Celeriac Soup with Smoked Bacon

Boredom is one texture in a soup.

Admit it, cream of tomato, carrot alone, spicy lentil soup; none of these inspire after the first bowlful. I suspected celeriac would be the same, so that’s why the smoked bacon. They do go with each other. I think. Chorizo was rejected, although that goes well in a slightly spiced butternut squash and sweet potato soup.

celeriac and smoked bacon soup

Chop up half a celeriac in the food processor. Make gravel. Don’t even think about dicing it by hand. This mother is hard.

Dice 4 small onions and slice 2 smoked garlic cloves into hot oil in a stockpot and saute until translucent. Or until the sharpness of the smell begins to burn a nice hole through your sinuses.

Add the celeriac, and stir a few times, ensuring it doesn’t stick to the pan.

2 chicken stock cubes and about 1 litre of water into the pan, lid on, cook on a low heat for ages. When the celeriac gravel feels soft and mushy, blend with a stick blender until it’s as smooth as potato puree. Taste for salt.

Cut up three-four rashers of smoky bacon into very small pieces, fry with a slug of oil on a high heat until crispy and tip the lot into the soup (bacon fat and pieces).

Reheat. Eat*.

*with a ciabatta bread bun which had been briefly wetted and then crisped in the oven. The illusion of freshness.

Good Cafe Tip: Truly Scrumptious, Kendal

Amid the melee of half a day’s work, a visit to my mum and dad, the handing over of the first goose eggs to a more experienced, better equipped hatcher, and helping to feed seven pet lambs, I managed an hour’s lunch with a lovely lady at a very nice cafe near where we used to work together.

Truly Scrumptious is an attractive cafe in Stramongate, Kendal (Cumbria, the centre of my world). It’s got a slightly Continental-but-in-London look about it (though as we’ve established, it’s 271 miles north of London), pretty things adorning the walls, mixed up pink, cream and yellowy tones, blackboards along the longest wall. There’s even the odd bit of gingham in the shape of a bunting flag or two. That’s right: it’s a cafe with bunting. Indoors. Very nicely done.

Truly Scrumptious Truly Scrumptious, KendalIt’s also got the number of tables right. They’ve shoehorned about ten or eleven square tables into the space, each with at least a capacity for two people. What this creates is that noisy, busy atmospheric that Italian restaurants are so good at producing (it isn’t Italian, though there is pasta on the offer). It can be a bit awkward getting round people to sit down, but elbow room is plentiful once you are seated.

Their food is lovely but I found it surprising that they hadn’t changed their menus. I don’t think there was even a Special which was a new idea. Since I started going to them in April 2012, their blackboards have always boasted cheese tortellioni, lasagne, cottage pie, chicken liver pate, something with goats cheese, something with either smoked or poached salmon and cream cheese, and soup of the day. Now, doesn’t that all smell lovely? It is.

Soup of the day is regularly changed. Perhaps that’s partly why my friend always chooses it. Also she knows I don’t do soup when I’m out and her lunch will not be stolen from her. I prefer to eat out on food I can’t or don’t cook.

The main menu is thematic: goats cheese and onion marmalade, smoked or poached salmon with cream cheese, chicken and mango, greek feta and olive. All these are paired with staples of a modern cafe; baked potato and a good sized side salad, or large salad, or theme sandwich with a large salad, and presented beautifully.

The whole format obviously works very well for them. At lunchtime most people just want to get on back to work, or talk to each other. (Not me – food comes first – but I know plenty. Some of them are my best friends.) Knowing the menu and trusting the quality helps this.

I think the pleasance of the product offsets any sameness. Everything is nicely designed and arranged. It’s not always practical  – my side salad needed dumping on my plate before the whole thing landed in my friend’s lap – but it’s so pretty; you can forgive a lot for beauty.

So, enough ramble preamble. Introducing …. Lasagne and salad:Lasagne and salad yum

And Onion Soup with a scone:Onion soup and scone

Top two images C/O Google



Stop Twining, Panicking and Carrying On … At least Horsemeat is Still Meat.

I’m so mad – nay(!) infuriated, I’m not sure I’m going to get this out in a coherent way. So apologies if it is just a garbled mass of opinion. Except I’m not sorry.

The British Public are a bunch of nincompoops. Or, as my three year old self told the mean next door neighbour – a BIG FAT POOPOO.

What is wrong with everyone? To all those people who thought that it was okay to eat ready made meals made from what passes as mince and other indescribable insults to food for the sake of convenience: yah boo sux. You flaming well deserve to eat something you didn’t expect. Don’t be so bloody lazy, and naive.

Oh, woe is you, you’ve been eating horsemeat, who knows how long. Well, what a surprise. You thought you knew what you were eating, because it said it on the label. *sigh*. I didn’t go to the best school, or the best university; didn’t get the best grades or the best degree, but somehow I magically know that just because something comes with a label, doesn’t mean that the label is true. Is it really lying if it just misses out information?

In fact (and this one deserves its own space):

If you can’t identify it as something specific (i.e. beef) and you don’t really know what the specific thing (beef) should taste like, then you probably shouldn’t eat it.

So much for everyone cooking from scratch. If they did, not only would none of this happen, but also that much lauded thing in times of impure food uncertainty – the British Farmer (and butcher, baker and candlestick maker if needs be, especially bearing in mind the price of electricity here now) would be surviving rather better than they are at present.

Anyone still eating ready meals now don’t like food. They aren’t interested in food in itself. That I understand. They simply require something to fill their stomach pit with fuel. Surely they don’t now care about what they are eating? Now that someone has told them it isn’t what they thought? How hypocritical.

Buy British. Make it from scratch. Get your hands dirty and learn how to survive, instead of giving it to manufacturers of false products who aren’t interested in your survival.



