White Bean and Rosemary Soup with Nut Pesto

That thing where you think about doing something for so long and when you do it’s not that good. That.

I guess I should after such a long break write a post apologising for not posting and explaining where I have been. Well I will… At some point… but if we wait for me to do that then I’d never get back here

I am approaching my 45th birthday in a couple of weeks and the knowledge of this has lead me to be a bit reflective of late… 45 may not be a milestone for most but I think mentally, because of my family history I have been thinking of it as the half way mark of my life…also my life has divided up quite well into batches of 15…so it kind of feels appropriate to take some time to reflect on how things are going and what I want to improve.

On that theme… I am one of the world’s most expert procrastinators. I could win medals for my ability to put things off until a later date. My house is full of books which I will read “one day”, piles of paper and filing waiting for the day in which I sort it, newspaper cuttings of recipes that one day I will get around to making and of course countless bookmarks on my computer of interesting websites with recipes or knitting patterns or similar that one day I will get around to reading in full…

But no more; The next 12 months will see a serious effort to read books, cook recipes and clear the clutter from my life… starting with this soup…

Mind you working my way through all these bookmarked recipes is not really in line with my other aim for this year which is to “cook from the cupboards” aka use up what I have (I can’t claim originality on this and it is a post for another day… more procrastinating)… nor does it work with eating seasonally as you can see from this soup…

So, where do I start ? I can’t even remember why I bookmarked this recipe and then later printed it out… I think I was attracted by the idea of nut pesto which sound much more interesting and exotic than “white bean soup”. However I do love Allegra’srecipes but find they are a bit cheffy and not really conducive to my sort of cooking which is more “come home knackered, need to put something on the table in a hurry…

Soaking the beans not the issue it’s the 2 hours of cooking…which is probably why this recipe once printed out then sat in a pile of papers for about 2 years or more…then having decided to make it and putting the beans on to soak in the morning for 8 hours in the end the beans got 24 hours as I got back too late on Saturday to start cookin

So Sunday morning found me tantalising the neighbourhood with the gentle Smell of garlic and rosemary sweating slowly on the stovetop whilst I drank espresso on the patio in glorious sunshine.

I used lots of rosemary. I’m using it a lot in my cooking at the moment as it is going mad by the front door, obviously my garden is far better than wild Corsican hillsides…the soup was looking good but then things fell apart at the pesto stage.

The Pesto didn’t really work…it wouldn’t process properly possibly because I was making half the amount. 150g of hazelnuts would make far too much pesto and there is just me eating this. But I don’t think the unsuccessful pesto can be blamed for the fact the soup just tastes a bit meh, a bit bland… to be honest the pesto made me feel ill… this could be due to a hot day and generally not feeling like eating…

But then weather took a turn for the wintery and the soup seemed much more seasonally appropriate.

Day 2 I axed the pesto, splashed some more vinegar in the soup and a teaspoon of salt…I had erred on the side of caution with the chicken stock as soup made with Taste of Chicken tends to be overpowered by the stock. The salt may have done the trick as it certainly tasted better but that may have been to a day in the pot for the flavours to mend… the top of the soup where the salt was tasted better than the end

Lets see how Day 3 does…I have some leftover parmesan… maybe next time I should have bunged a parmesan crust into it…after all my deep freeze is where Parmesan crusts go to die…the top shelf is a graveyard of past cheese…

i’ll post the link to the recipe in a couple of days…am having computer problems at the mo

If it’s September then it must be…Sweetcorn

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I’ve been sitting on this post for most of the last month meaning to sort some photos out…and now I’ve almost run out of the month so here it is anyway…

Memory 1  1994

It’s November and for once I have done my Christmas shopping early. There is a chill in the air and mist over the back garden and I am looking through Real Good Food by Nigel Slater which I have bought for my brother for Christmas.

My interest is caught by the chapter on barbeques and I am captivated and transported from this chilly midlands morning to a summer evening in a garden in London by Nigel’s description of how he uses a flowerpot filled with stones, charcoal and the rack from his grill to barbecue on… then follows a description of his way of soaking the sweetcorn and then placing the cob still covered by the husk on the rack and roasting it slowly over hot coals…eaten blistering hot with chilli flavoured butter…

Memory 2  1990 ?

