Saturday, 27 November 2010

Cajun Bean Soup

It's snowing! And of course with that, it's freezing, and I need feeding when I'm cold.

I love 'big' soups at this time of the year. None of your thin, texture-less efforts please. I want big chunks of meat and vegetables, a soup you can stand your spoon up in, almost like a meal in a bowl.

Soups are simple to knock up and this spicy Cajun spiced one is no exception. Delicious, healthy, filling and sustaining, it's just what you need when walking into the house with an inch of snow on your head. Eat with crisp tortilla chips and a spoon of yoghurt.

Cajun Bean Soup
Feeds 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 carrot, cubed
1 celery stick, cubed
1 red pepper, deseeded and cubed
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning or 1 tsp each of cumin, ground ginger and dried thyme and a pinch of chilli
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 400ml tin of tomatoes
300ml vegetable stock
1 tin of red kidney beans
A handful of green beans, sliced into chunks

1 - Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Add the garlic and pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes.
2 - Add the spices, potato, tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Turn down and simmer for 15 minutes until the potato has softened.
3 - Add the beans for the final 5 minutes. Squeeze in the lemon juice.
4 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with yoghurt and tortilla chips.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Spiced Pickled Beetroot

Alongside the potatoes, this year's debut allotment project has also produced bumper crops of beetroot.

Beetroot are an acquired taste. Boiled to submission, they can retain all of the character of a Saturday night singing contest. However, roasted slowly to tease out the sugars makes for a unique vegetable that sits perfectly alongside your Sunday roast or simply diced and tossed into a cold pasta or rice salad.

They are probably more used to the pickling treatment in this country. This process can demolish the beet's subtle flavours but when you have more beetroot than you can juggle with, sometimes the pickling jars are the only option. I've devised a simple spiced version with a balanced flavour of sweet and sour. Placed in between two doorsteps of bread with a hunk of strong Cheddar cheese, it helps make arguably one of the best sandwiches in the world.

Spiced Pickled Beetroot
Makes approximately 4 large jars

8 whole beetroot
Olive oil
500ml malt vinegar
200g caster sugar
4 whole chillies
4 bay leaves
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp salt
4 large picking jars

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C/GM4. Clean the beetroot and place into a square of foil. Drizzle with a little olive oil, wrap thoroughly then place onto the middle shelf and bake for 2 hours. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
2 - Sterilise your jars by placing into a warm oven for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.
3 - To make the pickling liquor, place the vinegar, sugar, chillies and spices into a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes then remove from the heat.
3 - Peel the skin from the beetroot. Slice thickly then place equally into the jars. Pour over the spiced pickling liquor and share out the chillies and spices. Seal and put into a cool dark place for at least 2 weeks to allow the flavours to develop before eating.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Best Christmas Cake

It's less than 6 weeks until Christmas Day and right now it is time to start getting that cake done. I post this recipe up each year as it is much requested and is officially the best Christmas cake in the world.

It is a tried, tested, tweaked, tested then tweaked again recipe. It is moist, fruity, not too boozy and has added chocolate, coffee and orange that leaves Christmas cake haters new converts to this indulgent cake.

If you can handle the alcohol, ‘feed’ your cake every 2 weeks with a shot glass of brandy or whisky. A few knitting needle holes will help the booze soak into the rich concoction of fruit, sugar, cocoa, orange and coffee. Wrap it tightly in greaseproof paper and foil and keep in an airtight cake tin.

What helps too is if you make it a family affair, and my daughter doesn't need too much encouragement to get stirring, dropping the odd 'gold coin' in and of course, the ubiquitous licking of bowl and utensils. So get mucking about in the kitchen with the kids this weekend and knock up a Christmas cake to beat all Christmas cakes.

The Best Christmas Cake

200g dark muscovado sugar
100g honey
250g butter
100g each of raisins, currants, sultanas, dried figs and dried prunes, roughly chopped
1 espresso cup of coffee
A large splash of brandy or whisky
Tablespoon of mixed spice
Zest and juice of an orange or 2 satsuma, tangerines or clementine
1 tbsp of cocoa powder
3 large eggs
100g plain flour, sifted
150g ground almonds
Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda

1 - Preheat the oven to 160C, GM3. Grease and line a 22cm spring form cake tin.
2 - Melt the butter and sugars in a large pan then add the fruit, coffee, brandy or whisky, spice and honey. Zest and juice the oranges and add along with the cocoa powder. Stir until dark, caramelised and fragrant.
3 - Beat the eggs and add to the mixture along with the flour, ground almonds, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt. Fold in thoroughly until not a trace of flour is left.
4 - Pour into the prepared cake tin, top with a round of buttered baking paper and bake on the middle shelf for 1 hour 45 minutes or until a knitting needle inserted into the centre comes out clean.