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



Easy slaw

It’s taken me a long time to be a fan of coleslaw. Scarred by childhood memories of gloopy overly vinegary stuff from tubs and at the other extreme overly wholesome versions with yoghurt and stale nuts, I’ve always approached the dish with caution. But my husband is a big fan and so I thought ‘how hard can it be’ to make a good version…so I tried.

At first I refused to add any extra vinegar, the recipes got a modest thumbs up but the comments ‘too thick’. Then in summer last year there was a twitter conversation about making slaw with chums @josordoni, @roystonandhayes, @lahoguefarm and @cjmsheng each having their views on essential and optional ingredients. Chris from La Hogue was kind enough to tweet us the version he uses in the cafe (all typos his not mine on this one !):

“Ok our *Coleslaw*-carrot,cabbage,onion,good plain mayonaisse >>then dressing of local honey,lemonjuice,womersley vinegar,wholegrain mustard & olive oil -only use a small amount of dressing ;0)”

So since then I’ve been using that a a basic structure but playing with the mix depending on what’s to hand, what its to be served and what flavours I fancy. I’m an inveterate recipe fiddler. The mix immediately got the thumbs up and each batch seems to have been more winning than the last.

The picture above was made as follows (makes enough for 6):

1/2 head spring cabbage, shredded

1/2 head celeriac, sliced finely

1 red onion sliced finely

125g of Stokes mayonnaise (my current favourite mayo)

1 tbsp coriander seeds lightly crushed

1 tbsp Womersley blackberry vinegar

Mix all the vegetables together, add the mayo and coriander and stir in, leave to stand for 30 mins. Pour over the vinegar and stir through.

We served it with venison burgers the first evening and with smoked salmon and Peters Yard crispbread for a light lunch.


cabbage: don’t just stick to the white or red varieties all different sorts will work as will kale or green, you just get a different texture

root veg: carrot is traditional but beetroot is lovely as is parsnip

spices/seasoning: mustard is traditional but I like cumin, chilli, coriander, fennel, onion seeds, poppy seeds depending on what I’m serving it with. Experiment.



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).

Festive menu, part 2 (cheese terrine)

The first of the recipes from my festive menu is the cheese terrine we had as a starter with Peters Yard crispbreads and a selection of smoked and cured salmon from Forman’s.

The terrine is adapted from a recipe in Delia Smith’s Christmas (the old version I’ve no idea if its in the recently published version). I particularly wanted to use a range of Lancashire cheeses but you could use any mix of cheeses you have and it would be a good way to use up what’s left of a cheese board. It makes a good starter or a light lunch dish (which is what I’ve been doing with the leftovers).

Cheese terrine

You need:

  • 275g of cottage cheese or other mild young soft cheese, I used Lancashire curd from Butlers but I think Brock Hall Farm soft goat cheese would also be brilliant.
  • 75ml mild good mayonnaise or greek yoghurt
  • sachet of gelatine powder or two leaves of sheet gelatine
  • 50g each of three hard cheeses, one of which should be a blue cheese, I used  Blacksticks Blue, Creamy and Tasty Lancashire combined (25g of each) and Goosnargh Goats all from Butlers Cheeses
  • tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs of your choice, I used flat leaf parsley
  • water and lemon juice to dissolve the gelatine
  • 150ml double cream
  • salt and pepper
  • a loaf or terrine tin 18 x 9 x 5 cm lightly oiled

Dissolve the gelatine as per the packet instructions. Blend the cottage/curd cheese with the mayonnaise/yoghurt until smooth. Cube the hard cheeses into 1/2 cm pieces. Whip the cream to the floppy stage.

Add the dissolved gelatine to  the soft cheese mixture and stir thoroughly. Add the hard cheeses, herbs, salt and pepper and mix. Then add the cream and stir through. Pour or spoon into the terrine mould. Cover with cling film and leave to set for 3 hours or more in the fridge. Turn out onto a plate and serve in slices or allow people to help themselves.

Enough for 8 as a starter.

A British seaside summer…

“Ahhhhh…” came the voice from beyond the fence, “it isn’t a proper British summer without crab sandwiches, it really isn’t….I do declare that crab sandwiches are the epitome of the British seaside”. We sniggered quietly, picturing the lady next door lying on her sun lounger eating crab sandwiches and extolling their virtues loudly to no one in particular.

