Thursday, 23 October 2014

Classic Roasted Pumpkin Soup

A random tweet about Autumn things, and the fact that slugs had detected a weakness in my kids' pumpkin's soft underbelly, found me googling 'classic pumpkin soup' the other day.

There are a wealth of recipes out there, some less classic than others, but in the end I settled on an American recipe - and then tweeked it.  I really wasn't sure about the spices, and cinnamon in particular, thinking I was going to end up with a pumpkin pie affair on my hands.  But it works.  I ended up with a lovely warming savoury soup.  Just what I was after.

Serves 6-8 (It made 4 500ml pots)
Cooking time 1.5 hours 

1 medium pumpkin (scrapings from the inside of your halloween pumpkin can be used instead)
1 medium onion
1 carrot
1 stick of celery
1 clove of garlic
1tbsp olive oil
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock (2 stock cubes + 1l recently boiled water)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
100g full fat soft cheese

Cut the pumpkin into quarters and scrape out the seeds (these can be rinsed, tossed in oil, salt, and paprika, spread out on a shallow roasting tin and roasted at the same time as the pumpkin).  Rub a little olive oil into the quarters, sprinkle over a little salt and roast on a baking tray for about 1 hour at 200C until the pumpkin cuts like butter with a knife.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool whilst you prepare the other vegetables.

Peel and roughly chop the onion, garlic and carrot.  Fry the onion and garlic gently in a saucepan, adding the carrot when it is ready, and then the roughly chopped celery. Stir the vegetables for about 5-10 minutes to allow them to soft but not brown.

Scoop out the soft pumpkin flesh and add this to the softening vegetables.  Stir around and then add the stock and spices.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.

Take off the heat and leave to cool a little with the lid off for 5 or so minutes before liquidising with a stick blender.  After a first quick blitz, add the soft cheese and blitz again until the soup is smooth and silky.  I had to add a couple of teaspoons of sugar as the pumpkin had a slightly bitter aftertaste for some strange reason, but hopefully yours will not.

And I have promised to buy the kids another pumpkin to carve next week.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Slow Cooker Beef Jalfrezi

I started yesterday morning thinking I was going to make a Chilli con Carne.  I had 600g of ox cheek in the freezer which would need a bit of padding to make it into enough for a family of five.  But then I remembered that there was a curry with peppers in it, and after a bit of googling, I turned up a Beef Jalfrezi.

I loosely based my slow cooker version on The Curry Guy's recipe for Chicken Jalfrezi.  This, he describes, is usually a kind of Indian stir fry.  But mine was cooked in the slow cooker out of necessity, a) because that is the only way to cook ox cheek, and b) I needed a no fuss meal blipping away out of my way.

Interestingly, having toyed with making a Chilli, 6 year old Big Boy walked back into the house after school, sniffed the air, and said "smells like we're having Chilli con Carne".

600g ox cheek, cubed
3 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tsp turmeric powder
5  garlic cloves
3 cm root ginger
1 large onion
1tbsp cumin seeds
1 tin tomatoes
1 bell pepper (any colour)
1tbsp coriander powder
1/2-1 tsp hot chilli flakes
1tsp garam masala
1tsp salt

Place the peeled and roughly chopped onion, garlic and ginger (no need to peel the ginger), and turmeric in a mini processor with a little water and liquidise.  

Brown the cubed ox cheek in the oil in a frying pan.  When browned, lift out with a slotted spoon and place in the warming slow cooker.

Add the cumin seeds to the hot oil left in the frying pan once the meat has been removed.  As soon as they start to sizzle, add the onion paste.  Fry the paste until it starts to stick. 

Meanwhile liquidise the tomatoes in the the mini processor and add these to the frying pan when the paste starts to dry out and catch on the bottom.  I then blitzed the pepper to hide it from the kids, but you could just cube it if you wish.

Stir in the rest of the ingredients, plus a can full of recently boiled water.  When it starts to simmer, pour over the ox cheek in the slow cooker and cook on high for 6-8 hours.  Serve with boiled basmati rice.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Slow Cooker/Crockpot Indian Butter Chicken

I had the slow cooker out last week for the first time this autumn.  With the need to have 4 out of 5 weekday dinners ready by 4.30pm, I, for one, am quite pleased that the weather has turned and piping hot food at the end of the school day is required.

I was bought a slow cooker curry recipe book a few years ago but when I read through it, all the recipes involved various ready made curry pastes which I don't keep in stock.  We do, however, have a cupboard full of Indian spices so I have based mine instead on Madhur Jaffrey's Chicken with Tomato Sauce & Butter from The Essential Madhur Jaffrey, with a few additions from her later Butter Chicken recipe from Indian Cookery

8 chicken thighs
2 medium tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic
5cm piece of ginger
1 cinnamon stick
8 cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp chilli powder
6 tbsp sunflower oil
6 cardamon pods
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp hot chilli flakes
1 tsp garam masala
1 tin of tomatoes
1 tsp salt
4 pats of butter
200ml double cream

In a frying pan, brown the chicken thighs in batches.  Place the browned thighs in the warming slow cooker.

