Quick and Easy Super-Soup Recipes

Vibrant veggie soup, Spiced Cerliac and Parsnip alongside Spinach and Pea soup

Two quick and easy, super-soups, both veggie, both delicious, nutritious and low in fat… and low-carb too.

Vibrant veggie soup, Spiced Cerliac and Parsnip alongside Spinach and Pea soup
Vibrant veggie soup, Spiced Cerliac and Parsnip alongside Spinach and Pea soup

Spiced, Celeriac and Parsnip Soup

Approximately 150 calories per mug-full.

Makes enough for 6 servings, freeze it and that’s several lunches for a ‘behave yourself’ kind of diet sorted.

The equipment you will need:

  • a sharp veg prep knife and chopping board
  • a large soup pan
  • a wooden spoon
  • a hand blender

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons  olive oil
  • 1 large onion peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • Half a celeriac, washed, peeled and chopped
  • A sprinkle of chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Few shakes of white pepper
  • Few twists of ground black pepper
  • A sprinkle of sea salt
  • 2 veg stock cubes I used https://www.oxo.co.uk/ made up into 1 litre of stock

Step 1

Peel and chop the veg

Step 2

Heat the oil. Sauté the onion for 3 minutes until translucent.  Add the diced cleriac and parsnip.  Cover and cook on a low heat until the veg  is tender about 5 minutes.  Add the hot stock, stir well, cover and cook for 10 further minutes. Add the seasoning except the chilli flakes. Stir well. Cover and cook until all veg is tender.

Step 3

Remove from the heat. Blitz with a hand-blender.  Sprinkle a few chilli flakes on each serving.  Serve hot,  or portion and freeze when cold.

Spiced celeriac and parnsip soup
Spiced celeriac and parnsip soup

And next Easy, Peasy, Spinach  (and anything else in the fridge that’s green) Soup

Pea and Spinach soup with a swirl of Greek yogurt
Pea and Spinach soup with a swirl of Greek yogurt

Again about 150 calories per mu-full

You will need exactly the same equipment as for the Spiced Cerliac and Parsnip soup.

Makes enough for approximately 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 400g (ish) frozen peas
  • 1 large pack of fresh, baby spinach
  • Any salad leaves, watercress, rocket that might be lurking in the fridge begging not to be thrown away
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated
  • 1 litre of veg stock
  • A sprinkle of seasalt
  • A shake of white pepper
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional – Half a teaspoon of dried mint

A dollop of Greek yogurt to serve if desired.

Step 1

Put all the I gradients in a pan.  Bring to simmering point. Do not over cook.  Allow 3 or 4 minutes to simmer.   Blitz with a hand blender.

Step 2

Serve with a dollop of Greek yorgurt if desired, or freeze for later in the week.

Pea and Spinach soup with a swirl of Greek yogurt

Make a stunning Christmas centrepiece

A very effective table centrepiece

It takes a bit of patience but it’s worth it

Make a stunning, table centrepiece using your Christmas cake and fondant icing.

Fondant icing reindeer and trees with tea lights to make a woodland scene
Fondant icing reindeer and trees with tea lights to make a woodland scene

You will need:

  • Christmas cake with marzipan icing
  • Large pack of fondant icing, I got mine from https://www.aldi.co.uk/
  • Rolling pin
  • Scalpel or small, sharp, pointed knife
  • Cardboard, pencil and scissors to make template
  • Icing sugar and water for the grace icing
  • A few toothpicks

Ice the cake

Roll out the fondant to the size of the cake, leaving enough spare to make the reindeer.  Dampen the marzipan and place the fondant over.  Smooth the surface.  Leave for a couple of days to harden before making the reindeers snow scene.

Christmas cake with a layer of marzipan under a layer of roll-out fondant icing
Christmas cake with a layer of marzipan under a layer of roll-out fondant icing

Make the template

Find a simple line drawing or picture of a reindeer.  Sketch onto a piece of card.  It doesn’t need to be posh card, I used a piece from a tea-bag box https://www.yorkshiretea.co.uk

Cut out the shape and then… carefully and painstakingly cut out the reindeer.

