Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Roast Tomato & Thyme Soup

Tomatoes are one of the main reasons to grow your own fruit and vegetables. There really is very little that can compare with the smell and taste of a ripe, home-grown tomato, freshly picked from the vine. This summer, we managed to grow a pretty good selection of green tomatoes, but the lack of sun and warmth put paid to any further progression. We made chutney, and I experimented with a lovely recipe in Moro East for Fried Green Tomatoes – well, I thought it was lovely. And then, utterly dispirited with all the green-ness, we tried a trick that my mum had suggested and shoved a whole load of the unripened fruit into a drawer in the spare room and left them. They ripened. And then I panicked because we are off up to my mum’s for half term, and I didn’t want them to go to waste, so I made soup.

This is going to be pretty useless for anyone looking for a tried and tested recipe, because, true to my soup roots, I just do this by eye and taste and if you’re comfortable with that, it’s a great way to use tomatoes.

I filled a roasting tin with the halved/quartered (depending on size) tomatoes, chucked in 4 good sized cloves of garlic still in their skins, added the leaves from a good bunch of thyme, drizzled over some olive oil, added some freshly ground salt and pepper  and roasted it all in a fairly hot oven for 30 minutes or so.

Once the tomatoes are softened and a little charred, remove from the oven and set aside. There will probably be quite a lot of liquid knocking around in the dish. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and discard the skins.

Sweat off an onion in some olive oil, tip in the contents of the roasting tin (including the skinned garlic) and stock. Depending on how many tomatoes you have, probably start with 500ml. With a view to actually getting to the bottom of my freezer,  I retrieved a tub of frozen turkey stock lurking in the depths (yes, I know, from last Christmas) and used that. Simmer everything up for 10-15 minutes, then whoosh with your favourite whoosher. Taste and add more seasoning. 

Sometimes, I find that soup can taste a bit thin, so I have a number of tricks that I use to beef them up. Worcestershire sauce is a good addition to this one, as is BBQ sauce (a tip from Gordon Ramsay, would you believe it!). If you think the texture needs thickening up, a handful of red lentils is always a good standby to chuck in an cook up, then re-whizz. You can also add some sour cream to serve. 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Traditional Roast Lamb

Much the same way as I was hankering for some plain, no nonsense soup the other week, last weekend, we had a beautiful leg of lamb, roasted very traditionally with garlic and rosemary. It tasted so good, that I thought it was worth mentioning, just in case you too were getting a little over-harissa’d. Not that there’s anything wrong with lamb and harissa, it's delicious, but if you were craving something a little closer to home as the weather turns colder, there’s a lot to be said for this way of roasting lamb.

I favour the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall approach to roasting meat, as explained in his wonderful River Cottage Meat Book – a sizzle at a high temperature for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your joint, followed by 10, 15 or 20 minutes/500g at a lower temperature, depending on whether you want your meat rare, medium or well done. He recommends 1600 for the second stage of cooking, but my oven seems to run slightly cooler, so I go to my default of 1800. Once the roasting time is up, leave the meat to rest before carving.

1 leg of lamb
1 fat clove of garlic
Leaves from a good sprig or 2 of rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil

Take your lamb out of the fridge to allow the meat to come up to room temperature, and wipe dry if it seems a little damp, or if there has been any seepage while it’s been in the fridge. Pre-heat the oven as hot as it will go. 

Peel and thinly slice the garlic clove, and pull the sprigs from the rosemary. With a sharp knife, make little cuts all over the skin of the meat, then push in a piece of garlic and a sprig of rosemary into each slit. I have it in my mind that my Granny also used to add tiny pieces of anchovy fillet, but I didn’t have any – you might want to think about it though. 

Put the joint in a roasting dish. grind over some salt and pepper, and drizzle over some olive oil, then bung in the oven as above. Once the meat has had the required cooking time, take it out of the oven, put the meat on your carving board and cover with foil to rest for 15-30 minutes while you finish whatever else you're doing.

If you're wanting ideas for gravy, I'd recommend adding some red wine and redcurrant jelly to the meat juices left in the roasting dish.

I'm linking this up to Herbs on Saturday for the October challenge on the gorgeous Lavender and Loveage blog, because the rosemary works so well with the lamb.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Rum Hazelnut Brownies

This evening, we are going to a meeting of the local home brew fraternity. Please don’t ask – only know that as far as I am aware, no one in attendance sports a beard.

My activities with alcohol largely consist of either drinking it or adding to it – sloe gin, blackcurrant vodka, that sort of thing – but the Husband has had some success in the homebrew department, with cider and beer, and it appears that he is not alone. This is the first of these events that we have gone to, and the general idea is to bring along some of your finest brew and everyone will have a try.

