Roasted Apple and Squash Soup

I mentioned yesterday that there are a handful of cookery writers that I always trust to deliver: Jamie Oliver, The Hairy Bikers, and Nigella Lawson chief among them. I have never had a disappointing result with any of their recipes.

This is one of Jamie Oliver’s, one of the first things I ever made from a recipe book and, having found how easy it was to pack in great flavour using just a few good ingredients, it helped to get me hooked on cooking.

Perfect for chilly autumn evenings, this soup is rich, warming and delicious.

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Why this picture? All will become clear, but pictures of soup aren’t very interesting!


RECIPE

1 large butternut squash (approximately 1kg), peeled, deseeded and cut into 2 cm cubes

3 or 4 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into segments

1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 fresh chillies, red or green, halved and de-seeded

4 garlic cloves, unpeeled and left whole, lightly bashed

olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp of coriander seeds

a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped

800ml vegetable stock

1 tsp fish sauce

150ml single cream

To serve: pumpkin oil (optional), crusty bread, toasted squash seeds


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6

Prepare all the ingredients, it is a good idea to keep the seeds from the squash. You can rinse the pulp off them, drizzle them lightly with oil, add a pinch of cayenne pepper and roast them for ten minutes at 200C. They make a wonderful topping for this soup, adding crunch and flavour.

Be sure to leave the skin of the garlic intact, when you bash the cloves do so lightly enough to just loosen the skins.

Lay the squash, apple, onion, chillies and garlic on a large roasting tray in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter the chopped rosemary and coriander seeds all over. Mix everything together with your hands so that everything is coated in oil and the seasonings are evenly distributed. Your tray should look like this:

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Roast in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes until everything is soft, dark, intensely aromatic and just starting to caramelise. Some of the onion and chilli may have gone very dark and stuck to the tray – that’s good, there’s lots of flavour there! Your tray will now look like this:

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Tip everything into a large pan, and with a metal spatula scrape all the caramelised matter off the roasting tray and add that to the pan as well. Make up the vegetable stock, add the fish sauce to it and pour on top of the roasted vegetables. Stir well and bring to the boil, simmer for five minutes then turn off the heat and – using a stick blender – blitz to a smooth soup. If you need to add a little more liquid then go ahead. Put back on to the heat and simmer for a further five minutes, then check and correct the seasoning. Now add the cream and stir well until it is completely distributed.

Serve topped with toasted squash seeds, some crusty bread, and – if you have it – a few drops of pumpkin oil.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

There are a handful of cookery writers that I trust implicitly: Jamie Oliver, The Hairy Bikers, and Nigella Lawson chief among them. Pick up any of their books, turn to any recipe, follow the instructions exactly and you will end up with something delicious. Every time.

This is a Nigella recipe, and the first time my wife made it we knew that it was a cake that we could come back to time and again. It is now a firm family favourite, baked for birthdays, family gatherings and any other time we feel like it.

Yes it’s wickedly indulgent, but somehow, because it is so light and moist, it doesn’t really feel like it. It’s not one for anybody on a diet though!

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Photo Credit: James Merrell

RECIPE

For the cake:

250ml Guinness
250g unsalted butter, chopped into slices or cubes
75g cocoa powder
400g golden caster sugar
140 ml soured cream
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the topping:

300g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
125ml double or whipping cream


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180°C/350ºF/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm/9 inch spring form tin.

Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted whisk in the cocoa and sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat the soured cream with the eggs and vanilla and pour into the beer and butter, then whisk in the flour and bicarb.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 – 60 minutes.

Leave it to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.

When the cake is cold, lightly whip the cream cheese until it is smooth, sieve in the icing sugar and then beat them both together. Add the cream and beat again until it is thick and unctuous. Spread the topping thickly over the top of the cake so that it looks just like a well-poured pint of Guinness.

Lemon and Coconut Bundt Cake

One of my favourite things to do in my spare time is wandering around charity shops, looking for cookery books. They seem to be bought as presents for people who don’t want to cook, so they end up being given to charity and you can find some amazing books in almost-new condition. I have picked up several hundred over the years, at a small fraction of what they would have cost new; it is fair to say that I’m addicted.

One book I picked up recently was ‘Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook’, it is turning out to be one of the best books I own. It is American, so the measurements are mainly in cups rather than the grams that we English are more familiar with; it can be a bit tricky to convert one to the other and still get the best results – cups are a measure of volume whereas grams are a measure of mass and they don’t always convert properly. Don’t let the cup measurements put you off, measuring this way is dead simple, and this cake is absolutely stunning – for vegans and carnivores alike.

I had to buy a Bundt tin for this one and I am glad that I did because though you can make it in a regular tin it comes out far better when made this way. You will need a 10-inch Bundt tin.

