Emergency Tomato Soup

Emergency Tomato Soup

Many years ago a relative gave me this recipe which, she told me, was called Emergency Tomato Soup. I understood this to mean that it was to be made under certain conditions when only soup would do. My son was ill this week and struggling to eat due to a very painful throat. He suddenly asked for tomato soup. It was then that I recalled this recipe. As you will see, it is made from store cupboard ingredients and perhaps that is also why it can be made in an emergency.

It has a lot of garlic which is supposed to be good for colds and makes the house smell wonderful. Sadly my son could not taste the garlic but he ate several bowls of the soup which no doubt gave his body a good dose of vitamins.

For 4 people:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 carrots, grated
750ml chicken stock – I used a couple of cubes
2 x 410g cans chopped tomatoes
200g tomato puree
1 teaspoon sugar
6 large cloves garlic, crushed
12 basil leaves, chopped.
Black pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

Gently heat the olive oil in a pot and add the chopped onion and carrot. Saute for 5 – 10 minutes to let the vegetables soften. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, tomato puree, garlic, sugar and a grinding of black pepper. Stir to combine. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Allow the soup to cool off a bit and then blend in the food processor.

Reheat and serve with a good handful of basil leaves in each bowl.

If you are not watching your cholesterol you can add a grating of parmesan to your bowl.

Eat, enjoy and feel better – whatever your emergency.

Food Glorious Food – 9 April 2014

There are times in life when priorities collide. This happened to me recently when I was invited by Eating London Tours to participate in one of their walking and eating tours of the East End. I said ‘yes’ before you could say jellied eels. Such an opportunity does not come along regularly and I knew that my cholesterol would still be there to be lowered the following day.

Having recently visited the East End – and written about the magnificent salt beef bagels – I was itching to return. The tour, which involves 3 ½ hours of strolling and eating was a gustatory gluttonfest which you can read about in full on my Kitchen Journeys blog. (http://kitchenjourneys.net/2014/03/eating-london/)

Suffice it to say that the morning began at 10 am with a toasted bacon sarnie that is said to the best in London and I challenge anyone to improve on it. For those who might refuse such a magnificent mouthful because of religious practice, vegetarianism or a higher plane of discipline than me, all you need to know is that it is the best bacon sandwich you will never eat.

The morning ended with a salted caramel and chocolate tart with a dollop of cream – no half measures. In between we ate an exquisite bread and butter pudding with rum infused custard, a platter of British cheese, fish and chips with mushy peas, three curries with naan, a salt beef bagel and some ale and cider for good measure. I kid you not. Along the way we learnt about the history of immigration to the area, walked the streets admiring street art and making room for the next food stop.

In the evening I served my three hungry men a virtuous meal of baked salmon, broccoli and wholemeal couscous followed by strawberries and yoghurt. I couldn’t eat a thing. Yet, by midnight I was sat in bed, warm under the duvet with a mug of chamomile and a thick slice of bread generously covered with peanut butter. Food, Glorious Food!!

Tomorrow I leave for the Southern Hemisphere. I hope to be enjoying lots of fresh fish and fresh air, sunshine and warm weather. I am not sure whether I will have access to Wi-Fi and so will be back on the blog in 2 weeks. Until then, I wish you happy and healthy eating.

Roast Haunch of Venison

Roast Haunch of Venison

I eat very little red meat buy when I do my preference is for game which is low fat. I bought a venison haunch from my farmer’s market where the man who sold it to me could tell me all about its provenance down to the date it was turned into joints ready to be sold. He himself had shot the animal and this was as fresh a piece of meat I was likely to find. This is the way I like to buy meat – straight from the supplier.

I was quite excited about my purchase because I have never cooked a haunch before, albeit that I regularly sear a few venison steaks for our dinner. This seemed more of a challenge and one that I treated myself to on Mother’s Day. I know that mums are supposed to let the family cook lunch on this day, but there was no way I was letting anyone near my haunch. No, this was my treat to myself.

I did some research on cooking methods and discovered some difference of opinion on whether to lard the meat, or to bard it by covering it in bacon before cooking, or even to marinade it overnight. I decided to follow the advice in Game (by Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington Davies) which suggested that none of the above methods was necessary. However, to avoid overcooking venison – very easy to do as it has so little fat and dries out quickly – one has to attend to the cooking process. This is not one of those slow roasts that you stick in the oven and forget about for several hours.

