Uncertainty Soup

Uncertainty Soup

I hate waiting, don’t you? I like to know what’s what.

Do you spend your whole life trying to rule out uncertainty and pin everything and everyone down? Are you unhappy until you have all the information at your fingertips and you can plan? I know the feeling. But sometimes we can’t plan. Sometimes we are dependent on the will of others, or the gods and doesn’t that feel all wrong? Uncertainty is so uncomfortable for our minds to live with that they begin running round in circles trying to bring it to an end by anticipating. They try to imagine the future in all its outcomes and prepare us for each of them. They try to have the experience in advance to get it out of the way.

Does this work? Not really and often something actually happens that we haven’t thought of anyway. Trying to anticipate the future like this is exhausting and there are some things out of our control.  We cannot bring the uncertainty to an end by sheer force of mental effort. Then we are left with the horrible feelings, the mental anguish. What to do then? Aargh!

Usually we don’t feel the feelings. We get a whiff that they might be in the air and we spend all our energy running away or trying to fix the world so that we don’t have them. When we only glimpse feelings out of the corner of our mental eye, they appear enormous, overwhelming, fatal like being chased by a man with an axe.

Try doing the counter-intuitive thing. When we stop running away from them, come right up close and shake those feelings by the hand, they turn out to be smaller than you thought. Yep, they sure are ugly and they don’t feel good (fear, anger, panic, no-one signed up for those). Can’t deny that. But hang on. They are not actually killing you after all. They are just horrible and unpleasant. That’s it. That’s all that’s happening. They are horrible and unpleasant. Are they really huge up close? Not so much.

Next time you’re waiting for that magical person to call you back, for the waiter to bring the glass of wine, that train to arrive, that bell to go, why not have a dip into those feelings. It’s good practice for when we are waiting for the more difficult things (the diagnosis, the interview, the exam). Make friends with those feelings, look them in the eye. What’s so scary? Boredom, yes it’s dull but so far you haven’t died of boredom after all. (Your mother was right. Again.) Frustration (is a polite word for anger) and it’s an energy in the body that feels like you will burst but actually you won’t. Just feel the energy and see how that goes.

While you’re waiting you can make use of the time and get a lot done! Clean out the cupboards. File those papers. Go for a run. Practise the piano. In fact you can live your life while you’re waiting. Imagine that!

Here is some soup you can make which is super healthy and a fabulous colour, like molten lava. It is chock full of beetroot and fresh turmeric which give it the outstanding radioactive colour and you can throw in any other vegetables you have to hand. The beetroot and turmeric and non-negotiable. After that it’s up to you. Carrots, courgettes, parsnips, turnip, potatoes, celeriac. When it’s done add some lemon juice to brighten up the taste and some cream or yoghurt to bring out the colour and soften the texture. Do not eat this soup off your best tablecloth. It’s a killer.

Uncertainty Soup (because you don’t know what’s in it)

IMG_1929At least two beetroots, peeled and halved (or more)

Three or four pieces of fresh turmeric, peeled and cut in four (remember latex gloves will protect your hands when dealing with the astonishing colour of raw turmeric and beetroot)

A bunch of carrots, peeled and halved

Two onions, peeled and halved

Garlic and ginger peeled and chopped (to taste)

Other root vegetables you have going spare (potatoes will make it much more calorific). Save your spinach and broccoli for a green soup otherwise you will muddy the colour.

The juice from one lemon or a tablespoon of lemon juice from a bottle

A tablespoon of olive oil (more if you are not trying to control calories)

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  2. Put all the prepared vegetables into a heavy roasting pan which you have brushed with olive oil and then brush the vegetables roughly with the rest of the olive oil. (If you’re trying to cut back on calories using a pastry brush is really helpful when dealing with olive oil). If calories are no concern then be generous with the olive oil.
  3. Season with salt and pepper
  4. Roast in the oven for an hour
  5. Let them cool and then liquidise with plenty of water. If you want a smooth soup you will need to be patient and do this in batches so you can add plenty of liquid.
  6. Pour back into the pan and check the seasoning.
  7. Add the lemon juice and check again
  8. Heat and serve with a dollop of Skyr, Greek yoghurt, sour cream or a drizzle of double cream

Life may be disappointing, soup never. And remember that every time you cook something for yourself from scratch you are building healthy self-esteem.

