October Already! How did that happen? So, we have had our summer of long lunches, beautiful BBQ’s, the doors flung open and jugs of Pimms flowing. We had a beautiful summer this year and we definitely squeezed in a large amount of ‘Al fresco’ dining with family and friends. As much as I absolutely love that, I do also love it when the kitchen smells of a good old fashioned roast and ‘fruits of the freezer’ crumble, and we are all rugged up with our winter woollies!
Going with the flow of the Seasons does sound a little romantic in planning our culinary journey throughout the year, but where possible absolutely embrace what is available. I know the supermarkets have practically everything all of the time, but get wise to what is locally grown and available at certain times and you will find the flavours are much more power-packed than all the imported goods on the shelves month in, month out.
For me, I find winter cooking a little easier than summer cooking. I don’t really know why, maybe it’s the ‘throw it all together and hope’ technique that I have mastered in soups and stews, that 9 times out of 10 works. Saying that, the one other key tip is to use great ingredients. This doesn’t need to be expensive, but just well-chosen goods, and also knowing ‘what works well with what’ trickery can turn the humble homemade tomato soup into the most fabulous bowl of deliciousness you will have ever taste – and have your guests practically licking the patterns off your bowls!
Soups and stews- delicious and a money saver!
Homemade soups and stews seem to be a little bit of a lost art. Many of my friends and colleagues, I am sure, think I am daft when I turn up with my trusty Tupperware box of something I prepared from home – as opposed to buying, albeit very good no doubt, from a supermarket but the cost difference soon adds up.
A day of batch cooking my lunches for over a month means they are a fraction of the price than if I purchased something every day. I know it takes a bit of planning but a day in the kitchen with a few good tunes on the radio is a day well spent in my book. Yes, the freezer needs to have a few empty shelves but wrapped and stacked well, you’ll be surprised what can be squeezed in!
When you are out and about shopping, keep a look out for bargain items – particularly cheaper cuts of meat, as these when slow cooked will fall apart and taste simply delicious. I completely appreciate that space is a premium for lots of us, but investing in an extra little freezer that can go in a garage or shed can be a godsend…and in only a few shops can pay you back in savings.
I have only just learned that from a local market I can buy a sack of potatoes, a sack of carrots, parsnips and onions for £12. When I worked out what that would have been in the supermarket it worked out to be over £100, yes it is a little cosy in my shed at the moment, but kept cool that is a month’s worth of my essentials at a fraction of the price.
www.jamieoliver.com shares some great tips on ‘how to make the perfect stew’ so head over to this website and check them out.
So, to make these soups and stews I cannot offer you any complete fool proof recipes, as how I cook is a little different every time based on what I have available. No two concoctions are identical, but it doesn’t really matter. The base of a good soup will be onions, carrots, celery, potato (in equal parts) and a little garlic, all sautéed together. Once part cooked I then add what the flavour is, be it carrot (try coriander, ginger or orange) parsnip (apple, curried or parmesan) tomato (tomato, tomato tomato! With the skins off, the only addition here I add is a little drizzle of balsamic syrup at the very end).
Mixed vegetable is always a winner as is chicken. Get’ souping’ to use up any veg that has seen better days and turn the bottom of the veg box into a meal supercharged with goodness. For the liquid part, I use a mixture of stock (always homemade – check out BBC Food for some great recipes www.bbc.co.uk/food/stock), water, and milk and then blast in the liquidiser.
Time allowing, I then pass this through a tiny sieve to get that velvety texture that I like, season well and then depending on what soup I have made, I love to add a bit of extra body to it – so think croutons, welsh rarebit fingers, caramelised onions, crispy bacon, grated cheese, a tiny drizzle of truffle oil, finely sliced stir-fry veg. A puff pastry top over a whole serving dish looks fab if you are serving soup as a starter for friends and takes only a few minutes but the result is great.
For a Saturday supper I often serve a cauldron of soup and set out the toppings separately for all to dig in. That and freshly baked bread and salty butter has me salivating whilst I write!
