Cheese Scones

March 30, 2009

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When we think of scones it’s always teatime and there’s jam or honey and quite possibly cream. The sun is out. Bees hum in the roses and it’s all very Edwardian and English.

But there’s a whole other way of eating scones, where they’re a savoury item, to be eaten either on their own with butter, or with soup – best of all, to my taste, being sweetcorn soup.

These are they. The recipe has been handed down to me so I don’t know who was its original author. But the addition of the spring onions is mine, though you could use a leek.

Cheese Scones
at least 12

225g self raising flour
pinch salt
1/2 tsp mustard powder
55g butter
100ml milk
1 egg
50g cheddar cheese, grated
paprika
2 spring onions, finely chopped

Set the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Grease an oven tin.

Sieve together the flour, salt and mustard powder. Rub in the butter.

Mix in half the cheese. Crack the egg into the middle of the flour and pour in most of the milk. Gradually work the ingredients together. Add the rest of the milk if it’s necessary,  but aim for a soft dough which isn’t sticky.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead a little, before pressing it down to form a slab about 2cm thick. Cut into 5cm rounds.

Place the scones onto the baking sheet and brush with milk. Then top them with a little cheese and a sprinkling of paprika.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.

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Corn and Sweet Potato Soup

January 23, 2009

corn

I’m sure corn must be a sacred vegetable in some part of the world or some ancient civilisation. There’s something intriguing and symbolic about those nuggets of gold nestling within the deep green leaves.

And they taste good too. Best of all is corn roasted on a barbecue, lightly blackened and smoky, lavished with salted butter. There is no way to eat a corn cob delicately. You have to get to get down to it with both hands and you always end up satisfyingly messy, butter dripping onto your chin and down your forearms.

Sweetcorn kernels are formidable in fritters too, making a sweet crunchy heart to the deep-fried batter. Again this is moreish unpretetentious food, something you might buy on a street stall, that demands to be eaten the moment the fritter is ready, hot and crisp, with a scoop of sour cream or a dollop of spicy tomato relish.

Corn also makes the nicest soup I know. It’s not fancy or grand in any way, but it tastes earthy. Perhaps it’s because however much you blend the soup it never loses its grainy texture.

Some cooks add sherry. My preference is for a couple of tablespoons of Ginger Wine (Stone’s Original), not really for the alcoholic kick but for its gentle heat, as if something warm were stroking your throat.

Corn and Sweet Potato soup, for 4
300g sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped, like chips
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, chopped
4 tbs olive oil
25g butter
1 x 340g tin of sweetcorn
1 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs soya sauce
1 tbs barley miso
1.2 litres stock
200 ml milk
100 ml cream
chopped fresh coriander, to garnish

Melt the butter with the oil over a low heat, stir in the onion and fry gently until it begins to turn translucent.  Add in the garlic, the chilli and the sweet potatoes and fry over a low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often to make sure the potatoes don’t stick nor the garlic blacken.

Add the sweetcorn, sugar, miso and soya sauce, heat them through, and then pour in the stock. Bring the soup to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Add the milk and liquidise the soup in batches. If you are going for the ginger wine add that in now, too. Reheat.

Serve with a little curve of cream on the surface of each thick and hearty bowlful, along with a sprinkling of coriander.

asked my friend Shaun, for about the fourth time.

He adores Christmas. Yesterday late afternoon, when it was dark, he took me to see the crib in Trafalgar Square.

It was all lit up, a stylised kind of tableau. The characters stood at a distance from each other, gazing sombrely at the infant Jesus, who was far too huge for anyone to pick up and hug. In the size sense the whole thing was out of whack.  Joseph, who was lying down on his side gazing at Jesus, was not much bigger than his son.

But it worked somehow. It looked a bit homemade and rough around the edges, but with something grave and beautiful about it.

There was a choir singing in the square, dressed in white. A vicar gave a reading after that, though I didn’t really follow it because I was so cold.

A crowd had gathered to listen and watch, standing under the huge Christmas tree with its silver lights. The tree’s donated to London every year, so it said on the placard, by the people of Oslo, in gratitude for our help during the Second World War.

‘Aren’t you feeling just a bit festive now?’ said Shaun. ‘Doesn’t it make you feel like a child again?

‘It’s bloody freezing.”

But damn it, I did feel rather Christmassy, I had to admit, at least to myself. And there was I hoping to grouch my way through the season.

And it’s been downhill all the way, as far as successful grouching goes, since then.

I woke up this morning thinking about roasted chestnuts. Then I looked up recipes for marrons glaces. Luckily they were too long-winded and complicated for me to try, at least today.

And then I made this, a chestnut soup. Suitable for any day from now until New Year. But particularly good I would have thought, for Boxing Day.

So pretty damn festive, as far as soups go.

Oh, and it’s also extremely good. And easy.

Let me say that again. This is actually one of the tastiest, and simplest, winter soups, that I have ever eaten.

chestnuts

Chestnut and Sweet Potato Soup, for 4
60g butter
200g peeled and cooked chestnuts
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic, chopped
1 inch ginger, grated
2 sweet potatoes – about 600g – peeled and chopped into chunks
1 litre stock
2-3 tbs double cream
dash lemon juice
cayenne pepper

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion, garlic, ginger, chestnuts and potato chunks for about 10 minutes.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, cover the saucepan, and cook for about 10 more minutes until the potatoes are tender. Now add the lemon juice.

