Cauliflower and apple soup

Now that autumn is here we are starting to see the arrival of our glorious winter vegetables. As the seasons change, our food does too – we no longer want cooling salads or light and fresh meals, we need something to fill us and warm us against the chill winds and the leaves fall and the skies turn a constant grey.

When I walked up to the local shops I saw beautiful white cauliflowers, grown in local fields, stacked in the greengrocer’s barrow outside his shop. How could I resist them?

There was a time, you know, when I did resist them. When they appeared in school dinners… overboiled, smelling slightly and looking rather grey. If your teacher forced you to eat them you’d get a mouthful of hot water and the grey and tasteless, soft but weirdly sort of granular vegetable mush would dissolve in your mouth and slide down your throat. I was a picky child and I could be very stubborn. There was many a school lunchtime when I would sit there, with my jaws clamped shut, refusing to eat, while my teachers tried to make me.

Now, obviously, this isn’t a picture of me at a school dinner table (even the Grim North isn’t cold enough to make me wear an anorak indoors) but this is pretty typical of my sideways, scowling look when faced with something I didn’t want to do. I could be very determined. Cauliflower? No. And I mean no. Make me? I don’t think so. I mean no. I meant no for years.

Years and years went by until I finally discovered, as with so many things, that it is not the food itself that is the problem, it’s just the way you cook it.  Cauli can be good….. I discovered the joys of Cauliflower Puree and realised that if you cooked it carefully and didn’t overload the poor vegetable with water, you would end up with a beautifully rich and almost earthy tasting, interestingly textured dish that really was gorgeous to eat.

Anyway, I’m over it now. I like cauliflower. I like it raw and I like it cooked and after I saw all of those crisp cauli’s I decided I’d like it, this week, in a soup.

I bought a couple of cauliflowers and then, because apples are in season as well, I got a couple of  Bramley apples and a Braeburn.

I had an idea.

I would make a rich cauliflower soup but I’d add a Bramley apple to cook with it and add a sharp sweetness to the soup and as an extra apple boost, I’d caramelise an eating apple with chillies to go on the top. Bramleys are cooking apples and are generally too sharp to eat raw but when cooked they almost dissolve into a delicious mushy smoothness. That’s perfect when you are adding them to something like this soup or you’re making a sauce.

The Braeburn I got to go with it is an eating apple – sharp, crunchy, juicy and sweet. If you cook that it keeps it’s shape. If you can’t get a Braeburn, find something else that is like that.

So, to make soup, start like you always do with soup – peeling and chopping onions and then softening them in a knob of butter with a pinch of salt. The salt will keep the onions white and stop them from burning. You want them to be soft and almost translucent, so start them on a medium heat.

While they are gently cooking, cut up the cauliflowers, separating the florets. The hard stem, chopped into small pieces,  can go in first with the onions as this will cook faster than the lacy florets.

When a cauli is fresh, the florets are crisp and hard and a beautiful creamy white.

Add them to the pan with a couple of pints of water and some good stock cubes.

The next thing is to peel, core and segment the Bramleys. They will take less time to cook so you can do this while the florets soften.

Add the pieces of apple to the cauliflower and let everything cook, still on a medium heat.

It won’t take long, so while that’s glugging away, start on the Braeburn. This is going to be turned into a deliciously sweet, sharp and spicy apple dressing to be served with the soup…

Peel your sweet, juicy, sharp and crunchy eating apple. Core it and cut into pieces.

I cut into segments and then cut those bits in half.

Then, in a non-stick pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of butter and a couple of tablespoons of golden granulated sugar over a medium heat. As this melts and dissolves into an almost caramelised buttery deliciousness, add some chopped chilli.

My chilli harvest this year has been an utter disaster, so tubes of prepared chopped chillies, which can be kept in the fridge, have been a marvellous help.  An inch squeezed out – which would, I suppose, be about a teaspoonful – needs to be stirred into the sweetened butter.

Next, add the segmented bits of the Braeburn and stir it all round so the pieces are covered and let it cook gently. The apple will keep it’s shape even though it is cooked.

By now, the cauliflower will have cooked and when you poke at it with a knife, it is tender. If you were to just have this as the soup it would taste rather thin. The thing to do next is to add richness…

But richness can mean adding extra calories when you might be wanting to cut back. Why not save some calories but still get a rich and creamy taste?

