Chargrilled tomato bisque

Q. Why is this a bisque and not a soup?

A. Because the definitions are a little unclear and I liked the sound of ‘bisque’ better.

Tomato bisque with crumbled fetaHonestly, I did look into this but, as with most things on t’internet, opinions vary.  Whilst it is accepted that traditionally bisque is made from shell fish, some schools of thought now feel the term can be applied to any smooth, thick, creamy soup (the smoothness being what differentiates it from a chowder).

By some definitions the thickening agent determines whether something is a cream soup or a bisque.

To confuse things even further, some otherwise detailed definitions do not include a category for smooth soups made with puréed vegetables and cream.

In the end, I walked away from the internet with a shrug, and declared it to be a bisque 😉

This recipe was created to go on Big Sis’s birthday banquet menu.  Despite seeming a bit faffy it’s actually pretty quick and very easy.  Packed with flavour, this is definitely one of those dishes that is more than the sum of its parts.

To serve four

A splosh of olive oil
A couple of (good sized) handfuls soffritto
2 garlic cloves, minced
Approx. 500g fresh, ripe tomatoes – get good quality, flavoursome ones, not those watery, insipid ‘salad tomato’ numbers.
A big bowl full of iced water
400g tin chopped tomatoes
Approx. 200ml vegetable stock
2-3 good sized sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
150ml (ish) single cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Feta cheese, to garnish

Ok, before we get started…if you don’t have a gas stove, or some other form of flame suitable to cook over, you can oven roast or grill the tomatoes at a very high temperature in order to get the blackened skins.  If you use this method, your tomatoes will inevitably end up more cooked and squashier to handle…much messier but it will still produce a tasty end result.

TomatoTake one superb fresh, locally grown, still-smelling-of-greenhouse, ripe, red tomato and stab it onto a fork.

Charred tomatoHold tomato over your flame (your cooking one, not your lover), twisting and turning it until you have a superb fresh, locally grown, burned-to-buggery, black and red tomato.

Keeping it on the fork, immediately plunge into the bowl of iced water.  Gently rub the skin, which should just fall away – if it’s clinging a bit too tightly to the tomato, put it back into the flame for a while longer.

Remove the skinned tomato from water and fork – set to one side.  Continue this process until all the tomatoes are done.

Skinned chopped tomatoesCut tomatoes in half, remove seeds (the majority is good enough – no need to get finicky).  Roughly chop the de-seeded tomatoes.

SoffrittoHeat the olive oil and cook soffritto over a low to medium heat until softened but not browned.

Add crushed garlic and cook for about another minute.

Skinned chopped tomatoes, garlic, veg stock potBring up the heat a little, add fresh chopped tomatoes, tinned tomatoes and stock.  Simmer for around 15-20 minutes, with the lid off, until liquid has reduced by around half.

ThymeTip everything into a food processor and add fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper – blitz until smooth.

Single creamReturn to pan, add single cream and warm through, stirring continuously – don’t let it boil!

Tomato bisque with crumbled fetaAdjust seasoning, sprinkle with crumbled feta and serve with buttery garlic bread.

Don’t forget to wipe your mouth when you’ve finished 😉

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.

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 – 02/03/15

I’m sure you know the story of King Alfred the Great – the guy who allegedly let the cakes burn because he was preoccupied with thoughts about his beleaguered kingdom?  Well, I bet you’ve never heard the story of Barn, the guy who let the pies burn because he was preoccupied with thoughts about his kingdom?

Alfred had fair justification for his absent minded approach to baked goods; the fellow’s very life was in danger and he was on the run – sleeping in ditches and begging for food – whilst also trying to save his lands from actual marauding Vikings.  There was every reason for culinary timing to be low on his list of priorities.  For Barn?  Not so much.

He was sitting comfortably, on a sofa in his living room, tasked with nothing more than listening out for the oven timer then informing me of said occurrence.  The only kingdom he had any concerns about was the virtual one in Kingdom of Camelot (oh yeh, I’ll name it and shame ya! 😘 ), and the only ‘life’ in danger was that of a pixelated soldier.  Apparently he didn’t hear or smell a thing as the oven alarm shrieked for its fully allowed time slot, and our dinner gave itself to the funeral pyre, clutching its last vestiges of flavour, mourning its uncelebrated heyday.

Naturally he was referred to as Burning Barn for the rest of the evening.  No opportunity, no matter how small or tenuous, was passed over when it came to teasing and tormenting him.  Petit Man is a great ‘bouncing’ partner for this particular form of verbal entertainment (Mum and Medieval are also superb co-jousters, but sadly they weren’t around for this one); we amused ourselves mightily, stumbling upon forcing references to Barn the Great Pie Torturer from every TV advert, programme and innocuous conversation :twisted:.

Chicken chorizo pot piesMonday: So…what we had Monday was potentially-awesome-but-kinda-burned chicken and chorizo pot pies, served with hideously burned roast cauliflower and some steamed veg.