 After a brief discussion on the school run with the hostess, I have decided that my own contribution to proceedings will be some brownie. I wasn’t sure what would be a good match to beer, but when I googled ‘cake to eat with beer’, the results mostly steered me in the chocolate direction. There was also a carrot cake idea, but I couldn’t be bothered with all the grating today, and really, brownie is very easy.

In view of the occasion, I thought I ought to contribute something with at least a whiff of alcohol about it, so rather than automatically reaching for my tried and tested Nigella favourite (the one in Domestic Goddess) I decided to see what Dan Lepard had to offer in ‘Short and Sweet’. Some interesting suggestions, and these adult treats are inspired by his Bourbon Pecan Brownies.

Rum Hazelnut Brownies 

200g dark chocolate, 125g unsalted butter, 2 eggs, 100g soft brown sugar, 100g caster sugar, 75ml white rum (I used Havana Club), 2 tsp vanilla extract, 175g plain flour, 1tbsp cocoa, 130g hazelnuts, roughly chopped.

Line a 20x20cm square tine with foil and pre-heat the oven to 190C/170fan/375 F

Check out the cake testing hole...
Melt the butter and chocolate together, and leave to cool slightly. Sift together the flour and cocoa, then beat together the eggs and sugar till light and creamy. Beat the chocolate and butter into the egg/sugar mixture, followed by the rum and vanilla extract and finally, the flour/cocoa, then stir in the nuts, scrape it all into the prepared tin and bake for 25mins/until a skewer/toothpick (or whatever your cake testing implement of choice s) comes out barely clean. Leave to cool then cut into squares. I got 16.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Bish bosh - lots of squash, some soup, a curry and a bit of a rant

I do love squash. Not the drink kind, but the veg kind. The foodie blogs are full of it at the moment - pumpkin, roast butternut squash - lots of soup. I love the way it grows in the garden sneaking its way across the veg patch, spreading leaves and tendrils all over the place. I remember reading a book called The Bongleweed by Helen Cresswell when I was a child about a plant that eventually takes over a village and wreaks havoc. Everytime I see a squash plant, it reminds me of this story.

The Husband didn't grow any pumpkins/squash on purpose this year (apart from the courgettes) so we were intrigued when triffid-like plants started appearing in the patch. What would result? Would it be edible? Squash do have a  habit of cross-pollinating (I am told) and producing interesting, but generally inedible,  offspring, so when these beauties appeared, well, we were all set to consign them to either the chickens or the compost heap.

I know they look a little like yellow courgette from the outside (albeit of marrow-like proportions), but the flesh is more like butternut squash. It's anyone's guess what crossed with what to produce them, but to our surprise, they are quite edible. We had 3 to start with, but one (over a kilo's worth) went into chutney, along with some of the green tomatoes and a whole load of windfalls from a friend, fairly early on. By the way, we were so disheartened by the green tomato problem (i.e. what to do with all of them) that we tried a tip that my mum passed on, and put them all in a drawer. And guess what - they ripened. Magic.

Anyway, the squash. So last week, after exhorting everyone to make nice simple leek and potato soup, and finishing my own vat of it, half of the next biggest one went into a squash and chorizo soup - I can't quite remember what went into it, except (you guessed it) squash and chorizo. I guess there was an onion, some celery, and veg stock, and after I'd bubbled it all to cook the veg, I took out some of the chunky veg before whizzing the rest up then putting the reserved bits back in. 

cheese & spring onion all melty in the middle,  honest!
It was very good on Saturday lunchtime, along with some quesadillas (toasted tortilla sarnies, which I make in a dry frying pan if you haven't come across them - the kids love 'em), but then I reverted to my soup making roots on Sunday and added the leftover veg from Sunday lunch (cabbage, carrots and leeks) plus some more stock and whizzed it all up again to keep me going through the beginning of the week. You see, you don't need a recipe or a clean pan to make soup.

So, 1.5 squash down, 1.5 to go. Now the Sunday lunch I mentioned earlier was a particularly gorgeous roast leg of lamb. The left overs have been in the fridge, alongside the 0.5 squash, since the weekend. Yesterday was a bit of a challenge in more ways than one, not least because after taking Blue for a routine check up at the hospital (he's 'horribly healthy' - apparently that is a medical term - such a relief) we discovered that we were stranded. No cabs to be found so we headed for the bus, but guess what -  no buses from hospital to town between 4.30 and 4.56 - which in turn meant we would miss the 5 p.m. bus from town to home, and have to wait till 5.30. For a 40 minute bus journey. And with Pink due out of Rainbows at 5.45. You do the maths. 