Carefully cut out reindeers shapes using a card template
Carefully cut out reindeers shapes using a card template

Leave them alone

Put them on a board to dry out for a couple of days.  Leave them out of reach.  They become quite brittle and so need to be treated with great care.

Glace icing snow

Place three tea lights on the cake. up a paste with icing sugar and a few drops of hot water.  Use this to make snow drifts in which the reindeer will stand.

Set the scene

With great care place the reindeer in the snow as in the picture.  Use toothpicks to prop them up until they have set.  Some of the legs may come off! In which case they become  laying reindeer.  Some of the antlers may snap off – in which case they become does!

Use toothpicks to prop up reindeer until they have set into position
Use toothpicks to prop up reindeer until they have set into position

In the woods

Trees can be made from simple, right-angle triangles.  Lean three together in a puddle of glacé icing with a little icing spread on the edge where they join together.

Centrepiece

Light the candles and turn out the lights for a stunning, Christmas  centrepiece.

 

 

 

How to Make a Mahoosive, Celebration Cookie

Fudge icing and Smarties to decorate a mahoosive cookie

It’s really easy to make a celebration cookie

I have a confession to make which might shock:   I don’t like cake. There, I said it!  I don’t ‘do’ puddings and cakes.  The only thing I might eat, to be sociable, is biscuit or cookie. So here is my mahoosive, celebration cookie recipe…

A little help may be needed with the decoration of the cookie
Get help with decorating the cookie

Don’t buy one, make one!

To buy a celebration cookie from a specialist cookie maker at the shopping centre can be fraught with problems.  Celebration cookies can be expensive and they are difficult to get home.

It’s fun!

It is far more rewarding to make your own.  And it is really easy.

You will need:

White sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, butter, eggs, flour and essence
The ingredients needed to make a giant cookie

Ingredients for one 14” cookie

(I got the icing from https://www.bmstores.co.uk/)

The equipment you will need:An electric hand whisk, a seive, greasproof paper and a round, 14” metal pizza tray

 

Now, make a mahoosive cookie:

Preparation time 15 minutes Baking time 20 minutes Decorating time 10 minutes 

Cream the butter and white sugar
Cream the butter and white sugar
  • In a large bowl, beat the butter, caster sugar, dark brown soft sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well.

    Cream the butter and sugar
    Cream the butter and sugar
  • Gradually add flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda, beating until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips/chopped chocolate.

    Fold in the flour and baking powder
    Fold in the flour and baking powder
  • Line a 14 inch round pizza pan with greaseproof paper.
  • Evenly spread the mixture onto the paper

    Spread the mixture onto the greasproof paper-lined pizza tray
    Spread the mixture onto the greasproof paper-lined pizza tray
  • Bake at 190oC for 20-25 minutes. 
  • Cool the cookie in the pan. 

    The baked, giant cookie
    The baked, giant cookie
  • Decorate as desired.
Go mad with the Smarties
Go mad with the Smarties

By the way.  It can stay in the pan, it doesn’t make any difference.  It freezes well – also in the pan.  You can serve it from the pan too!

All you ever wanted to know about gin

Is it the weekend yet?

I like gin and so was delighted to have the opportunity to visit Plymouth Gin on a recent visit to Devon.  I discovered everything I ever wanted to know about gin.

The Plymouth Gin Distillery
Plymouth Gin Distillery

A visit to Plymouth Gin Distillery

The cost of a tour of Plymouth Gin http://plymouthgin.com/ is £7 (no concessions) and it is worth every penny.  There were about 18 others on the tour too.  We were asked to lock away our bags and cameras and switch off our phones.  A strict ‘no photography allowed’ policy is observed. Which is a shame, I  would like to have iincluded an image or two of a Victorian copper vat or perhaps a few ‘botanicals’. 

Good value

The tour lasts for forty minutes and is finished off in the bar with either a complimentary gin and tonic or a miniature gin or sloe gin to take away with you.  

