Tag Archives: winterwarmers

Smoky roasted butternut squash soup (Serves: 4/6 – Preparation time: +1hr)

Pumpkins and squashes come in all manner of shapes and sizes and in my opinion they are one of the most versatile vegetables that you can cook with.  The good news is right now they are in season and fairly cheap to buy!  For today’s recipe I have decided to keep things simple and turn butternut squash into a wonderfully velvety soup which is perfect served in a mug for bonfire night or as a starter for a dinner party with crusty French bread on the side.

The vibrant orange colour of this soup is hugely inviting and has the effect of making you warmer simply by looking at it. However, it is the paprika in this recipe transforms this soup – turning it from the sweet delicate taste of the squash into a rich smoky flavour that makes you want to keep going back for more.

This is definitely a recipe to try this autumn/winter whilst butternut squash is in season and at its best.  The soup freezes well so can be made up in large quantities and squirrelled away until you need it.  Enjoy!

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Oxtail casserole (Serves: 4 – Preparation time: 3.5hrs)

As the dark evenings draw in and the temperature starts to drop off rich stews and casseroles come into their own.  The recipe below is a fine example of cooking ‘low and slow’ which results in the meat becoming mouth-wateringly tender and falls off the bone.

Whilst I was in France a couple of weeks ago with some of my school friends, a debate started over what is the difference between a stew and a casserole.  After a lengthy discussion and a bit of googling we learnt that stewing is done on the top of a cooker with heat being applied directly to the underneath of the pot; while casseroling takes place inside the oven with heat circulating all around the pot. In both cases the meat is cut up fairly small and cooked in a liquid (stock, wine, water, cider, etc).  So it transpires that I have been using the terminology wrongly for many years – whoops.

The recipe below is for oxtail casserole which uses Guinness as a substitute for tomatoes and stock on the basis that it has a lovely earthy and almost bitter flavour which combined with the red currant jelly becomes beautifully mellow.  Whilst I cooked this in a cast iron casserole dish this recipe would work really well in a slow cooker, however make sure that you cook it on a low setting for around 6-7 hours.

For presentation purposes I took the oxtail off the bone and served in a roasted squash, which looked lovely.  However I have a confession to make, after decanting the casserole into the squash is dawned on me that whilst pretty it was highly impractical, so I ended up tipping it back into the pot before serving and it saved me from one heck of a mess. In hindsight I should have served the oxtail on the bone (2 per person is about right) with wedges of roasted squash and green vegetables on the side.  As they say “you live and learn”…  Enjoy!

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Cauliflower and blue cheese soup

Cauliflower is fairly good value at the moment and I have been trying to think of some different things to do with it.  As cauliflower and cheese is a classic combination I thought I would try it in a soup.

I found that blue cheese works well in the soup as it adds a salty creaminess that doesn’t overpower the flavour of the cauliflower. By adding crème fraiche, I found that it enhanced the creaminess of the cheese and helps to make the soup silkier.  The lardons give yet another texture – especially if you can make them golden brown and slightly crunchy.  However, they aren’t strictly necessary but are a nice addition.

I served this soup with homemade cornbread which added a light sweetness which lifted the soup, however good French bread would work just as well.

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Cauliflower and blue cheese soup

Ingredients:

  •          1 medium cauliflower (cut up into medium sized pieces)
  •          1 onion (diced)
  •          2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  •          2 bay leaves
  •          1 small bunch of thyme (tied together)
  •          1 ½  litre stock (vegetable or chicken)
  •          50g blue cheese (e.g Bleu d’Auvergne)
  •          3 heaped tbsp crème fraiche
  •          ½ tsp pepper
  •          50g lardons (for decoration, optional)
  •          oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

  1. Place the onions, garlic, thyme and bay leaves in a large pan with a little oil and sweat on a medium heat until the onions are soft.
  2. Add the cauliflower and stock, bring up to the boil and cook until a knife goes easily through the cauliflower.
  3. Remove the thyme and bay leaves then, liquidise the soup.
  4. Put the soup back into the saucepan and add the crème fraiche, crumble in the cheese and season.
  5. Cook for 4-5 minutes stirring occasionally.
  6. Meanwhile cook the lardons in a hot saucepan until they are golden brown and crispy.
  7. Serve the soup with a few of the lardons scattered on top with some French bread or cornbread.

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Cottage Pie

Cottage pie is another one of those staple meals that somehow manage to keep these cold winter nights at bay.  It is a meal that I used to make fairly regularly at university as it was affordable and could easily feed a large number of people.  It is what I would describe as wholesome food – it gives you a good dose of protein, vegetables and carbs.  It is a meal that could very easily be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge for cooking later in the week.  It is definitely a meal to keep in mind during these winter months as it is another one of those comfort foods.

