Supremely Satisfying Creamy Courgette and Cheese Soup

Due to lack of attention on my part when food purchasing there is currently a courgette glut in our fridge.  I have no idea how I managed it, but I ordered nearly 2 kilos…quite a lot for two people!

Somewhat fortuitously, the cucurbit invasion coincided with the need to make something really quick to eat before succumbing to exhaustion, so we made inroads into the courgette mountain and whizzed up this feel-good soup.

Courgette & cheese soupParmesan was eschewed at the last minute in favour of a chunk of Comté left over from Big Sis’s Birthday.  The nutty, slightly sweet flavour was superb – I thoroughly recommend it (in this soup or on its own).  Don’t get hung up on it though, just use what you’ve got.

A small word of caution: really strong cheeses will overwhelm the flavour of the courgettes, making it more of a cheese soup – which could be just as good, but perhaps it’s a shame to abuse the courgettes in order to get there? 😉

To serve two (big portions)

Olive oil
A good handful of soffritto
1 small clove garlic, minced
A small handful of fresh basil leaves
Approx. 500g courgettes, cut into chunks
250-300ml chicken stock
2 glasses of white wine
4-6 tablespoons crème fraîche
50-75g (ish) grated Comté, or parmesan or other grated cheese of your choice
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Ok, this won’t take very long…but don’t do it in a rush…use the prep and cooking time to slow down the tempo and let go of the day.

Immerse yourself in the rhythms of chopping and stirring…feel yourself unwind as you coax out flavours to meet and mingle…let your tensions drift away in curls of aromatic steam as the stock simmers…remember the caress of sun on your face as you breathe in the sweet peppery scent of the basil…

When making your soup is a whole body experience the eating is so much more satisfying 🙂

Soffritto - cookedHeat olive oil and cook soffritto over a medium to low heat until veg starts to soften.

CourgettesTurn up heat a little, add minced garlic and chopped courgettes, continue to cook until courgettes are just starting to colour.
You may notice they are not at all browned in this picture.  That’s because they’re raw.  I forgot to take a picture at the cooked stage.

Glass of wineAdd one glass of wine and simmer until reduced by about half.

The other glass of wine is for you – cheers!

Chicken stockpotAdd chicken stock and simmer for 10-15 minutes (make sure the carrots in the soffritto are soft).

Carefully transfer to food processor or blender.

Creme fraicheAdd crème fraîche…

Fresh basil…and add all but two or three of the basil leaves.

Blend to your preferred consistency.

ComteReturn to pan and add most of the grated cheese (keep some back for sprinkling on the top).

Warm gently, stirring, until cheese has melted.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Courgette & cheese soupSprinkle with remaining cheese and shred those last few basil leaves over the top. Serve with hot, buttered toast.

Feel better.

Thrice Baked Potatoes

We all know that baked potatoes are obliging little beasts that will happily carry pretty much any filling you chuck at them.  Not only that, they’re not in the slightest bit complex or challenging to make – just wash them, stab them with a fork/slit the tops, rub some olive oil and salt into the skins and slam into the oven.

However, now and again I find myself wanting something a bit more from my baked potato.  Call me demanding if you wish, but I like my food to take a bit of pride in itself, to make an effort, dress up from time to time…d’ya know what I mean? 😉

So this is where the triple baking comes in.  It does require a bit of effort but it elevates the humble baked spud from dowdy to delectable.

Serves two – three

3 small to medium potatoes, baked and cooled
Olive oil
3-4 tablespoons crème fraîche (or sour cream, or natural yoghurt)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 spring onions, finely chopped
100-150g finely grated cheese 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200°C/400°F

Scooped potatoes, cheese and onionCut the baked potatoes in half and, being careful not to break through the skin, scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon.  Put potato innards into a bowl and set to one side.

Olive oilBrush potato skins, inside and out, with olive oil.