Take off the heat and blend the soup.

Stir in the cream and serve sprinkled with cayenne.

Leek and Potato Soup

November 27, 2008

There are winter soups and summer soups. Cold ones and hot ones. But how many soups, I ask you, are this easy to make? This tasty? This nourishing? How many are this comforting, hearty and warming-to-the-very-bones?

I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea. There you are, you’ve been watching the news about all the terrible events in the world today. The attacks in Mumbai. The insurrection in Thailand. The dire state of the pound or dollar. And it’s raining outside. Not even a very interesting full-pelt kind of rain, just a dull, grey drizzle.

And you think to yourself – maybe you mutter it aloud – ‘I know. I’ll make some soup’.

So you wander into the kitchen and find a few leeks and few potatoes. You chop them up and add some stock. You notice it’s raining a bit harder now.

And then, before you know it, something really rather remarkable happens.

It happens just when you’ve ladled out a big bowlful of deep browny-green real food, and you’ve sat down in front of it in your favourite chair. It happens right then.

You weren’t expecting it. Perhaps you were half hoping it might happen but you hardly dared think it might do so for real. But it does. A small thing perhaps, but enough to change your world…

Just this. That everything – all that stuff that stressed you so much – it all goes a little bit out of focus.

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Out-of-focus soup. Made just for you. Is there any better way to soothe away cares?

Leek and Potato Soup, for 4
3 leeks (when trimmed these should weigh about 500g)
500g potatoes, peeled and chopped quite small. Or you could par-boil these.
50g butter (this brings out the flavour better here than oil)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1.5 litres stock
100ml cream
dash lemon juice
1-2 tsp sugar
seasoning

In a large saucepan melt the butter and fry the leeks and garlic for a couple of minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for 5-10 more minutes until the leeks are translucent and the potatoes just cooked.

Pour in the stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the vegetables are completely tender. Add the sugar and lemon juice.

Blend the soup. You can do this in batches in a food processor or with a hand-held blender, as I did.

Stir in the cream and add any seasoning you like. I sprinkled my soup with some chopped parsley.

Relax. Enjoy. Become a blur.

carrot-and-lentil-soup-0121

Having been in Cyprus so recently, there was I thinking Mediterranean vegetables and barbecues and al fresco eating, and it wasn’t until yesterday’s walk in the park that I realised I was out of sync.

It wasn’t just autumn in the park, half the leaves were already on the grass. The tai chi guy was still doing his early morning stint but you wondered how long he would last. There are deer in that park and even they looked cold, their breath coming out in winter puffs of white.

And so my thoughts turned to soup, naturally. On a cold day it’s soup that makes you feel human again. It’s also cheap – really a handful of carrots, an onion and some lentils, cost next to nothing. And it’s one of the easiest foods to adjust: you just throw in a few more potatoes for extra padding, or beef up the flavour with lemon juice, salt or stock. A spoonful of tahini or miso may also be a good idea, often is.

So this is what I did. I fried the onion and garlic gently and just before they turned golden tossed in a couple of Thai chillies. These are those very small chillies and you need to go carefully with them. Two was an elegant sufficiency, just enough to give a comfortable glow.

Then I added the chopped carrots and fried those too for a few more minutes, being a firm believer that frying anything brings out the flavour. I poured in the stock, brought the soup to the boil and then left it to simmer for about 20 minutes while I did the washing-up. It was yesterday’s washing-up actually. I hate doing it late at night.

Then came my favourite bit, blending the soup. I have one of those hand-held whizzer-uppers. It used to belong to my grandmother, and it’s great for chasing after pieces of carrot. I also liked the way you could watch the whole thing turn bit by bit to a deep orange. Finally the coriander went in, the soup got another blast, and the orange became flecked with green.

I have to say, the soup was very good. I ate it once at lunch and then again in the evening with my flatmate D. We had a bit of baguette too (particularly crusty and fresh baguette from the Fresh and Wild store in Camden) and some basic green salad. Neither of us said very much at all, which seems to me the ultimate accolade for a meal.

Carrot and Coriander Soup, for 4
600g carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 green Thai chillies, chopped, with the seeds
2 tbs basic oil
150g red lentils
1.25 litres stock (I made this up from water and Marigold bouillon powder, the only type worth using, in my book)
a few stalks fresh coriander
yoghurt (optional)

In a large saucepan fry the onion and garlic in the oil for a few minutes, then add in the chilli. After a few more minutes put in the carrots and when they are just beginning to turn lighter at the edges pour on the water, add the lentils, and bring the soup to the boil.

Now cover the saucepan and simmer for about 20 minutes. Stir the soup every now and then to make sure it doesn’t stick.

Blend it thoroughly, add the coriander and blend some more. It’s now ready to serve, with a spoonful of yoghurt if you want it. If you find the soup too thick for your taste – and it is so very creamy and thick, which I like, but then it’s your meal! – stir in more stock. I wouldn’t add cream or milk though, it’s quite full-bodied enough.