Whilst browning the chicken, peel and roughly chop the onion and garlic and place in a liquidiser.  Add the roughly chopped ginger, crumbled cinnamon stick, cloves,peppercorns, bay leaves, and chilli powder and liquidise with enough water to make a smooth double cream like puree.

When all the chicken thighs are browned add the cumin seeds and cardamon pods to the hot oil.  Stir them around and when they start to pop add the onion puree into the pan carefully as it will spit violently! Stir the paste regularly until it starts to brown and start to stick to the bottom.  Liquidise the tomatoes and add these to the onion paste and wash the liquidiser out with a can of just boiled water and add this to the pan.  Add the rest of the ingredients (chilli flakes, garam masala, and salt) apart from the cream and butter.  Bring to the boil and pour over the chicken thighs in the slow cooker.  Stir the chicken into the sauce and leave to cook on High for 6 hours.

Before serving melt the butter into the sauce and stir in the cream.  Season to taste.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Cream of Mushroom Soup with Sherry

The soup making side of me is thrilled that today is cold, windy, and rainy as finally my soup selling season has returned.  To celebrate, I have turned on the heating and defrosted a pot of mushroom soup that didn't sell at Alresford Country Market a few weeks ago.  Warm inside and out, with a Indian Butter Chicken blipping away in the slow cooker, I am planning my autumnal offering for this week's market.

This particular soup was made with reduced mushrooms from my local greengrocer.  Whenever I saw a reduced bag I would buy them, take them home and fry them and then freeze them when cool so that I built up 600g over a few weeks.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Serves 6

600g mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
1 onion
1 tbsp olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme
Chicken or vegetable stock cube
1 shot glass sherry (optional)
1l boiled water
100ml double cream
Salt & Pepper to taste

Peel and roughly chop the onion and garlic and fry in a big saucepan with the olive oil for a few minutes.  Add the mushrooms which have been brushed with kitchen paper to remove any soil and roughly chopped.  Fry over a gently heat until the moisture has come out of the mushrooms and then boiled away. 

When the pan starts to dry out for the second time add the sherry if using, then the hot water, the thyme leaves stripped from their stalks and the crumbled stock cube.  Bring the boil and then simmer with a lid on for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes blitz in a liquidiser or with a stick blender, adding the cream and season to taste.  The colour may not look very appetising, but I can assure you it tastes delicious and hearty especially with the sherry!

No Bake Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake

After last year's caterpillar birthday cake, which I attempted to pass off as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Sprout asked for another for her 9th birthday party last Saturday.  I googled "very hungry caterpillar cake' and was all set to do one with a 'body' of cup cakes, until I began to ran out of time and realised that my piping bag skills remain a complete unknown.  With her party being the middle day of three days of birthday catering I decided to cut my losses and fall back on trusty shop bought swiss rolls.

The plan was to make my own fondant icing, but after a latenight Facebook Messenger chat with a friend who makes cakes on a semi professional basis (when not delivering babies), she offered me 1kg of green sugarpaste, some food dye gels (apparently much better than the liquid ones), and some latex gloves - ooh err!

3 long swiss rolls or 4 shorter ones
1kg green sugarpaste
Blue gel food dye
2 large pinches yellow sugarpaste
100g red sugar paste
2 fat liquorice stick
1/4 jar of apricot jam

You can do this with regular fondant icing, which I believe you can buy ready coloured in the larger supermarkets.

First, cut your swiss roll to shape. I cut two of the long swiss rolls in half and laid three of them out in a bridge shape, making the righthand one slightly shorter than the left.  I then used the third piece to cut a piece large enough to fill the gap at the top of the uprights and then cut this at an angle so I had two wedge shaped pieces to make rounded corners to the top of my caterpillar. Cut a head by cutting a slice off the leftover swiss roll as long as the body is high off the surface, and cut another wedge shaped piece as a neck.  As you can see the tail is yet another wedge.  I found it useful to have a picture of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar next to me.   Assemble your caterpillar on the tray/board you are going to serve it on.

Heat the apricot jam in the microwave for about 1 minute until melted.  Brush over all sides of your caterpillar, apart from the underneath, and using any excess as glue for your wedges.  Most recipes using apricot jam as glue will tell you to sieve it, but I just picked off any large lumps.  After all, caterpillars are supposed to be bumpy!

If you are feeling confident you could attempt to cover this with one big sheet of rolled out green sugarpaste. Me, being far from professional, did not.  I divided it roughly into 4, rolled out three pieces with a lightly dusting of icing sugar to the thickness of £1 and covered each section.  Tuck it firmly around down the sides of the body, but don't worry too much about tidying the joins as you can put a stripe across these. Roll out the red sugarpaste and cover the head. 

