Saturday, 19 February 2011

Recipe: Butternut Squash Soup

The last couple of weeks have been a bit crap, and therefore my meals have largely involved toast in various combinations- poached eggs on toast, beans on toast, cheese on toast, toast with honey... you get the idea.

I did decide, though, that in an attempt to rectify the nutritional imbalance of meals consisting mostly of carbohydrates with protein, I'd shove in a few of my five-a-day on the side.

Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a lunch.

1kg (roughly one large) butternut squash
2 medium red chillis, deseeded and finely chopped
1 large leek, chopped into rings
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 litre chicken (or veg) stock
50g butter or margerine
100ml single cream (optional, but strongly recommended)
1 level teaspoon smoked paprika
cayenne pepper to taste

Peel your squash, using a potato peeler or super-sharp knife. Take out the stringy middle bit, the seeds, as well as any green veins down the outside, and chop into chunks.
Meanwhile, fry your leek, garlic and chillis off in the butter until the leeks soften. Make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan - if they start to, then chuck in a tbsp of stock to loosen it up.
Add in the butternut squash, cover with the stock, and simmer for 20 minutes until softened and slightly mushy.
Allow to cool slightly, add the paprika, and blend until smooth. Add more liquid if necessary, and cayenne pepper to taste if necessary. Remember that if you're adding cream, it'll dilute the chilli heat slightly.
Place the soup back onto the heat, and bring up to a gentle simmer. Take off the heat, add the cream, and stir through.

Serve immediately in warmed bowls, spooning a pretentious drizzle of cream on top for aesthetic value. Ideal with toast.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Recipe(s): Ghee and Paneer

There are a couple of occasions in life which are irrationally scary. I’m not talking starting a new job scary, or buying a new car scary – they’re both highly sensible things to be wary of, because they both involve the fear of the unknown. I mean the times like wearing new shoes out for the first time. Using your annual bus pass for the first time.  Having a dinner party and introducing your new bloke to your best mate and her chap. You know the type of things. Luckily though, unlike the really genuinely terrifying occasions, the irrational ones can be got through with the crutches of wine and food.
Seeing as one of my guests was veggie, I decided to go for the easy option, and make for a curry. Mine tend to be largely vegetable and pulse based, mainly because they’re cheap and cheerful, and because the spices hide a multitude of pre-payday back-of-the-fridge sins. And, lets face it, when you’re trying to impress people – you can’t go wrong with a curry.

It's fair to say that I’m a sucker for punishment, and therefore decided that rather than take the easy option and buy my ingredients for my curry, I’d make them. If anyone else fancies being daft enough to make their own Paneer and Ghee the morning of a dinner party, this is how…

(4 pints of milk makes about 350g)

Ingredients and equipment:
Full fat cows milk
Lemon juice, about 50ml - or - 250ml natural yoghurt. 
Muslin or cheesecloth (mine was £1.75/metre from John Lewis. You could use a sterilised pillow case cut up though, if you need to)
A colander
Clean tea towels 

In a pan you don’t mind scrubbing (in case of burn!) slowly heat the milk, until it begins to simmer. 
When it begins to bubble, quickly add a teaspoon of lemon juice (or several tablespoons of yoghurt), and remove from the heat. 
The milk should begin to separate – slowly at first, looking slightly like cottage cheese on the surface. Stir gently with a wooden spoon, until the solids are completely separated, and floating in a pale watery liquid. 
Strain the liquid through a sieve lined with cheesecloth (muslin), and allow the liquid to drain out.

If you have time, hanging the cheesecloth from a tap will allow extra liquid to drain off.
Place the parcel on a clean hard surface such as a wooden chopping board, and weigh down to flatten and drain any final liquid out, for approximately 2 hours. A large, heavy pan filled with water - the one you cooked the milk in - is ideal for this. Quite a bit of extra liquid will come out over time, so it's worth popping a tea towel under the chopping board to absorb any extra milk.
Rinse, and store under water until needed for use.

Ingredients and equipment:
500g unsalted butter
heatproof storage container
(makes about 350g - a jam jar full)

Take two blocks of unsalted, preferably organic, butter and melt slowly over a low flame. I’d use a steel pan, or one that you don’t mind scrubbing. 
When the butter has melted, keep it on the flame, but don’t stir it. It should slowly start to bubble away – this is a good thing. Allow it to bubble. It’ll make a ‘whooshing’ noise, as it gets really hot – a sign that the water from the butter has started to split away from the milk and fat and is evaporating off. 

It will continue to do this for about 30-45 minutes (depending on the size of your pan). Skim off any white scum that develops on the top as necessary while it is bubbling away. When the noise has subsided, and the water has evaporated, you should be left with a pale golden liquid, the colour of golden syrup. If the liquid is darker, towards a brown or caramel liquid, it has burnt, so keep an eye on it.
Pour the liquid, still without stirring, through a strainer. I used a tea strainer lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth. 

Decant into a heat-proof, clean, dry container (an old jam jar is perfect), and allow to cool slowly. It will solidify when cooled. 
Ghee keeps fairly indefinitely and doesn’t need to be refrigerated – some schools of thought say it’s better if it isn't as it prevents condensation which is bacteria's best friend.
I'll admit, after a morning of being rather productive, I was a little lazy in the afternoon and followed other people's recipes for my curry selections - a rather marvellous saag paneer, a surprisingly easy pea and tomato curry with paneer (although I chucked in a tin of tomatoes instead of the fresh ones), and a slightly dull chana dal (I didn't have tamarind. Who does?!). 
Easy, cheap, and fun - give it a bash.