This is where I add skimmed milk powder. If you were to start the cooking off with milk (skimmed or not) you would have to be very careful because there is every chance that the milk would catch and burn on the bottom of the pan. Starting the cooking off with water and stock means that the vegetables can cook with scorching but if you later then add milk to enrich it, you end up with too much liquid to the vegetables.

So, I use Marvel skimmed milk powder. No added fat (and no added liquid) but if you add a good scoop of it you get a lovely, creamy taste. 4 heaped tablespoons are the equivalent to a pint of milk.

Stir it round… yes, it will be lumpy but that doesn’t matter because you are going to blend it all into a smooth and creamy soup.

I use a stick blender because it is quick and easy.

Once it is smooth, add a good shaking of ground white pepper. I say white, because it does have a different taste to black pepper and it also looks better. You  are making a beautifully pale and creamy soup….check the seasoning and and add a pinch more salt if you need to. The big thing is checking that the soup tastes good to you.

By now the Braeburn has softened. It still has its shape but it has turned a lovely golden colour. If you happen to taste it, the sauce is not too hot from the chillies and not too sweet from the sugar. There’s just emough salt from the butter to make it almost savoury. It just tastes divine.

A scoop of natural, thick Greek yoghurt can go in the middle…. the sharpness of the yoghurt is perfect against the smoothness of the cauliflower…..

And on top of that… a spoonful of the chillied and caramelised apples.

That was, as the Bear will tell you, absolutely delicious.

Minimal calories for a most delicious fresh and tasty soup. You can cut back further on the calorie count by not doing the chillied and caramelised apples but there’s a limit you know. Why not enjoy yourself?

Now if they’d served this at school there would have been a race to the tables to sit down and scoff….

Meatfree Monday – Puy Lentil and Pumpkin Soup

At this time of year, the shops start to fill with pumpkins. Halloween is not far off and millions of pumpkins will be bought to make into Jack O’Lanterns.

You can’t just buy a pumpkin and carve it… you have to DO something with it. Last year I made Pumpkin Soup, flavoured with smoked sweet paprika and drizzled with Chilli Oil

I separated the seeds from the fibrous middle and roasted them with jerk seasoning to make a tasty roasted pumpkin seed snack

This time, though, I wanted to make a soup that would be a meal in itself.

I had a small pumpkin that would be ideal for soup. I also had a craving for something with a bit of spice because I had a cold that was dragging on. I needed a burst of heat in that soup to burn through the fogginess that an autumn cold makes you feel.

I remembered a soup I had seen in the Australian Gourmet Traveller for Green Lentil Soup with Pumpkin and Harissa that would be perfect. My little sister lives in Australia and sends me (if I’m not there to buy a copy) the Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook as my Christmas present… the fact it costs way more in postage to send than it costs to buy is neither here nor there – it truly is the magazine I most look forward to getting.

It looked a fabulous recipe. I knew that adding my favourite Puy lentils would add heft to the soup and jazzing it up with Moroccan spices would enliven the whole bowlful.

I chopped two sweet white onions, then put them in a pan to soften with a teaspoon of Maldon Sea Salt.

While they were cooking I halved the small pumpkin I had and scooped out the seeds.

Don’t throw the seeds away, because you can roast them later for a lovely, healthy snack.

I roughly measured half a mug of Puy lentils – now, this is one of my Starbucks City Mugs that roughly hold 20 fl.oz, so the equivalent measurement will be 10 fl oz if you use a Pyrex jug… or, about a full normal coffee mug size. Me? I like coffee so I have a very big mug!

Once the onion has softened and looks translucent, add the lentils and then pour in a mug and a half of water (that’s roughly a pint and a half) and let the onion and lentil mix slowly cook.

Add in a vegetable stock cube for flavour.

While that is gently cooking, start preparing the pumpkin.

The rind of the pumpkin in very hard and I have found that the best way to peel it is to cut the pumpkin into segments and then slice off the rind.

By the time you have it all segmented, the lentils will have started to soften and the colour will have leached out into the water and stock.

Now add in the segmented pumpkin

And then add a tin of chopped plum tomatoes.

Stir it all round and let it simmer gently.

