Tag Archives: quick supper

Delicious and easy marmalade-y sausages

20 Jul

I like sausages. And I now like marmalade. For most of my life only one of those sentences has been true. I’m glad that they both are now.

So, since I like marmalade, it seems sensible to start using it in recipes. And I’ve started easy peasy. What could be easier than sausages?

My local butcher is worth visiting. He is a good old-fashioned Scottish butcher, with lots of bacon and steak pies and haggis and black pudding. And all other lovely meaty things. I’d intended to make Scotch Eggs this weekend with our glut of lovely fresh eggs from my ladies. But somehow that didn’t happen. So, this evening there were sausages to be eaten. We dug up some potatoes from the veg bed, to go with the sausages.

Marmalade sausages

Oven: Gas Mark 6

  • half a dozen small-ish pork sausages (or a couple of big ones)
  • 2 big spoonfuls of marmalade
  • 1 spoonful of tomato ketchup
  • 1 spoonful, or a big slug, of sunflower oil, or rapeseed, or vegetable oil, whatever you have to hand
  1. Mix together all the ingredients, apart from the sausages.
  2. Roll the sausages in the marmaladey mixture to entirely cover them up
  3. Pop each smothered sausage onto an oven tray, preferably one of those ones which has a ‘well’ for all the juices to run into
  4. Put them in the pre-heated oven, and leave for about 25 mins

Serve with new potatoes, savoy cabbage and onion gravy. There, how easy was that?

Oh, and if you feel like making your own marmalade too, try this: Tasty orange ginger marmalade.

Perfect salad for when you have the best tomatoes

28 May

You already know that I love buying and cooking and eating local food. So when Clyde Valley Tomatoes were back at my local farmer’s market earlier this month, I knew we’d be eating tomatoes all week!

I wanted to make a salad which would showcase the varieties of tomatoes.

Spring haul from farmer's market

Spring haul from farmer’s market

On the drive home I thought of a salad I used to make many years ago: fattoush. And then another tomato and stale bread salad: panzanella. I hadn’t made either for years, and started hankering for that melding of flavours and textures. Yes, these tomatoes were destined to become one big dish of delicious salad. Served with cold meats for lunch.

Panzanella

  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced and left in a bowl of ice cold salted water for an hour
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • a punnet or two of ripe tomatoes from Clyde Valley Tomatoes. Or perhaps about 8 medium tomatoes – if you’re using wee ones, feel free to double the quantities
  • 200g stale(ish) sourdough bread
  • 4 TBsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 TBsp capers
  • 2 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 6 TBsp extra virgin olive oil
  • small bunch of fresh basil
  1. Cut the peppers into big flattish pieces and pop them under a grill skin side up so the skin blackens. Alternatively use a toasting fork (who has such a thing these days?) and burn the skin over a gas hob, or chuck them in a hot oven. Or use a blow torch. You’ll know how you like to do it. Once the skin is black, put the pieces of pepper into a bowl and cover with cling film for 20 minutes or so.
  2. Cut the tomatoes into large chunks and place in a colander over a bowl. Sprinkle some salt over them and leave to drain while you prepare everything else
  3. Cut (or tear) the bread into chunks, about the same size as your tomato chunks and put them into a salad bowl and drizzle with vinegar
  4. Drain the onion and add it to the salad bowl
  5. Add the capers
  6. By now your peppers might be ready for peeling, so peel off the black skin, or as much of it as you can and cut the pieces of naked pepper into strips. Put them in the bowl
  7. Press down on the tomatoes and squeeze out lots of juice, then put the tomato flesh into the salad bowl
  8. Add the chopped anchovies and olive oil to the tomato juice and whisk
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste
  10. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss. Pick off some basil leaves and tear them onto the salad
  11. Leave for 15 minutes or so at room temperature – or outside in the sunshine
  12. Serve as one of those lunches where the table is covered with bowls and plates and ashets of this and that tasty treats.

