Something for the Weekend: Flapjack

A Slice of FlapjackI do love a quick and easy bake, and these fit the bill perfectly. Ideal for a quick Saturday morning bake, especially if you need to find something the little ones can help with. They are best eaten with a steaming mug of tea, in front of a roaring fire. The end of July might not be the best time to be saying that – but blimey it’s cold and wet up North today I can tell you.

This flapjack was an experiment to reproduce the cereal bars Mr T is very fond of and often takes with him on his cycling trips. The shop bought versions cost around £2 and the ingredients list stretches to over 20 items (several of which I’m not convinced are actual “food”). This version might not be the “healthiest” cereal bar, but it’s packed with honest, real foods and tastes delicious. I made a cranberry and almond version, which is pictured here. You can also make a very yummy maple and pecan special edition by swapping the honey for maple syrup and using roughly chopped pecans in place of the almonds.  I’m tempted to try a cranberry and white chocolate version or dark chocolate and crystalised ginger.

In the recipe, you’ll find advice on making gluten free, vegan and refined sugar free versions. I’m a big fan of recipes that can be tweaked to individual preferences. I know coconut oil is the “go to” oil of the moment, but I like good old fashioned butter. If you need a dairy free version then Coconut oil is a good option, if expensive. Look out for the cuisine versions which don’t have a coconutty taste.

I’ve used chia seeds in this version. My flapjack is always a bit of a risk, sometimes it can be too soft and doesn’t hold together. I’ve tried adding flour, crushed cornflakes and all kinds of other ways to help bind the mixture together. A friend suggested chia seeds and the result was soft, chewy and held together remarkably well. I’m not convinced by their superfood status, but in this recipe they worked for me.

A Tray of Flapjack

Cranberry and Almond Flapjack

Photographing them was a challenge – not only tricky to get the right light in my gloomy kitchen – Mr T and I also munched our way through a few in the process. I’ve just upgraded to a digital camera after years of making do with my phone, it’s a steep learning curve! Anyway, don’t be put of by the amateur pictures, try them for yourself. You can find the full Cranberry and Almond Flapjack recipe here.

 

 

You can Eat Cake for Breakfast (but only if it’s my best ever raspberry cake recipe)

20170702124957Not just any cake. Packed with fruit and nuts, this is practically health food! I’ll admit, with no shame we ate a slice for breakfast and felt no guilt. (Nope, not even a little bit). Of course, I’m not suggesting you make a habit of cake for breakfast, but the occasional indulgence is OK. Let’s face it, not much can be worse than those sugar filled cereals we all love but pretend not to because “they’re bad for us”.

I like a cake that will serve as dessert as well as accompany a morning mug of coffee and this old favourite really does fit the bill. You can serve a slice with creme fraiche (or double cream) or just eat it on its own. It is quite moist, not the kind of cake you can eat with your fingers – although Mr T would disagree – sticky fingers can be licked clean he tells me!  I’m sharing the recipe for this Raspberry and Almond cake here (or you can find it by clicking on the recipe tab in the sidebar) but first a few tips.

I tend to weigh out in cups (American, not Australian), simply because that’s easier for me than getting out the scales. Butter has a handy guide on the wrapper, so you can just cut off what you need. I use Spelt flour (Sharpham Park), but there’s no reason why you couldn’t sub a plain flour, or even try using your favourite gluten free if  you need to. I used frozen raspberries, the remainder of last year’s crop. You could use fresh if you prefer.

My oven is a bit on the cool side, so everything takes longer to cook, so use the timings as a guide. You know your oven, so start checking after 45 minutes to test if your cake is cooked. I store my cake in the fridge, but it will sit quite happily at room temperature for a day or two, so long as it’s in an air tight tin. Why do I keep cake in the fridge?  If we can see it, we’ll eat it, so it’s best hidden away behind the vegetables  where Mr T won’t go snacking!

When lining your cake tin, either use a quick release springform tin,  or make sure the lining paper sits higher than the sides of the tin so you can lift it out. This cake won’t thank you for turning it upside down to cool – you’ll end up with a sloppy mess and lose the pretty, crunchy topping.