 

Cool as a …

Cool as a …

In this hot weather cucumber soup is an easy, cheap, delicious and cooling lunch or starter. You can control the calorie count easily by adjusting the cream or yoghurt quotient as you serve it. Cucumber on its own produces a pale green soup but if you want the colour to be a bit more vibrant add some raw baby spinach leaves at the blending stage. The more spinach you add the better from a nutritional point of view since it is chock full of vitamins and minerals. You can use cooked spinach but it won’t give you that lovely bright green. This is a painless way for the non-spinach eater to get the benefits of eating spinach! And remember that making your own food from scratch is super nutritious for your self-esteem as well.

Cucumber Soup

2 x medium to large green cucumbers

1 x large onion

handful of baby spinach leaves or more (optional)

single cream or yoghurt to taste (optional)

1 litre Marigold vegetable stock or home-made vegetable or chicken stock

 

Chop up your cucumbers and onion – this doesn’t have to be a work of art because it’s all going in the blender – and sweat in a tablespoonful of olive oil in a heavy pan with a lid.

Be careful not to let the onions catch as it will affect the colour of the soup, turning it brown.

When the onions are transparent add the stock and bring to the boil.

Turn down and simmer for 20 minutes.

Allow to cool and the liquidise completely adding the raw baby spinach leaves if you have them.

Chill for six hours and then taste for seasoning. Add salt and/or pepper as needed.

At this stage you can freeze the soup or put in back in the fridge until needed. When you come to serving you can add a whole carton of cream or just a splash, or a spoonful of yoghurt in each dish and the beauty of it is each person can have it how they need it. For those of us watching the calories and feeding others this is a great boon.

A few thin slices of cucumber as a garnish and some fabulous bowls can make this a dinner party soup you can prepare two to four days in advance.

Flageolet Beans

Flageolet beans are my favourite bean, reminding me of life as a student in France a lifetime ago. When I’ve been overdoing the animal fats and the spending in restaurants, these beans put me back on the road to financial and physical health without feeling like fasting. Once in a while are a much healthier accompaniment to roast lamb than roast potatoes and yet they’re ultra satisfying to eat.

Here are the beans we had with our Easter Lamb. I’m popping them in the freezer until they are needed for a quick supper because that’s how versatile they are. At £2.19 for 500g (enough for about 8 people) they are also satisfyingly frugal. So you can feel like an Elizabeth David original and feed a large family or a table of friends for the price of a cappuccino.Beans

Here is how to cook them.

Start the night before and soak the beans in plenty of cold water. When you’re ready to cook them next day drain the beans and think what deliciousness you are going to add. If they are an accompaniment to roast meat you can just cook them in stock and some fresh thyme if you have some. A glass of white wine never hurts either. If they’re the main event then finely chop and onion or two and sweat them in a heavy pan with some olive oil. You may even have some soffrito or mirepoix in the fridge, homemade or bought. If you’re a carnivore then some finely chopped smoked bacon or ham really adds magic at this stage. Sweat your vegetables etc until they are softened and then add the beans and plenty of Marigold stock to completely submerge the contents of the pan. Bring to the boil and then cover and turn the heat down to a bare simmer and cook for a couple of hours. Add more liquid from time to time as needed. If it’s too runny remove the lid and allow the stock to evaporate once the beans are cooked.

You can cook this on the hob or in the oven but it’s easier to keep an eye on the hob.

This dish is real comfort food with some good bread and fresh green cabbage. Grilled radicchio can make it more sophisticated. Eat with a good spoonful of yoghurt or creme fraiche. It’s high in protein, low fat and cheap to make. Soak your beans tonight and get started.

Beautiful Borscht

Beautiful Borscht

Recently I was raving about the health-giving properties of beetroot and so I thought it time to make my first beetroot soup or Borscht. I looked at lots of recipes on the internet and decided that what I needed was the usual blend of aromatics to get the thing going (carrot, celery, onion) and some raw beetroot. The only change from my usual vegetable soup was introducing beef stock (not for everyone I realise) so I bought some fresh in the supermarket. The soup was a great hit – so much so that I forgot to take the final picture so you will just have to imagine a beautiful dish of steaming hot beetroot coloured soup garnished with yoghurt, freshly grated raw beetroot and a few seeds. Take it from me this is a very cheap dish that is really worth trying and if you’re vegetarian simply replace the beef stock with the usual Marigold vegetable stock or freshly made vegetable stock. For more of a meal in a bowl you could make some simple dumplings, boil them separately to keep them white and then add them to each bowl carefully. Boiled potatoes would also work well.

