Friday 23 March 2012

Asparagus and Celery Soup with Paul Hollywood's Roquefort and Walnut bread rolls

Spring has sprung (officially) and the clocks are about to leap forward. No longer will we be living on Greenwich mean-time, but British summer-time (until the end of October).

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 -1883), from his poem Locksley Hall (a monologue of 97 rhyming couplets telling the tale of an emotional soldier returning to his fictional childhood home) speaks of Spring:-

In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast;
In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;

In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove;
In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

So to turn heads towards food instead, I thought it would be good to add a springtime feel (or rather taste) to our menu. We have been creating something new for the breakfast selection and chef had decided on Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s asparagus, chorizo and poached eggs for a particularly sunny morning. (It doubles up for lunch too.)

After preparation I noticed quite lot of asparagus was left, mostly thick stalked ones which are a wee bit too woody – but not for soup. Seizing the moment; soup of the day was to be Asparagus and Celery.

I chopped decent sized unyun and sweated it in butta with some chopped bakun. As I was chopping the asparagus pieces (and I think there were about a dozen) a regular visitor helpfully said: “you do know that if you eat asparagus it makes your wee smell?”  Well, thank you for that! Anyway, it’s the young, tender spikes which have that effect, apparently. In fact, there’s quite a debate about it so I’m not sure if it affects everyone in that way or just the selected. Or, it could just be that only some can actually smell it and others can’t. All to do with the olfactory system I guess. If you click on the link above, good old Wikipedia will tell you all about it.

Moving on, I added celery to the unyun and bakun, after stripping off the stringy bits. You can just chop it, but then you need to put it through a sieve to get rid of them and the soup loses its consistency. Or, better still, use celeriac. I used about half a dozen sticks of celery so that would be about half a celeriac root. It needs about two pints of stock, chicken is best, unless you are veggie of course, and then you wouldn’t have put the bacon in either. Vegetable stock is equally good. Finally, with the asparagus I added four potatoes (after I had peeled and chopped them) and left it to burble for about twenty minutes. I used a mixture of herbs as I couldn’t decide which would be best (thyme, marjoram, sage, oregano, parsley). I also used white pepper although you could use ground black pepper if you prefer.  It’s all a matter of taste.

To go with this spring soup, a really good bread was required. Paul Hollywood was the obvious choice and he does fabulous Roquefort and walnut bread rolls. Just perfect.

When the soup is cooked I use my ‘magic wand’ (hand blender) and joooosh – ready to serve. It's really good with a dollop of creme fraiche in the centre.

I have given some to our regular caller and they will report back about the after effects. (I noticed they had also eaten the poached-egg breakfast, so they should find out for sure!) Apparently asparagus is a diuretic, so results shouldn't take long. On the bright side, asparagus does have some excellent health benefits; it has been said that it can:

detoxify our system
have anti-aging functions
protect against cancer
reduce pain and inflammation
prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis
reduce the risk of heart disease
help prevent birth defects
is considered an aphrodisiac - oh dear, we're back to young man's fancy!
Ingredient recap:

Medium onion
Chunk of butter (about 2 oz)
2 rashers of bacon – chopped
About a dozen spears of asparagus – chopped
6 sticks of celery – de-stringed and chopped (or half a celeriac)
4 medium potatoes – peeled and chopped
2 pints stock
Mixed herbs.
Salt and white pepper (or black – your choice)

Roquefort and Walnut Bread Rolls:
Wholemeal flour
Strong white bread flour
Dried, fast action yeast
Roquefort cheese

Asparagus, chrorizo and poached eggs:
Rapeseed oil
White-wine vinegar

Friday 9 March 2012

Greek Salad (or Greek Tragedy)

As it is March, thoughts turn to “Beware the ides of.”  The word ides comes from the Latin word "Idus" and means "half division" especially in relation to a month. Used widely in the Roman calendar it indicates the approximate day that is the middle of the month – i.e. 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months. The ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars.

Julius Caesar didn’t particularly enjoy the ides of March:

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.

Beware the ides of March.

What man is that?

A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

A tragedy foretold if ever there was. 

Greek tragedies were performed in late March/early April at festivals in honor of Dionysus (the god of fertility and wine). There would be a contest between three playwrights, who each presented their works on successive days. They would prepare a trilogy of tragedies, plus an unrelated concluding comic piece called a satyr play. Often, the three plays featured linked stories, but later writers like Euripides may have presented three unrelated plays. Only one complete trilogy has survived, the Oresteia of Aeschylus. The Greek theatre was in the open air, on the side of a hill, and performances of a trilogy and satyr play probably lasted most of the day. Performances were apparently open to all citizens, including women!

However, many enjoy Greek salads over a Greek tragedy and the best place to experience one of these is definitely in a taverna, close by the sea on a Greek island of your choice. 

If you can’t go to Greece – Cyprus do a good one, but if you are Blighy bound, then it’s best to go to a Greek restaurant.