Ideally game should be cooked with a meat thermometer to hand, but since my kitchen equipment does not extend to this level of precision, I followed the timing suggestions to the letter. And was well rewarded.

This recipe is very simple indeed but I do think that with a great quality product one should faff around as little as possible. My husband said this was the best venison he has ever eaten. That is good enough for me.

I served the meat with a celeriac puree as smooth as butter, balsamic glazed shallots and, finally, a Francatetelli sauce. Apparently Francatelli was chef to Queen Victoria, who no doubt had a great herd of deer.

For 6 – 8 people:

1 venison haunch about 2kg
½ teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper
Olive oil
1 roasting tray with a rack

Preheat the oven to 220 C.

Rub the meat well with the salt and freshly ground pepper and set aside.

Pour the oil into a roasting tray and heat it. I actually used the last of the goose fat I had lurking in the fridge since xmas which is not exactly low fat. Bear in mind that you are only going to seal the meat in the oil and then cook it above on a rack.

When the oil is hot, seal the meat on all sides. Do this quickly as venison dries out quickly so you don’t need to get it to brown too much.

Now place the rack into the roasting tray and place the venison on top. Put it into the hot oven and time it for 20 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 150 C and time it for 10 minutes per 500g. This will give you a wonderfully tender and pink meat, medium rare. As the writers of Game point out, if you do not like your venison pink then a haunch is the wrong cut. They suggest a pot roasted shoulder as an alternative.

Once the ten minutes is up, wrap the venison loosely in foil and keep in a warm place for 20 minutes. I never quite know what that means so I switch off my oven and place the meat inside with the door open.

Have all your accompaniments ready by now and you can carve the meat. Serve on hot plates so that it doesn’t get cold too quickly.

To make a Francatelli sauce (I used a recipe from the Ballymaloe Cookery Course, Darina Allen):
225 g Redcurrant jelly
1 cinnamon stick, give it a bash
Peel of one lemon
2 tablespoons port

Heat gently and simmer for 5 minutes

This sauce is so delicious that it disappeared in a trice. I would advise making double the amount.

Spring Fever – 2 April 2014

Spring is traditionally the season for cleaning and decluttering. Suffice it to say that I have no talent for either of these worthy activities. I am much happier sitting in the garden admiring the blossoms. Decluttering, however, has become a necessity of late in my household as we have discovered tiny droppings in the loft, raising the unpleasant thought that we are playing host to an uninvited guest. Mind you, it is a very quiet creature. We hear no pitter patter of tiny feet above our heads in the quiet of the night. Still, the time has come to tackle the junk shop that is our loft space. My husband, a declutterer of note, has taken to the task willingly. He disappears up the wobbly ladder with regularity, returning rather dirty and brandishing bags of uncertain origin filled with detritus that must be separated into those three piles you read about in magazines – keep, donate, sell. In our household that equates to charity shop (smallish pile), forgotten items that rejoin the wardrobe after years of exile (larger pile), and stuff that sits around for a further few months before returning to the loft (largest pile).

Recently a collection of gifts made for previous mother’s days has emerged and my bedroom is now littered with tiny boxes decorated with a lot of glue and a few jewel-like beads, a mirror in a pink frame, lovingly crafted cards in handwritings that begin in large, hard to decipher letters and evolve into more mature scripts that chart the passing of the years. Bless the teachers who had the patience to help create these precious tokens of a child’s love for his mother – or at least ticking the boxes of the creative curriculum such as it still exists in our schools.

I was much at my mothering post this Mother’s Day with an ill child. Much TLC and chicken soup is my prescription. My husband and I went to Waitrose to stock up on supplies of tissues and Neurofen. We paused at the bakery section where piles of freshly baked and butter enriched croissants sat awaiting their place on trays up and down the nation as part of mother’s breakfast in bed. I was struck by the size of these pastries which confirms one of the observations in French Women Don’t Get Fat, which is that in France the average croissant is smaller than in the UK. From my observations this is true.

This week there has been much in the news about how 2/3 of UK adults and 1/3 of children are overweight. This is partly due to what we are eating and how little exercise we are doing. Not that I am lecturing. Not this week at any rate. I have eaten several slices of birthday cake – Carrot if you are wondering and yes I will supply the recipe as it is divine and for a special occasion it can’t harm. On Mother’s Day I cooked a venison haunch as a treat to myself. It was the sort of fun in the kitchen that makes a Sunday sing and is low fat to boot. My husband said it was the best venison he has ever eaten. That made my day. Homemade cards adorn the mantelpiece for the next few days. Better watch out for the declutterer.