I wanted a bit of heat in the soup and a Moroccan feel so Rose Harissa paste was the obvious choice. You can buy Harissa paste in most supermarkets now – this one has rose petals in it and a deep and complex flavour. It is essentially a chilli paste so add it according to your preference. A teaspoon full will not make it too hot – if you want more heat (and I do) add another.

Stir it in so it blends with the lentils, pumpkin and tomatoes.

I also have some Belazu Pickled Lemons which will add a marvellously sharp-sour element to the rich and earthy soup.

A quick scoop out of the middle of the lemon and the rind is ready for slicing then adding to the soup. I used two small lemons.

And then stir it all round… the pumpkin should have softened, the lentils will be tender and the flavours will have come together to make a deep, rich, spicy soup with sharp overtones

Serve it in a bowl with a spoonful of natural thick yoghurt and a sprinkling of coriander.

And there it was. Steaming perfection in a bowl.

Meatfree and delicious.

Meatfree Monday – Roast Garlic and Marrow Soup

It’s the time of year when everyone who gardens starts to look around for people to take their extra produce off their hands. There are messages at work telling people if they want apples or pears they can help themselves, people come to work carrying bags of fruit and vegetables and we all start to look for recipes to use up the glut. This week’s harvest is vegetable marrow.

Vegetable marrow, for those of you who aren’t British, are a kind of squash with a very pale, slightly sweet flesh. They are quite large, as you can see – that’s one lying across my large chopping board – and when they are ready for harvesting, there are bound to be lots of them. That’s quite a lot of marrow to deal with.

I need to think of something tasty and warming. I also need to keep an eye on the calorie count. It’s so easy to go wild when the weather turns cold and treat yourself with calorific goodies. I want the best of both worlds – rich and delicious as well as low calorie and healthy.

The weather is changing and this weekend has been very grey and miserable. The temperature is dropping and the winds are picking up. Looking out of our windows I can see rain coming down on the horizon and it is moving our way. I want to stay inside and be cocooned in warmth and comfort.

Soup, I thought. A big bowl of silky, tasty soup. That was what I needed.

Now, vegetable marrow has a very delicate flavour that can, if handled badly,  seem insipid. What I wanted to do was enhance its lovely sweetness and one way of doing it is to add roast garlic to the soup. Garlic, when roasted, develops a lovely sweetness of its own and it works well with the pure taste of the marrow.

So, first roast your garlic. I have one and a half bulbs, which might seem a lot but once garlic is roasted gently it loses its pungency and becomes almost sweet.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C/390 degrees F.

While the oven is getting to the right temperature, pour some olive oil into a heatproof bowl. You need enough to cover the cloves of garlic, but don’t worry – once the garlic has cooked gently you can save the oil to use again. Not only have you made a necessary ingredient for your soup but the by-product is a gorgeously flavoured garlic oil that you can use in all sorts of things later.

Separate the cloves, removing the outer layer but leave the skins on. Put them all in the bowl with the olive oil, making sure there’s enough oil to cover the cloves and put the bowl in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

While that is cooking, get started on the marrow.

The skin of a vegetable marrow is extremely hard so the only way to peel it, I found, is to cut the marrow into manageable pieces and then cut the skin off.

Scoop out the seedy, fibrous middle and cut the flesh into cubes.

I wanted to emphasise the sweet and aromatic flavours in the soup, so I chose sweet white onions for the base.

A good tablespoon of butter was heated in a large pan. And when I say large pan, that’s what I mean.

Until the marrow cooks down you will end up with what seems like an enormous quantity so use your biggest pan.

Peel and dice the onion and start to soften it gently. Add a pinch of salt to keep the onion soft and white. You don’t want burned or browned onion as the final soup is a lovely pale cream colour.

By now, the garlic will be cooked so take the bowl out carefully and remove the cloves of garlic with a slotted spoon so they can cool enough to be handled. Remember to keep the oil and bottle it when it is cooled so you can use it later.

Once you can touch the garlic cloves easily, snip the end off the papery outside covering and squeeze out the soft white inside.

Add the garlic, the marrow and a pint and a half of vegetable stock.

Add a small amount of chilli. I get those tubes of chilli, ready prepared, and keep them in the fridge. Very labour saving and, seeing as this year’s chilli harvest has been a dismal failure to date, an absolute god-send.