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Cottage Pie

Ingredients:

For the meat sauce:

  • 400g minced beef
  • 1 onion (diced)
  • 2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  • 2-3 carrots (peeled and diced)
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
  • 2-3 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • seasoning
  • oil (for cooking with)

For the mashed potato topping:

  • 5-6 medium potatoes (peeled, cut into quarters)
  • knob of butter
  • 3-5tbsp milk
  • seasoning
  • 25-50g grated cheese

Steps:

Step 1 – make the meat sauce

  1. Place the onions and garlic in a pan with a little oil and allow to soften.
  2. Add the meat and cook stirring occasionally until it has browned off.
  3. Add the carrots, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, beef stock cube, herbs, half of the ketchup and the Worcestershire sauce and season well.
  4. Allow the sauce to bubble away and reduce slightly for 20-30 minutes.  Then taste and add more ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and seasoning as necessary.

Step 2 – make the mashed potato topping

  1. Whilst the sauce is reducing start making the potato topping.
  2. Place the potatoes in a saucepan with some salt, cover with water and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer until potatoes are cooked (to test see if a knife passes through the potatoes easily).
  3. Drain the potatoes and put back in the saucepan.
  4. Add the milk, butter and seasoning then using a potato masher, mash the potatoes until they are smooth.

Step 3 – make up the cottage pie

  1. Place the meat sauce in a deep ovenproof dish.
  2. Then carefully cover with the mashed potato and create a swirly pattern using a fork.
  3. Finally top with some grated cheese.
  4. Place in the oven and cook at 180C fan for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving with the vegetables of your choice.

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Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon is a French classic originating in the French region of Burgundy.  It is therefore not altogether surprising that is traditionally made using a red Burgundy.  This is my take on the dish, using local/home-grown ingredients.  This dish needs very slow cooking at a low temperature.  I tend to cook mine it two stages – I cook it in the morning for 3 hours at 140C fan , I then leave it to sit in the oven until the evening when I cook it for a second time for 1 ½ hours at 160C fan, as I find this helps the flavours to mature.

As with all slow cooking, meat becomes beautifully tender and falls apart.  One word of advice when making this dish – don’t cut your vegetables too small as they can fall apart, and half the beauty of a meal like this is finding a lovely piece of mushroom or carrot.  My tendency is to serve it in a large bowl so that none of the sauce falls off a plate.

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Boeuf Bourguignon

Ingredients: (serves 6)

  • 1 – 1.25kg stewing beef (gristle and excess fat removed cut into manageable chunks)
  • 750ml red wine (I used a local wine called Coteaux du Quercy but any full-bodied, fruity red wine will do)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large sprig of thyme
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 2 handfuls plain flour
  • 150g lardons
  • 1 red onion (thickly sliced)
  • 2 garlic cloves ( minced)
  • 600ml beef stock
  • 6-8 carrots (cut into large chunks)
  • 6-8 small onions (cut in half)
  • 6 mushrooms (cut into large chunks)
  • seasoning

Steps:

1.  Put the beef, wine, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns into a large bowl and leave to marinate for as long as possible – preferably overnight.

2.  Once marinated, remove the beef from the red wine marinade (keep the marinade as you will need it later) and place it in a bowl with the flour and some seasoning.  Make sure it is well coated.

3.  Heat some oil in a large casserole dish, brown off the beef in batches.

4.  Remove the beef from the casserole dish and set to one side whilst you cook the red onion and lardons for 4-5 minutes.  Once cooked, add the beef and stir well.

5.  Add the marinade, stock, garlic, onions, and carrots and cook on a low heat for 5-10 minutes.

6.  Cover the casserole dish and place in the oven at 140C fan for 3 hours.

7.  After 3 hours add the mushrooms, stir well and if possible let it sit for a while before cooking for a further 1 ½ hours at the higher temperature of 160C fan.

8.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving with French bread or a jacket potato and the vegetables of your choice.

Classic Lasagne

The weather is truly miserable at the moment, it is cold and rainy and it doesn’t make me want to go outside very much.  It is the perfect weather for enjoying a lasagne, another of my comfort foods.  The recipe below is our family recipe that I have been using for years.  It is everything you want from a lasagne – a meat sauce between layers of pasta and a creamy cheese sauce.  For some reason lasagne reminds me of my university days. I think this is because it is an affordable dinner party option that was always comforting and guaranteed to go down well!