In Greek: χωριάτικη σαλάτα   Pronounced:  haw-ree-AH-tee-kee sah-LAH-tah

The basic ingredients for χωριάτικη σαλάτα are easily obtainable.  You’ll need some
ripe tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, Greek feta cheese, Greek olives (Kalamata, green Cretan olives, etc.), top quality extra virgin olive oil, and Greek oregano (rigani).  You can also add green pepper (never red), capers, and salt according to taste.  If you would like to see an authentic Greek recipe for this, just click here  Sometimes cos lettuce is put in, but personally I don’t think leaves really belong in there. 

Nigel Slater does an amazing Greek Salad with a good tip on how to make the onion less oniony.  Click here to see it - now that's what I call a Greek Salad!

Why not try some Halloumi Bread with said salad? - Master Baker Paul Hollywood has a fantastic recipe for this, and it can be found here

Summer’s coming – enjoy a Greek salad with a nice glass of wine, maybe a Pinot Grigio (perhaps not Retsina unless you are in Greece) under the dappled shade of a leafy tree and a copy of Oedipus The King to swat away the wasps.


Wednesday 7 March 2012

Butternut Squash and Celeriac Soup with Paul Hollywood's Chedder and Apple Bread

What's the daftest thing you could do with some canisters of soup?  Yes, that is a rhetorical question.
At Fancy Pans we make soup for some local, elderly residents and I deliver it as soon as it is prepared before putting it on the lunchtime menu. 

It was a good day for Butternut Squash soup, but as I didn't have any pears, and only half the quantity of squash I needed, I accidentally invented a new recipe. 

Chef was going to make a fabulous dish of roasted loin of venison with celeriac puree and port sauce - to see the recipe click here (seen on Masterchef), so there was lots of celeriac available (an ugly vegetable if ever there was one).
 I began as usual by chopping a fairly large onion and sweated it off for a while in butter and vegetable oil. Whilst that was cooking I peeled and removed the seeds from the squash and chopped it.  Then I 'acquired' a celeriac, peeled and chopped that too. There were equal quantities of squash and celeriac, about a pound of each (500g if you are metric). In to the onion they both went followed by two pints of stock (chicken or vegetable). A few sprigs of thyme completed the mix. When it was bubbling away nicely I added some white pepper the amount is down to choice - if you like it hot, put plenty in, but don't add any salt until later. When it has cooked for about 15 or 20 minutes, remove from the heat, take out the thyme sprigs and liquidise. You can either add to a liquidiser in batches, or use a hand blender. I like to add Garam Masala at this point so that it is blended as it is liquidised, so I picked up the jar and added a good, heaped teaspoonful.  The soup was really thick so I added just over half a pint of milk (that's 10 fluid ounces). You need to keep tasting to make sure the seasoning is to your liking and adjust it.  The soup had a slight 'kick', but wasn't spicy, just smooth and tasty. I poured some into the delivery cartons and went to load the car. I had some tins of cakes which I needed to take too so I put the soup onto the roof of the car whilst I put the cakes on the back seat.  All set, I jumped in and headed off to deliver.  Half-way down the road the realisation hit me - I'd left the soup on the roof!  The road was quiet and I pulled over.  Checked the roof - no soup!  It must be back at Fancy Pans.  Alas, no.  On my return, no evidence of soup.  A walk down the road eventually revealed a few shattered remains of the canisters, but no contents.  They had all but disappeared.   The second run was successful with soup safely transported. 

On my return I noticed I had left the Garam Masala on the side so I picked it up to put away and discovered that it was actually ground ginger!  So, there you have it, Butternut Squash and Celeriac  Soup with Ginger.  Try it with Paul Hollywood's fantastic Cheddar and apple bread - he isn't Master Baker for nothing!

Ingredient recap:

1 onion
Butter (1-2 oz) - add a little vegetable oil to prevent burning
1lb Butternut Squash
1lb Celeriac
2 pints stock (chicken or vegetable)
A few sprigs of thyme
A heaped teaspoon of ground ginger
Half a pint of milk

Gardener's Delight (and Foodie's Pleasure)

Afternoon tea was taken recently at the Rowena Garden Centre (Loughborough Road, Rothley) - to read more about the history of Rowena, click here

In the Conservatory Restaurant there are such a lot of tempting items it's hard to choose.  Do you go for the afternoon tea - sandwich, scone and cream, pot of really good tea - served on a tiered cake stand?  Or, chose a huge slice of one of the delicious cakes?  Difficult decision.

They do some fantastic offers (click here to see some) - you even get free tea or coffee with some.  And if you have a gardening Club Card, you get points too!

Their Victoria Sponge is an absolute delight (with buttercream as well as jam - maybe the W.I wouldn't approve, but is is so good)

The carrot cake is another winner 

And the Simnel Cake slices just fabulous - and here's their recipe (just click) - very seasonal.

There is such a great choice - they do hot puddings too if you eat at lunchtime.  The Conservatory Restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea and their Mothering Sunday menu looks yummy (and very reasonable).

So, if you are in need of gardening supplies and are feeling peckish (or down right hungry even) then you can't go wrong but to try Rowena.