Creamy vegetable soup and plum crumble

Creamy vegetable soup

I had to take a break from Taste & Create over the summer, because I knew I just wouldn’t have time for it. Now I’m back, paired with Carol of No Reason Needed. Carol likes lemons, so is obviously a kindred spirit. But in the end, I decided to skip over the many lemon-based recipes and go for a simple, homely soup, in order to use some of the veg from our organic box. As the weather is getting a bit cooler, it made a nice supper with some good bread, followed by plum crumble and custard.

I made a few slight tweaks to Carol’s recipe. It makes a lot of soup — enough for at least 6-8 servings — so there’s plenty left to freeze for later in the winter. Thickening soup with rice is a first for me — it worked well, but actually I like the taste and texture of potato in soup so much that I think I’d go back to potato next time. I only used half the specified amount of rice, because I’d nearly run out of rice, but the soup was still quite thick. And I added some spices.
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Nectarine and cardamom pie

I’m squeezing in under the wire for Taste & Create this month, which is a pity because Piccante Dolce has many delicious-looking recipes I want to try, and that’s what T&C is all about. Jen had cooked a peach and cardamom pie recently, and that fitted well with the nectarines I had, so I decided to go with that.

The pastry is quite unusual, with a very high fat content, but it came out light and crispy, and is easy to work with as long as you keep it cold. I made it with all butter since I don’t keep shortening around, and reduced the fat content since I couldn’t countenance almost equal weights of fat and flour!

I confess I didn’t bother to peel the nectarines, but their skin is a bit less obtrusive than peach skin. The cardamom flavour is a great idea and works well with the nectarines, although I found it a bit overpowering — I’d reduce to half a teaspoon next time. Overall this is an excellent, easy dessert.

Unfortunately there’s no photo — I left the camera at work! Below is my metric version of the recipe
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Kadai Murgh — chicken curry

chicken curry

“Must-stop-baking-cakes,” I muttered to myself as I browsed the blog of this month’s partner for Taste & Create, Happy Cook of My Kitchen Treasures. I seem to have baked a lot of cakes recently, many of them from my T&C partners or other bloggers, and the effects on my waistline are noticeable.

It wasn’t easy though; there were quite a few sweet dishes I fancied trying, such as Apricot-Marzipan Bundles, or coffee-craisin-mascarpone loaf. Or moelleux au chocolat. Or raspberry financiers. Well, you get the picture. HC likes making panna cotta too, and I love panna cotta.

But still, I tore myself away and decided that since HC obviously knows what she’s talking about when it comes to Indian food, I would make Kadai Murgh. Excellent choice — we both really liked it, and scraped our plates clean. I served it with a Basmati rice pilau and some yoghurt — sadly no Geeta’s mango chutney, because our local Carrefour doesn’t stock it any more — most upsetting.

This dish is dead easy to make; you can do it in little more time than it takes to cook the rice. Mine doesn’t look quite like HC’s, because I couldn’t get any tandoori powder, so I had to make do with a spoonful of paprika and some ras-el-hanout. When I tasted it at the end of the cooking time, it was a bit too spicy for me, so I just added an extra spoonful of crème fraîche to tone it down. Definitely a keeper, so thanks HC!

Visit My Kitchen Treasures for the real recipe. Here I give my own way of making pilau rice; I’ve been doing it this way for years and it always produces rice that is not soggy or stuck together. Of course you can vary seasonings to suit yourself.

For two not very greedy people, take a glass or cup of about 220 ml capacity and fill it about 3/4 full with Basmati rice. Finely chop a small onion or a shallot or two, and crush a clove of garlic. Heat some vegetable oil in a pan with a tight-fitting lid. Soften the onion and garlic in it for a few minutes, then add the rice and stir to coat it with oil. Fill the glass to the top with cold water, pour into the pan, and stir once just to loosen anything that might have stuck. If you like your rice a bit more cooked than I do, you can add a little more water — a tablespoon or two. Season to taste: I use salt, pepper, two or three crushed cardamom pods, and a bay leaf. Sometimes I add crushed coriander seeds or cumin too. Put on the lid, turn down the heat to very low, and leave to cook completely undisturbed for 15 minutes. Do not take off the lid or stir!

At the end of this time you can take a peek; all the water should have been absorbed, and you can test the rice by eating a bit. If it’s done, turn off the heat and stir it up a bit in case it’s stuck to the bottom of the pan. It will keep warm with the lid on for another 10 minutes or so.

Gingery Lime Punch

ginger and lime punch

This month’s Taste & Create partner was Rachel of Tangerine’s Kitchen. Not a blog I’m familiar with, so I enjoyed browsing through the wide range of recipes (although the design could use a bit of work, the large un-optimised photos brought my slow connection grinding to a halt!).

As usual there were a few that tempted me: cheesy calzones and spiced apple tart to name but two. In the end though, yet again I went for something quick and simple.