Of course you could skimp some of the steps or tweak the recipe as you go:

  • If you don’t soak the onion right at the beginning, it will taste too harsh (for my taste buds). You might prefer to use red onion, or spring onions
  • Don’t bother pouring the vinegar over the bread. I think you’ll regret missing out that step though!
  • Add garlic. In fact most recipes include garlic. I just forgot to add is when I made it and enjoyed the garlic-free breath, and how the other flavours all sung out at me
  • Add cucumber, celery, chilli, crisp lettuce
  • Omit the anchovies if you’re feeding vegetarians. Obviously!

Basically make this your own panzanella – so long as you have the very best tomatoes and some good quality bread, you’ll make something delicious.

No pictures though, we ate it too quickly!

 

Better than Patatas Bravas

20 Oct

Potatoes. So versatile. What’s not to like about them? Well, apart from the fact that they are full of carbs and it’s oh so easy to fall into the trap of mashing them with lots of butter and/or cream or frying them oil or roasting them in goose fat. Yeah none of them will help reduce the waistline.

In Scotland we call them tatties. And this last week has been the tattie-howking holidays, although everyone I mentioned that to looked back at me blankly. I realise that we no longer put children to work in the holidays (and in fact in my childhood we were never put to work either) but still, surely kids should know that they traditionally get the week off at this time of year to help with the harvest, rather than just to give the teachers a much-needed break not two months after they’ve come back from their extended summer break.

So, in case I’ve lost you, tattie-howking means ‘digging up potatoes’.

What else can I tell you about tatties, before I move on to the recipe? Given that you’re about to get a Spanish recipe I could  do a neat wee segue-way with some Spanish related history of the potato. It seems likely that the English word derives from the Spanish patata. It was the Spaniards who brought the potato to Europe, in the second half of the 16th century after conquering the Incas. Initially European farmers were sceptical about the crop, but by the mid 19th century it had become a staple food crop. However, very few varieties had been introduced to Europe and this lack of genetic diversity meant that in 1845 the fungus-like disease of blight could spread wipe out vast crops and cause the Irish Famine.

So, a diversity of species is important, not just for flavours and fun, but because it could prevent further famines caused by crops being wiped out. Put that in your GM pipe and smoke it.

We had the day off on Monday, and went into Glasgow to see the Vettriano exhibition which I loved. And I’m not ashamed to say I love his work – there were images we’ve all seen in countless reproductions. But the originals have more depth and the colours in some really zing out, while in others there is such a dark broody moodiness you can almost feel the sexual tension in the air. And then there were many many images I had never seen before: his lady in a black hat as a nod to Cadell; his self portrait taken from a photograph of himself when he was in a dark black place; his paintings of Campbell and the Bluebird about to attempt the world speed record: a series of nautical paintings, commissioned for some anniversary of some place in Monte Carlo or Monaco or some other such place dripping with money.

Afterwards I was hungry, and the cafe at the museum was full so we ended up at a (rather mediocre) tapas bar and ordered some plates to share. The Patatas Bravas was the stand out dish, full of flavour and punch with melt in the mouth potatoes and a strong tomatoey sauce.

I was inspired to make a tapas style meal the next day, and it had to include a Patatas Bravas element (and many many scallops after I found a bag of them reduced in my local supermarket, oh how I wish I had a decent fishmonger!). But I came across a recipe for Patatas a la Extremena which looked tasty and included nothing but ingredients I happened to have already in the fridge or cupboards. So that is what I made. They come from the Extramedura region of Spain and are flavoured with lots of smoky paprika (or pimenton). I added a good dose of ancho chilli too, because I love the layers of flavour you can get when playing with various spices.

I could tell you lots about paprika, but we’ll save that for another day. All you need to know for now is that it probably originated in South America, like those potatoes.

Patatas a la Extremena (which in my head I always call Extreme Potatoes)

Based on a recipe from Sophie Grigson in her wonderful book, Spices.