Orange zest definitely falls in the “food for free” category. Next time you eat an orange, pop the peel in a tub and freeze it. You can grate or zest it from frozen straight into your cake mix. You can do the same with lemons, if you need the juice for a recipe, freeze the empty “shell”.

I don’t know who should take the credit for this recipe, it was sent to me by a friend when my daughter was little, we had enjoyed a slice (well, since we’re friends I’ll admit it was two) at her house and I loved it. Over the years I’ve tweaked it a bit, adding flaked almonds to the topping and experimenting with the sugar quantity (I think I’ve got that just right now). I hope you enjoy it.

This post isn’t sponsored by any of the companies listed in the ingredients. I’ve just names them because they work well for me. You can, of course substitute your personal favourites.

Now, don’t eat it all at once!

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Food for Free

No, I’m talking about foraging today. I’m thinking about those “stealth” free foods that live in my freezer. You might remember I talked about my top ten freezer favourites last week.  Today I want to introduce you to a few things that make my life easier and feed us practically for free.

  1. Spicy chicken wings. Every time we buy a whole chicken, I cut off the wings before cooking. Save them up in a tub or a bag in the freezer and next time BBQ season comes around defrost them, steep in a spicy marinade of oil, soy sauce, chilli flakes and fresh ginger. Roast in a hot oven or cook on the BBQ for a tasty snack that has cost you almost nothing.
  2. Pizza toppings. Next time you open a jar of pasata, scoop out a couple of tablespoons and freeze in a small tub.  If you paid attention last week, you can use this to top a small pizza base, add a few frozen veg, some herbs and some of that frozen grated cheese and voila – an pizza snack for one. Serve with a baked potato and salad for a perfect Friday night tea
  3. Save left over chilli, curry or stews and freeze in individual servings. They make perfect ready meals and can easily be stretched by adding frozen left over rice, pasta or frozen vegetables.
  4. Pea soup –  a bag of  frozen peas makes a quick soup, add some frozen ham leftovers or mint for flavour.  There’s a great quick pea soup recipe on the BBC Food website. We grow our own garlic and onions, so I tend to think of them as free food.
  5. End of the week soup. OK, so not strictly free. Most of us find a few veg lurking in the fridge or veg basket at the end of the week. Use a decent stock cube if you don’t have fresh stock in the freezer (or  look out for 9 Meals from Anarchy stock (see link in sidebar (not sponsored).  Chopped onions, garlic and herbs can be used for flavour. BBC Good Food website has some great recipes for soup you can make from leftovers. Even a potato and a couple of carrots can make a delicious soup. Top with some of that frozen grated cheese and a few toasted nuts or seeds (again you can make a batch and store in the freezer).

Feeding yourself and your family quickly and cheaply is an art form. You can learn it and passing these skills on to your kids prepares them for when they inevitably leave home. You might also like to take a look at my store  cupboard staples page and stock up your kitchen. Next week I’ll be sharing five quick and delicious meals you can cook from the store cupboard – you might be surprised!

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Food You Can Freeze

What’s in your freezer? You might be surprised by what’s in  mine.

Instead of ready meals and ice cream, my freezer is stuffed with the things I need to make life easier. Apart from all the every day essentials (bread, butter, frozen veg and milk). I also freeze cream, grated cheese, mashed potatoes and crisps (yep, even crisps can be frozen).

Learning to love your freezer and use it efficiently will save you time and money and offers all kinds of opportunities to use up your leftovers creatively. If you’re not confident about how and what to freeze, you might want to refer to these tips on freezing  on the BBC website first.

Now for my freezer top ten:

