Peas, perfect peas.

A few years ago, I wrote about the importance of making soup with love.  Today I’m going to make soup with peas.  The humble pea could easily be ignored by individuals keen to enjoy the meat from their roast dinner.  Children and adults might dislike the flavour of peas and find their colour or texture unappealing.  Not so in our household, where the pea has been given hero status due to its versatility and easy preparation.  My children have known from very early on in their lives that peas are our friends.  In pies; in stews; in fish suppers; in paella; in pilaf; in times of sorrow, peas will see you through.  If you thought that was hyperbole, you should hear me preach about carrots.

Earlier today, a casual conversation about soup (yes, we have so many casual soup conversations, don’t we?) sparked an immediate longing in me to make pea soup.  A colleague of mine, named Mrs. P for the purpose of this blog post, mentioned her love of pea and ham soup with dumplings.  Instantly, I pictured the open pack of bacon in my fridge (in a similar way that the internal cameras on the new Samsung smart fridge display the contents of each shelf- it’s going to be on my Christmas list for a while).  Pea and bacon soup was now on the horizon.

 

Fast forward to this evening and peas take centre stage in a comforting soup that couldn’t be easier to make.  Admittedly, I didn’t add dumplings this time because they went straight into a beef stew that had been cooking all day.  Next time, I’ll be ready.  For now, here’s my recipe for  pea and bacon soup (with photographs taken at night).  I could make more excuses about the image quality, but let’s face it, you didn’t come here for pretty pictures- you came here for peas.

Pea and bacon soup

500g frozen peas

4 rashers bacon

1 large potato (peeled and diced)

1 onion (sliced)

vegetable stock

1 tblspoon butter

small handful of flat leaf parsley

salt

pepper

I begin by frying the bacon in a little vegetable oil until crispy.  I then set it aside on kitchen paper and pat it dry before slicing it into strips.

To make the soup, gently fry the onion in butter and then add the diced potato before the onion browns.  Cook for a further minute or so and continue to stir.  Add all of the frozen peas and pour in the stock until the peas are just covered.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for about ten minutes until the potato is soft.  Add more stock if necessary.  Take the soup off the heat and add a small handful of torn flat parsley leaves. Use a hand blender to blitz the soup.  I usually leave a nice bit of texture to the soup, but you could make it completely smooth if you preferred.  Taste it and season it.  I tend to season it carefully because the bacon is salty enough together with the stock.

Stir in the bacon and add more stock to achieve the desired texture.  I love eating soup with crusty bread, but you could easily add dumplings or croutons to this.  You might even want to keep some strips of the fried bacon to garnish the soup.

Give it a go!  It’s a sure-fire way to bring peas and joy to your home.

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Use your loaf (tin).

I trust your Christmas was filled with family, joy and inevitable chaos.  Mine too, hence the late post.  Despite the passing of the big day, I’m going to share the recipe for my very own pork and apricot terrine.  It’s perfect for a buffet and I make one (sometimes two) every Christmas.

You can easily adapt this recipe so that your own Christmas flavours are represented.

Pork & apricot terrine

500g sausage meat

14 slices streaky bacon

14 dried apricots

1 egg

2 tblspoons ground black pepper

1 tblspoon fresh thyme (chopped)

a pinch of ground allspice

a pinch of mace

a pinch of cinnamon

plenty of sea salt for seasoning to taste

olive oil

You have to admire the humble loaf tin.  So useful!  Line one with the bacon so that half of each slice is in the tin and the other half is draping over the sides.  The bacon keeps the terrine together as it cooks and will tighten up as water evaporates from it.

Grind plenty of black pepper into the lined tin.  Next, in a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients by mashing them together with the back of a fork.  A drop of olive oil into the mixture helps to keep it moist.  Tip half of the sausage mixture into the loaf tin and spread it evenly with the fork.  Gently press the apricots into the meat in pairs.  This will ensure that the apricots form part of each slice as you cut the terrine.

Top the apricots with the remaining sausage meat and once again, use the fork to even out the surface.  Now all you have to do is lift each bacon slice to cover the terrine and overlap them to form a parcel.  You can store the terrine as it is in the fridge until you are ready to cook it, or you can cook it immediately.