Chard, Pak Choi and Shiitake Mushrooms with Soba Noodles

Chard, Pak Choi and Shiitake

In addition to eating our 5-a-day, we are advised to eat a rainbow of fruit and veg, benefiting from the nutrients and vitamins that the colour spectrum provides. Finding rainbow chard at my Farmer’s Market, I thought that it looked so pretty and would easily create the rainbow I like to see on my plate.

Simple stir fries are a mainstay of my weekly meal planning, sometimes reserved for special veg, but most times put together from what is in the fridge when cooking time is in short supply. This particular combination is gingery, garlicky and very colourful.

For 4 people:

Olive oil spray
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
Dried chilli flakes or 1 red chilli, finely sliced
250g rainbow chard – ordinary chard will do just fine too – washed well
250g pak choi, leaves separated and washed
250g shiitake mushrooms, stalks removed and dirt brushed off or washed lightly
Salt reduced soy sauce
4 skeins of soba noodles

Put a pot of water on to boil so that your noodles are cooking while you cook the stir fry. When the water is boiling add the soba noodles and boil for a few minutes until tender. You need to taste and drain as soon as they are ready. Soba noodles usually come in packets in which they are divided into skeins, each wrapped in a paper collar. I use one skein of noodles for each person, just remove the paper before placing in the boiling water.

Heat a wok – or large frying pan – add a few sprays of olive oil along with the garlic, ginger and chilli flakes or fresh chilli.

Add the chard, pak choi and mushrooms and keep moving the veg about in the wok until the leaves are wilted and the mushrooms have become silky. This won’t take more than a few minutes.
Add a few shakes of soy sauce.

You can add the drained noodles to the wok and mix in with the vegetables or place the noodles on plates and add the vegetables on top.

Mother’s Day – 26 March 2014

As both my birthday and Mother’s Day fall in March, I not only receive too many gifts at once and then nothing until Christmas, but it also tests the ingenuity of my three hungry men to the limit. Last year, it being my big 50, they went to town – well Paris, actually – and celebrated my birthday with an array of original, creative and beautiful gifts, all of which I continue to wear, use and admire. However, when Mother’s Day arrived, they were clearly maxed out in the imagination department. I awoke to find that no one had planned to cook lunch, nor booked a restaurant for a lazy brunch; there was no dinner shopped for nor breakfast in bed. I was presented with a gift to which I responded with unseasonal, unusual and reprehensible ire. Not in front of the kids, I hasten to add in mitigation.

What thoughtless gift could unleash such a tirade of emotion you might well be wondering? Strangely enough, it was one which, under other circumstances, I would have been delighted to acquire. The Le Creuset casserole dish matched the others in my collection and was the one size I did not yet own.

I blame my outburst on the stress of turning 50 with its accompanying hormonal roller coaster, but it felt more than that. Kitchenware on Mother’s Day is the equivalent of a tool set for fathers or socks for Xmas. It says ‘know your place’ loud and clear – or at least that was the message I mistakenly interpreted. This was a gift deeply mired in the translation.

For weeks it sat accusatively on the sofa while I deliberated about whether to return it or to stop sulking and use the damn thing. My poor husband was simultaneously upset by my feeling wounded, puzzled by my misinterpretation of his motives and downright annoyed by my lack of grace and gratefulness.

‘But you love cooking’ he reminded me.

I tried to explain that on Mother’s Day I want to be valued for more than being the resident chef. I spend most of my non-working time on shopping, cooking, taxiing, planning, thinking and providing. (My husband does the cleaning). I did not want to be presented with a pot, albeit one that cost a bomb and looked so lovely in burnt orange.

Perusing the magazines I notice that Mother’s Day gifts are full of kitchen gadgets or household appliances, or worst of all for the cholesterolly challenged – food hampers and chocolates. No, No, NO.

This year my long-suffering man has wisely asked for any suggestions I might have. I have pointed him in the direction of several new books I have my eye on. Top of my list is a cookbook I am excitedly awaiting. Fortunately for us all it is yet to be published. I doubt he would have been brave enough to buy it on this occasion and who knows how I might have responded if he hadn’t.

Rainbow Carrots with Caraway

Rainbow Carrot Salad with Caraway

I came across a selection of purple, yellow and orange carrots at the Farmers Market. Who could resist such an offering? Roasting carrots intensifies their flavour and this is further enhanced with a splash of citrus, an aniseed note of caraway and finally, the fresh taste of mint.