Collect the excess green sugar paste and divide into two.  Take one half and knead in a few smears of food dye applied with a cocktail stick.  If you massage lots you will end up with a solid colour or a little kneading will give you a streaky colour.  Both work well as caterpillar stripes.  Divide the dyed ball into about 5-6 smaller balls.  Roll these into sausages with your hands and then flatten them with your fingers and just lay them on to make stripes.  With the excess, put to one side a couple of pinches to make eyes later.  Repeat with the other ball.  Use a fork to press it to your serving tray/board.  This not only gives it a 'hairy' look but helps secure it to the tray so it doesn't slide off if you have to drive it anywhere. 

To make the eyes, roll the two pinches of yellow into tiny sausages and flatten them.  Attach with a dab of apricot jam.  Take the two slightly smaller pinches of green and do the same so you can just see the yellow outside of the eye.  Slice a sliver off the end of the liquorice stick to make a nose.  Slice the liquorice stick on an angle about 1cm long to make 6 tiny feet and poke gently into the sugarpaste.  Cut the last liquorice stick at an angle up along it's length to make the caterpillar's feelers.  I just laid mine on the tray and poked them just into the icing as we had a car journey to make keeping this fella intact.

No Bake Cakes to date! 

No Bake Dinosaur Cake - wish I'd had sugarpaste for this one!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

East Meets West: Sunday Roast Chow Mein Stir Fry

As Autumn (slowly) approaches and we have begun having Sunday roasts again, I am being begged by the kids to make this kind of chow mein for them midweek with the leftovers.  It really doesn't need a lot of leftover meat (or arguably any at all) as a little goes a long way! You could always make a vegetarian version of this without meat or gravy.

I first made this a few weeks ago.  I had intended to refer to one of my earlier Chinese stir fry recipes on my blog, but Princess was so  engrossed with her favourite app on my phone that I tried to do it from memory. I pulled the most commonly used Chinese ingredients out of the cupboard and fridge and just made it up as I went along. The kids declared it the best noodle dish ever (their memories are so endearingly short) so I thought I had better write it down to ensure I can impress them again!

Serves 4-5 (3 kids - 2 adults)

1-2 handfuls of leftover roast (chicken, pork, beef, xmas turkey), chopped into mouthsized chunks
2 large carrots, grated
Something green - 1/4 cabbage shredded, 10 runner beans, finely sliced, pak choi etc
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic,  crushed
Small knob ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 large serving spoon of leftover gravy (optional)
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp Sherry or white wine
4 tbsp oyster sauce
4 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (or sprinkle with dried chilli flakes to taste at the end
2 tbps tomato ketchup
1 tbsp sesame oil (optional)
4 layers of medium egg noodles, alternatively you could serve over steamed rice or stir fry rice instead

Chinese stir frying is quick, quick, quick, so prepare all your ingredients in advance and have them within reach of the wok/frying pan.  Cook the noodles according to the packet's instructions.  Drain, reserving a mugful of the cooking water, and leave in a pan of cold water until ready for them.  Chop your 'solid' ingredients, leaving the garlic and ginger to last.  Pile meat in one of the bowls you are going to eat out of, veg in another, and mix liquid ingredients in another.

Heat a wok or large frying pan until it starts smoking.  Add the oil, swirl it around, turn the extractor fan on and stir fry the onion and garlic for a minute or so.  Tip in the vegetables and continue to stir fry for another couple of minutes.  Add the meat and the sauce ingredients.  Turn down the heat and cook for a few minutes until the vegetables are slightly less raw.  Bring the pan of noodles and water over to the cooker and add the dripping noodles in handfuls (a little bit of extra water in the wok is no bad thing).  At this stage I often chop the noodles with scissors or a fork and sharp knife.  This makes it easier to mix and helps the kids get it up to their mouth.  Stir the vegetables through the noodles and leave on a low heat with a lid on for a few minutes to heat through.  If you hear a sizzling noise, this is your cue to stir it and try to turn the noodles over so the top layer is as hot as the bottom.  I like a sloppy chow mein so I add a little of the noodle cooking water to give the dish a little more sauce.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Kids Tomatoey Paella or Fishy Rice

Dad made a delicious fish stew over the summer holidays which the kids loved, so I thought I'd try to make a paella/risotto version of it to get some fish into my kids.

Today is the second time of making it.  They still like it and I took better note of the ingredients this time!

Serves 5-6

300g paella or risotto rice
1 large onion
1 red pepper
1 large clove of garlic
Half a glass of white wine or sherry (optional)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
3 fillets frozen white fish
Large handful frozen prawns
Large handful of chopped green beans or frozen peas
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube
2 bay leaves (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil

Blitz the onion, garlic and red pepper in the food processor to make an unidentifiable rubble.  Fry gently in the olive oil until it starts to brown.  Add the rice and stir around to coat with oil.  Add the wine/sherry if using, then add the tomatoes, a crumbled stock cube, and a can full of boiling water.  Bring to the boil.  If using frozen fish add it whole together with the prawns.  Simmer gently with the lid on for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time - this will break the fish up into small pieces.  If the pan starts to catch or dry out, add a little boiling water.  Add the peas/beans 10 minutes for the end of the cooking time, scattering them across the surface and stirring them when the rice is cooked.