Roasted tomato soup with chilli ice cubes

I found this recipe in a magazine. If you’re interested it has 112 calories per serving. Gazpacho is the favourite cold summer soup, but this one is less aggressive, as the garlic is cooked, not raw, and it’s smooth, not chunky.

It’s simple to make. You start by roasting cut, large vine tomatoes on a sheet of baking paper, on a tin. Top the halves with some crushed garlic, sugar, salt and black pepper and then drizzle with a little olive oil. The cooking takes 45 minutes in a 180C/350F oven. When the tomatoes are soft you can remove the skins by sliding a sharp knife underneath each one. Then buzz up the tomatoes in a liquidizer, adding vegetable stock and a dash of red wine vinegar. For extra smoothness, pass the mixture through a sieve.

The optional chilli cubes are frozen in ice cube trays: a simple mixture of finely chopped, deseeded red chilli mixed with chives, dill and/or parsley. All these herbs are also finely chopped. Serve the soup with a drizzle of olive oil and one or two iced chilli cubes. Warm French bread on the side is a good thing, especially if anyone is struggling with the heat of the chilli.

Pistachio wafers

Biscuits are made from dough, using cutters. Cookies are spooned out straight on to the baking tray. These sweet nibbles are made using the same method as Italian biscotti that are sold in coffee shops. Those are thick and so hard they can almost break your teeth. Biscotti means ‘twice cooked’ and that’s exactly what you have to do with the pistachio wafers.

First you whisk egg whites and sugar, and then fold in flour and shelled pistachio nuts. This makes a kind of cake mixture which you bake in a loaf tin. When it’s cooked and cooled, you then slice it very thinly (for this you absolutely need an electric carving knife because you are cutting through the nuts). Arrange the cut slices on baking paper and then cook them again in a cooler oven till they are crisp.

If you’d like to know the details, please click on Ask me Anything. Otherwise just enjoy the picture and believe me, they are totally delicious!

Spanish style risotto

Italians cook risotto with carnaroli or arborio rice - both of which are short grain. The Spanish prefer long grain rice for paella. Calling this risotto may be a misnomer, but the method of cooking the rice is by absorption, not by boiling. Steamed or boiled rice comes out fluffy (as in Indian food too); this way of adding liquid while the rice is cooking makes a slightly crunchier result.

So what’s in it? chopped fried onion, peas, a little spinach and sliced and whole asparagus. The rice (2 cups makes a large quantity) is added to the pan after the onion has begun to brown. Then a good strong vegetable (or chicken) stock is added slowly, a few cups at a time. Wait till the stock is absorbed before adding more. In general you need about three times the amount of liquid to rice. It takes about 20 minutes. The vegetables are added halfway through the cooking time and some extra steamed asparagus are served on the side or on top.

To make this into a substantial meal, I pile on grated parmesan, some black pepper and a big knob of butter. You can vary the vegetables by adding sliced runner beans or broad beans - all of which keep the ‘last of the summer’ green theme.

Imagination and experience

My recent novel SEXTET includes details of hospital intensive care, classical music, and addiction to buying designer clothes. It’s set in London and several Italian cities. I’m often asked about which bits are true, and which are made up. My description of the places come from direct experience (a reviewer kindly referred to London as being almost a ‘seventh character in the book’). The characters and their interests or professions come from my imagination.

I am encouraged to read what Ernest Hemingway said on the subject:

Good writing is true writing. If a man is making a story up it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge of life that he has and how conscientious he is; so that when he makes something up it is as it would truly be.”

from (‘Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter’) reblogged from wordpainting.

Hemingway is saying that if you’ve lived a long time, the knowledge and experience you’ve gained not only contributes to the facts you put in, but to the story you imagine.

Check out the 1-minute video about SEXTET here:

(The photograph is of the river in Dublin near Trinity College).

Do they taste different?

Yellow is not the normal colour for tomatoes. When they grow they turn naturally from green to yellow and finally go red when they are ripe. These are grown for their unusual colour, but sadly the only difference in the taste is that they’re not as flavoursome as the red ones.

Roasted tomatoes are good in salads and soups. I used these (slightly overripe yellow ones) and served them with rings of roasted white onion and slices of carrot.  On the right in the picture are some red cherry tomatoes which I cooked in the oven at the same time.

Coming up soon….. how to use them in soup.

English sunshine

We’ve been having a great summer and this photo epitomises the brilliant fruits we can buy in July and August. Apricots and cherries are two stone fruits that are perfect for ending a meal. Just pile them on a dish and keep them cool and fresh with some ice cubes dotted over the top.

The day after I took this photograph I spent a little time tending the purple and white plants which are now flourishing in the garden: masses of petunias, trailing lobelia and white geraniums. I should have used the past tense. The next day we had a short and sharp hail storm. Not just rain, but icy little pellets bouncing off the garden table, covering the terrace and knocking the petals off my precious flowers. This is the English summer - always unpredictable.