Heavenly Ham

The dinner party went well. There was succulent ham cooked in cider, creamed sweetcorn and garlic baked carrots, potatoes roasted in goose fat and leek sauce. Followed by my first attempt at my mum’s famous trifle. There were third helpings of everything!

Ham Cooked in Cider is a Nigella recipe which I didn’t read too closely; I liked the idea of it, got the gist, and adapted (bastardised) it to my needs.

Cover a 3.5lb gammon joint in water and bring to the boil; throw out the water and cover it in 2L cheap dry cider. Add water if it doesn’t submerse it and bring it back up to the boil. Turn down the heat to achieve a fast simmer and add a few bayleaves, a peeled onion pressed with cloves and a few stalks of celery. The cloves influence the whole dish with a warm appley note; the onion, herbs and celery are classic stock ingredients (in both senses of the phrase).
It needs at least 30 minutes per lb of flesh, so this joint got something round 2 hours, though I didn’t check the time when I started cooking it…

Alas, no photo. By the time I remembered, we’d eaten most of it.


Honest Blogging

I guess you already know that recently I had another blog. A whole three posts of a blog. One of those was some really great pictures of the geese growing up. I keep thinking about putting those on this one, but the problem with that (to me) is that a blog post is true only in the moment. Putting them on the other and then taking them retrospectively onto this seems dishonest, as though it isn’t in the spirit of blogging.

The point of that blog was to relate to the book, in theme if not content, but somehow that seemed a little dishonest too. Sure, the book is going to be published (in May), and its theme is loosely self-healing, but my own experiences that have required healing are light and fluffy in comparison to what so many others have known. To write about me in that context seems to trivalise the real tragedies that need healing power. People who really know should be (probably are) writing those up in a blog. My book is a work of fiction.

I want to be honest and open and fair. Autotherapy is a thriller with shades of vampire. It isn’t self-help, about healing or lessons learned; it’s about death and loss and recovery (or not) and it’s pretty blunt for some characters. I know a little of those things – enough to write home about anyway but mine is recovery in a most mundane way. Real life is filled with food and work and love and the point of this blog isn’t to pronounce on how to heal. It does document ongoing healing and learning processed mainly through the creation of food in an economic, wasteless, hedonistic way. Feed the soul and you stand a chance of improving this life. It may be a very loose connection, but I wrote the book and I write the blog and damnit, I’m going to stick with it.

Tonight: chicken liver pate, in all its bloody glory.

Chicken Sausages… Good idea or off beak?

The leading trend for many farmers in the UK is to become involved in the creation of their own products as well as just the raw materials. This no doubt has financial and business sense behind it as I’m sure many of them would rather just farm. Selling their own meat boxes, vegetable boxes, dealing with online customers and email isn’t always compatible with walking out amongst sheep. Many like to think of themselves as businessmen above all else, and some of them certainly are.

A certain local poultry farmer, David Knipe seems to have a bit of the touch. Chicken and turkey burgers are a ‘been there, done that’ type of thing, but how often do you eat free range chicken sausages?

PreparationChicken Sausage “Cassoulet”

This is what I imagine a ‘cassoulet’ to be like. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had one on purpose.

Chop into large bitesize pieces whatever helpless, aging vegetables you have hanging around. I found peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic and celery hanging around, so in they went (garlic with the skins still on).

Give them a spin in a bowl with a sprinkling of salt, pepper, and a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and place on the bottom of a baking dish. Snuggle the sausages into the vegetables and put into the oven on 180 deg C for about 25-35 minutes.

Remove from oven and eat… with mash, or bulghar wheat or as in my case, cheesy soft polenta. The tomatoes make the dish moist and the meat juices trickle into the medley below.

And the sausages? They were surprisingly like pork sausages. I would guess they were flavoured with a pork sausage mix. There was an overcurrent of sage but it wasn’t too strong and they were extremely meaty. If you have been used to the pap which is more breadcrumb fillers and eyeballs than meat, these sausages would blow your socks off. They were a great deal more substantial than anything I have had for some time.

Soul Formula

Victoria Sponge formula is a recipe for life, living, and soul, never mind cake. Think: 4-4-4-2 or 6-6-6-3 or 8-8-8-4.  Think: Everything in Moderation. A balance of everything catalysed by a small amount of potent extra to create a concoction of dreamy delight.

In the case of Victoria sponge which is arguably the easiest cake formula to remember, the 4s are butter, sugar (creamed together), and flour. The 2 is eggs. The eggs bind the mulch together and cause the chemical process (with a little help from heat) to fulfill itself.

It’s simple: if you mix these quantities in the given order, using the given methods (creaming, beating and folding), and then add heat (at 180 deg C), you WILL get cake.

How light it is, how buoyant and delectable is down to practise and error.

To complete the analogy: take equal quantities of love and good times (cream together). Beat in a half quantity of ambition or desire and fold into the mix a measure of hard work (equal to love or good times).

Too laboured? The recipe isn’t.

Peach Cake
4oz caster sugar
4oz butter
Cream the above together until pale and fluffy.
Beat in 2 eggs one at a time, so that the mixture is smooth, not curdled (although it doesn’t really matter if it is).
Sieve 4oz self-raising flour into the mix and fold in with a metal spoon, turning it over and over until the powder is incorporated. DO NOT BEAT. Resist the urge. You want air, not biscuit.

Add a couple of heaped tsps mixed spice and a handful of sultanas.

Pour into a lined single cake tin about 8-10″ in diameter.
Stone two peaches/nectarines, slice into eighths and arrange artistically around the top. Put a few dabs of butter on the top (not much).

Bake in the middle of a preheated oven at 180 deg C.

To be eaten with lightly whipped chantilly cream (because this is my favourite, but I’m sure plain yoghurt, single cream or nothing at all would be adequate).