Thursday, 29 January 2015

Creamy Celeriac Soup

It’s been absolutely freezing outside today – the kind of January day when soup is required and nothing but soup will do. Once this morning’s biting wind had died down it started to snow like billy-o this afternoon – it’s settled but there isn’t enough to make a snowman. It looks very pretty though.

I picked up a decent sized celeriac when we were shopping yesterday – I’m not sure what I was planning to do with it. It’s funny stuff, celeriac, not the most attractive of vegetables; it looks more like something you'd use to prop the back door open! Looks aren't everything, though; it has a fabulous earthy taste - like celery with delusions of grandeur. I thought I’d give some soup a whirl for our lunch.

It worked out really well, very creamy and very warming; perfect with a couple of slices of homemade seedy bread.

750g celeriac
1 medium onion
1 medium floury potato
2 sticks of celery
1tbsp olive oil
1lt stock
250ml milk

chopped parsley
few grinds of black pepper

Run a peeler down the sticks of celery to take off any stringy bits, then chop roughly. Peel and chop the rest of the veg.

Heat the oil gently in a large pan; add all the veg, lower the heat and put a lid on the pan. Sweat the veg for 10 mins then add the stock; bring to a boil, turn the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 mins until tender.

Take off the heat, add the milk and blitz until completely smooth and silky, adding a little more stock if necessary.

Reheat gently and serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and a good grind of black pepper.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas Cake - a bit more festive

Well, here we have the finished article for this year.

In truth it doesn’t look much different from the one I usually do although the cake itself, under the topping, is entirely different as you will have seen from the post below. I seem to have hit on a winning formula for the topping of the cake a few years ago; it works for us and if it ain’t broke I won’t fix it.

There’s a very good chance that it’ll be cut into quite soon, since Mr S-V keeps giving it the eye every time he opens the pantry door! As he quite rightly points out, though, there’s no sense in keeping everything back to eat at Christmas because it’s just not humanly possible to have a taste of all the goodies in one day. You can’t deny his logic…

1 18cm square rich fruit cake
white marzipan
a little icing sugar
3 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp brandy
soft dried apricots
whole brazils
whole pecans or walnuts


Make the glaze by heating the jam and brandy gently in a small pan until the jam melts, then rub the mixture through a sieve with the back of a spoon.

Using a pastry brush, paint the top of your cake generously with the glaze; roll out the marzipan to a depth of about 0.5cm on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar and cut to size using the base of your cake tin as a guide. Lay the marzipan on top of the cake and brush with more glaze.

Arrange the fruit and nuts on the marzipan, pressing them in lightly, then brush generously with the rest of the glaze.

Tie the ribbon round the side of the cake.

Store in an airtight tin in a cool place.

Update: 22.12.14

Cake has been cut and sampled - a resounding success. Really fruity with a moist texture. Oh, my poor expanding waistline... Many thanks to Russell at Flatford for a brilliant recipe.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

This Year's Christmas Cake

Well here we are in the first week of November and I’m already getting ready for Christmas. If I’m not careful I’ll be getting ahead of myself!