Stir everything round, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer gently until the marrow is soft.

Whizz the softened marrow mix to a smooth consistency.

You’ll see that it looks rather watery and it needs something to pull it together into a rich and delicious soup.

And this is it.

Dried skimmed milk powder. Almost totally fat free.

Adding a ladle full of Marvel will make the soup taste rich and creamy with negligible addition of fat. Trust me, this is a brilliant way to make soup taste like it is made with cream. You have plenty of liquid already in the soup base, the milk powder dissolves into that  and enriches the whole pan without adding extra liquid.

Whizz it round and you can see the texture change from  an almost granular in appearance puree, to a smooth and silky soup base.

Snip some chives to go on the top of the soup and serve it up.

That was, when served with some savoury scones, absolutely gorgeous.

Each big bowl of soup contained minimal calories yet it felt as rich and luxurious as if it was made with double cream. Of course, if I had been really serious about cutting calories I wouldn’t have made the scones as well…. but hey ho. It’s a start, isn’t it?

An Accidental Soup…..Chickpea and Chorizo

It’s so unfair… this is the lovely, long  Easter weekend and we were planning to go North for a family get-together and I have a rotten cold. I can’t think straight, my tonsils are swollen, my chest is rattling and I feel like death warmed up. We can’t go home and inflict this on everyone so we are staying put.

I haven’t got much in to cook with because we were going to be away and, besides, I don’t really want to cook anything long and involved. I want quick and easy.  The weather is awful and we need to be warmed through.

When I go to the larder to see what there is, I have soup in mind. That would be easy to swallow and it would be good for me. Soup is always good for you when you have a cold or are under the weather… the steaming goodness opens everything up and makes you feel like you are in the land of the living again.

I find some tinned chickpeas on the shelf and in the fridge, I know there’s some chorizo. I can make soup with that, I think…..

I can picture it in my mind.. almost taste it…. hot and soothing, creamy smooth chickpeas with lovely chorizo slices to spike it up a bit….

So, I chop the onion and start to cook it

Next, I open the can and rinse the chickpeas…. that’s essential as I hate that gloopy stuff that collects round them in the tin. I know it is just the chickpea starch but it needs rinsing off. That and the briney stuff the chickpeas are in. If there’s flavour to be added, it will be me doing it, not the tin.

So, stir the chickpeas round to get them coated in the oniony juices and bits of onion (this is going to be the quickest soup ever as the chickpeas are cooked – all you have to cook, really, is the onion)

I want some smokey heat  in the soup, so a good heaped teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika will give a certain depth to it.

Stir it in and watch the colour change to a cheering golden glow

Add a pint or so of water and some stock granules

And then… well, this is when cooking while marginally delerious takes you down an unexpected culinary road……

I was thinking, in my slightly befuddled way, that chickpeas were lovely but if I added , say, ground almonds it would give a lovely rich dimension….thickening things. and adding flavour.

So I reached for one of my storage jars (which the eagle eyed amongst you may recognise as coffee jars… waste not want not, I say, and they are excellent to put dried goods in. Thing is, I never label them because I can see what’s in them. I wash them and peel the label off and then use them again. It keeps my larder looking neat and as all the jars are the same size they can be stacked on top of one another. Good thinking, eh?)

See? Looks like ground almonds.

Except it was fine polenta! I realised after I had poured some in that I had used the last of the ground almonds a couple of weeks ago….

Well, there was nothing for it but to carry on. I added some more water and stirred it round to cook it.

A good old whizz with the blender turned it all into a golden, silky soup. I tasted it to see if the seasoning needed any adjustment. I had to get the Bear to check as I couldn’t really be trusted because of my cold. A pinch of Maldon salt and it was judged to be pretty good.

The chorizo needed slicing

and adding to the soup – a few minutes to cook through was all they needed… and that was it.

From start to finish (including the three or four minutes where I stared at the polenta jar in puzzlement) that took about twenty minutes.

All I had to do was swirl some chilli oil over the top and add an extra few wafer thin slices of chorizo and there it was.

The prettiest bowl of soup. Golden yellow and glowing. Tasting absolutely delicious!

Sometimes you discover things by accident and you are really glad you did.

