Treat me: Spanish Hot Chocolate

Winter is coming, I can feel it in my bones. There’s only a month until the Shortest Day (after which winter really starts in this part of the world) and even though it’s been bright and sunny, there’s no mistaking that chill in the air.

That means porridge is back on the breakfast menu and so – occasionally – are delicate demi-tasses of my very own homemade Spanish hot chocolate. It’s thick, velvety and just the thing to cheer you up on a grey morning. Want some?

Spanish Hot Chocolate
Spanish hot chocolate is like nothing else on earth. It’s rich, thick and has a chocolate hit strong enough to sustain you until aperitivo hour. I’ve finally clocked how to make it at home – not quite as much fun as drinking it in Spain, but infinitely more achievable at the moment.
For best results, use the best cocoa powder and chocolate you can find. This makes enough for a good-sized jar – instructions follow on how to take it from powder to liquid heaven.

1 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup caster sugar – increase this to 1/2 a cup if you like things very sweet
6 Tbsp cornflour
200g dark chocolate, smashed into little bits

Put all ingredients into a food processor and whiz until it forms a fine powder. Alternatively, sift the cocoa, caster sugar and cornflour into a small bowl, then stir in the finely chopped chocolate. Transfer to a screwtop jar.

To make two small servings:  Mix 1/3 cup (6 Tbsp) of the chocolate mixture with 1/2 cup milk of your choice (not low fat milk, ok?) in a small saucepan. Heat, stirring all the time, until it thickens, then add 1 1/2 cups milk and stir frantically. Keep cooking over low heat, stirring all the time, until the mixture is thick and velvety. Divide between two cups. Follow with a brandy and a cigar, then go to work.

Have a great week, everyone x

Just add water soup + a giveaway!

When we came home from our epic Euro adventures last year there was one thing I was dying to do: drink water out of the tap. Because cocktails and jasmine tea and magnums of rose are all very well, but there comes a time when all you want to do is turn the tap on and have delicious, unpolluted, H2O come gushing out.

New Zealand isn’t immune from the cult of the plastic water bottle, of course, but we are lucky that we can drink the good stuff straight from the tap (even though many local councils advise people to run the water for a bit first thing in the morning to flush out any trace metals that might have built up overnight, which is a bit worrying!) I’m sure this is one of the reasons why our coffee is so good – an old flatmate of mine who was a coffee roaster was meticulous about water quality and insisted on using filtered water in his espresso machine.

While we’re used to taking good quality water for granted, I am really happy to be able to support a UK-based campaign run by BRITA and Delicious magazine that’s hoping to find some great recipes using filtered water. That might sound a bit ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’, but good water is an integral ingredient to so many things (not to mention the soup below). You can find out a bit more about the Better With BRITA competition here – don’t forget to check out the current entries to see who you’re up against. The three winners will be taken on a VIP trip to The Big Feastival in London and get the chance to sell their wares (and show off in general).

If you’d like to improve your drinking water quality, BRITA have given me one of their exceptionally pretty Marella Water Jugs (RRP £33) to give away to a lucky reader. You can enter via the Rafflecopter wotsit below. Unfortunately this giveaway – like the Better with BRITA competition – is only open to UK residents, but I have a consolation prize for everyone else – the secret to making ‘just add water’ soup.

Frugal Chicken Soup

Just Add Water Soup
In the colder months we follow the happy ritual of having a roast chicken on Sunday nights, not least because it means we have two cheering lunchboxes of leftovers to brighten Mondays. I used to feel guilty about throwing away the carcass instead of making stock, until I twigged that I could shortcut the process and make hands-free chicken soup instead. Here’s how…

1 x chicken carcass (or as many as you may have!)
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 onions or leeks, peeled or washed, as appropriate, finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1/4 bunch celery, including leaves, roughly chopped
fresh herbs – parsley, thyme, sage
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
salt and pepper
olive oil
extras: tinned beans/chickpeas, drained and rinsed; quinoa or buckwheat; more herbs

Start by putting the chicken carcass in a large pot. Tuck in the vegetables around it and barely with pure, filtered tap water. Cover, set over medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Let bubble away for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove from heat and extract the chicken bones and any bits of skin or fat. The meat should fall from the bones (and there will be a surprising amount of it). Return to the heat and add in any of the extras. If adding grains, add them to the pot and bring the soup to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until tender. Taste for seasoning – it will need a good amount of salt. Serve with crusty bread and a drizzle of olive oil. Makes 4-6 servings.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Given the frugal nature of this simple soup I think it’s a fine contender for this month’s Credit Crunch Munch, a blog event devoted to budget-friendly food created by – Fab Food 4 All and Fuss Free Flavours. This month it’s being hosted by Gingey Bites – check out her list of frugal and delicious meals.

* This post was created with the assistance of BRITA, but all opinions (and the recipe) are my own.

Instant carrot and tomato soup

I know I shouldn’t complain, but living in a building site is starting to get me down. The fact that I also have to work in one (my office building has been yellow-stickered and I’d rather not take my chances of surviving if it collapses), is adding insult to injury.

Working from home certainly has its advantages, but I struggled to find any today thanks to the bitterly cold wind turning the place into an icebox. Then I remembered that I could make myself something warming and restoring for lunch in between phone calls and emails and life seemed a little brighter. Here’s what I did.

