Beetroot soup

I love beetroots, especially roasted or in soup. In fact roast beetroot soup is just brilliant, super tasty and very easy to make. I just had some for lunch so I thought I’d share my recipe.

What you need (makes enough for 6 as a light lunch):

1kg of uncooked beetroots

2 large floury potatoes

2 medium onions (chopped)

1 litre of stock (I used the simmering liquid from a gammon a cooked the day before)

rapeseed or sunflower oil

What you do:

1. Wear rubber gloves or you’ll end up with beetroot stained hands!

2. Top, tail and peel the beetroots and cut into quarters (make sure they are roughly even sized so cut larger beets into eighths).

3. Put beetroot pieces in a bowl, pour over about two tablespoons of oil and toss the beets to get them evenly coated.

4. Roast the beets for about an hour in the oven at R6/200C, turning once or twice. Its nice id the corners catch a bit but not too much. They are ready when you can slide a knife in easily.

5. Gently cooked the onions in a tablespoon of oil for about 10 minutes so they are golden and soft.

6. Meanwhile boil the peeled potatoes until soft but not falling apart.

7. Add the cooked beets and potatoes to the onions, pour on the stock. Taste for seasoning. My stock was well seasoned so it didn’t need any more at this stage.

8. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Leave to cool slightly.

9. Blend to a relatively smooth soup using your preferred method/gadget. Pour back in the pan and warm through.

To Serve:

Good things to sere with this are:

– crusty bread and butter or tangy goats cheese

– dollop of creme fraiche/greek yoghurt/cream to swirl in



Seville oranges: spicy, savoury style marmalade

Last year when everyone was making marmalade with seville oranges I bought a couple of bags from the supermarket thinking I’d join in the fun.

Then I remembered that the last batch I made had lasted about 10 years as I don’t really eat marmalade that often.

So I wondered if there were any more savoury recipes…I’m a fan of chutney and pickles and started thinking along those lines. I couldn’t find any specific recipes and several people I asked were unsure if it would work.

After a bit of juggling ideas I decided to give it a go and try to make a sort of spicy seville and onion marmalade hybrid.

With no recipes to guide me I struck out and just made it up as I went along. Naturally I also failed to write down what I did.

Possibly more inevitably, almost 12 months later, when I opened the first jar to test it just before Christmas it was amazing. Mellow spices, sweet and orangey but with enough sharp tang and bite.

So here I am staring at the pictures I took hoping I can work out what I did.

I think its fairly simple.

It roughly goes like this:


Seville oranges


Chilli peppers

Dried smokey chillis

Coriander seeds

Fresh ginger


Juice the sevilles and set aside the juice. Slice the peel into strips.

Slice the onions. Cook the onions slowly in butter over a low heat to soften them.

Add the sliced peel, juice, spices and a some cider vinegar.

Simmer until soft and thickening and reduced by about half.

Put in sterilised jars and seal straightaway while warm.

Leave for ages to allow it to mellow.

Eat, with cold cuts or with poppadums…or just however you would normally have spiced chutney.

Chocolate dipped crispbread

One of the great things about working, in my day job, with people who make lovely food is that I get to taste it and also get to be a part of thinking about new products and new recipes.

What could be better?

So when the team at Peters Yard were getting together for our 2013 planning day I thought I’d try an idea I’d been toying with for some time.

Chocolate dipped crispbread. Yes really.

Now Peters Yard are no ordinary crispbread. They are made to an artisan Swedish recipe with sourdough starter and simple ingredients. The taste amazing. Watching people be wowed when they first taste them is great. They are the non plus ultra of crispbread, indeed of crackers in general.

So I decided to keep it all very simple and not compromise on ingredients. I melted some top quality chocolate (I used Willie’s Cacao Chefs Drops) in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Once molten and glossy I dipped mini crispbread in the chocolate and laid them out on baking parchment to set. I also drizzled some with the last of the chocolate to make squiggly patterns.