  • About 4oz / 250g chorizo sausage (the whole sausage kind, not slices), cut into wee chunks
  • 3 or 4 large potatoes (or more medium ones, obviously), cut into about 1.5″ chunks
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into long strips
  • 1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped into long strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely, or smooshed up
  • 1 TBsp smoky paprika
  • 1-2  tsp ancho chilli flakes – get them from the Cool Chile Co
  • 1 bay leaf
  • seasoning
  1. Get your biggest heavy bottomed, high-sided frying pan you have. There must be a name for them, but I don’t know it. If you don’t have such a thing, then I’d suggest either using the largest frying pan you have combined with a roasting dish, or a large saucepan. Or reduce the quantities so everything will fit into the frying pan you have.
  2. Over a medium heat, fry off the chorizo until it’s lightly browned. Lots of fat will melt out of the chorizo, but if you feel you need to add olive oil, then do.
  3. Reduce the heat, and add all the other ingredients
  4. Stir around for a minute or two with a wooden spoon – try not to break up the veg, so use a sort of scooping motion, picking the veg from the bottom of the pan, and then folding it over onto the top of the pan. then moving around the pan and doing it again
  5. Pour in enough water to cover the veg, bring to the boil and simmer nice and gently. Now, if you’re using the smaller pan and the roasting tin, you should have tipped your veg into the roasting tin before adding the water on top, and then popped it all into a pre-heated oven.
  6. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, but being careful not to break up the potatoes too much.
  7. Test that the potatoes are cooked, and make sure your sauce has reduced down enough so that it is thick enough. If it hasn’t, boil it down some more
  8. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if it needs it. I pretty much never add salt, but like to add a good screw or two of black pepper.

Mop up the juices with sourdough bread, if you have any. Eat with other tapas type dishes: prawns, scallops, calamares, anchovies, tortilla, meatballs, cheese and ham. Or just have a plate of this on its own as a light lunch or supper.

 

 

 

Sort of borscht

12 Oct

I’ve mentioned it before, but I love beetroots. I never used to, but as a child my only experience of beetroot was from a jar full of vinegar. Whenever I see fresh beetroot in my local farmshop or farmer’s market I buy it. And then it often sits in my fridge till the following weekend for me to do something with it (what could I do with a beetroot quickly on a weekday evening after a long day at work and the train journey home)?

So there was a bunch of beetroot in my fridge this morning, wasn’t there? Three large beetroot. They could have become a tart, or another jar of spiced beetroot relish. Or that salad with dill and shallots and oranges.

Or borscht.

I don’t know if it really was borscht or not, I just made it up.

Valley Borscht

  • A bunch of beetroot
  • a large onion
  • a couple of sticks of celery
  • a knob of butter
  • caraway seeds
  • a chicken stock cube, or some chicken stock if you have some kicking about (use veg stock if you’re vegetarian, obviously!)
  • a bay leaf
  1. Chop the onion and celery finely (ish) but don’t fret about it if it’s not all teeny wee chunkies
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy based pan and add the onion and celery; sweat them gently
  3. Peel the beetroot and grate it coarsely (if you don’t have a food processor then you might prefer to just cut it into wee chunks)
  4. Pop about 1 TBsp of caraway seeds into a pestle and mortar and smoosh them up a bit. They might have been even better if I’d quickly toasted them first
  5. When the onion and celery is looking slightly translucent add the caraway seeds and stir
  6. Then add the beetroot and stir again
  7. Add the bay leaf
  8. Cook it for a wee minute and then add the stock cube and hot water from the kettle. I added enough water to cover the beetroot plus an extra centimetre
  9. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30-40 minutes
  10. Remove the bay leaf
  11. Use a handheld blender and zizz it all up (or pour it into a liquidiser and liquidise it that way)
  12. Ladle into bowls and add a swirl of cream, or a couple of basil leaves, or a swoosh of basil oil or some chopped dill sprinkled over it

Perfect lunch with a chunky slice of homemade bread (preferably sourdough).