Chipotle sea saltSprinkle with ground sea salt – again both inside and out.  I used this stunning chipotle sea salt that I recently rediscovered in my cupboard but plain sea salt is just fine.

Potatoes brushed with olive oil (2nd bake)Place skin side up on a baking tray or rack and bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes.

If you have something against doing things in triplicate, or if you just want to speed things up, you can skip this step and just have twice baked potatoes, but they won’t be as crispy.

Potato, creme fraiche and seasoningAdd crème fraîche and plenty of black pepper to the reserved potato flesh.  Remember you’ve salted the skins so be judicious if you add more salt at this point.

Potato, cheese and onionMix in chopped spring onions and grated cheese.  Taste, adjust seasoning, taste again.  Maybe just a touch more black pepper?  Taste again.

Stop tasting now or you won’t have enough filling for the potato skins.

Stuffed and cheese topped potatoes (3rd bake)Pile potato mix into the potato skins and top with remaining cheese.  Pop back into the oven and bake until filling is piping hot and golden brown.

Sausage on a plateAnd there you go…your potatoes are thrice baked.

Try them for a change as a side dish with steak, or honey mustard sausage pinwheels, or quiche, or any other thing that you fancy. They also make a delicious lunch, supper or snack.

This is just a basic recipe but really, the world’s yer lobster as far as fillings go.  Barn and I like various combinations of crispy bacon pieces, finely chopped fresh tomato, fresh mixed herbs, olives, blue cheese, sweetcorn and chillies.  Petit Man is also partial to a bit of flaked tuna in his.

What do you like in yours?

Stinky mushrooms (mushrooms in blue cheese)

Day 7 of the Cupboard Challenge presented an unmotivated Renegade household with mushrooms and blue cheese that urgently needed using up…it really had to be stinky mushrooms.  This was absolutely no hardship, because stinky mushrooms are flippin’ delicious!

They make the perfect, easy wind down meal for a stay-in Friday (she says, as if on a ‘normal’ Friday social fluttering is the standard order of things – there are  pandas with more active social lives than mine).  These mushrooms also make a great starter when served in individual dishes and browned off under a hot grill.

For this meal we had them with baked potatoes.  If you’re planning to do the same and they’re not yet ready, I suggest you whack those spuds into the oven straight away.  Now bugger off to do something else until 10 minutes before they’re done.

Back so soon?

To serve two

5-6 decent sized mushrooms (chestnut ones are great but we only had white ones in)
A knob of butter and a little oil
Approx 150ml Single cream
1 teaspoon-ish mustard
A chunk of blue cheese – cubed
A tiny end piece of Parmesan – grated (optional)
A handful of fresh parsley – roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

MushroomsClean or peel mushrooms, and slice.
Browned mushrooms

Heat butter and oil in a frying pan then add the mushrooms.

If you want to make sure you get beautifully browned fungi, remember Julia’s edict: “Don’t crowd the mushrooms!” 😉  Cook in batches; drain on kitchen roll.

Cheese sauce ingredients

Cheese sauceWipe the pan clean with kitchen roll.  Add cream, cheese (both blue and Parmesan, if using) and mustard; stir over a low heat until cheese has melted.

Add mushrooms back into pan and stir to coat with sauce.

Adjust seasoning to taste and stir in chopped parsley.

Baked potatoIf you’re having this as a starter or stand alone dish, pile the mushrooms into individual dishes, top with a little grated parmesan and brown under a hot grill.

If you’re having the mushrooms in baked potatoes, cut open the spuds, slather in some butter and add a good dose of black pepper.
Served in baked potatoes, with saladPile sauced mushrooms into baked potatoes and serve with a salad of chopped apple, celery and rocket (no dressing required).

Eat with feet up, while watching nonsense TV.  If possible, wash it all down with an ice cold bottle of cider.

And relaaax….

Fantastically Flavoursome Pasta Bake

Day 6 of the Cupboard Challenge, and in the process of preparing dishes for Big Sis’ impending birthday celebration I’d managed to add a couple of red peppers to our supplies.  For a short while I was worried that this might be cheating, but then I remembered…this is my game so I can make up the rules.