The recipe

Peel and chop as finely as you can bear to a few carrots, onions and a stick or two of celery. This is your Mirepoix which I am thrilled to say I had ready in the freezer from when I was Cooking the Fridge. Peel and chop the beetroot. (Disposable gloves are handy. especially if you’ve just had your nails done.) Keep back one peeled beet to grate into the soup before serving.

Sweat the vegetables in a stock pot with a tablespoon of the oil you like and the lid on. Keep the heat low so there’s no sticking and be patient. After 15 minutes add your stock of choice and simmer for about half an hour . I used Waitrose beef stock plus some home made chicken stock from the freezer. Add a glass of red wine if you like.

When the beetroot is soft enough to eat turn off the heat and allow to cool before liquidising. You can serve this hot or cold or freeze it of course.

The garnish : the amazing seeds that go with everything and are also cheap to buy and healthy to eat!

Saute a handful of pumpkin seeds with a handful of sunflower seeds a little Maldon salt and a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan until the seeds start popping. I was going to toast pine nuts but I was feeling mean and pine nuts are more expensive than face cream. As I stood at the cupboard hesitating these unloved seeds caught my eye and I gave them a shot instead – what a delight! They are so tasty I had trouble keeping enough back for the soup garnish. You can garnish anything with them but salads and vegetables are a great place to start.

When you are ready to serve choose a dish that sets off the soup to advantage (for me that means a large white pasta dish with a rim and I’m giving you a link here because I think these dishes radically improve the presentation of just about every food I know). Grate the raw beetroot and put a bunch in the middle of the soup next to a large spoonful of yoghurt (or fromage frais or goat’s cheese or sour cream). Add a sprinkle of the seeds and you have a beautiful looking first course or lunch.

 

Beetroot – great tidings of comfort and joy!

My first day at school introduced me to two things I immediately fell in love with. My Kindergarten teacher Mrs Heilbron who smelled of Yardley’s Apple Blossom was the first object of my adoration. Unlike my precarious relationship with my mother, she was predictable and easy to please. Sadly Mrs Heilbron with her exciting name and her delicate beige shoes for difficult feet of a certain age passed out of my life at the end of the year when I moved up to Transition. (Enter Miss Mainwaring, another name that fascinated me but not an easy woman to fall in love with which sadly, may be why she remained grey-haired but unmarried.)

What mysteries and surprises it brings, one’s first adventures away from home. There was another girl called ‘Elizabeth’ for starters! And then there were the biscuits. My mother’s kitchen ran to fig rolls (my mother’s favourites), Nice biscuits with their coating of sparkling sugar crystals, custard creams, malted milk and (high days and holidays) Huntley and Palmers milk and honey which were exotically oval and had not only a dab of cream like the custard creams but a window in the top filled with honey.  At four and a half I thought I had biscuits covered. But no! When break time came we all headed for the little cloth pockets on the wall with our names on where we put our biscuits on arrival. Bourbons, digestives, biscuits in foil wrappers, pink wafers, chocolate fingers emerged from other children’s pockets – a whole world of biscuits I had never seen.

 

 

But what about the beetroot? Get to the point, woman. Thank you, I’m coming to that, as advertised, never fear. Now I cannot share with you the kindness of Mrs Heilbron but the second revelation of that long-ago day was beetroot. In my school lunch I tasted my first beetroot in tiny delicious cubes and was bowled over by the fabulous new taste and the memorable colour. Since then I have of course encountered beetroot in other places but it’s never tasted the same as I remembered. I will draw a kindly veil over the mistake that is beetroot in vinegar. I mean, really. Vacuum packed, pre-cooked beetroot was okay but very messy and unexciting in taste. Once transported to a kitchen of my own complete with recipe books and the choice of what to eat I tried beetroot again. This time I fell prey to cooks who recommend baking beetroot in the oven and then ‘sloughing off the skin with a paper towel’. LOL. Great way to burn your fingers and stain everything within reach. The beetroot tasted okay but it simply isn’t worth it. I resigned myself to a beetroot-free life.

