Butternutty Soup

So here we are on the 3rd January 2016. It’s a grey, wet and frankly miserable day. The festivities are over, the tree is taken down, decorations tidied away and it’s back to work or school for many of us tomorrow. Cheering up food is required. Something tasty, bright and warming. Soup should fit that bill, and I have had a butternut squash kicking about the kitchen for the past two weeks that needs using up.

I’m taking part in an Ikea challenge – to Live LAGOM – which is all about simplifying your life, reducing waste and being more sustainable in all your activities. One of things I’ve put down as a personal challenge is to manage my store cupboards better. I’m convinced I was a starving peasant in a former life as I regularly overstock my pantry, secure in the knowledge that I can, if required, feed an army at short notice. However, as that army doesn’t rock up with the frequency I think it should, I end up with full cupboards and an occasional *cough* duplication of items because I can’t actually find anything in them…

With that laudable intent in mind, I spent a merry morning turning out two pantry shelves, listing everything I had, relabelling jars & chucking out things from 2008. Oops. I’ve got lots of odds and sods – some desiccated coconut, not enough for a cake; various small quantities of lentils; lots of bits of pasta; and a fine selection of nuts including unsalted cashews, pine nuts and hazelnuts. I do hate waste so I’m determined to make some meals using up these scraps.

Back to the butternut squash and the warming soup that’s so sorely needed. I don’t think I’m being particularly original in this combination of butternut squash, cashews and coconut but by gum it makes a yummy soup! Please forgive the slightly random measurements, this soup was rather chucked together, so you may need to adjust quantities to suit your own taste. I’ve also realised that I’ve created a vegan recipe, by accident not design, but one that fits nicely into January’s Veganuary theme for a few folk.

Butternutty soup

1 medium butternut squash

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves of garlic

1 tsp dried thyme

1 medium onion

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 dsp desiccated coconut

a handful of unsalted cashews (or peanuts)

1 litre veg stock

Cut up butternut squash into 2 inch or so chunks – skin and all, but remove the seeds & fibre from the centre. Toss in a baking tray with 1 tbsp of oil, thyme and three slightly crushed but not peeled garlic cloves. Place in a medium hot oven – GM5/160 fan/ 180C and roast for 25 to 30 minutes until the squash is tender. Leave til cool enough to handle, then remove skin from butternut squash pieces and squeeze out the roasted garlic.

Meantime, roughly chop the onion. Add 1 tbsp of oil to a heavy based pan, heat gently and then add the onion. Keep the heat low and cook onions til soft and translucent. Add the chilli flakes and stir well. Add the butternut squash, garlic, coconut and cashews. Pour the hot veg stock into the vegetable baking tray to rinse out any lingering flavours and decant into the soup pan. Give everything a good stir and bring to a gentle simmer for about 15 minutes. Take off the heat, let it cool slightly before blending into a rich creamy soup. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed – salt/ pepper/ pinch of cayenne if it needs more heat etc. Serve garnished with more cashews.

Soup in preparation

Vegetables cooking before stock added

Picture of butternutty soup

Butternutty Soup

Butter Squashed

So. It’s the second weekend of January and I’m still using up the veg from Christmas week. Not because I over ordered (perish the thought) but because I got invited out to more dinners then expected – the joy of hospitable friends and family and to be frank, the lure of lovely shiny places like Salthouse Bacaro (www.salthousebacaro.co.uk) and Berry & Rye ….

Anyway. Back to the vegetable glut. I have two butternut squashes, a single parsnip, half a bag of Brussels sprouts, a cauliflower, some carrots, a bit of celery, a few potatoes and the usual pantry staples of onion, garlic and ginger. First thought of course was soup. But then I always make soup and one of my food resolutions for 2015 was to be bold and not just to stick to my comfort zones.