And now I’ve made the borscht, I have a perfect quick supper for later this week. Perhaps with a poached egg on toast. Imagine that dark yellow yolk on a plate next to a bowl of dark beetroot soup. Lush.

 

The best mayonnaise (and tartare sauce) and it’s easy peasy too

21 Sep

There are far too many cookery programmes on TV these days.

This statement may surprise you, as I’m clearly somewhat obsessed with food and cooking. But cookery has become entertainment, and in my world it’s not the cooking itself that should be entertainment, but the resulting food. Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the sociability and enjoyment of cooking alongside other people, but that isn’t what most of these programmes are about. There are too many competitive cookery programmes where the point of the programme is to see people mess up, to see a souffle flop; a bread become a brick; a sauce split.

But I do watch cookery programmes, usually ones I can learn from.

And I’ve been surprised this last week to find myself enjoying The Hairy Bikers Best of British. Yesterday afternoon I learned how to make a Pease Pudding, something I’d never really thought of as a real food before, just a line in a song. So sometime in the future I’ll be making Gammon with Pease Pudding and Mustard Sauce – warming food for the winter months.

This weekend I made scampi, with tartare sauce. And ate it in front of the TV, in homage to the 70s. It was divine. The tartare sauce was particularly lush, and I share it here.

Luscious mayonnaise

Luscious mayonnaise

 

Start off by making your own mayonnaise. If you’ve not made mayonnaise before then you might have an idea that it’s incredibly tricky. It’s not. And it doesn’t take long either, so long as you have a hand held beater, or muscles like Pop-Eye and a balloon whisk.

 

Mayonnaise

  • 2 free range egg yolks
  • 1 TBsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard (smooth would be best, but my cupboards dictated I had 1 tsp smooth, 1 crunchy and it was fine)
  • 1/4 tsp caster sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 50ml olive oil
  1. Place the egg yolks, vinegar, mustard, sugar and salt in a bowl and start whisking. I recommend you use an electric beater. Keep whisking till the mixture is smooth
  2. Keep whisking
  3. Add the oil drop by single drop
  4. Keep whisking
  5. The oil will emulsify with the yolkie mixture, and after a wee while you can start adding the oil in a slow trickle
  6. Keep whisking
  7. If you’re feeling brave, start pouring the oil in (still relatively slowly, but steadily)
  8. Keep whisking
  9. Once all the oil is added, you should have some thick, smooth and luscious mayonnaise.
Making mayo

Making mayo

 

Put half the mayonnaise in a jar in the fridge and use within the next week. It is amazing on a wholemeal roll with smoked ham. Or with warm boiled new potatoes folded into it. Or on a white bread fish finger sandwich,

But you’re going to make tartare sauce with the other half that is still in the bowl.

Making tartare sauce

Making tartare sauce

 

Tartare Sauce

  • Half quantity of the mayonnaise you have just made
  • 2 TBsp capers, dried on kitchen roll and then roughly chopped
  • 4 cornichons, dried and cut in half lengthwise and then sliced finely
  • 1 large TBsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 small TBsp chopped fresh tarragon
  1. Gently stir all the ingredients together
  2. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste

Eat with scampi. Or fish goujons. Or go and buy a fish supper and eat it with your own fresh tartare sauce, and feel proud.

A bowl of perfect tartare saue

A bowl of perfect tartare saue

 

 

 

 

Poached eggs

9 Feb

Ages ago I promised to tell you how to make the perfect poached egg.