And although amusing she had a point, proper sandwiches made with good brown bread, some lemony mayonnaise and fresh fresh crab really are rather lovely, and very British. Of course there is nothing to beat the British coastline in August for variety and fun and food. From wide open huge sky sandy beaches, pebbly beaches, vertiginous cliffs, coves, rock pools, salt marshes to faded Victorian promenades, piers, arcades, fish and chips, greasy spoon cafes, beach chalets, fresh fish, and cockles; there is something for everyone whether its a day trip or a proper holiday. Best of all though, lots of the smaller seaside towns seem to have wonderful food on offer, you don’t have to go to Padstow these days, all along the coast you can find great food.

Regardless of whether you are at the seaside you can bring something of the salty freshness of British seaside air to you table with two of the best coastal produce that are in season right now…yes those brown crabs and samphire. As ever the fresher the better, if you are happy to cook crab yourself then buy live and follow the RSPCA advice on humanely dealing with the crab before cooking in salted water for 12 mins for the first 500g and 5 mins for every extra 500g. Pick out the meat and use in a simple salad or sandwich, with good brown bread of course, I use this recipe from my blog but with 50-70% wholemeal flour, the rest white flour and all water for the liquid (though part milk will work well too).

There are lots of fancy recipes for crab but I find because the meat is very rich simpler is better and preferably with something to counterpoint the richness. Things that work well are green vegetables such as broad beans or peas and curiously eggs and perhaps a little chilli. And of course samphire, the saltiness cutting through the richness perfectly.

Samphire has been having quite a renaissance in British cooking and is now rather sought after. It can be hard to find as it usually sells out quickly but persevere and you will be rewarded with something that can be eaten simply steamed and dressed with butter a bit like asparagus, on salads, or as a side vegetable particularly with fish or lamb. You can try foraging for some if you are near an estuary (flat wide muddy ones are best, but be certain you know what you are collecting, don’t pull up the roots, don’t over collect and be sure you have permission to collect it). It keeps reasonably well with the ends wrapped in damp newspaper. When you are ready to eat it trim off the thicker ends, depending on how you are going to use it you may want only the top few inches of the tips as the thicker parts have an inner stem. Its easy to suck the juicy flesh off the stem when you are eating it as a side dish but in a tart or omelette or other dishes its better to have only the tender tips. I usually steam it for around 5 minutes (don’t add any salt), any longer and its less flavoursome. If you happen upon an abundance then you can freeze it (blanch for 2 minutes first) or pickle it, though in my kitchen it doesn’t last long enough for either of those two things to happen.

But what of combining crab and samphire into a perfect seaside influenced dish. Two wonderful possibilities spring to mind: a tart and a pasta dish. I found this tart recipe blogged recently by Ailbhe of Simply Splendiferous so rather than create my own version take a look at hers. And for those of you who fancy a pasta dish try this:

Crab and samphire pasta (4 people)

75g dried linguine or spaghetti per person

1 medium brown crab

75-100g samphire (if you can’t get samphire then spinach or green beans would work well)

1 fresh chilli chopped finely or a pinch of chilli flakes


  1. Cook the crab and pick out the meat, or buy a ready picked crab from somewhere you know its super fresh
  2. Trim the samphire and use only the tender tips (top 5-8cm), steam for 5 minutes until cooked
  3. Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions and drain
  4. Toss the pasta, crab meat, samphire and chilli together
  5. Serve
  6. Sigh gently at the very British summery-ness of the dish as you eat

This article was first posted in Francoise Murat’s newsletter.

Asparagus Rolls

I love asparagus. Really love it. I could eat it everyday for the duration of its short season and not get bored. In fact I would probably have it nearly the same way each time, nice and simple with good butter or oil. I might steam it, roast it or chargrill but I’d still dress it simply. I might have it with some cured ham or hard tangy cheese. But in the main I’d let the asparagus do all the talking.

And once the season was over that would be it. No more asparagus for a whole year. Because even more so than other vegetables asparagus loses much of its taste if its transported any distance. Not for me asparagus flown in from Thailand or Peru or Chile, it just doesn’t taste good enough to justify its price or its carbon footprint. The perfect situation for me would be to grow some in the garden but we don’t really have the space to create raised beds and London clay doesn’t make asparagus happy. I might dare to try it in a large tub and see how I get on; even a few home grown spears would be a wonderful thing to have. Until then though I’ll buy at local farm shops and PYO to get the best flavour. And I’ll eat and eat it until the season is done.

