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Tomato & Rice Soup

Tomato & Rice Soup

I think if I were to have to pick a favourite kind of soup for myself out of all the soups, tomato soup would be right up there near the top.  I adore soup, and I especially like homemade soups.  As I have told you in the past my mother made really good soups from scratch, but one kind she never did make from scratch was Tomato Soup.  We always had tinned tomato soup, and I was always very happy with that.  I still am, having a particular liking for the Heinz brand of tomato soup.  I don't think it ever disappoints.  I am trying harder though, these days, to cook everything that I can from scratch and that included Tomato Soup.   This Tomato & Rice Soup is a particularly nice one!

It is simple, using nothing at all out of the ordinary, in fact I am guessing that you would have everything in the house right now to make it.  Good tinned plum tomatoes.  I like Cirio myself.  In a soup where the tomato is the star, you want really good ones and I have never made any secret for my love of Cirio Tinned tomatoes.  They are . . .  simply put . . .  the BEST.  You can almost taste the Italian sunshine on them . . .

So . . .  good tinned plum tomatoes in tomato juice  . . .  along with some vegetables.  Carrots, onions, celery  . . .  nothing too fancy . . .  a clove of garlic . . . 

These are sauteed in a bit of butter and olive oil until golden.  I then stir in a bit of whole wheat flour and leftover cooked brown rice  . . . I cook that until the rice just begins to brown and then I add the tomatoes, breaking them up with the back of a wooden spoon, into nice chunks. 

A bit of chicken stock and some dried herbs . . .  basil and oregano . . .  salt and black pepper, and my secret ingredient, a splash of hot sauce. Not a lot just a splash.  It then gets simmered, covered  . . . for about half an hour.

You could add a handful or two of baby spinach leaves.  Its very good with those as well, but today I did not have any to add.  Frozen spinach would also work.

At the end of that time you simply stir in a bit of light cream. I tend to use skimmed evaporated milk because it is lower in calories and fat and to be honest you can't really tell the difference.  All in all this is a lovely soup. Toothsome, wholesome, and quite quite delicious!

*Tomato & Rice Soup*
Serves 4 - 6
(depending on appetites)

Wholesome, delicious and very simple to make! 

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, plus leaves, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
2 TBS whole wheat flour
245g cooked brown rice (1 1/2 cups)
2 (400g) tins whole plum tomatoes in tomato juice, undrained (28 ounces)
1 TBS soft light brown sugar
1/2 tsp each oregano and basil flakes
480ml chicken stock (2 cups)
240ml light cream (1 cup)
(I use low fat evaporated milk)
salt and black pepper to taste
a splash hot sauce if desired

Heat the butter and the oil in a large saucepan until the butter begins to foam.  Add the celery, onion, carrot and garlic.  Saute, stirring occasionally over medium low heat until the onion is golden.  Stir in the flour and rice, breaking up the rice.  Continue to saute until the rice begins to brown a bit.  Add the tinned tomatoes, breaking them up with the back of a spoon, the chicken stock, brown sugar, oregano and basil and a splash of hot sauce if using.  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a very slow simmer.  Cover and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning with some salt and black pepper.  Stir in the cream and heat through without boiling.  Serve immediately.

I of course enjoy mine with crackers.  Todd favours a roll.  I tried to tempt him with some hot buttered toast instead today, but he wasn't having it.  It was a roll all the way.  I had some nice big whole wheat rolls and he thoroughly enjoyed. I think you will too!  This is very diabetic friendly with the use of the brown rice and whole wheat flour, and the extra protein they provide.  Bon Appetit!

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Marie Rayner
Banana, Rum, Date and Walnut Tea Loaf

Banana, Rum, Date and Walnut Tea Loaf

What would we do without over-ripe bananas to use?  I don't know.  I have a hard time keeping them in the house long enough for them to get ripe enough to bake with. I always have to tuck a few aside and hide them from Todd so he doesn't eat them up!  He is also likely to throw them away if he thinks they are too ripe.  I keep telling him that is when they are the best for baking, but if I am not quick enough, he tosses them without thinking.  He does enjoy the fruits of my labours however, so maybe with time, he will be coming to me with them saying what will you bake for me!  Hope springs eternal! 

