It is, I think, time for another venture into the realms of bottom of the fridge soup.
In the vegetable drawer in my fridge, I have carrots (an unopened pack of Sweet Spear from Sainsbury’s, which live up to their name, in addition to being very tasty and keeping very well is sealed in a plastic bag**); 3 leeks; a long, pointed, sweet red pepper; a couple of Echalion shallots; some onion; 3 or 4 King Edward spuds, slightly soft but still useable; and a bag of Rooster potatoes, unopened. There’s also 2 cans of corned beef, but for our purposes, they don’t matter.
**The reverse of received wisdom, but my fridge is cooled by circulating, frigid, air, which is very efficient at desiccating anything left unprotected. The upside is that anything wrapped keeps for weeks, often months (I’ve a 6-month old bag of apples, BBE May 2 – a mistake in my grocery delivery – which are still sound).
So, what to do with all, or most, of that?
Soup is the natural answer, I think, and a version of leek and potato is pretty much a given, but with a boost in the shape of extra alliums – the shallots and maybe a small onion; there might even be some garlic in there somewhere – along with the Edwards and maybe a Rooster or two.
I’ve got some nice, home-made porky lard to use as a base on which to build the soup, the pepper, cut up into very small slivers will act as more of a garnish, though it will add a little flavour, with an actual garnish of parsley from the freezer.
Leek and potato soup is traditionally served smooth, with cream, or sometimes whole milk. I prefer to simply mash the spuds, so the soup retains some texture, and omit the dairy products, though a few crumbly, paper-thin, slices of Lancashire cheese floated on the top when serving is good.
What I will do, however, once I’ve sweated off the alliums in the lard, is add a little stock and blitz them with a stick blender. This – and I discovered it quite by accident – considerably amplifies their flavour.
Last week, as you might recall, I made a pot of vegetable soup and a batch of pickled eggs, the latter to a new, milder, recipe. I can say, without any fear of being assailed by modesty, that both were the best of their kind I’ve made to date, and I’ve been making soup for 55 years.
The plan with the soup was that it would feed me all week, as I was so wiped out after making it, and it did, except for last night when I had a couple of cheese and onion pasties. I’ll be having the final portion tonight, and it really is staggeringly good.
The reason it’s so good is partly down to the way in which it was cooked, and partly entirely fortuitous. Hey, never turn your nose up at happenstance!
As I said at the time (not everyone reads every post, so bear with me for the next couple of paras if you’ve read this already), I cooked the root veg before adding the passata, as carrots and swede take hours to cook in a tomato-based stock, then added the passata along with the cabbage and red peppers. What I didn’t know was that tomato also slows down the cooking of cabbage and peppers too, but in their case it just keeps them firm (and the cabbage crisp), rather than uncooked, and that vastly improved the texture. In addition, using Napolina’s Five Bean Salad, instead of ordinary canned beans, was also a stroke of luck, as they added their own salty/spicy/vinegary flavour to the soup, with which it worked brilliantly.
Like many of the best recipes, the end result was a happy blend of skill and pure luck. And one that can be repeated.
The temptation to make another batch immediately is almost overwhelming, but I have no cabbage, which is why I’m going with the leek and potato soup. That and it really needs me to be at my best (ha!), as the prep is a mite challenging for a spoonie.
Pickled eggs are something I usually have as an occasional treat – I love them but they don’t like me. However, the new batch, with its mix of balsamic and cider vinegars is so gentle on my stomach that of the 9 eggs I put up 4 days ago, only 2 remain, and I doubt they’ll last the day. They are absolutely gorgeous – I think even people who hate traditional pickled eggs would like them. I had hoped that the balsamic vinegar’s sweetness would complement the mild cider vinegar while giving it a flavour boost, but the combo wildly exceeded my expectations. That it dyes the eggs a very attractive mahogany is an added bonus – I loathe pallid pickled eggs.
This is one area in which the eye is right – a pale egg will lack flavour as odds are it’s been drowned in distilled vinegar, without spices, which contributes nothing more than a mouth-puckering acidity and which puts people off pickled eggs for life, very often. Of course, a dark egg might well be one pickled in malt vinegar, with traditional spices (rare, these days, unless you find a pub that makes its own), and while these can be wonderful, they are an acquired taste and not for the faint-hearted. The new batch had great colour, relatively gentle acidity,** and a very good flavour, with just a little heat from mustard seed.
**Not that it’s lacking in acidity, the cider vinegar is 5% (as is malt vinegar), and the balsamic 6%. Unlike some other vinegars, though, the cider-balsamic combo doesn’t bite back. It just tastes great.
So, aside from soup-induced exhaustion and pain (not a gratuitous moan, but self-defence!), it’s been a very successful week, but I think I need to get myself some more jars, lots of vinegar, a couple of dozen eggs, and make a big batch.
Spoonie note: They don’t all have to be done at once – you can do half a dozen a day if you have to, though unlike most kitchen activity, once the eggs are boiled and cooled, you can do the rest sitting down.