I am watching a rerun of MASH and Colonel  Sherman Potter (photo from the monster mash wiki)

Sherman potter

is explaining how when he gets home he is going to go outside into one of the fields surrounding his house,  “Well, I like fresh corn. I mean real fresh corn. So I think maybe I’ll just take a hot plate out to the garden, make a pot of boiling water, then I won’t even pick that corn – I’ll bend that stalk till the ear dips into the water, and I’ll eat it right there standing up. Scrumptious! ”    

Doesn’t that just make you want to grow some so you can do it yourself ?

Memory 3 1976 or 1977

Hong Kong. Two travel weary parents take their children out into the streets of Wan Chai  (these days its quite a smart area full of hotels and conference centres, back then it was ah… interesting !) looking for somewhere to eat… although these children have been brought up to eat what is put in front of them, the parents are somewhat nervous, remember Chinese food was not as popular in the UK as it is today, and these 2 children, despite the culinary adventures of the parents still have very  british palettes.

As it turned out the place that the family eventually walked into started the set menu off with a bowl of soup, a bowl of chicken soup on top of which was a yellow sea of sweetcorn…and in this backstreet Hong Kong restaurant started a love affair which has lasted over 37 years.

For many years if asked what my favourite food was I would say without hesitation “chicken and sweetcorn soup”… and fortunately my Mum usually had a batch in  the freezer…and although it was not the soup of my memory it was usually pretty damn good…

Is it good for you ?

Well it’s a vegetable and like a lot of vegetables mainly water with just under 20% of it’s weight being carbohydrate (3% sugar), with about 3g out of 100g accounting for dietary fibre, 3g protein and a further 1g or so counting as fat. From a vitamin point of view it has some vitamin B, some vitamin c

A discussion about what technology has done to it and where it might appear as  a product in other food stuffs is probably one for another day but on balance I would say that on its own it can’t hurt you…and most areas of the world seem to have developed ways of eating it in combination with other things (beans) in order to get a balanced diet…

How you cook it and what you serve it up with is a different matter…I, like a lot of children no doubt,  grew up being served boiled sweetcorn slathered in butter…and given the choice that is usually how I do serve it up if there is no chicken in the house !

What goes with it ?

Most soup recipes (other than chicken) seem to involve sweet potatoes and chili…or they go down the chowder route…there are a large number of recipes involving mixing them with egg and either as a pancake, omlette or fritter or a corn custard. Salads tend to involve adding them to mayonnaise.

More interesting recipes I have seen of late involve adding them to Turkey Meatballs (Ottolenghi) and in Plenty More they get served up with miso, I quite like adding a squeeze of lime juice over my freshly boiled corn if I am trying to avoid the butter

So how did you serve it this time ?

Having fallen in love with Nigel’s prose almost 20 years ago I had planned to grill it over charcoal but because of a busy month my corn wasn’t looking too good as we approached the end of the month so soup it was…one of the many sweet potato/red pepper/chilli combos but Tesco’s failed to provide me with a sweet potato… I did have a fridge full of slightly less than impressive vegetables (carrots, peas, a leek)…and there was left over chicken in the freezer so… yep, chicken and sweetcorn soup it was…

A bad soup

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We have a dish in our house, which is made without a recipe, it’s known as “End of Life Soup” aka “What’s in the bottom of the Veg drawer Soup” and oddly enough it works…everytime.

But sometimes I do make a bad soup but it’s never this one.

Two of the most recent bad experiments have involved the same recipe as it’s base which makes me wonder if this is a soup that has to be made as written including using stock made as per the recipe or alternatively it may be better not to liquidise.

The soup in question is the Covent Garden Soup company’s Bacon and Lentil Soup (invented to raise money for Crisis at Christmas) and it just doesn’t work for me.

The stock is a ham stock and they recommend using the poaching liquid from cooking a ham (in water a small part of brown sugar and some malt vinegar) – the first time I made it I faked a stock with a stock cube and some bacon, the second was the liquid from a ham cooked in apple juice. I can’t remember why I didn’t like the first soup but this second one was just far too sweet.