The more freckled the banana the better, but I would say not much less than this, and I have been known to use bananas that are almost black. If you can't find a use for them right away, then peel and pop into a freezer container and freeze.  Then you will have them to hand when you CAN use them at a later date! YUM!

This is a lovely Tea Loaf, perfect for using up a few overripe bananas, but that's not all it has going for it.  It is moist and rich and very interestingly tasty with a few other bits that add a great deal of interest, flavour and texture to it.  I have adapted the recipe from the Carnation Recipe page with a few changes from the original as you will note.

I blitz the bananas in my small food processor attachment for my stick blender, along with a TBS of dark rum. You don't need to buy a big bottle of rum for this. I always keep small sample bottles of alcohol in the cupboard just for things like this.  Also you could use a tsp of rum flavouring added with water to make up a TBS if you wanted to. It would work perfectly.

Aside from that it is filled with lovely pieces of sticky dates, which go very well with the banana and the rum for that matter  . . . you add some lemon zest and juice to the dates, along with some bicarbonate of soda and boiling water. It foams.  Soda counters out any tannic acidity from the dates and also evens out their colour.  I looked it up because I have an inquiring mind and wanted to know why we always seem to be adding soda to dates  . . . with boiling water. Perhaps it even helps soften them a bit so they mix in better.

In any case the loaf is nicely studded with them, and the toasted walnut pieces. You don't have to toast the walnuts first, but I always do.  They just taste nuttier and nicer if they are toasted first!

I always let it sit and ripen overnight before I cut it. Sure you can eat it right away, but it cuts nicer if it has been allowed to get really cold and set overnight. I am not sure why this happens, but it does.  When you try to cut tea loaves not too long after baking they always seem to crumble.  Letting them age is best.

The Canadian in me loves them sliced thinly and spread with softened butter.  I can't seem to help myself.  Sure it is great without it, but it is even better with butter!  Say that really fast three times, better with butter, better with butter, better with butter!  Most things like this are. Mmmm . . .

*Banana, Rum, Date & Walnut Tea Loaf*
Makes 1 large loaf
(9 by 5-inch loaf tin)

Moist and delicious and filled to the brim with sticky dates, crunchy walnuts and rummy bananas! Beautiful cut into thin slices and spread with softened butter. 

150g stoned dates, chopped (1 cup)
2 TBS boiling water
the finely grated zest and juice of one lemon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
2 medium very ripe bananas
1 TBS dark rum
85g baking spread (6 1/2 TBS, something like country crock will do)
55g dark soft brown sugar (1/4 cup packed)
170g Condensed milk (1 cup plus 1 1/2 TBS) 
(also known as Sweetened Condensed)
2 large free range eggs, lightly beaten
225g self raising flour (1 1/2 cups plus 2 1/2 TBS)
1 tsp baking powder
115g toasted walnut pieces (1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 170*C/325*F/gas mark 3. Butter a 9 by 5 inch baking tin and line with baking paper. 

Place the dates into a bowl along with the boiling water, lemon zest, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda.  Stir and then set aside to cool completely.

Peel the bananas and put into a mini processor with the rum.  Blitz until smooth.  Stir this mixture into the date mixture.

Cream together the baking spread, brown sugar and condensed milk until smoothly combined.  Gradually mix in the eggs and then the date mixture.  Sift together the flour and baking powder. Stir into the creamed mixture until well combined and there are no dry streaks of flour.  Stir in the walnuts.  Pour into the prepared baking tin. Smoothing over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour 15 minutes, until risen, set and golden brown.  A toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean.  Let sit in the tin for 15 minutes before lifting out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Cut into slices to serve with some softened butter.  Store any leftovers tightly wrapped.

This was a really great way to use up the remainder of my condensed milk from yesterday.  I enjoyed  a thin slice with some lemon and rose tea. Oh boy but it was a pleasant way to spend some of my Saturday afternoon!  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I am an oatmeal cookie afficionado.  I have never met an oatmeal cookie that I didn't like, including these cookies that I am showing you here today.  They are incredibly crisp edged and yet chewy  middled, and stogged full of lovely sweet raisins.