After my recent, but receding, crisis, I seem to be improving slowly. I’m sleeping better, and, of course, the increased heart stability brought about by a micro-dose of Nebivolol contributes greatly to that (I discovered that the days I was awake more or less round the clock were the days I’d missed my evening dose). Given the problems this drug caused when over-prescribed I think I might have developed a psychological aversion to it, as I have to remind myself every evening, whereas I take the other meds pretty much on autopilot.
Anyway, if I continue to improve I should, finally, be able to get those faggots made – I just need a little more freezer space first.
First task, though, is to get those veggies used, then settle down for a couple of weeks to just eating the contents of my freezer, which is in need of rotating.
One thing I can do to make space is process a kilo of panceta into lard. Panceta (the Spanish version of the double-t Italian streaky bacon), is all too often more fat than meat, as with my current batch. The answer is to buy a piece of good-quality pork belly and preserve it myself (it’s simply cured with salt and paprika), then freeze it.
Anyway, what I have right now is about 95% fat with few streaks of pink meat, so I’ll slice it and render it down into lard. The bits of crisp fat and meat left over will be retained for use in soups and stews, as they still contain a lot of flavour, and will soften with long, slow cooking. And for those wondering, no, rendering one’s own lard isn’t cost-effective, but it most certainly is extremely worthwhile, as the end product is superior to commercially-produced lard which is so refined as to be tasteless, and almost as good as the premium Iberico or Serrano lards (the panceta is from Serrano pigs, so no surprise there).
I was looking at an online butcher the other day, and while the meat looked excellent, the prices were terrifying. I’ve been using an online butcher for a while now, but results have been patchy (dry-cure bacon was uneatable, for example, and my own black pudding is way better than their tasteless “award-winning” version), but the big downside is everything is vacuum-packed, and that does meat no favours at all.
Then I thought, let’s have a look at – god help us all – Ocado, who have such a talent for screwing up my orders that I stopped using them, even though their meat and fish are excellent, as are their Gourmet sausages.
So, I’ve ordered a decent piece of Aberdeen Angus brisket which, if the photo is honest, should have a nice layer of fat (if it’s been trimmed to buggery I shall be extremely displeased, as fat contributes greatly to the flavour), and a lamb shank – cooked with cannellini beans and veggies, with a touch of garlic (a classic French recipe), one shank will give me 3, maybe 4 meals depending on size and how many beans I put in with it,** the brisket, sliced and frozen with gravy, perhaps 5 or 6.
**Treating the meat as a flavour component, one shank, as I know from experience, will accommodate a kilo (dry weight), of soaked dried beans, and this is one dish where it’s vital to use dried beans, not canned, as they absorb flavour and fat from the lamb while cooking.
To that I added a litre of Bombay Sapphire gin (my Christmas pressie to me – I don’t do Christmas** but I do like to treat myself), and some of the Gourmet sausages (they look weird, they’re rectangular instead of round in section, but don’t let that put you off), plus some Cumberland, too. And that’s it, fifty quid’s worth of treats for yours truly.
**When I was married I’d cook the annual Christmas lunch for the extended family single-handed – much easier, believe me, than being “helped” by well-meaning but essentially useless people (I’d married into a family where, it seemed, cooking was something that happened to other people – a pattern repeated a few years ago, mercifully without the marrying part!).
For far more years after my divorce than was sensible, I went to great lengths in an effort to maintain the illusion of Christmas normality, but all it succeeded in doing was making me seriously depressed (as in clinically, not just pissed off).
So, a few years back, I finally had the sense to stop the pretence. After all, Christmas has zero religious significance for me, I have no family, and anyway it’s just become a tedious, hyper-commercialised, festival of conspicuous overconsumption, and I decided I wanted no part of it.
Felt a hell of a lot better for it, too. Spending Christmas feeling suicidal – even if you know the reason why – has absolutely nothing to commend it.
So anyway, back on topic, and if Ocado don’t screw up this order, and the meat is as good as it’s been in the past, I might switch to getting my meat from there. What I must do, though, is have a last minute check the night before delivery, in case anything is out of stock, so I can replace it. Ocado, like too many others, don’t allow you to select alternatives for out of stock items, which is stupid as they have a £40 minimum order value and, if my Bombay Sapphire is out of stock, that will take me below £40 – so will they still deliver? I have no idea.
I think, though, that I might well add more food to the order, to be on the safe side. It can go in the bedroom fridge-freezer. I usually keep it pretty low so it doesn’t disturb me, but since I can’t sleep in there now, there’s no reason I can’t crank it up, the noise won’t matter.
The lack of storage space is a constant problem here, but it’s dawned on me, as I’m typing this, that there is no reason at all that I can’t use the fridge section to store tinned stuff,** thus freeing up shelf space in the kitchen.
**I carry a large stock of cans, for the times when it’s impossible to cook – it’s also why so much of what I do cook goes in the freezer. That, and it takes little more effort to cook 6 portions than it takes to cook one or two.
Right now, though, those two surviving pickled eggs are looking very attractive…