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RECIPE

1 cup of golden caster sugar

2/3 cup of vegetable oil

1 400g tin of coconut milk

1/4 cup soy or almond milk

1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

the zest of 2 large lemons

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

The grated flesh of a coconut

A few tablespoons of icing sugar


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ Gas 4.

Break your coconut open, take out the flesh and, using a vegetable peeler, peel off the brown skin on the back of the flesh. Grate using a box grater then chop the grated flesh a little more. The coconut flesh gives the cake great texture and gives you something to bite into; if the coconut flesh is too big it can be distracting, so make sure the pieces of flesh are no bigger than your little fingernail.

Lightly grease a 10-inch Bundt tin. In a large mixing bowl combine the sugar, vegetable oil, coconut milk, soy milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the wet ingredients in batches, mixing well after each addition. Stir to combine, then stir in the coconut.

Pour the batter into the Bundt tin and bake for approximately 1 hour in the centre of the oven. A skewer inserted into the cake should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then place a cutting board over the cake pan, gently flip it over and release the cake from the pan.

Let it cool completely then sift a sprinkling of the icing sugar over the top.

Cauliflower Pappardelle with Gorgonzola

Oh my.

Some recipes are classic for a reason. This is a classic Italian dish, it’s delicious. That’s the reason it’s a classic.

I have tried this using other blue cheeses but it is at its absolute best when Gorgonzola is used.

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RECIPE – feeds 4

200g cauliflower florets

20g unsalted butter

150g Gorgonzola cheese, diced

3 tbsp whole milk

3 tbsp olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves

400g pappardelle

25-50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese


METHOD

Parboil the cauliflower for 5 minutes in a large pan of salted, boiling water. Remove using a slotted spoon and retain the cooking water.

Melt the butter with the Gorgonzola and milk in a small pan over a low heat, stirring continuously until melted and smooth. Do not let it boil. When creamy, remove from the heat and set aside for now.

Cook the pappardelle in the reserved cooking water (add a little if you need to), per the pack instructions, until just al dente.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the whole garlic clove and cook over a low heat, stirring frequently, for a few minutes until lightly browned.  Remove and discard the garlic clove, add the cauliflower to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until lightly browned. sprinkle with the thyme and season.

Drain the pappardelle, reserving a little of the water for use in loosening the sauce if necessary,  and add it to the pan with the cauliflower. Stir in the Gorgonzola mixture, toss well, remove from the heat and serve sprinkled with the Parmesan alongside a simple bowl of rocket and a crisp glass of white white.

Double Chocolate Cake with Almond Cream and Raspberries

Of all the challenges that baking presents, making cakes for vegans must rank as the hardest. When you can’t use eggs to give it a lift you have to go down the road of using raising agents, with the attendant risk of a soapy undertaste; when you can’t use the velvet luxury of butter you have to use oils, so you have to ensure you inject decadence in other ways.

Then there’s the texture: there are no eggs to hold air in and give the crumb its structure; there is no butter to give it strength. The most likely result is a dense, stodgy, unappetising cake that appeals to no-one. For that reason, when you find a great vegan cake recipe you should treasure it. When you find a great vegan cake recipe that carnivores also love… well, it’s treasure indeed. This one is clever, using baking powder and vinegar to give a good rise and open texture. Don’t worry, the vinegar is undetectable in this delicious cake.

This recipe comes from a book entitled ‘Peace & Parsnips’ by Lee Watson. Buy it. It is full of excellent recipes and ideas that prove that vegan cooking can result in delicious food that will hold its own against any cuisine.

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RECIPE 

For the cake:

150g unrefined brown sugar

220g plain flour

50g cacao powder

80g very dark vegan chocolate, chopped into very small pieces

1 heaped tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

75 ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

250 ml water

For the almond cream:

80g raw almonds, soaked overnight, brown skins peeled off

75 ml unsweetened almond or soya milk

100 ml vegetable oil

2 tsp almond extract

2 tbsp maple syrup

For the topping:

fresh raspberries

2 tbsp crushed pistachio nuts


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.

Oil and line the base and sides of a 24cm loose-bottomed springform cake tin.

Place the sugar, flour, cacao powder, chocolate, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir it all together. Add the oil, vinegar and water – gradually – and whisk slowly until it forms an even batter. Take care not to overwork it.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 25-30 minutes. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should pull out with a very small amount of sticky cake clinging to it.

Leave to cool on a wire rack, in the tin, for 30 minutes or so. Remove from the tin when it is nearly cool.

