Monday, 24 October 2016

Butternut Squash and Sun dried Tomato Soup

These days butternut squash soup is often to be seen on a pub menu; I have to admit to it always being a little off putting. The problem is butternut squash lends itself perfectly to being made into soup and as such, it's often a lazy option. Boil a butternut squash in some stock, blend it and you have a reasonable if mediocre soup.
Think about enhancing the natural sweetness of the vegetable and become a little creative and you will be rewarded with a far better and worthwhile soup.
This soup incorporates sun dried tomatoes, and that hugely important spice cumin, its earthy savoury quality is perfectly matched with the sweet squash. The addition of a little chili completes the mix.
The texture of the dense flesh once cooked and blended is so creamy, this recipe requires only the oil that remains clinging to the sun dried tomatoes and no more, so comes in as a low calorie dish.

For this recipe you will need;
500g of butternut squash
300g of chopped onion
3 fat cloves of garlic chopped
75g of sun dried tomatoes
1 litre of vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Begin by gently cooking the onion, garlic and sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped in a large enough saucepan. The oil from the tomatoes will be sufficient to moisten the onions and garlic, you won't need any more.
Cut up the squash into chunks, since the final soup is to be sieved, there is no need to peel it. cook on a low heat until the onion becomes translucent, about 3 or 4 minutes.
Add the stock and seasoning and simmer gently, with the lid on, for an hour.
Using a blender, I find the stick variety far easier and safer with hot liquid these days, blend until you have a smooth soup. Sieve and reheat before serving.

I made my own dried tomatoes in oil this year for the first time

Less than a tablespoon of residue!

I photographed the residue from sieving to show what little there is, an illustration of just how wasteful it is to peel the squash.
The weights of the squash and onions can be varied without altering the finished result too much, so don't worry if your squash is a little larger or smaller, simply adjust the amount of stock.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Emergency Macaroons

In the UK if you ask anyone what a macaroon is, chances are they will describe the overpriced macaron which originating in France are now available and popular over here. French macaron of course are delicious, two light meringue based discs, sandwiched together with a delicious buttercream. This is all well and good but I fear we are forgetting a treat which has graced British tables at tea time for decades.
These macaroons are called emergency macaroons because a dear friend of mine who works as a GP at the coal face which is the NHS these days and I am pleased to send her a batch every now and again.
The addition of ground almonds makes them less sweet than the conventional recipe, but if you enjoy the sweeter stickier flavour of coconut in your macaroons, by all means replace the 100g of ground almonds with coconut.

For this recipe you will need;
Egg whites from 2 large eggs
80g of caster sugar
100g of desiccated coconut (unsweetened)
100g of ground almonds
A tiny pinch of sea salt

30g of dark chocolate for decoration.

Begin by whisking the egg whites to soft peaks, add the sugar and the salt and continue whisking for 2 minutes until stiff.
As with making French macaron, the point where it can all go a bit wrong is when you fold in the ground nuts. Gently fold the desiccated coconut and ground almonds into the stiff egg whites. The process will of course reduce the volume, but if you are careful about folding and stop as soon as the dry ingredients are fully incorporated, it will be fine.
Line a baking tray with baking parchment and scoop out the mixture into 12 equal mounds, I find an ice cream scoop ideal for this.
Bake for 30 minutes at 150C.
Melt the chocolate and drizzle over the cooled macaroons.

This recipe makes 12 macaroons and when packed carefully in an old Adnam's gin bottle box, travel perfectly intact all the way to Newcastle for only £3.35, arriving the following day, bargain!  

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Autumn Empanada

Many countries produce a savoury item of food which consists of a filling encased in pastry of some sort. Cornish pasties, samosas and empanadas are but a few.
I took the Spanish empanada as my inspiration in creating this dish. It's a vegetarian mix of vegetables and cheese and well worth making, even if you stop at the filling stage and serve it up as the best mashed potato ever, especially if you find getting young ones to eat vegetables a challenge. go on to put it in pastry and you have a convenient picnic food and I would suggest small rectangles served warm even make a good canapé.
On my way back from feeding the chickens this morning (they've given up laying but they still seem to want to eat) I picked a few things from the garden, today it was Jerusalem artichokes, chard, potatoes, tomatoes, onions and sage. Here is what I came up with.

For this recipe you will need;
Roughly 1,200g of vegetables, predominantly potatoes, today I used
2 small onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, grated
200g of fresh tomatoes, chopped
Chard leaves
300g of Jerusalem artichokes
750g of potatoes
3 or 4 sage leaves
1 tablespoon of rapeseed oil
1 teaspoon of Marigold Bouillon powder or 1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
A good pinch of cayenne

150g of good cheddar cheese grated.
250g of shortcrust pastry.

Begin by sweating the onion and garlic in the oil on a low heat in an oven proof pot that has a lid. After 2 or 3 minutes add the remaining vegetables and cook down until the tomatoes have released their liquid, about 7 to 10 minutes. Put on the lid and place in a moderate 160C oven for 45 minutes. Remove the lid and return to the oven until the liquid has all but dried out. It is important that the filling is not too wet, so time and care should be taken to dry the vegetables out.
Mash the cooked vegetables together with the seasoning and the cheese and allow to cool completely.

Roll out the pastry to form a rectangle roughly 20cm by 50cm. Carefully drape one half of the pastry into the baking tin, I use one that conveniently measure 18cm by 25cm, leaving the other half of the pastry ready to fold over to form the lid. Place the cooled filling onto the base and fold over the lid. Crimp around the edges and brush with either a little cream or an egg yolk if you fancy. I created a diamond pattern on mine but you really don't have to.
Bake at 180C for 45 to 50 minutes.
Serve warm.

Obviously the ingredients of the filling can vary hugely for this recipe, if you grow your own vegetables or order in a veg box, simply use what is at hand. I like to make it mostly potato but that is entirely my preference, I find it holds together very well, especially when cut and served cold at a picnic. The secret to this simple list of ingredients transforming into a surprisingly delicious filling is the intensifying of flavours that happens when you cook them together in a sealed container in the oven.