In search of inspiration, I perused Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus – which takes the interested cook on a journey through categories such as Spicy, Woodland, Roasted, Earthy, Marine etc, suggesting pairings of ingredients based on their flavour characteristics and how they balance each other. As butternut squash is dominating my larder, I looked up what she had to say about it. Niki places butternut squash in tFlavour Thesaurushe Woodland category, alongside carrots, chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. She points out that the sweetness of butternut squash means it works well with salty or sour flavours but its dense creamy texture means that it can also cope well with spices and herbs. Some of Niki’s suggestions include pairing it with bacon, blue cheese chilli, lime, seafood, rosemary, sage, or nutmeg.

Bacon has a tendency to grab my attention, especially as I know I have a pack of Savin Hill’s dry smoked bacon lurking in the fridge. I also like the idea of using the woody herbs such as rosemary and sage but the ingredient that’s really intriguing me is lime. It just so happens I have a few limes left over from the Christmas gin & tonics. Now I’m thinking about Asian inspired dishes, using lime and chili to sharpen up the sweet butternut squash. Decisions, decisions…

Being January, my herb patch is looking a little sad, but the sage is marching on so I decide upon using one of squashes to make butternut & bacon filled ravioli, served with sage butter. The other is destined for more exotic treatment, a Malay inspired Laksa with lime, chilli and coconut (yes I know it’s a sort of soup, but it’s a fancy one!).

Butternut & Bacon Ravioli Serves 4

Filling

500g butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into 4 cm pieces

3 tsp olive oil

salt & pepper

2 rashers of bacon*, cut into small dice (or use pancetta)

50g gorgonzola (or other blue cheese) grated or diced into small pieces.

Nutmeg

Pasta

300g 00 grade flour

3 large free range eggs

salt

Garnish

50g butter

2tbsp olive oil

handful of fresh sage leaves

 

Preheat oven to 200C/ 400F/ GM6

Toss the butternut squash pieces with two teaspoons of olive oil and season.Butternut squash Place in one layer on a baking sheet and put in the oven to roast for 20 to 30 minutes until tender. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 5 minutes before blending into a thick puree with the gorgonzola. (I needed to add a little cream to aid this) Set aside to cool.

Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in pan and cook the bacon pieces until crisp. Set aside to cool. Mix into the cooled butternut puree, with nutmeg and more salt and pepper as needed to taste.

pastaMake the pasta. Make a well of sifted flour and add a pinch of salt and the 3 eggs, lightly beaten together. Use a fork (or fingers) to lightly mix them together to create a dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead well for between 5 and 10 minutes – pulling and stretching the dough until it changes texture from rough and floury to smooth and silky – it will have a slight sheen. Divide into 4 pieces, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for a good hour.

Pasta photo 2 photo 3

 

Once the pasta dough has chilled, take the first portion and roll it out onto a lightly floured work surface to about 1mm thick or roll through your pasta machine. (Note to readers: It is at this point I took the sensible decision to invest in a pasta machine. Rolling out pasta by hand is perfectly possible but you will develop Popeye’s forearms…)

photo 2 handrollingphoto 3

Using a pastry cutter 8.5cm or 3.5 inch in diameter, cut out 12 discs. Set aside and repeat the process until you have 24 discs. Divide the cooled filling into half and spoon into the centre of 12 of the discs – about a heaped tsp. Brush round the edge of the filled disc with water and then take another disc and lay it over the top, pressing down on the water brushed edges to seal. (Note to readers: I was paranoid about the filling bursting out, so I gently stretched the discs and then rolled the edges rather like a Cornish pasty. Not very authentic, but my raviolis stayed intact!)

Ravioli photo 2 photo 3

Once you have filled 12 pasta parcels, repeat the process with the remaining mixture and two balls of dough. Place on a floured board, and dust with a little flour. Cover with a cloth and set aside.

Make the garnish before cooking the ravioli. Roughly chop the sage leaves. Melt the butter and oil in a shallow pan and add the sage leaves, cook til they start to crisp, then remove from the heat.