It uses condensed milk, which I always have in the cupboard. This, I believe, is the secret behind their delicious moreishness.  I had used some condensed milk earlier in the day to make Todd a simple milk shake, and so these cookies were the perfect way to use up some of  the remaining milk in the tin.

Both Condensed and Evaporated milk are forms of concentrated milk, (available in tins) in which a bit more than half of the water content has been removed, with the main difference between the two milk products being sugar content.  Condensed milk is always sweetened whereas evaporated milk is unsweetened.  It was only since moving over here to the UK that I came to understand that Condensed milk always refers to the sweetened variety. (Sweetened Condensed Milk.)

Evaported milk is created by heating milk until about 60% of its water content has evaporatd. It is then homogenized, packaged and sterilized.  It is creamy, dense and ultra concentrated and when you chill it really well (ice crystals present) you can whip it like cream. It comes in several varieties including skimmed, lower fat and full fat. I always have tins of it in my larder and I use it a lot in both sweet an savoury dishes.  I keep both the low and full fat to hand, and often use the low fat in the place of cream in dishes where I am wanting to have something creamy, but not necessarily with all of the fat and calories of cream.  It is a great store cupboard item!

Condensed milk (or Sweetened Condensed Milk as it is also known) is also a concentrated  milk product where 60% of the water content has been removed, after which sugar is added before canning.  It contains as much as 45% sugar and is rich and thick with a slightly caramel colour and super sweet flavour.  When it is cooked even further you end up with dulce de leche, or caramel.  It is used in kitchens throughout the world, most commonly being used in baked goods, pies, ice creams, puddings as well as being used as a sweetener in coffee and tea.

I used some  Sweetened Condensed Milk today to make Todd a delicious milkshake, which is not only very quick and easy to make, but very delicious.  The kids are sure to love these and the recipe amounts can very easily be increased to serve more than one person.  They are a real treat.  You could use vanilla instead of the orange blossom water for flavouring if you wished.

*Simple Milk Shake for One*
Makes 1 serving
Quick, easy and delicious! 

60ml semi-skimmed milk (2 % milk 1/4 cup)
60ml water (1/4 cup)
60ml condensed milk (1/4 cup sweetened condensed)
1 tsp soft light brown sugar, packed
drop of orange flower water 

Blitz all of the ingredients together in a mini blender until frothy. Serve in a chilled glass.

I used some of the remainder of the milk to make these very tasty cookies.  (Todd was not complaining!)  I did cut the recipe in half because there are only the two of us and I am not supposed to be eating anything like these, and believe it or not, most of the time I try really hard to stay away from the sweet stuff.

I cannot punish him for my misspent youth however.  That would be a form of cruel and unusual punishment for the stick man who does really enjoy a sweet cake or biscuit, and has no health problems in doing so.  He spent so many years on his own that I do like to spoil him a bit every now and then if I can!  He never complains!

*Oatmeal Raisin Cookies*
Makes approximately 2 dozen
Crisp at the edges, chewy in the middle. Stogged full of sweet raisins and incredibly morish! 

225g butter, softened (1 cup)
225g caster sugar (1 cup plus 3 TBS)
170g Condensed milk (3/4 cup plus 2 TBS)
200g oats (scant 2 1/2 cups)
150g self rising flour (1 cup plus 1 1/2 TBS)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
150g raisins (1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4.  Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.  Set side.

Cream the butter, sugar and condensed milk together until pale and light.  Mix in the flour, oats and cinnamon to thoroughly combine. Stir in the raisins.  Shape into golf-ball sized rounds and place onto the prepared baking sheets leaving plenty of space between (at least 2 1/2 inches).

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden edged. (Rotate the baking sheets halfway through the baking.)  Leave on the baking sheet to cool for about 5 minutes before scooping off onto wire racks to finish cooling.  Store in an airtight container.

And I still had some condensed milk in the tin to use, so tune in tomorrow to find out what I did with that!  You are going to love it, I guarantee!  Happy Saturday! 

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Marie Rayner
Curried Chicken Casserole

Curried Chicken Casserole

You are absolutely going to love this fantastic dish I am showing you today.  It has been taken from my Big Blue Binder, and it is easy to make and very, very delicious . . . .  using simple ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen.  There is nothing out of the ordinary . . .  rice, chicken pieces, raisins, dried apricots, onion, chicken stock and some curry powder.