A couple of weeks ago (during a visit to a free-range pig farm as it happens) we were served some delicious non-alcoholic aperitifs before lunch. One of them was made with fresh ginger, and it was excellent. So my eyes lit up when I saw Rachel’s gingery lime punch. This had to be worth a try. And it was.

After making the syrup I refrigerated it and then served it topped up with chilled sparkling water. Lovely, so refreshing; I did add a bit more ginger after tasting it, as it wasn’t quite zingy enough initially. It will make a great non-alcoholic and driver-friendly alternative to the lethally thirst-quenching Marquise that we serve at summer parties.
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Zesty Braised Chicken with Lemon and Capers

chicken with capers and lemon

This month’s partner for Taste & Create was Min of Bad Girl’s Kitchen. She has a large and eclectic collection of recipes, so I had a tough time choosing. I was very tempted by the “French toast souffle“, which sounded like a fancy name for bread and butter pudding (why haven’t I posted my recipe for that yet?), and I nearly chose the poulet au porto, which I remember making once many years ago. But time constraints got the better of me, and in the end I did something quick, simple and tasty, using a couple of gigantic chicken legs and ingredients I always have in the house (I was shocked that anyone would run out of lemons as Min did). I made the sauce with a fruity organic Chardonnay from Gérard Bertrand, which we drank with the meal too. I had to use dried thyme, but fresh would certainly have been better. Or you could use rosemary as well/instead.

I humbly apologise for the hastily snapped picture and suggest you go and look at Min’s instead. Actually even in her pictures the sauce isn’t very photogenic, given its greyish colour, but it’s delicious. This was a nice way to ring the changes and make something that tasted special while not requiring much hands-on time. We had it with bread to mop up the sauce, but a potato gratin would be nice with it too.

Chicken frarej

chicken frarej

Oops. I chose this chicken dsh from my Taste & Create partner this month, High on the Hog. Unfortunately when I looked at the recipe more closely, I realised she had specified chicken breasts with skin and ribs, and all I had were a couple of thin, anaemic chicken supremes. Not only that, but with it being February my tomatoes were not the best (normally I boycott fresh tomatoes between October and May, but I made an exception for this).

I’d been attracted to the recipe because it included lots of lemon, and I was shocked by Temperance saying she wasn’t a fan of lemon and meat. How can anyone not be a fan of lemons with practically anything, I wondered? So I persisted.

As you can see from the photo, skinless chicken is not a good choice for this dish 🙂 It was good anyway, but would have been better with crispy skin and juicier chicken. It’s very similar to the Catalan way I do fish, so you could certainly substitute firm white fish of your choice (or swordfish or tuna) for the chicken.

I think next time I would slice the potatoes rather than dicing them, so they’d cook more evenly — maybe my cubes were too big, but I had to cook them for longer than specified. I gave the chicken less time, because the pieces really were so thin, and I didn’t want them to dry out.

Roasted red pepper soup

roasted red pepper soup

Taste & Create beckons once more! This time I am paired with Sweatha of TastyCurryLeaf. I hastened directly to her blog hoping to find something I could cook for dinner that evening and was immediately rewarded.

Her blog is very interesting; it’s clear that her background is Indian (so lots of yummy-looking Indian recipes) but she lives in the US so the Indian food is interspersed with an eclectic mix of American, Italian, and other cuisines — she seems very adventurous in her cooking. In addition, although she doesn’t specifically mention it, she’s clearly vegetarian, so that made it attractive too. Even on a quick glance I could see there were plenty of good candidates. But for that evening I kept it simple: roasted red bell pepper soup, using easily available ingredients. I love the flavour of roasted red peppers so it looked worth a try.

I don’t make soup as often as I should, given how good home-made soup is, and this was a reminder of how quickly you can whip up something good. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly; Sweatha says to thicken it with cornstarch, but I felt this was unnecessary and would affect the fresh flavour, so I left it out. I also didn’t use coriander leaves, because a) I don’t like them, they taste of soap to me and b) they are nearly impossible to find here anyway. I used ground coriander seeds instead. For added spice I used my infamous Scotch Bonnet-infused chilli sherry. This lives in the larder, well away from the drinks cabinet and with a large warning notice affixed to it. A teaspoon is enough to add pizazz to anything. And finally I used crème fraîche instead of ordinary cream, because it tastes nice!

This is not the only recipe I’ll try from her blog, since this T&C runs for two months — I might even try some of her simple Indian dishes. I love good Indian food, and when I was a student in London I often cooked Indian meals — it was easy to get the ingredients there, and it lends itself to cheap but excellent vegetarian feasts. Now I never cook it, because I think you need to do it regularly to get it right, and it is more difficult to find the ingredients you need here. So I just have to wait for visits to the UK to pig out in Indian restaurants!
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Honey and pear upside-down cake

honey pear cake

I’ve been hoping for several months that I would be paired with Bellini Valli of More Than Burnt Toast for Taste & Create, and it finally happened! I was delighted, and looked forward to spending some time browsing her site. Unfortunately work and other stuff got in the way; and by last week I had a list of “only” a dozen or so recipes I wanted to try, and no time to try them.