To cook the ravioli, fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil. Add salt and turn down to a gentle simmer. Slide the ravioli into the water. They will sink to the bottom of the pan, and as they cook will bob to the surface. It will take about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and toss in the sage scented butter. Sprinkle with black pepper and a scattering of grated Parmesan. Enjoy!

ready, cook! photo 4

*Note for Vegetarians – leave out the bacon and add a handful of toasted pinenuts instead.

 

 

 

Marvellous Marmalade

 

picture of mansion house

Dalemain Mansion

Took a little road trip this weekend to the Dalemain Marmalade Awards in Cumbria (www.dalemainmarmaladeawards.co.uk). Established in 2006, these awards were set up by Jane Hasell-McCosh to promote the making and enjoyment of that now very British tradition of turning all kinds of citrus fruit into marmalade. Nine years on and what started as a small but quirky event has grown into an international festival, attracting entries from all over the world. This year over 2000 jars of marmalade made their way to Dalemain Mansion, where they were sorted into categories  e.g “Marmalade with interesting additions…” and separated into home-made, artisan and bed & breakfast/hotel makers.
jars of marmalade

Marmalade display

Judged by a plethora of respected foodies including Dan Lepard, Pam Corbin & Ivan Day, the entries  are tasted “blind” with no indication beyond the ingredients and name of the product on the jar to ensure absolute impartiality.

I have to confess, I had a specific reason for attending these awards as I had entered three jars in the artisan categories – whiskey marmalade, Seville marmalade with gin & plain Seville marmalade. It was my first time of entering, and it was more  in expectation of getting advice on my products (all entries get given tasting notes by the judges) then actually getting anywhere in the competition.  I was incredibly chuffed to be given a GOLD award for my Seville Marmalade, medium cut.

certificate

Gold Award Certificate

Grab Your Spoon's Seville Marmalade

Recipe:

Simple Seville Orange Marmalade:

1.5 kilos Seville oranges, washed.

2.2 litres (4 pints) water

2.5 kilos sugar

Whole Sevilles in the pan

Whole Sevilles in the pan

Put the oranges in a large saucepan and add the water. Simmer gently for 2 – 3 hours until the peel is very soft.

Remove the fruit, but DON’T throw the water away.

Let fruit cool til you can handle comfortably.

Cut the fruit in half and scoop the pips into a small saucepan, add 300ml of water and bring this to a simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool and then strain through a sieve into the reserved water from earlier. Squeeze as much liquid from the sieve as you can.

Meantime chop the peel to suit – thick or thin!

Put this fruit back into the large pan with the water and sugar. Stir well over a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved.

Turn the heat up and bring to a fast boil for 10 minutes, then pull off the heat and test for a set – either: dip a clean wooden spoon into the pan, remove it and holding above the pan, twirl the spoon to cool it then let the marmalade ‘fall’ off the spoon. If the drops run together and form flakes that hang onto the edge of the spoon, a set has been reached; or:

The "wrinkle"

The “wrinkle”

chill a saucer in the fridge, put a teaspoon of marmalade on the cold saucer and let it cool for 1 minute. Push the surface and if it ‘wrinkle’, it has reached setting point.

If the marmalade hasn’t yet set, put back on the heat and cook for another 5 minutes and try the set again. Repeat as necessary but do make sure you take the pan off the heat each time you test the set or you’ll end up with toffee!

Let it sit a little, remove any “scum” (or froth really), by adding a small pat of butter and stirring to disperse the air bubbles. Letting it sit for 5 minutes or so before potting it also helps the peel to suspend in the jelly rather than sinking to the bottom.

Ladle into sterilized jars (fill jars with just boiled water, rinse out and leave upside to dry in a warm oven), and seal. Leave to cool before labeling.

This recipes makes about 9  x 340g jars or 18 190g jars.

Jars of marmalade cooling

Jars of marmalade cooling

Celebrate Welsh food!