This makes an easy and colourful side dish to a main course or goes well as part of a mezze selection.

For 4 people:

5 -6 large carrots – preferably a mixture of colours but you can use ordinary ones if need be
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Olive oil spray
½ orange
Orange Blossom Water
A small bunch of fresh mint

Heat your oven to 180 C.

Scrub your carrots well – or peel – and cut lengthways into thin strips.
Lay these out in one layer in a roasting pan.
Add a few sprays of olive oil and mix with your hands.
Place in oven and roast for ½ hour.

Remove the roasted carrots and place on a serving platter. Dress with the juice of ½ orange and a few drops of orange blossom water.

Pick the mint leaves off their stalks and roughly chop before adding to the carrots.

Here Comes The Sun – 19 March 2014

Emerging into the sunlight after months of rain makes me feel like Mole in Wind in the Willows, burrowing his way out of a dark and gloomy place. I sit blinking in the brightness, smelling the earth that is still damp and if I had whiskers, they would certainly be twitching. Let’s not discuss those few that have emerged of late on my chin as they have been dispatched and surely won’t ever reappear – oh the suffering of the woman of a certain age!

All this sunshine puts me in mind of Vitamin D, levels of which are often deficient at this time of year in many of us who inhabit the northern hemisphere. This particular vitamin is not easily absorbed through what we eat, but rather through our exposure to sunlight. Our friend cholesterol plays a crucial role in helping to turn sunlight into Vitamin D. This is but one of many crucial roles cholesterol plays in keeping us healthy, a point that is easily forgotten in all the bad press it receives.

80 – 90 % of the Vitamin D we need is supplied by the sun, specifically the UVB rays. The sunlight interacts with the cholesterol in our skin and is transformed into Vitamin D. In order to get enough sunlight we need about ½ hour of midday sunlight to fall directly on our skin. Of course too much sun – especially in the summer months – is inadvisable so don’t throw away the sunscreen. As someone who never ventures into the sun without a wide brimmed hat, I have taken to rolling up my sleeves while out for my ½ hour of brisk walking. This way I get my allocated exposure without burning. Any additional sun time is spent under a high factor protection cream or in the shade. Weighing up the risks of skin cancer and the dangers of vitamin D deficiency is one of those balancing acts.

As with most health related advice, sun exposure time for optimal vitamin D absorption is not a simple matter. The Vitamin D Council recommends exposing a wide area of skin at midday for about half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink and start to burn. Each of us will differ in how much time that involves. Fair skinned people require less time in the sun than their darker skinned peers while older people need more exposure time than the young. So as not to become too obsessive-compulsive about it all, I think ½ hour sounds an average worth working towards. This is especially important in climates where we spend most of the year indoors.

If you are wondering what foods do contain vitamin D, it is mostly the oily fish family which we should be eating 2 – 3 portions of a week in order to consume the good fats that help with cholesterol control. Of course they also contain omega 3s about which I will be writing shortly. In addition to these fish, some cereals, juice and margarines are fortified with vitamin D but I don’t eat these as margarine is unhealthy (in my view) and the cereals and juices are packed full of sugar. Please note though, that you cannot eat your way to good levels of Vitamin D as the foods that do contain it, have very little in them. If you are deficient you may need to take a supplement. Best to discuss with your doctor.

Vitamin D deficiency is very common – especially in the over 65s – and has potentially harmful effects. In women, it increases the risk of osteoporosis which is itself correlated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Treating women with calcium supplements without regard to their vitamin D level can reduce the efficacy of the calcium on bone strength, with vitamin D having more effect on increasing bone density than calcium.

A growing body of research suggests that vitamin D deficiency could be one of the contributing factors in cardiovascular disease. This seems due to its association with high blood pressure, diabetes and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

How do we know if we are deficient in Vitamin D? Only a blood test can reveal our levels of stored vitamin D. You can ask your GP to arrange this if you are having blood tests for cholesterol or other things or you can order a home testing kit online if you are so inclined.

I am going to use the sunshine to boost my wintery levels, get outdoors most days, keep walking with the sleeves up while recalling that old adage ‘ may hay while the sun shines’.