Cheesecake ice cream

Making up recipes is part of the joy of writing a food blog. But every now and then the testing and note-taking is not as rigorous as it should be. So it happened that I made a cheesecake ice cream and lost the piece of paper with the instructions. But I remember the details: it just needs a pot of Philadephia cream cheese, some cool custard (which you can buy in pots in supermarkets) vanilla sugar and fresh cream.

When I talk of ‘making up’ recipes, the idea may have come from the back of my mind from something I’d experienced some time ago. It’s tricky to claim that any recipe is truly original. But the idea of combining custard with cream cheese and freezing it seemed a good way to recreate the smooth flavour of a baked cheesecake.

You can find a recipe from Nigella Lawson if you click on the photograph. Or if you’d like the really simple version I thought up, please click on Ask me Anything, and I will happily re-create it for you.

Baby artichokes

There’s a reason the Italians spend time and effort preparing these tiny artichokes. You need to get rid of the tough outer part, leaving only the heart in the centre. Then they are fried (as in Carciofi alla giudea) or preserved al olio.

I bought a couple last week - just because they looked pretty - and treated them in the same way as I would have done with the large ones, i.e. boiling in salted water. I served them with vinaigrette or lemony mayonnaise, but it was lucky it was just me and the Man in the Armchair Kitchen. They were difficult to eat, as you still had to pull off each small leaf and there wasn’t enough flesh to make it worthwhile.

Still, I do love the picture! My little men in the sunshine.

What are the big brown buttons?

Here’s a clue - I wouldn’t leave the shirt out in the sun.

The answer

The buttons are made of chocolate, of course. They are so simple.

All you need is this bendable chocolate mold. Just fill with melted chocolate, chill and press out. Click on the picture to find out where to buy one.

Getting away from it all

August is here and that means many of us escape to the sea or the country. For some this means a couple of weeks of relaxation and a way to restore the mind.

Others never want to live in a city, so for them being away from crowds is their chosen way of life. Here’s what best-selling author John le Carre has to say on the subject:

I hate the telephone. I can’t type. I ply my trade by hand. I live on a Cornish cliff and hate cities. Three days and nights in a city are about my maximum. I don’t see many people. I write and walk and swim and drink.”

and then, here’s another comment of his that we’d all do well to heed:

A good writer is an expert on nothing except himself. And on that subject, if he is wise, he holds his tongue.”

Something from nothing

These are roasted chicken wings.The colour and glaze come from a mixture of paprika, soy sauce, muscovado sugar and oil. Most people love small pieces of meat on the bone - especially if you can finish them off by eating them with your fingers. Then there’s the added joy of crisp skin (which the Fat Police will tell you to avoid).

I’d serve them up for a family meal with the rice and roasted potato slices on the side. (You can see how to make these in the post earlier this week).

Nectarine and rocket salad

Starter or dessert? This could be either. With a dressing of walnut oil and wine vinegar, the peppery rocket (arugula in USA) makes a good contrast to the sweetness of grated carrot and sliced peaches or nectarines.

I think it goes best as a side dish with grilled meat or fish. However you want to serve it, it’s quick and easy to put together, but the fruit should be cut at the last minute to prevent oxidization. You could add lemon juice instead to stop the slices going brown but that adds a bit of extra tartness.

Salted caramel double-stuffed chocolate chip cookies

I found this indulgent recipe on a blog called top with cinnamon. It ticks the boxes of being quick, easy and salty/sweet appealing. Because I’m impatient and didn’t want to go and buy a couple of ingredients I didn’t have, I played with the recipe a bit and did without the caramel sweets which go inside. I also have to admit to cutting down a bit on the brown sugar (using 200g instead of the recommended 320g). The result is still mega-sweet, with the Nutella filling oozing out of the centre.

Click on the picture to see a video and recipe of how they are made. One thing to add: the baking time seems an amazingly short 8-10 minutes. Have faith - the cookies come out meltingly soft, but they firm up a bit as they cool.

Roasted potato slices

This is what I’ve called them - to avoid the question of whether they are ‘crisps’ or ‘chips’. It depends where you live, in the UK it’s the first - in USA it’s the second.

They are not like the slightly oily crisps you get in packets - especially the delicious Kettle Chips with a crunch you can hear if someone is eating them in the next room. These home made ones are something to play with if you are in the kitchen for half an hour. The method is exactly the same as described in the previous post about Sweet Potato Crisps. If your oven has top heat take care not to burn them and don’t forget to turn them over at half time.

The amount you see here is one medium potato. As I use no oil (you could if you want to) they aren’t messy to handle and they are just the thing if you are sitting around…. waiting for something or someone.