Whilst I have been living in France I have been experiencing issues with the pasta bought locally not cooking properly which I think this is down to it containing a lot of starch.  Consequently, I have had to soak the pasta sheets before putting them in the lasagne rather than just putting them under the tap which I would normally do, which seems to have resolved the problem of excess starch.

As a family we tend to enjoy the lasagne with a big tomato and red pepper salad or coleslaw.  If I am feeling particularly indulgent I sometimes serve garlic bread as well.

 

Classic Lasagne

Ingredients: (Serves 6)

  • 12-16 lasagne sheets

For the meat sauce:

  • 300g minced beef
  • 1 onion (diced)
  • 1 garlic clove (minced)
  • 500ml passata (or tin of chopped tomatoes)
  • 1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1tsp mixed herbs
  • seasoning
  • oil (for cooking with)

For the topping:

  • 25g hard cheese (e.g. emmental or cheddar)
  • freshly grated nutmeg
For the cheese sauce:

  • 1pt milk
  • 50g butter
  • 1 handful of plain flour
  • ½tsp of freshly grated nutmeg
  • pepper (for seasoning)
  • 75g hard cheese (e.g. emmental or cheddar)

 

Steps:


Step 1 – prepare the meat sauce:

  • Place the onions and garlic in a frying pan with a little oil, cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the meat and allow it to brown off.
  • Once the meat has browned off add the rest of the ingredients and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Step 2 – prepare the cheese sauce:

  • Make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan.
  • Add the flour and make a thick paste.
  • Slowly add the milk a little at a time, stirring continuously to avoid lumps.
  • Add the nutmeg and season with pepper.
  • Once the sauce has thickened slightly add the cheese and stir until it is melted.

Step 3 – make up your lasagne:

  • Soak the lasagne sheets in warm water for a minute or so to remove some of the starch and allow them to soften slightly.
  • Take a large oven proof dish and make up the lasagne in the following order:
  1. Meat sauce
  2. Lasagne sheets
  3. Meat sauce
  4. Cheese sauce
  5. Lasagne sheets
  6. Meat sauce
  7. Cheese sauce
  8. Topping – scatter over the cheese and grate over some nutmeg.

Step 4 – cook:

  • Place in oven and bake at 180C fan for 30 minutes.
  • Serve with coleslaw, a salad and/or garlic bread.  Enjoy!

 

Moroccan spiced tomato, spinach and chickpea soup

Ages ago a friend had been telling me about a soup that she had bought for lunch one day that tasted amazing.  Apparently it was a tomato based soup containing both spinach and chickpeas.  Having harvested a large crop of spinach from the garden last week I decided to do my interpretation of the soup as I knew little else other than those three ingredients.

Earlier in the year we froze huge quantities of tomatoes that we had peeled and roughly chopped (having removed the tough core and any blemishes).  So, after raiding the freezer and de-thawing the tomatoes I was able to make the soup.   I found the spinach gave it a slightly earthy taste whereas the chickpeas added a slight bite and texture.   The Moroccan spice mix known as ras-el-hanout (a handy thing to have in your cupboard for flavouring couscous or lamb) gives the soup real warmth and honey stops it becoming too overpowering.

Moroccan spiced tomato, spinach and chickpea soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 onions (diced)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 200g chickpeas (drained)
  • 200g fresh spinach (washed and torn)
  • 800g – 1kg chopped tomatoes
  • 2tsp ras-el-hanout (spice mix)
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 2 heaped tbsp honey
  • seasoning
  • oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

1.  Fry off onions, garlic and ras-el-hanout in a little oil.

2.  Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, stock cube and half of the honey and cook for 10 minutes.

3.  Taste the soup and add the rest of the honey (as required) and season well.

4.  Add the spinach, cook for a further 5 minutes.

5.  Remove from the heat and semi-blend the soup using a handheld liquidiser.  Serve hot with a little French bread.

Chilli con carne, jacket potato and coleslaw!

Everyone has their own ‘go to’ comfort food and I think that chilli con carne is in my top five.  What I like about this dish is that the chilli offers warmth and a little bit of spice whilst the coleslaw counteracts some of that spice and provides certain freshness and a pleasant crunch. Finally, a jacket potato with its crispy skin and wonderfully soft middle fills you up and soaks up all the other flavours on the plate.  Perfect comfort food!

I recently entered a competition for comfort food with my lemon drizzle cake with raspberry sauce.  It did quite well and was selected as one of the top 10 recipes. However, sadly it did not win.  Since entering the competition I have been thinking about comfort food and how what food I go to for comfort changes during the course of the year.  For example, in the summer, my preferred comfort food is the aforementioned cake because it is so light and refreshing and gives you a brilliant sugar rush but on the whole doesn’t make you feel that guilty…  Whereas, in the autumn months, chilli con carne and lasagne are two of my favourites, particularly when the cold wet weather and short days are getting me down.