Second issue with the soup is it is just too “cloying”, the lentils (and split peas) are liquidised and even with adding extra water it just comes out as a thick brown mush.

it tastes bad, it looks bad and it smelled bad…. however you looked at it, this was just not a good soup.

However I do have lots of veg that has seen better days so hopefully the Karma of the End of Life soup will cleanse my kitchen of this unpleasant experience…

Tender: Nigel Slater

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Tender came out in October 2009. I have, from time to time fondled it in various bookshops and admired the usual beautiful photographs, carefully chosen paper and print style and of course his wonderful wonderful words…I didn’t admire the price though (£25 full price – amazon currently have it half price). So thinking carefully about it I resolved, no more recipe books. I have enough. Maybe in the future if I see it secondhand…

Mum, thankfully, ignored my resolve and for that she had a special hug on Christmas day…which surprised her as she was in the middle of taking the turkey out the oven !

Thankfully since Christmas we have been living on leftovers which has given me plenty of time to hideaway with my beloved Nigel, pouring over his beautiful prose and planning the vegetable garden. Maybe this year I will get it off the ground – last year my seedlings withered in the kitchen when we were let down over the promised allotment.

It’s timely too as one of my plans this year is to get more vegetables into our diet…I have a sneaking suspicion that it may lead to less colds and a general feeling of well being.

Despite the fact that the kitchen is currently our of commission (see previous post) I do have a vegetable soup on the go (The usual end of life fridge soup, loosely based on a Covent Garden caramalised root vegetable recipe (because I have turnips in the fridge)…and a vague plan to stop at a Farm Shop on the way back from Banbury later today.

There is a problem with this however, as by and large I cook for a family and my family are not really into vegetables – although Spider is getting better – he ate the maple syrup parsnips (p383) I did with the roast beef.

My impressions on the book though are that it is beautifully written but not that it makes me want to get into the kitchen – this is not because Nigel hasn’t served up his usual selection of fabulous ideas but because everytime I read something part of me is thinking “oh so and so won’t eat that” – what is does make me want to do however is get out into the garden and plant things !

Current plans however involve the chapter on Sprouts (Husband oddly, does eat sprouts) and all the Soup recipes which are in season. The book is, unsurprisingly, rather short on cake recipes, and of the 3 there are I have already made 2 of them as they were previously published in the Observer – however in view of the drastic need to reduce calorie intake in this house, this lack is no bad thing…

But first I must finish off painting the kitchen, otherwise we will be living off pizza and cheese on toast for the next few days.

Tomorrow, is the first day of the rest of your life…

Tomorrow is the first day of my campaign to get me eating healthily – I would like to get the rest of my family eating healthily but that might be slightly more than I can manage (Spider has potential he eats the more colourful members of the vegetable world).

Yesterday I tackled the building site of the back garden – its going to be a long job but at least I’ve strimmed the grass and made a start at stacking all the dead wood in one place

back garden pre tidy

back garden pre tidy

I have also organised the shed, camping and toys on one side and my gardening equipment on the other. Am contemplating drawing a chalk line down the centre…have threatened dire penalties towards anyone messing up my “sanctuary” if a dark dingy cobwebbed infested place can be called a sanctuary.

All my tools are finally in one place, soon to be joined by all the various seed packets that inhabit every spare drawer in the house.

Unfortunately all the plants I grew in February and March have died off as I had nowhere to put them after the allotment fell through so I am looking for free or cheap plants of whatever sort I can get my hands on.

Later today I shall make the last cake (other than my Mum’s birthday cake) that I intend to eat until I have got my waist measurement down to 28 inches – still cooking for other people though..

I am also part way through 2 soups. There was a report on the BBC website last week that scientists thought that soup might be the key to dieting as it makes your brain think you are not hungry for longer – sorry can’t find the link. I am part way through as one of the recipes involves soaking beans overnight and then cooking them. I don’t have a lot of luck with dried beans so I doubled both the soaking time and the cooking time and I think they are now “cooked, with a little bite left”.

