Fennel and leek soup

When I’m poorly I tend to fall back on childhood favourites in an attempt to make myself feel better, almost using memories as a placebo. I think everyone has their traditional sickness staples they can rely on to make themselves more comfortable; mine always included a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream, a bottle of Lucozade and a pile of Iron Man comics. And of course soup.

If I felt nauseous, my mum would make me drink a pint of milk. It took me many years to realise that it just made me almost instantly sick; a pretty old-school remedy with a slightly cruel edge but better out than in I suppose. It’s this harking back to my youth that makes me always crave soup when ill.

Cream of chicken soup to be exact. I’m certainly not the only one to go down this route. The Spartans pretty much only ate ‘black soup’ (pig’s legs, blood, salt and vinegar) and they were pretty healthy. Steinbeck mentions its healing reputation in East Of Eden. Even Gandhi’s son was prescribed chicken soup when diagnosed with pneumonia. Couldn’t eat it though – vegetarian.

Managing to crawl to the fridge (like a slug) I found a potato, a couple of leeks, some old dill and a bulb of fennel. Is that right? A bulb? Or is it a head? Anyway, a pretty good haul for some healthy, re-energising soup to clear the head and vitalise the soul. Or something.

Not much needed for this one. Let the ingredients do the talking.

Fennel and leek soup.

1 bulb/head fennel, sliced

2 medium leeks, sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1 medium potato

A handful of dill, chopped

1 tsp oregano

1 litre vegetable stock

Ground black pepper

Melt a bit of butter in a pan and add the leek, garlic and fennel. Simmer until softened. Add the potato and oregano and mix well. Pour in the stock and then simmer for around 20 minutes until the potato is cooked through. Blend the mixture until smooth.

Quick aside here – at this point my blender broke. When I tried to detach the top, the bottom snapped off pouring soup all over the worktop. It was so frustrating I nearly cried.

Pour the mixture into a clean pan and bring back to temperature. Taste and season – I found that it didn’t need any salt – and stir in the dill. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or a drizzle of cream and garnish with a bit of that fluffy stuff from the top of the fennel or a sprig of dill.


Beetroot burgers with chive tzatziki

Saturday mornings are a glorious thing. I was due to be working but that got cancelled so I got to have a wonderfully lazy day. Up at 9, tea and toast and an hour of Battlefield 3 before a hung over Laurel surfaced. Off to the market we went.

Last year some lovely, crafty and foodie folk decided to start a food market in Brockley. It has proved to be a massive success, selling amazing coffee, fresh fruit and veg, breads – well, you get the idea. My plan was to take a load of pictures, buy some beautiful vegetables and write a post about it. However, I forgot my camera so I will do a post about it next week. In the meantime I did get a large bag of great looking beetroot and some fresh herbs. I had been wanting to make a veggie burger for a while, so that’s how I spent my afternoon.

I found some great looking recipes online for burgers, ranging from beanie burgers to roast vegetable patties. I especially liked the look of this walnut beanie burger, and considered making these but ultimately decided to try something new using my market purchases. I’d never used beetroot in a burger before and just decided to try to combine it with things I thought complemented it.

Beetroot burgers with chive tzatziki

300g beetroot, grated

100g breadcrumbs (I used old rye bread. Went with the beetroot well.)

1 410g tin red kidney beans, slightly mashed with a fork

1 apple, cored and grated

50g pearl barley

6 small spring onions, chopped

A good handful of dill, roughly chopped

A handful of parsley, roughly chopped

1 large egg, beaten

A pinch of chilli flakes

Salt and pepper

For the tzatziki;

1 cucumber, quartered and deseeded

Zest of 1 lemon

1 clove of garlic, mashed

A big handful of chives, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

2 or 3 tablespoons of natural yoghurt

Couldn’t be simpler this. Cook the pearl barley as per packet instructions and set aside. Meanwhile, combine the rest of the burger ingredients in a big bowl and mix well.

At this point I tried frying a small burger to see what it was like. It was good but was more like a little beetroot rosti than a burger, so I blended half of the mixture and mixed it back in. This improved the texture somewhat. Up to you though.

Mix in the pearl barley (just for texture) and put the burger mix in the fridge for half an hour or so. Grate the cucumber and wrap in a clean tea towel. Squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can and then put in a bowl. Add the chives and lemon zest and mix well. Add the yoghurt 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing all the while, until you have the consistency you desire. Taste and season – it can take salt well! Fry the burger in a little oil over a medium heat until nicely coloured on each side.

I served the burger in a fresh roll with a dollop of tzatziki, a couple of slices of feta and some watercress. I think a bit of fresh horseradish might have been good in it but I didn’t have any. Eat it in front of the telly with a pile of fries on the side.

