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?

Treat me: Chocolate Teapot Biscuits

Chocolate Spelt Cookies

Who came up with the expression ‘as much use as a chocolate teapot’?

Can you tell me? The internet can’t, and when you think of all the things the internet knows, that’s saying something.

In the meantime, I can tell you how to make some very useful chocolate teapot biscuits. You don’t have to make them teapot-shaped, but if you happen to find a very beautiful teapot-shaped cookie cutter while your kitchen is being torn apart, then here’s what you should do with it. If you don’t have a teapot-shaped cutter, you can make them into rounds sandwiched together with raspberry jam. Both are recommended.

Chocolate Spelt Biscuits With Raspberry Jam

Chocolate Spelt Biscuits
I remember making a version of these with my mother more than – gulp – 25 years ago. They were quite plain to me then, but lately I’ve had a mad taste-memory craving for them. I like to think of them as the Coco Chanel of cut-out cookies; thin, brown and quite elegant.
Don’t think of making these without the chocolate coating unless you like your cookies to be very plain. They taste quite austere alone, but the chocolate brings everything into balance.
Given the teapot and the chocolate, these are the perfect entry for February’s Tea Time Treats Challenge, hosted with effortless style by the amazing Karen of Lavender and Lovage Fame.

1 1/4 cups wholemeal spelt flour
2/3 cup self-raising flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp coconut sugar or brown sugar
120g cold butter, diced
60ml milk
100g good quality dark chocolate (about 60 per cent cocoa is about right, any higher and it will be too bitter)

Heat the oven to 180C and line two trays with baking paper.
Put the flours, salt, baking powder and sugar in a food processor and whiz to combine.
Add the butter and process until well blended. Keep the motor running and pour in the milk. Process until it forms a dough.
Turn out onto a piece of cling film or baking paper and gather into a ball, then roll out to about 4mm thick (you can do this in two batches if you’re working with limited space). Cut out shapes – even rectangles will do, if you don’t have an arsenal of cookie cutters at your disposal – and divide between the two prepared trays. Prick each one with a fork and bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove to racks to cool completely.
Melt the chocolate (I do it in a heatproof bowl in the cooling oven) and spread or drizzle over each biscuit. Don’t be mean about it. Estee Lauder once said that wearing perfume was ‘like loving – you can’t be stingy’ – and the same applies to chocolate.

With that mixed visual metaphor fresh in your mind, I wish you a very good weekend!

Lavender and Lovage

Good things – January 2014

I’m not sure how it happened, but someone has stolen my January. I can’t believe the first month of 2014 has disappeared so fast. This afternoon, as I rushed to the hardware store to buy window hinges (don’t ask), I tried to recall what we have done and drew a complete blank.

From looking at my diary I can work out there was one bout of tonsilitis, 10 flights up and down the country and one funeral. I have met approximately a dozen tradesmen, one of whom I have seen more of in the last two weeks than my husband. In fact, one of the other tradies thought he WAS my husband. I have spent more time in hardware stores than I have in food shops. I’ve only read two books (this one and this one) and become hooked on this show. I have worried about paint and carpet and too many other things to mention.

It is mid-summer and I have still not eaten an ice cream.

Miso Caramel Sauce

But I have become absolutely addicted to this insanely good and easy to make miso caramel sauce, which goes with absolutely everything.

I loved listening to this podcast with Colonel Chris Hadfield about eating in space. Surely he must be a contender for Person Of The Year?

I have made quite a few things from this book, aided by vegetables I’ve been growing in my own garden (please note high levels of SPF – Smug Person Factor – in that statement).

Yellow Zucchini With Blossoms Picture Credit: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

And I was utterly transfixed by this video – though I can see the point in this argument against it (it’s still mesmerising though, don’t you think?

So maybe January wasn’t all bad after all. What have you been up to?

Kitchen DIY: Homemade capers

Do you want your neighbours to think you have gone mad? Here’s how.

1. Venture out to the council-managed garden areas (that is to say, those that are overgrown with weeds) on your street, preferably while wearing your gardening hat, gumboots and various other items of misshapen, mismatching clothing.

2. For best results, do this when your neighbours are walking up the street, preferably with their most glamorous friends and perfectly behaved children, in their best clothes.

3. Climb into one of the gardens and start pinching off nasturtium buds and flowers, putting them in the small bowl you have brought with you for this purpose.

