Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lettuce & Pea Soup

Pea & Lettuce Soup 2

Spring has well and truly sprung in my part of the world and, after the dreariness of winter, the arrival of new growth and the abundance of all things green is definitely a welcome sight.  Tender lettuce leaves and the first of the season's asparagus send me rushing to the kitchen with new enthusiasm, ready to create dishes with the lightness and lushness that befits the season.

Like most other parts of the world, however, spring here in New Zealand can be a pretty changeable affair - weatherwise anyway.  Warm, sunny days one minute - cooler, drizzly days the next.  It was such a day today - cool and gloomy.  Just perfect for a nice bowl of soup for lunch, but a soup on the lighter side, a soup that positively screams spring.

This week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, we're ladling it up, making Nigel Slater soups, stews, curries and other bowlfuls of goodness.  Nigel's "Soup of lettuce and peas" from Tender, vol. I, made the perfect lunch for today.  I reduced the original recipe a bit, since I had no need to feed six people.  This amount was just right to give me two good sized bowls today, and enough left over to take to work for my lunch tomorrow.  In other changes, I swapped in some leek instead of shallot, used parsley instead of mint, and finished things off with a swirl of coconut cream since I have some left over from last night's Shrimp & Curried Coconut Risotto (one of my favourite old recipes that I come back to time and time again).  In hindsight, I think a little grated lemon zest and a spritz of fresh lemon juice would work well here too.

This recipe is ridiculously quick and easy to make, deliciously fresh, and light enough that you could actually serve this as part of a multi-course meal.  I seldom have soup other than as a meal in it's own right, but this one could definitely fit into a bigger meal without filling you up too much.  It's pretty and elegant, and I wouldn't hesitate to serve this to company.  I hope you'll give it a try.

Pea & Lettuce Soup 1

Pea & Lettuce Soup Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Nigel Slater
from Tender, Vol. I
Serves 2
Click here for the free recipe card

1/2 an iceberg lettuce (or other lettuce of your choice)
generous knob of butter
1/2 a small leek, thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups frozen peas
2 cups vegetable stock
large handful of flat-leaf parsley
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
coconut cream to finish

Separate lettuce leaves, wash thoroughly, and set aside.

Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan.  Add leek to the pan and saute until they have begun to soften, but not brown.

Roughly chop or tear the lettuce and add to the pan, stirring occasionally.  As soon as the lettuce begins to wilt, add the peas, stock and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 7-10 minutes, until the peas are cooked through and the lettuce is thoroughly wilted.

Remove from heat, and blitz until smooth either in a blender or using a stick blender.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Serve immediately, and finish with a drizzle of coconut cream.

If you would like to get to know Nigel Slater a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links ...

... or check out Tender, Vol. 1 and Nigel's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.

I'll also be sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the delightful Michelle at Ms. enPlace, at Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays hosted by my lovely friend Deb at Kahakai Kitchen, at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, and at Foodie Fridays hosted by Designs by Gollum.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Round The World 5-Stop Culinary Tour

La Boqueria 2

It's no secret that my favourite topic of conversation is food, and when I talk about this dish or that I have been creating, people often ask for the recipe.  So, when I first started blogging a bit over five years ago, it was really just a way to make that recipe sharing easy.   It was also a way to give voice to some of my thoughts about food, travel, yoga, and occasionally life in general.

Back then I never imagined anyone, other than immediate family and acquaintances, actually reading my posts.  I never dreamed that this "little hobby" would connect me with people, not only from all over my own country, but also from all corners of the globe, some of whom have touched my life in remarkable ways, and several of whom have become genuine friends.

So when the lovely Tina from Squirrel Head Manor invited me to participate in the Cross Country Culinary Tour, I was keen for the opportunity not just to tell you a bit more about myself, but also about Tina and a few of the other blogs I like to visit.

As I just mentioned, Tina hosts the blog Squirrel Head Manor, which I first discovered through the I Heart Cooking Clubs group.  Of course, like most of us, Tina loves to cook and share her delicious recipes.  Like me, she also likes a good wine with the food she creates, and often shares posts about her latest wine finds - from time to time she comes up with a New Zealand wine which always makes me smile.  Tina loves to travel, has a passion for genealogy, is a proud army mum, and also "mum" to a couple of shiba inus dogs.  Tina has a great sense of humour, and living in Florida, where I'm convinced they have perpetual sunshine (she assures me they have a winter, but I'm not buying it), you can often find her and her husband enjoying a grill and dinner on the patio.  There are many months of the year when I am insanely envious of that.

Check out this Bourbon & Brown Sugar Tenderloin, served of course with a Bordeaux Chateau Blouin.

Now I'm supposed to answer a few questions so you can get to know me better.

