Winter soups

3 Apr

Last week the weather was warm – summer was definitely on the way. This week the temperature has dropped and Scotland has had significant snow fall! With weather like this, soup is the food to eat!

I like making soup, it’s pretty easy to do, you can make huge batches and freeze it giving a quick meal when you’re in a hurry and it’s quite filling while also being low in calories.

I’ve made Carrot and French Onion soups many times before but this time I tried out the slow cooker. I peeled carrots (about 2kg) and then sliced them in the food processor. They went in the slow cooker with some stock for about 8 hours. At the end of this I just wizzed them up with a stick blender and the soup was pretty good. I also added coriander at the end for more flavour and chopped in an orange for a bit of interest!

To make the onion soup I peeled 2kg of onions (lots of tears) and then put them in the slow cooker with a dollop of margarine and some salt and pepper. They stayed in their on the low setting for about 10 hours; at the end of this they were amazingly caramelized and tasted fantastic. I then added stock and cooked for a further 8 hours. I think this is one of the best soups I’ve made and I’ll definitely do it again.

At the same time as making these, I wanted to use up some other veg so I roasted a tray of tomatoes to make tomato soup and about a dozen parsnips to make roast parsnip soup. Add cumin seeds to this to give a really nice flavour.

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The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

8 Mar

It took 2 hours to get from the airport to the hotel on Thursday night and about 20 minutes to get into central Cairo on Friday morning – Cairo does rush hour on a spectacular scale but Friday, fortunately, is a quiet day!

The museum is in Tahrir Square which is an address that’s become pretty well known over the past year. You can see the fire damaged building which housed Mubarak’s offices (I was told the fire was started by Mubarak’s supporters to hide all traces of wrongs done) but the area is perfectly pleasant and very quiet. The quietness was a constant in all the tourist areas; I was told that Cairo normally had 50 million tourists a year but last year there were only about 1 million.

Going into the museum you see an amazing collection of ancient monuments, sculptures etc – many are over 4000 years old. Lots of the exhibits are labelled in English and Arabic but having a guide is useful because there is so much stuff in the museum that it’s hard to make sense of it all. Of course, some of the most spectacular exhibits are those from the tomb of Tutankhamen. I’ve seen pictures of the massive gold coffin but to get up close to it is just fantastic. I learned a new word – a canopic jar is the container used to store the lungs, liver and other organs removed from the body before mummification (the heart is left in the body). These were kept because the Egyptians believed that  they would be needed in the after life and in the case of Tutankhamen they were well protected.

I also learned that it wasn’t just people who got mummified – all sorts of animals were also preserved including some quite amazing crocodiles and even scarab beetles. This seems a bit weird but the Egyptians believed that the sun was pushed across the sky by a scarab so it’s actually a pretty important animal.

Also found in many tombs were clay servants – these models were apparently buried with the kings etc to provide services in the afterlife. One servant was buried for each day of the year so the tombs could get quite crowded!

Museum

 

Arriving in Cairo

8 Mar

This time last week I was just arriving at Cairo airport. First impressions were good – it’s a clean, modern looking airport and the immigration process was straight forward. Once I’d got into the main arrivals hall I felt at home immediately – the cab drivers who pestered me could easily have been at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire! I found the stand for my pre-booked cab and had to wait a few minutes and was entertained by another driver telling me poor jokes (think “fork handles” type jokes) Eventually we left the airport and headed into town, quickly picking up the ring road.

The ring road is a good main road with 4 lanes. The fun thing about Cairo traffic is that the white lines on the road are just there for decoration – they don’t actually indicate where you should drive and as the traffic gets busier it simply moves closer together to give 5 lanes of traffic. Vehicles don’t stay in lane, however, but move wildly across the road, dashing into any gap. Add to this the fun that happens when a mini-bus stops to pick up or set down passengers and it’s quite an exciting business. More chaos was introduced when a mini-bus had broken down and was being pushed (at some speed!) along the motorway.

Eventually the driver made it to the hotel (http://cataract-hotels.com/pyramid/) and I could relax!

The swimming pool area and a view of the pyramids from the roof terrace.
 

Birthday meal

26 Feb

I seem to be another year older – not sure how because it doesn’t feel like 12 months since my last birthday but I’d guess that’s just the way life goes!

I invited some people round for dinner and tried out some new dishes.

As a starter I made stuffed mushrooms – one batch were stuffed with cashew nuts and pesto (just whizzed up in the food processor) and the other with spinach, sun dried tomatoes, cous cous and parmesan cheese. The cous cous was instead of bread crums and I was quite pleased with the result and my guests liked them as well.

For the main course I just cooked salmon steaks drizzled with olive oil and wrapped in foil with a slice of lemon. They were then just put in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes. I also cooked some chunky roast potato wedges. Cut big potatoes into wedges, coat with olive oil and whatever herbs are handy (I used fresh rosemary and dried coriander), sprinkle chopped garlic in the pan and then pop in the oven at 220C for 45 minutes.

Pudding was pannacotta – I’ve never made this before and the recipes I found all talked about using leaf gelatine but I only had powered. I suspect the quantity isn’t critical but 1 small packet (about 12g) worked well with 500ml double cream 500ml milk – this made 8 ramekin sized individual puddings. I then served this with a raspberry coulis and some whole raspberries and strawberries as garnish.