  1. Whipped cream – I know, who has left over whipped cream? But sometimes it happens. I pipe mine into stars and open freeze it before storing in plastic tubs. Use it to decorate cakes, trifles, hot chocolate or even a cheeky Irish coffee.
  2. Cheese – next time you go shopping, buy yourself a great big block of really tasty cheddar cheese. Grate it (I use a food processor) and store in the freezer. You can use it straight from the freezer for pizza toppings, gratins or  cheese on toast.
  3. Mashed potato – I always peel and boil extra potatoes. Use the mash for fish cakes, topping left over mince to make a cottage pie or use it to make a fish pie.
  4. Eggs – yes, eggs freeze really well. Separate the yolk from the white (and label them). Frozen egg whites make great meringues, yolks can be used for custard. There are some great tips for freezing eggs on this American website.
  5. Fresh herbs – if you like to buy bunches of fresh herbs or have plenty in the garden, freeze the stalks  of coriander or parsely for soup (carrot and coriander is delicious), the leaves can be crumbled straight from the freezer into sauces.
  6. Bread – sliced bread can be toasted straight from the freezer. Cut up crusty bread into croutons and bring them out when needed, defrost slightly, toss in olive oil and herbs. Fry or roast until brown and crispy.
  7. Wine – yes another of those “but you’d never find any left over in my house” ! But, freeze small amounts of left over wine in ice cube trays and use them in sauces – brilliant in a “spag bol”or for a dash of white wine in a risotto.
  8. Pasata – or any tomato sauce. We rarely use a whole jar, so I freeze the leftovers for pizza toppings or sauces. In summer I make sauce with the glut of tomatoes, but you can just as easily freeze the shop bought ones.
  9. Cookie dough – make a batch of cookie dough, roll into a sausage and freeze. Slice and bake as usual when you need to impress unexpected guests! You can also freeze pizza dough – roll into circles and use straight from the freezer – or freeze the dough and defrost before using.
  10. Crisps – Mr T loves to buy those huge sharing bags, and more often than not we’ll eat the whole bag without thinking. Freezing them keeps them crunchy and keeps them out of temptation. It’s also a great way to take advantage of those special offers. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself or check out the Huffington Post’s 17 foods you didn’t know you could freeze“.

Back in the 1970’s when my mum bought her first freezer it came with a handbook full of recipes, tips and advice. Today we seem to have forgotten how to freeze – it’s so easy to just fill our baskets from the frozen food aisle – by making my freezer work for me I save time, money and  reduce my food waste. It’s a bonus that can always find a few treats when we need them… hot chocolate and whipped cream anyone?

 

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A Very Nice House in the Country

Oh my, look at this garden. How lucky am I to sit out and stare at this every day?

JUne 2016.jpg

June 2016

To paraphrase Blur, we live in a very nice house in the country – how lucky are we? Technically it’s a bungalow, but we’re not going to quibble over the lack of an upstairs are we? One of the advantages of living in our “very nice house” is the beautiful garden we’ve created.  When we moved in there was just a lawn and a Silver Birch tree. No flower beds, no borders, just a lonely tree and a mouldering wooden bench. We’ve spent 20 years creating this garden and I can tell you where almost every plant came from. You know how I feel about full disclosure, so let’s give Mr T credit for his contribution to this garden transformation, which amounts to lawn mowing, dead pet burying and shed building! In the early days we had strict rules, whatever we bought had to earn it’s keep. That meant edible or evergreen, preferably both. We begged and stole plants from friends and neighbours, I sowed seeds and took cuttings. 20 years on I can see that all that early work was worth it. My garden gives me joy every day.

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Ruby Chard 2017

Our garden also feeds us – literally and spiritually – nothing helps restore balance better than sitting by the fire, drinking beer and eating food you’ve grown yourself. I’d like to say it’s deliberate, but it’s definitely the result of a lack of energy and inclination that we also have a bounty of free food in the form of weeds and wild flowers that flourish in our borders and in the hedges.

I’m busy transplanting seedling in the greenhouse, watching carefully for signs of activity in the perennial beds and getting excited about our first nettle soup of the year (we’ve already had risotto and gnocchi, soup is for the later, tougher stems).

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Nettle soup topped with creme fraiche and chives

It feels good to grow food; it feels even better that now we are able to find room for flowers and decorative shrubs that do little more than look pretty for a few weeks each year (but that’s OK too, they give me joy and that makes them pretty useful in my book). They’re also finding their way into dye pots, releasing magical colour and helping me find new ways of recording the memory of the garden (because one day we’ll move from here and I want to have something to take away).

In the last few years I’ve also noticed that gardens are pretty forgiving. Veg patches don’t mind if you occasionally forget to weed or to thin young plants. When the grass gets too long it gives the dandelions time to flourish (young leaves for salads, flowers for the dye pot and roots for our favourite dandelion and burdock recipes). Because we back onto farmland we’ve learned to accept that nettles and cleavers will always “win” if you try to control them, so instead we eat young nettle shoots and as a bonus the butterflies lay their eggs. Neater gardeners might frown at our lack of order, but for me it’s a bonus. Our garden is filled with all manner of wildlife and self seeded gems.