The team loved them with coffee. The fruitiness of the chocolate complimented the slight sourdough tang of the crispbread. The smooth texture contrasted well with the crispiness. All in all a success. The team suggested that additions of a little sea salt or finely ground coffee beans sprinkled over when the chocolate was setting would also be good. So I’ve done a second batch and I’m about to try them now.

I think they would make great end to a meal as ‘petit fours’ or as a gift to someone. They will last about two weeks or so in carefully sealed box or tin. Because they took about 10 minutes to make and only about an hour completely to set I also think they make a wow plate of indulgence at anytime.

For really good instructions on melting chocolate take a look at this article in the Guardian. I would say that because the crispbreads have a little coating of flour you are never going to get a super glossy result so go with the bowl over water or microwave option. If using a microwave be very careful and do short bursts and keep checking, if you overheat then the chocolate will go granular, it will taste fine but be harder to work with.

Disclosure: Peters Yard is a client of my business Bright Blue Skies. The crispbread had been provided for free. The chocolate drops I bought in Waitrose.


Beautiful brassicas

You might remember that I used to write a monthly blog for Francoise Murat Design about season British food. Well, Francoise has had the blog redesigned and its now called Rendez-vous Deco & Jardin, it looks lovely and I’m please to say I’m back doing my monthly feature.

My first piece was on how versatile brassicas are in the kitchen are and how useful they can be in in the lean vegetable months before the UK growing season gets into swing.

You can read the article here, its packed with ideas on how to use brassicas from spicy to mild, british to asian cooking, there is sure to be something to suit you.

Talking turkey

It’s pretty much the hottest day of the year and I’m about to eat a full Christmas dinner in deepest Berkshire. Just what is going on. Especially as I’m not turkey’s number one fan. It’s okay but to date its not had a guaranteed place on my christmas table….

When I was a kid we always had roast turkey for Christmas dinner and it was good, but it never seemed as nice as the excitement it generated amongst everyone else. For me it was never quite a tasty and juicy as roast chicken. Maybe the plethora of trimmings overshadowed it …. what with tons of chipolatas wrapped in bacon, my mum’s top notch roast potatoes and my gran’s secret chestnut stuffing I’m not sure the turkey had much of a part to play. At least not for me.

So once I got to be in charge of cooking christmas dinner I varied what was on offer. If we were having turkey cooked for us elsewhere close to Christmas. I’d cook something else. If we were hosting the main event I’d stick with turkey (and still secretly wish it could be chicken we were having), if there was just the two of us well then I had free rein beef, duck, goose,chicken, pork, ham all possibly except lamb eaten over the years.

So is this turkey different? Well for a start I know a lot about where its from and how its been reared. On the basis that an animal that has lead a happy life is supposed to taste better then this has all the hallmarks of being winning. It’s also been cooked by Brenda Copas and is about to be carved by her husband ‘Old Tom’. What the Copas family don’t know about rearing, cooking and carving turkey probably isn’t worth knowing. They’ve been rearing turkeys since 1957 and still use traditional methods and breeds. All the turkeys are grown to maturity and the different breeds provide the size variation rather than many producers some of whose turkeys are slaughtered younger to provide smaller birds. Copas say that for traditional breeds its the way the turkeys are reared rather than the breed that creates the flavour.

We’ve visited the farm and met the turkeys (curiously inquisitive animals whose odd looks belie a docile nature). We’ve heard about what makes the turkeys special:

– grown to full maturity

– only raised during the traditional breading season and not year long

– raised outdoors in orchards, grass fields with maize banks for foraging

– access to shelter at all times and spend overnight in big roomy barns

– slaughtered with the highest possible welfare standards and low stress environment

– dry plucked by hand

– game hung for 10-14 days

– hand prepared and packed

Tom carves, plates are handed round and after a toast we tuck in. Its good, very good. Lots of flavour, moist, tender. The breast meat is excellent with a good balance of delicateness and proper flavour to satisfy everyone the legs are gamier and much more remisent of other birds. Some of each is a good contrast. Several people have seconds (this is getting rather like real Christmas) some of us are pretty full so save a little space for dessert.