The recipes in question are Nigel Slater’s “White Bean and Tarragon Soup” replacing the borlotti beans with haricot and the tarragon with possibly thyme (I actually grew some borlotti beans last year and they were very easy and so beautiful to look at). The second recipe is from a blog I read Glittyknittykitty (Potage Crecy with Peppers – January 16th) and is purely because I have been given a jaw of Peppardew peppers and have a large bag of carrots in for Spider.

Spring cleaning the fridge

When I was younger spring for me started when the bluebells came out (it also meant it was almost my birthday). At university spring arrived on the 1st March with the daffodils and St David’s Day. Just before Spider was born  I discovered snowdrops and ever since then the appearance of snowdrops heralds a mad session of cleaning and organising for me (the nesting instinct !).

So here we are, almost february and I’m in organising, cleaning and filling the freezer mode. Last night I roasted some sweet potatoes  which were bought short dated at the co op 2 weeks ago (eek). On skinning them this morning I discovered that they were purple fleshed ones…suspect I’m going to be the only one eating the falafel if they are purple not orange. Recipe here.

Most of the veg has ended its life in a leek and potato soup – normally I serve this with soda bread (a great standby on days you have run out of bread, buttermilk can be substituted by milk and s teaspoon of white wine vinegar) – but today it will be the remains of the 2 loaves in the kitchen (1 white, 1 brown – don’t ask, I’ve been an indulgent Mummy). I don’t use a recipe for the soup, I simply slice an onion up and fry it in butter until its soft, add whatever leeks I have available (sliced), and a couple of finely diced potatoes. Put the lid on and sort of fry and steam it for about 5 minutes (keeping an eye on the pan to make sure it doesn’t stick). Then add a pint of stock (vegetable or chicken) and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Puree the vegetables and then add some milk.

Today’s version has the addition of a stick of celery and some spring onions added at the same time as the leeks.

If you want a proper recipe then try this one

Oh and if you serve it cold then it’s vichyssoise.

An orange coloured day…eventually

Despite my comments earlier in the week about how much I love the Autumn, I must confess to being a little down, or rather a lot down, it was an indigo day in fact. I am suffering from a lot of stress and tension related to our financial situation. Because, although having returned to full time employment as of the 1st October our human resources department still has not completed the paperwork. Furthermore unless they do it by the beginning of November then the chances are that I’m not going to feel the benefit of the extra days pay until the middle of December.

In order to meet bills we are having to watch our finances very carefully. I am running out of places I can save money, other than food that is and we’ve never really wasted that. Anyway, today I feel the hole we are in, I feel it in my whole body. I feel blocked, I feel constrained and I feel it in my gut, in my belly, in my intestines and my bowels. It is a taut string running from the top to the bottom and it cripples me, I can’t think and therefore I can’t work.

Food in the house the last few weeks has been very much comfort food. Husband has been serving up big bowls of pasta, tomatoes and cheese or sausage and mash. A bag of pudding rice has appeared. The Atkins diet has no place in this household, its carbohydrates all the way.

Tonight I need something simpler though, something my gut can deal with, that will cheer me up and comfort at the same time, something that looks happy in the bowl. Coincidently my kitchen has been dominated by the presence of a very large pumpkin, hoping to end its days as something more than a lantern on the 31st… I also have some cream that needs using, as do most of my spices which spent 6 months in storage during the house works.

I follow vaguely a Nigel Slater recipe for pumpkin soup, which can be found here but is also in Real Good Food which is a book compiled from early articles from Nigel’s Observer columns. This incidently is one of my earliest cookbooks. The soup recipe was possibly one of the reasons I bought the book (that and his description of BBQing sweetcorn). Hopefully, the remains of it will do for lunch for what’s left of this week…when my mind needs soothing I cook cake, when its my body that is in crisis I need more than sugars.

postscript The lovely Mrs Zee with whom I work has found a human in the cyber department our human resources has become and has persuaded them to press the right buttons on the computer so that I get paid the right amounts in November, even if the paperwork follows later.