Rapunzel’s Cauliflower cheese soup!

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Anyone who knows me, knows that along with my irrational fear of pigeons, I am also very claustrophobic, this has not been helped by having been stuck in a hotel toilet in a very old building in Paris, a toilet in the Tuileries gardens also in Paris, and a lift in an old building in Luxembourg!

You may consider me unlucky, but there are reported to be at least 7,000 people stuck in lifts in Paris every year. This is an old city with old doors and worn bolts, and lifts that operate with pulleys and resemble ornate cages (straight out of ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie!) as the one in my own building.

The wonderful 1920’s lift in my building in Paris, and the proof that people DO get stuck – this is NOT a staged photo

Imagine my horror when last week I was stuck inside my own very modern flat in Liverpool…
I blame Pussy Willow and her Houdini tendencies, making a break for it whenever the front door is open, but instead of going outside like a normal cat, just runs up and down the stairs, stopping at every door that has a dog behind it and tormenting them.

While she was on one of these jaunts, I wedged the door open so that she could come back in, and secured it with the chain.
The wanderer returned and I shut the door (forgetting that the chain was still in place.)

Later that morning, I opened the door abruptly, and the ‘ring’ of the chain (which is actually a triangle – and here lies the problem) got stuck good and proper.

I had no chance of dislodging it with my bare hands, so tried a meat prong, but this was not strong enough and bent under the pressure. I then resorted to a hammer, but the space behind the bar was too narrow to hook the claws around the triangle.

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Offending chain lock

I tried to keep calm, I had air, food, water, a toilet, the phone, internet, television, music, books, the cat! But I was stuck, a prisoner inside my own flat and the only way that the door could be opened was from the inside by freeing this trapped chain. PANIC!!!

I went to the bedroom window and waited for someone to come into the car park below. What seemed like hours passed, but in actual fact was around 15 minutes and my prayers were answered in the shape of a knight on a white horse – well a carpet fitter in a white van to be precise…….

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Fear not Fair Maiden – help is at hand!

“Excuse me can you help me?” I called from my ‘tower’ to the surprised young man.
He looked puzzled as to what I could possibly want. “Do you have tools in your bag?” I cried.
Well obviously he did, what else would he have in what looked like a carpenter’s bag.
I hastily explained my dilemma and he attempted to climb in through my window, but my window is about 3 meters from the ground and he could not reach.
So he moved his van to right beneath my window, stood on the bonnet, passed me his rather heavy (and rather dirty) bag, then hauled himself up and through the narrow aperture (my windows do not fully open) with the help of me heaving him by the tops of his arms (Rapunzel never had to do this I am sure!)

Then like a veritable Prince Charming, he proceeded to try various tools until one final worked and I was free, white faced and shaking, but free…….

And the moral of this story is I will never put the chain on the door again

She had been locked away in this one small stone room at the age of twelve. Fifty-one full moons had passed since then, shown by the scars on her wrists. If she did not escape soon, surely she would die.” Bitter Greens (the story of Rapunzel) Kate Forsysth

This recipe has no connection whatsoever with this story, save for the fact that it is ‘comfort food’ and I was in real need of comfort (Prince Charming did actually give me a hug, before driving off into the sunset in his white van)

As usual I have been making use of what I had left over and came up with this surprisingly delicious soup

Ingredients

A leftover portion of Cauliflower cheese ‘blitzed in food processor’

1 medium sweet potato cut into cubes

A good handful of red lentils

1 litre of vegetable stock

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 dessertspoon of crème fraiche per serving

1 teaspoon of turmeric

1 teaspoon of dried coriander leaves

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

Method

Sauté the sweet potato in the olive oil

Add the lentils and turmeric

Add the stock and pureed cauliflower cheese

Season with salt and pepper and simmer for around 40 minutes until the lentils have disappeared and the sweet potato is soft enough to ‘mash’ into a puree with a potato ricer.

Add the coriander and simmer for a further 5 minutes

Serve with a spoonful of crème fraiche and a little additional grated cheese (I used a ready grated mixture of Cheddar and Mozzarella from Marks and Spencer )

Comfort food at its best!