That soup was rich and tasty and my poor, sore throat felt soothed by it. I felt happier than I did when I started to make it.. .. and all that golden goodness filled me and relaxed me so I went back to bed and snoozed through the afternoon.

 And, do you know what? I will make it again and the next time I will deliberately add polenta.

Tomato Rice Soup

I remember when I was younger, before I learnt how to cook, I used to think it was perfectly sensible to open a can of soup. I really had no idea how easy it was to make soup, nor how much tastier it could be.

I grew up in the decades that considered the launching on the market of a frozen, crispy pancake for frying at home to be a pretty exciting development. When I was  young, most families didn’t think it strange  to have cans of soup and there was nothing finer in our young eyes than having cream of tomato soup.

On Sunday nights my brother and sister and I would get things ready for school the next day and, as a treat, we could have supper while we watched television… now that WAS a treat. For every other meal, we ate in the dining room, at the table and television was banned.

Because we had had the traditional Sunday lunch – either at home, or at our grandparents, a two hour drive away across the North Yorkshire Moors – we would have a light, later supper than normal.

Imagine how exciting it was for the three of us to sit down to watch “Planet of the Apes” while Ma heated the tomato soup and spread Ritz Crackers with Philadelphia Cream Cheese and topped them with thin slices of hard boiled egg……. remember those egg slicers?  Sophisticated, huh?

Of course in those days, I was a skinny kid, with knock knees…….. anything was sophisticated.

But how we loved those Sunday night suppers.

I was thinking about the tomato soup and how deliciously rich and tasty it was and how sometimes, as a variation,  we would have tomato rice soup and I thought that maybe I could try making my own version. If I made it myself I would know exactly what went into it and I’d be able to keep an eye on it for the calorie count… with a bit of imaginative taste tweaking I could keep it low calorie….

Tomato soup needs tomatoes

A couple of onions, 200g of  long grain rice, some stock… oh and remember the chilli oil I made? Those chillies have really powered up the oil they are loitering in and have softened beautifully – I shall have a chilli or two from there……… and to soften it all and make it rich and creamy?

Some coconut milk powder – now this is a brilliant store cupboard ingredient. A spoonful added to spicy food gives a lovely smooth richness… and if chillies are involved, it calms down the heat and adds another dimension to the taste.

Get a large pan – this will make maybe 4 litres – and heat a spoonful of oil. I used the chilli oil and I put in two of the soft chillies.

Putting the chillies in at the start means they don’t frighten you with ferocious burning tastes.. the cooking softens their fire. If you are giving this to children, miss out the chillies and just use ordinary oil.

Peel and roughly chop the onion and add it to the oil to soften – don’t have the heat too high, you want the onions to soften gently until they are translucent, not sizzle till they are golden and crispy.

Put in two cans of Italian plum tomatoes – I really like the Napolina ones (and not just because they were on offer in the supermarket)

Rinse out the cans with water and add two litres of water with a couple of stock cubes, stir it round and let it bubble gently.

See how it gets thicker and a richer red?

You’ll know if it is ready for blitzing smooth because those onions that you chopped will be tender if you take a bit out to check.

I have a stick blender and it truly is one of the greatest kitchen gadgets you can get. If you haven’t got one, make sure it is next on your list of things to get – it really does make life so simple. Use whatever you have to whizz that soup base into a smooth and lucious pan of scarlet goodness.

Then, pour in 200g of long grain rice and stir round.

And remember the coconut milk powder? Mix a tablespoon or so in a jug with some cold water, little by little, mixing it smooth so you have maybe a quarter of a pint, and then pour it in.

Stir everything round and let it come back to a gentle boil.

The rice will cook in the tomato soup and thicken it brilliantly.

You might want to add some more water if you think it is too thick. I put in another pint jug full.

(Yes, I know I have been talking about litres but it was the old glass Pyrex jug that was nearest. And we all do it… I don’t think we Brits have quite grasped metric. Ingredients have to be sold in metric measurements but babies come in pounds and ounces. Make of that what you will)

Check the taste and see if it is what you want. You might want to add a pinch of salt or maybe a pinch of stock granules.

Now for the good news. I sat with a pen and some paper and tried to add up all the calories – 700 or so for the rice. 145 for the coconut milk, 190 for two cans of tomatoes, 120 for the oil… a 120 or so for the onions..and then I looked at the huge pan, full of soup…. there was well over 5 litres there.  Less than 300 calories a litre!