What am I working on currently on the blog?
Since starting my blog, I have found that there are several of my recipes that I go back to time and time again.  Having my laptop open on the kitchen bench so that I can look at the recipe is not always that convenient, so I recently had a go at creating recipe cards for the last couple of posts I published.  I was so pleased with the results, that I'm planning on revisiting a lot of my older posts and making recipe cards for lots of my favourite recipes.  I may even put together a few selections of cards for Xmas gifts for friends.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I'm not sure that there really is anything particularly unique about my blog.  I like food, I write about food, I try to take pretty pictures of food - doesn't everybody?!  My principal point of view though would be trying to encourage you, as much as possible, to develop a genuine "awareness" of what you're eating and to make food from scratch.  It's actually not as daunting as it might seem - it just requires a little bit of planning.
Why do I write what I do?
Several years ago I read a book called "The Ethics of What We Eat".  At the same time, through my regular yoga practice, I was developing greater consciousness in many areas of my life.  It might sound cliched, but that was a life changing read.  It brought into question for me many ethical issues around the food that I eat.  Questions of eating local versus imported food, supporting farmers and growers in third world countries versus supporting local producers, the environmental impact of growing and producing everything we eat, eating animal products - or not, and many, many more issues.  I could write volumes on this subject, but I'll spare you.  In short, the main conclusion I came to, was that unless I had the time to spend hours and hours researching every single ingredient I purchase, it's impossible to make an ethically sound judgement about everything I consume, and I shouldn't beat myself up trying.  I can, however, take the time to consume as little processed food as possible, and I can take the time before blithely throwing ingredients into my supermarket trundler to consider where it has come from, who might have produced it, what animal may have given up its life for it.  That "consciousness" of what I consume is what I'm passionate about, and is what I hope readers of my blog will pick up on over time.

How does my writing process work?
I'd love to try and sound like a real writer and tell you all about "my process", but in all honesty there isn't one.  Sometimes I write things in my head while I'm standing in the shower - in fact, I come up with some of my best lines in the shower.  But it's usually forgotten by the time I come to write a post. 

Now that's enough about me.  I'm supposed to now introduce you to three blogs I enjoy and visit regularly, and then it would be their turn.  I didn't have any luck in finding any fellow bloggers who wanted to participate, but I thought I would nevertheless take you on a quick "world tour" of some of the bloggers I visit regularly and who also host some of the events I regularly like to participate in.

So first of all we're heading north across the Pacific to Hawaii, where my friend Deb at Kahakai Kitchen, is not only one of my co-hosts at I Heart Cooking Clubs, but also hosts a weekly event called Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays.  As if that wasn't enough, Deb is also one of the co-hosts of Cook the Books, and Food 'n' Flix.  On top of all that she manages to dish up plenty of beautiful, mostly healthy food, along with book reviews and the occasional restaurant review.  I have only one question for Deb - how do you do it?!!

From Hawaii, we're headed to Malaysia, where I'd like to introduce you to Joyce at Kitchen Flavours.  Joyce is another blogger I got to know through I Heart Cooking Clubs, and I love the way no matter what the theme or who we are cooking with, Joyce always manages to come up with her own "spiced up" version of things.  I read Joyce's posts and the tantalising smell of spices and curry leaves swirls through my mind.  Joyce hosts Cook Your Books, a monthly event to get you cooking out of that collection of cook books you have;  The Home Bakers, currently dedicated to baking every recipe from "Coffee Cakes" by Lou Seibert Pappas;  and co-hosts Bake Along.

Now, we're flying off to the south of France to meet the lovely Karen at Lavender and Lovage.  I first "met" Karen just a few months ago through the Secret Recipe Club in which we both participate.  It didn't taken long to discover that we had a great deal in common - a culinary history hugely influenced by our grandmothers, and a shared philosophy of cooking mostly from scratch, growing what you can, and cooking with seasonal, locally grown produce.  I have a fantasy of one day turning up in the south of France, cycling up to Karen's back door, and sitting at her kitchen table to enjoy a natter over a cuppa and cake.  Of course there would be cake, but why my fantasy involves a bicycle I have no idea, since I never ride a bike in my normal life - still that's what fantasies are for I guess.  Karen also hosts Cooking with Herbs and Tea Time Treats.

You still with me?  Next stop on our tour is Berkshire in England, where I want you to meet April at The 21st Century Housewife.  April grew up in Canada before moving to England in her early twenties.  April's blog grew out of a series of essays she wrote to help herself and other stay at home mums overcome the negativity that can often arise around being a full time homemaker.  April and her busy corporate husband travel and entertain extensively, and you'll find April's blog chock full of travel, entertaining, style and fashion tips.  April also co-hosts the Hearth and Soul blog event - a weekly event around family and comfort food posts, sustainable living posts, gardening, family, kids, crafts and DIY.