Place the terrine in a roasting tin and pour enough hot water into the surrounding tin to reach almost the top of the terrine.  Cover the loaf tin with foil and keep the edges sealed tightly.  Place in the middle of the oven at 180C for an hour.  The water surrounding the loaf tin will ensure even cooking and the foil will trap steam to help cook the meat without drying it out.

After an hour, remove the foil and continue to cook the terrine until the bacon on top is nicely done to your liking.  Using oven gloves, lift the loaf tin out of the water and drain of the excess fat rendered through cooking.  You may want to keep this fat and roast some potatoes in it later!  The meat will have shrunk away from the edges of the tin; this is normal.  Use a pair of tongs to turn the meat over.  Keep the meat in the little loaf tin and return it to the oven to brown and crisp up.

Once done, remove the meat and let it cool for quite some time.  When it is cooled, it will be firm and easy to slice.  Serve the terrine cold with a nice Christmas chutney.  You don’t have any Christmas chutney?  No problem.  Watch this space!

 

I will raise you as my own.

The English have big love for pies.  Sweet or savoury, pies are well represented on English plates.  I’ve made fruit pies sprinkled with sugar and I’ve made pies filled with meat and gravy, but I’ve never attempted a pork pie.  The classic buffet and picnic pie of choice for the English has always been something of a mystery to me.  Probably made by wisened old artisans whose knowledge of pie-making has been inherited and protected with the kind of secrecy alluded to in low-brow Templar fiction.  Or are they mass-produced vehicles for the less palatable parts of a pig?  It was time to learn something new and in the process, perhaps make something special.

First of all, what’s the appeal of a good pork pie?  The pastry is special.  A golden brown with an attractive glaze and a crumbly promise of savoury comfort.  Okay, too poetic, but pork pies are made with a hot water crust that contains lard.  This makes it tasty and gives it a wonderful texture upon baking.  The pastry is pressed against the sides of whatever it is baked in to form walls.  The walls get higher until they are ready to be filled.  Raising the pastry in this way produces what is known as a hand-raised pie.

Secondly, pork pies are good when they’re hot and even better when they’re cold.  Pickles, chutneys and relishes are fantastic with pork pies and the fact that their contents doesn’t ooze out makes them a perfect travel companion.

I looked at a few online recipes for the pastry before I attempted to make it.  In the end, I chose to use Delia Smith’s recipe for the pastry.  The contents of the pie, however, were a very successful little experiment and as I type, I’m finding it very difficult to contain my pride.  If you want a treat, go and buy a Melton Mowbray pork pie.  If you want to experience the joy of creating something tasty and beautiful (in the most rustic of ways), then it’s about time you made your very own hand-raised pork pie.

Hand-raised sausage & bacon pies

(Pastry adapted from Delia Smith)

225g strong white flour

75g lard

25ml milk

pinch of salt

black pepper

1 egg yolk (to glaze)

(For the filling)

275g sausage meat

6 slices smoked bacon

150g smoked ham

1 tspoon fish sauce

half tspoon ground allspice

half tspoon ground mace

black pepper

pinch of salt

It’s best to make the filling first so that you can work quickly with the pastry before it dries out.

I fried the bacon until crispy and then mixed it with the rest of the ingredients until well combined.  If you want to check the seasoning, you can fry a little of the filling and taste it once cooked.

As in Delia’s recipe for the pastry, begin by heating the milk and lard in a pan.  Add 25ml of water and bring everything just to the boil.  Pour it into a bowl containing the flour and use a wooden spoon to combine everything.

Now it’s time to build up the pastry crust ready to be filled.  I used little stainless steel pudding moulds.  I pressed a little ball of pastry into the base and began adding more pastry and forming the sides of the pie.  When I got to the top, I overlapped the edges and filled the pies with the filling, making sure that I pressed down firmly using the back of a spoon.  Once level, I folded the edges of the pastry in and made a little hole for steam to escape through during baking.

I used the beaten egg yolk to glaze the top of each pie before sliding them into the oven at 180C for half an hour.  I then carefully removed the pies from the molds, glazed the sides with more yolk and put them back on a baking tray to finish in the oven for another twenty-five minutes.  This made the crust golden and firm.

