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

Pottering in the kitchen…Fabrice’s Ratatouille

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Today, the last day of the year, Husband at work and Spider and I planning on heading to the cinema…but opening the curtains, what a surprise, it’s raining, sheeting down in fact.

So Spider pottered around with christmas presents and I spent a happy hour or so sorting and tidying up the leftovers, throwing stuff out, the usual end of year clearing the decks.

On the stove, gently stewing in its own juices is a pan of Fabrice’s Ratatouille from the first Leon cookbook and let me tell you it’s made the kitchen smell fantastic ! This is not something I would normally make (fresh tomatoes, aubergine and courgettes are not popular with the other members of the household) but it has been something I’ve been dying to make since I bought the book (4 years ago ?) and it has been calling to me from the pages…and sometimes a girl just has to give in !

Most ratatouilles I’ve had in the past have been very heavy on the tomatoes and frankly cooked to a state of bitterness…this one, is perfect, mild, aromatic, a stew of vegetables and, if you go easy on the olive oil, the perfect start to a year of healthy eating…except that I ate rather a lot of bread with it to mop up the fabulous savory juices that oozed out of the vegetables.

5 out of 5…and it makes a change from end of life soup, as all these veg had seen better days.

Bananas

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Bananas present an interesting problem to those in the UK who try to eat both seasonally and locally. Unless you have a super heated and large greenhouse it is highly improbable that you will be able to grow your own bananas, even if you do manage it they are unlikely to fruit. Furthermore, as far as I can establish there appears to be no one trying to do so in this country on a commercial basis.

As for seasonal, well once you’ve accepted the fact that bananas have to be imported then they are pretty much available all the year round… So what are you to do ? Well you either ban the carbon traitor from your diet or you accept that fact that you are unlikely ever to achieve carbon neutral nirvana and salve your conscience a bit by buying fair trade. The other thing you can do, having accepted that you’d rather not live without bananas in your life (which my friend Wingnut is more than happy to do, considering them as “the evil yellow devil herb”) is to make sure that you don’t compound the carbon sin by letting them go to waste.

If I haven’t got the time to incorporate banana into muffins, cake or breakfast pancakes prior to freezing then I have been happily skinning them, quartering them and sticking in a plastic bag for several years now. What I had not tried until recently was to follow the Economy Gastronomy trick of freezing them whole, skin and all. For those that try it please note, if you are in a hurry the skin is difficult to get off, and if you leave them to defrost you end up with a nasty black slime all over your work surface….they also take up more room then their quartered brothers.

We are ODing on bananas at the moment as in addition to buying a large bag of bananas at the weekend I decided to start clearing out the freezer prior to Christmas and the first thing I was confronted with was a number of EG style frozen bananas. So I have been working my way through recipe books. I didn’t try on this occasion, but I have in the past tried Nigella’s healthy banana muffins. (the original recipe doesn’t have the chocolate)  My recommendation is “don’t”; they sacrifice taste in the pursuit of healthiness, would rather eat less and enjoy some flavour (interestingly her Banana and Butterscotch muffins are nice).

Alternatively a healthy muffin that is surprisingly nice are the Banana Bran Muffins from “Economy Gastronomy” – yes there is a reasonable amount of sugar in them, but they do make over 24 reasonably sized muffins and the mixture keeps in the fridge so you can make them in advance and cook them when ready and freeze your leftovers. Disadvantages are they are more complicated than usual muffins and take longer to cook. Recommendation from Spider is that they are nicer warm.

Nigella’s Banana Bread is nice, thought Tessa Kiros’ banana bread from “Apples for Jam” would be nicer due to use of brown sugar but there was no marginal difference. Susan Austin’s Banana Pancakes are what breakfasts were invented for, and they freeze. I’ve also tried the Banana and Oats Smoothie from Leon:Allegra Mcevedy which…I am hoping to tempt Spider with at the weekend.

Finally this is more a serving suggestion than an actual recipe and has been known in my family for at least 35 years as “Banana’s Valentine”. Take a skinned banana. Sprinkle with dark brown sugar. Pour over a reasonable amount of evaporated milk, leave to stand for a few minutes. Eat with enthusiasm.

Economy Gastronomy: The Book

On Wednesday the neighbours surveyors report arrived, and quite frankly it was the same “being hit in the stomach” experience I’d had when I received the solicitors letter – how can anyone get things so wrong ?

I went round to see a neighbour to ask her if she knew any other neighbours who might have been here long enough to quote authoritatively on the boundaries and she said “glad you came round, I have a parcel for you” !

It was my copy of Economy Gastronomy that the wonderful Fairy Goth Mother had ordered for me… boy did that cheer me up !

Have only glanced at it so far as I’ve been rather shaken over the surveyors report and had to take a day off work on Thursday as I didn’t sleep on Wednesday night…ended up watching Tampopo at 3am in the morning and drinking tea.

Gastronomy Economy

Cooking in this house has been a bit routine and dreary of late. I haven’t had any desire to write about anything for awhile hence the relative inactivity on this blog. I have been a bit depressed too due to “events” which admittedly did have the strange effect of making me feel that I needed to buy a cookbook (Falling Cloudberries:Tessa Kiros, in case you were wondering – I didn’t as I can’t justify even spending £1 at the moment let alone £10 (on offer)).

