Thursday, 6 February 2014

A super winter warmer

After weeks of what can only be described as incessant and torrential rainfall, we have suddenly been forecast a drier colder week.  At last!  Okay, it may get cold, but at least we get a break from the dampness that has virtually become the norm.  Crisp, beautiful sunny mornings lift our mood and lightens the spirit.  The light changes as it bounces off the icy paths and trees, children get excited at the prospect of snow and days off school, and evenings cosying up by the fire are enjoyed.

If there was ever an excuse to enjoy comfort food, it’s now, in the depths of winter.  That said, it would be a great shame to suddenly compromise all that hard dieting and exercise regime that we set about after Christmas, so what better way to enjoy the cold winter weather, than with a warming, wholesome, hearty bowl of home made soup and some crusty bread!

I have several favourite soups, and I really can’t name just one!  If I’m totally honest, I like my soups chunky, I like it served in a shallow bowl and with large chunks of fresh white bread with plenty of butter!  I’ll never pass on the cheese and, in the privacy of my own home, will even be found crumbling it into the near-boiling soup to create a bowlful of molten loveliness, ready to be scooped up with the bread!  Yum! 

Okay, here we go, my top ten… but in no particular order!!

Butternut squash and coconut - truly incredible and filling
watercress - a detox soup
Roast pepper and tomato - add to pasta
Tomato and basil - light and summery
Stinger soup - nettle - a tasty detox
Leek and potato - filling and comforting
Celeriac and apple - surprisingly good!
Welsh ham Cawl - lighter than the lamb equivalent
French onion soup - strong flavoured and wonderful
Thai prawn and noodle soup - with chilli & Ginger.

One of the great things about a soup is the speed in which it can be made and served.  From start to finish can be as little as 15 minutes, or more like 25 minutes at a more relaxed pace!  It’s easy to make up large batches, enough for the family, a few lunches or to feed the freezer for future meals. 

If you have babies and toddlers in the house, a soup really does feed all. Ease up on the salt or keep the baby portion separate before seasoning with salt and pepper and you have some super healthy, home-made baby food.  Store individual portions in the fridge or freezer ready for future use.  It’s possible to freeze small quantities in an ice cube tray, then tip out the frozen cubes into a sealed bag.  Remove a few cubes before leaving home, and baby’s food will be thawed by lunch time but still be chilled. Reheat thoroughly and cool before using.

Soup has moved on from the days of just opening a tin and heating through… though there are still plenty to choose from.  Soup now comes in cartons and in see-through plastic containers; flavours are varied, and the quality reasonably high.  Despite this, nothing quite beats a home made soup. 

Get the base right and then experiment with different flavours, play around with combinations until your tastebuds are happy!  A great base can be made by making a simple stock with an onion, celery and carrot.  Known to the French as a mirepoix, this makes the base for many lovely soups.  To make the stock, dice an onion, two carrots and a stick of celery, and fry in a little oil. Finally add a little water and simmer until the vegetables are soft.  Season the mirepoix with salt and pepper, add a bagful of watercress and blitz to make a simple watercress soup which is full of goodness and very kind on the waistline!!  

For a leek and potato soup, make the basic stock as above, add three chopped leeks and a large potato then simmer until the potato is soft.  Blitz to make a smooth soup or use a potato masher for a more textured soup.  Add a splash of cream to finish. 

For a really delicious soup which is more of a stew than a soup, (though please don’t ask me for the definition of either) see my butternut squash and coconut soup. This is a family favourite of ours and, as the weather hopefully dries up and cools, I can’t imagine anything better than tucking into a bowlful (or two!) of this highly flavoured warming dish.  Store in the fridge, and warm it up ready for the kids when they arrive home from school, it’ll soon warm them up, fill them up and keep them out of the biscuit tin!

Try making a new soup each week. As many of the soups I’ve listed are meat free, they really are very economical way to feed the family, and obviously suitable for vegetarians and even vegans.  Once you’ve mastered the basics… go crazy and try some whacky combinations, you may create the next super soup!

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