The chicken was poached in cider, then the cider stock reduced and used with cream to make a sauce for the chicken, fried chorizo and leeks.  A happy little layer survived the torrid oven affair and was sufficiently good to put the recipe on the ‘definitely try it again’ list.

Fridge bottom soupTuesday: Fridge bottom soup.  Sounds vile doesn’t it?  I know I should call it ‘leek and courgette’, or ‘cream of veg’ or somesuch, but it was what it says…soup made with stuff that needed using up from the drawer at the bottom of the fridge.

Sautéed soffrito (finely diced onion, carrot and celery in the ratio 2:1:1 – an excellent starting point for many sauces, stews etc. – make huge batches with a food processor and keep portions in the freezer); chopped leeks and courgettes added & browned.  Two crushed garlic cloves, fresh thyme and parsley, dried oregano chucked in and swished around for a while.  Chicken stock added (enough to cover veg plus a bit more) and simmered for about 15 minutes.  Blitzed in the food processor, added soured cream, a little double cream, and chives.  Reheated, adjusted seasoning, added an extra swirl of cream and more fresh herbs to finish.  Served with warm g/f cheesy puffs made with extra mature cheddar and English mustard.  It tasted insanely good.

Chicken pear and stilton saladWednesday dinner: Warm salad of grilled chicken breast and sweet ripe pears, with creamy blue Stilton and crunchy caramelised walnuts; served with baked tomatoes on a bed of crisp, fresh watercress and baby spinach leaves, dressed with wholegrain mustard and balsamic vinaigrette.

Barn made the leftovers into a sandwich for his lunch at work the next day.  I believe he was hoping for a reaction something akin to one of these:

What he got was this:

K: What’ve you got there?

Barn: Olive ciabatta, with watercress, pears and…

K: Pears?!

Barn: Yeh, and blue cheese…

K: Mouldy cheese?!

Barn:  …and chicken.

Pause, while each chews their chosen lunch and K contemplates Barn’s sandwich

K, dubiously: Well, I suppose the chicken would be ok.

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The food week that was – 16/02/15

It’s been another busy week in the day job arena for the entire Renegade household so most meals were made based on existing stocks and following the line of least resistance.  We also took a fair degree of inspiration from other bloggers this week – thank you for helping keep tummies full, taste buds tantalised and faces smiling.
Veg chilliMonday: Chilli-non-carne made using left overs from Medieval’s birthday meal: the remnants of both sweetcorn and tomato salsas, jalapeños, fire roasted chillies, chilli ketchup and a whole heap of diced onion and peppers went in, along with tinned tomatoes, kidney, black-eyed and haricot beans, mushrooms and a little vegetable stock.  Left doing its thang in the slow cooker all day, it came out with the flavours beautifully melded and with the perfect degree of ‘kick’.

Dressed with plenty of grated Monteray Jack, a good dollop of soured cream and freshly chopped chives this chilli was a very welcomed (if short stayed) visitor to our table.

Pork in cider sauce collageTuesday: What do you make for dinner when you have some fabulous pork steaks and a rather nice bottle of cider?  Obviously, you make pork in cider sauce.

Nice and easy – pork, sliced apple (no need to peel), onions, vegetable stock, cider and seasoning, braised in the oven.  While that’s happening – prepare and steam veg (in this case new season potatoes, carrots and purple sprouting broccoli).  Remove pork and keep warm – add a large teaspoon of wholegrain mustard to the cooked cider mix then blitz in the blender/food processor.  Transfer to small pan, add double cream until you think it’s enough (sorry…it’s how I cook!!), warm gently, adjust seasoning, pour over pork and serve.

I nearly always forget to do it, but the finished dish is more visually appealing if you keep some of the onion and apple pieces in chunks, adding them back into the sauce after blitzing the rest.  Either way…this is a lick your plate clean kind of sauce!

Banana Bread and Butter Pudding collage

Wednesday: There was only me to consider for dinner as Barn was out gym-ing (sing it with me to the tune of Bob Marley – “We’re gym-ing, we’re gym-ing…”) and would therefore fend for himself later, and Petit Man was out for the night doing I-care-not-to-think-what with his girlfriend.

I chose to have a version of bread and butter pudding.  That’s it, that’s all I had.  Apart from the chocolate ice-cream on top.  It pleased the kid inside me who once declared, “When I’m a grown up I’m going to eat a whole pudding all to myself!”  It confirmed (as if it were needed) to my adult self that there is a good reason we don’t let kids eat a whole pudding all to themselves.

It all started because The Sweet and Savory Bite published this recipe for Amaretto Bread Pudding.  Now I’m not blaming the lovely Lizzy for what then ensued, nor am I saying her delicious and rather stylish pudding bears any relation to the gooey nursery food that I produced…I’m just sayin’ that her post was a catalyst… Until reading that post, I’d not thought about traditional English bread and butter pudding in years; once the memory had been awakened I could not get it to go back to sleep.

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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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