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Caramelised Parsnip and Sweet Potato Soup

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I have posted a fair number of soups ‘Veloute a la Madame Loik’ also with caramelised parsnips being my personal favourite, but this comes in at a very close second and is much simpler

It is the slightly caramelised parsnips that give it a distinctive sweet, slightly smoky flavour and a ‘reduced’ version of this soup works very well as a dhal served with Indian food.

Caramelising fruit and vegetables in butter is a great way to add natural sweetness, no need to add sugar as the natural sugars in the fruits or certain vegetables (carrots, parsnips) is enough.

This leads me to the whole sugar argument………you knew that it was coming…….

Back in the 1980’s when I was a student nurse and studying nutrition as part of my training, the tutor told us that sugar served no purpose except to make you fat, rot your teeth, cause premature diabetes, and – the thing that stood out in my mind – it destroyed the immune system (other auto- immune diseases along with cancer and heart disease have since been added to this list)

I then made a conscious effort to cut it out of my diet, but even back in the day, it was creeping in everywhere, so this is where my present cooking/eating style began to develop, particularly after the birth of my first daughter in 1987, I did not want her to be a sugar junkie, so rejected the oh so convenient jars of ‘baby’ food and fed her ‘real’ food adapted to her needs and development.

The result is a 29 year old who has never had a tooth extraction or filling in her life (her 25 year old sister neither)

During my career as a nurse I worked in an anaesthetic unit, recovering children from general anaesthesia following tooth extraction – I have seen babies as young as 20 months having teeth removed as soon as they appear through parents giving them sugary drinks in bottles, and also seen children as young as five or six having 10 or 12 teeth extracted, and the same children coming back again and again, despite being given strong advise about avoiding sugar – particularly ‘hidden’ sugars. To me this was a form of child abuse. Needless to say that these children were often on the ‘podgy’ side – so it was not just a case of ‘weak’ teeth, of which there seemed to be an epidemic!

I know that I am preaching to the converted on here, as you all have wonderful healthy blogs using lots of fresh, natural ingredients, but I had to get that out of my system…….

Now back to the quick and easy soup…..

Ingredients

2 medium parsnips cubed

1 large sweet potato cubed

1 small red onion finely chopped

1 clove of garlic crushed

A good handful of red lentils

1 ½ pints (850ml) vegetable stock

1 tablespoon of salted butter

1 dessertspoon of turmeric

1 heaped teaspoon of dried coriander leaves

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

Method

Heat the butter in a sauce pan and sauté the parsnips and carrots over quite a high heat until they begin to caramelise

Add the onion and continue to sauté on a lower heat for 2 minutes, then add the garlic

Add the turmeric and the lentils and mix well before adding the vegetable stock

Add salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer for around 45 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the lentils disappeared.

‘Mash’ with a potato ‘masher’ leaving some ‘lumpy bits’

Add the dried coriander leaves and simmer for a further couple of minutes

Add a tablespoon of crème fraiche if desired, otherwise serve for a satisfying lunch or supper dish (I think that this soup is filling enough without bread, but if you are an addict, then a nice little piece of a crusty baguette is recommended!)

 

 

 

 

 

CURRIED PUMPKIN SOUP AND THE CEMETERIES OF PARIS!

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Curried Pumpkin soup – caution – extreme comfort food

As you all obviously liked my last post of ‘Pumpkin curry and the catacombs’ I thought I would prolong the pumpkin season and give you a glimpse into another less obviously touristy side of my adopted city.

Paris boasts numerous cemeteries, the most famous being ‘Pere Lachaise’ where flocks of adoring nubile, American teenagers (along with a few genuine old rockers) make an obligatory pilgrimage to the shrine which is the last resting place (or is it……) of the ‘Rock God’ who was ‘Jim Morrison’,

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‘Shrine’ to the late Jim Morrison

I personally find other graves far more interesting as the poetic tomb of the tragic ex President, Felix Faure, or the poignant grave of Edith Piaf. And, dabbling in writing myself, I am totally in awe to be at the side of Moliere and Oscar Wilde!