The Big Blue Binder is a recipe binder that I have been carrying around the world with me for all of my late teens and adult life. It is bulging with handwritten recipes gleaned from friends and family through the years, newspaper and magazine clippings, along with recipes laboriously copied by hand from books I had borrowed from the library through the years.  With a large family to take care of, I never had the money to purchase cookbooks way back in the day. I only wish I had had the forethought to cite the sources back in the day! Hindsight is indeed very much 20/20.  I would have never thought that one day I would have the ability to share my findings and experiences with quite literally thousands of people.  I hope you will forgive me my lack of ability to tell you exactly where this recipe comes from.

Chicken pieces are sauteed in a bit of oil until golden brown on both sides.  Do try to trim off as much fat and skin as you can before doing this. You could remove it completely if you wanted to, but it wouldn't be half as attractive.  Better to remove the skin just prior to eating.  I used chicken thighs, but drumsticks would also work very well.  I do not recommend boneless, skinless chicken breasts, as they would overcook and end up quite dry.

After you brown the chicken off, I drain off as much of the fat in the casserole as I can, leaving only a minimal amount and then you saute the onion until soft over low heat. If you really wanted to cut the fat you could do this in a bit of chicken stock in a clean casserole dish.

Once you have the onion softened, you stir in the curry powder, some salt and pepper and the raw rice, stirring to coat it really well with the curry and any pan juices.

Next you add some chicken stock and the apricots and raisins.  I am not sure what the reason is for this, but the flavour of curry goes really well with fruit, and with chicken for that matter!  Once you have brought the stock to the boil, you return the chicken pieces to the pan, placing them on top . . .

Tightly covered, it is then finished off by roasting the whole dish in a moderate oven.  It is almost like a fruity pilau rice with chicken pieces and it is very, very, VERY good!  Not a lot of fussing or mussing and clean up is easy because it is all in one pan!

*Curried Chicken Casserole*
Serves 3
Fruity and delicious. You will need a flameproof casserole or dutch oven for this.  A handwritten recipe from my Big Blue Binder. It says three, but I think it could easily serve four. 

1 1/2 pounds chicken pieces
1 tsp salt, divided
1 1/2 TBS oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
105g raw uncooked rice (1/2 cup)
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
300ml hot chicken stock (1 1/4 cups)
75g dried apricots (1/2 cup)
40g raisins (1/4 cups)
1/2 TBS lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4.

Sprinkle the chicken with 1/2 tsp salt.  Heat the oil in your casserole.  Brown the chicken all over in the hot oil.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Add the onions to the pan.  Cook, stirring occasionally over medium low heat until softened. 

Add the raw rice, curry powder, remaining salt and black pepper.  Stir to coat the rice.  Add the dried fruit, chicken stock, and lemon juice. Top with the chicken pieces.  Cover with a sheet of foil or baking paper and then the lid. Bake covered for 45 minutes.  Serve hot.

 This is a great weekend dish to share with the family.  You could serve it with some Naan bread, or poppadoms and a salad on the side.  I am betting you won't have any complaints! Any leftovers keep well, covered tightly, in the refrigerator for a few days.  What I did was to remove the skin from the chicken, and cut it into bits, stirring it into the rice and I can tell you it was even more delicious the day after.  Funny how that goes. It is often the case that food gets better tasting if left to "ripen" overnight!  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Beef & Vegetable Soup

Beef & Vegetable Soup

I have read a lot  lately about the photographic "value" of brown foods in the blogosphere.  I read a column recently in the Guardian in which Nigella Lawson said the following (In speaking about platforms such as Instagram):

”Of course, Instagram is a visual medium, no less than television, so it’s always going to favour photogenic food, but still, it can make a cook despair. When I post a picture of a stew, I feel I have to remind people – who find the messy brownness unappealing – that 1) stews are brown and 2) brown food tastes the best. It doesn’t really matter to me whether people post pictures of stews on Instagram or Pinterest, but it does worry me if they stop cooking them. Not because it would be a bad thing, but because it would be a sad thing”.