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Nasturtiums – essential salad garnish!

If there’s a lesson to be learned in letting my garden grow a little wilder these days it’s that the unexpected can bring good as well as bad. Not being in control is OK.

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On the Table and In the Garden in January

carrot-soupHow did it get to be February already? Every time I wander into the garden I see more signs of spring, the bulbs are peeking through and the early snowdrops are starting to flower. I know that we might still see snow, but just for today I’m thnking we might be at the tail end of winter.

January on the table was mostly about soups, hearty stews and substantial puddings. We needed “stodge” to see us through the cold, dark afternoons. I stuck pretty close to my January meal plan and it has definitely saved us money (a household bill of £193). Scroll down to the end of this post if you’re interested in what we spent and how we could save more. The highlight was Diana Henry’s book Simple, which has fed us well. Our favourite has to be the Red Lentil and Pumpkin Dal, which also wins the prize for “meal that most looked the picture in the book”. We also swapped out the pumpkin for sweet potato a couple of times, equally delicious.

diana-henry-dal

You can pop over here to Diana’s website for a list of her books and some great recipes. It’s hard to recommend just one of her books, I love them all. She “sits” on the shelf between Nigel Slater and Sophie Grigson. I like to think of it as the  “hope they are as nice in real life as they write and appear on tv” category! Talking of Nigel Slater, his easy  Hot Chocolate Pudding from Appetite has appeared on the table more than once. Served with a dollop of creme fraiche it doesn’t photograph well, but it’s so easy and delicious. The recipe is available online on the Telegraph website, so why not pop over and give it a try. It’s the perfect last minute bake and gluten free, which is a bonus.

hot-choc-pudding

As we move into February, I’m starting to think about plans for the veg plot. Last year we stuck to “old favourites” like peas, onions and potatoes. This year I’d like to be more adventurous again. Of course the fruit bushes and artichokes look after themselves, giving regular crops. This makes me a bit lazy and I must learn not to rely on the perennials. We still have a few leeks in the ground and onions in storage, and I’ve noticed the herb pots in the greenhouse are starting to look more “awake”. The parsley has seen us right through the winter and it looks like the chives and oregano I hid in a corner have fresh growth. I wish we had put more potatoes in pots, it was such a joy to have home grown “new” potatoes at Christmas, but they didn’t last long.  The daffodils and early bulbs are making strong growth, and the woodpecker is still visiting daily. The Goldfinches are still perching on the fennel heads, in the vain hope they might have missed a few seeds, and they sulk if the bird feeder gets too empty. The robins (we still have two regular visitors) are so bold now, they hop at our feet every time we venture out. Sometimes I oblige them by digging over a small patch of earth or pulling back a few dead leaves, which seems to make them very happy. I know it’s wrong to give them human characteristics, but they do seem to puff up and look so pleased with themselves when they root out a small grub from the freshly dug soil.

Indoors, I have been working hard on new designs. I still haven’t got much to share as contracts insist I keep things a secret, but work is steady and that’s a good thing. Don’t forget, if it’s mostly the knitting and crochet you’re looking for, head over here for updates on my latest pattern releases.

So, that was January. Dull, damp and gloomy it may have been. But our house was filled with laughter, good company and great food. That has to be a “win” surely?

Happy making x

 

What we ate and what we spent in January

Mostly, we stuck to the meal plan for January, and our household bills came to £193. I think that’s pretty good, especially as we both work from home, that works out at about £6 a day for all our food, cleaning products, toothpaste and toiletries. Of course we’re lucky that a well stocked freezer and larder mean we always have access to  herbs, spices and every day essentials. And, it certainly helps that we have garden produce. I did think about ways we could cut down this bill if we had to and came up with a few things I’m just not prepared to compromise on. When Mr T was made redundant many years ago, we mostly lived on value ranges –  bread (10p a loaf), beans (3p a tin) and tinned tomatoes (7p) – I feel so lucky that we came through that scary year unscathed and still able to live well. I also believe (perhaps wrongly) that supermarkets are still led by customer demand, so if I keep buying Fairtade or British products they’ll respond by offering more and better choices.