 

Slow cooker meals

20 Feb

I bought a slow cooker a few years ago (actually, my “friend” put it in the trolley for me while we were out shopping – I wasn’t really sure I needed it!) and it’s turned out to be one of my most useful pieces of kitchen equipment. It cost less than £15 so it’s also by far the best value.

It works well for cheaper cuts of meat – pretty much anything sold for stewing works and you can adapt recipes that are designed for a slow oven.

My most recent meal was made with a pack of meat sold as stewing lamb but lamb neck would have worked well. I wanted to do something a bit like a lamb tagine; I’m not sure that’s what I got but it was pretty tasty!

I cut half a dozen small onions in half and laid them on the bottom of the pot (don’t chop stuff finely; the slow cooking means you end up with slush if you’re not careful!) I then added some meat, a small bunch of coriander (this was chopped finely – it works best when it does disappear into the liquid) some dried figs (about 250g) a good handful of olives and a can of chick peas and a little water (I half filled the chick pea can)

The lid goes on, I put the slow cooker on its low setting and went to work. 10 hours later I came home to the most marvellous smell! I knew the lamb, figs and chick peas would work but I wasn’t so sure about the olives. When I make it again, I think I’ll only use the olives as a garnish before serving – they rather dominate the taste (I like olives a lot but they’re just a bit too strong compared to the figs)

Coventry

8 Feb

I love living in London but it’s also good to explore other places so whenever the railway companies have cheap deals I often take advantage. London Midland currently have a deal where you can get a ticket to take you across their entire (enormous!) network for a day for just £15.

I have been to Coventry but it was many years ago and I didn’t really look round so I felt that it would be a good place to start. The station is pretty grim and you emerge into an unattractive part of town (although a lot of work is going on to make it look smarter). There is a blue line painted on the pavement which you can follow to get you into the city centre and, once there, it’s easy to find the cathedral.

The cathedral is pretty special. It was bombed in November 1940 and pretty much destroyed. Sadly, work had been done not many years previously and steel girders had been used to reinforce the timber beams. When the incendiary bombs set fire to the timbers the heat caused the steel girders to twist and that helped to destroy the cathedral.

A decision was made almost immediately to build a new cathedral rather than try to repair the damage – it was felt that repairing it would hide the fact that it had been destroyed whereas building a new cathedral alongside the ruins would allow them to act as a memorial. I think this works and it reminds me of St Luke’s church in Liverpool. This is known locally as “the bombed out church” and also stands as a kind of war memorial.

I suppose it takes a while to organise building something on the scale of a cathedral so it wasn’t until 1956 that the building started and it was completed in 1962. I read that the intention was to keep the building fairly simple so that its contents would stand out and I think this has worked. It also reminds me of the Catholic cathedral in Liverpool which was built in the 1960s so I suppose that’s not surprising.

Just across the road from the cathedral is The Herbert gallery. When I visited there was a large exhibition of work by George Shaw who paints rather interesting pictures using Humbrol enamel. I’m not sure how long it’s there but I really enjoyed it (and it was free which makes it even better!)

If you’re interested in motor transport then the transport museum is an absolute must. It’s only a short walk from the cathedral and you could easily spend half a day going round – there’s a huge amount to see and do.

The weather was bitterly cold while I was there and a train derailment at Bletchley the day before meant that my journey took longer than I expected but I was pleased I went. It costs £7 to get into the cathedral but the ticket is valid for a year so if I find myself in the area I’d call back in.

Burns night(ish)

8 Feb

Every year I try to invite a few friends round on the Saturday nearest to Burns Night and feed them a meal which includes haggis in some form. I know it really ought to be just haggis, neeps and tatties but I quite like to experiment! This year I made a haggis roulade based on the idea here

I used a slightly spicy sausage from Waitrose instead of the Toulouse sausage and I think it worked pretty well (it all got eaten so that’s a good sign!) I served it with roast potatoes, tender stem  broccoli (cooked using Heston Blumenthal’s “At home” recipe and then mashed carrots, turnips and potatoes to add a traditional touch.

As a starter I decided to go a bit retro with a prawn cocktail but used rocket and watercress as a base with smoked salmon, prawns and a dollop of caviar. I used a spicy salad dressing instead of Marie-Rose sauce and garnished with a slice of lemon. I think the combination worked well.

Dessert was fairly simple. I decided to do a chocolate pot because I’d seen one served on “Come dine with me” a few days earlier. I put some mandarin segments in a ramekin and topped it with chocolate mousse (200g good dark chocolate, eggs, cream and a bit of cointreau just for flavour). That looked a bit uninspiring so I made a white chocolate ganache and put that on top and added another mandarin segment just to make it look nice (and it tasted pretty good as well!)

My first 4 guests actually arrived for breakfast on Saturday so they got home made bread buns served with sausage patties (bit of a cheat; I just skinned ordinary sausages and reshaped them) and scrambled egg (use an electric whisk to make it fluffy)

I went to Dallas last year and for brunch one morning we had a pulled pork sandwich. I rather liked that and have been thinking of how I could serve it for breakfast. My guests stayed for Sunday breakfast and that gave me a chance. I took some stewing pork and put it in the slow cooker with a good dollop of barbecue sauce. I then put it on slow and left it for about 8 hours. The result is very soft pork which is easy to pull apart with forks. To serve it I took some large mushrooms, cooked them and topped with the pulled pork. A large slice of tomato went on top of that and finally a slice of halloumi cheese just to make sure there were enough calories!

The only disaster was that I forgot to take photos of the food but I was pretty pleased other than that!