Easy Tomato And Carrot Soup

Instant Carrot and Tomato Soup
This soup is inspired by – but unrecognisably different to – one in Soup Glorious Soup by Annie Bell. Hers involves carrots and scallops; I like to think of this one as a simpler, humbler relation. It’s an excellent rescue remedy for cold days when it feels like there’s nothing to eat (and it only takes 20 minutes to make, most of which is hands-free). This amount makes enough for two, but is easy to scale up as necessary. Don’t try to scale it down – just freeze the leftover amount for a rainy day. And for more vegetarian soup-y ideas, you might like to check out the links at No Croutons Required (though it’s ok to add croutons if you want.)

500g carrots, washed, peeled and roughly chopped
1 x 400g tin of whole peeled tomatoes
400ml (approx) good quality stock or water
salt and pepper
cream, creme fraiche or yoghurt, for swirling

Put the carrots and whole peeled tomatoes in a medium-sized saucepan and set it over medium heat. Using the tomato tin, measure in the stock or water. Cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the carrots are soft enough to collapse at the prod of a fork, remove from the heat. Blitz to a puree with a stick blender or in a food processor (the latter is faster but involves more washing up afterwards), then season with salt and pepper to taste. Reheat until starting to simmer, then serve with a spoonful of cream, creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt swirled across the top.

Do you work from home? What do you make for lunch?

Home sweet home

It is a truth universally acknowledged (even in secret) that there is nothing worse that other people’s travel photos, except perhaps other people’s travel stories. So as much as I am tempted to mark the end of our grand adventures abroad with an endless parade of photos and a stream-of-consciousness piece about the joys of frolicking around Europe for two months, I’m going to restrain myself. I’m going to pretend that we’ve just bumped into each other:

You: ‘Oh, so you’re back. Did you have a good time?’

Me: ‘Yeah, got back last Thursday. We had the best time ever. Honestly, it was just fantastic. We…’

You (eyes glazing over, hatred mounting): ‘Oh. Great. Oh look, I have to go… (rushes off)

Jetlag, what jetlag?

We ate, we drank, we caught up with old friends and made new ones, we laughed, we walked miles and miles, we watched my beautiful niece marry her lovely partner, we read thousands of stories, did oodles of colouring-in and dragged the Small Girl away from every playground/carousel/toy shop/ice cream merchant in greater London/Paris/Berlin/Hong Kong. Every now and then, just to make sure I remembered how, I cooked. Or at the very least I pottered around in a strange kitchen, enjoying the novelty of it all.

Kreuzberg, Berlin, August 2013

Best of all, I got to do it with these two. I won’t pretend that there was never a cross word between us (and, I do admit that on day two, crippled by jetlag and the sudden switch from 9C to 33C in temperature, I did think, ‘what have we done?! This is a terrible idea!’) but we actually had a ball. Aren’t they great?

Now though, it’s all about channelling that holiday love into catching up with normal life. I’m certainly not expecting any sympathy, but it is REALLY hard returning to the daily grind. I feel like I’m acting out the lyrics in that Talking Heads song:

“And you may ask yourself

How do I work this?

And you may ask yourself

Where is that large automobile?

And you may tell yourself

This is not my beautiful house!

And you may tell yourself

This is not my beautiful wife!”

I can’t use the jetlag excuse any longer but I am still not match fit in the kitchen. Tonight I made sushi that would make Jiro Ono cry, while yesterday I decapitated a silicon spatula by absentmindedly sticking it into a running food processor. On Friday I made my first loaf of bread in two months and forgot the salt. But, like the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, I’m getting there. Slowly.

In the meantime, what I’m really dying to hear is what you’ve been up to in my absence. No, really, I am! What’s the best – and the worst – thing that’s happened to you in the last two months? Fill me in!

Me and my kitchen rules

I write this standing in my kitchen – standing is the next sitting, don’t you know? – trying to make a list of its various oddities. This time next week I’ll be far, far away (in fact, hopefully I’ll be here) as our household go on a bit of an adventure for a couple of months.

Obviously I’m beside myself with excitement, but as I write this, still in that terrible miasma of anxiety and to-do lists and hideous mess that comes with leaving the country (in some cases, just leaving the house).

More than anything, I’m hoping that the people who will be living in our house while we’re away (they’re a family of Mexican wrestling champions with a pack of snarling attack dogs), will appreciate the quirks of our kitchen. We’ve written them a list of operating instructions for the rest of the house, but I thought I’d stop short of adding ‘please be nice to all my kitchen things’. Then again, there are things I want them to know… perhaps just a top five will do it.


1. Don’t use the insinkerator – it leaks down into the cupboard under the sink where I store all my cake tins. There is nothing worse than realising that you have to clean every single cake tin you possess – or worse, not realising they are collecting mucky water for days.

2. That funny grill thing beside the stove top? It doesn’t work. It does make an excellent cake rack though.

3. Please enjoy opening and shutting the oven. We’ve had it fixed just for you and it cost so much we could nearly have bought a new oven – or a slap-up high tea for the three of us – instead. 

4. We thought about putting away various precious bits and pieces but then decided it was just too hard. So please don’t break anything. Especially the stuff from my mum’s house. Please? And don’t go scrubbing the cast iron frying pans with detergent. That glossy sheen has taken a lot of building up.

5. All useful bits of kitchen kit – wooden spoons, graters, whisks, poultry shears – are in the second drawer down. If you happen across a set of measuring spoons and a green spatula, let me know. They have gone AWOL.

Given we’re going to be itinerant for the next seven weeks, I’m not sure I’ll be able to help you with advice on what to have for dinner. If you miss me that much you can always keep up with our adventures here or here. I’ll drop in when I can – and I’ll be back, cooking stone stoup, in mid-August.

Lucy x