So here’s my “no compromise” list

Local meat, often from the farm gate or butchers I trust – supermarket own brand would be cheaper I know.

Decent coffee, usually Fairtrade – we only drink one cup a day and even buying top of the range is still cheaper than I’ve seen people pay in “Costabucks for a latte!

Organic, local, fresh in season veg – using what we have definitely saves us money – but I won’t give up my Fairtade bananas!

Tinned beans and pulses – yes, dried are cheaper.  After a busy day it’s so much easier to reach for a can of lentils or chick peas, these are my “ready meals”.

Indulgences we could do without

We’re still working our way through the dozen bottles of wine we bought at Christmas – dry January? Not in this house!

 

 

 

 

 

A quick lunch on a cold day

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Hummus and crunchy veg, summer 2016

It really was a day for soup. A biting wind and a hard frost kept me indoors. Only a fool would have ventured out today! I craved soup, but the cupboards are bare. We only came back from a few days away last night and the only fresh veg we have is a sad looking cauliflower, and a couple of onions. We didn’t even have a can of soup or a stray tupperware tub lurking in the freezer.

Instead I made a big bowl of hummus. Served up with crackers and crunchy cauliflower it was a delicious lunch. I make mine with lots of garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. It might not be the genuine article but it passes muster in this house. Everyone has their own favourite recipe for this tasty dip. I use canned chick peas for convenience and a big dollop of tahini. It’s easy to make if you have a food processor. You might like to try this recipe from Jamie Oliver as a starting point. If you have ten minutes to spare, Felicity Cloake wrote a piece for the Guardian about making the “perfect hummus”, which is a great read if you want to experiment.

Tonight we’re eating from the freezer, left over sausage rolls and Christmas Day veg fried up bubble and squeak style. Tomorrow the monthly “big” Ocado shop arrives and I’ll make a trip to the green grocers and the butcher to stock up – but I shall definitely be wearing “all the hand knits” if it’s as cold as it’s been today!

 

What We Ate in 2016

chocolate covered candied peel

Candies orange peel – we used the juice to make a citrus cheesecake.

Looking back over last years food diary, it would appear the Todhunters ate very well. Inspired by Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Dairies, last year I resolved to keep a journal of what we grew, cooked and ate. I am starting to regret not blogging about it here – especially when I checked the stats yesterday and realised just how many of you still visit this website every day (far more than my “official website”). So, in case any of you are interested, or simply looking for a bit of frugal food inspiration for the year ahead here are a few highlights.

Delicious lemon buns from Bake me a Cake as Fast as You Can

Delicious lemon buns from Bake Me a Cake as Fast as You Can

All our meals  are inspired by the cookery books on my kitchen shelves and local library.  The most thumbed is a school exercise book which contains hand written recipes dating back to my student days – when we ate frugal food because we had to, not because it tasted so good!! These days, we just eat the food we like. It happens that we grow a lot of our herbs and veg, so we eat seasonally.

A glut of radishes meant we discovered lots of great recipes

A glut of radishes meant we discovered lots of great recipes

We grew lots of old favourites and ate well on the produce from our home veg plot.

New potatoes, grown in the green house and dug up for Christmas lunch

New potatoes, grown in the green house and dug up for Christmas lunch

The highlight of 2016 had to be Rachel Allen’s Nectarine Frangipane, which I made for New Year. It’s been on my list of recipes to try for most of the year, but the right occasion never presented itself. You can find the recipe in Rachel’s book Every Day Kitchen. We eat from this book at least once a month, the fish curry  is a firm favourite. Sadly, we demolished this too quickly for me to pause and take a photo – and young Miss T and her boyfriend took the left overs home with them! You can find a link to the Frangipane recipe on my Baking and Making Pinterest board. You cn also find a selection of recipes on Rachel’s website.

So, happy 2017 and welcome back to the Baking and Making blog. I just want to thank all of you who have dropped by over the past few months expecting something new and been disappointed.  I shall be adding a page with my favourite  store cupboard ingredients shortly and a page listing my January meal plan. As the year progresses I’ll add links to the recipes as we make them. If you have any recommendations for frugal, tasty family food I would love to see them, so leave me a link to your blog or Instagram.

