Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Stone Soup (or A Wholesome Veggie Broth)

My partner requested this for lunch the other day, before he took himself to bed with a cold. When your head is fuzzy and full of grossness, and you can't bear the thought of trying to swallow anything rougher than a pea, you need a good, warming bowl of soup. And what better than a wholesome broth, full of nourishing veg and hearty flavours? Remember the story of Stone Soup? It was one of my favourites when I was little, and this broth is exactly what I imagined the final outcome would have been.

                                                                                                                  (c) Becca Thorne 2014

This recipe is quick and super easy to make, there's no noisy blending to upset weary heads, and the addition of the toasted sesame oil really lifts the flavours and helps your poorly taste buds find something tasty to latch onto. It's also perfect for ladling into a Thermos or mug to warm your cockles while you stand around the bonfire waiting for the fireworks to start.

Serves 4

1 tbs butter
1 large leek, halved lengthways and cut into 1-2cm slices. Include as much of the green as possible.
1 large carrot, halved and quartered lengthways then diced
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 large onion, halved and finely sliced
2 bay leaves
A few sprigs of sage, finely sliced
2 tsp bouillon powder (or a mild veggie stock cube)
2 tsp mushroom ketchup (or other veggie Worcester-type sauce)
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
Boiling water

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add all the veg, plus the bay leaves and chopped sage. Allow to cook over a medium heat, stirring often, until the veg is starting to soften. Add the brown sugar and stir to coat, allow to continue cooking, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the veg is fully softened but still holding together and the sugar has caramelised a little.

Add bouillon and enough water to cover the veg, stir and turn up the heat to med-high. Allow to simmer for around 10 minutes. Season with black pepper and stir through the mushroom ketchup and sesame oil.

Serve immediately with a good flavoursome bread like sourdough, walnut or olive.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Squash and Mushroom Wellington

There are still two nights to go before Bonfire Night, but I can hear fireworks exploding above the houses as I type, and we went to a grand display down at the Marina on Saturday (where the bonfire was floating on the water and was lit from a rowing boat using a flaming stick. It was amazing), so I think that means I can start feeling really properly wintry now. And that means pies, lots and lots of pies.

                                                                                                                                    (c) Becca Thorne 2014

I've never eaten Beef Wellington. Or, if I have, it wasn't as memorable as it maybe should have been. It seems like the ultimate meat-eaters' winter feast - steak, pate, mushrooms, pastry - served with crispy roast taters and a big old pile of hearty cabbage, and smothered in warming gravy. This veggie version is a bit more rough to look at than its meaty forefather, but it still retains the underlying herby, mushroomy flavours that come from the classic duxelles layer and adds the delicious, comforting tummy-hug that can only come from something wrapped in pastry.

I miss having our own supply of squashes ready and waiting, but Lidl is still providing some tasty and varied winter varieties, all listed as simply 'Winter Squash'. The one I used for this was a Carnival-type I think (the one I used for the illustration might be a Buttercup?). I've previously used Honey Bears, which are an acorn variety and have lovely, tender, bright orange flesh which is great for roasting and were perfect for this. I imagine Butternuts will do the trick, but with so many different types out there, I say embrace the variety!

Serve as suggested above, with crispy roasters, steamed savoy cabbage, onion gravy and a good ale.

Serves 4

For the pastry:
8oz plain flour
4oz cold butter, cut into cubes
pinch of salt
A little cold water

For the filling:
1/2 medium sized winter squash, deseeded and peeled, cut into rough 2cm chunks
4 large field mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves only 
2 sprigs sage, leaves finely sliced
1 tsp horseradish sauce
1 tsp bouillon powder or 1/2 stock cube
100ml warm water
Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

First, make the pastry. Toss the butter cubes in the flour and salt and then, with your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until you have a rough breadcrumb consistency. Don't make it too fine, you want some larger lumps left so that the pastry will puff and flake a little in the oven. Add cold water a little at a time and combine until it comes together to form a firm dough.DOn't handle too much so as not to melt the butter. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7-8 or around 200-210C.

Next, heat the olive oil in a large pan with a lid and cook the onions over a medium heat with the bay leaf for a few minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Add the mushrooms and garlic with a good grinding of black pepper and continue cooking until the mushrooms have started to wilt and soften. Add the squash and herbs with a pinch of salt and stir well to coat everything, then allow to cook for 5 more minutes, continuing to stir frequently. Sprinkle on the bouillon/stock cube and add the water and horseradish. Stir well, cover, and cook until the squash is soft and the the water has become a small amount of thickened gravy.  Remove the bay leaf.

When the filling is ready, lightly oil a baking tray. Dust a work surface with flour and roll out the pastry to approx 30x25cm and place on the baking tray (it will probably hang over). Spoon the filling into the centre of the pastry in an oblong shape, leaving plenty of space around the edges so you'll be able to fold the pastry over. You should be able to fit all the filling in. Brush the exposed pastry with a little milk or water, then fold it over the filling, starting with the ends, then bringing the sides over to form a packet. Press the folds down lightly and brush all over with with milk, ensuring you get the joins to help secure them. Place in the centre of the oven for 15 -20 mins, or until the pastry is golden. Serve in slices.