A soup to cure your weekend excesses.

This Monday I started a new job. Sitting around on Sunday evening with an impending early start, I was reminded of times past when I had slightly overdone it on the previous two days. No matter how you spent your Sunday afternoon, you could never escape the drained, dehydrated and lethargic feeling you get after a heavy weekend. Not exactly how you want to be feeling when you have to board a tube with 4 million other people, crush your face into someone else’s armpit and then try to impress your new employers.

This brought to mind an old soup recipe I tried a while ago which, eaten on a Sunday evening, purges and re-energises. I served it with a simple loaf of homemade soda bread.

Carrot, ginger and orange soup.

To feel better, you will need;

400g carrots, sliced

1 large onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

100g red lentils (about half a ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ mug)

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

A large knob of Ginger, about 50g, finely grated

Juice of 2 oranges

1 tsp ground cumin

3/4 litre vegetable stock

Salt and pepper

Heat some oil in a saucepan and cook the onions until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further few minutes. Sprinkle in the cumin and mix well. At this point I normally squeeze the grated ginger into the pan so that you get the flavour without the ‘dog hair’ like fibres. You could use muslin to do this but I didn’t have any so I used a cloth napkin. Add the carrots, half the orange juice and the lentils and mix well. You could swap half the carrots with butternut squash but, again, I didn’t have any. Mix well, season with salt and pepper and then add the stock. Put a lid on and let simmer for around 30 mins or until the carrots are tender and the lentils are cooked through. Put the soup in a blender, whizz until smooth and then pour into a clean pan. It should be quite thick at this point, which is where the remaining orange juice comes into play. Add a little bit at a time, stirring all the while, until you have a consistency of soup that you like. Taste and add a bit more salt and pepper if it needs it. Ladle into bowls, top with a scoop of yoghurt and a sprinkle of chilli and serve. Some torn coriander (cilantro for you Americans) tossed on top would’ve been nice too but I didn’t have any.

Soda bread.

The easiest bread ever. Delicious hot out of the oven and also makes great toast the next morning. Most recipes call for buttermilk but I think it’s much nicer with yoghurt. Tastes less like a scone.

Slightly undercooked! Oops....

500g plain flour

400ml live yoghurt

2 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp salt

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl. Stir in the salt. Add the yoghurt and mix until you have a basic dough. It is good if it’s a tiny bit sticky. Tip onto a floured work surface, knead for a minute or so and form into a rough ball; it should look scruffy! Place on a floured baking tray, dust with flour and, using a serrated knife, score the top with a cross. You can go pretty deep – about a third of the way through. put in the oven and bake for 40-45 mins. It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Nomnomnom.


4 parts companionship, 1 part psychotic disappointment.

There are various points over the course of the year when video gaming over the Internet against faceless teenagers is just no longer rewarding enough. In fact it’s rarely ever rewarding considering nearly everyone I play against is better than me. There is not much that is more unfulfilling than being shot in the face a hundred times by the representative avatar of a carbuncle infested, friendless 13 year old with more time on their hands than all the incarnations of Doctor Who put together. Except Christopher Eccleston. He actually wasted everyone’s time. Possibly a harsh presumption of my average opponent too – I’m sure they have lots of friends on Xbox live.

Roll on ‘La Liga’, a 5-player FIFA 12 tournament between ‘friends’ in a remarkably hostile environment. I’m not saying playing a football simulation in a nice house in Hackney is akin to walking the streets of Mogadishu in a union jack two-piece, but it does often get a little bit nasty. It is, however, completely justifiable. The joint prizes are worth more than the love or respect of your friends – a beautiful, hand crafted trophy and the knowledge that you have managed to successfully make 4 people you normally care about feel small and worthless (or you have just put one particular player into an uncontrollable 3 day rage). All good fun, to say the least.

Impressive, huh?! It's actually about the size of an egg.