So will I be switching to turkey every Christmas??

Wisely sheltering from the sun

That’s a really difficult one, now I know what excellent turkey tastes like and how to cook it…well its definitely much higher up my list but I’m a contrary thing and I’d probably still vary from year to year depending on who I’m cooking for. One things for sure I’d be seeking out a Copas turkey and if I was too slow and missed out (after all they do only rear about 50000 turkeys each year) then I’d be looking for something that was reared in a similar way from a farmer with high standards.

Copas Turkeys have a Great Taste Awards Two Gold Stars (2010) and having been a judge for the 2011 awards I know how high the standard is to achieve that .

Order your Copas turkey online or through one of the butchers who stock them. Be quick they sell out fast.

I was a guest of the Copas family and  Story PR.


Last weekend I was casting around for what to do with some lamb breast and neck I had defrosted and the weather seemed to good for hearty stews. I asked the hive mind that is twitter and carried on flipping though cook books for inspiration. At roughly the same time as I was eyeing up a porchetta recipes Chris from La Hogue Farm shop suggested a herby stuffing and wrapping the breast round the neck.

And so I set out to make lamb-chetta.

I didn’t want too dense a stuffing so I decided to simply use lots of fresh herbs.

Rosemary, fresh bay leaves and lemon thyme from the garden

I laid out the meat and added some ground black pepper and the herbs

Lamb breast with herbs ready to roll with neck fillet

I rolled it up and tied with string

Rolled and tied lamb with extra herbs tucked under string

I’m not expecting any awards for my butchers joint tie-ing skills…

It went into the oven for 4 hours on gas mark 3 (150-160C). I’d loosely covered the tray with foil and part way through cooking I added a few splashes of white wine as well.


Fours hours in low oven temp....

We carved it into quite thick slices and I’d say there was enough for four people

lamb-chetta slices

We had it simply with some potatoes and cauliflower

It was totally delicious soft super sweet meat from the slow cooking and layers of fat the two cuts contain, the herbs gave is a fresh edge.

We had some left which last night we used in a barley and lamb risotto, again delicious. i also tried a few bits cold and think it would make a great sandwich or simple salad with a slice on top of some lentils.

And as these two cuts are very cheap it was nice and frugal too.

Soups and Stocks

Although spring definitely feels like it might be on the way some days are still pretty cold and so a warming soup is just what’s needed, here’s some thoughts on soup I wrote for Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in January. I think I might just have soup for lunch tomorrow.

January is a funny month. For some people it feels slow and difficult, winter is most definitely with us, its cold and its dark, summer seems such a long way off whichever way you look at it. For others it’s a chance to think afresh of a new year with new challenges, making resolutions and feeling energised by the possibilities. But what has this got to do with soup? Well the versatility of soup and the range of recipes out there mean it can work for whichever way you see January. It can be warming and comforting or bright, lively and refreshing. Hearty or light, you can make it whichever way suits you best.

Roasted root vegetable soup with cheese

To make really good soup though you need some good stock. Water will work in many recipes but I’ve rarely made a soup that isn’t enhanced by using stock rather than water, there is an extra layer of flavour and complexity. People will compliment you on the simplest of soups if you’ve used stock. Making stock doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be as simple as simmering a few vegetables in water with or without a few herbs right up to making a consommé, essentially a beautiful clarified reduced stock. I usually make stocks with the carcass left over from a roast chicken or the bone from a rib of beef, or keep the liquid from cooking boiled ham and use that as a stock, I like doing this because each stock carries some of the flavours of the original meal and it makes best use of the meat you’ve bought. You can also get bones or chicken wings specifically and make a stock with those. Most recipe books will explain how to make a range of stocks but ‘A Celebration of Soup’ by Lindsey Bareham is particularly thorough, if you can track down a copy, with recipes for just about every type of stock you can imagine. Stock is perfect for freezing and then always to hand. If you don’t have a freezer then some good quality stock or bouillon cubes will give you a better result than plain water.