It’s not cheating.
To any VIPs reading this: I know, and I’ll say it before you do – 7 or 47, some things never change 😀

The beauty of this dish, as with much of what we cook, is that it’s pretty willing to flex according to what you have in your stores.  Treat the following as a guide…this is by no means a recipe that needs to be slavishly followed!

OrecchietteNote however, that the shape of your pasta does make a difference to the finished dish.  I like to use orecchiette for this as all the chopped pieces of meat and veg get caught and held in the pasta dimples.  Little tubes, like tortiglioni work well too, as do the small shell shapes of conchigliette.  Long pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine is not so great.

Number of servings depends on how much of everything you use, and on how big the receiving appetites are.;-)

Sufficient cooked pasta for your serving requirements.
Courgette – diced
Red pepper – diced
 Dried porcini mushrooms – soaked in hot water for around 30 mins (keep the liquid for the sauce)
A handful of diced pancetta
A splash of olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated parmesan for topping

Sauce Ingredients
Another splash of olive oil
Crushed garlic – a lot or a little, as you prefer
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
a good splash of the mushroom soaking liquid
1 chicken stock pot (or stock cube)
Approx. 150g crème fraîche (or more, or less…flexible, remember? 😉 )
A few sprigs of fresh thyme – leaves picked from stalks
More sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Got your groove on?  And your apron if you wear one?  Let’s set to it then…

Preheat oven to gas mark 6/200°C/400°F.

Put your cooked pasta into a large bowl.

Drain the mushrooms (keeping the liquid) and roughly chop – add to the pasta.

Prepared vegHeat the oil and cook the soffritto over a medium heat until it starts to soften.  Turn up the heat a little and add the red pepper and courgettes; continue to cook until the peppers are just beginning to soften and the courgettes are starting to brown.

Add to the pasta and mushrooms.

Cubed pancettaChuck the pancetta into the same pan used for the vegetables, and fry until beginning to crisp.  Soak off excess fat with kitchen roll, then add to pasta and veg.

Pasta mixMix pasta, veg and pancetta together, season with salt and pepper, then tip into a shallow, oven proof dish.

See what I mean about those lovely veggies getting held in the pasta?  Like teeny tiny serving bowls they are 😉

Garlic and thymeNow for the sauce:  wipe out your pan with kitchen roll, leaving the thinnest layer of pancetta fat…sauté the crushed garlic in that (just a few seconds)

Tinned chopped tomatoes

Chicken stockpotAdd the chopped tomatoes, stock pot and some mushroom liquid.  Stir well and bring to a simmer.

Creme fraicheRemove pan from heat.  Stir in crème fraîche, thyme leaves, salt and pepper.

Liberally sprinkled with grated parmesanPour sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan.  Be liberal but not insanely generous…you want it to crisp up a bit, not end up in a gloopy blob.

Baked cheese often seems to look burned in my photos - in reality this was perfectly browned ;-)
Baked cheese often seems to look burned in my photos – in reality this was perfectly browned 😉

Bake in the preheated oven for around 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown and bubbling.

Pasta bake with baked fennelOn this occasion we had baked fennel on the side, but a fresh green salad is good too.

In its baked form this dish wasn’t wildly photogenic…but does it really matter when something tastes this good?

The food week that was – 16/03/15

Recording what we eat is proving to be an interesting and valuable exercise, although it’s not actually what this blog was supposed to be about (which reminds me, I must get ’round to changing the description line before I get called out as a big fat fibber).

The primary benefit I’ve noticed so far has been the accidental promotion of mindful eating.  Quite clearly it’s not a complete transformation but it’s definitely happening.  Let’s face it, you’re far less inclined to have a packet of Doritos, a Snickers and three cookies for dinner when you’re kinda committed to taking a picture of it and publicly displaying it.