The slugs eating my basil followed by a solicitors letter killed my desire the other week to make cake. I have to make something this weekend as its Teenager’s birthday, and we have friends visiting in the evening and I have promised there will be leftover cake. My current plan is one culled from Caribbean Food:Levi Roots which from reading the recipe appears to a combination of Nigel’s double ginger cake combined with the icing from Nigella’s ginger cake but using lime instead of lemon – now this really did get my taste buds waking up.

The other thing that has pricked my culinary interest is that Allegra McEvedy (ex Leon) and Paul Merret (his book about his allotment and cooking from it is currently on my bedside table – I got it for my birthday, it is a slow read for me, his literary style is not doing it for me) have a series coming out next Wednesday called Gastronomy Economy, there is also, surprise surprise a cookbook... if it stops raining I may do a car boot sale and treat myself with the proceeds.

Waste of a waist

As I meandered into work yesterday my mind was toying around with converting 81cm into inches and was so shocked with the results that I had to double check with a calculator when I finally got to work.

Now it was always a consolation and of great comfort to me to know that despite for most of my life having a backside the size of East Anglia, I had a very small waist. When I was 21 I had a 24 inch waist.

Discovering therefore that I now have a 32 inch waist has been the kick up the backside that I have needed to look seriously at the amount of exercise I get and the quality of my diet.

So as of today I am cutting down on my alcohol intake and improving the quantity of vegetables in my cooking. On the veg side I made a start last night with a chow mein that was heavy on the frozen vegetables – which are apparently just as good for you as fresh ones – and since I like a well stocked freezer I have no excuse for not eating large quantities of vegetables…

I do not exercise. I don’t get any enjoyment from exercise for exercise sake and there is no way I’m wasting my time down a gym. However I have until recently always been reasonably fit because I have never minded walking and I don’t consider anything under 2 miles to be an unreasonable distance. Unfortunately since having Spider I have been a little more reliant on the car for logistical reasons and lack of time. I am therefore trying to work more exercise into daily life.

I know I am fooling myself to think that without a lot more effort on the exercise front I will ever get my 24 inch waist back and if I’m honest I think trying to get rid of 8 inches of blubber is probably not achievable. I am therefore aiming for 27inches and if the first 2 inches come off easily then I might increase the exercise regime to something more intensive.

Having scanned through my recipe books for inspiration I have come to the conclusion that Leon: Allegra McEvedy might be a good book to use for menu planning as it appears to have less reliance on butter and cream and does seem to have a high content of vegetables in the recipes.

I was interested to note that Allegra has a new recipe book coming out in August co written with Paul Merret (whose Losing the Plot: Tales of an Allotment Chef I received for my birthday last week) called Economy Gastronomy which is concentrating on eating well, eating healthily but eating cheaply…sounds very timely.

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.

Ursula’s (wholemeal) Pizza

I challenged myself at the beginning of January to post in alphabetical order. There were some rules, I was allowed to bend the subject matter of the letter a little, I would not buy lots of ingredients in specially for the recipe and I would cook things that we would normally eat. On days where I didn’t have the time to cook or the inclination I could write about something related to food, like a chef.

So I was so pleased to discover this recipe under “U” in Leon:Allegra McEvedy and then to realised that the only strong flour left in cupboard was wholemeal, I have all the ingredients in the cupboard for the sauce and I can tailor the toppings to something the family will eat.

But wholemeal ? Do I eat wholemeal pizza ? Yes, in  fact a slice of wholemeal pizza, topped with pumpkin seeds from the health food shop in Llangfni (Anglesey) used to be my treat in the summer I left university…there weren’t a lot of jobs around that year and even less when you were living away from the main stream on a welsh island. Not a lot of jobs around now, and homemade pizza is cheap if you have the time.

And time is something I don’t have a lot of which is why its taken until saturday for me to make the dough. Its in the fridge now having a long long slow rise (a la Nigella Lawson) ready for movie night tonight – I’m off now to clear out the veg drawer in the fridge – fun (not!).

Oh almost forgot, can’t find recipe for this out on the web and I’m not posting it here as there is a mistake in the book (you add the yeast twice in 2 different ways, I did what I thought made sense but I won’t know until tonight whether it’s worked). Recipe for a  similar wholemeal pizza is here.

What on earth possessed me ?

This title can refer to 3 things equally

  • cooking a goose
  • going for a run
  • making Christmas presents

I planned to cook a goose. I was full of enthusiasm right up to the moment when Husband and Spider drove off to spend the day with Teenager and Student. The arrangement was that I would have dinner on the table by 7pm…so they drove off and I sat there looking at this flat, floppy defrosted, large goose in the kitchen and a fridge full of vegetables…I sat and looked, I made a coffee, I ate a slice of Christmas cake, I sat and looked. This went on for about an hour when I suddenly remembered I had no potatoes and I’d left the “back up chicken” (in case no one liked it) at my Mum’s…so a trip there wasted another 30 minutes. Then at 11.30 I sat down and wrote a timetable working back by 3 hours.

