Roasted Cauliflower Soup

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Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower, when roasted, takes on a nutty mellow flavour, far removed from the boiled cabbage reek that put so many off this versatile vegetable. Being of the brassica family, it melds well with mustard.

Serves 4.

Ingredients

2 cloves of garlic

1 onion

½ head of cauliflower

1 cup of frozen peas

1 cup beef or vegetable stock

½ cup of cream/full fat milk

2-3 spring onions, chopped

1 teaspoon of Dijon or favourite mustard

¼ cup grated cheese to suit (smoked, parmesan, blue or feta)

Heat oven to 200 deg C. Break cauliflower into medium sized flowerets & chop up the stalk as well. It all tastes good. Chop onion roughly into eighths. Crush garlic with ½ teaspoon of salt and scrape into an oven dish with a good glug of olive oil. Shake cauli and onion through the garlicky olive oil. Bung in the oven for a good 40+ minutes, shaking it now and again. Don’t be frightened of charred edges. This is a good thing.

Once cauli and onion roasted, add to hot stock in a medium sized saucepan. Flick out any very blackened bits of onion or garlic as these will be bitter. (At this stage you can also add a massive handful of chopped fresh spinach leaves to wilt for less than a minute, but this will make for a very brown-green finish and adds a little bitterness.)

Put the pan into the sink and pulverize the mix with a stick blender until smooth and resembles pond algae. (Curse as it splatters you and the walls, or more sensibly, angle a lid over the pan against the blender handle, shielding yourself from the spray. )

Place pan back on the heat, add the peas and bring to a simmer until peas thawed through. Stir in the spring onions, cream, mustard and half the cheese, being careful not to bring to the boil as it may separate. Season to suit.

Spoon into bowls, topping with extra cheese. Convince family you are not a witch attempting to poison them with an evil concoction. Revel in their exclamations of wonder when they realise it actually tastes good.

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Chorizo pork mix

This is stolen, outright, from the fantastic River Cottage man, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  If you have never picked up one of his cookbooks, do so immediately. They are full of delicious and simple ideas using fresh ingredients.

River cottage chorizo mix

  • 1kg pork mince
  • 1 Tbs sweet smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup red wine
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • oil for frying

Mix all ingredients thoroughly (except oil) and keep in plastic bag/container in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze flat in plastic bags in smaller quantities to thaw for quick meals.

Break off chunks to fry as small meat balls or make burger patties, or fry as crumbs to add to pasta sauces, or soups, or use to make an amazing meat loaf.

Meat loaf. Trigger warning – includes meat products.

It gets a bad rap.  It conjures images of grey mince and mushy leftovers. But good meatloaf is a delicious thing.*

For the loaf shown, I used a chorizo pork mince mix.  (See elsewhere in this blog for the recipe for this versatile mix.  So good. So worth making up a batch.)  But any beef, lamb, chicken or even turkey, ostrich or venison mince (if you have access or surfeit of such novelty meats).

Like almost anything I make, there is no hard and fast recipe, however there are some important points.  The ingredients list are mostly a guide but the method is more rigid.  The quantity shown should feed four along with side dishes of some kind.

  • 11025623_10153301872557214_7215504145383952071_n500g mince
  • 1 egg
  • handful of rolled oats
  • 1 finely chopped red onion (or 2 spring onions or half a leek – use something oniony)
  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • 1 grated carrot
  • 1 grated zucchini
  • large handful of finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup strong cheese, grated (reserve half for topping).
  • Seasoning – salt and pepper.
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 heaped Tbsp chutney or tomato sauce or sweet chilli sauce – whatever you fancy or have lying round in the fridge.

Heat the oven to 180 deg C and line a loaf tin or small deep dish with baking paper. (Trust me – this makes clean up and serving so much easier.) Mix your egg in a big bowl and then start adding the other ingredients. Nothing is going to be as successful at mixing this together as using your hands so just get in there and squish everything together to combine well.

Spill this glorious mess into the lined dish.  Press down well to form a firm loaf.  Top with the remaining cheese and get creative with some extra toppings. Tomatoes as shown above are good but so are blobs of a good chutney or olives. Bung it in the oven for about half an hour, checking to see if it needs more time to get a good crusty top.

This is a delicate loaf, concealing so many vegetables, so lift out onto a board using the baking paper and slice carefully so it doesn’t crumble to bits.  Serve with big blobs of sauce or chutney and whatever else you like, feeling smug because you’ve already got so many vegetables to the dish.

OTHER INGREDIENT OPTIONS: Shake some Worcestershire sauce into the mix or a big spoon of mustard.  Use other herbs – sage is good for pork, rosemary for lamb, or thyme is good for any meat. Not too much of any of these as they are all powerful tasters. You could add a cup of thawed frozen peas into the mix, or swap the carrot or zucchini for a grated potato or pumpkin or sweet potato to bulk it out and to add sticky starch. Swap strong cheese for cottage cheese in the mix – it is a good binder, low fat and stretches the mix.   You could use bread crumbs instead of oats. See? No real rules except get it to stick together and cook for long enough to get that crusty top.

*…unless you are vegetarian.  Then you should have turned away before reading this post. If you did not, perhaps you should rethink your commitment to meat free life?

Clucking fast food

A while ago I realised it is not cooking I enjoy, it is eating.  The banging out of family meals over the last couple of decades has jaded my enthusiasm to be in the kitchen, but not my appetite. So these days I’m likely to decide what to cook for dinner within the hour before we plan to eat.