How simple was that? Low in fat, high in taste. Quick to do.

Enough for us to take flasks to work for the next couple of days. And have some to share with friends.

If you were to have a really big mug full of it you would still be under 300 calories…

So, there I was at work… with a hot mug full of tomato rice soup… thick and tasty, rich and tomatoey. Still on my diet.

And still, just as I was all those years ago, staring at a screen in front of me. Except this time I wasn’t watching “Planet of the Apes”


Lentil and Chorizo Soup

The Bear and I live on the top of a hill, which is, itself, at the top of a series of hills. We look down on the city below us and the view is always fantastic.  We have a park at the side of the gardens and it is always a good place to walk around.

In the autumn we go blackberrying and in the summer it’s a beautiful place to sit in the sun.

In the winter?

Incredibly beautiful, isn’t it?

You wouldn’t think we were just a mile or so from the city centre.

Being so high up means the snow is thicker up here and it stays longer. It also means that when I finish work, I try and go straight home to avoid getting caught up in any bad weather. And THAT means I haven’t been going to the supermarket.

I haven’t even walked to our nearest shops, because that means a walk  involving coming down from where we live… down these steps

So I need to cook from what we already have.

I always keep the store cupboard filled with things that will last and tonight I started to think about soup.

There’s always a large jar of red lentils .. so they would go in… as would that lovely big onion.

In the fridge I found some pieces of chorizo

and in the cupboard a tin of sweet smoked paprika.

Right then… I was off. Onions chopped and sauteing gently in a dessertspoon of oil, with a teaspoon of paprika

Then, time to add the red lentils. They are not only tasty, they are packed full of protein.

Four scoops… that’s about 300g.

Two pints of water and stir it all round. That needs to bubble away but it really doesn’t take long for the lentils to cook.  Add a stock cube or some stock granules for flavour… this is going to be the quickest and tastiest soup you have ever made.

I have some dried Kashmiri chillies so one of them goes in… they are quite sweet and mild in comparison to other chillies. If you are cooking for children, then you could, if they don’t like chillies, just miss that out.

Remember that chorizo? Cut slices off each of the pieces and dry fry them over a gentle heat.

This lets the oil seep out gently, which you dress the soup with later, so whatever you do, don’t just throw it out.

See this? This is the secret that turns this tasty soup into a deliciously rich bowlful.

We are cutting our calories and that means cutting fat. But look at the label – it is skimmed milk.  No fat in there, or at least none to speak of.

You have enough liquid in there so adding milk powder adds to the taste, without diluting the taste or the consistency. The milk makes it taste rich and creamy.

Two big scoops of Marvel and then take out the dried (but now beautifully soft) chilli… and then whizz the soup to a silky smoothness. Taste it and adjust the seasoning… maybe a pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper?

Into the soup with the chorizo (chop the big pieces) and stir it round… pour over the glossy red oil

And there you have it.

Red lentil and chorizo soup – about two pints of  spicy loveliness. Packed full of protein and very little fat.

And the cost is minimal ….. both in pennies and calories….. there’s under 300 calories a serving in there.

All made from store cupboard ingredients and bits from the fridge. I feel so very virtuous… and also full and warmed through. 


Lovely chunks of chorizo, smooth and creamy soup…. 

Life is good.

(Oh and the snow photos were taken by The Bear. He’s good, isn’t he?)

Skinny tomato soup

As I lumber my large and ungainly way into January and prepare to go back to work, I make a start on the diet. My cunning plan to emerge as slender as a supermodel is based around eating tasty but sensibly low calories breakfasts and lunches and then having something truly delicious, yet very low calorie for supper.

Lunch.. that is the problem. I want something really tasty to keep me going. I drink black coffee all day and I need a different taste.

Now. It is Sunday night and I haven’t really thought it through, so I start rummaging in the cupboards. There aren’t any tins of tomatoes…. I can’t believe it, because I always buy plenty. There’s lots and lots of stuff in there to make delicious meals but I am trying to cut calorie corners.

What I do find is a carton of V8 vegetable juice … look at the goodness in that…

and an  onion.. and a packet of bonito stock, or dashi.