On top of that, in order to keep things interesting and avoid repetitiveness, again knowing things will be posted publicly, I’m tending to put much more thought and effort into meal planning.

That said, it’s become apparent that this all goes to hell in a hand basket when we’re tired, under pressure in our day jobs and generally having a tough time one way or another.  The times when we most need nourishing food, and extra vitamin dosage, are when we get ourselves into a downward spiral of increasingly lazy and poor food choices – how insane is that?  This was dreadfully evident this week as we finished a takeaway or ready made meal, declared it to have been unsatisfying/flavourless/greasy/horrid, then up and did it again within 24 hours.  How brainwashed by advertising and hooked on fat and sugar are we?  On the upside – at least I’ve noticed it!

Anyway, this is how we alternated between abusing and restoring ourselves with food this week:

Gnocchi with GorgonzolaMonday: Gnocchi with gorgonzola, spinach and toasted walnuts.

I have a confession: this was the first time any of us had eaten gnocchi.  I don’t know why…  It will definitely not be the last time – this meal was absolutely gorgeous, and unbelievably quick to make.  Here’s how:

  • Toast around 40g walnut halves or pieces and set to one side.
  • Bring a large pan of water to the boil – keep it boiling!
  • While the pan of water is coming to boiling point, put about 200ml of double cream and around 200g gorgonzola into a different pan (!) – stir gently over a low heat until cheese has melted – add plenty of freshly ground black pepper – keep it warm.
  • Add 500g chilled gnocchi to the pan of boiling water – cook until they float to the top (2-4 minutes).  Drain well and return to pan.
  • Stir in gorgonzola sauce, about half of the toasted walnuts and around 150-200g of fresh spinach leaves.  Transfer to an oven proof dish.  Top with remaining walnuts and a good grating of parmesan cheese and bung it under the grill under it’s golden brown and bubbling.
  • Serve with green salad leaves (watercress is good) – a simple lemon juice dressing works well.
  • Stuff food into face and make ‘mmmmm’ noises.

Subway signTuesday: We ate from here.

Fish & ChipsWednesday: That’s what we had.

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The food week that was – 09/03/15

A slightly strange week, filled with carbohydrates and see-saw emotions…Baked spud and sausagesMonday: Exhausted from our day jobs, and suffering severe Monday-itis, we slung potatoes into the oven, defrosted leftover veg chilli, grilled sausages, chucked cheese all over it and ate.  There was a definite correlation between the decline in grumpy silence and the progression of food consumption 😉

Savoury bread puddingTuesday: Savoury bread pudding made using left over olive bread and an onion bagel, layered with more olives and crumbled Stilton, then saturated with a savoury egg custard, topped with cherry tomatoes and grated parmesan, baked ’til golden brown.

Spag BolWednesday: Rich, meaty, wine steeped, mushroom studded, slowly simmered, Bolognese sauce served with Fusilli lunghi bucati (aka Rasta Pasta), with plenty of black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan to finish.

Soup ingredients

Thursday: Having been variously chopped, sautéed, simmered, blended and seasoned, these ingredients (plus some veg stock and cream) became…

Soup…this delicious soup.  A stack of door-stop style roast beef sandwiches rounded things off nicely.  Petit Man has been suffering with a harsh cough and cold (a real one, not a Man one), so this worked well to soothe and comfort.


Thursday snacking: Gluten free shortbread – probably the quickest and easiest sweet baked snack you will ever make!

Here’s how to make them:  You require three ingredients – butter, caster sugar and gluten free flour – in the weight ratio 2:1:3.  I also use a small amount of baking powder (about 1 teaspoon per 300g of flour) as I prefer the more open texture this gives, but it’s not necessary.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Sift in flour (and baking powder, if using).  Using your hands gently fold and knead the mixture until it comes together into a firm ball.  Press into an appropriately sized, greased baking tin then chill in the fridge for about 10 minutes.  Bake at gas mark 5/190°C until golden brown.  Cut while still warm, cool on a rack and dredge with caster sugar before serving.