Happy making x

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Recipe: Salads with a Twist

I love beetroot, jewel colours, tiny globes of sweet flavour which brighten up winter mealtimes. Yet, for most people, mention beetroot and their first thought is the vinegar steeped slices bought from the supermarket. If you can get hold of fresh beetroot it’s truly delicious, easy to cook, versatile and very good for you. You can even eat the tiny young leaves in a salad.

LOWRESthenaturalvegmen_3143Earlier this week, I picked up a bunch of tiny, overwintered beetroot from the Veg Men (I wrote about them here). I decided to make a salad for lunch, using up a few left overs from the fridge, added some slivers of Gabriel Blue (a ewe’s milk cheese) bought from my favourite Cockermouth deli last weekend and a few slices of baked beetroot. Looking for a bit of added “crunch” I made some candied nuts as a gluten free alternative to croutons. Here’s how you can recreate your own version. Mix and match your flavours to suit what you have. Think of it as a twist on the classic goats cheese salad you find on so many restaurant menus and experiment.

sliced beetrootThe Basics

150g of mixed salad leaves (either home grown or find a local producer)

100g candied walnuts or pecans (see below for instructions)

75g goats cheese (I used a blue ewe’s milk because that’s what I had – and I didn’t weigh it – a small handful should suffice) chopped into small cubes.

3 or 4 small baked beetroot (see below for instructions)

A simple dressing made with 3 tablespoons  walnut oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

Method

Whisk together the oil and vinegar to make the dressing. Shred the salad leaves, slice the beetroot and combine all the ingredients in a large salad bowl. Leave to stand for a few minutes for the flavours to develop beofre serving.cheese and walnut salad

Candied Nuts

The ideal nut for this salad would be walnuts –  the eagle eyed among you will spot I used pecans – that’s what I had in the cupboard! To be honest, that’s what I’d use again, the flavour of cooked pecans worked really well with the blue cheese.

1 tablespoon of dark muscovado sugar

3 tablespoons of water

100g nuts

Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved, add the nuts and stir until well covered in the syrup.

Pour onto a baking tray lined with silicone paper or baking parchment and cook at gas mark 6 for about 5-7 minutes. Start checking after five minutes, you want the nuts cooked, but not burnt. Leave to cool. The nuts can be stored in an airtight jar for about a week. They make a great snack too.

As a variation you could substitute maple syrup for the sugar, add a little ground ginger, plenty of sea salt and perhaps even a little paprika. Combine with a small bag of mixed nuts and make the perfect gluten free nibble to serve with drinks. These may take a little longer to cook, in my oven I give them 10 minues.

Baked Beetroot

Wash the beetroot, but don’t scrub. It’s important not to break the skin or the colour will “bleed”. Trim off the leaves, leaving about 1cm of stalk and  then trim the roots. Place in a shallow baking dish and add a little water (as a general rule I add a tablespoon for each beetroot). Cover with foil and bake at gas mark 2 for about an hour. The baking time depends on the size of your beetroots, “golf ball” size take about an hour, larger ones will take longer).

Once cooked, leave to cool before trimming the stalks and roots. You can then peel them if you wish and add them to salads, make a delicious dip or make a puree.

Veg Men salad

When I was a little girl, a “salad” meant a slice of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and if we were really pushing the boat out, slices of hard boiled egg. This would be smothered in Heinz salad dressing. Today, we eat some kind of salad almost every day. Even if you only have  a small plot or a window ledge, it’s easy enought o grow a few salad leaves. Even during the winter you’d be surprised what will grow.

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Recipe: Parsnip and Coconut Soup

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You might think this would be a strange combination, but it works. Using up the leftovers before we make our pre christmas visit to family, I found a bag of parsnips looking rather sorry for themselves. I fried 2 finely chopped onions, a clove of garlic and a small piece of fresh ginger until golden. Then I added chopped parsnips, a teaspoon of garam masala and poured on cold water to cover. The soup was left to simmer until the parsnips were soft. To finish, I added the remains of a pot of fresh coriander leaves and blended until smooth. Finally the soup was returned to the pan and I added half a can of coconut milk left over from last night’s thai chicken. Season to taste and serve warm with crusty bread. Now I need to find a use for some rather wrinkly carrots….

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