The short season usually starts in late April (traditionally St George’s Day) and lasts through to mid June though of course this is dependent on the weather during winter and early spring. Anywhere with sandy soil is good for asparagus growing and each well-known area from Formby in the North West to East Anglia and the Vale of Evesham stake their claims for being the best. Of course the best asparagus is what you can find that has been picked very recently and arrived in your kitchen quickly and landed on your plate ready to eat with minimal fuss.

Asparagus has always been prized and ‘The Neat House Gardens’ relates how the early market gardens surrounding London vied to produce asparagus as early as Candlemas by use of hot-bedding techniques and the liberal application of horse manure sent out from the city with the forced vegetables being sent back for consumption by the rich. Up to at least Mrs Beeton’s time asparagus continued to be forced and available from January. But at some point forced asparagus seems to have disappeared so either it didn’t taste much good or the cost became prohibitive, by the time Jane Grigson is writing about it in the 1970s there is no mention of it.

Times have changed in terms of cooking as well. Modern books suggest it takes about 8-12 minutes to steam whereas in the 1800s Acton, Beeton et al were saying 20-25 minutes of boiling and Grigson says it can take anywhere between 20-40 minutes. Goodness knows how big the spears needing 40 minutes were! Maybe the varieties grown have changed and we certainly seem to prefer our vegetable with lots more crunch than in the past but still 40 minutes seems extreme unless the aim was to make puree. Also common was to serve asparagus on toast to soak up some of the water from the boiling, steaming of course gets rid of this problem. And naturally the Victorians’ had special asparagus tongs for serving, mind you I think they had special cutlery for serving just about everything you can think of.

Recipe wise asparagus is often paired with eggs: hollandaise, dipped in boiled eggs, in omelettes, with fried egg in tapas, in tarts and quiches. Salty cheeses and cured meats also make great partners. Then there is the classic soup (which I have to confess I’ve never tried). Oh and of course with salmon or crab or chicken or….well almost endless possibilities. Googling ‘asparagus recipes’ gives 3.3 million hits so there is no shortage of ideas out there. One site I do recommend though is Fiona Beckett’s which will help you pick the right wine to enjoy with your treasured asparagus; focus on how you are serving it to help you make a good choice.

Because you can easily find so many ways to serve asparagus I thought I’d offer you something a little different. Flipping through various books I found a recipe from Hannah Glasse in 1747. Here it is (complete with archaic spelling and quirks):

Asparagus forced in French Role

Take three French Roles, take out all the Crumb, by first cutting a Piece of the Top-crust off; but be careful that the Crust fits again the same Place. Fry the Roles brown in fresh Butter, then take a Pint of Cream, the Yolk of six Eggs beat fine, a little Salt and Nutmeg, stir them well together over a slow Fire, till it begins to be thick. Have ready a hundred of small Grass boiled, then save Tops enough to stick the Roles with; the rest cut small and put into the Cream, fill the loaves with them. Before you fry the Roles, make Holes thick in the Top-crust to stick the Grass in; then lay on the Piece of Crust, and stick the Grass in, that it may look as if it was growing. It makes a pretty Side-dish at a second Course.

Inspired by this I did:

Asapargus and Egg Rolls:

Serves 1 for lunch

1 crusty French roll or half a small baguette

8 spears of asparagus

1 large or two small eggs

Mayonnaise (fresh or your favourite shop bought)

Cut the top off the roll, remove some of the crumb or else you will face the dangers of squirting egg mayonnaise everywhere. Hard boil the egg(s) and make into a light egg mayonnaise with as little mayonnaise as will just bind the eggs. Part steam or blanch the asparagus and then finish on a chargrill. Slather the egg mayonnaise on both sides of the bread. Put the asparagus on the bottom part of the roll. Put the top of the roll back on. Serve with salad. Watch out for escaping egg mayonnaise.

This article was first published in Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in May 2010.

Easy Lunch: Asparagus

I’ve said on here before how much I love asparagus and I’m very certain I will be saying it again before the season is over. Earlier in the week I went really simple with steamed asparagus and slithers of Ticklemore cheese popped under the grill until the cheese was just melting. The salty goats cheese was great with the asparagus. I didn’t take pictures though because I was so busy eating it.

Today I went for Parma ham, steamed asparagus and fried guinea fowl eggs.

Oh yum.

I don’t think you need instructions to be able to copy this, of course feel free to substitute the egg of your choice.

This week I am mostly eating asparagus from Norfolk.