Saturday, November 21, 2009

Spiced carrot and butternut squash soup

The carrot and squash start to break down after half an hour’s cooking and, together with the starch from the pasta, will thicken the soup without the need for a blender. This is great for a hungry family.
The chilli is optional!

Serves 4

1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 large carrots, peeled
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and deseeded
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped, or ¼ tsp dried crushed chillies
1.2 litres chicken or vegetable stock
75g dried spaghetti or small pasta shells
Freshly grated Parmesan, to serve

1 Sweat the onion and garlic in the oil over a medium heat for 5-7 minutes until soft. Chop the carrots and butternut squash into 1.5cm dice and add to the pan. Season and cook for another 6-7 minutes until the vegetables start to soften.

2 Stir in the thyme leaves and the fresh or dried chilli, then pour in the stock. Stir and bring to the boil. Simmer for 25-30 minutes until the carrots and squash are soft and beginning to break down.

3 Break the spaghetti into small pieces into the soup or add the pasta shells. Stir well and return to the boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until the pasta is cooked and the soup has thickened slightly. Check for seasoning and ladle into soup bowls. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Spicy roasted parsnip soup

Just the thing for an autumn day

2 tbsp olive oil
½tsp coriander seeds freshly ground
½tsp cumin seeds freshly ground, plus extra whole seeds to garnish
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp mustard seeds freshly ground
2 sprigs fresh thyme. Leaves stripped and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
500g parsnips, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
1.2L vegetable stock

Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. In a bowl, mix together the oil and spices. Add the parsnip chunks, peeled garlic cloves and the thyme leaves and mix well. Spread over a heavy baking sheet, then roast for 30 mins until tender.

In a pan gently sauté the onion in some olive oil until soft but not brown. Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for a minute or two.
Add the roasted parsnip chunks give a good stir, then turn the heat up and add half the stock. Bring to a simmer.

Put into a food processor or liquidiser and process until smooth, adding more stock as necessary. Pour back into the pan with any remaining stock, season to taste, then heat until barely simmering. Remove from the heat and serve. Garnish with whole cumin seeds.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Slow-cooked courgettes on toast

Cooked this way they lose most of their moisture and become a thick, fragrant, chunky mass. They can be used as a pasta sauce (just add a little cream) or the base for a lovely soup (blend with a little stock and/or milk). They also make a great toast topping/ bruschetta, which is my favourite.

Serves six.

3 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1kg courgettes, finely sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the toast/bruschetta
6 slices of coarse country bread
1 garlic clove, cut in half
Extra-virgin olive oil, or butter
Parmesan, or other grateable cheese (optional)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the garlic, courgettes and a little salt. Cook gently, so the courgettes soften without browning. As they release their water, turn up the heat to bubble it off. When they become more concentrated and pulpy, turn it down again. Stir whenever they begin to catch on the pan, and do not allow them to brown more than a shade. Keep cooking until they are rich and oily, but not watery. Check seasoning.

Grill the bread, rub each side with garlic, and trickle with olive oil or melted butter. Pile a mound of the hot courgette mixture on top, grate over a little cheese, if you like, and serve.

(First published Thursday, November 20, 2008)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

How to Protect Yourself Against 'Flu

"Wash inside nose with soap and water night and morning; force yourself to sneeze night and morning, then breathe deeply. Do not wear a muffler, take sharp walks regularly and walk home from work; eat plenty of porridge."

'News Of the World' on 3 November 1918

Silly Film Titles

My favourite is

"Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness".

I went to see it in 1969 just because of the unusual title!

What's your favourite silly/whacky/unusual film title?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ben Foster 4th May 1985 - 27th April 2008

Do not weep,
I am not asleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the softly falling snow
I am the fields of ripening grain
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circling flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Where tranquil oceans meet the land
I am the footprints in the sand
to guide you through the weary day.

I am still here;
I'll always stay.

(Read by Mark at the funeral of his nephew, Ben Foster, on 3rd June 2008)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Mother Speaks

The mother of murdered Bath shop worker Ben Foster paid tribute to her “much loved and treasured” son after his killers were jailed on Monday.
Clare Wallace, whose son was stabbed to death in Ringswell Gardens, told how her son’s “willingness to do things for others without considering the risk” had led to the tragedy.

"In his 23 years Ben had grown into a loving and principled young man, protective of his family and friends.
He had decided several years earlier that his life would be better without alcohol and drugs and other stimulants. He had stuck to his resolve and did not judge others for their lifestyle choices.
His willingness to do things for others without considering the risk put him in Ringswell Gardens that fateful Sunday.
As a family we have to live with the dreadful consequences of that day.
I can only hope that other young people realise they are not invincible.
Ben was not perfect but believed in the innate goodness of people and could calm every situation with his gentle approach.
Now he has been deprived of the future that was his right and I would not wish that any family would have to go through the pain and devastation which we have experiences since his death.
I once believed the world was beautiful, just and perfect. This belief has now been shattered.
We would like to thank the police for handling the investigation so professionally and for their support, kindness and guidance.
It was only right that John Claydon and Kieran Thomas should be deprived of their liberty. However our lives will be without our much loved and treasured Ben, and no sentence will ever bring him back to us.”