From England, we're headed across the Atlantic to visit the delightful Michelle at Ms. enPlace in the state of Louisiana.  Michelle writes passionately about Cajun and Creole food, as well as Louisiana music and Mardi Gras.  She is equally passionate about the coastal erosion that is changing the landscape of her home state.  And whilst there is sometimes a serious note to her posts, she more often than not truly makes me laugh out loud.  It has been said that a "really good friend is one who makes you snort when you laugh, and will still hang out with you when you do it in public".  I always imagine Michelle to be exactly that kind of friend.  Michelle hosts the weekly See Ya In the Gumbo blog event, a tribute to her great grandfather who always used to say see ya in the gumbo instead of goodbye.

There are a few others I could add to this mix, but I figure five is enough - you should all be pretty jet lagged by now.  I hope you've enjoyed this tour with me, and come back tomorrow to see what's been cooking in my kitchen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Warm Lentil, Leek & Lemon Salad with Prawns & Roasted Tomatoes

Warm Lentil & Leek Salad 2

One of the things I love about cooking is the creative process, finding inspiration in unexpected ways.

This week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, we're cooking with Nigel Slater, making dishes with lentils, legumes and pulses.  In Nigel's book Tender Vol. I, I came across his recipe for "Lentil soup with lemon, pancetta and mint".  Nigel describes it as being ... "One of those soups that doubles as a main course, earthy, filling and beefy.  The soup relies on the onion to add depth and body."

Sounded good enough, but enjoying warmer spring days and evenings now I was in the mood for something a little fresher than a hearty, wintery soup.  Which got me to thinking that I could put a lot of those same ingredients together in an entirely different way - some lightly sauteed leeks instead of onions, lentils, spinach and lemons - surely these same ingredients could make an interesting salad.  Replacing the pancetta in the soup with some lemony prawns would turn this salad into a substantial meal, and the rich fruitiness of some quick pan roasted tomatoes were the perfect foil to the earthy lentils and sweet prawns.

This turned out to be one of those dishes which, in its entirety, was so much greater than the sum of its parts, and was not just every bit as good as I expected it to be, but in actual fact exceeded all my expectations.  Thanks for the inspiration, Nigel.

Warm Leek, Lentil & Lemon Salad 3

Warm Lentil, Leek & Lemon Salad with Prawns & Roasted Tomatoes Recipe
Serves 2 as a main meal
Download the free recipe card here

2x lemons
extra virgin olive oil
1x cup Puy lentils
1x small leek, halved lengthwise & thinly sliced
red wine vinegar
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper
large handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2x generous handfuls of baby spinach leaves
200g prawns, peeled & deveined
12x cherry tomatoes

Using a peeler, remove a couple of strips of peel from one of the lemons, taking care to avoid any of the white pith.  Place in a small bowl, and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Set aside to infuse.  Grate the remaining zest from the same lemon and set aside, then juice the lemon and reserve.

Remove the peel and all the pith from the second lemon.  Place a sieve over a small bowl.  Hold the peeled lemon over the bowl and, using a sharp knife, cut down between the membrane and fruit on each side of the segment to separate it from the membrane.  Let the fruit segments fall into the sieve.  Squeeze the membrane over the bowl, extracting as much juice from it as you can.  Set aside.

Place lentils in a medium sized saucepan, cover with cold water.  Bring to the boil and cook until tender, but not mushy - about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain well, and place lentils in a medium sized bowl.  Immediately add a generous splash of red wine vinegar, and a couple of good glugs of olive oil.  Season generously with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a small saute pan set over medium heat.  Add the thinly slice leeks to the pan, and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks have softened, but not browned.  Add lemon juice to the pan and stir until juice is reduced and slightly syrupy.  Remove from heat and add to the bowl of lentils, along with the lemon segments and any of their reserved juice, and flat leaf parsley.  Mix well to combine all the ingredients and set aside for all the flavours to develop.

Set a small saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add a dash of olive oil and the cherry tomatoes to the hot pan.  As soon as they sizzle and the skins start to split, add a splash or two of red wine vinegar, along with generous seasoning of flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Toss around in the pan for a moment or two, until the pan juices are syrupy.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Wipe out the pan.

Remove lemon peels from the olive oil that has been infusing, and put the lemon oil into the same pan.  Set over medium heat, and once warm, add the prawns to the pan.  Season generously, and saute until cooked through - 2 to 3 minutes on each side, depending on size.  Remove from heat, add to the lentils, and toss gently.

To serve, arrange baby spinach leaves over a serving platter.  Spoon lentil salad over the top, and finish with the roasted cherry tomatoes.

If you would like to get to know Nigel Slater a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links ...

I'll also be sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the delightful Michelle at Ms. enPlace, at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, and at Foodie Fridays hosted by Designs by Gollum.

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