If you like a flavoured biscuit you can add lemon/lime/orange zest to the flour, or chuck in some vanilla, or drizzle with melted chocolate when cooled, or…whatever else you like.  There are no strict rules 😉Baked spuds and tuna

Friday: Baked potatoes stuffed with tuna, sweetcorn and sliced black olives, served with beer battered onion rings and rather over baked cherry tomatoes.  About as simple as it gets – I think the only way less effort could have been put into this meal is if it had been made into a sandwich. – nonetheless, satisfying.  Sometimes simple is just what you need.

Cheese, olives & crackers

Saturday: We like cheese.  We amass cheeses like a weird, hoarding, mischief of mice.  We currently have 11 different cheese varieties in our fridge.  For the dairy-curious amongst you, they are : Stilton, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, extra mature Cheddar, oak smoked Cheddar, farmhouse Cheddar, grated Mozzarella, Edam, Camembert, Cambozola and Halloumi.

It’s somewhat inevitable then, that some meals are nothing but cheese.  And so it was on Saturday evening.  With crackers, olives and a glass of wine, I’d call this a very well balanced meal 😀

Cornish sardines and Staffordshire oatcakes

Sunday Brunch: Fresh Cornish sardines, topped with a little crushed garlic and a good squeeze of lemon juice, then grilled until the skins were crispy.  Served with lemon wedges and Staffordshire oatcakes.

Sunday Dinner: It was Mothers’ Day here in the UK – those of the family who were able to gathered at Mum’s house where Medieval, despite being in much pain with an injured foot, cooked an incredible roast chicken dinner for us all.  He presented us with rosemary and lemon chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, roast squash and parsnips, broccoli, carrots, Spring cabbage and gravy – the only fault to be found was that it was so delicious and tempting, it was gobbled up before I remembered about taking a photo!

Just Something I Wanted to Say: Whether you feel that Mothers’ Day is just another commercially driven construct, or see it as a wonderful chance to express love and gratitude, it can, like any other celebration, be a difficult, sadness triggering time for many.  Within my own small sphere there are people whose mothers have died, ones who have troubled relationships with emotionally distant mothers, ones who were brought up in care and who don’t know their mothers, ones who are estranged from their mothers, ones who cannot have children, those whose children have died…many, many reasons why a little extra love, thought and tenderness might be due to them on the day that is all about celebrating motherhood.  So I send extra special thoughts and hugs to anyone who felt that tug of sorrow yesterday, whoever you are and wherever you are.


The food week that was – 02/02/15

I believe, for a variety of reasons, that it is a good thing for me to have a regular publishing schedule for this blog; taking account of other commitments I’ve decided that I will post once a week.  There may be extra posts when things are happening, or if the mood takes me, but as a demonstration that I can stick to a schedule, I hereby commit to posting at least every Sunday.  Cakes and parties (oddly) come along in little clusters and so, on their own, will not promote regularity of posting.  If I have nothing else to bring to show and tell (like today), I’ll post about the week’s meals (oh, the thrills, I hear you gasp 😉 )

Oven 'Fried' Brie (Mon 2nd)Monday: Something extra yummy to take the sting out of the start of the working week – crispy coated oven baked brie wedges, oozing their unctuous goodness onto crisp cos lettuce leaves,  scooped up with crusty bread, with a dollop of deliciously sticky rich onion marmalade on the side.Carrot & Coriander Soup (Tues 3rd)Tuesday: Working late and having dinner there.  A homely, satisfying bowl of freshly made carrot and coriander soup for lunch before leaving.

Pizza collageWednesday: Mid-week pizza night to try out some new frozen pizza doughs I discovered – one flavoured with chilli, the other with rosemary.  I made a base sauce using passata, garlic and herbs, then with a selection of toppings we each came up with our own perfect creations. Making them was companionable and fun, and the dough turned out to be really good – the whole thing was a BIG success!

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