Meanwhile, make the almond cream. Put the almonds into a food processor and process, scraping down the sides regularly, until it is smooth, then drizzle in the milk and process until it forms a smooth cream. Now drizzle in the oil, which will make it thicken up. Finally, add the almond extract and the syrup, process briefly until thick and smooth, it should be the consistency of whipped double cream.

When the cake is almost cooled, spread a thick layer of the almond cream on top. Arrange the raspberries decoratively on top, any way you like, and finally sprinkle with the crushed pistachios.

This cake not only tastes incredible, it also looks amazing – definitely one to show off with.

Thai Hake Curry with Lemongrass and Lime Leaf

I am always jotting down notes alongside recipes, especially in my own notebooks where I record the definitive versions of everything worth making again and again. There are a lot of recipes in those notebooks, so sometimes a few words will enable me to remember something about the dish if I haven’t made it for a while.

Alongside this dish I saw the following: “Wow!”

How could I not make it again after seeing that? I made it last night, my wife and I looked at each other and we both said… wow!

I have called it a curry, but only because it has a little heat from the chillies. There are no dried spices here, just the intense natural flavours of shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chillies and lime. When everything is prepared, just sitting there in a raw pile it smells heavenly. Apply the heat and you lose none of that but gain a lot more.

Everything I blog about is worthy of your time, but you really, really must give this one a try.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 tbsp groundnut oil

4 shallots, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

40g fresh ginger, finely chopped

4 lemongrass stalks, tender parts only, finely chopped

6 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (fresh are best, but dried are fine)

3 green chillies, finely chopped (seeds removed if you want less heat)

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

2 tbsp fish sauce

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks chopped separately

3 hake fillets, cut into large chunks

200g tin sliced water chestnuts

1 lime, zest and juice


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients, EXCEPT the lime and chopping the coriander leaves, these should be prepared immediately before serving so they are absolutely at their best.

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok, when hot add the kaffir lime leaves and allow to sizzle for ten seconds or so, then add and stir-fry the shallots, garlic cloves, fresh ginger, lemongrass and green chillies for 2 or 3 minutes until soft and aromatic.

Add the coconut milk and fish sauce and continue to cook for a few minutes until the mixture is just starting to simmer. Now add the chopped coriander stalks.

At this point you can turn the heat off and allow it to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. I do this a lot; I tend to make anything with a lot of aromatic ingredients in the afternoon and allow it a few hours for the flavours to really develop, it really does make a difference. You can of course just carry straight on…

Add the water chestnuts and the pieces of hake and gently cook until the fish is just done, this will take no more than a few minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the lime zest and juice, and chop the coriander leaves.

When the fish is done, add the lime juice, sprinkle in the lime zest and coriander leaves and stir thoroughly. Take it to the table and fall in love.

This dish works perfectly with Basmati rice, cooked with the tougher trimmings of the lemongrass stalks. Waste nothing! There is flavour everywhere.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

Punjabi Chole

It’s been a long and lovely summer, and I have been away enjoying it. I have spent the last month revisiting some of my old recipes, travelling around in our old camper and rediscovering the joys of cooking with minimal equipment and facilities.

I will be sharing my discoveries in the weeks to come, but to get back in the groove here is a very simple, lightly spiced chick pea dish that is very much more than the sum of its parts. When I first saw the recipe I couldn’t believe it would be at all interesting, but my policy is always to make a recipe as it is written and then see how I can improve upon it. I can’t recall where I first saw this, which is a real shame because whoever first wrote it deserves all the credit – I don’t think I have tinkered with it at all, something as delicious as this cannot be improved upon.

The recipe calls for dried chickpeas – canned will do, but I urge you to take the plunge and do this the long way. Preparing the chickpeas the way I describe will give you creamy, delicious chickpeas the like of which you have never, ever tasted, and that’s a promise.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

150g dried chickpeas

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making vegan)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you don’t want the extra heat)

1 heaped tbsp ginger paste/pureed ginger

a large thumb of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp garam masala

1/2 lemon, zest and juice

a big handful of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use two tins; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Heat the ghee (or oil) in a large pan, when hot cook the onion over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until softened but not coloured. Make a paste out of the turmeric and cinnamon by putting them into a small bowl and adding a little water. Set aside for now.

Add the chillies, the ginger paste, fresh ginger and the garlic and cook for a few minutes longer before adding the turmeric and cinnamon paste. Cook on for a minute, stirring so everything is thoroughly coated, then add the chickpeas. Stir thoroughly again, adding a little water if needed, and cook gently for ten minutes or so.

At this point you can leave the chole to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. Giving it time will intensify and soften the flavours.

When ready to eat, warm the chole gently and just before serving stir through the lemon zest and juice, garam masala and fresh coriander.

This is great served alongside Basmati rice, naan bread and carrot and ginger salad.