Well, it looks like I’ll be having a few more poached eggs soon, as we have just got another two chickens. I thought they might be called Charles Darwin and Jane Austen (after significant authors in our collections at the National Library of Scotland where I work)… but now that they’re home, I’m not so sure. Pictures will of course follow but it’s such a dreich dull day that I can’t bear to take pics yet. They are both Wyandottes: one white and the other blue. The white girl is big and bumptious, and blue is petite and very shy. And neither can be seduced by food – I gave them a scattering of warm sweetcorn, which my other girls would hoover up in the space of seconds.. and the new girls weren’t really interested.

Anyway, there will no doubt be further news of my family of chooks, but for now, let me tell you how I make the perfect poached egg.

Poached egg

Get the freshest eggs you can get.

You do know how to tell if they are fresh or not? You pop them in water and see if they float or not. If they sink to the bottom then they are oh so fresh; if they float to the top I’m not sure I’d eat them. Somewhere in the middle is probably ok.

And the reason this happens is that there is a membrane inside the egg, and over time the gap between the membrane and the eggshell fills with air to make a wee air pocket, hence the egg floats.

OK, so now you’ve got your eggs, you’re ready to make the poached eggs.

  • Boil a kettle full of water
  • Pour the hot water into a wide pan (possibly a deep sided frying pan type thing)
  • Add a pinch of salt and about 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar (don’t add more, you don’t want your eggs to taste of the vinegar – it’s just added to help the egg whites stay together and not stray all over the pan)
  • Put the pan on a REALLY low heat – you hardly want the water to bubble at all
  • Break your egg into a tea cup
  • Lower the tea cup with the egg in it towards the water, at a 45 degree angle, then slowly and gently tip the tea cup and slip the egg into the water
  • Repeat for as many eggs as you have (but don’t overcrowd the pan)
  • Now, let them just sit there in the almost boiling water for about 3-5 minutes, depending how fresh the eggs were and how soft you like them
  • Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon (which was always called a holey willie when I was a child and I still find it hard to resist calling it that!)

Serve on fresh buttered toast. Of course. Preferably with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.

Other things to have with a poached egg on toast

  • Black pudding – classic and delicious, needs nothing else
  • But if you’re being fancy, add some scallops (and perhaps swap the toast for some spinach)
  • Bacon
  • Ham with or without hollandaise sauce
  • Marmite – trust me, it works
  • Smoked salmon

 

 

Autumn days

22 Oct

Yesterday was a beautiful autumnal day today. The sun shone all day long, and my wee chickens scrubbled about out in their yard chuntering away to one another. I discovered that my few remaining plants in the greenhouse were all beginning to get covered and smothered in greenfly, so I took a couple of pots of greenfly-ridden chilli plants out to the chooks for them to nibble at. Minutes later the leaves were stripped off and gobbled up by my happy girls.

So, with chooks happy in the garden, it seemed like a good day to spend in the kitchen, preparing this and that to make the meals easier through the week when I get home from work each night.

So meatballs are cooked and in the freezer, with a tomatoey sauce in a separate pot.

making meatballs

shaping meatballs

There’s a big old pot of lentil soup for lunches, made with a smoked ham hock and a wee smidgin of curry spices.

There is of course a lovely sourdough loaf (wholemeal) and the bread machine also made a half and half (granary/white) loaf. The meat from the ham hock has been cut up into wee cubes to be added to a frittata or omelette later in the week.

I made a big tub of granola with nuts and oats and fruit – mixed with apple juice, a wee bit of syrup and some ginger and cinnamon.

In between times I made some delicious cinnamon squirlies. I blame delicious magazine – they featured them on their facebook page and I just caved and had to make them. They were totally worth it, really easy to make and absolutely scrumptious, especially warm with icecream.

cinnamon squirlie dough

cinnamon squirlies – just pull apart and eat

And as if that wasn’t enough, I had already decided that for supper we were having roast pork with all the trimmings. The trimmings on this occasion included roasted apples, curly kale, a beetroot and potato gratin and roasted beetroots and caramelised onions, all brought together with a jus made with juices from the roast pork dish and apple juice reduced down till it was concentrated flavoursome perfection.