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Last resting place of ‘The Little Sparrow’ of Paris

The most beautiful (and for the life of me I cannot find the photograph – I will have to return) Is that of ‘Abelard and Heloise’ the star crossed lovers, forced to live apart, but united in death in palatial splendour. And I urge you to read ‘Alexander Pope’s’ beautiful poem telling their tragic story.  “Glance on the stone where our poor relics lie, Devotions self shall steal a thought from Heaven, One human tear shall drop and be forgiven

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The lovely grave of Felix Faure

Pere Lachaise may be the most famous, and it is without a doubt very beautiful and vast (if you go, it is worth spending the 10 euro or so to take a professional guide). But personally I prefer two other cemeteries.
The first being ‘Montparnasse’ that plays host to another pair of lovers who lived voluntarily apart and are united in death, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Satres, along with French musical legend ‘Serge Gainsbourg’ and numerous recipients of the ‘Legion of Honour’ It was here that I whiled away many a morning or afternoon with a book and sometimes my lunch when we lived in this part of the city, and I still consider it ‘my spiritual home’.

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Lovely Montparnasse Cemetery with the Montparnasse tower in the background

Parisian cemeteries are places where the dead and the living come together. Montparnasse cemetery is a thoroughfare, where mothers push babies in prams, teenagers skateboard, people (like me) sit and read, relax, soak up the sun, eat their lunch.
I improved my French here, by reading and pronouncing the names on the graves, and I believe that each time I read someone’s name and wondered about their life, that for that instant, they were resurrected and lived once more.

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Rodin’s ‘Cathedral’ on a tomb in Montparnasse Cemetery

My third cemetery of choice is ‘Montmartre’. The oldest and spookiest and in some ways the most beautiful. I remarked when I was there that every grave had a cat – it certainly seemed like it. I love the dark Gothic atmosphere here.

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Montmartre Cemetery and on of its residents!

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The creepiest and saddest of all is ‘Picpus’ in the 12th arrondissement which is a private cemetery and contains the headless corpses of 1,306 victims of the revolution who were executed at the nearby guillotine between June 14th and July 27th 1794. Now only direct descendants of these unfortunate innocents, are eligible to be buried here. The names of those executed are inscribed on the walls of the chapel and including 197 women, of which only 51 were from the nobility, 123 were commoners and 23 nuns! The cemetery is open to the public every afternoon except Mondays and bank holidays and there is an entry charge of 3 euro.

Now, here is the recipe for one of my favourite soups, guaranteed to bring you back to the land of the living…….

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Ingredients
Serves 4

1 medium pumpkin / butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

2 handfuls of red lentils

750 ml of vegetable stock

250 ml coconut milk

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 heaped dessertspoon of curry powder

Dried coriander leaves

Freshly ground sea salt to taste

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan

‘Sweat’ the pumpkin and carrots for 2-3 minutes

Add the curry powder and cook for a further minute then add the lentils

Stir in the (hot) vegetable stock then the coconut milk

Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for around 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the lentils disappeared.

Allow to cool a little then blend until as smooth as you like

Season with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper if required

Put back on heat to warm through and garnish with fresh or dried coriander leaves

Serve with naan or pitta bread

‘Souper’ as a lunch or supper dish, or as an entrée

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Me enjoying a sunny afternoon in one of the Parisian Cemeteries

TRADITIONAL GAZPACHO A LA LINDY

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Well that’s enough of cooking chicken in this heat – it is back to soup and salad until the mercury drops below 30!

Gazpacho makes up a big part of my summer ‘cooking’ (is blending together whatever you have in the fridge classed as cooking?) And as I have said, it is practically different every-time depending on what I have left over or to hand (coming up a fruit dessert gazpacho) I have already posted my ‘melon, yellow pepper and cucumber’ variety (gazpacho de melon, poivrons jaunes et concombre) So here is a more traditional variety using tomatoes, which are just coming into season and very cheap at the moment.