This takes a bit of planning, but I’m not one to create a weekly meal plan, or even shop for meals in mind. I often grab whatever meat or fish I find on special that week, but I may well not decide what to do with it until very late in the day I cook it, or it may even end up in the freezer.  My pantry and fridge are well stocked with basics like grains and pasta, canned beans and tuna, sauces and chutneys, various cheeses, sour cream and yogurt. I am a zealot about eating plenty of vegetables, but even if I have nothing fresh, I always have canned tomatoes, frozen peas, onions and carrots on hand. What I cook will also depend on whether we’ll all be sitting down together to eat or will eat on the run; the weather; how many I need to feed; whether I need to cook early to serve later; and quite frankly, whether I can be bothered making any effort whatsoever.

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Chicken art by Mark Lewington http://www.only.co.nz/about.html

For instance, over the next two nights we are having chook in two quite different styles – tonight is a fast family dinner; tomorrow is a fast feast for visitors.  Today at the supermarket, chicken thighs on special caught my eye, and I had some yogurt and pesto needing using up, so marinade came to mind. A few weeks ago I spotted sealed packs of smoked chicken breast at half price, so I grabbed a few and stashed them in the freezer.  Tomorrow friends are coming over and I want to catch up at leisure, not slave over a stove, so, a substantial chicken salad will do the trick.  These recipes will have me in the kitchen for the minimum time – just as I like it, these days.

Presto pesto chicken

Skinned chicken thigh, a couple of tablespoons of shop-bought pesto, around a cup of yogurt, a squeeze and zest of half a lemon, all tipped into a clean plastic bag and smooshed together to marinade for at least half an hour and then baked in a shallow dish at 180 deg C for around half an hour.  Served with warmed ciabatta buns and greek salad on the side.

Smoked chicken salad & crispy potato bake

Two smoked chicken breasts (to serve 6-8 people) sliced thinly onto a king-sized bed of steamed and chilled asparagus and green beans, piles of baby spinach (or other green leaves – rocket is great), batons of cucumber, slices of ripe avocado and red capsicum.  Scattered with toasted pecan or walnuts and blue cheese crumbs, and dressed with a thick lemony garlicky mustardy french dressing.  Served with a crispy potato bake.

Crispy potato bake is a fast hot dish, suitable to feed a crowd without seeming like a vast slab of institutional slop.  Thinly slice one potato per serving, rinse and dry. (By all means use the slice function on a food processor and don’t peel the potatoes if you can’t be bothered.) Layer into a dish along with half a sliced red onion, and pour over a half cup of well seasoned cream/full fat milk, and top with a generous scatter of sharp cheese (parmesan or cheddar).  Bake this in a hot fan-forced oven for at least half an hour until golden and crispy on the top.  (For a more colourful bake, potatoes can be substituted in part with sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, parsnips or other root vegetables.)

Dinner box

Dinner box is brief description of daily dinners.

This week seems big on pork, but is heavy with hidden veges:

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  • Baby hot dogs for neighbourly drinks: Hot mini cheese kranskys and chorizo sausages in little ciabatta rolls with mustard onion relish and smokey bbq sauce.
  • Homemade chorizo pork meatballs fried off and added to a rich tomato sauce (including celery, carrot, onion and silverbeet) with chickpeas, served on brown rice, topped with sheep milk feta and yogurt.
  • Chunks of ham off the bone sautéed with mushrooms, courgettes, onion, garlic, green beans, with peas and shredded spinach added at the end, and finished with white wine and sour cream, served on chunky pasta swirls.

Beer and nuts

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People are coming for a drink or dinner and you have no time or are too lazy to make elaborate finger food. Something crunchy and salty will do the trick.

Roast spiced almonds: NOTE: Keep safe from passing kitchen pilferers.

Put a heavy based frypan on low heat on the stovetop with a mere drizzle of olive oil – just enough to shine the surface of the pan.  Scatter in enough fresh almonds to just cover the pan and shake about to get a little oil cover.  Watch this closely and shake frequently – the idea is to get a gentle roasting without any burning.  Burnt almonds offer bitter solace.  It will take about 5-10 minutes.  Once they are tarnish golden, shake over a generous cloud of salt (about a tablespoon) mixed with about half a teaspoon each of ground cumin and smoked paprika.  Add a pinch of cayenne or chilli powder if you are game.  Shake the pan to coat the almonds in the salty goodness and scoop into a clean brown paper bag, (What do you mean, you don’t have any? Save these for this very purpose!), or into a shallow bowl.  They will take about 10 minutes to get crunchy so don’t be dishearted if they are softish and scald your tongue if you sample too soon.

Roast peanuts: These are a world apart from pedestrian commercially produced peanuts and will be guzzled by gourmands and gluttons alike. 

Put a big square baking tin into the oven and heat to about 160 deg C.  Once heated dash about a tablespoon of canola or other mild oil into the pan and add enough raw peanuts to cover the bottom of the pan.  Give it all a good shake.  Put into the oven checking and shaking every 5 minutes, until they are looking golden and smelling like nut heaven – probably less about 15 minutes.   Tip them into a big clean brown paper bag, (see? You need to keep these on hand), and then add a good couple of tablespoons of salt and shake about.  They’ll be ready to eat in about 10 mins but will store well in a jar for about a week.

Dry toasted seeds: A savoury crunch for topping salads, in wraps or sprinkled on vegetable bakes and soups, or added to almonds and peanuts above, makes a superb nut mix.

Heat a dry heavy based pan on low heat on the stovetop.  Add enough seeds – pumpkin, sunflower, sesame – to just blanket the base of the pan.  Watch carefully and shake as they take on colour. The pumpkin seeds will pop and jump so you’ll have to keep tossing them back in.  It will only take a couple of minutes.  Turn off the heat and drizzle over a teaspoon or so of soy or tamari sauce, and stir this through the seeds.  It will hiss and make a sticky mess on the pan, but persevere, stirring to coat the seeds.   These are ready to sprinkle and devour within a minute or two, but will store in a jar for about a week.