Chilli con carne

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 300g mince
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 tin of kidney beans, drained
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 4-5 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (optional)
  • 1tbsp tomato puree
  • 2tsp ground cumin
  • 2tsp mild chilli powder
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 1tbsp red wine vinegar
  • seasoning
  • oil

Steps:

1.  Place the onion, garlic, sugar and a little oil in a pan – cook on a low heat until the onions are soft.

2.  Add the mince and spices and cook until the meat has browned off.

3.  Add the tomato puree, tomatoes, red wine vinegar and season well, cook on a low heat for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.

4.  Finally add the kidney beans and cook for a further 10-15 minutes.

Salted Jacket Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes (ideally Maris Piper, King Edward or Mona Lisa)
  • Salt

Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 200C fan

2.  Wash the potatoes well removing any bruises, eyes and bad bits.

3.  Sprinkle salt all over the potatoes.

4.  Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes – 1 hour and 15 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes.  To see if the potatoes are cooked either see if a knife goes through easily or, preferably, give the potatoes a squeeze to check if the middle is soft enough.

5.  Serve with a little butter.

Coleslaw

Ingredients:

  • 400g white cabbage
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 eating apple
  • 1 small onion
  • 2-3 heaped tbsp mayonnaise

Steps:

1.  Grate the cabbage, onion, apple and carrots using either a manual grater or a food processor.  (Personally I prefer it when the vegetables are coarsely grated).

2.  Place the grated fruit and vegetables into a bowl, add the mayonnaise and mix well.  Serve.

Lamb and Bean Casserole

As the winter months are starting to set in, it is worthwhile having a couple of casserole recipes at your fingertips.  Casseroles in my opinion are wonderful because you can leave them to cook away in the oven at a low temperature and know that after 2-3 hours you will have an amazingly tender meat and vegetable casserole ready to eat.  The other major benefit to a casserole is that there is really no need to serve anything with them other than some French bread – this is because the casserole contains all the carbohydrates and vegetables to make it a well-rounded meal.

A casserole dish is an invaluable piece of kit to have in your kitchen; however if you don’t have one then you could always use a deep oven-proof dish that you cover with a double layer of tin foil.  If you do this you will need to make sure that the tin foil is on very tight so that the steam stays inside the dish whilst it is cooking.

 

Lamb and Bean Casserole

Ingredients:

  • shoulder of lamb
  • 2 onions (diced)
  • 1 red pepper (diced)
  • 2 carrots (diced)
  • 3 celery stalks (diced)
  • a small bunch of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • tin of tomatoes (400g)
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • ½pt vegetable stock
  • a tin of Cannellini white beans (800g)
  • 2 glasses of red wine
  • seasoning
  • oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

1. Preheat oven to 160C fan.

2.  Place Lamb in a large casserole dish with a little oil and cook for 5 minutes allowing the meat to brown off a little.

3.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, pepper, seasoning and paprika and mix well.

4.  Finally add all the other ingredients, cook for 10 minutes to allow it to come up to heat before placing in the oven and cooking for 2 – 2½ hours until the meat is meltingly tender and falls off the bone.

5.  Remove from the oven.  Take the shoulder out of the casserole and strip off any meat that may still be attached to the bones.  Cut the meat into bite sized chunks before returning the meat to the casserole dish; stir the well before serving with a slice of French bread.

A hearty chestnut soup

Given that chestnuts are very much in season at the moment I thought I would share another recipe in quick succession.  We ate this today for lunch and it was ideal after a long morning of painting.  I did all the preparation for the soup first thing so that I could literally throw everything in a saucepan and cook it when I came back into the house for lunch.

The soup is a wonderful combination of flavours, the carrots and chestnuts provide a certain sweetness, whilst the lardons add the right amount of salt to give it balance. The soup was fresh and filling and I am fairly sure we will be enjoying another batch of this again next week!

 

A hearty chestnut soup

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium potatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 2 carrots (peeled and diced)
  • 2 baby/small leeks (sliced)
  • 12-15 chestnuts (see chestnut preparation)
  • 100g lardons
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 1 litre of good stock
  • seasoning
  • oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

1.  Place the lardons in a saucepan with a little oil and cook for 2-3 minutes on a high heat.

2.  Add the carrots and potatoes, stir well and cook for 1-2 minutes.

3.  Add the stock, leeks, thyme and seasoning, stir and cook for 10 minutes.

4.  Finally add the chestnuts and cook for a further 5 minutes.  Serve.