'rutabaga' which sounds like it should be a character in an eastern European folk tale.  Possibly about a witch who turns unwary children into root vegetables.

So without further ado, Swede soup...

2 Swede, cubed
2 Stalks Celery, chopped
1 Onion, diced,
2 Cloves Garlic, crushed
1.4l Chicken Stock
Some fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
200ml Single Cream
Some Butter

Heat the over to 180ºc.  Put the cubed swede in a roasting dish and drizzle with some oil, season and then roast for 30-40 minutes, until the swede starts to turn a lovely golden colour.

In your soup pan, heat some more oil and then cook the onion, celery and garlic for 4-6 minutes, until it starts to soften and colour, then add the stock and the roasted swede.  Bring the soup to the boil and then simmer for 40-45 minutes, until the swede is nice and soft.

Blend the soup until it is smooth - pass it through a sieve to get rid of any lumps and give it a more creamy texture if you don't like your soups too thick.  You can also add a bit more stock or water to give it a better consistency if you want.  I prefer my soups to have a more liquid consistency and not resemble semolina from the school canteen (do kids today still eat semolina at school?  And more importantly, do they still stir a spoonful of jam into it and make it turn bright pink before eating it?)

Return the blended soup o the pan, reheat and add a knob of butter and stir in the cream.  Check the seasoning and then serve.

Grate some nutmeg over the top and serve with hearty fresh bread for a lovely winter soup! Enjoy!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Easy Peasy Spicy Bean Burgers

So I was free-styling a mean for the end of the week, as I usually crash in from work and just want junk food, but in this time of resolutions (Such as the one I made to lose some weight, but horror-of-horrors this might mean cutting down on beer, and me with lots of exciting home brew ideas to try...) I wanted something a bit healthier.

And so I thought - bean burgers - they are pretty healthy, right?  And they must be easy to make too, right?  And you know what, I was right, and guess what also, they are tasty too.  So if you are looking for an alternative to meaty snacks, why not make some of these, freeze them and then dig them out when you need a meal in a hurry!


2 Tins of beans (I used chickpeas, but kidney, black, or any other variety are good too)
2 Onions - Finely chopper
2 Cloves Garlic
A good handful of fresh coriander
1tsp Cumin
1/2tsp Chili Powder
Some cream crackers
Salt and pepper

Fry the onions until they brown slightly.  Put them in a food mixer with the (drained) beans, garlic, coriander and spices, then season to taste.  Blitz the mixture until it turns into a thick and fairly smooth paste.

In a pestle and mortar, crush the crackers, and add them a bit at a time, to the bean paste, until it thickens up.  The number of crackers needed will vary depending on consistency of the bean mixture, bu you are looking for a firm texture, so the burgers don't fall apart when you cook them.

Once you have the right texture, leave the mixture to stand for 10 minutes, then form into patties - the recipe should make six to eight, depending on how small you want them.  Then you can either freeze them for later, fry or grill them (Frying works best, but grilling is more healthy...)

Serve however you like your burgers - I like mine smothered in full fat mayo and lots of cheese.  Hmmm, so much for that diet idea then...


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Spicy Octopus Soup

So it's the new year, and as I write this, it's raining cats and dogs, and already most of those good intentions that I had on New Year's eve are starting to evaporate.  One that hasn't however, is the desire to keep up to date on the blogging front, as I slipped a bit towards the end of last year, although the delightful Mrs Soup has been taking up some of the slack with her wonderful baking - of which I hope we shall be seeing more this year.

So to this week's soup recipe (as it is Tuesday, and this blog is still called Soup Tuesday, and I don't want to let you down...)

I've always been a B-Movie geek.  One of my earliest memories is watching the 1953 version of War of the Worlds and being terrified of the Martian creature, and yes, I did hide behind the sofa, although never at Dr Who - I never found that too scary (Peter Davison was my Doctor, although on reflection, I always found Adric a bit un-nerving, and let's not mention Turlough...)

(Bare with me - I'm getting to the soup btw...)

King amongst the B-Movie makers was Ray Harryhausen - you will know him from the fighting skeletons of Jason and The Argonauts and the (original and good) Clash of the Titans.  But my all-time favourite of his films was It Came From Beneath the Sea, in which a giant Octopus, mutated to gigantic proportions by the evils of Atomic Power! attacks San Francisco. (Also, I got this film on DVD for christmas, courtesy of Mrs Soup)

Ever since then, I have been repulsed and fascinated in equal measures by the Octopus.  And so, by way of revenge for countless childhood nightmares, I give you - Spicy Octopus Soup!

Octopus should either be cooked very quickly (fried) or long and low, like in this unusual but tasty soup.  I got mine from the local supermarket, where they were only too happy to clean and dress it, so all I had to do was cut it into chunks

1kg Octopus
1 Onion
2 Stalks of Celery
1 Carrot
3 Cloves Garlic
120ml Tomato Puree
100g Bulgar Wheat
1tsp Chili Powder
1tsp Caraway Seeds
1tsp Coriander / Ground Coriander Seeds
1/2tsp Cayenne Pepper
Handful of chopper Coriander Leaves


Finely chop the onion.  Heat some oil in a large, heavy pan.  Gently fry the onions until they start to colour.  Next, add the chopped carrot, celery and minced garlic and cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes, until all the vegetables have softened.

Add the tomato paste an cook for another 5 minutes, then add seasoning to taste.

Cut the octopus into 3cm chunks, and add this to the pan, with the stock and spices, bring the pan to the boil and then simmer for 1 and a half hours, until the octopus is nice and tender.  Add the Bulgar wheat and fresh coriander, check the seasoning again and cook for another 20 minutes then serve.  Enjoy!