Finally yesterday I had some free time,so I looked for something quick to do (in passing, I discovered that oddly enough Val — or at least her friend Lillian — was the originator of the crater banana bread I cooked for the last round of T&C). I hovered over the apple pancake, the apricot and ginger scones, the lamb sliders and half a dozen others … but finally, the pear upside-down cake looked irresistible for a chilly autumn day.

I used some of our local herb-flavoured garrigue honey, and Louise Bonne pears. Fresh thyme is hard to come by at this time of year, even here, so I sprinkled on some dried. Apart from that and my usual conversions, I followed the recipe exactly. It got the thumbs up from both of us, served still warm with a dollop of crème fraîche. OK, maybe it doesn’t quite reach the gingery, caramelised heights of my Best Dessert Ever, Springfield Pear Cake — the combination of pears and ginger can’t be beat in my opinion — but it is pretty darned close. The caramelised honey gave it a delicious spicy flavour, and the sponge was feather-light. I will definitely be making this again … and again … and again.

Thanks Val for an enjoyable browse and a delicious dessert — I’ve tucked several other recipes away for later!
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Crater banana bread

crater banana bread

Domestic crises chez Nicky meant a hiatus for Taste & Create last month, and I’m pleased it’s back this month, thanks to Min, while Nicky takes a much-needed break.

My partner was a new one to me: Allison of Fridgg. First impression when I landed on her blog: “Wow, those photos are amazing!” Second impression: “Spam musubi?? Help! I don’t like spam and I don’t like sushi!” It’s all very well going out of your comfort zone, but this was a step too far 🙂

But undaunted, I continued searching, and my persistence was rewarded. Back in August, Allison had made a yummy-looking crater banana bread, and glancing at the fruit bowl I saw a ripe banana just waiting to be used. I’ve actually never made banana bread, so this was a first for me. I still felt at liberty to change it though. I’m not a fan of chocolate chips, in fact I don’t really go for chocolatey desserts unless they are made of large quantities of the best bitter chocolate. Or they are the milk chocolate soufflé at Lapérouse in Paris — I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I ate that. Bananas say “rum” to me, so I substituted some rum-soaked jumbo sultanas for the chocolate chips.

It smelled fabulous while it was cooking, and I could barely wait for it to cool down before I tried some. I had wondered why it was called “crater” banana bread, but the crackled top did look like solidifying lava when I took it out of the oven. As for the end result, well, now I know what to do with over-ripe bananas. The inside was quite moist and the sultana layer had sunk to the bottom, making a gorgeously gooey, caramelised mess, but the edges and top were crunchy and caramelised, making a lovely contrast with the crumb. It’s so rich, more like cake than bread, that it’s probably most appropriate as a dessert, slightly warm, with ice cream or yoghurt. “I don’t like banana bread,” said Steve, and then had second helpings.

My metric version follows: this time I did stick to the quantity of sugar specified, even though it looked a lot, and double-checked all my conversions. Mine is also for a smaller cake than Allison’s.

As for the photos, well, it just wasn’t a good day, but don’t let them put you off!
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Sugar and Spice Rolls

Cinnamon rolls with apricot glaze

It took me two goes to get these right. The first time the dough was far too stiff, and the yeast didn’t act properly, so they didn’t rise well and were tough and dry. But they smelled so lovely when they were baking, and tasted nice too, so I decided to try again. Success — they rose beautifully and the crumb was soft and light.

The recipe is from my Taste & Create partner’s blog: Fun Foods on a Budget! I liked the title of this blog because one of my favourite standby books when I was an impoverished student was Good Food on a Budget, a fat — and soon food-stained — paperback organised by month in order to make the most of seasonal and hence cheap ingredients.

Like that book, Stephanie’s blog showcases simple, family-friendy recipes which are cheap, filling and generally easy to make. There were quite a few recipes I liked the look of: I hovered over the lemon sugar cookies, the pull-apart loaf, and the parmesan potatoes, but in the end I plumped for these cinnamon rolls because they sounded so good despite Stephanie’s problem with them not rising. It was worth persevering! Once you get the quantities right, they are easy to make.

Update: I stored the left-overs in the freezer, and later used them to make a nice cinnamon-flavoured bread and butter pudding; slice in half or thirds crossways, then cut diagonally in half to make triangles. Then proceed as usual.

My metric conversions follow. The second time, I pre-soaked the yeast in a little warm water to make sure it was actually working, and added only just enough flour to stop the dough being sticky.

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