Over the weekend the house smelt like Christmas had already arrived; I made our Christmas pudding on Saturday and on Sunday I made this years’ cake. I used a recipe by Russell Clement, Catering Manager at Flatford, one of the National Trust’s properties. The recipe was on the back of our latest newsletter and I was intrigued by it – I’ve never seen a recipe where some of the fruit was blitzed and then mixed in, but it sounded so good I just had to give it a try. Obviously I haven’t tasted the cake yet but if the taste of the mixture (when I ran my finger round the empty bowl!) is anything to go by it’s definitely a winner.
It looks pretty damn fine to me as it is, but I’ll top it with marzipan and a pattern of glazed nuts and fruit to prettify it a bit. Can’t wait to have a slice with a cuppa a bit nearer the big day!
I emailed Flatford to ask them if I could use Russell’s recipe on the blog and they very kindly agreed, so here it is in its entirety… The only thing I changed was the baking time, although that may be my oven; I ended up cooking it for exactly 3 hours.
Fruit-packed Christmas Cake
100g dried pears, finely chopped
100g dried apple, finely chopped
150g raisins
300g sultanas
50g dried sour cherries
100g dried cranberries
50g best quality candied peel, finely chopped
40g candied stem ginger, finely chopped
¼ tsp ground cloves
2 bay leaves
2 clementines, zest and juice
150ml liqueur e.g. Cointreau, Kirsch, Cassis or Framboise
50g hazelnuts, blanched (or skins removed)
50g almonds, blanched
200g butter, unsalted
175g dark brown muscovado sugar
4 free-range eggs at room temp, beaten
250g SR flour
1.The night before you bake the cake, place all the prepared dry fruit, ginger, ground cloves, bay leaves, zest and juice of the clementines and the booze into a large non-reactive bowl and mix well. Take a big sniff (it's heady stuff and smells wonderful!) then cover and leave to steep overnight in a cool place.
2.Grease and line a 20cm cake tin. (I used an 18cm square tin) Leave the parchment protruding around the edge of the tin, standing about 5-6cm proud of the edge to protect the cake during the long cooking.  Pre-heat the oven to 125C (fan) or 150C (conventional).
3.Toast the nuts until golden brown, place them in a processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Add the nuts to the fruit mixture, remove the bay leaves, mix well and put 350g of the fruit and nut mixture back into the processor. Blend to a thick paste.
4.Beat the sugar and butter together until the sugar has dissolved then slowly combine the eggs, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flour, then stir in the paste and the rest of the fruit and nut mixture.
5.Spoon the mix into the tin and level the surface well. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 2-2½ hours. Check the cake by inserting a skewer or knife into the centre and see that it comes away clean.
6.Leave the cake in the tin to cool then remove, leaving the parchment in place, and wrap tightly in foil until the big day.
7.This cake is very versatile, it will take any kind of finish you like from a simple glaze to draping in fondant so let your imagination guide you!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Foie's a matter of choice

OK, I’m a fool to myself and I’ll probably wish I’d kept my mouth shut but here goes…

I saw a link to this news item from the Vegetarian Society on Twitter today and it really made me angry. It illustrates why I sometimes hate being labelled ‘a vegetarian’ and why I could never be a member of the Veg Soc. I just can’t stand their preaching and I really don’t want to be associated with it. Is it any wonder that omnivores complain about veggies always being so 'holier than thou' about not eating meat? 
Take this simplistic, naïve statement from the Veg Soc in the piece above, for example “The production of foie gras is unnecessary”. On the contrary, foie gras is entirely necessary for someone who wants to eat it. In these days of food being transported around the world, with strawberries and asparagus available in December, ‘necessity’ is beside the point – it’s about freedom and personal choice. Right now… do I ‘need’ a piece of coffee and walnut cake? No, of course not, but I’d damn well like some! Others may feel the same about foie gras.

I am obviously not in favour of animal cruelty but I’m also not afraid to face the unpalatable fact of life that animals are still seen as less important and more expendable than humans…this isn't going to change, ’twas ever thus. Animal cruelty will never be eradicated as long as there are living humans on this planet. While there is money to be made from selling an animal related item there will be people willing to buy said item. 

I can’t stop every instance of animal exploitation – I can only do what is right for me; but what I won't do is preach to others or tell them how to behave. If someone wants to eat a steak or foie gras or sea bass…go ahead, I hope you enjoy it. Just don’t ask me to join in.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

'School Dinner' Jam and Coconut Sponge

Mr Simply Veg and I were talking about school dinners the other day; I don’t know how we got on to the subject – I can only say when you get to our age you start to ramble a bit.

I loved school dinners mainly because they were so much nicer than the meals I had at home. Sadly I can honestly state, without any fear of contradiction, that my mother never managed to serve up an edible meal in her life; you know the sort of thing…if the veg are still recognisable they haven’t been boiled for long enough. Gravy…? One lump or two?