After raging incoherently - much to Blue's embarrasment and to no one who would admit to listening to me - about the lack of an integrated public transport system, and on the insanity of trying to live with only one car, enlightenment dawned and I threw myself on the mercy of my friend who had taken us to hospital after school in the first place. Her daughter was still in her swimming lesson so she came along and picked us up afterwards. I have some wonderful friends.

A quick meal was required, something that I didn't have to think about. I'd had to feed the beast that is Blue's stomach with a vastly over-priced toasted panini thing from Costa at the hospital, and Pink had been fed by a friend before Rainbows, but they were both still hungry, but also utterly exhausted, so I cooked them some pasta which they ate with grated cheese and chopped ham (I don't apologise - needs must), but what about for the Husband and I?

I'm not hugely good at using up cold lamb. It doesn't appeal to me for sandwiches, and the only recipe I've really taken to for it is a Rose Prince one called Cold Meat Pilaff where you basically cook it up with some cooked rice and spices, tomatoes and pine nuts. Very yummy but I wasn't in the mood, after all that raging. I needed something comforting. Then I remembered a random jar of Rendang Curry Paste that I'd bought on one of my rare trips to a supermarket. It's a Malaysian inspired curry paste, lemon grassy and lighter than some of the Indian curry pastes - more like a Thai curry paste. A quick forage through my impeccably arranged (not) cupboards later, to locate the paste and a can of coconut milk, a bit of chopping and bingo.

Lamb & Squash Rendang Curry

1 onion, chopped as you like
2 tablespoons Rendang Curry Paste (my jar was 185g and I used about half of it for 2 of us)
300g squash, peeled and cut into similar sized chunks to the lamb
1/2 can coconut milk (or thereabouts)
3-4 mushrooms, cut into chunks
4 tomatoes, quartered
350g cold cooked lamb, cut into bitesize chunks

Cooked rice to serve, and parsely/coriander to garnish if desired

Heat up some oil in a pan, add the onion and fry for a few minutes till softened. Add in the squash, stir in, then add a couple of tablesppons of rendang curry paste, and pour in about 1/3 can coconut milk. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently to cook the squash. Chuck in the chopped mushrooms and tomatoes after about 10 mins. When the squash is cooked, add in the lamb, stir through and then serve. 

You may or may not need to add in more coconut milk as you are cooking - keep an eye on the pan. I ended up using about 2/3 of it. If you have any curry and coconut milk left over, like I did, heat it all up the next day, add a bit of stock powder and a little water, bring to the boil whizz up and bingo - soup.

So two down, one more to go. Anyone got any suggestions? 

I'm adding this to the October Simple and In Season in the hope of getting some more inspiration. It's hosted by Franglais Kitchen this month, nad here's the link to Ren Behan's lovely Fabulicious Food blog

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Emile Henry Bakeware - a review

It’s a long time since I’ve made a lasagne. It’s one of those things that has just fallen off my culinary radar: delicious but quite a bit of faffing around, and, well, there’s so much else to make. However, the children came home from a play date not long ago raving about it. By happy coincidence, the good people at Baytree Cookware asked me to test out some Emile Henry ceramic bakeware  . I brought home a 26cm square baking/serving dish in a beautiful rich ‘figue’ colour, and realised that it was just begging to used for a lasagne.

no - that's lamb curry, not lasagne...
I used my dish to make cauliflower and broccoli cheese, and to serve my lamb curry and coconut rice, but it really came into its own with the lasagne. When I have made lasagne in the past, there has been too much fiddling around breaking up pieces of lasagne pasta (I always go with dried) to fit them into the dish, but I am here to tell you that there was minimal mucking about because, while not being a perfect fit, this dish was as good a fit for pasta sheets as I have ever found.

Another thing about lasagne – it does have a tendency to get ‘cooked on’ to the dish it is cooked in. Would that I could tell you that this didn’t happen on Sunday, but no – as ever, a far amount got cooked on, but after a brief soaking, the cooked on bits came off with no problem – a feature of the glazed surface. Another feature of this range of ceramic dishes is the variety of stunning colours they come in. Not for Emile Henry, the safe whites and cream of so many oven to tableware dish ranges.

The Ceradon glaze is designed to allow the dish to be used straight from the freezer – a great boon in the kitchen. It is also supposed to help prevent chips and scratches. Unfortunately, not, it seems, if you’re washing up in a butler’s sink. Despite the claim, I did manage to chip the dish.

There, that's more like it. Lasagne.
The lasagne was delicious, the dish held enough for the 4 of us for supper (both Blue and the Husband had seconds) and then for another supper for the Husband and I. Ideal size then, for a family of four.