Now, those who have read the blog before know that I had been inspired by an article in the Observer by Allegra McEvedy. I did however have doubts about her timetable as it was a bit vague on times and seemed to imply that a 4.5kg goose is going to take 1 hour 45 minutes. No, as a rule you are looking at for poultry, give or take, at least 20 minutes per pound – judging by the search terms showing up on my blog this evening (allegra goose complaints) other people have been having problems with this recipe – I took the opportunity whilst at Mum’s to check with Mum and her copy of Delia and we agreed on 3 hours total cooking time.

Anyway, once I had leavered my bottom off the sofa and had a plan to follow everything was fine. OK having to pour off the fat every 30 minutes was a pain and the last 30 minutes of a roast trying to get everything on the table at the same time is always a pain and involves a lot of shouting at everyone else… there was also the problem that the oven was taken up with 3 sorts of stuffing (Nigella’s chestnut from 2 years ago which I found in the freezer, Nigella’s gingerbread stuffing specially requested by husband and the fruit and nut stuffing recommended by Allegara)

verdict : goose doesn’t do it for me anymore than turkey does. You don’t get much meat from it and I’d rather cook 3 chickens instead. But it is almost all brown meat which I love, the leftovers make great sandwiches, there is a lot of free range bones for stock and lots of fat for later roast potatoes (have stoked the freezer with it). On the stuffing front the fruit and nut stuffing from Allegra is amazing, Nigella’s gingerbread didn’t hit the spot for anyone and I am left wondering what on earth you do with left over stuffing ! Also I ended up with 4 empty plates, Spider though didn’t touch any of it but then it had been a long day…

The run – my neighbour Flapjack Queen (FQ) has a dog. The last time I volunteered to walk the dog was at the end of August when FQ was overdue on giving birth. Smiler, the dog did a runner on me and after 40 minutes fruitless searching I went home to own up to being useless only to discover she had been back for ages ! Anyway, FQ was visiting relatives and asked if I would walk Smiler. “Yes no problem I said” thinking Teenager would be back by then and could be bribed with hard cash. Nope, come 4pm I was on my own and the goose had been in for 30 minutes. I poured off the latest collection of fat and went next door to get the dog…

Because of our “history” I decided to put the dog on her lead to walk her as I couldn’t risk her running off as I had the goose in the oven and needed to be back to pour off the fat and avoid the kitchen going up in flames… Smiler, unsurprisingly was not happy and set off at a trot which quickly became a run and then a gallop dragging me along behind her…note to self a goth skirt and chelsea boots are not suitable for running in…although they did have the wonderful effect of hiding the “thunder thighs” I was accused of having at 15 (which is why I stopped running in the first place)…side note here – looking back on pictures of me when I was 18, I had a good figure, I was slim…shame that in your teens you don’t have the confidence to realise it…now I admit, if I run at my age I should have a sports bra on my legs to stop them bouncing up and down…oh oh oh to be 17 again – right nostalgic moan over !

End result, I had my first run of 2009 some 7 days early…it wasn’t too bad in fact and I may well repeat the (with proper footwear) I won’t be repeating the goose unless we get another bargain buy !

And making Christmas presents ? Well when I was younger I used to knit – I wasn’t bad. I have lost count of the number of friends whose children have had hand knits inflicted on them. Anyway, I have under the bed a teddy bear that my Mum knitted which was awaiting clothes…and had been for 4 years. So at the beginning of November I started knitting clothes for this bear but kept running out of wool and then went ill and then ran out of money (again) – and I also had a tiger hat and two dinosaurs to knit and yes I ran out of time and have decided to put the lot on ice until the children’s respective birthdays (Spider, and FQ’s 3 children)…oh yes and having 2 cats haven’t helped as my whole knitting bag is like one great big spider’s web… january-2009-062

Its been a week…if not more…

My sister in law, Islay asked me about the goose and whether I was going to write anything about it.

Well I did cook it and I will write something about it but not yet as I am really not feeling up to writing at the moment, I do not have the same stamina as the lovely Mrs Lacer over on Lacer’s Life who, like a true writer can keep going even when her body is falling apart – me I’m a bit of wimp.

I haven’t done a lot of cooking over Christmas as I have been down with a very nasty lurgy that leaves me with no energy. I did cook the goose on boxing day but it was only for the immediate family who presumably already have what I have, and also the Teenager and the Student. But I figured that catching something from me that means they spend most of the day in bed sleeping reading and listening to music would be no change in the norm for them !

Today has been one monumental cock up in organisation and I fear I may have upset both my sister in laws by ending up seeing them both on the same day and not really spending much time with either…and then at 5pm it all became too much for me and I once again retired to bed. Its odd this bug, apart from the hacking cough its very reminiscent of glandular fever in the way it saps your energy.

I was going to leave you here with a natural cold cure remedy from Leon:Allegra Mcevedy which I have been reading avidly since the 25th…but I had no rosemary (slugs, drought and then flood in the summer killed it off) so I followed a Peter Gordon recipe which was remarkably similar.