Get experimental, not much can really go wrong. Keep tasting as you go and then season at the end. If the whole batch is destined for the freezer I only season a little, and then once defrosted and reheated I season then just in case any of the flavours change a little during the freezing process. Soups really don’t need to be an ‘in a hurry’ meal. If jazzed up and with a little creative thinking, you can have a pretty tasty wholesome meal at a really sensible price. And if you have little people in the family, before adding any extra flavours use an ice cube tray and freeze little portions as your homemade baby food!
Comfort food winners
Once you have brought out the soup dragon in you, attack the same principle with stews and casseroles. Invest in a big slow cooker. In fact I have two. If I am on a mission, I might as well make the most of it! Dice all the veg that you want to use, I usually flour and sear the meat just because I like a little colour on it and the flour is just enough to thicken the liquid part. Cover with stock, water and wine and let it cook for 8 hours and the meat will fall apart. Think lamb, add dried apricots and use white wine; with beef add sliced smoked chorizo and use beer; with pork I use apple juice instead of water and a dollop of Dijon mustard.
For chicken I add thyme and garlic while with gammon you can never have too much parsley, and with game loads of pulses. If you are at all worried about the fattiness of the meat, let the whole dish cool down and you will be able to scoop off the fat and keep experimenting. Season well and if you have put slightly bigger chunks of potato in, all you need to serve is a super crusty white bloomer to soak up all that lovely juice.
These dishes always freeze really well, or get one on in the morning and then by the evening not only will the house smell amazing, but the 15 minutes of preparation at the start of the day will save you time in the evenings.
These delicious comfort foods are all making a massive comeback. Ditch the 10 course dinner and serve up something really simple, but make it just the best it can possibly be. Lasagne; make your own tomato sauce for this, or use some of your frozen tomato soup that you have stashed!
Macaroni cheese; treat yourselves to some white lobster or crab meat to turn this classic into a showstopper. Shepherds’ pie; swap the mash potato for mixed root crushed vegetables. Gammon, egg and chips; you have got to make your own chips using King Edwards and if you can really push the boat out use goose fat! Check out www.lovepotato.co.uk for some great top tips on what potatoes are best for what dishes.
Thanks to Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood baking has never been so good. Even the boys in the office are talking about it! Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in to making the simplest delights to reach taste bud heaven. Check out www.bakingmad.com for some amazing recipes. Homemade bread not only has the aroma to send you dizzy, but straight out of the oven and onto the table at dinner is a hands down winner.
Again, try different flavours of bread too. Add seeds, fruit, caramelised onions and chunks of cheese! Homemade pizza is great fun to make too – I get all the dough rolled up in individual portions, all the toppings sliced and grated ready to go and then get everyone to ‘create their own’. Really easy, simple and great fun for the kids. I am not sure if it is the ‘audience participation’ and ’theatre’ element, but if I announce we are on for a Pizza evening, I invariably have a full house that night!
Mums roast- a family favourite in every house
The ‘what makes a house a home’ for most of us is the thing we all miss when we are away, and priceless moments that I love when the room is silent and the only clatter is that of knives and forks is ‘Mum’s Roast!’ Not anyone else’s Mums, just yours! A signature dish for many, and what tells one apart from another is truly personal, but this meal is a family maker, and the best ‘hug on a plate’ you’ll ever have. For reason beyond comprehension, we always have enough to feed the street…but that totally lends itself to the Monday bubble and squeak that has been on the menu in our household since time began
We have talked about it before, it is a lot of preparation, and a timing is everything, but the ‘ta dah’ moment when it is all on the table is the best!
Tesco Living share some excellent tips to make a delicious, affordable Sunday roast in no time www.tescoliving.com For all your meats keep turning the joints through the cooking process to keep them juicy, then let them rest before carving (really important), part-roast the potatoes, flour, and then roast to get then super crispy, have a couple of veggies on the hob and a baked cauli-cheese or similar in the oven. Gravy is really personal, and I slave over it as for me it is the make or break. Go all out for this meal of the week, the more you put in the more you will get out, serve this from the heart and you will be King or Queen for the day!
This season coming up is packed full of flavours, and as we have said, sometimes the simpler the dish the better. Put a day aside and conjure up meals that will truly make you smile from the inside out.
Next month I will be talking all about entertaining in the build-up to Christmas! Yes, I said it…Christmas! Keep your eyes peeled!