I do not add chilli or garlic to my version, but I serve with a little optional dash of Tabasco to the English fire eaters, but leave it mild and refreshing for the delicate French palates (YES I truly do have to cook ‘Franglais’)

I usually serve this as an entrée, but I also serve it in small ‘verrines’ as part of an apero (see gazpacho de melon, poivrons jaunes et concombre) But it can also be served in soup bowls with some garlic ciabatta croutons as a delicious light lunch dish.

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Served as part of an apero

This version can actually be used as a salsa by omitting or just using a hint of olive oil and wine vinegar, and adding a little chilli and a touch more seasoning – delicious with chicken and pancetta (to follow very soon)

Ingredients
Serves 4 for an entrée or for lunch
(just half the ingredients for 2 as an entre and 4-6 verrines for an apero)

4 ripe plum tomatoes (you can use regular tomatoes, but the plum variety give more flavour and are less watery – definitely use these if you are making this as a salsa)

½ small cucumber

½ large green pepper

2-4 spring onions depending on size

4-6 fresh basil leaves roughly torn up

A tablespoon of olive oil (the finer and lighter flavoured the better, I used L’Olivier ‘extra’ extra virgin)

1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar* (2 cuilliers a soupe)

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

Tabasco sauce (optional)

Method

Roughly chop the tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and onions and blend into a rustic salsa

Taste and season as required

Add the oil then the vinegar and blend

Finally add the basil and give another quick blend

Pour into serving dishes (it should be a little thicker than soup at this stage)

Add 1-2 ice cubes to each dish, cover and leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours to chill and the ice cube to melt to make the texture more liquid)

*I usually use 1 dessertspoon of red wine vinegar plus 1 dessertspoon of Apple vinegar with loganberries (available from IKEA) which gives it a sweeter flavour; but on this instance I used Maille vinaigre with white balsamic, which gave a nice little kick and was not so sharp as using red wine vinegar alone.

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To make ciabatta croutons, simple soak some tiny cubes of ciabatta in olive oil flavoured with crushed garlic for a couple of hours (while the gazpacho is chilling) then spread on a preheated baking tray and cook for around 10 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve immediately or allow to cool as preferred.

SOUPE DE CONCOMBRE ET MENTHE (Iced Cucumber and mint soup)

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What better way to cool down on a hot day!

With temperatures pushing the mercury up  to 39 in Paris this week and up to 29 in Liverpool, it is essential to keep cool by taking lots of refreshing drinks and eating iced soups and salads. I admit that I never ate iced soup at all when I lived in the UK (probably always too cold) but since coming here I have become quite an aficionado of ‘Gazpacho’ (see my ‘Gazpacho de melon, concombre et poivron jaune’) This is one of my stock recipes, and even better when I can make it with one of our home grown cucumbers and fresh mint from my window box. Just looking at this soup make you feel cool. It is light, refreshing and fragrant, and a lovely way to start a meal. Cucumbers are 95% water to an excellent way to replenish the body. They are also an excellent source of vitamins A, B1, B6, C and D as well as folic acid, calcium, potassium and magnesium. They are said to help to regulate blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, and are a traditional remedy for gout (particularly when mixed with carrot juice). Their anti-inflammatory properties can help ease arthritis (and also reduce puffiness around the eye) And they can freshen breath and also help prevent a ‘hangover’ if eaten before bed after drinking too much Champagne!

Ingredients
serves 4 as a starter

2 medium cucumbers washed and with the very outer skin removed, but leaving a layer of the darker green flesh, cut in half and carefully remove the seeds with a spoon (these can be planted to have another crop next year!) 6-8 fresh mint leaves 1 tablespoon of olive oil (I use Oliviers & Co. olive oil with mint)

1 tablespoon of White wine vinegar (I use Maille vinaigre de Chardonnay – a bit pricey, but worth it)

1 tablespoon of crème fraiche

A pinch of salt to taste

Method

Just simply chop the cucumbers and mint and mix together with all the other ingredients in a food processor I usually distribute the soup between individual dishes and a couple of ice cubes to each dish and leave in the fridge until ready to serve (at least 30 minutes) What could be simpler….. IMGP0858 (3)

Gazpacho de melon, poivrons jaunes et concombre

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Summer has most definitely arrived with temperatures reaching 33 degrees here in Paris today and rising up to 37 in other parts of France.

