First things first: Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a good start to the year and also hope that the rest will be better still. Though it can be really depressing. All those parties and with great food during the holidays, then…boom…everything’s gone (except the Christmas spirit of course) and everyone’s back to normal. I bet you heard or even thought the dreadful D word (yes..diet) a million times already, and it’s not three days after New Year’s Day yet.
This is a tricky one I know but we really need some heart-warming food, especially in this cold weather. And let’s face it, dieting doesn’t mean eating for two weeks and starving for the rest of the year. Well, it could be an interpretation of this to some people, but I don’t think it’s the healthiest one. (Oh, and please please please, don’t be mean to others by making them not eat too!) To be honest, after the holidays I don’t crave heavy foods, not even the sweet stuff. Also, lately I’ve had some veggies in the fridge which needed to be either used or thrown away, and you know how much I hate throwing food away if it still can be cooked. I had quite a lot of parsnips and some carrots which were waiting to be made into a nice thick gooey soup.
Mentioning carrots, a friend of mine recently asked me if this season’s pick were sweeter than usual. It’s like eating a whole packet of sweets she said, which made me think back. J made a big batch of carrot soup about a week ago in which I couldn’t help adding loads of fresh pepper. So for now I am definitely off carrots, in large quantities that is! But somehow I love parsnips. Although sweet, they have a hint of spiciness. I’ve read that parsnips are only grown in colder climates, ergo there’s no way I will find them back home, so I intend to make the most of them here. They are good for you anyway…
The following is a recipe for a parsnip soup with a twist. It’s also got some mustard in it which gives it that wintery kick and some paprika for smokiness and is food for the soul. Well that’s how I think of it. This soup is very forgiving so as long as you taste it along the way to adjust the seasoning, it will taste great. Unfortunately I have no alternatives for parsnips, but you’re invited to my place anytime for lunch. Ooops…I have to keep my word now, don’t I?! For this Parsnip, Paprika and Mustard Soup you’ll need:
- 25g butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 450g parsnips, chunkily diced or cubed
- 1 leek, roughly chopped
- 3 medium potatoes, quartered
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1.5 litre vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons wholegrain or Dijon mustard, heaped
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- pepper, to taste
- In a medium sized pot heat the oil and butter, then add the parsnips, leeks and potatoes. Stir until the vegetables are coated well, keep an eye on it for around 5 minutes and add the paprika. Stir again.
- Add the stock, let it boil, then leave to simmer for around 20 minutes until the vegetables are softened. Blend the whole lot either with a hand blender, or pour it into a free-standing one to mush it up.
- Now is the time to add the mustard, sugar and pepper and taste it to get the seasoning right. You’ve got it.
Invite 4-6 people for lunch and serve immediately with some fresh crusty bread on the side.
Now this is the season for heart-warming dishes. When the weather does not cooperate, I love spending time in the kitchen. When I want comfort I try to turn to something tasty and nutritious whenever I can, though I never say no to some chocolate! However there are times when not even chocolate does the trick. On the whole I prefer savoury stuff rather than sweets, so I make soup instead. Soups can either be boring or exciting, insipid or bursting with flavour. Good ones are just that: good.
What I am giving here is just a guide. And by no means am I saying that this is the prefect recipe! You know me more than that…and cooking is not rocket science. But this is how I go about making it. Just don’t let it influence you too much. There are no rules here; the thickness, texture and taste depends totally up to you. It’s a carrot and butternut squash soup, great for this time of year, at least in the UK where it’s getting chilly. I’m not sure if my Maltese readers will see the point in giving a recipe for soup now, since apparently it’s still warm there! Ah, you lucky lucky people! Remember that you could substitute the squash with pumpkin. Just a note before I give you the recipe: the photo shows my carrot soup. I didn’t use any squash here. It’s because the actual butternut soup photo I took isn’t presentable. So unfortunately this will have to do for this post. Maybe you cannot see any difference but I just wanted my readers to know. I will eventually replace it. You will need:
- 500g butternut squash, cubed and roasted (with a drizzle of olive oil)
- 200g sweet potatoes, cubed and roasted
- 200g carrots, sliced
- 1.5 to 2 litres vegetable stock
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
- ½ teaspoon powdered ginger
- pepper to taste
In a heavy-based pan put the squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, stock and spices together and wait for everything to boil. When the veggies are soft, blend the soup and add some pepper, and remember to taste at this stage. Serve in warm bowls and you could garnish with fresh parsley or coriander if you have some available. So easy and comforting. Enjoy!
Note: There is no need to roast the squash and sweet potatoes but doing so will give more depth to the soup so I wouldn’t recommend skipping this step. Also you could add some freshly squeezed orange juice for a more zesty flavour. The potatoes will make your soup nice and thick and gooey.
For the past few days I’ve been thinking about how nice it would be to have someone else prepare a meal for me during those few days that I’m either too tired to cook or when I’m less inspired or lack ideas. Yes it happens to all of us…*sigh*. In fact today is one of those days. Thankfully I have dinner ready in the fridge so I don’t have to worry about that now. However even though occasionally I tend to keep ready-made pesto for a quick plate of pasta, there are easy solutions for those instances when only a little stirring is required.
Easy can mean a lot of things; soups, pasta and rice dishes or even a roast would do. Two posts ago I gave you a recipe from James Tanner which is almost too easy to believe, and it beats the usual bread and cheese supper. As for desserts he has a recipe for a Chocolate and Almond Torte which I want to try very soon. This recipe for risotto is slightly adapted from Nigella Bites. You need:
- 2 spring onions or one small white onion, finely chopped
- 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
- 60g butter, unsalted
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 300g arborio rice
- 1 litre vegetable stock
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
- 1 egg
- 4 tablespoons grated cheese, parmesan or kefalotiri
- 60ml cream
- pepper, to taste
In a wide saucepan, heat the oil, 30g of the butter, onions and celery. Cook this until softened, stirring almost continuously. Add all the rice, again stirring to coat with the onion mixture. Meanwhile prepare the vegetable stock. (I find that using stock powder, like Marigold gives you a more delicate flavour than using a cubes. In an ideal world you would use fresh stock which you can get at the supermarket.)
Pour some stock into the rice and keep stirring till this is absorbed. Repeat this till the rice is cooked. You may need all the stock and add some boiling water from the kettle.
Stir the lemon zest and dried rosemary in the risotto. In a separate small bowl beat the egg, lemon juice, grated cheese, pepper and cream. Remove the risotto from the heat and add this cheesy mixture to the rice and add the remaining butter. You could also add some salt to taste.
Serve on it’s own or with some grilled salmon, which I rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh lemon juice. The risotto serves 2 – 3.