‘La Liga’ has a normal league format. You play each other twice, with 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw and obviously nothing for losing. It means that we often have very close leagues with the title relying on a result here or a late equaliser there. Not so on Saturday. Just after the halfway point it was all over, the trophy won with 3 games to spare. Not by me. Congratulations definitely in order, although to sum the winner up in one word I would have to choose ‘smug’. This makes it a teeth-gritting experience having to applaud someone whose downright duty it is to ram it straight back down your throat. Feelings in the room were mixed – one indifferent, one incensed and one, as usual, sitting somewhere between ‘oblivious’ and ‘mystified’. I think my feelings about this overwhelming thrashing were more complex. As the previous holder of the coveted prize, it was my obligation to pass the mantle with dignity, grace and respect. As already discussed, however, this was defeat. Defeat brings out the usual emotions; I was hurt, soiled, wounded and hurt. Nothing a post tourney trip to the ‘the Kenton’ wouldn’t solve.

For me video games are at their best when you are playing against a person sat next to you. Trash talk becomes an element of the game itself, trying to psyche out the other player in the hope they’ll make a mistake. Telling your opponent during a Street Fighter session, “I’m about to kick you in the face”, and then doing exactly that is tremendous fun. With one of our ‘Liga’ players you just have to say “offside” when they are attacking and they instantly stop playing. Idiot. To be fair, he really doesn’t know much about football. He once cheered in a pub by accident when Uruguay scored against England because he didn’t know who was who.

I suppose this blog is also meant to be about food. We ate 2 disgustingly large (and ‘meat’ infested) Papa John pizzas. Papa means father. I’m glad he’s not my dad.

5 jars of love and a bottle of skint.

This year, due to my overwhelming poorness, I have decided to make the majority of my Christmas presents. The plan is to be able to gift friends and family with a small homemade hamper full of lovely things that would be ideal Boxing Day accompaniments. I want these things to go perfectly with cold turkey and ham, cheese, bread and also something in there to cure the Christmas hangover. If your family is anything like mine, Xmas day is spent excitedly opening presents (often power tools), getting hammered on my Mum’s Japanese language Wii (!) by a seven year old, eating 4.9 metric tonnes of food and then getting so drunk you lose the ability to walk and/or see – neither of which you need to be able to do at this point anyway. Boxing day therefore is generally a day of meekly picking at leftovers, pretending you feel alright until the point where you actually do, then repeating the last step from the day before. I love Christmas.

If you are a friend or member of my family… Merry Christmas! This is what you’re getting…

Wholegrain mustard

You will need:

200g yellow and brown mustard seeds

A good pinch of crumbled dried chilli

250ml of good cider vinegar

1 tsp salt

4 tbsp runny honey

Put the mustard seeds, chilli and vinegar in a bowl, mix, cover with Clingfilm and set aside for 24 hours.

Add the honey (delicious) and mix well. Put ¾ of the mixture in a food processor (I did it in a blender and it worked fine) and blend until crushed or a consistency you like. You can probably do this in a pestle and mortar as well. Mix everything back together and add the salt. Put the mixture into sterilised jars. I got 5 4oz jars out of this and a small amount for my friend Joe to take home with him. He will, however, never eat it because it doesn’t go with prawns.

This will store for months in a cupboard and once opened will keep for a couple of months in the fridge.

I also tried a version adding 50ml whiskey and removing 50ml of the vinegar. It was very nice but probably not as good. Try it! Also nice mixed through some fluffy mashed potato.

This recipe was inspired by Annie Rigg’s book, ‘Gifts From The Kitchen’. Buy it. It’s great.

Blackberry whiskey

This recipe is super simple. I won’t give you measurements because it doesn’t matter! I’m going with 3 F’s for this one. Fill, fill, fill!

Get enough blackberries to fill a sterilised, airtight Kilner jar (or likewise). Pour in golden caster sugar and keep shaking and filling until you can’t fit anymore in. Fill with whiskey (just use cheap stuff) and allow it to drip through the fruit and sugar. Keep topping up if it needs it. At this point I wish I had added a couple of drops of vanilla extract, but ive only just thought of that so there we are. Seal and put in a cupboard for a month or so. Basically you want the sugar to have dissolved in the alcohol.