The oldest distillery in England

Plymouth Gin has been on the Barbican near the famous harbour since 1793.  Parts of the building date back to the 1400s when it was a monastery inhabited by the Black Friars… and their distillery – it is now the oldest working gin distillery in England.  

The entrance to Plymouth Gin
The entrance to Plymouth Gin

A link with the Pilgrim Fathers

Plymouth is renowned for its associations with the navy.  One of its most famous sons being Sir Francis Drake.   It was also the last port of call for the Pilgrim Fathers before they set sail for the New World in 1620 https://www.mayflower400uk.org/visit/scrooby-babworth/notts-attractions/mayflower-pilgrim-visitor-centre/.   A wooden plaque in the upstairs cocktail bar lists some of those who boarded the Mayflower on their way to lay down the foundations of what we know today as the United States of America.  An image of the Mayflower, the ship on which the Pilgrims departed these shores, is on every bottle of Plymouth Gin.

A wooden plaque with the names of some of those who boarded the Mayflower in 1620 on their way to the New World
A list of some of those who boarded the Mayflower in 1620

Dutch origins

From its earliest origins in the Middle Ages, gin has developed from a herbal remedy to a major player in the spirit industry. Gin was based on the Dutch drink known as jenever.  It became popular in Britain when William of Orange became King William III of England.  English soldiers who fought in Holland in the 17th century, drank jenever to calm themselves before battle.  It soon became known as ‘Dutch Courage’ which we know today as drinking alcohol in order to steady the nerves.

Mother’s ruin

Gin was also known as ‘Mother’s Ruin’.  In the mid eighteenth century the effects of gin on the family and economy were disastrous. Gin was the poor man’s drink because of its affordability.  Drinking it had started out as a medicine but as it was cheap and readily available, men became impotent and women became sterile.  This caused the London birth rate to drop.  Also, drinking a pint of gin and having an extremely hot bath was recommended as a way to induce a miscarriage during the 1950s and 60s.

Botanicals

Botanicals are the core flavouring agents for gin.  They can be roots, fruits, herbs or spices.  The botanicals used vary but all must contain juniper berries by law.   

Juniper

Juniper is the most important botanical in gin. In the 16th century it was used as a remedy for indigestion. The juniper is a hardy bush and grows wild all around the globe. And it is juniper that gives gin its pine aroma and bitter(ish) taste. 

Coriander

When dried the essential oils obtained from coriander seeds provide an unexpected citrus top note to gin.

Cardamom 

Cardamom is one of the world’s most expensive spices.  It is from the ginger family and is often found in the rice portion of your Indian takeaway.  Not much cardamom is needed.  It can provide gin with a distinctive, spicy flavour that works with juniper and coriander.

Orris root

Orris root is from the rhizomes of the Iris plant and has a faint, sweet aroma.  If you are old enough to remember Parma Violet, then it is very similar to that.  However, it is not used for its scent but for it’s fixative powers. 

Angelica root

Angelica root, which we know as the crystallised green streams used in cake-decorating and trifles, adds another earthy note to the gin and marries the other botanical ingredients together.

Citrus peels

The oil derived from lemon and orange peels is used as flavouring in gin.  Different brands of gin use varying blends of botanicals which gives them their individuality.

Wheat-based alcohol

The alcohol that carries the botanicals in Plymouth Gin is wheat-based and comes from Yorkshire.

Exit through the shop

Three types of gin are on sale in the shop at the end of the tour: Regular Plymouth Gin is 41% and is generally used for a standard gin and tonic. (Tonic water originally contained quinine which was used to protect against malaria in the tropics.  The gin was added to disguise the bitter taste of the quinine).

And Navy Strength

Navy Strength Plymouth Gin which is 57%.  It seems that ordinary strength gin – if leaked onto the gunpowder on board ship – would render the gunpowder useless.  But they found that the higher proof gin, if accidentally spilled onto gunpowder, would enhance the properties of the powder.  And so Navy Strength was provided for officers of the Royal Navy, which they drank with water.  Ratings, however were still issued with their rum ration.

