Friday, 30 November 2012

Broccoli and Stilton Soup

It’s been absolutely flippin’ freezing here today! Our car is actually black but, parked on the drive this morning, it was completely white – it was quite an impressive frost. Not the best day for putting up the outside Christmas lights, but at least it was dry as well as beautifully sunny.

As soon as the weather gets cold my thoughts turn to soup; there’s nothing so quite so warming and comforting as a bowl of hot soup and a chunk of fresh bread.

This is one that Mr Simply Veg has wanted me to make for some time (he likes blue cheese and I don’t; although I love most cheeses there is just something about the blue variety that gives me the willies!) so I finally gave in. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat and enjoy a piece of Stilton at the end of a meal but in this it was lovely. The cheese flavour wasn’t overpowering but it gave a real savouriness to what could otherwise have been a fairly bland soup. Looks like lunch is sorted for the next couple of days...

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
1 large floury potato, diced
1l stock
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large head of broccoli
½ tsp dried thyme
125g Stilton, crumbled
1 tbsp crème fraiche

Sauté the onion, celery and potato for 5 minutes in the olive oil in a large saucepan; chop the thick stalk off the broccoli, dice and add to the other vegetables in the pan along with the crushed garlic and sauté for a further couple of minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the veg are almost tender.

Roughly chop the rest of the broccoli, add to the pan with the thyme and simmer for another 5 minutes. Blitz with a stick blender until smooth, adding a little more stock if necessary.

Keep back a tablespoon of the crumbled Stilton for garnish, then stir the rest of it and the crème fraiche into the soup.

This was based loosely on BBC Good Food's recipe.

Serves 6

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Porcini and Chestnut Roast

There seems to be 1001 Christmas magazines around at the moment – every one of them promising the “Best Ever Christmas”...! They can't all be right, surely? The only one I’ve bought this year is the BBC Good Food Vegetarian Christmas; it’s OK but there’s nothing in there that makes me go “Wow – I must make that!”

I always pick up any free food magazines when I’m in a supermarket, though, just in case there’s something in there worth trying. There rarely is, actually, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a recipe for a Christmas stuffing in a Waitrose mag which looked like it had possibilities. It was listed as a stuffing but I thought it would convert, with a few tweaks and additions, into a tasty nut roast; so I changed some of the ingredient proportions, then added more mushrooms and a smidge of lemon to sharpen it up a bit and this is the result.

We had some for dinner last night with jacket potatoes and a tomato salad and I have to say it was really rather good; not the sort of thing I usually do for a midweek meal but it made a nice change and will definitely go on my list of 'keepers'. It'd be good for a Sunday lunch if served with all the usual suspects and, although I’m planning on serving Nut Roast Wellington for Christmas Day, I think it’s worth keeping this up my sleeve as an alternative.

1 medium onion, finely chopped
150g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1tbsp olive oil
40g dried porcini
250g ciabatta breadcrumbs
300g vac-packed chestnuts
75g grated parmesan-style cheese
handful of chopped parsley
1 egg
1 tsp Marigold Stock powder
grated zest and juice of half a lemon

Put the ciabatta breadcrumbs in a large mixing bowl. Soak the porcini in 250mls of boiling water for 10 minutes then strain, reserving the soaking liquid; chop finely and add to the breadcrumbs.

Sauté the onion and mushrooms in the olive oil for 5 minutes; add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes then add the veg to the mixing bowl.

Roughly chop the chestnuts, leaving some of the pieces quite chunky, and add to the bowl along with the cheese and parsley.

Mix the reserved porcini liquid with the beaten egg, stock powder, lemon zest and juice; pour over the breadcrumb mixture and stir really well. Spoon into a lined 2lb loaf tin and bake at 180C for 50-60 minutes.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting into thick slices to serve.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Roasted Butternut Soup

This is a really nice soup, very tasty and warming and such a lovely autumnal colour; we had some for lunch today after a couple of hours of raking up yet more leaves from the garden.

Despite my best intentions last week I didn’t get round to making this until the weekend because I’ve been trying to empty out the freezer a bit and, having found several frozen blocks of various soups lurking in there, I wanted to get those out of the way before making any more.

I’ve had a lovely clear out and a tidy-up of the freezer; it’s now ready for stacking with nice Christmassy bits and pieces plus a few things like mushroom duxelles and red cabbage which will both be needed on Christmas day. I also want to make and freeze some mince pies and I’ll probably make another batch of Not Sausage Rolls and a few cheese and onion quiches as well.

Maybe I used to be a squirrel in a former life – this is obviously my version of storing nuts for the winter!

1 large butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
few leaves of fresh sage
1.5l vegetable stock

Cut the unpeeled squash in half, discarding the seeds, and put into a large roasting tin; drizzle with half the olive oil and put the thyme leaves and whole garlic cloves in the seed cavity. Roast in a hot oven for 45 minutes until soft and just starting to brown at the edges.

Meanwhile, put the onions, carrots, celery, sage and remaining olive oil into a large saucepan and cook gently for 10-15 minutes until softened.  Add the stock and bring to the boil; simmer for 20 minutes until the veg are tender.

When the squash is cooked, scoop the flesh from the skin and add it to the stock along with the garlic squeezed out of its papery skin. Simmer for a further 5 minutes then blitz with a stick blender until absolutely smooth. You might need to add a bit more stock if it’s too thick.

Nice with a swirl of single cream or a blob of crème fraiche.

Makes 6 generous portions and freezes well.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Healthy Food?

I feel I should warn you, I’m just going to have a bit of a rant but, before I do, here are a couple of questions for you:

What do the words ‘healthy food’ mean to you?
Which foods do you consider to be ‘unhealthy’?

The reason I ask is that I am fed up (notice the tenuous foodie terminology there!) to the back teeth with people talking about “healthy food”. Government ministers, the media and even the medical profession bandy the ‘healthy’ word around at every possible opportunity without anyone knowing what the hell they mean by it. If the powers that be are trying to educate Joe Public about food and nutrition, they seem to be going the worst possible way about it. Don't even get me started about Traffic-Light Labelling...!

So, what is meant by healthy? Is it low in fat or low in cholesterol? Low in salt or low in sugar? High in fibre, maybe, or high in polyunsaturates? Who knows…? But that’s my point; some foods are being promoted as ‘good for you’ whilst others are being demonised as ‘unhealthy’ when they are actually nothing of the sort. The whole thing is a total distortion of the true situation, and the real message of "Moderation in all things" is being lost when, in reality, it's the very message which should be hammered home. It’s a mystery to me why people who ought to have some understanding of food can’t get it through their thick skulls that all food is healthy and no food is ‘bad’ for you!

An example: vegetables are ‘healthy’, apparently. OK, so let’s assume I live on steamed vegetables and nothing else; well, I’ll be really, really healthy, right? No....wrong! I’ll be short on protein, calcium, fats, salt and sundry other vital vitamins and minerals. You see what I mean about promoting or demonising certain foods? Obviously, I’m not suggesting that living on ice-cream, chocolate and cake is a good idea but I feel we all need to keep a sense of proportion.

In a nutshell, some foods are better for you if they are only eaten occasionally in small portions and some foods are better for you if they are eaten more often in larger portions, but no foods are 'bad' and there is no need to cut any foods out of your diet in order to eat ‘healthily’.

Moderation is all!

Rant over – I am now going off to make some roasted butternut soup.