4. Wave cheerily as the neighbours pass by. Tell them, when they enquire as to what you are doing, that you are picking the nasturtium buds to make into homemade capers and the flowers are going in tonight’s salad. Watch as the smiles become a bit more fixed and the stares become more glassy.

5. Scramble out of the garden and go to your house, while the net curtains across the street twitch frantically.

Well, that’s not completely accurate – our neighbours are all lovely and very few of them have net curtains. Actually, only the really weird ones have net curtains and we think it’s because they are Up To No Good In There. I do feel a bit of a dork to be sprung essentially harvesting weeds in front of them, but they should be used to it by now. In any case, I love nasturtiums and a bit of embarrassment is worth it.

Homemade Capers

Pickled Nasturtium Buds – aka Homemade Capers
Nasturtium flowers are great in salads and the leaves add a peppery bite to cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches – just pick the smaller ones as the big ones are really fiery. When the flowers have wilted (or been picked by someone like me), pick the little brain-like growths at the base of the flowers and use them in this homegrown version of capers.

At least 1/2 a cup of nasturtium buds, washed and dried
250ml rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
10 peppercorns

Put the vinegar, salt, garlic and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat and let cool. Pour into a small sterilised jar, then add the nasturtium buds. Put a lid on the jar and leave for a couple of weeks in a cool place. The buds will be ready to eat when they have sunk to the bottom of the jar. You can keep adding new buds to the liquid.

Are you a forager? What’s your best tip?

Last-minute chocolate fudge

If you are an organised person, you are probably sitting around shelling peas, roasting chesnuts on an open fire or performing some other seasonally appropriate cliched Christmas task. If you are not an organised person, you might be still at work, still asleep or still stuck in a line of traffic or angry shoppers.

If you fall somewhere in the middle, this post is for you. I thought I was an organised person, but then last week I was struck down by an evil virus (I’ll spare you the details) that made juggling parenting, work and the onset of Christmas near impossible. If it wasn’t for the miracle of online shopping and the fact that we are not hosting a Christmas feast (though I am cooking most of it), I think I would have cancelled the whole thing.

Now mostly recovered – and most importantly, with a mostly recovered child and a husband who is being force-fed vitamin tablets so he doesn’t succumb to whatever we had – I am actually looking forward to The Big Day. Sure, I have to cook a turkey and a chocolate roulade and a panettone and introduce some salads to a family who looks suspiciously at any vegetable that isn’t a deep-fried potato, but that’s all doable. Even more doable is this incredibly easy fudge, which doesn’t require any boiling or beating and can be made in an instant. If you are leaving all your Christmas shopping until the lastest of last minutes, don’t put yourself through it. Just make a double batch of this stuff and you’ll be regarded as a bona fide Christmas miracle.

Chocolate Almond Fudge
This recipe came to me from Tiny Happy, a blog so beautiful and serene that setting aside five minutes to read it is like giving yourself a little Christmas present every day. You can see Melissa’s most recent post about the fudge here. Here’s how I made it – with my time-honoured trick of using the oven as a chocolate melting device, because everyone’s oven is on at this time of year, isn’t it?

400g good quality dark chocolate (eg 200g Whittaker’s 50 per cent and 200g Whittaker’s 72 per cent chocolate, broken into pieces
1 400g tin of condensed milk
150g roasted salted almonds (or other nuts of your choice, or tangy dried fruit)

Melt the chocolate and condensed milk together – my favourite way to do this is to put it in a large heatproof bowl in a low oven (about 150C) for about 10 minutes. You could also do this in a double-boiler, or in a microwave, but the oven method is low stress and energy-efficient (if the oven has been on for something else, obviously). While this is happening, line a brownie pan or similar (about 30 x 20cm) with baking paper. Scatter half the nuts on the bottom of the tin.
As soon as the chocolate has melted, or nearly melted, take it out of the oven/double boiler and stir well until it’s well mixed. Pour this mixture into the prepared tin and press the remaining nuts on top.
Put it in the fridge to set – this will happen very quickly – then slice into small squares or bars. If you’re giving it away, make sure to tell the recipients to store it in the fridge. If you’re keeping it for yourself, retire to the sofa with the tin and a copy of Love, Actually or another Christmas weepie. You deserve it.

Merry Christmas! x