Marinated tofu with satay sauce

My brother bought me a sack of Monkey Nuts for Christmas. They were a confusing addition to a very nice hamper and I didn’t really know what to do with them. The rest of the gifts are much simpler to use –  the cheese, crackers and chutney will make a nice snack, the olives and jalapenos will top a pizza and the Christmas cake can have its disgusting icing thrown away and the lovely fruitcake eaten with coffee.

Monkey nuts though? I forgot they even existed. I thought they were awesome when I was 8 until I’d spent twenty minutes ripping 3 or 4 of them apart. The reward for all your hard work was pathetically unsatisfying and you ended up with that weird flaky skin stuff stuck to the roof of your mouth. And it’s messy. Don’t they come unshelled in bags now?

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – the hamper was great and will all get used lovingly in various recipes (Zenf? Nice one!). It also turns out they were perfect for a recipe I wanted to try. It took me about an hour to peel them though…

I reckon you can use normal salted peanuts. Maybe lose the soy sauce in the satay though?

Marinated tofu with satay sauce.

For the tofu;

400g firm tofu, cubed

1 red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped

1 stalk lemongrass, roughly chopped

2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

Pinch of coriander leaves

For the peanut sauce;

150g peanuts, toasted

1 stalk lemongrass, roughly chopped

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 thumb-size piece ginger, peeled and chopped

2 shallots, roughly chopped

Juice of 1 lime

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

For the tofu marinade put the chilli, lemongrass, coriander, oil and soy sauce in a food processor and blitz. Put the tofu in a dish and pour over the mixture. Cover and put in the fridge for an hour or so.

Put the peanuts in the food processor and blitz, leaving a bit of texture. Remove and then put in all the rest of the ingredients, apart from the coconut milk. Blend into a rough paste. Heat some oil in a saucepan and add the paste. Cook until it’s fragrant – the smells completely dominate your kitchen! Add the peanuts and the coconut milk, stir and simmer until it thickens.

Meanwhile, fry the tofu pieces in a very hot, non-stick frying pan until nicely coloured on all sides. Pour the sauce over the tofu. I served it with toasted garlic noodles, sliced spring onion and some alfalfa I got reduced at Sainsbury’s. 

Mulling it over in Devon.

On a cold winters evening you can’t beat warming yourself up with something ‘mulled’. Your favourite tipple warmed through and spiced, a punch made with Christmas spirit and the smells of bonfire night. We drank (very good) mulled wine while attempting to peruse the Totnes Christmas market the other day. This was, incidentally, a horrible waste of time. There were so many people I couldn’t physically move for dreadlocks, soap sellers or a man with an owl. Enjoying my drink was impossible.

We made our own mulled drink to enjoy on Christmas evening sitting in front of the fire and watching Michael McIntyre shamelessly name-drop his entire audience, providing more ‘mince’ than any pie I’ve ever seen. It was funny.

I used apple juice for this recipe as one of our group doesn’t drink alcohol (whaaa?). It would be perfect with good cider. Or you can do what I did and add 50ml of Jameson’s at the end. Or both.

Mulled apple

If you use cider DO NOT let it boil or you’ll get rid of your  alcohol. Heat it at a slow simmer.

Makes 6 normal sized mugs or 3 novelty Christmas ones.

1.5 litres apple juice or good cider

2 sticks of cinnamon

8 or 9 allspice berries

8 or 9 cloves

A pinch of nutmeg

2 star anise

Peel of 1 lemon

Peel and juice of 1 Clementine

A thumb sized knob of ginger

3 tbsp maple syrup or honey

Put the juice/cider in a pan and add the syrup/honey. Start heating gently. While this is heating up add the allspice, cloves, star anise and nutmeg. Snap the cinnamon sticks in half and lob them in. Chop the ginger into a few rough sized pieces and put it in as well. Peel the lemon and Clementine into strips using a potato peeler.

I find that you end up with quite large amounts of pith on the strips and this can add a bitter taste to the drink. To remove this lay the strips of peel down with the pith facing up. Secure one end with the tip of your finger and push a sharp knife down flat onto the peel, facing away from your finger.

Push away firmly and you should be able to cut the layer of pith away leaving just the peel. Put it all in the pan with the juice and simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the sweetness if you want. If you want it more gingery just squeeze the pieces like you were making tea. Sieve before serving.

Put it in a cup. Blow into the cup for a bit. Drink.

Free music is good.

So, my band, exlovers, has put out a new track as a sample of the forthcoming album. Have a listen and see what you think:

News: ExLovers offer a taste of what’s to come.

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.