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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Cheddar and broccoli soup.

The thing about food blogging, is that you need to make things every week.  It’s fun!  It can also be frustrating when the food you make doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to and there’s an empty screen waiting for a blog post.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve made a gorgeous almond and apricot stuffing for pork that tasted beautiful, but frankly, would kill my blog if I photographed it; a loaf of banana bread that tasted so good when toasted and smothered in Nutella that it was gone before I could get a shot of it; and then there was a baba ganoush that tasted okay, but was not really as delicious as baba ganoush can be.  Yes, writing a food blog can be frustrating.  I may just start reviewing movies instead.

To cheer myself up, I made a favourite soup of mine this weekend.  It’s not as naughty as you might expect from me, but you can double the cheese content if you like and even add a splash of double cream to make it more indulgent.  Either way, it’s a nice little soup to push you on until I post something more sugary.  Aah, it’s good to be back.  I missed ya!

Cheddar and broccoli soup.

1 broccoli stalk

100g mature Cheddar

Vegetable stock

 2 large potatoes

salt pepper

I cut off the brocoli florets and boiled them in water until tender.  I peeled and cubed the potatoes and boiled them until soft (just over ten minutes) in salted water and then drained them.

I placed the vegetables (and the water in which I’d cooked the broccoli) in a large pot and poured in enough vegetable stock to cover them.  I brought the stock to the boil and then took the pot of the heat.  Allowing the stock to cool made it safer to blend up the soup using a hand blender.  Once this was done, I grated the Cheddar into the soup and stirred it until completely melted.

Finally, I tasted the soup and seasoned it with plenty of sea salt and some black pepper.  It’s tastes delicious served with extra grated cheese and some crusty bread!

Tip:  Adding the broccoli water helps retain the nutrients lost through cooking.  Discard the water that you cooked the potatoes in because it often contains impurities and starch and doesn’t taste particularly nice.

Soup to start…

Coco doesn't mind the cold weather.

Brrrrr!  It hasn’t been too warm recently, but that only serves to fuel my efforts in the kitchen in a bid to warm our bones and lift our spirits.  My love of soup is no secret, but with the festive season in full and jolly motion, I couldn’t possibly post a meagre soup recipe and wish you all the best.  So, I’ll begin with soup and then move onto some more substantial treats like my tasty terrine and some festive rocky road bars!  Yay!

I’m sure that if you’re a fan of soup, you’ll have your own winter favourite that springs to mind when thinking of a dark and icy evening.  My perfect winter warmer is French onion soup, but it hasn’t always been that way.

The very first time I tried French onion soup was not in France.  Sadly, no charming tale will follow of soup made by a gentleman in a small French village as the snow gently buried our broken-down car.  Instead, a chilly evening in Hong Kong (if such a thing existed), as I gingerly pushed open the door to Jimmy’s Kitchen.  The restaurant was dimly lit and the dark wood and old photographs added to the atmosphere.  I ordered the onion soup and delighted in the deep, warming flavours.  I’ve never looked back.  Winter night?  Onion soup.

Serving the soup is fun if you add a chunk of French bread and melt cheese over everything.  This time, I resisted.  The following recipe is simple and guaranteed to banish the winter chills.

French onion soup

3 red onions (sliced)

3 white/brown onions (sliced)

1 pint beef stock

1 glass red wine

butter

sea salt

pepper

Begin by gently frying the onions in a little butter on the lowest heat.  The onions should cook very gently and caramelize.  This takes a while and when done, the onions will be brown, but not burned.  If the onions begin to burn, turn the heat down and add tiny amounts of water or stock.

Next, transfer the onions to the pot that you intend to cook the soup in (if they aren’t in it already).  Pour in the stock and the wine and boil rapidly for a minute or two.  Reduce the heat and simmer gently for at least fifteen minutes (and up to thirty).  Season the soup to taste.  I sometimes add sprigs of thyme at this stage for a final flavour.  I told you it was simple!  As long as you cook the onions for long enough, you’ll have a dark soup with bags of flavour.  You can easily make it with fewer onions too.  I like a lot.  God bless the onion!

Tomorrow, festive rocky road bars (with pics, I promise)!

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.

Me? At sea? Heehee!

My brother is far away in the sun and I can’t help feeling that I’ve lived this moment before; rain is driving against my windows and I’m about to blog in an effort to bring warmth and sunlight into my day.  I’ll count my blessings and give thanks that I’m not a Cretan fisherman.  Now those boys see some weather.

Granted, I’ve been trapped in a snow drift, roasted alive on an airless train through the mountains, drenched in tropical downpours and even caught in a thunderstorm on a boat heading down the Mekong.  However, if you’ve made a living on the sea surrounding the beautiful Greek islands, it’s a good bet you’ll have some stories to tell.  There’s a romantic image of the Cretan people battling the landscape and the elements and at the same time living with and becoming part of them.  We’re a people known for our passion, yes, but also for a stoicism rarely seen in the pampered generations that have come to the fore in the late 20th Century.  Could I brave everything that nature threw at these determined men?  Not a chance.  I’ve spent too long drinking chocolate milk, sitting close to radiators and hailing cabs.

I may have been born in Crete, but my father (a baker) would be surprised to hear me expressing a desire to fish the waters around our homeland.  Less surprising is my love of Cretan fish soup.  As with a lot of the simple dishes of Greece, it has remained unchanged for centuries and was borne of necessity.  Fisherman would cook this beautiful soup on their boats using only tomatoes, onions and some of their catch.  The long, slow cooking would disolve the tiny bones of smaller fish and produce a thick and hearty soup to warm the men at sea.  It’s a soup that has warmed my bones this very evening as our house has done all the stoic withstanding of the elements normally reserved for the wisened face of a Cretan fisherman.  Perhaps it will comfort you too.

Cretan fisherman’s soup

250g small fish

250g chopped tomatoes

400ml fish stock

1 onion (sliced)

3 carrots (sliced)

4 tblspoons olive oil

black pepper

This recipe will make enough for two large bowls.  You can use any fish for this soup.  I used some salmon, smoked haddock and a some cod.  Remove as many of the bones as you can before you begin and cut the fish into little chunks.

Cover the fish with boiling water and simmer for about fifteen to twenty minutes.  Skim any foam off the surface and then add the tomatoes, onions and carrots.  Cover and cook gently on a low heat for two or three hours.  After the first hour, you may want to add fish stock.  I find that the liquid reduces and that topping it up with fish stock is a great way of seasoning the soup.  It’s unlikely that you’ll need to add salt, but taste the soup after two hours and season if necessary.

You’ll end up with a very rich, red soup full of soft carrots and fish that has become a part of the broth.  It’s best served with big chunks of fluffy bread so that you can soak up the olive oil.

This is the soup in it’s simplest form.  My mum makes an awesome fish soup that includes rice to bulk it up.  You could add herbs to this soup and a squeeze of lemon to freshen it up, but I love how wonderful the soup is with so few ingredients.  To me, it’s alchemy.