St David’s Day is the 1st March, and a great day to celebrate the glories of Welsh food & drink. Whilst perhaps not having the most well known cuisine in the world, Wales can be justifiably proud of the quality of its produce. Welsh lamb is legendary, and their beef is pretty spectacular too.  A great chunk of Wales is coast, so not surprisingly, the seafood is excellent, often served with Laverbread – a type of seaweed, which is also added to a traditional Welsh breakfast. Sea salt, harvested in Anglesey, was recently given protected status by the EU, lining it up beside Champagne, Prosciutto di Parma and Stilton as a product  only allowed to be identified as genuinely originating in that region. Check out www.halenmon.com for details of their lovely sea salts, including  smoked, vanilla, celery & plain.

Cheese is another fabulous Welsh product – Gorwydd Caerphilly – a citrussy, mild cheese; Organic Perl Las – softly blue and creamy; Cenarth Brie – a buttery brie ; Snowdonia Extra Mature Cheddar – rich creamy & salty; & Harlech  – flavoured with horseradish and parsley; are just some of the delicious cheeses produced here. Have a look at www.liverpoolcheesecompany.co.uk for details of their Welsh selection. Of course, cheese leads me onto the wonderful Welsh dish – Welsh Rarebit aka posh cheese on toast.  I make it old school style, melted in a pan and then poured over the toasted bread and browned – see below for the recipe.

What would St David’s Day be without a leek? A traditional symbol of Wales, this lovely onion relative has a milder flavour and is the main component of the velvety textured Vichyssoise soup, made with leeks & potatoes and served chilled in summer. As summer is yet some way off, I’ve given a recipe for a hearty leek & potato soup instead!

Bara Brith is a traditional Welsh tea bread, made with dried fruit and tea, and sometimes yeast but I confess to a weakness for Welsh cakes, a sort of griddle scone with spices and fruit, best served warm with lashings of butter…

Recipes:

Welsh Rarebit

Ingredients:

25 g butter

25g plain flour

100ml strong dark beer (Welsh)

150 g mature Cheddar, grated (try the Snowdonia)

1 tsp English mustard (yes, English.. sorry!)

1 egg

Melt butter in a small pan, add the flour and cook over a gentle heat until it’s starting to go golden. Slowly add the beer, stirring well to prevent lumps, and then add the grated cheese. Take off the heat and stir until all the cheese has melted into the beery sauce. If it’s not melting, put back on heat but don’t let it boil. Add the mustard and mix well. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then add the egg, well beaten.

Toast 4 slices of bread on both sides, then spread the cheese mixture over the bread and put back under the grill until golden and bubbling.

Hearty Leek & Potato Soup

Ingredients:

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

3 large leeks, cleaned well (!) and chopped into quarters, then slices

3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

900ml of chicken stock

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (1/2 tsp if using dried)

salt & pepper

100ml double cream

Melt the butter in a large pan, and add the onion and leeks. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring to keep from browning, until the leeks and onions are softening. Add the thyme and chopped potatoes, stir well and add the stock and bring to a simmer. Put a lid on the pot and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender. Take off the heat and use a potato masher to break up and thicken the soup (you can use a hand blender if you prefer a smoother texture). Add the cream and adjust seasoning to taste.

Welsh cakes  (recipe from: www.visitwales.com/explore/traditions-history/recipes/welsh-cakes)

Ingredients:

225g plain flour

100g butter

75g caster sugar

50g currants (or mixed dried fruit)

½tsp baking powder

¼tsp mixed spice

1 egg

A pinch salt

A little milk to bind

Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, mixed spice) together into a mixing bowl. Cut up the butter and rub into the flour. Stir in the sugar and fruit, pour in the egg and mix to form a dough, use a little milk if the mixture is a little dry. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about the thickness of a biscuit. Use a pastry cutter to cut out rounds. Cook the cakes on a greased bake stone or griddle until golden. The heat should not be too high, as the cakes will cook on the outside too quickly, and not in the middle. Once cooked sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with butter.