The pie filling looks quite pink in the photographs, but this is just the bacon.  I can assure you that the pies were firm and fully cooked through.  Their spicing was just right and the crumbly pastry was delicious.  I ate mine with lots of Branston pickle.  One thing’s for sure, I’ll be making these at Christmas and serving them with lots of chutney, cheese and some strong red wine.  Then in the spring, they’ll be coming with me to the beach and the park for some picnic action.  All in all, I’m glad I tried my hand at making these.  You will be too!

I will always love you.

I’m a big soup fan.  Since my student days when cooking whatever I had left in the fridge was a regular event, I’ve really enjoyed pairing ingredients in perhaps the most immediate way possible (except for the mighty sandwich).

Bad soup is common.  Good soup is everything that food should be: comforting, colourful and good for you.  Yes, I write a blog called The Last Piece of Cake, but that doesn’t mean that I prefer to eat unhealthy food all day long.  Eventually, that kind of eating will take its toll on your body and your moods.  Soup, if made with care and some well-chosen ingredients, can lift your spirits and contribute to your well being in ways that a pizza never could.

Don’t worry, Pizza.  I still love you as I always have.  It’s not you, it’s me.  I need some space.  No, there isn’t anyone else.  Me and soup are just friends.  Soup makes me feel good about myself.  What’s wrong with that?  Why should I feel guilty?  I’ve nothing to hide…except my paunch.

You know what vegetable is great for soup?  Sweet potato.  I love it.  My problem is that I often buy a lot of sweet potatoes and then I don’t use them because I’m never sure about what kind of meals to prepare them for.  Regular potatoes are plain enough to be paired with a huge variety of other foods.  Sweet potatoes need more careful deployment.  Therefore, I usually have plenty left in the basket and my solution is often to make soup with them.

Today was no different.  Some bacon in the fridge was calling out for a “Use me up” recipe and I thought, “Why not?  Sweet potato and bacon soup could be fun!”  Add to that a chipotle chilli and I had a heart-warming lunch for me and N to enjoy while we listened to the rain beating down.  I’m not saying it was pizza, but if you appreciate the warm contentment that fills you when you have a good bowl of soup, then you’ll enjoy this recipe.

Smokey sweet potato & bacon soup

3 sweet potatoes

2 slices smokey bacon

1 dried chipotle chilli

1 tblspoon vegetable oil

water/ stock

Peel and thinkly slice the sweet potatoes.  Fry the bacon until crispy in the pot you’ll use to make the soup, drain it and set aside to cool.  Add the potatoes to the vegetable oil and fat from the bacon and cook over a moderate heat.  Pour enough stock (chicken or vegetable) into the pot to cover the potatoes and bring to the boil.  Add the chipotle and simmer until the potatoes are falling apart.  Slice the bacon into strips and put a few strips aside to use as garnish.  Add the rest of the bacon to the soup.

Remove the chipotle and blend the soup with a hand blender.  Season to taste and put the soup back on the heat.  Return the chipotle and simmer gently for a few more minutes.  Just remember not to serve the chipotle!

Serve with crusty bed and garnish the soup with bacon strips.

Lettuce doesn’t make it healthy.

Not only does a love of food bring endless joy through the cooking and eating experiences that come each day, it can also lead to a heart attack.  Cheerful, yes, but if you’re greedy and prone to smothering things in butter, sugar, oil and more butter, then you have to be realistic about these things.  Sadly, I am a man of excesses when it comes to food.  I don’t smoke, so I’ve bought myself an extra few years.  I drink rarely and usually in moderation.  It’s my need to eat large amounts of things that I love that I suspect will be my undoing.

I love eating different things and trying new dishes.  However, I can’t resist a good burger.  When I choose to have a burger, I make a real effort to make it interesting.  My view is in for a penny, in for a pound.  Yesterday was no different.  I whacked a burger in the frying pan, threw in some back bacon, and added some sliced onion rings too.  When the burger was cooked and the bacon crispy, I began piling everything onto a toasted cheese-topped bun.  Below is a list of how it all stacked up (top to bottom).

Really fresh leaves and tomatoes are important.

Top of cheese-topped bun

Le Roule

Beef patty

Fried onions

Crispy bacon

Sliced vine tomatoes

Baby lettuce leaves

Dijon mustard

Bottom of bun

No revelations here, but man, it was a real treat.  Le Roule and bacon burgers rule.