Monday, March 09, 2009

Ben Foster, my late nephew

On March 9th 2009 a judge at Bristol Crown Court heard how John Claydon fatally stabbed Ben Foster in Bath last year.
The 28-year-old defendant, of Surbine Road, Battersea, pleaded guilty to a charge of murder and was told he would serve at least 20 years behind bars before the Parole Board considers his release.
Kieran Thomas, 29, of Corbet Close, Wallington, Surrey, pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter and was jailed for 10 years.He will serve half the term in custody before he is released on licence.
Jailing Claydon, Mr Justice Field told him: “For the offence of murder there’s only one sentence and that’s a life sentence.“You stabbed Benjamin Foster with a long bladed knife in circumstances where he was completely defenceless..
“Nothing I can say will bring any comfort to Benjamin’s family. He was a young man with his whole life ahead of him.”
Ben was described by friends as “the most gentle person you could meet”.
One of three brothers, he grew up in Batheaston and was educated at Ralph Allen School.
At the time of his death he had been working at the Threshers off-licence in Fairfield Park and as a part-time labourer/bricklayer to pay for the flat he was renting.
He had hundreds of friends in the local area and further afield after spending time travelling in Thailand and New Zealand.
He was a keen basketball player and also practised tai chi.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Stating the Obvious

The other day my fan mentioned to me that my recent blogs were a succession of recipes.

Thank you for pointing out something of which I was totally unaware, as I blog in a somnambulistic state and am amazed on waking to find that there is a new blog entry!

So while you wait for the next blog entry that isn’t a recipe, perhaps you’d like to catch up with this and this from my archive.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

French Onion Soup

I made this last night, much better than wearing an extra pullover in these freezing temperatures!

Serves 6

1½ lb (700 g) onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 oz (50 g) butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
½ -1 teaspoon soft brown sugar
2 pints (1.2 L) vegetable or beef stock.
10 fl oz (275 ml) dry white wine
2 tablespoons Cognac (Optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Home made chunky croutons.
Grated cheese.

Place the saucepan on a high heat and melt the oil and butter together. When this is very hot, add the onions, and sugar, and stir them well from time to time until the edges of the onions have turned dark – this will take approx 6 minutes. Then reduce the heat to its lowest setting, add the garlic and leave the to carry on cooking very slowly for about 30 minutes, by which time the base of the pan will be covered with a rich, nut brown, caramelised film.

After that, pour in the white wine, bring to the boil, add the stock, then stir with a wooden spoon, scraping the base of the pan well. As soon as it comes back to simmering, turn down the heat to its lowest setting, then leave it to cook very gently, without a lid, for about 1 hour. Season as required.

If it's extra-cold outside, add a couple of tablespoons of Cognac!

Spoon into bowls, add chunky croutons, grate cheese over the top and put under hot grill until the cheese has melted slightly.

Serve. Remember it will be VERY hot!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Puy Lentils with Sprout Leaves

I’ve adapted this from Thomasina Miers’ recipe.

This is a very different way to use Brussel sprouts and might even convince entrenched sprout haters to try it!

Serves: 4-5

300g Brussels sprouts
350g Puy lentils
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion or 5 shallots, finely chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, green inner shoot removed and finely chopped
½ - 2 bay leaves
1 tbsp chopped thyme leaves
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil and parsley to serve


1 First prepare the sprouts, or, if you can get them, use sprout tops. With a small paring knife, slice a few millimetres off the base and discard. Then cut two or three thin slices off the base of each sprout into a bowl. The leaves will then start to come away from the core. Do this with the knife and add to the bowl. When you come to the core, slice in half or into quarters.
The aim is to have a bowl of wispy, thin sprout slices and leaves that you can add to the lentils. I found this a bit fiddly, but it’s worth persisting with.

2 Put a saucepan of lightly salted water on to boil, add the lentils and allow them to cook for approx 10 to 15 minutes until the lentils are just tender but still have a nice bite to them.

3 In another pan, add a slug of olive oil and sweat the shallots or onion gently until soft and translucent.

4 Add the carrot, celery, garlic and bay leaves and cook over a low to medium heat until the vegetables are soft (about five minutes). Add the sprout leaves and thyme and stir-fry for a few minutes before adding the drained lentils and stock.

5 Cook together for about five minutes until the stock has been absorbed and the sprout leaves have wilted. Take off the heat, (add lemon juice, zest and chopped parsley, all optional), and drizzle with your best-quality olive oil. Season to taste and serve.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pea and Broad Bean risotto

The quantities are enough for 2 reasonable portions.

Vegetable stock approx 750ml - 1 Litre. I used Knorr vegetable stock cubes (hangs head in shame!!)
White Wine (optional)
25-50g butter
Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 medium or small leek finely chopped
3 shallots finely chopped (or half an onion)
170g Arborio rice
Fresh or frozen small broad beans, about 5 tablespoons worth
Fresh or frozen peas 50-100g
Clove of garlic finely chopped
Parmesan cheese (or whatever cheese you fancy)
Salt and pepper

Put the stock in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Then turn down the heat and keep it on a very low simmer.

Heat the butter and a dash of oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the leeks and shallots/onions and cook for 1-2 (or more) minutes until soft but not brown. Add the garlic and stir well.

Add the rice and stir, using a wooden spoon, until the grains are well coated and glistening (about a minute). Add a glass of white wine now if you wish and stir until absorbed.

Add the stock a ladle at a time and stir until absorbed. After 15 mins or so add the broad beans and peas. Continue to add the stock at intervals, as before, until the rice is tender (about 18-25 mins in total).

Grate in some Parmesan (or cheese of choice!) and season. Mix well and remove from heat. Spoon into bowls and add some more Parmesan (or your chosen one!) to finish.