I have spent the day indoors with the shutters closed watching the tennis at Roland Garros, two years ago I was there beneath a sweltering 35 degrees heat, but thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it! I remarked that when watching Roland Garros, you are faced with a sea of white panama hats from the spectators stands, whilst at Wimbledon, you are more likely faced with a sea of umbrellas and plastic ponchos………..

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Me sporting my ‘Roland Garros’ colours!

Traditional Wimbledon fayre is strawberries and cream, but I put together a cooling, refreshing gazpacho of Melon, yellow pepper and cucumber, to serve as an entree, while I was cheering Murray on…..

I make gazpacho a lot during the summer and as my fruit salad (to follow) it is different every time, depending on what I have to hand. This version is a particular favourite of mine and I have spiced it up a little with some fresh ginger and given another little twist by adding a pastille of frozen coconut milk in place of an ice cube to give it some extra chill and a little ‘je ne sais quoi’!

As well as serving it for an entrée, I also serve gazpacho in small ‘verrines’ as part of the apero.

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Some verrines for an apro

I shall post a more traditional recipe at a later date, but as melons are just beginning to appear, and it is still a little bit early for the tomatoes – this is following the true spirit of ‘A Taste of Two Cities’ and eating seasonally.

Ingredients
Serves two as an entrée or four as an apero

¼ of a melon, chopped

¼ of a large cucumber, chopped

1 medium yellow pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon of olive oil (I use ‘Olivier & C0.’ Olive oil with mint

1 tablespoon of Chardonnay vinegar (I use Maille vinaigre de Chardonnay, but if you cannot find this, then use a good quality white wine vinegar)

A little finely chopped fresh ginger

Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

 

Method

Blend the melon, pepper cucumber and ginger in a food processor

Add the oil and vinegar

Taste and season as required

Pour into individual serving dishes and add an ice cube if for an entrée

Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours

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Spicy Red Vegetable Mediterranean Soup

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OK I know tomatoes are a fruit, but I couldn’t resist taking poetic licence…………….

This is actually a variation of ‘Guy’s Soup’ the very first soup that I ever made from a recipe given to me by a very dear and now departed friend named Guy………My children were actually weaned on a salt free version of his soup with potato to thicken it a little.

This particular incarnation brings in the flavours of the med with the addition of red peppers and chorizo, and ‘piment d’espelette’ which is made from dried chilli peppers that grow in the region around Perpignon close to the French/Spanish border, it has a distinctive sweet smokey flavour and due to its rarity, is quite pricey, if you cannot find this, then a smoked, sweet paprika works as a substitute

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The closer you get to the Italian border the more the Italian influence is felt in the South of France, in fact Menton, my personal favourite resort in the south, was once part of Italy, so it was damn rude not to include a handful of pasta. Ciao Bella!

Ingredients
serves 2 generously

1 small red onion finely diced

1 large red pepper finely diced

4 large ripe tomatoes roughly chopped

1 clove garlic crushed

4-6 slices of chorizo roughly chopped

A pinch of red chilli flakes

A good pinch of piment d’espelette

A good glug of olive oil

1 litre (1 ¾ pints) vegetable stock

Dried basil and salt and pepper to taste

A handful of very small pasta such as conchigliette

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion and peppers and chorizo for 2-23 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften and the chorizo begins to brown a little

Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook for a further 2-3 minutes taking care not to brown the onions or garlic

Add the chilli flakes and the piment d’espelette and dried basil

Stir in the hot vegetable stock, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes are cooked

Add the pasta and season with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

Cook for a further 10-15 minutes or until the pasta is cooked

Serve with some nice rustic bread as a lunch or supper dish, or alone as a starter – be careful with the quantity though as it is quite filling – but it is so delicious that you may decide just to finish the bowl and go straight to dessert…………….bon apetit!