Autumnal roast pork

I don’t cook roasts too often, but after this success I may do it more often. And there were delicious leftovers for through the week: we’ll have sliced pork and chutney sandwiches for lunch and this evening we had the rest of the beetroot and potato gratin, served with spicy roast butternut squash and chicken wrapped in smoky bacon.

I think my focus in the next few weeks will be on how to make really good meals quickly on weekday evenings – some will be from scratch, others will involve some prep the weekend before. Watch this space.

Vegetable broth (and croutons if you want them)

21 Sep

It’s clearly the beginning of the soup season. The days are cooler, and the evenings are outright cold. Yesterday it rained and rained and rained all day. Today it’s still cold, but it’s gloriously sunny and I’ve already got two loads of laundry merrily blowing on the whirligig line.

It’s not just nature that is going through a period of change. My life is also changing. Quite dramatically really.

A couple of weeks ago I moved house. I had been living in two places: a lovely wee colonies flat in Leith, in Edinburgh, through the week and in the Clyde Valley with my boyfriend, the Captain, at weekends. Each Friday after work I would travel west to the Valley and the each Monday morning I would travel back east to the Capital. At one level I had the best of both worlds: the city life (and all the benefits of living in a truly wonderful capital city) through the week and then the joy of having a relatively big garden and being surrounded by fields at the weekend.

But in all honesty it was no longer my dream. My dream was to live in one place, and to know that I would have the right accessories to go with whatever clothes I put on in the morning. All too often that perfect necklace was in the other house.

So just after this year’s festival was over I packed all my worldly belongings into boxes and moved out west. And here I am. Sitting in the garden room, looking out onto the garden and across the Clyde Valley. The clouds are just beginning to blow in, and the trees are starting to lose their lush green. Autumn is definitely in the air. So it’s most definitely the season for warming soups.

After yesterday’s smooth carrot soup, I wanted something chunkier today. And I had a hankering for pearl barley. This the perfect soup for using up whatever veg need to be used. Today it was turnip, carrot, potato and leeks. Oh and savoy cabbage, which didn’t really NEED to be used, but I wanted it.

Anyways, here goes, another simple recipe to see you through the Autumn and Winter.

Vegetable broth with croutons

Vegetable broth

  • A splash of oil, or a smudge of butter
  • A couple of leeks, washed of dirt, then sliced finely
  • A carrot, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • A medium potato, peeled and cut into the same size(ish) chunks
  • Turnip, peeled and cut into the same size chunks – I used a piece about the same size as the potato, maybe slightly larger
  • A handful of pearl barley
  • 1 1/2 stock cubes (veg, lamb or beef work well)
  • A few big outside leaves of savoy cabbage, the central spine removed and sliced finely
  • Parsley
  1. Put the oil/butter in the bottom of a large heavy based pan over a medium/low heat
  2. Put a kettle of water on to boil at this stage
  3. Add the leeks, the carrot, the potato, the turnip. Just add them as you chop them up, they don’t all need to go in at once
  4. Sweat the veg for a few minutes, stirring to stop them from sticking/burning
  5. Add the pearl barley and stir
  6. Add a good few grinds of black pepper and the stock cubes and a wee bit of water, just to wet the pan, and cook for a further minute or two
  7. Add the kettleful of water, stir, and bring back to the boil
  8. Simmer for about an hour, till the whole thing is looking thick and gloopy and the barley is soft
  9. Add the savoy cabbage and cook for a further 5 minutes or so
  10. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley. It doesn’t need croutons, but I couldn’t resist them.

If you have any bay leaves throw one or two in while it’s simmering, and if you have celery in the fridge, then cut some up and add it all in with the other veg. Somehow, I never seem to have any celery around though.

