Friday, 12 April 2013

April Outline article: Tomato and basil soup

Below is my April column for Outline Magazine; on lurgy, tomato soup, and impure thoughts about Jon Snow (no, not the news presenter).

I’m generally all for a bit of cold weather. Summer is far too much like hard work – I spend most of it with a sweaty fringe and an overriding preoccupation with how to cover my upper arms. Winter is much more dignified. It has big coats and scarves; log fires, mulled wine, CHRISTMAS (remember Christmas?). As it approaches I can pretend that I’m living in an episode of Game of Thrones, and any minute now I’ll bump into the handsome, young Jon Snow. Jon and I will take his pet direwolf for a walk, feast on roast boar, and then he’ll lay a load of bear skins down in a snowy cave and hang his cloak up and we’ll...
But Jon never showed up, and now it’s April and I’m still sat here wearing three jumpers and a balaclava in my living room to keep warm. My 200 denier tights have lost their elastic through overuse, the cat hasn’t a clue what stage of malting it’s meant to be at, and with every turn of the gas meter I can hear the pounds dropping into British Gas’s pockets and a fat cat grin spreading across the CEO’s face. It’s fair to say the novelty of a bit of a chill in the air has well and truly worn off.
Right now we should be skipping through meadows with lambs and baby bunnies, gathering daffodils as we pass. We should be getting overexcited about hanging our washing outside, or leaving the house without a coat, or planting a load of flowers and vegetables which will inevitably all die at the first sign of a heat wave. Really at least one of your friends should have organised an optimistic BBQ by now.
But alas, no, apparently we all fell through the back of a wardrobe when we weren’t paying attention and are stuck in fucking Narnia.
The biggest bore of the prolonged winter is the never-ending bouts of lurgy going around. Every trip on public transport is a stealth mission in phlegm avoidance; evenings are spent downing hot toddies rather than flaming zambucas, and we all have the complexion of Bella Swan with a hangover. Almost every person I know is suffering from some sort of affliction right now, be it cough, sniffle or pox.
The only advantage of this lack of health is a culinary gold ticket to eat whatever the hell you like. Of course, you can take the approach of snorting lines of Berocca and injecting orange juice into your eyeballs, but I view this as closing the stable door after the horse has legged it, somewhat. Instead I choose to eat what makes me feel good. I dose up on comfort rather than vitamins. Ice cream for sore throats, macaroni cheese post-noro, seven bars of Green and Blacks for anything vaguely resembling a menstrual cramp.
Tomato soup, I believe, is the epitome of ill food, and this is my version. Don’t get me wrong, at times of poorliness I’m all for the stuff in the can, but on one particular bout of near-death I was forced to create my own. It was either that, or leave the house to go and buy a tin, and the prospect of washing my hair and replacing my pyjamas with a snow suit was just too much to comprehend...

Tomato and basil soup
Serves 4
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tins chopped tomatoes
1 ½  pints vegetable stock
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
Large handful of basil, stalks and all
Glug of oil
200ml single cream
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion in the oil until softened, then add the garlic and fry for another minute. Throw in the tomatoes, stock, sugar, vinegar and chilli and bubble away for about 30 mins or so. Add basil and cream and blend. Taste, and add more seasoning etc if needs be. Serve and top with a swirl of cream or a handful of cheddar.  Another excellent accompaniment is the bread recipe from last month’s column...

Monday, 1 April 2013

Feta, tomato and basil muffins

Happy Easter, y'all. In some gross failure of grocery shopping (and boyfriend selection) I'm sat here without any chocolate eggs. Its tough being me. Hope the bunny bothered to stop at your house.

To really torture myself I've decided to reminisce about a load of baked sugary goods which were in my possession just two weekends ago, all in the name of the Make and Do pop-up shop: a selection of artists, and a couple of bakers, come together to sell their wares.

This was my first foray into baking professionally for a good few years, and an excellent reminder as to why I don't do it anymore. I had forgotten just how OCD I get about washing my hands. I had forgotten how the cashier in Sainsburys looks at you when you buy 3kg of icing sugar and 10 packs of butter. I had forgotten how your brain feels after a whole day of eating nothing but raw cake mix, for 'testing' purposes. And I've forgotten where I've put my favourite icing nozzle (of course I found it straight after I needed it). That said, it was good to get back on the diabetic horse.

It was a fantastic day, with a wonderful bunch of people. Rose (of Mountain Bakery) and I sold a load of baked goods, and then went and spent all of the money we made on other people's stuff. That seemed to be how it worked for everyone involved, like some sort of arty food chain, but that's testament to how wonderful everything was.

On the day I made the obligatory cupcakes (cookies 'n' cream and vanilla), banana and white chocolate blondies, and savoury muffins. I also made some meringues, but the less said about how they turned out the better, the traitors.

Because you've all probably had far too much sugar already this weekend, I thought I'd give you the savoury muffin recipe. But if you need more of a fix, the cookies 'n' cream recipe (and a breakdown of my love/ hate relationship with the cupcake) is here and the blondies are here.

Feta, tomato and basil muffins

Makes about 8
100g feta, crumbled
Large handful of basil, torn to small pieces
150g cherry tomatoes, quartered and deseeded (sun dried would also work well)
250g self-raising flour
80g butter, melted and cooled
200ml whole milk
2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bicarbonate soda
2 eggs
1tsp salt
Black pepper to taste

Heat the oven to gas mark 6.  Mix together the dry ingredients in one bowl (flour, baking powder, bicarb, seasoning) and the wet in another (eggs, melted butter, milk) then gradually add the wet to the dry. Once fully combined, add the tomatoes, basil and feta and stir.

Line a muffin tin - with muffin cases, or squares of baking paper - and fill about two thirds of the way up.  Bake for approx 20 mins, until the tops are firm and golden.