Sticky Ginger Cake

For those of you unfamiliar with the word, parkin refers to a soft textured cake flavoured with ginger, treacle or golden syrup and brown sugar. Particularly Northern in origin, parkin is made in Yorkshire – where it tends to be slightly drier in texture and is made with black treacle; and also in Lancashire, where it tends to be stickier and made using golden syrup. Here in Merseyside I’m really a Lancastrian plus I’ve only got golden syrup in my cupboard so that’s the version I’m going to make.

golden syrup tin, jug with milk, oats

ingredients

I’ve adapted this recipe from The Camper Van Cookbook by Martin Dorey & Sarah Randall.

Ingredients:

200ml milk
3 tbsp golden syrup
100g butter
75g plain flour
200g dark brown sugar
125g porridge oats
4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method:

Preheat oven to 150C/ GM2. Lightly butter a shallow square cake tin, approx 20cm diameter.

Put milk, syrup & butter in a small pan and gently bring to the boil, stirring until all the syrup and butter has melted.

Sieve flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and mix in the oats, sugar, and spices. Pour over the melted butter & milk mixture and mix well into the dry ingredients.

cake batter

Pour into tin

Pour/ scrape into the prepared cake tin and level the top. Place in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool in the tin until completely cold. Cut into 16 pieces and put into an air tight tin or box. They will keep very well for at least a week, and actually improve in flavour and stickiness after a day or two!

parkin in tin cooling

Sticky ginger parkin cooling

 

 

Meantime your home, like mine, will be deliciously scented with sweet ginger baking. An instant mood improver!

pieces of parkin

Put the kettle on!

Paprika Beef

blue casserole dish with paprika beef

Paprika Beef

January is drawing to a close, but it’s still a bit chilly out there. This is a perfectly good reason to indulge in a hearty stew that will fill and cheer.  Lovely beef shin from www.forsterorganicmeats.com is slowly simmered in the oven in a rich smoked paprika sauce, and then served on a pillow of creamy mashed potatoes with a side of winter greens. I often make beef stews that can sit in a slow oven, it’s such a simple way to add flavour to an economical cut of meat and really doesn’t involve a lot of complicated preparation. I had it in mind to go a bit Spanish – thinking chorizo, paprika, peppers etc but surveying my fridge contents I found I had some Hungarian smoked sausage left from my trip to the Fatherland before Christmas. So this is my Hungarian/Spanish beef stew, paprika & peppers being common denominators in both cuisines!

 

Paprika Beef Stew

Ingredients:

1 kilo beef shin, cut into 1 inch cubes.

2 tablespoons of plain flour

1 dessert spoon of smoked sweet paprika

1 large onion, sliced into half and then into half moons

1 ramiro pepper (the long sweet red kind), halved and sliced into thin strips

1 stick of celery, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped

200g smoked paprika sausage (use chorizo), skin removed and chopped

568ml of tomato sauce (I had some in the freezer,  but you can use chopped tinned tomatoes)

1 glass of red wine

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

salt and pepper

Method:

Toss beef cubes in the flour and paprika and set aside.

Heat a heavy based casserole dish (which can go into the oven, or use a heavy pan and transfer before adding the dish to the oven).

Add the chopped sausage and cook over a gentle heat until the fats begin to release their oils into the pan. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and pepper. Stir well to coat in the oils and cook for 10 minutes over a gentle heat until softening. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside.

There should still be some juices left in the pan, but if not add a splash of olive oil or a tsp of lard. Turn the heat up and add the floured beef cubes, turn them to brown for five minutes in the pan, but be careful not to let the paprika burn.

Add the glass of red wine and allow it to simmer a little. Put the vegetables back into the pan, along with any flour and paprika that’s left behind from earlier.

Add the chilli flakes and tomato sauce or chopped tomatoes., season with a pinch of salt and pepper and give everything a good stir. Bring to a simmer then transfer, covered, to the oven, heated to 140C for 3 hours. Check occasionally to see if more liquid is required.

Once cooked through, the beef should be meltingly tender in a rich smoked sauce with a little spicy kick. Serve with mashed potatoes or plain rice or flat wide pasta ribbons and some greens on the side.