Croutons

  • Whatever’s left of an old loaf of bread
  • Olive oil
  • Celery salt
  • Black pepper
  • Herbs and Spices (I have a harissa style spice mix, with chilli, garlic, coriander and who knows what else)
  1. Cut the bread into thick slices. Then cut each slice into long batons. Then cut each baton into chunks. They don’t need to be precisely the same size, but it’s best if they are similar sized chunks
  2. In a big bowl, pour some oil around the sides of the bowl so it dribbles down into the bottom of the bowl. You don’t need a lot, but enough that the inside of the bowl is coated in a thin film of oil
  3. Now sprinkle in your chosen flavours – I grind lots of black pepper, then a sprinkle or two of celery salt, followed by a good skoosh or the harissa spice mix
  4. Now through in the bread chunks and gently mix it all around. A
    good squidgy spatula is the best implement for this. What you’re trying to do is to give all the bits of bread a chance of absorbing a wee bit of the flavoured oil. The chunks should not all look soaked in oil, although some of them might. But really, you’re trying to make this with as little oil as you need
  5. Pour the coated bread into a baking tray and pop in a very low oven
  6. I leave it for about 45 mins in an oven at gas mark 2. But this is not a precise recipe – check on the croutons and take them out when they are ready – they will have taken on a slightly golden colour and will be slightly crispy (they crisp up a bit more as they cool down).
  7. Sprinkle in your bowl of soup, or serve them in a pretty bowl so people can help themselves. If you have any left keep them in an airtight tub for a few days.

Please don’t use good fresh bread for these – the bread will be much nicer just served in chunks with the soup. But if you have the heel of a loaf left, just take 5 minutes to make these and then you’ll have them ready for next time you have soup (which surely won’t be long away).

Carrot soup

20 Sep

I say ‘carrot soup’ but really this could be any root veg soup. But seriously this is the easiest thing in the world to make. If you can cut with a knife you can make this soup.

Pimped up carrot soup

Before you start I should fess up. It’s not strictly a carrot soup, as I add some lentils to it – to give it a bit of body and also add some protein. If you want to omit the lentils do, and it will be ready much quicker too. But I’d be tempted to throw in a wee sprinkle of flour and mix it in before adding the water, to thicken it slightly.

Carrot soup

  • 1 large onion, chopped as best you can
  • about 6 medium/large carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • a dash of oil
  • 1tsp or so ground coriander
  • about 1/3 cup red lentils
  • 1 Knorr chicken stock cube
  1. Using a heavy bottomed pan, splash the oil into the bottom of the pan and ‘sweat’ the onion and carrots over a gentle heat.
  2. At this point you should put a kettle full of water on to boil
  3. Add the coriander, the lentils and the stock cube and continue to cook for a few minutes, stirring well to prevent it burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan
  4. Pour the kettleful of water into the pan, and bring to a simmering boil
  5. Simmer for about 45 minutes
  6. Pour into a liquidiser and zizz it up till it’s beautifully smooth
  7. Serve – feel free to glamorise it with some yoghurt and/or a sprinkle of parsley. Or croutons. I’ll tell you about my croutons another day.

There are lots of ways to play about with the recipe – grate some orange zest and squeeze some orange juice into it; add some harissa paste; add other root veg – parsnips and turnip would work well.

And of course you can use this same basic principle, of sweating veg then adding liquid to make all manner of other soups – swap out the onion and carrot for leeks and potatoes, or keep the onions and use butternut squash instead of carrots.

Beetroot and orange salad

10 Jul

I mentioned this treat the other day, in my post about my Scottish tapas style meal.

When I was wee the only beetroots I’d ever come across were in a jar, and covered in vinegar. Some were even crinkle cut (presumably to make sure they soaked up as much of that vinegar as possible). Now I’m sure there’s a place for pickled beetroot, but those overwhelmingly sharp wee purple nuggins gave me quite the wrong impression of what beetroot is all about.