This is a combination of fish flakes (a bonito is related to the mackerel and tuna, dried and shaved into flakes)  and seaweed… it may sound strange but it is going along the umami route – a deep, flavoursome stock that gives you “mouth feel” as if what you are eating is rich and certainly more calorific than it seems. It doesn’t taste fishy… just savoury.

Don’t add it if you don’t want to, or if you can’t find it – add ordinary vegetable stock or miso instead. The aim is to make what would otherwise be a thin soup (with, therefore, very few calories in it) into something that tastes if it has more body and richness to it.

So, one onion, chopped (about 100 calories, raw) and one tablespoon of oil  (about 120 calories) – see how much work I do for you? Calculating all this?

Sweat the onions till soft with a pinch of salt (that makes them stay soft and translucent)

Add a sachet of bonito stock and stir round.

Pour in the V8 (190 calories for the litre)  … how healthy is this going to be? All those vegetables in there…stir it round and let the onions finish cooking.

Now, if you have fresh coriander chop it and stir it round.. or, if you have a tube of it (always handy to have some in the fridge) give a quick squirt

Remember those chillies I made chilli oil with? I got one of those out and added it

And a squirt of ginger as a livener…

And whizz it all to a silky smoothness

Now, by my reckoning that comes to maybe 500 calories or so for the litre…. that’s a LITRE.. That’s a panful.  A good sized mug full will only be 100 -125 calories.

There’s a richness and fullness to it that makes it so very satisfying. It’s tomatoey (as it should be) and savoury – not just salty… and there’s a hint of a nip of ginger and chilli.

It’s not just one dimensional.

Flashforward to Monday lunch….

It’s a winner. Can this be the way forward?

Pauper’s Pea and Ham Soup

I bought a bacon shank while I was out because I had a fancy for pea and ham soup…. and because I haven’t been paid since September, I am being very cautious with what is left of my cash.

What could be better, then, than a thick and savoury soup, where the ingredients come to less than £2?

Pea and ham soup... and Aunty Mary 038

99p for a big and hefty bacon shank….

Pea and ham soup... and Aunty Mary 046

49p for 500g of split peas

A couple of carrots, some onion and a few bay leaves from the tree on the balcony and you have all you need to make a delicious supper.

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The thing is, it does take time to do this but the way round it is to start the day before. This amounted to a few minutes work and then leaving it to simmer for a couple of hours. That was OK by me because I knew that the following night I would come in to a perfectly cooked soup that would just need a few minutes work.

I’m a great fan of food that you can spend just a short time on and then leave it to cook quietly….. I work full time and I don’t always want to spend hours cooking when I get in at night.

So…. carrots cut roughly, as was the onion, and then they were put into a pan with the bacon shank

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I poured in the full bag of split peas

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And then brought everything up to the boil.

See? That isn’t much work, is it?

You do have to hover about every now for the first ten minutes or so  because you need to scoop off the froth that come up…. but it’s no real hardship

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Doesn’t take long though and once it’s done, put the lid on and leave everything to simmer for a couple of hours.

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That’s it, for one night… just turn the heat off and leave it, you will finish it off the following night.

So, when you come in the next night, you will find a big pan of cold and solid soup. That’s good – it shows that the bacon shank has done its job.

Heave the shank out of the pan… and I do mean heave….I had to lever it out

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Look at how it has set!


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 I like a smooth texture with a few split peas, so what I do is take out a couple of ladlefuls of the peas, remembering to remove the bay leaves and blitz the rest to a glorious silky smooth base

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Now all you have to do is shred that shank….

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There’s a lot of meat on there…

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Remember I said I took out a couple of ladles of the peas before I blitzed the rest? I put them back in now to give just a bit of texture to the smooth base

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… and then add that lovely, shredded bacon

And just to show how easy it is, I made foccacia bread.. this time chopping  sage leaves and garlic into the mix

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It really is the easiest bread in the world to make and takes maybe 15 minutes in the oven

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Another 30p maybe for the flour? Pennies for the yeast and salt and oil? The sage leaves I got from the pot on the balcony….

Still under £2, then.

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And truly, the work involved for soup and bread was minimal… a bit of chopping the night before, scooping off the froth from the boiling peas and then leaving it to do its thing…and tonight? Shredding the bacon and blitzing half the soup… mixing some dough….