Anyway, Mr S-V said his school dinners weren’t particularly memorable but then he went all dewy eyed about a jam and coconut sponge he used to have for pudding. I was tasked with recreating this culinary masterpiece and by all accounts I did a pretty good job. *polishes halo*

Himself is a very happy chappie and I am now officially a domestic goddess. As I’ve said before…he’s easily pleased.

170g unsalted butter
170g caster sugar
3 eggs
170g self-raising flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp strawberry jam
50g desiccated coconut

Line a 16cm x 24cm baking tin with baking parchment. Turn the oven on to 180C.

Cream the butter and sugar together with a hand-held mixer until light and fluffy then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the flour and the vanilla extract. Scoop into the lined tin, level the top, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

When cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

When the cake is completely cool spread with the jam, going right up to the edges, then sprinkle over the desiccated coconut.

Cut into squares and serve with custard. Lots of custard. Also good served as cake with a decent cuppa.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Creamy Mushroom Tagliatelle

I saw a discussion on a food board recently along the lines of ‘If you could only have three vegetables’. It really set me thinking – I’m just not sure I could whittle it down to three.

Well, there’s mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, (yes, I know, tomatoes are technically a fruit but you wouldn’t want one in your fruit salad!) but how could I live without broccoli, butternut squash, sprouts or peppers; and then there’s asparagus and aubergines and green beans not to mention celery and carrots….oooh, and beetroot! I could go on...!

Let’s face it, there’s no way on this earth I could keep to only three veg, which is why I’m glad vegetables are one of the main elements of our meals rather than just an add-on or a side dish.

Mushrooms are one of my absolute favourites - this is a bit of a variation on Mushroom Stroganoff, which we love, plus pasta. What's not to like?

1 tbsp olive oil
knob of butter
2 shallots
300g mushrooms
1 clove of garlic
50ml white wine
200g crème fraiche
1 tbsp chopped parsley
black pepper

150g tagliatelle

Thinly slice the shallots and sauté until translucent in the oil and butter. Thickly slice the mushrooms and add to the onions; cook until all the water from the mushrooms has evaporated then add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Season with black pepper and add the wine; allow to bubble for a minute or two then stir in the crème fraiche and chopped parsley.

Cook the tagliatelle in a large pan of boiling water until al dente. Drain and add to the creamy mushrooms; mix carefully and serve immediately with plenty of grated parmesan-style cheese.

Serves 2

Friday, 29 August 2014

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms

I know Shirley Conran said some years back “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom”, but I thought it was about time I proved her wrong. Well, I’m definitely no Superwoman and I could be about forty years too late, but better late than never.

We had these nutty, veggie stuffed mushrooms for dinner on Monday, really needing something to cheer us up; it was a Bank Holiday here and it absolutely poured with rain the entire day. I felt so sorry for all those people who had outdoor plans for their day off. Great British weather…don’t you just love it?

Having decided to make these lovely mush I hit a bit of a brick wall over what to serve them with – I ummed and ahhed about creamy mashed potato but I finally came down on the side of lemony herb couscous. Nothing new there, I’d happily eat couscous every day.

Incidentally, I always thought these mushrooms were called Portobello, but it seems they’re now called ‘Portabella’. Amazing…you learn something new every day.

1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
1 red pepper, cored and diced
olive oil
6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
50g pine nuts
½ tsp dried oregano
1 crushed clove of garlic
125g grated mozzarella
1 thick slice wholemeal bread, blitzed into crumbs
4 large Portabella mushrooms
1 tbsp pesto

Remove the stalks from the mushrooms and chop finely; sauté the stalks together with the onion and red pepper in a tablespoon of olive oil until lightly coloured; add the sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, oregano and garlic and cook for another minute then scoop into a large bowl and mix in the breadcrumbs and half the cheese.

Turn the oven on to 180C.

Brush the outside of the mushrooms liberally with olive oil and smear the pesto over the insides; place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and, using your hands, (it’s easier than a spoon - trust me!) put a quarter of the stuffing into each mushroom.

Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 25 minutes then take them out of the oven and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes until golden.

Serves 2