I decanted it into 25cl sealable bottles by separating the fruit and liquid, putting around 6 or 7 blackberries in each bottle and then filling with the syrupy goodness. The leftover whiskey-soaked blackberries were delicious with ice cream. There was no more of the drink left. Honest.

There are more presents than this but I don’t want to give the game away. I’ll put up more after the big event.

Oh, as a footnote, I got all my jars and bottles from a lovely ebay shop called freeman-and-harding-the-jar-people. Brilliant service if you want jars. If not, I wouldn’t advise contacting them.

Waste not want not.

On Sunday my housemates and I gathered for a day of wining, dining and hangover refining. There’s something altogether fun and gratifying about making an effort as a group to create a meal that’s just a bit more special than usual. We polished our best crockery, laid the table and tucked into that invincible British staple, the Sunday roast. The usual suspects were in attendance – roast spuds, honeyed carrots, unrisen Yorkshire puddings – and my personal favourite; braised red cabbage. It’s sweet, it’s acidic, and it’s silky in the mouth. Pile a little bit into a Yorkshire pudding and fill with gravy. Awesome!

Anyhoo, after any roast dinner you invariably end up with pots full of leftover veg that normally goes to waste, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it up. I came up with red cabbage and feta fried pasties (snappy!). The sweetness of the cabbage goes well with the saltiness of the cheese and, served with a nice salad, is a lovely way to use up your leftovers in a light Monday meal. First up though, here’s how I make my slow braised red cabbage:

–       1 red cabbage, shredded

–       2 apples, cored and cubed

–       1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

–       2 tbsp white wine vinegar

–       1 cinnamon stick

–       a good grating of nutmeg

–       A sprinkle of sugar if you like it very sweet.

Shred the cabbage thinly, removing the hard white core. Heat a bit of groundnut oil (or other flavourless oil) in a heavy based pan and then add the cabbage. Keep stirring for 5 minutes or so until you start to see the vibrant purple seep into the oil. Mix the balsamic and wine vinegar together. Add the apple and 2/3 of the vinegar (and the sugar if you are using) to the pan and mix well. Put a lid on and place over a medium heat.  Keep checking on the consistency as it’s cooking and add a little bit more vinegar if it needs more liquid. Keep it cooking until it’s a texture that you like – I like to cook it a long time so that the apple breaks down and the texture is, for want of a better word, smushy. The great thing about red cabbage is, once cooked, it will be happy sitting and waiting for the rest of the meal. If anything it becomes tastier!

You will probably find that you have quite a bit of this left over the day after. Pop it in a parcel and fry the bugger.

You will need;

–       250g plain flour

–       100g butter, cut into cubes

–       1 egg beaten

–       Sunflower oil

–       Left over red cabbage

–       Feta, about 150g (or however much you want really!)

Put the flour and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour using your fingertips. Keep this up until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You can also do this in a food processor but I don’t because I cant afford one! Or rather I keep spending all my money on other, less important and often stupid things. Mix in the beaten egg and bring together to form a ball of dough. At this point wrap in cling film and refrigerate for a half hour or so. I don’t know why you should do this; I just always thought you should! Crumble the feta cheese into the red cabbage and mix well. It’s good to leave some chunky bits of cheese in there, as they are a pleasure to bite through. Roll out the pastry so it is very thin; you want it to crisp up but without a stodgy layer below. Cut into circles, not too big, maybe the size of a small saucer. Heat about a half-inch layer of the oil in a pan until hot. Put a bit of the cabbage and feta filling in the centre of the pastry circles, wet the edges with a bit of water and fold over into a semi-circle. Seal the edges by either pinching with your fingers or, as I prefer, using a fork to stick it together. Put in the hot oil and fry until crisp and golden, about 4-5 mins on each side. Done! I purposely made too many because they are great either hot or cold. I ate them hot on the Monday with a nice bean and tomato salad and then packed a couple the next day for a snack while I was out, which ended up being eaten by other people anyway!