You can follow this link for an extensive article on Vitamin D creation, supplements and everything you didn’t realise you needed to know on the subject.

http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/

Aubergine, Chickpea and Walnut Salad with Pomegranate Yoghurt

Aubergine, Chickpea and Walnut Salad with Pomegranate Yoghurt

A few hours of spring sunshine provided the impetus to dust off the barbecue for an impromptu alfresco lunch. I served this salad alongside a pile of venison burgers but it could easily satisfy as a main course dish. It contains many goodies for cholesterol lowering purposes such as chickpeas – your weekly pulse portion – and walnuts which contain the right kind of fat. Pomegranate seeds are great on the antioxidants and delicious too. I adore pomegranate molasses with its perfect balance of sweet and sour flavour. Mixed with no fat yoghurt and Quark, it makes a light and tasty dressing.

For 4 – 6 people:

3 medium aubergines
Olive oil spray
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ pomegranate, seeds removed
Handful or two of walnut pieces
Small bunch of mint
Black Pepper
2 tablespoons no fat yoghurt
2 tablespoons Quark
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

Heat your oven to 180 C.

Cut the aubergines in half lengthways and then cut each half into 3 slices lengthways.
At this point I would usually salt the aubergines for ½ hour but as I was a bit pushed for time I popped them straight into the oven. When I tasted later there was no bitterness, but I leave the salting decision up to you. If you do salt yours, remember to rinse them off well and pat dry with kitchen towel.
Place aubergine slices in a large roasting tin and spritz your olive oil spray 3 -4 times. Then mix the aubergines around a bit.

Put the roasting tin in the oven for half an hour by which time the aubergines should be tender and have taken on a bit of colour.

Remove and place on a serving dish.

In the meantime make the dressing by whisking together the yoghurt, Quark and pomegranate molasses. Set aside.

Once the aubergines are waiting on the serving dish, scatter over the rinsed chickpeas and the pomegranate seeds.
If you are using a packet of walnut pieces you can scatter them over now. If you have walnut halves, roughly chop them and then add to the salad.

Wash and dry a large handful of mint, pick off the leaves and roughly chop. Add to the salad.
Give the salad a good grinding of black pepper.

At this point your dish will be looking very appetising indeed. It seems a shame to cover it up with the dressing so I served it on the side in a bowl which I passed around for everyone to add a dollop to their portion.

A Spring in my Step – 12 March 2014

My neighbourhood is awash with blossom. In the woods a few trees are sporting the tiniest green leaves. Soon the other trees will shrug off their winter grey and too don their new spring wardrobe. Such is the wonder of the season, which never fails to evoke in me a seasonal sense of wonder at the annual renewal and rebirth. No matter that awful events have been unfolding all over the world or that parts of the UK have been under water, nature just keeps on going. I particularly like spring, not only for the display of breath takeingly beautiful blossoms, but also for the sense of promise that winter will end and summer is on its way. In fact the winter has been so mild this year that it doesn’t feel that we quite deserve spring just yet. Still, I am not complaining. This is surely a time to redouble one’s efforts to get the walking shoes on and go outdoors for that 30 minute, 5 times a week bit of exercise. If you have been finding it difficult to do so of late, let nature be your incentive this week. You will be richly rewarded.

Returning from my walk on Sunday, I stopped in at my local Iranian shop for a bunch of mint. A large table was piled high with boxes containing dainty, multicoloured biscuits, arranged into 3D flowers or fish. Iced in greens, yellows and pinks these sweetmeats resembled the very blossoms I had so admired minutes before. The store owner told me that these delicacies were for the Iranian new year later this month. I recalled that fish and eggs are also given as gifts at this time of year. It was then I noticed a large tank filled with tiny goldfish darting about. The sun shone into their tank, illuminating their orange outfits as they frolicked through the water. Alongside were shelves of intricately decorated eggs. How wonderful is the human spirit, the ingenuity with which cultures celebrate the renewal of the season, and the feasting that accompanies such ritual.

I walked home with the smell of fresh mint in the air, marvelling at the beauty of biscuits and blossoms. I recalled the words of the writer Dennis Potter who, experiencing the spring for the last time before he died, described ‘the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it’. He spoke about the need to live in the present (as he knew he was soon to die) and to really experience the moment. Nowadays we call this Mindfulness.

I returned home invigorated by how much I had enjoyed my neighbourhood on this magnificent spring day and moved by the beauty of the blossoms which will bloom long after each of us has ceased doing so. Do dust off your walking shoes, for not only might exercise prolong your life, but it will make your day feel so much more vital.