Step up Nadine Redzepi once more. (Yes, you’re sick of hearing about her but I’m not done yet.)  Her recipe for sweet potato cakes with cumin beetroot and salted yoghurt revealed to me that you can perfectly well eat beetroot raw and it tastes the way I remember it all those years ago.  It’s probably even better for you as well and oh boy, you won’y believe how good for you it is. You can add the cumin and olive oil and lemon juice that the recipe requires – or not. It’s delicious either way and now I discover it has its own website AND its benefits include the following :

  1. Lowering blood pressure
  2. Preventing or slowing the progress of dementia by increasing blood flow to the brain
  3. It contains a powerful antioxidant and antioxidants prevent against heart disease and stroke, slow the growth of cataracts, slow ageing and generally turn you into a bionic human being
  4. antioxidants are anti-inflammatory so good for infections and all kinds of inflammation
  5. It acts as a natural viagra by increasing blood flow to the genitals
  6. It actually makes you run quicker

I mean what more do you need? It’s not even expensive and you don’t have to buy it online from specialists. Finally this is how you prepare it without staining your hands. Peel with a potato peeler and grate or chop wearing, Ta-Da! disposable gloves. These are also invaluable for peeling and grating raw turmeric, celeriac, stoning damsons and anything else that stains.

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So I shall be introducing beetroot into every week’s menu and trying out the Beetroot and Chocolate Cake recipe on the beetroot website. I shall report back, natch. I am a great fan of things that taste great and do me good and I’m adding raw beetroot to the precious hoard.

 

 

 

Colds and flu

Colds and flu

Miserable winter ailments call for direct action and no action is more direct than this amazing tea I just made myself : ginger and turmeric.

ginger and tumeric tea

Here is a use for the peelings and odds and ends from your cooking with fresh turmeric and ginger. I was making a carrot and butternut squash soup with ginger and turmeric and amassed a panful of peelings and offcuts which I boiled up with water for 20 minutes or so. It takes on the amazing colour quite quickly but keep tasting to make sure it really has infused.

Then add honey to taste! It’s that simple and the taste is so powerful you just know your cold or flu is on the wane as soon as it hits your throat. It taste nice too!in the cup

 

 

Now for a super cheap and delicious supper dish which you can tweak as you will. This is another one from the Redzepi cookbook I have been banging on about. Basically blanched greens topped with mashed potato with as much butter as you can force the potatoes to absorb. On top you pop a poached egg and some fried breadcrumbs.

mashed potato, egg and greensI used this new method for poaching where you tie your egg in oiled clingfilm and simmer for 4 minutes. It worked but it made the egg very small … Anyway, the dish is comforting and might benefit from a little more excitement in the form of bacon crumbled from the grill, chilli or anchovies. Or you can have it as a side dish with fish ir meat.

Redzepi suggests shavings of truffle which, guess what? I did not have to hand but would probably be pretty good if you did. I might try with truffle oil next time.

Pasta with Broccoli and Gorgonzola

IMG_0835This is a nice simple recipe and totally delicious, suitable for vegetarians and adaptable if you are counting calories – what more can you want?

 

Ingredients

100g of your favourite pasta per person

1 large head of broccoli (trimmed and broken into florets) for 2-4 people (see below)

2 oz Dolcelatte or Gorgonzola per person

1 onion, finely chopped

olive oil

 

Method

  1. Sweat your finely chopped onion in a pan with a glug of olive oil.
  2. When the onion is cooked, boil a large pan of water for your pasta and briefly cook the broccoli heads in it.
  3. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and add them to the pan with the onion.
  4. Cook your pasta in boiling water according to the instructions on the packet – usually 8-10 minutes. Drain.
  5. During the last few minutes of the pasta cooking time add the cheese cut into large cubes to the broccoli and the onion and put a very low heat under it. Be warned, you just want to melt the cheese very gently. If you give it too much heat the cheese will completely disappear.
  6. Add the broccoli etc to the pasta and spoon into dishes.
  7. Add a handful of toasted pine nuts or hazelnuts or walnuts to each dish.

 

Calories

Ordinarily, pasta is heavy on the calories but you can easily reduce the carbs in this dish by increasing the broccoli and reducing the pasta for those who are watching their weight.