Personally, I happen to like "brown" food . . .  and this is "brown" food season . . .  these last days of Winter, when we all like to warm the chill off of our bones with a tummy warming soup or stew.  We, here in the North West, have been treated to finger knumbing, bone chilling weather as of late, and I took the opportunity today to fix us a delicious Beef & Vegetable Soup, which . . .  whilst not totally visually appealing, was mighty tasty, and fulfilled the main purpose of a hearty bowl of soup in that it both warmed us up and filled our bellies beautifully!

I think I have shared with you before that my mother was a "Master" at creating wonderful soups.  Everything I know about making a good soup, I learned at her knee.  I don't think we ever had a roast dinner the whole time I was growing up that wasn't followed in the days afterwards by a steaming hot and delicious potage!  She used to make huge potful's and our home freezer always had several large plastic ice-cream buckets filled with the fruits of her labours, at the ready when they needed to be.

That is not to say that every soup you make needs to begin with the leftover bones or scraps from a roast dinner . . .  sometimes you can make a really tasty soup with nothing but what you happen to have in your refrigerator.  One thing you do need however is a good stock to build upon. This is the critical basis of any good soup. If you make it a habit to keep really great basic stocks and broths in the freezer you will never be very far from a tasty bowl full of heart and soul warming soup.

For this soup today I used mainly some good beef stock that I had frozen, (you can use cubes in a pinch and it will still be okay), a piece of good lean rump steak, and the vegetables that I found in my refrigerator's vegetable bin . . .  carrots, parsnips, turnips, cabbage and of course onions (which I do not keep in my fridge, but in a net basket beneath the stairs, in the dark.)

I had been going to also throw in a handful of barley, but once I got all the vegetables into the pot, there was very little or no room.  You certainly could add some barley if you wanted to, but it really wasn't necessary.

I used a savoy cabbage, about six of the bigger, larger outer leaves, that some might be tempted to throw away, but really . . . .  the greener the leaf the higher the nutritional value, and in a soup, they work perfectly.  Washed really well, and trimmed of any tougher stems, I simply shredded them into large shreds crosswise  I think any cabbage would work, but visually you will have a nicer looking, more interesting soup with the savoy.

I added a splash of tomato ketchup because I like the slight sweet/spicy note that it adds to any soup or stew. It also adds an additional bit of colour to the soup and renders it less transparent and more full bodied.  Todd loves pureed soups, but I like my soups filled with lots of lovely texture and chunks.  We differ somewhat in that respect and that's okay.  There is a time for smooth . . . and there is a time for texture, and to my mind when you are making a soup such as this Beef & Vegetable Soup, you want texture.  It went down a real treat.

*Beef & Vegetable Soup*
Serves 6
Healthy and delicious.  Very simple to make and containing several of your five a day. You can serve with a crusty roll or some seeded crackers. 

2 TBS light olive oil
1 large brown onion, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large stick celery, trimmed and chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
1 white turnip (about the size of a small ball) peeled and chopped
6 largish leaves from a savoy cabbage, trimmed and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 pound beef rump steak, trimmed of all fat and then thinly sliced crosswise,
then slice the slices in half again.
7 cups good beef stock
several small sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 TBS dried parsley
1/2 tsp each garlic and onion powders (not salts)
fine sea salt and coarse black pepper to taste
1 TBS tomato ketchup 

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the beef, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown nicely.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, parsnip and turnips.  Cook and sweat over medium low heat for about 5 minutes or so, then stir in the garlic.  Cook, stirring until quite fragrant.  Add the beef stock, sliced cabbage, sprigs of thyme, bayleaf, parsley, garlic and onion powders and tomato ketchup.  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a very slow simmer, cover tightly and cook on low for 40 to 45 minutes, at which time the vegetables will all be nicely soft and the beef very tender.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Serve hot.

Note - feel free to add a small handful of pearl barley to this if you wish.  Add when you add the stock.  Cook for 45 minutes, until everything is tender.

Back home if you order soup when you are in a restaurant you will more often than not be presented with a bread basket containing a few rolls, and a variety of crackers.  Todd is a roll or a bread person. Mom always served our soups with crackers and that is still how I prefer to enjoy them for the most part.  This was really, really good, very healthy, and I had the added bonus of some leftovers to freeze and enjoy at a later date.  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner

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