Plymouth Gin Navy Strength
Plymouth Gin Navy Strength

And Sloe Gin

Sloes are harvested locally from Dartmoor.  They are stored in sugar and gin for four months to make a delightful, slightly almond-flavoured liquer.  It goes well with Stilton as an alternative to port.

Copa Balloon Glass

I also purchased a Copa glass.  This is the type of balloon glass that has a stem, a bit like a red wine glass.  The Copa de Balon glass dates back to the 1700s – so not as modern as I imagined.

The distinctive navy blue packaging of Plymouth Gin Navy Strength
Plymouth Gin Nay Strength and Copa glass

Cocktails

A Gimlet is gin mixed with lime cordial.  Again, this has its roots in the Royal Navy, the lime provided the vitamin C and is where English sailors got their name ‘Limeys’ (from the Yankees).

A Pink Gin is again thought to have originated from the Royal Navy. Plymouth gin is a ‘sweet’ gin, as opposed to London gin which is ‘dry’, and had angostura bitters added as an antidote for sea sickness.

A typical pink gin is one part gin and one dash of angostura bitters.

A classic gin and tonic with a slice of lemon
A classic gin and tonic

So there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about gin.  Drink anyone?

Make your own refreshing, Elderflower Cordial

This is elderflower blossom in full bloom and also ready to bloom

How to make homemade Elderflower Cordial

I make Elderflower Cordial every year and the time to make this wonderful, refreshing ‘summer in a bottle’ is now!  Get out and pick some of those lovely, fragrant blossoms fast – before they fade.  Top tip – try to find an elderflower tree that is not on a busy road.  They grow just about everywhere and should be easy to find,

Refreshing Elderflower Cordial is so summery

Every year at this time I collect elderflower heads and remember my Mum.  It was the last thing that we did together a couple of weeks before she died twelve years ago.  She had a large elderflower tree at the bottom of her garden.  She reached up with her walking stick to bring down the biggest blooms for me.  This refreshing, summery drink is literally bittersweet for me, she loved it – and everyone who has tried it since loves it too.

This is elderflower blossom in full bloom and also ready to bloom
This is what elderflower blossom looks like. Tiny, creamy-white flowers and bright green foliage and a delicate fragrance 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refreshing Elderflower Cordial is such a good mixer

Mix it with prosecco, gin, vodka – or sparkling water of course – and it can be used to flavour cakes and desserts.  It is so easy to make, I ans sure that you will be impressed at just how good it is – and everyone else will be too.  Here’s how to make elderflower cordial:

Ingredients:

Three lovely, yellow, fresh lemons ready for peeling and slicing
Three fresh, unwashed lemons ready to peel and slice

Equipment needed:

  • A large saucepan
  • A large mixing bowl
  • A wooden spoon
  • A peeler
  • A colander
  • A clean muslin cloth
  • Some clean, reusable plastic or glass bottles

Method:

  1. Gently shake the elderflower heads to remove any ‘wildlife’
  2. Put the sugar and 1.5 litres (2 ½ pints) of water into a saucepan, bring to the boil. Stir from time to time to dissolve the sugar. Remove the zest from the lemons in broad strips with a peeler and put in a bowl with the elderflowers. Slice the lemons thinly and add to the bowl. When the sugar syrup has come to the boil, pour over the flowers and lemons. Stir in the citric acid. Cover with a clean dry cloth and leave in a cool, dark place for 24 hours.
  3. Strain the cordial through a muslin-lined nylon sieve into a large bowl or container.  Pour into warm, sterilised bottles and seal.  (Or plastic water bottles for the freezer, just remember to leave enough space for expansion.  This way you can have the taste of summer at Christmas!)
  4. Leave to cool and keep in the refrigerator. It will last for four to six weeks.
Elderflowers, lemons, syrup and citric acid all mixed together to steep for 24 hours
Elderflowers, lemons, syrup and citric acid all mixed together to steep for 24 hours
Creamy-white elderflower blossom
Elderflower blossoms just ready for picking