And so I didn’t try beetroot again for years. In fact probably not until I was in my 40s, when I was tricked into buying some fresh beetroot by the sheer exuberance and joy in the bounty of a farm shop one day. Into the wicker basket went locally grown carrots, courgettes, tomatoes, strawberries and cauliflower. Pears were placed on top, so as not to bruise them. And a bunch of herbs (this was in the days when I didn’t have my own established herb patch). And then there they were – bunches of beetroot, grubby with soil and with their tops on, looking as though they had just been plucked from the garden minutes before (I now know that if you leave the tops on beetroots for any length of time, they start to suck out the nutrients from the roots, and while the tops are wilting, they are also depleting the goodness from the bulbs).

There are so many things to do with beetroot, from the frankly outrageously delicious chocolate beetroot cake (think pimped up carrot cake) to simply roasted with a blob of sour cream. Or make a quick tart with goats cheese and beetroot grated into a horseradish creme fraiche on whatever pastry you have to hand, filo, puff or shortcrust. The earthy flavour marries well with horseradish or with balsamic vinegar and beetroot is of course the ideal companion to game or smoked fish, It’s a strong vegetable and not just in colour.

But one of my simple beetroot salads just combines it with shallots, oranges, balsamic vinegar and dill. And lots of black pepper… but then I’m a bit of a pepper addict. The dark purple and bright orange of this salad will make you smile even before you’ve popped it in your mouth.

If you’re starting with raw fresh beetroot, this isn’t the salad to start making ten minutes before you sit down to lunch. However, for speed and convenience, you can make this with pre-cooked vacuum packed beetroot – get the stuff that doesn’t have any vinegar in it though. It won’t be quite as nice, but still pretty good.

Beetroot and orange salad

  • a bunch of fresh beetroot bulbs – their size is immaterial, and you can just vary the quantity of everything else to match how much beetroot you have
  • shallots – probably one medium shallot for every 2 medium beetroot
  • oranges – one whole large orange for every 2 medium beetroot
  • fresh dill – about 1TBsp of chopped up dill for every medium beetroot
  • balsamic vinegar – a good old glug of it
  • olive oil – not much, in fact it doesn’t really need it at all
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Maldon sea salt
  1. Cook your beetroot. You might already have a preferred method, but if you don’t then I would recommend you cut off the leafy tops about 0.5cm above the root, then wrap the roots all together in kitchen foil and pop them in a medium oven until they are done. If they are small and you don’t have many of them they’ll take less than an hour, but if you have anything bigger then teeny weeny roots then you’re looking at a couple of hours in the oven to ensure they are cooked. To check they are cooked, unwrap them (carefully) and insert the tip of a sharp knife into the largest one – if it meets no resistance it is cooked. The alternative is to boil them in a big pan of water.
  2. Once the beetroot is cooked let it cool for a while so they are cool enough to handle. With a wee bit of pressure, the skin will slough off and you are left with wee naked purple balls of beetrooty tastiness. 
  3. Chop the beetroot into wee cubes and put in a bowl
  4. Add segments of orange – you don’t want any pith or skin on the segments so take a large orange and a very sharp wee knife and slice off the top and the bottom of the orange. Sit the orange on its bottom, and slice off the pith and skin in big slices all the way round the orange, cutting sections off at a time, from top to bottom – you’ll get the hang of it. Once you have a wee naked orange, hold it over the bowl with the beetroot, so you catch the juicy drips. Using the knife, cut out a segment – you need to cut alongside the natural segment ‘skin’ so you get perfect wee skin free segments of orange. Again, you’ll get the hang of it, but perhaps not on the first orange. Once you’ve released all the segments into the bowl, squeeze the remainders of the orange to capture all the juice in the bowl. 
  5. Now finely chop your shallot and add it to the bowl
  6. And finely chop the dill and mix it in too
  7. Glug in some balsamic vinegar, and wee splash of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper
  8. Taste to see if it needs more balsamic or pepper
Serve, preferably with some sourdough bread, to mop up those juices and smoked trout. And lots of other wee bowls of tasty things to pick and choose from.
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