Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Souper, Smashing, Great...

I adore this soup, based of stock with lots of of good things added.  It can so easily be varied by changing very little. I sometimes make a more 'Spanish' version by swapping the bacon for chorizo, the beans for chickpeas and the pesto for smoked paprika.  However, my most usual soup of the type is this; filling and rustic in an Italian style...

I keep a couple of bags of the shredded leek-and-carrot mix in the freezer; I find it to be so much less hassle to do a big session of chopping once in a while than to have to start knife work every single time!  A couple of handfuls of the mixture is enough for one batch of soup and defrosts ever so quickly - I suspect that you could probably could use it straight from frozen, but I've never tried. **UPDATE: I now have, and you can! **

Bean & Bacon Soup with Small Pasta

I generally use macaroni, as I keep that in the storecupboard as a matter of course; you can always substitute another small 'soup' pasta (like conchigliette), or just use some broken-up bits of spaghetti.  This amount feeds all four of us comfortably, with enough left over for two small portions for lunches in the week.  It freezes well, too.

200g bacon, chopped up roughly
1 leek, halved and sliced
2 carrots, diced
1.5 litres chicken stock
2 tbsp pesto 
150g small pasta (and see above)
2x 300g cans borlotti beans, drained

Grated parmesan, to serve

Heat a very little oil in a large pan.  Fry the bacon until cooked and tinged with brown.  Scoop the bacon out of the pan and set aside.  Put the leek and carrot into the pan and fry until soft.  Add a little of the chicken stock and scrape up all the nice toasty bits that have 'caught' on the bottom of the pan, then put the bacon back in the pan, pour in the rest of the stock and bring to the boil.  Add the pesto and stir well, then tip in the pasta and cook for five minutes.  Add the beans and continue to cook until the pasta is al dente.  Ladle into warm bowls and serve, topped with plenty of freshly grated parmesan.
Cath xx

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Planning Ahead...

My regular task on a Sunday is to plan our family meals for the week ahead, before I go food shopping on Monday morning.  I know that some people find this too much to be bothered with, preferring instead to make a decision every day.  Each to their own, but I would find that crippling; I am certain that we would end up eating the same meals over and over again, that supper time would becoming stultifyingly dull and that I would be gripped, nightly, by paralysing  indecision, plus you always have an answer to the whiny "what's for dinner..?" questions.  As a keen cook, I want to try out new things and, by planning ahead, I can build our week of menus to include both the comfortingly familiar and the appetisingly new... It is liberating to come home and be able to start dinner without having to make any decisions and to know that I have everything needed for a meal [a] in the house, not requiring an emergency shopping trip and [b] not still in a solid, icy lump in the freezer (because I knew last night I would want it and I took it out to defrost then).

Making a shopping list inevitably saves you money if you stick to it; it's when you meander around the shops picking up 'what looks nice' with nary an idea of how you intend to use it that you fritter your pennies away.  The excuse that "I wait to see what's on special offer" is no excuse really, lists of all the supermarket deals can be found online, via their websites.  Try somucheasier for a conveniently grouped list of all the stores' sites.  Plan your meals according to what WILL be on offer.

If this sounds preachy, I'm honestly sorry, it's not meant to, but I save so much by shopping this way that my list for the week can always include a few treats; some nice wine for the weekend, a trip to the cheese shop for a beautiful piece of cheese to go with soup and bread, or some delicious olives and chorizo from the Spanish deli; I want others to enjoy these little pleasures too.  Plan midday meals too, if there'll be people in for lunch, or just build in a few simple options to your list.  Likewise with breakfasts...

When you have children of school age, the other advantage of meal planning is that you can check what the next week's school meals will be and cater accordingly, even my children would baulk at the idea of spaghetti Bolognese for supper if they had already eaten it for lunch at school.  Our local council, in Ceredigion, provides parents with a copy of the 4-weekly rolling menu and I'm sure that can't be exclusive to that one authority.  So useful to keep track of what they're eating and plan your family meals at home accordingly.  If your school doesn't provide you with this, ask them; even if they only put the menu on their website it would help, but I would think that most schools would be only too pleased to accommodate a genuine interest in improving the family life and well-being of its pupils.  Happy planning!
Cath xx

Saturday, 22 January 2011

On the Pull...

This is a fab Saturday night family supper.  Not much work, then all day in the slow-cooker, a little bit (but again, not much) of work again and you're ready to eat.  I found this recipe on one of my blog-watching sessions, following links and seeing what I can find.  This is taken from the website of an American public media radio show, The Splendid Table and I've bookmarked a couple of other ideas that interest me from this site too.  I've made a few tiny changes (mainly to do with quantities), but the original recipe is here if you'd rather follow that.  Bottled 'liquid smoke' is available in the UK from American Soda, who are based in Ashton-under-Lyne, though I suspect that this would be just as tasty, though in a different way, without the 'specialist equipment'.  I also adore the fact that, in the US, pork shoulder is (inexplicably, to my mind) referred to as 'pork BUTT'.  Oh my, how the evolution of language fascinates...

American BBQ-Style Pulled Pork

I think the dsp (dessertspoon) measure may be a little archaic these days, but I rather like it; it refers to 2 tsp.

2kg boneless pork shoulder
3 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp flaky sea salt 
1 tbsp black pepper
1 dsp garlic powder
1 dsp English mustard powder
4 tbsp bottled 'liquid smoke'

Stir the spices and salt together. Cut the pork into chunks, removing the rind   Put half the pieces into the slow cooker, then add half the spice mix and half the liquid smoke, then add the rest of the pork and the remaining flavourings.  Cook on medium all day (I would say use high if you don't have a medium setting). Put the cooked meat in a bowl and strain the cooking juices into a jug.  Shred (this is the 'pulling' part...) with two forks as for French rillettes or Peking duck.   Put the shredded meat back into the slow cooker pot and add as much of the reserved juice as you need for a pleasantly soft and juicy texture

Serve with rolls, salad and barbecue sauces and condiments of your choice.  Our pre-prandial snack tonight was celery sticks with a cheesy dip.
Cath xx


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