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That made 4 huge and sustaining bowls of soup…..

……the bacon shreds were delicious bites in the silky soup…. ohhh it was delicious.

I loved it and my purse loved it. I’d make this even if I wasn’t almost penniless.

Chicken soup with rose harissa buns

… nothing better when you are feeling low and ill. And there’s nothing better for your bank balance that making a meal from scraps and leftovers.

It’s flu season and people are dropping like flies. What we need is soup.. chicken soup. Apparently it really does work!

First thing, get your chicken. Now you can do this with a whole, raw chicken, of course, but I use up the carcass of a roasted chicken.

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See, there’s still some chicken on there… there’s the bones and the skin. They are just waiting to be turned into delicious soup to soothe you and make you better.

You’ll need some vegetables for the stock… a leek, say and a carrot or two

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Put them in a large pot and strip your chicken from the bones…. tear off the spare chicken and leave the carcass

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See? There’s a good bowl full of chicken shreds there

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Put the chicken carcass and whatever bits of skin and so on that are left in the pot with the vegetables. add some peppercorns and a some salt and set it away to simmer. After an hour and a half or so, the stock is more or less ready….

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You need to drain it… get a colander or sieve and putting it over another pan (this is SO important…. don’t laugh because in a rush I once forgot and managed to lose a quarter of my stock… goodness knows what i was thinking of! I had a colander with the boiled vegetables and skin and bones and my stock, my delicous stock, was disappearing down the sink!) anyway… make sure you drain it into another pan… If you were doing this for guests and wanted the clearestr stock imaginable them drain it through muslin. I was just doing this for us so I reckoned the colander was fine.

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See those vegetables? Well they have more or less donated their all to the soup.. the leek definitely has, though the carrots may still have a bit of life in them… anyway, with the rest of your leek, slice it very finely and get some pretty baby carrots.. or chop your cooked carots a bit smaller

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And add them to the pot of stock.

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Taste it. Does it need a pinch more salt? Some pepper?

Then add your chicken that you had pulled off the bones earlier

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Let it cook for a while.. not long… those baby carrots, if you added them will need a few minutes.. and then…..

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Chicken soup to soothe your cold… can you see how that could cure you?

Far better than cough and cold medicine. And you were using scraps and leftovers!

Add a couple of little breadbuns and you have a brilliant meal. I used the same recipe for the little loaves but left out the usndried tomatoes and chillies  and added rose harissa to the dough… a chilli, spice and rose scented paste. Not as odd as it sounds and oh, how it livens up the dough!

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You can do it… just give it a go!

Pumpkin Soup

After gouging out the seeds and making snacks of them the other day, I really had to get a move on with  the rest of the pumpkin and thought pumpkin soup would be the answer. Besides I wanted to make a Jack O’Lantern with it, ready for Halloween.

(When I was young, in the far North of England, we never saw a pumpkin and instead carved lanterns from turnips!)

Still, civilisation has advanced since then and even in the Grim North, pumpkins are freely available now. I started by scooping out the flesh

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There was a fair amount of flesh in there

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I thought that the best way of dealing with it was to roast it first to deepen the flavour. I sprinkled it with chilli oil, salt and paprika ….

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That went into an oven at 175 degrees and while that was roasting I started on the soup base. Onions, of course, a clove of garlic, a little bit of chopped dried chilli

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After the onion had softened in some oil and some stock, the pumpkin was browning nicely

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The dark bits were caramellised and sweet, the rest of it was soft and golden… perfect. That could now go into the pan with the softened onions

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Stir it round and watch it all sink into a lovely, soft mess of pumpkin and onion. Now you can add some more stock to thin it down… maybe some milk or, remember I told you about adding dried milk? That doesn’t add extra fluid but does add extra taste.

Then stick in your hand blender (surely one of the greatest inventions ever? This is my Dualit which I would hate to be without and that we got as a wedding present. Thanks B&T!)

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See how the colour changes? Lightens as it becomes smooth and silky?

And that’s it.

Serve it in a bowl, with a swirl of chilli oil to spike it up a bit and a lovely fresh baked roll to go with it….

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And at the end of it… I still had the pumpkin and a sharp knife. Happy Halloween!

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