So you have your stock. Where might you head next? These are the things I think about when building a soup:

Thick or thin: Do I want a broth with interesting chunky additions or do I want something thick and velvety smooth in texture. Clearly you can pick somewhere between these two but I like to decide which direction I’m heading on this one before anything else.

Herbs or spices: I usually either head for something based round European flavours and herbs or something mainly based round spices whether Indian, Mexican, Middle or Far Eastern. Then I narrow down a bit to a more specific cuisine British, French, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Chinese, Thai, Indian and so on.

Then I take a look in the fridge and the cupboards and see what fits with the ideas I’ve got. Of course a little bit of tweaking happens at this stage when I find a critical part of my genius soup is sadly unavailable, but usually it is easy to stay fairly close to the original idea. If there is left over roast meat that might feature, sometimes there are roasted root vegetables that can be included, or beans of various types, pearl barley or lentils, tinned tomatoes or passata, chorizo or pancetta or salami, fresh ginger or chilli, mushrooms, potatoes (roast potatoes are lovely in soup), peas and so on …… but not all in the same soup. I rarely follow a recipe specifically but I do always take a look in a few books to help my ideas and also make sure I’m not making some horror of clashing ingredients. Sticking to a few key ingredients and combinations that you know work from your other cooking really helps and of course, so does making a soup to a particular recipe every now and then to expand your repertoire.

Here are guidelines to 3 quick soups I make quite often (all recipes for 2).

Beany Pork Soup

  • 500ml stock (preferably ham but chicken or vegetable also work)
  • 1 tins of beans (e.g. chickpea, haricots, butter, red kidney) including the liquid in the tin if its got no added salt
  • Pancetta, salami, chorizo, bacon, left over boiled ham or roast pork, whichever you have
  • Onion (chopped)
  • Oil (rapeseed or olive)
  • Herbs or spice to complement

Sauté the onion in some oil and when translucent add the meat that you are using and toss with the onions, allow to cook through if the meat is raw. Add the stock and the beans. Add your chosen spices and seasoning and simmer gently until it is properly heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve with bread. I sometimes add finely shredded cabbage, greens or spinach to this soup or if there are cold cooked potatoes a couple of those to make it thicker and heartier (mush them in with a fork) or leftover cooked pearl barley.

Roast Root Vegetable Soup

  • 500ml of stock
  • 500ml of roast vegetables (i.e. put them in jug to see how much you have), any mix you like. I particularly like it when there is beetroot as it makes the soup an amazing colour
  • Onion (chopped)
  • Oil (the same as you used to roast the vegetables)
  • Herbs or spices of your choice
  • Cheese to sprinkle on top

Sauté the onion in some oil and when translucent add the stock and the root vegetables. Add your chosen spices and seasoning and simmer gently until it is properly heated through, about 20 minutes. Either whizz in a blender, food processor or using a stick blender or mash with a potato masher. The texture can be anything from velvety smooth to quite chunky but it should all be well combined, this isn’t a broth with bits soup more a liquidy puree. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top and bread.

Spicy Soup

  • 500ml of stock
  • fresh ginger and chilli finely sliced
  • other spices of your choice
  • chicken or beef or prawns or vegetables, cut in small pieces (except prawns)
  • spring onions or garlic finely chopped
  • rapeseed oil

Have the stock already heated in a separate pan. Sauté the spring onions or garlic in the oil until softened. Add the ginger and chilli and sauté for a few minutes. Add any further spices and sauté briefly. Add the meat, vegetables or prawns and cook on a high heat like you would a stir-fry. Add the hot stock and bring to the boil. Serve immediately and add Asian seasoning such as soy sauce or nam pla if you wish. You can add noodles to the stock (cooking to the packet instructions).